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ly to recall his propediatel
contents of a letter, from Dr. Blacklock of Edinburgh, to one of his friends, describing the encouragement which an edition of his poems would be likely to receive in the Scottish capital, suddenly lighted up all his prospects, and detained him from embarking. “I immediately posted,” he says, “ to “ Edinburgh, without a single acquaintance or letter “ of introduction. The baneful star, which had so “ long shed its blasting influence on my zenith, for “ once made a revolution to the nadir.”
Though he speaks of having had no acquaintance in Edinburgh, he had been previously introduced in Ayrshire to Lord Daer, to Professor Stewart, and to several respectable individuals, by the reputation which the first edition of his poems had acquired. He arrived in Edinburgh in 1786, and his reception there was more like an agreeable change of fortune in a romance, than like an event in ordinary life. His company was every where sought for; and it was soon found, that the admiration which his poetry had excited, was but a part of what was due to the general eminence of his mental faculties. His natural eloquence, and his warm and social heart expanding under the influence of prosperity—which, with all the pride of genius, retained a quick and versatile sympathy with every variety of human character-made him equally fascinating in the most refined and convivial societies. For a while he reigned the fashion and idol of his native capital.
The profits of his new edition enabled him, in the succeeding year, 1787, to make a tour through a considerable extent both of the south and north of Scotland. The friend who accompanied him in this excursion gives a very interesting description of the impressions which he saw produced in Burns's mind from some of the romantic scenery which they visited. “ When we came" (he says) “ to a rustic “ hut on the river Till, where the stream descends “in a noble waterfall, and is surrounded by a woody “ precipice, that commands a most beautiful view of “ its course, hè threw himself on a heathy-seat, “ and gave himself up to a tender, abstracted, and “ voluptuous indulgence of imagination.” It may be conceived with what enthusiasm he visited the grave of King Robert Bruce.
After he had been caressed and distinguished sợ much in Edinburgh, it was natural to anticipate that among the many individuals of public influence and respectability, who had countenanced his genius, some means might have been devised to secure to him a competent livelihood in a proper station of society. It was probably with this hope in his mind that he returned to Edinburgh after his summer excursion ; and, unfortunately for his habits, spent the winter of 1788 in accepting a round of convivial invitations. The hospitality of the north was not then what it now is. Refinement had not yet banished to the tavern the custom of bumper-toasts, and of pressing the bottle; and the master of the house was not, thought very hospitable unless the majority of his male guests, at a regular party, were at least half intoxicated. Burns was invited and importuned to those scenes of dissipation; and beset, at least as much by the desire of others to enjoy his society when he was exhilarated, as by his own facility to lend it. He probably deluded his own reflections, by imagining, that in every fresh excess, he was acquiring a new friend, or attaching one already acquired. But with all the admiration and declarations of personal friendship which were lavished on him, the only appointment that could be obtained for him, was that of an officer of excise. In the mean time he had acquired a relish for a new and over-excited state of life. He had been expected to shine in every society; and, to use his own phrase, “ had been too often “ obliged to give his company a slice of his constitu« tion.” At least he was so infatuated as to think so. He had now to go back to the sphere of society from which he had emerged, with every preparatory cir. cumstance to render him discontented with it, that the most ingenious cruelty could have devised.
After his appointment to the office of a gauger, he took a farm at Ellisland, on the banks of the Nith, and settled in conjugal union with his Jane. But here his unhappy distraction between two employments, and his mode of life as an exciseman, which made the public-house his frequent abode, and his fatigues a temptation to excesses, had so bad an influence on his affairs, that at the end of three years and a half, he sold his stock, and gave r up his farm. By promotion in the excise, his in
come had risen to £70 a year, and with only this income in immediate prospect, he repaired to Dumfries, the new place of duty that was assigned to him by the board of commissioners. Here his intemperate habits became confirmed, and his conduct and conversation grew daily more unguarded. Times of political rancour had also arrived, in which he was too ardent a spirit to preserve neutrality. He took the popular side, and became exposed to charges of disloyalty. He spurned, indeed, at those charges, and wrote a very spirited explanation of his principles. But his political conversations had been reported to the Board of Excise, and it required the interest of a powerful friend to support him in the humble situation which he held. It was at Dumfries that he wrote the finest of his songs for Thomson's “ Musical Collection," and dated many of the most eloquent of his letters.
In the winter of 1795 his constitution, broken by cares, irregularities, and passions, fell into a rapid decline. The summer returned; but only to shine on his sickness and his grave. In July his mind wandered into delirium ; and, in the same month, a fever, on the fourth day of its continuance, closed his life and sufferings, in his thirty-eighth year.
Whatever were the faults of Burns, he lived un. stained by a mean or dishonest action. To have died without debt, after supporting a family on £70 a year, bespeaks, after all, but little of the spendthrift. That income, on account of his incapacity to perform his duty, was even reduced to one half of its amount, at the period of his dying sickness; and humiliating threats of punishment, for opinions uttered in the confidence of private conversation, were among the last returns which the government of Scotland made to the man, whose genius attaches agreeable associations to the name of his country.
His death seemed to efface the recollection of his faults, and of political differences, still harder to be forgotten. All the respectable inhabitants of Dumfries attended his funeral, whilst the volunteers of the city, and two regiments of native fencibles, attended with solemn music, and paid military honours at the grave of their illustrious countryman.
Burns has given an elixir of life to his native dialect. The Scottish “ Tam o' Shanter” will be read as long as any English production of the same century. The impression of his genius is deep and universal; and, viewing him merely as a poet, there is scarcely any other regret connected with his name, than that his productions, with all their merit, fall short of the talents which he possessed. That he never attempted any great work of fiction or invention, may be partly traced to the cast of his genius, and partly to his circumstances and defective education. His poetical temperament was that of fitful transports, rather than steady inspiration.