Obrazy na stronie
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ners, a nice perception of the ludicrous, a vein of original comic humour, and language at once copious and expressive, form his chief merits as a poet. He had not the invention or picturesque fancy of Allan Ramsay, nor the energy and passion of Burns. His mind was a light warm soil, that threw up early its native products, sown by chance or little exertion; but it had not strength and tenacity to nurture any great or valuable production. A few short years, however, comprised his span of literature and of life; and criticism would be ill employed in scrutinising with severity the occasional poems of a youth of twenty-three, written from momentary feelings and impulses, amidst professional drudgery or midnight dissipation. That compositions produced under such circumstances should still exist and be read with pleasure, is sufficient to show that Fergusson must have had the eye and fancy of a true poet. His observation, too, for one so young, is as remarkable as his genius: he was an accurate painter of scenes of real life and traits of Scottish character, and his pictures are valuable for their truth, as well as for their liveliness and humour. If his habits had been different, we might have possessed more agreeable delineations, but none more graphic or faithful. Fergusson was born in Edinburgh on the 17th of October 1751. His father, who was an accountant in the British Linen Company's bank, died early, but the poet received a university education, having obtained a bursary in St Andrews, where he continued from his thirteenth to his seventeenth year. On quitting college, he seems to have been truly “unfitted with an aim, and he was glad to take employment as a copying clerk in a lawyer's office. In this mechanical and irksome duty his days were spent. His evenings were devoted to the tavern, where, over ‘caller oysters, with ale or whisky, the choice spirits of Edinburgh used to assemble. Fergusson had dangerous qualifications for such a life. His conversational powers were of a very superior description, and he could adapt them at will to humour, pathos, or sarcasm, as the occasion might require. He was well educated, had a fund of youthful gaiety, and sung Scottish songs with taste and effect. To these qualifications he soon added the reputation of a poet. Ruddiman's ‘Weekly Magazine' had been commenced in 1768, and was the chosen receptacle for the floating literature of that period in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh. During the two last years of his life, Fergusson was a constant contributor to this miscellany, and in 1773 he collected and published his pieces in one volume. Of the success of the publication in a uniary point of view, we have no information; but that it was well received by the public, there can be no doubt, from the popularity and fame of its author. His dissipations, however, were always on the increase. His tavern life and boon companions were hastening him on to a premature and painful death. His reason first gave way, and his widowed mother being unable to maintain him at home, he was sent to an asylum for the insane. The religious impressions of his youth returned at times to overwhelm him with dread, but his gentle and affectionate nature was easily soothed by the attentions of his relatives and friends. His recovery was anticipated, but after about two months' confinement, he died in his cell on the 16th of October 1774. His remains were interred in the Canongate churchyard, where they lay unnoticed for twelve years, till Burns erected a simple stone to mark the poet's grave. The heartlessness of convivial friendships is well known: they literally “wither and die in a day.' It is related, however, that a youthful companion of Fergusson, named Burnet, losing 9

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Fergusson may be considered the poetical progenitor of Burns. Meeting with his poems in his youth, the latter “strung his lyre anew,’ and copied the style and subjects of his youthful prototype. The resemblance, however, was only temporary and incidental. Burns had a manner of his own, and though he sometimes condescended, like Shakspeare, to work after inferior models, all that was rich and valuable in the composition was original and unborrowed. He had an excessive admiration for the writings of Fergusson, and even preferred them to those of Ramsay, an opinion in which few will concur. The forte of Fergusson lay, as we have stated, in his representations of town-life. The King's Birthday, The Sitting of the Session, Leith Races, &c., are all excellent. Still better is his feeling description of the importance of Guid Braid Claith, and his Address to the Tron-Kirk Bell. In these we have a current of humorous observations, poetical fancy, and genuine idiomatic Scottish expression. The Farmer's Ingle suggested ‘The Cotter's Saturday Night' of Burns, and it is as faithful in its descriptions, though of a humbler class. Burns added passion, sentiment, and patriotism to the subject: Fergusson's is a mere sketch, an inventory of a farm-house, unless we except the concluding stanza, which speaks to the heart:—

Peace to the husbandman, and a' his tribe, Whase care fells a' our wants frae year to year! Lang may his sock and cou’ter turn the glebe, And banks of corn bend down wi' laded ear ! May Scotia's simmers aye look gay and green; Her yellow hairsts frae scowry blasts decreed May a her tenants sit fu' snug and bien, Frae the hard grip o' ails and poortith freed— And a lang lasting train o' peacefu' hours succeed

In one department—lyrical poetry—whence Burns draws so much of his glory–Fergusson does not seem, though a singer, to have made any efforts to excel. In English poetry he utterly failed, and if we consider him in reference to his countrymen,

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1 Desire.

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The Arno and the Tiber lang
Hae run fell clear in Roman sang;
But, save the reverence o' schools,
They're baith but lifeless, dowie pools.
Dought they compare wi' bonnie Tweed,
As clear as ony lammer bead?
Or are their shores mair sweet and gay
Than Fortha's haughs or banks o' Tay?
Though there the herds can jink the showers
'Mang thriving vines and myrtle bowers,
And blaw the reed to kittle strains,
While echo's tongue commends their pains;
Like ours, they canna warm the heart
Wi’ simple saft bewitching art.
Qn Leader haughs and Yarrow braes,
Arcadian herds wad tyne their lays,
To hear the mair melodious sounds
That live on our poetic grounds.

Come, Fancy! come, and let us tread
The simmer's flowery velvet bed,
And a your springs delightful lowse
On Tweeda’s bank or Cowdenknowes.

That, ta'en wi'thy enchanting sang, Our Scottish lads may round ye thrang, Sae pleased they’ll never fash again To court you on Italian plain; Soon will they guess ye only wear The simple garb o' nature here; Mair comely far, and fair to sight, When in her easy cleedin’ dight, Than in disguise ye was before • On Tiber's or on Arno’s shore. O Bangour !! now the hills and dales Nae mair gie back thy tender tales | The birks on Yarrow now deplore, Thy mournfu' muse has left the shore. Near what bright burn or crystal spring, Did you your winsome whistle hing? The muse shall there, wi' watery ee, Gie the dunk swaird a tear for thee; And Yarrow's genius, dowie dame ! Shall there forget her bluid-stained stream, On thy sad grave to seek repose, Who mourned her fate, condoled her woes.

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On Sunday, here, an altered scene
O' men and manners meets our een.
Ane wad maist trow, some people chose
To change their faces wi' their clo'es,
And fain wad gar ilk neibour think
They thirst for guidness as for drink;
But there's an unco dearth o' grace,
That has nae mansion but the face,
And never can obtain a part
In benmost corner o’ the heart.
Why should religion mak us sad,
If good frae virtue's to be had
Na: rather gleefu' turn your face,
Forsake hypocrisy, grimace;
And never hae it understood
You fleg mankind frae being good.

In afternoon, a brawly buskit,
The joes and lasses loe to frisk it.
Some tak a great delight to place
The modest bon-grace owre the face;
Though you may see, if so inclined,
The turning o' the leg behind.
Now, Comely-Garden and the Park
Refresh them, after forenoon’s wark:

Newhaven, Leith, or Canonmills,
Supply them in their Sunday's gills;
Where writers aften spend their pence,
To stock their heads wi' drink and sense.
While danderin cits delight to stray
To Castlehill or public way,
Where they nae other purpose mean,
Than that fool cause o' being seen,
Let me to Arthur's Seat pursue,
Where bonnie pastures meet the view,
And mony a wild-lorn scene accrues,
Befitting Willie Shakspeare's muse.
If Fancy there would join the thrang,
The desert rocks and hills amang,
To echoes we should lilt and play,
And gie to mirth the live-lang day.
Or should some cankered biting shower
The day and a' her sweets deflower,
To Holyrood-house let me stray,
And gie to musing a' the day;
Lamenting what auld Scotland knew,
Bein days for ever frae her view.
O Hamilton, for shame! the Muse
Would pay to thee her couthy vows,
Gin ye wad tent the humble strain,
And gie's our dignity again!
For, oh, wac's me! the thistle springs
In domicile o' ancient kings,
Without a patriot to regret
Our palace and our ancient state.

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Yes, happy youths, on Camus' sedgy side,
You feel each joy that friendship can divide;
Each realm of science and of art explore,
And with the ancient blend the modern lore.
Studious alone to learn whate'er may tend
To raise the genius, or the heart to mend;
Now pleased along the cloistered walk you rove,
And trace the verdant mazes of the grove,
Where social oft, and oft alone, ye choose,
To catch the zephyr, and to court the muse.
Meantime at me (while all devoid of art
These lines give back the image of my heart),
At me the power that comes or soon or late,
Or aims, or seems to aim, the dart of fate;
From you remote, methinks, alone I stand,
Like some sad exile in a desert land;
Around no friends their lenient care to join
In mutual warmth, and mix their hearts with mine.
Or real pains, or those which fancy raise,
For ever blot the sunshine of my days;
To sickness still, and still to grief a prey,
Health turns from me her rosy face away.
Just Heaven! what sin ere life begins to bloom,
Devotes my head untimely to the tomb!
Did e'er this hand against a brother's life
Drug the dire bowl, or point the murderous knife?
Did e'er this tongue the slanderer's tale proclaim,
Or madly violate my Maker's name?
Did e'er this heart betray a friend or foe,
Or know a thought but all the world might know?
As yet just started from the lists of time,
My growing years have scarcely told their prime;
Useless, as yet, through life I’ve idly run,
No pleasures tasted, and few duties done.
Ah, who, ere autumn's mellowing suns appear,

* St Anthony's Well, a beautiful small spring, on Arthur's Seat, near Edinburgh. Thither it is still the practice of young ! Edinburgh maidens to resort on May-day.

Would pluck the promise of the vernal year;

Or, ere the grapes their purple hue betray,

Tear the crude cluster from the mourning spray? 132

Stern power of fate, whose ebon sceptre rules
The Stygian deserts and Cimmerian pools,
Forbear, nor rashly smite my youthful heart,
A victim yet unworthy of thy dart;
Ah, stay till age shall blast my withering face,
Shake in my head, and falter in my pace;
Then aim the shaft, then meditate the blow,
And to the dead my willing shade shall go.
How weak is man to reason's judging eye!
Born in this moment, in the next we die;
Part mortal clay, and part ethereal fire,
Too proud to creep, too humble to aspire.
In vain our plans of happiness we raise,
Pain is o lot, and patience is our praise;
Wealth, lineage, honours, conquest, or a throne,
Are what the wise would fear to call their own.
Health is at best a vain precarious thing,
And fair-faced youth is ever on the wing;
'Tis like the stream beside whose watery bed,
Some blooming plant exalts his flowery head;
Nursed by the wave the spreading branches rise,
Shade all the ground and flourish to the skies;
The waves the while beneath in secret flow,
And undermine the hollow bank below ;
Wide and more wide the waters urge their way,
Bare all the roots, and on their fibres prey.
Too late the plant bewails his foolish pride,
And sinks, untimely, in the whelming tide.
But why repine? Does life deserve my sigh;

| Few will lament my loss whene'er I die. | For those the wretches I despise or hate,

I neither envy nor regard their fate.

| For me, whene'er all-conquering death shall spread | His wings around my unrepining head,

I care not; though this face be seen no more,
The world will pass as cheerful as before;
Bright as before the day-star will appear,
The fields as verdant, and the skies as clear;
Nor storms nor comets will my doom declare,
Nor signs on earth nor portents in the air;
Unknown and silent will depart my breath,
Nor nature e'er take notice of my death.

| Yet some there are (ere spent my vital days)

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Within whose breasts my tomb I wish to raise.
Loved in my life, lamented in my end,
Their praise would crown me as their precepts mend:
To them may these fond lines my name endear,
Not from the Poet but the Friend sincere.

Elegy.

[By James Hammond, born 1710, died 1742. This seems to be almost the only tolerable specimen of the once admired and highly-farned love elegies of Hammond. This poet, nephew to Sir Robert Walpole, and a man of fortune, bestowed his affections on a Miss Dashwood, whose agreeable qualitics and inexorable rejection of his suit inspired the poetry by which his name has been handed down to us. His verses are imitations Miss Dashwood died unmarried—bedchamber-woman to Queen Charlotte—in 1779. In the following elegy Hammond imagines himself married to his mistress (Delia), and that, content with each other, they are retired to the country.]

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If late at dusk, while carelessly I roam,
I meet a strolling kid, or bleating lamb,
Under my arm I'll bring the wanderer home,
And not a little chide its thoughtless dam.

What joy to hear the tempest howl in vain, And clasp a fearful mistress to my breast? Or, lulled to slumber by the beating rain, Secure and happy, sink at last to rest?

Or, if the sun in flaming Leo ride,
By shady rivers indolently stray,
And with my Delia, walking side by side,
Hear how they murmur as they glide away?

What joy to wind along the cool retreat,
To stop and gaze on Delia as I go?
To mingle sweet discourse with kisses sweet,
And teach my lovely scholar all I know?

Thus pleased at heart, and not with fancy's dream,
In silent happiness I rest unknown;
Content with what I am, not what I seem,
I live for Delia and myself alone.

Ah, foolish man, who thus of her possessed, Could float and wander with ambition's wind, And if his outward trappings spoke him blessed, Not heed the sickness of his conscious mind

With her I scorn the idle breath of praise,
Nor trust to happiness that's not our own;
The smile of fortune might suspicion raise,
But here I know that I am loved alone. * *

Hers be the care of all my little train, While I with tender indolence am blest, The favourite subject of her gentle reign, By love alone distinguished from the rest.

For her I'll yoke my oxen to the plough,
In gloomy forests tend my lonely flock;
For her a goat-herd climb the mountain's brow,
And sleep extended on the naked rock:

Ah, what avails to press the stately bed,
And far from her 'midst tasteless grandeur weep,
By marble fountains lay the pensive head,
And, while they murmur, strive in vain to sleep?

Delia alone can please, and never tire,
Exceed the paint of thought in true delight;
With her, enjoyment wakens new desire,
And equal rapture glows through every night:

Beauty and worth in her alike contend,
To charm the fancy, and to fix the mind;
In her, my wife, my mistress, and my friend,
I taste the joys of sense and reason joined.

On her I'll gaze, when others loves are o'er,
And dying press her with my clay-cold hand—
Thou weep'st already, as I were no more,
Nor can that gentle breast the thought withstand.

Oh, when I die, my latest moments spare,
Nor let thy grief with sharper torments kill,
Wound not thy cheeks, nor hurt that flowing hair,
Though I am dead, my soul shall love thee still:

Oh, quit the room, oh, quit the deathful bed,
Or thou wilt die, so tender is thy heart;
Oh, leave me, Delia, ere thou see me dead,
These weeping friends will do thy mournful part:

Let them, extended on the decent bier,
Convey the corse in melancholy state,
Through all the village spread the tender tear,
While pitying maids our wondrous loves **,

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