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well hopes of a second edition 'till I grow richer ! an epocha, which, I think, will arrive at the payment of the British national debt.
There is scarcely any thing hurts me so much in being disappointed of my second edition, as not having it in my power to shew my gratitude to Mr. Ballantine, by publishing my poem of The Brigs of Ayr. I would detest myself as a wretch, if I thought I were capable, in a very long life, of forgetting the honest, warm, and tender delicacy, with which he enters into my interests. I am sometimes pleased with myself in my grateful sensations ; but, I believe, on the whole, I have very little merit in it, as my gratitude is not a virtue, the consequence of reflection ; but sheerly the instinctive emotion of a heart, too inattentive to allow worldly maxims and views to settle into selfish habits.
I have been feeling all the various rotations and movements within, respecting the excise. There are many things plead strongly against it ; the uncertainty of getting soon into business ; the consequences of my follies, which may perhaps make it impracticable for me to stay at home; and besides I have for some time been pining under secret wretchedness, from causes which you pretty well know-the pang of disappointment, the sting of pride, with some wandering stabs of remorse, which never fail to settle on my vitals like vultures, when attention is not called away by the calls of society, or the vagaries of the muse. Even in the hour of social mirth, my gaiety is the madness of an intoxo icated criminal under the hands of the executioner. All these reasons urge me to go abroad, and to all these reasons I have only one answer-the feelings of a father. This, in the present mood I am in, overbalances every thing, that can be laid in the scale against it.
You may perhaps think it an extravagant fancy, but it is a sentiment, which strikes home to my very
soul: though sceptical in some points of our cuf. rent belief, yet, I think, I have every evidence for the reality of a life beyond the stinted bourne of our present existence; if so then, how should I, in the presence of that tremendous Being, the Author of existence, how should I meet the reproaches of those, who stand to me in the dear relation of children, whom I deserted in the smiling innocency of helpless infancy? O, thou great unknown Power! thou almighty God! who hast lighted up reason in my breast, and blessed me with immortality! I have frequently wandered from that order and regularity necessary for the perfection of thy works, yet thou hast never left me nor forsaken me!
Since I wrote the foregoing sheet, I have seen something of the storm of inischief, thickening over my folly-devoted head.
Should you, my friends, my benefactors, be successful in your applications for me, perhaps it may not be in my power, in that way, to reap the fruit of your friendly efforts. What I have written in the preceding pages, is the settled tenor of my present resolu. tion; but should inimical circumstances forbid me closing with your kind offer, or enjoying it only threaten to entail farther misery
To tell the truth, I have little reason for complaint; as the world, in general, has been kind to me, fully up to my deserts. I was, for some time past, fast getting into the pining, distrustful snarl of the misanthrope. I saw myself alone, unfit for the struggle of life, shrinking at every rising cloud in the chance-directed atmosphere of fortune, while, all defenceless, I looked about in vain for a cover. It never occurred to me, at least, never with the force it deserved, that this world is a busy scene,
and man, a creature destined for a progressive struggle; and that, however I might possess a warm heart and inoffensive manners (which last, by the bye, was rather more than I could well boast), still, more than these passive qualities, there was something to be done. When all my school-fellows and youthful compeers (those misguided few excepled, who joined, to use a Gentoo phrase, the hallachores of the human race) were striking off with eager hope and earnest intent, in some one or other of the many paths of busy life, I was “standing idle in the market-place," or only left the chase of the butterfly from flower to flower, Lo hunt fancy from whim to whim.
You see, sir, that if to know one's errors were a probability of mending them, I stand a fair chance: but, according to the reverend Westminster divines, though conviction must precede conversion, it is very far from always implying it*.
To Mrs. DUNLOP, of DUNLOP.
Ayrshire, 1786. I am truly sorry I was not at home yesterday, when I was so much honoured with your order for my copies, and incomparably more by the handsome compliments you are pleased to pay my poetic abilities. I am fully persuaded that there is not any class of mankind so feelingly alive to the titillations of applause, as the sons of Parnassus : nor is it easy to conceive how the heart of the poor bard dances with rapture, when those, whose character in life gives them a right to be polite judges, honour him with their approbation. Had
* This letter was evidently written under the distress inind occasioned by our poet's separa. tion from Mrs. Burns. E.
you been thoroughly acquainted with me, madam, you could not have touched my darling heart-chord more sweetly than by noticing my attempts to ce lebrate your illustrious ancestor, the Saviour of his Country.
“ Great patriot hero ! ill-requited chief!"
The first book I met with in my early years, which I perused with pleasure, was The Life of Hannibal ; the next was The History of Sir William Wallace : for several of my earlier years I had few other authors; and many a solitary hour have I stole out after the laborious vocations of the day, to shed a tear over their glorious, but unfortunate stories. In those boyish days I remember in particular, being struck with that part of Wallace's story where these lines occur
“ Syne to the Leglen wood, when it was late, To make a silent and a safe retreat."
I chose a fine summer Sunday, the only day my line of life allowed, and walked half a dozen of miles to pay my respects to the Leglen wood, with as much devout enthusiasm as ever pilgrim'did to Loretto; and, as I explored every den and dell where I could suppose my heroic countryman to have lodged, I recollect (for even then I was a rhymer) that my heart glowed with a wish to be able to make a song on him, in some measure equal to his merits.
To Mrs. STEWART, of STAIR.
1786. The hurry of my preparations for going abroad, has hindered me from performing my promise so soon as I intended. I have here sent you a parcel of songs, &c. which never made their appearance, except to a friend or two at most. Perhaps some of them may be no great entertainment to you, but of that I am far from being an adequate judge. The song, to the tune of Etrick banks, you will easily see the impropriety of exposing much, even in manuscript. I think, myself, it has some merit; both as a tolerable description of one of nature's sweetest scenes, a July evening; and one of the finest pieces of nature's workmanship, the finest indeed we know any thing of, an amiable, beautiful, young woman* ; but I have no coinmon friend to procure me that permission, without which, I would not dare to spread the copy.
I am quite aware, madam, what task the world would assign me in this letter. The obscure bard, when any of the great condescend to take notice of him, should heap the altar with the incense of flattery. Their high ancestry, their own great and godlike qualities and actions, should be recounted with the most exaggerated description. This, madam, is a task for which I am altogether unfit. Bė. sides a certain disqualifying pride of heart, I know nothing of your connexions in life, and have no access to where your real character is to be found -the company of your compeers : and more, I am afraid that even the most refined adulation is by no means the road to your good opinion.
One feature of your character I shall ever with grateful pleasure remember ; the reception I got when I had the honour of waiting on you at Stair. I am little acquainted with politeness, but I know a good deal of benevolence of temper, and goodness of heart. Surely did those in exalted stations know how happy they could make some classes of their inferiors by condescension and affability, they would never stand so high, measuring out with