« PreviousContinue »
but I was
66 When Burns died I was then
young, not insensible that a mind of no common strength had passed from among us.
He had caught my fancy, and touched my heart with his songs and his
poems. I went to see him laid out for the grave; several eldern people were with me. He lay in a plain unadorned coffin, with a linen sheet drawn over his face; and on the bed, and around the body, herbs and flowers were thickly strewn according to the usage of the country. He was wasted somewhat by long illness; but death had not increased the swarthy hue of his face, which was uncommonly dark and deeply marked: the dying pang was visible in the lower part, but his broad and open
brow was pale and serene, and around it his sable hair lay in masses, slightly touched with gray, and inclining more to a wave than a curl. The room where he lay was plain and neat, and the simplicity of the poet's humble dwelling pressed the presence of death more closely on the heart than if his bier had been embellished by vanity and covered with the blazonry of high ancestry and rank. We stood and gazed on him in silence for the space of several minutes. We went, and others succeeded us: there was no jostling and crushing, though the crowd was great ;
man followed man as patiently and orderly as if all had been a matter of mutual understanding ; not a question was asked, not a whisper was heard. This was several days after his death. It is the custom of Scotland to wake’ the body—not with wild howlings and wilder songs, and much waste of strong drink, like our mercurial neighbours, but in silence or in prayer: superstition says it is unsonsie to leave a corpse alone, and it is never left. I know not who watched by the body of Burns-much it was my wish to share in the honour; but my extreme youth would have made such a request seem foolish, and its rejection would have been sure.
“ The multitude who accompanied Burns to the grave went step by step with the chief mourners; they might amount to ten or twelve thousand. Not a word was heard; and though all could not be near, and many could not see, when the earth closed on their darling poet for ever, there was no rude impatience shown, no fierce disappointment expressed. It was an impressive and mournful sight to see men of all ranks and persuasions and opinions mingling as brothers, and stepping side by side down the streets of Dumfries, with the remains of him who had sang of their loves and joys and domestic endearments,
with a truth and a tenderness which none perhaps have since equalled. I could indeed have wished the military part of the procession away—for he was buried with military honours—because I am one of those who love simplicity in all that regards genius. The scarlet and gold—the banners displayed—the measured step and the military array, with the sound of martial instruments of music, had no share in increasing the solemnity of the burial scene, and had no connexion with the poet.
“ I found myself at the brink of the grave into which he was about to descend for ever: there was a pause among the mourners, as if loth to part with his remains; and when he was at last lowered, and the first shovelful of earth sounded on his coffin-lid, I looked up and saw tears on many cheeks where tears were not usual. The volunteers justified the fears of their comrade by three ragged and straggling volleys. The earth was heaped up, the green sod laid over him, and the multitude stood gazing on the grave for some minutes'
and then melted silently away. The day was a fine one, the sun was almost without a cloud, and not a drop of rain fell from dawn to twilight.
“ I saw another sight-a weeping widow and four
helpless sons; they came into the streets in their mournings, and public sympathy was awakened afresh;
I shall never forget the looks of his boys, and the compassion which they excited. The poet's life had not been without errors, and such errors, too, as a wife is slow in forgiving; but he was honoured then, and is honoured now, by the unalienable affection of his wife, and the world repays her prudence and her love by its regard and esteem*."
To this truly touching narrative, the heartfelt tribute of one who is known to possess talents of a nature congenial with those of which he has thus affectionately deplored the loss, I feel great pleasure in being able to subjoin some exquisite stanzas on the genius of Burns, “written on occasion of the Anniversary of his Birth-day being celebrated at Sheffield, March the 8th, 1820.” When I add that they are from the pen of Montgomery, a poet endeared to us alike by the moral and devotional beauty, as by the pathos and originality of his muse, and that they have not yet made their appearance in any edition of his works, there can be few of my readers, I should imagine, who will not be grateful
* London Magazine for August 1824, p. 117, et seq.
for their insertion. Their principal object seems to have been, forcibly to illustrate that variety and versatility of talent which so remarkably distinguished the Scottish bard :
What bird in beauty, flight, or song
Can with the bard compare,
As ever child of air?
His plume, his note, his form, could Burns
For whim or pleasure change :
With transmigration strange :
The blackbird, oracle of Spring,
When flow'd his moral lay ;
Capriciously at play :-
Inhaling heavenly balm ;
The halcyon, in the calm :-
At witching time of night;
That carold to the light.
He was the wren amidst the grove,
When in his homely vein;
With thunder in his train: