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description of his happiness in solitude, which we have translated from a letter addressed by him in 1762 to the President de Malesherbes, forms one of four letters in which he undertakes to present a true picture of his character, and the real motives of all his conduct.]
I can hardly tell you, sir, how concerned I have been to see that you consider me the most miserable of men. The world, po doubt, thinks as you do, and that also distresses me. Oh! why is not the existence I have enjoyed known to the whole universe ! every one would wish to procure for himself a similar lot, peace would reign upon the earth, man would no longer think of injuring his fellows, and the wicked would no longer be found, for none would have an interest in being wicked. But what then did I enjoy when I was alone? Myself; the entire universe ; all that is ; all that can be ; all that is beautiful in the world of sense ; all that is imaginable in the world of intellect. I gathered around me all that could delight my heart ; my desires were the limit of my pleasures. No, never have the most voluptuous known such enjoyments; and I have derived a hundred times more happiness from my chimeras than they from realities.
When my sufferings make me measure sadly the length of the night, and the agitation of fever prevents me from enjoying a single instant of sleep, I often divert my mind from my present state, in thinking of the various events of my life; and repentance, sweet recollections, regrets, emotions, help to make me for some moments forget my sufferings. What period do you think, sir, I recall most frequently and most willingly in my dreams ? Not the pleasures of my youth, they were too rare, too much mingled with bitterness, and are now too distant. I recall the period of my seclusion, of my solitary walks, of the fleeting but delicious days that I have passed entirely by myself, with my good and simple housekeeper, with my beloved dog, my old cat, with the birds of the field, the hinds of the forest, with all nature, and her inconceivable Author. In getting up before the sun to contemplate its rising from my garden, when a beautiful day was commencing, my first wish was that no letters or visits might come to disturb the charm. After having dovoted the morning to various duties that I fulfilled with pleasure, because I could have put them off to another time, I hastened to dine, that I might escape from importunate people, and ensure a longer afternoon. Before one o'clock, even on the hottest days, I started in the heat of the sun with my faithful Achates, hastening my steps in the fear that some one would take possession of me before I could escape; but when once I could turn a certain corner, with what a beating heart, with what a flutter of joy, I began to breathe, as I felt that I was safe ; and I said, Here now am I my own master for the rest of the day! I went on then at a more tranquil pace to seek some wild spot in the forest, some desert place, where nothing indicating the hand of man announced slavery and power-some refuge to which I could believe I was the first to penetrate, and where no wearying third could step in to interpose between Nature and me. It was there that she seemed to display before my eyes an ever new magnificence. The gold of the broom, and the purple of the heath struck my sight with a splendour that touched my heart. The majesty of the trees that covered me with their shadow, the delicacy of the shrubs that flourished around me, the astonishing variety of the herbs and flowers that I crushed beneath my feet, kept my mind in a continued alternation of observing and of admiring. This assemblage of so many interesting objects contending for my attention, attracting mo incessantly from one to the other, fostered my dreamy and idle humour, and often made me repeat to myself, No, "even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
The spot thus adorned could not long remain a desert to my imagination. I soon peopled it with beings after my own heart ; and dismissing opinion, prejudice,
and all factitious passions, I brought to these sanctuaries of nature men worthy of inhabiting them. I formed with these a charming society of which I did not feel myself unworthy. I made a golden age according to my fancy, and filling up these bright days with all the scenes of my life that had left the tenderest recollections, and with all that my heart still longed for, I affected myself to tears over the true pleasures of humanity ; pleasures so delicious-so pure and yet so far from men! Oh, if in these moments any ideas of Paris, of the age, and of my little authorvanity, disturbed my reveries, with what contempt I drove them instantly away, to give myself up entirely to the exquisite sentiments with which my soul was filled. Yet, in the midst of all this, I confess the nothingness of my chimeras would some times appear, and saddened me in a moment. If all my dreams bad turned to reality, they would not have sufficed- I should still have imagined, dreamed, desired. I discovered in myself an inexplicable void that nothing could have filled-a certain yearning of my heart towards another kind of happiness, of which I had no definite idea, but of which I felt the want. Ah, sir, this even was an enjoyment, for I was filled with a lively sense of what it was, and with a delightful sadness of which I should not have wished to be deprived.
From the surface of the earth I soon raised my thoughts to all the beings of Nature, to the universal system of things, to the incomprehensible Being who enters into all. Then, as my mind was lost in this immensity, I did not think, I did not reason, I did not philosophize. I felt, with a kind of voluptuousness, as if bowed down by the weight of this universe; I gave myself up with rapture to this confusion of grand ideas. I delighted in imagination to lose myself in space; my heart, confined within the limits of the mortal, found not room : I was stified in the universe; I would have sprung into the infinite. I think that, could I have unveiled all the mysteries of nature, my sensations would have been less delicious than was this bewildering ecstasy, to which my mind abandoned itself without control, and which, in the excitement of my transports, made me sometimes exclaim, “Oh, Great Being ! oh, Great Being !" without being able to say or think more.
Thus glided on in a continued rapture the most charming days that ever human creature passed ; and when the setting sun made me think of returning, astonished at the flight of time, I thought I had not taken sufficient advantage of my day; I fancied I might have enjoyed it more ; and, to regain the lost time, I said I will come back to-morrow.
I returned slowly home, my head a little fatigued, but my heart content. Ir posed agreeably on my return, abandoning myself to the impression of objects, but without thinking, without imagining, without doing anything beyond feeling the calm and the happiness of my situation. I found the cloth laid upon the terrace ; I supped with a good appetite, amidst my little household. No feeling of servitude or dependence disturbed the good will that united us all. My dog himself was my friend, not my slave. We had always the same wish ; but he never obeyed me. My gaiety during the whole evening testified to my having been alone the whole day. I was very different when I had seen company. Then I was rarely contented with others, and never with myself. In the evening I was cross and taciturn. This remark was made by my housekeeper ; and since she has told me so I have always found it true, when I watched myself. Lastly, after having again taken in the eve ning a few turns in my garden, or sung an air to my spinnet, I found in my ben repose of body and soul a hundred times sweeter than sleep itself.
These were the days that have made the true happiness of my life a happiness without bitterness, without weariness, without regret, and to which I would willingly have limited my existence. Yes, sir, let such days as these fill up my eternity; ! do not ask for others, nor imagine that I am much less happy in these exquisito
contemplations than the heavenly spirits. But a suffering body deprives the mind of its liberty; henceforth I am not alone : I have a guest who importunes me; I must free myself of it to be mysclf. The trial that I have made of these sweet enjoyments serves only to make me with less alarm await the time when I shall tasto them without interruption.
137.—THE COTTER'S SATURDAY NIGHT.
BURNS. [ROBERT BURNS was born on the 25th of January, 1759, in the district of Kyle, within two miles of the town of Ayr. His father, William Burns, or Burness, was a peasant-one of those strong, independent, pious minds that are especially the growth of Scotland. In the following poem Robert Burns has drawn a noble character of such a man. His brother Gilbert, in a letter dated 1800, says, “ Although the Cotter, in the Saturday Night, is an exact copy of my father in his manners, his family devotion, and exhortations, yet the other parts of the description do not apply to our family. None of us were ever .at service out among the neebors round.'” William Burns tried to mend his fortune by farming; but his life was one continued struggle, although he contrived to give his children a tolerable education. Toil and privation were familiar to them from their infancy. At fifteen, Robert was the principal labourer on the little farm. The father, bowed down by an accumulation of difficulties, died in 1784. In the meantime Robert had been cherishing his poetical faculty,
"Following his plough along the mountain-side." In 1786 he printed a volume of his Poems. The admiration which they excited was, in some degree, the ruin of his happiness. He became the wonder of the polite circles of Edinburgh; and the most eminent for station or acquirements gathered round the marvellous ploughman, whose conversation was as brilliant as his writings were original. A second edition of his Poems made him the master of five hundred pounds. He took a farm in Ellisland, in Dumfries-shire. He had legalized his union with the mother of his children. In an evil hour he obtained a situation in the excise, at Dumfries. His duties were, of course, uncongenial. He sought the excitement of festive companions, he yielded to habits of inebriety. Ill health, habitual dejection, occasional bitterness of soul approaching to madness, came over him. He died on the 21st of July, 1796, in his thirty-seventh year. From the first publication of his volume of Poems, Scotland felt that a great spirit had arisen to shed a new lustre on the popular language and literature. It has been a reproach to the contemporaries of Burns that they were unworthy of his genius-that they offered him the unsubstantial incense of flattery, and left him to starve. The reproach appears to us signally unjust. It is difficult to imagine how, with the unfortunate habits which Burns had acquired, and with his high-spirited but repulsive independence, his fate could have been other than it was. With such examples of the unhappiness of genius, we still cannot regret that there are no asylums where poets may be watched over like caged nightingales.]
My loved, my honour'd, much-respected friend
No mercenary bard his homage pays;
My dearest meed, a friend's esteem and praise.
The lowly train in life's sequester'd scene ;
What Aiken in a cottage would have been ;
The short'ning winter-day is near a close ;
• The continued rushing noise of wind or water.
The toil-worn Cotter frao his labour goes,
This night his weekly moil is at an end, Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his hoes,
Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,
Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
To meet their Dad, wi' flichterin + noise an' glee.
His clean hearth-stane, his thriftie wifie's smile,
Does a' his weary carking cares beguile,
At service out, amang the farmer's roun';
A cannie errand to a neebor town :
In youthfu' bloom, love sparkling in her e'e,
Or deposit her sair **-won penny-fee,
An' each for other's welfare kindly spierstt :
Each tells the uncos II that he sees or hears ; The parents, partial, eye their hopeful years
Anticipation forward points the view ;
Gars $8 auld claes |||| look amaist as weel's the new;
The younkers a' are warned to obey;
An' ne'er, tho’ out o' sight, to jauk *** or play : “An' oh! be sure to fear the Lord alway,
An' mind your duty, duly, morn and night! Lest in temptation's path ye gang astray,
Implore his counsel and assisting might : They never sought in vain that sought the Lord aright ! ” But hark ! a rap comes gently to the door ;
Jenny, wha kens the meaning o' the same, Tells how a neebor lad cam o'er the moor,
To do some errands, and convoy her hame. * Stagger. § By and by,
** Sadly, sorely, $$ Makes. + Fluttering. il Heedful, cautious. ++ Inquires. Il Clothes. Fire. Fine, handsome. 1 News.
19 Diligent. *** Trifle,
The wily mother sees the conscious flame
Sparkle in Jenny's e'e, and flush her cheek ;
While Jenny hafflins * is afraid to speak ;
A strappan youth; he taks the mother's eye ;
The father cracks of horses, pleughs, and kye I. The youngster's artless heart o'erflows wi' joy,
But, blate & and laithfu'll scarce can weel behave ;
What makes the youth so bashfu' an' sae grave;
O heartfelt raptures ! bliss beyond compare !
And sage experience bids me this declare“If Heav'n a draught of heav'nly pleasure spare,
One cordial in this melancholy vale,
In other's arms breathe out the tender tale,
A wretch ! a villain ! lost to love and truth!
Betray sweet Jenny's unsuspecting youth ? Curse on his perjur'd arts ! dissembling smooth !
Are honour, virtue, conscience, all exiled ?
Points to the parents fondling o'er their child ?
The halesome ** parritch, chief o' Scotia's food :
That 'yont the hallan II snugly chows her cood $$; The dame brings forth in complimental mood,
To grace the lad, her weel-hain'd ||| kebbuck TT, fell,
The frugal wifie, garrulous, will tell,
They round the ingle form a circle wide ;
The rest, the remainder. ** Healthful, wholesome.
1 A particular partition wall in a cottage. $$ Cud. III Spared. T Cheese. *** Twelvemonth. +++ The flax was in flower.