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From hill to dale, still more and more astray,
The life of William Collins was a sad one; for it did not allow the fulfilment of its earlier promise. He was born A.D. 1721. Whilst yet at college he published his “Oriental Eclogues ;" and his lyrical poetry appeared when he was only twenty-six. But his mind gave way; and after lingering for a considerable time in a state of despondency and incapacity, he died A.D. 1756. His poems are marked by the prodigal exuberance of early genius, and also by som what of that obscurity and crudeness which belong to immaturity. He had a soaring imagination, and a fine power of harmony, as well as a high degree of subtlety and refinement; and his works, few as they are, constitute an original contribution to English poetry.
ODE TO EVENING.
Like thy own brawling springs,
Thy springs, and dying gales ;
With brede ethereal wove,
O’erhang his wavy bed :
Or where the beetle winds
As oft he rises 'midst the twilight path,
Now teach me, maid composed,
Whose numbers, stealing through thy darkening vale,
As, musing slow, I hail
Thy genial, loved return !
The fragrant Hours, and Elves
Who slept in buds the day,
The pensive pleasures sweet,
Then let me rove some wild and heathy scene,
Whose walls more awful nod
By thy religious gleams.
That from the mountain's side
And hamlets brown and dim-discover'd spires,
Thy dewy fingers draw
While Spring shall pour his showers, as oft he wont,
While Summer loves to sport
While sallow Autumn fills thy lap with leaves,
Affrights thy shrinking train,
And rudely rends thy robes :
Thy gentlest influence own,
ODE WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1746.
By fairy hands their knell is rung,
DIRGE IN CYMBELINE,
Sung by Guiderius and Arviragus over Fidele, supposed to be dead.
Soft maids and village hinds shall bring
And rifle all the breathing spring.
To vex with shrieks this quiet grove;
And melting virgins own their love.
No goblins lead their nightly crew;
And dress thy grave with pearly dew.
Shall kindly lend his little aid,
To deck the ground where thou art laid.
In tempests shake thy sylvan cell,
The tender thought on thee shall dwell,
For thee the tear be duly shed;
And mourned till pity's self be dead.
ROBERT BURNS, the son of a Scotch farmer, was born near the town of Ayr A.D. 1758. His father, an excellent man, took care that he should have that solid though unpretending education which was, even at that early time, open to the Scotch peasant. In his sixteenth year he had read some of the best English and Scotch poets; but it is probable that his genius received at least equal nour ishment from the songs and legends of his native plains-such as his mother recited at her spinning-wheel. He worked as a common labourer; and addressed his earliest verses to a fellow-reaper in the same harvest-field-that “Highland Mary” whose name is indelibly associated with his own. Her early death was a calamity which affected all his subsequent years. Burns visited Edinburgh A.D. 1786, where he was received with an enthusiasm occasioned by his rare conversational powers, as well as by the admiration which his poetry had excited.. That he should have so soon left a metropolis of which he was the idol, is a proof of his independence and superiority to vanity. But he was assailable elsewhere. Unhappily the convivial habits of Edinburgh had already taught him to indulge in dissipation. His tendencies to intemperance were increased by his appointment to the office of gauger, which also harmonised but ill with his occupations as a farmer;—for he had taken a farm on the banks of the Nith. He subsequently repaired to Dumfries, bis farm having failed, where, unhappily, his temptations to excess were but increased. In 1796 his constitution gave way, and he died, like Byron, in his thirty-eighth year.
In poetic genius Burns has been surpassed by few in any age. Imagination, passion, intellect, pathos, sweetness,—all these gifts are in him united with a penetrating wit, a shrewd sense, and a manly strength of thought and feeling. He possessed the true lyrical inspiration; and his wide sympathies, human and poetic, gave it a true direction. His lack of classical learning probably directed his genius yet more to nature, from the touch of which it ever gained vigour; and his poetry contributed not less than that of Cowper to break down that sordid and sapless literature, based but on convention, which had sufficed to satisfy an age so cold and barren as the greater part of the eighteenth century. Burns is the most national of poets; every trait of his native land is to be found in his verse. To what height he would have reached had he added self-restraint to those moral qualities of courage, independence, and kindliness, which were eminently his, it is hard to say. His writings prove that his moral weakness in this respect received no compensating support from any reverence entertained by him for the Scotch kirk. To such weakness the public opinion of the time was but too indulgent.
TO A MOUNTAIN DAISY,
On turning one down with the plough.
Thy slender stem;
Thou bonnie gem.
The purpling east.