« EdellinenJatka »
LADY AUSTEN LEAVES OLNEY
tation are idolized, nobody has thought of putting any of the blame on the poet, if blame there was in the matter. The rupture must have been brought about either by Lady Austen's grasping eagerness to have more than her fair share of the poet's attentions, or by Mrs. Unwin's unreasonable jealousy. It seems to me much more likely that the coolness which led to Lady Austen's departure arose between Cowper and herself, and that the long-suffering, patient Mrs. Unwin had nothing to do with it; that it was not strained relations between the two ladies, but strained relations between one of them and the poet, that broke up the alliance. Whether Lady Austen was in love with Cowper or not is a question we bave no means of deciding. It is not unlikely. Men incapable of feeling passion themselves may not be incapable of inspiring passion in others. Lady Austen afterward married a Frenchman of letters, M. de Tardiff, and Cowper, though much older than her, being fifty when she made his acquaintance, besides being a poet, had a boyish playfulness of temper and a quickness of wit not without their charm. Whether in love with him or not, Lady Austen certainly sought his society, though a great liking for the ministrations of Mr. Scott, the curate, was her ostensible reason for taking a house in Olney. Now, Cowper, though gentle, affectionate, and playful, would seem to have had his full share of the invalid's fretful, exacting, and capricious selfishness, and it is quite conceivable that Lady Austen, by no means so patient and self-denying a woman as Mrs. Unwin, may simply bave tired of his exactions and caprices. If we read between the lines of one of his letters to his cousin, Lady Hesketh, this explanation is almost forced upon us.
“ On her first settlement in our neighborhood,” Cowper writes, “I made it my own particular business (for at that time I was not employed in writing, having published my first volume and not begun my second) to pay my devoirs to her ladyship
every morning at eleven. Customs very soon become laws. I began the “Task,' for she was the lady who gave me the Sofa for a subject. Being once engaged in the work, I began to feel the inconvenience of my
I morning attendance. We had seldom breakfasted ourselves till ten ; and the intervening hour was all the time I could find in the whole day for writing, and occasionally it would happen that the half of that hour was all that I could secure for the purpose. But there was no remedy. Long usage had made that which was at first optional a point of good-manners, and consequently of necessity, and I was forced to neglect the "Task’to attend upon the Muse who had inspired the subject. But she had ill health, and before I had quite finished the work was obliged to repair to Bristol.” The sprightly Muse, with all her stability of temper, sense of religion, and seriousness of mind, must soon have become disagreeably conscious of the difference between the forced attendance of a wayward and irritable invalid with his thoughts elsewhere, and the effusive camaraderie with which he sought her company in the bright days of their first companionship.
“ O Love! it is a pleasant thing
A little time, while it is new.”
Mrs. Unwin might not have resented the change, but Lady Austen was not Mrs. Unwin, and she “repaired to Bristol.” We might have understood the cause of the separation better if the lady had kept Cowper's letter of farewell, but she was so dissatisfied with it that she threw it in the fire-tempted, perhaps, for once in her life, to believe that Methodism was cant. Lady Austen was too exacting, or Cowper was too exacting ; anyhow, they could not get on together-any explanation you please except that Mrs. Unwin was jealous. To entertain this explanation for a moment is to commit
LADY AUSTEN LEAVES OLNEY
the most senseless outrage on the memory of a gentle, self-denying woman who bore with all the crazy poet's selfish whims and caprices, and watched over him with more than a mother's love till her own mind gave way under the strain.
THE ELEVATION OF A DIALECT INTO A LITERARY LANGUAGE
INFLUENCE OF OLD BALLADS—WATSON'S COLLECTION"-ALLAN RAMSAY-THE EASY CLUBM“ THE GENTLE SHEPHERD SONG-WRITERS-SKINNER, ETC. -FERGUSSON-BURNS
If the eighteenth century was a comparatively barren period in English poetry, it was otherwise in Scotch poetry It witnessed in Scotland an extraordinary phenomenon, the elevation of a dialect by the genius of one man to a place among literary languages.
People have almost ceased wondering that a ploughman should have proved himself capable of great work in literature, but it is still customary to speak of Burns as an uneducated man. Now, we may lay it down as an axiom that, whenever a man does great work of any kind, he has been specially educated for it, if not by the deliberate care of parents or his own deliberate choice, by a still greater school-master, Accident. When we find any apparent exception to this rule, we may be sure that there is something wrong with our conception of education. Burns is an apparent exception only when we take education to mean instruction in school and college. But this course of instruction has never yet been in our country a literary education, an education for the man of letters. It has been at best but an education for certain professions and for a scholarly
Neither school nor college, as they were in the days of Burns, could have contributed one iota to his efficiency as a poet. For his work as a poet he had received from early youth the best possible education.
SCOTTISH POETRY BEFORE BURNS
I mean as regards the purely technical or literary quali. ties of his verse. As regards the feelings that he expressed, the character that is reflected in his poetry, though the feelings are in the main healthy and the character in the main noble, we may think that circumstances might have been a more perfect school-master. But his literary education was as perfect as could be desired. What a poet above all needs is an easy command of the language in which he writes, and the early training of Burns was excellently fitted to give him this.
For two generations before Burns wrote there had been throughout Scotland an unbounded enthusiasm for song-writing in the native dialect. The movement began early in the century among a knot of idle lairds, younger sons, and Writers to the Signet in Edinburgh ; but in the course of a very short time it became universal throughout the country. Men and women of all ranks took part in it, from the bold, black-eyed, lucky Isabel Pagan, who kept an alehouse in Ayrshire, to the accomplished Lady Anne Lindsay, daughter of the Earl of Balcarres. Judges of the Court of Session, scions of noble houses, ministers, farmers, gardeners, shepherdsno one thought himself too high to condescend or too humble to aspire. All were ambitious of trying their hand at a rhyme in the vernacular. There is no example in history of a literary movement so widely diffused, perhaps because up to that time there had been no example of a whole people through all its ranks educated to read and write. Miscellany after miscellany poured from the press collecting the effusions of the wonderfully miscellaneous herd of writers; and these collections were conned in moorland bothies and kitchen firesides as ardently as in libraries and drawing-rooms. It was in this school that Burns received the literary education that fitted him for his work in life. He was nourished on two generations of poetry ; taught by its mistakes,