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Life of Robert Burns   By: (1795-1881)

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New York: Delisser & Procter, 508 Broadway. 1859.


The readers of the "Household Library" will certainly welcome a Life of Burns. That his soul was of the real heroic stamp, no one who is familiar with his imperishable lyric poetry, will deny.

This Life of the great Scottish bard is composed of two parts. The first part, which is brief, and gives merely his external life, is taken from the "Encyclopedia Britannica." The principle object of it, in this place, is to prepare the reader for what follows. The second part is a grand spiritual portrait of Burns, the like of which the ages have scarcely produced; the equal of which, in our opinion, does not exist. In fact, since men began to write and publish their thoughts in this world, no one has appeared who equals Carlyle as a spiritual portrait painter; and, taken all in all, this of his gifted countryman Burns is his master piece. I should not dare to say how many times I have perused it, and always with new wonder and delight. I once read it in the Manfrini Palace, at Venice, sitting before Titian's portrait of Ariosto. Great is the contrast between the Songs of Burns and the Rime of the Italian poet, between the fine spiritual perception of Carlyle's mind and the delicate touch of Titian's hand, between picturesque expression and an expressive picture; yet this very antithesis seemed to prepare my mind for the full enjoyment of both these famous portraits; the sombre majesty of northern genius seemed to heighten and be heightened by the sunset glow of the genius of the south.

Besides giving the article from the "Encyclopedia Britannica," as a kind of frame for the portrait of Burns, we will here add, from the "English Cyclopedia," a sketch of Carlyle's life. A severe taste may find it a little out of place, yet we must be allowed to consult the wishes of those for whom these little volumes are designed.

Carlyle, (Thomas,) a thinker and writer, confessedly among the most original and influential that Britain has produced, was born in the parish of Middlebie, near the village of Ecclefechan, in Dumfries shire, Scotland, on the 4th of December, 1795. His father, a man of remarkable force of character, was a small farmer in comfortable circumstances; his mother was also no ordinary person. The eldest son of a considerable family, he received an education the best in its kind that Scotland could then afford the education of a pious and industrious home, supplemented by that of school and college. (Another son of the family, Dr. John A. Carlyle, a younger brother of Thomas, was educated in a similar manner, and, after practising for many years as a physician in Germany and Rome, has recently become known in British literature as the author of the best prose translation of Dante.) After a few years spent at the ordinary parish school, Thomas was sent, in his thirteenth or fourteenth year, to the grammar school of the neighboring town of Annan; and here it was that he first became acquainted with a man destined, like himself, to a career of great celebrity. "The first time I saw Edward Irving," writes Mr. Carlyle in 1835, "was six and twenty years ago, in his native town, Annan. He was fresh from Edinburgh, with college prizes, high character, and promise: he had come to see our school master, who had also been his. We heard of famed professors of high matters, classical, mathematical a whole Wonderland of knowledge; nothing but joy, health, hopefulness without end, looked out from the blooming young man... Continue reading book >>

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