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There's not a keener lash!
March, 1784. I have often observed in the course of my ex. perience of human life, that every man, even the worst, has something good about him ; though very often nothing else than a happy temperament of constitution, inelining him to this or that virtue. For this reason, no man can say in what degree any other person, besides himself, can be, with strict justice, called wicked. Let any of the strictest character for regularity of conduct among us, examine impartially how many vices he has never been guilty of, not from any care or vigilance, but for want of opportunity, or some accidental circumstance intervening; how many of the weaknesses of mankind he has escaped, because he was out of the line of such temptation ; and what often, if not always, weighs more than all the rest, how much he is indebted to the world's good opinion, because the world does not know all ; I say any man who can thus think, will scan the the failings, nay, the faults and crimes, of mankind around him, with a brother's
eye. I have often courted the acquaintance of that part of mankind, commonly known by the ordinary phrase of blackguards ; sometimes farther than was consistent with the safety of my character : those who, by thoughtless prodigality, or headstrong passions, have been driven to ruin, Though disgraced by follies, nay sometimes "stained with guilt,
* *," I have yet found among them, in not a few instances,
some of the noblest virtues, magnanimity, gene rosity, disinterested friendship, and even modesty.
April, As I am what the men of the world, if they knew such a man, would call a whimsical mortal; I have various sources of pleasure and enjoyment which are, in a manner, peculiar to myself; or some here and there, such other out-of-the-way person. Such is the peculiar pleasure I take in the season of winter, more than the rest of the year. This, I believe, may be partly owing to my misfortunes giving my mind a melancholy cast; but there is something even in the
* Mighty tempest, and the hoary waste Abrupt and deep, stretch'd o'er the buried earth”
which raises the mind to a serious sublimity, favourable to every thing great and noble. There is scarcely any earthly object gives me more-I do not know if I should call it pleasure-but something which exalts me, something which enraptures me-than to walk in the sheltered side of a wood, or high plantation, in a cloudy winter-day, and hear the stormy wind howling among the trees, and raving over the plain. It is my best season for devotion : my mind is wrapt up in a kind of enthusiasm to him, who, in the pompous language of the Hebrew bard,“ walks on the wings of the wind." In one of these seasons, just after a train of mis. fortunes, I composed the following.
The wintry west extends his blast, &c.
See Winter, a dirge, vol. iji.
Shenstone finely observes, that love-verses writ without any real passion, are the most nauseous
of all conceits; and I have often thought that no man can be a proper critic of love-composition, except he himself, in one or more instances, have been a warm votary of this passion. As I have been all along a miserable dupe to love, and have been led into a thousand weaknesses and follies by it, for that reason I put the more confidence in my critical skill, in distinguishing foppery and conceit, from real passion and nature, Whether the following song will stand the test, I will not pretend to say, because it is my own; only I can say it was, at the time, genuine from the heart.
Behind yon hills, &c.
See My Nanie 0, vol. ij.
I think the whole species of young men, may be naturally enough divided into two grand classes, which I shall call the grave and the merry; though, by the bye, these terms do not with propriety enough express my ideas. The grave I shall cast into the usual division of those who are goaded on by the love of money, and those whose darling wish is to make a figure in the world. The merry, are the men of pleasure of all denominations ; the jovial lads, who have too much fire and spirit, to have any settled rule of action ; but, without much deliberation, follow the strong impulses of nature : the thoughtless, the careless, the indolent, in particular he, who, with a happy sweetness of natural temper, and a cheerful vacancy of thought, steals through life, generally, indeed, in poverty and obscurity; but poverty and obscurity are only evils to him, who can sit gravely down, and make a repining comparison between his own situation, and that of others; and lastly, to grace the quorum, sueh are, generally, those whose heads are capable of all the towerings of genius, and whose hearts are warmed with all the delicacy of feeling As the grand end of human life is to cultivate an intercourse with that being to whom we owe life, with every enjoyment that can render life delightful; and to maintain an integritive conduct towards our fellow creatures ; that so, by forming piety and virtue into habit, we may be fit members for that society of the pious and the good, which reason and revelation teach us to expect beyond the grave: I do not see that the turn of mind and pursuits of any son of poverty and obscurity, are in the least more inimical to the sacred interests of piety and virtue, than the, even lawful, bustling and straining after the world's riches and honours; and I do not see but that he may gain heaven as well (which by the bye is no mean consideration), who steals through the vale of life, amusing himself with every little flower that fortune throws in his way; as he who, straining straight forward, and perhaps bespattering all about him, gains some of life's little eminences, where, after all, he can only see, and be seen, a little more conspicuously, than what, in the pride of his heart, he is apt to term, the poor, indolent devil he has left behind him.
There is a noble sublimity, a heart-melting tenderness, in some of our ancient ballads, which shew them to be the work of a masterly hand; and it has often given me many a heart-ach to reflect that such glorious old bards-bards who very probably owed all their talents to native genius; yt t have described the exploits of heroes, the pangs of disappointment, and the meltings of love, with such fine strokes of nature-that their very names (o how mortifying to a bard's vanity !) are now “ Buried among the wreck of things which were."
O ye illustrious names unknown ! who could feel so strongly, and describe so well; the last, the meanest of the muses' train-one who, though far inferior to yoar flights, yet eyes your path, and with trembling wing would sometimes soar after you-a poor rustic bard unknown, pays this sympathetic pang to your memory. Some of you tell us, with all the charms of verse, that you have been unfortunate in the world-unfortunate in love: he, too, has felt the loss of his little fortune, the loss of friends, and, worse than all, the loss of the wo. man he adored. Like you, all his consolation was his muse: she taught him in rustic measures to complain. Happy, could he have done it with your strength of imagination, and flow of verse! May the turf lie lightly on your bones! and may you now enjoy the solace and rest, which this world rarely gives to the heart, tuned to all the feelings of poesy and love!
This is all worth quoting in my MSS. and more than all.
To Mr. AIKEN.
(The gentleman to whom the Cotter's Saturday
Night is addressed.)
Ayrshire, 1786. I was with Wilson, my printer, t'other day, and settled all our by-gone matters between us. After I had paid him all demands, I made him the offer of the second edition, on the hazard of being paid out of the first and readiest, which he declines. By his account, the paper of a thousand copies would cost about twenty-seven pounds, and the printing about fifteen or sixteen: he offers to agree to this for the printing, if I will advance for the paper, but this, you know, is out of my power; so fare.