Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Critique of Burns

It is the 252nd anniversary of Robert Burns' birth.  Sir Walter Scott met the older Burns once when he was a youth.  He also critiqued a work of Burns' in the Quarterly Review.  This review was later published in a collection of Burns critiques titled "Early Critical Reviews of Robert Burns".  In Scott's critique, he draws on the work of Dr. James Currie, whose review is also published in this book.  Scott's review is lengthy, and sometimes hard hitting, but recognizes the bard's unique gift.  It begins:


From "the Quarterly Review," February, 1809.


We opened a book bearing so interesting a title with no little anxiety. Literary reliques vary in species and value almost as much as those of the Catholic or of the antiquary. Some deserve a golden shrine for their intrinsic merit; some are valued from the pleasing recollections and associations with which they are combined; some, reflecting little honour upon their unfortunate authors, are dragged by interested editors from merited obscurity. The character of Burns, on which we may perhaps hazard some remark in the course of this article, was such as to increase our apprehensions. The extravagance of genius with which this wonderful man was gifted, being in his later and more evil days directed to no fixed or general purpose, was, in the morbid state of his health and feelings, apt to display itself in hasty sallies of virulent and unmerited severity—sallies often regretted by the bard himself; and of which justice to the living and to the dead alike demanded the suppression. Neither was this anxiety lessened when we recollected the pious care with which the late excellent Dr. Currie had performed the task of editing the works of Burns. His selection was limited, as much by respect to the fame of the living as of the dead. He dragged from obscurity none of those satirical effusions which ought to be as ephemeral as the transient offences which called them forth. He excluded everything approaching to licence, whether in morals or religion, andthus rendered his collection such as, doubtless, Burns himself, in his moments of sober reflection, would have most highly approved. Yet applauding, as we do most highly applaud, the leading principles of Dr. Currie's selection, we are aware that they sometimes led him into fastidious and over-delicate rejection of the bard's most spirited and happy effusions...'

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