Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/442

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Lord Panmure in 1817, an attempt to raise a subscription having failed. She gave it up a year and a half later, when her children were able to support her. She died 26 March 1834. A portrait is given in the ‘Land of Burns,’ p. 70. The mother, Agnes Burns, lived with her son, Gilbert, and died 14 Jan. 1820, in the eighty-eighth year of her age. Gilbert (b. 28 Sept. 1760) lived at Mossgiel till 1797; he afterwards took a farm at Dinning, then one belonging to a son of Mrs. Dunlop, near Haddington, and finally became factor of Lady Blantyre at Lethington. Here he lived twenty-five years, dying 8 Nov. 1827. He married a Miss Breckonridge, and had six sons and eight daughters. Burns's sister, Isobel, born 27 June 1771, became a Mrs. Begg, lived to give information about her brother to Chambers for his work published in 1851, and died 4 Dec. 1858. Another sister, Annabella, died, aged 67, on 2 March 1832.

Burns was 5 ft. 10 in. in height, of great strength, and rather heavy build, with a ‘ploughman's stoop.’ His features were rather coarse (Scott says more massive than his portraits suggest), and his dress often slovenly. His air was often melancholy and rather stern, but in conversation the face became singularly animated and expressive of pathetic, humorous, and sublime emotions, and was lighted up by eyes of unequalled brilliancy. The following is a list of his portraits: 1. The most authentic, painted by Alexander Nasmyth in 1787, was first engraved by John Beugo for the Edinburgh edition. The original picture is in the National Gallery, Edinburgh. A replica, ‘touched upon by Raeburn,’ is in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Another copy formerly belonged to the Cathcart family, of Auchindrane, Ayr. A small cabinet picture by Nasmyth, engraved as a vignette in Lockhart's ‘Life,’ is at Marchmont. 2. A portrait, by Peter Taylor, belonged to the painter's widow, and was bequeathed to William Taylor of Linlithgow, who exhibited it at the Crystal Palace centenary, 25 Jan. 1859. It was engraved by Horsburgh in 1830, and published by Constable with attestations of its fidelity. Though recognised by various friends, it is said to resemble Gilbert Burns rather than Robert. 3. A silhouette was taken by one Miers in 1787, of which Burns sent copies to his friends (see Address to William Tytler). An engraving is given in Hogg & Motherwell's edition. 4. An admirable chalk drawing, by A. Skirving, now in possession of Sir Theodore Martin (Notes and Queries, 6th series, iv. 426, 476), engraved in Belfast editions of 1805 and 1807, and in Blackie's edition (1843), gives the best impression of his appearance. It closely resembles No. 1, but the relation between them seems to be uncertain. 5. A portrait by David Allan was introduced in an illustration of the ‘Cottar's Saturday Night’ (1795). Burns tells Thomson (May 1795) that some people think it better than Nasmyth's, though he was not personally known to Allan. 6. In the same letter Burns speaks of a miniature then being executed as a ‘most remarkable likeness.’ A portrait, identified with this by Dr. Waddell, together with a pendant, said to be the poet's son, Robert, are engraved in Waddell's edition of Burns, where a statement of the evidence for their authenticity is given (Waddell, ii. App. lxvii–lxxx). The evidence is very weak, and, unless the painter and engraver were utterly incompetent, or Burns's skull became distorted, and his nose became aquiline instead of straight in eight years, this likeness is, at best, a grotesque caricature. 7. Dr. Waddell also acquired a portrait said to represent Burns, at Irvine, at the age of twenty or twenty-two (see Notes and Queries, 4th series, iv. 274, 318, 392, 395, 543).

Criticism of Burns is only permitted to Scotchmen of pure blood. Admirable appreciations may be found in the essays of Carlyle and Nichol (see below). Yet it may be said that, if there are more elegant and subtle song-writers in the language, no one even approaches Burns in masculine strength or concentrated utterance of passion. Though all his writings are occasional, he reflects every mood of the national character, its tenderness, its sensuous vigour, and its patriotic fervour. Like Byron, he always wrote at a white heat, but, unlike Byron, he had the highest lyrical power, and, if he sometimes fails, he does not fail by excessive dilution. He is only insipid when he tries to adopt the conventional English of his time, in obedience to foolish advice from Dr. Moore and others. The personal character of Burns must be inferred from his life. Its weaker side is well set forth in an essay by Mr. R. L. Stevenson in the ‘Cornhill’ for October 1879. His coxcombry, however, seems to be there a little exaggerated. Though it may be granted that in his relations to women he showed an unpleasant affectation as well as laxity of morals, it must be said that he was never heartless, that he did his best to support his children, that he was a good father and brother, and that, if his spirit of independence was rather irritable and self-conscious, his pride was, at bottom, thoroughly honourable. In spite of overwhelming difficulties and many weaknesses, and