Page:Merry Muses of Caledonia.djvu/18

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( xii )

In his Journal Byron wrote:—

"Allen has lent me a quantity of Burns's unpublished, and never to be published, letters. They are full of oaths and obscene songs. What an antithetical mind! Tenderness, roughness, delicacy, coarseness, sentiment, sensuality, soaring and grovelling, dirt and deity, all mixed up in one compound of poor clay."

In a letter to Bowles he further says:—

"I have seen myself a collection of letters of another eminent—nay, pre-eminent—deceased poet, so abominably gross and elaborately coarse, that I do not believe they could be paralleled in our language. What is more strange is, that some of them are couched as postscripts to his serious and sentimental letters, to which are tacked either a piece of prose or some verses of the most hyperbolical obscenity. He himself says, 'if obscenity were the sin against the Holy Ghost, he most certainly could not be saved.'"

In another letter to his friend Hodgson, of date December 14th, 1873, he writes in similar terms:—

"Will you tell Drury I have a treasure for him—a whole set of original Burns letters never published, nor to be published; for they are full of fearful oaths[1] and the most nauseous songs—all humorous, but coarse bawdry. However they are curiosities, and shew him quite in a new point of view—the mixture, or rather contrast of tenderness, delicacy, obscenity, and coarseness in the same mind is wonderful."

These letters which seemed so "strange" to Byron—such a "treasure," such "curiosities"—were all addressed to Robert Cleghorn, farmer, Saughton Mills, who, as we have already said, was a member of the Crochallan Club, and at the same time a bosom friend of Burns. When the Poet was engaged in collecting the old songs as material for purified versions in Johnson's and Thomson's publications, whenever he came across a specially brilliant black diamond, he facetiously passed it on to Cleghorn "for his spiritual nourishment

  1. Byron here draws on his imagination; none of the MSS bear this out.