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REVIEWS BURNS AND HIS ENVIRONMENT"' MALCOLM w. WALLACE. When Professor Ferguson. in 1931 published his admirable edition of Burns's Letters the Times Literary Supplement described the volumes as "by an American editor out of the Clarendon Press, an odd pedigree, by the way, for anytrung of Rab Mossg1el's." Of the seven hundred and fifteen letters, sixty-four were printed for the first time and eighty-eight had been previously printed only in mutilated versions. The real significance of the new edition, however, consisted in the fact that all but one hundred and seventy of the letters were printed from their original manuscripts or from reliable facsimiles. For the first time it became possible to read the great majority of Burns's letters in accurate transcripts from what he himself had written, without the omissions, emendations, and additions which had appealed to earlier editors. Surely this fact surpasses in oddity even the pedigree of the volumes! Another volume of similar pedigree was published by Mac- .millan of New York in the following year-The Life of Robert Burns, by Professor F. B. Snyder (now President Snyder of Northwestern University). It was by far the most critical, scholarly biography of the poet which had yet appeared. And now we have this latest volume by Professor Ferguson~not a formal life, but rather a collection of biographical studies, which shows the same meticulous accuracy and desire to arrive at the truth which we should expect from the editor of the Leiters. "What sort of man was Robert Burns?" To answer this question as accurately as possible is the task which the author has set for himself: defence and condemnation he has tried to regard as equally irrelevant. The seven chapters into which the book is divided deal with Scotland, Education, Men, Women, Livelihood, Song, and The Scot, and in each chapter the facts of.Burns's life are subjected to a fresh, original interpretation. No one is more intimately acquainted with the facts than is Professor Ferguson, nor more determined to seek a purely objective, scholarly interpretation. He knows that •Pride and Passion: Robert Burns, by DeLancey Ferguson, New York, Oxford, 1939. 505 506 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY too many of Burns's biographers "have worked in the wrong mood, intent on moralizing or deprecating rather than interpreting." His own qualifications for making such a study were certainly unusual. He was not "bred in the rosy mists of the Burns legend," and indeed he made his first acquaintance with the Burns tradition only after he had long immersed himself in the detailed studies of Burns's letters which preceded the production of his own great edition. Accordingly, he had "nothing to unlearn": his basic impressions were founded on the poet's own words. He is suspicious of all unsupported oral tradition and guess-work. In the pursuit of this somewhat austere, detached ideal, Professor Ferguson has produced a really significant study of Burns. His picture of Scotland's poverty, the political chicanery, and the Anglicizing mania of the gentry, is convincing on the whole, and furnishes a striking background for Burns's achievement in restoring to his countrymen a genuine knowledge and appreciation of their national heritage. Sometimes the harshness of the picture calls for qualification, for many of the unlovely aspects of contemporary Scotch life were paralleled in England. But the Burns who emerges from these studies is a convincing, living man. He loves his native land and his fellow-men, and accordingly he detests the predominance of England and all forms of social injustice. To be a Jacobite and at the same time a Radical did not seem to him inconsistent. He hates hypocrisy and intolerance, but it is against these and not religion that he aims his arrows of satire. Both reason and sent·iment reveal to him a benevolent God whom he may know through the voice of conscience. And even in his transgressions he believes that the light which had led him astray "was light from heaven." He is a Scotch peasant and a man of genius. He has an enormous delight in being alive, and savours its quality alike in exquisitely delicate sentiment and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 505-507
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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