Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Burns’s Language
By Francis Jeffrey (1773–1850)
 
From Essays

ONE other remark is of a more limited application, and is addressed chiefly to the followers and patrons of that new school of poetry against which we have thought it our duty to neglect no opportunity of testifying. Those gentlemen are outrageous for simplicity, and we beg leave to recommend to them the simplicity of Burns. He has copied the spoken language of passion and affection with infinitely more fidelity than they have ever done, on all occasions which properly admitted of such adaptation. But he has not rejected the helps of elevated language and habitual associations, nor debased his composition by an affectation of babyish interjections and all the puling expletives of an old nursery-maid’s vocabulary. They may look long enough among his nervous and manly lines, before they find any “Good lacks!” “Dear hearts!”—or, “As a body may says,” in them; or any stuff about dancing daffodils and sister Emmelines. Let them think with what infinite contempt the powerful mind of Burns would have perused the story of Alice Fell and her duffle cloak, of Andrew Jones and the half-crown, or of Little Dan without breeches, and his thievish grandfather. Let them contrast their own fantastical personages of hysterical schoolmasters and sententious leech-gatherers, with the authentic rustics of Burns’s “Cottar’s Saturday Night,” and his inimitable songs, and reflect on the different reception which those personifications have met with from the public. Though they will not be reclaimed from their puny affectations by the example of their learned predecessors, they may, perhaps, submit to be admonished by a self-taught and illiterate poet, who drew from Nature far more correctly than they can do, and produced something so much liker the admired copies of the masters whom they have abjured.
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