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In this beautiful lyric observe three things — the persons, the scenery, and the season of the year. It was long a fashion to identify lovers with shepherds or swains, till the affectation and the triteness of the notion made the Muse sick of it; but it nevertheless had reason in it, as the life of the shepherd is far more favorable both to thoughtful meditation and to tender contemplation than professions that put forth their energies amid the bustle of business, the whir of industrial wheels, or the parade of public life. The man who composed this song was a shepherd living in a land of shepherds, and in him it could be no affectation; but whether shepherd or not, the man who wishes to compose or quietly to enjoy a love song, or, what is better, a loving soul, will more naturally transport himself to the green slopes and the broomy knowes of a quiet land of shepherds than to the splendid roll of chariots in the Park at London, or the motley whirl of holiday keepers on Hampstead Heath. The scenery of the best love songs in all languages is decidedly rural. No doubt there may be love, and very wise love too, in a London lane, as “Sally in Our Alley," and other songs abundantly testify; but they will want something to stamp on them the type of the highest classicality, and that something will be found not far from the Yarrow braes and Ettrick shaws, when the kye comes hame.” Love in a green glade, or by a river side, or on a heather brae, is poetical, for there the living glory of the raptured soul within finds itself harmonized with the glory of the living mantle of the Godhead without; whereas love in a fashionable saloon, a gay drawing-room, or a glittering train of coaching gentility, is both less congruous on account of its artificial surround. ings, and apt to degenerate into flirtation, which is a half-earnest imitation of the least earnest half of love. Observe also the season of the year, though indicated only by a single word in the song: « 'Tis beneath the spreading birch,” the most graceful, the most fragrant, and the most Scottish of all trees; and the birch spreads its tresses not till May or June. It is, therefore, in May, “when the birds sing a welcome to May, sweet May," and the “zephyrs as they pass make a pause to make love to the flowers," that love songs should be aired and marriages made, if they are meant to be touched with the finest bloom of the poetry of nature.
The author of this song, we said, was a shepherd, and we need scarcely say that the shepherd was Hogg,-a name that will go down in literary tradition along with Burns and Scott, John Wilson and Lord Cockburn, as typical representatives of the best virtues of the Scottish character in an age when Scotland had not begun to be ashamed of her native Muse, and to lose herself amid the splendid gentilities of the big metropolis on the Thames. In outward condition and social circumstance, Hogg was more nearly allied to Burns than to Scott; if Burns was a plowman on the banks of Doon in Ayrshire, Hogg was first a cowherd, then a shepherd, and then a farmer, first in his own native parish of Ettrick, in the highland of Selkirkshire, and afterwards on Yarrow braes, not far from the sweet pastoral seclusion of St. Mary's Loch. But in the tone of his mind, as well as the traditional influences of his birthplace, he belonged to Scott. In literature they were both story-tellers rather than song writers; and in politics they were both Conservatives, nourishing their souls in a sweet-blooded way on the heroic traditions and pleasant memories of their forefathers. The moving tales and strange legends from the fertile pen of the shepherd, for generations to come, will help innocently to entertain the fancy of many an honest cotter's fireside in the long winter nights, while the strange unearthly weirdness of his « Fife Witch's” nocturnal ride, and the spiritual sweetness of his “Bonny Kilmeny,” will secure their author a high place among the classical masters of imaginative narrative in British literature; but his appearance on the field of narrative poetry in the same age with the more rich and powerful genius of Scott was unfavorable to his asserting a permanent position as a poetical story-teller. It is as a song writer, therefore, that he is likely to remain best known to the general public; for though in this department he has no pretensions to the wealth or the power or the fire of Burns, he has prevailed to strike out a few strains of no common excellence that have touched a chord in the popular heart and found an echo in the public ear: and this, indeed, is the special boast of good popular songs, that they are carried about as jewels and as charms in the breast of every man that has a heart, while intellectual works of a more imposing magnitude, like palatial castles, are seen only by the few who purposely go to see them or accidently pass by them. Small songs are the circulating medium of the people. The big bullion lies in the bank.
We proceed to instance a few other classical examples of that sweet, pensive musing of the lover, quietly feeding upon beauty as the honeybee feeds on the flower,-a cheerfulness and a
lusciousness of pure emotion, much more chaste, much more safe, and much more permanent than the passion which glows like a furnace, or the steam which threatens to explode. Take first one of Tannahill's, perhaps not the best, but certainly at one time the most popular, of his love songs:
o' Dun-blane. How sweet is the brier, wi' its
blossom, And sweet is the birk, wi' its
o' green ; Yet
sweet-er an' fair - er, an' dear to this bos - om, Is
love - ly young
She's modest as ony, an' blythe as she's bonnie,
For guileless simplicity marks her its ain;
Wha'd blight in its bloom the sweet flow'r o' Dunblane.
Thou’rt dear to the echoes o' Calderwood glen;
Is charming young Jessie, the flow'r o' Dunblane.
It is recorded by those who are versed in the detailed history of Scottish song, that there never was such a Jessie beneath the shade of Leighton's grand old cathedral, and that Ben Lomond is not visible from that venerable haunt of Scottish Episcopacy called Dunblane,- a fact worthy of note, not because it in any wise detracts from the singable excellence of the song, but be. cause it is in this respect an exception to the general character of Scottish songs, which always spring from a strong root in reality, never deal with imaginary persons,— an Amaryllis or an Amanda for the nonce,-and are in fact as true as a photograph to the person and place celebrated. Here is another ditty in a similar strain, composed by the poet under the immediate inspiration of the grassy slopes, wooded hills, dewy dells, and wimpling brooks of his own beautiful Renfrewshire; a poem which, for picturesqueness of pastoral scenery, is, I will venture to say, unsurpassed in the lyrical literature of any language, ancient or modern: