Poor man ! The world goes on, and every year fathers do that kind of thing. Mothers may match-make, but they will never bring about so many marriages by persuasion as fathers do by prohibition. Fathers are the real matchmakers. The inevitable hap-' pened. Jean had been careless and indifferent when she and Burns could meet almost daily. She had kept him dangling in a state of suspense, never sure of her, ever more anxious to obtain a word or a smile, or one of those rare walks among the "sequestered hills," when she would sigh with him, and perhaps make vows that she repudiated with a laugh next day.
A Persecuted Lover
But now things were different. He was no longer a sturdy young farmer; he was a gallant young man shunned and in disgrace, miserable and forlorn. She must never see nor speak to him again, but it was a pity to think of him lonely and unhappy. Jean had quite enough wit to appreciate the point of his poems, and quite enough observation and heart to be aware that in summer twilights a figure would be lurking near her home, sighing furiously. After a time, a curious, low whistle would sound, and Jean would pause in her work. "Though father and mother and a' should go mad, O whustle, and I'll come to ye, my lad." The stolen meetings went on, but the poems went on also, and there seemed no prospect of Burns ever being taken into favour again. They would have married, out he was wretchedly poor, and he and his brother had to support the whole family on their farm. They went through the form of marriage together, writing down that they took each other for husband and wife, a ceremony held binding; but they dared not proclaim it. At last, however, the secret had to come out, for Jean was to be a mother.
She went to her father, and confessed to him. His wrath was terrible. In his eyes the two were not married; and he would almost rather have Jean disgraced then married to such an impious man as Burns, at war with his church. Jean, on her knees, held out to him the written lines of marriage; her father snatched it from her, and threw it in the fire. With a woman's easily-impressed imagination, Jean saw in this the end of everything. The visible symbol of her marriage was gone. She was ill and nervous; in a word, she submitted to her father's will.
Mr. Armour was a practical man. When his first fury had abated, he wasted no time with whips or firearms; he set about separating the young couple far more efficaciously. He knew that Burns had been talking of going to Jamaica to try to better his fortunes, and he hoped to drive him there. Burns was enraged against his father-in-law, but more sorrowful than angry against Jean. She would not see or speak to him, for she was utterly cowed by her father, and only declared, in tears, that she no longer considered herself the wife of the poet. He, pestered by the authorities, was " obliged to skulk from covert to covert, under all the terrors of a gaol."
The situation seemed almost hopeless, but at this critical period the first volume of his poems was issued in Edinburgh. "It is hardly possible to imagine with what eager delight and admiration they were everywhere received," says a biographer. " Old and young, learned and ignorant, all were alike surprised and transported." Burns received an invitation to Edinburgh, and at the end of 1786 went there, to find himself the favourite of the hour. A second edition of his poems brought him £700; duchesses and nobles sued for his attention; Edinburgh could not do enough for him. But society is fickle, and when the first novelty of the poet's character had worn off, he found himself in the cold again. He came back to Mossgiel, wearied of the inconstant flatteries of Edinburgh. He only stayed eleven days at the farm, and then went back again, not having seen the Armours. He was still forbidden the house. At the end of July, however, on another visit home, he found the ban removed, and he went to their house, and had long talks with Jean. He told her he still considered they were married, and, indeed, they probably were, according to the marriage laws of the country.
He found Jean altered. Her character had developed; she was firmer than before, and certainly her love for him had gained in strength. She was no longer a light-hearted girl; she was a steadfast, tender woman.
Burns had seen much of women in Edinburgh. Ladies of fashion and wit had fluttered round him like butterflies; he had had love affairs there, things of a day or a week; he had looked below the surface, and found only flattery and hollowness. He came back to jean with a new standard of comparison. She was a peasant, rough - handed, with rustic voice and speech, and no graces of manner. But she was true and sterling, her love was assured, she was one of his own people, and had the sturdy simplicity of the peasant. She understood him, too, and her mind was quite well enough developed for her to admire his work, while she had enough natural wit to amuse and interest him. He wrote of her:
" Dear as is thy form to me, Still dearer is thy mind."
So at last they were married, in April, 1788, according to the simple laws of Scotland. Burns introduced her and her people to his family and friends, and they settled down on a small farm. It has been said that he married her out of pity, and because her family were likely to turn her out of doors. This was not so. He married her out of love; they were united by an affection which had only grown through opposition and separation and sorrow. He found in her an ideal wife.
She was sensible, affectionate, hard-working, and always cheerful. To her he returned from his little excursions on excise duty, with their attendant flirtations, always with a sense of rest and peace. When money matters went wrong, as they speedily did, she sustained him. He could not get time to farm, he was so much lionised. Carlyle says, "These lion-hunters were the ruin and the death of Burns. They bindered his industry . . . they got their amusement, and the hero's life went for it."
He had fallen into habits of intemperance by this time, as was scarcely surprising, for the whole countryside, from gentlemen down, sought .his society, and pressed conviviality upon him. But in the darkest days he always had his Jean.
In 1795 his only daughter died, and the blow weakened him. The following spring found him down with rheumatic fever, and before he was fully recovered he went out, caught a chill, and died, a poor man, at the' age of thirty-seven. He was followed to the grave on July 26, 1796, by ten thousand persons of every class and from every part of the country, who had come to do him honour.
His wife survived him thirty-eight years, during which time she saw his fame ever growing. The outcry about his irreligion died down, and it was recognised that a man was not necessarily an unspeakable ruffian because he made a Scottish verse out of a saying from Ecclesiastes, as in the preface of the "Address to the Unco Guid." Carlyle has said that "if discrepancy between place held and place meritea constitute perverse-ness of lot for man, no lot could be more perverse than Burns's." He was, indeed. wasted on a scanty farm or the gauging of beer. His gifts," expressed in conversation, are the theme of all that ever heard him. All kinds of gifts, from the gracefulest utterances of courtesy to the highest fire of passionate speech, loud floods of mirth, soft wailings of affection, laconic emphasis, clear, piercing insight, all was in him. Witty duchesses celebrate him as a man whose speech 'led them off their feet.' . Waiters and ostlers at inns would get out of bed and come crowding to hear this man speak !"
Carlyle, indeed, who was not a man to be blinded even by the national feeling which is so strong in the Scot, looked upon Burns as one of the outstanding great men of the world. He took him for one of his heroes in " Heroes and Hero Worship," not, curiously enough, as poet, but as man of letters. He says that Burns, springing up in the " withered, unbelieving, second-hand eighteenth century," was like a sudden splendour of Heaven in the artificial Vauxhall. His genius was certainly much misunderstood at first, and the reception given to his poems, warm though it was, was followed by an outcry about his irreligion; while the irregularities of his private life blinded many of the " unco' guid " to any merit in his works. It is no wonder that under such treatment his spirit grew bitter, and he sought in convivial rather than congenial society to forget the slights offered to his greatness by many whose mental attainments made their opinion a thing of moment. Jean seems to have borne with him very understandingly; and if her patience could not long have stood his constant lapses into drink or flirtation, his early death spared her a long and sordid disillusionment. She had, as we have seen, enough wit to appreciate the greatness of one whom Carlyle has called "the largest soul in all the British lands."
That Burns was tardy in gaining wide recognition beyond Scotland is undoubtedly due to the dialect in which he wrote his finest poems. When he forsook his native speech, and wrote in academic English, he was apt to become stilted. But the dialect is well worth mastering, and frequently docs not need even that trouble. Anyone can understand absolutely that most exquisite of all his songs, " Ae fond kiss an' then we sever"; while " Auld Lang Syne " has become for ever)' Briton a national song.
He was, indeed, a man of many parts, and his wife seems to have satisfied him as no other woman could have done. Amid all the meteors and comets and rockets which shot across the sky of his genius, she shone calm and steadfast, like the evening star that hangs just above the splendours of the sunset-his "sweet, lovely Jean."