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Michael Bruce and the Ode to the Cuckoo
By J. C Shairp

A PARAGRAPH in a Scotch newspaper last autumn told the world how Mr. John Bright, M.P., had suddenly appeared in the small town of Kinross, on the shores of Lochleven, and how, having called the landlord of the hotel, after sundry inquiries after the famous trout of the neighbouring loch, he suddenly changed the subject, and asked mine host if he knew where lay the birthplace of Michael Bruce, the poet. Poets are not much in the way of mine host; but recollection or inquiry soon enabled him to tell his illustrious guest that Michael Bruce was born and died at Kinnesswood, a small village about three miles distant, on the margin of the lake. Mr. Bright ordered a carriage, drove to the retired village, found there an old residenter who was full of traditions of Michael Bruce, and showed the house where he was bom, lived, and died, together with sundry relics of the young genius ; then led the way to Portmoak kirkyard, and pointed out the poet’s grave. The statesman and orator entered with deep interest into all he saw and heard; then heartily thanking his guide, got into his carriage, handed the old man his card, and drove off, leaving him to wonder at the famous stranger he had entertained unawares.

What was it that so deeply interested Mr. Bright in the young poet as to induce him to make this pilgrimage to his grave ? Not only that the young genius was taken away ere he reached his prime of power; this is common to Bruce with many another inheritor of unfulfilled renown. It was especially the belief that to him of right belongs the authorship of one immortal lyric, the ‘Ode to the Cuckoo.’

A few years before this pilgrimage, at a party at which one or more poets, as well as several other men eminent in literature, were present, Mr. Bright is said to have repeated the exquisite ode, and to have asked those present if they knew who wrote that. Not one of them all had ever heard either of the ode or of its author. At that time Mr. Bright himself believed, as so many others have done and some still do, that the ode was Logan’s. Further inquiries convinced him that in this belief he was mistaken, and that Bruce was its real author. Hence probably this visit to the home and to the grave of Bruce. About the authorship of the ode something will have to be said in the sequel. Meanwhile let me ask how many of those who may read this paper ever heard the name of Michael Bruce, or of the ‘Ode to the Cuckoo’ with which his name is associated? For those who have never heard of him, let me once more tell his brief, sad story. Those to whom it has long been familiar will forgive the repetition.

The birthplace of Michael Bruce was a retired village, Kinnesswood, lying on the eastern margin of Lochleven, close under the western slope of the green Lomond hills. The village looks westward out on Lochleven, and on the woody island with its old ruined castle, in which Queen Mary was confined, but which the genius of Scott had not yet touched into immortality. Michael’s father, Alexander Bruce, was a weaver in that village, and lived in the top flat of a two-storied thatched house, which still stands there, with its gable to the village street, and is pointed out as the poet’s birthplace. Alexander was a man of the old Scottish stamp, poor but intelligent, a great reader, thoughtful, and devout. The trade which he followed—hand-loom weaving —was then a common one in almost every village of the Scottish Lowlands, and though it has in most places been put out by the use of machinery, it still survives and flourishes in the district round Kinross. Those weavers were and are a peculiar race—keen-witted, much given to reading at the loom, fond of discussion,—either great politicians of the extreme radical stamp, or theologians,—sometimes haters of all the churches. Alexander’s interests seem to have lain mainly towards religion and theology. He belonged to the Church of the Burghers, who had but lately seceded from the Church of Scotland, and were then in the days of their first fervour. Dunfermline, not far off, was its birthplace, and the two brothers, Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine, were its leaders. It was probably true of this secession, as it is of most dissenting churches, that the first days of its discipleship were its best. No doubt it numbered then in the neighbourhood of Lochleven, as in most parts of the south of Scotland, many of the most serious-minded of the peasantry, small farmers, and village tradesmen. Alexander Bruce was one of these, and an elder in the church to which he belonged; not, however, an altogether orthodox adherent, for he clung to a minister who was cut off from the body because he deflected somewhat from the strict Calvinistic standard. Anne Bruce, the poet’s mother, was of the same name, though not of the kindred of her husband, like him in piety, but lively, active, and practical—a busy, ‘ eident * housewife, making the best shift she could with her small means for her numerous family. There were eight children in all, of whom Michael was the fifth. He was bom on the 27th of March, 1746, less than a fortnight before the fatal day of Culloden. It was a sober, frugal, serious household into which he was bom, where the father plied his shuttle all day, except when he paused to devour his book more intently, and where the mother struggled late and early to keep poverty from the door. But the sense of the higher life was present with them through all this world’s care, and day opened and closed in Alexander Bruce’s home with family worship. In just such a household have been reared most of the peasant-poets of whom Scotland is justly proud —Robert Tannahill, Robert Nicoll, Robert Bums, James Hogg.

It will be found that the fathers and mothers of these poets, one or both, were a thoughtful and specially a pious kind of people. So much so that it would seem that there was some close and natural connection between the piety of the parents and the poetry of the children. The child Michael was delicate from the first, but docile, apt to learn. Before he had reached his fourth year he went to the village school, and astonished the teacher by the fluency with which he read the Bible at any place where he was set on. He continued at school for a number ot years off and on, but his attendance was often interrupted, sometimes by illness, oftener by the poverty of his parents. For six successive summers young Michael was withdrawn from school that he might earn a few pence by herding a neighbouring farmer’s cattle. The grazing ground where he kept the herd was the western slopes of the Lomonds, where they rise immediately behind his native village. These herding days, far more than his school-time, we may well believe, were the nursing time of his young inspiration. It was then and there that his spirit drank in through eye and ear the sights and sounds which his imagination afterwards turned to poetry. No doubt those springs and early summers on the Lomond braes were often enough bleak and dull with east winds, and during these young Michael would cower under the bield of the nearest dyke or plantation. But there would come a day now and then when the east wind would forbear, and the soft south-west blow gently from over the Forth, and the gleams and shadows linger softly along the flanks of the Lomonds. On some such day it may have been, when the cuckoo was shouting from the braes above him, that the voice went home to the imagination of the boy, and there dwelt, till in time he uttered it in one immortal song. It was there too as he sat on the green brae-side and looked down on the vale of Kinross and Lochleven, with its two historic islands spread at his feet, that he took in those images which he afterwards wove into his longer and more studied poem of ‘Lochleven.’

It was a matter of course that, spite of hindrances from sickness and herding, Michael quickly rose to the top of the parish school. He, along with four others, formed a class for Latin, in which they were instructed by the parish schoolmaster, Mr. Dun, who, like many others of his station in Scotland, was a sound scholar and an enthusiastic teacher. In this way Bruce obtained learning enough to fit him for the University. One thing as characteristic of him as his active genius was his intense and tender affection for his school-boy companions. They seem to have been a remarkable band of youths with whom he was associated in the Latin class of that village school, all of them sharing Michael’s tastes, some of them with a touch of his poetic faculty. Those, especially one who died before himself, he commemorated in his poetry. His appearince when a school-boy is thus described: Ele was tall and of slender make, with nar-ow chest, high shoulders, and long neck. Elis complexion was pale, even white and glistening. His cheeks were flushed with a aot healthy red, his hair was golden and surly.

By the time Bruce was fifteen, his companions in the Latin class had all dispersed, some to the University, some to work for bread, and he was left to muse how he might contrive to cany on his education. This interval he spent in the study of Milton’s and Thomson’s poems, and in transcribing long passages from these. In a year the way was opened. A small legacy that fell to his father, and promised assistance from a wealthier neighbour, enabled Bruce in his sixteenth year to enter the University of Edinburgh, there to study for the Secession Church, in which he hoped to become a minister. There is too much reason to believe that he, like so many another Scottish student, suffered in health from scanty means, and inability to procure the support needful for a delicate youth at his age. But if so, he suffered in silence. At college Bruce became intimate with a small coterie of young men who, like himself, belonged to the seceding body. These were George Henderson, David Greig, George Lawson, and William Dryburgh, all young men of retired, even severe lives, and of deep piety, yet combining with these qualities a love of literature. With them at first was joined another young seceder, John Logan, a lad of some genius. But finding the way of life among his fellow-seceders too severe for his tastes, Logan left them and joined the Established Church. There he was welcomed by Dr. Hugh Blair, in whose rhetoric class he distinguished himself, and by others of the moderate clergy of Edinburgh, to whom, as lovers of literature, Logan’s poetic tastes and promise recommended him.

The chief incidents that survive of Bruce’s college life are his strong attachment to the small circle of friends above named, his weekly attendance at a literary society of which he and his friends were members, and at which he used to read poems of his own instead of the .customary essays, and his return to Kinnesswood, at the dose of each session, exhausted by hard study and too sober diet. Summer and the kindness of his family and neighbours somewhat restored him, and those months of leisure were mainly given to reading poetry or writing it. As his college time was drawing to a close, in order to eke out his slender means he taught on two successive summers two small roadside schools. The first was at a place called Gairney Bridge, and there for the first and only time he seems to have formed a tender attachment. The young maiden was the daughter of the farmer under whose roof he was received. But so shy and reserved was Bruce that he never told the girl his feelings toward her, but entrusted them only to the songs he was composing.

His second school was at Forrest Mill, near Alloa, in a bleak, flat, forbidding country, with nothing in the immediate neighbourhood to cheer the eye or feed the imagination. The school-house was low-roofed, damp, and close. These things brought on great depression of spirits, and increased the consumptive tendency that had lurked in him from childhood. Yet here he whiled away his despondency by reverting to well-loved places, and composing ‘Loch-leven,’ the longest and most elaborate of his poems, which concludes with these lines:—

'Thus sung the youth, amid unfertile wilds
And nameless deserts, unpoetic ground!
Far from his friends he strayed, recording thus
The dear remembrance of his native fields,
To cheer the tedious night; while slow disease
Prey’d on his pining vitals, and the blasts
Of dark December shook his humble cot.’

The poem, of which these are the last lines, consists of upwards of three hundred lines of blank verse, mainly in the manner of * The Seasons.’ Bruce did not reach the age when even true poets assert a style of their own, but there are proofs enough in what he has left to show that had he lived long enough he would have done so. It has been frequently noticed with wonder that Bruce should have written so many lines on Loch-leven, with Queen Mary’s island and castleprison before his eyes, and not once have alluded to that romantic incident. That even a poet at that day should have so passed it by, shows how dead was the feeling for history and antiquity in Scotland until Scott came. From Forrest Mill Bruce returned home weak and worn with illness. But home brought him no relief; rather the damp mists and easterly haars that settle down on Lochleven from the heights of Lomond chilled his sensitive frame.

There on the return of spring he wrote one more strain—his last. These are the concluding stanzas:—

'Now spring return*: but not to me returns
The vernal joys my better years have known;
Dim in my breast Life’s dying taper burns,
And all the joys of life with health are flown.

‘Starting and shivr’ring in the inconatant wind.
Meagre and pale, the ghost of what I was,
Beneath some blasted tree I lie reclin’d,
And count the silent moments as they past:

'The winged moments, whose unstaying speed'
No art can stop, or in their course arrest;
Whose flight shall shortly count me with the deed.
And lay me down at peace with them that rest.

'Oft morning-dreams presage approaching fate;
How morning-dreams, as poets tell, are true.
Led by pale ghosts I enter Death’s dark gate.
And bid the realms of light and life adieu.

‘Farewell, ye blooming fields! ye cheerful plains!
Enough for me the churchyard’s lonely mound,
Where Melancholy with still Silence reigns,
And the rank grass waves o’er the cheerless ground.

'There let me wander at the shut of eve.
When sleep sits dewy on the labourer's eyes,
The world and all its busy follies leave,
And talk with Wisdom where my Daphnis lies.

'There let me sleep forgotten in the clay
When Death shall shut these weary aching eyes;
Rest in the hopes of an eternal day,
Till the long night is gone, and the last morn arise.'

During the last months, while Michael still lingered under his father’s roof, he was visited by his old college friend, Mr. George Lawson, then a young preacher. On Lawson’s remarking to Bruce that he was glad to see him so cheerful, ‘Why,’ said Bruce, ‘should not a man be cheerful on the verge of heaven?’ Full of solemn yet peaceful thoughts he continued to the end, which came to him imperceptibly on the 5th day of July, 1767. He had just fulfilled his twenty-first year.

His Bible is said to have been found lying on his pillow, marked down at Jeremiah xxii. 10, and this verse written on a blank leaf:—

‘’Tis very vain for me to boast'
How small a price my Bible cost,
The day of judgment will make clear
’Twas very cheap—or very dear.’

They laid him in the kirkyard of Portmoak, the same resting-place in which was laid before him his school companion, Arnot, whom under the name of Daphnis he had mourned so lovingly.

It was three years after Bruce’s death before his poems were given to the public. As the circumstances of their publication were peculiar, and have given rise to much comment, and to controversies which are not yet, after a century, decided, I shall first state the facts about which all are agreed. Afterwards I shall give as plainly as I can the two opposite constructions which have been put on these facts.

In 1770 there was published at Edinburgh a small duodecimo volume of a hundred and seventeen pages, with the following title-page: ‘Poems on Several Occasions, by Michael Bruce. “Sine me, liber, ibis in urbem.”— Ovid. Edinburgh: printed by J. Robertson. MDCCLXX.’

No editor’s name is given, but it was well known at the time that Logan was the editor. To the poems is prefixed a short preface, which for elegance of diction and graceful ness of sentiment is every way worthy of the disciple and friend of Hugh Blair. After a short statement of the few facts of Bruce’s life, and a glowing eulogium on his character and genius, Logan thus concludes: ‘To make up a miscellany some poems, wrote by different authors, are inserted, all of them original, and none of them destitute of merit. The reader of taste will easily distinguish them from those of Mr. Bruce, without their being particularised by any mark.’ Thus, then, it was not an edition of Bruce’s poems, but a miscellany, which consisted of seventeen pieces by various authors, of whom Bruce was only one, and, according to some accounts, not even the principal one.

This miscellany, if it did not prove stillborn, seems to have called forth little attention, and soon to have been nearly forgotten.

Eleven years after its appearance, that is, in 1781, there was published in London a small octavo entitled, ‘ Poems by the Rev. John Logan, one of die Ministers of Leith.’ This volume of a hundred and eighteen pages, somewhat larger than the page of miscellany of 1770, contained fourteen pieces, mostly odes, and nine hymns, some of which last have long been known as incorporated among the paraphrases of the Church of Scotland. To Logan’s poems there is no preface, but standing first in it is the ‘Ode to the Cuckoo,’ the same poem, with a few slight verbal alterations, which had stood last but one in the miscellany of 1770. It may here be noted that out of the seventeen pieces which make up the miscellany of 1770, eight are claimed by Logan’s friends as his entire composition, while in the case of two others part is claimed as Logan’s, the other part is assigned to Bruce. One other ode is assigned to Sir James Foulis, leaving to Bruce only six entire poems, and part of two others. It is also to be remarked that of the eight entire poems and parts of two others claimed as Logan’s contributions to the miscellany, none reappeared among his own poems of 1781, except only the ‘Ode to the Cuckoo.’

Before going farther I shall place before my readers the two versions of the ode, as it appeared first in the miscellany, afterwards among Logan’s poems.


Hail, beauteous stranger of the wood,
Attendant on the spring!
Now heav’n repairs my rural seat,
And woods thy welcome sing.

Soon as the daisie decks the green.
Thy certain voice we hear:
Hast Aon a star to guide thy path.
Or mark the rolling year?

Delightful visitant! with thee
I hail the time of flowers.
When heav’n is fill’d with music sseeot
Of birds among the bow’rs.

The school-boy, wand’ring in the wood
To pull the flow’rs so gay.
Starts, thy curious voice to hear.
And imitates thy lay.

Soon as the pea puts on the bloom,
Thou fly’st thy vocal vale,
An annual guest, in other lands,
Another spring to hail.

Street bird! thy bow’r is ever green,
Thy sky is ever clear;
Thou hast no sorrow in thy song,
No winter in thy year!

O could I fly, I’d fly with thee:
We’d make? with social wing,
Our annual visit o’er the globe,
Companions of the spring.


Hail, beauteous stranger of the grewe!
Thou messenger at spring!
Now Heaven repairs thy rural seat,
And woods thy weteome sing.

What time the daisy decks the green,
Thy certain voice we hear;
Hast thou a star to guide thy path,
Or mark the rolling year?

Delightful visitant! with thee
I hail the time of flowers,
And hear the sound of music sweet
From birds among the bowers.

The school-boy, wandering thro' the wood
To pull the primrose gay,
Starts, the nevi voice of spring to hear,
And imitates thy lay.

What time the pea puts on the bloom,
Thou fliest thy vocal vale,
An annual guest in other lands,
Another spring to hail.

Sweet Bird! thy bower is ever green,
Thy sky is ever clear;
Thou hast no sorrow in thy song,
No winter in thy year!

O could I fly, I’d fly with thee!
We’d make with joyful wing,
Our annual visit o’er the globe, —
Companions of the spring.

Mr. Laing thinks that every man ‘of critical discernment will see in the emendations in the version of 1781 the hand of the original author.’ I must confess that I do not see them in this light. The corrections all appear to me to be for the worse, less accurate, less graphic, more commonplace, with the sharp edge of native observation rubbed off them. But I would not argue anything from these as to the authorship. Poets sometimes in later years improve their poems for the worse.

Such are the facts. Now for the two opposite constructions which have been put upon them. Out of the many comments that have appeared from time to time since the death of Bruce and of Logan I select two, which are amongst the most recent and most complete.

I. The Rev. William MacKelvie published in 1837 an edition of Bruce’s poems with a careful and elaborate biography of the poet. He asserts, and gives ample local testimony for the assertion, that in the autumn after Bruce’s death Logan visited Alexander Bruce at Kinnesswood, prevailed on the old man to give him up all his son’s MS. poems and papers, promising to publish them and carefully to restore every paper entrusted to him, and holding forth the hope that by the publication he might be able to secure such a sum of money as would help to maintain the old people in comfort during the remainder of their days. When two years had passed, and the publication was still delayed, Alexander Bruce grew impatient, and wrote to Logan, but received no answer. At length in 1770 the miscellany above described made its appearance. Great was the disappointment of all Michael’s friends to see the maimed form in which his poems appeared, and especially to find that all the peculiarly religious poems had been omitted. * When the volume was put into old Bruce’s hands he glanced over its contents, and bursting into a flood of tears, exclaimed, “ Where are my son’s Gospel sonnets ? * ’ This was the name by vfhich the old man designated his son’s paraphrases of Scripture passages, for which he knew no other name than that given by Ralph Erskine to his own similar compositions.

Indignant at the wrong done to his son’s memory, old Alexander Bruce set out for Edinburgh, to recover from Logan the MSS. he had entrusted to him. After some search he found Logan, accused him of having kept back from the world the best part of his son’s poems, and demanded back the MSS. Logan gave him a few loose papers containing two unpublished poems. Bruce insisted on having his son’s MS. volume, a large quarto into which it was well known that Michael had carefully copied his poems, which the father had delivered into Logan’s hands. Logan professed not to be able to find this book, and expressed fear that the servants had singed fowls with it Bruce then asked for some account of the money received for the publication, but neither money nor explanation was forthcoming.

The old man returned home much dejected, and died within two years after this painful interview. But he often recounted the facts to his friends, and they were well known to the dwellers in and around Kinnesswood, who took interest in such matters.

Such is Mr. MacKelvie’s statement, and as he is evidently a painstaking and accurate writer, who does not make statements without sifting the grounds of them, the opinion at which he arrived deserves to be well considered for its own sake, even if he had not given so fully as he has done, the evidence on which he formed it. But though nearly seventy years had passed before Mr. MacKelvie began his investigations, he was still able to obtain much evidence corroborative of the above statements.

To those testimonies which he has adduced I shall add one from another source. Dr. Anderson, during the course of the publication of his edition of the British Poets, became aware of the controversy as to the respective claims of Bruce and Logan. He passed it over but slightly in his life of Bruce, but by the time he came to write that of Logan it had taken in his mind a more serious aspect. He therefore made inquiry, and was fortunate enough to find Mr. Birrel, one of the surviving friends of the Bruce family, who was intimately acquainted with all that passed regarding the publication of Michael’s poems. Mr. Birrel, a man for whose character Dr. Anderson expresses deep respect, wrote to Dr. A. in these terms:—

Kinnesswood, August 31st, 1795.' (that is twenty-eight years after Michael’s death.)

‘The finished book of Michael’s poems’ (that is,the MS. book above alluded to) ’was given to Mr. Logan, who never returned it Many a time, with tears trickling down his cheeks, has old Alexander told me how much he was disappointed in Logan, who came unexpectedly, and got all the papers, letters, and the books away, without giving him time to take a note of the titles, or getting a receipt for the papers, &c., &c. After the publication he went over to Edinburgh to recover them. Mr. Logan desired him to call again, and they would be ready. He did so, but he was gone out and no message left. He saw Mr. Logan on the street, who told him that he had left the poems with the servants, but that, as he did not get them, he was afraid the servants had taken them, and singed fowls with them.’ ‘David Pearson,’ Mr. Birrel adds farther on, ‘does not remember of seeing the “Ode to the Fountain,” the “Vernal Ode,” “Ode to Paoli,” “Chorus of the Elysian Bards,” or the “Danish Ode" (all which had appeared in the miscellany) ‘until he saw them in print. But the rest of the publication he decidedly ascribes to Michael, and in a most particular manner “The Cuckoo,” "Salgar and Moma," and the other Eclogue.’

So writes Mr. Birrel.

On the strength of the testimony which he found still extant, and much of which he has given in his biography, Mr. MacKelvie charges Logan with having appropriated at least three of Bruce’s Scripture paraphrases, and published them among the nine hymns in his own book of poems.

Into the question of the paraphrases and other alleged thefts I shall not now enter, but shall confine myself to the evidence which MacKelvie adduces to prove that the ‘Ode to the Cuckoo’ belonged to Bruce. The arguments are these.

(1.) The common report of Bruce’s native district, surviving even in 1837. It is there asserted that many young men, Bruce’s contemporaries, could repeat the ode, and that they had learnt it from copies furnished by himself. It was still remembered that once when a cuckoo happened to have been shot by one of the villagers, Michael’s mother came with others to see the wonder, and when she saw it exclaimed, ‘Will that be the bird our Michael made a sang about?’

(2.) The following statement made by Dr. Davidson, a professor in the University of Aberdeen, in answer to a letter of inquiry addressed to him by Mr. MacKelvie. Dr. Davidson was the son of a native of Kinross. It is thus he writes:—

‘My father told me that the letter containing the poem’ (the ‘Ode to the Cuckoo’) ‘was in the possession of Mr. Bickerton, residing either at Kinnesswood or Scotlandwell. . . . When passing through Kinnesswood I met a Mr. Birrel, an acquaintance of my father’s, who introduced me to Mr. Bickerton, who showed me the poem written upon a small quarto page, with a single line below it, nearly in the words as stated by the Lord Chief Commissioner' (Adam), ‘and signed by Michael Bruce. The words were, as nearly as I can recall them, “You will think I might have been better employed than in writing about a gowk.” [Gowk is the Scottish word for the cuckoo.] .... The handwriting was small and cramped, and not very legible; but as I had not seen Bruce’s handwriting I could not possibly say that the handwriting was his, although Mr. Bickerton assured me that it was. I cannot be perfectly certain in what year I saw the MS., but from some circumstances which occurred about that period, I am inclined to believe that it was in the year 1786 or thereby. I may observe that there were some slight differences between the MS. which I saw and the copy published in Logan’s poems. The word “attendant" was used instead of “companion,” and several other variations, but of no importance.’

(3.) Another testimony is that of Mr.David Pearson, Michael’s friend, who, in reply to inquiries made by Dr. Anderson for his edition of the British poets, writes thus:—

‘When I came to visit his father a few days after Michael’s death, he went and brought forth his poem book’—most probably the quarto volume of MSS. afterwards delivered to Logan—‘ and read the “Ode to the Cuckoo,” and the “Mermaid,” at which the good old man was greatly overcome.’

(4.) Another argument adduced by Mr. MacKelvie is the fact that Principal Baird, on whose authority Dr. Anderson assigned the ode to Logan, afterwards changed his mind, and published an edition of Bruce’s poems with the ode in it as one of Bruce’s compositions. ‘He’ (Dr. Baird) ‘has found the “Cuckoo” to be Michael Bruce’s, and has the original in his own handwriting’—that is, I presume, Bruce’s handwriting. So writes Mr. John Hervey, of Stirling, in a letter to Mr. Birrel, quoted by Mr. MacKelvie. This fact of Principal Baird having changed his mind after inquiry is a weighty one, both from the great worth and solidity of his character, and also because his ecclesiastical leanings, if he had listened to them, would have naturally biassed him to side with Logan rather than with Bruce. But the reputation which Principal Baird has left rises high above such petty considerations.

About the whole question of Logan’s dealings with Bruce Mr. MacKelvie has much more to say, but I have confined myself to his general statement of the facts, and to what seem to me his strongest arguments in favour of Bruce’s authorship of the ode.

II. Mr. David Laing, prompted by a generous desire not to see Logan’s character, as he believes, unjustly blackened, has lately printed a vindication of him, which, considering the quarter from which it comes, demands the most respectful attention. In his short preface to his pamphlet Mr. Laing says, ‘The mere question of the authorship of the “Ode to the Cuckoo” I hold to be of minor importance compared to the obloquy cast upon Logan’s memory, charging him with all that is base and dishonourable.’ I entirely agree with Mr. Laing that Mr. MacKelvie’s statement does attribute all that is base and dishonourable to Logan, in his treatment of Bruce, and that such a charge should not be made against any man, more especially after his death, unless it can be very strongly substantiated.

Mr. Laing’s arguments are, (i.) That even if Mr. MacKelvie’s statements are correct, no proofs are adduced to warrant them, and that ‘when the accusations are analyzed, consisting of traditions and recollections of persons in Bruce’s neighbourhood of what had occurred at a distance of from twenty to forty years and upwards, it is not difficult to see that they rest on a very tottering foundation.’ Now if the uniform tradition of Bruce’s neighbourhood had stood alone, it might perhaps have been thus summarily dismissed. But when it is supported by such written evidence as that contained in the letters of Mr. Birrel and Professor Davidson above given, I should say that the statements of Mr. MacKelvie are supported by evidence as satisfactory as could be expected for any facts at that distance from the time when they happened. The letter of Mr. Birrel fully corroborates Mr. MacKelvie’s account of the way in which Logan obtained the MSS. And the conclusion of the same letter, Mr. Pearson’s statement that old Alexander read to him the ‘Ode to the Cuckoo’ a few days after his son’s death, and above all the clear statement of Professor Davidson, put it beyond a doubt that Michael wrote an ode to the cuckoo, if not the very ode which appeared in the miscellany and in Logan’s poems. If Bruce wrote such an ode, and if the one we now have is not it, where is it? Who is accountable for its disappearance? Who but Logan, who is proved to have received all Bruce’s poetic MSS ? Mr. Laing’s first demand, in what way Logan obtained the MSS., is sufficiently answered by the letter of Mr. Birrel, already quoted.

Mr. Laing then goes on to say that Mr. MacKelvie ought to have proved, first, what the MSS. were; second, the amount of the actual profits which Logan received; and thirdly, that Logan was incapable of writing the poems which, eleven years later, he claimed as his own. The first two questions are such that by the very nature of them they could be known to no one but Logan himself. If he received all Bruce’s MSS., and if his father, too trustful, made no note of them, of course it was impossible, after Logan had lost or destroyed the only copy, to give any further account of them. The mon ey received for the publication, if any was received, Logan alone could know. The third question is one of those subjective questions which only lead to uncertainty. No two men would probably form the same opinion about Logan’s capabilities.

(2.) The second argument adduced from Mr. Laing’s two copies of the miscellany of 1770, in both of which the ‘Ode to the Cuckoo’ is ‘in a contemporary hand’ attributed to Logan, does not seem a very weighty one. The names of the authors in those two copies may have been appended to the several poems by friends of Logan, and of course give his version of their authorship.

(3.) The next argument of any importance is that 'Logan’s claims were never called in question during his own life,’ or, as the poet Campbell has expressed it, ‘As the charge of stealing the Cuckoo from Bruce was not brought against Logan in his lifetime, it cannot, in charity, stand against his memory on the bare assertion of his accusers.’

This, however, admits of an easy explanation. Logan’s claims to the ode were not challenged during his lifetime, because Bruce’s friends were too obscure to watch the doings of the literary world, and because the ode, during the lifetime of either poet, awakened but little admiration. The taste which should appreciate it at its true worth was yet to be born.

(4.) More important is the following obscure fact brought to light by Mr. Laing. On May 5th, 1774, the ode appeared in the poetical comer of the Edinburgh Weekly Magazine, with the initials, ‘ R. D.’ In the next number, May 12th, the editor inserts the following note: ‘The little poem sent us under the signature “R. D.” proves a literary theft, and is the production of a gentleman in this neighbourhood, already in print. He ought to challenge and chastise the thief.’

The ‘gentleman in this neighbourhood already in print’ was most probably Logan; and if so this note proves that the editor of the Weekly Magazine, along with Mr. Logan’s personal friends, regarded him as author of the ode, before his poems appeared in 1781. But if Logan was capable of stealing the ode from Bruce at all, he must have been also capable of passing himself off among his friends for its author.

(5.) Mr. Laing has added some further remarks on the more sweeping charges made by Mr. Grosart in his more recent life of Bruce and edition of his works. It is not my intention, nor is it required for my purpose, to discuss Mr. Grosart’s accusations, which outgo considerably those of Mr. MacKelvie. I shall only note two remarks made by Mr. Laing in this part of his valuable tract He observes that if Logan dealt in the way alleged with Bruce’s writings, he can conceive only two motives for such conduct, either ‘the prospect of gain,’ or the desire of poetical fame. Mr. Laing proves clearly enough that there could not be much gain looked for from a small volume, price half-a-crown, the impression limited to two hundred and fifty copies. To talk of the profits of such a little volume ‘enabling Bruce’s parents to live comfortably for the rest of their lives is simply ridiculous.’ This every one must admit With regard to the second supposed motive, desire of fame, Mr. Laing says that ‘if this had been Logan’s chief motive, after he had secured Bruce’s MSS., it is strange he should have delayed for eleven years even to make his own name known to the public.’ Not at all strange, as it would seem to me, but very much what might have been expected. In the miscellany of 1770 it was left quite uncertain to whom the ode belonged, whether to Bruce or to Logan. In the interval between 1770 and 1781 the small miscellany was nearly forgotten. It was therefore comparatively easy after eleven years for Logan to claim as his own the best thing in it, especially since in the first publication the authorship had been left uncertain.

(6.) There remains but one more argument noticed but not insisted on by Mr. Laing. It is the assertion of Logan’s biographer, the Rev. R. Douglas, who writing in 1812 says the ode ‘was handed .about and highly extolled among Logan’s literary acquaintances in East Lothian long before its publication, probably (though not certainly) in 1767, as he did not reside there at all in 1768, and very little in 1769. This fact, and his inserting it as his own in a small volume published eleven years afterwards, seems pretty decisive of his claim.’ Nothing can be more hearsay and conjectural than a statement like this, without any evidence adduced in its support. And Mr. Laing is too sound a judge of evidence to build anything upon it. It was probably in allusion to this report that Dr. Anderson wrote, ‘Logan’s cousin, Mrs. Hutchinson, informs the present writer that she saw the ode in Logan’s handwriting before it was printed. If the testimonies of Dr. Robertson and Mrs. Hutchinson went the length of establishing the existence of the ode in Logan’s handwriting in Bruce’s lifetime, or before his MSS. came into Logan’s possession, they might be considered decisive of the controversy. The suppression of Bruce’s MSS., it must be owned, is a circumstance unfavourable to the pretensions of Logan.’

It is not necessary to advert to the argument drawn by Mr. Laing from the additional verse added to the ‘ode’ which was discovered among Logan’s papers, for this discovery seems to me to add nothing to Logan’s claim. The added stanza is quite out of harmony with the ode as we have it. It is a discordant note, jarring alike on the rhythm and the sentiment of the authentic stanzas. I have farther refrained altogether from entering into the internal evidence which might be got from a sifting comparison of the authentic poems of Logan and of Bruce respectively. Such a process would require far more than my prescribed space, and might in the end prove as inconclusive as arguments founded on internal evidence generally do.

I have now given as fairly as I can the arguments of Mr. MacKelvie and those of Mr. Laing, and have added a few comments on them by the way. To speak plainly, I must own that Mr. Laing’s great and justly deserved authority weighs with me far more than his arguments. That he, after full examination of all the facts, should have thought that there is room for a revision of the condemnation which I believe all literary men who have examined the question had passed on Logan, will always be an argument, and I believe the strongest argument, that can be urged in his favour. Mr. Laing admits that the accusations brought against Logan have been ‘occasioned in a great measure by his own apparent carelessness and want of judgment.’ These are but faint epithets to apply to Logan’s treatment of the sacred charge entrusted to him by Bruce’s father. If a man can act in such a thoroughly careless and culpable manner when the literary remains of a dead friend have been entrusted to him, he has himself alone to blame for any suspicions that may afterwards be cast on his literary fidelity. His treatment of Bruce’s papers, even if we accept fully his own account of it, is itself a serious charge against Logan. It is impossible to feel confidence in any literary transaction, of a man who could act so carelessly and unfaithfully. When Logan by his conduct in this transaction has established such a presumption against himself, every other fact adduced against himself and in favour of Bruce tells, and justly tells, with much greater force. And several such facts, supported by solid testimony, Mr. MacKelvie has adduced. It seems proved for certain that Bruce wrote a poem on the gowk or cuckoo. It may not be this poem which we now have, though there seems strong presumption that it is. But if the famous ode is not Bruce’s, where is the poem that Bruce wrote on the gowk? Logan must have suppressed it to substitute his own, if the ode is his. Therefore he and his supporters are bound to say what has become of Bruce’s poem on the same subject, before they can assert that the ode was come by without blame. In fine, the conclusion of the whole matter is this. Logan comes into court with the direct argument founded on his own assertion of authorship damaged, if not wholly destroyed, by the gross infidelity he showed in dealing with the papers of his dead friend. This being so, we are obliged to turn to indirect arguments — the testimonies of others. And the weight of the testimonies in favour of Bruce seems to me very considerably to preponderate.

It is but right, however, to add that Logan’s treatment of Bruce is the worst thing that is known regarding him, and that he had other qualities little consistent with such vileness. He is reported to have been ‘a man of amiable disposition and of very agreeable manners, one who loved and esteemed his friends, and by them was loved and esteemed.’ That he possessed a vein of real poetic genius several of his undoubted compositions clearly prove. The writer of ‘The Braes of Yarrow,’ of some stanzas in the ‘Ode on the Death of a Young Lady,’ and ‘Where high the heavenly temple stands,’ had certainly overheard some tone of the eternal melodies.’

But it may be said, ‘What matters it who was the'author of the “Ode to the Cuckoo?.” What does the world care whether it was Bruce or Logan?’

Besides the desire to give to every man his due, even in what some may regard as so insignificant a thing as an ode, those who take interest in English literature and the creators of it, may well feel a peculiar interest in that ode. It has about it a natural beauty, a simple sweetness, a tender grace, which would have made it noteworthy if it had appeared in any age or in any language. But coming when it did in the year 1770, it sounds out of the poetic literature of that time like the note of some solitary skylark on a mild day of January, long before any other such note is heard. While the poets of the time, still under the dominion of Pope, or at least of the stately and classic Gray, looked at nature with urban eyes, and described its aspects in courtly phrase, here is a note preluding the full-hearted burst of natural song which was to come from Bums, Cowper, Wordsworth, and Scott.

The merits of the ode are these: It lays hold of a familiar sound of nature which embodies all that is most delightful in the childhood of life and the childhood of the year. This it describes truly and faithfully, and yet idealising it all the while, making the local and the familiar transparent with something of a universal and transcendent light. Then there is through all an undertone of pathetic reference to human sadness, the more impressive that it is only an undertone. And the whole is expressed in language pure, natural, universal, wholly unlike the poetic diction that dominated that age. They are indeed what Mr. Disraeli, as quoted by Mr. Laing, has called them,‘magical stanzas of picture, melody, and sentiment.’ It gives an added interest to these bright lines if they, as Archbishop Trench thinks, suggested to a greater poet than either Bruce or Logan one of his most lovely lyrics. ‘This poem,’ writes the Archbishop, 'was a favourite with Wordsworth, and one who listens attentively may catch a faint prelude of his immortal ode addressed to the same bird.’

It would be interesting to compare closely these two odes, the

‘Hail, beauteous stranger of the wood,’

with the

'O blithe new comer! I have heard.’

Each is exquisite—perfect after its kind, but in their likeness there is a marked difference. The earlier poem is fuller of the fresh feeling of childhood, has more of the first unconscious impression with which the earliest voice of the cuckoo strikes upon a young and apprehensive mind. Wordsworth’s contains much about childhood too, but it is rather thought about childhood, such thought as would arise in a man of meditative imagination, when he looks back on his childhood, projected into the distant past. The first is the fresher, more open, more accessible to all readers. The second idealises with a more recondite and profound ideality, till at last before the white heat of imagination the solid frame of earth itself is unsubstan-tialised and transfigured.

'O blessed bird, the earth we pace
Again appears to me
An unsubstantial, fairy place,
That is fit home for thee.’

It is sufficient justification of all the trouble that has been taken to ascertain the true parentage of the ode, that it can be placed side by side with one of the very finest lyrics of the great poet of nature, and not lose by the juxtaposition.

J. C Shairp

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