Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 1. The Old School of Scottish Verse

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

X. Burns

§ 1. The Old School of Scottish Verse

IN the annals of English literature, Burns is a kind of anomaly. He defies classification. He stands apart in isolated individuality. If he is something of a prodigy, his accidental singularity helps to convey this impression. The preceding English poetry of the eighteenth century did not give any prognostication of the possibility of anyone resembling him. His most characteristic verse is outside its scope, and is quite dissimilar from it in tone, temper and tendency. He was influenced by this English verse only in a superficial and extraneous manner. However much he may have tried, he found it impossible to become a poet after the prevailing English fashion of his time. Not from the brilliant generations of English bards can he claim poetic descent. So far as concerned general literary repute, his chief poetic ancestors were, if not lowly, obscure and forgotten. Whatever their intrinsic merits, they were almost unknown until curiosity about them was awakened by his arrival.