Charles Kingsley



Burns and his School



Literatur: Kingsley
Literatur: The North British Review


But the field in which Burns's influence has been, as was to be expected, most important and most widely felt, is in the poems of working men. He first proved that it was possible to become a poet and a cultivated man, without deserting his class, either in station or in sympathies; nay, that the healthiest and noblest elements of a lowly born poet's mind might be, perhaps certainly must be, the very feelings and thoughts which he brought up with him from below, not those which he received from above, in the course of his artificial culture. From the example of Burns, therefore, many a working man, who would otherwise have "died and given no sign," has taken courage, and spoken out the thought within him, in verse or prose, not always wisely and well, but in all cases, as it seems to us, in the belief that he had a sort of divine right to speak and be heard, since Burns had broken down the artificial ice-wall of centuries, and asserted, by act as well as song, that "a man's a man for a' that." Almost every volume of working men's poetry which we have read, seems to re-echo poor Nicoll's spirited, though somewhat over-strained address to the Scottish genius: –

"This is the natal day of him,
    Who, born in want and poverty,
 Burst from his fetters, and arose,
    The freest of the free.

"Arose to tell the watching earth
    What lowly men could feel and do,
 To shew that mighty, heaven-like souls
    In cottage hamlets grew.

"Burns! thou hast given us a name
    To shield us from the taunts of scorn:
 The plant that creeps amid the soil
    A glorious flower has borne.

[165] "Before the proudest of the carth
    We stand with an uplifted brow;
 Like us, thou wast a toil-worn man,
    And we are noble now!"

The critic, looking calmly on, may indeed question whether this new fashion of verse writing among working men has been always conducive to their own happiness. As for absolute success as poets, that was not to be expected of one in a hundred, so that we must not be disappointed if among the volumes of working men's poetry, of which we give a list at the head of our Article, only two should be found, on perusal, to contain any writing of a very high order, although these volumes form a very small portion of the verses which have been written, during the last forty years, by men engaged in the rudest and most monotonous toil. To every man so writing, the art, doubtless, is an ennobling one. The habit of expressing thought in verse not only indicates culture, but is a culture in itself of a very high order. It teaches the writer to think tersely and definitely; it evokes in him the humanizing sense of grace and melody, not merely by enticing him to study good models, but by the very act of composition. It gives him a vent for sorrows, doubts, and aspirations, which might otherwise fret and canker within, breeding, as they too often do in the utterly dumb English peasant, self-devouring meditation, dogged melancholy, and fierce fanaticism. And if the effect of verse writing had stopped there, all had been well; but bad models have had their effect, as well as good ones, on the half-tutored taste of the working men, and engendered in them but too often a fondness for frothy magniloquence and ferocious raving, neither morally nor æsthetically profitable to themselves or their readers. There are excuses for the fault; the young of all ranks naturally enough mistake noise for awfulness, and violence for strength; and there is generally but too much, in the biographies of these working poets, to explain, if not to excuse, a vein of bitterness, which they certainly did not learn from their master, Burns. The two poets who have done them most harm, in teaching the evil trick of cursing and swearing, are Shelley and the Corn-Law Rhymer; and one can well imagine how seducing two such models must be, to men struggling to utter their own complaints. Of Shelley this is not the place to speak. But of the Corn-Law Rhymer we may say here, that howsoever he may have been indebted to Burns's example for the notion of writing at all, he has profited very little by Burns's own poems. Instead of the genial loving tone of the great Scotchman, we find in Elliott a tone of deliberate savageness, all the more ugly, because evidently intentional. He tries to curse; "he delights" — may we [166] be forgiven if we misjudge the man — "in cursing;" he makes a science of it; he defiles, of malice prepense, the loveliest and sweetest thoughts and scenes (and he can be most sweet) by giving some sudden, sickening revulsion to his reader's feelings; and he does it generally with a power which makes it at once as painful to the calmer reader as alluring to those who are struggling with the same temptations as the poet. Now and then, his trick drags him down into sheer fustian and bombast; but not always. There is a terrible Dantean vividness of imagination about him, perhaps unequalled in England, in his generation. His poems are like his countenance, coarse and ungoverned, yet with an intensity of eye, a rugged massiveness of feature, which would be grand but for the absence of love and of humour – love's twin and inseparable brother. Therefore it is, that although single passages may be found in his writings, of which Milton himself need not have been ashamed, his efforts at dramatic poetry are utter failures, dark, monstrous, unrelieved by any really human vein of feeling or character. As in feature, so in mind, he has not even the delicate and graceful organization which made up in Milton for the want of tenderness, and so enabled him to write, if not a drama, yet still the sweetest of masques and idyls.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The North British Review.
Bd. 16, 1851, November, S. 149-183.


Unser Auszug: S. 164-166.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The North British Review   online

The North British Review   inhaltsanalytische Bibliographie
The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900.
Hrsg. von Walter E. Houghton. Bd. 1. Toronto 1966.





Aufgenommen in




Literatur: Kingsley

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Carruthers, Gerard (Hrsg.): The Oxford Handbook of Robert Burns. Oxford 2024.

Byrne, Sandie: Poetry and Class. Cham 2020.

Christ, Carol T.: Victorian Poetics. In: A Companion to Victorian Poetry. Hrsg. von Richard Cronin u.a. Malden, MA 2002, S. 1-21.

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Pittock, Murray (Hrsg.): The Reception of Robert Burns in Europe. London 2014.

Robb, David / John, Eckhard: 'A Man's a Man for a' that' and ‘Trotz Allede': Robert Burns, Ferdinand Freiligrath, and Their Reception in the German Folksong Movement. In: The Modern Language Review 106.1 (2011), S. 17-46.

Salmon, Richard: The Literature of Labour: Collective Biography and Working-Class Authorship, 1830-1859. In: The Labour of Literature in Britain and France, 1830-1910. Authorial Work Ethics. Hrsg. von Marcus Waithe u. Claire White. London 2018, S. 43-59.



Literatur: The North British Review

King, Andrew / Plunkett, Andrew (Hrsg.): Victorian Print Media. A Reader. Oxford 2005.

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Shattock, Joanne: Editorial Policy and the Quarterlies. The Case of North British Review. In: Victorian Periodicals Newsletter 10 (1977), S. 130-139.

Shattock, Joanne: Problems of Parentage: The North British Review and the Free Church of Scotland. In: The Victorian Periodical Press. Samplings and Soundings. Hrsg. von Joanne Shattock. Leicester 1982, S. 145-166.

Zwierlein, Anne-Julia: Viktorianische Zeitschriften als multimediale, polyvokale und außerparlamentarische Plattformen. In: Handbuch Zeitschriftenforschung. Hrsg. von Oliver Scheiding u. Sabina Fazli. Bielefeld 2023, S. 273-288.
DOI: 10.14361/9783839451137-018



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer