As He Saw Himself
Burns-By Himself. By Keith Henderson. With 68 illustrations by the author. (Methuen, 10s. 6d. net.)
KEITH HENDERSON seems to have Reviewed by PETER F. ANSON
said the last word on Robert Burnsor to be more exact has allowed the poetploughman to say it himself. By giving Burns the chance to write his own life in his own words he has ended the long drawn out controversy which has lasted one hundred and forty-two years. With infinite patience and dexterity, this wellknown Scottish artist has pieced together the life of Burns from his own diaries, letters and poems-with comments by relations and friends. So smoothly does this jig-saw puzzle fit that the result is a continuous narrative which can be read with no sense of awkwardness.
Admirers of Keith Henderson as a painter will detect the same mastery of form and pattern in the make-up of this volume, which is the most characteristic of his pictures. He pieces together the different incidents with the sure touch with which he makes a pattern of rocks, mountains, trees and human beings, so that they become a perfect whole, easily understood and appreciated by the most uneducated person who knows nothing of art.
* * *
"His eager biographers have explained Burns, exposed him, excused him, sanctified him, psychoanalysed him," writes Keith Henderson in his introduction. "He has been medically examined. But if only-if only he had written an autobiography."
Somehow one feels, rightly or wrongly, that Burns himself would have given his wholehearted approval to this attempt to fill the gap-" a conception of the man as he saw or thought he saw himself." The mental picture which each individual forms of himself may not always be true to life. Some of us are inclined to self-praise, others to self-depreciation. But whatever may have been his failings in other directions, Burns suffered from few delusions about himself. He was honest above all things, and 'bitterly regretted the apparent inability to control " that riotous passion" which so often made him "zig-zag in his path."
He loved not wisely but too well is the best way to describe those innumerable "affairs of gallantry" which had such unpleasant results when discovered by the " holy beagles" of the Kirk Session, who more than once forced him to sit in the "Creepie Chair" (or Stool of Repentance) to be preached at before all the congregation in order to get the "certificate as a bachelor."
But were his morals any worse than those of many another farmer or ploughman in the Scottish Lowlands during the latter half of the eighteenth century? From the evi