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Robert Burns
by [?]

In the hay-harvest the law of natural selection holds; partners are often arranged for weeks in advance; and trysts continue year after year. Old lovers meet, touch hands in friendly scuffle for a fork, drink from the same jug, recline at noon and eat lunch in the shade of a friendly stack, and talk to heart’s content, sweetening the labor of the long summer day.

Of course this joyousness of the haying-time is not wholly monopolized by the Scotch. Haven’t you seen the jolly haying parties in Southern Germany, France, Switzerland and the Tyrol? How the bright costumes of the men and the jaunty attire of the women gleam in the glad sunshine!

But the practise of pairing is carried to a degree of perfection in Scotland that I have not noticed elsewhere. Surely it is a great economic scheme! It is like that invention of a Connecticut man, which utilizes the ebb and flow of the ocean-tides to turn a gristmill.

And it seems queer that no one has ever attempted to utilize the waste of dynamic force involved in the maintenance of the Company Sofa.

In Ayrshire, I have started out with a haying party of twenty–ten men and ten women–at six o’clock in the morning and worked until six at night. I never worked so hard, nor did so much. All day long there was a fire of jokes and jolly gibes, interspersed with song, while beneath all ran a gentle hum of confidential interchange of thought. The man who owned the field was there to direct our efforts and urge us on in well-doing by merry raillery, threat, and joyous rivalry.

The point I make is this–we did the work. Take heed, ye Captains of Industry, and note this truth, that where men and women work together under right influences, much good is accomplished, and the work is pleasurable. Of course there are vinegar-faced philosophers who say that the Scotch custom of pairing young men and maidens in the hayfield is not without its effect on esoterics, also on vital statistics; and I’m willing to admit there may be danger in the scheme. But life is a dangerous business anyway–few indeed get out of it alive!

* * * * *

Burns succeeded in his love-making and succeeded in poetry, but at everything else he was a failure. He failed as a farmer, a father, a friend, in society, as a husband, and in business.

From his twenty-third year his days were passed in sinning and repenting.

Poetry and love-making should be carried on with caution: they form a terrific tax on life’s forces. Most poets die young, not because the gods especially love them, but because life is a bank-account, and to wipe out your balance is to have your checks protested. The excesses of youth are drafts payable at maturity. Chatterton dead at eighteen, Keats at twenty-six, Shelley at thirty-three, Byron at thirty-six, Poe at forty, and Burns at thirty-seven, are the rule. When drafts made by the men mentioned became due, there was no balance to their credit and Charon beckoned.

Most life-insurance companies now ask the applicant this question, “Do you write poetry to excess?” Shakespeare, to be sure, clung to life until he was fifty-three, but this seems to be the limit. Dickens and Thackeray, their candles well burned out, also died under sixty. Of course, I know that Browning, Tennyson, Morris and Bryant lived to a fair old age, but this was on borrowed time, for in the early life of each there was a hiatus of from ten to eighteen years, when the men never wrote a line, nor touched a drop of anything, bravely eschewing all honey from Hymettus. Then the four men last named were all happily married, and married life is favorable to longevity, but not to poetry. As a rule only single men, or those unhappily mated, make love and write poetry. Men happily married make money, cultivate content, and evolve an aldermanic front; but love and poetry are symptoms of unrest. Thus is Emerson’s proposition partially proven, that in life all things are bought and must be paid for with a price–even success and happiness.