And the poetic fashion thus set retained its vitality for a long while, indeed, it was only thoroughly made an end of by the French Revolution, which made an end of so much else. About the last trace of its influence is to be found in Burns' sentimental correspondence with Mrs. M'Lehose, in which the lady is addressed as Clarinda, and the poet signs himself Sylvander.
Forgive, my dearest Clarinda, my unguarded expressions. For Heaven's sake, forgive me, or I shall never be able to bear my own mind. Your unhappy Sylvander. Monday Evening, 11 o'clock, 14th January. Why have I not heard from you, Clarinda?
Clarinda, I would not have stung your soul, I would not have bruised your spirit, as that harsh, crucifying "Take Care" did mine no, not to have gained Heaven! Let me again appeal to your dear self, if Sylvander, even when he seemingly half-transgressed the laws of decorum, if he did not shew more chastened trembling, faltering delicacy than the many of the world do in keeping these laws?
Evidently this is not the real Burns, or his name and fame would have disappeared long ago. Nor is Clarinda's love-poet, Sylvander, the real Burns either. But he tells us himself: "These English songs gravel me to death. I have not the command of the language that I have of my native tongue. In fact, I think that my ideas are more barren in English than in Scotch.
M'Lehose, in her turn, invited him to tea; but the poet, in his character of the Old Hawk, preferred a TETE-A- TETE, excused himself at the last moment, and offered a visit instead. An accident confined him to his room for nearly a month, and this led to the famous Clarinda and Sylvander correspondence.
Clarinda comes out of the correspondence better than Sylvander. Her letters are more natural and vastly more clever. She grieves to hear of his accident, and sympathises with him in his suffering; were she his sister she would call and see him. He is too romantic in his style of address, and must remember she is a married woman. Would he wait like Jacob seven years for a wife?
You have suffered a loss, I confess, for my sake: but if the firmest, steadiest, warmest friendship; if every endeavour to be worthy of your friendship; if a love, strong as the ties of nature, and holy as the duties of religion if all these can make anything like a compensation for the evil I have occasioned you, if they be worth your acceptance, or can in the least add to your enjoyment so help Sylvander, ye Powers above, in his hour of need, as he freely gives these all to Clarinda!
Of course I despatched a courier in my liveries to Castle Lyndon with a private letter for Runt, demanding from him full particulars of the Countess of Lyndon's state of health and mind; and a touching and eloquent letter to her Ladyship, in which I bade her remember ancient days, which I tied up with a single hair from the lock which I had purchased from her woman, and in which I told her that Sylvander remembered his oath, and could never forget his Calista.
There is no time, my Clarinda, when the conscious thrilling chords of Love and Friendship give such delight, as in the pensive hours of what our favourite Thomson calls, "philosophic melancholy." The sportive insects, who bask in the sunshine of prosperity; or the worms that luxuriantly crawl amid their ample wealth of earth, they need no Clarinda: they would despise Sylvander if they durst.
By this time, I daresay, you will be blessing the neglect of the maid that leaves me destitute of paper! ... I am a discontented ghost, a perturbed spirit. Clarinda, if ever you forget Sylvander, may you be happy, but he will be miserable. O what a fool I am in love! What an extraordinary prodigal of affection!