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duction with the following passage, the truth of which will readily be acknowledged by all who have had any means of investigating his character, or experiencing his kindness:– • It only remains for me to say, that, during my short pre-eminence of popularity, I faithfully observed the rules of moderation which I had resolved to follow before I began my course as a man of letters. If a man is determined to make a noise in the world, he is as sure to encounter abuse and ridicule, as he who gallops furiously through a village must reckon on being followed by the curs in full cry. Experienced persons know, that in stretching to flog the latter, the rider is very apt to catch a bad fall; nor is an attempt to chastise a malignant critic attended with less danger to the author. On this principle, I let parody, burlesque, and squibs, find their own level; and while the latter hissed most fiercely, I was cautious never to catch them up, as school-boys do, to throw them back against the naughty boy who fired them off, wisely remembering, that they are, in such cases, apt to explode in the handling. Let me add, that my reign (since Byron has so called it) was marked by some instances of good-nature as well as patience. I never refused a literary person of merit such services in smoothing his way to the public as were in my power; and I had the advantage, rather an uncommon one with our irritable race, to enjoy general favour, without incurring permanent ill-will, so far as is known to me, among any of my contemporaries." • The Vision of Don Roderick - appeared in 1811, and was intended by its author to commemorate the achievements of the Duke of Wellington and the British army in Spain. This poem is considered a complete failure. The same year was published . The Secret History of the Court of King James I, , in two volumes. About this time Mr Scott removed from Ashiestiel to Abbotsford, the estate at which he has ever since resided. The motives of this change, and the nature of his occupations at this period, together with the train of reasoning by which he was led to change his garb of poet for that of novelist, are so well described by himself in his Introduction to the last edition of • Rokeby," that it would be unjust not to quote it entire. • Between the publication of ‘The Lady of the Lake, which was so eminently successful, and that of “Rokeby’ in 1813, three years had intervened. I shall not, I believe, be accused of ever having attempted to usurp a superiority over many men of genius, my contemporaries; but, in point of popularity, not of actual talent, the caprice of the public bad certaiuly given me such
a temporary superiority over men, of whom, in regard to poetical fancy and feeling, I scarcely thought myself worthy to loose the shoe-latch. On the other hand, it would be absurd affectation in me to deny, that I conceived myself to understand, more perfectly than many of my contemporaries, the manner most likely to interest the great mass of mankind. Yet, even with this belief, I must truly and fairly say, that I always considered myself rather as one who held the bets, in time to be paid over to the winner, than as having any pretence to keep them in my own right. • In the mean time years crept on, and not without their usual depredations on the passing generation. My sons had arrived at the age when the paternal home was no longer their best abode, as both were destined to active life. The field sports, to which I was peculiarly attached, had now less interest, and were replaced by other amusements of a more quiet character; and the means and opportunity of pursuing these were to be sought for. I had, indeed, for some years attended to farming, a knowledge of which is, or at least was then, indispensable to the comforts of a family residing in a solitary country-house; but although this was the favourite amusement of many of my friends, I have never been able to consider it as a source of pleasure. I never could think it a matter of passing importance, that my cattle, or crops, were better or more plentiful than those of my neighbours, and nevertheless I began to feel the necessity of some more quiet out-door occupation than I had hitherto pursued. I purchased a small farm of about loo acres, with the purpose of planting and improving it, to which property circumstances afterwards enabled me to make considerable additions ; and thus an era took place in my life, almost equal to the important one mentioned by the Vicar of Wakefield, when he removed from the Blue room to the Brown. In point of neighbourhood, at least, the change of residence made little more difference. Abbotsford, to which we removed, was only six or seven miles down the Tweed, and lay on the same beautiful stream. It did not possess the romantic character of Ashiestiel, my former residence; but it had a stretch of meadow-land along the river, and possessed, in the phrase of the landscape-gardener, considerable capabilities. Above all, the land was my own, like Uncle Toby's Bowling-green, to do what I would with. It had been, though the gratification was long postponed, an early wish of mine to connect myself with my mother-earth, and prosecute those experiments by which a species of creative power is exercised over the face of na
ture. I can trace, even to childhood, a pleasure derived from Dodsley's account of Shenstone's Leasowes, and I envied the poet much more for the pleasure of accomplishing the objects detailed in his friend's sketch of his grounds, than for the possession of pipe, crook, flock, and Phillis to the boot of all. My memory, also, tenacious of quaint expressions, still retained a phrase which it had gathered from an old almanack of Charles the Second's time (when every thing down to almanacks affected to be smart), in which the reader, in the month of June, is advised for health's sake to take a walk of a mile or two before breakfast, and, if he can possibly so manage, to let his exercise be taken
| upon his own land.
- With the satisfaction of having attained the fulfilment of an early and long-cherished hope, I commenced my improvements, as delightful in their progress as those of the child who first makes a dress for a new doll. The nakedness of the land was in time hidden by woodlands of considerable extent—the smallest of possible cottages was progressively expanded into a sort of dream of a mansion-house, whimsical in the exterior, but convenient within. Nor did I forget what is the natural pleasure of every man who has been a reader, I mean the filling the shelves of a tolerably large library. All these objects I kept in:view, to be executed as convenience should serve; and although I knew many years must elapse before they could be attained, I was of a disposition to comfort Inyself with the Spanish proverb, ‘Time and I against any two.' . The difficult and indispensable point, of finding a permanent subject of occupation, was now at length attained; but there was annexed to it the necessity of becoming again a candidate for public favour; for, as I was turned improver on the earth of the every-day world, it was under condition that the small tenement of Parnassus, which might be accessible to my labours, should not remain uncultivated. - 1 meditated, at first, a poem on the subject of Bruce, in which I made some progress, but afterwards judged it advisable to lay it aside, supposing that an English story might have more novelty; in consequence, the precedence was given to “Rokeby.' ... if subject and scenery could have influenced the fate of a poem, that of “Rokeby’ should have been eminently distinguished ; for the grounds belonged to a dear friend, with whom I had lived in habits of intimacy for many years, and the place itself united the romantic beauties of the wilds of Scotland with the rich and smiling aspect of the southern portion of the island.
But the Cavaliers and Roundheads, whom I attempted to summon up to tenant this beautiful region, had for the public neither the novelty nor the peculiar interest of the primitive highlanders. This, perhaps, was scarcely to be expected, considering that the general mind sympathises readily and at once with the stamp which nature herself has affixed upon the manners of a people living in a simple and patriarchal state; whereas it has more difficulty in understanding or interesting itself in manners which are founded upon those peculiar habits of thinking or acting, which are produced by the progress of society. We could read with pleasure the tale of the adventures of a Cossac or a Mongol Tartar, while we only wonder and stare over those of the lovers in the “Pleasing Chinese History,’ where the embarrassments turn upon difficulties arising out of unintelligible delicacies peculiar to the customs and manners of that af. fected people. • The cause of my failure had, however, a far deeper root. The manner, or style, which, by its novelty, attracted the public in an unusual degree, had now, after having been three times before them, exhausted the patience of the reader, and began in the fourth to lose its charms. The reviewers may be said to have apostrophised the author in the language of Parnell's Edwin: And here reverse the charm, he cries,
And let it fairly now suffice,
• The licentious combination of rhymes, in a manner not perhaps very congenial to our language, had not been confined to the author. Indeed, in most similar cases, the inventors of such novelties have their reputation destroyed by their own imitators, as Actaeon fell under his own dogs. The present author, like Bobadil, had taught his trick of fence to a hundred gentlemen (and ladies), who could fence very nearly, or quite, as well as himself. For this there was no remedy; the harmony became tiresome and ordinary, and both the original inventor and his invention must have fallen into contempt, if he had not found out another road to public favour. what has been said of the metre only, must be considered to apply equally to the structure of the Poem and of the style. The very best passages of any popular style are not, perhaps, susceptible of imitation, but they may be approached by men of talent; and those who are less able to copy them, at least lay hold of their peculiar features, so as to produce a burlesque instead of a serious copy. In either way, the effect of it is rendered cheap and common; and, in the latter case,
ridiculous to boot. The evil consequences to an author's reputation are at least as fatal as those which befall a composer, when his melody falls into the hands of the street ballad-singer. • Of the unfavourable species of imitation, the author's style gave room to a very large number, owing to an appearance of facility to which some of those who used the measure unquestionably leaned too far. The effect of the more favourable imitations, composed by persons of talent, was almost equally unfortunate to the original minstrel, by showing that they could overshoot him with his own bow. In short, the popularity which once attended the School, as it was called, was now fast decaying. • Besides all this, to have kept his ground at the crisis when “Rokeby’ appeared, its author ought to have put forth his utmost strength, and to have possessed at least all his original advantages, for a mighty and unexpected rival was advancing on the stage—a rival not in poetical powers only, but in that of attracting popularity, in which the present writer had preceded better men than himself. [The reader will easily see that Byron is here meant, who, after a little velitation of no great promise, now appeared as a serious candidate, in the “First Canto of Childe Harold.' ] I was astonished at the power evinced by that work, which neither the ‘Hours of Idleness, nor the ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,' had prepared me to expect from its author. There was a depth in his thought, an eager abundance in his diction, which argued full confidence in the inexhaustible resources of which he felt himself possessed; and there was some appearance of that labour of the file, which indicates that the author is conscious of the necessity of doing every justice to his work, that it may pass warrant. Lord Byron was also a traveller, a man whose ideas were fired by having seen, in distant scenes of difficulty and danger, the places whose very names are recorded in our bosoms as the shrines of ancient poetry. For his own misfortune, perhaps, but certainly to the high increase of his poetical character, nature had mixed in Lord Byron's system those passions which agitate the human heart with most violence, and which may be said to have hurried his bright career to an early close. There would have been little wisdom in measuring my force with so formidable an antagonist; and I was as likely to tire of playing the second fiddle in the concert, as my audience of hearing me. Age also was advancing. I was growing insensible to those subjects of excitation by which youth is agitated. I had around me the most pleasant but least exciting of all society, that of kind friends and an affectionate family. My circle of employments was a
narrow one; it occupied me constantly, and it became daily more disficult for me to interest myself in poetical composition:—
How happily the days of Thalala went by
• Yet, though conscious that I must be, in the opinion of good judges, inferior to the place I had for four or five years held in letters, and feeling alike that the latter was one to which I had only a temporary right, I could not brook the idea of relinquishing literary occupation, which had been so long my chief employment. Neither was I disposed to chuse the alternative of sinking into a mere editor, and commentator, though that was a species of labour which I had practised, and to which I was attached. But I could not endure to think that I might not, whether known or concealed, do something of more importance. My inmost thoughts were those of the Trojan Captain in the galley race,—
Non jam prima peto Mnestheus; neque vincere certo:
AFneid. lib. W, lin. 294.
• I had, indeed, some private reasons for my “Quanquam O, which were not worse than those of Mnestheus. I have already hinted that the naterials were collected for a poem on the subject of Bruce, and fragments of it had been shown to some of my friends, and received with applause. Notwithstanding, therefore, the emiment success of Byron, and the great chance of his taking the wind out of my sails, there was, I judged, a species of cowardice in desisting from the task which I had undertaken, and it was time enough to retreat when the battle should be more decidedly lost. The sale of Rokeby, excepting as compared with that of ‘The Lady of the Lake,' was in the highest degree respectable, and as it included fifteen hundred quartos, in those quarto-reading days, the trade had no reason to be dissatisfied."
The poem mentioned in the preceding extract, as having been commenced on a subject connected with the history of Bruce, was soon afterwards completed under the title of . The Lord of the Isles," and published in 1814. The impression made by this work was far inferior to that of any of the preceding productions of our author. The different bent which had been given to the poet's mind by the production of waverley, would in itself be quite sufficient to account for the inferiority which is throughout perceptible; but as a curious specimen of the ingenuity with which even the strongest minds mingle themselves with our pleasures.
will apply themselves to discover or imagine extraneous causes for the failure of their weakest productions, we shall extract a few lines from the Introduction to the new edition of this poem, published in 183o, in which the author gives us an insight into his own feelings and opinions on the subject. • I could hardly have chosen a subject more popular in Scotland, than any thing connected with the Bruce's history, unless I had attempted that of Wallace. But I am decidedly of opinion, that a popular, or what is called a taking title, though well qualified to ensure the publishers against loss, and clear their shelves of the original impression, is rather apt to be hazardous than otherwise to the reputation of the author. He who attempts a subject of distinguished popularity, has not the privilege of awakening the enthusiasm of his audience; on the contrary, it is already awakened, and glows, it may be, more ardently than that of the author himself. In this case, the warmth of the author is inferior to that of the party whom he addresses, who has, therefore, little chance of being, in Bayes's phrase, ‘elevated and surprised' by what he has thought of with more enthusiasm than the writer. The sense of this risk, joined to the consciousness of striving against wind and tide, made the task of composing the proposed Poem somewhat heavy and hopeless; but, like the prize-fighter in “As You Like It, I was to wrestle for my reputation, and not neglect any advantage. In a most agreeable pleasure-voyage, which I have tried to commemorate in the Introduction to the new edition of the ‘Pirate,” now preparing for the press, I visited, in social and friendly company, the coasts and islands of Scotland, and made myself acquainted with the localities of which I meant to treat. But this voyage which was in every other effect so delightful, was in its conclusion saddened by one of those strokes of fate which so often The accomplished and excellent person who had recommended to me the subject for “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,' and to whom I proposed to inscribe what I suspected might be the close of my poetical labours, was unexpectedly removed from the world, which she seemed only to have visited for purposes of kindness and benevolence. It is needless to say how the author's feelings, or the composition of his trifling work, were affected by a circumstance which occasioned so many tears and so much sorrow. True it is, that “The Lord of the Isles' was concluded, unwillingly and in haste, under the painfml feeling of one who has a task which must be finished, rather than with the ardour of one who endeavours to perform that task well. Although the Poem
cannot be said to have made a favourable impression on the public, the sale of fifteen thousand copies enabled the author to retreat from the field with the honours of war. • In the mean time, what was necessarily to be considered as a failure, was much reconciled to my feelings by the success attending my attempt in another species of composition. “ Waverley' had, under strict incognito, taken its flight from the press, just before I set out upon the voyage already mentioned; it had now made its way to popularity, and the success of that work and the volumes which followed, was sufficient to have satisfied a greater appetite for applause than I have at any time possessed." In 1814 Mr Scott also published a prose work, entitled, . The Border Antiquities of England and Scotland, with Descriptions and illustrations,” and brought out a new edition of Swift, with a biographical memoir and annotations, in addition to which he supplied illustrations to the - History of Northern Antiquities," published by Mr Jameson. These were followed by two performances, one in prose and the other in verse, the first entitled • Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk, , and the other • The Battle of Waterloo." The former met with great and deserved success. With a vigorous, though easy and playful style, it unites a keen spirit of observation and discrimination, which gives reality to the descriptions and interest to the incidents; the latter was in every respect a failure. It is singular that one of the most spirited accounts given of the Field of Waterloo is in Paul's Letters, while the poem on the same subject, by the same author, is dull, heavy, and prosaic. About the same period appeared two poems, which, although published anonymously, were soon attributed to Walter Scott, and afterwards acknowledged by him. These were the - Bridal of Triermain " and • Harold the Dauntless.” The following are the circumstances attending the publication of these works, as detailed by the author in the introduction to the Lord of the Isles, already quoted: " I may as well add in this place, that being much urged by my intimate friend now unhappily no more, William Erskine (a Scottish judge by the title of Lord Kinedder), I agreed to write the little romantic tale called the ‘Bridal of Triermain,' but it was on the condition that he should make no serious effort to disown the composition, if report should lay it at his door. As he was more than suspected of a taste for poetry, and as I took care in several places to mix something which might resemble, as faras was in my power, my friend's feeling and manner, the train easily caught, and two large editions were sold. A third being called for, Lord Kinedder became unwilling to aid any longer a deception which was going further than he expected or desired, and the real author's name was given. Upon another occasion, I sent up another of these trifles, which, like schoolboys' kites, served to show how the wind of popular taste was setting. The manner was supposed to be that of a rude minstrel, or Scald, in opposition to the “Bridal of Triermain, which was designed to belong rather to the Italian school. This new fugitive piece was called ‘Harold the Dauntless;' and I am still astonished at my having committed the gross error of selecting the very name which Lord Byron had made so famous. It encountered rather an odd fate. My ingenious friend, Mr James Hogg, had published, about the same time, a work called the “Poetic Mirror', containing imitations of the principal living poets. There was in it a very good imitation of my own style, which bore such a resemblance to ‘Harold the Dauntless, that there was no discovering the original from the imitation; and I believe that many who took the trouble of thinking upon the subject, were rather of opinion that my ingenious friend was the true, and not the fictitious Simon Pure. Since this period, which was in the year 1816, the author has not been an intruder on the public by any poetical work of importance." We shall now attempt to offer a few critical observations on the three most deservedly popular poems of Walter Scott, viz. The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and the Lady of the Lake. 1 The LAY of the LAst MINSTREL is an endeavour to transfer the refinements of modern poetry to the matter and the manner of the ancient metrical romance. The author, enamoured of the lofty visions of chivalry, and partial to the strains in which they were formerly embodied, employed all the resources of his genius in endeavouring to recall them to the favour and admiration of the public, and in adapting to the taste of modern readers a species of poetry, which was once the delight of the courtly, but which has long ceased to gladden any other eyes than those of the scholar and the antiquary. This is a romance, therefore, composed by a minstrel of the present day, or such a romance as we may suppose would have been written in modern times, if that style of composition had been cultivated, and partaken, consequently, of the improvements which every branch of literature has received since the time of its desertion. Upon this supposition, it was evidently the author's business to retain all that was good, and to reject all that was bad, in the models upon which he was to form himself; adding, at the
same time, all the interest and the beauty which could possibly be assimilated to the manner and spirit of his original. It was his duty, therefore, to reform the rambling, obscure, and interminable narratives of the ancient romancers, -to moderate their digressions,—to abridge or retrench their prolix or needless descriptions,—and to expunge altogether those feeble and prosaic passages, the rude stupidity of which is so apt to excite the derision of a modern reader: at the same time he was to rival, if he could, the force and vivacity of their minute and varied representations—the characteristic simplicity of their pictures of manners—the energy and conciseness with which they frequently describe great events —and the lively colouring and accurate drawing by which they give the effect of reality to every scene they undertake to delineate. In executing this arduous task, he was permitted to avail himself of all the variety of style and manner which had been sanctioned by the ancient practice, and bound to embellish his performance with all the graces of diction and versification which could be reconciled to the simplicity and familiarity of the minstrel's song. The success which attended Mr Scott's efforts in the execution of this adventurous essay is well known;–he produced a very beautiful and entertaining poem, in a style which might fairly be considered as original, and the public approbation afforded the most flattering evidence of the genius of the author. Perhaps, indeed, his partiality for the strains of antiquity imposed a little upon the severity of his judgment, and impaired the beauty of his imitation, by directing his attention rather to what was characteristic, than to what was unexceptionable in his originals. Though he spared too many of their faults, however, he improved upon their beauties, and while it was regretted by many, that the feuds of border chieftains should have monopolized as much poetry as might have served to immortalize the whole baronage of the empire, yet it produced a stronger inclination to admire the interest and magnificence which he contrived to communicate to a subject so unpromising. MARMion has more tedious and flat passages, and more ostentation of historical and antiquarian lore, than its predecessor; but it has also greater richness and variety, both of character and incident; and, if it has less sweetness and pathos in the softer passages, it has certainly more vehemence and force of colouring in the loftier and busier representations of action and emotion. The place of the prolognizing minstrel is but ill supplied, indeed, by the epistolary dissertations which are prefixed to each book of this poem; but there is more airiness and spirit in the lighter