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Though Gaul's proud legions roll'd like mist away,
He gaged but life on that illustrious day; But when he toil'd those squadrons to array,
Who fought like Britons in the bloody game, Sharper than Polish pike or assagay,
Hè braved the shafts of censure and of shame,
Beneath the warrior's vest affection's wound,
Danger and fate he sought, but glory found.
The wanderer went; yet, Caledonia ! still
He dream'd 'mid Alpine cliffs of Athole's hill,
Whose war-cry oft has waked the battle-swell,
Wild sounding when the Roman rampart fell ! By Wallace' side it rung the Southron's knell,
Alderne, Kilsythe, and Tibber, own’d its fame, Tummell's rude pass can of its terrors tell,
But ne'er from prouder field arose the name,
(With Spenser's parable I close my tale,)
And landward now I drive before the gale. And now the blue and distant shore I hail,
And nearer now I see the port expand,
And, as the prow light touches on the strand,
R 0 KE BY:
IN SIX CANTOS.
The Scene of which is laid in his beautiful demesne of Rokeby,
IN TOKEN OF SINCERE FRIENDSHIP, BY.
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE FIRST EDITION.
The Scene of this poem is laid at Rokeby, near Greta Bridge, in Yorkshire, and shifts to the adjacent Fortress of Barnard Castle, and to other places in that Vicinity.
The Time occupied by the Action is a space of Five Days, Three of which are supposed to elapse between the end of the Fifth and the beginning of the Sixth Canto.
The Date of the supposed events is immediately subsequent to the great Battle of Marston Moor, 3d July, 1644. This period of public confusion has been chosen, without any purpose of combining the Fable with the Military or Political Events of the Civil War, but only as affording a degree of probability to the Fictitious narrative now presented to the Public.
It was two years and a half after the publication of the “ Lady of the Lake" :fore Scott gave his next poem to the world. During that interval he had moved om Ashestiel to Abbotsford, and the beginning of a great change was perceptible
the aspirations of his life. He had passed his fortieth year, his family was rowing up around him; already the two boys had reached an age when, both eing destined to active life, they would soon have to quit the paternal roof, and cott had begun to speculate on their future. In the Introduction which he wrote or the 1830 edition of his poetical works, he speaks as though he had in a large egree given up field-sports, and taken to the quieter and more sedate occupation f planting, on account of advancing years and the absence of his sons, who used to e his companions in coursing and hunting. But it is eviden: that his choice of a ew amusement had a deeper meaning than he then avowed or probably was onscious of.
For planting he had always, no doubt, entertained a strong partiality. Even in hildhood, he says, his sympathies were stirred by reading the account of Shenstone's “ Leasowes,” and in after life there was nothing which seemed to afford im so much pride and pleasure as in watching the naked hill-sides gradually prouting with the saplings he had planted. “You can have no idea,” said Scott o Captain Basil Hall, “ of the exquisite delight of a planter; he is like a painter aying on his colours : at every moment he sees his effects coming out. There is 10 art or occupation comparable to this. It is full of past, present, and future njoyment. I look back to the time when there was not a tree here, only bare leath; I look round, and see thousands of trees growing up, all of which, I may say almost each of which, have received my personal attention. I remember five years ago looking forward, with the most delighted expectation, to this very hour, and, as each year has passed, the expectation has gone on increasing. I do the same now: I anticipate what this plantation and that one will presently be, if only taken care of, and there is not a spot of which I do not watch the progress. Unlike building, or even painting, or indeed any other kind of pursuit, this has no end, and is never interrupted, but goes on from day to day, and from year to year, with a perpetually augmenting interest.” But he could hew as well as plant. He was expert with the axe, and one of the pleasantest sights of Abbotsford was to see the Sheriff and Tam Purdie, in their shirt-sleeves, thinning the woods, while Maida, the hound, looked gravely on.
It is not difficult to discover in this love of planting the germ of the ambition to which he now began to yield himself—to be a laird, and found a family. It was still under the modest title of cottage, or farm, that he spoke of Abbotsford ; but already his plans were expanding, and the farm-house was gradually acquiring the aspect and proportions of a mansion. Everything which flattered his sense of being a landed proprietor was dear to him. It was not enough that he had bought an estate; he sought to make it his own in a more peculiar manner by converting the attie farm into a gentleman's seat, and by calling into existence the woods which were to cover the nakedness of the land. Both in the Introduction of 1830 and in his private letters he speaks contemptuously of farming, and places planting far above it as a nobler and more elevating pursuit. But one cannot but suspect that this feeling was not unconnected with the fact that farming was the occupation of the mere tenant, while planting was the business of the landlord.
Of course, as Scott's schemes assumed a grander form, so his expenditure increased. That it was a feeling of necessity and not inclination that led him to the composition of " Rokeby,” is almost avowed in the Introduction of 1830. He there speaks as though he would have been content to have devoted himself entirely to his estate, and to have allowed the poetical field to lie fallow, had it not been for certain peremptory circumstances which again compelled him to take up the pen. “ As I am turned improver on the earth of this every-day world, it was under condition that the small tenement of Parnassus, which might be accessible to my labours, should not remain uncultivated.” In plain words, he sat down to write a poem in order to get the money for his house and plantations. To his friend Morritt, in confiding the first idea of “Rokeby,” Scott was frank enough on this point. “I want,” he says, “ to build my cottage a little better than my limited finances will permit out of my ordinary income; and although it is very true that an author should not hazard his reputation, yet, as Bob Acres says, I really think reputation should take some care of the gentleman in return.”
In undertaking the work for the reasons thus explicitly avowed, Scott was quite conscious of his lack of poetic glow and impulse. The poem, apart from its merits, has a peculiar interest for the reader who studies it as a piece of careful literary manufacture, and takes notice of the deliberate business-like way in which it was produced. Three such successes as those of the “ Minstrel," “ Marmion," and the “ Lady of the Lake,” might have made a vain man reckless and a timid man cowardly—the one would have been terrified by the sound himself had made, the other would have presumed upon his acknowledged powers. But Scott was neither vain nor timid. He looked at the matter with a calm practical eye. He thought he understood the popular taste, but he was quite aware that there had been an unprecedented run of fortune in favour of his cards, and that he could not calculate on its continuance. His safety, he saw, lay in playing the game with a novel combination.
Determined not to throw away a chance, Scott was very cautious in the choice of a subject, and very elaborate in working out the story which he at length decided on adopting.' His first conception of a poem of which Bruce should be the hero was discarded for the time (it afterwards appeared as the “ Lord of the Isles”), even after he had written some of it, for fear the subject was not novel enough to catch the public taste. Hitherto he had taken his stand on Scottish ground; he now resolved to venture southwards in search of the incidents and scenery of his new poem. He was no stranger, however, to the country which he set himself to depict. Rokeby was the seat of his intimate friend Mr. Morritt; he had visited it more than once ; he returned expressly to freshen his recollection of the district, and to note its aspect more carefully and narrowly; and his host supplied him with an ample store of legendary and topographical information. Impressed with the conviction that the greater the degree of novelty he could infuse into the poem the greater would be its chances of success, he resolved upon another experiment in his treatment of the story, besides transferring the theatre from Scotland to England. The force in the “ Lay," he tells us, is thrown upon style; in “Marmion," on description; in the “ Lady of the Lake," on incident. He now determined to make the portraiture of character, without excluding either incident or description, the chief feature of “Rokeby.”