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Memoir of Sir Walter Scott.
BY J. W. LAKE.
SIR WALTER Scott, descended from one of the, was declared to be fit for nothing but to drive most ancient families of Scotland--the Scotts of the team, till some friends succeeded in getting Harden, is the eldest surviving son of a gentle him transplanted to college. man of the same name, who was an eminent Having completed his classical studies at the writer to the signet at Edinburgh, where the High School, with as much reputation, we supsubject of this sketch was born, August 15, pose, as others of his standing, Walter Scott was 1771. His mother, Mrs Elizabeth Scott, was removed to the University of Edinburgh, where, the daughter of David Rutherford, Esq., wri- also, he passed the classes in a similar manner. ter to the signet, from whom she obtained a His continuance here, however, could not have handsome fortune. She was a woman of great been long; for, after serving the prescribed terms virtue and accomplishments, with a good taste in the office of a writer to the signet, he was adfor poetry, as appeared from some of her pro- mitted an advocate of the Scotch bar, when he ductions, which were deemed worthy of being had not quite attained the age of twenty-one.printed after her death, in 1789. Walter, from From this time to the year 1798, his life appears the tenderness of his constitution, and the cir- to have passed in a devoted attention to his procumstance of his lameness, occasioned by a fall fessional duties, mindful of the advice, from his nurse's arms at two years of age, was
Not to pen stanzas when he should engross. in a great measure brought up at home, under the immediate care and instruction of this excel At the last-mentioned date he entered into the lent parent, to whom he was much attached matrimonial state with Miss Carpenter, hy whom through life, and whose loss he sincerely lament- he has four children.
At the close of the year ed. Of his early pursuits little is known, except following, he received the appointment of shethat he evinced a genius for drawing landscapes riff-Depute of the county of Selkirk; and in after nature.- At a proper age he was sent to March, 1806, he was named one of the principal the High School at Edinburgh, then directed clerks of Session in Scotland. With regard to by Dr Alexander Adam. In this school, young this last preferment, it should be observed that Scott passed through the different forms with his warrant, though drawn, had not passed the out exhibiting any of those extraordinary seals when the death of Mr Pitt produced an enpowers of genius, which are seldom remem- tire change in the ministry. The appointment bered till the person to whom they are ascribed of Mr Scott had been effected through the friendhas become, by the maturity of his talents, an ship of Lord Melville, who was then actually unobject of distinction. It is said, that he was con- der impeachment. This circumstance seemned sidered in his boyhood rather heavy than other- very ominous against the confirmation of the nowise, and that the late Dr Hugh Blair had disemination; but, fortunately for Mr Scott, the new cernment enough to predict his future eminence, ministry consisted of such men as the late Mr when the master of the school lamented his dul- Fox, Sheridan, Lord Erskine, and the Marquis of
but this only affords another instance of Lansdowne, with several others attached to litethe fallacy of human opinion in pronouncing rature and philosophy; and, in a manner that upon the real capacity of the youthful under- did them infinite honour, they made no objection standing. Barrow, the greatest scholar his to the advancement of their poètical opponent. age, was discarded as a blockhead by successive Thus, as a witty friend remarked, this appointteachers ; and his pupil, the illustrious Newton, ment was the « Jast Lay of the old Ministry.»
· The prediction of Dr Blair, here alluded to, arose out attention to young Scott. Dr Paterson thought
was the of the following circumstances. Shortly after Dr Paterson youth's stupidity that engaged the doctor's notice, and succeeded to the grammar-school, Musselburgh, where said, « My predecessor tells me, that boy has the thickest Walter Scott was a short time at pupil, Blair, accompanied skull in the school.» « May be so,» replied Dr Blair, « but by some friends, paid bim a visit ; in the course of which through that thick skull I can discern many bright rays he examined several his pupils, and paid particular of future genius.»
Released now from the drudgery of profes- | Minstrel,» which appeared, in quarto, in 1805.— sional labour, by the acquisition of two lucrative The following year he published a collection of situations, and the possession of a handsome es « Ballads and Lyrical Pieces.» Shortly after this, tate through the death of his father and that of public expectation was raised by the promise of a an uncle, Mr Scott was enabled to court the poem, on the perfection of which the bard was Muses at his pleasure, and to indulge in a va- said to labour as for immortality. Accordingly, riety of literary pursuits without interruption. - in 1808, appeared « Marmion, a tale of Flodden His first publications were translations from the Field,” which the author himself has characGerman, at a time when the wildest productions terised as containing the best and the worst of that country were much sought after in Eng- poetry he has ever written.» land, owing to the recent appearance of that The same year Mr Scott favoured the world horrible story of Lenora of Burger. The very with a complete edition of the Works of Dryden, year when different versions of that tale came in which he gave a new life of that great writers out, and some of these highly ornamented, Mr and numerous notes. But this was not the ouly Scott produced two German ballads in an Eng-instance of the fecundity of his genius and the lish dress, entitled, « The Wild Huntsmen," and rapidity of his pen, for, while these volumes were William and Helen.»
proceeding through the press, he found time for These little pieces, however, were not origi- a quarto of « Descriptions and illustrations of the nally intended for the press, being nothing more Lay of the Last Minstrel.» than exercises in the way of amusement, till a Within a few months after this he undertook, friend, to whom they were shown, prevailed up at the request of the booksellers, the superinon the author to publish them, and at the same tendence of a new edition of Lord Somers's coltime contributed the preface. Three years elapsed lection of Historical Tracts; and at the same before Mr Scott ventured to appear again in time edited Sir Ralph Sadler's State Papers, and print, when the produced another translation Anna Sewarel's Poetical Works. Yet the very year from the German, « Goetz of Berlichingen,» a in which these last publications appeared wittragedy, by Gæthe. Two years afterwards the nessed the birth of another original offspring of late Matthew Gregory (commonly called Monk)his prolific muse. This was « The Lady of the Lewis, enriched his « Tales of Wonder » with two Lake,» the most popular of all his poems, though, ballads communicated to him by our author, one in the opinion of many, inferior in several reentitled « The Eve of Saint John,» and the other spects to his « Lay of the Last Minstrel.» « Glenfiplas.»
The Vision of Don Roderick» appeared in In 1802 his first great work, « The Minstrelsy 1811, and was intended by its author to commeof the Scottish Border, » came out, beautifully morate the achievements of the Duke of Wellingprinted at Kelso, by Ballantyne. This collection ton and the British army in Spain. This poem immediately arrested general attention, and is considered a complete failure. though the pieces of which it is composed are Rokeby » was published in 1812-13. It comvery unequal, the master-mind and soaring ge- prises, in an eminent degree, all the beauties and pius of the poet are conspicuous throughout. all the defects of our poet's muse.
The studies of our author at this time were en In 1814 « The Lord of the Isles » appeared, tirely antiquarian. He lived and breathed only but failed to excite equal interest with most of among the knights, the heroes, the monks, and its predecessors. This is the last grand original robbers of olden time; the feats of chivalry, and poem of the northern bard. the rough heroism of northern warfare and bor In the last-mentioned year he also published der feuds, were the scenes in which his soul de-a prose work, entitled, « The Border Antiquities lighted to dwell. He drank deeply of the stream of England and Scotland, with Descriptions and of history as it darkly flowed over the middle Illustrations, and brought out a new edition of ages, and his spirit seemed for a time to be im- Swift, with a biographical memoir and annotabued with the mysteries, the superstitions, and tions. the romantic valour which characterised the then These were followed by two performances, one chieftains of the north countrie.
in prose and the other in verse, the first entitled His next production was « Sir Tristrano, a me Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk,» and the other trical romance of the thirteenth century, by The Battle of Waterloo.» Thomas of Ercildoun,» printed in 1804. Still, As an instance of the popularity of Scott's however, Mr Scott may be said as yet to have poems, we subjoin a statement of the sale of been only rising in fame: but he soon gained « Rokeby” and « The Lady of the Lake,» in nearenough to have intoxicated an ordinary mind in ly four months, as submitted by the publishers. the applause bestowed upon his « Lay of the last
Sold of The Lady of the Lake, » from June with which they frequently describe great events 2d to September 22, 1810,
—and the lively colouring and accurate drawing 2,000 quarto, at al. 2s. 4,200l. by which they give the effect of reality to every 6,000 octavo, at 12s.
3,6ool. scene they undertake to delineate. In executing
this arduous task, he was permitted to avail bim8,000
self of all the variety of style and manner which
had been sanctioned by the ancient practice, and Sold of « Rokeby,» in three months (Jan. 14th bound to embellish his performance with all the to April 14th, 1813),
graces of diction and versification which could 3,000 quarto, at al. 2s. (less
be reconciled to the simplicity and familiarity of I 20 remaining) 6,0481.
the minstrel's song. 5,000 octavo, at 14s.
3,500l. The success which attended Mr Scott's efforts
in the execution of this adventurous essay is well 8,000
known ;-he produced a very beautiful and en
tertaining poem, in a style which might fairly be We shall now attempt to offer a few critical considered as original, and the public approbaobservations on the three most deservedly popu- tion afforded the most flattering evidence of the lar poems of Walter Scott, viz. The Lay of the genius of the author. Perhaps, indeed, his parLast Minstrel, Marınion, and The Lady of the tiality for the strains of antiquity imposed a little Lake.
upon the severity of his judgment, and impaired The Lay of the Last MINSTREL is an endeavour the beauty of his imitation, by directing his atto transfer the refinements of modern poetry to tention rather to what was characteristic, than the matter and the manner of the ancient metri- to what was unexceptionable in his originals. cal romance. The author, enamoured of the lofty Though he spared too many of their faults, howvisions of chivalry, and partial to the strains in ever, he improved upon their beauties, and while which they were formerly embodied, employed it was regretted by many, that the feuds of borall the resources of his genius in endeavouring to der chieftains should have. monopolized as much recal them to the favour and admiration of the poetry as might have served to immortalize the public, and in adapting to the taste of modern whole baronage of the empire, yet it produced a readers a species of poetry, which was once the stronger inclination to admire the interest and delight of the courtly, but which has long ceased magnificence which he contrived to communicate to gladden any other eyes than those of the scho-to a subject so unpromising. lar and the antiquary. This is a romance, there
MARMIÓN has more tedious and flat passages, fore, composed by a minstrel of the present day, and more ostentation of historical and antiquaor such a romance as we may suppose would have rian lore, than its predecessor, but it has also been written in modern times, if that style of greater richness and variety, both of character composition had been cultivated, and partaken, and incident; and, if it has less sweetness and consequently, of the improvements which every pathos in the softer passages, it has certainly more branch of literature has received since the time vehemence and force of colouring in the loftier of its desertion.
and busier representations of action and emotion. Upon this supposition, it was evidently the au- The place of the prologuizing minstrel is but ill thor's business to retain all that was good, and supplied, indeed, by the epistolary dissertations to reject all that was bad, in the models upon which are prefixed to each book of this poem; but which he was to form himself; adding, at the there is more airiness and spirit in the lighter same time, all the interest and the beauty which delineations, and the story, if not more skilfully could possibly be assimilated to the manner and conducted, is at least better complicated, and exspirit of his original. It was his duty, therefore, tended through a wider field of adventure. The to reform the rambling, obscure, and intermina- characteristics of both, however, are evidently the ble narratives of the ancient romancers,--to mo same;- a broken narrative-a redundancy of derate their digressions,—to abridge or retrench minute description- bursts of unequal and enertheir prolix or needless descriptions, -and to ex- getic poetry-and a general tone of spirit and punge altogether those feeble and prosaic pas- animation, unchecked by timidity or affectation, sages, the rude stupidity of which is so apt to and unchastened by any great delicacy of taste, excite the derision of a modern reader: at the or elegance of fancy. same time he was to rival, if he could, the force THE LADY OF THE Lake is more polished in its and vivacity of their minute and varied repre- diction, and more regular in its versification, than sentations--the characteristic simplicity of their the author's preceding poems; the story is conpictures of manners -- the energy and conciseness structed with infinitely more skill and address;
there is a greater proportion of pleasing and sels, wizards, and true lovers. He never ventured tender passages, with much less antiquarian de- to carry us into the cottage of the peasant, like tail, and, upon the whole, a larger variety of Crabbe or Cowper; nor into the bosom of domescharacters, more artfully and judiciously con- tic privacy, like Campbell; por among creatures trasted. There is nothing so fine, perhaps, as the of the imagination, like Southey or Darwin. Such battle in Marmion, or so picturesque as some of personages, assuredly, are not in themselves so the scattered sketches in the Lay of the Last Min- interesting or striking as those to which our strel; but there is a richness and a spirit in the poet devoted himself; but they are far less famiLady of the Lake, which does not pervade either liar in poetry, and are therefore more likely to of these poems; a profusion of incident, and a engage the attention of those to whom poetry is shifting brilliancy of colouring, that reminds familiar. In the management of the passions, us of the witchery of Ariosto, and a constant again, he pursued the same popular and compaelasticity and occasional energy, which seem to ratively easy course. He raised all the most fabelong more peculiarly to the author himself. miliar and poetical emotions, by the most obvious
At this period Mr Scott had ontstripped all his aggravations, and in the most compendious and poetical competitors in the race of popularity. judicious way. He dazzled the reader with the The mighty star of Byron had not yet risen; and splendour, and even warmed him with the tranwe doubt whether any British poet had ever had sient heat of various affections; but he nowhere so many of his books sold, or so many of his verses fairly kindled him into enthusiasm, or melted read and admired by such a multitude of persons him into tenderness. Writing for the world at in so short a time as Walter Scott. Confident large (unlike Byron), he wisely abstained from atin the force and originality of his own genius, he tempting to raise any passion to a height to which was not afraid to avail himself of diction and of worldly people could not be transported, and sentiment, wherever they appeared to be beauti- contented himself with giving his reader the ful and impressive, using them, however, at all chance of feeling as a brave, kind, and affectiontimes, with the skill and spirit of an inventor; ate gentleman should often feel in the ordinary and, quite certain that he could not be mistaken course of his existence, without trying to breathe for a plagiarist or imitator, he made free use of into him either that lofty enthusiasın which disthat great treasury of characters, images, and ex- dains the ordinary business and amusements of pressions, which had been accumulated by the life, or that quiet and deep sensibility, which unmost celebrated of his predecessors; at the same fits for all its pursuits. With regard to diction time that the rapidity of his transitions, the no- and imagery, too, it is quite obvious that he aimvelty of his combinations, and the spirit and va- ed not at writing in either a pure or very common riety of his own thoughts and inventions, show style. He seems to have been anxious only to plainly that he was a borrower from any thing strike, and to be easily and universally underbut poverty, and took only what he could have stood; and, for this purpose, to have culled the given if he had been born in an earlier age. The most glittering and conspicuous expressions of the great secret of his popularity at the time, and the most popular authors, and to have interwoven leading characteristic of his poetry, consisted evi- them in splendid confusion with his own nervous dently in this, that he made use of more com- diction and irregular versification. Indifferent mon topics, images, and expressions, than any whether he coins or borrows, and drawing with original poet of later times; and, at the same equal freedom on his memory and his imaginatime, displayed more gevius and originality than tion, he went boldly forward, in full reliance on any recent author who had hitherto worked in a never-failing abundance, and dazzled, with his the same materials. By the latter peculiarity, he richness and variety, even those who are most entitled himself to the admiration of every descrip- apt to be offended with his glare and irregulation of readers; by the former he came recom- rity. There is nothing in Scott's poetry of the mended in an especial manner to the inexperi- severe and majestic style of Milton-or of the enced, at the hazard of some little offence to the terse and fine composition of Pope-or of the more cultivated and fastidious.
elaborate elegance and melody of Campbell-or In the choice of his subjects, for example, he even of the flowing and redundant diction of did not attempt to interest merely by fine obser- Southey; but there is a medley of bright images vations or pathetic sentiment, but took the assist- and glowing words, set carelessly and loosely toance of a story, and enlisted the reader's curio- gether-a diction tinged successively with the sity among his motives for attention. Then his careless richness of Shakspeare, the harshness and characters were all selected from the most com- antique simplicity of the old romances, the homemon dramatis personæ of poetry-kings, warriors, liness of vulgar ballads and anecdotes, and the knights, outlaws, nuns, minstrels, secluded dam- sentimental glitter of the most modern poetry-
passing from the borders of the ludicrous to those buskin, and to the dubious and captious shouts of the sublime-alternately ininute and energetic of the pit and gallery. -sometimes artificial, and frequently negligent, That Haliton Hill is a native, heroic, and chibut always full of spirit and vivacity-abounding valrous drama-- clear, brief, and moving in its in images that are striking, at first sight, to minds story--full of pictures, living and breathing, of every contexture--and never expressing a sen- and impressed with the stamp of romantic and timent which it can cost the most ordinary reader peculiar times, and expressed in language rich any exertion to comprehend.
and felicitous, must be felt by the most obtuse inAmong the peculiarities of Scott, as a poet, we tellect; yet we are not sure that its success would might notice his singular talent for description, be great on the stage, if for the stage it had ever and especially for that of scenes abounding in been designed. The beauties by which it charms motion or action of
kind. In this depart- and enchains attention in the closet-those bright ment, indeed, he may be considered almost with- and innumerable glimpses of past times – those out a rival, either among modern or ancient frequent allusions to ancient deeds and departed bards; and the character and process of his de- heroes-the action of speech rather than of body, scriptions are as extraordinary as their effect is would be lost in the vast London theatres, where astonishing. He places before the eyes of his a play is wanted, adapted to the eye rather than readers a more distinct and complete picture, to the head or heart. The time of action equals, perhaps, than any other artist ever presented by it is true, the wishes of the most limited critic; mere words; and yet he does not enumerate all the place, too, the foot of Halidon, and its barren the visible parts of the subject with any degree ascent, cannot be much more ample than the of minuteness, nor confine himself by any means space from the further side of the stage to the to what is visible. The singular merit of his de- upper regions of the gallery; and the heroes who lineations, on the contrary, consists in this, that, l'are called forth to triumph and to die are native with a few bold and abrupt strokes, he sketches flesh and blood, who yet live in their descenda most spirited outline, and then instantly kindles ants. It has all the claims which a dramatic it by the sudden light and colour of some moral poem can well have on a British audience; yet affection. There are none of his fine descriptions, we always hoped it would escape the clutches of accordingly, which do not derive a great part of those who cut up quantities for the theatres. their clearness and picturesque effect, as well as The transfer which the poet las avowedly made their interest, from the quantity of character and of the incidents of the battle of Homildon to the moral expression which is thus blended with their Hill of Halidon, seems such a violation of authendetails, and which, so far from interrupting the tic history, as the remarkable similarity of those conception of the external object, very power- two disastrous battles can never excuse. It is danfully stimulate the fancy of the reader to com- gerous to attempt this violent shifting of heroic plete it; and give a grace and a spirit to the deeds. The field of Bannockburn would never whole representation, of which we do not know tell of any other victory than the one which has where to look for a similar example. Walter rendered it renowned: History lifts up her voice Scott has many other characteristic excellencies, against it; nor can the Hill of Homildon tell the but we must not detain our readers any longer story of the Hill of Haiidon, nor that of any other with this imperfect sketch of his poetical cha- battle but its own.
It will scarcely be expected that, in this rapid To the list of poetical works given, above, we sketch, we should enter into a respective anahave here to add two poems, at first published lysis of those works, so well known, and so unianonymously, but since acknowledged, viz. « The versally admired, by the appellation of the a WaBridal of Triermain, » and «Harold the Dauntless;» verley Novels. The painful circumstances which and, in 1822, a dramatic sketch called a Halidon compelled their author to disclose himself are still Hill.,
In his preface to the latter, the poet says, fresh in the recollection and the sympathy of the that his dramatic sketch is in no particular de- public: the motives, or no motives, which insigned or calculated for the stage, and that any duced so long and so pertinaciously to abattempt to produce it in action will be at the peril stain from avowing himself, it is not our province of those who make the experiment. The truth to criticise, por do we wish to make a boast of is that, like most of the higher poetical spirits of having always believed what could scarcely be the age, he has found out a far safer and surer ever doubted, viz. that the Great Unknown and way to equitable judgments and fame, than trust- the author of Marmion were u one and indiviing to the hazardous presentment of the charac-sible.» ters he draws, by the heroes of the sock and The annexed is a list of the novels in question,