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during vacation time. The whole land is alive with song and story : almost every stone that stands above the ground, is the record of some skirmish or single combat; and every stream, although its waters be so inconsiderable as scarcely to moisten the pasture through which they run, is renowned in song and in ballad.
I can stand,' said Sir Walter one day to me,' on the Eildon Hill, and point out forty-three places, famous in war and verse.' How the muse who loves him who walks by himself
Along some wimpling hurn's meander, found out Scott, among the hills and holms of the border, need not, therefore, form any part of our inquiry ; it will be more difficult to discover how a love of delineating landscapes came to him -I do not mean landscapes copied from the works of the professors, but scenes copied from nature herself; this bespeaks a deeper acquaintance with art than I could have given him credit for. Such, however, I am told, is the fact, and though he never made much progress in the art, it is my duty to relate it, were it but to show the spirit and bent of the boy. With regard to his inclination for song and story we have his own testimony. "I must refer,' says Sir Walter,' to a very early period of my life, were / to point out my first achievements as a tale-writer-but I believe some of my old schoolfellows can still bear witness, that I had a distinguished character for that talent, at a time when the applause of my companions was my recompense for the disgraces and punishments which the future romance writer incurred, for being idle himself, and keeping others idle during hours that should have been employed on their tasks. The chief enjoyment of my holidays, was to escape with a chosen friend who had the same taste with myself, and alternately to recite to each other such wild adventures as we were able to devise. We told, each in turn, interminable tales of knight errantry, and battles and enchantments, which were continued from one day to another, as opportunity offered, without ever thinking of bringing them to a conclusion. As we observed a strict secrecy on the subject of this intercourse, it required all the character of a concealed pleasure, and we used to se. lect for the scenes of our indulgence, long walks through the solitary and romantic environs of Arthur's Seat, Salisbury Crags, Braid Aills, and siinilar places in the vicinity of Edinburgh ; and the recollection of those holidays still forms an oasis in the pilgrimage which I have to look upon. This singular talent he retained while he lived: he was the most skilful relator of an anecdote, and the cleverest teller of a story of all men I ever met ; he saw all the picturesque points, and felt all the little turns and twists which give character and life to a tale, and had his words been written down, they would have been found as correct in all things, as one of his novels. Once, when he made me laugh heartily at one of his innumerable stories, he said, 'Ah! had you but heard my friend James Watt tell a story, then you might have laughed.' He had day and date and name to all his, and one of the great beauties was, that if one tried to tell the same story with the alteration of either name or date, the charm was gone, and it wrought no enchantment.
The graver cares of life were to be attended to, and Scott had given up his solitary rambles, and his interminable tales of enchantment and diablerie, with the intention of preparing himself for the bar, when a severe illness, which hung long about him, threw him back, as he observed, on the kingdom of fiction. My indisposition,' he says, 'arose in part at least, from my having broken a blood vessel; and motion and speech were for a long time pronounced dangerous. For several weeks, I was confined strictly to my bed, during which time, I was not allowed to speak above a whisper, to eat more than a spoonful or two of boiled rice, or to have more covering than one thin counterpane. When, the reader is informed, that I was at that time a growing youth, with the spirits, appetite, and impatience of fifteen, and suffered, of course, greatly under this severe regi. men, which the repeated return of my disorder rendered indispensable, he will not be surprised, that I was abandoned to my own discretion, as far as reading, my almost sole amusement, was concerned; and still less so, that I abused the indulgence, which left my time so much at my own disposal.' To the orallore of The house of Scott, and the legends of nurses wet and dry, he now added those of the circulating library; he had access to the one founded by Allan Ramsay, and
finding it rich in works of fiction, he read, or rather devoured, al! he could lay his hands on, from the rhyme romances of chivalry, including the heavy folios of Cyrus and Cassandra, down to the mure vulgar labors of later times. I was plunged,' said he, into this great ocean of reading, without compass or pilot; and unless, when some one had the charity to play at chess with me, I was allowed to do nothing, save read, from morning to night. Accordingly, I believe I read almost all the romances, old plays, and epic poetry, in that formidable collection, and no doubt was unconsciously amassing materials for the task in which it has been my lot to be so much employed. Familiar acquaintance with the specious miracles of fiction, brought with it some degree of satiety, and I began by degrees, to seek in histories, memoirs, voyages and travels, and the like, events nearly as wonderful as those which were the works of imagination, with the additional advantage, that they were, at least, in a great measure, true.' This course of study-for so in fact it proved-together with a two years' residence in the country, re-establishing his health, where he found traditions good store, both romantic and historical, brought the elements together of that splendid species of fiction in which he has surpassed all mankind.
With returning health Scott came back to Edinburgh, and resumed his studies in the law. He is said to have been an indolent student: he says otherwise himself, and no one need doubt his assertion ; indeed, his works of fiction are all more or less impressed with the stamp of law: and Gifford, the sarcastic editor of the Quarterly Reciero, made it a matter of reproach, that his plots were law pleas, and that he had too much of the Court of Session in his compositions. This was by way of requital for having drawn the critic's character in that of Sir Mungo Malagrowther, and, therefore, ought not to be considered as an objection of much weight. The severe studies, Scott observes, necessary to render me fit for my profession, occupied the great part of iny time, and the society of my friends and companions, who were about to enter life along with me, filled up the interval with the usual amusements of young men. I was i which rendered serious labor indispensable ; for neither possessing on the one hand, any of those peculiar advantages, which are supposed to favor a hasty advance in the profession of the law, nor being on the other hand exposed to unusual obstacles, to interrupt my progress, I might reasonably expect to succeed according to the greater or less degree of trouble which I should take to qualify myself as a pleader.' He seems not to have been aware that two angels-that of darkness, Law, and that of light, Poesie—had at this time possession of him, and were contending for mastery ; nor would he ever allow that his life had anything remarkable in it. In one of his many letters, he says, “ There is no man known at all in literature, who may not have more to tell of his private life, than I have : I have surmounted no difficulties either of birth or education, nor have I been favored by any particular advantages, and my life has been as void of incidents of importance, as that of the weary knife-grinder
• Story! God bless you, I have none to tell, Sir.' This was said in one of his uncommunicative moods. The story of his life, when it comes to be fully written, will be found as remarkable as any in the list of literary biographies, with the exception of that of Burns. Was it nothing to triumph over what seemed a predestined calling, for he was come of two races of lawyers ?-was it nothing to collect such stores from all quarters, as enabled bim to give a new tone to the romance and the poetry of Europe ?-and was it nothing to sit unseen, and for a series of years work enchantments, compared 10 which his namesake's cleaving the Eildon Hills in three cannot be regarded as wonderful? To speak in this way, was being modest overmuch; indeed, whenever he spoke of his works, he would never allow himself a tithe of the merit in anything which the world allowed, which was certainly not more than courteous to his admirers.
For a while, it seemed as if law had succeeded, and that the muse had given up the contest. Scott was called to the bar as an advocate, on the 11th of July, 1792, and attended to the duties of his station with such seeming good will, that he was generally considered in the fair road to success and independence ; to strengthen his resolutions, and furnish himself with a reason for laboring in his profession,
be married Miss Carpenter, a young lady of the Isle of Jersey ; took a house in North Castle Street, Edinburgh; and through the influence of his family--some have added, from a sort of dawning notion of his coming greatness,- he had the office of Sheriff Depute for Selkirkshire conferred upon him, 16th of December, 1799. This added a little to the fruits of his professional industry, which, I have heard, where never large. Of his eloquence, and his skill and dexterity, in the conducting of a case in Court, I have heard various and rather contradictory accounts; while one represented him as hesitating and embarrassed in his mode of address, another told me he was acute and clear headed, and above all, had the art in which the late Sir William Garrow so much excelled, of extracting exactly so much truth from any witness as suited his purpose. As a sheriff, he was kind and just; he took an equitable view of everything, and if he had any partialities, as James Hogg avers, it was towards poachers by water and land, which induced the bard of Ettrick to surmise, that the poet of Abbotsford had fished and shot in prohibited places himself. He had a high notion of the dignity which belonged to his post, and sternly maintained it when any one seemed disposed to treat is with more familiarity than was becoming. On one occasion, it is said, when some foreign prince or other,-I rather think it was the Archduke Nicholas, now Emperor of Russia,-was passing through Selkirk, the populace, anxious to look on a live prince, crowded round him so closely, that Scoit in vain attempted to approach him; the poet's patience failed, and exclaiming, · Room for your Sheriff Room for your Sheriff!' he pushed and elbowed the gazers impatiently aside, and apologized to the prince for their curiosity.
To those, however, who were intimate with Scott, all this attention to law, and desire to be distinguished at the bar seemed but as a sort of inask to conceal the real purposes of his heart. If his hand was with the Court of Session, his heart was in the temple of the Muses; and though he appeared by day in all the externals of one deep in the mysteries of jurisprudence, he allowed nature to take her course in the evening and morning. To his friend William Erskine alone, it is said, he opened the purpose of his heart-to secure a small competence, and then dedicate all the time he could command to literature. In his introduction to • Marmion' there is something like evidence of this; at least, Erskine appears there as a friend and adviser, and as one, too, who thought differently from the poet. It would seem that the admonisher entertained all the current classic notions respecting composition, and desired the muse of his friend
Still to be neat, still to he drest,
As she were going to a feast. Scott, on the other hand, had no desire to dance in fetters, or carry weight in a race of his own choice : he stood up for the license and freedom of the muse, and exclaimed, wisely,
Nay, Erskine, nay; on the wild hill
Let the wild heath flower flourish still. Jeffrey afterwards wrote in the same strain in which Erskine talked ; but Scott felt that within which could not be schooled down, and said with the pithy prov. erb, - Let ilka man wear his ain belt his ain gait.' It was, however, with the advice of Erskine, that, in 1796, he published a poem called "The Chase,' and the ballad of. William and Helen' from the German. In this little work, (sayse northern authority,) indications were to be found of that leaning towards roman. tic incident and parade of chivalry, which has since characterized Mr. Scott's greater works, and given a new tone to the public feeling in matters of poetry.' In 1799 he published · Goetz of Berlinchingen,' from the German of Goethe. None of these productions was of such moment as to carry his name beyond the circle of his more immediate acquaintances; the German literature, with many brilliant things from nature, is too startling and grotesque, though sobered down by the taste of such excellent translators as Carlyle, Lord Francis Gower, and Coleridge. Even the two fine ballads of Glenfinlas,' and the Eve of St. John,' were thought to have a touch too much of the German spirit ;-to be sure, they appeared in unnatural company; the "Tales of Wonder' came out like a will-o'wisp, to flash and astonish ; but inen soon saw that the light was of evil, and not of good, and would have no more of it. Sir Walter told me, the proudest hour of
his life was when he was invited to dine with Monk Lewis : he considered it as a sure recognition of his talents; and as he sat down at the table he almost exclaimed with Tamlane
He's owned amang us a'! A work which has not the merit of originality laid the foundation of Sir Walter's fame : this was the . Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,' in three volumes; two of which contained genuine old ballads, and the third imitations; the whole illustrated with notes more valuable, and infinitely more amusing, than the ballads themselves; nor is it unworthy of remark, that they came from the press of Ballantyne at Kelso-a name since grown famous for beautiful type and elegant arrangement. It was received with universal approbation. His mode of iilustration was in a bolder style than that of Percy; and none, save antiquarians, and not many of them, could perceive the liberties which the editor had taken with the rude and multilated chants of our military ancestors. He was too fond a lover of antique verse, and too dexterous a poet, to permit the Border Ballads to go in * looped and windowed raggedness 'from his hand. Indeed, had he not done so, few would have bought his work. They were sadly disfigured by bad reciters, and spoiled by ignorant transcribers. The 'Lochmaben Harper,' Lord Maxwell's Good Night,' and a few others, are untouched and entire ; but over most of the others, like the love-letter which Tom Pipes undertook to carry, the heel of the ignorant multitude had trodden, and reduced them to tatters which shook in the wind. Ritson could no more have edited such a work than he could have flown over Olympus : none but a true and a good poet like Scott was fit for it; your right natural ballad will bear a gentle polishing; it is not like the gilt shield of Scriblerus, which, by frequent furbishing, grew down to the lid of a saucepan. I consider the · Minstrelsy of the Border' to be a great national work, which will do for Scotland what Percy's ó Reliques' has done for England-keep a love of truth and nature living amongst us.
In collecting these traditionary ballads, Sir Walter met with what any one but himself would have deemed adventures. He visited lonesome valleys and shepherds' sheils; nor did he omit to pay his respects to all the old people; and with an art which showed at once his knowledge of human nature, and his affection for the dying strains of our ancestors, he led their memories back to other days, and caught at the fragment of an old verse as a creature drowning would catch at a twig. It happened that James Hogg, in those days, watched sheep in Ettrick : in one of his excursions, Scott made an inroad upon the Shepherd's establishment, and summoned him from the hills. I accordingly went homewards,' says Hogg, 6 but before reaching it, I met the Sheriff and Mr. William Laidlaw coming to visit me. They remained in our cottage for a space better than an hour, and my mother chanted the ballad of Old Maitland,' with which Mr. Scott was highly delighted. I had sent him a copy : but I thought he had some dread of a part being forged, and that had been the cause of his journey into the wilds of Ettrick. When he heard my mother sing it, he was quite satisfied; and I remember he asked her if she thought it had ever been printed; and her answer was, " Oh na, Sir, it was never prentit i' the world ; for my brothers an'me learned it frae auld Andrew Moor; an' he learned it, an' mony mae, frae auld Babie Maitland, that was houskeeper to the first laird o' Tushielaw." -"Then that must be a very auld story indeed, Margaret," said he.-“ Ay, it is that !--it is an auld story ! But mair nor that, except George Warton and James Steward, there was never ane of my sangs prentit till you prentit them yersel. (The two first volumes of the • Minstrelsy' were published separately.) An' ye hav spoilt them a'thegither. They were made for singing, an' no for reading; an' they are nouther right spelled nor right setten down."'--" Heh, heh! take ye that, Mr. Scott," said Laidlaw. Mr. Scott answered by a hearty laugh, and the recital of a verse; but I have forgot what it was; and my mother gave him a rap on the knee with her open hand, and said, “ It 's true enough, for a' that."
The remark that these old ballads were made to be sung, and not to be printed, may be applied to Sir Walter's early verses. Anyone who reads the letters which he received from Monk Lewis, on the important affair of rhyme, will see that Scott rhymed in his youthful days to please the ear, and not to satisfy the
eye; that, in fact, he imitated the old ballad where corresponding sounds only were required, and could not always be obtained. These letters show more-they prove that Lord Byron was incorrect, when he said that the Fire King' in the Minstrelsy was almost all Lewis'; for, in truth, it is all Scott's. Instead,' says Sir Walter, . of writing the greater part of it, he did not write a single word of it. Dr. Leyden, and another gentleman who still survives, were sitting at my side while I wrote it: nor did the occupation prevent the circulation of the bottle.' Byron also said, 'When Walter Scott began to write poetry, which was not at a very early age, Monk Lewis corrected his verse: he understood little then of the mechanical part of it.' The latter part of this sentence is less accurate than it would seem : Lewis and Scott were of different schools of song : the latter hnd all the carelessness about nicety of rhyme which marks the olden ballad ; the former all the fastidiousness of the circles of Dr. Johnson : that he understood the mechanical part well, needs no farther proof than that the remarks of Lewis are directed exclusively to the rhyme words, and not to the construction of the verse, nor the melody of the numbers. Sir Walter himself, in speaking of the second edition of the Ministrelsy' regards it as: rather a heavy concern. The demand in Scotland,' said he,'had been supplied by the first edition; and the curiosity of the English was not much awakened by poems in the rude garb of antiquity, accompanied with notes referring to the obscure feuds of barbarous clans, of whose very names civilized history was ignorant. This cannot be said now of the name of Scott: it has got an airing over the wide world, and must be everywhere revered, as that of Spenser is in England.
The death of his father brought such an increase of income, that with the proceeds of the Sheriffdom, which equalled three hundred a year, he was in a condition to pursue his own inclinations. He could now, he somewhere says,
take less to heart the preference which solicitors gave to his contemporaries, who thought them fitter for their work than a man whose head was filled with ballads, old and new. But before he resolved to lean more than ever towards literature, he weighed the good with the evil of his choice; and did not shut his eyes to the circumstance, that a man of genius has to wage a continual war with captious critics and disappointed authors. It also occurred to him, that several men of the greatest genius, in the avenging of some pitiful quarrel, had made themselves ridiculous during their lives, and objects of pity to future times. I can understand all this better than the conclusion which the poet draws in his own favor, namely, that, as he had no pretension to the genius of those eminent sufferers, he was not likely to imitate them in their mistakes. What he felt, however, is one thing; what he did is another: he seemed, on many occasions, prone to underrate, in a prodigious degree, his own talents ;-oni resolution is, however, worthy of noting: he determined, if possible, to avoid those weaknesses of temper which seemed on too many occasions to have beset his eminent predecessors : it need not be told how well he kept this resolution, and with what courtesy he demeaned himself to all mankind. At the same time it may be added, that such gentleness was part of his natural character, and not assumed for the sake of tranquillity and repose. * The first fruit of his defection from the weightier matters of the law, was the "Lay of the Last Minstrel,'—a poem of such beauty and spirit, as more than justified his choice, had any one been disposed to censure him for forsaking law's dry musty arts,' and entering into the service of the muse. This I look upon as one of the noblest of his works: there are probably more stirring and high-wrought scenes in some of the succeeding poens; but with all their martial ardor, there is a certain wildness which lifts the · Lay’high into the regions of imagination, and ever and anon are passages of the most exquisite loveliness and repose. There is more of quiet beauty about the work, than the great poet indulged in afterwards. The spirit of Scotland acknowledged at once the original vigor and truth of the poem : every paper was filled with the favorite passages-every mouth was filled with quotation and praise ; and they who lamented the loss of Burns, and persisted in believing that his place could not be supplied, were constrained to own that a poet of another stamp had appeared, whose strains echoed as truly and fervently the feelings of their country as the songs of the Bard of Ayr. The history of the rise and progress of this poem, the author has himself related.