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its tale of heroism, or act of tragic ferocity to recount, each of which, either in the simple verses of a ballad, or as incidents committed to memory and handed down by minstrel bards, are materials out of which the genius and imagination of the poet of a later age finds fit subject for his lay or poem.
In this border country, the home of his ancestors, the early years of Sir Walter Scott's boyhood were spent, and his romantic spirit eagerly listened to the tales and legends which he heard recited by the people around him: and whilst his retentive memory seized upon their incidents, his brooding imagination invested them with an atmosphere of every day reality, and fashioned the characters before his mind in the manners and habits of their times.
It is impossible, within the limits of a few pages, to give anything beyond the barest outlines of the poet's life ; for few men crowded so much of active work within the compass of threescore years, or filled so large a space in the literary life of his country. In the fragment of an autobiography which he bequeathed he says that his birth was neither distinguished nor sordid : it was esteemed gentle as being connected with ancient families. His father, Walter Scott, a respected writer to the signet in Edinburgh, was descended from the ancient border family, or clan, of the Scotts of Buccleuch; but more immediately from that branch of it designated as the Scotts of Harden. His mother was the daughter of Dr. John Rutherford, a man distinguished for professional talents and literary acquirements ; through whom the poet claimed descent from the family of the Swintons, many of whom were distinguished warriors, whose names frequently occur in the pages of Scottish history. Walter Scott was the third son of a family of thirteen children, most of whom died in early youth, and he seems to have been the only one of distinguished talent. A severe illness in his second year had nearly proved fatal to him, an issue which was only averted by his being sent into the country, to the residence of his paternal grandfather, where the healthful and bracing air eventually led to his recovery-though he was ever afterwards afflicted by a lameness in one of his limbs. At this place, called Sandyknowe, or Smaylhome, he remained, with the exception of a visit made to Bath for the benefit of the waters, until his eighth year. During this period he seems to have received little or no
education beyond what he picked up during his irregular attendances at a small school in Kelsohis delicate state of health making the confinement of indoor life injurious. He however learned to read, an accomplishment, of which he made diligent use, by perusing all the books which came in his way. This desultory reading, and the constant listening to the tragic tales and stories of old Border warfare, of which his grandmother had great store, seem to have greatly aided in forming his tastes for the marvellous and romantic ; and in the latter undoubtedly was laid the foundation, afterwards to be largely built upon, of that intimate knowledge of Border history with which he de. lighted the world.
In his eighth year he was brought back to Edinburgh, and sent to the High School, where he remained for about six years, his course of study being aided by a tutor in his father's house. But he does not seem at this time to have impressed his teachers as a brilliant pupil-on the contrary, one of them asserted that “a dunce he was and a dunce he would remain”; a sentence which, however, the master lived to revoke. But if he failed to obtain the good opinion of his teachers, he was a great favourite of his fellow-scholars, with whom his good nature made him extremely popular. In the intervals of school hours, when the weather rendered the usual out-door sports impossible, his budget of old-world stories strengthened by his quick and inexhaustible imagination secured him admiring audiences. At this time his appetite for books was as ample and indiscriminating as it was indefatigable. He had the good fortune to become possessed of Bishop Percy's “Reliques of Ancient Poetry” which greatly interested him. “To read and to remember,” he says, “was in this instance the same thing, and henceforth I overwhelmed my school-fellows, and all who would hearken to me, with tragical relations from the ballads.”
At this period too, when in his fourteenth year, the influence of natural objects, and the charms of beautiful scenery began to be felt; and the keenness with which he appreciated these and his faithfulness in describing them, form one of the strongest chains whereby he rivetted the attention of a delighted audience. The romantic feelings which were always uppermost in his mind, and the store of historical incident and traditional legend which he was daily accumulating, combined with this growing love of natural beauty to create within him that dream-world, all his own, in which he afterwards lived; and which enabled him to resist the intoxication of an unmeasured applause, and the elations of a rapidly acquired prosperity unique in literary history; whilst it enabled him to bear the crushing weight of a train of misfortunes with an equanimity and fortitude which secured an universal sympathy. In his fifteenth year he was apprenticed to his father as a writer, a profession for which he had no great liking, but which he accepted out of filial respect. In his seventeenth year his health was much affected by the breaking of a blood vessel, from which he did not recover until after the lapse of several months, during which absolute silence was imposed upon him. As he was permitted to read as much as he chose, his habits of desultory reading were during this illness much strengthened. He relieved the tedious and monotonous confinement of this period by acquiring that knowledge of fortification, and acquaintance with the description of battles, sieges, &c., of which he made such good use during his literary career. His bodily frame from this time gradually became stronger, and notwithstanding his lameness,