ページの画像
PDF
ePub

work of fiction, for the exercise of his marvellous genius, obscured that in which his poetical triumph had been won; and the lyre of the Minstrel Poet ceased its strains, when the enchanter's wand of the GREAT UNKNOWN called into life the person, ages and manners of the bygone past which have made history a living picture.

In the present day it is scarcely possible to realise the warmth of welcome accorded to those matchless creations of the poet by all ranks of society. It was felt that a new pleasure had been added to existence—a new source of enjoyment discovered—to which a gratified public entirely surrendered itself. The birth of a new novel by the Author of Waverley came to be as eagerly looked for as the presence of a valued friend ; and as each one appeared, it added to the admiring wonder in which the poet's magic creative power was regarded. Whether the scene was laid in his own native land—in England, -or in foreign countries-whether the characters were men and women of his own day, or of a past time whether kings and nobles-squires or peasants,—the world recognised the truth of the portraitures, and did homage to the skill of the hand that drew them.

Why the poet should have withheld his name from these creations of his genius has never been clearly explained. At the first he was no doubt led to do so, by the fear of compromising the fame he had already acquired by the chances of failure in an untried field ; and possibly a whimsical caprice to mystify his friends induced him to preserve the veil of “the author of Waverley." His secret, although it was confided to at least twenty persons, was never penetrated, until circumstances compelled him to declare it; but amongst his own circle, and in the literary world, not much doubt was felt as to the authorship. From 1814, the year in which the first of the Waverley novels were published, until 1825, the poet's life was in the main a bright and prosperous one. At Abbotsford he received visits from eminent persons of all countries; his society was courted by the great, and he possessed the esteem of men of all classes ; wealth flowed in upon him from his novels to an extent beyond his highest dreams, and enabled him to carry out his cherished desire of being a landed proprietor and the founder of a family. His position was what no other man had ever achieved for himself by the pen alone. “ His

works were the daily food, not only of his own countrymen, but of all Europe. His society was courted by whatever England could show of eminence, station, power, or wealth. Beauty and genius, strove with each other in every demonstration of respect and worship.” In 1815 he visited London, and was presented to the Prince of Wales. 66 The Prince and Scott," said Mr. Croker, “were the two most brilliant story-tellers in their several ways that I ever happened to meet ; they were both aware of their forte, and both exerted them. selves that evening(the poet had been invited to dinner at Carlton House) - with delightful effect. The Regent was enchanted with Scott, as Scott with him, and on all subsequent visits to London he was a frequent guest at the royal table.

In 1820 the poet received a baronetcy at the hands of the King; who, in 1822, visited Edinburgh, and received a splendid ovation from his Scottish subjects; this being the first occasion on which royalty had visited Scotland since the time of Charles II. Sir Walter occupied a prominent position in all the ceremonies connected with the royal progress, and the successful result of the visit was in great measure due to his influence and

exertions. But the connection which the poet had formed with the brothers Ballantyne now began to cause him grave anxiety. The publishing business had been, from serious mismanagement and lack of sagacious judgment, a sad failure, and had resulted in great loss, which fell entirely upon the poet ; and the printing establishment, although the source of great profit for some years, had become involved in complicated financial transactions which threatened serious consequences. The large outlay upon the building of his house at Abbotsford, and the expenses resulting from the heavy demands upon his hospitality, which his generous and open nature rendered him unable to resist, together with the inevitable responsibility of a family, now growing up, had tempted him to anticipate the sources of his income, by procuring advances from his publisher, Mr. Constable, on the security of works yet unwritten. Mr. Constable, a shrewd and sagacious man of business in all matters connected with literature, was a man of a buoyant and hopeful temperament; self-confident, and prone to indulge in great enterprises, but lacking financial ability. His connection with the poet dated from the publication of the “LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL," and with the exception of occasional interruptions, had continued during the intervening years, and was latterly much strengthened by the confidence which the poet felt in his business qualifications.

A period of general commercial depression had now supervened which culminated in 1826, and brought about the downfall of both the houses; involving Sir Walter in their ruin. This calamity, great as it was, was deepened within a few months by the death of his affectionate wife. The courageous spirit, and the manly rectitude of the poet's character, nerved him to face his disasters with a resolution which extorted the sympathy of all. Scorning to avail himself of the ordinary facilities of commercial adversity he refused to be declared a bankrupt, and boldly assumed the entire liabilities of the printing firm of the Ballantynes, amount. ing to over £130,000; pledging himself to dedicate his whole future life to the payment of this amount. Struggling with failing health, and undismayed by the pressure of his misfortunes, Sir Walter entered upon a course of herculean literary labours, of which there is no parallel. Within two years he had reduced the debt by 140,000, derived

« 前へ次へ »