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When he was sixty he wrote:
"I was a mere child, and could feel none of the passion which Byron alleges, yet the recollection of this good-humored companion of my childhood is like that of a morning dream."
But while he was still serving his apprenticeship, it happened that one Sunday, as the congregation were dispersing from Gray Friars, it began to rain, and Scott offered his umbrella to Miss Williamina Belches, a beautiful girl, the daughter of a gentleman who afterwards became Sir John Stuart of Fettercairn. The acquaintance thus begun ripened into friendship, and speedily, on Scott's part, into an undying love, which, though ultimately disappointed, was advantageous in more ways than one. Lockhart says it “had a powerful influence in nerving Scott's mind for the sedulous diligence with which he pursued his proper legal studies during the two or three years that preceded his call to the bar.”
Scott's father, discovering his attachment, felt it his duty to warn the young lady's father, since she had “prospects of future far above his son's.” She finally married Sir William Forbes, who in the time of Scott's adversity befriended him in many ways.
It was evident that Scott's pride was piqued, if his heart was broken, by her conduct; but when he had acquired name and fame he renewed relations with Lady Jane Stuart, the young lady's mother; and as late as 1827, on receiving an affectionate letter from her, felt his heart stirred to its deepest depths, and he wrote in his diary, “Alas! alas ! - but why alas?"
He determined not to enter into partnership with his father, but to embrace the more ambitious profession of the bar; and with that object in view he was eydent in his studies for four years, and on the urth of July, 1792, he “assumed the gown, with all its duties and honors.” At the dinner which he gave, as was customary on such occasions, his father was one of the happiest of guests. “On a festival occasion,” says Scott in his autobiography, “there were few whom a moderate glass of wine exhilarated to such a lively degree.”
On the first day of his presence at Court, a friendly solicitor gave him a guinea, with which he purchased a new night-cap; but his first important fee was spent for a silver candlestick for his mother. He was afterwards offered employment at the Circuit Court at Jedburgh; but, as he wrote his friend Clerk, "durst not venture.”
He still kept up his habit of making what he called “raids” into unexplored districts; and with his friend Robert Shortreid as guide, for seven successive years explored every nook and corner of Liddesdale, where, till Scott's appearance, a wheeled carriage had never been seen. To these rambles he owed much of the material collected in “The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border."
Among the lawyers of the Outer House, many of whom afterwards attained distinction, but who were now light-hearted loungers of “ the mountain," Duns Scotus, as they called Scott, was regarded as the prince of story-tellers. Nearly all of them united to form a class for the study of German; and to this circumstance may be traced Scott's first entrance upon the field of literature. He had already shown a natural facility for rhyming, and at the age of sixteen is said to have composed a poem in four books on the Conquest of Granada; but this was immediately burnt, and not a line is known to have survived, unless in one of the extemporized mottoes to the novels.
Bürger's “ Lenore " first stimulated him to more serious verse. Having heard about the poem, which was brought to Edinburgh by Mrs. Barbauld in 1795, Scott obtained the original, and translated it at a sitting. His friend Miss Cranstoun, who was in the secret of his love for Miss Belches, had the ballad printed in " elegant style," and sent a copy “ richly bound and blazoned” to her at the country house where she and Scott were both visiting. The young lady had un.
doubtedly - high admiration of Scott's abilities,” but not even this new proof of his talent won her love.
Mrs. Scott of Harden, who was of noble German birth, supplied him with many standard German books, and he translated a number of prose dramas and some of Goethe's lyrics.
The “ Lenore” and “Wild Huntsman” were published in a thin quarto, without Scott's name, in 1796, the year of Burns's death, — and was welcomed as a remarkable production by many good critics, but proved pecuniarily a dead loss.
Meantime, his practice was slowly increasing, — in his first year he made a little more than twenty-four pounds, in his fifth he made £144 10s., -and his spare time was largely occupied by his efforts in the formation of a body of volunteer cavalry, in which he occupied at first the triple functions of paymaster, quartermaster, and secretary. He was the very life of the “ Light Horse,” and was familiarly known as Earl IValter.
During his summer vacation in 1797 he made a tour of the English lakes, where he afterwards laid the scene of “ Triermain” and “St. Ronan's Well;" and here he met Miss Charlotte Margaret Carpenter, or Charpentier, a young lady of English origin, but born in France. Her guardian was the Marquess of Downshire, but the report that he was her father was disbelieved by Lockhart.
After a brief courtship, and some opposition on the part of Scott's family, he became engaged to her. He married her on the 24th of December, 1797. The following year their first-born son died the day after his birth, and Scott completed his translation of Goethe's “Goetz von Berlichingen,” which, when published in February, 1799, brought him twenty-five guineas from a London bookseller. They hired a pretty cottage at Lasswade, which they occupied for several summers; and here amid the most romantic scenery of Scotland were thrown off those ballads which Scott called “ his first serious attempts in verse.” He was also occupied in making his collections for the subsequently published volumes of “ The Scottish Minstrelsy of the Border."
One of the advantages of his residence at Lasswade was his acquaintance with the houses of Melville and Buccleuch; and when the office of sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire became vacant in 1799, Scott, through the Duke of Buccleuch, was appointed to this position. The duties were almost nominal, and the salary £300 a year. This, in addition to what he had received from his father's estate, his wife's income, and his own professional earnings, placed him on a secure footing, and gave him, at least during his vacations, time to cultivate literature.
Among Scott's schoolmates at Lancelot Whale's School in 1783, was James Ballantyne, who had now become a printer, and was publishing a weekly newspaper at Kelso. Scott then proposed to him to print off a dozen or so copies of his ballads. This was done, and the pamphlet containing “ William and Ellen,”
The Fire King,” “The Chase," and a few others, was published under the title,
Apology for Tales of Terror.” At the same time the scheme of a collection of Old Border Ballads was broached.
In April, 1800, he wrote to Ballantyne, asking him to Edinburgh, to engage in a general printing business, to include a newspaper, a monthly journal, an annual register, the execution of session papers, and, lastly, the publication of books.
It was two years, however, before Ballantyne emigrated; but in the meantime he had won golden opinions by the beautiful style in which he had brought out the first two volumes of "The Border Minstrelsy.” Scott's share of the prohts of these was £78 10s. He had already begun that pecuniary assistance to Ballantyne which, in 1805, resulted in a secret partnership, and his ultimate ruin. The third volume of the “Minstrelsy” was well received. The London publisher, Long.
man, issued one thousand copies of the first two, and fifteen hundred of the third. Scott's entire profits were £600.
His first contributions to the Edinburgh Review were printed in 1803, in which year he was mainly engaged in editing the ancient manuscript of “Sir Tristrem, by Thomas the Rhymer.' This was published in May, 1804, in an edition of only one hundred and fifty copies, at the high price of two guineas each.
The same month he took lease of the house and farm of Ashestiel, on the south bank of the Tweed, and about a month later his uncle, Captain Robert Scott, died, leaving him his beautiful little villa and thirty acres of land, besides £600 in cash. He sold Rosebank for £5,000, and was now assured of an annual income of £1,000, besides his practice at the Bar (which, for instance, in 1803 brought him over £228) and his literary profits.
He had been scarcely more than a week in possession of his beautiful new residence when he was cailed upon to try a poacher. The man's pitiful story and clever humor moved the sheriff; he not only let him off, but took him into his service as grieve, or bailiff. From that time forth Tom Purdie was his faithful henchman and trusted friend till he died. It was he who, when Scott received his baronetcy, proceeded to add an S to every sheep on the estate; and this mark, S. W. S., so delighted Scott, that he frequently used it as a signature.
The romantic and retired situation of Ashestiel offered Scott abundant inspiration and leisure for writing; and here he finished “ The Lay of the Last Minstrel, begun some time before in an attempt to write a ballad to be called “The Goblin Page.” It was published in January, 1805, seven hundred and fifty copies in quarto, at £1 5s. a copy. Nearly forty-four thousand copies were disposed of before he superintended the edition of 1830, not counting various pirated editions in America and elsewhere. Scott's profits on the first edition were £169 65. The publishers, Longman & Co., of London, offered him £500 for the copyright, and afterwards added £100.
It was shortly after this that the poet, instead of buying the estate of Longmeadows, on the Yarrow, as he was tempted to do, invested all his capital in Ballantyne's concern, whereby he acquired a third interest.
The success of the “ Lay” determined Scott to quit the Bar and devote himself to literature. His first great scheme was a complete edition of British poets, ancient and modern; but finding that Thomas Campbell was engaged upon a similar work, he took upon himself only the new edition and biography of Dryden. Thus he combined, to use Lockhart's words, “ the conscientious magistrate, the martinet quartermaster, the speculative printer, and the ardent lover of literature for its own sake.” He might have added also laird and forester and farmer.
This same year he began the story of Waverley, but laid it aside till a later day. In 1806 he was appointed clerk of sessions, in place of George Home, who had held the office for upwards of thirty years. By special arrangement, which Scott considered a hard bargain, he undertook the duties, but waived the salary during Home's life. The duties required his attendance at court from four to six hours a day five or six days a week during about six months in the year, and the salary was £1,300. This position Scott filled for twenty-five years, not slighting any of the “really base drudgery” of the work, or giving to its more exacting claims any but his best talents and skill.
During the whole of 1806 and 1807 he gave most of his spare moments to his editorial work on Dryden, but he was also enlisted in several contributions to the Edinburgh Review, and finished “Marmion.” Constable offered one thousand guineas for it before he had seen a single line of it. It was published in February, 1808, in " a splendid quarto, price one guinea and a half," and the legitimate sale of the work in England alone reached fifty thousand copies by 1836.
" Marmion” was followed in April by the edition of Dryden on which Scott had been working so long. It was in eighteen volumes, and the editor's fee was £756. The work, in spite of many prognostications of failure, was a distinguished
Scott's industry at this period of his life was scarcely less remarkable than it was when he was struggling to pay off his debts. He edited Strutt's “ Queenhoo Hall,” adding the concluding chapters. The State papers of Ralph Sadler, which ultimately extended to thirteen ponderous quarto volumes, and were not completed till 1812; a new edition of “ Captain Carleton's Memoirs;” a similar one of the “Memoirs of Robert Cary, Earl of Monmouth;” and a complete edition of the works of Swift, for which he was promised £1,500, were among his labors.
He afterwards confessed that this “tumult of engagements” was enough to tear him to pieces, but that he was saved by “the wonderful exhilaration about it all,” which kept his blood at a fever-pitch, and made him feel as though he could grapple with anything and everything.
In a letter to his friend Morritt, he gives a lively picture of his occupations:
“I have been Secretary to the Judicature Commission, which sat daily during all the Christmas Vacation. I have been editing Swift, and correcting the press at the rate of six sheets (90 pages) a week. I have been editing Somers at the rate of four ditto ditto; I have written reviews, I have written songs, I have made selections, I have superintended rehearsals, and all this independent of visiting and of my official duty . and independent of a new poem with which I am threatening the world. This last employment is not the most prudent, but I really cannot well help mysell. My office, though a very good one for Scotland, is only held in reversion; nor do I at present derive a shilling from it. I must expect that a fresh favorite of the public will supersede me, and my philosophy being very great on the point of poetical fame, I would fain, at the risk of hastening my own downfall, avail myself of the favorable moment, to make some further provision for my little people.”
His “ little people" were four in number: Charlotte Sophia, afterwards Mrs. Lockhart, born 1799; Walter, 1801; Anne, 1803; and Charles, 1805. Lockhart gives a delightful picture of Scott's treatment of his children. He himself confessed in his diary that he did not like babies, yet to use the words of his son-inlaw :
“No father ever devoted more time and tender care to his offspring, than he did to each of his, as they successively reached the age when they could listen to him and understand his talk. Like their mute playmates, Camp and the greyhounds, they had at all times free access to his study; he never considered their tattle as any disturbance; they went and came as pleased their fancy; he was always ready to answer their questions ; and when they, unconscious how he was engaged, entreated him to lay down his pen and tell them a story, he would take them on his knee, repeat a ballad or a legend, kiss them, and set them down again to their marbles or nine pins, and resume his labor, as if refreshed by the interruption."
His accomplishment of so much was due to his habit of early rising, and, as he expressed it, “ breaking the neck of the day's work” before breakfast. This left him time for his visits and his visitors, for his various out-door avocations, and the manifold duties and pleasures that filled his day. Moreover he was able to compose while walking or riding.
In this incessant round of occupations the years passed rapidly. Unfortunately, his zeal was enlisted in furthering the interests of numberless mediocrities who appealed to him; and when, on account of political differences, he quarrelled with the shrewd and enterprising Constable, and entered with the Ballantyne brothers into a rival publishing business, he sowed the seeds of disaster. Lockhart says that, though they would have shed their heart's blood in his service, yet, as men of affairs, they deeply injured him, and he adds :
* The day that brought John into pecuniary connection with him was the blackest in his calendar.”
The two brothers whom Scott called respectively Aldiborontiphoscophornio and Rigdumfunnidos, entered rashly upon all sorts of engagements, and Scott the silent, secret partner, who furnished the most of the capital, was even more ready o sug. gest the publication of works which were foredoomed to failure.
The bond of copartnership dated from 1809, if not earlier, and in May of he following year, the “ Lady of the Lake” was published also, in a majestic quarto at two guineas, and had a phenomenal success. Within a few months twenty thousand copies of different editions had been sold, and the legitimate sale by July, 1836, was reckoned as exceeding fifty thousand copies.
A curious effect followed the publication of this poem; attention was drawn to the beauties of the Scottish Lake region, and the cost of post-horse service rose in an extraordinary degree.
Scott himself increased his acquaintance with the Highlands during the summer of 1810. At first he had thought of going to the peninsula, where the British army then was, but an invitation from the Laird of Staffa changed his mind, and he betook himself to the Hebrides with his dog Wallace, his wife, his eldest daughter, and several friends. This locality he afterwards chose as te scene of his last important poem. On his return he resumed the compositioi of
· Waverley;” but at the desire of Ballantyne it was laid aside once more. It is interesting to know that while the publishing affairs of Scott's firm were going from bad to worse, owing to his imprudent enterprises, he was tempted “to pitch the Court of Session and the booksellers to the Devil," and go out to India. Had Mr. Dundas (afterward Lord Melville), been appointed Governor-General of India, there is little doubt that he would have accepted a situation as Indian Secretary or Judge.
The year 1811 was distinguished by the publication of the “ Vision of Don Roderick;” the proceeds of this he applied as his subscription for the relief of the Portuguese, who had suffered so bitterly in Massena's campaign. Far more important was his first purchase of land. He was about to come into a salary of £1300 as Clerk of Sessions, and his lease of Ashestiel had run out. therefore bought for £4000 a little farm stretching half a mile along the “Tweed's Fair River.” The land comprised the scene of the last clan Battle of the Borders,
“Where gallant Cessford's life-blood dear
Reeked on dark Elliot's border spear." It consisted of a rich meadow or intervale, and a hundred acres of undulating land, “a bank and haugh as poor and bare as Sir John Falstaff's regiment,” undrained and unplanted except with heath, while in front of the wretched little farm-house was a stagnant pond called Clarty Hole. He gives in his diary a comic picture of the hegira from Ashestiel to his new domain, a whole troupe carrying old swords, lances, targets, bows, a family of turkeys in a helmet, and dozens of peasant children bringing up the rear.
The whole region had originally belonged to the Abbey of Melrose, the ruins of which were visible from the hillocks near the house. He immediately christened the estate Abbotsford, and felt no little pride in being greeted as the Laird! He immediately began to plant trees, an occupation most fascinating to him. He also, like Gladstone, took pleasure in wielding the axe. His passion for acquiring land was ultimately gratified. His hundred acres grew into a domain of over a thousand, and the cottage which he planned became twelve years later a baronial castle. The estate was acquired by means of borrowed money, half of the amount being advanced on the security of the poem Rokeby,” which indeed was not written, but as yet only planned.
The following summer was among the busiest of Scott's life. As he wrote Mr.