of its mountains and glens, and rivers and lakes, dearer for the sake of the story of its people, a story as varied and picturesque as the scenery itself. The literary critic will find a hundred faults in his poems; but the boy, entranced by the tale, does not know they are there; and the man, jaded with care and weary of books, does not mind them, finding refreshment in verse inspired with the breath of the open air, unstudied in its animation, unforced in its sentiment, and making simple appeal to his memory and imagination.

Scott was almost forty years old when the “ Lady of the Lake "was written. His later poems, “. Rokeby," ** The Lord of the Isles," and others, have less of the freshness of youth, and have never possessed the popualrity of his earlier work. In his preface in 1830 to Rokeby" he gives some of the reasons of their comparative lack of success. Fortunately for the lasting pleasure of mankind, he turned from poetry to prose, and wrote the Waverley novels.

Every year there is jettison of part of the cargo with which the good ship of literature is overladen. Some of Scott's poetry has already gone overboard, and the time may come when more of it must follow; but it will not all suffer this fate. Even if the rest should go, some of his lyrics, at least, are sure to be saved. "What he once called The only good song I ever wrote,” the “ Pibroch of Donald Dhu," with its spirited rallying cry, —

* Come as the winds come, when

Forests are rended;
Come as the waves come, when

Navies are stranded,"

this will not be lost ; nor will the Coronach," from the “ Lady of the Lake.” Some hearts would not forget the ballad of “ Alice Brand ; " and some memories are sure to hold Cleveland's song; and more will recall the stately measure and the pathos of “ I climbed the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn ;” and others still, the wild ballad of Elspeth, in The Antiquary,"

“ The herring loves the merry moonlight,

The mackerel loves the wind."

And so long as any of his poems shall last, the memory of Scott himself will be cherished in the hearts of men whom he has entertained, and to whom he has not only given pleasure, but done good. For to become friends with him in his books is to become friends with one of the pleasantest of men, with whom we cannot keep up acquaintance without, let us hope, gaining something of his own simplicity, geniality, kindliness, modesty, and manliness.

Among the last verses which Tennyson wrote there is a stanza of singularly felicitous simplicity and strength, which in its personal tribute expresses a common sentiment,

“O great and gallant Scott!

True gentleman, heart, blood, and bone,
I would it had been my lot

To have seen thee, and heard thee, and known.”

It is fortunate that in the “ Life of Scott,” by his son-in-law, Lockhart, and in his own Journal and Letters, we have such a picture of him as exists of few other men, and in all its features consistent with the attractive image that the reader of his poems and novels forms for himself of their largehearted and lovable author. 1894.



“ Every Scottishman," wrote Sir Walter Scott in his fragment of autobio. graphy, • has a pedigree. It is a national prerogative as inalienable as his pride and his poverty.”

Scott was proud of the fact that in his veins flowed the mingled blood of two hostile clans, the Scotts and the Haliburtons. He claimed no more than “gentle birth, but few men in Scotland were connected with so many “stocks of historical distinction."

On his father's side he traced his lineage through seven generations to Auld Watt of Harden, and "his fair dame, the Flower of Yarrow.' On his mother's side were the “ Bauld Rutherfords, that were sae stout,” and the knightly family of Swintons, through whom he claimed kinship with Sir William Alexander, first Earl of Sterling, the Marquess of Douglas, and Sir Robert Sinclair of Longformacus.

Robert Scott, his grandfather, was bred for the sea, but exchanged the tiller for the plough, and engaged in stock farming with considerable success. He married Barbara Haliburton, through whom would have come to him the patrimony of Dryburgh, comprising the ruins of the ancient abbey, had not the childless proprietor, whose heir he was, fallen into pecuniary difficulties, and been obliged to sell bis estate.

His son Walter, the oldest of "a numerous progeny,” married Anne, eldest daughter of Dr. John Rutherford, Professor of Medicine in Edinburgh University.

Of their twelve children, the first six died in infancy. Walter, the third son, was born in Edinburgh, August 15, 1771. Till he was eighteen months old he “showed every sign of health and strength.” Then fever caused the lameness from which he suffered all his life. After trying various remedies, his parents sent him to his grandfather's at Sandy-Knowe, to get the benefit of the country air.

He distinctly remembered being stript and swathed in the warm skin of a sheep just flayed, and his grandfather, a venerable, white-haired man, using every incitement to make him try to crawl on the door of the little farm-house parlor, while a dis. tant kinsman, Sir Henry Hay MacDougal, drest in an embroidered scarlet waistcoat and a light-colored coat, with milk-white locks tied in military fashion, knelt on the floor before him, dragging his watch along the carpet as a sort of bait. Walter Scott was only four when his grandfather died, but he continued to live at the farm, gradually becoming rugged, though his leg was somewhat shrunken and wasted. He was a remarkably precocious boy; and the reading which he heard, and the stories of Border adventure which were related for his amusement, and the influences of the romantic neighborhood, with its ruined towers, stately castles, purple mountains, and glorious rivers, were a far more important factor in his education than the formal teaching which he received at the hands of his kind and affectionate aunt, Miss Janet Scoit," or at the day-school at Bath, whither he was sent for a year when he was five.

The change from the solitude of the Sandy-Knowe farm to his father's home in Edinburgh was very great; but except for the too rigid Presbyterian strictness of



his parents, which made Sundays especially irksome, the discipline was probably good for him.

He was sent to the High School, and also received private lessons; but, as he himself said, he glanced like a meteor from one end of the class to the other, and commonly disgusted his kind master as much by negligence and frivolity, as he occasionally pleased him by flashes of intellect and talent; while he won favor with his companions not only by his inexhaustible fund of stories, but also by his address in all sorts of out-door games, and in the “ bickers " which occurred between the school boys and the town boys.

Toward the end of his course in the High School, under the direct tuition of the Rector, Dr. Adam, he began to grow sensible of the beauties of Latin, and even distinguished himself “ by some attempts at poetical versions" from Horace and Vergil. He felt that the rector's judicious mixture of praise and blame went far to counteract his habits of indolence and inattention.

His health growing delicate again, he was not immediately sent to college, but spent six months with his Aunt Janet at Kelso, on the Tweed. Here he had excellent instruction, and made the acquaintance of Dr. Blacklock, the friend of Burns; and through his recommendation became intimate with Ossian and Spenser. Spenser he especially delighted in, and could repeat incredible quantities of his

A respectable subscription library, a circulating library, and several private book-shelves being open to him, he declared that he waded into the stream like a blind man into a ford. His appetite for books was as ample and indiscriminating as it was indefatigable; and he many times afterwards repeated that few had ever read so much, or to so little purpose.

At the University, Scott entirely neglected Greek, much to his later regret, largely forgot his Latin, and made small progress in mathematics. In the other branches he was more fortunate, though in ethics, history, and law, he always felt that his learning was flimsy and inaccurate, and he would, even at the height of his popularity, have sacriticed half of his reputation, if by so doing he could have rested what was left on a solid foundation of learning and science.

Scott's father was a writer to the Signet, a branch of the law comprising the duties of the solicitor or attorney with those of the man of business. His practice had at one time been extensive, but a rather too simple and confiding nature, and over zeal for clients' interests to the detriment of his own, had somewhat diminished it. When Scott left the University in 1786, he was indentured to him for five years, and at the age of sixteen “entered upon the dry and barren wilderness of forms and conveyances.

Though he rebelled against the drudgery and confinement, he felt a rational pride in rendering himself useful to his father; and when actually at the oar, he says no one could pull harder than he, sometimes writing upwards of one hun. dred and twenty folio pages at a sitting, thereby earning at least thirty shillings. The duties of his apprenticeship often required him to make expeditions to the Highlands and elsewhere; and many of the most effective scenes of his poems and novels were inspired by his adventures in those wild and unknown regions.

For recreation he read indefatigably; and as his constitution hardened, he made long trips both on horseback and on foot, sometimes, in spite of his lameness, walking twenty or thirty miles a day. Thus he stored his mind with pictures of romantic or historic interest. And as he was unable to draw, he kept a sort of log-book of his rambles; wherever he went, he cut a branch from a tree, and thus fixed the scene in his memory.

He endeavored to educate his eye by taking lessons in oil painting, “ from a little Jew animalcule, a smouch called Burrell,'' but he afterwards regretfully wrote in his diary that he made no progress : “Nature denied me correctness of eye and neatness of hand.”

Still he drew the Castle of Hermitage at Liddesdale so accurately that Clerk put it into regular form, H. W. Williams copied it, and his drawing was engraved for the frontispiece of the first volume of the Kelso Edition of the Minstrelsy.

In music he was less talented. He wrote : “My ear appears to me as dull as my voice is incapable of musical expression.” It is related of his early Edinburgh days, that being one time present at a drinking bout, when the conviviality was prolonged till late, or rather early, Scott fell asleep, and on waking was convinced by his friends that he had sung a song in the course of the evening, and had sung it extremely well. But it is probable that none of them was a very good judge in the circumstances.

In respect to lack of musical ear, Scott was like Burns and Byron and many of the great poets. Fortunately, poetry depends rather upon a sense of time than of genuine musical feeling, and many of his halting lines may be attributed to carelessness and haste.

In later days some of the reviews, while giving credit to Scott's abundant vivacity and verve of style, complained that it seemed impossible for him to write good English.

Scott, in his diary, under date of April 22, 1826, thus comments on his early neglect of fundamentals:

"I write grammar as I speak, to make my meaning known; and a solecism in point of composition, like a Scotch word in speaking, is indifferent to me. I never learned grammar; and not only Sir Hugh Evans, but even Mrs. Quickly, might puzzle me about Giney's (Jenny's) case, and horum, harum, horum. I believe the bailiff in 'The Good Natured Man' is not far wrong when he says: 'One man has one way of expressing himself, and another another, and that is all the difference between them.'"

The grave Presbyterian father was somewhat scandalized by his son's erratic ways, though it is said he also read romances on the sly, and was guilty of playing on the 'cello. One time Walter came home after one of his protracted absences. His father impatiently demanded how he had managed to live without any supply of pocket money; and when Walter expressed his regret that he had not Gold. smith's art, so as to tramp like poor George Primrose from cottage to cottage over the world, his father replied:

" I greatly doubt, sir, you were born for nae better than a gangrel scrape gut!

In spite of the dangerous habits of young Scotch noblemen and gentlemen, Scott's character was not permanently vitiated by his intercourse with them. Indeed, he often exercised a restraining influence upon them. In his later life he was more than once heard to remark: “ * Depend upon it, of all vices drinking is the most incompatible with greatness.” The terrible example of his brother Daniel's fate was perhaps salutary to him.

Scott had by this time outgrown all trace of early ill-health. He was so strong that he could lift a smith's anvil by the horn with one hand. He is described as about six feet in stature, with a fresh, brilliant complexion, clear, open eyes, perfect teeth, and a noble brow, and with great vivacity of expression. His upper lip was long, and his nose was far from classic, but his head was well set, and he was eminently formed (with the exception of the blemish in one leg) to attract the attention of the fair.

Lockhart says that it was the united testimony of his associates that Scott was remarkably free from the more rakish indiscretions of young manhood; and he partially explains it by reference to a secret attachment, which continued through all the most perilous stage of life to act as a romantic charm in safeguard of virtue.”

His earliest love, whom he himself compares to Byron's Mary Duff, was very good-natured, pretty girl," a Miss Dalrymple, daughter of Lord Westhall, and her daughter afterwards became the spouse of his colleague, Robert Hamilton.


« VorigeDoorgaan »