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Title: Sir Walter Scott - (English Men of Letters Series)
Author: Hutton, Richard Holt, 1826-1897
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sir Walter Scott - (English Men of Letters Series)" ***

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                           SIR WALTER SCOTT


                          RICHARD H. HUTTON.


                          MACMILLAN AND CO.



It will be observed that the greater part of this little book has been
taken in one form or other from Lockhart's _Life of Sir Walter Scott_,
in ten volumes. No introduction to Scott would be worth much in which
that course was not followed. Indeed, excepting Sir Walter's own
writings, there is hardly any other great source of information about
him; and that is so full, that hardly anything needful to illustrate
the subject of Scott's life remains untouched. As regards the only
matters of controversy,--Scott's relations to the Ballantynes, I have
taken care to check Mr. Lockhart's statements by reading those of the
representatives of the Ballantyne brothers; but with this exception,
Sir Walter's own works and Lockhart's life of him are the great
authorities concerning his character and his story.

Just ten years ago Mr. Gladstone, in expressing to the late Mr. Hope
Scott the great delight which the perusal of Lockhart's life of Sir
Walter had given him, wrote, "I may be wrong, but I am vaguely under
the impression that it has never had a really wide circulation. If so,
it is the saddest pity, and I should greatly like (without any censure
on its present length) to see published an abbreviation of it." Mr.
Gladstone did not then know that as long ago as 1848 Mr. Lockhart did
himself prepare such an abbreviation, in which the original
eighty-four chapters were compressed into eighteen,--though the
abbreviation contained additions as well as compressions. But even
this abridgment is itself a bulky volume of 800 pages, containing, I
should think, considerably more than a third of the reading in the
original ten volumes, and is not, therefore, very likely to be
preferred to the completer work. In some respects I hope that this
introduction may supply, better than that bulky abbreviation, what Mr.
Gladstone probably meant to suggest,--some slight miniature taken from
the great picture with care enough to tempt on those who look on it to
the study of the fuller life, as well as of that image of Sir Walter
which is impressed by his own hand upon his works.







































Sir Walter Scott was the first literary man of a great riding,
sporting, and fighting clan. Indeed, his father--a Writer to the
Signet, or Edinburgh solicitor--was the first of his race to adopt a
town life and a sedentary profession. Sir Walter was the lineal
descendant--six generations removed--of that Walter Scott commemorated
in _The Lay of the Last Minstrel_, who is known in Border history and
legend as Auld Wat of Harden. Auld Wat's son William, captured by Sir
Gideon Murray, of Elibank, during a raid of the Scotts on Sir Gideon's
lands, was, as tradition says, given his choice between being hanged
on Sir Gideon's private gallows, and marrying the ugliest of Sir
Gideon's three ugly daughters, Meikle-mouthed Meg, reputed as carrying
off the prize of ugliness among the women of four counties. Sir
William was a handsome man. He took three days to consider the
alternative proposed to him, but chose life with the large-mouthed
lady in the end; and found her, according to the tradition which the
poet, her descendant, has transmitted, an excellent wife, with a fine
talent for pickling the beef which her husband stole from the herds of
his foes. Meikle-mouthed Meg transmitted a distinct trace of her large
mouth to all her descendants, and not least to him who was to use his
"meikle" mouth to best advantage as the spokesman of his race. Rather
more than half-way between Auld Wat of Harden's times--i. e., the
middle of the sixteenth century--and those of Sir Walter Scott, poet
and novelist, lived Sir Walter's great-grandfather, Walter Scott
generally known in Teviotdale by the surname of Beardie, because he
would never cut his beard after the banishment of the Stuarts, and who
took arms in their cause and lost by his intrigues on their behalf
almost all that he had, besides running the greatest risk of being
hanged as a traitor. This was the ancestor of whom Sir Walter speaks
in the introduction to the last canto of _Marmion_:--

    "And thus my Christmas still I hold,
    Where my great grandsire came of old,
    With amber beard and flaxen hair,
    And reverend apostolic air,--
    The feast and holy tide to share,
    And mix sobriety with wine,
    And honest mirth with thoughts divine;
    Small thought was his in after time
    E'er to be hitch'd into a rhyme,
    The simple sire could only boast
    That he was loyal to his cost;
    The banish'd race of kings revered,
    And lost his land--but kept his beard."

Sir Walter inherited from Beardie that sentimental Stuart bias which
his better judgment condemned, but which seemed to be rather part of
his blood than of his mind. And most useful to him this sentiment
undoubtedly was in helping him to restore the mould and fashion of
the past. Beardie's second son was Sir Walter's grandfather, and to
him he owed not only his first childish experience of the delights of
country life, but also,--in his own estimation at least,--that risky,
speculative, and sanguine spirit which had so much influence over his
fortunes. The good man of Sandy-Knowe, wishing to breed sheep, and
being destitute of capital, borrowed 30_l._ from a shepherd who was
willing to invest that sum for him in sheep; and the two set off to
purchase a flock near Wooler, in Northumberland; but when the shepherd
had found what he thought would suit their purpose, he returned to
find his master galloping about a fine hunter, on which he had spent
the whole capital in hand. _This_ speculation, however, prospered. A
few days later Robert Scott displayed the qualities of the hunter to
such admirable effect with John Scott of Harden's hounds, that he sold
the horse for double the money he had given, and, unlike his grandson,
abandoned speculative purchases there and then. In the latter days of
his clouded fortunes, after Ballantyne's and Constable's failure, Sir
Walter was accustomed to point to the picture of his grandfather and
say, "Blood will out: my building and planting was but his buying the
hunter before he stocked his sheep-walk, over again." But Sir Walter
added, says Mr. Lockhart, as he glanced at the likeness of his own
staid and prudent father, "Yet it was a wonder, too, for I have a
thread of the attorney in me," which was doubtless the case; nor was
that thread the least of his inheritances, for from his father
certainly Sir Walter derived that disposition towards conscientious,
plodding industry, legalism of mind, methodical habits of work, and a
generous, equitable interpretation of the scope of all his obligations
to others, which, prized and cultivated by him as they were, turned a
great genius, which, especially considering the hare-brained element
in him, might easily have been frittered away or devoted to worthless
ends, to such fruitful account, and stamped it with so grand an
impress of personal magnanimity and fortitude. Sir Walter's father
reminds one in not a few of the formal and rather martinetish traits
which are related of him, of the father of Goethe, "a formal man, with
strong ideas of strait-laced education, passionately orderly (he
thought a good book nothing without a good binding), and never so much
excited as by a necessary deviation from the 'pre-established harmony'
of household rules." That description would apply almost wholly to the
sketch of old Mr. Scott which the novelist has given us under the thin
disguise of Alexander Fairford, Writer to the Signet, in
_Redgauntlet_, a figure confessedly meant, in its chief features, to
represent his father. To this Sir Walter adds, in one of his later
journals, the trait that his father was a man of fine presence, who
conducted all conventional arrangements with a certain grandeur and
dignity of air, and "absolutely loved a funeral." "He seemed to
preserve the list of a whole bead-roll of cousins merely for the
pleasure of being at their funerals, which he was often asked to
superintend, and I suspect had sometimes to pay for. He carried me
with him as often as he could to these mortuary ceremonies; but
feeling I was not, like him, either useful or ornamental, I escaped as
often as I could." This strong dash of the conventional in Scott's
father, this satisfaction in seeing people fairly to the door of life,
and taking his final leave of them there, with something of a
ceremonious flourish of observance, was, however, combined with a
much nobler and deeper kind of orderliness. Sir Walter used to say
that his father had lost no small part of a very flourishing business,
by insisting that his clients should do their duty to their own people
better than they were themselves at all inclined to do it. And of this
generous strictness in sacrificing his own interests to his sympathy
for others, the son had as much as the father.

Sir Walter's mother, who was a Miss Rutherford, the daughter of a
physician, had been better educated than most Scotchwomen of her day,
in spite of having been sent "to be finished off" by "the honourable
Mrs. Ogilvie," whose training was so effective, in one direction at
least, that even in her eightieth year Mrs. Scott could not enjoy a
comfortable rest in her chair, but "took as much care to avoid
touching her chair with her back, as if she had still been under the
stern eyes of Mrs. Ogilvie." None the less Mrs. Scott was a motherly,
comfortable woman, with much tenderness of heart, and a well-stored,
vivid memory. Sir Walter, writing of her, after his mother's death, to
Lady Louisa Stewart, says, "She had a mind peculiarly well stored with
much acquired information and natural talent, and as she was very old,
and had an excellent memory, she could draw, without the least
exaggeration or affectation, the most striking pictures of the past
age. If I have been able to do anything in the way of painting the
past times, it is very much from the studies with which she presented
me. She connected a long period of time with the present generation,
for she remembered, and had often spoken with, a person who perfectly
recollected the battle of Dunbar and Oliver Cromwell's subsequent
entry into Edinburgh." On the day before the stroke of paralysis which
carried her off, she had told Mr. and Mrs. Scott of Harden, "with
great accuracy, the real story of the Bride of Lammermuir, and pointed
out wherein it differed from the novel. She had all the names of the
parties, and pointed out (for she was a great genealogist) their
connexion with existing families."[1] Sir Walter records many
evidences of the tenderness of his mother's nature, and he returned
warmly her affection for himself. His executors, in lifting up his
desk, the evening after his burial, found "arranged in careful order a
series of little objects, which had obviously been so placed there
that his eye might rest on them every morning before he began his
tasks. These were the old-fashioned boxes that had garnished his
mother's toilette, when he, a sickly child, slept in her
dressing-room,--the silver taper-stand, which the young advocate had
bought for her with his first five-guinea fee,--a row of small packets
inscribed with her hand, and containing the hair of those of her
offspring that had died before her,--his father's snuff-box, and
etui-case,--and more things of the like sort."[2] A story,
characteristic of both Sir Walter's parents, is told by Mr. Lockhart
which will serve better than anything I can remember to bring the
father and mother of Scott vividly before the imagination. His father,
like Mr. Alexander Fairford, in _Redgauntlet_, though himself a strong
Hanoverian, inherited enough feeling for the Stuarts from his
grandfather Beardie, and sympathized enough with those who were, as he
neutrally expressed it, "out in '45," to ignore as much as possible
any phrases offensive to the Jacobites. For instance, he always called
Charles Edward not _the Pretender_ but _the Chevalier_,--and he did
business for many Jacobites:--

"Mrs. Scott's curiosity was strongly excited one autumn by the regular
appearance at a certain hour every evening of a sedan chair, to
deposit a person carefully muffled up in a mantle, who was immediately
ushered into her husband's private room, and commonly remained with
him there until long after the usual bed-time of this orderly family.
Mr. Scott answered her repeated inquiries with a vagueness that
irritated the lady's feelings more and more; until at last she could
bear the thing no longer; but one evening, just as she heard the bell
ring as for the stranger's chair to carry him off, she made her
appearance within the forbidden parlour with a salver in her hand,
observing that she thought the gentlemen had sat so long they would be
better of a dish of tea, and had ventured accordingly to bring some
for their acceptance. The stranger, a person of distinguished
appearance, and richly dressed, bowed to the lady and accepted a cup;
but her husband knit his brows, and refused very coldly to partake the
refreshment. A moment afterwards the visitor withdrew, and Mr. Scott,
lifting up the window-sash, took the cup, which he had left empty on
the table, and tossed it out upon the pavement. The lady exclaimed for
her china, but was put to silence by her husband's saying, 'I can
forgive your little curiosity, madam, but you must pay the penalty. I
may admit into my house, on a piece of business, persons wholly
unworthy to be treated as guests by my wife. Neither lip of me nor of
mine comes after Mr. Murray of Broughton's.'

"This was the unhappy man who, after attending Prince Charles Stuart
as his secretary throughout the greater part of his expedition,
condescended to redeem his own life and fortune by bearing evidence
against the noblest of his late master's adherents, when--

    "Pitied by gentle hearts, Kilmarnock died,
    The brave, Balmerino were on thy side."[3]

"Broughton's saucer"--i. e. the saucer belonging to the cup thus
sacrificed by Mr. Scott to his indignation against one who had
redeemed his own life and fortune by turning king's evidence against
one of Prince Charles Stuart's adherents,--was carefully preserved by
his son, and hung up in his first study, or "den," under a little
print of Prince Charlie. This anecdote brings before the mind very
vividly the character of Sir Walter's parents. The eager curiosity of
the active-minded woman, whom "the honourable Mrs. Ogilvie" had been
able to keep upright in her chair for life, but not to cure of the
desire to unravel the little mysteries of which she had a passing
glimpse; the grave formality of the husband, fretting under his wife's
personal attention to a dishonoured man, and making her pay the
penalty by dashing to pieces the cup which the king's evidence had
used,--again, the visitor himself, perfectly conscious no doubt that
the Hanoverian lawyer held him in utter scorn for his faithlessness
and cowardice, and reluctant, nevertheless, to reject the courtesy of
the wife, though he could not get anything but cold legal advice from
the husband:--all these are figures which must have acted on the
youthful imagination of the poet with singular vivacity, and shaped
themselves in a hundred changing turns of the historical kaleidoscope
which was always before his mind's eye, as he mused upon that past
which he was to restore for us with almost more than its original
freshness of life. With such scenes touching even his own home, Scott
must have been constantly taught to balance in his own mind, the more
romantic, against the more sober and rational considerations, which
had so recently divided house against house, even in the same family
and clan. That the stern Calvinistic lawyer should have retained so
much of his grandfather Beardie's respect for the adherents of the
exiled house of Stuart, must in itself have struck the boy as even
more remarkable than the passionate loyalty of the Stuarts' professed
partisans, and have lent a new sanction to the romantic drift of his
mother's old traditions, and one to which they must have been indebted
for a great part of their fascination.

Walter Scott, the ninth of twelve children, of whom the first six died
in early childhood, was born in Edinburgh, on the 15th of August,
1771. Of the six later-born children, all but one were boys, and the
one sister was a somewhat querulous invalid, whom he seems to have
pitied almost more than he loved. At the age of eighteen months the
boy had a teething-fever, ending in a life-long lameness; and this was
the reason why the child was sent to reside with his grandfather--the
speculative grandfather, who had doubled his capital by buying a
racehorse instead of sheep--at Sandy-Knowe, near the ruined tower of
Smailholm, celebrated afterwards in his ballad of _The Eve of St.
John_, in the neighbourhood of some fine crags. To these crags the
housemaid sent from Edinburgh to look after him, used to carry him up,
with a design (which she confessed to the housekeeper)--due, of
course, to incipient insanity--of murdering the child there, and
burying him in the moss. Of course the maid was dismissed. After this
the child used to be sent out, when the weather was fine, in the safer
charge of the shepherd, who would often lay him beside the sheep. Long
afterwards Scott told Mr. Skene, during an excursion with Turner, the
great painter, who was drawing his illustration of Smailholm tower for
one of Scott's works, that "the habit of lying on the turf there among
the sheep and the lambs had given his mind a peculiar tenderness for
these animals, which it had ever since retained." Being forgotten one
day upon the knolls when a thunderstorm came on, his aunt ran out to
bring him in, and found him shouting, "Bonny! bonny!" at every flash
of lightning. One of the old servants at Sandy-Knowe spoke of the
child long afterwards as "a sweet-tempered bairn, a darling with all
about the house," and certainly the miniature taken of him in his
seventh year confirms the impression thus given. It is sweet-tempered
above everything, and only the long upper lip and large mouth, derived
from his ancestress, Meg Murray, convey the promise of the power which
was in him. Of course the high, almost conical forehead, which gained
him in his later days from his comrades at the bar the name of "Old
Peveril," in allusion to "the peak" which they saw towering high above
the heads of other men as he approached, is not so much marked beneath
the childish locks of this miniature as it was in later life; and the
massive, and, in repose, certainly heavy face of his maturity, which
conveyed the impression of the great bulk of his character, is still
quite invisible under the sunny ripple of childish earnestness and
gaiety. Scott's hair in childhood was light chestnut, which turned to
nut brown in youth. His eyebrows were bushy, for we find mention made
of them as a "pent-house." His eyes were always light blue. They had
in them a capacity, on the one hand, for enthusiasm, sunny brightness,
and even hare-brained humour, and on the other for expressing
determined resolve and kindly irony, which gave great range of
expression to the face. There are plenty of materials for judging what
sort of a boy Scott was. In spite of his lameness, he early taught
himself to clamber about with an agility that few children could have
surpassed, and to sit his first pony--a little Shetland, not bigger
than a large Newfoundland dog, which used to come into the house to be
fed by him--even in gallops on very rough ground. He became very early
a declaimer. Having learned the ballad of Hardy Knute, he shouted it
forth with such pertinacious enthusiasm that the clergyman of his
grandfather's parish complained that he "might as well speak in a
cannon's mouth as where that child was." At six years of age Mrs.
Cockburn described him as the most astounding genius of a boy, she
ever saw. "He was reading a poem to his mother when I went in. I made
him read on: it was the description of a shipwreck. His passion rose
with the storm. 'There's the mast gone,' says he; 'crash it goes; they
will all perish.' After his agitation he turns to me, 'That is too
melancholy,' says he; 'I had better read you something more amusing.'"
And after the call, he told his aunt he liked Mrs. Cockburn, for "she
was a _virtuoso_ like himself." "Dear Walter," says Aunt Jenny, "what
is a _virtuoso_?" "Don't ye know? Why, it's one who wishes and will
know everything." This last scene took place in his father's house in
Edinburgh; but Scott's life at Sandy-Knowe, including even the old
minister, Dr. Duncan, who so bitterly complained of the boy's
ballad-spouting, is painted for us, as everybody knows, in the picture
of his infancy given in the introduction to the third canto of

    "It was a barren scene and wild,
    Where naked cliffs were rudely piled:
    But ever and anon between
    Lay velvet tufts of loveliest green;
    And well the lonely infant knew
    Recesses where the wall-flower grew,
    And honeysuckle loved to crawl
    Up the low crag and ruin'd wall.
    I deem'd such nooks the sweetest shade
    The sun in all its round survey'd;
    And still I thought that shatter'd tower
    The mightiest work of human power;
    And marvell'd as the aged hind
    With some strange tale bewitch'd my mind,
    Of forayers, who, with headlong force,
    Down from that strength had spurr'd their horse,
    Their southern rapine to renew,
    Far in the distant Cheviots blue,
    And, home returning, fill'd the hall
    With revel, wassail-rout, and brawl.
    Methought that still with trump and clang
    The gateway's broken arches rang;
    Methought grim features, seam'd with scars,
    Glared through the window's rusty bars;
    And ever, by the winter hearth,
    Old tales I heard of woe or mirth,
    Of lovers' slights, of ladies' charms,
    Of witches' spells, of warriors' arms,
    Of patriot battles, won of old
    By Wallace wight and Bruce the bold;
    Of later fields of feud and fight,
    When, pouring from their Highland height,
    The Scottish clans, in headlong sway,
    Had swept the scarlet ranks away.
    While, stretch'd at length upon the floor,
    Again I fought each combat o'er,
    Pebbles and shells in order laid,
    The mimic ranks of war display'd;
    And onward still the Scottish lion bore,
    And still the scattered Southron fled before.
    Still, with vain fondness, could I trace
    Anew each kind familiar face
    That brighten'd at our evening fire!
    From the thatch'd mansion's grey-hair'd sire,
    Wise without learning, plain and good,
    And sprung of Scotland's gentler blood;
    Whose eye in age, quick, clear, and keen,
    Show'd what in youth its glance had been;
    Whose doom discording neighbours sought,
    Content with equity unbought;
    To him the venerable priest,
    Our frequent and familiar guest,
    Whose life and manners well could paint
    Alike the student and the saint;
    Alas! whose speech too oft I broke
    With gambol rude and timeless joke;
    For I was wayward, bold, and wild,
    A self-will'd imp, a grandame's child;
    But, half a plague and half a jest,
    Was still endured, beloved, caress'd."

A picture this of a child of great spirit, though with that spirit was
combined an active and subduing sweetness which could often conquer,
as by a sudden spell, those whom the boy loved. Towards those,
however, whom he did not love he could be vindictive. His relative,
the laird of Raeburn, on one occasion wrung the neck of a pet
starling, which the child had partly tamed. "I flew at his throat like
a wild-cat," he said, in recalling the circumstance, fifty years
later, in his journal on occasion of the old laird's death; "and was
torn from him with no little difficulty." And, judging from this
journal, I doubt whether he had ever really forgiven the laird of
Raeburn. Towards those whom he loved but had offended, his manner was
very different. "I seldom," said one of his tutors, Mr. Mitchell, "had
occasion all the time I was in the family to find fault with him, even
for trifles, and only once to threaten serious castigation, of which
he was no sooner aware, than he suddenly sprang up, threw his arms
about my neck and kissed me." And the quaint old gentleman adds this
commentary:--"By such generous and noble conduct my displeasure was in
a moment converted into esteem and admiration; my soul melted into
tenderness, and I was ready to mingle my tears with his." This
spontaneous and fascinating sweetness of his childhood was naturally
overshadowed to some extent in later life by Scott's masculine and
proud character, but it was always in him. And there was much of true
character in the child behind this sweetness. He had wonderful
self-command, and a peremptory kind of good sense, even in his
infancy. While yet a child under six years of age, hearing one of the
servants beginning to tell a ghost-story to another, and well knowing
that if he listened, it would scare away his night's rest, he acted
for himself with all the promptness of an elder person acting for him,
and, in spite of the fascination of the subject, resolutely muffled
his head in the bed-clothes and refused to hear the tale. His sagacity
in judging of the character of others was shown, too, even as a
school-boy; and once it led him to take an advantage which caused him
many compunctions in after-life, whenever he recalled his skilful
puerile tactics. On one occasion--I tell the story as he himself
rehearsed it to Samuel Rogers, almost at the end of his life, after
his attack of apoplexy, and just before leaving England for Italy in
the hopeless quest of health--he had long desired to get above a
schoolfellow in his class, who defied all his efforts, till Scott
noticed that whenever a question was asked of his rival, the lad's
fingers grasped a particular button on his waistcoat, while his mind
went in search of the answer. Scott accordingly anticipated that if he
could remove this button, the boy would be thrown out, and so it
proved. The button was cut off, and the next time the lad was
questioned, his fingers being unable to find the button, and his eyes
going in perplexed search after his fingers, he stood confounded, and
Scott mastered by strategy the place which he could not gain by mere
industry. "Often in after-life," said Scott, in narrating the
manoeuvre to Rogers, "has the sight of him smote me as I passed by
him; and often have I resolved to make him some reparation, but it
ended in good resolutions. Though I never renewed my acquaintance with
him, I often saw him, for he filled some inferior office in one of the
courts of law at Edinburgh. Poor fellow! I believe he is dead; he took
early to drinking."[4]

Scott's school reputation was one of irregular ability; he "glanced like
a meteor from one end of the class to the other," and received more praise
for his interpretation of the spirit of his authors than for his knowledge
of their language. Out of school his fame stood higher. He extemporized
innumerable stories to which his school-fellows delighted to listen; and,
in spite of his lameness, he was always in the thick of the "bickers," or
street fights with the boys of the town, and renowned for his boldness in
climbing the "kittle nine stanes" which are "projected high in air from
the precipitous black granite of the Castle-rock." At home he was much
bullied by his elder brother Robert, a lively lad, not without some powers
of verse-making, who went into the navy, then in an unlucky moment passed
into the merchant service of the East India Company, and so lost the
chance of distinguishing himself in the great naval campaigns of Nelson.
Perhaps Scott would have been all the better for a sister a little closer
to him than Anne--sickly and fanciful--appears ever to have been. The
masculine side of life appears to predominate a little too much in his
school and college days, and he had such vast energy, vitality, and pride,
that his life at this time would have borne a little taming under the
influence of a sister thoroughly congenial to him. In relation to his
studies he was wilful, though not perhaps perverse. He steadily declined,
for instance, to learn Greek, though he mastered Latin pretty fairly.
After a time spent at the High School, Edinburgh, Scott was sent to a
school at Kelso, where his master made a friend and companion of him, and
so poured into him a certain amount of Latin scholarship which he would
never otherwise have obtained. I need hardly add that as a boy Scott was,
so far as a boy could be, a Tory--a worshipper of the past, and a great
Conservative of any remnant of the past which reformers wished to get rid
of. In the autobiographical fragment of 1808, he says, in relation to
these school-days, "I, with my head on fire for chivalry, was a Cavalier;
my friend was a Roundhead; I was a Tory, and he was a Whig; I hated
Presbyterians, and admired Montrose with his victorious Highlanders; he
liked the Presbyterian Ulysses, the deep and politic Argyle; so that we
never wanted subjects of dispute, but our disputes were always amicable."
And he adds candidly enough: "In all these tenets there was no real
conviction on my part, arising out of acquaintance with the views or
principles of either party.... I took up politics at that period, as King
Charles II. did his religion, from an idea that the Cavalier creed was the
more gentlemanlike persuasion of the two." And the uniformly amicable
character of these controversies between the young people, itself shows
how much more they were controversies of the imagination than of faith. I
doubt whether Scott's _convictions_ on the issues of the Past were ever
very much more decided than they were during his boyhood; though
undoubtedly he learned to understand much more profoundly what was really
held by the ablest men on both sides of these disputed issues. The
result, however, was, I think, that while he entered better and better
into both sides as life went on, he never adopted either with any
earnestness of conviction, being content to admit, even to himself, that
while his feelings leaned in one direction, his reason pointed decidedly
in the other; and holding that it was hardly needful to identify himself
positively with either. As regarded the present, however, feeling always
carried the day. Scott was a Tory all his life.


[Footnote 1: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, vi. 172-3. The edition
referred to is throughout the edition of 1839 in ten volumes.]

[Footnote 2: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, x. 241.]

[Footnote 3: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, i. 243-4.]

[Footnote 4: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, i. 128.]



As Scott grew up, entered the classes of the college, and began his legal
studies, first as apprentice to his father, and then in the law classes of
the University, he became noticeable to all his friends for his gigantic
memory,--the rich stores of romantic material with which it was
loaded,--his giant feats of industry for any cherished purpose,--his
delight in adventure and in all athletic enterprises,--his great enjoyment
of youthful "rows," so long as they did not divide the knot of friends to
which he belonged, and his skill in peacemaking amongst his own set.
During his apprenticeship his only means of increasing his slender
allowance with funds which he could devote to his favourite studies, was
to earn money by copying, and he tells us himself that he remembered
writing "120 folio pages with no interval either for food or rest,"
fourteen or fifteen hours' very hard work at the very least,--expressly
for this purpose.

In the second year of Scott's apprenticeship, at about the age of
sixteen, he had an attack of hæmorrhage, no recurrence of which took
place for some forty years, but which was then the beginning of the
end. During this illness silence was absolutely imposed upon him,--two
old ladies putting their fingers on their lips, whenever he offered
to speak. It was at this time that the lad began his study of the
scenic side of history, and especially of campaigns, which he
illustrated for himself by the arrangement of shells, seeds, and
pebbles, so as to represent encountering armies, in the manner
referred to (and referred to apparently in anticipation of a later
stage of his life than that he was then speaking of) in the passage
from the introduction to the third canto of _Marmion_ which I have
already given. He also managed so to arrange the looking-glasses in
his room as to see the troops march out to exercise in the meadows, as
he lay in bed. His reading was almost all in the direction of military
exploit, or romance and mediæval legend and the later border songs of
his own country. He learned Italian and read Ariosto. Later he learned
Spanish and devoured Cervantes, whose "_novelas_," he said, "first
inspired him with the ambition to excel in fiction;" and all that he
read and admired he remembered. Scott used to illustrate the
capricious affinity of his own memory for what suited it, and its
complete rejection of what did not, by old Beattie of Meikledale's
answer to a Scotch divine, who complimented him on the strength of his
memory. "No, sir," said the old Borderer, "I have no command of my
memory. It only retains what hits my fancy; and probably, sir, if you
were to preach to me for two hours, I would not be able, when you
finished, to remember a word you had been saying." Such a memory, when
it belongs to a man of genius, is really a sieve of the most valuable
kind. It sifts away what is foreign and alien to his genius, and
assimilates what is suited to it. In his very last days, when he was
visiting Italy for the first time, Scott delighted in Malta, for it
recalled to him Vertot's _Knights of Malta_, and much, other mediæval
story which he had pored over in his youth. But when his friends
descanted to him at Pozzuoli on the Thermæ--commonly called the Temple
of Serapis--among the ruins of which he stood, he only remarked that
he would believe whatever he was told, "for many of his friends, and
particularly Mr. Morritt, had frequently tried to drive classical
antiquities, as they are called, into his head, but they had always
found his skull too thick." Was it not perhaps some deep literary
instinct, like that here indicated, which made him, as a lad, refuse
so steadily to learn Greek, and try to prove to his indignant
professor that Ariosto was superior to Homer? Scott afterwards deeply
regretted this neglect of Greek; but I cannot help thinking that his
regret was misplaced. Greek literature would have brought before his
mind standards of poetry and art which could not but have both deeply
impressed and greatly daunted an intellect of so much power; I say
both impressed and daunted, because I believe that Scott himself would
never have succeeded in studies of a classical kind, while he
might--like Goethe perhaps--have been either misled, by admiration for
that school, into attempting what was not adapted to his genius, or
else disheartened in the work for which his character and ancestry
really fitted him. It has been said that there is a real affinity
between Scott and Homer. But the long and refluent music of Homer,
once naturalized in his mind, would have discontented him with that
quick, sharp, metrical tramp of his own moss-troopers, to which alone
his genius as a poet was perfectly suited.

It might be supposed that with these romantic tastes, Scott could
scarcely have made much of a lawyer, though the inference would, I
believe, be quite mistaken. His father, however, reproached him with
being better fitted for a pedlar than a lawyer,--so persistently did
he trudge over all the neighbouring counties in search of the beauties
of nature and the historic associations of battle, siege, or legend.
On one occasion when, with their last penny spent, Scott and one of
his companions had returned to Edinburgh, living during their last day
on drinks of milk offered by generous peasant-women, and the hips and
haws on the hedges, he remarked to his father how much he had wished
for George Primrose's power of playing on the flute in order to earn a
meal by the way, old Mr. Scott, catching grumpily at the idea,
replied, "I greatly doubt, sir, you were born for nae better then a
gangrel scrape-gut,"--a speech which very probably suggested his son's
conception of Darsie Latimer's adventures with the blind fiddler,
"Wandering Willie," in _Redgauntlet_. And, it is true that these were
the days of mental and moral fermentation, what was called in Germany
the Sturm-und-Drang, the "fret-and-fury" period of Scott's life, so
far as one so mellow and genial in temper ever passed through a period
of fret and fury at all. In other words these were the days of rapid
motion, of walks of thirty miles a day which the lame lad yet found no
fatigue to him; of mad enterprises, scrapes and drinking-bouts, in one
of which Scott was half persuaded by his friends that he actually sang
a song for the only time in his life. But even in these days of
youthful sociability, with companions of his own age, Scott was always
himself, and his imperious will often asserted itself. Writing of this
time, some thirty-five years or so later, he said, "When I was a boy,
and on foot expeditions, as we had many, no creature could be so
indifferent which way our course was directed, and I acquiesced in
what any one proposed; but if I was once driven to make a choice, and
felt piqued in honour to maintain my proposition, I have broken off
from the whole party, rather than yield to any one." No doubt, too, in
that day of what he himself described as "the silly smart fancies that
ran in my brain like the bubbles in a glass of champagne, as brilliant
to my thinking, as intoxicating, as evanescent," solitude was no real
deprivation to him; and one can easily imagine him marching off on his
solitary way after a dispute with his companions, reciting to himself
old songs or ballads, with that "noticeable but altogether
indescribable play of the upper lip," which Mr. Lockhart thinks
suggested to one of Scott's most intimate friends, on his first
acquaintance with him, the grotesque notion that he had been "a
hautboy-player." This was the first impression formed of Scott by
William Clerk, one of his earliest and life-long friends. It greatly
amused Scott, who not only had never played on any instrument in his
life, but could hardly make shift to join in the chorus of a popular
song without marring its effect; but perhaps the impression suggested
was not so very far astray after all. Looking to the poetic side of
his character, the trumpet certainly would have been the instrument
that would have best symbolized the spirit both of Scott's thought and
of his verses. Mr. Lockhart himself, in summing up his impressions of
Sir Walter, quotes as the most expressive of his lines:--

    "Sound, sound the clarion! fill the fife!
      To all the sensual world proclaim,
    One crowded hour of glorious life
      Is worth a world without a name."

And undoubtedly this gives us the key-note of Scott's personal life as
well as of his poetic power. Above everything he was high-spirited, a
man of noble, and, at the same time, of martial feelings. Sir Francis
Doyle speaks very justly of Sir Walter as "among English singers the
undoubted inheritor of that trumpet-note, which, under the breath of
Homer, has made the wrath of Achilles immortal;" and I do not doubt
that there was something in Scott's face, and especially in the
expression of his mouth, to suggest this even to his early college
companions. Unfortunately, however, even "one crowded hour of glorious
life" may sometimes have a "sensual" inspiration, and in these days of
youthful adventure, too many such hours seem to have owed their
inspiration to the Scottish peasant's chief bane, the Highland whisky.
In his eager search after the old ballads of the Border, Scott had
many a blithe adventure, which ended only too often in a carouse. It
was soon after this time that he first began those raids into
Liddesdale, of which all the world has enjoyed the records in the
sketches--embodied subsequently in _Guy Mannering_--of Dandie Dinmont,
his pony Dumple, and the various Peppers and Mustards from whose breed
there were afterwards introduced into Scott's own family, generations
of terriers, always named, as Sir Walter expressed it, after "the
cruet." I must quote the now classic record of those youthful

     "Eh me," said Mr. Shortreed, his companion in all these
     Liddesdale raids, "sic an endless fund of humour and
     drollery as he had then wi' him. Never ten yards but we were
     either laughing or roaring and singing. Wherever we stopped,
     how brawlie he suited himsel' to everybody! He aye did as
     the lave did; never made himsel' the great man or took ony
     airs in the company. I've seen him in a' moods in these
     jaunts, grave and gay, daft and serious, sober and
     drunk--(this, however, even in our wildest rambles, was but
     rare)--but drunk or sober he was aye the gentleman. He
     looked excessively heavy and stupid when he was _fou_, but
     he was never out o' gude humour."

One of the stories of that time will illustrate better the wilder days
of Scott's youth than any comment:--

     "On reaching one evening," says Mr. Lockhart, "some
     Charlieshope or other (I forget the name) among those
     wildernesses, they found a kindly reception as usual: but to
     their agreeable surprise, after some days of hard living, a
     measured and orderly hospitality as respected liquor. Soon
     after supper, at which a bottle of elderberry wine alone had
     been produced, a young student of divinity who happened to
     be in the house was called upon to take the 'big ha' Bible,'
     in the good old fashion of Burns' Saturday Night: and some
     progress had been already made in the service, when the good
     man of the farm, whose 'tendency,' as Mr. Mitchell says,
     'was soporific,' scandalized his wife and the dominie by
     starting suddenly from his knees, and rubbing his eyes, with
     a stentorian exclamation of 'By ----! here's the keg at
     last!' and in tumbled, as he spake the word, a couple of
     sturdy herdsmen, whom, on hearing, a day before, of the
     advocate's approaching visit, he had despatched to a certain
     smuggler's haunt at some considerable distance in quest of a
     supply of _run_ brandy from the Solway frith. The pious
     'exercise' of the household was hopelessly interrupted. With
     a thousand apologies for his hitherto shabby entertainment,
     this jolly Elliot or Armstrong had the welcome _keg_ mounted
     on the table without a moment's delay, and gentle and
     simple, not forgetting the dominie, continued carousing
     about it until daylight streamed in upon the party. Sir
     Walter Scott seldom failed, when I saw him in company with
     his Liddesdale companions, to mimic with infinite humour the
     sudden outburst of his old host on hearing the clatter of
     horses' feet, which he knew to indicate the arrival of the
     keg, the consternation of the dame, and the rueful despair
     with which the young clergyman closed the book."[5]

No wonder old Mr. Scott felt some doubt of his son's success at the
bar, and thought him more fitted in many respects for a "gangrel

In spite of all this love of excitement, Scott became a sound lawyer,
and might have been a great lawyer, had not his pride of character,
the impatience of his genius, and the stir of his imagination rendered
him indisposed to wait and slave in the precise manner which the
prepossessions of solicitors appoint.

For Scott's passion for romantic literature was not at all the sort of
thing which we ordinarily mean by boys' or girls' love of romance. No
amount of drudgery or labour deterred Scott from any undertaking on
the prosecution of which he was bent. He was quite the reverse,
indeed, of what is usually meant by sentimental, either in his manners
or his literary interests. As regards the history of his own country
he was no mean antiquarian. Indeed he cared for the mustiest
antiquarian researches--of the mediæval kind--so much, that in the
depth of his troubles he speaks of a talk with a Scotch antiquary and
herald as one of the things which soothed him most. "I do not know
anything which relieves the mind so much from the sullens as trifling
discussions about antiquarian _old womanries_. It is like knitting a
stocking, diverting the mind without occupying it."[7] Thus his love
of romantic literature was as far as possible from that of a mind
which only feeds on romantic excitements; rather was it that of one
who was so moulded by the transmitted and acquired love of feudal
institutions with all their incidents, that he could not take any deep
interest in any other fashion of human society. Now the Scotch law
was full of vestiges and records of that period,--was indeed a great
standing monument of it; and in numbers of his writings Scott shows
with how deep an interest he had studied the Scotch law from this
point of view. He remarks somewhere that it was natural for a
Scotchman to feel a strong attachment to the principle of rank, if
only on the ground that almost any Scotchman might, under the Scotch
law, turn out to be heir-in-tail to some great Scotch title or estate
by the death of intervening relations. And the law which sometimes
caused such sudden transformations, had subsequently a true interest
for him of course as a novel writer, to say nothing of his interest in
it as an antiquarian and historian who loved to repeople the earth,
not merely with the picturesque groups of the soldiers and courts of
the past, but with the actors in all the various quaint and homely
transactions and puzzlements which the feudal ages had brought forth.
Hence though, as a matter of fact, Scott never made much figure as an
advocate, he became a very respectable, and might unquestionably have
become a very great, lawyer. When he started at the bar, however, he
had not acquired the tact to impress an ordinary assembly. In one case
which he conducted before the General Assembly of the Kirk of
Scotland, when defending a parish minister threatened with deposition
for drunkenness and unseemly behaviour, he certainly missed the proper
tone,--first receiving a censure for the freedom of his manner in
treating the allegations against his client, and then so far
collapsing under the rebuke of the Moderator, as to lose the force and
urgency necessary to produce an effect on his audience. But these were
merely a boy's mishaps. He was certainly by no means a Heaven-born
orator, and therefore could not expect to spring into exceptionally
_early_ distinction, and the only true reason for his relative failure
was that he was so full of literary power, and so proudly impatient of
the fetters which prudence seemed to impose on his extra-professional
proceedings, that he never gained the credit he deserved for the
general common sense, the unwearied industry, and the keen
appreciation of the ins and outs of legal method, which might have
raised him to the highest reputation even as a judge.

All readers of his novels know how Scott delights in the humours of
the law. By way of illustration take the following passage, which is
both short and amusing, in which Saunders Fairford--the old solicitor
painted from Scott's father in _Redgauntlet_--descants on the law of
the stirrup-cup. "It was decided in a case before the town bailies of
Cupar Angus, when Luckie Simpson's cow had drunk up Luckie Jamieson's
browst of ale, while it stood in the door to cool, that there was no
damage to pay, because the crummie drank without sitting down; such
being the circumstance constituting a Doch an Dorroch, which is a
standing drink for which no reckoning is paid." I do not believe that
any one of Scott's contemporaries had greater legal abilities than he,
though, as it happened, they were never fairly tried. But he had both
the pride and impatience of genius. It fretted him to feel that he was
dependent on the good opinions of solicitors, and that they who were
incapable of understanding his genius, thought the less instead of the
better of him as an advocate, for every indication which he gave of
that genius. Even on the day of his call to the bar he gave expression
to a sort of humorous foretaste of this impatience, saying to William
Clerk, who had been called with him, as he mimicked the air and tone
of a Highland lass waiting at the Cross of Edinburgh to be hired for
the harvest, "We've stood here an hour by the Tron, hinny, and deil a
ane has speered our price." Scott continued to practise at the
bar--nominally at least--for fourteen years, but the most which he
ever seems to have made in any one year was short of 230_l._, and
latterly his practice was much diminishing instead of increasing. His
own impatience of solicitors' patronage was against him; his
well-known dabblings in poetry were still more against him; and his
general repute for wild and unprofessional adventurousness--which was
much greater than he deserved--was probably most of all against him.
Before he had been six years at the bar he joined the organization of
the Edinburgh Volunteer Cavalry, took a very active part in the drill,
and was made their Quartermaster. Then he visited London, and became
largely known for his ballads, and his love of ballads. In his eighth
year at the bar he accepted a small permanent appointment, with
300_l._ a year, as sheriff of Selkirkshire; and this occurring soon
after his marriage to a lady of some means, no doubt diminished still
further his professional zeal. For one third of the time during which
Scott practised as an advocate he made no pretence of taking interest
in that part of his work, though he was always deeply interested in
the law itself. In 1806 he undertook gratuitously the duties of a
Clerk of Session--a permanent officer of the Court at Edinburgh--and
discharged them without remuneration for five years, from 1806 to
1811, in order to secure his ultimate succession to the office in the
place of an invalid, who for that period received all the emoluments
and did none of the work. Nevertheless Scott's legal abilities were so
well known, that it was certainly at one time intended to offer him a
Barony of the Exchequer, and it was his own doing, apparently, that it
was not offered. The life of literature and the life of the Bar hardly
ever suit, and in Scott's case they suited the less, that he felt
himself likely to be a dictator in the one field, and only a postulant
in the other. Literature was a far greater gainer by his choice, than
Law could have been a loser. For his capacity for the law he shared
with thousands of able men, his capacity for literature with few or


[Footnote 5: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, i. 269-71.]

[Footnote 6: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, i. 206.]

[Footnote 7: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ix. 221.]



One Sunday, about two years before his call to the bar, Scott offered
his umbrella to a young lady of much beauty who was coming out of the
Greyfriars Church during a shower; the umbrella was graciously
accepted; and it was not an unprecedented consequence that Scott fell
in love with the borrower, who turned out to be Margaret, daughter of
Sir John and Lady Jane Stuart Belches, of Invernay. For near six years
after this, Scott indulged the hope of marrying this lady, and it does
not seem doubtful that the lady herself was in part responsible for
this impression. Scott's father, who thought his son's prospects very
inferior to those of Miss Stuart Belches, felt it his duty to warn the
baronet of his son's views, a warning which the old gentleman appears
to have received with that grand unconcern characteristic of elderly
persons in high position, as a hint intrinsically incredible, or at
least unworthy of notice. But he took no alarm, and Scott's attentions
to Margaret Stuart Belches continued till close on the eve of her
marriage, in 1796, to William Forbes (afterwards Sir William Forbes),
of Pitsligo, a banker, who proved to be one of Sir Walter's most
generous and most delicate-minded friends, when his time of troubles
came towards the end of both their lives. Whether Scott was in part
mistaken as to the impression he had made on the young lady, or she
was mistaken as to the impression he had made on herself, or whether
other circumstances intervened to cause misunderstanding, or the grand
indifference of Sir John gave way to active intervention when the
question became a practical one, the world will now never know, but it
does not seem very likely that a man of so much force as Scott, who
certainly had at one time assured himself at least of the young lady's
strong regard, should have been easily displaced even by a rival of
ability and of most generous and amiable character. An entry in the
diary which Scott kept in 1827, after Constable's and Ballantyne's
failure, and his wife's death, seems to me to suggest that there may
have been some misunderstanding between the young people, though I am
not sure that the inference is justified. The passage completes the
story of this passion--Scott's first and only deep passion--so far as
it can ever be known to us; and as it is a very pathetic and
characteristic entry, and the attachment to which it refers had a
great influence on Scott's life, both in keeping him free from some of
the most dangerous temptations of the young, during his youth, and in
creating within him an interior world of dreams and recollections
throughout his whole life, on which his imaginative nature was
continually fed--I may as well give it. "He had taken," says Mr.
Lockhart, "for that winter [1827], the house No. 6, Shandwick Place,
which he occupied by the month during the remainder of his servitude
as a clerk of session. Very near this house, he was told a few days
after he took possession, dwelt the aged mother of his first love; and
he expressed to his friend Mrs. Skene, a wish that she should carry
him to renew an acquaintance which seems to have been interrupted from
the period of his youthful romance. Mrs. Skene complied with his
desire, and she tells me that a very painful scene ensued." His diary
says,--"November 7th. Began to settle myself this morning after the
hurry of mind and even of body which I have lately undergone. I went
to make a visit and fairly softened myself, like an old fool, with
recalling old stories till I was fit for nothing but shedding tears
and repeating verses for the whole night. This is sad work. The very
grave gives up its dead, and time rolls back thirty years to add to my
perplexities. I don't care. I begin to grow case-hardened, and like a
stag turning at bay, my naturally good temper grows fierce and
dangerous. Yet what a romance to tell--and told I fear it will one day
be. And then my three years of dreaming and my two years of wakening
will be chronicled, doubtless. But the dead will feel no
pain.--November 10th. At twelve o'clock I went again to poor Lady Jane
to talk over old stories. I am not clear that it is a right or
healthful indulgence to be ripping up old sores, but it seems to give
her deep-rooted sorrow words, and that is a mental blood-letting. To
me these things are now matter of calm and solemn recollection, never
to be forgotten, yet scarce to be remembered with pain."[8] It was in
1797, after the break-up of his hopes in relation to this attachment,
that Scott wrote the lines _To a Violet_, which Mr. F. T. Palgrave, in
his thoughtful and striking introduction to Scott's poems, rightly
characterizes as one of the most beautiful of those poems. It is,
however, far from one characteristic of Scott, indeed, so different
in style from the best of his other poems, that Mr. Browning might
well have said of Scott, as he once affirmed of himself, that for the
purpose of one particular poem, he "who blows through bronze," had
"breathed through silver,"--had "curbed the liberal hand subservient
proudly,"--and tamed his spirit to a key elsewhere unknown.

    "The violet in her greenwood bower,
      Where birchen boughs with hazels mingle,
    May boast itself the fairest flower
      In glen, or copse, or forest dingle.

    "Though fair her gems of azure hue,
      Beneath the dewdrop's weight reclining,
    I've seen an eye of lovelier blue,
      More sweet through watery lustre shining.

    "The summer sun that dew shall dry,
      Ere yet the day be past its morrow;
    Nor longer in my false love's eye
      Remain'd the tear of parting sorrow."

These lines obviously betray a feeling of resentment, which may or may
not have been justified; but they are perhaps the most delicate
produced by his pen. The pride which was always so notable a feature
in Scott, probably sustained him through the keen, inward pain which
it is very certain from a great many of his own words that he must
have suffered in this uprooting of his most passionate hopes. And it
was in part probably the same pride which led him to form, within the
year, a new tie--his engagement to Mademoiselle Charpentier, or Miss
Carpenter as she was usually called,--the daughter of a French
royalist of Lyons who had died early in the revolution. She had come
after her father's death to England, chiefly, it seems, because in the
Marquis of Downshire, who was an old friend of the family, her mother
knew that she should find a protector for her children. Miss Carpenter
was a lively beauty, probably of no great depth of character. The few
letters given of hers in Mr. Lockhart's life of Scott, give the
impression of an amiable, petted girl, of somewhat thin and _espiègle_
character, who was rather charmed at the depth and intensity of
Scott's nature, and at the expectations which he seemed to form of
what love should mean, than capable of realizing them. Evidently she
had no inconsiderable pleasure in display; but she made on the whole a
very good wife, only one to be protected by him from every care, and
not one to share Scott's deeper anxieties, or to participate in his
dreams. Yet Mrs. Scott was not devoid of spirit and self-control. For
instance, when Mr. Jeffrey, having reviewed _Marmion_ in the
_Edinburgh_ in that depreciating and omniscient tone which was then
considered the evidence of critical acumen, dined with Scott on the
very day on which the review had appeared, Mrs. Scott behaved to him
through the whole evening with the greatest politeness, but fired this
parting shot in her broken English, as he took his leave,--"Well, good
night, Mr. Jeffrey,--dey tell me you have abused Scott in de _Review_,
and I hope Mr. Constable has paid you very well for writing it." It is
hinted that Mrs. Scott was, at the time of Scott's greatest fame, far
more exhilarated by it than her husband with his strong sense and sure
self-measurement ever was. Mr. Lockhart records that Mrs. Grant of
Laggan once said of them, "Mr. Scott always seems to me like a glass,
through which the rays of admiration pass without sensibly affecting
it; but the bit of paper that lies beside it will presently be in a
blaze, and no wonder." The bit of paper, however, never was in a blaze
that I know of; and possibly Mrs. Grant's remark may have had a
little feminine spite in it. At all events, it was not till the rays
of misfortune, instead of admiration, fell upon Scott's life, that the
delicate tissue paper shrivelled up; nor does it seem that, even then,
it was the trouble, so much as a serious malady that had fixed on Lady
Scott before Sir Walter's troubles began, which really scorched up her
life. That she did not feel with the depth and intensity of her
husband, or in the same key of feeling, is clear. After the failure,
and during the preparations for abandoning the house in Edinburgh,
Scott records in his diary:--"It is with a sense of pain that I leave
behind a parcel of trumpery prints and little ornaments, once the
pride of Lady Scott's heart, but which she saw consigned with
indifference to the chance of an auction. Things that have had their
day of importance with me, I cannot forget, though the merest trifles;
but I am glad that she, with bad health, and enough to vex her, has
not the same useless mode of associating recollections with this
unpleasant business."[9]

Poor Lady Scott! It was rather like a bird of paradise mating with an
eagle. Yet the result was happy on the whole; for she had a thoroughly
kindly nature, and a true heart. Within ten days before her death,
Scott enters in his diary:--"Still welcoming me with a smile, and
asserting she is better." She was not the ideal wife for Scott; but
she loved him, sunned herself in his prosperity, and tried to bear his
adversity cheerfully. In her last illness she would always reproach
her husband and children for their melancholy faces, even when that
melancholy was, as she well knew, due to the approaching shadow of her
own death.


[Footnote 8: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ix. 183-4.]

[Footnote 9: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, viii. 273.]



Scott's first serious attempt in poetry was a version of Bürger's
_Lenore_, a spectre-ballad of the violent kind, much in favour in
Germany at a somewhat earlier period, but certainly not a specimen of
the higher order of imaginative genius. However, it stirred Scott's
youthful blood, and made him "wish to heaven he could get a skull and
two cross-bones!" a modest desire, to be expressed with so much
fervour, and one almost immediately gratified. Probably no one ever
gave a more spirited version of Bürger's ballad than Scott has given;
but the use to which Miss Cranstoun, a friend and confidante of his
love for Miss Stuart Belches, strove to turn it, by getting it
printed, blazoned, and richly bound, and presenting it to the young
lady as a proof of her admirer's abilities, was perhaps hardly very
sagacious. It is quite possible, at least, that Miss Stuart Belches
may have regarded this vehement admirer of spectral wedding journeys
and skeleton bridals, as unlikely to prepare for her that comfortable,
trim, and decorous future which young ladies usually desire. At any
rate, the bold stroke failed. The young lady admired the verses, but,
as we have seen, declined the translator. Perhaps she regarded banking
as safer, if less brilliant work than the most effective description
of skeleton riders. Indeed, Scott at this time--to those who did not
know what was in him, which no one, not even excepting himself,
did--had no very sure prospects of comfort, to say nothing of wealth.
It is curious, too, that his first adventure in literature was thus
connected with his interest in the preternatural, for no man ever
lived whose genius was sounder and healthier, and less disposed to
dwell on the half-and-half lights of a dim and eerie world; yet
ghostly subjects always interested him deeply, and he often touched
them in his stories, more, I think, from the strong artistic contrast
they afforded to his favourite conceptions of life, than from any
other motive. There never was, I fancy, an organization less
susceptible of this order of fears and superstitions than his own.
When a friend jokingly urged him, within a few months of his death,
not to leave Rome on a Friday, as it was a day of bad omen for a
journey, he replied, laughing, "Superstition is very picturesque, and
I make it, at times, stand me in great stead, but I never allow it to
interfere with interest or convenience." Basil Hall reports Scott's
having told him on the last evening of the year 1824, when they were
talking over this subject, that "having once arrived at a country inn,
he was told there was no bed for him. 'No place to lie down at all?'
said he. 'No,' said the people of the house; 'none, except a room in
which there is a corpse lying.' 'Well,' said he, 'did the person die
of any contagious disorder?' 'Oh, no; not at all,' said they. 'Well,
then,' continued he, 'let me have the other bed. So,' said Sir Walter,
'I laid me down, and never had a better night's sleep in my life.'" He
was, indeed, a man of iron nerve, whose truest artistic enjoyment was
in noting the forms of character seen in full daylight by the light of
the most ordinary experience. Perhaps for that reason he can on
occasion relate a preternatural incident, such as the appearance of
old Alice at the fountain, at the very moment of her death, to the
Master of Ravenswood, in _The Bride of Lammermoor_, with great effect.
It was probably the vivacity with which he realized the violence which
such incidents do to the terrestrial common sense of our ordinary
nature, and at the same time the sedulous accuracy of detail with
which he narrated them, rather than any, even the smallest, special
susceptibility of his own brain to thrills of the preternatural kind,
which gave him rather a unique pleasure in dealing with such
preternatural elements. Sometimes, however, his ghosts are a little
too muscular to produce their due effect as ghosts. In translating
Bürger's ballad his great success lay in the vividness of the
spectre's horsemanship. For instance,--

    "Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,
      Splash! splash! along the sea;
    The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,
      The flashing pebbles flee,"

is far better than any ghostly touch in it; so, too, every one will
remember how spirited a rider is the white Lady of Avenel, in _The
Monastery_, and how vigorously she takes fords,--as vigorously as the
sheriff himself, who was very fond of fords. On the whole, Scott was
too sunny and healthy-minded for a ghost-seer; and the skull and
cross-bones with which he ornamented his "den" in his father's house,
did not succeed in tempting him into the world of twilight and cobwebs
wherein he made his first literary excursion. His _William and Helen_,
the name he gave to his translation of Bürger's _Lenore_, made in
1795, was effective, after all, more for its rapid movement, than for
the weirdness of its effects.

If, however, it was the raw preternaturalism of such ballads as
Bürger's which first led Scott to test his own powers, his genius soon
turned to more appropriate and natural subjects. Ever since his
earliest college days he had been collecting, in those excursions of
his into Liddesdale and elsewhere, materials for a book on _The
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border_; and the publication of this work,
in January, 1802 (in two volumes at first), was his first great
literary success. The whole edition of eight hundred copies was sold
within the year, while the skill and care which Scott had devoted to
the historical illustration of the ballads, and the force and spirit
of his own new ballads, written in imitation of the old, gained him at
once a very high literary name. And the name was well deserved. The
_Border Minstrelsy_ was more commensurate _in range_ with the genius
of Scott, than even the romantic poems by which it was soon followed,
and which were received with such universal and almost unparalleled
delight. For Scott's _Border Minstrelsy_ gives more than a glimpse of
all his many great powers--his historical industry and knowledge, his
masculine humour, his delight in restoring the vision of the "old,
simple, violent world" of rugged activity and excitement, as well as
that power to kindle men's hearts, as by a trumpet-call, which was the
chief secret of the charm of his own greatest poems. It is much easier
to discern the great novelist of subsequent years in the _Border
Minstrelsy_ than even in _The Lay of the Last Minstrel_, _Marmion_,
and _The Lady of the Lake_ taken together. From those romantic poems
you would never guess that Scott entered more eagerly and heartily
into the common incidents and common cares of every-day human life
than into the most romantic fortunes; from them you would never know
how completely he had mastered the leading features of quite
different periods of our history; from them you would never infer that
you had before you one of the best plodders, as well as one of the
most enthusiastic dreamers, in British literature. But all this might
have been gathered from the various introductions and notes to the
_Border Minstrelsy_, which are full of skilful illustrations, of
comments teeming with humour, and of historic weight. The general
introduction gives us a general survey of the graphic pictures of
Border quarrels, their simple violence and simple cunning. It enters,
for instance, with grave humour into the strong distinction taken in
the debatable land between a "freebooter" and a "thief," and the
difficulty which the inland counties had in grasping it, and paints
for us, with great vivacity, the various Border superstitions. Another
commentary on a very amusing ballad, commemorating the manner in which
a blind harper stole a horse and got paid for a mare he had not lost,
gives an account of the curious tenure of land, called that of the
"king's rentallers," or "kindly tenants;" and a third describes, in
language as vivid as the historical romance of _Kenilworth_, written
years after, the manner in which Queen Elizabeth received the news of
a check to her policy, and vented her spleen on the King of Scotland.

So much as to the breadth of the literary area which this first book
of Scott's covered. As regards the poetic power which his own new
ballads, in imitation of the old ones, evinced, I cannot say that
those of the first issue of the _Border Minstrelsy_ indicated anything
like the force which might have been expected from one who was so soon
to be the author of _Marmion_, though many of Scott's warmest
admirers, including Sir Francis Doyle, seem to place _Glenfinlas_
among his finest productions. But in the third volume of the _Border
Minstrelsy_, which did not appear till 1803, is contained a ballad on
the assassination of the Regent Murray, the story being told by his
assassin, which seems to me a specimen of his very highest poetical
powers. In _Cadyow Castle_ you have not only that rousing trumpet-note
which you hear in _Marmion,_ but the pomp and glitter of a grand
martial scene is painted with all Scott's peculiar terseness and
vigour. The opening is singularly happy in preparing the reader for
the description of a violent deed. The Earl of Arran, chief of the
clan of Hamiltons, is chasing among the old oaks of Cadyow
Castle,--oaks which belonged to the ancient Caledonian forest,--the
fierce, wild bulls, milk-white, with black muzzles, which were not
extirpated till shortly before Scott's own birth:--

    "Through the huge oaks of Evandale,
      Whose limbs a thousand years have worn,
    What sullen roar comes down the gale,
      And drowns the hunter's pealing horn?

    "Mightiest of all the beasts of chase
      That roam in woody Caledon,
    Crashing the forest in his race,
      The mountain bull comes thundering on.

    "Fierce on the hunter's quiver'd band
      He rolls his eyes of swarthy glow,
    Spurns, with black hoof and horn, the sand,
      And tosses high his mane of snow.

    "Aim'd well, the chieftain's lance has flown;
      Struggling in blood the savage lies;
    His roar is sunk in hollow groan,--
      Sound, merry huntsman! sound the pryse!"

It is while the hunters are resting after this feat, that
Bothwellhaugh dashes among them headlong, spurring his jaded steed
with poniard instead of spur:--

    "From gory selle and reeling steed,
      Sprang the fierce horseman with a bound,
    And reeking from the recent deed,
      He dash'd his carbine on the ground."

And then Bothwellhaugh tells his tale of blood, describing the
procession from which he had singled out his prey:--

    "'Dark Morton, girt with many a spear,
      Murder's foul minion, led the van;
    And clash'd their broadswords in the rear
      The wild Macfarlanes' plaided clan.

    "'Glencairn and stout Parkhead were nigh,
      Obsequious at their Regent's rein,
    And haggard Lindsay's iron eye,
      That saw fair Mary weep in vain.

    "''Mid pennon'd spears, a steely grove,
      Proud Murray's plumage floated high;
    Scarce could his trampling charger move,
      So close the minions crowded nigh.

    "'From the raised vizor's shade, his eye,
      Dark rolling, glanced the ranks along,
    And his steel truncheon waved on high,
      Seem'd marshalling the iron throng.

    "'But yet his sadden'd brow confess'd
      A passing shade of doubt and awe;
    Some fiend was whispering in his breast,
      "Beware of injured Bothwellhaugh!"

    "'The death-shot parts,--the charger springs,--
      Wild rises tumult's startling roar!
    And Murray's plumy helmet rings--
      Rings on the ground to rise no more.'"

This was the ballad which made so strong an impression on Thomas Campbell,
the poet. Referring to some of the lines I have quoted, Campbell
said,--"I have repeated them so often on the North Bridge that the whole
fraternity of coachmen know me by tongue as I pass. To be sure, to a mind
in sober, serious, street-walking humour, it must bear an appearance of
lunacy when one stamps with the hurried pace and fervent shake of the head
which strong, pithy poetry excites."[10] I suppose anecdotes of this kind
have been oftener told of Scott than of any other English poet. Indeed,
Sir Walter, who understood himself well, gives the explanation in one of
his diaries:--"I am sensible," he says, "that if there be anything good
about my poetry or prose either, it is a hurried frankness of composition,
which pleases soldiers, sailors, and young people of bold and active
dispositions."[11] He might have included old people too. I have heard of
two old men--complete strangers--passing each other on a dark London
night, when one of them happened to be repeating to himself, just as
Campbell did to the hackney coachmen of the North Bridge of Edinburgh, the
last lines of the account of Flodden Field in _Marmion_, "Charge, Chester,
charge," when suddenly a reply came out of the darkness, "On, Stanley,
on," whereupon they finished the death of Marmion between them, took off
their hats to each other, and parted, laughing. Scott's is almost the only
poetry in the English language that not only runs thus in the head of
average men, but heats the head in which it runs by the mere force of its
hurried frankness of style, to use Scott's own terms, or by that of its
strong and pithy eloquence, as Campbell phrased it. And in _Cadyow Castle_
this style is at its culminating point.


[Footnote 10: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ii. 79.]

[Footnote 11: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, viii. 370.]



Scott's genius flowered late. _Cadyow Castle_, the first of his poems,
I think, that has indisputable genius plainly stamped on its terse and
fiery lines, was composed in 1802, when he was already thirty-one
years of age. It was in the same year that he wrote the first canto of
his first great romance in verse, _The Lay of the Last Minstrel_, a
poem which did not appear till 1805, when he was thirty-four. The
first canto (not including the framework, of which the aged harper is
the principal figure) was written in the lodgings to which he was
confined for a fortnight in 1802, by a kick received from a horse on
Portobello sands, during a charge of the Volunteer Cavalry in which
Scott was cornet. The poem was originally intended to be included in
the _Border Minstrelsy_, as one of the studies in the antique style,
but soon outgrew the limits of such a study both in length and in the
freedom of its manner. Both the poorest and the best parts of _The
Lay_ were in a special manner due to Lady Dalkeith (afterwards Duchess
of Buccleugh), who suggested it, and in whose honour the poem was
written. It was she who requested Scott to write a poem on the legend
of the goblin page, Gilpin Horner, and this Scott attempted,--and, so
far as the goblin himself was concerned, conspicuously failed. He
himself clearly saw that the story of this unmanageable imp was both
confused and uninteresting, and that in fact he had to extricate
himself from the original groundwork of the tale, as from a regular
literary scrape, in the best way he could. In a letter to Miss Seward,
Scott says,--"At length the story appeared so uncouth that I was fain
to put it into the mouth of my old minstrel, lest the nature of it
should be misunderstood, and I should be suspected of setting up a new
school of poetry, instead of a feeble attempt to imitate the old. In
the process of the romance, the page, intended to be a principal
person in the work, contrived (from the baseness of his natural
propensities, I suppose) to slink down stairs into the kitchen, and
now he must e'en abide there."[12] And I venture to say that no reader
of the poem ever has distinctly understood what the goblin page did or
did not do, what it was that was "lost" throughout the poem and
"found" at the conclusion, what was the object of his personating the
young heir of the house of Scott, and whether or not that object was
answered;--what use, if any, the magic book of Michael Scott was to
the Lady of Branksome, or whether it was only harm to her; and I doubt
moreover whether any one ever cared an iota what answer, or whether
any answer, might be given to any of these questions. All this, as
Scott himself clearly perceived, was left confused, and not simply
vague. The goblin imp had been more certainly an imp of mischief to
him than even to his boyish ancestor. But if Lady Dalkeith suggested
the poorest part of the poem, she certainly inspired its best part.
Scott says, as we have seen, that he brought in the aged harper to
save himself from the imputation of "setting-up a new school of
poetry" instead of humbly imitating an old school. But I think that
the chivalrous wish to do honour to Lady Dalkeith, both as a personal
friend and as the wife of his "chief,"--as he always called the head
of the house of Scott,--had more to do with the introduction of the
aged harper, than the wish to guard himself against the imputation of
attempting a new poetic style. He clearly intended the Duchess of _The
Lay_ to represent the Countess for whom he wrote it, and the aged
harper, with his reverence and gratitude and self-distrust, was only
the disguise in which he felt that he could best pour out his loyalty,
and the romantic devotion with which both Lord and Lady Dalkeith, but
especially the latter, had inspired him. It was certainly this
beautiful framework which assured the immediate success and permanent
charm of the poem; and the immediate success was for that day
something marvellous. The magnificent quarto edition of 750 copies was
soon exhausted, and an octavo edition of 1500 copies was sold out
within the year. In the following year two editions, containing
together 4250 copies, were disposed of, and before twenty-five years
had elapsed, that is, before 1830, 44,000 copies of the poem had been
bought by the public in this country, taking account of the legitimate
trade alone. Scott gained in all by _The Lay_ 769_l._, an
unprecedented sum in those times for an author to obtain from any
poem. Little more than half a century before, Johnson received but
fifteen guineas for his stately poem on _The Vanity of Human Wishes_,
and but ten guineas for his _London_. I do not say that Scott's poem
had not much more in it of true poetic fire, though Scott himself, I
believe, preferred these poems of Johnson's to anything that he
himself ever wrote. But the disproportion in the reward was certainly
enormous, and yet what Scott gained by his _Lay_ was of course much
less than he gained by any of his subsequent poems of equal, or
anything like equal, length. Thus for _Marmion_ he received 1000
guineas long before the poem was published, and for _one half_ of the
copyright of _The Lord of the Isles_ Constable paid Scott 1500
guineas. If we ask ourselves to what this vast popularity of Scott's
poems, and especially of the earlier of them (for, as often happens,
he was better remunerated for his later and much inferior poems than
for his earlier and more brilliant productions) is due, I think the
answer must be for the most part, the high romantic glow and
extraordinary romantic simplicity of the poetical elements they
contained. Take the old harper of _The Lay_, a figure which arrested
the attention of Pitt during even that last most anxious year of his
anxious life, the year of Ulm and Austerlitz. The lines in which Scott
describes the old man's embarrassment when first urged to play,
produced on Pitt, according to his own account, "an effect which I
might have expected in painting, but could never have fancied capable
of being given in poetry."[13]

Every one knows the lines to which Pitt refers:--

    "The humble boon was soon obtain'd;
    The aged minstrel audience gain'd.
    But, when he reach'd the room of state,
    Where she with all her ladies sate,
    Perchance he wish'd his boon denied;
    For, when to tune the harp he tried,
    His trembling hand had lost the ease
    Which marks security to please;
    And scenes long past, of joy and pain,
    Came wildering o'er his aged brain,--
    He tried to tune his harp in vain!
    The pitying Duchess praised its chime,
    And gave him heart, and gave him time,
    Till every string's according glee
    Was blended into harmony.
    And then, he said, he would full fain
    He could recall an ancient strain
    He never thought to sing again.
    It was not framed for village churls,
    But for high dames and mighty earls;
    He'd play'd it to King Charles the Good,
    When he kept Court at Holyrood;
    And much he wish'd, yet fear'd, to try
    The long-forgotten melody.
    Amid the strings his fingers stray'd,
    And an uncertain warbling made,
    And oft he shook his hoary head.
    But when he caught the measure wild
    The old man raised his face, and smiled;
    And lighten'd up his faded eye,
    With all a poet's ecstasy!
    In varying cadence, soft or strong,
    He swept the sounding chords along;
    The present scene, the future lot,
    His toils, his wants, were all forgot;
    Cold diffidence and age's frost
    In the full tide of song were lost;
    Each blank in faithless memory void
    The poet's glowing thought supplied;
    And, while his harp responsive rung,
    'Twas thus the latest minstrel sung.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Here paused the harp; and with its swell
    The master's fire and courage fell;
    Dejectedly and low he bow'd,
    And, gazing timid on the crowd,
    He seem'd to seek in every eye
    If they approved his minstrelsy;
    And, diffident of present praise,
    Somewhat he spoke of former days,
    And how old age, and wandering long,
    Had done his hand and harp some wrong."

These lines hardly illustrate, I think, the particular form of Mr.
Pitt's criticism, for a quick succession of fine shades of feeling of
this kind could never have been delineated in a painting, or indeed in
a series of paintings, at all, while they _are_ so given in the poem.
But the praise itself, if not its exact form, is amply deserved. The
singular depth of the romantic glow in this passage, and its equally
singular simplicity,--a simplicity which makes it intelligible to
every one,--are conspicuous to every reader. It is not what is called
classical poetry, for there is no severe outline,--no sculptured
completeness and repose,--no satisfying wholeness of effect to the eye
of the mind,--no embodiment of a great action. The poet gives us a
breath, a ripple of alternating fear and hope in the heart of an old
man, and that is all. He catches an emotion that had its roots deep in
the past, and that is striving onward towards something in the
future;--he traces the wistfulness and self-distrust with which age
seeks to recover the feelings of youth,--the delight with which it
greets them when they come,--the hesitation and diffidence with which
it recalls them as they pass away, and questions the triumph it has
just won,--and he paints all this without subtlety, without
complexity, but with a swiftness such as few poets ever surpassed.
Generally, however, Scott prefers action itself for his subject, to
any feeling, however active in its bent. The cases in which he makes a
study of any mood of feeling, as he does of this harper's feeling, are
comparatively rare. Deloraine's night-ride to Melrose is a good deal
more in Scott's ordinary way, than this study of the old harper's
wistful mood. But whatever his subject, his treatment of it is the
same. His lines are always strongly drawn; his handling is always
simple; and his subject always romantic. But though romantic, it is
simple almost to bareness,--one of the great causes both of his
popularity, and of that deficiency in his poetry of which so many of
his admirers become conscious when they compare him with other and
richer poets. Scott used to say that in poetry Byron "bet" him; and no
doubt that in which chiefly as a poet he "bet" him, was in the
variety, the richness, the lustre of his effects. A certain ruggedness
and bareness was of the essence of Scott's idealism and romance. It
was so in relation to scenery. He told Washington Irving that he loved
the very nakedness of the Border country. "It has something," he said,
"bold and stern and solitary about it. When I have been for some time
in the rich scenery about Edinburgh, which is like ornamented
garden-land, I begin to wish myself back again among my honest grey
hills, and if I did not see the heather at least once a year, _I think
I should die_."[14] Now, the bareness which Scott so loved in his
native scenery, there is in all his romantic elements of feeling. It
is while he is bold and stern, that he is at his highest ideal point.
Directly he begins to attempt rich or pretty subjects, as in parts of
_The Lady of the Lake_, and a good deal of _The Lord of the Isles_,
and still more in _The Bridal of Triermain_, his charm disappears. It
is in painting those moods and exploits, in relation to which Scott
shares most completely the feelings of ordinary men, but experiences
them with far greater strength and purity than ordinary men, that he
triumphs as a poet. Mr. Lockhart tells us that some of Scott's senses
were decidedly "blunt," and one seems to recognize this in the
simplicity of his romantic effects. "It is a fact," he says,
"which some philosophers may think worth setting down, that Scott's
organization, as to more than one of the senses, was the reverse of
exquisite. He had very little of what musicians call an ear; his smell
was hardly more delicate. I have seen him stare about, quite
unconscious of the cause, when his whole company betrayed their
uneasiness at the approach of an overkept haunch of venison; and
neither by the nose nor the palate could he distinguish corked wine
from sound. He could never tell Madeira from sherry,--nay, an Oriental
friend having sent him a butt of _sheeraz_, when he remembered the
circumstance some time afterwards and called for a bottle to have Sir
John Malcolm's opinion of its quality, it turned out that his butler,
mistaking the label, had already served up half the bin as _sherry_.
Port he considered as physic ... in truth he liked no wines except
sparkling champagne and claret; but even as to the last he was no
connoisseur, and sincerely preferred a tumbler of whisky-toddy to the
most precious 'liquid-ruby' that ever flowed in the cup of a

However, Scott's eye was very keen:--"_It was commonly him_," as his
little son once said, "_that saw the hare sitting_." And his
perception of colour was very delicate as well as his mere sight. As
Mr. Ruskin has pointed out, his landscape painting is almost all done
by the lucid use of colour. Nevertheless this bluntness of
organization in relation to the less important senses, no doubt
contributed something to the singleness and simplicity of the deeper
and more vital of Scott's romantic impressions; at least there is good
reason to suppose that delicate and complicated susceptibilities do at
least diminish the chance of living a strong and concentrated
life--do risk the frittering away of feeling on the mere backwaters of
sensations, even if they do not directly tend towards artificial and
indirect forms of character. Scott's romance is like his native
scenery,--bold, bare and rugged, with a swift deep stream of strong
pure feeling running through it. There is plenty of colour in his
pictures, as there is on the Scotch hills when the heather is out. And
so too there is plenty of intensity in his romantic situations; but it
is the intensity of simple, natural, unsophisticated, hardy, and manly
characters. But as for subtleties and fine shades of feeling in his
poems, or anything like the manifold harmonies of the richer arts,
they are not to be found, or, if such complicated shading is to be
found--and it is perhaps attempted in some faint measure in _The
Bridal of Triermain,_ the poem in which Scott tried to pass himself
off for Erskine,--it is only at the expense of the higher qualities of
his romantic poetry, that even in this small measure it is supplied.
Again, there is no rich music in his verse. It is its rapid onset, its
hurrying strength, which so fixes it in the mind.

It was not till 1808, three years after the publication of _The Lay_, that
_Marmion_, Scott's greatest poem, was published. But I may as well say what
seems necessary of that and his other poems, while I am on the subject of
his poetry. _Marmion_ has all the advantage over _The Lay of the Last
Minstrel_ that a coherent story told with force and fulness, and concerned
with the same class of subjects as _The Lay_, must have over a confused and
ill-managed legend, the only original purpose of which was to serve as the
opportunity for a picture of Border life and strife. Scott's poems have
sometimes been depreciated as mere _novelettes_ in verse, and I think that
some of them may be more or less liable to this criticism. For instance,
_The Lady of the Lake_, with the exception of two or three brilliant
passages, has always seemed to me more of a versified _novelette_,--without
the higher and broader characteristics of Scott's prose novels--than of a
poem. I suppose what one expects from a poem as distinguished from a
romance--even though the poem incorporates a story--is that it should not
rest for its chief interest on the mere development of the story; but
rather that the narrative should be quite subordinate to that insight into
the deeper side of life and manners, in expressing which poetry has so
great an advantage over prose. Of _The Lay_ and _Marmion_ this is true;
less true of _The Lady of the Lake_, and still less of _Rokeby_, or _The
Lord of the Isles_, and this is why _The Lay_ and _Marmion_ seem so much
superior as poems to the others. They lean less on the interest of mere
incident, more on that of romantic feeling and the great social and
historic features of the day. _Marmion_ was composed in great part in the
saddle, and the stir of a charge of cavalry seems to be at the very core of
it. "For myself," said Scott, writing to a lady correspondent at a time
when he was in active service as a volunteer, "I must own that to one who
has, like myself, _la tête un peu exaltée_, the pomp and circumstance of
war gives, for a time, a very poignant and pleasing sensation."[16] And you
feel this all through _Marmion_ even more than in _The Lay_. Mr. Darwin
would probably say that Auld Wat of Harden had about as much responsibility
for _Marmion_ as Sir Walter himself. "You will expect," he wrote to the
same lady, who was personally unknown to him at that time, "to see a
person who had dedicated himself to literary pursuits, and you will find me
a rattle-skulled, half-lawyer, half-sportsman, through whose head a
regiment of horse has been exercising since he was five years old."[17] And
what Scott himself felt in relation to the martial elements of his poetry,
soldiers in the field felt with equal force. "In the course of the day when
_The Lady of the Lake_ first reached Sir Adam Fergusson, he was posted with
his company on a point of ground exposed to the enemy's artillery,
somewhere no doubt on the lines of Torres Vedras. The men were ordered to
lie prostrate on the ground; while they kept that attitude, the captain,
kneeling at the head, read aloud the description of the battle in Canto
VI., and the listening soldiers only interrupted him by a joyous huzza when
the French shot struck the bank close above them."[18] It is not often that
martial poetry has been put to such a test; but we can well understand with
what rapture a Scotch force lying on the ground to shelter from the French
fire, would enter into such passages as the following:--

    "Their light-arm'd archers far and near
      Survey'd the tangled ground,
    Their centre ranks, with pike and spear,
      A twilight forest frown'd,
    Their barbèd horsemen, in the rear,
      The stern battalia crown'd.
    No cymbal clash'd, no clarion rang,
      Still were the pipe and drum;
    Save heavy tread, and armour's clang,
      The sullen march was dumb.
    There breathed no wind their crests to shake,
      Or wave their flags abroad;
    Scarce the frail aspen seem'd to quake,
     That shadow'd o'er their road.
    Their vanward scouts no tidings bring,
      Can rouse no lurking foe,
    Nor spy a trace of living thing
      Save when they stirr'd the roe;
    The host moves like a deep-sea wave,
    Where rise no rocks its power to brave,
      High-swelling, dark, and slow.
    The lake is pass'd, and now they gain
    A narrow and a broken plain,
    Before the Trosach's rugged jaws,
    And here the horse and spearmen pause,
    While, to explore the dangerous glen,
    Dive through the pass the archer-men.

    "At once there rose so wild a yell
    Within that dark and narrow dell,
    As all the fiends from heaven that fell
    Had peal'd the banner-cry of Hell!
      Forth from the pass, in tumult driven,
      Like chaff before the wind of heaven,
        The archery appear;
      For life! for life! their plight they ply,
      And shriek, and shout, and battle-cry,
      And plaids and bonnets waving high,
      And broadswords flashing to the sky,
        Are maddening in the rear.
    Onward they drive, in dreadful race,
      Pursuers and pursued;
    Before that tide of flight and chase,
    How shall it keep its rooted place,
      The spearmen's twilight wood?
    Down, down, cried Mar, 'your lances down
      Bear back both friend and foe!'
    Like reeds before the tempest's frown,
    That serried grove of lances brown
      At once lay levell'd low;
    And, closely shouldering side to side,
    The bristling ranks the onset bide,--
    'We'll quell the savage mountaineer,
      As their Tinchel cows the game!
    They came as fleet as forest deer,
      We'll drive them back as tame.'"

But admirable in its stern and deep excitement as that is, the battle
of Flodden in _Marmion_ passes it in vigour, and constitutes perhaps
the most perfect description of war by one who was--almost--both poet
and warrior, which the English language contains.

And _Marmion_ registers the high-water mark of Scott's poetical power,
not only in relation to the painting of war, but in relation to the
painting of nature. Critics from the beginning onwards have complained
of the six introductory epistles, as breaking the unity of the story.
But I cannot see that the remark has weight. No poem is written for
those who read it as they do a novel--merely to follow the interest of
the story; or if any poem be written for such readers, it deserves to
die. On such a principle--which treats a poem as a mere novel and
nothing else,--you might object to Homer that he interrupts the battle
so often to dwell on the origin of the heroes who are waging it; or to
Byron that he deserts Childe Harold to meditate on the rapture of
solitude. To my mind the ease and frankness of these confessions of
the author's recollections give a picture of his life and character
while writing _Marmion_, which adds greatly to its attraction as a
poem. You have a picture at once not only of the scenery, but of the
mind in which that scenery is mirrored, and are brought back frankly,
at fit intervals, from the one to the other, in the mode best adapted
to help you to appreciate the relation of the poet to the poem. At
least if Milton's various interruptions of a much more ambitious
theme, to muse upon his own qualifications or disqualifications for
the task he had attempted, be not artistic mistakes--and I never heard
of any one who thought them so--I cannot see any reason why Scott's
periodic recurrence to his own personal history should be artistic
mistakes either. If Scott's reverie was less lofty than Milton's, so
also was his story. It seems to me as fitting to describe the relation
between the poet and his theme in the one case as in the other. What
can be more truly a part of _Marmion_, as a poem, though not as a
story, than that introduction to the first canto in which Scott
expresses his passionate sympathy with the high national feeling of
the moment, in his tribute to Pitt and Fox, and then reproaches
himself for attempting so great a subject and returns to what he calls
his "rude legend," the very essence of which was, however, a
passionate appeal to the spirit of national independence? What can be
more germane to the poem than the delineation of the strength the poet
had derived from musing in the bare and rugged solitudes of St. Mary's
Lake, in the introduction to the second canto? Or than the striking
autobiographical study of his own infancy which I have before
extracted from the introduction to the third? It seems to me that
_Marmion_ without these introductions would be like the hills which
border Yarrow, without the stream and lake in which they are

Never at all events in any later poem was Scott's touch as a mere
painter so terse and strong. What a picture of a Scotch winter is
given in these few lines:--

    "The sheep before the pinching heaven
    To shelter'd dale and down are driven,
    Where yet some faded herbage pines,
    And yet a watery sunbeam shines:
    In meek despondency they eye
    The wither'd sward and wintry sky,
    And from beneath their summer hill
    Stray sadly by Glenkinnon's rill."

Again, if Scott is ever Homeric (which I cannot think he often is),
in spite of Sir Francis Doyle's able criticism,--(he is too short, too
sharp, and too eagerly bent on his rugged way, for a poet who is
always delighting to find loopholes, even in battle, from which to
look out upon the great story of human nature), he is certainly
nearest to it in such a passage as this:--

    "The Isles-men carried at their backs
    The ancient Danish battle-axe.
    They raised a wild and wondering cry
    As with his guide rode Marmion by.
    Loud were their clamouring tongues, as when
    The clanging sea-fowl leave the fen,
    And, with their cries discordant mix'd,
    Grumbled and yell'd the pipes betwixt."

In hardly any of Scott's poetry do we find much of what is called the
_curiosa felicitas_ of expression,--the magic use of _words_, as
distinguished from the mere general effect of vigour, purity, and
concentration of purpose. But in _Marmion_ occasionally we do find
such a use. Take this description, for instance, of the Scotch tents
near Edinburgh:--

    "A thousand did I say? I ween
    Thousands on thousands there were seen,
    That chequer'd all the heath between
      The streamlet and the town;
    In crossing ranks extending far,
    Forming a camp irregular;
    Oft giving way where still there stood
    Some relics of the old oak wood,
    That darkly huge did intervene,
    _And tamed the glaring white with green_;
    In these extended lines there lay
    A martial kingdom's vast array."

The line I have italicized seems to me to have more of the poet's
special magic of expression than is at all usual with Scott. The
conception of the peaceful green oak wood _taming_ the glaring white
of the tented field, is as fine in idea as it is in relation to the
effect of the mere colour on the eye. Judge Scott's poetry by whatever
test you will--whether it be a test of that which is peculiar to it,
its glow of national feeling, its martial ardour, its swift and rugged
simplicity, or whether it be a test of that which is common to it with
most other poetry, its attraction for all romantic excitements, its
special feeling for the pomp and circumstance of war, its love of
light and colour--and tested either way, _Marmion_ will remain his
finest poem. The battle of Flodden Field touches his highest point in
its expression of stern patriotic feeling, in its passionate love of
daring, and in the force and swiftness of its movement, no less than
in the brilliancy of its romantic interests, the charm of its
picturesque detail, and the glow of its scenic colouring. No poet ever
equalled Scott in the description of wild and simple scenes and the
expression of wild and simple feelings. But I have said enough now of
his poetry, in which, good as it is, Scott's genius did not reach its
highest point. The hurried tramp of his somewhat monotonous metre, is
apt to weary the ears of men who do not find their sufficient
happiness, as he did, in dreaming of the wild and daring enterprises
of his loved Border-land. The very quality in his verse which makes it
seize so powerfully on the imaginations of plain, bold, adventurous
men, often makes it hammer fatiguingly against the brain of those who
need the relief of a wider horizon and a richer world.


[Footnote 12: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ii. 217.]

[Footnote 13: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ii. 226.]

[Footnote 14: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, v. 248.]

[Footnote 15: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, v. 338.]

[Footnote 16: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ii. 137.]

[Footnote 17: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ii. 259.]

[Footnote 18: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iii. 327.]



I have anticipated in some degree, in speaking of Scott's later
poetical works, what, in point of time at least, should follow some
slight sketch of his chosen companions, and of his occupations in the
first period of his married life. Scott's most intimate friend for
some time after he went to college, probably the one who most
stimulated his imagination in his youth, and certainly one of his most
intimate friends to the very last, was William Clerk, who was called
to the bar on the same day as Scott. He was the son of John Clerk of
Eldin, the author of a book of some celebrity in its time on _Naval
Tactics_. Even in the earliest days of this intimacy, the lads who had
been Scott's fellow-apprentices in his father's office, saw with some
jealousy his growing friendship with William Clerk, and remonstrated
with Scott on the decline of his regard for them, but only succeeded
in eliciting from him one of those outbursts of peremptory frankness
which anything that he regarded as an attempt to encroach on his own
interior liberty of choice always provoked. "I will never cut any
man," he said, "unless I detect him in scoundrelism, but I know not
what right any of you have to interfere with my choice of my company.
As it is, I fairly own that though I like many of you very much, and
have long done so, I think William Clerk well worth you all put
together."[19] Scott never lost the friendship which began with this
eager enthusiasm, but his chief intimacy with Clerk was during his
younger days.

In 1808 Scott describes Clerk as "a man of the most acute intellects and
powerful apprehension, who, if he should ever shake loose the fetters of
indolence by which he has been hitherto trammelled, cannot fail to be
distinguished in the highest degree." Whether for the reason suggested, or
for some other, Clerk never actually gained any other distinction so great
as his friendship with Scott conferred upon him. Probably Scott had
discerned the true secret of his friend's comparative obscurity. Even
while preparing for the bar, when they had agreed to go on alternate
mornings to each other's lodgings to read together, Scott found it
necessary to modify the arrangement by always visiting his friend, whom he
usually found in bed. It was William Clerk who sat for the picture of
Darsie Latimer, the hero of _Redgauntlet_,--whence we should suppose him
to have been a lively, generous, susceptible, contentious, and rather
helter-skelter young man, much alive to the ludicrous in all situations,
very eager to see life in all its phases, and somewhat vain of his power
of adapting himself equally to all these phases. Scott tells a story of
Clerk's being once baffled--almost for the first time--by a stranger in a
stage coach, who would not, or could not, talk to him on any subject,
until at last Clerk addressed to him this stately remonstrance, "I have
talked to you, my friend, on all the ordinary subjects--literature,
farming, merchandise, gaming, game-laws, horse-races, suits-at-law,
politics, swindling, blasphemy, and philosophy,--is there any one subject
that you will favour me by opening upon?" "Sir," replied the inscrutable
stranger, "can you say anything clever about '_bend-leather_'?"[20] No
doubt this superficial familiarity with a vast number of subjects was a
great fascination to Scott, and a great stimulus to his own imagination.
To the last he held the same opinion of his friend's latent powers. "To my
thinking," he wrote in his diary in 1825, "I never met a man of greater
powers, of more complete information on all desirable subjects." But in
youth at least Clerk seems to have had what Sir Walter calls a
characteristic Edinburgh complaint, the "itch for disputation," and though
he softened this down in later life, he had always that slight
contentiousness of bias which enthusiastic men do not often heartily like,
and which may have prevented Scott from continuing to the full the close
intimacy of those earlier years. Yet almost his last record of a really
delightful evening, refers to a bachelor's dinner given by Mr. Clerk, who
remained unmarried, as late as 1827, after all Sir Walter's worst troubles
had come upon him. "In short," says the diary, "we really laughed, and
real laughter is as rare as real tears. I must say, too, there was a
_heart_, a kindly feeling prevailed over the party. Can London give such a
dinner?"[21] It is clear, then, that Clerk's charm for his friend survived
to the last, and that it was not the mere inexperience of boyhood, which
made Scott esteem him so highly in his early days.

If Clerk pricked, stimulated, and sometimes badgered Scott, another of
his friends who became more and more intimate with him, as life went
on, and who died before him, always soothed him, partly by his
gentleness, partly by his almost feminine dependence. This was William
Erskine, also a barrister, and son of an Episcopalian clergyman in
Perthshire,--to whose influence it is probably due that Scott himself
always read the English Church service in his own country house, and
does not appear to have retained the Presbyterianism into which he was
born. Erskine, who was afterwards raised to the Bench as Lord
Kinnedder--a distinction which he did not survive for many months--was
a good classic, a man of fine, or, as some of his companions thought,
of almost superfine taste. The style apparently for which he had
credit must have been a somewhat mimini-pimini style, if we may judge
by Scott's attempt in _The Bridal of Triermain_, to write in a manner
which he intended to be attributed to his friend. Erskine was left a
widower in middle life, and Scott used to accuse him of philandering
with pretty women,--- a mode of love-making which Scott certainly
contrived to render into verse, in painting Arthur's love-making to
Lucy in that poem. It seems that some absolutely false accusation
brought against Lord Kinnedder, of an intrigue with a lady with whom
he had been thus philandering, broke poor Erskine's heart, during his
first year as a Judge. "The Counsellor (as Scott always called him)
was," says Mr. Lockhart, "a little man of feeble make, who seemed
unhappy when his pony got beyond a footpace, and had never, I should
suppose, addicted himself to any out of door's sports whatever. He
would, I fancy, as soon have thought of slaying his own mutton as of
handling a fowling-piece; he used to shudder when he saw a party
equipped for coursing, as if murder was in the wind; but the cool,
meditative angler was in his eyes the abomination of abominations. His
small elegant features, hectic cheek and soft hazel eyes, were the
index of the quick, sensitive, gentle spirit within." "He would
dismount to lead his horse down what his friend hardly perceived to be
a descent at all; grew pale at a precipice; and, unlike the white lady
of Avenel, would go a long way round for a bridge." He shrank from
general society, and lived in closer intimacies, and his intimacy with
Scott was of the closest. He was Scott's confidant in all literary
matters, and his advice was oftener followed on questions of style and
form, and of literary enterprise, than that of any other of Scott's
friends. It is into Erskine's mouth that Scott puts the supposed
exhortation to himself to choose more classical subjects for his

    "'Approach those masters o'er whose tomb
    Immortal laurels ever bloom;
    Instructive of the feebler bard,
    Still from the grave their voice is heard;
    From them, and from the paths they show'd,
    Choose honour'd guide and practised road;
    Nor ramble on through brake and maze,
    With harpers rude of barbarous days."

And it is to Erskine that Scott replies,--

    "For me, thus nurtured, dost thou ask
    The classic poet's well-conn'd task?
    Nay, Erskine, nay,--on the wild hill
    Let the wild heath-bell flourish still;
    Cherish the tulip, prune the vine,
    But freely let the woodbine twine,
    And leave untrimm'd the eglantine:
    Nay, my friend, nay,--since oft thy praise
    Hath given fresh vigour to my lays;
    Since oft thy judgment could refine
    My flatten'd thought or cumbrous line,
    Still kind, as is thy wont, attend,
    And in the minstrel spare the friend!"

It was Erskine, too, as Scott expressly states in his introduction to
the _Chronicles of the Canongate_, who reviewed with far too much
partiality the _Tales of my Landlord_, in the _Quarterly Review_, for
January, 1817,--a review unjustifiably included among Scott's own
critical essays, on the very insufficient ground that the MS. reached
Murray in Scott's own handwriting. There can, however, be no doubt at
all that Scott copied out his friend's MS., in order to increase the
mystification which he so much enjoyed as to the authorship of his
variously named series of tales. Possibly enough, too, he may have
drawn Erskine's attention to the evidence which justified his sketch
of the Puritans in _Old Mortality_, evidence which he certainly
intended at one time to embody in a reply of his own to the adverse
criticism on that book. But though Erskine was Scott's _alter ego_ for
literary purposes, it is certain that Erskine, with his fastidious,
not to say finical, sense of honour, would never have lent his name to
cover a puff written by Scott of his own works. A man who, in Scott's
own words, died "a victim to a hellishly false story, or rather, I
should say, to the sensibility of his own nature, which could not
endure even the shadow of reproach,--like the ermine, which is said to
pine if its fur is soiled," was not the man to father a puff, even by
his dearest friend, on that friend's own creations. Erskine was indeed
almost feminine in his love of Scott; but he was feminine with all the
irritable and scrupulous delicacy of a man who could not derogate from
his own ideal of right, even to serve a friend.

Another friend of Scott's earlier days was John Leyden, Scott's most
efficient coadjutor in the collection of the _Border Minstrelsy_,--that
eccentric genius, marvellous linguist, and good-natured bear, who, bred a
shepherd in one of the wildest valleys of Roxburghshire, had accumulated
before the age of nineteen an amount of learning which confounded the
Edinburgh Professors, and who, without any previous knowledge of medicine,
prepared himself to pass an examination for the medical profession, at six
months' notice of the offer of an assistant-surgeoncy in the East India
Company. It was Leyden who once walked between forty and fifty miles and
back, for the sole purpose of visiting an old person who possessed a copy
of a border ballad that was wanting for the _Minstrelsy_. Scott was sitting
at dinner one day with company, when he heard a sound at a distance, "like
that of the whistling of a tempest through the torn rigging of a vessel
which scuds before it. The sounds increased as they approached more near;
and Leyden (to the great astonishment of such of the guests as did not know
him) burst into the room chanting the desiderated ballad with the most
enthusiastic gesture, and all the energy of what he used to call the
_saw-tones_ of his voice."[22] Leyden's great antipathy was Ritson, an
ill-conditioned antiquarian, of vegetarian principles, whom Scott alone of
all the antiquarians of that day could manage to tame and tolerate. In
Scott's absence one day, during his early married life at Lasswade, Mrs.
Scott inadvertently offered Ritson a slice of beef, when that strange man
burst out in such outrageous tones at what he chose to suppose an insult,
that Leyden threatened to "thraw his neck" if he were not silent, a threat
which frightened Ritson out of the cottage. On another occasion, simply in
order to tease Ritson, Leyden complained that the meat was overdone, and
sent to the kitchen for a plate of literally raw beef, and ate it up solely
for the purpose of shocking his crazy rival in antiquarian research. Poor
Leyden did not long survive his experience of the Indian climate. And with
him died a passion for knowledge of a very high order, combined with no
inconsiderable poetical gifts. It was in the study of such eccentric beings
as Leyden that Scott doubtless acquired his taste for painting the humours
of Scotch character.

Another wild shepherd, and wilder genius among Scott's associates, not
only in those earlier days, but to the end, was that famous Ettrick
Shepherd, James Hogg, who was always quarrelling with his brother
poet, as far as Scott permitted it, and making it up again when his
better feelings returned. In a shepherd's dress, and with hands fresh
from sheep-shearing, he came to dine for the first time with Scott in
Castle Street, and finding Mrs. Scott lying on the sofa, immediately
stretched himself at full length on another sofa; for, as he explained
afterwards, "I thought I could not do better than to imitate the lady
of the house." At dinner, as the wine passed, he advanced from "Mr.
Scott," to "Shirra" (Sheriff), "Scott," "Walter," and finally
"Wattie," till at supper he convulsed every one by addressing Mrs.
Scott familiarly as "Charlotte."[23] Hogg wrote certain short poems,
the beauty of which in their kind Sir Walter himself never approached;
but he was a man almost without self-restraint or self-knowledge,
though he had a great deal of self-importance, and hardly knew how
much he owed to Scott's magnanimous and ever-forbearing kindness, or
if he did, felt the weight of gratitude a burden on his heart. Very
different was William Laidlaw, a farmer on the banks of the Yarrow,
always Scott's friend, and afterwards his manager at Abbotsford,
through whose hand he dictated many of his novels. Mr. Laidlaw was
one of Scott's humbler friends,--a class of friends with whom he seems
always to have felt more completely at his ease than any others--who
gave at least as much as he received, one of those wise, loyal, and
thoughtful men in a comparatively modest position of life, whom Scott
delighted to trust, and never trusted without finding his trust
justified. In addition to these Scotch friends, Scott had made, even
before the publication of his _Border Minstrelsy_, not a few in London
or its neighbourhood,--of whom the most important at this time was the
grey-eyed, hatchet-faced, courteous George Ellis, as Leyden described
him, the author of various works on ancient English poetry and
romance, who combined with a shrewd, satirical vein, and a great
knowledge of the world, political as well as literary, an exquisite
taste in poetry, and a warm heart. Certainly Ellis's criticism on his
poems was the truest and best that Scott ever received; and had he
lived to read his novels,--only one of which was published before
Ellis's death,--he might have given Scott more useful help than either
Ballantyne or even Erskine.


[Footnote 19: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, i. 214.]

[Footnote 20: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iii. 344.]

[Footnote 21: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ix. 75.]

[Footnote 22: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ii. 56.]

[Footnote 23: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ii. 168-9.]



So completely was Scott by nature an out-of-doors man that he cannot
be adequately known either through his poems or through his friends,
without also knowing his external surroundings and occupations. His
first country home was the cottage at Lasswade, on the Esk, about six
miles from Edinburgh, which he took in 1798, a few months after his
marriage, and retained till 1804. It was a pretty little cottage, in
the beautification of which Scott felt great pride, and where he
exercised himself in the small beginnings of those tastes for altering
and planting which grew so rapidly upon him, and at last enticed him
into castle-building and tree-culture on a dangerous, not to say,
ruinous scale. One of Scott's intimate friends, the master of Rokeby,
by whose house and neighbourhood the poem of that name was suggested,
Mr. Morritt, walked along the Esk in 1808 with Scott four years after
he had left it, and was taken out of his way to see it. "I have been
bringing you," he said, "where there is little enough to be seen, only
that Scotch cottage, but though not worth looking at, I could not pass
it. It was our first country house when newly married, and many a
contrivance it had to make it comfortable. I made a dining-table for
it with my own hands. Look at these two miserable willow-trees on
either side the gate into the enclosure; they are tied together at the
top to be an arch, and a cross made of two sticks over them is not yet
decayed. To be sure it is not much of a lion to show a stranger; but I
wanted to see it again myself, for I assure you that after I had
constructed it, _mamma_ (Mrs. Scott) and I both of us thought it so
fine, we turned out to see it by moonlight, and walked backwards from
it to the cottage-door, in admiration of our own magnificence and its
picturesque effect." It was here at Lasswade that he bought the
phaeton, which was the first wheeled carriage that ever penetrated to
Liddesdale, a feat which it accomplished in the first August of this

When Scott left the cottage at Lasswade in 1804, it was to take up his
country residence in Selkirkshire, of which he had now been made
sheriff, in a beautiful little house belonging to his cousin,
Major-General Sir James Russell, and known to all the readers of
Scott's poetry as the Ashestiel of the _Marmion_ introductions. The
Glenkinnon brook dashes in a deep ravine through the grounds to join
the Tweed; behind the house rise the hills which divide the Tweed from
the Yarrow; and an easy ride took Scott into the scenery of the
Yarrow. The description of Ashestiel, and the brook which runs through
it, in the introduction to the first canto of _Marmion_ is indeed one
of the finest specimens of Scott's descriptive poetry:--

    "November's sky is chill and drear,
    November's leaf is red and sear;
    Late, gazing down the steepy linn,
    That hems our little garden in,
    Low in its dark and narrow glen,
    You scarce the rivulet might ken,
    So thick the tangled greenwood grew,
    So feeble trill'd the streamlet through;
    Now, murmuring hoarse, and frequent seen,
    Through bush and briar no longer green,
    An angry brook, it sweeps the glade,
    Brawls over rock and wild cascade,
    And, foaming brown with doubled speed,
    Hurries its waters to the Tweed."

Selkirk was his nearest town, and that was seven miles from Ashestiel;
and even his nearest neighbour was at Yair, a few miles off lower down
the Tweed,--Yair of which he wrote in another of the introductions to

    "From Yair, which hills so closely bind
    Scarce can the Tweed his passage find,
    Though much he fret, and chafe, and toil,
    Till all his eddying currents boil."

At Ashestiel it was one of his greatest delights to look after his
relative's woods, and to dream of planting and thinning woods of his
own, a dream only too amply realized. It was here that a new
kitchen-range was sunk for some time in the ford, which was so swollen
by a storm in 1805 that the horse and cart that brought it were
themselves with difficulty rescued from the waters. And it was here
that Scott first entered on that active life of literary labour in
close conjunction with an equally active life of rural sport, which
gained him a well-justified reputation as the hardest worker and the
heartiest player in the kingdom. At Lasswade Scott's work had been
done at night; but serious headaches made him change his habit at
Ashestiel, and rise steadily at five, lighting his own fire in winter.
"Arrayed in his shooting-jacket, or whatever dress he meant to use
till dinner-time, he was seated at his desk by six o'clock, all his
papers arranged before him in the most accurate order, and his books
of reference marshalled around him on the floor, while at least one
favourite dog lay watching his eye, just beyond the line of
circumvallation. Thus, by the time the family assembled for breakfast,
between nine and ten, he had done enough, in his own language, 'to
break the neck of the day's work.' After breakfast a couple of hours
more were given to his solitary tasks, and by noon he was, as he used
to say, his 'own man.' When the weather was bad, he would labour
incessantly all the morning; but the general rule was to be out and on
horseback by one o'clock at the latest; while, if any more distant
excursion had been proposed overnight, he was ready to start on it by
ten; his occasional rainy days of unintermitted study, forming, as he
said, a fund in his favour, out of which he was entitled to draw for
accommodation whenever the sun shone with special brightness." In his
earlier days none of his horses liked to be fed except by their
master. When Brown Adam was saddled, and the stable-door opened, the
horse would trot round to the leaping-on stone of his own accord, to
be mounted, and was quite intractable under any one but Scott. Scott's
life might well be fairly divided--just as history is divided into
reigns--by the succession of his horses and dogs. The reigns of
Captain, Lieutenant, Brown Adam, Daisy, divide at least the period up
to Waterloo; while the reigns of Sybil Grey, and the Covenanter, or
Douce Davie, divide the period of Scott's declining years. During the
brilliant period of the earlier novels we hear less of Scott's horses;
but of his deerhounds there is an unbroken succession. Camp, Maida
(the "Bevis" of _Woodstock_), and Nimrod, reigned successively between
Sir Walter's marriage and his death. It was Camp on whose death he
relinquished a dinner invitation previously accepted, on the ground
that the death of "an old friend" rendered him unwilling to dine out;
Maida to whom he erected a marble monument, and Nimrod of whom he
spoke so affectingly as too good a dog for his diminished fortunes
during his absence in Italy on the last hopeless journey.

Scott's amusements at Ashestiel, besides riding, in which he was
fearless to rashness, and coursing, which was the chief form of
sporting in the neighbourhood, comprehended "burning the water," as
salmon-spearing by torchlight was called, in the course of which he
got many a ducking. Mr. Skene gives an amusing picture of their
excursions together from Ashestiel among the hills, he himself
followed by a lanky Savoyard, and Scott by a portly Scotch
butler--both servants alike highly sensitive as to their personal
dignity--on horses which neither of the attendants could sit well.
"Scott's heavy lumbering buffetier had provided himself against the
mountain storms with a huge cloak, which, when the cavalcade was at
gallop, streamed at full stretch from his shoulders, and kept flapping
in the other's face, who, having more than enough to do in preserving
his own equilibrium, could not think of attempting at any time to
control the pace of his steed, and had no relief but fuming and
_pesting_ at the _sacré manteau_, in language happily unintelligible
to its wearer. Now and then some ditch or turf-fence rendered it
indispensable to adventure on a leap, and no farce could have been
more amusing than the display of politeness which then occurred
between these worthy equestrians, each courteously declining in favour
of his friend the honour of the first experiment, the horses fretting
impatient beneath them, and the dogs clamouring encouragement."[24]
Such was Scott's order of life at Ashestiel, where he remained from
1804 to 1812. As to his literary work here, it was enormous.

Besides finishing _The Lay of the Last Minstrel_, writing _Marmion_,
_The Lady of the Lake_, part of _The Bridal of Triermain_, and part of
_Rokeby_, and writing reviews, he wrote a _Life of Dryden_, and edited
his works anew with some care, in eighteen volumes, edited _Somers's
Collection of Tracts_, in thirteen volumes, quarto, _Sir Ralph
Sadler's Life, Letters, and State Papers_, in three volumes, quarto,
_Miss Seward's Life and Poetical Works_, _The Secret History of the
Court of James I_., in two volumes, _Strutt's Queenhoo Hall_, in four
volumes, 12mo., and various other single volumes, and began his heavy
work on the edition of Swift. This was the literary work of eight
years, during which he had the duties of his Sheriffship, and, after
he gave up his practice as a barrister, the duties of his Deputy
Clerkship of Session to discharge regularly. The editing of Dryden
alone would have seemed to most men of leisure a pretty full
occupation for these eight years, and though I do not know that Scott
edited with the anxious care with which that sort of work is often now
prepared, that he went into all the arguments for a doubtful reading
with the pains that Mr. Dyce spent on the various readings of
Shakespeare, or that Mr. Spedding spent on a various reading of Bacon,
yet Scott did his work in a steady, workmanlike manner, which
satisfied the most fastidious critics of that day, and he was never, I
believe, charged with hurrying or scamping it. His biographies of
Swift and Dryden are plain solid pieces of work--not exactly the works
of art which biographies have been made in our day--not comparable to
Carlyle's studies of Cromwell or Frederick, or, in point of art, even
to the life of John Sterling, but still sensible and interesting,
sound in judgment, and animated in style.


[Footnote 24: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ii. 268-9.]



In May, 1812, Scott having now at last obtained the salary of the
Clerkship of Session, the work of which he had for more than five
years discharged without pay, indulged himself in realizing his
favourite dream of buying a "mountain farm" at Abbotsford,--five miles
lower down the Tweed than his cottage at Ashestiel, which was now
again claimed by the family of Russell,--and migrated thither with his
household goods. The children long remembered the leave-taking as one
of pure grief, for the villagers were much attached both to Scott and
to his wife, who had made herself greatly beloved by her untiring
goodness to the sick among her poor neighbours. But Scott himself
describes the migration as a scene in which their neighbours found no
small share of amusement. "Our flitting and removal from Ashestiel
baffled all description; we had twenty-five cartloads of the veriest
trash in nature, besides dogs, pigs, ponies, poultry, cows, calves,
bare-headed wenches, and bare-breeched boys."[25]

To another friend Scott wrote that the neighbours had "been much
delighted with the procession of my furniture, in which old swords,
bows, targets, and lances, made a very conspicuous show. A family of
turkeys was accommodated within the helmet of some _preux chevalier_
of ancient border fame; and the very cows, for aught I know, were
bearing banners and muskets. I assure your ladyship that this caravan
attended by a dozen of ragged rosy peasant children, carrying
fishing-rods and spears, and leading ponies, greyhounds, and spaniels,
would, as it crossed the Tweed, have furnished no bad subject for the
pencil, and really reminded me of one of the gipsy groups of Callot
upon their march."[26]

The place thus bought for 4000_l._,--half of which, according to Scott's
bad and sanguine habit, was borrowed from his brother, and half raised on
the security of a poem at the moment of sale wholly unwritten, and not
completed even when he removed to Abbotsford--"Rokeby"--became only too
much of an idol for the rest of Scott's life. Mr. Lockhart admits that
before the crash came he had invested 29,000_l._ in the purchase of land
alone. But at this time only the kernel of the subsequent estate was
bought, in the shape of a hundred acres or rather more, part of which ran
along the shores of the Tweed--"a beautiful river flowing broad and bright
over a bed of milk-white pebbles, unless here and there where it darkened
into a deep pool, overhung as yet only by birches and alders." There was
also a poor farm-house, a staring barn, and a pond so dirty that it had
hitherto given the name of "Clarty Hole" to the place itself. Scott
renamed the place from the adjoining ford which was just above the
confluence of the Gala with the Tweed. He chose the name of Abbotsford
because the land had formerly all belonged to the Abbots of Melrose,--the
ruin of whose beautiful abbey was visible from many parts of the little
property. On the other side of the river the old British barrier called
"the Catrail" was full in view. As yet the place was not planted,--the
only effort made in this direction by its former owner, Dr. Douglas,
having been a long narrow stripe of firs, which Scott used to compare to a
black hair-comb, and which gave the name of "The Doctor's Redding-Kame" to
the stretch of woods of which it is still the central line. Such was the
place which he made it the too great delight of the remainder of his life
to increase and beautify, by spending on it a good deal more than he had
earned, and that too in times when he should have earned a good deal more
than he ought to have thought even for a moment of spending. The cottage
grew to a mansion, and the mansion to a castle. The farm by the Tweed made
him long for a farm by the Cauldshiel's loch, and the farm by the
Cauldshiel's loch for Thomas the Rhymer's Glen; and as, at every step in
the ladder, his means of buying were really increasing--though they were
so cruelly discounted and forestalled by this growing land-hunger,--Scott
never realized into what troubles he was carefully running himself.

Of his life at Abbotsford at a later period when his building was
greatly enlarged, and his children grown up, we have a brilliant
picture from the pen of Mr. Lockhart. And though it does not belong to
his first years at Abbotsford, I cannot do better than include it here
as conveying probably better than anything I could elsewhere find, the
charm of that ideal life which lured Scott on from one project to
another in that scheme of castle-building, in relation to which he
confused so dangerously the world of dreams with the harder world of
wages, capital, interest, and rent.

     "I remember saying to William Allan one morning, as the
     whole party mustered before the porch after breakfast, 'A
     faithful sketch of what you at this moment see would be more
     interesting a hundred years hence than the grandest
     so-called historical picture that you will ever exhibit in
     Somerset House;' and my friend agreed with me so cordially
     that I often wondered afterwards he had not attempted to
     realize the suggestion. The subject ought, however, to have
     been treated conjointly by him (or Wilkie) and Edwin

     "It was a clear, bright September morning, with a sharpness
     in the air that doubled the animating influence of the
     sunshine, and all was in readiness for a grand coursing
     match on Newark Hill. The only guest who had chalked out
     other sport for himself was the staunchest of anglers, Mr.
     Rose; but he too was there on his _shelty_, armed with his
     salmon-rod and landing-net, and attended by his humorous
     squire, Hinves, and Charlie Purdie, a brother of Tom, in
     those days the most celebrated fisherman of the district.
     This little group of Waltonians, bound for Lord Somerville's
     preserve, remained lounging about to witness the start of
     the main cavalcade. Sir Walter, mounted on Sybil, was
     marshalling the order of procession with a huge
     hunting-whip; and among a dozen frolicsome youths and
     maidens, who seemed disposed to laugh at all discipline,
     appeared, each on horseback, each as eager as the youngest
     sportsman in the troop, Sir Humphry Davy, Dr. Wollaston, and
     the patriarch of Scottish _belles lettres_, Henry Mackenzie.
     The Man of Feeling, however, was persuaded with some
     difficulty to resign his steed for the present to his
     faithful negro follower, and to join Lady Scott in the
     sociable, until we should reach the ground of our _battue_.
     Laidlaw, on a long-tailed, wiry Highlander, yclept Hoddin
     Grey, which carried him nimbly and stoutly, although his
     feet almost touched the ground as he sat, was the adjutant.
     But the most picturesque figure was the illustrious inventor
     of the safety-lamp. He had come for his favourite sport of
     angling, and had been practising it successfully with Rose,
     his travelling-companion, for two or three days preceding
     this, but he had not prepared for coursing fields, and had
     left Charlie Purdie's troop for Sir Walter's on a sudden
     thought; and his fisherman's costume--a brown hat with
     flexible brim, surrounded with line upon line, and
     innumerable fly-hooks, jack-boots worthy of a Dutch
     smuggler, and a fustian surtout dabbled with the blood of
     salmon,--made a fine contrast with the smart jackets, white
     cord breeches, and well-polished jockey-boots of the less
     distinguished cavaliers about him. Dr. Wollaston was in
     black, and, with his noble, serene dignity of countenance,
     might have passed for a sporting archbishop. Mr. Mackenzie,
     at this time in the seventy-sixth year of his age, with a
     white hat turned up with green, green spectacles, green
     jacket, and long brown leather gaiters buttoned upon his
     nether anatomy, wore a dog-whistle round his neck, and had
     all over the air of as resolute a devotee as the gay captain
     of Huntly Burn. Tom Purdie and his subalterns had preceded
     us by a few hours with all the greyhounds that could be
     collected at Abbotsford, Darnick, and Melrose; but the giant
     Maida had remained as his master's orderly, and now
     gambolled about Sibyl Grey, barking for mere joy, like a
     spaniel puppy.

     "The order of march had been all settled, and the sociable
     was just getting under weigh, when _the Lady Anne_ broke
     from the line, screaming with laughter, and exclaimed,
     'Papa! papa! I know you could never think of going without
     your pet.' Scott looked round, and I rather think there was
     a blush as well as a smile upon his face, when he perceived
     a little black pig frisking about his pony, and evidently a
     self-elected addition to the party of the day. He tried to
     look stern, and cracked his whip at the creature, but was in
     a moment obliged to join in the general cheers. Poor piggy
     soon found a strap round his neck, and was dragged into the
     background. Scott, watching the retreat, repeated with mock
     pathos the first verse of an old pastoral song:--

         "What will I do gin my hoggie die?
            My joy, my pride, my hoggie!
          My only beast, I had nae mae,
            And wow! but I was vogie!"

     The cheers were redoubled, and the squadron moved on. This
     pig had taken, nobody could tell how, a most sentimental
     attachment to Scott, and was constantly urging its
     pretension to be admitted a regular member of his _tail_,
     along with the greyhounds and terriers; but indeed I
     remember him suffering another summer under the same sort of
     pertinacity on the part of an affectionate hen. I leave the
     explanation for philosophers; but such were the facts. I
     have too much respect for the vulgarly calumniated donkey to
     name him in the same category of pets with the pig and the
     hen; but a year or two after this time, my wife used to
     drive a couple of these animals in a little garden chair,
     and whenever her father appeared at the door of our cottage,
     we were sure to see Hannah More and Lady Morgan (as Anne
     Scott had wickedly christened them) trotting from their
     pasture to lay their noses over the paling, and, as
     Washington Irving says of the old white-haired hedger with
     the Parisian snuff-box, 'to have a pleasant crack wi' the

Carlyle, in his criticism on Scott--a criticism which will hardly, I
think, stand the test of criticism in its turn, so greatly does he
overdo the reaction against the first excessive appreciation of his
genius--adds a contribution of his own to this charming idyll, in
reference to the natural fascination which Scott seemed to exert over
almost all dumb creatures. A little Blenheim cocker, "one of the
smallest, beautifullest, and tiniest of lapdogs," with which Carlyle
was well acquainted, and which was also one of the shyest of dogs,
that would crouch towards his mistress and draw back "with angry
timidity" if any one did but look at him admiringly, once met in the
street "a tall, singular, busy-looking man," who halted by. The dog
ran towards him and began "fawning, frisking, licking at his feet;"
and every time he saw Sir Walter afterwards, in Edinburgh, he
repeated his demonstration of delight. Thus discriminating was this
fastidious Blenheim cocker even in the busy streets of Edinburgh.

And Scott's attraction for dumb animals was only a lesser form of his
attraction for all who were in any way dependent on him, especially
his own servants and labourers. The story of his demeanour towards
them is one of the most touching ever written. "Sir Walter speaks to
every man as if they were blood-relations" was the common _formula_ in
which this demeanour was described. Take this illustration. There was
a little hunchbacked tailor, named William Goodfellow, living on his
property (but who at Abbotsford was termed Robin Goodfellow). This
tailor was employed to make the curtains for the new library, and had
been very proud of his work, but fell ill soon afterwards, and Sir
Walter was unremitting in his attention to him. "I can never forget,"
says Mr. Lockhart, "the evening on which the poor tailor died. When
Scott entered the hovel, he found everything silent, and inferred from
the looks of the good women in attendance that the patient had fallen
asleep, and that they feared his sleep was the final one. He murmured
some syllables of kind regret: at the sound of his voice the dying
tailor unclosed his eyes, and eagerly and wistfully sat up, clasping
his hands with an expression of rapturous gratefulness and devotion
that, in the midst of deformity, disease, pain, and wretchedness, was
at once beautiful and sublime. He cried with a loud voice, 'The Lord
bless and reward you!' and expired with the effort."[28] Still more
striking is the account of his relation with Tom Purdie, the
wide-mouthed, under-sized, broad-shouldered, square-made,
thin-flanked woodsman, so well known afterwards by all Scott's friends
as he waited for his master in his green shooting-jacket, white hat,
and drab trousers. Scott first made Tom Purdie's acquaintance in his
capacity as judge, the man being brought before him for poaching, at
the time that Scott was living at Ashestiel. Tom gave so touching an
account of his circumstances--work scarce--wife and children in
want--grouse abundant--and his account of himself was so fresh and
even humorous, that Scott let him off the penalty, and made him his
shepherd. He discharged these duties so faithfully that he came to be
his master's forester and factotum, and indeed one of his best
friends, though a little disposed to tyrannize over Scott in his own
fashion. A visitor describes him as unpacking a box of new
importations for his master "as if he had been sorting some toys for a
restless child." But after Sir Walter had lost the bodily strength
requisite for riding, and was too melancholy for ordinary
conversation, Tom Purdie's shoulder was his great stay in wandering
through his woods, for with him he felt that he might either speak or
be silent at his pleasure. "What a blessing there is," Scott wrote in
his diary at that time, "in a fellow like Tom, whom no familiarity can
spoil, whom you may scold and praise and joke with, knowing the
quality of the man is unalterable in his love and reverence to his
master." After Scott's failure, Mr. Lockhart writes: "Before I leave
this period, I must note how greatly I admired the manner in which all
his dependents appeared to have met the reverse of his fortunes--a
reverse which inferred very considerable alteration in the
circumstances of every one of them. The butler, instead of being the
easy chief of a large establishment, was now doing half the work of
the house at probably half his former wages. Old Peter, who had been
for five and twenty years a dignified coachman, was now ploughman in
ordinary, only putting his horses to the carriage upon high and rare
occasions; and so on with all the rest that remained of the ancient
train. And all, to my view, seemed happier than they had ever done
before."[29] The illustration of this true confidence between Scott
and his servants and labourers might be extended to almost any length.


[Footnote 25: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iv. 6.]

[Footnote 26: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iv. 3.]

[Footnote 27: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, vi. 238--242.]

[Footnote 28: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, vii. 218.]

[Footnote 29: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ix. 170.]



Before I make mention of Scott's greatest works, his novels, I must
say a few words of his relation to the Ballantyne Brothers, who
involved him, and were involved by him, in so many troubles, and with
whose name the story of his broken fortunes is inextricably bound up.
James Ballantyne, the elder brother, was a schoolfellow of Scott's at
Kelso, and was the editor and manager of the _Kelso Mail_, an
anti-democratic journal, which had a fair circulation. Ballantyne was
something of an artist as regarded "type," and Scott got him therefore
to print his _Minstrelsy of the Border_, the excellent workmanship of
which attracted much attention in London. In 1802, on Scott's
suggestion, Ballantyne moved to Edinburgh; and to help him to move,
Scott, who was already meditating some investment of his little
capital in business other than literary, lent him 500l. Between this
and 1805, when Scott first became a partner of Ballantyne's in the
printing business, he used every exertion to get legal and literary
printing offered to James Ballantyne, and, according to Mr. Lockhart,
the concern "grew and prospered." At Whitsuntide, 1805, when _The Lay_
had been published, but before Scott had the least idea of the
prospects of gain which mere literature would open to him, he
formally, though secretly, joined Ballantyne as a partner in the
printing business. He explains his motives for this step, so far at
least as he then recalled them, in a letter written after his
misfortunes, in 1826. "It is easy," he said, "no doubt for any friend
to blame me for entering into connexion with commercial matters at
all. But I wish to know what I could have done better--excluded from
the bar, and then from all profits for six years, by my colleague's
prolonged life. Literature was not in those days what poor Constable
has made it; and with my little capital I was too glad to make
commercially the means of supporting my family. I got but 600_l._ for
_The Lay of the Last Minstrel_, and--it was a price that made men's
hair stand on end--1000_l._ for _Marmion_. I have been far from
suffering by James Ballantyne. I owe it to him to say, that his
difficulties, as well as his advantages, are owing to me."

This, though a true, was probably a very imperfect account of Scott's
motives. He ceased practising at the bar, I do not doubt, in great
degree from a kind of hurt pride at his ill-success, at a time when he
felt during every month more and more confidence in his own powers. He
believed, with some justice, that he understood some of the secrets of
popularity in literature, but he had always, till towards the end of
his life, the greatest horror of resting on literature alone as his
main resource; and he was not a man, nor was Lady Scott a woman, to
pinch and live narrowly. Were it only for his lavish generosity, that
kind of life would have been intolerable to him. Hence, he reflected,
that if he could but use his literary instinct to feed some commercial
undertaking, managed by a man he could trust, he might gain a
considerable percentage on his little capital, without so embarking in
commerce as to oblige him either to give up his status as a sheriff,
or his official duties as a clerk of session, or his literary
undertakings. In his old schoolfellow, James Ballantyne, he believed
he had found just such an agent as he wanted, the requisite link
between literary genius like his own, and the world which reads and
buys books; and he thought that, by feeling his way a little, he might
secure, through this partnership, besides the then very bare rewards
of authorship, at least a share in those more liberal rewards which
commercial men managed to squeeze for themselves out of successful
authors. And, further, he felt--and this was probably the greatest
unconscious attraction for him in this scheme--that with James
Ballantyne for his partner he should be the real leader and chief, and
rather in the position of a patron and benefactor of his colleague,
than of one in any degree dependent on the generosity or approval of
others. "If I have a very strong passion in the world," he once wrote
of himself--and the whole story of his life seems to confirm it--"it
is pride."[30] In James Ballantyne he had a faithful, but almost humble
friend, with whom he could deal much as he chose, and fear no wound to
his pride. He had himself helped Ballantyne to a higher line of
business than any hitherto aspired to by him. It was his own book
which first got the Ballantyne press its public credit. And if he
could but create a great commercial success upon this foundation, he
felt that he should be fairly entitled to share in the gains, which
not merely his loan of capital, but his foresight and courage had
opened to Ballantyne.

And it is quite possible that Scott might have succeeded--or at all
events not seriously failed--if he had been content to stick to the
printing firm of James Ballantyne and Co., and had not launched also
into the bookselling and publishing firm of John Ballantyne and Co.,
or had never begun the wild and dangerous practice of forestalling his
gains, and spending wealth which he had not earned. But when by way of
feeding the printing press of James Ballantyne and Co., he started in
1809 the bookselling and publishing firm of John Ballantyne and Co.,
using as his agent a man as inferior in sterling worth to James, as
James was inferior in general ability to himself, he carefully dug a
mine under his own feet, of which we can only say, that nothing except
his genius could have prevented it from exploding long before it did.
The truth was evidently that James Ballantyne's respectful homage, and
John's humorous appreciation, all but blinded Scott's eyes to the
utter inadequacy of either of these men, especially the latter, to
supply the deficiencies of his own character for conducting business
of this kind with proper discretion. James Ballantyne, who was pompous
and indolent, though thoroughly honest, and not without some
intellectual insight, Scott used to call Aldiborontiphoscophornio.
John, who was clever but frivolous, dissipated, and tricksy, he termed
Rigdumfunnidos, or his "little Picaroon." It is clear from Mr.
Lockhart's account of the latter that Scott not only did not respect,
but despised him, though he cordially liked him, and that he passed
over, in judging him, vices which in a brother or son of his own he
would severely have rebuked. I believe myself that his liking for
co-operation with both, was greatly founded on his feeling that they
were simply creatures of his, to whom he could pretty well dictate
what he wanted,--colleagues whose inferiority to himself unconsciously
flattered his pride. He was evidently inclined to resent bitterly the
patronage of publishers. He sent word to Blackwood once with great
hauteur, after some suggestion from that house had been made to him
which appeared to him to interfere with his independence as an author,
that he was one of "the Black Hussars" of literature, who would not
endure that sort of treatment. Constable, who was really very liberal,
hurt his sensitive pride through the _Edinburgh Review_, of which
Jeffrey was editor. Thus the Ballantynes' great deficiency--that
neither of them had any independent capacity for the publishing
business, which would in any way hamper his discretion--though this is
just what commercial partners ought to have had, or they were not
worth their salt,--was, I believe, precisely what induced this Black
Hussar of literature, in spite of his otherwise considerable sagacity
and knowledge of human nature, to select them for partners.

And yet it is strange that he not only chose them, but chose the
inferior and lighter-headed of the two for far the most important and
difficult of the two businesses. In the printing concern there was at
least this to be said, that of part of the business--the selection of
type and the superintendence of the executive part,--James Ballantyne
was a good judge. He was never apparently a good man of business, for
he kept no strong hand over the expenditure and accounts, which is the
core of success in every concern. But he understood types; and his
customers were publishers, a wealthy and judicious class, who were not
likely all to fail together. But to select a "Rigdumfunnidos,"--a
dissipated comic-song singer and horse-fancier,--for the head of a
publishing concern, was indeed a kind of insanity. It is told of John
Ballantyne, that after the successful negotiation with Constable for
_Rob Roy_, and while "hopping up and down in his glee," he exclaimed,
"'Is Rob's gun here, Mr. Scott? Would you object to my trying the old
barrel with a _few de joy_?' 'Nay, Mr. Puff,' said Scott, 'it would
burst and blow you to the devil before your time.' 'Johnny, my man,'
said Constable, 'what the mischief puts drawing at sight into _your_
head?' Scott laughed heartily at this innuendo; and then observing
that the little man felt somewhat sore, called attention to the notes
of a bird in the adjoining shrubbery. 'And by-the-bye,' said he, as
they continued listening, ''tis a long time, Johnny, since we have had
"The Cobbler of Kelso."' Mr. Puff forthwith jumped up on a mass of
stone, and seating himself in the proper attitude of one working with
an awl, began a favourite interlude, mimicking a certain son of
Crispin, at whose stall Scott and he had often lingered when they were
schoolboys, and a blackbird, the only companion of his cell, that used
to sing to him while he talked and whistled to it all day long. With
this performance Scott was always delighted. Nothing could be richer
than the contrast of the bird's wild, sweet notes, some of which he
imitated with wonderful skill, and the accompaniment of the cobbler's
hoarse, cracked voice, uttering all manner of endearing epithets,
which Johnny multiplied and varied in a style worthy of the old women
in Rabelais at the birth of Pantagruel."[31] That passage gives
precisely the kind of estimation in which John Ballantyne was held
both by Scott and Constable. And yet it was to him that Scott
entrusted the dangerous and difficult duty of setting up a new
publishing house as a rival to the best publishers of the day. No
doubt Scott really relied on his own judgment for working the
publishing house. But except where his own books were concerned, no
judgment could have been worse. In the first place he was always
wanting to do literary jobs for a friend, and so advised the
publishing of all sorts of unsaleable books, because his friends
desired to write them. In the next place, he was a genuine historian,
and one of the antiquarian kind himself; he was himself really
interested in all sorts of historical and antiquarian issues,--and
very mistakenly gave the public credit for wishing to know what he
himself wished to know. I should add that Scott's good nature and
kindness of heart not only led him to help on many books which he knew
in himself could never answer, and some which, as he well knew, would
be altogether worthless, but that it greatly biassed his own
intellectual judgment. Nothing can be plainer than that he really held
his intimate friend, Joanna Baillie, a very great dramatic poet, a
much greater poet than himself, for instance; one fit to be even
mentioned as following--at a distance--in the track of Shakespeare. He
supposes Erskine to exhort him thus:--

    "Or, if to touch such chord be thine,
    Restore the ancient tragic line,
    And emulate the notes that rung
    From the wild harp which silent hung
    By silver Avon's holy shore,
    Till twice a hundred years roll'd o'er,--
    When she, the bold enchantress, came
    With fearless hand and heart on flame,
    From the pale willow snatch'd the treasure,
    And swept it with a kindred measure,
    Till Avon's swans, while rung the grove
    With Montfort's hate and Basil's love,
    Awakening at the inspired strain,
    Deem'd their own Shakespeare lived again."

Avon's swans must have been Avon's geese, I think, if they had deemed
anything of the kind. Joanna Baillie's dramas are "nice," and rather
dull; now and then she can write a song with the ease and sweetness
that suggest Shakespearian echoes. But Scott's judgment was obviously
blinded by his just and warm regard for Joanna Baillie herself.

Of course with such interfering causes to bring unsaleable books to
the house--of course I do not mean that John Ballantyne and Co.
published for Joanna Baillie, or that they would have lost by it if
they had--the new firm published all sorts of books which did not sell
at all; while John Ballantyne himself indulged in a great many
expenses and dissipations, for which John Ballantyne and Co. had to
pay. Nor was it very easy for a partner who himself drew bills on the
future--even though he were the well-spring of all the paying business
the company had--to be very severe on a fellow-partner who supplied
his pecuniary needs in the same way. At all events, there is no
question that all through 1813 and 1814 Scott was kept in constant
suspense and fear of bankruptcy, by the ill-success of John Ballantyne
and Co., and the utter want of straightforwardness in John Ballantyne
himself as to the bills out, and which had to be provided against. It
was the publication of _Waverley_, and the consequent opening up of
the richest vein not only in Scott's own genius, but in his popularity
with the public, which alone ended these alarms; and the many
unsaleable works of John Ballantyne and Co. were then gradually
disposed of to Constable and others, to their own great loss, as part
of the conditions on which they received a share in the copyright of
the wonderful novels which sold like wildfire. But though in this way
the publishing business of John Ballantyne and Co. was saved, and its
affairs pretty decently wound up, the printing firm remained saddled
with some of their obligations; while Constable's business, on which
Scott depended for the means with which he was buying his estate,
building his castle, and settling money on his daughter-in-law, was
seriously injured by the purchase of all this unsaleable stock.

I do not think that any one who looks into the complicated controversy
between the representatives of the Ballantynes and Mr. Lockhart,
concerning these matters, can be content with Mr. Lockhart's--no doubt
perfectly sincere--judgment on the case. It is obvious that amidst
these intricate accounts, he fell into one or two serious
blunders--blunders very unjust to James Ballantyne. And without
pretending to have myself formed any minute judgment on the details, I
think the following points clear:--(1.) That James Ballantyne was very
severely judged by Mr. Lockhart, on grounds which were never alleged
by Scott against him at all,--indeed on grounds on which he was
expressly exempted from all blame by Sir Walter. (2.) That Sir Walter
Scott was very severely judged by the representatives of the
Ballantynes, on grounds on which James Ballantyne himself never
brought any charge against him; on the contrary, he declared that he
had no charge to bring. (3.) That both Scott and his partners invited
ruin by freely spending gains which they only expected to earn, and
that in this Scott certainly set an example which he could hardly
expect feebler men not to follow. On the whole, I think the troubles
with the Ballantyne brothers brought to light not only that eager
gambling spirit in him, which his grandfather indulged with better
success and more moderation when he bought the hunter with money
destined for a flock of sheep, and then gave up gambling for ever, but
a tendency still more dangerous, and in some respects involving an
even greater moral defect,--I mean a tendency, chiefly due, I think,
to a very deep-seated pride,--to prefer inferior men as working
colleagues in business. And yet it is clear that if Scott were to
dabble in publishing at all, he really needed the check of men of
larger experience, and less literary turn of mind. The great majority
of consumers of popular literature are not, and indeed will hardly
ever be, literary men; and that is precisely why a publisher who is
not, in the main, literary,--who looks on authors' MSS. for the most
part with distrust and suspicion, much as a rich man looks at a
begging-letter, or a sober and judicious fish at an angler's fly,--is
so much less likely to run aground than such a man as Scott. The
untried author should be regarded by a wise publisher as a natural
enemy,--an enemy indeed of a class, rare specimens whereof will always
be his best friends, and who, therefore, should not be needlessly
affronted--but also as one of a class of whom nineteen out of every
twenty will dangle before the publisher's eyes wiles and hopes and
expectations of the most dangerous and illusory character,--which
constitute indeed the very perils that it is his true function in life
skilfully to evade. The Ballantynes were quite unfit for this
function; first, they had not the experience requisite for it; next,
they were altogether too much under Scott's influence. No wonder that
the partnership came to no good, and left behind it the germs of
calamity even more serious still.


[Footnote 30: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, viii. 221.]

[Footnote 31: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, v. 218.]



In the summer of 1814, Scott took up again and completed--almost at a
single heat,--a fragment of a Jacobite story, begun in 1805 and then
laid aside. It was published anonymously, and its astonishing success
turned back again the scales of Scott's fortunes, already inclining
ominously towards a catastrophe. This story was _Waverley_. Mr.
Carlyle has praised _Waverley_ above its fellows. "On the whole,
contrasting _Waverley_, which was carefully written, with most of its
followers which were written extempore, one may regret the extempore
method." This is, however, a very unfortunate judgment. Not one of the
whole series of novels appears to have been written more completely
extempore than the great bulk of _Waverley_, including almost
everything that made it either popular with the million or fascinating
to the fastidious; and it is even likely that this is one of the
causes of its excellence.

"The last two volumes," says Scott, in a letter to Mr. Morritt, "were
written in three weeks." And here is Mr. Lockhart's description of the
effect which Scott's incessant toil during the composition, produced
on a friend whose window happened to command the novelist's study:--

     "Happening to pass through Edinburgh in June, 1814, I dined
     one day with the gentleman in question (now the Honourable
     William Menzies, one of the Supreme Judges at the Cape of
     Good Hope), whose residence was then in George Street,
     situated very near to, and at right angles with, North
     Castle Street. It was a party of very young persons, most of
     them, like Menzies and myself, destined for the Bar of
     Scotland, all gay and thoughtless, enjoying the first flush
     of manhood, with little remembrance of the yesterday, or
     care of the morrow. When my companion's worthy father and
     uncle, after seeing two or three bottles go round, left the
     juveniles to themselves, the weather being hot, we adjourned
     to a library which had one large window looking northwards.
     After carousing here for an hour or more, I observed that a
     shade had come over the aspect of my friend, who happened to
     be placed immediately opposite to myself, and said something
     that intimated a fear of his being unwell. 'No,' said he, 'I
     shall be well enough presently, if you will only let me sit
     where you are, and take my chair; for there is a confounded
     hand in sight of me here, which has often bothered me
     before, and now it won't let me fill my glass with a good
     will.' I rose to change places with him accordingly, and he
     pointed out to me this hand, which, like the writing on
     Belshazzar's wall, disturbed his hour of hilarity. 'Since we
     sat down,' he said, 'I have been watching it--it fascinates
     my eye--it never stops--page after page is finished, and
     thrown on that heap of MS., and still it goes on unwearied;
     and so it will be till candles are brought in, and God knows
     how long after that. It is the same every night--I can't
     stand a sight of it when I am not at my books.' 'Some
     stupid, dogged engrossing clerk, probably,' exclaimed
     myself, 'or some other giddy youth in our society.' 'No,
     boys,' said our host; 'I well know what hand it is--'tis
     Walter Scott's.'"[32]

If that is not extempore writing, it is difficult to say what
extempore writing is. But in truth, there is no evidence that any one
of the novels was laboured, or even so much as carefully composed.
Scott's method of composition was always the same; and, when writing
an imaginative work, the rate of progress seems to have been pretty
even, depending much more on the absence of disturbing engagements,
than on any mental irregularity. The morning was always his brightest
time; but morning or evening, in country or in town, well or ill,
writing with his own pen or dictating to an amanuensis in the
intervals of screaming-fits due to the torture of cramp in the
stomach, Scott spun away at his imaginative web almost as evenly as a
silkworm spins at its golden cocoon. Nor can I detect the slightest
trace of any difference in quality between the stories, such as can be
reasonably ascribed to comparative care or haste. There are
differences, and even great differences, of course, ascribable to the
less or greater suitability of the subject chosen to Scott's genius,
but I can find no trace of the sort of cause to which Mr. Carlyle
refers. Thus, few, I suppose, would hesitate to say that while _Old
Mortality_ is very near, if not quite, the finest of Scott's works,
_The Black Dwarf_ is not far from the other end of the scale. Yet the
two were written in immediate succession (_The Black Dwarf_ being the
first of the two), and were published together, as the first series of
_Tales of my Landlord_, in 1816. Nor do I think that any competent
critic would find any clear deterioration of quality in the novels of
the later years,--excepting of course the two written after the stroke
of paralysis. It is true, of course, that some of the subjects which
most powerfully stirred his imagination were among his earlier themes,
and that he could not effectually use the same subject twice, though
he now and then tried it. But making allowance for this
consideration, the imaginative power of the novels is as astonishingly
_even_ as the rate of composition itself. For my own part, I greatly
prefer _The Fortunes of Nigel_ (which was written in 1822) to
_Waverley_ which was begun in 1805, and finished in 1814, and though
very many better critics would probably decidedly disagree, I do not
think that any of them would consider this preference grotesque or
purely capricious. Indeed, though _Anne of Geierstein_,--the last
composed before Scott's stroke,--would hardly seem to any careful
judge the equal of _Waverley_, I do not much doubt that if it had
appeared in place of _Waverley_, it would have excited very nearly as
much interest and admiration; nor that had _Waverley_ appeared in
1829, in place of _Anne of Geierstein_, it would have failed to excite
very much more. In these fourteen most effective years of Scott's
literary life, during which he wrote twenty-three novels besides
shorter tales, the best stories appear to have been on the whole the
most rapidly written, probably because they took the strongest hold of
the author's imagination.

Till near the close of his career as an author, Scott never avowed his
responsibility for any of these series of novels, and even took some
pains to mystify the public as to the identity between the author of
_Waverley_ and the author of _Tales of my Landlord_. The care with
which the secret was kept is imputed by Mr. Lockhart in some degree to
the habit of mystery which had grown upon Scott during his secret
partnership with the Ballantynes; but in this he seems to be
confounding two very different phases of Scott's character. No doubt
he was, as a professional man, a little ashamed of his commercial
speculation, and unwilling to betray it. But he was far from ashamed
of his literary enterprise, though it seems that he was at first very
anxious lest a comparative failure, or even a mere moderate success,
in a less ambitious sphere than that of poetry, should endanger the
great reputation he had gained as a poet. That was apparently the
first reason for secrecy. But, over and above this, it is clear that
the mystery stimulated Scott's imagination and saved him trouble as
well. He was obviously more free under the veil--free from the
liability of having to answer for the views of life or history
suggested in his stories; but besides this, what was of more
importance to him, the slight disguise stimulated his sense of humour,
and gratified the whimsical, boyish pleasure which he always had in
acting an imaginary character. He used to talk of himself as a sort of
Abou Hassan--a private man one day, and acting the part of a monarch
the next--with the kind of glee which indicated a real delight in the
change of parts, and I have little doubt that he threw himself with
the more gusto into characters very different from his own, in
consequence of the pleasure it gave him to conceive his friends
hopelessly misled by this display of traits, with which he supposed
that they could not have credited him even in imagination. Thus
besides relieving him of a host of compliments which he did not enjoy,
and enabling him the better to evade an ill-bred curiosity, the
disguise no doubt was the same sort of fillip to the fancy which a
mask and domino or a fancy dress are to that of their wearers. Even in
a disguise a man cannot cease to be himself; but he can get rid of his
improperly "imputed" righteousness--often the greatest burden he has
to bear--and of all the expectations formed on the strength, as Mr.
Clough says,--

                    "Of having been what one has been,
    What one thinks one is, or thinks that others suppose one."

To some men the freedom of this disguise is a real danger and
temptation. It never could have been so to Scott, who was in the main
one of the simplest as well as the boldest and proudest of men. And as
most men perhaps would admit that a good deal of even the best part of
their nature is rather suppressed than expressed by the name by which
they are known in the world, Scott must have felt this in a far higher
degree, and probably regarded the manifold characters under which he
was known to society, as representing him in some respects more justly
than any individual name could have done. His mind ranged hither and
thither over a wide field--far beyond that of his actual
experience,--and probably ranged over it all the more easily for not
being absolutely tethered to a single class of associations by any
public confession of his authorship. After all, when it became
universally known that Scott was the only author of all these tales,
it may be doubted whether the public thought as adequately of the
imaginative efforts which had created them, as they did while they
remained in some doubt whether there was a multiplicity of agencies at
work, or only one. The uncertainty helped them to realize the many
lives which were really led by the author of all these tales, more
completely than any confession of the individual authorship could have
done. The shrinking of activity in public curiosity and wonder which
follows the final determination of such ambiguities, is very apt to
result rather in a dwindling of the imaginative effort to enter into
the genius which gave rise to them, than in an increase of respect for
so manifold a creative power.

When Scott wrote, such fertility as his in the production of novels
was regarded with amazement approaching to absolute incredulity. Yet
he was in this respect only the advanced-guard of a not
inconsiderable class of men and women who have a special gift for
pouring out story after story, containing a great variety of figures,
while retaining a certain even level of merit. There is more than one
novelist of the present day who has far surpassed Scott in the number
of his tales, and one at least of very high repute, who has, I
believe, produced more even within the same time. But though to our
larger experience, Scott's achievement, in respect of mere fertility,
is by no means the miracle which it once seemed, I do not think one of
his successors can compare with him for a moment in the ease and truth
with which he painted, not merely the life of his own time and
country--seldom indeed that of precisely his own time--but that of
days long past, and often too of scenes far distant. The most powerful
of all his stories, _Old Mortality_, was the story of a period more
than a century and a quarter before he wrote; and others,--which
though inferior to this in force, are nevertheless, when compared with
the so-called historical romances of any other English writer, what
sunlight is to moonlight, if you can say as much for the latter as to
admit even that comparison,--go back to the period of the Tudors, that
is, two centuries and a half. _Quentin Durward_, which is all but
amongst the best, runs back farther still, far into the previous
century, while _Ivanhoe_ and _The Talisman_, though not among the
greatest of Scott's works, carry us back more than five hundred years.
The new class of extempore novel writers, though more considerable
than, sixty years ago, any one could have expected ever to see it, is
still limited, and on any high level of merit will probably always be
limited, to the delineation of the times of which the narrator has
personal experience. Scott seemed to have had something very like
personal experience of a few centuries at least, judging by the ease
and freshness with which he poured out his stories of these centuries,
and though no one can pretend that even he could describe the period
of the Tudors as Miss Austen described the country parsons and squires
of George the Third's reign, or as Mr. Trollope describes the
politicians and hunting-men of Queen Victoria's, it is nevertheless
the evidence of a greater imagination to make us live so familiarly as
Scott does amidst the political and religious controversies of two or
three centuries' duration, to be the actual witnesses, as it were, of
Margaret of Anjou's throes of vain ambition, and Mary Stuart's
fascinating remorse, and Elizabeth's domineering and jealous
balancings of noble against noble, of James the First's shrewd
pedantries, and the Regent Murray's large forethought, of the politic
craft of Argyle, the courtly ruthlessness of Claverhouse, and the
high-bred clemency of Monmouth, than to reflect in countless
modifications the freaks, figures, and fashions of our own time.

The most striking feature of Scott's romances is that, for the most part,
they are pivoted on public rather than mere private interests and
passions. With but few exceptions--(_The Antiquary_, _St. Ronan's Well_,
and _Guy Mannering_ are the most important)--Scott's novels give us an
imaginative view, not of mere individuals, but of individuals as they are
affected by the public strifes and social divisions of the age. And this
it is which gives his books so large an interest for old and young,
soldiers and statesmen, the world of society and the recluse, alike. You
can hardly read any novel of Scott's and not become better aware what
public life and political issues mean. And yet there is no artificiality,
no elaborate attitudinizing before the antique mirrors of the past, like
Bulwer's, no dressing out of clothes-horses like G. P. R. James. The
boldness and freshness of the present are carried back into the past, and
you see Papists and Puritans, Cavaliers and Roundheads, Jews, Jacobites,
and freebooters, preachers, schoolmasters, mercenary soldiers, gipsies,
and beggars, all living the sort of life which the reader feels that in
their circumstances and under the same conditions of time and place and
parentage, he might have lived too. Indeed, no man can read Scott without
being more of a public man, whereas the ordinary novel tends to make its
readers rather less of one than before.

Next, though most of these stories are rightly called romances, no one
can avoid observing that they give that side of life which is
unromantic, quite as vigorously as the romantic side. This was not
true of Scott's poems, which only expressed one-half of his nature,
and were almost pure romances. But in the novels the business of life
is even better portrayed than its sentiments. Mr. Bagehot, one of the
ablest of Scott's critics, has pointed out this admirably in his essay
on _The Waverley Novels_. "Many historical novelists," he says,
"especially those who with care and pains have read up the detail, are
often evidently in a strait how to pass from their history to their
sentiment. The fancy of Sir Walter could not help connecting the two.
If he had given us the English side of the race to Derby, _he would
have described the Bank of England paying in sixpences, and also the
loves of the cashier_." No one who knows the novels well can question
this. Fergus MacIvor's ways and means, his careful arrangements for
receiving subsidies in black mail, are as carefully recorded as his
lavish highland hospitalities; and when he sends his silver cup to the
Gaelic bard who chaunts his greatness, the faithful historian does not
forget to let us know that the cup is his last, and that he is
hard-pressed for the generosities of the future. So too the habitual
thievishness of the highlanders is pressed upon us quite as vividly as
their gallantry and superstitions. And so careful is Sir Walter to
paint the petty pedantries of the Scotch traditional conservatism,
that he will not spare even Charles Edward--of whom he draws so
graceful a picture--the humiliation of submitting to old Bradwardine's
"solemn act of homage," but makes him go through the absurd ceremony
of placing his foot on a cushion to have its brogue unlatched by the
dry old enthusiast of heraldic lore. Indeed it was because Scott so
much enjoyed the contrast between the high sentiment of life and its
dry and often absurd detail, that his imagination found so much freer
a vent in the historical romance, than it ever found in the romantic
poem. Yet he clearly needed the romantic excitement of picturesque
scenes and historical interests, too. I do not think he would ever
have gained any brilliant success in the narrower region of the
domestic novel. He said himself, in expressing his admiration of Miss
Austen, "The big bow-wow strain I can do myself, like any now going,
but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and
characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the
sentiment, is denied to me." Indeed he tried it to some extent in _St.
Ronan's Well_, and so far as he tried it, I think he failed. Scott
needed a certain largeness of type, a strongly-marked class-life, and,
where it was possible, a free, out-of-doors life, for his
delineations. _No_ one could paint beggars and gipsies, and wandering
fiddlers, and mercenary soldiers, and peasants and farmers and
lawyers, and magistrates, and preachers, and courtiers, and statesmen,
and best of all perhaps queens and kings, with anything like his
ability. But when it came to describing the small differences of
manner, differences not due to external habits, so much as to internal
sentiment or education, or mere domestic circumstance, he was beyond
his proper field. In the sketch of the St. Ronan's Spa and the company
at the _table-d'hôte_, he is of course somewhere near the mark,--he
was too able a man to fall far short of success in anything he really
gave to the world; but it is not interesting. Miss Austen would have
made Lady Penelope Penfeather a hundred times as amusing. We turn to
Meg Dods and Touchwood, and Cargill, and Captain Jekyl, and Sir Bingo
Binks, and to Clara Mowbray,--i. e. to the lives really moulded by
large and specific causes, for enjoyment, and leave the small gossip
of the company at the Wells as, relatively at least, a failure. And it
is well for all the world that it was so. The domestic novel, when
really of the highest kind, is no doubt a perfect work of art, and an
unfailing source of amusement; but it has nothing of the tonic
influence, the large instructiveness, the stimulating intellectual
air, of Scott's historic tales. Even when Scott is farthest from
reality--as in _Ivanhoe_ or _The Monastery_--he makes you open your
eyes to all sorts of historical conditions to which you would
otherwise be blind. The domestic novel, even when its art is perfect,
gives little but pleasure at the best; at the worst it is simply
scandal idealized.

Scott often confessed his contempt for his own heroes. He said of
Edward Waverley, for instance, that he was "a sneaking piece of
imbecility," and that "if he had married Flora, she would have set him
up upon the chimney-piece as Count Borowlaski's wife used to do with
him. I am a bad hand at depicting a hero, properly so called, and
have an unfortunate propensity for the dubious characters of
borderers, buccaneers, highland robbers, and all others of a
Robin-Hood description."[33] In another letter he says, "My rogue
always, in despite of me, turns out my hero."[34] And it seems very
likely that in most of the situations Scott describes so well, his own
course would have been that of his wilder impulses, and not that of
his reason. Assuredly he would never have stopped hesitating on the
line between opposite courses as his Waverleys, his Mortons, his
Osbaldistones do. Whenever he was really involved in a party strife,
he flung prudence and impartiality to the winds, and went in like the
hearty partisan which his strong impulses made of him. But granting
this, I do not agree with his condemnation of all his own colourless
heroes. However much they differed in nature from Scott himself, the
even balance of their reason against their sympathies is certainly
well conceived, is in itself natural, and is an admirable expedient
for effecting that which was probably its real use to Scott,--the
affording an opportunity for the delineation of all the pros and cons
of the case, so that the characters on both sides of the struggle
should be properly understood. Scott's imagination was clearly far
wider--was far more permeated with the fixed air of sound
judgment--than his practical impulses. He needed a machinery for
displaying his insight into both sides of a public quarrel, and his
colourless heroes gave him the instrument he needed. Both in Morton's
case (in _Old Mortality_), and in Waverley's, the hesitation is
certainly well described. Indeed in relation to the controversy
between Covenanters and Royalists, while his political and martial
prepossessions went with Claverhouse, his reason and educated moral
feeling certainly were clearly identified with Morton.

It is, however, obviously true that Scott's heroes are mostly created
for the sake of the facility they give in delineating the other
characters, and not the other characters for the sake of the heroes.
They are the imaginative neutral ground, as it were, on which opposing
influences are brought to play; and what Scott best loved to paint was
those who, whether by nature, by inheritance, or by choice, had become
unique and characteristic types of one-sided feeling, not those who
were merely in process of growth, and had not ranged themselves at
all. Mr. Carlyle, who, as I have said before, places Scott's romances
far below their real level, maintains that these great types of his
are drawn from the outside, and not made actually to live. "His Bailie
Jarvies, Dinmonts, Dalgettys (for their name is legion), do look and
talk like what they give themselves out for; they are, if not
_created_ and made poetically alive, yet deceptively _enacted_ as a
good player might do them. What more is wanted, then? For the reader
lying on a sofa, nothing more; yet for another sort of reader much. It
were a long chapter to unfold the difference in drawing a character
between a Scott and a Shakespeare or Goethe. Yet it is a difference
literally immense; they are of a different species; the value of the
one is not to be counted in the coin of the other. We might say in a
short word, which covers a long matter, that your Shakespeare fashions
his characters from the heart outwards; your Scott fashions them from
the skin inwards, never getting near the heart of them. The one set
become living men and women; the other amount to little more than
mechanical cases, deceptively painted automatons."[35] And then he
goes on to contrast Fenella in _Peveril of the Peak_ with Goethe's
Mignon. Mr. Carlyle could hardly have chosen a less fair comparison.
If Goethe is to be judged by his women, let Scott be judged by his
men. So judged, I think Scott will, as a painter of character--of
course, I am not now speaking of him as a poet,--come out far above
Goethe. Excepting the hero of his first drama (Götz of the iron hand),
which by the way was so much in Scott's line that his first essay in
poetry was to translate it--not very well--I doubt if Goethe was ever
successful with his pictures of men. _Wilhelm Meister_ is, as Niebuhr
truly said, "a ménagerie of tame animals." Doubtless Goethe's
women--certainly his women of culture--are more truly and inwardly
conceived and created than Scott's. Except Jeanie Deans and Madge
Wildfire, and perhaps Lucy Ashton, Scott's women are apt to be
uninteresting, either pink and white toys, or hardish women of the
world. But then no one can compare the men of the two writers, and not
see Scott's vast pre-eminence on that side.

I think the deficiency of his pictures of women, odd as it seems to
say so, should be greatly attributed to his natural chivalry. His
conception of women of his own or a higher class was always too
romantic. He hardly ventured, as it were, in his tenderness for them,
to look deeply into their little weaknesses and intricacies of
character. With women of an inferior class, he had not this feeling.
Nothing can be more perfect than the manner in which he blends the
dairy-woman and woman of business in Jeanie Deans, with the lover and
the sister. But once make a woman beautiful, or in any way an object
of homage to him, and Scott bowed so low before the image of her,
that he could not go deep into her heart. He could no more have
analysed such a woman, as Thackeray analyzed Lady Castlewood, or
Amelia, or Becky, or as George Eliot analysed Rosamond Vincy, than he
could have vivisected Camp or Maida. To some extent, therefore,
Scott's pictures of women remain something in the style of the
miniatures of the last age--bright and beautiful beings without any
special character in them. He was dazzled by a fair heroine. He could
not take them up into his imagination as real beings as he did men.
But then how living are his men, whether coarse or noble! What a
picture, for instance, is that in _A Legend of Montrose_ of the
conceited, pragmatic, but prompt and dauntless soldier of fortune,
rejecting Argyle's attempts to tamper with him, in the dungeon at
Inverary, suddenly throwing himself on the disguised Duke so soon as
he detects him by his voice, and wresting from him the means of his
own liberation! Who could read that scene and say for a moment that
Dalgetty is painted "from the skin inwards"? It was just Scott himself
breathing his own life through the habits of a good specimen of the
mercenary soldier--realizing where the spirit of hire would end, and
the sense of honour would begin--and preferring, even in a dungeon,
the audacious policy of a sudden attack to that of crafty negotiation.
What a picture (and a very different one) again is that in
_Redgauntlet_ of Peter Peebles, the mad litigant, with face emaciated
by poverty and anxiety, and rendered wild by "an insane lightness
about the eyes," dashing into the English magistrate's court for a
warrant against his fugitive counsel. Or, to take a third instance, as
different as possible from either, how powerfully conceived is the
situation in _Old Mortality_, where Balfour of Burley, in his fanatic
fury at the defeat of his plan for a new rebellion, pushes the
oak-tree, which connects his wild retreat with the outer world, into
the stream, and tries to slay Morton for opposing him. In such scenes
and a hundred others--for these are mere random examples--Scott
undoubtedly painted his masculine figures from as deep and inward a
conception of the character of the situation as Goethe ever attained,
even in drawing Mignon, or Klärchen, or Gretchen. The distinction has
no real existence. Goethe's pictures of women were no doubt the
intuitions of genius; and so are Scott's of men--and here and there of
his women too. Professional women he can always paint with power. Meg
Dods, the innkeeper, Meg Merrilies, the gipsy, Mause Headrigg, the
Covenanter, Elspeth, the old fishwife in _The Antiquary_, and the old
crones employed to nurse and watch, and lay out the corpse, in _The
Bride of Lammermoor_, are all in their way impressive figures.

And even in relation to women of a rank more fascinating to Scott, and
whose inner character was perhaps on that account, less familiar to
his imagination, grant him but a few hints from history, and he draws
a picture which, for vividness and brilliancy, may almost compare with
Shakespeare's own studies in English history. Had Shakespeare painted
the scene in _The Abbot_, in which Mary Stuart commands one of her
Mary's in waiting to tell her at what bridal she last danced, and Mary
Fleming blurts out the reference to the marriage of Sebastian at
Holyrood, would any one hesitate to regard it as a stroke of genius
worthy of the great dramatist? This picture of the Queen's mind
suddenly thrown off its balance, and betraying, in the agony of the
moment, the fear and remorse which every association with Darnley
conjured up, is painted "from the heart outwards," not "from the skin
inwards," if ever there were such a painting in the world. Scott
hardly ever failed in painting kings or peasants, queens or
peasant-women. There was something in the well-marked type of both to
catch his imagination, which can always hit off the grander features
of royalty, and the homelier features of laborious humility. Is there
any sketch traced in lines of more sweeping grandeur and more
impressive force than the following of Mary Stuart's lucid interval of
remorse--lucid compared with her ordinary mood, though it was of a
remorse that was almost delirious--which breaks in upon her hour of
fascinating condescension?--

     "'Are they not a lovely couple, my Fleming? and is it not
     heart-rending to think that I must be their ruin?'

     "'Not so,' said Roland Græme, 'it is we, gracious sovereign,
     who will be your deliverers.' '_Ex oribus parvulorum!_' said
     the queen, looking upward; 'if it is by the mouth of these
     children that heaven calls me to resume the stately thoughts
     which become my birth and my rights, thou wilt grant them
     thy protection, and to me the power of rewarding their
     zeal.' Then turning to Fleming, she instantly added, 'Thou
     knowest, my friend, whether to make those who have served me
     happy, was not ever Mary's favourite pastime. When I have
     been rebuked by the stern preachers of the Calvinistic
     heresy--when I have seen the fierce countenances of my
     nobles averted from me, has it not been because I mixed in
     the harmless pleasures of the young and gay, and rather for
     the sake of their happiness than my own, have mingled in the
     masque, the song or the dance, with the youth of my
     household? Well, I repent not of it--though Knox termed it
     sin, and Morton degradation--I was happy because I saw
     happiness around me: and woe betide the wretched jealousy
     that can extract guilt out of the overflowings of an
     unguarded gaiety!--Fleming, if we are restored to our
     throne, shall we not have one blithesome day at a blithesome
     bridal, of which we must now name neither the bride nor the
     bridegroom? But that bridegroom shall have the barony of
     Blairgowrie, a fair gift even for a queen to give, and that
     bride's chaplet shall be twined with the fairest pearls that
     ever were found in the depths of Lochlomond; and thou
     thyself, Mary Fleming, the best dresser of tires that ever
     busked the tresses of a queen, and who would scorn to touch
     those of any woman of lower rank--thou thyself shalt for my
     love twine them into the bride's tresses.--Look, my Fleming,
     suppose then such clustered locks as these of our Catherine,
     they would not put shame upon thy skill.' So saying she
     passed her hand fondly over the head of her youthful
     favourite, while her more aged attendant replied
     despondently, 'Alas, madam, your thoughts stray far from
     home.' 'They do, my Fleming,' said the queen, 'but is it
     well or kind in you to call them back?--God knows they have
     kept the perch this night but too closely.--Come, I will
     recall the gay vision, were it but to punish them. Yes, at
     that blithesome bridal, Mary herself shall forget the weight
     of sorrows, and the toil of state, and herself once more
     lead a measure.--At whose wedding was it that we last
     danced, my Fleming? I think care has troubled my memory--yet
     something of it I should remember, canst thou not aid me? I
     know thou canst.' 'Alas, madam,' replied the lady. 'What,'
     said Mary, 'wilt thou not help us so far? this is a peevish
     adherence to thine own graver opinion which holds our talk
     as folly. But thou art court-bred and wilt well understand
     me when I say the queen _commands_ Lady Fleming to tell her
     when she led the last _branle_.' With a face deadly pale and
     a mien as if she were about to sink into the earth, the
     court-bred dame, no longer daring to refuse obedience,
     faltered out, 'Gracious lady--if my memory err not--it was
     at a masque in Holyrood--at the marriage of Sebastian.' The
     unhappy queen, who had hitherto listened with a melancholy
     smile, provoked by the reluctance with which the Lady
     Fleming brought out her story, at this ill-fated word
     interrupted her with a shriek so wild and loud that the
     vaulted apartment rang, and both Roland and Catherine sprung
     to their feet in the utmost terror and alarm. Meantime, Mary
     seemed, by the train of horrible ideas thus suddenly
     excited, surprised not only beyond self-command, but for the
     moment beyond the verge of reason. 'Traitress,' she said to
     the Lady Fleming, 'thou wouldst slay thy sovereign. Call my
     French guards--_à moi! à moi! mes Français_!--I am beset
     with traitors in mine own palace--they have murdered my
     husband--Rescue! Rescue! for the Queen of Scotland!' She
     started up from her chair--her features late so exquisitely
     lovely in their paleness, now inflamed with the fury of
     frenzy, and resembling those of a Bellona. 'We will take the
     field ourself,' she said; 'warn the city--warn Lothian and
     Fife--saddle our Spanish barb, and bid French Paris see our
     petronel be charged. Better to die at the head of our brave
     Scotsmen, like our grandfather at Flodden, than of a broken
     heart like our ill-starred father.' 'Be patient--be
     composed, dearest sovereign,' said Catherine; and then
     addressing Lady Fleming angrily, she added, 'How could you
     say aught that reminded her of her husband?' The word
     reached the ear of the unhappy princess who caught it up,
     speaking with great rapidity, 'Husband!--what husband? Not
     his most Christian Majesty--he is ill at ease--he cannot
     mount on horseback--not him of the Lennox--but it was the
     Duke of Orkney thou wouldst say?' 'For God's love, madam, be
     patient!' said the Lady Fleming. But the queen's excited
     imagination could by no entreaty be diverted from its
     course. 'Bid him come hither to our aid,' she said, 'and
     bring with him his lambs, as he calls them--Bowton, Hay of
     Talla, Black Ormiston and his kinsman Hob--Fie, how swart
     they are, and how they smell of sulphur! What! closeted with
     Morton? Nay, if the Douglas and the Hepburn hatch the
     complot together, the bird when it breaks the shell will
     scare Scotland, will it not, my Fleming?' 'She grows wilder
     and wilder,' said Fleming. 'We have too many hearers for
     these strange words.' 'Roland,' said Catherine, 'in the name
     of God begone!--you cannot aid us here--leave us to deal
     with her alone--away--away!"

And equally fine is the scene in _Kenilworth_ in which Elizabeth
undertakes the reconciliation of the haughty rivals, Sussex and
Leicester, unaware that in the course of the audience she herself will
have to bear a great strain on her self-command, both in her feelings
as a queen and her feelings as a lover. Her grand rebukes to both, her
ill-concealed preference for Leicester, her whispered ridicule of
Sussex, the impulses of tenderness which she stifles, the flashes of
resentment to which she gives way, the triumph of policy over private
feeling, her imperious impatience when she is baffled, her jealousy as
she grows suspicious of a personal rival, her gratified pride and
vanity when the suspicion is exchanged for the clear evidence, as she
supposes, of Leicester's love, and her peremptory conclusion of the
audience, bring before the mind a series of pictures far more vivid
and impressive than the greatest of historical painters could fix on
canvas, even at the cost of the labour of years. Even more brilliant,
though not so sustained and difficult an effort of genius, is the
later scene in the same story, in which Elizabeth drags the unhappy
Countess of Leicester from her concealment in one of the grottoes of
Kenilworth Castle, and strides off with her, in a fit of vindictive
humiliation and Amazonian fury, to confront her with her husband. But
this last scene no doubt is more in Scott's way. He can always paint
women in their more masculine moods. Where he frequently fails is in
the attempt to indicate the finer shades of women's nature. In Amy
Robsart herself, for example, he is by no means generally successful,
though in an early scene her childish delight in the various orders
and decorations of her husband is painted with much freshness and
delicacy. But wherever, as in the case of queens, Scott can get a
telling hint from actual history, he can always so use it as to make
history itself seem dim to the equivalent for it which he gives us.

And yet, as every one knows, Scott was excessively free in his
manipulations of history for the purposes of romance. In _Kenilworth_
he represents Shakespeare's plays as already in the mouths of
courtiers and statesmen, though he lays the scene in the eighteenth
year of Elizabeth, when Shakespeare was hardly old enough to rob an
orchard. In _Woodstock_, on the contrary, he insists, if you compare
Sir Henry Lee's dates with the facts, that Shakespeare died twenty
years at least before he actually died. The historical basis, again,
of _Woodstock_ and of _Redgauntlet_ is thoroughly untrustworthy, and
about all the minuter details of history,--unless so far as they were
characteristic of the age,--I do not suppose that Scott in his
romances ever troubled himself at all. And yet few historians--not
even Scott himself when he exchanged romance for history--ever drew
the great figures of history with so powerful a hand. In writing
history and biography Scott has little or no advantage over very
inferior men. His pictures of Swift, of Dryden, of Napoleon, are in no
way very vivid. It is only where he is working from the pure
imagination,--though imagination stirred by historic study,--that he
paints a picture which follows us about, as if with living eyes,
instead of creating for us a mere series of lines and colours. Indeed,
whether Scott draws truly or falsely, he draws with such genius that
his pictures of Richard and Saladin, of Louis XI. and Charles the
Bold, of Margaret of Anjou and René of Provence, of Mary Stuart and
Elizabeth Tudor, of Sussex and of Leicester, of James and Charles and
Buckingham, of the two Dukes of Argyle--the Argyle of the time of the
revolution, and the Argyle of George II., of Queen Caroline, of
Claverhouse, and Monmouth, and of Rob Roy, will live in English
literature beside Shakespeare's pictures--probably less faithful if
more imaginative--of John and Richard and the later Henries, and all
the great figures by whom they were surrounded. No historical portrait
that we possess will take precedence--as a mere portrait--of Scott's
brilliant study of James I. in _The Fortunes of Nigel_. Take this
illustration for instance, where George Heriot the goldsmith (Jingling
Geordie, as the king familiarly calls him) has just been speaking of
Lord Huntinglen, as "a man of the old rough world that will drink and

     "'O Geordie!' exclaimed the king, 'these are auld-warld
     frailties, of whilk we dare not pronounce even ourselves
     absolutely free. But the warld grows worse from day to day,
     Geordie. The juveniles of this age may weel say with the

         "Ætas parentum pejor avis tulit
          Nos nequiores--"

     This Dalgarno does not drink so much; aye or swear so much,
     as his father, but he wenches, Geordie, and he breaks his
     word and oath baith. As to what ye say of the leddy and the
     ministers, we are all fallible creatures, Geordie, priests
     and kings as weel as others; and wha kens but what that may
     account for the difference between this Dalgarno and his
     father? The earl is the vera soul of honour, and cares nae
     mair for warld's gear than a noble hound for the quest of a
     foulmart; but as for his son, he was like to brazen us all
     out--ourselves, Steenie, Baby Charles, and our Council, till
     he heard of the tocher, and then by my kingly crown he lap
     like a cock at a grossart! These are discrepancies betwixt
     parent and son not to be accounted for naturally, according
     to Baptista Porta, Michael Scott _de secretis_, and others.
     Ah, Jingling Geordie, if your clouting the caldron, and
     jingling on pots, pans, and veshels of all manner of metal,
     hadna jingled a' your grammar out of your head, I could have
     touched on that matter to you at mair length.' ... Heriot
     inquired whether Lord Dalgarno had consented to do the Lady
     Hermione justice. 'Troth, man, I have small doubt that he
     will,' quoth the king, 'I gave him the schedule of her
     worldly substance, which you delivered to us in the council,
     and we allowed him half an hour to chew the cud upon that.
     It is rare reading for bringing him to reason. I left Baby
     Charles and Steenie laying his duty before him, and if he
     can resist doing what _they_ desire him, why I wish he would
     teach _me_ the gate of it. O Geordie, Jingling Geordie, it
     was grand to hear Baby Charles laying down the guilt of
     dissimulation, and Steenie lecturing _on_ the turpitude of
     incontinence.' 'I am afraid,' said George Heriot, more
     hastily than prudently, 'I might have thought of the old
     proverb of Satan reproving sin.' 'Deil hae our saul,
     neighbour,' said the king, reddening, 'but ye are not blate!
     I gie ye licence to speak freely, and by our saul, ye do not
     let the privilege become lost, _non utendo_--it will suffer
     no negative prescription in your hands. Is it fit, think ye,
     that Baby Charles should let his thoughts be publicly seen?
     No, no, princes' thoughts are _arcana imperii: qui nescit
     dissimulare, nescit regnare_. Every liege subject is bound
     to speak the whole truth to the king, but there is nae
     reciprocity of obligation--and for Steenie having been
     whiles a dike-louper at a time, is it for you, who are his
     goldsmith, and to whom, I doubt, he awes an uncomatable sum,
     to cast that up to him?"

Assuredly there is no undue favouring of Stuarts in such a picture as

Scott's humour is, I think, of very different qualities in relation to
different subjects. Certainly he was at times capable of considerable
heaviness of hand,--of the Scotch "wut" which has been so irreverently
treated by English critics. His rather elaborate jocular
introductions, under the name of Jedediah Cleishbotham, are clearly
laborious at times. And even his own letters to his daughter-in-law,
which Mr. Lockhart seems to regard as models of tender playfulness and
pleasantry, seem to me decidedly elephantine. Not unfrequently, too,
his stereotyped jokes weary. Dalgetty bores you almost as much as he
would do in real life,--which is a great fault in art. Bradwardine
becomes a nuisance, and as for Sir Piercie Shafton, he is beyond
endurance. Like some other Scotchmen of genius, Scott twanged away at
any effective chord till it more than lost its expressiveness. But in
dry humour, and in that higher humour which skilfully blends the
ludicrous and the pathetic, so that it is hardly possible to separate
between smiles and tears, Scott is a master. His canny innkeeper, who,
having sent away all the peasemeal to the camp of the Covenanters, and
all the oatmeal (with deep professions of duty) to the castle and its
cavaliers, in compliance with the requisitions sent to him on each
side, admits with a sigh to his daughter that "they maun gar wheat
flour serve themsels for a blink,"--his firm of solicitors, Greenhorn
and Grinderson, whose senior partner writes respectfully to clients in
prosperity, and whose junior partner writes familiarly to those in
adversity,--his arbitrary nabob who asks how the devil any one should
be able to mix spices so well "as one who has been where they
grow;"--his little ragamuffin who indignantly denies that he has
broken his promise not to gamble away his sixpences at pitch-and-toss
because he has gambled them away at "neevie-neevie-nick-nack,"--and
similar figures abound in his tales,--are all creations which make one
laugh inwardly as we read. But he has a much higher humour still, that
inimitable power of shading off ignorance into knowledge and
simplicity into wisdom, which makes his picture of Jeanie Deans, for
instance, so humorous as well as so affecting. When Jeanie reunites
her father to her husband by reminding the former how it would
sometimes happen that "twa precious saints might pu' sundrywise like
twa cows riving at the same hayband," she gives us an admirable
instance of Scott's higher humour. Or take Jeanie Deans's letter to
her father communicating to him the pardon of his daughter and her own
interview with the Queen:--

     with my duty to inform you, that it has pleased God to
     redeem that captivitie of my poor sister, in respect the
     Queen's blessed Majesty, for whom we are ever bound to pray,
     hath redeemed her soul from the slayer, granting the ransom
     of her, whilk is ane pardon or reprieve. And I spoke with
     the Queen face to face, and yet live; for she is not muckle
     differing from other grand leddies, saving that she has a
     stately presence, and een like a blue huntin' hawk's, whilk
     gaed throu' and throu' me like a Highland durk--And all this
     good was, alway under the Great Giver, to whom all are but
     instruments, wrought for us by the Duk of Argile, wha is ane
     native true-hearted Scotsman, and not pridefu', like other
     folk we ken of--and likewise skeely enow in bestial, whereof
     he has promised to gie me twa Devonshire kye, of which he is
     enamoured, although I do still haud by the real hawkit
     Airshire breed--and I have promised him a cheese; and I wad
     wuss ye, if Gowans, the brockit cow, has a quey, that she
     suld suck her fill of milk, as I am given to understand he
     has none of that breed, and is not scornfu' but will take a
     thing frae a puir body, that it may lighten their heart of
     the loading of debt that they awe him. Also his honour the
     Duke will accept ane of our Dunlop cheeses, and it sall be
     my faut if a better was ever yearned in Lowden."--[Here
     follow some observations respecting the breed of cattle, and
     the produce of the dairy, which it is our intention to
     forward to the Board of Agriculture.]--"Nevertheless, these
     are but matters of the after-harvest, in respect of the
     great good which Providence hath gifted us with--and, in
     especial, poor Effie's life. And oh, my dear father, since
     it hath pleased God to be merciful to her, let her not want
     your free pardon, whilk will make her meet to be ane vessel
     of grace, and also a comfort to your ain graie hairs. Dear
     Father, will ye let the Laird ken that we have had friends
     strangely raised up to us, and that the talent whilk he lent
     me will be thankfully repaid. I hae some of it to the fore;
     and the rest of it is not knotted up in ane purse or napkin,
     but in ane wee bit paper, as is the fashion heir, whilk I am
     assured is gude for the siller. And, dear father, through
     Mr. Butler's means I hae gude friendship with the Duke, for
     there had been kindness between their forbears in the auld
     troublesome time byepast. And Mrs. Glass has been kind like
     my very mother. She has a braw house here, and lives bien
     and warm, wi' twa servant lasses, and a man and a callant in
     the shop. And she is to send you doun a pound of her
     hie-dried, and some other tobaka, and we maun think of some
     propine for her, since her kindness hath been great. And the
     Duk is to send the pardon doun by an express messenger, in
     respect that I canna travel sae fast; and I am to come doun
     wi' twa of his Honour's servants--that is, John Archibald, a
     decent elderly gentleman, that says he has seen you lang
     syne, when ye were buying beasts in the west frae the Laird
     of Aughtermuggitie--but maybe ye winna mind him--ony way,
     he's a civil man--and Mrs. Dolly Dutton, that is to be
     dairy-maid at Inverara: and they bring me on as far as
     Glasgo', whilk will make it nae pinch to win hame, whilk I
     desire of all things. May the Giver of all good things keep
     ye in your outgauns and incomings, whereof devoutly prayeth
     your loving dauter,

     "JEAN DEANS."

This contains an example of Scott's rather heavy jocularity as well as
giving us a fine illustration of his highest and deepest and sunniest
humour. Coming where it does, the joke inserted about the Board of
Agriculture is rather like the gambol of a rhinoceros trying to
imitate the curvettings of a thoroughbred horse.

Some of the finest touches of his humour are no doubt much heightened
by his perfect command of the genius as well as the dialect of a
peasantry, in whom a true culture of mind and sometimes also of heart
is found in the closest possible contact with the humblest pursuits
and the quaintest enthusiasm for them. But Scott, with all his turn
for irony--and Mr. Lockhart says that even on his death-bed he used
towards his children the same sort of good-humoured irony to which he
had always accustomed them in his life--certainly never gives us any
example of that highest irony which is found so frequently in
Shakespeare, which touches the paradoxes of the spiritual life of the
children of earth, and which reached its highest point in Isaiah. Now
and then in his latest diaries--the diaries written in his deep
affliction--he comes near the edge of it. Once, for instance, he says,
"What a strange scene if the surge of conversation could suddenly ebb
like the tide, and show us the state of people's real minds!

    'No eyes the rocks discover
    Which lurk beneath the deep.'

Life could not be endured were it seen in reality." But this is not
irony, only the sort of meditation which, in a mind inclined to thrust
deep into the secrets of life's paradoxes, is apt to lead to irony.
Scott, however, does not thrust deep in this direction. He met the
cold steel which inflicts the deepest interior wounds, like a soldier,
and never seems to have meditated on the higher paradoxes of life till
reason reeled. The irony of Hamlet is far from Scott. His imagination
was essentially one of distinct embodiment. He never even seemed so
much as to contemplate that sundering of substance and form, that
rending away of outward garments, that unclothing of the soul, in
order that it might be more effectually clothed upon, which is at the
heart of anything that may be called spiritual irony. The constant
abiding of his mind within the well-defined forms of some one or other
of the conditions of outward life and manners, among the scores of
different spheres of human habit, was, no doubt, one of the secrets of
his genius; but it was also its greatest limitation.


[Footnote 32: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iv. 171-3.]

[Footnote 33: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iv. 175-6.]

[Footnote 34: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iv. 46.]

[Footnote 35: Carlyle's _Miscellaneous Essays_, iv. 174-5.]



The very same causes which limited Scott's humour and irony to the
commoner fields of experience, and prevented him from ever introducing
into his stories characters of the highest type of moral
thoughtfulness, gave to his own morality and religion, which were, I
think, true to the core so far as they went, a shade of distinct
conventionality. It is no doubt quite true, as he himself tells us,
that he took more interest in his mercenaries and moss-troopers,
outlaws, gipsies, and beggars, than he did in the fine ladies and
gentlemen under a cloud whom he adopted as heroines and heroes. But
that was the very sign of his conventionalism. Though he interested
himself more in these irregular persons, he hardly ever ventured to
paint their inner life so as to show how little there was to choose
between the sins of those who are at war with society and the sins of
those who bend to the yoke of society. He widened rather than narrowed
the chasm between the outlaw and the respectable citizen, even while
he did not disguise his own romantic interest in the former. He
extenuated, no doubt, the sins of all brave and violent defiers of the
law, as distinguished from the sins of crafty and cunning abusers of
the law. But the leaning he had to the former was, as he was willing
to admit, what he regarded as a "naughty" leaning. He did not attempt
for a moment to balance accounts between them and society. He paid his
tribute as a matter of course to the established morality, and only
put in a word or two by way of attempt to diminish the severity of the
sentence on the bold transgressor. And then, where what is called the
"law of honour" comes in to traverse the law of religion, he had no
scruple in setting aside the latter in favour of the customs of
gentlemen, without any attempt to justify that course. Yet it is
evident from various passages in his writings that he held Christian
duty inconsistent with duelling, and that he held himself a sincere
Christian. In spite of this, when he was fifty-six, and under no
conceivable hurry or perturbation of feeling, but only concerned to
defend his own conduct--which was indeed plainly right--as to a
political disclosure which he had made in his life of Napoleon, he
asked his old friend William Clerk to be his second, if the expected
challenge from General Gourgaud should come, and declared his firm
intention of accepting it. On the strength of official evidence he had
exposed some conduct of General Gourgaud's at St. Helena, which
appeared to be far from honourable, and he thought it his duty on that
account to submit to be shot at by General Gourgaud, if General
Gourgaud had wished it. In writing to William Clerk to ask him to be
his second, he says, "Like a man who finds himself in a scrape,
General Gourgaud may wish to fight himself out of it, and if the
quarrel should be thrust on me, why, _I will not baulk him, Jackie_.
He shall not dishonour the country through my sides, I can assure
him." In other words, Scott acted just as he had made Waverley and
others of his heroes act, on a code of honour which he knew to be
false, and he must have felt in this case to be something worse. He
thought himself at that time under the most stringent obligations both
to his creditors and his children, to do all in his power to redeem
himself and his estate from debt. Nay, more, he held that his life was
a trust from his Creator, which he had no right to throw away merely
because a man whom he had not really injured, was indulging a strong
wish to injure him; but he could so little brook the imputation of
physical cowardice, that he was moral coward enough to resolve to meet
General Gourgaud, if General Gourgaud lusted after a shot at him. Nor
is there any trace preserved of so much as a moral scruple in his own
mind on the subject, and this though there are clear traces in his
other writings as to what he thought Christian morality required. But
the Border chivalry was so strong in Scott that, on subjects of this
kind at least, his morality was the conventional morality of a day
rapidly passing away.

He showed the same conventional feeling in his severity towards one of
his own brothers who had been guilty of cowardice. Daniel Scott was
the black sheep of the family. He got into difficulties in business,
formed a bad connexion with an artful woman, and was sent to try his
fortunes in the West Indies. There he was employed in some service
against a body of refractory negroes--we do not know its exact
nature--and apparently showed the white feather. Mr. Lockhart says
that "he returned to Scotland a dishonoured man; and though he found
shelter and compassion from his mother, his brother would never see
him again. Nay, when, soon after, his health, shattered by dissolute
indulgence, ... gave way altogether, and he died, as yet a young man,
the poet refused either to attend his funeral or to wear mourning for
him, like the rest of his family."[36] Indeed he always spoke of him
as his "relative," not as his brother. Here again Scott's severity was
due to his brother's failure as a "man of honour," i. e. in courage.
He was forbearing enough with vices of a different kind; made John
Ballantyne's dissipation the object rather of his jokes than of his
indignation; and not only mourned for him, but really grieved for him
when he died. It is only fair to say, however, that for this
conventional scorn of a weakness rather than a sin, Scott sorrowed
sincerely later in life, and that in sketching the physical cowardice
of Connochar in _The Fair Maid of Perth_, he deliberately made an
attempt to atone for this hardness towards his brother by showing how
frequently the foundation of cowardice may be laid in perfectly
involuntary physical temperament, and pointing out with what noble
elements of disposition it may be combined. But till reflection on
many forms of human character had enlarged Scott's charity, and
perhaps also the range of his speculative ethics, he remained a
conventional moralist, and one, moreover, the type of whose
conventional code was borrowed more from that of honour than from that
of religious principle. There is one curious passage in his diary,
written very near the end of his life, in which Scott even seems to
declare that conventional standards of conduct are better, or at least
safer, than religious standards of conduct. He says in his diary for
the 15th April, 1828,--"Dined with Sir Robert Inglis, and met Sir
Thomas Acland, my old and kind friend. I was happy to see him. He may
be considered now as the head of the religious party in the House of
Commons--a powerful body which Wilberforce long commanded. It is a
difficult situation, for the adaptation of religious motives to
earthly policy is apt--among the infinite delusions of the human
heart--to be a snare."[37] His letters to his eldest son, the young
cavalry officer, on his first start in life, are much admired by Mr.
Lockhart, but to me they read a little hard, a little worldly, and
extremely conventional. Conventionality was certainly to his mind
almost a virtue.

Of enthusiasm in religion Scott always spoke very severely; both in his
novels and in his letters and private diary. In writing to Lord Montague,
he speaks of such enthusiasm as was then prevalent at Oxford, and which
makes, he says, "religion a motive and a pretext for particular lines of
thinking in politics and in temporal affairs" [as if it could help doing
that!] as "teaching a new way of going to the devil for God's sake," and
this expressly, because when the young are infected with it, it disunites
families, and sets "children in opposition to their parents."[38] He gives
us, however, one reason for his dread of anything like enthusiasm, which
is not conventional;--that it interferes with the submissive and tranquil
mood which is the only true religious mood. Speaking in his diary of a
weakness and fluttering at the heart, from which he had suffered, he says,
"It is an awful sensation, and would have made an enthusiast of me, had I
indulged my imagination on religious subjects. I have been always careful
to place my mind in the most tranquil posture which it can assume, during
my private exercises of devotion."[39] And in this avoidance of indulging
the imagination on religious, or even spiritual subjects, Scott goes far
beyond Shakespeare. I do not think there is a single study in all his
romances of what may be fairly called a pre-eminently spiritual character
as such, though Jeanie Deans approaches nearest to it. The same may be
said of Shakespeare. But Shakespeare, though he has never drawn a
pre-eminently spiritual character, often enough indulged his imagination
while meditating on spiritual themes.


[Footnote 36: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iii. 198-9.]

[Footnote 37: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ix. 231.]

[Footnote 38: Ibid., vii. 255-6.]

[Footnote 39: Ibid., viii. 292.]



Between 1814 and the end of 1825, Scott's literary labour was
interrupted only by one serious illness, and hardly interrupted by
that,--by a few journeys,--one to Paris after the battle of Waterloo,
and several to London,--and by the worry of a constant stream of
intrusive visitors. Of his journeys he has left some records; but I
cannot say that I think Scott would ever have reached, as a mere
observer and recorder, at all the high point which he reached directly
his imagination went to work to create a story. That imagination was,
indeed, far less subservient to his mere perceptions than to his
constructive powers. _Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk_--the records of
his Paris journey after Waterloo--for instance, are not at all above
the mark of a good special correspondent. His imagination was less the
imagination of insight, than the imagination of one whose mind was a
great kaleidoscope of human life and fortunes. But far more
interrupting than either illness or travel, was the lion-hunting of
which Scott became the object, directly after the publication of the
earlier novels. In great measure, no doubt, on account of the mystery
as to his authorship, his fame became something oppressive. At one
time as many as _sixteen_ parties of visitors applied to see
Abbotsford in a single day. Strangers,--especially the American
travellers of that day, who were much less reticent and more
irrepressible than the American travellers of this,--would come to him
without introductions, facetiously cry out "Prodigious!" in imitation
of Dominie Sampson, whatever they were shown, inquire whether the new
house was called Tullyveolan or Tillytudlem, cross-examine, with open
note-books, as to Scott's age, and the age of his wife, and appear to
be taken quite by surprise when they were bowed out without being
asked to dine.[40] In those days of high postage Scott's bill for
letters "seldom came under 150_l._ a year," and "as to coach parcels,
they were a perfect ruination." On one occasion a mighty package came
by post from the United States, for which Scott had to pay five pounds
sterling. It contained a MS. play called _The Cherokee Lovers_, by a
young lady of New York, who begged Scott to read and correct it, write
a prologue and epilogue, get it put on the stage at Drury Lane, and
negotiate with Constable or Murray for the copyright. In about a
fortnight another packet not less formidable arrived, charged with a
similar postage, which Scott, not grown cautious through experience,
recklessly opened; out jumped a duplicate copy of _The Cherokee
Lovers_, with a second letter from the authoress, stating that as the
weather had been stormy, and she feared that something might have
happened to her former MS., she had thought it prudent to send him a
duplicate.[41] Of course, when fame reached such a point as this, it
became both a worry and a serious waste of money, and what was far
more valuable than money, of time, privacy, and tranquillity of mind.
And though no man ever bore such worries with the equanimity of Scott,
no man ever received less pleasure from the adulation of unknown and
often vulgar and ignorant admirers. His real amusements were his trees
and his friends. "Planting and pruning trees," he said, "I could work
at from morning to night. There is a sort of self-congratulation, a
little tickling self-flattery, in the idea that while you are pleasing
and amusing yourself, you are seriously contributing to the future
welfare of the country, and that your very acorn may send its future
ribs of oak to future victories like Trafalgar,"[42]--for the day of
iron ships was not yet. And again, at a later stage of his
planting:--"You can have no idea of the exquisite delight of a
planter,--he is like a painter laying on his colours,--at every moment
he sees his effects coming out. There is no art or occupation
comparable to this; it is full of past, present, and future enjoyment.
I look back to the time when there was not a tree here, only bare
heath; I look round and see thousands of trees growing up, all of
which, I may say almost each of which, have received my personal
attention. I remember, five years ago, looking forward with the most
delighted expectation to this very hour, and as each year has passed,
the expectation has gone on increasing. I do the same now. I
anticipate what this plantation and that one will presently be, if
only taken care of, and there is not a spot of which I do not watch
the progress. Unlike building, or even painting, or indeed any other
kind of pursuit, this has no end, and is never interrupted; but goes
on from day to day, and from year to year, with a perpetually
augmenting interest. Farming I hate. What have I to do with fattening
and killing beasts, or raising corn, only to cut it down, and to
wrangle with farmers about prices, and to be constantly at the mercy
of the seasons? There can be no such disappointments or annoyances in
planting trees."[43] Scott indeed regarded planting as a mode of so
moulding the form and colour of the outward world, that nature herself
became indebted to him for finer outlines, richer masses of colour,
and deeper shadows, as well as for more fertile and sheltered soils.
And he was as skilful in producing the last result, as he was in the
artistic effects of his planting. In the essay on the planting of
waste lands, he mentions a story,--drawn from his own experience,--of
a planter, who having scooped out the lowest part of his land for
enclosures, and "planted the wood round them in masses enlarged or
contracted as the natural lying of the ground seemed to dictate," met,
six years after these changes, his former tenant on the ground, and
said to him, "I suppose, Mr. R----, you will say I have ruined your
farm by laying half of it into woodland?" "I should have expected it,
sir," answered Mr. R----, "if you had told me beforehand what you were
going to do; but I am now of a very different opinion; and as I am
looking for land at present, if you are inclined to take for the
remaining sixty acres the same rent which I formerly gave for a
hundred and twenty, I will give you an offer to that amount. I
consider the benefit of the enclosing, and the complete shelter
afforded to the fields, as an advantage which fairly counterbalances
the loss of one-half of the land."[44]

And Scott was not only thoughtful in his own planting, but induced his
neighbours to become so too. So great was their regard for him, that
many of them planted their estates as much with reference to the
effect which their plantations would have on the view from Abbotsford,
as with reference to the effect they would have on the view from
their own grounds. Many was the consultation which he and his
neighbours, Scott of Gala, for instance, and Mr. Henderson of Eildon
Hall, had together on the effect which would be produced on the view
from their respective houses, of the planting going on upon the lands
of each. The reciprocity of feeling was such that the various
proprietors acted more like brothers in this matter, than like the
jealous and exclusive creatures which landowners, as such, so often

Next to his interest in the management and growth of his own little
estate was Scott's interest in the management and growth of the Duke
of Buccleuch's. To the Duke he looked up as the head of his clan, with
something almost more than a feudal attachment, greatly enhanced of
course by the personal friendship which he had formed for him in early
life as the Earl of Dalkeith. This mixture of feudal and personal
feeling towards the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch continued during
their lives. Scott was away on a yachting tour to the Shetlands and
Orkneys in July and August, 1814, and it was during this absence that
the Duchess of Buccleuch died. Scott, who was in no anxiety about her,
employed himself in writing an amusing descriptive epistle to the Duke
in rough verse, chronicling his voyage, and containing expressions of
the profoundest reverence for the goodness and charity of the Duchess,
a letter which did not reach its destination till after the Duchess's
death. Scott himself heard of her death by chance when they landed for
a few hours on the coast of Ireland; he was quite overpowered by the
news, and went to bed only to drop into short nightmare sleeps, and to
wake with the dim memory of some heavy weight at his heart. The Duke
himself died five years later, leaving a son only thirteen years of
age (the present Duke), over whose interests, both as regarded his
education and his estates, Scott watched as jealously as if they had
been those of his own son. Many were the anxious letters he wrote to
Lord Montague as to his "young chief's" affairs, as he called them,
and great his pride in watching the promise of his youth. Nothing can
be clearer than that to Scott the feudal principle was something far
beyond a name; that he had at least as much pride in his devotion to
his chief, as he had in founding a house which he believed would
increase the influence--both territorial and personal--of the clan of
Scotts. The unaffected reverence which he felt for the Duke, though
mingled with warm personal affection, showed that Scott's feudal
feeling had something real and substantial in it, which did not vanish
even when it came into close contact with strong personal feelings.
This reverence is curiously marked in his letters. He speaks of "the
distinction of rank" being ignored by both sides, as of something
quite exceptional, but it was never really ignored by him, for though
he continued to write to the Duke as an intimate friend, it was with a
mingling of awe, very different indeed from that which he ever adopted
to Ellis or Erskine. It is necessary to remember this, not only in
estimating the strength of the feeling which made him so anxious to
become himself the founder of a house within a house,--of a new branch
of the clan of Scotts,--but in estimating the loyalty which Scott
always displayed to one of the least respectable of English
sovereigns, George IV.,--a matter of which I must now say a few words,
not only because it led to Scott's receiving the baronetcy, but
because it forms to my mind the most grotesque of all the threads in
the lot of this strong and proud man.


[Footnote 40: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, v. 387.]

[Footnote 41: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, v. 382.]

[Footnote 42: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iii. 288.]

[Footnote 43: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, vii. 287-8.]

[Footnote 44: Scott's _Miscellaneous Prose Works_, xxi. 22-3.]



The first relations of Scott with the Court were, oddly enough, formed
with the Princess, not with the Prince of Wales. In 1806 Scott dined
with the Princess of Wales at Blackheath, and spoke of his invitation
as a great honour. He wrote a tribute to her father, the Duke of
Brunswick, in the introduction to one of the cantos of _Marmion_, and
received from the Princess a silver vase in acknowledgment of this
passage in the poem. Scott's relations with the Prince Regent seem to
have begun in an offer to Scott of the Laureateship in the summer of
1813, an offer which Scott would have found it very difficult to
accept, so strongly did his pride revolt at the idea of having to
commemorate in verse, as an official duty, all conspicuous incidents
affecting the throne. But he was at the time of the offer in the thick
of his first difficulties on account of Messrs. John Ballantyne and
Co., and it was only the Duke of Buccleuch's guarantee of 4000_l._--a
guarantee subsequently cancelled by Scott's paying the sum for which
it was a security--that enabled him at this time to decline what,
after Southey had accepted it, he compared in a letter to Southey to
the herring for which the poor Scotch clergyman gave thanks in a grace
wherein he described it as "even this, the very least of Providence's
mercies." In March, 1815, Scott being then in London, the Prince
Regent asked him to dinner, addressed him uniformly as Walter, and
struck up a friendship with him which seems to have lasted their
lives, and which certainly did much more honour to George than to Sir
Walter Scott. It is impossible not to think rather better of George
IV. for thus valuing, and doing his best in every way to show his
value for, Scott. It is equally impossible not to think rather worse
of Scott for thus valuing, and in every way doing his best to express
his value for, this very worthless, though by no means incapable king.
The consequences were soon seen in the indignation with which Scott
began to speak of the Princess of Wales's sins. In 1806, in the squib
he wrote on Lord Melville's acquittal, when impeached for corruption
by the Liberal Government, he had written thus of the Princess

    "Our King, too--our Princess,--I dare not say more, sir,--
      May Providence watch them with mercy and might!
    While there's one Scottish hand that can wag a claymore, sir,
      They shall ne'er want a friend to stand up for their right.
            Be damn'd he that dare not--
            For my part I'll spare not
        To beauty afflicted a tribute to give;
            Fill it up steadily,
            Drink it off readily,
        Here's to the Princess, and long may she live."

But whoever "stood up" for the Princess's right, certainly Scott did
not do so after his intimacy with the Prince Regent began. He
mentioned her only with severity, and in one letter at least, written
to his brother, with something much coarser than severity;[45] but the
king's similar vices did not at all alienate him from what at least
had all the appearance of a deep personal devotion to his sovereign.
The first baronet whom George IV. made on succeeding to the throne,
after his long Regency, was Scott, who not only accepted the honour
gratefully, but dwelt with extreme pride on the fact that it was
offered to him by the king himself, and was in no way due to the
prompting of any minister's advice. He wrote to Joanna Baillie on
hearing of the Regent's intention--for the offer was made by the
Regent at the end of 1818, though it was not actually conferred till
after George's accession, namely, on the 30th March, 1820,--"The Duke
of Buccleuch and Scott of Harden, who, as the heads of my clan and the
sources of my gentry, are good judges of what I ought to do, have both
given me their earnest opinion to accept of an honour directly derived
from the source of honour, and neither begged nor bought, as is the
usual fashion. Several of my ancestors bore the title in the
seventeenth century, and, were it of consequence, I have no reason to
be ashamed of the decent and respectable persons who connect me with
that period when they carried into the field, like Madoc,

    "The Crescent at whose gleam the Cambrian oft,
    Cursing his perilous tenure, wound his horn,"

so that, as a gentleman, I may stand on as good a footing as other new
creations."[46] Why the honour was any greater for coming from such a
king as George, than it would have been if it had been suggested by
Lord Sidmouth, or even Lord Liverpool,--or half as great as if Mr.
Canning had proposed it, it is not easy to conceive. George was a fair
judge of literary merit, but not one to be compared for a moment with
that great orator and wit; and as to his being the fountain of honour,
there was so much dishonour of which the king was certainly the
fountain too, that I do not think it was very easy for two fountains
both springing from such a person to have flowed quite unmingled.
George justly prided himself on Sir Walter Scott's having been the
first creation of his reign, and I think the event showed that the
poet was the fountain of much more honour for the king, than the king
was for the poet.

When George came to Edinburgh in 1822, it was Sir Walter who acted
virtually as the master of the ceremonies, and to whom it was chiefly
due that the visit was so successful. It was then that George clad his
substantial person for the first time in the Highland costume--to wit,
in the Steuart Tartans--and was so much annoyed to find himself
outvied by a wealthy alderman, Sir William Curtis, who had gone and
done likewise, and, in his equally grand Steuart Tartans, seemed a
kind of parody of the king. The day on which the king arrived,
Tuesday, 14th of August, 1822, was also the day on which Scott's most
intimate friend, William Erskine, then Lord Kinnedder, died. Yet Scott
went on board the royal yacht, was most graciously received by George,
had his health drunk by the king in a bottle of Highland whiskey, and
with a proper show of devoted loyalty entreated to be allowed to
retain the glass out of which his Majesty had just drunk his health.
The request was graciously acceded to, but let it be pleaded on
Scott's behalf, that on reaching home and finding there his friend
Crabbe the poet, he sat down on the royal gift, and crushed it to
atoms. One would hope that he was really thinking more even of Crabbe,
and much more of Erskine, than of the royal favour for which he had
appeared, and doubtless had really believed himself, so grateful. Sir
Walter retained his regard for the king, such as it was, to the last,
and even persuaded himself that George's death would be a great
political calamity for the nation. And really I cannot help thinking
that Scott believed more in the king, than he did in his friend George
Canning. Assuredly, greatly as he admired Canning, he condemned him
more and more as Canning grew more liberal, and sometimes speaks of
his veerings in that direction with positive asperity. George, on the
other hand, who believed more in number one than in any other number,
however large, became much more conservative after he became Regent
than he was before, and as he grew more conservative Scott grew more
conservative likewise, till he came to think this particular king
almost a pillar of the Constitution. I suppose we ought to explain
this little bit of fetish-worship in Scott much as we should the
quaint practical adhesion to duelling which he gave as an old man, who
had had all his life much more to do with the pen than the sword--that
is, as an evidence of the tendency of an improved type to recur to
that of the old wild stock on which it had been grafted. But certainly
no feudal devotion of his ancestors to their chief was ever less
justified by moral qualities than Scott's loyal devotion to the
fountain of honour as embodied in "our fat friend." The whole relation
to George was a grotesque thread in Scott's life; and I cannot quite
forgive him for the utterly conventional severity with which he threw
over his first patron, the Queen, for sins which were certainly not
grosser, if they were not much less gross, than those of his second
patron, the husband who had set her the example which she faithfully,
though at a distance, followed.


[Footnote 45: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, vi. 229-30.]

[Footnote 46: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, vi. 13, 14.]



Scott usually professed great ignorance of politics, and did what he
could to hold aloof from a world in which his feelings were very
easily heated, while his knowledge was apt to be very imperfect. But
now and again, and notably towards the close of his life, he got
himself mixed up in politics, and I need hardly say that it was always
on the Tory, and generally on the red-hot Tory, side. His first hasty
intervention in politics was the song I have just referred to on Lord
Melville's acquittal, during the short Whig administration of 1806. In
fact Scott's comparative abstinence from politics was due, I believe,
chiefly to the fact that during almost the whole of his literary life,
Tories and not Whigs were in power. No sooner was any reform proposed,
any abuse threatened, than Scott's eager Conservative spirit flashed
up. Proposals were made in 1806 for changes--and, as it was thought,
reforms--in the Scotch Courts of Law, and Scott immediately saw
something like national calamity in the prospect. The mild proposals
in question were discussed at a meeting of the Faculty of Advocates,
when Scott made a speech longer than he had ever before delivered, and
animated by a "flow and energy of eloquence" for which those who were
accustomed to hear his debating speeches were quite unprepared. He
walked home between two of the reformers, Mr. Jeffrey and another,
when his companions began to compliment him on his eloquence, and to
speak playfully of its subject. But Scott was in no mood for
playfulness. "No, no," he exclaimed, "'tis no laughing matter; little
by little, whatever your wishes may be, you will destroy and
undermine, until nothing of what makes Scotland Scotland shall
remain!" "And so saying," adds Mr. Lockhart, "he turned round to
conceal his agitation, but not until Mr. Jeffrey saw tears gushing
down his cheek,--resting his head, until he recovered himself, on the
wall of the Mound."[47] It was the same strong feeling for old Scotch
institutions which broke out so quaintly in the midst of his own worst
troubles in 1826, on behalf of the Scotch banking-system, when he so
eloquently defended, in the letters of _Malachi Malagrowther_, what
would now be called Home-Rule for Scotland, and indeed really defeated
the attempt of his friends the Tories, who were the innovators this
time, to encroach on those sacred institutions--the Scotch one-pound
note, and the private-note circulation of the Scotch banks. But when I
speak of Scott as a Home-Ruler, I should add that had not Scotland
been for generations governed to a great extent, and, as he thought
successfully, by Home-Rule, he was far too good a Conservative to have
apologized for it at all. The basis of his Conservatism was always the
danger of undermining a system which had answered so well. In the
concluding passages of the letters to which I have just referred, he
contrasts "Theory, a scroll in her hand, full of deep and mysterious
combinations of figures, the least failure in any one of which may
alter the result entirely," with "a practical system successful for
upwards of a century." His vehement and unquailing opposition to
Reform in almost the very last year of his life, when he had already
suffered more than one stroke of paralysis, was grounded on precisely
the same argument. At Jedburgh, on the 21st March, 1831, he appeared
in the midst of an angry population (who hooted and jeered at him till
he turned round fiercely upon them with the defiance, "I regard your
gabble no more than the geese on the green,") to urge the very same
protest. "We in this district," he said, "are proud, and with reason,
that the first chain-bridge was the work of a Scotchman. It still
hangs where he erected it a pretty long time ago. The French heard of
our invention, and determined to introduce it, but with great
improvements and embellishments. A friend of my own saw the thing
tried. It was on the Seine at Marly. The French chain-bridge looked
lighter and airier than the prototype. Every Englishman present was
disposed to confess that we had been beaten at our own trade. But
by-and-by the gates were opened, and the multitude were to pass over.
It began to swing rather formidably beneath the pressure of the good
company; and by the time the architect, who led the procession in
great pomp and glory, reached the middle, the whole gave way, and
he--worthy, patriotic artist--was the first that got a ducking. They
had forgot the middle bolt,--or rather this ingenious person had
conceived that to be a clumsy-looking feature, which might safely be
dispensed with, while he put some invisible gimcrack of his own to
supply its place."[48] It is strange that Sir Walter did not see that
this kind of criticism, so far as it applied at all to such an
experiment as the Reform Bill, was even more in point as a rebuke to
the rashness of the Scotch reformer who hung the first successful
chain-bridge, than to the rashness of the French reformer of reform
who devised an unsuccessful variation on it. The audacity of the first
experiment was much the greater, though the competence of the person
who made it was the greater also. And as a matter of fact, the
political structure against the supposed insecurity of which Sir
Walter was protesting, with all the courage of that dauntless though
dying nature, was made by one who understood his work at least as well
as the Scotch architect. The tramp of the many multitudes who have
passed over it has never yet made it to "swing dangerously," and Lord
Russell in the fulness of his age was but yesterday rejoicing in what
he had achieved, and even in what those have achieved who have altered
his work in the same spirit in which he designed it.

But though Sir Walter persuaded himself that his Conservatism was all
founded in legitimate distrust of reckless change, there is evidence,
I think, that at times at least it was due to elements less noble. The
least creditable incident in the story of his political life--which
Mr. Lockhart, with his usual candour, did not conceal--was the
bitterness with which he resented a most natural and reasonable
Parliamentary opposition to an appointment which he had secured for
his favourite brother, Tom. In 1810 Scott appointed his brother Tom,
who had failed as a Writer to the Signet, to a place vacant under
himself as Clerk of Session. He had not given him the best place
vacant, because he thought it his duty to appoint an official who had
grown grey in the service, but he gave Tom Scott this man's place,
which was worth about 250_l._ a year. In the meantime Tom Scott's
affairs did not render it convenient for him to be come-at-able, and
he absented himself, while they were being settled, in the Isle of
Man. Further, the Commission on the Scotch system of judicature almost
immediately reported that his office was one of supererogation, and
ought to be abolished; but, to soften the blow, they proposed to allow
him a pension of 130_l._ per annum. This proposal was discussed with
some natural jealousy in the House of Lords. Lord Lauderdale thought
that when Tom Scott was appointed, it must have been pretty evident
that the Commission would propose to abolish his office, and that the
appointment therefore should not have been made. "Mr. Thomas Scott,"
he said, "would have 130_l._ for life as an indemnity for an office
the duties of which he never had performed, while those clerks who had
laboured for twenty years had no adequate remuneration." Lord Holland
supported this very reasonable and moderate view of the case; but of
course the Ministry carried their way, and Tom Scott got his unearned
pension. Nevertheless, Scott was furious with Lord Holland. Writing
soon after to the happy recipient of this little pension, he says,
"Lord Holland has been in Edinburgh, and we met accidentally at a
public party. He made up to me, but I remembered his part in your
affair, and _cut_ him with as little remorse as an old pen." Mr.
Lockhart says, on Lord Jeffrey's authority, that the scene was a very
painful one. Lord Jeffrey himself declared that it was the only
rudeness of which he ever saw Scott guilty in the course of a
life-long familiarity. And it is pleasant to know that he renewed his
cordiality with Lord Holland in later years, though there is no
evidence that he ever admitted that he had been in the wrong. But the
incident shows how very doubtful Sir Walter ought to have felt as to
the purity of his Conservatism. It is quite certain that the proposal
to abolish Tom Scott's office without compensation was not a reckless
experiment of a fundamental kind. It was a mere attempt at diminishing
the heavy burdens laid on the people for the advantage of a small
portion of the middle class, and yet Scott resented it with as much
display of selfish passion--considering his genuine nobility of
breeding--as that with which the rude working men of Jedburgh
afterwards resented his gallant protest against the Reform Bill, and,
later again, saluted the dauntless old man with the dastardly cry of
"Burk Sir Walter!" Judged truly, I think Sir Walter's conduct in
cutting Lord Holland "with as little remorse as an old pen," for
simply doing his duty in the House of Lords, was quite as ignoble in
him as the bullying and insolence of the democratic party in 1831,
when the dying lion made his last dash at what he regarded as the foes
of the Constitution. Doubtless he held that the mob, or, as we more
decorously say, the residuum, were in some sense the enemies of true
freedom. "I cannot read in history," he writes once to Mr. Laidlaw,
"of any free State which has been brought to slavery till the rascal
and uninstructed populace had had their short hour of anarchical
government, which naturally leads to the stern repose of military
despotism." But he does not seem ever to have perceived that educated
men identify themselves with "the rascal and uninstructed populace,"
whenever they indulge on behalf of the selfish interests of their own
class, passions such as he had indulged in fighting for his brother's
pension. It is not the want of instruction, it is the rascaldom, i. e.
the violent _esprit de corps_ of a selfish class, which "naturally
leads" to violent remedies. Such rascaldom exists in all classes, and
not least in the class of the cultivated and refined. Generous and
magnanimous as Scott was, he was evidently by no means free from the
germs of it.

One more illustration of Scott's political Conservatism, and I may
leave his political life, which was not indeed his strong side,
though, as with all sides of Scott's nature, it had an energy and
spirit all his own. On the subject of Catholic Emancipation he took a
peculiar view. As he justly said, he hated bigotry, and would have
left the Catholics quite alone, but for the great claims of their
creed to interfere with political life. And even so, when the penal
laws were once abolished, he would have abolished also the
representative disabilities, as quite useless, as well as very
irritating when the iron system of effective repression had ceased.
But he disapproved of the abolition of the political parts of the
penal laws. He thought they would have stamped out Roman Catholicism;
and whether that were just or unjust, he thought it would have been a
great national service. "As for Catholic Emancipation," he wrote to
Southey in 1807, "I am not, God knows, a bigot in religious matters,
nor a friend to persecution; but if a particular set of religionists
are _ipso facto_ connected with foreign politics, and placed under the
spiritual direction of a class of priests, whose unrivalled dexterity
and activity are increased by the rules which detach them from the
rest of the world--I humbly think that we may be excused from
entrusting to them those places in the State where the influence of
such a clergy, who act under the direction of a passive tool of our
worst foe, is likely to be attended with the most fatal consequences.
If a gentleman chooses to walk about with a couple of pounds of
gunpowder in his pocket, if I give him the shelter of my roof, I may
at least be permitted to exclude him from the seat next to the
fire."[49] And in relation to the year 1825, when Scott visited
Ireland, Mr. Lockhart writes, "He on all occasions expressed manfully
his belief that the best thing for Ireland would have been never to
relax the strictly _political_ enactments of the penal laws, however
harsh these might appear. Had they been kept in vigour for another
half-century, it was his conviction that Popery would have been all
but extinguished in Ireland. But he thought that after admitting
Romanists to the elective franchise, it was a vain notion that they
could be permanently or advantageously deterred from using that
franchise in favour of those of their own persuasion."

In his diary in 1829 he puts the same view still more strongly:--"I
cannot get myself to feel at all anxious about the Catholic question.
I cannot see the use of fighting about the platter, when you have let
them snatch the meat off it. I hold Popery to be such a mean and
degrading superstition, that I am not sure I could have found myself
liberal enough for voting the repeal of the penal laws as they existed
before 1780. They must and would, in course of time, have smothered
Popery; and I confess that I should have seen the old lady of
Babylon's mouth stopped with pleasure. But now that you have taken the
plaster off her mouth, and given her free respiration, I cannot see
the sense of keeping up the irritation about the claim to sit in
Parliament. Unopposed, the Catholic superstition may sink into dust,
with all its absurd ritual and solemnities. Still it is an awful risk.
The world is in fact as silly as ever, and a good competence of
nonsense will always find believers."[50] That is the view of a
strong and rather unscrupulous politician--a moss-trooper in
politics--which Scott certainly was. He was thinking evidently very
little of justice, almost entirely of the most effective means of
keeping the Kingdom, the Kingdom which he loved. Had he
understood--what none of the politicians of that day understood--the
strength of the Church of Rome as the only consistent exponent of the
principle of Authority in religion, I believe his opposition to
Catholic emancipation would have been as bitter as his opposition to
Parliamentary reform. But he took for granted that while only "silly"
persons believed in Rome, and only "infidels" rejected an
authoritative creed altogether, it was quite easy by the exercise of
common sense, to find the true compromise between reason and religious
humility. Had Scott lived through the religious controversies of our
own days, it seems not unlikely that with his vivid imagination, his
warm Conservatism, and his rather inadequate critical powers, he might
himself have become a Roman Catholic.


[Footnote 47: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ii. 328.]

[Footnote 48: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, x. 47.]

[Footnote 49: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, iii. 34.]

[Footnote 50: Ibid., ix. 305.]



With the year 1825 came a financial crisis, and Constable began to
tremble for his solvency. From the date of his baronetcy Sir Walter
had launched out into a considerable increase of expenditure. He got
plans on a rather large scale in 1821 for the increase of Abbotsford,
which were all carried out. To meet his expenses in this and other
ways he received Constable's bills for "four unnamed works of
fiction," of which he had not written a line, but which came to exist
in time, and were called _Peveril of the Peak_, _Quentin Durward_,
_St. Ronan's Well_, and _Redgauntlet_. Again, in the very year before
the crash, 1825, he married his eldest son, the heir to the title, to
a young lady who was herself an heiress, Miss Jobson of Lochore, when
Abbotsford and its estates were settled, with the reserve of
10,000_l._, which Sir Walter took power to charge on the property for
purposes of business. Immediately afterwards he purchased a captaincy
in the King's Hussars for his son, which cost him 3500_l._ Nor were
the obligations he incurred on his own account, or that of his family,
the only ones by which he was burdened. He was always incurring
expenses, often heavy expenses, for other people. Thus, when Mr.
Terry, the actor, became joint lessee and manager of the Adelphi
Theatre, London, Scott became his surety for 1250_l._, while James
Ballantyne became his surety for 500_l._ more, and both these sums had
to be paid by Sir Walter after Terry's failure in 1828. Such
obligations as these, however, would have been nothing when compared
with Sir Walter's means, had all his bills on Constable been duly
honoured, and had not the printing firm of Ballantyne and Co. been so
deeply involved with Constable's house that it necessarily became
insolvent when he stopped. Taken altogether, I believe that Sir Walter
earned during his own lifetime at least 140,000_l._ by his literary
work alone, probably more; while even on his land and building
combined he did not apparently spend more than half that sum. Then he
had a certain income, about 1000_l._ a year, from his own and Lady
Scott's private property, as well as 1300_l._ a year as Clerk of
Session, and 300_l._ more as Sheriff of Selkirk. Thus even his loss of
the price of several novels by Constable's failure would not seriously
have compromised Scott's position, but for his share in the
printing-house which fell with Constable, and the obligations of which
amounted to 117,000_l._

As Scott had always forestalled his income,--spending the
purchase-money of his poems and novels before they were written,--such
a failure as this, at the age of fifty-five, when all the freshness of
his youth was gone out of him, when he saw his son's prospects
blighted as well as his own, and knew perfectly that James Ballantyne,
unassisted by him, could never hope to pay any fraction of the debt
worth mentioning, would have been paralysing, had he not been a man of
iron nerve, and of a pride and courage hardly ever equalled. Domestic
calamity, too, was not far off. For two years he had been watching the
failure of his wife's health with increasing anxiety, and as
calamities seldom come single, her illness took a most serious form at
the very time when the blow fell, and she died within four months of
the failure. Nay, Scott was himself unwell at the critical moment, and
was taking sedatives which discomposed his brain. Twelve days before
the final failure,--which was announced to him on the 17th January,
1826,--he enters in his diary, "Much alarmed. I had walked till twelve
with Skene and Russell, and then sat down to my work. To my horror and
surprise I could neither write nor spell, but put down one word for
another, and wrote nonsense. I was much overpowered at the same time
and could not conceive the reason. I fell asleep, however, in my
chair, and slept for two hours. On my waking my head was clearer, and
I began to recollect that last night I had taken the anodyne left for
the purpose by Clarkson, and being disturbed in the course of the
night, I had not slept it off." In fact the hyoscyamus had, combined
with his anxieties, given him a slight attack of what is now called
_aphasia_, that brain disease the most striking symptom of which is
that one word is mistaken for another. And this was Scott's
preparation for his failure, and the bold resolve which followed it,
to work for his creditors as he had worked for himself, and to pay
off, if possible, the whole 117,000_l._ by his own literary exertions.

There is nothing in its way in the whole of English biography more
impressive than the stoical extracts from Scott's diary which note the
descent of this blow. Here is the anticipation of the previous day:
"Edinburgh, January 16th.--Came through cold roads to as cold news. Hurst
and Robinson have suffered a bill to come back upon Constable, which, I
suppose, infers the ruin of both houses. We shall soon see. Dined with
the Skenes." And here is the record itself: "January 17th.--James
Ballantyne this morning, good honest fellow, with a visage as black as the
crook. He hopes no salvation; has, indeed, taken measures to stop. It is
hard, after having fought such a battle. I have apologized for not
attending the Royal Society Club, who have a _gaudeamus_ on this day, and
seemed to count much on my being the præses. My old acquaintance Miss
Elizabeth Clerk, sister of Willie, died suddenly. I cannot choose but wish
it had been Sir W. S., and yet the feeling is unmanly. I have Anne, my
wife, and Charles to look after. I felt rather sneaking as I came home
from the Parliament-house--felt as if I were liable _monstrari digito_ in
no very pleasant way. But this must be borne _cum coeteris_; and, thank
God, however uncomfortable, I do not feel despondent."[51] On the
following day, the 18th January, the day after the blow, he records a bad
night, a wish that the next two days were over, but that "the worst _is_
over," and on the same day he set about making notes for the _magnum
opus_, as he called it--the complete edition of all the novels, with a new
introduction and notes. On the 19th January, two days after the failure,
he calmly resumed the composition of _Woodstock_--the novel on which he
was then engaged--and completed, he says, "about twenty printed pages of
it;" to which he adds that he had "a painful scene after dinner and
another after supper, endeavouring to convince these poor creatures" [his
wife and daughter] "that they must not look for miracles, but consider the
misfortune as certain, and only to be lessened by patience and labour." On
the 21st January, after a number of business details, he quotes from Job,
"Naked we entered the world and naked we leave it; blessed be the name of
the Lord." On the 22nd he says, "I feel neither dishonoured nor broken
down by the bad, now truly bad, news I have received. I have walked my
last in the domains I have planted--sat the last time in the halls I have
built. But death would have taken them from me, if misfortune had spared
them. My poor people whom I loved so well! There is just another die to
turn up against me in this run of ill-luck, i. e. if I should break my
magic wand in the fall from this elephant, and lose my popularity with my
fortune. Then _Woodstock_ and _Boney_" [his life of Napoleon] "may both go
to the paper-maker, and I may take to smoking cigars and drinking grog, or
turn devotee and intoxicate the brain another way."[52] He adds that when
he sets to work doggedly, he is exactly the same man he ever was, "neither
low-spirited nor _distrait_," nay, that adversity is to him "a tonic and

The heaviest blow was, I think, the blow to his pride. Very early he
begins to note painfully the different way in which different friends
greet him, to remark that some smile as if to say, "think nothing
about it, my lad, it is quite out of our thoughts;" that others adopt
an affected gravity, "such as one sees and despises at a funeral," and
the best-bred "just shook hands and went on." He writes to Mr. Morritt
with a proud indifference, clearly to some extent simulated:--"My
womenkind will be the greater sufferers, yet even they look cheerily
forward; and, for myself, the blowing off of my hat on a stormy day
has given me more uneasiness."[53] To Lady Davy he writes truly
enough:--"I beg my humblest compliments to Sir Humphrey, and tell him,
Ill Luck, that direful chemist, never put into his crucible a more
indissoluble piece of stuff than your affectionate cousin and sincere
well-wisher, Walter Scott."[54] When his _Letters of Malachi
Malagrowther_ came out he writes:--"I am glad of this bruilzie, as far
as I am concerned; people will not dare talk of me as an object of
pity--no more 'poor-manning.' Who asks how many punds Scots the old
champion had in his pocket when

    'He set a bugle to his mouth,
      And blew so loud and shrill,
    The trees in greenwood shook thereat,
      Sae loud rang every hill.'

This sounds conceited enough, yet is not far from truth."[55] His dread
of pity is just the same when his wife dies:--"Will it be better," he
writes, "when left to my own feelings, I see the whole world pipe and
dance around me? I think it will. Their sympathy intrudes on my
present affliction." Again, on returning for the first time from
Edinburgh to Abbotsford after Lady Scott's funeral:--"I again took
possession of the family bedroom and my widowed couch. This was a sore
trial, but it was necessary not to blink such a resolution. Indeed I
do not like to have it thought that there is any way in which I can be
beaten." And again:--"I have a secret pride--I fancy it will be so
most truly termed--which impels me to mix with my distresses strange
snatches of mirth, 'which have no mirth in them.'"[56]

But though pride was part of Scott's strength, pride alone never
enabled any man to struggle so vigorously and so unremittingly as he
did to meet the obligations he had incurred. When he was in Ireland in
the previous year, a poor woman who had offered to sell him
gooseberries, but whose offer had not been accepted, remarked, on
seeing his daughter give some pence to a beggar, that they might as
well give her an alms too, as she was "an old struggler." Sir Walter
was struck with the expression, and said that it deserved to become
classical, as a name for those who take arms against a sea of
troubles, instead of yielding to the waves. It was certainly a name
the full meaning of which he himself deserved. His house in Edinburgh
was sold, and he had to go into a certain Mrs. Brown's lodgings, when
he was discharging his duties as Clerk of Session. His wife was dead.
His estate was conveyed to trustees for the benefit of his creditors
till such time as he should pay off Ballantyne and Co's. debt, which
of course in his lifetime he never did. Yet between January, 1826, and
January, 1828, he earned for his creditors very nearly 40,000_l._
_Woodstock_ sold for 8228_l._, "a matchless sale," as Sir Walter
remarked, "for less than three months' work." The first two editions
of _The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte_, on which Mr. Lockhart says that
Scott had spent the unremitting labour of about two years--labour
involving a far greater strain on eyes and brain than his imaginative
work ever caused him--sold for 18,000_l._ Had Sir Walter's health
lasted, he would have redeemed his obligations on behalf of Ballantyne
and Co. within eight or nine years at most from the time of his
failure. But what is more remarkable still, is that after his health
failed he struggled on with little more than half a brain, but a
whole will, to work while it was yet day, though the evening was
dropping fast. _Count Robert of Paris_ and _Castle Dangerous_ were
really the compositions of a paralytic patient.

It was in September, 1830, that the first of these tales was begun. As
early as the 15th February of that year he had had his first true
paralytic seizure. He had been discharging his duties as clerk of
session as usual, and received in the afternoon a visit from a lady
friend of his, Miss Young, who was submitting to him some manuscript
memoirs of her father, when the stroke came. It was but slight. He
struggled against it with his usual iron power of will, and actually
managed to stagger out of the room where the lady was sitting with
him, into the drawing-room where his daughter was, but there he fell
his full length on the floor. He was cupped, and fully recovered his
speech during the course of the day, but Mr. Lockhart thinks that
never, after this attack, did his style recover its full lucidity and
terseness. A cloudiness in words and a cloudiness of arrangement began
to be visible. In the course of the year he retired from his duties of
clerk of session, and his publishers hoped that, by engaging him on
the new and complete edition of his works, they might detach him from
the attempt at imaginative creation for which he was now so much less
fit. But Sir Walter's will survived his judgment. When, in the
previous year, Ballantyne had been disabled from attending to business
by his wife's illness (which ended in her death), Scott had written in
his diary, "It is his (Ballantyne's) nature to indulge apprehensions
of the worst which incapacitate him for labour. I cannot help
regarding this amiable weakness of the mind with something too nearly
allied to contempt," and assuredly he was guilty of no such weakness
himself. Not only did he row much harder against the stream of fortune
than he had ever rowed with it, but, what required still more
resolution, he fought on against the growing conviction that his
imagination would not kindle, as it used to do, to its old heat.

When he dictated to Laidlaw,--for at this time he could hardly write
himself for rheumatism in the hand,--he would frequently pause and
look round him, like a man "mocked with shadows." Then he bestirred
himself with a great effort, rallied his force, and the style again
flowed clear and bright, but not for long. The clouds would gather
again, and the mental blank recur. This soon became visible to his
publishers, who wrote discouragingly of the new novel--to Scott's own
great distress and irritation. The oddest feature in the matter was
that his letters to them were full of the old terseness, and force,
and caustic turns. On business he was as clear and keen as in his best
days. It was only at his highest task, the task of creative work, that
his cunning began to fail him. Here, for instance, are a few sentences
written to Cadell, his publisher, touching this very point--the
discouragement which James Ballantyne had been pouring on the new
novel. Ballantyne, he says, finds fault with the subject, when what he
really should have found fault with was the failing power of the
author:--"James is, with many other kindly critics, perhaps in the
predicament of an honest drunkard, when crop-sick the next morning,
who does not ascribe the malady to the wine he has drunk, but to
having tasted some particular dish at dinner which disagreed with his
stomach.... I have lost, it is plain, the power of interesting the
country, and ought, injustice to all parties, to retire while I have
some credit. But this is an important step, and I will not be
obstinate about it if it be necessary.... Frankly, I cannot think of
flinging aside the half-finished volume, as if it were a corked bottle
of wine.... I may, perhaps, take a trip to the Continent for a year or
two, if I find Othello's occupation gone, or rather Othello's
_reputation_."[57] And again, in a very able letter written on the
12th of December, 1830, to Cadell, he takes a view of the situation
with as much calmness and imperturbability as if he were an outside
spectator. "There were many circumstances in the matter which you and
J. B. (James Ballantyne) could not be aware of, and which, if you were
aware of, might have influenced your judgment, which had, and yet
have, a most powerful effect upon mine. The deaths of both my father
and mother have been preceded by a paralytic shock. My father survived
it for nearly two years--a melancholy respite, and not to be desired.
I was alarmed with Miss Young's morning visit, when, as you know, I
lost my speech. The medical people said it was from the stomach, which
might be, but while there is a doubt upon a point so alarming, you
will not wonder that the subject, or to use Hare's _lingo_, the
_shot_, should be a little anxious." He relates how he had followed
all the strict medical _régime_ prescribed to him with scrupulous
regularity, and then begun his work again with as much attention as he
could. "And having taken pains with my story, I find it is not
relished, nor indeed tolerated, by those who have no interest in
condemning it, but a strong interest in putting even a face" (? force)
"upon their consciences. Was not this, in the circumstances, a damper
to an invalid already afraid that the sharp edge might be taken off
his intellect, though he was not himself sensible of that?" In fact,
no more masterly discussion of the question whether his mind were
failing or not, and what he ought to do in the interval of doubt, can
be conceived, than these letters give us. At this time the debt of
Ballantyne and Co. had been reduced by repeated dividends--all the
fruits of Scott's literary work--more than one half. On the 17th of
December, 1830, the liabilities stood at 54,000_l._, having been
reduced 63,000_l._ within five years. And Sir Walter, encouraged by
this great result of his labour, resumed the suspended novel.

But with the beginning of 1831 came new alarms. On January 5th Sir
Walter enters in his diary,--"Very indifferent, with more awkward
feelings than I can well bear up against. My voice sunk and my head
strangely confused." Still he struggled on. On the 31st January he
went alone to Edinburgh to sign his will, and stayed at his
bookseller's (Cadell's) house in Athol Crescent. A great snow-storm
set in which kept him in Edinburgh and in Mr. Cadell's house till the
9th February. One day while the snow was still falling heavily,
Ballantyne reminded him that a motto was wanting for one of the
chapters of _Count Robert of Paris_. He went to the window, looked out
for a moment, and then wrote,--

    "The storm increases; 'tis no sunny shower,
    Foster'd in the moist breast of March or April,
    Or such as parchèd summer cools his lips with.
    Heaven's windows are flung wide; the inmost deeps
    Call, in hoarse greeting, one upon another;
    On comes the flood, in all its foaming horrors,
    And where's the dike shall stop it?

                                  _The Deluge: a Poem._"

Clearly this failing imagination of Sir Walter's was still a great
deal more vivid than that of most men, with brains as sound as it ever
pleased Providence to make them. But his troubles were not yet even
numbered. The "storm increased," and it was, as he said, "no sunny
shower." His lame leg became so painful that he had to get a
mechanical apparatus to relieve him of some of the burden of
supporting it. Then, on the 21st March, he was hissed at Jedburgh, as
I have before said, for his vehement opposition to Reform. In April he
had another stroke of paralysis which he now himself recognized as
one. Still he struggled on at his novel. Under the date of May 6, 7,
8, he makes this entry in his diary:--"Here is a precious job. I have
a formal remonstrance from those critical people, Ballantyne and
Cadell, against the last volume of _Count Robert_, which is within a
sheet of being finished. I suspect their opinion will be found to
coincide with that of the public; at least it is not very different
from my own. The blow is a stunning one, I suppose, for I scarcely
feel it. It is singular, but it comes with as little surprise as if I
had a remedy ready; yet God knows I am at sea in the dark, and the
vessel leaky, I think, into the bargain. I cannot conceive that I have
tied a knot with my tongue which my teeth cannot untie. We shall see.
I have suffered terribly, that is the truth, rather in body than mind,
and I often wish I could lie down and sleep without waking. But I will
fight it out if I can."[58] The medical men with one accord tried to
make him give up his novel-writing. But he smiled and put them by. He
took up _Count Robert of Paris_ again, and tried to recast it. On the
18th May he insisted on attending the election for Roxburghshire, to
be held at Jedburgh, and in spite of the unmannerly reception he had
met with in March, no dissuasion would keep him at home. He was
saluted in the town with groans and blasphemies, and Sir Walter had to
escape from Jedburgh by a back way to avoid personal violence. The
cries of "Burk Sir Walter," with which he was saluted on this
occasion, haunted him throughout his illness and on his dying bed. At
the Selkirk election it was Sir Walter's duty as Sheriff to preside,
and his family therefore made no attempt to dissuade him from his
attendance. There he was so well known and loved, that in spite of his
Tory views, he was not insulted, and the only man who made any attempt
to hustle the Tory electors, was seized by Sir Walter with his own
hand, as he got out of his carriage, and committed to prison without
resistance till the election day was over.

A seton which had been ordered for his head, gave him some relief, and
of course the first result was that he turned immediately to his
novel-writing again, and began _Castle Dangerous_ in July, 1831,--the
last July but one which he was to see at all. He even made a little
journey in company with Mr. Lockhart, in order to see the scene of the
story he wished to tell, and on his return set to work with all his
old vigour to finish his tale, and put the concluding touches to
_Count Robert of Paris_. But his temper was no longer what it had
been. He quarrelled with Ballantyne, partly for his depreciatory
criticism of _Count Robert of Paris_, partly for his growing tendency
to a mystic and strait-laced sort of dissent and his increasing
Liberalism. Even Mr. Laidlaw and Scott's children had much to bear.
But he struggled on even to the end, and did not consent to try the
experiment of a voyage and visit to Italy till his immediate work was
done. Well might Lord Chief Baron Shepherd apply to Scott Cicero's
description of some contemporary of his own, who "had borne adversity
wisely, who had not been broken by fortune, and who, amidst the
buffets of fate, had maintained his dignity." There was in Sir Walter,
I think, at least as much of the Stoic as the Christian. But Stoic or
Christian, he was a hero of the old, indomitable type. Even the last
fragments of his imaginative power were all turned to account by that
unconquerable will, amidst the discouragement of friends, and the
still more disheartening doubts of his own mind. Like the headland
stemming a rough sea, he was gradually worn away, but never crushed.


[Footnote 51: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, viii. 197.]

[Footnote 52: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, viii. 203-4.]

[Footnote 53: Ibid., viii. 235.]

[Footnote 54: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, viii. 238.]

[Footnote 55: viii. 277.]

[Footnote 56: viii. 347, 371, 381.]

[Footnote 57: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, x. 11, 12.]

[Footnote 58: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, x. 65-6.]



In the month of September, 1831, the disease of the brain which had
long been in existence must have made a considerable step in advance.
For the first time the illusion seemed to possess Sir Walter that he
had paid off all the debt for which he was liable, and that he was
once more free to give as his generosity prompted. Scott sent Mr.
Lockhart 50_l._ to save his grandchildren some slight inconvenience,
and told another of his correspondents that he had "put his decayed
fortune into as good a condition as he could desire." It was well,
therefore, that he had at last consented to try the effect of travel
on his health,--not that he could hope to arrest by it such a disease
as his, but that it diverted him from the most painful of all efforts,
that of trying anew the spell which had at last failed him, and
perceiving in the disappointed eyes of his old admirers that the magic
of his imagination was a thing of the past. The last day of real
enjoyment at Abbotsford--for when Sir Walter returned to it to die, it
was but to catch once more the outlines of its walls, the rustle of
its woods, and the gleam of its waters, through senses already
darkened to all less familiar and less fascinating visions--was the
22nd September, 1831. On the 21st, Wordsworth had come to bid his old
friend adieu, and on the 22nd--the last day at home--they spent the
morning together in a visit to Newark. It was a day to deepen alike in
Scott and in Wordsworth whatever of sympathy either of them had with
the very different genius of the other, and that it had this result in
Wordsworth's case, we know from the very beautiful poem,--"Yarrow
Revisited,"--and the sonnet which the occasion also produced. And even
Scott, who was so little of a Wordsworthian, who enjoyed Johnson's
stately but formal verse, and Crabbe's vivid Dutch painting, more than
he enjoyed the poetry of the transcendental school, must have recurred
that day with more than usual emotion to his favourite Wordsworthian
poem. Soon after his wife's death, he had remarked in his diary how
finely "the effect of grief upon persons who like myself are highly
susceptible of humour" had been "touched by Wordsworth in the
character of the merry village teacher, Matthew, whom Jeffrey
profanely calls a half-crazy, sentimental person."[59] And long before
this time, during the brightest period of his life, Scott had made the
old Antiquary of his novel quote the same poem of Wordsworth's, in a
passage where the period of life at which he had now arrived is
anticipated with singular pathos and force. "It is at such moments as
these," says Mr. Oldbuck, "that we feel the changes of time. The same
objects are before us--those inanimate things which we have gazed on
in wayward infancy and impetuous youth, in anxious and scheming
manhood--they are permanent and the same; but when we look upon them
in cold, unfeeling old age, can we, changed in our temper, our
pursuits, our feelings,--changed in our form, our limbs, and our
strength,--can we be ourselves called the same? or do we not rather
look back with a sort of wonder upon our former selves as beings
separate and distinct from what we now are? The philosopher who
appealed from Philip inflamed with wine to Philip in his hours of
sobriety, did not claim a judge so different as if he had appealed
from Philip in his youth to Philip in his old age. I cannot but be
touched with the feeling so beautifully expressed in a poem which I
have heard repeated:--

    'My eyes are dim with childish tears,
      My heart is idly stirr'd,
    For the same sound is in my ears
      Which in those days I heard.
    Thus fares it still in our decay,
      And yet the wiser mind
    Mourns less for what age takes away
      Than what it leaves behind.'"[60]

Sir Walter's memory, which, in spite of the slight failure of brain
and the mild illusions to which, on the subject of his own prospects,
he was now liable, had as yet been little impaired--indeed, he could
still quote whole pages from all his favourite authors--must have
recurred to those favourite Wordsworthian lines of his with singular
force, as, with Wordsworth for his companion, he gazed on the refuge
of the last Minstrel of his imagination for the last time, and felt in
himself how much of joy in the sight, age had taken away, and how
much, too, of the habit of expecting it, it had unfortunately left
behind. Whether Sir Walter recalled this poem of Wordsworth's on this
occasion or not--and if he recalled it, his delight in giving pleasure
would assuredly have led him to let Wordsworth know that he recalled
it--the mood it paints was unquestionably that in which his last day
at Abbotsford was passed. In the evening, referring to the journey
which was to begin the next day, he remarked that Fielding and
Smollett had been driven abroad by declining health, and that they had
never returned; while Wordsworth--willing perhaps to bring out a
brighter feature in the present picture--regretted that the last days
of those two great novelists had not been surrounded by due marks of
respect. With Sir Walter, as he well knew, it was different. The
Liberal Government that he had so bitterly opposed were pressing on
him signs of the honour in which he was held, and a ship of his
Majesty's navy had been placed at his disposal to take him to the
Mediterranean. And Wordsworth himself added his own more durable token
of reverence. As long as English poetry lives, Englishmen will know
something of that last day of the last Minstrel at Newark:--

    "Grave thoughts ruled wide on that sweet day,
      Their dignity installing
    In gentle bosoms, while sere leaves
      Were on the bough or falling;
    But breezes play'd, and sunshine gleam'd
      The forest to embolden,
    Redden'd the fiery hues, and shot
      Transparence through the golden.

    "For busy thoughts the stream flow'd on
      In foamy agitation;
    And slept in many a crystal pool
      For quiet contemplation:
    No public and no private care
      The free-born mind enthralling,
    We made a day of happy hours,
      Our happy days recalling.

       *       *       *       *       *

    "And if, as Yarrow through the woods
      And down the meadow ranging,
    Did meet us with unalter'd face,
      Though we were changed and changing;
    If _then_ some natural shadow spread
      Our inward prospect over,
    The soul's deep valley was not slow
      Its brightness to recover.

    "Eternal blessings on the Muse
      And her divine employment,
    The blameless Muse who trains her sons
      For hope and calm enjoyment;
    Albeit sickness lingering yet
      Has o'er their pillow brooded,
    And care waylays their steps--a sprite
      Not easily eluded.

       *       *       *       *       *

    "Nor deem that localized Romance
      Plays false with our affections;
    Unsanctifies our tears--made sport
      For fanciful dejections:
    Ah, no! the visions of the past
      Sustain the heart in feeling
    Life as she is--our changeful Life
      With friends and kindred dealing.

    "Bear witness ye, whose thoughts that day
      In Yarrow's groves were centred,
    Who through the silent portal arch
      Of mouldering Newark enter'd;
    And clomb the winding stair that once
      Too timidly was mounted
    By the last Minstrel--not the last!--
      Ere he his tale recounted."

Thus did the meditative poetry, the day of which was not yet, do
honour to itself in doing homage to the Minstrel of romantic energy
and martial enterprise, who, with the school of poetry he loved, was
passing away.

On the 23rd September Scott left Abbotsford, spending five days on his
journey to London; nor would he allow any of the old objects of
interest to be passed without getting out of the carriage to see
them. He did not leave London for Portsmouth till the 23rd October,
but spent the intervening time in London, where he took medical
advice, and with his old shrewdness wheeled his chair into a dark
corner during the physicians' absence from the room to consult, that
he might read their faces clearly on their return without their being
able to read his. They recognized traces of brain disease, but Sir
Walter was relieved by their comparatively favourable opinion, for he
admitted that he had feared insanity, and therefore had "feared
_them_." On the 29th October he sailed for Malta, and on the 20th
November Sir Walter insisted on being landed on a small volcanic
island which had appeared four months previously, and which
disappeared again in a few days, and on clambering about its crumbling
lava, in spite of sinking at nearly every step almost up to his knees,
in order that he might send a description of it to his old friend Mr.
Skene. On the 22nd November he reached Malta, where he looked eagerly
at the antiquities of the place, for he still hoped to write a
novel--and, indeed, actually wrote one at Naples, which was never
published, called _The Siege of Malta_--on the subject of the Knights
of Malta, who had interested him so much in his youth. From Malta
Scott went to Naples, which he reached on the 17th December, and where
he found much pleasure in the society of Sir William Gell, an invalid
like himself, but not one who, like himself, struggled against the
admission of his infirmities, and refused to be carried when his own
legs would not safely carry him. Sir William Gell's dog delighted the
old man; he would pat it and call it "Poor boy!" and confide to Sir
William how he had at home "two very fine favourite dogs, so large
that I am always afraid they look too large and too feudal for my
diminished income." In all his letters home he gave some injunction to
Mr. Laidlaw about the poor people and the dogs.

On the 22nd of March, 1832, Goethe died, an event which made a great
impression on Scott, who had intended to visit Weimar on his way back,
on purpose to see Goethe, and this much increased his eager desire to
return home. Accordingly on the 16th of April, the last day on which
he made any entry in his diary, he quitted Naples for Rome, where he
stayed long enough only to let his daughter see something of the
place, and hurried off homewards on the 21st of May. In Venice he was
still strong enough to insist on scrambling down into the dungeons
adjoining the Bridge of Sighs; and at Frankfort he entered a
bookseller's shop, when the man brought out a lithograph of
Abbotsford, and Scott remarking, "I know that already, sir," left the
shop unrecognized, more than ever craving for home. At Nimeguen, on
the 9th of June, while in a steamboat on the Rhine, he had his most
serious attack of apoplexy, but would not discontinue his journey, was
lifted into an English steamboat at Rotterdam on the 11th of June, and
arrived in London on the 13th. There he recognized his children, and
appeared to expect immediate death, as he gave them repeatedly his
most solemn blessing, but for the most part he lay at the St. James's
Hotel, in Jermyn Street, without any power to converse. There it was
that Allan Cunningham, on walking home one night, found a group of
working men at the corner of the street, who stopped him and asked,
"as if there was but one death-bed in London, 'Do you know, sir, if
this is the street where he is lying?'" According to the usual irony
of destiny, it was while the working men were doing him this hearty
and unconscious homage, that Sir Walter, whenever disturbed by the
noises of the street, imagined himself at the polling-booth of
Jedburgh, where the people had cried out, "Burk Sir Walter." And it
was while lying here,--only now and then uttering a few words,--that
Mr. Lockhart says of him, "He expressed his will as determinedly as
ever, and expressed it with the same apt and good-natured irony that
he was wont to use."

Sir Walter's great and urgent desire was to return to Abbotsford, and at
last his physicians yielded. On the 7th July he was lifted into his
carriage, followed by his trembling and weeping daughters, and so taken to
a steamboat, where the captain gave up his private cabin--a cabin on
deck--for his use. He remained unconscious of any change till after his
arrival in Edinburgh, when, on the 11th July, he was placed again in his
carriage, and remained in it quite unconscious during the first two stages
of the journey to Tweedside. But as the carriage entered the valley of the
Gala, he began to look about him. Presently he murmured a name or two,
"Gala water, surely,--Buckholm,--Torwoodlee." When the outline of the
Eildon hills came in view, Scott's excitement was great, and when his eye
caught the towers of Abbotsford, he sprang up with a cry of delight, and
while the towers remained in sight it took his physician, his son-in-law,
and his servant, to keep him in the carriage. Mr. Laidlaw was waiting for
him, and he met him with a cry, "Ha! Willie Laidlaw! O, man, how often I
have thought of you!" His dogs came round his chair and began to fawn on
him and lick his hands, while Sir Walter smiled or sobbed over them. The
next morning he was wheeled about his garden, and on the following morning
was out in this way for a couple of hours; within a day or two he fancied
that he could write again, but on taking the pen into his hand, his
fingers could not clasp it, and he sank back with tears rolling down his
cheek. Later, when Laidlaw said in his hearing that Sir Walter had had a
little repose, he replied, "No, Willie; no repose for Sir Walter but in
the grave." As the tears rushed from his eyes, his old pride revived.
"Friends," he said, "don't let me expose myself--get me to bed,--that is
the only place."

After this Sir Walter never left his room. Occasionally he dropped off
into delirium, and the old painful memory,--that cry of "Burk Sir
Walter,"--might be again heard on his lips. He lingered, however, till
the 21st September,--more than two months from the day of his reaching
home, and a year from the day of Wordsworth's arrival at Abbotsford
before his departure for the Mediterranean, with only one clear
interval of consciousness, on Monday, the 17th September. On that day
Mr. Lockhart was called to Sir Walter's bedside with the news that he
had awakened in a state of composure and consciousness, and wished to
see him. "'Lockhart,' he said, 'I may have but a minute to speak to
you. My dear, be a good man,--be virtuous,--be religious,--be a good
man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie
here.' He paused, and I said, 'Shall I send for Sophia and Anne?'
'No,' said he, 'don't disturb them. Poor souls! I know they were up
all night. God bless you all!'" With this he sank into a very tranquil
sleep, and, indeed, he scarcely afterwards gave any sign of
consciousness except for an instant on the arrival of his sons. And so
four days afterwards, on the day of the autumnal equinox in 1832, at
half-past one in the afternoon, on a glorious autumn day, with every
window wide open, and the ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles
distinctly audible in his room, he passed away, and "his eldest son
kissed and closed his eyes." He died a month after completing his
sixty-first year. Nearly seven years earlier, on the 7th December,
1825, he had in his diary taken a survey of his own health in relation
to the age reached by his father and other members of his family, and
had stated as the result of his considerations, "Square the odds and
good night, Sir Walter, about sixty. I care not if I leave my name
unstained and my family property settled. _Sat est vixisse._" Thus he
lived just a year--but a year of gradual death--beyond his own


[Footnote 59: Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, ix. 63.]

[Footnote 60: _The Antiquary_, chap. x.]



Sir Walter certainly left his "name unstained," unless the serious
mistakes natural to a sanguine temperament such as his, are to be
counted as stains upon his name; and if they are, where among the sons
of men would you find many unstained names as noble as his with such a
stain upon it? He was not only sensitively honourable in motive, but,
when he found what evil his sanguine temper had worked, he used his
gigantic powers to repair it, as Samson used his great strength to
repair the mischief he had inadvertently done to Israel. But with all
his exertions he had not, when death came upon him, cleared off much
more than half his obligations. There was still 54,000_l._ to pay. But
of this, 22,000_l._ was secured in an insurance on his life, and there
were besides a thousand pounds or two in the hands of the trustees,
which had not been applied to the extinction of the debt. Mr. Cadell,
his publisher, accordingly advanced the remaining 30,000_l._ on the
security of Sir Walter's copyrights, and on the 21st February, 1833,
the general creditors were paid in full, and Mr. Cadell remained the
only creditor of the estate. In February, 1847, Sir Walter's son, the
second baronet, died childless; and in May, 1847, Mr. Cadell gave a
discharge in full of all claims, including the bond for 10,000_l._
executed by Sir Walter during the struggles of Constable and Co. to
prevent a failure, on the transfer to him of all the copyrights of Sir
Walter, including "the results of some literary exertions of the sole
surviving executor," which I conjecture to mean the copyright of the
admirable biography of Sir Walter Scott in ten volumes, to which I
have made such a host of references--probably the most perfect
specimen of a biography rich in great materials, which our language
contains. And thus, nearly fifteen years after Sir Walter's death, the
debt which, within six years, he had more than half discharged, was at
last, through the value of the copyrights he had left behind him,
finally extinguished, and the small estate of Abbotsford left cleared.

Sir Walter's effort to found a new house was even less successful than
the effort to endow it. His eldest son died childless. In 1839 he went
to Madras, as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 15th Hussars, and subsequently
commanded that regiment. He was as much beloved by the officers of his
regiment as his father had been by his own friends, and was in every
sense an accomplished soldier, and one whose greatest anxiety it was
to promote the welfare of the privates as well as of the officers of
his regiment. He took great pains in founding a library for the
soldiers of his corps, and his only legacy out of his own family was
one of 100_l._ to this library. The cause of his death was his having
exposed himself rashly to the sun in a tiger-hunt, in August, 1846; he
never recovered from the fever which was the immediate consequence.
Ordered home for his health, he died near the Cape of Good Hope, on
the 8th of February, 1847. His brother Charles died before him. He was
rising rapidly in the diplomatic service, and was taken to Persia by
Sir John MacNeill, on a diplomatic mission, as attaché and private
secretary. But the climate struck him down, and he died at Teheran,
almost immediately on his arrival, on the 28th October, 1841. Both the
sisters had died previously. Anne Scott, the younger of the two, whose
health had suffered greatly during the prolonged anxiety of her
father's illness, died on the Midsummer-day of the year following her
father's death; and Sophia, Mrs. Lockhart, died on the 17th May, 1837.
Sir Walter's eldest grandchild, John Hugh Lockhart, for whom the
_Tales of a Grandfather_ were written, died before his grandfather;
indeed Sir Walter heard of the child's death at Naples. The second
son, Walter Scott Lockhart Scott, a lieutenant in the army, died at
Versailles, on the 10th January, 1853. Charlotte Harriet Jane
Lockhart, who was married in 1847 to James Robert Hope-Scott, and
succeeded to the Abbotsford estate, died at Edinburgh, on the 26th
October, 1858, leaving three children, of whom only one survives.
Walter Michael and Margaret Anne Hope-Scott both died in infancy. The
only direct descendant, therefore, of Sir Walter Scott, is now Mary
Monica Hope-Scott who was born on the 2nd October, 1852, the
grandchild of Mrs. Lockhart, and the great-grandchild of the founder
of Abbotsford.

There is something of irony in such a result of the Herculean labours
of Scott to found and endow a new branch of the clan of Scott. When
fifteen years after his death the estate was at length freed from
debt, all his own children and the eldest of his grandchildren were
dead; and now forty-six years have elapsed, and there only remains one
girl of his descendants to borrow his name and live in the halls of
which he was so proud. And yet this, and this only, was wanting to
give something of the grandeur of tragedy to the end of Scott's great
enterprise. He valued his works little compared with the house and
lands which they were to be the means of gaining for his descendants;
yet every end for which he struggled so gallantly is all but lost,
while his works have gained more of added lustre from the losing
battle which he fought so long, than they could ever have gained from
his success.

What there was in him of true grandeur could never have been seen, had
the fifth act of his life been less tragic than it was. Generous,
large-hearted, and magnanimous as Scott was, there was something in
the days of his prosperity that fell short of what men need for their
highest ideal of a strong man. Unbroken success, unrivalled
popularity, imaginative effort flowing almost as steadily as the
current of a stream,--these are characteristics, which, even when
enhanced as they were in his case, by the power to defy physical pain,
and to live in his imaginative world when his body was writhing in
torture, fail to touch the heroic point. And there was nothing in
Scott, while he remained prosperous, to relieve adequately the glare
of triumphant prosperity. His religious and moral feeling, though
strong and sound, was purely regulative, and not always even
regulative, where his inward principle was not reflected in the
opinions of the society in which he lived. The finer spiritual element
in Scott was relatively deficient, and so the strength of the natural
man was almost too equal, complete, and glaring. Something that should
"tame the glaring white" of that broad sunshine, was needed; and in
the years of reverse, when one gift after another was taken away, till
at length what he called even his "magic wand" was broken, and the old
man struggled on to the last, without bitterness, without defiance,
without murmuring, but not without such sudden flashes of subduing
sweetness as melted away the anger of the teacher of his
childhood,--that something seemed to be supplied. Till calamity came,
Scott appeared to be a nearly complete natural man, and no more. Then
first was perceived in him something above nature, something which
could endure though every end in life for which he had fought so
boldly should be defeated,--something which could endure and more than
endure, which could shoot a soft transparence of its own through his
years of darkness and decay. That there was nothing very elevated in
Scott's personal or moral, or political or literary ends,--that he
never for a moment thought of himself as one who was bound to leave
the earth better than he found it,--that he never seems to have so
much as contemplated a social or political reform for which he ought
to contend,--that he lived to some extent like a child blowing
soap-bubbles, the brightest and most gorgeous of which--the Abbotsford
bubble--vanished before his eyes, is not a take-off from the charm of
his career, but adds to it the very speciality of its fascination. For
it was his entire unconsciousness of moral or spiritual efforts, the
simple straightforward way in which he laboured for ends of the most
ordinary kind, which made it clear how much greater the man was than
his ends, how great was the mind and character which prosperity failed
to display, but which became visible at once so soon as the storm came
down and the night fell. Few men who battle avowedly for the right,
battle for it with the calm fortitude, the cheerful equanimity, with
which Scott battled to fulfil his engagements and to save his family
from ruin. He stood high amongst those--

    "Who ever with a frolic welcome took
    The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
    Free hearts, free foreheads,"

among those who have been able to display--

    "One equal temper of heroic hearts
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will,
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

And it was because the man was so much greater than the ends for which
he strove, that there is a sort of grandeur in the tragic fate which
denied them to him, and yet exhibited to all the world the infinite
superiority of the striver himself to the toy he was thus passionately


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