Изображения страниц

year his health rapidly improved, a change to which his addiction to rural pursuits mainly contributed. The nature of his future profession became now a subject of consideration ; and his peculiar habits seemed to suggest his fitness for the law. Having undergone the preliminary course of instruction, he accordingly assumed his

gown and paraded the outer house.” The first steps of the legal aspirant at Edinburgh are any thing but delightful. Sir Walter, though entertaining no partiality for his profession, contrived to be punctual in his attendance, and to escape the seduction of the Stove School. The activity of his mind found a resource in the study of foreign languages, to which he applied himself with great industry, and soon made a considerable proficiency in Italian, French, and German; but his knowledge was limited to the power of translating ; to the philology of a language he always retained an insuperable aversion; yet his critical knowledge of French must have been by no means despicable, if, as we are assured, he read through nearly all the old romances in that tongue. But from Germany came the light which kindled his imagination; he belonged to a small club who studied German under Dr. Willich, who wished to lead his pupils through all the critical difficulties of the language; but Scott, whose only aim in the acquirement of it was to gain an acquaintance with the dramatic treasures it contained, (as alluded to in the paper read by Mr. Mackenzie before the Edinburgh Royal Society, in 1798,) adopted a method of his own, to the dismay of his instructor, and the laughter of his class-fellows. At that time German books were scarce commodities in the Scotch metropolis; but Scott, having obtained the works of Goethe, Schiller, and Bürger, began to dash out a free translation of the whole with a most spirited perseverance.

The Leonora and Wild Huntsman of Bürger harmonized happily with his own romantic feelings. Sir Walter's literary debut was made in the very suspicious company of his friend Mr. Lewis, the author of a well-known and disgraceful novel. Every one has heard of Scott's affection for a military life, and in 1797 he entered the Royal Mid-Lothian Regiment of Cavalry, and formed a friendship, never interrupted, with some devoted partizans of the Tory government, particularly the Duke of Buccleuch ; Mr. Blair, afterwards President of the Court of Session; and Henry Dundas, afterwards Lord Melville. In 1797, he married a lady named Charpentier, and henceforward was an unfailing attendant at the Parliament House. “ His residence in “ North Castle Street, Edinburgh, formed for many years his “head-quarters, and here was founded that library, and collection “ of antiquities and armour, which afterwards accumulated to a

great extent. The house was small but convenient, having a quiet library in the rear, where his books were arranged in such perfect order, that he could in a moment command any volume

" that was required; the dusky old covers being always retouched “ by his confidential binder, and blazoned with their names in gold “ letters. The massive library table, the trophies on the wall, “ the Roman lamps on the chimney-piece, the spectral figures

produced by old coats of mail and hauberks placed upright-all “ were in symmetry. There was no litter or confusion; and to

prevent an accumulation of useless papers (for even the envelopes of the letters he received would in the year have made a

waggon load), a large round basket stood always at hand, ready “ to receive what Voltaire chose to denominate foul linen."" One winter evening, when Scott happened to cram into the fire a very large manuscript, of which he had made a fair copy, and Mr. Ballantyne, the printer, wished to take it out again; “ Be “ quiet,” said the author, “ and rest assured you have got what is “bad enough already; don't ask for any thing worse. In those days he carefully transcribed his productions, and seemed to take pleasure in doing so. (P. 84.) Such was Scott's winter residence ; for his summer retreat he selected a thatched cottage in the neighbourhood of Lasswade and Roslin, a place which has gained the title of the Scottish Richmond, and which certainly deserves the tribute of every lover of the picturesque. Happy had it been for Scott if his adventurous and eager spirit could have sat down contented for ever in this poetic retreat, where the rustic arch, and the twining ivy, and the honeysuckle and roses before the walls, planted and nurtured in a great measure by his own hands, breathed an air of peace and serenity around! The author of these Recollections has recorded a pleasing visit to Lasswade, which we should gladly transfer to our columns; but our space forbids. For an anecdote connected with their walk to Roslin, we must, however, find room, as being illustrative of Scott's coolness of mind and unaffected courage. From Roslin chapel they crossed the river by a wooden bridge, to visit a favourite cave of Scott's.

It enters,” says the writer, “from the front of a precipitous cliff, and, like other places of the same kind, is concealed from observation by overhanging thickets of wild-wood ; nor can it be reached without clinging to the branches, either in mounting or descending. We came along in safety till we stood close to the cave ; but in turning to enter it, Scott made a leap, which his lameness rendered ineffectual, missed his footing, and fell down the precipice. Had there been no trees in the way, he must have been severely injured; but midway he was stopped by a large root of hazel, when, instead of struggling, which would have made matters greatly worse, he seemed perfectly resigned to his fate, and slipped through the tangled thicket till he lay flat on the river's bank. All this was so alarming that I could not help uttering a loud exclamation. Never mind,' said Erskine, I am certain he is not hurt;' and accordingly Scott rose in an instant from his recumbent position, and, with a hearty laugh, called out — Now let me see who else will do the like!' He scrambled up the cliff with alacrity, and entered the cave, where we had a long dialogue.” (P.110.)

Among the party assembled to meet them on their return from Roslin, was Mr. John Leyden, alike remarkable for his boundless “ enthusiasm for Scottish characters of the olden time, for Scottish “ music, poetry and scenery, and for hard study in every depart

ment.' He maintained, that difficulties exist only for perseverance to conquer, and realized in his own conduct all the extent of his theory. Leyden bade adieu to his native fields with bitter regret; and how deeply he felt his banishment upon an eastern shore, may be known from his Ode to an Indian Coin, one of the most affecting compositions in any language-a true lyric of the heart. He fell a victim to his unremitting study of oriental literature, and added another name to the Martyrs of Learning.

Hitherto Scott had made no bold step in authorship; but a dawn of fame was at hand. It is singular that two of the most beautiful and popular poems in our language, though differing totally in character, should have been called into existence by the casual observation of female friends. To the playful remark of Lady Austin—" you can write upon any thing, write upon this sofa," —we owe the charming scenes of The Task; and had it not been, as we are told, for the accidental suggestion of the beautiful and amiable Countess of Dalkeith, Scott would certainly never have written his first metrical romance. She had heard, says the writer of the Recollections, the legend of the Dwarf Demon, Gilpin Horner, and wished to have some verses written about him, probably thinking this would be an easy task; and her slightest wish was a law. But the dwarf was no very poetical personage. He had made his appearance unexpectedly, it is true ; had behaved capriciously, like Number Nip; frightened both grown people and children; shown the notable inclination for mischief which is customary with devils; and at last vanished as unexpectedly as he came: but all this was quite as well told in prose, as in the best rhymes that ever were penned. In order to meet Lady Dalkeith's wishes, therefore, he must be introduced as an inferior and infernal agent in some plot of importance which was yet to be devised. Thus arose the Lay of the Last Minstrel, though the original idea of Gilpin now became subordinate, and was lost in the superstructure. (P.120.) The success of the poem was extensive beyond the most sanguine hopes of the author or his friends ;—the style so

new and animated, the imagery so vivid and natural, the characters so fresh and living,-all created a sensation of astonishment and pleasure: the country of Burns had produced another poet.

The appointment of Scott to the office of sheriff occasioned his removal from Lasswade. His new residence, Ashiestiel, was an old and rather dilapidated house, situated amid the romantic scenery of Ettrick Forest, near the banks of the Tweed, and

surrounded by mountains covered here and there “with the grey ruins of an ancient fortress.” In this pastoral solitude the poetic dreams of the Roxburgshire Hills and the Border Tower would naturally revive in his mind; and The Lay of the Last Minstrel, which appeared in 1805, bore ample testimony to the intellectual vigour and originality of the writer. For this poem he received six hundred pounds, a sum quite unprecedented in Scotland.

Scott did not inherit the irritability of the literary race, and continued his attendance at the Parliament House without intermission during the session, when the appointment to the situation of principal Clerk of Session, with an average income of fifteen hundred pounds, came to crown his prosperity. His duties, indeed, which were chiefly limited to making notes of decisions, were not very agreeable; but Scott triumphed over every difficulty, and was complimented by the judge for his rapidity and correctness. His literary efforts, meanwhile, underwent no respite ; Constable purchased the copyright of Marmion for one thousand pounds, a sum required by the author, it is said, for " the special purpose of assisting a friend who was then dis“ tressed.” The impression previously produced upon the public mind by the Lay of the Last Minstrel was exceeded by Marmion: the happy construction of the plot, the animation of the figures, the life of the scenery, the torrent-like flow of the narrative, and the originality pervading the whole, were every where felt and acknowledged :-it was a romance in rhyme. In these rapid observations it would be idle to attempt a critical view of Scott's productions, or even to name all those of a miscellaneous character which he continually poured from the press. To assist the new house of Ballantyne and Company, in whose establishment he was mainly instrumental, he composed his charming poem, The Lady of the Lake, which was “suggested by the deep impressions “ Perthshire had left on his remembrance.” He has mentioned this fact in his own precious fragments of autobiography. “I took uncommon pains,” he adds,“ to verify the accuracy of the “ local circumstances of this story. I recollect, in particular, " that, to ascertain whether I was telling a probable tale, I went “ into Perthshire to see whether King James could actually have “ridden from the banks of Loch Vennachar to Stirling Castle “ within the time supposed in the poem, and had the pleasure to “ satisfy myself that it was quite possible.” For The Lady of the Lake four thousand pounds were given by Messrs. Ballantyne; and the circulation warranted the amount. Visitors thronged from every part of England, and even from distant countries, to the solitudes of Loch Katrine, and the wheels of a thousand carriages “ startled the untrodden roads of Callander.”

The question will naturally be asked, how an individual so occupied by a fatiguing profession could find leisure for the fabrication of these works of art ? but Scott had now entered upon a system of early rising, and the hours preceding breakfast were appropriated to literary composition ; a determination materially aided, as he declared, by the exemplary character and admonitions of his friend Wallace, a little wiry-haired terrier, of which he was very fond. By this habit three hours of fresh and uninterrupted study were secured before his official engagements at the Parliament House-a portion of time amply sufficient, he affirmed, for all the demands of authorship.

When Swift declared that he never knew any man come to greatness and eminence who lay in bed of a morning, he certainly intended to limit his remark to political and active life; for in literature many authors besides Î'homson have dreamt away the morning hours in a Castle of Indolence. But the habit of early rising is undoubtedly of inestimable value, and one of the most powerful implements in the hand of a man beating out his path to distinction; it was, indeed, a very common virtue among our ancestors. In Paris, we are told, that in the fourteenth century the shops were opened at four in the morning; and we know that in the reign of our own Henry VIII. the fashionable dinner hour was ten A.M. The superior elasticity and freshness of the intellectual faculties in the morning are facts well known to every student. Doddridge attributed the composition of his Commentary upon the New Testament to this practice, and observed, that the difference between rising at five and seven in the morning for the space of forty years, supposing a man to go to bed at the same hour at night, is nearly equivalent to the addition of ten years to life. The eminent naturalist, Buffon, has recorded a curious anecdote of the resolution with which he combated a disposition to indulge in the pleasures of slumber. “ In my youth I was very fond of sleep; it robbed me of a great deal of my time; but my poor Joseph (his servant) was of

great service in enabling me to overcome it. I promised to give Joseph a crown every time that he would make me get up at six. Next morning he did not fail to wake me, and to torment me, but he only received abuse. The next day after, he did the same, with no better success; and I was obliged to confess at noon that I had lost my

time. I told him that he did not know how to manage his business; he ought to think of my promise, and not mind my threats. The day following, he employed force; I begged for indulgence, and bid him begone. I stormed—but Joseph persisted. I was therefore obliged to comply; and he was rewarded every day, for the abuse he suffered at the moment when I awoke, by thanks, accompanied with a crown, which he received about an hour after. Yes, I am indebted to poor Joseph for ten or a dozen of the volumes of my works.”

The author of the Recollections occasionally met Sir Walter about this period, at the house of Mr. Ballantyne, in South

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »