Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Hanover Street, where he was distinguished for the ease and mirthfulness of his manners. At these parties he sometimes appeared in full dress, with white silk stockings, a scarlet silk under waistcoat, and uniform coat of the Border Club. A single anecdote is all the fruit of these meetings which has been preserved; we shall not quote it, because, when deprived of the manner of the relater, it does not possess any peculiar attraction. It would, indeed, be an impossible attempt to produce two volumes of Specimens of the Table Talk of the author of Waverley ; he had neither the poetical philosophy of Southey, nor the eloquent mysticism of Coleridge, nor the sparkling festivity of Moore. He went into society for the sake of recreation, not of display ; and, as Mackintosh said of Canning, when a thought of deeper meaning fell from him, it stole forth in a conversational undress. His efforts all tended to promote the good temper and harmony of the party. So at a dinner at Lasswade, when Leyden was relating with great indignation the violent conduct of the antiquary Ritson, Scott, without saying a word in reply, " took

up a large bunch of feathers, tied to a stick for dusting pictures, “ shook it about the student's head and ears till he laughed, and “ then changed the subject." (P. 113.) This trifling circumstance furnishes a happy illustration of his disposition.

We must resume our quotations from Sir Walter's Table Talk, for the sake of the following supernatural story, which was told, no doubt, with characteristic unction.

“ The dinner hour being so early as half-past four, there was ample time for conversation ; and for a few minutes, I remember, it turned upon ghosts and apparitions. The most awkward circumstance about well-authenticated hobgoblins,' said he, ‘is, that they, for the most part, come and go without any intelligible object or purpose, except to frighten people ; which, with all due deference, seems rather foolish. Very many persons have either seen a ghost, or something like one, and I am myself among the number. There is a particular turning of the high road through the forest, near Ashestiel, at a place which affords no possible means of concealment; the grass is smooth, and always eaten bare by the sheep; there is no heather, nor underwood, nor cavern in which any mortal being could conceal himself

. Towards this very spot I was advancing one evening on horseback, please to observe it was before dinner, and not long after sunset, so that I ran no risk either of seeing double, or wanting sufficient light for my observations. Before me, at the distance of about a quarter of a mile, there stood a human figure, sharply enough defined by the twilight. I advanced, --it stalked about ‘with a long staff in its hand, held like a wand of office, but only went to and fro, keeping at the same corner, till, as I came within a few yards, my friend all in an instant vanished. I was so struck with his eccentric conduct, that although Mrs. Scott was then in delicate health, and I was anxious to get home to a late dinner, I could not help stopping to examine the ground all about, but in vain ; he had either dissolved into air, or sunk into the earth, where I well knew there was no coal pit to receive him. Had he lain down on the green sward, the colour of his drapery, which was dusky brown, would have betrayed him at once, so that there was no practicable solution of the mystery. I rode on, and had not advanced above fifty yards, when, on looking back, my friend was there again, and even more clearly visible than before. Now, said I to myself, I must certainly have you ; so wheeled about and spurred Finella ; but the result was as before, he vanished instantaneously. I must candidly confess I had now got enough of the phantasmagoria ; and whether it were from a love of home, or a participation in my dislike of this very stupid ghost, no matter, Finella did her best to run away, and would by no means agree to any further process of investigation. I will not deny that I felt somewhat uncomfortable, and half inclined to think that this apparition was a warning of evil to come, or indication, however obsure, of misfortune that had already occurred. So strong was this impression, that I almost feared to ask for Mrs. Scott when I arrived at Ashestiel : but as Dr. Johnson said on a similar occasionNothing ever came of it. My family were all as usual ; but I did not soon forget the circumstance, because neither the state of the atmosphere nor outline of the scenery allowed of explanation by reference to any of those natural phenomena producing apparitions, which, however remarkable, are familiar, not only to James Hogg, as a poet, but to almost every shepherd in a mountainous district.'

With the appearance of Waverley, the recovery of which from among a miscellaneous collection of curiosities, Scott has so amusingly recorded, commenced a new and eventful era in the author's life. The progress of the novel was at first slow, but every day carried it into wider circulation, and the “ living por“ trait of the Baron of Bradwardine and his satellites” excited universal admiration and astonishment; feelings still further heightened by the publication of Guy Mannering early in the ensuing year; a novel which for liveliness of character, and force of execution, left its predecessor in the rear. In the same year came out the first series of Tales of My Landlord, under the assumed name of Peter Patterson; which, after considerable opposition, were at length attributed to the same fertile pen. The magical wand was now in full operation; fiction after fiction shone in unexpected beauty upon the wondering eye

“ Like some tall palm the mystic fabric rose,

Majestic silence !" Ivanhoe, with its splendid scenes of chivalry; Kenilworth, with its gorgeous festivals, its historical paintings, its poetic grandeur and dignity; The Antiquary, with its mellow colouring, its exquisite finish, its almost Attic raillery and humour; one after another, without any apparent effort, delighted and amazed the literary public. And all these works seemed only the recreations of a mind constantly employed in professional duties, and continually making incursions into the various and opposite departments of literature. But a change was coming over this golden dream! Chaucer has compared poetry to a Rock of Ice; human life bears an equal resemblance to it; the adventurer cuts his slips as he advances, shaping out the path up the precipice with toil and peril; he attains the summit, and finds the opposite side smooth as glass. The descent from prosperity is more rapid than the rise. The failure of Constable, the publisher of Sir Walter, in 1825, involved him in difficulties from which he was only extricated by death. The circumstances attending this unfortunate connexion are very clearly detailed in the volume before us. The heroic devotion with which he met this afflicting reverse of fortune, is absolutely sublime. Beneath the pressure of liabilities amounting to one hundred thousand pounds, he applied himself with wonderful resolution and intrepidity to his literary engagements; and when a very large sum was placed by an anonymous friend at his disposal," he returned “ it to the bankers from whose hands it came, with a letter, grate" fully acknowledging, but steadily declining the favour.” (P. 257.) Nor was the patriot lost in the man of misfortune; the political letters, published under the signature of Malgrowther, are said to have exercised a very beneficial influence upon the monetary system of Scotland. The death of Lady Scott threw him still more entirely upon literary pursuits. He now laboured almost unceasingly, and on his return to Edinburgh in May, 1826, “he established himself at a third-rate lodging in St. David's Street, “ such as might be considered suitable for a humble student

attending the University.” Here, we are informed by his Memorialist, he kept earlier hours than usual; sometimes in a single morning, and before the meeting of the court at ten, having finished a sheet of twenty-four pages for the printer.

“ His “ hand-writing," he continues, " was now so small and cramped, " that one of his ordinary quarto pages made, at least, double “ that amount in print; and, after all, he observed, it was really " no great exploit to finish twelve pages in a morning.'” (P. 257.) But on his return from the Parliament-House, however wearied he might be, the task was again resumed. Seldom receiving any company, he scarcely sat for a quarter of an hour at dinner, but turned directly to his writing desk, being anxious, he said, to take all possible advantage of the long days, and “ make hay while the sun shone." (P. 261.) In the midst of this severe and overwhelming application, and suffering under all the accumulated annoyances of his peculiar situation, he preserved unclouded the equanimity of his character: however heavy the task might be, says his friend, and however much he became pressed for time, there never appeared the slightest flurry or irritation in his demeanour; he never seemed vexed nor in a hurry, but, with a sort of smile his countenance, took up the

pen and went on, to all outward appearance as willingly as if the whole had been for his own amusement. (P. 262.)

on

The Life of Napoleon was now engaging his particular attention; for this colossal labour he received fourteen thousand pounds. Of the work itself this is not the place to enter into a criticism. A history of the most eventful period in the annals of the world, written literally currente calamo, and while the press was almost waiting, must necessarily be deficient in that high tone of reflective philosophy which history numbers among its most valuable attributes. But an immense mass of materials is condensed with extraordinary skill, the narrative is graphic and animated, and we have heard Professor Smythe (who has made the French Revolution the study of a life) very warmly recommend some chapters which treat of the progress and character of the revolutionary parties. The History of Scotland, for Lardners Cyclopædia, followed Napoleon; the years 1827, 1828, 1829, and 1830, gave birth to as many romances, besides nine volumes of Tales of a Grandfather, one volume of dramatic poetry, and numerous contributions to the periodical press. His Letters upon Demonology appeared about the same time.

In the autumn of 1829, the writer of these Recollections paid his last visit to Abbotsford, a place which has been recently described by Washington Irving, in his usually happy manner.

Beyond the gates you had an extensive park, laid out on the best and boldest principles of landscape gardening, as applicable to forest scenery; while, within doors, you were surrounded in every apartment with objects calculated not only to realize the cherished visions of romance, but to awaken all those associations which, to the historian, the biographer, and antiquary, are the most valuable and interesting. The domestic economy was equally agreeable, and the minutest accessories to comfort and convenience carefully provided. Not only on each table in the recesses of the library, but in every sleeping apartment, was placed the port-feuille, with paper, pens, ink, and sealing-wax. Match-box and taper, to those who knew the ways of the house, were unnecessary; for it was a practice to keep the oil gas burning, though at so very low a degree, that unless the stop-cock were touched, the consumption was insignificant, and the flame imperceptible. In the large antique dining room there hung a very beautiful lustre, which in spring and autumn was always lighted, though invisibly, before dinner; and on the approach of darkness, instead of the usual parade of servants bringing candles, the full blaze of light could be produced, as if magically, by a single touch, or moderated to any degree.” (P. 277.)

“ With regard to the mansion itself,” adds the writer, “the room that always seemed to me the most imposing and effective, is the front hall or armoury; so faithful are its imitations of genuine old models, so massive and sombre is the style, and so rich the collection of objects interesting to an antiquarian. A whole morning might be well employed in examining this one apartment with a Cicerone who knew all its history. It is about forty feet long, has a tesselated pavement of black and white Scotch marble, and a noble roof, in rich Gothic arches. Here, as in the rest of the mansion, though the general plan was of course original, Sir Walter Scott adopted the system of forming details ; that is to say, roofs, fire-places, windows and doors, by precise copies from the veritable antique : and wherever it was possible to employ actual portions of old buildings, either in wood or stone, they were, of course, used in preference. In the hall, if I mistake not, the richly carved panels, of black and imperishable oak, were brought from the ruins of Dumferline palace, or abbey ; and the immense fire-place was exactly modelled after that of an existing old castle. I cannot imagine a scene more poetically impressive than this room, especially when viewed by summer moonlight."

But our contracting space warns us to hasten to a conclusion; nor is it necessary now to dwell upon the expiring flashes of this noble genius. The mournful tale is too well known; his voyage to Malta—his melancholy tour in Italy-his return in the summer of 1832—his death at Abbotsford-his burial in Dryburgh Abbey! Let him sleep!

We have purposely refrained from any but a passing glance at the literary characteristics of this illustrious writer, because we hope to enter fully into them at a more convenient season. Although he never produced a successful play, his genius was essentially dramatic; and it is this faculty which animates alike his verse and prose.

His power does not consist in detached scenes, in brilliant fragments, but in the whole picture. From no writer of eminence could you select so few single lines of beauty or force. The dark painting of Byron, the sweet lines of Rogers, the delicious harmony of Coleridge, are equally strange to him: his versification is destitute, to a very rare degree, of all the arts and graces of style; his diction is often prosaic, often ungrammatical; as in the use of wore, tore, chose, for worn, torn, chosen; ghast for ghastly; and numerous instances of a similar kind. Many of his lines consist only of words carelessly shaken together, without any regard to rhythm, as in the following:

“ Whose cowardice hath undone us both." These are defects in the execution not easily separable from the peculiar manner of the writer, and they are lost for the moment in the enthusiasm and breathless anxiety with which the reader is carried along the rapid current of his story. The Lady of the Lake, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, and Marmion, will endure as long (though specimens of far humbler poetry) as Spenser or as Milton. The soul of a border-bard lives along the line. Of these three poems, the merely poetic reader is probably most delighted with the first ; so animated, so clear, so picturesque, so full of beautiful groupings and scenery: the second is perhaps more affecting, and a mysterious gloom is breathed over it, which makes its perusal resemble a solitary walk in a ruined abbey. The incidents are

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »