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WHETHER we estimate him by the enormous amount of literary work he accomplished, or by the splendour of the fame that he achieved, Scott must be reckoned beyond question the greatest writer that the nineteenth century has yet produced. Before he began to pour his wonderful series of novels from a well of fancy that seemed without measure and without depth, he had already won a brilliant and lasting renown as a poet of chivalry and romance.
As the object of this chapter is to present a clear and vivid sketch of Scott's life, we shall best avoid confusion by dividing that life into four great periods, to be touched on in succession, reserving for the close a short account of the principal works with which this magnificent genius endowed his country and the world.
I. From his birth in 1771 to his entrance on literary life in
1796 by the publication of Bürger’s Lenore, translated from the German. This period, extending over twentyfive years, includes his early life, his education, his
apprenticeship, and his first appearance as an advocate. II. From 1796 to the publication of Waverley in 1814. This
period of eighteen years, from his twenty-fifth to his fortythird year, includes the publication of his chief poems, and ,
, his editions of Dryden and of Swift. It was a time of growing fame.
THE BEST-LOVED SCENE OF ALL
III. From 1814 to the great catastrophe of 1826, when he sat
down, a man of fifty-five, to write off a debt considerably above £100,000. During these twelve years, the brightest of his life, he produced his finest novels, and built on the
banks of Tweed his mansion of Abbotsford. IV. From 1826 to his death, a period of six years, devoted to
constant literary toil, rendered doubly painful towards the end by the consciousness of decaying powers, and the shocks of mortal disease. Literally, Scott wrote himself to death. The noble genius, straining every nerve under an overwhelming burden, burst his heart and fell, just when the goal of his honourable hopes began to rise clearly into view.
In a house at the head of the College Wynd in Edinburgh
Walter Scott was born, on the 15th of August 1771. 1771 His father was a respectable Writer to the Signet; his
mother, Anne Rutherford, was the daughter of an eminent
Edinburgh physician. When a toddling bairn of only eighteen months, a severe teething fever deprived him of the power of his right leg. The earliest recollections of the child were of a fairer kind than the College Wynd, or even George's Square, to which the family soon removed, could afford. The delighted eyes the
poor lame little fellow, as he lay among his intimate friends the sheep, on the grass-cushioned crags of Sandy-Knowe, saw, below, the windings of the silver Tweed, and the grey ruins of Dryburgh nestling among
dark yew trees; and in front the purple summits of “ Eildon's triple height.” And this scene, the first he was conscious of gazing upon, was to the last most fondly loved of all. With Tweed, above all other names, the memory of Scott is imperishably associated. And upon that warm September day when his spirit fled, “ the gentle ripple of Tweed over its pebbles” was almost the last earthly sound that fell upon his dying ear.
At the High School of Edinburgh he spent some years, having entered Luke Fraser's second class in 1779, and passed to the tuition of the rector, Dr. Adam, in 1782. He did nothing remarkable in the class-rooms; but in the yards of the High School
TRANSLATION OF “ LENORE.”
he was very popular, on account of his powers as a story-teller, We should not forget, however, that he won Dr. Adam's attention by some clever poetical versions from Horace and Virgil. Indiscriminate reading was the grand passion of his boyhood. He tells us how he found some odd voluines of Shakspere in his mother's dressingroom, where he sometimes slept, and with what absorbing delight he sat in his shirt reading them by the light of the fire, until he heard the noise of the family rising from the supper-table. Spenser, too, was an especial favourite with him, read many a time, during holiday hours, in some sheltered nook of Salisbury Craigs or the Blackford Hills.
After a short attendance at the Latin, Greek, and Logic classes of the Edinburgh University, he was apprenticed to his father in 1786. Of Greek he knew next to nothing. He was well read in Shakspere and Milton; but took especial delight in such writers as Spenser, Boccaccio, and Froissart. Nothing, he says, but his strong taste for historical study, a study that never grew weak, saved his mind at this time from utter dissipation. A dangerous illness, arising from the bursting of a blood-vessel, which occurred about the second year of his apprenticeship, gave him several months of almost uninterrupted reading, and deepened the colouring caught from old chivalrous romance, which remained to the last the characteristic of his mind.
When his apprenticeship was duly served, he studied for the bar, and in July 1792 donned the wig and gown of a Scottish advocate. But this honourable garb was to him little more than a matter of form; for the practice of law, which never yielded him £200 a year, was soon given up for more congenial and illustrious toils.
The literary career of Scott opens with the publication of his Translations from Bürger. The study of German having become fashionable in Edinburgh some years earlier, Scott, with other young lawyers, loungers of the "Mountain," as their idling bench in the Parliament House was called, formed a class for thestudy of that language. Having heard of “ Lenore," the young student procured a copy, and one night after supper sat down to translate the thrilling tale. It was published, with “The Wild Huntsman," a 1796 rendering from the same author, in the autumn of 1796.
A cottage at Lasswade soon received Scott and his young French bride, whose maiden name was Charlotte Carpenter, or Charpentier; and there the lawyer-poet lived happily by the lovely Esk, occasionally varying his literary labours by the stirring details of military drill on Portobello sands; for he now wore scarlet, as quarter-master of the Edinburgh Light Horse. We all know how the galloping and wheeling of these cavalry drills, with braying trumpets, flashing steel, and the wild excitement of the headlong charge, must have kindled martial fire in the breast of the author of “ Marmion.”
In 1799 Scott was appointed, by the influence of the Duke of Buccleuch, Sheriff-deputy of Selkirkshire, poetically called Ettrick
Forest. With the income of this office-£300 a year 1804 —and some little fortune held by his wife, he soon
established himself at the farm of Ashestiel on the Tweed,
not far from the Yarrow, a literary man now by profession. This house, where he resided for the greater part of nearly eight years, stood in an old-fashioned garden fenced with holly hedges, and on a high bank, which was divided from the river he loved so well only by a narrow strip of green meadow. Already he had raised his name in literary circles by the publication of several noble ballads and three volumes of the Border Minstrelsy, filled partly with original poems, but chiefly with pieces gathered during those tours in southern Scotland, which he called his " raids into Liddesdale."
His life at Ashestiel may serve as a specimen of his routine to the last, when he was in the country. Rising at five, he lit his own fire (if it was cold weather), dressed with care, and went out to see his favourite horse. At six he was seated at his desk in his shooting-jacket, or other out-of-doors garb, with a dog or two couched at his feet. There he wrote till breakfast-time, at nine or ten; and by that hour he had, in his own words, “ broken the neck of the day's work.” A couple of hours after breakfast were also given to the pen, and at twelve he was “his own man"-free for the day. By one he was on horseback, with his greyhounds led by his side, ready for some hours' coursing; or he was gliding
THE LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL.”
in a boat over some deep pool on Tweed, salmon-spear in liand, watching in the sunlight for a silver-scaled twenty-pounder.* Such sports, varied with breezy rides by green glen and purple moorland, closed the day, whose early hours had been given to the battle of Flodden, or the romantic wanderings of Fitzjames.
It was at Ashestiel that his first great poem— The Lay of the Last Minstrel—was completed. Published in January 1805, this noble picture of the wild Border life of by- 1805 gone days raised the Sheriff of Ettrick Forest to an exalted rank among British poets. The grey-haired Harper, who timidly turned his weary feet towards the iron gate of Newark, and tuned his harp to such glorious strains, is one of the finest creations of our poetical literature. This tale was but the first of a series of picturesque romances, couched in flowing verse of eight syllables, and coloured with the brightest hues of Highland and knightly life, that proceeded during the next ten years from Scott's magic pen. Of these enchanting poems we shall here name only Marmion and The Lady of the Lake. Another impor-, tant work of this period was his Life and Works of Dryden, which, published in eighteen volumes in 1808, cost him much toil during the three years he spent upon
it. The dream of being a Tweedside laird began, with his brightening fame and growing wealth, to take a definite shape. In 1806 he had been appointed one of the Clerks of Session, in room of old Mr. Home; promotion which did not at once increase bis income, but gave him the prospect of £800 a year, in addition to his salary as sheriff, upon the death of his predecessor. Accordingly, he purchased the farm of Clarty-Hole, consisting of about a hundred acres, stretch- 1811 ing for half a mile along the Tweed, not far from the foot of the Gala. This ill-named and not very wellfavoured spot formed the nucleus of Abbotsford. One piece of neighbouring land after another was added,—a mansion was built, which has been called “ a Gothic romance embodied in stone and mortar,"—the bare banks of Tweed were clothed with
* In that day even slieriffs plied the leister.