Imágenes de página

and inspired some of the tenderest strains of his poetry. In the summer of 1797, however, on a visit to the watering-place of Gilsland, in Cumberland, he became acquainted with Charlotte Margaret Carpenter, a young lady of French birth and parentage, and a mutual attachment having ensued, they were married at Carlisle in December of the same year.

The German ballads served as the translator's introduction to the then celebrated Matthew Gregory Lewis, who enlisted him as a contributor to his poetical Tales of Wonder; and one cannot now but smile to hear of the elation with which the author of Waverley at that time contemplated the patronizing kindness extended to him by the author of The Monk. Early in 1788 was published Scott's translation of Goethe's "Goetz von Berlichingen," which, through Lewis's assistance, was sold to a London bookseller for twenty-five guineas; but, though favourably criticized, it was coldly received by the public. In the summer of 1799, the poet wrote those ballads which he has himself called his "first serious attempts in verse;" the Glenfinlas, the Eve of St. John, and the Grey Brother.

After Scott's marriage, several of his summers were spent in a pretty cottage at Lasswade, near Edinburgh, where he formed, besides other acquaintances, those of the noble houses of Melville and Buccleuch, whose influence procured for him,

in the end of 1799, his appointment as sheriffdepute of Selkirkshire, an office imposing little duty, while it yielded a permanent salary of three hundred pounds per annum. His father's death had recently bestowed on him a small patrimony; his wife had an income considerable enough to aid him greatly; his practice as a lawyer yielded, though not much, yet more than barristers of his standing can usually boast of; and, altogether, his situation in life was strikingly favourable compared with that of most literary men. Still, however, though now twenty-eight years of age, he had done nothing to found a reputation as a man of letters; and there appeared as yet little probability that he would devote himself to literature as a profession, or consider it as any thing more than a relaxation for those leisure hours left unoccupied by business, and by the enjoyments of society.

In 1800 and 1801 those hours were employed in the preparation of the Border Minstrelsy, the first two volumes of which appeared in the beginning of the next year, and the edition, consisting of eight hundred copies, was sold off before its close. This work, the earliest which can be said to have contributed to his general fame, yielded him about eighty pounds of clear profit; a sum far inadequate to defray the expense of the investiga tions out of which it sprang. In 1803 it was completed by the publication of the third volume. Besides the value which the Minstrelsy possesses

[ocr errors]

in itself, in the noble antique ballads, so industriously, tastefully, and yet conscientiously edited, in the curious and lively information which overflows through all the prose annotations, and in those few original poems which gave the earliest and most significant intimation of that genius which as yet had lurked unseen, the work has now a separate value and interest, as forming the most curious of all illustrations for the history of its editor's mind and of his subsequent works. "One of the critics of that day," remarks Mr. Lockhart, "said that the book contained the elements of a hundred historical romances;' and this critic was a prophetic one. No person who has not gone through its volumes for the express purpose of comparing their contents with his great original works, can have formed a conception of the endless variety of incidents and images, now expanded and emblazoned by his mature art, of which the first hints may be found either in the text of those primitive ballads, or in the notes which the happy rambles of his youth had gathered together for their illustration."

But before the publication of the Border Minstrelsy, the poet had begun to attempt a higher flight. "In the third volume," says he, writing to his friend George Ellis in 1803, "I intend to publish a long poem of my own. It will be a kind of romance of border chivalry, in a lighthorseman sort of stanza." This border romance

was the Lay of the Last Minstrel, which, however, soon extended in plan and dimensions, and, originating as a ballad on a goblin story, became at length a long and varied poem. The first draft of it, in its present shape, was written in the autumn of 1802, and the whole history of its progress has been delightfully told by the author himself, and is well illustrated by his biographer.

In 1803, during a visit to London, Scott, already familiarly acquainted with Ellis, Heber, and other literary men, and now possessing high reputation based upon the Minstrelsy, was introduced to several of the first men of the time; and thenceforth, bland as he was in manner, and kind in heart, indefatigable and successful in his study of human character, and always willing to receive with cordiality the strangers whom his waxing fame brought about him, it is not surprising to find, that not to know personally Walter Scott, argued one's self unknown. The toleration and kindliness of his character are illustrated by the fact, that firm as his own political opinions were, and violently as excitement sometimes led him to express them, not only did he always continue on friendly terms with the chief men of the opposite party in Edinburgh, but several of them were his intimate friends and associates; and he even was for some years an occasional contributor to the Edinburgh Review.

In 1804 was published his edition of the ancient

poem of Sir Tristrem, so valuable for its learned dissertations, and for that admirable imitation of the antique, which appears as a continuation of the early minstrel's work.

During that year and the preceding, the Lay was freely submitted to all the author's friends, Wordsworth and Jeffrey among the rest; and after undergoing various changes, and receiving enthusiastic approval in several quarters from which commendation was wont to issue but sparingly, it was at length published, in the first week of 1805. The poet, now thirty-three years of age, took his place at once as a classic in English literature. Its circulation immediately became immense, and has since exceeded that of any other English poem.

At this culminating point of the poet's life, we must turn aside from the narrative of his literary triumphs, to notice a step of another kind, which proved the most important he ever took. In one of those interesting communications of 1830, which throw so much light on his personal history, he has told us, that from the moment when it became certain that literature was to form the principal employment of his days, he determined that it should at least not constitute a necessary source of his income. Few literary men, perhaps, have not nourished a wish of this sort; but very few, indeed, have possessed, like Scott, the means of converting the desire into an effectual

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »