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Memoir of Sir Walter Scott.
BY J. W. LAKE.
SIR WALTER SCOTT, descended from one of the this time to the year 1798, his life appears to have most ancient families of Scotland-the Scotts of passed in a devoted attention to his professional Harden, is the eldest surviving son of a gentleman duties, mindful of the advice, of the same name, who was an eminent writer to Not to pen stanzas when he should engross. the signet at Edinburgh, where the subject of this sketch was born, August 15, 1771. His mother, matrimonial state with Miss Carpenter, by whom At the last-mentioned date he entered into the Mrs. Elizabeth Scott, was the daughter of David he has four children. At the close of the year folRutherford, esq., writer to the signet, from whom lowing, he received the appointment of sheriffshe obtained a handsome fortune. She was a wo- depute of the county of Selkirk; and in March, man of great virtue and accomplishments, with a 1806, he was named one of the principal clerks of good taste for poetry, as appeared from some of session in Scotland. With regard to this last preher productions, which were deemed worthy of ferment, it should be observed that his warrant, being printed after her death, in 1789. Walter, though drawn, had not passed the seals when the from the tenderness of his constitution, and the death of Mr. Pitt produced an entire change in circumstance of his lameness, occasioned by a fall the ministry. The appointment of Mr. Scott had from his nurse's arms at two years of age, was in been effected through the friendship of lord Mela great measure brought up at home, under the ville, who was then actually under impeachment. immediate care and instruction of this excellent This circumstanee seemed very ominous against parent, to whom he was much attached through the confirmation of the nomination; but, fortunately life, and whose loss he sincerely lamented. Of for Mr. Scott, the new ministry consisted of such his early pursuits little is known, except that he men as the late Mr. Fox, Sheridan, lord Erskine, evinced a genius for drawing landscapes after na- and the marquis of Lansdowne, with several others ture.-At a proper age he was sent to the high attached to literature and philosophy; and, in a school at Edinburgh, then directed by Dr. Alex- manner that did them infinite honour, they made ander Adam. In this school, young Scott passed no objection to the advancement of their poetical through the different forms without exhibiting any opponent. Thus, as a witty friend remarked, this of those extraordinary powers of genius, which are seldom remembered till the person to whom they appointment was the "last lay of the old ministry." are ascribed has become, by the maturity of his labour, by the acquisition of two lucrative situaReleased now from the drudgery of professional talents, an object of distinction. It is said, that he tions, and the possession of a handsome estate was considered in his boyhood rather heavy than through the death of his father and that of an unotherwise, and that the late Dr. Hugh Blair had cle, Mr. Scott was enabled to court the muses at discernment enough to predict his future eminence, his pleasure, and to indulge in a variety of literary when the master of the school lamented his dul- pursuits without interruption.-His first publicaness; but this only affords another instance of the tions were translations from the German, at a time fallacy of human opinion in pronouncing upon the when the wildest productions of that country were real capacity of the youthful understanding. Bar- much sought after in England, owing to the recent row, the greatest scholar of his age, was discarded as a blockhead by successive teachers; and his pu-ger. The very year when different versions of that appearance of that horrible story of Lenora of Burtale came out, and some of these highly ornamented, Mr. Scott produced two German ballads in an English dress, entitled, "The Wild Huntsman,' and William and Helen."
pil, the illustrious Newton, was declared to be fit for nothing but to drive the team, till some friends succeeded in getting him transplanted to college. Having completed his classical studies at the high school, with as much reputation, we suppose, as others of his standing, Walter Scott was moved to the university of Edinburgh, where, also, he passed the classes in a similar manner.
His continuance here, however, could not have been long; for, after serving the prescribed terms in the office of a writer to the signet, he was admitted an advocate of the Scotch bar, when he had not quite attained the age of twenty-one.-From «Goetz of Berlichingen," a tragedy, by Goethe.
re-intended for the press, being nothing more than These little pieces, however, were not originally exercises in the way of amusement, till a friend, thor to publish them, and at the same time conto whom they were shown, prevailed upon the autributed the preface. Three years elapsed before Mr. Scott ventured to appear again in print, when he produced another translation from the German,
The prediction of Dr. Blair, here alluded to, arose out Two years afterwards the late Matthew Gregory of the following circumstances. Shortly after Dr. Pater-(cominonly called Monk) Lewis, enriched his on succeeded to the grammar-school, Musselburgh, where Tales of Wonder" with two ballads communiWalter Scott was a short time a pupil, Blair, accompanied cated to him by our author, by some friends, paid him a visit; in the course of which he examined several of his pupils, and paid particular attention to young Scott. Dr. Paterson thought it was the Fouth's stupidity that engaged the doctor's notice, and said, "My predecessor tells me, that boy has the thickest kuil in the school." "May be so," replied Dr. Blair, but through tha: thick skull I can discern many bright rays
entitled "The Eve of Saint John," and the other "Glenfinlas." In 1802 his first great work, "The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," came out, beautifully printed at Kelso, by Ballantyne. This collection the pieces of which it is composed are very uneimmediately arrested general attention, and though
of future genius."
qual, the master-mind and soaring genius of the poet are conspicuous throughout.
As an instance of the popularity of Scott's poems we subjoin a statement of the sale of "Rokeby' and "The Lady of the Lake," in nearly four months, as submitted by the publishers.
Sold of "The Lady of the Lake," from June 2d
The studies of our author at this time were entirely antiquarian. He lived and breathed only among the knights, the heroes, the monks, and robbers of olden time; the feats of chivalry, and the rough heroism of northern warfare and border feuds, were the scenes in which his soul delighted to dwell. He drank deeply of the stream of history as it darkly flowed over the middle ages, and his spirit seemed for a time to be imbued with the mysteries, the superstitions, and the romantic valour which characterised the then chieftains of the
2,000 quarto, at 21. 28..
Sold of "Rokeby," in three months (Jan. 14th to April 14th, 1813,)
3,000 quarto, at 21. 2s. (less
"The Vision of Don Roderick" appeared in 1811, and was intended by its author to commemorate the achievements of the duke of Wellington and the British army in Spain. This poem is considered a complete failure.
His next production was "Sir Tristram, a metrical romance of the thirteenth century, by Thomas of Ercildoun," printed in 1804. Still, however, Mr. Scott may be said as yet to have been only rising in fame: but he soon gained enough to We shall now attempt to offer a few critical obhave intoxicated an ordinary mind in the applause servations on the three most deservedly popular bestowed upon his "Lay of the last Minstrel," poems of Walter Scott, viz. The Lay of the Last which appeared, in quarto, in 1805.-The follow-Minstrel, Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake. ing year he published a collection of "Ballads and The LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL is an endeavour Lyrical Pieces." Shortly after this, public expec- to transfer the refinements of modern poetry to the tation was raised by the promise of a poem, on the matter and the manner of the ancient metrical roperfection of which the bard was said to labour as mance. The author, enamoured of the lofty visions for immortality. Accordingly, in 1808, appeared of chivalry, and partial to the strains in which they "Marmion, a tale of Flodden Field," which the were formerly embodied, employed all the reauthor himself has characterised as "containing sources of his genius in endeavouring to recal them the best and the worst poetry he has ever written." to the favour and admiration of the public, and in The same year Mr. Scott favoured the world adapting to the taste of modern readers a species with a complete edition of the Works of Dryden, of poetry, which was once the delight of the courtly, in which he gave a new life of that great writer, but which has long ceased to gladden any other and numerous notes. But this was not the only eyes than those of the scholar and the antiquary. instance of the fecundity of his genius and the ra- This is a romance, therefore, composed by a minpidity of his pen, for, while these volumes were strel of the present day, or such a romance as we proceeding through the press, he found time for may suppose would have been written in modern quarto of Descriptions and Illustrations of the times, if that style of composition had been cultiLay of the Last Minstrel." vated, and partaken, consequently, of the improvements which every branch of literature has re
Within a few months after this he undertook, at the request of the booksellers, the superintend-ceived since the time of its desertion. ence of a new edition of lord Somers's collection of Historical Tracts; and at the same time edited sir Ralph Sadler's State Papers, and Anna Seward's Poetical Works. Yet the very year in which these last publications appeared witnessed the birth of another original offspring of his prolific muse. This was "The Lady of the Lake," the most popular of all his poems, though, in the opinion of many, inferior in several respects to his "Lay of the Last Minstrel."
Upon this supposition, it was evidently the author's business to retain all that was good, and to reject all that was bad, in the models upon which he was to form himself; adding, at the same time, all the interest and beauty which could possibly be assimilated to the manner and spirit of his original. It was his duty, therefore, to reform the ram bling, obscure, and interminable narratives of the ancient romancers,-to moderate their digressions, -to abridge or retrench their prolix or needless descriptions, and to expunge altogether those feeble and prosaic passages, the rude stupidity of which is so apt to excite the derision of a modern reader: at the same time he was to rival, if he could, the force and vivacity of their minute and varied representations-the characteristic simpli city of their pictures of manners-the energy and conciseness with which they frequently describe great events-and the lively colouring and accu
"Rokeby" was published in 1812-13. It comprises, in an eminent degree, all the beauties and all the defects of our poct's muse.
In 1814 "The Lord of the Isles" appeared, but failed to excite equal interest with most of its pre-rate drawing by which they give the effect of redecessors. This is the last grand original poem of ality to every scene they undertake to delineate. the northern bard. In executing this arduous task, he was permitted In the last-mentioned year he also published a to avail himself of all the variety of style and manprose work, entitled, "The Border Antiquities of ner which had been sanctioned by the ancient pracEngland and Scotland, with Descriptions and Il-tice, and bound to embellish his performance with lustrations," and brought out a new edition of Swift, all the graces of diction, and versification which with a biographical memoir and annotations. could be reconciled to the simplicity and familiarity of the minstrel's song.
These were followed by two performances, one in prose and the other in verse, the first entitled "Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk," and the other "The Battle of Waterloo."
The success which attended Mr. Scott's efforts in the execution of this adventurous essay is well known;-he produced a very beautiful and enter
had been accumulated by the most celebrated of his predecessors; at the same time that the rapidity of his transitions, the novelty of his combinations, and the spirit and variety of his own thoughts and inventions, show plainly that he was
taining poem, in a style which might fairly be considered as original, and the public approbation afforded the most flattering evidence of the genius of the author. Perhaps, indeed, his partiality for the strains of antiquity imposed a little upon the severity of his judgment, and impaired the beauty of his a borrower from an thing but poverty, and took imitation, by directing his attention rather to what only what he could have given if he had been born was characteristic, than to what was unexception- in an earlier age. The great secret of his populariable in his originals. Though he spared too many ty at the time, and the leading characteristic of his of their faults, however, he improved upon their poetry, consisted evidently in this, that he made beauties, and while it was regretted by many, that use of more common topics, images, and expresthe feuds of border chieftains should have mono- sions, than any original poet of later times; and, polized as much poetry as might have served to at the same time, displayed more genius and oriimmortalize the whole baronage of the empire, ginality than any recent author who had hitherto yet it produced a stronger inclination to admire worked in the same materials. By the latter pethe interest and magnificence which he contrived culiarity, he entitled himself to the admiration of to communicate to a subject so unpromising. every description of readers; by the former he came recommended in an especial manner to the inexperienced, at the hazard of some little offence to the more cultivated and fastidious.
MARMION has more tedious and flat passages, and more ostentation of historical and antiquarian lore, than its predecessor, but it has also greater richness and variety, both of character and inci- In the choice of his subjects, for example, he dent; and, if it has less sweetness and pathos in did not attempt to interest merely by fine observathe softer passages, it has certainly more vehe- tions or pathetic sentiment, but took the assistance mence and force of colouring in the loftier and of a story, and enlisted the reader's curiosity among buster representations of action and emotion. his motives for attention. Then his characters The place of the prologuizing minstrel is but were all selected from the most common dramatis ill supplied, indeed, by the epistolary disserta-persone of poetry-kings, warriors, knights, outtions which are prefixed to each book of this po- laws, nuns, minstrels, secluded damsels, wizards, em; but there is more airiness and spirit in the and true lovers. He never ventured to carry us fighter delineations, and the story, if not more into the cottage of the peasant, like Crabbe or Cowskilfully conducted, is at least better complicated, per; nor into the bosom of domestic privacy, like and extended through a wider field of adventure. Campbell; nor among creatures of the imagination, The characteristics of both, however, are evidently like Southey or Darwin. Such personages, assurthe same; a broken narrative-a redundancy of edly, are not in themselves so interesting or strikminute description-bursts of unequal and ener- ing as those to which our poet devoted himself; getic poetry and a general tone of spirit and ani- but they are far less familiar in poetry, and are mation, unchecked by timidity or affectation, and therefore more likely to engage the attention of unchastened by any great delicacy of taste, or ele- those to whom poetry is familiar. In the managegance of fancy. ment of the passions, again, he pursued the same popular and comparatively easy course. He raised all the most familiar and poetical emotions, by the most obvious aggravations, and in the most compendious and judicious way. He dazzled the reader with the splendour, and even warmed him with the transient heat of various affections: but he nowhere fairly kindled him into enthusiasm, or melted him into tenderness. Writing for the world at large, (unlike Byron,) he wisely abstained from attempting to raise any passion to a height to which worldly people could not be transported, and contented himself with giving his reader the chance of feeling as a brave, kind, and affectionate gentleman should often feel in the ordinary course of his existence, without trying to breathe into him ei
THE LADY OF THE LAKE is more polished in its diction, and more regular in its versification, than the author's preceding poems; the story is constructed with infinitely more skill and address; there is a greater proportion of pleasing and tender passages, with much less antiquarian detail, and, upon the whole, a larger variety of characters, more artfully and judiciously contrasted. There is nothing so fine, perhaps, as the battle in Marmion, or so picturesque as some of the scattered sketches in the Lay of the Last Minstrel; but there is a richness and a spirit in the Lady of the Lake, which does not pervade either of these poems; a profusion of incident, and a shifting brilliancy of colouring, that reminds us of the witchery of Ariosto, and a constant elasticity and occasional ener-ther that lofty enthusiasm which disdains the ordigy, which seem to belong more peculiarly to the nary business and amusements of life, or that quiet author himself. and deep sensibility, which unfits for all its pursuits. With regard to diction and imagery, too, it is quite obvious that he aimed not at writing in either a pure or very common style. He seems to have been anxious only to strike, and to be easily and universally understood; and, for this purpose, to have culled the most glittering and conspicuous expressions of the most popular authors, and to have interwoven them in splendid confusion with his own nervous diction and irregu lar versification. Indifferent whether he coins or borrows, and drawing with equal freedom on his memory and his imagination, he went boldly forward, in full reliance on a never failing abundance, and dazzled, with his richness and variety, even those who are most apt to be offended with his
At this period Mr. Scott had outstripped all his poetical competitors in the race of popularity. The mighty star of Byron had not yet risen; and we doubt whether any British poet had ever had so many of his books sold, or so many of his verses read and admired by such a multitude of persons in so short a time as Walter Scott. Confident in the force and originality of his own genius, he was not afraid to avail himself of diction and of sentiment, wherever they appeared to be beautiful and impressive, using them, however, at all times, with the skill and spirit of an inventor; and, quite certain that he could not be mistaken for a plagiarist or imitator, he made free use of that great treasury of characters, images, and expressions, which