The Life of Scott


Call to the Bar - Early Friendships and Pursuits - Excursions to the Highlands and Border - Light-Horse Volunteers - Disappointment in Love - Publication of Ballads after B<u:>rger. - 1792--1797.

Walter Scott, the eldest son of Robert of Sandy-Knowe, appears to have been the first of the family that ever adopted a town life, or anything claiming to be classed among the learned professions. His branch of the law, however, could not in those days be advantageously prosecuted without extensive connexions in the country; his own were too respectable not to be of much service to him in his calling, and they were cultivated accordingly. His professional visits to Roxburghshire and Ettrick Forest were, in the vigour of his life, very frequent; and though he was never supposed to have any tincture either of romance or poetry in his composition, he retained to the last a warm affection for his native district, with a certain reluctant flavour of the old feelings and prejudices of the Borderer. I have little to add to Sir Walter's short and respectful notice of his father, except that I have heard it confirmed by the testimony of many less partial observers. ``He passed from the cradle to the grave,'' says his daughter-in-law, Mrs Thomas Scott, ``without making an enemy or losing a friend. He was a most affectionate parent, and if he discouraged, rather than otherwise, his son's early devotion to the pursuits which led him to the height of literary eminence, it was only because he did not understand what such things meant, and considered it his duty to keep his young man to that path in which good sense and industry might, humanly speaking, be thought sure of success.'' We have, according to William Clerk, a very accurate representation of the old gentleman in the elder Fairford of Redgauntlet; and there is as little doubt that Walter drew from himself in the younger Fairford, and from his friend Clerk in the Darsie Latimer of that tale.

His mother was short of stature, and by no means comely, at least after the days of her early youth. The physiognomy of the poet bore, if their portraits may be trusted, no resemblance to either of his parents; while, on the other hand, a very strong likeness to him is observable in the pictures both of the shrewd farmer and sportsman, Robert of Sandy-Knowe, and of the venerable Jacobite, _Beardie._ But Scott's mother, there is no doubt, was, in talents as well as tastes, superior to her husband. She had strong powers of observation, with a lively relish for the humorous, and was noted for her skill in story-telling. She had, moreover, like Irving's mother, a love of ancient ballads and Scotch traditions and legends of all sorts, and her Calvinistic prejudices did not save her from the worship of Shakspeare. Her sister, Christian Rutherford, appears to have been still more accomplished; and as she was comparatively young, the intimacy between her and her nephew was more like what occurs commonly between a youth and an elder sister. In the house of his uncle, Dr Rutherford, Scott must have had access, from his earliest days, to a scientific and scholarlike circle of society. His own parents, too, were, as we have seen, personal friends of John Home, the author of Douglas, at whose villa near Edinburgh young Walter was a frequent visitor: but, above all, his intimacy with the son of Dr Adam Fergusson, the moralist and historian, who was then one of the chief ornaments of the University, afforded easy opportunity of mixings in as far as his ambition might gradually aspire, with the most intellectual and cultivated society of his native place. It was under that roof that he conversed with Burns when in his seventeenth year.

I shall only add to what he sets down on the subject of his early academical studies, that in this, as in almost every case, he appears to have underrated his own attainments. He had, indeed, no pretensions to the name of an extensive, far less of an accurate, Latin scholar; but he could read, I believe, any Latin author, of any age, so as to catch without difficulty his meaning; and although his favourite Latin poet, as well as historian, in later days, was Buchanan, he had preserved, or subsequently acquired, a strong relish for some others of more ancient date. I may mention, in particular, Lucan and Claudian. The autobiography has informed us of the early period at which he enjoyed the real Tasso and Ariosto. I presume he had at least as soon as this enabled himself to read Gil Blas in the original; and, in all probability, we may refer to the same time of his life, or one not much later, his acquisition of as much Spanish as served for the Guerras Civiles de Grenada, Lazarillo de Tormes, and, above all, Don Quixote. He read all these languages in after life with about the same facility. I never but once heard him attempt to speak any of them, and that was when some of the courtiers of Charles X. came to Abbotsford, soon after that unfortunate prince took up his residence for the second time at Holyroodhouse. Finding that one or two of these gentlemen could speak no English at all, he made some efforts to amuse them in their own language after the champagne had been passing briskly round the table; and I was amused next morning with the expression of one of the party, who, alluding to the sort of reading in which Sir Walter seemed to have chiefly occupied himself, said - ``Mon Dieu! comme il estropiait, entre deux vins, le Fran<c,>ais du bon sire de Joinville!'' Of all these tongues, as of German somewhat later, he acquired as much as was needful for his own purposes, of which a critical study of any foreign language made at no time any part. In them he sought for incidents and he found images; but for the treasures of diction he was content to dig on British soil. He had all he wanted in the old wells of ``English undefiled,'' and the still living, though fast shrinking, waters of that sister idiom, which had not always, as he flattered himself, deserved the name of a dialect.

As may be said, I believe, with perfect truth of every really great man, Scott was self-educated in every branch of knowledge which he ever turned to account in the works of his genius - and he has himself told us that his real studies were those lonely and desultory ones of which he has given a copy in the first chapter of Waverley, where the hero is represented as ``driving through the sea of books, like a vessel without pilot or rudder;'' that is to say, obeying nothing but the strong breath of native inclination. The _literary_ details of that chapter may all be considered as autobiographical.

In all the studies of the two or three years preceding his call to the bar, his chief associate was William Clerk; and, indeed, of all the connections he formed in life, I now doubt if there was one to whom he owed more. He always continued to say that Clerk was unsurpassed in strength and acuteness of faculties, by any man he had ever conversed with familiarly; and though he has left no literary monument whatever behind him, he was from youth to a good old age indefatigable in study, and rivalled, I believe, by very few of his contemporaries, either in the variety or the accuracy of his acquired knowledge. He entered zealously from the first into all Scott's antiquarian pursuits, and he it was who mainly aided and stimulated him throughout the few years which he did devote to his proper training for the profession of the bar. But these were not all the obligations: it was Clerk that first or mainly awakened his social ambition: it was he that drew him out of the company of his father's apprentices, and taught him to rise above their clubs and festivities, and the rough irregular habits of all their intervals of relaxation. It was probably very much in consequence of the tacit influence of this tie that he resolved on following the upper and more precarious branch of his profession, instead of that in which his father's eldest son had, if he chose, the certain prospect of early independence, and every likelihood of a plentiful fortune in the end.

Yet both in his adoption, soon after that friendship began, of a somewhat superior tone of manners and habits generally, and in his ultimate decision for the bar, as well as in his strenuous preparation during a considerable space of time for that career, there is little question that another influence must have powerfully cooperated. Of the few early letters of Scott that have been preserved, almost all are addressed to Clerk, who says, ``I ascribe my little handful to a sort of instinctive prophetic sense of his future greatness;'' - but a great mass of letters addressed to Scott himself, during his early years, are still in being, and they are important documents in his history, for, as Southey well remarks, letters often tell more of the character of the man they are to be read by than of him who writes them. Throughout all these, then, there occurs no coarse or even jocular suggestion as to the conduct of _Scott_ in that particular, as to which most youths of his then age are so apt to lay up stores of self-reproach. In that season of hot and impetuous blood he may not have escaped quite blameless; but I have the concurrent testimony of all the most intimate among his surviving associates, that he was remarkably free from such indiscretions; that while his high sense of honour shielded him from the remotest dream of tampering with female innocence, he had an instinctive delicacy about him which made him recoil with utter disgust from low and vulgar debaucheries. His friends, I have heard more than one of them confess, used often to rally him on the coldness of his nature. By degrees they discovered that he had, from almost the dawn of the passions, cherished a secret attachment, which continued, through all the most perilous stage of life, to act as a romantic charm in safeguard of virtue. This was the early and innocent affection to which we owe the tenderest pages, not only of Redgauntlet, but of the Lay of the Last Minstrel, and of Rokeby. In all of these works the heroine has certain distinctive features, drawn from one and the same haunting dream of his manly adolescence.

It was about 1790, according to Mr William Clerk, that Scott was observed to lay aside that carelessness, not to say slovenliness, as to dress, which used to furnish matter for joking at the beginning of their acquaintance. He now did himself more justice in these little matters, became fond of mixing in general female society, and, as his friend expresses it, ``began to set up for a squire of dames.''

His personal appearance at this time was not unengaging. A lady of high rank, who well remembers him in the Old Assembly Rooms, says, ``Young Walter Scott was a comely creature'' 29 He had outgrown the sallowness of early ill health, and had a fresh brilliant complexion. His eyes were clear, open, and well set, with a changeful radiance, to which teeth of the most perfect regularity and whiteness lent their assistance, while the noble expanse and elevation of the brow gave to the whole aspect a dignity far above the charm of mere features. His smile was always delightful; and I can easily fancy the peculiar intermixture of tenderness and gravity, with playful innocent hilarity and humour in the expression, as being well calculated to fix a fair lady's eye. His figure, excepting the blemish in one limb, must in those days have been eminently handsome; tall, much above the usual standard, it was cast in the very mould of a young Hercules; the head set on with singular grace, the throat and chest after the truest model of the antique, the hands delicately finished; the whole outline that of extraordinary vigour, without as yet a touch of clumsiness. When he had acquired a little facility of manner, his conversation must have been such as could have dispensed with any exterior advantages, and certainly brought swift forgiveness for the one unkindness of nature. I have heard him, in talking of this part of his life, say, with an arch simplicity of look and tone, which those who were familiar with him can fill in for themselves - ``It was a proud night with me when I first found that a pretty young woman could think it worth her while to sit and talk with, me, hour after hour, in a corner of the ball-room, while all the world were capering in our view.''

29 - The late Duchess Countess of Sutherland.
Back to Text

I believe, however, that the ``pretty young woman'' here specially alluded to, had occupied his attention before he ever appeared in the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms, or any of his friends took note of him as ``setting up for a squire of dames.'' I have been told that their acquaintance began in the Greyfriars' churchyard, where rain beginning to fall one Sunday as the congregation were dispersing, Scott happened to offer his umbrella, and the tender being accepted, so escorted the _lady of the green mantle_ to her residence, which proved to be at no great distance from his own 30. To return from church together had, it seems, grown into something like a custom before they met in society, Mrs Scott being of the party. It then appeared that she and the lady's mother had been companions in their youth, though, both living secludedly, they had scarcely seen each other for many years; and the two matrons now renewed their former intercourse. But no acquaintance appears to have existed between the fathers of the young people, until things had advanced in appearance farther than met the approbation of the good Clerk to the Signet.

30 - In one of his latest essays we read - ``There have been instances of love-tales being favourably received in England, when told under an umbrella, and in the middle of a shower.'' - _Miscellaneous Prose Works,_ vol. xviii. p. 390.
Back to Text

Being aware that the young lady - Margaret<! M_Belches>, daughter of Sir John and Lady Jane Stuart Belches of Invermay, had prospects of fortune far above his son's, Mr Scott conceived it his duty to give her parents warning that he observed a degree of intimacy which, if allowed to go on, might involve the parties in pain and disappointment. He had heard his son talk of a contemplated excursion to the part of the country in which his neighbour's estates lay, and not doubting that Walter's real object was different from that which he announced, introduced himself with a frank statement that he wished no such affair to proceed, without the express sanction of those most interested in the happiness of persons as yet too young to calculate consequences for themselves. - The northern Baronet had heard nothing of the young apprentice's intended excursion, and appeared to treat the whole business very lightly. He thanked Mr Scott for his scrupulous attention - but added, that he believed he was mistaken; and this paternal interference, which Walter did not hear of till long afterwards, produced no change in his relations with the object of his growing attachment.

I have neither the power nor the wish to give in detail the sequel of this story. It is sufficient to say, at present, that after he had through several years nourished the dream of an ultimate union with this lady, his hopes terminated in her being married to the late Sir William Forbes, of Pitsligo, Baronet, a gentleman of the highest character, to whom some affectionate allusions occur in one of the greatest of his works, and who lived to act the part of a most generous friend to his early rival throughout the anxieties and distresses of 1826 and 1827. The actual dispersion of the romantic vision and its immediate consequences will be mentioned in due time.

Redgauntlet shadows very distinctly many circumstances connected with the first grand step in the professional history of Alan Fairford. The real _thesis,_ however, was on the Title of the Pandects, _Concerning the disposal of the dead bodies of Criminals._ It was dedicated (I doubt not by the careful father's advice) to his friend and neighbour in George's Square, Macqueen of Braxfield, Lord Justice-Clerk (or President of the Supreme Criminal Court) of Scotland. _Darsie_ was present at Alan's ``bit chack of dinner,'' and the old Clerk of the Signet was very joyous on the occasion.

I have often heard both _Alan_ and _Darsie_ laugh over their reminiscences of the important day when they ``put on the gown.'' After the ceremony was completed, and they had mingled for some time with the crowd of barristers in the Outer Court, Scott said to his comrade, mimicking the air and tone of a Highland lass waiting at the Cross of Edinburgh to be hired for the harvest work - ``We've stood here an hour by the Tron, hinny, and de'il a ane has speered our price.'' Some friendly solicitor, however, gave him a guinea fee before the Court rose; and as they walked down the High Street together, he said to Mr Clerk, in passing a hosier's shop - ``This is a sort of a wedding-day, Willie; I think I must go in and buy me a new night-cap.'' He did so accordingly; but his first fee of any consequence was expended on a silver taper-stand for his mother, which the old lady used to point to with great satisfaction, as it stood on her chimney-piece five-and-twenty years afterwards.

The friends had assumed the gown only the day before the Court of Session rose for the autumn vacation, and Scott appears to have escaped immediately afterwards to the familiar scenery of Kelso, where his kind uncle Robert, the retired East Indian Captain, had acquired the pretty villa of Rosebank, overhanging the Tweed. He had on a former occasion made an excursion into Northumberland as far as Flodden, and given, in a letter to Mr Clerk, the results of a close inspection of that famous battle-field. He now induced his uncle to accompany him in another Northumbrian expedition, which extended to Hexham, where the grand Saxon Cathedral was duly studied. An epistle to Clerk (Sept. 13) gives this picture of his existence after returning from that trip: - ``I am lounging about the country here, to speak sincerely, as idle as the day is long. Two old companions of mine, brothers of Mr Walker of Wooden, having come to this country, we have renewed a great intimacy. As they live directly upon the opposite bank of the river, we have signals agreed upon by which we concert a plan of operations for the day. They are both officers, and very intelligent young fellows, and what is of some consequence, have a brace of fine greyhounds. Yesterday forenoon we killed seven hares, so you see how plenty the game is with us. I have turned a keen duck-shooter, though my success is not very great; and when wading through the mosses upon this errand, accoutred with the long gun, a jacket, musquito trousers, and a rough cap, I might, well pass for one of my redoubted moss-trooper progenitors, Walter Fire-the-Braes, or rather Willie wi' the Bolt-foot. For about-doors' amusement, I have constructed a seat in a large tree, which spreads its branches horizontally over the Tweed. This is a favourite situation of mine for reading, especially in a day like this, when the west wind rocks the branches on which I am perched, and the river rolls its waves below me of a turbid blood colour. I have, moreover, cut an embrasure, through which I can fire upon the gulls, herons, and cormorants, as they fly screaming past my nest. To crown the whole, I have carved an inscription upon it in the ancient Roman taste.''

It was, however, within a few days after Scott's return from his excursion to Hexham, that he made another expedition of more importance to the history of his life. While attending the Michaelmas head-court at Jedburgh, he was introduced to Mr Robert Shortreed, who spent the greater part of his life in the enjoyment of much respect as Sheriff-substitute of Roxburghshire. Scott expressed his wish to visit the then wild and inaccessible district of Liddesdale, particularly with a view to examine the ruins of the famous castle of Hermitage, and to pick up some of the ancient _riding ballads,_ said to be still preserved among the descendants of the moss-troopers who had followed the banner of the Douglasses, when lords of that grim and remote fastness; and his new acquaintance offered to be his guide.

During seven successive years he made a _raid,_ as he called it, into Liddesdale, in company with Mr Shortreed: exploring every rivulet to its source, and every ruined _peel_ from foundation to battlement. At this time no wheeled carriage had ever been seen in the district - the first, indeed, that ever appeared there was a gig, driven by Scott himself for a part of his way, when on the last of these seven excursions. There was no inn nor public-house of any kind in the whole valley; the travellers passed from the shepherd's hut to the minister's manse, and again from the cheerful hospitality of the manse to the rough and jolly welcome of the homestead; gathering, wherever they went, songs and tunes, and occasionally more tangible relics of antiquity - even such ``a rowth of auld nicknackets'' as Burns ascribes to Captain Grose. To these rambles Scott owed much of the materials of his ``Minstrelsy of the Border;'' and not less of that intimate acquaintance with the living manners of these unsophisticated regions, which constitutes the chief charm of one of the most charming of his prose works. But how soon he had any definite object before him in his researches, seems very doubtful. ``He was _makin' himsell_ a' the time,'' said Mr Shortreed; ``but he didna ken maybe what he was about till years had passed: At first he thought o' little, I dare say, but the queerness and the fun.''

``In those days,'' says the Memorandum before me,
``advocates were not so plenty - at least about Liddesdale;'' 31

and the worthy Sheriff-substitute goes on to describe the sort of bustle, not unmixed with alarm, produced at the first farm-house they visited (Willie Elliot's at Millburnholm), when the honest man was informed of the quality of one of his guests. When they dismounted, accordingly, he received the stranger with great ceremony, and insisted upon himself leading his horse to the stable. Shortreed accompanied Willie, however, and the latter, after taking a deliberate peep at Scott, ``out by the edge of the door-cheek,'' whispered, ``Weel, Robin, I say, de'il hae me if I's be a bit feared for him now; he's just a chield like ourselves, I think.'' Half-a-dozen dogs of all degrees had already gathered round ``the advocate,'' and his way of returning their compliments had set Willie at his ease.

31 - I am obliged to Mr John Elliot Shortreed, for some _memoranda_ of his father's conversations on this subject. I had, however, many opportunities of hearing Mr Shortreed's stories from his own lips, having often been under his hospitable roof in company with Sir Walter, who, to the last, was his old friend's guest whenever business took him to Jedburgh.
Back to Text

According to Mr Shortreed, this good-man of Milburnholm was the great original of Dandie Dinmont. As he seems to have been the first of these upland sheep-farmers that Scott ever knew, there can be little doubt that he sat for some parts of that inimitable portraiture; and it is certain that the James Davidson, who carried the name of Dandie to his grave with him, and whose thoroughbred deathbed scene is told in the Notes to Guy Mannering, was first pointed out to Scott by Mr Shortreed himself, several years after the novel had established the man's celebrity all over the Border; some accidental report about his terriers, and their odd names, having alone been turned to account in the tale. But I have the best reason to believe that the kind and manly character of Dandie, the gentle and delicious one of his wife, and some at least of the most picturesque peculiarities of the _menage_ at Charlieshope, were filled up from Scott's observation, years after this period, of a family, with one of whose members he had, through the best part of his life, a close and affectionate connexion. To those who were familiar with him, I have perhaps already sufficiently indicated the early home of his dear friend William Laidlaw, among ``the braes of Yarrow.''

They dined at Millburnholm, and after having lingered over Willie Elliot's punch-bowl, until, in Mr Shortreed's phrase, they were ``half glowrin,'' mounted their steeds again, and proceeded to Dr Elliot's at Cleughhead, where (``for,'' says my Memorandum, ``folk were na very nice in those days'') the two travellers slept in one bed - as, indeed, seems to have been the case throughout most of their excursions in this district. Dr Elliot had already a MS. collection of ballads; but he now exerted himself, for several years, with redoubled diligence, in seeking out the living depositaries of such lore among the darker recesses of the mountains. ``The Doctor,'' says Mr Shortreed, ``would have gane through fire and water for Sir Walter, when he ance kenned him.''

Next morning they seem to have ridden a long way, for the express purpose of visiting one ``auld Thomas o'-Twizzlehope,'' - another Elliot, I suppose, who was celebrated for his skill on the Border pipe, and in particular for being in possession of the real _lilt_ of _Dick o' the Cow._ Before starting, that is, at six o'clock, the ballad-hunters had, ``just to lay the stomach, a devilled duck or twae, and some _London_ porter.'' Auld Thomas found them, nevertheless, well disposed for ``breakfast'' on their arrival at Twizzlehope; and this being over, he delighted them with one of the most hideous and unearthly of all the specimens of ``riding music,'' and, moreover, with considerable libations of whisky-punch, manufactured in a certain wooden vessel, resembling a very small milkpail, which he called Wisdom, because it ``made'' only a few spoonfuls of spirits - though he had the art of replenishing it so adroitly, that it had been celebrated for fifty years as more fatal to sobriety than any bowl in the parish. Having done due honour to Wisdom, they again mounted, and proceeded over moss and moor to some other equally hospitable master of the pipe. ``Eh me!'' says Shortreed, ``sic an endless fund o' humour and drollery as he then had wi' him! Never ten yards but we were either laughing or roaring and singing. Wherever we stopped, how brawlie he suited himsel' to everybody! He ay did as the lave did; never made himsel' the great man, or took ony airs in the company. I've seen him in a' moods in these jaunts, grave and gay, daft and serious, sober and drunk - (this, however, even in our wildest rambles, was but rare) - but, drank or sober, he was ay the gentleman. He looked excessively heavy and stupid when he was _fou,_ but he was never out o' gude-humour.''

On reaching, one evening, some _Charlieshope_ or other (I forget the name) among those wildernesses, they found a kindly reception as usual; but to their agreeable surprise, after some days of hard living, a measured and orderly hospitality as respected liquor. Soon after supper, at which a bottle of elderberry wine alone had been produced, a young student of divinity, who happened to be in the house, was called upon to take the ``big ha' Bible,'' in the good old fashion of Burns's Saturday Night; and some progress had been already made in the service, when the goodman of the farm, whose ``tendency was soporific,'' scandalized his wife and the dominie by starting suddenly from his knees, and rubbing his eyes, with a stentorian exclamation of ``By - - , here's the keg at last!'' and in tumbled, as he spake the word, a couple of sturdy herdsmen, whom, on hearing a day before of the advocate's approaching visit, he had dispatched to a certain smuggler's haunt, at some considerable distance, in quest of a supply of _run_ brandy from the Solway Frith. The pious ``exercise'' of the household was hopelessly interrupted. With a thousand apologies for his hitherto shabby entertainment, this jolly Elliot, or Armstrong, had the welcome _keg_ mounted on the table without a moment's delay, - and gentle and simple, not forgetting the dominie, continued carousing about it until daylight streamed in upon the party. Sir Walter Scott seldom failed, when I saw him in company with his Liddesdale companion, to mimic the sudden outburst of his old host, on hearing the clatter of horses' feet, which he knew to indicate the arrival of the keg - the consternation of the dame - and the rueful despair with which the young clergyman closed the book.

``It was in that same season, I think,'' says Mr Shortreed, ``that Sir Walter got from Dr Elliot the large old border war-horn, which ye may still see hanging in the armoury at Abbotsford. How _great_ he was when he was made master o' _that!_ I believe it had been found in Hermitage Castle - and one of the Doctor's servants had used it many a day as a grease-horn for his scythe, before they discovered its history. When cleaned out, it was never a hair the worse - the original chain, hoop, and mouth-piece of steel, were all entire, just as you now see them. Sir Walter carried it home all the way from Liddesdale to Jedburgh, slung about his neck like Johnny Gilpin's bottle, while I was intrusted with an ancient bridle-bit, which we had likewise picked up.

`The feint o' pride - na pride had he ...
A lang kail-gully hung down by his side,
And a great meikle nowt-horn to rout on had he,'

and meikle and sair we routed on't, and `hotched and blew, wi' micht and main.' O what pleasant days! And then a' the nonsense we had cost us naething. We never put hand in pocket for a week on end. Toll-bars there were nane - and indeed I think our haill charges were a feed o' corn to our horses in the gangin' and comin' at Riccartoun mill.''

It is a pity that we have no letters of Scott's describing this first _raid_ into Liddesdale; but as he must have left Kelso for Edinburgh very soon after its conclusion, he probably chose to be the bearer of his own tidings.

I have found, however, two note-books, inscribed ``Walter Scott, 1792,'' containing a variety of scraps and hints which may help us to fill up our notion of his private studies during that year. We have here a most miscellaneous collection, in which there is whatever might have been looked for, with perhaps the single exception of original verse. One of the books opens with ``_Vegtam's Kvitha,_ or The Descent of Odin, with the Latin of Thomas Bartholine, and the English poetical version of Mr Gray; with some account of the death of Balder, both as narrated in the Edda, and as handed down to us by the northern historians - _Auctore Gualtero Scott._'' The Norse original, and the two versions, are then transcribed; and the historical account appended, extending to seven closely written quarto pages, was, I doubt not, read before, one or other of his debating societies. Next comes a page, headed ``Pecuniary Distress of Charles the First,'' and containing a transcript of a receipt for some plate lent to the King in 1643. He then copies Langhorne's Owen of Carron; the verses of Canute, on passing Ely; the lines to a cuckoo, given by Warton as the oldest specimen of English verse; a translation, ``by a gentleman in Devonshire,'' of the death-song of Regner Lodbrog; and the beautiful quatrain omitted in Gray's elegy, -

``There scattered oft, the earliest of the year,'' &c.

After this we have an Italian canzonet on the praises of blue eyes (which were much in favour at this time;) several pages of etymologies from Ducange; some more of notes on the Morte Arthur; extracts from the Books of Adjournal about Dame Janet Beaton, the Lady of Branxome of the Lay of the Last Minstrel, and her husband ``Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, called _Wicked Watt;_'' other extracts about witches and fairies; various couplets from Hall's Satires; a passage from _Albania;_ notes on the Second Sight, with extracts from Aubrey and Glanville; a ``List of Ballads to be discovered or recovered;'' extracts from _Guerin de Montglave;_ and after many more similar entries, a table of the M<ae>so-Gothic, Anglo-Saxon and Runic alphabets with a fourth section, headed _German,_ but left blank.

In November 1792, Scott and Clerk began their regular attendance at the Parliament House, and Scott, to use Mr Clerk's words, ``by and by crept into a tolerable share of such business as may be expected from a writer's connexion.'' By this we are to understand that he was employed from time to time by his father, and probably a few other solicitors, in that dreary every-day taskwork, chiefly of long written _informations,_ and other papers for the Court, on which young counsellors of the Scotch Bar were then expected to bestow a great deal of trouble for very scanty pecuniary remuneration, and with scarcely a chance of finding reserved for their hands any matter that could elicit the display of superior knowledge or understanding. He had also his part in the cases of persons suing _in forma pauperis;_ but how little important those that came to his share were, and how slender was the impression they had left on his mind, we may gather from a note on Redgauntlet, wherein he signifies his doubts whether he really had ever been engaged in what he has certainly made the _cause c<e'>l<e`>bre_ of _Poor Peter Peebles._

But he soon became as famous for his powers of story-telling among the lawyers of the Outer-House, as he had been among the companions of his High-School days. The place where these idlers mostly congregated was called, it seems, by a name which sufficiently marks the date - it was _the Mountain._ Here, as Roger North says of the Court of King's Bench in his early day, ``there was more news than law;'' - here hour after hour passed away, month after month, and year after year, in the interchange of light-hearted merriment among a circle of young men, more than one of whom, in after times, attained the highest honours of the profession. Among the most intimate of Scott's daily associates from this time, and during all his subsequent attendance at the Bar, were, besides various since eminent persons that have been already named, the first legal antiquary of our time in Scotland, Mr Thomas Thomson, and William Erskine, afterwards Lord Kinedder. Mr Clerk remembers complaining one morning on finding the group convulsed with laughter, that _Duns Scotus_ had been forestalling him in a good story, which he had communicated privately the day before - adding, moreover, that his friend had not only stolen, but disguised it. ``Why,'' answered he, skilfully waving the main charge, ``this is always the way with the _Baronet 32._ He is continually saying that I change his stories, whereas in fact I only put a cocked hat on their heads, and stick a cane into their hands - to make them fit for going into company.''

32 - _Duns Scotus_ was an old college-club nickname for Walter Scott, a tribute to his love of antiquities. Clerk was with the same set _the Baronet,_ as belonging to the family of the Baronets of Pennycuick.
Back to Text

Some interest had been excited in Edinburgh as to the rising literature of Germany, by an essay of Mackenzie's in 1778, and a subsequent version of _The Robbers,_ by Mr Tytler (Lord Woodhouselee). About Christmas 1792, a German class was formed under a Dr Willick, which included Scott, Clerk, Thomson, and Erskine; all of whom soon qualified themselves to taste the beauties of Schiller and Goethe in the original. This class contributed greatly to Scott's familiarity with Erskine; a familiarity which grew into one of the warmest and closest of his friendships. All the others above named, except Erskine, were by descent and connection Whigs; and though politics never shook the affection of any of these early companions, the events and controversies of the immediately ensuing years could not but disturb, more or less, the social habits of young barristers who adopted opposite views on the French Revolution and the policy of Pitt. On such subjects Erskine entirely sympathized with Scott; and though in many respects, indeed in strength of mind and character, and in the general turn of opinion and manners, others of his contemporaries must always have seemed far more likely to suit Walter Scott, Erskine became, and continued during the brightest part of his life to be, the nearest and most confidential of all his Edinburgh associates. Nor can it be doubted that he exercised, at the active period we have now reached, a very important influence on his friend's literary tastes, and especially on his German studies. William Erskine was the son of an Episcopalian clergyman in Perthshire, of a good family, but far from wealthy. He had received his early education at Glasgow, where he was boarded under the roof of Andrew Macdonald, the author of Vimonda, who then officiated as minister to a small congregation of Episcopalian nonconformists. From this unfortunate but very ingenious man, Erskine had derived, in boyhood, a strong passion for old English literature, more especially the Elizabethan dramatists; which, however, he combined with a far livelier relish for the classics of antiquity than either Scott or his master ever possessed. From the beginning, accordingly, Scott had in Erskine a monitor who, entering most warmly into his taste for national lore the life of the past - and the bold and picturesque style of the original English school - was constantly urging the advantages to be derived from combining with its varied and masculine breadth of delineation such attention to the minor graces of arrangement and diction as might conciliate the fastidiousness of modern taste. Directed, as Scott mainly was in the ultimate determination of his literary ambition, by the example of the great founders of the German drama and romance, he appears to have run at first no trivial hazard of adopting the extravagances, both of thought and language, which he found blended in their works with such a captivating display of genius, and genius employed on subjects so much in unison with the deepest of his own juvenile predilections. His friendly critic was just as well as delicate; and severity as to the mingled absurdities and vulgarities of German detail, commanded deliberate attention from one who admired not less enthusiastically than himself the sublimity and pathos of his new avourites.

In March, 1793, when the Court rose, he proceeded into Galloway, in order to make himself acquainted with the case of a certain Rev. Mr M`Naught, minister of Girthon, whose trial, on charges of habitual drunkenness, singing of lewd and profane songs, dancing and toying at a penny-wedding with a ``sweetie wife'' (that is, an itinerant vender of gingerbread, &c.), and, moreover, of promoting irregular marriages as a justice of the peace, was about to take place before the General Assembly of the Kirk.

The ``case of M`Naught'' (fee five guineas) is the earliest of Scott's legal papers that has been discovered; and it is perhaps as plausible a statement as the circumstances could bear. In May he was called on to support it at the bar of the Assembly; and he did so in a speech of considerable length. This was by far the most important business in which any solicitor had as yet employed him, and _The Mountain_ mustered strong in the gallery. He began in a low voice, but by degrees gathered more confidence; and when it became necessary for him to analyse the evidence touching the penny-wedding, repeated some coarse specimens of his client's alleged conversation in a tone so bold and free, that he was called to order with great austerity by one of the leading members of the Venerable Court. This seemed to confuse him not a little; so when, by and by, he had to recite a stanza of one of M`Naught's convivial ditties, he breathed it out in a faint and hesitating style: whereupon, thinking he needed encouragement, the allies in the gallery astounded the Assembly by cordial shouts of _hear! hear! - encore! encore!_ They were immediately turned out, and Scott got through the rest of his harangue very little to his own satisfaction.

He believed, in a word, that he had made a complete failure, and issued from the Court in a melancholy mood. At the door he found Adam Fergusson waiting to inform him that the brethren so unceremoniously extruded from the gallery had sought shelter in a neighbouring tavern, where they hoped he would join them. He complied with the invitation, but seemed for a long while incapable of enjoying the merriment of his friends. ``Come, _Duns,_'' cried _the Baronet;_ - ``cheer up, man, and fill another tumbler; here's * * * * * going to give us _The Tailor._'' - ``Ah!'' he answered with a groan - ``the tailor was a better man than me, sirs; for he didna venture ben until he _kenned the way._'' A certain comical old song, which had, perhaps, been a favourite with the minister of Girthon -

``The tailor he came here to sew,
And weel he kenn'd the way o't,'' &c.

was, however, sung and chorussed; and the evening ended in _High Jinks._

Mr M`Naught was deposed from the ministry. It is to be observed, that the research made with a view to pleading this cause, carried Scott for the first, and I believe for the last time, into the scenery of his Guy Mannering; and several of the names of the minor characters of the novel (_M`Guffog,_ for example) appear in the list of witnesses.

If the preceding autumn forms a remarkable point in his history, as first introducing him to the manners of the wilder Border country, the summer which followed left traces of equal importance. He then visited some of the finest districts of Stirlingshire and Perthshire; and not in the percursory manner of his more boyish expeditions but taking up his residence for a week or ten days in succession at the family residences of several of his young allies of _The Mountain,_ and from thence familiarizing himself at leisure with the country and the people round about. In this way he lingered some time at Tullibody, the seat of the father of Sir Ralph Abercromby, and grandfather of his friend George Abercromby; and heard from the old gentleman's own lips the narrative of a journey which he had been obliged to make to the retreat of Rob Roy. The venerable laird told how he was received by the cateran ``with much courtesy,'' in a cavern exactly such as that of _Bean Lean;_ dined on collops cut from some of his own cattle, which he recognised hanging by their heels from the rocky roof beyond; and returned in all safety, after concluding a bargain of _black-mail_ - in virtue of which annual payment, Rob Roy guaranteed the future security of his herds against, not his own followers merely, but all freebooters whatever. Scott next visited his friend Edmonstone, at Newton, a beautiful seat close to the ruins of the once magnificent Castle of Doune, and heard another aged gentleman's vivid recollections of all that happened there when John Home, the author of Douglas, and other Hanoverian prisoners, escaped from the Highland garrison in 1745. Proceeding towards the sources of the Teith, he was received for the first time under a roof which, in subsequent years, he regularly revisited, that of another of his associates, Buchanan, the young Laird of Cambusmore. It was thus that the scenery of Loch Katrine came to be so associated with ``the recollection of many a dear friend and merry expedition of former days,'' that to compose the Lady of the Lake was ``a labour of love, and no less so to recall the manners and incidents introduced" 33 It was starting from the same house, when the poem itself had made some progress, that he put to the test the practicability of riding from the banks of Loch Vennachar to the Castle of Stirling within the brief space which he had assigned to Fitz-James's Grey Bayard, after the duel with Roderick Dhu; and the principal land-marks in the description of that fiery progress are so many hospitable mansions, all familiar to him at the same period: - Blair-drummond, the residence of Lord Kaimes; Ochtertyre, that of John Ramsay, the scholar and antiquary (now best remembered for his kind and sagacious advice to Burns;) and ``the lofty brow of ancient Kier,'' the fine seat of the chief family of the name of Stirling; from which, to say nothing of remoter objects, the prospect has on one hand the rock of ``Snowdon,'' and in front the field of Bannockburn.

33 - Introduction to _The Lady._
Back to Text

Another resting place was Craighall, in Perthshire, the seat of the Rattrays, a family related to Mr Clerk, who accompanied him. From the position of this striking place, as Mr Clerk at once perceived, and as the author afterwards confessed to him, that of _Tully-Veolan_ was faithfully copied; though in the description of the house itself, and its gardens, many features were adopted from Bruntsfield and Ravelstone. Mr Clerk told me that he went through the first chapters of Waverley without more than a vague suspicion of the new novelist; but that when he read the arrival at Tully-Veolan, his suspicion was converted into certainty, and he handed the book to a common friend of his and the author's, saying, ``This is Scott's - and I'll lay a bet you'll find such and such things in the next chapter.'' I hope to be forgiven for mentioning _the_ circumstance that flashed conviction. In the course of a ride from Craighall, they had both become considerably fagged and heated, and Clerk, seeing the smoke of a clachan a little way before them, ejaculated - ``How agreeable if we should here fall in with one of those signposts where a red lion predominates over a punch-bowl!'' The phrase happened to tickle Scott's fancy - he often introduced it on similar occasions afterwards - and at the distance of twenty years Mr Clerk was at no loss to recognise an old acquaintance in the ``huge bear'' which ``predominates'' over the stone basin in the courtyard of Baron Bradwardine.

I believe the longest stay was at Meigle in Forfarshire, the seat of Patrick Murray of Simprim, whose passion for antiquities, especially military antiquities, had peculiarly endeared him both to Scott and Clerk. Here Adam Fergusson, too, was of the party; and I have often heard them each and all dwell on the thousand scenes of adventure and merriment which diversified that visit. In the village churchyard, close beneath Mr Murray's gardens, tradition still points out the tomb of Queen Guenever; and the whole district abounds in objects of historical interest. Amidst them they spent their wandering days, while their evenings passed in the joyous festivity of a wealthy young bachelor's establishment, or sometimes under the roofs of neighbours less refined than their host, the _Balmawhapples_ of the Braes of Angus. From Meigle they made a trip to Dunottar Castle, the ruins of the huge old fortress of the Earls Marischall, and it was in the churchyard of that place that Scott then saw for the first and last time Peter Paterson, the living _Old Mortality._ He and Mr Walker, the minister of the parish, found the poor man refreshing the epitaphs on the tombs of certain Cameronians who had fallen under the oppressions of James the Second's brief insanity. Being invited into the manse after dinner to take a glass of whisky punch, ``to which he was supposed to have no objections,'' he joined the minister's party accordingly; but ``he was in bad humour,'' says Scott, and, to use his own phrase, had no freedom for conversation. His spirit had been sorely vexed by hearing, in a certain Aberdonian kirk, the psalmody directed by a pitch-pipe or some similar instrument, which was to Old Mortality the abomination of abominations.''

It was also while he had his headquarters at Meigle at this time, that Scott visited for the first time _Glammis,_ the residence of the Earls of Strathmore, by far the noblest specimen of the real feudal castle, entire and perfect, that had as yet come under his inspection. What its aspect was when he first saw it, and how grievously he lamented the change it had undergone when he revisited it some years afterwards, he has recorded in one of the most striking passages of his _Essay on Landscape Gardening._

The night he spent at the yet unprofaned Glammis in 1793 was, as he tells us in his _Demonology,_ one of the ``_two_ periods distant from each other'' at which he could recollect experiencing ``that degree of superstitious awe which his countrymen call _eerie._'' ``After a _very hospitable_ reception from the late Peter Proctor, seneschal of the castle, I was conducted,'' he says, ``to my apartment in a distant part of the building. I must own, that when I heard door after door shut, after my conductor had retired, I began to consider myself as too far from the living, and somewhat too near the dead,'' &c. But one of his notes on Waverley touches a certain not unimportant part of the story more distinctly; for we are there informed, that the _silver bear_ of Tully-Veolan, ``the _poculum potatorium_ of the valiant baron,'' had its prototype at Glammis - a massive beaker of silver, double gilt, moulded into the form of a lion, the name and bearing of the Earls of Strathmore, and containing about an English pint of wine. ``The author,'' he says, ``ought perhaps to be ashamed of recording that he had the honour of swallowing the contents of _the lion;_ and the recollection of the feat suggested the story of the Bear of Bradwardine.''

From this pleasant tour, so rich in its results, he returned in time to attend the autumnal assizes at Jedburgh, on which occasion he made his first appearance as counsel in a criminal court; and had the satisfaction of helping a veteran poacher and sheep-stealer to escape through some of the meshes of the law. ``You're a lucky scoundrel,'' Scott whispered to his client, when the verdict was pronounced. - ``I'm just o' your mind,'' quoth the desperado, ``and I'll send ye a maukin [viz. a hare] the morn, man.'' I am not sure whether it was at these assizes or the next in the same town, that he had less success in the case of a certain notorious housebreaker. The man, however, was well aware that no skill could have baffled the clear evidence against him, and was, after his fashion, grateful for such exertions as had been made in his behalf. He requested the young advocate to visit him once more before he left the place. Scott's curiosity induced him to accept this invitation, and his friend, as soon as they were alone together in the _condemned_ cell, said - ``I am very sorry, sir, that I have no fee to offer you - so let me beg your acceptance of two bits of advice which may be useful perhaps when you come to have a house of your own. I am done with practice, you see, and here is my legacy. Never keep a large watchdog out of doors - we can always silence them cheaply - indeed if it be a _dog,_ 'tis easier than whistling - but tie a little tight yelping terrier within; and secondly, put no trust in nice, clever, gimcrack locks - the only thing that bothers us is a huge old heavy one, no matter how simple the construction, - and the ruder and rustier the key, so much the better for the housekeeper.'' I remember hearing him tell this story some thirty years after at a Judges' dinner at Jedburgh, and he summed it up with a rhyme - ``Ay, ay, my lord,'' (he addressed his friend Lord Meadowbank) -

`` `Yelping terrier, rusty key,
Was Walter Scott's best Jeddart fee.' ''

The winter of 1793--4 appears to have been passed like the preceding one: the German class resumed their sittings; Scott spoke in his debating club on the questions of Parliamentary Reform and the Inviolability of the Person of the First Magistrate; his love-affair continued on the same footing as before; - and for the rest, like the young heroes in Redgauntlet, he ``swept the boards of the Parliament House with the skirts of his gown; laughed, and made others laugh; drank claret at Bayle's, Fortune's, and Walker's, and ate oysters in the Covenant Close.'' On his desk ``the new novel most in repute lay snugly intrenched beneath Stair's Institute, or an open volume of Decisions;'' and his dressing-table was littered with ``old play-bills, letters respecting a meeting of the Faculty, Rules of the Speculative, Syllabus of Lectures - all the miscellaneous contents of a young advocate's pocket, which contains everything but briefs and bank-notes.'' His professional occupation was still very slender; but he took a lively interest in the proceedings of the criminal court, and more especially in those arising out of the troubled state of the public feeling as to politics.

In the spring of 1794 I find him writing to his friends in Roxburghshire with great exultation about the ``good spirit'' manifesting itself among the upper classes of the citizens of Edinburgh, and above all, the organization of a regiment of volunteers, in which his brother Thomas was enrolled as a grenadier, while, as he remarks, his own ``unfortunate infirmity'' condemned him to be ``a mere spectator of the drills.'' In the course of the same year, the plan of a corps of volunteer light horse was started; and if the recollection of Mr Skene be accurate, the suggestion originally proceeded from Scott himself, who certainly had a principal share in its subsequent success. He writes to his uncle at Rosebank, requesting him to be on the look-out for a ``strong gelding, such as would suit a stalwart dragoon;'' and intimating his intention to part with his collection of Scottish coins, rather than not be mounted to his mind. The corps, however, was not organized for some time; and in the meanwhile he had an opportunity of displaying his zeal in a manner which Captain Scott by no means considered as so respectable.

A party of Irish medical students began, towards the end of April, to make themselves remarkable in the Edinburgh Theatre, where they mustered in a particular corner of the pit, and lost no opportunity of insulting the loyalists of the boxes, by calling for revolutionary tunes, applauding every speech that could bear a seditious meaning, and drowning the national anthem in howls and hootings. The young Tories of the Parliament House resented this licence warmly, and after a succession of minor disturbances, the quarrel was put to the issue of a regular trial by combat. Scott was conspicuous among the juvenile advocates and solicitors who on this grand night assembled in, front of the pit, armed with stout cudgels, and determined to have _God save the King_ not only played without interruption, but sung in full chorus by both company and audience. The Irishmen were ready at the first note of the anthem. They rose, clapped on their hats, and brandished their shillelahs; a stern battle ensued, and after many a head had been cracked, the lawyers at length found themselves in possession of the field. In writing to Simprim a few days afterwards, Scott says - ``You will be glad to hear that the _affair_ of Saturday passed over without any worse consequence to the Loyalists than that five, including your friend and humble servant _Colonel Grogg,_34 have been bound over to the peace, and obliged to give bail for their good behaviour, which, you may believe, was easily found. The said Colonel had no less than three broken heads laid to his charge by as many of the Democrats.'' Sir Alexander Wood, says - ``Walter was certainly our Coryph<ae>us, and signalized himself splendidly in this desperate fray.'' After this exhibition of zeal, it will not perhaps surprise the reader of Scott's letters, to find him returning to Edinburgh from a remote ramble in the Highlands during the next autumn, on purpose to witness the execution of Watt, who had been tried and condemned for his share in a plot for seizing the Castle, and proclaiming a provisional republican government. He expresses great contempt for the unhappy man's pusillanimous behaviour in his last scene; and soon after, on occasion of another formidable riot, he appears as active among the special constables sworn in by the magistracy.

34 - This was Scott's nickname in a boyish club: derived, it is said, from a remarkable pair of Grogram breeches - but another etymon might have its claim.
Back to Text

His rambles continued to give his father considerable vexation. Some sentences in a letter to his aunt, Miss Christian Rutherford, may be worth quoting for certain allusions to this and other domestic matters. Mr Scott, though on particular occasions he could permit himself, like Saunders Fairford, to play the part of a good Amphytrion, was habitually ascetic in his habits. I have heard his son tell, that it was common with him, if any one observed that the soup was good, to taste it again, and say, - ``Yes, it is too good, bairns,'' and dash a tumbler of cold water into his plate. It is easy, therefore, to imagine with what rigidity he must have enforced the ultra-Catholic seventies which marked, in those days, the yearly or half-yearly _retreat_ of the descendants of John Knox. Walter writes: - ``I want the assistance of your eloquence to convince my honoured father that nature did not mean me either for a vagabond or _travelling merchant,_ when she honoured me with the wandering propensity lately so conspicuously displayed. I saw D<r.> R. yesterday, who is well. I did not choose to intrude upon the little lady, this being sermon week; for the same reason we are looking very religious and very sour at home. However, it is with _some folk_ selon les r<e'>gles, that in proportion as they are pure themselves, they are entitled to render uncomfortable those whom they consider as less perfect.''

If his father had some reason to complain of want of ardour as to the weightier matters of the law, it probably gave him little consolation to hear, in June 1795, of his appointment to be one of the curators of the Advocates' Library, an office always reserved for those members of the Faculty who have the reputation of superior zeal in literary affairs. He had for colleagues David Hume, the Professor of Scots Law, and Malcolm Laing, the historian; and his discharge of his functions must have given satisfaction, for I find him further nominated, in March 1796, together with Mr Robert Cay, - an accomplished gentleman, afterwards Judge of the Admiralty Court in Scotland - to ``put the Faculty's cabinet of medals in proper arrangement.'' From the first assumption of the gown, he had been accustomed to spend many of his hours in the low gloomy vaults under the Parliament House, which then formed the only receptacle for their literary and antiquarian collections. This habit, it may be supposed, grew by what it fed on. MSS. can only be consulted within the library, and his highland and border raids were constantly suggesting inquiries as to ancient local history and legends, which could nowhere else have been pursued with equal advantage. He became an adept in the deciphering of old deeds; and whoever examines the rich treasure of the MacFarlan MSS., and others serviceable for the illustration of Scotch topography and genealogy, will, I am told, soon become familiar with the marks of his early pencil. His reputation for skill in such researches reached George Chalmers, the celebrated antiquary, then engaged in the preparation of his _Caledonia._ They met at Jedburgh, and a correspondence ensued which proved very useful to the veteran author. The border ballads, as they were gradually collected, and numberless quotations from MSS. in illustration of them, were eagerly placed at his disposal.

It must, I think, have been while he was indulging his _vagabond_ vein, during the autumn of 1795, that Mrs Barbauld paid her visit to Edinburgh, and entertained a party at Mr Dugald Stewart's, by reading William Taylor's then unpublished version of B<u:>rger's Lenore. In the essay on Imitation of Popular Poetry, the reader has a full account of the interest with which Scott heard, some weeks afterwards, a friend's imperfect recollections of this performance; the anxiety with which he sought after a copy of the original German; the delight with which he at length perused it; and how, having just been reading the specimens of ballad poetry introduced into Lewis' Romance of The Monk, he called to mind the early facility of versification which had lain so long in abeyance, and ventured to promise his friend a rhymed translation of Lenore from his own pen. The friend in question was Miss Cranstoun, afterwards Countess of Purgstall, the sister of George Cranstoun (Lord Corehouse.) He began the task, he tells us, after supper, and did not retire to bed until he had finished it, having by that time worked himself into a state of excitement which set sleep at defiance.

Next morning, before breakfast, he carried his MS. to Miss Cranstoun, who was not only delighted but astonished at it; for I have seen a letter of hers to a friend in the country, in which she says - ``Upon my word, Walter Scott is going to turn out a poet - something of a cross I think between Burns and Gray.'' The same day he read it also to Sir Alexander Wood, who retains a vivid recollection of the high strain of enthusiasm into which he had been exalted by dwelling on the wild unearthly imagery of the German bard. ``He read it over to me,'' says Sir Alexander, ``in a very slow and solemn tone, and after we, had said a few words about its merits, continued to look at the fire silent and musing for some minutes, until he at length burst out with `I wish to Heaven I could get a skull and two crossbones.' Wood said, that if Scott would accompany him to the house of John Bell, the celebrated surgeon, he had no doubt this wish might be easily gratified 35. They went thither accordingly on the instant; - Mr Bell smiled on hearing the object of their visit, and pointing to a closet, at the corner of his library, bade Walter enter and choose. From a well furnished-museum of mortality, he selected forthwith what seemed to him the handsomest skull and pair of cross-bones it contained, and wrapping them in his handkerchief, carried the formidable bundle home to George's Square. The trophies were immediately mounted on the top of his little bookcase; and when Wood visited him, after many years of absence from this country, he found them in possession of a similar position in his dressing-room at Abbotsford.

35 - Sir A. Wood was himself the son of a distinguished surgeon in Edinburgh. He married one of the daughters of Sir W. Forbes of Pitsligo - rose in the diplomatic service - and died in 1846.
Back to Text

All this occurred in the beginning of April 1796. A few days afterwards Scott went to pay a visit at a country house, where he expected to meet the ``lady of his love.'' Jane Anne Cranstoun was in the secret of his attachment, and knew, that however doubtful might be Miss Stuart's feeling on that subject, she had a high admiration of Scott's abilities, and often corresponded with him on literary matters; so, after he had left Edinburgh, it occurred to her that she might perhaps forward his views in this quarter, by presenting him in the character of a printed author. William Erskine being called in to her councils, a few copies of the ballad were forthwith thrown off in the most elegant style, and one, richly bound and blazoned, followed Scott in the course of a few days to the country. The verses were read and approved of, and Miss Cranstoun at least flattered herself that he had not made his first appearance in types to no purpose 36.

36 - This story was told by the Countess of Purgstall on her death-bed to Captain Basil Hall. See his _Schloss Hainfeld,_ p. 333.
Back to Text

In autumn he saw again his favourite haunts in Perthshire and Forfarshire, - among others, the residence of Miss Stuart; and that his reception was not adequate to his expectations, may be gathered from some expressions in a letter addressed to him when at Montrose by his confidante, Miss Cranstoun: - ``Dear Scott,'' - (she says) - ``I bless the gods for conducting your poor dear soul safely to Perth. When I consider the wilds, the forests, the lakes, the rocks - and the spirits in which you must have whispered to their startled echoes, it amazeth me how you escaped. Had you but dismissed your little squire and Earwig [a pony], and spent a few days as Orlando would have done, all posterity might have profited by it; but to trot quietly away, without so much as one stanza to Despair - never talk to me of love again - never, never, never! I am dying for your collection of exploits. When will you return? In the meantime, Heaven speed you! Be sober, and hope to the end.''

The affair in which Miss Cranstoun took so lively an interest was now approaching its end. It was known, before autumn closed, that the lady of his vows had finally promised her hand to his amiable rival; and, when the fact was announced, some of those who knew Scott the best, appear to have entertained very serious apprehensions as to the effect which the disappointment might have upon his feelings. For example, one of those brothers of _The Mountain_ wrote as follows to another of them, on the 12th October 1796: - ``Mr Forbes marries Miss Stuart. This is not good news. I always dreaded there was some self-deception on the part of our romantic friend, and I now shudder at the violence of his most irritable and ungovernable mind. Who is it that says, `Men have died, and worms have eaten them, but not for =love?=' I hope sincerely it may be verified on this occasion.''

Scott had, however, in all likelihood, digested his agony during the solitary ride in the Highlands to which Miss Cranstoun's last letter alludes.

I venture to recall here to the reader's memory the opening of the twelfth chapter of Peveril of the Peak, written twenty-six years after this youthful disappointment: - ``The period at which love is formed for the first time, and felt most strongly, is seldom that at which there is much prospect of its being brought to a happy issue. The state of artificial society opposes many complicated obstructions to early marriages; and the chance is very great that such obstacles prove insurmountable. In fine, there are few men who do not look back in secret to some period of their youth, at which a sincere and early affection was repulsed, or betrayed, or became abortive from opposing circumstances. It is these little passages of secret history which leave a tinge of romance in every bosom, scarce permitting us, even in the most busy or the most advanced period of life, to listen with total indifference to a tale of true love.''

Rebelling, as usual, against circumstances, Scott seems to have turned with renewed ardour to his literary pursuits; and in that same October, 1796, he was ``prevailed on,'' as he playfully expresses it, ``by the _request of friends,_ to indulge his own vanity, by publishing the translation of Lenore, with that of the Wild Huntsman, also from B<u:>rger, in a thin quarto.'' The little volume, which has no author's name on the title-page, was printed for Manners and Miller of Edinburgh. He had owed his copy of B<u:>rger to a young gentlewoman of high German blood, who in 1795 became the wife of his friend and chief Hugh Scott of Harden. She was daughter of Count Br<u:>hl of Martkirchen, long Saxon ambassador at the Court of St James's, by his wife Almeria, Countess-Dowager of Egremont. The young kinsman was introduced to her soon after her arrival at Mertoun, and his attachment to German studies excited her attention and interest. The ballad of the Wild Huntsman appears to have been executed during the month that preceded his first publication; and he was thenceforth engaged in a succession of versions from the dramas of Meier and Iffland, several of which are still extant in his MS., marked 1796 and 1797. These are all in prose like their originals; but he also versified at the same time some lyrical fragments of Goethe, as, for example, the Morlachian Ballad, ``What yonder glimmers so white on the mountain?'' and the song from Claudina von Villa Bella. He consulted his friend at Mertoun on all these essays; and I have often heard him say, that among those many ``obligations of a distant date which remained impressed on his memory, after a life spent in a constant interchange of friendship and kindness,'' he counted not as the least the lady's frankness in correcting his Scotticisms, and more especially his Scottish _rhymes._

His obligations to this lady were indeed various; but I doubt, after all, whether these were the most important. He used to say, that she was the first _woman of real fashion_ that _took him up;_ that she used the privileges of her sex and station in the truest spirit of kindness; set him right as to a thousand little trifles, which no one else would have ventured to notice; and, in short, did for him what no one but an elegant woman can do for a young man, whose early days have been spent in narrow and provincial circles. ``When I first saw Sir Walter,'' she writes to me, ``he was about four or five-and-twenty, but looked much younger. He seemed bashful and awkward; but there were from the first such gleams of superior sense and spirit in his conversation, that I was hardly surprised when, after our acquaintance had ripened a little, I felt myself to be talking with a man of genius. He was most modest about himself, and shewed his little pieces apparently without any consciousness that they could possess any claim on particular attention. Nothing so easy and good-humoured as the way in which he received any hints I might offer, when he seemed to be tampering with the King's English. I remember particularly how he laughed at himself, when I made him take notice that `the little two dogs,' in some of his lines, did not please an English ear accustomed to `the two little dogs.'

Nor was this the only person at Mertoun who took a lively interest in his pursuits. Harden entered into all the feelings of his beautiful bride on this subject; and his mother, the Lady Diana Scott, daughter of the last Earl of Marchmont, did so no less. She had conversed, in her early days, with the brightest ornaments of the cycle of Queen Anne, and preserved rich stores of anecdote, well calculated to gratify the curiosity and excite the ambition of a young enthusiast in literature. Lady Diana soon appreciated the minstrel of the clan; and, surviving to a remarkable age, she had the satisfaction of seeing him at the height of his eminence - the solitary person who could give the author of Marmion personal reminiscences of Pope.

With these friends, as well as in his Edinburgh circle, the little anonymous volume found warm favour; Dugald Stewart, Ramsay of Ochtertyre, and George Chalmers, especially prophesied for it great success. The many inaccuracies and awkwardness of rhyme and diction to which Scott alludes in republishing its two ballads towards the close of his life, did not prevent real lovers of poetry from seeing that no one but a poet could have transfused the daring imagery of the German in a style so free, bold, masculine, and full of life; but, wearied as all such readers had been with that succession of flimsy, lackadaisical trash which followed the appearance of the Reliques by Bishop Percy, the opening of such a new vein of popular poetry as these verses revealed, would have been enough to produce lenient critics for inferior translations. Many, as we have seen, sent forth copies of the Lenore about the same time; and some of these might be thought better than Scott's in particular passages; but, on the whole, it seems to have been felt and acknowledged by those best entitled to judge, that he deserved the palm. Meantime, we must not forget that Scotland had lost that very year the great poet Burns, her glory and her shame. It is at least to be hoped that a general sentiment of self-reproach, as well as of sorrow, had been excited by the premature extinction of such a light; and, at all events, it is agreeable to know that they who had watched his career with the most affectionate concern, were among the first to hail the promise of a more fortunate successor.

The anticipations of these gentlemen, that Scott's versions would attract general attention in the south, were not fulfilled. He himself attributes this to the contemporaneous appearance of so many other translations from Lenore. ``I was coldly received,'' he says, ``by strangers, but my reputation began rather to increase among my own friends; and on the whole I was more bent to shew the world that it had neglected something worth notice than to be affronted by its indifference; or rather, to speak candidly, I found pleasure in the literary labours in which I had almost by accident become engaged, and laboured less in the hope of pleasing others, though certainly without despair of doing so, than in pursuit of a new and agreeable amusement to myself.''

In his German studies, Scott acquired, about this time, another assistant in Mr Skene of Rubislaw - a gentleman considerably his junior, who had just returned to Scotland from a residence of several years in Saxony. Their fondness for the same literature, with Scott's eagerness to profit by his new acquaintance's superior attainment in it, opened an intercourse which general similarity of tastes, and I venture to add, in many of the most important features of character, soon ripened into the familiarity of a tender friendship - ``An intimacy,'' Mr Skene says, in a paper before me, ``of which I shall ever think with so much pride - a friendship so pure and cordial as to have been able to withstand all the vicissitudes of nearly forty years, without ever having sustained even a casual chill from unkind thought or word.'' Mr Skene adds - ``During the whole progress of his varied life, to that eminent station which he could not but feel he at length held in the estimation, not of his countrymen alone, but of the whole world, I never could perceive the slightest shade of variance from that simplicity of character with which he impressed me on the first hour of our meeting.''

Among the common tastes which served to knit these friends together, was their love of horsemanship, in which, as in all other manly exercises, Skene highly excelled; and the fears of a French invasion becoming every day more serious, their thoughts were turned with corresponding zeal to the project of mounted volunteers. ``The London Light-horse had set the example,'' says Mr Skene; ``but in truth it was to Scott's ardour that this force in the North owed its origin. Unable, by reason of his lameness, to serve amongst his friends on foot, he had nothing for it but to rouse the spirit of the moss-trooper, with which he readily inspired all who possessed the means of substituting the sabre for the. musket. On the 14th February 1797, these friends and many more met and drew up an offer to serve as a body of volunteer cavalry in Scotland; which was accepted by Government. The organization of the corps proceeded rapidly; they extended their offer to serve in any part of the island in case of invasion; and this also being accepted, the whole arrangement was shortly completed; when Charles Maitland of Rankeillor was elected Major-Commandant; William Rae of St Catharine's, Captain; William Forbes of Pitsligo, and James Skene of Rubislaw, Cornets; Walter Scott, Paymaster, Quartermaster, and Secretary. But the treble duties thus devolved on Scott were found to interfere too severely with his other avocations, and Colin Mackenzie of Portmore relieved him from those of paymaster.

``The part of quartermaster,'' says Mr Skene, ``was purposely selected for him, that he might be spared the rough usage of the ranks; but, notwithstanding his infirmity, he had a remarkably firm seat on horseback, and in all situations a fearless one: no fatigue ever seemed too much for him, and his zeal and animation served to sustain the enthusiasm of the whole corps, while his ready `mot <a`> rire' kept up, in all, a degree of good-humour and relish for the service, without which, the toil and privations of long _daily_ drills would not easily have been submitted to by such a body of gentlemen. At every interval of exercise, the order, _sit at ease,_ was the signal for the quartermaster to lead the squadron to merriment; every eye was intuitively turned on `Earl Walter,' as he was familiarly called by his associates of that date, and his ready joke seldom failed to raise the ready laugh. He took his full share in all the labours and duties of the corps, had the highest pride in its progress and proficiency, and was such a trooper himself, as only a very powerful frame of body and the warmest zeal in the cause could have enabled any one to be. But his habitual good-humour was the great charm, and at the daily mess (for we all dined together when in quarters) that reigned supreme.'' _Earl Walter's_ first charger, by the way, was a tall and powerful animal, named _Lenore._ These daily drills appear to have been persisted in during the spring and summer of 1797; the corps spending moreover some weeks in quarters at Musselburgh. The majority of the troop having professional duties to attend to, the ordinary hour for drill was five in the morning; and when we reflect, that after some hours of hard work in this way, Scott had to produce himself regularly in the Parliament House with gown and wig, for the space of four or five hours at least, while his chamber practice, though still humble, was on the increase - and that he had found a plentiful source of new social engagements in his troop connexions - it certainly could have excited no surprise had his literary studies been found suffering total intermission during this busy period. That such was not the case, however, his correspondence and note-books afford ample evidence. His _fee-book_ shews that he made by his first year's practice <L>24, 3s.; by the second, <L>57, 15s.; by the third, <L>84, 4s.; by the fourth, <L>90; and in his fifth year at the Bar - that is, from November 1796 to July 1797 - <L>144, 10s.; of which <L>50 were fees from his father's chamber. He had no turn, at this time of his life, for early rising; so that the regular attendance at the morning drills was of itself a strong evidence of his military zeal, but he must have, in spite of them, and of all other circumstances, persisted in what was the usual custom of all his earlier life, namely, the devotion of the best hours of the night to solitary study. In general, both as a young man, and in more advanced age, his constitution required a good allowance of sleep, and he, on principle, indulged in it, saying, ``he was but half a man if he had not full seven hours of utter unconsciousness;'' but his whole mind and temperament were, at this period, in a state of most fervent exaltation, and spirit triumphed over matter.

Chapter 3

Back to Contents Page