Tour to the English Lakes - Miss Carpenter - Marriage - Lasswade
Cottage - Original Ballads - Monk Lewis - Goetz of Berlichingen -
John Leyden - James Hogg - James Ballantyne -
Sheriffship of Selkirk - PubIication of the Minstrelsy of the
After the rising of the Court of Session in July 1797, Scott set out on a tour to the English lakes, accompanied by his brother John and Adam Fergusson. Their first stage was Halyards in Tweeddale, then inhabited by his friend's father, the philosopher and historian; and they stayed there for a day or two, in the course of which he had his first and only interview with David Ritchie, the original of his Black Dwarf. Proceeding southwards, the tourists visited Carlisle, Penrith, - the vale of the Eamont, including Mayburgh and Brougham Castle, - Ulswater and Windermere; and at length fixed their head-quarters at the then peaceful and sequestered little watering place of Gilsland, making excursions from thence to the various scenes of romantic interest which are commemorated in The Bridal of Triermain, and otherwise leading very much the sort of life depicted among the loungers of St Ronan's Well. Scott was, on his first arrival at Gilsland, not a little engaged with the beauty of one of the young ladies lodged under the same roof with him; and it was on occasion of a visit in her company to some part of the Roman Wall that he indited his lines -
But this was only a passing glimpse of flirtation. A week or so afterwards commenced a more serious affair.
Riding one day with Fergusson, they met, some miles from their quarters, a young lady taking the air on horseback, whom neither of them had previously remarked, and whose appearance instantly struck both so much, that they kept her in view until they had satisfied themselves that she also was one of the party at Gilsland. The same evening there was a ball, at which Captain Scott produced himself in his regimentals, and Fergusson also thought proper to be equipped in the uniform of the Edinburgh Volunteers. There was no little rivalry among the young travellers as to who should first get presented to the unknown beauty of the morning's ride; but though both the gentlemen in scarlet had the advantage of being dancing partners, their friend succeeded in handing the fair stranger to supper - and such was his first introduction to Charlotte Margaret Carpenter.
Without the features of a regular beauty, she was rich in personal attractions; ``a form that was fashioned as light as a fay's;'' a complexion of the clearest and lightest olive; eyes large, deep-set and dazzling, of the finest Italian brown; and a profusion of silken tresses, black as the raven's wing; her address hovering between the reserve of a pretty young Englishwoman who has not mingled largely in general society, and a certain, natural archness and gaiety that suited well with the accompaniment of a French accent. A lovelier vision, as all who remember her in the bloom of her days have assured me, could hardly have been imagined; and from that hour the fate of the young poet was fixed.
She was the daughter of Jean Charpentier, of Lyons, a devoted royalist, who held an office under Government, and Charlotte Volere, his wife. She and her only brother, Charles Charpentier, had been educated in the Protestant religion of their mother; and when their father died, which occurred in the beginning of the Revolution, Madame Charpentier made her escape with her children first to Paris, and then to England, where they found a warm friend and protector in Arthur, the second Marquis of Downshire, who had, in the course of his travels in France, formed an intimate acquaintance with the family, and, indeed, spent some time under their roof. M. Charpentier had, in his first alarm as to the coming Revolution, invested <L>4000 in English securities - part in a mortgage upon Lord Downshire's estates. On the mother's death, which occurred soon after her arrival in London, this nobleman took on himself the character of sole guardian to her children; and Charles Charpentier received in due time, through his interest, an appointment in the service of the East India Company, in which he had by this time risen to the lucrative situation of commercial resident at Salem. His sister was now making a little excursion, under the care of the lady who had superintended her education, Miss Jane Nicholson, a daughter of Dr Nicholson, Dean of Exeter, and grand-daughter of William Nicholson, Bishop of Carlisle, well known as the editor of ``The English Historical Library.'' To some connexions which the learned prelate's family had ever since his time kept up in the diocese of Carlisle, Miss Carpenter owed the direction of her summer tour.
Scott's father was now in a very feeble state of health, which accounts for his first announcement of this affair being made in a letter to his mother; it is undated; - but by this time the young lady had left Gilsland for Carlisle, were she remained until her destiny was settled. He says: - ``My dear Mother, - I should very ill deserve the care and affection with which you have ever regarded me, were I to neglect my duty so far as to omit consulting my father and you in the most important step which I can possibly take in life, and upon the success of which my future happiness must depend. It is with pleasure I think that I can avail myself of your advice and instructions in an affair of so great importance as that which I have at present on my hands. You will probably guess from this preamble, that I am engaged in a matrimonial plan, which is really the case. Though my acquaintance with the young lady has not been of long standing, this circumstance is in some degree counterbalanced by the intimacy in which we have lived, and by the opportunities which that intimacy has afforded me of remarking her conduct and sentiments on many different occasions, some of which were rather of a delicate nature, so that in fact I have seen more of her during the few weeks we have been together, than I could have done after a much longer acquaintance, shackled by the common forms of ordinary life. You will not expect from me a description of her person - for which I refer you to my brother, as also for a fuller account of all the circumstances attending the business than can be comprised in the compass of a letter. Without flying into raptures, for I must assure you that my judgment as well as my affections are consulted upon this occasion - without flying into raptures, then, I may safely assure you, that her temper is sweet and cheerful, her understanding good, and, what I know will give you pleasure, her principles of religion very serious. I have been very explicit with her upon the nature of my expectations, and she thinks she can accommodate herself to the situation which I should wish her to hold in society as my wife, which, you will easily comprehend, I mean should neither be extravagant nor degrading. Her fortune, though partly dependent upon her brother, who is high in office at Madras, is very considerable at present <L>500 a-year. This, however, we must, in some degree, regard as precarious - I mean to the full extent; and indeed, when you know her, you will not be surprised that I regard this circumstance chiefly because it removes those prudential considerations which would otherwise render our union impossible for the present. Betwixt her income and my own professional exertions, I have little doubt we will be enabled to hold the rank in society which my family and situation entitle me to fill. Write to me very fully upon this important subject - send me your opinion, your advice, and, above all, your blessing.''
Scott remained in Cumberland until the Jedburgh assizes recalled him to his legal duties. On arriving in that town, he immediately sent for his friend Shortreed, whose _Memorandum_ records that the evening of the 30th September 1797 was one of the most joyous he ever spent. ``Scott,'' he says, ``was _sair_ beside himself about Miss Carpenter; - we toasted her twenty times over - and sat together, he raving about her, until it was one in the morning.'' He soon returned to Cumberland; and remained there until various difficulties presented by the prudence and prejudices of family connexions had been overcome. It appears that at one stage of the business he had seriously contemplated leaving the bar of Edinburgh, and establishing himself with his bride (I know not in what capacity) in one of the colonies. He attended the Court of Session as usual in November; and was married at Carlisle during the Christmas recess. I extract the following entries from the fly-leaf of his black-letter bible: -
``Gualterus Scott, filius Gualteri Scott et Ann<ae> Rutherford, natus erat apud Edinam 15mo die Augusti. A.D. 1771.
``Socius Facultatis Juridic<ae> Edinensis receptus erat 11mo die Julii, A.D. 1792.
``In ecclesiam Sanct<ae> Mari<ae> apud Carlisle, uxorem duxit Margaretam Charlottam Carpenter, filiam quondam Joannis Charpentier et Charlott<ae> Volere, Lugdunensem, 24to die Decembris 1797._'' 37
37 - The account in the text of Miss Carpenter's origin has been,
I am aware, both spoken and written of as an uncandid one: it
been expected that even in 1837 I would not pass in silence
rumour of early prevalence, which represented her and her brother
as children of Lord Downshire by Madame Charpentier. I did
not think it necessary to allude to this story while any of
Walter's own children were living; and I presume it will be
for me to say now, that neither I, nor, I firmly believe, any
one of them, ever heard either from Sir Walter, or from his
or from Miss Nicholson (who survived them both) the slightest
hint as to the rumour in question. There is not an expression
the preserved correspondence between Scott, the young lady,
the Marquis, that gives it a shadow of countenance. Lastly,
Scott always kept hanging by her bedside, and repeatedly kissed
her dying moments, a miniature of _her father_ which is now
hands; and it is the well painted likeness of a handsome gentleman -
but I am assured the features have no resemblance to Lord
Downshire or any of the Hill family.
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Scott carried his bride to a lodging in George Street, Edinburgh; a house which he had taken, not being quite prepared for her reception. The first fortnight was, I believe, sufficient to convince her husband's family that, however rashly he had formed the connexion, she had the sterling qualities of a wife. Notwithstanding some little leaning to the pomps and vanities of the world, she had made up her mind to find her happiness in better things; and so long as their circumstances continued narrow, no woman could have conformed herself to them with more of good feeling and good sense. I cannot fancy that her manners or ideas could ever have amalgamated very well with those of her husband's parents; but the feeble state of the old gentleman's health prevented her from seeing them constantly; and without any affectation of strict intimacy, they soon were, and always continued to be, very good friends. Anne Scott, the delicate sister to whom the Ashestiel Memoir alludes so tenderly, speedily formed a warm and sincere attachment for the stranger; but death, in a short time, carried of that interesting creature, who seems to have had much of her brother's imaginative and romantic temperament, without his power of controlling it.
Mrs Scott's arrival was welcomed with unmingled delight by the brothers of _The Mountain._ The two ladies who had formerly given life and grace to their society, were both recently married. Scott's house in South Castle Street (soon after exchanged for one of the same sort in North Castle Street, which he purchased, and inhabited down to 1826) became now what Cranstoun's and Erskine's had been while their accomplished sisters remained with them. The officers of the Light Horse, too, established a club among themselves, supping once a-week at each other's houses in rotation. The lady thus found two somewhat different, but both highly agreeable circles ready to receive her with cordial kindness; and the evening hours passed in a round of innocent gaiety, all the arrangements being conducted in a simple and inexpensive fashion, suitable to young people whose days were mostly laborious, and very few of their purses heavy. Scott and Erskine had always been fond of the theatre; the pretty bride was passionately so - and I doubt if they ever spent a week in Edinburgh without indulging themselves in this amusement. But regular dinners and crowded assemblies were in those years quite unthought of. Perhaps nowhere else could have been found a society on so small a scale including more of vigorous intellect, varied information, elegant tastes, and real virtue, affection, and mutual confidence. How often have I heard its members, in the midst of the wealth and honours which most of them in due season attained, sigh over the recollection of those humbler days, when love and ambition were young and buoyant - and no difference of opinion was able to bring even a momentary chill over the warmth of friendship.
In the summer of 1798 Scott hired a cottage at Lasswade, on the Esk, about six miles from Edinburgh. It is a small house, but with one room of good dimensions, which Mrs Scott's taste set off to advantage at very humble cost - a paddock or two - and a garden (commanding a most beautiful view) in which Scott delighted to train his flowers and creepers. Never, I have heard him say, was he prouder of his handiwork than when he had completed the fashioning of a rustic archway, now overgrown with hoary ivy, by way of ornament to the entrance from the Edinburgh road. In this retreat they spent some happy summers, receiving the visits of their few chosen friends from the neighbouring city, and wandering at will amidst some of the most romantic scenery that Scotland can boast - Scott's dearest haunt in the days of his boyish ramblings. They had neighbours, too, who were not slow to cultivate their acquaintance. With the Clerks of Pennycuick, with Mackenzie the Man of Feeling, who then occupied the charming villa of Auchendinny, and with Lord Woodhouselee, Scott had from an earlier date been familiar; and it was while at Lasswade that he formed intimacies, even more important in their results, with the noble families of Melville and Buccleuch, both of whom have castles in the same valley.
``From that fair dome where suit is paid By blast of bugle free, To Auchendinny's hazle shade, And haunted Woodhouselee.
``Who knows not Melville's beechy grove, And Roslin's rocky glen; Dalkeith, which all the virtues love, And classic Hawthornden?''
Another verse reminds us that
and it was amidst these delicious solitudes that he did produce the pieces which laid the imperishable foundations of all his fame. It was here, that when his warm heart was beating with young and happy love, and his whole mind and spirit were nerved by new motives for exertion - it was here, that in the ripened glow of manhood he seems to have first felt something of his real strength, and poured himself out in those splendid original ballads which were at once to fix his name.
I must, however, approach these more leisurely. When William Erskine was in London in the spring of this year, he happened to meet in society with Matthew Gregory Lewis, M.P. for Hindon, whose romance of The Monk, with the ballads which it included, had made for him, in those barren days, a brilliant reputation. This good-natured fopling, the pet and plaything of certain fashionable circles, was then busy with that miscellany which at length came out in 1801, under the name of Tales of Wonder, and was beating up in all quarters for contributions. Erskine shewed Lewis the versions of Lenore and the Wild Huntsman; and when he mentioned that his friend had other specimens of the German _diablerie_ in his portfolio, the collector anxiously requested that Scott might be enlisted in his cause; - and he, who was perhaps at all times rather disposed to hold popular favour as the surest test of literary merit, and who certainly continued through life to overestimate all talents except his own, considered this invitation as a very flattering compliment. He immediately wrote to Lewis, placing whatever pieces he had translated and imitated from the German _Volkslieder_ at his disposal.
In the autumn Lewis made a tour into the north; and Scott told Allan Cunningham, thirty years afterwards, that he thought he had never felt such elation as when the ``Monk'' invited him to dine with him for the first time at his hotel. Since he gazed on Burns in his seventeenth year, he had seen no one enjoying, by general consent, the fame of a poet; and Lewis, whatever Scott might, on maturer consideration, think of his title to such fame, had certainly done him no small service; for the ballads of Alonzo the Brave, &c., had rekindled effectually in his breast the spark of poetical ambition. Lady Charlotte Campbell (now Bury), always distinguished by her passion for letters, was ready, ``in pride of rank, in beauty's bloom,'' to do the honours of Scotland to the Lion of Mayfair; and I believe Scott's first introduction to Lewis took place at one of her Ladyship's parties. But they met frequently, and, among other places, at Dalkeith - as witness one of Scott's marginal notes, written in 1825, on Lord Byron's Diary: - ``Lewis was fonder of great people than he ought to have been, either as a man of talent or as a man of fashion. He had always dukes and duchesses in his mouth, and was pathetically fond of any one that had a title. You would have sworn he had been a parvenu of yesterday, yet he had lived all his life in good society. His person was extremely small and boyish - he was indeed the least man I ever saw, to be strictly well and neatly made. I remember a picture of him by Saunders being handed round at Dalkeith House. The artist had ingeniously flung a dark folding-mantle around the form, under which was half-hid a dagger, a dark lantern, or some such cut-throat appurtenance; with all this the features were preserved and ennobled. It passed from hand to hand into that of Henry, Duke of Buccleuch, who, hearing the general voice affirm that it was very like, said aloud, `Like Mat Lewis! Why that picture's like a =Man!=' He looked, and lo, Mat Lewis's head was at his elbow.''
Lewis spent a day or two with Scott at Musselburgh, where the yeomanry corps were in quarters. Scott received him in his lodgings, under the roof of an ancient dame, who afforded him much amusement by her daily colloquies with the fishwomen - the _Mucklebackets_ of the place. His delight in studying the dialect of these people is well remembered by the survivors of the cavalry, and must have astonished the stranger dandy. While walking about before dinner on one of these days, Mr Skene's recitation of the German _Kriegslied,_ ``Der Abschied's Tag ist da'' (the day of departure is come), delighted both Lewis and the Quarter-Master; and the latter produced next morning that spirited little piece in the same measure, which, embodying the volunteer ardour of the time, was forthwith adopted as the troop-song of the Edinburgh Light-Horse.
In January 1799, Mr Lewis appears negotiating with a bookseller, named Bell, for the publication of Scott's version of Goethe's Tragedy, ``Goetz von Berlichingen of the Iron Hand.'' Bell seems finally to have purchased the copy-right for twenty-five guineas, and twenty-five more to be paid in case of a second edition - which was never called for until long after the copy-right had expired. Lewis writes, ``I have made him distinctly understand, that, if you accept so small a sum, it will be only because this is your first publication:'' - the tiny adventure in 1796 had been completely forgotten. The _Goetz_ appeared accordingly, with Scott's name on the title-page, in the following February.
In March 1799, he carried his wife to London, this being the first time that he had seen the metropolis since the days of his infancy. The acquaintance of Lewis served to introduce him to some literary and fashionable society, with which he was much amused; but his great anxiety was to examine the antiquities of the Tower and Westminster Abbey, and to make some researches among the MSS. of the British Museum. He found his Goetz spoken of favourably, on the whole, by the critics of the time; but it does not appear to have attracted general attention. The truth is, that, to have given Goethe anything like a fair chance with the English public, his first drama ought to have been translated at least ten years before. The imitators had been more fortunate than the master, and this work, which constitutes one of the landmarks in the history of German literature, had not come even into Scott's hands, until he had familiarized himself with the ideas which it first opened, in the puny mimicries of writers already forgotten. He readily discovered the vast gulf which separated Goethe from the German dramatists on whom he had heretofore been employing himself; but the public in general drew no such distinctions, and the English Goetz was soon afterwards condemned to oblivion, through the unsparing ridicule showered on whatever bore the name of _German play,_ by the inimitable caricature of The Rovers.
The tragedy of Goethe, however, has in truth nothing in common with the wild absurdities against which Canning and Ellis levelled the arrows of their wit. It is a broad, bold, free, and most picturesque delineation of real characters, manners, and events; the first fruits, in a word, of that passionate admiration for Shakespeare, to which all that is excellent in the recent imaginative literature of Germany must be traced. With what delight must Scott have found the scope and manner of our Elizabethan drama revived on a foreign stage at the call of a real master! - with what double delight must he have seen Goethe seizing for the noblest purposes of art, men and modes of life, scenes, incidents, and transactions, all claiming near kindred with those that had from boyhood formed the chosen theme of his own sympathy and reflection! In the baronial robbers of the Rhine, stern, bloody, and rapacious, but frank, generous, and, after their fashion, courteous - in their forays upon each other's domains, the besieged castles, the plundered herds, the captive knights, the browbeaten bishop, and the baffled liege-lord, who vainly strove to quell all these turbulences - Scott had before him a vivid image of the life of his own and the rival Border clans, familiarized to him by a hundred nameless minstrels. If it be doubtful whether, but for Percy's Reliques, he would ever have thought of editing their Ballads, I think it not less so, whether, but for the Ironhanded Goetz, it would ever have flashed upon his mind, that in the wild traditions which these recorded, he had been unconsciously assembling materials for more works of high art than the longest life could serve him to elaborate.
He executed about the same time his ``House of Aspen,'' rather a _rifacimento_ than a translation from one of the minor dramatists that had crowded to partake the popularity of Goetz. It also, was sent to Lewis in London, where, having been read and commanded by the celebrated actress, Mrs Esten, it was taken up by Kemble, and I believe actually put in rehearsal for the stage. If so, the trial did not encourage further preparation, and the notion was abandoned. Discovering the play thirty years after among his papers, Scott sent it, to the Keepsake of 1829. In the advertisement he says, ``He had lately chanced to look over these scenes with feelings very different from those of the adventurous period of his literary life during which they were written, and yet with such, perhaps, as a reformed libertine might regard the illegitimate production of an early amour.'' He adds, ``there is something to be ashamed of, certainly; but, after all, paternal vanity whispers that the child has some resemblance to the father.'' The scenes are interspersed with some lyrics, the numbers of which, at least, are worthy of attention. One has the metre - and not a little of the spirit - of the boat-song of Clan-Alpin: -
His return to Edinburgh was accelerated by the tidings of his father's death. This worthy man had had a succession of paralytic attacks, under which, mind as well as body had by degrees been laid quite prostrate. When the first Chronicles of the Canongate appeared, a near relation of the family said to me - ``I had been out of Scotland for some time, and did not know of my good friend's illness until I reached Edinburgh, a few months before his death. Walter carried me to visit him, and warned me that I should see a great change. I saw the very scene that is here painted of the elder Croftangry's sickroom - not a feature different - poor Anne Scott, the gentlest of creatures, was treated by the fretful patient precisely like this niece.'' I have lived to see the curtain rise and fall once more on a like scene. Mr Thomas Scott continued to manage his father's business. He married early 38; he was in his circle of society extremely popular; and his prospects seemed fair in all things. The property left by the old gentleman was less than had been expected, but sufficient to make ample provision for his widow, and a not inconsiderable addition to the resources of those among whom the remainder was divided.
38 - Mrs Thomas Scott, born Miss Macculloch of Ardwell, was one
of the best, and wisest, and most agreeable women I have ever
known. She had a motherly affection for all Sir Walter's family
- and she survived them all. She died at Canterbury in April
1848, aged 72.
Scott's mother and sister, both much exhausted with their attendance on a protracted sickbed, and the latter already in the first stage of the malady which in two years more carried her also to her grave, spent the greater part of the following summer and autumn in his cottage at Lasswade. There he was now again labouring assiduously in the service of Lewis's ``hobgoblin repast;'' and in an essay of 1830, he gives us sufficient specimens of the Monk's Editorial Letters to his contributor - the lectures of a ``martinet in rhymes and numbers - severe enough, but useful eventually, as forcing on a young and careless versifier criticisms absolutely necessary to his future success.'' As to his imperfect _rhymes_ of this period, I have no doubt he owed them to his recent zeal about collecting the ballads of the Border. He had, in his familiarity with compositions so remarkable for merits of a higher order, ceased to be offended, as in the days of his devotion to Langborne and Mickle he would probably have been, with their loose and vague assonances, which are often, in fact, not rhymes at all; a licence pardonable enough in real minstrelsy, meant to be chanted to moss-troopers with the accompanying tones of the war-pipe, but certainly not worthy of imitation in verses written for the eye of a polished age. Of this carelessness as to rhyme, we see little or nothing in our few specimens of his boyish verse, and it does not occur to any extent that has ever been thought worth notice, in his great works.
But Lewis's collection did not engross the leisure of this summer. It produced also what Scott justly calls his ``first serious attempts in verse;'' and of these, the earliest appears to have been the Glenfinlas. Here the scene is laid in the most favourite district of his favourite Perthshire Highlands; and the Gaelic tradition on which it is founded was far more likely to draw out the secret strength of his genius, as well as to arrest the feelings of his countrymen, than any subject with which the stores of German _diablerie_ could have supplied him. It has been alleged, however, that the poet makes a German use of his Scottish materials; that the legend, as briefly told in the simple prose of his preface, is more _affecting_ than the lofty and sonorous stanzas themselves; that the vague terror of the original dream loses, instead of gaining, by the expanded elaboration of the detail. There may be something in these objections: but no man can pretend to be an impartial critic of the piece which first awoke his own childish ear to the power of poetry and the melody of verse.
The next of these compositions was, I believe, the Eve of St John, in which Scott re-peoples the tower of Smailholm, the awe-inspiring haunt of his infancy; and here he touches, for the first time, the one superstition which can still be appealed to with full and perfect effect; the only one which lingers in minds long since weaned from all sympathy with the machinery of witches and goblins. And surely this mystery was never touched with more thrilling skill than in that noble ballad. It is the first of his original pieces, too, in which he uses the measure of his own favourite Minstrels; a measure which the monotony of mediocrity had long and successfully been labouring to degrade, but in itself adequate to the expression of the highest thoughts, as well as the gentlest emotions; and capable, in fit hands, of as rich a variety of music as any other of modern times. This was written at Mertoun-house in the autumn of 1799. Some dilapidations had taken place in the tower of Smailholm, and Harden, being informed of the fact, and entreated with needless earnestness by his kinsman to arrest the hand of the spoiler, requested playfully a ballad, of which Smailholm should be the scene, as the price of his assent.
Then came The Grey Brother, founded on another superstition, which seems to have been almost as ancient as the belief in ghosts; namely, that the holiest service of the altar cannot go on in the presence of an unclean person - a heinous sinner unconfessed and unabsolved. The fragmentary form of this poem greatly heightens the awfulness of its impression; and in construction and metre, the verses which really belong to the story appear to me the happiest that have ever been produced expressly in imitation of the ballad of the middle age. In the stanzas, previously quoted, on the scenery of the Esk, however beautiful in themselves, and however interesting now as marking the locality of the composition, he must be allowed to have lapsed into another strain, and produced a _pannus purpureus_ which interferes with and mars the general texture.
He wrote at the same period the fine chivalrous ballad entitled The Fire-King, in which there is more than enough to make us forgive the machinery.
It was in the course of this autumn that he first visited Bothwell Castle, the seat of Archibald Lord Douglas, who had married Lady Frances Scott, sister to Henry Duke of Buccleuch; a woman whose many amiable virtues were combined with extraordinary strength of mind, and who had, from the first introduction of the young poet at Dalkeith, formed high anticipations of his future career. Lady Douglas was one of his dearest friends through life; and now, under her roof, he improved an acquaintance (begun also at Dalkeith) with one whose abilities and accomplishments not less qualified her to estimate him, and who still survives to lament the only event that could have interrupted their cordial confidence - Lady Louisa Stuart, daughter of the celebrated John Earl of Bute. These ladies, who were sisters in mind, feeling, and affection, he visited among scenes the noblest and most interesting that all Scotland can shew - alike famous in history and romance; and he was not unwilling to make Bothwell and Blantyre the subject of another ballad; of which, however, only a first and imperfect draft has been recovered.
One morning, during his visit to Bothwell, was spent on an excursion to the ruins of Craignethan Castle, the seat, in former days, of the great Evandale branch of the house of Hamilton, but now the property of Lord Douglas; and the poet expressed such rapture with the scenery, that his hosts urged him to accept, for his lifetime, the use of a small habitable house, enclosed within the circuit of the ancient walls. This offer was not at once declined; but circumstances occurred before the end of the year which rendered it impossible for him to establish his summer residence in Lanarkshire. The castle of Craignethan is the original of his ``Tillietudlem.''
His note-book of this year has supplied the recent editions of his poetry with several other ballads in an incomplete state: but notwithstanding all these varied essays, and the charms of the distinguished society into which his reputation had already introduced him, his friends do not appear to have as yet entertained the slightest notion that literature was to be the main business of his life. A letter of one very early correspondent, Mr Kerr of Abbotrule, congratulates him on his having had more to do at the autumnal assizes of Jedburgh this year than on any former occasion, which intelligence he seems himself to have communicated with no feeble expressions of satisfaction. ``I greatly enjoy this,'' says Kerr. ``Go on; and with your strong sense and hourly ripening knowledge, that you must rise to the top of the tree in the Parliament House in due season, I hold as certain as that Murray died Lord Mansfield. But don't let many an Ovid 39, or rather many a Burns (which is better), be lost in you. I rather think men of business have produced as good poetry in their by-hours as the professed regulars; and I don't see any sufficient reason why Lord President Scott should not be a famous poet (in the vacation time), when we have seen a President Montesquieu step so nobly beyond the trammels in the _Esprit des Loix._ I suspect Dryden would have been a happier man had he had your profession. The reasoning talents visible in his verses, assure me that he would have ruled in Westminster Hall as easily as he did at Button's, and he might have found time enough besides for everything that one really honours his memory for.'' This friend appears to have entertained, in October 1799, the very opinion as to the _profession of literature_ on which Scott acted through life.
39 - How sweet an Ovid, Murray was our boast;
How many Martials were in Pult'ney lost. - _Dunciad,_ iv. 170.
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Having again given a week to Liddesdale, in company with Mr Shortreed, he spent a few days at Rosebank, and was preparing to return to Edinburgh for the winter, when he received a visit which had consequences of importance.
In the early days of Launcelot Whale, he had had for a classfellow, Mr James Ballantyne, the eldest son of a decent shopkeeper in Kelso, and their acquaintance had never been altogether broken off, as Scott's visits to Rosebank were frequent and the other had resided for a time in Edinburgh, when pursuing his education with a view to the profession of a solicitor. Mr. Ballantyne had not be successful in his attempts to establish himself in that branch of the law, and was now the printer and editor of a weekly newspaper in his native town. He called at Rosebank one morning, and requested his old acquaintance to supply a few paragraphs on some legal question of the day for his _Kelso Mail._ Scott complied; and carrying his article himself to the printing-office, took with him also some of his recent pieces, designed to appear in Lewis's Collection. With these, especially, as his Memorandum says, the ``Morlachian fragment after Goethe,'' Ballantyne was charmed, and he expressed his regret that Lewis's book was so long in appearing. Scott talked of Lewis with rapture; and, after reciting some of his stanzas, said - ``I ought to apologise to you for having troubled you with anything of my own when I had things like this for your ear.'' - ``I felt at once,'' says Ballantyne, ``that his own verses were far above what Lewis could ever do, and though, when I said this, he dissented, yet he seemed pleased with the warmth of my approbation.'' At parting, Scott threw out a casual observation, that he wondered his old friend did not try to get some little booksellers' work, ``to keep his types in play during the rest of the week.'' Ballantyne answered, that such an idea had not before occurred to him - that he had no acquaintance with the Edinburgh ``trade;'' but, if he had, his types were good, and he thought he could afford to work more cheaply than town-printers. Scott, ``with his good humoured smile,'' said, - ``You had better try what you can do. You have been praising my little ballads; suppose you print off a dozen copies or so of as many as will make a pamphlet, sufficient to let my Edinburgh acquaintances judge of your skill for themselves.'' Ballantyne assented; and I believe exactly twelve copies of William, and Ellen, The Fire-King, The Chase, and a few more of those pieces, were thrown off accordingly, with the title (alluding to the long delay of Lewis's Collection) of ``Apology for Tales of Terror - 1799.'' This first specimen of a press, afterwards so celebrated, pleased Scott; and he said to Ballantyne ``I have been for years collecting old Border ballads, and I think I could, with little trouble, put together such a selection from them as might make a neat little volume, to sell for four or five shillings. I will talk to some of the booksellers about it when I get to Edinburgh, and if the thing goes on, you shall be the printer.'' Ballantyne highly relished the proposal; and the result of this little experiment changed wholly the course of his worldly fortunes, as well as of his friend's.
Mr Ballantyne, after recounting this conversation, says: - ``I do not believe that even at this time he seriously contemplated giving himself much to literature;'' but I think a letter addressed to Ballantyne, in the following April, affords considerable reason to doubt the accuracy of this impression. Scott there states, that he and another acquaintance of the printer's had been consulting together as to the feasibility of ``no less than a total plan of migration from Kelso to Edinburgh;'' and proceeds to say, that, in his opinion, there was then a very favourable opening in Edinburgh for a new printing establishment, conducted by a man of talent and education. He mentions - besides the chance of a share in the printing of law-papers - firstly, a weekly newspaper of the higher class; secondly, a monthly magazine; and thirdly, an annual register, as undertakings all likely to be well received; suggests that the general publishing trade itself was in a very languid condition and ends with a hint that ``pecuniary assistance, if wanted, might (no doubt) be procured on terms of a share, or otherwise.'' The coincidence of most of these air-drawn schemes with things afterwards realized, is certainly very striking. At the same time, between October 1799 and April 1800, there had occurred a change in Scott's personal affairs very likely to have strengthened, if not originated the design, which Ballantyne did not believe him to have seriously entertained at the time of their autumnal interview.
Shortly after the commencement of the Winter Session, the office of Sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire became vacant by the death of an early ally of Scott's, Andrew Plummer of Middlestead, a scholar and antiquary, who had entered with zeal into his ballad researches, and whose name occurs accordingly more than once in the notes to the Border Minstrelsy. Perhaps the community of their tastes may have had some part in suggesting to the Duke of Buccleuch, that Scott might fitly succeed Mr Plummer in the magistrature. Be that as it might, his Grace's influence was used with Mr Henry Dundas (afterwards Viscount Melville) who in those days had the general control of the Crown patronage in Scotland, and was prepared to look favourably on Scott's pretensions to some office of this description. Though neither the Duke nor this able Minister were at all addicted to literature, they had both seen him frequently under their own roofs, and been pleased with his manners and conversation; and he had by this time come to be on terms of affectionate intimacy with some of the younger members of either family. The Earl of Dalkeith (afterwards Duke Charles of Buccleuch), and his brother Lord Montagu, both participating with kindred ardour in the military patriotism of the period, had been thrown into his society under circumstances well qualified to ripen acquaintance into confidence. Robert Dundas, eldest son of the Minister, had been one of Scott's companions in the High School; and he, too, had been of late a lively partaker in the business of the yeomanry cavalry; and, last not least, Scott always remembered with gratitude the strong intercession on this occasion of Lord Melville's nephews, Robert Dundas of Arniston, the Lord Advocate of the time, and William Dundas, then Secretary to the Board of Control.
His appointment to the _Sheriffship_ bears date 16th December 1799. It secured him an annual salary of <L>300; an addition to his resources which at once relieved his mind from whatever degree of anxiety he might have felt in considering the prospect of an increasing family, along with the ever precarious chances of a profession, in the daily drudgery of which it is impossible to suppose that, he ever could have found much pleasure. The duties of the office were far from heavy; the territory, small, peaceful, and pastoral, was in great part the property of the Duke of Buccleuch; and he turned with redoubled zeal to his project of editing the ballads, many of the best of which belonged to this very district of his favourite Border - those ``tales'' which, as the Dedication of the Minstrelsy expresses it, had ``in elder times celebrated the prowess and cheered the halls'' of his noble patron's ancestors.
Scott found able assistants in the completion of his design. Richard Heber (long Member of Parliament for the University of Oxford) happened to spend this winter in Edinburgh, and was welcomed, as his talents and accomplishments entitled him to be, by the cultivated society of the place. With Scott, his multifarious learning, particularly his profound knowledge of the literary monuments of the middle ages, soon drew him into habits of close alliance; the stores of his library, even then extensive, were freely laid open, and his own oral commentaries were not less valuable. But through him Scott made acquaintance with a person still more qualified to give effectual aid in this undertaking. Few who read these pages can be unacquainted with the leading facts in the history of John Leyden. Few can need to be reminded that this extraordinary man, born in a shepherd's cottage in one of the wildest valleys of Roxburghshire, and of course almost entirely self-educated, had, before he attained his nineteenth year, confounded the doctors of Edinburgh by the portentous mass of his acquisitions in almost every department of learning. He had set the extremest penury at utter defiance, or rather he had never been conscious that it could operate as a bar; for bread and water, and access to books and lectures, comprised all within the bounds of his wishes; and thus he toiled and battled at the gates of science after science, until his unconquerable perseverance carried everything before it; and yet with this monastic abstemiousness and iron hardness of will, perplexing those about him by manners and habits in which it was hard to say whether the moss-trooper or the schoolman of former days most prevailed, he was at heart a poet.
Archibald Constable, in after life one of the most eminent of British publishers, was at this period the keeper of a small book-shop, into which few but the poor students of Leyden's order had hitherto found their way. Heber, in the course of his bibliomanical prowlings, discovered that it contained some of
which were already the Delilahs of his imagination; and, moreover, that the young bookseller had himself a strong taste for such charmers. Frequenting the place, accordingly, he observed with some curiosity the countenance and gestures of another daily visitant, who came not to purchase, evidently, but to pore over the more recondite articles - often balanced for hours on a ladder with a folio in his hand like Dominie Sampson. The English virtuoso was on the look-out for any books or MSS. that might be of use to the editor of the projected ``Minstrelsy,'' and some casual colloquy led to the discovery that this new stranger was, amidst the endless labyrinth of his lore, a master of legend and tradition - an enthusiastic collector and skilful expounder of these very Border ballads. Scott heard with much interest Heber's account of his odd acquaintance, and found, when introduced, the person whose initials, affixed to a series of pieces in verse, chiefly, translations from Greek, Latin, and the northern languages, scattered, during the last three or four years, over the pages of the ``Edinburgh Magazine,'' had often much excited his curiosity, as various indications pointed out the Scotch Border to be the native district of this unknown ``J. L.''
These new friendships led to a great change in Leyden's position, purposes, and prospects. He was presently received into the best society of Edinburgh, where his uncouthness of demeanour does not seem to have at all interfered with the general appreciation of his genius, his endowments, and amiable virtues. Fixing his ambition on the East, where he hoped to rival the achievements of Sir William Jones, he at length, about the beginning of 1802, obtained the promise of some literary appointment in the East India Company's service; but when the time drew near, it was discovered that the patronage of the season had been exhausted, with the exception of one _surgeon-assistant's_ commission - which had been with difficulty secured for him by Mr William Dundas; who, moreover. was obliged to inform him, that if he accepted it, he must be qualified to pass his medical trials within six months. This news, which would have crushed any other man's hopes to the dust, was only a welcome fillip to the ardour of Leyden. He that same hour grappled with a new science in full confidence that whatever ordinary men could do in three or four years, his energy could accomplish in as many months; took his degree accordingly in the beginning of 1803, having just before published his beautiful poem, The Scenes of Infancy; sailed to India; raised for himself, within seven short years, the reputation of the most marvellous of Orientalists; and died, in the midst of the proudest hopes, at the same age with Burns and Byron, in 1811.
But to return: - Leyden was enlisted by Scott in the service of Lewis, and immediately contributed a ballad, called The Elf-King, to the Tales of Terror. Those highly-spirited pieces, the Cout of Keeldar, Lord Soulis, and The Mermaid, were furnished for the original department of Scott's own collection: and the Dissertation on Fairies, prefixed to its second volume, ``although arranged and digested by the editor, abounds with instances of such curious reading as Leyden only had read, and was originally compiled by him;'' but not the least of his labours was in the collection of the old ballads themselves. When he first conversed with Ballantyne on the subject of the proposed work, and the printer signified his belief that a single volume of moderate size would be sufficient for the materials, Leyden exclaimed - ``Dash it, does Mr Scott mean another thin thing like Goetz of Berlichingen? I have more than that in my head myself: we shall turn out three or four such volumes at least.'' He went to work stoutly in the realization of these wider views. ``In this labour,'' says Scott, ``he was equally interested by friendship for the editor, and by his own patriotic zeal for the honour of the Scottish borders; and both may be judged of from the following circumstance. An interesting fragment had been obtained of an ancient historical ballad; but the remainder, to the great disturbance of the editor and his coadjutor, was not to be recovered. Two days afterwards, while the editor was sitting with some company after dinner, a sound was heard at a distance like that of the whistling of a tempest through the torn rigging of the vessel which scuds before it. The sounds increased as they approached more near; and Leyden (to the great astonishment of such of the guests as did not know him) burst into the room, chanting the desiderated ballad with the most enthusiastic gesture, and all the energy of what he used to call the saw-tones of his voice. It turned out that he had walked between forty and fifty miles and back again, for the sole purpose of visiting an old person who possessed this precious remnant of antiquity.'' 40
_Essay on the Life of Leyden_ - Miscellaneous Prose. Many tributes to his memory are scattered over his friend's works, both prose and verse; and, above all, Scott did not forget him when exploring, three years after his death, the scenery of The Lord of the Isles: -
During the years 1800 and 1801, the Minstrelsy formed its editor's chief occupation - a labour of love truly, if ever such there was; but neither this nor his sheriffship interfered with his regular attendance at the Bar, the abandonment of which was all this while as far as it ever had been from his imagination, or that of any of his friends. He continued to have his summer headquarters at Lasswade; and Sir John Stoddart, who visited him there in the course of his Scottish tour (published in 1801), dwells on ``the simple unostentatious elegance of the cottage, and the domestic picture which he there contemplated - a man of native kindness and cultivated talent, passing the intervals of a learned profession amidst scenes highly favourable to his poetic inspirations, not in churlish and rustic solitude, but in the daily exercise of the most precious sympathies as a husband, a father, and a friend.'' His means of hospitality were now much enlarged, and the cottage on a Saturday and Sunday at least, was seldom without visitors. Among other indications of greater ease in his circumstances, which I find in his letter-book, he writes to Heber, after his return to London in May 1800, to request his good offices on behalf of Mrs Scott, who had ``set her heart on a phaeton, at once strong, and low, and handsome, and not to cost more than thirty guineas;'' which combination of advantages Heber seems to have found by no means easy of attainment. The phaeton vas, however, discovered; and its springs must soon have been put to a sufficient trial, for this was ``the first wheeled carriage that ever penetrated into Liddesdale'' - namely, in August 1800. The friendship of the Buccleuch family now placed better means of research at his disposal, and Lord Dalkeith had taken special care that there should be a band of pioneers in waiting when he reached Hermitage.
Though he had not given up Lasswade, his sheriffship now made it necessary for him that he should be frequently in Ettrick Forest. On such occasions he took up his lodgings in the little inn at Clovenford, a favourite fishing station on the road from Edinburgh to Selkirk. From this place he could ride to the county town whenever business required his presence, and he was also within a few miles of the vales of Yarrow and Ettrick, where he obtained large accessions to his store of ballads. It was in one of these excursions that, penetrating beyond St Mary's lake, he found a hospitable reception at the farm of _Blackhouse,_ situated on the Douglas-burn, then tenanted by a remarkable family, to which I have already made allusion - that of William Laidlaw. He was then a very young man, but the extent of his acquirements was already as noticeable as the vigour and originality of his mind; and their correspondence where ``Sir'' passes, at a few bounds, through ``Dear Sir,'' and ``Dear Mr Laidlaw,'' to ``Dear Willie,'' shews how speedily this new acquaintance had warmed into a very tender affection. Laidlaw's zeal about the ballads was repaid by Scott's anxious endeavours to get him removed from a sphere for which, he writes, ``it is no flattery to say that you are much too good.'' It was then, and always continued to be, his opinion, that his friend was particularly qualified for entering with advantage on the study of the medical profession; but such designs, if Laidlaw himself ever took them up seriously, were not ultimately persevered in; and I question whether any worldly success could, after all, have overbalanced the retrospect of an honourable life spent happily in the open air of nature, amidst scenes the most captivating to the eye of genius, and in the intimate confidence of, perhaps, the greatest of contemporary minds.
James Hogg spent ten years of his life in the service of Mr Laidlaw's father, but he had passed into that of another sheep-farmer in a neighbouring valley, before Scott first visited Blackhouse. William Laidlaw and Hogg were, however, most intimate friends, and the former took care that Scott should see, without delay, one whose fondness for the minstrelsy of the Forest was equal to his own, and whose aged mother was celebrated for having by heart several ballads in a more perfect form than any other inhabitant of the vale of Ettrick. The personal history of James Hogg must have interested Scott even more than any acquisition of that sort which he owed to this acquaintance with, perhaps, the most remarkable man that ever wore the _maud_ of a shepherd. Under the garb, aspect, and bearing of a rude peasant - and rude enough he was in most of these things, even after no inconsiderable experience of society - Scott found a brother poet, a true son of nature and genius, hardly conscious of his powers. He had taught himself to write by copying the letters of a printed book as he lay watching his flock on the hill-side, and had probably reached the utmost pitch of his ambition, when he first found that his artless rhymes could touch the heart of the ewe-milker who partook the shelter of his mantle during the passing storm. As yet his naturally kind and simple character had not been exposed to any of the dangerous flatteries of the world; his heart was pure, his enthusiasm buoyant as that of a happy child; and well as Scott knew that reflection, sagacity, wit, and wisdom, were scattered abundantly among the humblest rangers of these pastoral solitudes, there was here a depth and a brightness that filled him with wonder, combined with a quaintness of humour, and a thousand little touches of absurdity, which afforded him more entertainment, as I have often heard him say, than the best comedy that ever set the pit in a roar.
Scott opened in the same year a correspondence with the venerable Bishop of Dromore, who seems, however, to have done little more than express a warm interest in an undertaking so nearly resembling that which will ever keep his own name in remembrance. He had more success in his applications to a more unpromising quarter - namely, with Joseph Ritson, the ancient and virulent assailant of Bishop Percy's editorial character. This narrow-minded, sour, and dogmatical little word-catcher had hated the very name of a Scotsman, and was utterly incapable of sympathizing with any of the higher views of his new correspondent. Yet the bland courtesy of Scott disarmed even this half-crazy pedant; and he communicated the stores of his really valuable learning in a manner that seems to have greatly surprised all who had hitherto held any intercourse with him on antiquarian topics. It astonished, above all, the amiable and elegant George Ellis, whose acquaintance was about the same time opened to Scott through their common friend Heber. Mr Ellis was now busily engaged in collecting the materials for his charming works, entitled Specimens of Ancient English Poetry, and Specimens of Ancient English Romance. The correspondence between him and Scott soon came to be constant. They met personally, before many letters had been exchanged, conceived for each other a cordial respect and affection, and continued on a footing of almost brotherly intimacy ever after. To this alliance, Scott owed, among other advantages, his early and ready admission to the acquaintance and familiarity of Ellis's bosom friend, his coadjutor in the Anti-jacobin, and the confidant of all his literary schemes, Mr Canning.
Scott spent the Christmas of 1801 at Hamilton Palace, in Lanarkshire. To Lady Anne Hamilton he had been introduced by her friend, Lady Charlotte Campbell, and both the late and present Dukes of Hamilton appear to have partaken of Lady Anne's admiration for Glenfinlas and the Eve of St John. A morning's ramble to the majestic ruins of the old baronial castle on the precipitous banks of the Evan, and among the adjoining remains of the primeval Caledonian forest, suggested to him a ballad, not inferior in execution to any he had hitherto produced, and especially interesting as the first in which he grapples with the world of picturesque incident unfolded in the authentic annals of Scotland. With the magnificent localities before him he skilfully interwove the daring assassination of the Regent Murray by one of the clansmen of ``the princely Hamilton.'' Had the subject been taken up in after years, we might have had another Marmion or Heart of Mid-Lothian; for in Cadyow Castle we have the materials and outline of more than one of the noblest of ballads.
About two years before this piece began to be handed about in Edinburgh, Thomas Campbell had made his appearance there, and at once seized a high place in the literary world by his ``Pleasures of Hope.'' Among the most eager to welcome him had been Scott; and I find the brother-bard thus expressing, himself concerning the MS. of Cadyow: - ``The verses of Cadyow Castle are perpetually ringing in my imagination -
and the arrival of Hamilton, when
I have repeated these line's so often on the North Bridge, that the whole fraternity of coachmen know me by tongue as I pass. To be sure, to a mind in sober, serious street-walking humour, it must bear an appearance of lunacy when one stamps with the hurried pace and fervent shake of the head, which strong, pithy poetry excites.''
According to the original intention, the _Sir Tristrem,_ an imperfect romance, ascribed to Thomas of Ercildoune, the famous old seer and bard of the border, was to have had a prominent place in the first _livraison_ of the Minstrelsy; but from the rapid accumulation of matter for notes, as well as of unprinted ballads, this plan was dropped. The Cadyow Castle, too, was ready, but ``two volumes,'' as Ballantyne says, ``were already full to overflowing;'' so it also was reserved for a third.
Volumes I. and II. appeared in January 1802, from the respectable house of Cadell and Davies in the Strand; and, owing to the cold reception of Lewis's Tales of Wonder, which had come forth a year earlier, these may be said to have first introduced Scott as an original writer to the English public. In his Remarks on the imitation of Popular Poetry, he says: - ``When the book came out, the imprint, Kelso, was read with wonder by amateurs of typography, who had never beard of such a place, and were astonished at the example of handsome printing which so obscure a town had produced.'' One of the embellishments was a view of Hermitage Castle, the history of which is rather curious. Scott executed a rough sketch of it during the last of his ``Liddesdale raids'' with Shortreed, standing for that purpose for an hour or more up to his middle in the snow. Nothing can be ruder than the performance; but his friend William Clerk made a better drawing from it; and from his, a third and further improved copy was done by Hugh Williams, the elegant artist, afterwards known as ``Greek Williams.'' 41 Scott used to say, the oddest thing of all was, that the engraving, founded on the labours of three draughtsmen, one of whom could not draw a straight line, and the two others had never seen the place meant to be represented, was nevertheless pronounced by the natives of Liddesdale to give a very fair notion of the ruins of Hermitage. The edition was exhausted in the course of the year, and the terms of publication having been that Scott should have half the clear profits, his share was exactly <L>78, 10s. - a sum which certainly could not have repaid him for the actual expenditure incurred in the collection of his materials.
41 - His _Travels in Greece_ were published in 1820.
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The work was received with very great delight by Ellis and I might fill many pages by transcribing applausive letters from others of acknowledged discernment in this branch of literature. John Duke of Roxburgh is among the number, and he conveys also a complimentary message from Lord Spencer; Pinkerton issues his decree of approbation as _ex cathedr<a^>;_ Chalmers overflows with heartier praise; and even Joseph Ritson extols his presentation copy as ``the most valuable literary treasure in his possession.'' There follows enough of female admiration to ladies contend who shall be the most extravagant in encomium - and as many professed blue-stockings come after; among, or rather above the rest, Anna Seward, ``the Swan of Lichfield,'' who laments that her ``bright luminary,'' Darwin, does not survive to partake her raptures; - observes, that ``in the Border Ballads the first strong rays of the Delphic orb illuminate Jellon Graeme;'' and concludes with a fact indisputable, but strangely expressed, viz. that ``the Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament, Cowdenknowes, &c. &c., _climatically_ preceded the treasures of Burns, and the consummate Glenfinlas and Eve of St John.''
The reception of the first volumes elated naturally their printer, whom George Ellis dubs ``the Bulmer of Kelso.'' He also went up to London to cultivate acquaintance with publishers, and on his return writes thus to his employer: - ``I shall ever think the printing the Scottish Minstrelsy one of the most fortunate circumstances of my life. I have gained, not lost by it, in a pecuniary light; and the prospects it has been the means of opening to me, may advantageously influence my future destiny. I can never be sufficiently grateful for the interest you unceasingly take in my welfare. One thing is clear - that Kelso cannot be my abiding place for aye.'' The great bookseller, Longman, repaired to Scotland soon after this, and made an offer for the copyright of the MinstreIsy, the third volume included. This was accepted, and it was at last settled that Sir Tristrem should appear in a separate shape. In July Scott proceeded to the Borders with Leyden. ``We have just concluded,'' he tells Ellis, ``an excursion of two or three weeks through my jurisdiction of Selkirkshire, where, in defiance of mountains, rivers, and bogs, damp and dry, we have penetrated the very recesses of Ettrick Forest, to which district, if I ever have the happiness of welcoming you, you will be convinced that I am truly the sheriff of the `cairn and the scaur.' In the course of our grand tour, besides the risks of swamping and breaking our necks, we encountered the formidable hardships of sleeping upon peat-stacks, and eating mutton slain by no common butcher, but deprived of life by the judgment of God, as a coroner's inquest would express themselves. I have, however, not only escaped safe `per varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum,' but returned _loaded_ with the treasures of oral tradition. The principal result of our inquiries has been a complete and perfect copy of Maitland with his Auld Berd Graic, referred to by Douglas in his Palice of Honour. You may guess the surprise of Leyden and myself when this was presented to us, copied down from the recitation of an old shepherd, by a country farmer, and with no greater corruptions than might be supposed to be introduced by the lapse of time, and the ignorance of reciters.''
Leyden seems to have spent much of that autumn at the Lasswade cottage, and here he encountered Joseph Ritson. Their host delighted to detail the scene that occurred when his two rough allies first met at dinner. Well knowing Ritson's holy horror of all animal food, Leyden complained that the joint on the table was overdone. ``Indeed, for that matter,'' cried he, ``meat can never be too little done, and raw is best of all.'' He sent to the kitchen accordingly for a plate of literally raw beef, and manfully ate it up, with no sauce but the exquisite ruefulness of the Pythagorean's glances. Mr R. Gillies, a gentleman of the Scotch Bar (since known for some excellent translations from the German), was present another day when Ritson was in Scotland. ``In approaching the cottage,'' he says, ``I was struck with the exceeding air of neatness that prevailed around. The hand of tasteful cultivation had been there, and all methods employed to convert an ordinary thatched cottage into a handsome and comfortable abode. At this early period, Scott was more like the portrait by Saxon, engraved for the Lady of the Lake, than to any subsequent picture. He retained in features and form an impress of that elasticity and youthful vivacity, which he used to complain wore off after he was forty, and by _his own_ account was exchanged for the plodding heaviness of an operose student. He had now, indeed, somewhat of a boyish gaiety of look, and in person was tall, slim, and extremely active.'' He and Erskine were about to start on a walk to Roslin, and Mr Gillies accompanied them. In the course of their walk, Scott's foot slipped, as he was scrambling towards a cave on the edge of a precipitous bank, and had there been no trees in the way'' (says this writer), ``he must have been killed; but midway he was stopped by a large root of hazel, when, instead of struggling, which would have made matters greatly worse) he seemed perfectly resigned to his fate, and slipped through the tangled thicket till he lay flat on the river's brink. He rose in an instant from his recumbent attitude, and with a heart laugh called out - Now, let me see who else will do the like. He scrambled up the cliff with alacrity, and entered the cave, where we had a long dialogue.'' Even after he was an old and hoary man, he continually encountered such risks with the same recklessness. The extraordinary strength of his hands and arms was his great reliance in all such difficulties, and if he could see anything to lay hold of, he was afraid of no leap, or rather hop, that came in his way. Mr Gillies adds, that when they drew near the famous chapel of Roslin, Erskine expressed a hope that they might, as habitual visitors, escape bearing the usual endless story of the old woman that shewed the ruins; but Scott answered, There is a pleasure in the song which none but the songstress knows, and by telling her we know it all already, we should make the poor devil unhappy.''
On their return to the cottage, Scott inquired for the _learned cabbage-eater,_ who had been expected to dinner. ``Indeed,'' answered his wife, ``you may be happy he is not here - he is so very disagreeable. Mr Leyden, I believe, frightened him away.'' It turned out that it was even so. When Ritson appeared, a round of cold beef was on the luncheon-table, and Mrs Scott, forgetting his peculiar creed, offered him a slice. ``The antiquary, in his indignation, expressed himself in such outrageous terms to the lady, that Leyden first tried to correct him by ridicule, and then, on the madman growing more violent, became angry in his turn, till at last he threatened, that if he were not silent, he would, _thraw his neck._ Scott shook his head at this recital, which Leyden observing grew vehement in his own justification. Scott said not a word in reply, but took up a large bunch of feathers fastened to a stick, denominated _a duster,_ and shook it about the student's ears till he laughed - then changed the subject.'' All this is very characteristic of the parties. - Scott's playful aversion to dispute was a trait, in his mind and manners, that could alone have enabled him to make use at one and the same time, and for the same purpose, of two such persons as Ritson and Leyden 42.
42 - See Gillies's Reminiscences of Sir Walter Scott.
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Shortly after this visit, Leyden went to London, and in the letter that introduced him to Ellis, Scott mentions, among other things to be included in the third volume of the Minstrelsy, ``a long poem'' from his own pen - ``a kind of romance of Border chivalry, in a light-horseman sort of stanza.'' This refers to the first draught of The Lay of the Last Minstrel; and the author's description of it as being ``in a light-horseman sort of stanza,'' was probably suggested by the circumstances under which the greater part of that draught had been accomplished. He has told us, in his Introduction of 1830, that the poem originated in a request of the young and lovely Countess of Dalkeith, that he would write a ballad on the legend of Gilpin Horner: that he began at Lasswade, and read the opening stanzas, as soon as they were written, to Erskine and Cranstoun: that their reception of these was apparently so cold as to disgust him with what he had done; but that finding, a few days afterwards, that the verses had nevertheless excited their curiosity, and haunted their memory, he was encouraged to resume the undertaking. The scene and date of this resumption I owe to the recollection of the then Cornet of the Light-horse. While the troop were on permanent duty at Musselburgh, in the autumnal recess of 1802, the Quarter-Master, during a charge on Portobello sands, received a kick of a horse, which confined him for three days to his lodgings. Mr Skene found him busy with his pen; and he produced before these three days expired the first canto of the Lay, very nearly, if his friend's memory may be trusted, in the state in which it was ultimately published. That the whole poem was sketched and filled in with extraordinary rapidity, there can be no difficulty in believing. He himself says (in the Introduction of 1830), that after he had once got fairly into the vein, it proceeded at the rate of about a canto in a week. The Lay, however, like the Tristrem, soon outgrew the dimensions which he had originally contemplated; the design of including it in the third volume of the Minstrelsy was of course abandoned; and it did not appear until nearly three years after that fortunate mishap on the beach of Portobello.
Next spring, Scott hurried up to London as soon as the Court rose, in hopes of seeing Leyden once more before he left England; but he came too late. He thus writes to Ballantyne, on the 21st April 1803: - ``I have to thank you for the accuracy with which the Minstrelsy is thrown off. Longman and Rees are delighted with the printing. I mean this note to be added, by way of advertisement: - `In the press, and will speedly be published, the Lay of the Last Minstrel, by Walter Scott, Esq., Editor of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Also Sir Tristrem, a Metrical Romance, by Thomas of Ercildoune, called the Rhymer, edited from an ancient MS., with an Introduction and Notes, by Walter Scott, Esq.' Will you cause such a thing to be appended in your own way and fashion?''
This letter is dated ``No. 15 Piccadilly West,'' - he and Mrs Scott being there domesticated under the roof of the late M. Charles Dumergue, a man of superior abilities and excellent education, well known as surgeon-dentist to the royal family - who had been intimately acquainted with the Charpentiers in France, and warmly befriended Mrs Scott's mother on her first arrival in England. M. Dumergue's house was, throughout the whole period of the emigration, liberally opened to the exiles of his native country; nor did some of the noblest of those unfortunate refugees scruple to make a free use of his purse, as well as of his hospitality. Here Scott met much highly interesting French society, and until a child of his own was established in London, he never thought of taking up his abode anywhere else, as often as he had occasion to be in town.
The letter is addressed to ``Mr James Ballantyne, printer, Abbey-hill, Edinburgh;'' which shews, that before the third volume of the Minstrelsy passed through the press, the migration recommended two years earlier had at length taken place. ``It was about the end of 1802,'' says Ballantyne, ``that I closed with a plan so congenial to my wishes. I removed, bag and baggage, to Edinburgh, finding accommodation for two presses, and a proof one, in the precincts of Holyrood-house, then deriving new lustre and interest from the recent arrival of the royal exiles of France. In these obscure premises some of the most beautiful productions of what we called _The Border Press_ were printed.'' The Memorandum states, that Scott having renewed his hint as to pecuniary assistance, as soon as the printer found his finances straitened, ``a liberal loan was advanced accordingly.''
Heber, and Macintosh, then at the height of his reputation as a conversationist, and daily advancing also at the Bar, had been ready to welcome Scott in town as old friends; and Rogers, William Stewart Rose, and several other men of literary eminence, were at the same time added to the list of his acquaintance, His principal object, however - having missed Leyden - was to make extracts from some MSS. in the library of John Duke of Roxburgh, for the illustration of the Tristrem; and he derived no small assistance in other researches of the like kind from the collections which the indefatigable and obliging Douce placed at his disposal. Having completed these labours, he and Mrs Scott went, with Heber and Douce, to visit Ellis at Sunninghill, where they spent a happy week, and their host and hostess heard the first two or three cantos of the Lay of the Last Minstrel read under an old oak in Windsor Forest.
From thence they proceeded to Oxford, accompanied by Heber; and it was on this occasion that Scott first saw his friend's brother, Reginald, in afterdays the apostolic Bishop of Calcutta. He had just been declared the successful candidate for that year's poetical prize, and read to Scott at breakfast, in Brazen Nose College, the MS. of his Palestine. Scott observed that, in the verses on Solomon's Temple, one striking circumstance had escaped him, namely, that no tools were used in its erection. Reginald retired for a few minutes to the corner of the room, and returned with the beautiful lines, -
After inspecting the University and Blenheim, Scott returned to Edinburgh, where the completed Minstrelsy was published in the end of May. The reprint of the 1st and 2d volumes went to 1000 copies - of volume third Messrs Longman had ordered 1500. A complete edition of 1250 copies followed in 1806; a fourth, also of 1250, in 1810; a fifth, of 1500, in 1812; a sixth, of 500, in 1820; and since then it has been incorporated in Scott's Collected Poetry. Of the Continental and American editions I can say nothing, except that they have been very numerous. The book was soon translated into German, Danish, and Swedish; and the structure of those languages being very favourable to the undertaking, the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border has thus become widely naturalized among nations themselves rich in similar treasures of legendary lore. He speaks, in an Essay of his closing years, as if the first reception of the Minstrelsy on the south of the Tweed had been cold. ``The curiosity of the English,'' he says, ``was not much awakened by poem; in the rude garb of antiquity. accompanied with notes referring to the obscure feuds of barbarous clans, of whose very names civilized history was ignorant.'' In writing those beautiful Introductions of 1830, however, he seems to have trusted entirely to his recollection of days long gone by, and he has accordingly let fall many statements which we must take with some allowance. His impressions as to the reception of the Minstrelsy were different, when writing to his brother-in-law, Charles Carpenter, on the 3d March 1803, for the purpose of introducing Leyden, he said - ``I have contrived to turn a very slender portion of literary talents to some account, by a publication of the poetical antiquities of the Border, where the old people had preserved many ballads descriptive of the manners of the country during the wars with England. This trifling collection was so well received by a _discerning public,_ that, after receiving about <L>100 profit for the first edition, which my vanity cannot omit informing you went of in six months, I have sold the copyright for <L>500 more.'' This is not the language of disappointment; and though the edition of 1803 did not move of quite so rapidly as the first, and the work did not perhaps attract much notice beyond the more cultivated students of literature, until the Editor's own Lay lent general interest to whatever was connected with his name, I suspect there never was much ground for accusing the English public of regarding the Minstrelsy with more coldness than the Scotch - the population of the Border districts themselves being, of course, excepted. Had the sale of the original edition been chiefly Scotch, I doubt whether Messrs Longman would have so readily offered <L>500, in those days of the trade a large sum, for the second. Scott had become habituated, long before 1830, to a scale of bookselling transactions, measured by which the largest editions and copy-monies of his own early days appeared insignificant but the evidence seems complete that he was well contented at the time.
He certainly had every reason to be so as to the impression which the Minstrelsy made on the minds of those entitled to think for themselves upon such a subject. The ancient ballads in his collection, which had never been printed at all before, were in number forty-three; and of the others - most of which were in fact all but new to the modern reader - it is little to say that his editions were superior in all respects to those that had preceded them. He had, I firmly believe, interpolated hardly a line or even an epithet of his own; but his diligent zeal had put him in possession of a variety of copies in different stages of preservation; and to the task of selecting a standard text among such a diversity of materials, he brought a knowledge of old manners and phraseology, and a manly simplicity of taste, such as had never before been united in the person of a poetical antiquary. From among a hundred corruptions he seized, with instinctive tact, the primitive diction and imagery; and produced strains in which the unbroken energy of half-civilized ages, their stern and deep passions, their daring adventures and cruel tragedies, and even their rude wild humour, are reflected with almost the brightness of a Homeric mirror, interrupted by hardly a blot of what deserves to be called vulgarity, and totally free from any admixture of artificial sentimentalism. As a picture of manners, the Scottish Minstrelsy is not surpassed, if equalled, by any similar body of poetry preserved in any other country; and it unquestionably owes its superiority in this respect over Percy's Reliques, to the Editor's conscientious fidelity, on the one hand, which prevented the introduction of anything new - to his pure taste, on the other, in the balancing of discordant recitations. His introductory essays and notes teemed with curious knowledge, not hastily grasped for the occasion, but gradually gleaned and sifted by the patient labour of years, and presented with all easy, unaffected propriety and elegance of arrangement and expression, which it may be doubted if he ever materially surpassed in the happiest of his imaginative narrations. I well remember, when Waverley was a new book, and all the world were puzzling themselves about its authorship, to have heard the Poet of ``The Isle of Palms'' exclaim impatiently - ``I wonder what all these people are perplexing themselves with: have they forgotten the _prose_ of the Minstrelsy?'' Even had the Editor inserted none of his own verse, the work would have contained enough, and more than enough, to found a lasting and graceful reputation.
It is not to be denied, however, that the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border has derived a very large accession of interest from the subsequent career of its Editor. One of the critics of that day. said that the book contained ``the elements of a hundred historical romances;'' - and this critic was a prophetic one. No person who has not gone through its volumes for the express purpose of comparing their contents with his great original works, can have formed a conception of the endless variety of incidents and images now expanded and emblazoned by his mature art, of which the first hints may be found either in the text of those primitive ballads, or in the notes, which the happy rambles of his youth had gathered together for their illustration. In the edition of the Minstrelsy published since his death, not a few such instances are pointed out; but the list might have been extended far beyond the limits which such an edition allowed. The taste and fancy of Scott appear to have been formed as early as his moral character; and he had, before he passed the threshold of authorship, assembled about him, in the uncalculating delight of native enthusiasm, almost all the materials on which his genius was destined to be employed for the gratification and instruction of the world.
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