In February Mr John Ballantyne proceeded to London, for the purpose of introducing himself to the chief publishers there in his new capacity, and especially of taking Mr Murray's instructions respecting the Scotch management of the Quarterly Review. As soon as the spring vacation began, Mr and Mrs Scott followed him by sea. They stayed two months, and this being the first visit to town since his fame had been crowned by Marmion, he was more than ever the object of curiosity and attention. Mr Morritt saw much of him, and I transcribe a few sentences from his _Memoranda_ of the period.
``Scott,'' his friend says, ``more correctly than any other man I ever knew, appreciated the value of that apparently enthusiastic _engouement_ which the world of London shews to the fashionable wonder of the year. The homage paid him neither altered his opinions, nor produced the affectation of despising it; on the contrary, he received it, cultivated it, and repaid it in its own coin. `All this is very flattering,' he would say, `and very civil; and if people are amused with hearing me tell a parcel of old stories, or recite a pack of ballads to lovely young girls and gaping matrons, they are easily pleased, and a man would be very ill-natured who would not give pleasure so cheaply conferred.' If he dined with us and found any new faces, `Well, do you want me to play lion to-day?' was his usual question---`I will roar if you like it to your hearts content.' He would, indeed, in such cases put forth all his inimitable powers of entertainment---and day after day surprise me by their unexpected extent and variety. Then, as the party dwindled, and we were left alone, he laughed at himself, quoted---`Yet know that I one Snug the joiner am---no lion fierce,' &c.---and was at once himself again.
``He often lamented the injurious effects for literature and genius resulting from the excitement of ambition for this ephemeral _reputation du salon._ `It may be a pleasant gale to sail with,' he said, `but it never yet led to a port that I should like to anchor in;' nor did he willingly endure, either in London or in Edinburgh, the little exclusive circles of literary society, much less their occasional fastidiousness and petty partialities. One story which I heard of him from Dr Howley, now Archbishop of Canterbury (for I was not present), was very characteristic. The Doctor was one of a grand congregation of lions, where Scott and Coleridge, _cum multis aliis,_ attended at Sotheby's. Poets and poetry were the topics of the table, and there was plentiful recitation of effusions as yet unpublished, which of course obtained abundant applause. Coleridge repeated more than one, which, as Dr H. thought, were eulogized by some of the company with something like affectation, and a desire to humble Scott by raising a poet of inferior reputation on his shoulders. Scott, however, joined in the compliments as cordially as anybody, until, in his turn, he was invited to display some of his occasional poetry. Scott said he had nothing of his own worth their hearing, but he would repeat a little copy of verses which he had shortly before seen in a provincial newspaper, and which seemed to him almost as good as anything they had been listening to. He repeated `Fire, Famine, and Slaughter.' The applauses that ensued were faint---then came slight criticisms, from which Scott defended the unknown author. At last a more bitter antagonist opened, and fastening upon one line, cried, `This at least is absolute nonsense.' Scott, denied the charge---the Zoilus persisted---until Coleridge, out of all patience, exclaimed, `For God's sake let Mr Scott alone--- I wrote the poem.'
``He often complained of the dullness of parties where each guest arrived under the implied obligation of exhibiting some extraordinary powers of talk or wit. `If,' he said, `I encounter men of the world, men of business, odd or striking characters of professional excellence in any department, I am in my element, for they cannot lionize me without my returning the compliment and learning something from them.' He was much with George Ellis, Canning, and Croker, and delighted in them---as indeed who did not?---but he loved to study eminence of every class and sort, and his rising fame gave him easy access to gratify all his curiosity.''
The meetings with Canning, Croker, and Ellis, to which Morritt alludes, were, as may be supposed, chiefly occupied with the affairs of the Quarterly Review. The first number appeared while Scott was in London: and contained three articles from his pen.
On his way back to Scotland, he spent some days more with Morritt, at Rokeby Park, on the northern boundary of Yorkshire; and he was so delighted by the scenery of the rivers Tees and Greta, which have their confluence within the demesne, and so interested with his host's traditionary anecdotes of the Cavaliers of the Rokeby lineage, that he resolved on connecting a poem with these fair landscapes. But he had already, I presume, begun the Lady of the Lake; for, on his arrival at Edinburgh, he undertook that it should be finished by the end of the year. In July he revisited all the localities so dear to him in the days of his juvenile rambling, which he had chosen for the scene of his fable. He gave a week to Cambusmore, and ascertained, in his own person, that a good horseman might gallop from Loch Vennachar to Stirling within the space allotted to Fitz-James. He then, under the guidance of Mr Macdonald Buchanan, explored Loch Lomond, Arrochar, Loch Sloy, and all the scenery of a hundred conflicts between the Macfarlanes, the Colquhouns, and the Clan Alpine. At Buchanan House, which is very near Ross Priory, Lady Douglas and Lady Louisa Stuart were visiting the Duke of Montrose; he joined them there, and read to them the Stag Chase, which he had just completed under the full influence of the _genius loci._
It was at Buchanan that he first saw Lord Byron's ``English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.'' I need not reprint here what he says in an essay in 1830, on his ``share in the flagellation of that famous satire,'' viz.---
Next view in state, proud prancing on his roan, The golden-crested haughty Marmion,---
For this we spurn Apollo's venal son, And bid a long _good-night to Marmion._
But it is amusing enough to contrast with that graceful ``Introduction'' the plain words of a letter to Southey, written in August 1809. He there says:---``If I were once in possession of my reversionary income, I would do nothing but what I pleased, which might be another phrase for doing very little. I was always an admirer of the modest wish of a retainer in one of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays---
`I would not be a serving man, to carry the cloak-bag still, Nor would I be a falconer, the greedy hawks to fill; But I would be in a good house, and have a good master too, For I would eat and drink of the best, and _no_ work would I do.'<*>
* _The Knight of the Burning Pestle._
In the meantime, it is funny enough to see a whelp of a young Lord Byron abusing me, of whose circumstances he knows nothing, for endeavouring to scratch out a living with my pen. God help the bear, if, having little else to eat, he must not even suck his own paws. I can assure the noble imp of fame it is not my fault that I was not born to a park and <L>5000 a-year, as it is not his lordship's merit, although it may be his great good fortune, that he was not born to live by his literary talents or success.''
About this time several travesties of Scott's poetry, I do not recollect by whom, were favourably noticed in some of the minor reviews, and appear to have annoyed Mr Morritt. Scott's only remark on _The Lay of the Scotch Fiddle,_ &c. &c. is in a very miscellaneous letter to that friend:---``As to those terrible parodies which have come forth, I can only say with Benedict, _A college of such wit-mongers cannot flout me out of my humour._ Had I been conscious of one place about my temper, were it even, metaphorically speaking, the tip of my heel, vulnerable to this sort of aggression, I have that respect for mine own ease, that I would have shunned being a candidate for public applause, as I would avoid snatching a honey-comb from among a hive of live bees.'' When, three years later, all the world laughed over James Smith's really admirable _Death of Clutterbuck,_ in the ``Rejected Addresses,'' no one laughed more heartily than the author of Marmion.
To this period belong two stories, which it would be unfair to suppress. It is a rare case when a large family does not include a frail member. Walter Scott's youngest brother Daniel was such.<*> After many luckless adventures,
* See Chap. I, ante, p. <? Daniel_Scott>.
he obtained, through the poet's connection with George Ellis, a post of responsibility on a West Indian estate; but in a moment of danger, his nerves shewed the effects of continued dissipation. He was dismissed, and died soon afterwards at Edinburgh, under his mother's roof---but his brother would never see him, nor would he attend his funeral, or wear mourning for him. Thus sternly, when in the height and pride of his blood, could Scott, whose heart was never hardened against the distress of an enemy, recoil from the disgrace of a brother. It is a more pleasing part of my duty to add, that he spoke to me, twenty years afterwards, in terms of great and painful contrition for the austerity with which he had conducted himself on this occasion. I must add, moreover, that he took a warm interest in a natural child whom Daniel had bequeathed to his mother's care; and after the old lady's death, religiously supplied her place as the boy's protector.
The other story is connected with his ever dear brother Thomas, in whose hands, as has been mentioned above, the business that he inherited did not prosper. Walter, as Clerk of Session, had the patronage of several offices in the Register House at Edinburgh, and he appointed Thomas to one of these, by no means so lucrative as others at his disposal, but welcome under the circumstances. Thomas soon after found it convenient to withdraw for a time to the Isle of Man; and while he was there, the Government introduced a bill, by which his _extractorship,_ and many other little places of the sort, were to be abolished, the holders receiving some compensation by way of annuity. Some keen Edinburgh partizans suggested to the Earl of Lauderdale (then at the head of the Whig interest in Scotland) that Walter Scott had foreseen the abolition of the post when he bestowed it on Thomas---that Thomas was discharging its small duties by deputy---and that in his case _compensation_ would be only the successful crowning of a job. Scott, in his letters to friends, both Whig and Tory, denies indignantly that either he or Thomas had anticipated the abolition of the office, and intimates his conviction that the parliamentary opposition to the compensation sprang entirely from the wish to hurt his own feelings. Lord Lauderdale's amendment was lost in the House of Peers. Indeed no other Peer spoke in favour of it except Lord Holland; and Scott resented that speech warmly, because his Lordship seemed to have ``gone out of his way'' in meddling about a small Scotch matter. It happened unluckily that Lord Holland visited Edinburgh within a few weeks afterwards, and he was then introduced by Scott's friend, Mr Thomas Thomson, at a dinner of _the Friday Club._<*> The poet, in a letter to his brother,
* _The Friday Club_ was instituted in June 1803---on the model,
* I believe, of Johnson's at the Turk's Head. Scott, Thomson,
* and most of their intimates at the Bar were original members.
* The great majority were Whigs. They dined at Fortune's tavern.
says: ``We met accidentally at a public party. He made up to me, but I remembered his part in your affair, and cut him with as little remorse as an old pen.'' Two gentlemen who were present, inform me that they distinctly remember a very painful scene, for which, knowing Scott's habitual good-nature and urbanity, they had been wholly unprepared. One of them (Lord Jeffrey) adds, that this was the only example of rudeness he ever witnessed in him in the course of a lifelong familiarity. It is consolatory to add, that he enjoyed much agreeable intercourse in after days with Lord Holland.
I willingly turn from these dregs of politics to some other matters, which about this time occupied a large share of his thoughts. He had from his boyish days a great love for theatrical representation; and so soon as circumstances enabled him to practise extended hospitality, the chief actors of his time, whenever they happened to be in Scotland, were among the most acceptable of his guests. Mr Charles Young was, I believe, the first of them of whom he saw much: as early as 1803 I find him writing of that gentleman to the Marchioness of Abercorn as a valuable addition to the society of Edinburgh; and down to the end of Scott's life, Mr Young was never in the north without visiting him. Another graceful performer, of whom he saw a great deal in his private circle was Miss Smith, afterwards Mrs Bartley. But at the period of which I am now treating, his principal theatrical intimacy was with John Philip Kemble, and his sister Mrs Siddons, both of whom he appears to have often met at Lord Abercorn's villa near Stanmore. Of John Kemble's character and manners, he has recorded his impressions in a pleasing reviewal of Mr Boaden's Memoir. The great tragedian's love of black-letter learning afforded a strong bond of fellowship; and I have heard Scott say that the only man who ever seduced him into very deep potations in his middle life was Kemble. He was frequently at Ashestiel, and a grave butler, by name _John Macbeth,_ made sore complaints of the bad hours kept on such occasions in one of the most regular of households; but the watchings of the night were not more grievous to ``Cousin Macbeth,'' as Kemble called the honest _beauffetier,_ than were the hazards and fatigues of the morning to the representative of ``the Scotch usurper.'' Kemble's miseries during a rough gallop were quite as grotesque as those of his namesake, and it must be owned that species of distress was one from the contemplation of which his host could never derive anything but amusement.
I have heard Scott chuckle with particular glee over the recollection of an excursion to the vale of the Ettrick, near which river the party were pursued by a bull. ``Come, King John,'' said he, ``we must even take the water;'' and accordingly he and his daughter Sophia plunged into the stream. But King John, halting on the bank, and surveying the river, which happened to be full and turbid, exclaimed, in his usual solemn manner,
------``The flood is angry, Sheriff; Methinks I'll get me up into a tree.''<*>
* John Kemble's most familiar table-talk often flowed into blank
* verse; and so indeed did his sister's. Scott (who was a capital
* mimic) often repeated her tragic exclamation to a footboy during
* a dinner at Ashestiel---
* ``You've brought me water, boy---I ask'd for beer.''
* Another time, dining with a Provost of Edinburgh, she ejaculated,
* in answer to her host's apology for his _piece de resistance._
* ``Beef cannot be too salt for me, my Lord!''
It was well that the dogs had succeeded in diverting the bull, because there was no tree at hand which could have sustained King John, nor, had that been otherwise, could so stately a personage have dismounted and ascended with such alacrity as circumstances would have required. He at length followed his friends through the river with the rueful dignity of Don Quixote.
It was this intercourse which led Scott to exert himself strenuously about 1809, to prevail on Mr Henry Siddons, the nephew of Kemble, to undertake the lease and management of the Edinburgh Theatre. On this occasion he purchased a share, and became one of the acting trustees; and thenceforth, during a long series of years, he continued to take a very lively concern in the proceedings of the Edinburgh company. In this he was plentifully encouraged by his domestic _camarilla;_ for his wife had all a Frenchwoman's passion for the _spectacle;_ and the elder Ballantyne was a regular newspaper critic of theatrical affairs, and in that capacity had already attained a measure of authority supremely gratifying to himself.
The first new play produced by Henry Siddons was the Family Legend of Joanna Baillie. This was, I believe, the first of her dramas that ever underwent the test of representation in her native kingdom; and Scott exerted himself most indefatigably in its behalf. He was consulted about all the _minuti<ae>_ of costume, attended every rehearsal, and supplied the prologue. The play was better received than any other which the gifted authoress has since subjected to the same experiment; and how ardently Scott enjoyed its success may be seen in many letters which he addressed to his friend on the occasion.
It was at a rehearsal of this piece that Scott was first introduced to another theatrical performer---who ere long acquired a large share of his regard and confidence---Mr Daniel Terry. He had received a good education, and been regularly trained as an architect; but abandoned that profession at an early period of life, and was now beginning to attract attention as a valuable actor in Henry Siddons's company. Already he and the Ballantynes were constant companions, and through his familiarity with them, Scott had abundant opportunities of appreciating his many excellent and agreeable qualities. He had the manners and feelings of a gentleman. Like John Kemble, he was deeply skilled in the old literature of the drama, and he rivalled Scott's own enthusiasm for the antiquities of _vertu._ Their epistolary correspondence in after days was frequent, and none so well illustrates many of the poet's minor tastes and habits. As their letters lie before me, they appear as if they had all been penned by the same hand. Terry's idolatry of his new friend induced him to imitate his writing so zealously, that Scott used to say, if he were called on to swear to any document, the utmost he could venture to attest would be, that it was either in his own hand or in Terry's. The actor, perhaps unconsciously, mimicked him in other matters with hardly inferior pertinacity. His small lively features had acquired, before I knew him, a truly ludicrous cast of Scott's graver expression; he had taught his tiny eyebrow the very trick of the poet's meditative frown; and to crown all, he so habitually affected his tone and accent, that, though a native of Bath, a stranger could hardly have doubted he must be a Scotchman. These things afforded all their acquaintance much diversion; but perhaps no Stoic could have helped being secretly gratified by seeing a clever and sensible man convert himself into a living type and symbol of admiration.
Charles Mathews and Terry were once thrown out of a gig together, and the former received an injury which made him halt ever afterwards, while the latter escaped unhurt. ``Dooms, _Dauniel,_'' said Mathews when they next met, ``what a pity that it wasna your luck to get the game leg, mon! Your _Shirra_ would hae been the very thing, ye ken, an' ye wad hae been croose till ye war coffined!'' Terry, though he did not always relish bantering on this subject, replied readily and good-humouredly by a quotation from Peter Pindar's _Bozzy and Piozzi:_---
``When Foote his leg by some misfortune broke, Says I to Johnson, all by way of joke, Sam, sir, in Paragraph will soon be clever, He'll take off Peter better now than ever.''
Mathews's mirthful caricature of Terry's sober mimicry of Scott was one of the richest extravaganzas of his social hours; but indeed I have often seen this Proteus dramatize the whole Ballantyne group with equal success while Rigdumfunnidos screamed with delight, and Aldiborontiphoscophornio faintly chuckled, and the Sheriff, gently smiling pushed round his decanters.<*>
* Perhaps the very richest article in Mathews's social budget,
* was the scene alleged to have occurred when he himself communicated
* to the two Ballantynes the new titles which the Sheriff had
* conferred on them. Rigdum's satisfaction with his own cap and
* bells, and the other's indignant incredulity, passing by degrees into
* tragical horror, made, I am told, a delicious contrast.
Scott had by the end of 1809 all but completed his third great poem; yet this year also was crowded with miscellaneous literary labours. In it he made great progress with Swift, and in it he finished and saw published his edition of the Sadler Papers; the notes copious, curious, lively and entertaining, and the Life of Sir Ralph a very pleasing specimen of his style. Several volumes of the huge Somers' Collection, illustrated throughout with similar care, were also issued in 1809; and I suppose he received his fee for each volume as it appeared---the whole sum amounting, when the last came out---in 1812, to 1300 guineas. His labours on these collections were gradually storing his mind with that minute knowledge of the leading persons and events both of Scotch and English history, which made his conversation on such subjects that of one who had rather lived with than read about the departed. He delighted in them, and never complained that they interrupted disadvantageously the works of his higher genius. But he submitted to many less agreeable tasks---among others, at this same period, to a good deal of trouble entailed on him by the will of Miss Seward. Dying in March 1809, she bequeathed her poetry to Scott, with an injunction to publish it speedily, and prefix a sketch of her life; while she made her letters (of which she had kept copies) the property of Constable. Scott superintended, accordingly, the edition of the lady's verses which was published in three volumes by John Ballantyne; and Constable lost no time in announcing her correspondence---an announcement which the poet observed with trepidation; for few had suffered more than himself from her epistolary restlessness. He says to an authoress of a different breed (Miss Baillie)---``The despair which I used to feel on receiving poor Miss Seward's letters, whom I really liked, gave me a most unsentimental horror for sentimental letters. I am now doing penance for my ill-breeding, by submitting to edit her posthumous poetry, most of which is absolutely execrable. This, however, is the least of my evils, for when she proposed this bequest to me, which I could not in decency refuse, she combined it with a request that I would publish her whole literary correspondence. This I declined on principle, having a particular aversion at perpetuating that sort of gossip; but what availed it? Lo! to ensure the publication, she left it to an Edinburgh bookseller; and I anticipate the horror of seeing myself advertised for a live poet like a wild beast on a painted streamer; for I understand all her friends are depicted therein in body, mind, and manners.'' Mr Constable, however, took this opportunity of re-opening his intercourse with Scott, and gave him essential relief by allowing him to draw his pen through Miss Seward's extravagant eulogies on himself and his poetry. This attention so gratified him, that he authorized John Ballantyne to ask, in his name, that experienced bookseller's advice respecting the poem now nearly completed, the amount of the first impression, and other professional details. Mr Constable readily gave the assistance thus requested, and would willingly have taken any share they pleased in the adventure. They had completed their copyright arrangements before these communications occurred, and the triumphant success of the _coup d'essai_ of the new firm was sufficient to close Scott's ears for a season against any propositions of the like kind from the house at the Cross; but from this time there was no return of anything like personal ill-will between the parties.
Early in May the Lady of the Lake came out---as her two elder sisters had done---in all the majesty of quarto, with every accompanying grace of typography, and with moreover an engraved frontispiece of Saxon's portrait of Scott; the price of the book two guineas. For the copyright the poet had nominally received 2000 guineas, but as John Ballantyne and Co. retained three-fourths of the property to themselves (Miller of London purchasing the other fourth), the author's profits were, or should have been, more than this.
Mr Cadell, the publisher of this Memoir, then a young man in training for his profession, retains a strong impression of the interest which the quarto excited before it was on the counter. ``James Ballantyne,'' he says, ``read the cantos from time to time to select coteries, as they advanced at press. Common fame was loud in their favour; a great poem was on all hands anticipated. I do not recollect that any of all the author's works was ever looked for with more intense anxiety, or that any one of them excited a more extraordinary sensation when it did appear. The whole country rang with the praises of the poet---crowds set off to view the scenery of Loch Katrine, till then comparatively unknown; and as the book came out just before the season for excursions, every house and inn in that neighbourhood was crammed with a constant succession of visitors. It is a well-ascertained fact, that from the date of the publication of the Lady of the Lake, the post-horse duty in Scotland rose in an extraordinary degree, and indeed it continued to do so regularly for a number of years, the author's succeeding works keeping up the enthusiasm for our scenery which he had thus originally created.''---Mr Cadell adds, that four 8vo editions followed the quarto within the space of twelve months; that these carried the early sale to 20,000 copies; and that by July 1836, the legitimate sale in Great Britain had been not less than 50,000 copies; since which date I understand that, in spite of legal and illegal piracies, the fair demand has been well kept up.
In their reception of this work, the critics were for once in full harmony with each other, and with the popular voice. The article in the Quarterly was written by George Ellis; but its eulogies, though less discriminative, are not a whit more emphatic than those of Mr Jeffrey in the rival Review. Indeed, I have always considered this last paper as the best specimen of contemporary criticism on Scott's poetry. The Lay, if I may venture to state the creed now established, is, I should say, generally considered as the most natural and original, Marmion as the most powerful and splendid, the Lady of the Lake as the most interesting, romantic, picturesque, and graceful of his great poems.
Of its success he speaks as follows in 1830:---``It was certainly so extraordinary as to induce me for the moment to conclude that I had at last fixed a nail in the proverbially inconstant wheel of Fortune. But, as the celebrated John Wilkes is said to have explained to King George the Third, that he himself was never a Wilkite, so I can with honest truth exculpate myself from having been at any time a partisan of my own poetry, even when it was in the highest fashion with the million.''
James Ballantyne has preserved in his Memorandum an anecdote strikingly confirmative of the most remarkable statement in this page of Scott's confessions. ``I remember,'' he says, ``going into his library shortly after the publication of the Lady of the Lake, and finding Miss Scott (who was then a very young girl) there by herself, I asked her---`Well, Miss Sophia, how do you like the Lady of the Lake?' Her answer was given with perfect simplicity---`Oh, I have not read it: papa says there's nothing so bad for young people as reading bad poetry.' In fact, his children in those days had no idea of the source of his distinction---or rather, indeed, that his position was in any respect different from that of other Advocates, Sheriffs, and Clerks of Session. The eldest boy came home one afternoon about this time from the High School, with tears and blood hardened together upon his cheeks.---``Well, Wat,'' said his father, ``what have you been fighting about to-day?'' With that the boy blushed and hung his head, and at last stammered out---that he had been called _a lassie._ ``Indeed!'' said Mrs Scott, ``this was a terrible mischief to be sure.'' ``You may say what you please, mamma,'' Wat answered roughly, ``but I dinna think there's a _waufer_ (shabbier) thing in the world than to be a lassie, to sit boring at a clout.'' Upon further inquiry it turned out that one or two of his companions had dubbed him _The Lady of the Lake,_ and the phrase was to him incomprehensible, save an conveying some imputation on his prowess, which he accordingly vindicated in the usual style of the Yards. Of the poem he had never before heard. Shortly after, this story having got wind, one of Scott's colleagues of the Clerks' Table said to the boy---(who was in the home circle called Gilnockie, from his admiration of Johnny Armstrong)---`_Gilnockie,_ my man, you cannot surely help seeing that great people make more work about your papa than they do about me or any other of your _uncles_---what is it do you suppose that occasions this?'' The little fellow pondered for a minute or two, and then answered very gravely---``It's commonly _him_ that sees the hare sitting.'' And yet this was the man that had his children all along so very much with him. In truth, however, young Walter had guessed pretty shrewdly in the matter, for his father had all the tact of the Sutherland Highlander, whose detection of an Irish rebel up to the neck in a bog, he has commemorated in a note upon Rokeby. Like him, he was quick to catch the _sparkle_ of the victim's eye; and often said jestingly of himself, that whatever might be thought of him as a _maker_ (poet), he was an excellent _trouveur._
Ballantyne adds:---``One day about this same time, when his fame was supposed to have reached its acm<e'>, I said to him---`Will you excuse me, Mr Scott, but I should like to ask you what you think of your own genius as a poet, in comparison with that of Burns?' He replied--- `There is no comparison whatever---we ought not to be named in the same day.' `Indeed!' I answered, `would you compare Campbell to Burns?' 'No, James, not at all---If you wish to speak of a real poet, Joanna Baillie is now the highest genius of our country.'---But, in fact,'' (continues Ballantyne)---``he had often said to me that neither his own nor any modern popular style of composition was that from which he derived most pleasure. I asked him what it was. He answered---Johnson's; and that he had more pleasure in reading _London,_ and _The Vanity of Human Wishes,_ than any other poetical composition he could mention; and I think I never saw his countenance more indicative of high admiration than while reciting aloud from those productions.''
In his sketch of Johnson's Life, Scott says---``The deep and pathetic morality of _The Vanity of Human Wishes,_ has often extracted tears from those whose eyes wander dry over pages professedly sentimental.'' The last line of MS. that he sent to the press was a quotation from the same piece. Yet it is the cant of our day---above all, of its poetasters, that Johnson was no poet. To be sure, they say the same of Pope---and hint it occasionally even of Dryden.
Walter Scott was at this epoch in the highest spirits, and having strong reasons of various kinds for his resolution to avail himself of the gale of favour, only hesitated in which quarter to explore the materials of some new romance. His first and most earnest desire was ``to take a peep at Lord Wellington and his merrymen in the Peninsula,--- where,'' he says, ``I daresay I should have picked up some good materials for battle scenery;'' and he afterwards writes with envy of the way in which a young barrister of his acquaintance (the late excellent John Miller of Lincoln's Inn, K.C.,) spent the long vacation of that year---having the good luck to arrive at Oporto when our army was in retreat from the frontier, and after travelling through a country totally deserted, to hear suddenly, in a low glen, the distant sound of a bagpipe ---be welcomed by the officers of a Highland Regiment--- and next day witness (rifle in hand) the Battle of Busaco. But Scott dropt his Peninsular plan on perceiving that it gave his wife ``more distress than could be compensated by any gratification of his own curiosity.'' He then thought of revisiting Rokeby---for, as was mentioned already, he had from the first day that he spent there designed to connect its localities with his verse. But the burst of enthusiasm which followed the appearance of the Lady of the Lake finally swayed him to undertake a journey, deeper than he had as yet gone, into the _Highlands,_ and a warm invitation from the Laird of Staffa, easily induced him to add a voyage to the _Hebrides._ He was accompanied by his wife, his daughter Sophia, Miss Hannah Mackenzie, daughter of ``The Man of Feeling'' and a dear friend and distant relation, Mrs Apreece (now Lady Davy), who had been, as he says in one of his letters, ``a lioness of the first magnitude in Edinburgh,'' during the preceding winter. He travelled slowly with his own horses, through Argyleshire, as far as Oban; but even where post-horses might have been had, this was the mode he always preferred in these family excursions, for he delighted in the liberty it afforded him of alighting and lingering as often and as long as he chose; and, in truth, he often performed the far greater part of the day's journey on foot---examining the map in the morning so as to make himself master of the bearings---and following his own fancy over some old disused riding track, or along the margin of a stream, while the carriage, with its female occupants, adhered to the proper road. Of the insular part of the expedition we have many details in the appendages to the Lord of the Isles---and others not less interesting in the Notes which he contributed to Croker's Edition of Boswell. The private letters of 1810 dwell with delight on a scene which it was, indeed, special good fortune for him to witness:---the arrival among the Mackinnons of their young chief (since well known as M.P. for Lymington), whose ancestors had sold or forfeited their insular territory, but could not alienate the affectionate veneration of their clan. He also expatiates with hearty satisfaction on the patriarchal style of the hospitality of Mulva, where the Laird of Staffa (a brother of his colleague Mr Macdonald Buchanan) lived among ``a people distractedly fond of him,'' cheered by their adherence to the native soil from which so many of the neighbouring tribes were yearly emigrating, proudly and hopefully encouraging their growth in numbers, and doing whatever he could to keep up the old manners and the old spirit of his region---``his people doubled and his income trebled.'' But this is a picture to which we cannot now revert without pain and regret; for changes in public polity within a few years destroyed utterly the ease and prosperity which the poet witnessed. Like so many others of his class, that gay and high-spirited gentleman was destined to see his fond people pine around him in destitution, until the majority of them also took refuge beyond the Atlantic,---and there was left to himself only the name and shadow of that fair possession, of which, on his death, the last fragment---the rocky Staffa itself,--- had to be parted with by his children.
On returning from this pleasant expedition, and establishing himself at Ashestiel, Scott, in searching an old desk for fishing-flies one morning, found the forgotten MS. of the first two or three chapters of _Waverley._ From a letter of James Ballantyne's on now reading these chapters, it is plain that he was not their unfavourable critic of 1805 but though he augured ``success'' if the novel were completed, he added that he could not say ``how much,'' and honestly confessed that the impression made on his mind was far from resembling that he had received from the first specimen of the _Lady of the Lake:_ and once more the fated MS. was restored to its hiding-place. But this was not the only unwelcome communication from that quarter. Already their publishing adventure began to wear a bad aspect. Between 1805 and the Christmas of 1809, Scott invested in the Ballantyne firms not less than <L>9000; by this time probably there had been a farther demand on his purse; and now the printer's triumph in the fast multiplying editions of the Lady of the Lake was darkened with ominous reports about their miscellaneous speculations---such as the Beaumont and Fletcher of Weber ---the ``Tixall Poetry,''---and the History of the Culdees by Dr Jamieson. But a still more serious business was the Edinburgh Annual Register. Its two first volumes were issued about this time, and expectation had been highly excited by the announcement that the historical department was in the hands of Southey, while Scott and other eminent persons were to contribute to its miscellaneous literature and science. Mr Southey was fortunate in beginning his narrative with the great era of the Spanish Revolt against Napoleon, and it exhibited his usual research, reflection, elegance, and spirit. The second volume contained some of his most admired minor poems; and Scott enriched it both with verse and prose. Nevertheless, the public were alarmed by the extent of the history, and the prospect of two volumes annually. This was, in short, a new periodical publication on a large scale; all such adventures are hazardous; none of them can succeed, unless there be a skilful bookseller, and a zealous editor, who give a large share of their industry and intelligence, day after day, to its arrangements. Such a bookseller John Ballantyne was not; such an editor, with Scott's multifarious engagements, he could not be. The volumes succeeded each other at irregular intervals; there was soon felt the want of one ever active presiding spirit; and though the work was continued during a long series of years, it never profited the projectors.
The first _livraison_ included an essay of some length by Scott on the proposed changes in the Scotch law and judicature, which had occupied Sir Ilay Campbell's Commission: and the sagacity of this piece appears as creditable to him as the clear felicity of its language. I fancy few English lawyers will now deny that their criminal system at least had more need to borrow from Scotland, than hers from theirs. However, his essay strongly deprecated the commencement of a general innovation; and though the condition of the Ballantyne affairs was already uneasy, and his correspondence shews that he fretted occasionally under the unrecompensed drudgery of his clerkship, still I cannot but suspect that his repugnance to these legal novelties had a share in producing the state of mind indicated by a letter of November 1810 to his brother Thomas. He there says: ``I have no objection to tell you in confidence, that, were Dundas to go out Governor-General to India, and were he willing to take me with him in a good situation, I would not hesitate to pitch the Court of Session and the booksellers to the Devil, and try my fortune in another climate.'' He adds, ``but this is strictly _entre nous_'' --nor indeed was I aware, until I found this letter, that he had ever entertained such a design as that which it communicates. Mr Dundas (now Lord Melville) being highly acceptable to the Court of Directors in the office of President of the Board of Control, which he long filled, was spoken of at various times as likely to be appointed Governor-General. He had no doubt hinted to Scott, that in case he should ever assume that station, it would be agreeable for him to be accompanied by his early friend: and there could be little question of Scott's capacity to have filled with distinction the part either of an Indian secretary or of an Indian judge. But enough of what was but a passing dream. The buoyancy of his temperament had sustained no lasting depression---and his circumstances before the lapse of another year underwent a change which for ever fixed his destiny to the soil of his best affections and happiest inspirations.
Meantime, unflagging was the interest with which, among whatever labours and anxieties, he watched the progress of the great contest in the Peninsula. It was so earnest, that he never on any journey, not even in his very frequent passages between Edinburgh and Ashestiel, omitted to take with him the largest and best map he had been able to procure of the seat of war; upon this he was perpetually poring, tracing the marches and counter-marches of the French and English by means of black and white pins; and not seldom did Mrs Scott complain of this constant occupation of his attention and her carriage. In the beginning of 1811, a committee was formed in London to collect subscriptions for the relief of the Portuguese, who had seen their lands wasted and their houses burnt in the course of Massena's last campaign; and Scott, on reading the advertisement, addressed the chairman, begging to contribute the profits, to whatever they might amount, of the first edition of a poem connected with the localities of the patriotic struggle, His offer was accepted. The _Vision of Don Roderick_ was published, in 4to, in July; and the money forwarded to the board. Lord Dalkeith writes thus:---``Those with ample fortunes and thicker heads may easily give 100 guineas to a subscription, but the man is really to be envied who can draw that sum from his own brains, and apply the produce to so exalted a purpose.''
The _Vision_ had features of novelty, both as to the subject and the manner of the composition, which gave rise to some sharp controversy. The main fable was indeed from the most picturesque region of old romance; but it was made throughout the vehicle of feelings directly adverse to those with which the Whig critics had all along regarded the interference of Britain in behalf of the nations of the Peninsula; and the silence which, while celebrating our other generals on that scene of action, had been preserved with respect to Scott's own gallant countryman, Sir John Moore, was considered or represented by them as an odious example of genius hoodwinked by the influence of party. Nor were there wanting persons who affected to discover that the charm of Scott's poetry had to a great extent evaporated under the severe test to which he had exposed it, by adopting, in place of those comparatively light and easy measures in which he had hitherto dealt, the most elaborate one that our literature exhibits. The piece, notwithstanding the complexity of the Spenserian stanza, had been very rapidly executed; and it shows, accordingly, many traces of negligence. But the patriotic inspiration of it found an echo in the vast majority of British hearts; many of the Whig oracles themselves acknowledged that the difficulties of the metre had been on the whole successfully overcome; and even the hardest critics were compelled to express unqualified admiration of various detached pictures and passages, which, in truth, as no one now disputes, neither he nor any other poet ever expelled. The whole setting or framework---whatever relates to the Last of the Goths himself---was, I think, even then unanimously pronounced admirable; and no party feeling could blind any man to the heroic splendour of such stanzas as those in which the three equally gallant elements of a British army are contrasted. I incline to believe that the choice of the measure had been in no small degree the result of hints from more than one friendly critic on the subject of his favourite octosyllabics.
Of the letters addressed to him soon after the Vision appeared, he has preserved several which had no doubt interested and gratified him at the time. But I am very sure no one was so welcome as that which reached him, some months after his poem had ceased to be new in England, from a dear friend who, after various chances and changes, was then serving as a captain in the 58th regiment. ``Last spring,'' says he (Lisbon, Aug. 31), ``I was so fortunate as to get a reading of the Lady of the Lake, when in the lines of Torres Vedras, and thought I had no inconsiderable right to enter into and judge of its beauties, having made one of the party on your first visit to the Trossachs. While the book was in my possession, I had nightly invitations to _evening parties!_ and I must say that (though not conscious of much merit in the way of recitation) my attempts to do justice to the grand opening of the stag-hunt were always followed with bursts of applause--- for this Canto was the favourite among the rough sons of the fighting Third Division. At that time supplies of various kinds were scanty;---and, in gratitude, I am bound to declare that to the good offices of the Lady I owed many a nice slice of ham and rummer of hot punch.'' The gallant and gastronomical Captain (now Sir Adam) Fergusson (who did not by the bye escape suspicions of having been a little glanced at in _Dalgetty_) was no less heartily regaled on the arrival of The Vision ``_ex dono auctoris._'' He again writes (6th October), ``I relished much the wild and fanciful opening of the introductory part; yet what particularly delighted me were the stanzas announcing the approach of the British fleets and armies; and can assure you the Pats are, to a man, enchanted with the picture drawn of their countrymen, and the mention of the great man himself. Your swearing, in the true character of a minstrel, `shiver my harp, and burst its every chord,' amused me not a little.---Should it be my fate to survive, I am resolved to try my hand on a snug little farm either up or down the Tweed, somewhere in your neighbourhood; and on this dream many a delightful castle do I build.'' At least one of the knight's _chateaux en Espagne_ was, as we shall see, realized in the sequel. I must not omit a circumstance which Scott learned from another source, and which he always took special pride in relating. In the course of the day when the Lady of the Lake first reached Fergusson, he was posted with his company on a point of ground exposed to the enemy's artillery. The men were ordered to lie prostrate on the ground; while they kept that attitude, the Captain, kneeling at their head, read aloud the battle of Canto VI., and the listening soldiers only interrupted him by a joyous huzza whenever the shot struck the bank close above them.
I have alluded to some hints of Ellis, Canning, and others, in disparagement of octosyllabics. Having essayed, probably to please these friends, the most difficult of all English measures in Don Roderick, Scott this year tried also the heroic couplet, and produced _The Poacher_---on seeing which, Crabbe, as his biographer tells us, exclaimed, ``This man, whoever he is, can do all that I can, and _something more._'' This piece, an imitation of Moore, and another of _Scott,_ were published in the Register, with a preface, entitled The Inferno of Altesidora, in which he shadows out the chief reviewers of the day, especially Jeffrey and Gifford, with admirable breadth and yet lightness of pleasantry; but he kept his secret as to this Inferno and all its appendages, even from Miss Baillie---to whom he says, on their appearance, that---``the imitation of Crabbe had struck him as good; that of Moore as bad; and that of himself as beginning well, but falling off grievously to the close.'' It is curious to trace the beginnings of the systematic mystification which he afterwards put in practice. The quarto edition of Don Roderick having rapidly gone off, instead of reprinting the poem as usual in a separate octavo, he inserted it entire in the Register; a proof how much that undertaking was felt to require extraordinary efforts.
Throughout 1811, his serious labour continued to be bestowed on the Swift; but this and all other literary tasks were frequently interrupted in consequence of a step which he took early in the year. He had now at last the near prospect of emolument from his Edinburgh post. For, connected with the other reforms in the Scotch judicature, was a plan for allowing the retirement of functionaries, who had served to an advanced period of life, upon pensions---while the effective Clerks of Session were to be paid not by fees, but by fixed salaries of <L>1300; and contemplating a speedy accession of income so considerable as this, he resolved to place himself in the situation to which he had probably from his earliest days looked forward as the highest object of ambition, that of a Tweedside Laird.---_Sit mihi sedes utinam senect<ae>!_
And the place on which he had fixed his views, though not to the common eye very attractive, had long been one of peculiar interest for him. I have often heard him tell, that when travelling in boyhood with his father from Selkirk to Melrose, the old man desired the carriage to halt at the foot of an eminence, and said, ``We must get out here, Walter, and see a thing quite in your line.'' His father then conducted him to a rude stone on the edge of an acclivity about half a mile above the Tweed, which marks the spot---
Where gallant Cessford's life-blood dear Reeked on dark Elliot's border spear.
This was the conclusion of the battle of Melrose, fought in 1526, between the Earls of Angus and Home and the two chiefs of the race of Kerr on the one side, and Buccleuch on the other, in sight of the young King James V., the possession of whose person was the object of the contest. This battle is often mentioned in the Border Minstrelsy, and the reader will find a long note on it, under the lines which I have just quoted from the Lay of the Last Minstrel. In the names of _Skirmish-field, Charge-Law,_ and so forth, various incidents of the fight have found a lasting record; the spot where the retainer of Buccleuch terminated the pursuit by the mortal wound of Kerr of Cessford (ancestor of the Dukes of Roxburghe), has always been called _Turn-again._ In his own future domain the young minstrel had before him the scene of the last great Clan-battle of the Borders.
On the 12th of May 1811, he writes thus to James Ballantyne,---``My lease of Ashestiel is out. I have, therefore, resolved to purchase a piece of ground sufficient for a cottage and a few fields. There are two pieces, either of which would suit me, but both would make a very desirable property indeed. They stretch along the Tweed, on the opposite side from Lord Somerville, and could be had for between <L>7000 and <L>8000---or either separate for about half the sum. I have serious thoughts of one or both, and must have recourse to my pen to make the matter easy. The worst is the difficulty which John might find in advancing so large a sum as the copyright of a new poem; supposing it to be made payable within a year at farthest from the work going to press,---which would be essential to my purpose. Yet the Lady of the Lake came soon home. I have a letter this morning giving me good hope of my Treasury business being carried through: if this takes place, I will buy both the little farms, which will give me a mile of the beautiful turn of Tweed above Gala-foot ---if not, I will confine myself to one. It is proper John and you should be as soon as possible apprized of these my intentions, which I believe you will think reasonable in my situation, and at my age, while I may yet hope to sit under the shade of a tree of my own planting. I hope this Register will give a start to its predecessors; I assure you I shall spare no pains. John must lend his earnest attention to clear his hands of the quire stock, and to taking in as little as he can unless in the way of exchange; in short, reefing our sails, which are at present too much spread for our ballast.''
It would no doubt have been wise not to buy land at all until he had seen the Treasury arrangement as to his clerkship completed-until he had completed also the poem on which he relied mainly for the purchase-money; above all, until ``John reefed his sails;'' but he contented himself with one of the farms, that comprising the scene of Cessford's slaughter; the cost being <L>4000---one-half of which was borrowed of his brother, Major John Scott, the other, raised by the Ballantynes, on the security of the long-meditated _Rokeby._ The seller, the Rev. Dr Douglas, holding the living of Galashiels, in the same neighbourhood, had never resided on the property, and his efforts to embellish it had been limited to one stripe of firs, so long and so narrow that Scott likened it to a black hair-comb. It ran from the precincts of the homestead to near _Turn-again,_ and has bequeathed, the name of _the Doctor's redding-kame_ to the mass of nobler trees amidst which its dark straight line can now hardly be traced. The farm consisted of a meadow or _haugh_ along the banks of the river, and a tract of undulated ground behind, all in a neglected state, undrained, wretchedly enclosed, much of it covered with the native heath. The house was small and poor, with a common _kail-yard_ on one flank, and a staring barn on the other; while in front appeared a filthy pond covered with ducks and duckweed, from which the whole tenement had derived the unharmonious designation of _Clarty Hole._ But the Tweed was every thing to him---a beautiful river, flowing broad and bright over a bed of milkwhite pebbles, unless here and there where it darkened into a deep pool, overhung as yet only by the birches and alders which had survived the statelier growth of the primitive Forest; and the first hour that he took possession he claimed for his farm the name of the adjoining _ford,_ situated just above the influx of the classical tributary Gala. As might be guessed from the name of _Abbotsford,_ these lands had all belonged of old to the great Abbey of Melrose; and indeed the Duke of Buccleuch, as the territorial representative of that religious brotherhood, still retains some seignorial rights over them and almost all the surrounding district. Another feature of no small interest in Scott's eyes was an ancient Roman road leading from the Eildon hills to this ford, the remains of which, however, are now mostly sheltered from view amidst his numerous plantations. The most graceful and picturesque of all the monastic ruins in Scotland, the Abbey of Melrose itself, is visible from many points in the immediate neighbourhood of the house; and last, not least, on the rising ground full in view across the river, the traveller may still observe the chief traces of that celebrated British barrier, the _Catrail._ Such was the territory on which his prophetic eye already beheld rich pastures, embosomed among flourishing groves, where his children's children should thank the founder. To his brother-in-law Mr Carpenter he writes, ``I have bought a property extending along the banks of the river Tweed for about half-a-mile. This is the greatest incident which has lately taken place in our domestic concerns, and I assure you we are not a little proud of being greeted as _laird_ and _lady of Abbotsford._ We will give a grand gala when we take possession of it, and as we are very _clannish_ in this corner, all the Scotts in the country, from the Duke to the peasant, shall dance on the green to the bagpipes, and drink whisky punch.''
About the same time he tells Miss Baillie:---``My dreams about my cottage go on. My present intention is to have only two spare bed-rooms, with dressing-rooms, each of which will on a pinch have a couch bed; but I cannot relinquish my Border principle of accommodating all the cousins and duniwastles, who will rather sleep on chairs, and on the floor, and in the hay-loft, than be absent when folks are gathered together; and truly I used to think Ashestiel was very much like the tent of Periebanou, in the Arabian Nights, that suited alike all numbers of company equally; ten people fill it at any time, and I remember its lodging thirty-two without any complaint. As for the _go-about_ folks, they generally pay their score one way or other; and to confess the truth, I do a little envy my old friend Abonhassan his walks on the bridge of Bagdad, and evening conversations and suppers with the guests whom he was never to see again in his life; he never fell into a scrape till he met with the Caliph---and, thank God, no Caliphs frequent the brigg of Melrose, which will be my nearest Rialto at Abbotsford.''
In answering this letter, Miss Baillie says, very prettily: ---``Yourself and Mrs Scott, and the children, will feel sorry at leaving Ashestiel, which will long have a consequence, and be the object of kind feelings with many, from having once been the place of your residence. If I should ever be happy enough to be at Abbotsford, you must take me to see Ashestiel too. I have a kind of tenderness for it, as one has for a man's first wife, when you hear he has married a second.'' The same natural sentiment is expressed in a manner characteristically different, in a letter from the Ettrick Shepherd---
``Are you not sorry at leaving _auld Ashestiel for gude an' a,_ after being at so much trouble and expense in making it a complete thing? Upon my word I was, on seeing it in the papers.''
In January 1812, Scott entered upon the enjoyment of his proper salary as a clerk of Session, which, with his sheriffdom, gave him from this time till very near the close of his life, a professional income of <L>1600 a-year.
The next of his letters to Joanna Baillie is curious, as giving his first impressions on reading Childe Harold. ``It is, I think, a very clever poem, but gives no good symptom of the writer's heart or morals. Although there is a caution against it in the preface, you cannot for your soul avoid concluding that the author, as he gives an account of his own travels, is also doing so in his own character. Now really this is too bad: vice ought to be a little more modest, and it must require impudence at least equal to the noble Lord's other powers, to claim sympathy gravely for the ennui arising from his being tired of his wassailers and his paramours. Yet with all this conceit and assurance, there is much poetical merit in the book, and I wish you would read it.'' A month later, he writes in a similar strain to Morritt (May 12), but concludes thus:---``This is upon the whole a piece of most extraordinary power, and may rank its author with our first poets.''
Lord Byron was, I need not say, the prime object of interest this season in the fashionable world of London; nor did the Prince Regent owe the subsequent hostilities of the noble Poet to any neglect on his part. Mr Murray, the publisher of the Romaunt, on hearing, on the 29th of June, Lord Byron's account of his introduction to his Royal Highness, conceived that, by communicating it to Scott, he might afford the opportunity of such a personal explanation between his two poetical friends, as should obliterate whatever painful feelings had survived the allusions to Marmion in the English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, and this good-natured step had the desired consequences. Whether or not Scott supposed that Byron had been privy to Murray's movement, I cannot say; but the senior and the offended party considered that it became him to take the initiative. In his first letter to Byron, after some warm praise of Childe Harold, he passes to the old Marmion story and says:---``The poem, my Lord, was _not_ written upon contract for a sum of money---though it is too true that it was sold and published in a very unfinished state (which I have since regretted), to enable me to extricate myself from some engagements which fell suddenly upon me, by the unexpected misfortunes of a very near relation. So that, to quote statute and precedent, I really come under the case cited by Juvenal, though not quite in the extremity of the classic author---
Esurit, intactam Paridi nisi vendit Agaven.
As for my attachment to literature, I sacrificed for the pleasure of pursuing it very fair chances of opulence and professional honours, at a time of life when I fully knew their value; and I am not ashamed to say that in deriving advantages in compensation from the partial favour of the public, I have added some comforts and elegancies to a bare independence. I am sure your Lordship's good sense will easily put this unimportant egotism to the right account, for---though I do not know the motive would make me enter into controversy with a fair or an _unfair_ literary critic---I may be well excused for a wish to clear my personal character from any tinge of mercenary or sordid feeling in the eyes of a contemporary of genius. Your Lordship will likewise permit me to add, that you would have escaped the trouble of this explanation, had I not understood that the satire alluded to had been suppressed, not to be reprinted. For in removing a prejudice on your Lordship's own mind, I had no intention of making any appeal by or through you to the public, since my own habits of life have rendered my defence as to avarice or rapacity rather too easy.'' Lord Byron in answer says:---``I feel sorry that you should have thought it worth while to notice the evil works of my nonage, as the thing is suppressed _voluntarily,_ and your explanation is too kind not to give me pain. The Satire was written when I was very young and very angry, and fully bent on displaying my wrath and my wit, and now I am haunted by the ghosts of my wholesale assertions. I cannot sufficiently thank you for your praise; and now, waiving myself, let me talk to you of the Prince Regent. He ordered me to be presented to him at a ball: and after some sayings, peculiarly pleasing from royal lips, as to my own attempts, he talked to me of you and your immortalities; he preferred you to every bard past and present, and asked which of your works pleased me most. It was a difficult question. I answered, I thought the Lay. He said his own opinion was nearly similar. In speaking of the others, I told him that I thought you more particularly the poet of _Princes,_ as _they_ never appeared more fascinating than in Marmion and the Lady of the Lake. He was pleased to coincide, and to dwell on the description of your Jameses as no less royal than poetical. He spoke alternately of Homer and yourself, and seemed well acquainted with both. I defy Murray to have exaggerated his Royal Highness's opinion of your powers; but it may give you pleasure to hear that it was conveyed in language which would only suffer by my attempting to transcribe it; and with a tone and taste which gave me a very high idea of his abilities and accomplishments, which I had hitherto considered as confined to _manners,_ certainly superior to those of any living _gentleman._'' ---Scott immediately (July 16) rejoined in terms of frank kindness, inviting Byron to visit him at Abbotsford, where he had now established himself.---``Although,'' he says, am living in a gardener's hut, and although the adjacent ruins of Melrose have little to tempt one who has seen those of Athens, yet, should you take a tour which is so fashionable at this season, I should be very happy to have an opportunity of introducing you to anything remarkable in my fatherland. The fair, or shall I say the sage, Apreece that was, Lady Davy that is, is soon to show us how much science she leads captive in Sir Humphrey; so your Lordship sees, as the citizen's wife says in the farce, `Threadneedle Street has some charms,' since they procure us such celebrated visitants. As for me, I would rather cross-question your Lordship about the outside of Parnassus, than learn the nature of the contents of all the other mountains in the world. Pray, when under `its cloudy canopy' did you hear anything of the celebrated Pegasus? Some say he has been brought off with other curiosities to Britain, and now covers at Tattersal's. I would fain have a cross from him out of my little moss-trooper's Galloway, and I think your Lordship can tell me how to set about it, as I recognise his true paces in the high-mettled description of Ali Pacha's military court.''
The correspondence thus begun erelong assumed a tone of unaffected friendliness equally honourable to both these great competitors, without rivalry, for the favour of the literary world.
The date of the letter last quoted immediately preceded that of Scott's second meeting with another of the most illustrious of his contemporaries. He had met Davy at Mr Wordsworth's when in the first flush of his celebrity in 1804, and been, as one of his letters states, much delighted with ``the simple and unaffected style of his bearing---the most agreeable characteristic of high genius.'' Sir Humphrey, now at the summit of his fame, had come, by his marriage with Scott's accomplished relation, into possession of an ample fortune; and he and his bride were among the first of the poet's visitants in the original cabin at Abbotsford.
It was also this year that the first correspondence took place between Scott and Crabbe. The contrast of their epistolary styles is highly amusing; for Mr Crabbe was as yet quite the simple country clergyman; but there is something better than amusement to be derived from observing the cordial confidence which a very little intercourse was sufficient to establish between men so different from each other in most of the habits of life. It will always be considered as one of the most pleasing peculiarities in Scott's history, that he was the friend of every great contemporary poet: yet I could hardly name one of them who, manly principles and the cultivation of literature apart, had many points of resemblance to him; and surely not one who had fewer than Crabbe.
He had finally left Ashestiel at Whitsuntide; and the day when this occurred was a sad one for many a poor neighbour---for they lost, both in him and his wife, very generous protectors. In such a place, among the few evils which counterbalance so many good things in the condition of the peasantry, the most afflicting is the want of access to medical advice. As far as their means and skill would go, they had both done their utmost to supply this want; and Mrs Scott, in particular, had made it her business to visit the sick in their scattered cottages, and bestowed on them the contents of her medicine-chest as well as of the larder and cellar, with the same unwearied kindness that I observed in her afterwards as lady of Abbotsford. Their children remembered the parting scene as one of unmixed affliction---but it had had its lighter features. Among the English friends whom Scott owed to his frequent visits at Rokeby, none had a higher Place in his regard than Lady Alvanley, the widow of the celebrated Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas. To her, on the 25th, he says,---``The neighbours have been much delighted with the procession of my furniture, in which old swords, bows, targets, and lances, made a very conspicuous show. A family of turkeys was accommodated within the helmet of some _preux_ chevalier of ancient Border fame; and the very cows, for aught I know, were bearing banners and muskets. I assure your ladyship that this caravan, attended by a dozen of ragged rosy peasant children, carrying fishing-rods and spears, and leading poneys, greyhounds, and spaniels, would, as it crossed the Tweed, have furnished no bad subject for the pencil, and really reminded me of one of the gypsey groupes of Callot upon their march.''
The necessary alterations on the old farm-house immediately commenced; and besides raising its roof and projecting some of the lower windows, a rustic porch, a supplemental cottage at one end, and a fountain to the south, soon made their appearance.
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