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trast to the love of law and peaceful thrift which lies deep in the Scottish nature, and, until a few years before Scott's birth, led the Lowlanders to regard their Celtic fellow-countrymen with a contempt and hatred, in effacing which it was the noble mission of his own genius to be the main instrument.
These family details are here dwelt on, because they bear upon that quality which is peculiar to Scott's genius, and makes at once its strength and its weakness. It would be difficult to name another instance of a mind so habitually balanced between the real and the unreal. There have been those who had, for example, a stronger grasp of past ages; but they have either comprehended them without regretting, as Hallam and Macaulay; or have distinctly preferred them and adopted their ways of thought. Poets, again, have manifested as great a power as Scott over the actual and the present, as Burns and Crabbe,- but they had no sympathy with the past: or have chosen their subjects in the past, as Dryden in his Fables, and Byron in his Plays,-but theirs was a simple poetical expedient, not a sympathetic revival of former times : or they have lived in an ideal world, as Shelley-but then that world was their own creation, and entirely absorbed them : or they have believed in and reproduced their own age, together with one long anterior, as Milton,-but then their older subject-matter was religion : or, in another way, as Shakespeare, they have recast all ages in their own mind; or were barely conscious of the difference between the ages, as Chaucer and Dante. But it will strike every reader how decidedly Scott's poetical conception of the past, and his relations to the present, differ from those jast enumerated. As a child of the critical eighteenth century, and the son of a shrewd Scotch solicitor, Scott was, on one side, a born sceptic in romance, the Middle Ages, and Jacobitism, -as a cadet of the Scotts of Harden, and a man of the strongest imaginative temperament, he was likewise a born believer. Now, wt only his writings, which in the strictest sense reproduce himself, but his life and character, present a continual half-conscious attempt at a real and practical compromise between these opposing elements. In the details, what struck his contemporaries was plain but genial common sense; in the whole, what strikes the later student is the predominance of the poetical impulse. Whilst the peculiar Hending of the elements is what gives Scott his place in our literature, and readers him singularly interesting as a man, it cannot be concealed that it carried certain weaknesses with it: he had les défauts de ses qualités. And in this compromise between past and present, romance and prose, which he at. tempted, beside that great and long continued error which ruined his worldly prosperity, and dispossessed him of the castle of his dreams, one may note some minor inconsistencies, which have exposed him to censure from those who did not observe the peculiarity of his nature. Thus, although naturally one of the most independent of men, we find him treating the Prince Regent with an almost servility of deference, when offered the Poet Laureateship; although a Lowland Scot, only distantly and dimly sharing in Highland blood through
a Campbell ancestor (the clan, we may remark in passing, towards which his writings show a marked dislike), when the Prince, then George IV, visited Edinburgh, Scott gave the pageantry of the reception a completely Celtic character,-forgetting at once not only that national feud between Lowlander and Highlander which he had been the first to set forth before the whole world, but even the historical proprieties of the occasion. He appeared himself in Highland dress, whilst the heir of the Hanoverian line wore the “Steuart tartan"! Scott's Border sympathies, again, led him to regard the profession of arms with a somewhat extreme admiration; but when his son desires to enter the army, he regrets the choice. In his politics we observe the same uncertain direction; whilst feeling in the strongest way for the poor, and by nature hostile to the violence and unfairness of party, we find him ever and anon lowering himself to the petty interests of the Toryism of Edinburgh, or abetting the coarse repression of popular spirit which discredited the Administrations of the time ; and then, with a fitter sense of his vocation in life, adding a "so much for politics-about which, after all, my neighbours the Blackcocks know about as much as I do” (Lockhart's “Life of Scott," iii : 209; the edition of 1856, in ten volumes, is that quoted). - That the reader may understand the kind of character who will be presented to him, these points are noted here; they will be illustrated by the details which follow. But is not Scott, in all this antithetically blended nature, shrewdness in details, romance in the whole,minor inconsistencies, with a general unity and individuality of character, -a perfect type of the common sense combined with the ingenium per fervidum Scotorum, a true representative of the great race amongst which it was the dearest pride of his heart to be numbered ?
“Every Scotchman,” says Sir Walter Scott in his brief Autobiography, "has a pedigree." We need not trace his back in detail beyond his great-grandfather, the staunch old Jacobite known as Beardie, who died in 1729. Beardie's second son, Robert, a Whig, drove and sold the cattle which had been the plunder of his reiving ancestors; at other times farming the small estate of Sandy-knowe or Smailholme, midway between Melrose and Kelso. By marriage with a Haliburton, Robert Scott became for a time proprietor of Dryburgh Abbey. The eldest son, Walter, born 1729, settled in Edinburgh as a “Writer to the Signet;" and in that city, after the loss of several infants, Walter, third son of six children who survived, was born, August 15, 1771. His mother, Anne Rutherford, was daughter to a distinguished professor of medicine in the University, and a lady of the ancient family of Swinton ; and “joined to a light and happy temper of , sind, a strong turn to study poetry and works of imagination.” Beyond these
indications, little is known of Scott's mother to support the popular fancy which ascribes filial distinction to maternal qualities; in fact, the father, a man of fine bat singular disposition, fills a far larger space in the reminiscences of the poet's carler years, and was, long after, painted by him with loving fidelity in “Red. gauntlet." A fever in infancy rendered Walter lame in his right leg, and he was sent for recovery to his grandfather Robert, at Sandy-knowe. From this place, where Scott was nursed for about two years, dated his earliest recollections. Tales of the Jacobite risings, and of Border life and its heroes, neither as yet too distant for genuine tradition, were soon taught him ; “Merrymen all,” he says, “of the persuasion and calling of Robin Hood and Little John ;” and one can imagine the romantic disguise under which the violent deeds of “auld Watt of Harden" and the rest, were presented by family pride to the child who was to immortalize them. Visits to Bath and elsewhere were made for the sake of Walter's health, and he so far threw off the weakness of limb that, until the early decay of his constitution, it hardly disqualified him from any vigorous exercise. Scott's lameDess, like Byron's, impelled his eager and courageous disposition to a more than average display of physical energy; one may trace to it, in some degree, the rather overstrained emphasis laid by Scott on field sports and volunteer drill whilst his strength lasted ; excess in which, not improbably, was one reason why he found himself an old man before fifty ; (1820, vi : 269.) Ingenious excuses are never wanting to give the body more than its due share; and when there is activity of mind also, as in Scott and Byron, it takes its revenge in premature decay. On the other hand, the boy's lameness had a nobler result; giving him leisure for a large range of reading, -miscellaneous indeed, but lying in those imaginative regions, the air of which strengthens the higher nature within us. He entered tre Grammar School of Edinburgh in 1778. A letter written by a gifted lady presents an excellent picture of the child as he was at six, -indeed, of Scott a be remained through life :-"boy for ever," in Shakespeare's phrase, with the lasting childhood and sensitiveness of genius.
"I last night supped in Mr. Walter Scott's. He has the most extraordinary genius of a boy I ever saw. He was reading a poem to his mother when I went i. I made him read on ; it was the description of a shipwreck. His passion rose with the storm. He lifted his eyes and hands. There's the mast gone, says he; crash it goes !--they will all perish! After his agitation, he turns to me: That is too melancholy; I had better read you something more amusing. I preferred a little chat, and asked his opinion of Milton and other books he was reading, which be gave me wonderfully. . . . When taken to bed last night, he told his aunt he liked that lady (Mrs. Cockburn, the writer), for I think she is a virtuoso like myself.- Dear Walter, says Aunt Jenny, what is a virtuoso !--Don't ye know ? Way, it's one who wishes and will know everything."
Those about Scott may have been already impressed, like Mrs. Cockburn, with his mental energy and determination to “know everything.” But in the Autobiography he adopts another tone, which reappears in his later letters. He was conscious that industry had not come to him without a struggle. About one of his brothers he remarks, that he had “the same determined indolence that marked us all.” No description could, at first sight, appear less applicable to himself. If there be one constant attribute of real genius, it is vast capacity for and enjoy. ment of labour. Genius often makes us feel that it is almost synonymous with patience, as Buffon and Reynolds called it. And it would be difficult to find a man of genius whose recorded works,-never more than a portion of the man's whole work,-are more extensive and varied than Scott's. He had, in the highest degree, another charming quality, often, though not so essentially an attribute of intellectual excellence-Modesty. Hence, throughout his life he undervalued himself, and thought little of his own energy. Yet we cannot doubt that this “determined indolence," like the irritability of temper which he so subdued that few suspected its existence, was a real element in his nature. At school (1778-1783), Scott's zeal for study is inferior to the ardour of Shelley; he takes not the slightest interest in what is not only the most perfect, but the most essentially “romantic" of literatures,--that of Greece ; even in Latin going only far enough to set the highest value upon the modern verse of Buchanan, and after him, on Lucan and Claudian. He was satisfied with a working knowledge of French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Perhaps the family failing expended itself in confining his studies to the circle marked out by strong creative impulse, the history, manners, romances, and poetry of mediaeval and modern Europe. Looking back now at the result, the Poems and the Novels, one is inclined to say that Scott in all this followed the imperious promptings of nature. This, however, was not his own judgment. He regretted nothing more bitterly than his want of the severe classical training. “I forgot the very letters of the Greek alphabet," he says in the Autobiography of 1808, “a loss never to be repaired, considering what that language is, and who they were who employed it in their compositions." And again, “I would at this moment give half the reputation I have had the good fortune to acquire, if by doing so I could rest the remaining part upon a sound foundation.” Within the range noticed, however, his “appetite for books was as ample and undiscriminating as it was indefatigable; few ever read so much," he adds, “or to so little purpose." Spenser, Tasso's " Jerusalem " in the English, "above all, Bishop Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry,” are specified; and although throughout his life Scott exhibited a reluctance to employ his powerful mind on subjects requiring hard thought, and was disposed to defer any work upon which he was engaged to the last, yet in the main we may regard the "determined indolence" as absorbed into the meditative atmosphere (if we may use the word) of the poetical nature: as the undersoil whence so many masterpieces of imaginative writing were destined to grow. There is a strong general likeness on this point between Scott and the greatest of his contemporaries in poetry : and the words in which Wordsworth described himself would have borne an equal application to his friend :
My whole life I have lived in pleasant thought,
"My life," Scott himself says, in one of the most remarkable passages of his Diary (Dec. 27, 1825), “ though not without its fits of waking and strong exertion, has been a sort of dream, spent in
Chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy.
I have worn a wishing-cap, the power of which has been to divert present griefs by a touch of the wand of imagination, and gild over the future by prospects more fair than can be realized.” Scott's character was essentially formed and finished in early youth, and these words may be considered the key to his whole career and character. Worldly wisdom, love of social rank, passion for lands and goods ; - these are the motives by which it has been often assumed that he was guided. Mr. Carlyle even appears in his remarkable Essay to regard Scott as unentitled to the claim of greatness, because he did not throw his strength into grasping the problems of modern life or the eternal difficulties of human thought-and treats him as an eminently genial and healthy man of the world, whose writings were rather pieces of skilful and rapid manufacture for the day, than likely to prove "heirlooms for ever.” But so " antithetically mixed” was his nature, that at the same time he was in the spirit hidden away with poetry and the past, and moving among romantic worlds of his own creation. Viewed from one side, Scott, as printer and lawyer, with "a thread of the attorney in him," as “laird” and man of society, appears in unromantic contrast to most of his “brothers in immortal verse:" viewed from another, it may be doubted whether any of his contemporaries lived the life of the poet so completely.
A strong capacity for such work as his nature secretly preferred, and towards which he was unconsciously finding his way, marks the boyhood of Scott. This found its main exercise at first in a love for inventing and relating marvellous tales which amounted to real passion. “Whole holidays were spent in this pastime, which continued for two or three years, and had, I believe, no small effect in directing the turn of my imagination to the chivalrous and romantic in poetry and prose." "He used to interest us," writes a lady who was then his playmate, “ by! telling us the visions, as he called them, which he had lying alone. . . . Child as Is, I could not help being highly delighted with his description of the glorie be had seen. .:. Recollecting these descriptions," of which we cannot