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and history; where the old Scottish memories to which Burns himself was not attached with more devoted passion, were around him ; where, also, began his friendship with the chief house of his clan. To the three peers who bore the title of Buccleuch between this time and his death, especially to Charles, fourth duke, Scott was attracted by the whole force of his nature : not only respecting them with feudal devotion as heads of his blood and family, but loving them as men who sympathised deeply with him in their views of life, religion, politics, relations between rich and poor, home-pursuits, and affections; and who systematically used great wealth and power for the happiness of their friends and dependants. There are Do pages in Scott's life more pleasing than those which paint his intimacy with this truly noble family group; here he carried out with the greatest success his poetical identification between the old world and the new ; and to him, in turn, the family name owes a distinction beyond that of Montmorency, Dalberg, or Howard. L’nder these and other combining influences Scott now added to the ancient Border Ballads, which he was collecting, his own original poems,--some, written for Lewis' Tales of Wonder, based on German sentiment; others founded upon the native songs, to which he gave a wider plan with consummate taste. He printed (1799) his translation from Goethe's play, and becoming acquainted with Ellis, Ritson, Heber, and others of that excellent band of scholars by whom our knowledge of the Middle Ages was placed upon a sure footing, turned resolutely to the study of mediaeval imaginative literature, which (1802) issued in the “Border Minstrelsy."
This book marks the great crisis in Scott's life. Henceforth, even if unconsciously to himself, his real work is literature. The publication was not only the first that made his name known, but led Scott into what proved the most serious basiness transaction of his life. Many years before he had made friends with James Ballantyne, a young man of whose ability and disposition he thought highly. Ballantyne printed the “Minstrelsy;" at Scott's advice he established a house in Edinburgh; and by 1805 the two became partners in trade. Before long, taking a younger brother, John, into the concern, they added a publishing house to the printing; and Scott's fortune and fall were in due time the result. This partnership is on all accounts the least agreeable chapter in Scott's life ; it is only of interest now as illustrating his character. The essence of that character has been defined as an attempt at a practical, not less than at an imaginative compromise between past and present,-between prose (one might almost say) and poetry; ideals realized and realities idealized. The trade-partnership fatally partook in this perilous and delicate compromise. Beside the final loss of wealth and health, Scott's memory has been hence exposed to some misinterpretation. In face of the result, and the clear proofs how it came to pass, he nas received almost equal honours for his practical sense and for his greatness in romantic literature. Two men, in fact, are painted in the one Scott of the “ Biography;"
the able man of the world in his office, and the poet in his study: giving, with equal mastery and ease, an hour to verse and an hour to business, and appearing to his friends meantime as the Scottish gentleman of property. Now, such a compound being as this could hardly have existed. It is against nature: and, if the estimate here given be correct, there is no nature which it is less like than Scott's. Where the poetical character truly exists, it always predominates; it cannot put off the poet like a dress, and assume the lawyer or the laird ; it “moveth altogether, if it move at all.” This point must be insisted on, because it is vital to understanding the man and his work. The very speciality of Scott is, not that he presented the ideal gentleman just described, who wrote poetry and novels as pastime, and entered into business like a shrewd Scotchman who knew the worth of money, but that he valued wealth in order to embody in visible form his inner world of romance, and lived more completely within the circle of his creations than any of his contemporaries. This poetical temperament has its perils, and might have driven a less healthy nature into injurious isolation and eccentricity. But, as a man of eminently sane mind and genial disposition, and fortified by the training of his early years, Scott had not to go out of the world, as it were, in order to “idealize realities." The common duties of life glowed into romance for him; his friends, Lowland and Highland, were dear not only in themselves, but as representatives of the two historical races of the land ; his estate, when he bought one, was rather an enclosure of ancient associations, a park of poetry, if the phrase may be allowed, decorated with "a romance in stone and lime," than what the Lords of Harden and Bowhill would have looked on as landed property.
The picture here drawn, although different from the estimate often taken of Scott, rests upon the evidence of his writings, and of the copious materials contained in the Biography, and not only answers to what we read of his sentiments and mode of thought, conscious or unconscious, but can alone explain how he came to be the author of the poems and the novels. Mr. Lockhart describes him as the finished man of the world. Mr. Carlyle, again, seems to speak of him as, in the main, a manufacturer of hasty books for the purpose of making money and a landed estate to rival neighbouring country-gentlemen. Both views appear to be unintentionally unjust to Scott, and discordant with his recorded character ; and both fail equally to explain how such imaginative writing as his in prose and verse had any room to come into being. Some great artists, we read, have enjoyed the possession of wealth. Others have been gratified by social position. But in what art has the love of money, or the love of rank, ever been the root of masterpieces? Who has moved the world with these levers? You cannot grow poetry without the poetical soil. If at first sight this be less visible in Scott than in men like Byron or Shelley, may not the reason be, not that the nature of the poet was absent, but that it was more closely and curiously combined with the man of common life than in others? The writer, at least, desires to submit this view as the possible solution of a difficult problem.
Walter Scott, it will probably be agreed, ranks among the great of our race, both as a writer and as a man; but in his portrait, as in every true portrait, there are shadows. Some weakness is blended intimately with his strength; as we have poticed, he cannot escape" the weak side of his gifts." His wish was certainly to conceal his inner or poetical mind from the world. Perhaps he sometimes concealed it from himself. One fallacy hence arising (to return now to his commercial affairs), was an overestimate of his practical powers. “From beginning to end, he piqued himself on being a man of business." Against this it is probably enough to set the fact, that the books of his house were never fairly balanced till they were in the hands of his creditors. That the Ballantyne brothers had, each in his way, equally vague ideas on the matter, was known perfectly to Scott, who by 1812 found himself involved in his first difficulties. Then the vast success of the Novels once more floated the house : but although the partnership was enlarged by the ad. mission of a really able commercial man, Constable the publisher, the reckless spirit which his adventurous nature brought with him, combined with the peculiar money-difficulties of 1825, only hastened the concluding bankruptcy of 1826. These twenty years of business, unsound from the outset, have supplied materials for a long dispute, with whom the fault justly rested. But enough has been here stated to explain the general case; we need not go further into a matter of which, with even more than usual truth, one might say that both sides were honestly wrong, and all, partners in a catastrophe for which all were responsible. The so-called men of business and plain commonsense, as we daily see, were not one atom more truly entitled to those epithets than the romantic Poet. But,---what had the “ Ariosto of the North" to do in concerns like this?
A probable element in the ultimate failure of the House of Ballantyne and Company was the fact that the partner with capital sedulously concealed himself from the public. The news that Scott was one of the firm startled the world far more than the news that he was the sole author of the “Waverley Novels." It is obvious in how many ways this concealment must have hampered business. One reason of it was a certain pleasure in mystery, inherent in Scott's nature, and displayed also when “Triermain" and "Harold” were published. The wish was, that both of these poems should be taken for the work of his friend.Erskine. In case of the Novels, however, the desire to escape the nuisance of commonplace praise and face-flattery was a further inducement. It was not so wise a motive that co-operated to prompt the commercial incognito. It might have been expected that be would have been led to avoid this by natural shrewdness, and “the thread of the attorney in him." But the peculiarity of Scott is that something dreamlike and imaginative, together with something practical and prosaic, unites in all the more important phases of his life; past and present, romance and reality,
meet in him at once ; he is in the world and not in it, as it were, at the same time; he is almost too unselfconscious. The favourable side of this strangely balanced nature has been already indicated; it gave us in his Poems and Novels together the most brilliant and the most diversified “spectacle of human life” which we have had since Shakespeare ; it gave Scott himself many years of pure and peculiar happiness. On the other hand, we have the failure, after long-continued struggles, of his material prosperity, and (closely connected with this) the narrow and even unjust view which he always took, or rather, took always in public, of literature and his own share in it. He could not fully work out his ideal of life, however we interpret it ; his career has many curious inconsistencies. There is nothing which Mr. Lockhart notes more pointedly than Scott's aversion from what is called “ literature as a profession.” He endorses with approval, as Scott's own view, the words of a friend, who wrote in 1799 to encourage him in perseverance at the bar, “I rather think men of business have produced as good poetry in their by-hours as the professed regulars : " an assertion of which (it need hardly be added) the writer does not furnish any proof. To the same effect it is added (1815) “that Scott never considered any amount of literary distinction as entitled to be spoken of in the same breath with mastery in the higher departments of practical life. To have done things worthy to be written, was in his eyes a dignity to which no man made any approach, who had only written things worthy to be read;" and the steam-engine, safety-lamp, and campaigns of the Duke of Wellington are presently named as examples.
There can be no doubt that the biographer has here truly reported, not merely what he admired Scott for thinking, but Scott's own conscious idea regarding his life. And if this had been the whole truth, there can equally be no doubt that we should never have had a “Marmion” or a “Bride of Lammermoor.” Indeed, except as the opinion of so distinguished a man as Scott, it would hardly deserve examination. For what human being would seriously pretend to compare with each other things so generically different as a battle, a scientific invention, and a song? In what balances should we weigh “ Othello” and Trafalgar, the commercial policy of Sir Robert Peel and “The Advancement of Learning,”—or decide which has been of most value to England ? How is the one less a “deed” than the other ? Scott's profound modesty as to his own genius was undoubtedly one motive in his estimate of literature ; but even this could not have blinded so sensible a man to its untenability, had he not been swayed by something of that instinct for living an old-world life in the present, which lay at the root of his character. We have here one of his practical anachronisms. He puts himself in the place of the Minstrel of the “Lay” at Newark; he leans to the time when hands were more honoured, at least more powerful, than brains; he wavers in the delicate compromise which was to have united the spirit of Scott of Harden and Scott of Abbotsford. A similar sentiment governs his aversion from “ literature as a pro
fession." Much might be said for and against this feeling ; yet it is hardly more true of Goldsmith, Southey, or Thackeray, that they made letters their profession, than of Walter Scott. Few men whose work can be properly classed as literature have written so much or so continuously; none, probably, have earned more by their writings. What he actually was as a man of business, meanwhile, is recorded in his life. What he was as a lawyer has been described by himself. “My profession and I” (by 1800) “ came to stand nearly upon the footing which honest Slender consoled himself on having established with Mistress Ann Page, There was w great love between us at the beginning, and it pleased Heaven to decrease it on further acquaintance.” In fact, at the point where we left the narrative, Scott, already enriched by his marriage, was about to obtain the Sheriff-deputeship of Selkirkshire ; and soon after (1806) he left the bar for a Clerkship of Session ;affices which together gave him a good income, and had the additional advantage af duties that, except a certain amount of attendance and of rapid and accurate peamanship, were almost nominal. The criticism to which these pleasant places seem to have exposed Scott from those who did not share in his political devotion to the house of Dundas, then paramount in Scotland, was unfair ; but one cannot say that he is entitled to more than the praise of prudence for obtaining ease and leisure by this ancient and easy method :
Deus nobis haec otia fecit !
And, in fact, before the salary from the clerkship, held at first in reversion, fell n, the sale of Scott's works was already beginning, both directly in itself and indirectly through his partnership with the Ballantynes, to surpass, as it before long reduced to comparative insignificance, any sources of revenue, -except those which he thus derived from the “profession of literature.”
Enough, however, has been said on Scott's practical, though morally blameless, inconsistency in this section of his career. Important as the matter of income was for many years to his healthy enjoyment of existence, and at last in giving a direction to his writing, its real importance lies in that to which we gladly turn, -that he was thus enabled to live the life for which he had been planned by Nature. Is not what is most desirable for man contained in this, when “Nature's boly plan" happens to be such as she marked out for Scott? There are several types of a noble life, some of which may be loftier or more striking than his; yet we do Dot see how he could have done his peculiar work otherwise. One of the masters in the highest human knowledge, -the science of man's nature,-defined the perfection of life as “the serene exercise of thought" (we must thus paraphrase Eis own word Theoria), “in a state of independence, and leisure, and security so far as man may attain it, together with a complete measure of his days; for Lothing incomplete can enter into blessedness. Such a life," he however adds, "would be in itself above the height of humanity.” Perhaps Wordsworth