Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

INFLUENCE OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

253

Show'd the monk's cowl and visage pale,
Danced on the dark-brow'd warrior's mail,

And kiss'd his waving plume.
Before their eyes the wizard lay
As if he had not been dead a day.

#

• Now, speed thee what thou hast to do,
Or, warrior, we may dearly rue;
For those thou mayest not look upon
Are gathering fast round the yawning stone!'
Then Deloraine, in terror, took
From the cold hand the mighty book,
With iron clasp'd and with iron bound;
He thought, as he took it, the dead man frown'd;
But the glare of the sepulchral light

Perchance had dazzled the warrior's sight.” The escape of the soldier from the supernatural spot into the fresh morning air fitly closes the description :

“ The knight breath'd free in the morning wind,
And strove his hardihood to find.
He was glad when he pass'd the tombstones grey
Which girdled round the fair Abbaye !

*

Full fain was he when the dawn of day
Began to brighten Cheviot grey;
He joy'd to see the cheerful light,

And he said Ave Mary as well as he might.” Scott's second poem showed another influence at work upon his mind. Although just entering manhood when Europe was startled by the outbreak of the French Revolution, he appears not to have been much affected by that great convulsion. With the times that succeeded it was widely different.

The mighty military genius of Buonaparte was sweeping in every direction with the swiftness of a destroying wind. In every quarter of Europe—to borrow a figurative illustration from a usage in times of danger in ancient Greece-might be seen on the walls of the towns the signal of torches waved in tumultuous consternation. It is an interesting fact in Scott's history that his authorship began when the military fervour was at its height. Napoleon's meditated invasion of Great Britain was stirring the latent energies of the nation. Among his own countrymen Scott saw the ancient martial spirit of their ancestors—the decline of which he had mourned over-reanimated, and, like the spectre of the elder Hamlet, bursting its cerements and starting from the tomb in arms. Edinburgh was converted into a camp; citizens of all classes wore the military dress, and upwards of ten thousand volunteers were constantly under arms, and beacon-fires were kept in readiness along the coast and through the mountains. In all this Scott took a large and active part. The zeal with which he shared in the military movements of his countrymen suggested to him afterwards that spirited chapter at the close of “The Antiquary,” describing the false alarm from the mistaken firing of one of the beacons. The notes added to that fine novel, after the lapse of many years, still manifest the same deep feelings in recording some interesting recollections of that agitating period :

Through the border counties the alarm spread with rapidity ; and on no occasion, when that country was the scene of perpetual and unceasing war, was the summons to arms more rapidly obeyed. In Berwickshire, Roxburghshire, and Selkirkshire, the volunteers and militia got under arms with a degree of rapidity and alacrity which, considering the distance individuals lived from each other, had something in it very surprising : they poured to the alarm-posts on the sea-coast in a state so well armed and so completely appointed, with baggage, provisions, &c., as was accounted by the best military judges to render them fit for instant and effectual service. .... Two members of the Selkirkshire yeomanry chanced to be absent from their homes and in Edinburgh on private business, when that corps made a remarkable march. The latelymarried wife of one of these gentlemen, and the widowed mother of the other, sent the arms, uniforms, and chargers of the two troopers, that they might join their companions at Dalkeith. The author was very much struck by the answer made to him by the last-mentioned lady, when he paid her some compliment on the readiness which she showed in equipping her son with the means of meeting danger, when she might have left him a fair excuse for remaining absent. 'Sir,' she replied, with the spirit of a Roman matron, 'none can know better than you that my son is the only prop by which, since his father's death, our family is supported. But I would rather see him dead on that hearth than hear he had been a horse's length behind his companions in the defence of his king and country. The writer mentions what was immediately under his own eye and within his own knowledge; but the spirit was universal, wherever the alarm reached, both in Scotland and England."

This was the period of the composition of “Marmion.” Many of the most energetic descriptions were conceived while he was in quarters with the cavalry; and it was his delight, while composing, to walk his

* Notes to “ The Antiquary."

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

spurs, to

powerful steed up and down upon the Porto Bello sands, within the beating of the surge, and now and then plunging in his

go

off as at the charge, with the spray dashing about him. This was the hot enthusiasm of a soldier-poet; and the fruit of it was the most stirring description of a battle that ever was realized by a poet's imagination to the imagination of his reader. The passage is too well known for me to quote from ; but observe the admirable representation in these four or five lines of the approach of the Scottish army :

« Nor martial shout nor minstrel tone

Announced their march: their tread alone,
At times one warning trumpet blown,

At times a stifled hum,
Told England, from his mountain-throne

King James did rushing come!” But the single stroke of description which, more than any other, shows Scott's mastery in this department of poetry, is that vivid appeal to the imagination in the first intimation of Marmion's fate. As a matter of fact, nothing is told of him; as a matter of imagination, everything is told in the lines,

* Fast as shaft can fly,
Bloodshot his eyes, his nostrils spread,
The loose rein dangling from his head,
Housing and saddle bloody red,
Lord Marmion's steed rush'd by."

In noticing the martial tone of Scott's poetry, I am reminded of a tribute paid to one of his poems which is one of the finest acknowledyments on record to the power of verse. When the “Lady of the Lake was published, Scott's friend, Captain Adam Ferguson, was serving in the Peninsular War. When a copy of the poem reached him, he was posted on a point of ground somewhere on the lines of Torres Vedras, 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 description of the battle in the sixth canto, and the listening soldiers interrupting him only by a joyous huzza whenever the French shot struck the banks close above them.”

Was ever poem recited under such circumstances ?--enough of danger for pleasurable excitement, with enough of security for attention.

What a subject for the painter,--for Wilkie, for instance, a friend both of Scott and Ferguson, familiar, too, as he chances to be, both with Scottish character and Spanish landscape. The Highlanders, not unused to a minstrelsy, grouping around the reader, interchanging looks of sympathy and delight; the sturdy soldier casting off a tear, half angry

at his inability to check the proverbial sympathy of a mountaineer at the mention of his distant home, the hills and the lakes of Scotland brought before him by the poet's question,

“ Where shall he find, in foreign land,

So lone a lake, so sweet a strand ?”

Some one, perhaps, waving his arm at the same time with a half-uttered huzza, as the shot from the enemy's battery scatter the broken branches of the olive-tree over the group; others, more impetuous, starting from their recumbent posture as the array of Scottish standards is called up by these lines :

“ Is it the thunder's solemn sound

That mutters deep and dread ?
Or echoes from the groaning ground

The warrior's measured tread ?
Is it the lightning's quivering glance

That on the thicket streams ?
Or do they flash on spear and lance

The sun's retiring beams ?
I see the dagger-crest of Mar,

I see the Moray's silver star
Wave o'er the cloud of Saxon war

That up the lake comes winding far.
To hero bound for battle-strife,

Or bard of martial lay,
'Twere worth ten years of peaceful life, ---

A glance at that array !”

After the “Lady of the Lake,” Scott found his popularity waning, and perhaps his poetic resources exhausted; for he was not a man to recognise a poet's solemn responsibility of cultivating his imagination by laborious meditation. The power he had employed with such brilliant success never left him. He was the minstrel still, even in his later years, when calamities weighed heavily upon him. On one occasion, amid his commercial difficulties, he chanced to be reading the historical account of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee's, leaving Edinburgh, in 1688, and making a last and dying effort to rally the Highlanders in support of the house of Stuart. It inspired the animated stanzas of “ Bonny Dundee.” “I know not,” he wrote in his diary, “what could have induced me to take a frisk so uncommon of late as to write verses. I sup

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

pose the same impulse that makes the birds sing after the storm is blown over."

“ To the Lords of Convention 't was Claver’se who spoke :

• Ere the king's crown shall fall, there are crowns to be broke;
So let each cavalier who loves honour and me,
Come follow the bonnet of bonny Dundee !'

Come, fill up my cup; come, fill up my can;
Come, saddle your horses and call up your men;
Come, open the west port and let me gang free,

And it's room for the bonnets of bonny Dundee !
“ Dundee he is mounted and rides up the street,
The bells are rung backwards, the drums they are beat,
But the provost, douce man, said . Just e'en let him be ;
The gude town is well quit of that deil of Dundee!'

Come, fill up my cup, &c.
“ As he rode down the sanctified bends of the Bow,

Ilk carline was flying and shaking her pow;
But the young plants of grace they look'd couthie and slee,
Thinking 'Luck to thy bonnet, thou bonny Dundee !

Come, fill up my cup, &c.
“ With sour-featured Whigs the Grass-market was cramm’d,

As if half the West had set tryst to be hang'd ;
There was spite in each look, there was fear in each ee,
As they watch'd for the bonnets of bonny Dundee!

Come, fill up my cup, &c.
" The cowls of Kilmarnock had spits and had spears,

And lang-hafted gullies to kill cavaliers;
But they shrunk to close heads, and the causeway was free
At the toss of the bonnet of bonny Dundee !

Come, fill up my cup, &c.
He spurr'd to the foot of the proud castle-rock,

And with the gay Gordon he gallantly spoke :-
* Let Mons Meg and her marrows speak twa words or three,
For the love of the bonnet of bonny Dundee!'

Come, fill up my cup, &c.
“ The Gordon demands of him which way he goes :

• Where'er shall direct me the shade of Montrose !
Your Grace in short space shall hear tidings of me,'
Or that low lies the bonnet of bonny Dundee !

Come, fill up my cup, &c.
"" There are hills beyond Pentland, and lands beyond Forth;

If there's lords in the Lowlands, there 's chiefs in the North :
There are wild Dunnies wassals three thousand times three
Will cry hoigh' for the bonnets of bonny Dundee !

Come, fill up my cup, &C.,

[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »