Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

lope itself: and conscious that I have wilfully withheld nothing that might assist the mature reader to arrive at just conclusions, I am by no means desirous of drawing out a detailed statement of my own. I am not going to “peep and botanize” upon his grave. But a few general observations will be forgiven perhaps expected.

I believe that if the history of any one family in upper or middle life could be faithfully written, it might be as generally interesting, and as permanently useful, as that of any nation, however great and renowned. But literature has never produced any worthy book of this class, and probably it never will.

The only lineages in which we can pretend to read personal character far back, with any distinctness, are those of kings and princes, and a few noble houses of the first eminence; and it hardly needed Swift's biting satire to satisfy the student of the past, that the very highest pedigrees are as uncertain as the very lowest. We flatter the reigning monarch, or his haughtier satellite, by tracing in their lineaments the mighty conqueror or profound legislator of a former century. But call up the dead, according to the Dean's incantation, and we might have the real ancestor in some chamberlain, confessor, or musician.

Scott himself delighted, perhaps above all other books, in such as approximate to the character of good family histories, -as for example, Godscroft's

House of Douglas and Angus, and the Memorie of the Somervilles, — which last is, as far as I know, the best of its class in any language; and his reprint of the trivial “ Memorials” of the Haliburtons, to whase dust he is now gathered, was but one of a thousand indications of his anxiety to realize his own ancestry to his imagination. No testamentary deed, instrument of contract, or entry in a parish register seemed valueless to him, if it bore in any manner, however obscure or distant, on the personal history of any of his ascertainable predecessors. The chronicles of the race furnished the fire-side talk to which he listened in infancy at Smailholm, and his first rhymes were those of Satchels. His physical infirmity was reconciled to him, even dignified perhaps, by tracing it back to forefathers who acquired famousness in their own way, in spite of such disadvantages. These studies led by easy and inevitable links to those of the history of his province generally, and then of his native kingdom. The lamp of his zeal burnt on brighter and brighter amidst the dust of parchments; his love and pride vivified whatever he hung over in these dim records, and patient antiquarianism, long brooding and meditating, became gloriously transmuted into the winged spirit of national poetry.

Whatever he had in himself, he would fain have made out a hereditary claim for. He often spoke

VOL. X.

both seriously and sportively on the subject. He had assembled about him in his “ own great parlour," as he called it—the room in which he died—all the pictures of his ancestors that he could come by; and in his most genial evening mood he seemed never to weary of perusing them. The Cavalier of Killiecrankie- brave, faithful, learned, and romantic old “ Beardie,” a determined but melancholy countenance — was never surveyed without a repetition of the solitary Latin rhyme of his Vow. He had, of course, no portraits of the elder heroes of Harden to lecture upon; but a skilful hand had supplied the same wall with a fanciful delineation of the rough wooing of “ Meikle-mouthed Meg;" and the only historical picture, properly so called, that he ever bespoke was to be taken (for it was never executed) from the Raid o' the Redswire, when

- " The Laird's Wat, that worthy man,
Brought in that surname weel beseen;

And

The Rutherfords with great renown,
Convoyed the town o' Jedbrugh out.”

The ardent but sagacious “goodman of Sandyknowe” hangs by the side of his father, “ Bearded Wat;" and often, when moralizing in his latter day over the doubtful condition of his ultimate fortunes, Sir Walter would point to “ Honest Robin,” and say, “ Blood will out:—my building and planting was but his buying the hunter before he stocked his sheep-walk over again.” “ And yet," I once heard him say, glancing to the likeness of his own staid calculating father, “ it was a wonder, too—for I have a thread of the attorney in me.” And so, no doubt, he had ; for the “ elements” were mingled in him curiously, as well as “gently."

An imagination such as his, concentrating its daydreams on things of this order, soon shaped out a world of its own— to which it would fain accommodate the real one. The love of his country became indeed a passion ; no knight ever tilted for his mistress, more willingly than he would have bled and died, to preserve even the airiest surviving nothing of her antique pretensions for Scotland. But the Scotland of his affections had the clan Scott for her kernel. Next and almost equal to the throne was Buccleuch. Fancy rebuilt and most prodigally embellished the whole system of the social existence of the middle ages, in which the clansman (wherever there were clans) acknowledged practically no sovereign but his chief. The author of “ the Lay” would rather have seen his heir carry the Banner of Bellenden gallantly at a foot-ball match on Carterhaugh, than he would have heard that the boy had attained the highest honours of the first university in Europe. His original pride was to be an acknowledged mem

ber of one of the “honourable families” whose progenitors had been celebrated by Satchels for following this banner in blind obedience to the patriarchal leader; his first and last worldly ambition was to be himself the founder of a distinct branch; he desired to plant a lasting root, and dreamt not of personal fame, but of long distant generations rejoicing in the name of “ Scott of Abbotsford.” By this idea all his reveries—all his aspirations—all his plans and efforts, were overshadowed and controlled. The great object and end only rose into clearer day-light, and swelled into more substantial dimensions, as public applause strengthened his confidence in his own powers and faculties; and when he had reached the summit of universal and unrivalled honour, he clung to his first love with the faith of a Paladin. It is easy enough to smile at all this; many will not understand it, and some who do may pity it. But it was at least a different thing from the modern vulgar ambition of amassing a fortune and investing it in land. The lordliest vision of acres would have had little charm for him, unless they were situated on Ettrick or Yarrow, or in

" Pleasant Tiviedale Fast by the river Tweed”

--somewhere within the primeval territory of “ the Rough Clan.”

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »