Изображения страниц

own dear Border-land. This system knew nothing of commerce—as little certainly of literature beyond the raid-ballad of the wandering harper, —

“ High placed in hall — a welcome guest.”

His filial reverence of imagination shrunk from marring the antique, if barbarous, simplicity. I suspect that at the highest elevation of his literary renownwhen princes bowed to his name, and nations thrilled at it—he would have considered losing all that at a change of the wind, as nothing, compared to parting with his place as the Cadet of Harden and Clansman of Buccleuch, who had, no matter by what means, reached such a position, that when a notion arose of embodying “ a Buccleuch legion,” not a Scott in the Forest would have thought it otherwise than natural for Abbotsford to be one of the field-officers. I can, therefore, understand that he may have, from the very first, exerted the dispensing power of imagination very liberally, in virtually absolving himself from dwelling on the wood of which his ladder was to be constructed. Enough was said in a preceding chapter of the obvious fact, that the author of such a series of romances as his, must have, to all intents and purposes, lived more than half his life in worlds purely fantastic. In one of the last obscure and faltering pages of his Diary he says, that if any one asked him how much of his thought was occupied by the novel then in hand, the answer would have been, that in one sense it never occupied him except when the amanuensis sat before him, but that in another it was never five minutes out of his head. Such, I have no doubt, the case had always been. But I must be excused from doubting whether, when the substantive fiction actually in process of manufacture was absent from his mind, the space was often or voluntarily occupied (no positive external duty interposing) upon the real practical worldly position and business of the Clerk of Session--of the Sheriff, — least of all of the printer or the bookseller.

The sum is, if I read him aright, that he was always willing, in his ruminative moods, to veil, if possible, from his own optics the kind of machinery by which alone he had found the means of attaining his darling objects. Having acquired a perhaps unparalleled power over the direction of scarcely paralleled faculties, he chose to exert his power in this manner. On no other supposition can I find his history intelligible ; — I mean, of course, the great obvious and marking facts of his history; for I hope I have sufficiently disclaimed all pretension to a thorough-going analysis. He appears to have studiously escaped from whatever could have interfered with his own enjoyment — to have revelled in the fair results, and waved the wand of obliterating magic over all besides ; and persisted so long, that (like the sorcerer he celebrates) he became the dupe of his own delusions. · It is thus that (not forgetting the subsidiary influence of professional Edinburgh prejudices) I am inclined, on the whole, to account for his initiation in the practice of mystery — a thing, at first sight, so alien from the frank, open, generous nature of a man, than whom none ever had or deserved to have more real friends.

The indulgence cost him very dear. It ruined his fortunes — but I can have no doubt that it did worse than that. I cannot suppose that a nature like his was fettered and shut up in this way without suffering very severely from the “ cold obstruction.” There must have been a continual “ insurrection” in his “ state of man ;” and, above all, I doubt not that what gave him the bitterest pain in the hour of his calamities, was the feeling of compunction with which he then found himself obliged to stand before those with whom he had, through life, cultivated brotherlike friendship, convicted of having kept his heart closed to them on what they could not but suppose to have been the chief subjects of his thought and anxiety, in times when they withheld nothing from him. These, perhaps, were the “ written troubles” that had been cut deepest into his brain. I think they were, and believe it the more, because it was never acknowledged.

If he had erred in the primary indulgence out of which this sprang, he at least made noble atonement.

During the most energetic years of manhood he laboured with one prize in view; and he had just grasped it, as he fancied, securely, when all at once the vision was dissipated : he found himself naked and desolate as Job. How he nerved himself against the storm - how he felt and how he resisted it how soberly, steadily, and resolvedly he contemplated the possibility of yet, by redoubled exertions, in so far retrieving his fortunes, as that no man should lose by having trusted those for whom he had been pledged — how well he kept his vow, and what price it cost him to do so, — all this the reader, I doubt not, appreciates fully. It seems to me that strength, of character was never put to a severer test than when, for labours of love, such as his had hitherto almost always been — the pleasant exertion of genius for the attainment of ends that owed all their dignity and beauty to a poetical fancy — there came to be substituted the iron pertinacity of daily and nightly toil, in the discharge of a duty which there was nothing but the sense of chivalrous honour to make stringent.

It is the fond indulgence of gay fancy in all the previous story that gives its true value and dignity

to the voluntary agony of the sequel, when, indeed, he appears

- “Sapiens, sibique imperiosus ;
Quem neque pauperies, neque mors, neque vincula terrent;
Responsare cupidinibus, contemnere honores,
Fortis ; et in seipso totus, teres atque rotundus,
Externi ne quid valeat per læve morari;
In quem manca ruit semper Fortuna."

The attentive reader will not deny that every syllable of this proud ideal has been justified to the letter. But though he boasted of stoicism, his heroism was something far better than the stoic's; for it was not founded on a haughty trampling down of all delicate and tender thoughts and feelings. He lays his heart bare in his Diary; and we there read, in characters that will never die, how the sternest resolution of a philosopher may be at once quickened and adorned by the gentlest impulses of that spirit of love, which alone makes poetry the angel of life. This is the moment in which posterity will desire to fix his portraiture. It is then, truly, that

“ He sits, ’mongst men, like a descended god;

He hath a kind of honour sets him off
More than a mortal seeming."

But the noble exhibition was not a fleeting one; it was not that a robust mind elevated itself by a fierce effort for the crisis of an hour. The martyrdom

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »