Слике страница

drover, in which he amassed a handsome fortune. By his marriage he acquired a part of Dryburg, in 1826 the property of the Earl of Buchan, and which comprehended the ruins of Dryburg Abbey. This estate would have devolved upon the father of the author but for the silliness of a granduncle, who became bankrupt, and the whole patrimony was sold for a trifle. We find the following sketch of his father in the words of the eminent son himself :

“Walter Scott, my father, was born in 1729, and educated to the profession of a writer to the Signet. He was the eldest of a large family, several of whom I shall have occasion to mention with a tribute of sincere gratitude. My father was a singular instance of a man rising to eminence in a profession for which nature had in some degree unfitted him. He had indeed a turn for labour, and a pleasure in analysing the abstruse feudal doctrines connected with conveyancing, which would probably have rendered him unrivalled in the line of a special pleader, had there been such a profession in Scotland; but in the actual business of the profession which he embraced, in that sharp and intuitive perception which is necessary in driving bargains for himself and others, in availing bimself of the wants, necessities, caprices, and follies of some, and guarding against the knavery and malice of others, uncle Toby himself could not have conducted himself with more simplicity than my father. Most attorneys have been suspected, more or less justly, of making their own fortune at the expense of their clients-my father's fate was to vindicate his calling from the stain in one instance, for in many cases his clients contrived to ease him of considerable sums. Many worshipful and benighted names occur to my memory, who did him the honour to run in his debt to the amount of thousands, and to pay him with a lawsuit, or a commission of bankruptcy, as the case happened. But they are gone to a different accounting, and it would be ungenerous 10 visit their disgrace upon their descendants. My father was wont also to give openings, to those who were pleased to take them, to pick a quarrel with him. He had a zeal for his clients which was almost ludicrous: far from coldly discharging the duties of his employment towards them, he thought for them, felt for their honour as for his own, and rather risked disobliging them than neglecting any thing to which he conceived their duty bound them. If there was an old mother or aunt to be maintained, he was, I am afraid, too apt to administer to their necessities from what the young heir had destined exclusively to his pleasures. This ready discharge of obligations, which the civilians tell us are only natural and not legal, did not, I fear, recommend him to his employers. Yet his practice was, at one period of his life, very extensive. He understood his business theoretically, and was early iniroduced to it by a partnership with George Chalmers, writer to the Signet, under whom he had served his apprenticeship.

“His person and face were uncommonly handsome, with an expression of sweetness of temper, which was not fallacious; his manners were rather formal, but full of genuine kindness, especially when exercising the duties of hospitality. His general habits were not only temperate, but severely abstemious; but upon a festival occasion, there were few whom a moderate glass of wine exhilarated to such a lively degree. His religion, in which he was devoutly sincere, was Calvinism of the strictest kind, and his favourite study related to church history. I suspect the good old man was often engaged with Knox and Spottiswoode's folios, when, immured in his solitary room, he was supposed to be immersed in professional researches. In his political principles he was a steady friend to freedom, with a bias, however, to the monarchical part of our constitution, which he considered as peculiarly exposed to danger during the later years of his life. He had much of ancient Scotish prejudice respecting the forms of marriages, funerals, christenings, and so forth, and was always vexed at any neglect of etiquette upon such occasions. As his education had not been upon an enlarged plan, it could not be expected that he should be an enlightened scholar, but he had not passed through a busy life without observation; and his remarks upon times and manners often exhibited strong traits of practical though untaught philosophy."

In April, 1758, his father married Anne Rutherford, the eldest daughter of Dr. John Rutherford, a pupil of Boerhaave, and a professor of medicine in the University of Edinburgh. This gentleman was twice married ; and his first wife (of whom the mother of our author, at the time when he recorded the fact, was the only surviving child) was the daughter of Sir John Swinton of Swinton, “a family which produced many distinguished warriors during the middle ages, and which for antiquity and honourable alliances may rank with any in Britain." This is the language used by the famous issue himself—and illustrates his partiality for the claim of gentle birth, to which it seems he was well entitled. Mr. Cunningham speaks of him, in a passage employed in the preface to the Lay, to which we have alluded, as “a proud man: not a proud poet, or historian, or novelist; but he loved to be looked upon as a gentleman of old family, who built Abbotsford, and laid out its gardens, and planted its avenues, rather than a genius whose works influenced mankind and diffused happiness among millions.” Speaking of his father's family, our autobiographer observes that it was very numerous-"no fewer, I believe, than twelve children”-a number, one would fancy, not so very high as to puzzle the memory for precision in the case. The eldest brother was Robert Scott, who was in the king's service under Captain (afterwards Admiral) Dixon, and shared the danger of most of Rodney's battles. He was not only a sea-warrior, but a poet; since, according to his brother's account, “he had a strong turn for literature, read poetry with taste and judgment, and composed verses himself which gained him great applause ainong his messmates.” Marine criticism, however, is not the most final or decisive in the world; for it is exercised upon a theatre where yarns and ballads pluck the brightest honours. There are few Dibdins, indeed, to act as umpires in literary achievements at sea. The ipse dixit of his near kinsman, therefore, is worth more for the sea-faring Scott than all the suffrages of his fellow-sovers on the wave. After the peace of Paris, promotion at sea being out of the question, except among those who had great interest, Robert entered the East India Company's service, and after two voyages died in the East. John, a second brother, major in the second battalion, seventythird regiment, died, yet a young man, in May, 1816. The only sister of the novelist, Anne Scott, also died young. After suffering much from various accidents---for her existence seems to have been a peculiarly hapless one—the remote cause of her death was her cap accidentally taking fire, by which her head was dreadfully burnt, and from the fearful effects of which she never recovered. She was the junior of the great minstrel by about a year. A year lower in the list in the sequence of age was Thomas Scott, a man of fine humour and talent, who died in Canada, while holding the office of paymaster of the seventy-fifth regiment.

Having now brought the history of his immediate family down to himself

, we give the annals of the author partly in his own words, and, where the text is too copious, by synopsis. It will be seen, as the reader proceeds, that hours of sickness and suffering awaited the early career of the romancer, insomuch that he may be said to have experienced in the two extremes of his life-in youth as well as in his decline—that feebleness and incertitude of duration which usually pertain alone to the evening of age. Those physical afflictions which break down the pride of manly hearts, and fill them with the tender thoughts and affections of juvenile days, appear to have had no other effect upon young Scott, when they visited him in the flower of his prime, than to turn the eye of his spirit inward ; to reveal to him, perhaps, dim foreshadowings of his future power and greatness, and should the contingency of long lise be vouchsafed to him-gorgeous types of glory to come ; and to impress him with a feeling, that, as life to him was peculiarly uncertain, it behoved him to improve the time while it was as yet called to-day. Doubtless he applied to himself, in spirit at least, that exquisite moral of the Hydriotaphia :-“If we begin to die when we live, and long life be but a prolongation of death, our life is a sad composition ; we live with death, and die not in a moment." May it not have been from a wavering apprehension that he lived, as it were, “to die daily,” that he so redeemed his time? But we detain the reader from his records.

“I was born, as I believe, on the 15th August, 1771, in a house belonging to my father, at the head of the College Wynd. It was pulled down, with others, to make room for the northern front of the new college. Í was an uncommonly healthy child, but had nearly died in consequence of my first nurse being ill of a consumption, a circumstance which she chose to conceal, though to do so was was murder to both herself and me. She went privately to consult Dr. Black, the celebrated professor of chemistry, who put my father on his guard. The woman was dismissed, and I was consigned to a healthy peasant, who is still alive to boast of her laddie being what she calls a grand gentleman. I showed every sign of health and strength until I was about eighteen months old. One night, I have been often told, I showed great reluctance to be caught and put to bed, and after being chased about the room, was apprehended and consigned to my dormitory with some difficulty. It was the last time I was to show such personal agility. In the morning I was discovered to be affected with the fever which often accompanies the cutting of large teeth. It held me three days. On the fourth, when they went to bathe me as usual, they discovered that I had lost the power of my right leg. My grandfather, an excellent anatomist as well as physician, the late worthy Alexander Wood, and many others of the most respectable of the faculty, were consulted. There appeared to be no dislocation or sprain; blisters and other topical remedies were applied in vain. When the efforts of regular physicians had been exhausted, without the slightest success, my anxious parents, during the course of many years, eagerly grasped at every prospect of cure which was held out by the promise of empirics, or of ancient ladies or gentlemen who conceived themselves entitled to recommend various remedies, some of which were of a nature sufficiently singular. Bui the advice of my grandfather, Dr. Rutherford, that I should be sent to reside in the country, to give the chance of natural exertion, excited by free air and liberty, was first resorted to, and before I have the recollection of the slightest event, I was, agreeably to his friendly counsel, an inmate in the farm-house of SandyKnowe.

“ An odd incident is worth recording. It seems my mother had sent a maid to take charge of me, that I might be no inconvenience in the family. But the damsel sent on that important mission had left her heart behind her, in the keeping of some wild fellow, it is likely, who had done and said more to her than he was like to make good. She became extremely desirous to return to Edinburgh, and as my mother made a point of her remaining where she was, she contracted a sort of hatred to poor me, as the cause of her being detained at Sandy-Knowe. This arose, I suppose, lo a sort of delirious affection, for she confessed to old Alison Wilson, the housekeeper, that she had carried me up to the Craigs, meaning, under a strong temptation of the devil, to cut my throat with her scissors, and bury me in the moss. Alison instantly took possession of my person, and took care that her confidant should not be subject to any farther temptation, so far as I was concerned. She was dismissed, of course, and I have heard became afterwards a lunatic.

“It is here at Sandy-Knowe, in the residence of my paternal grandfather, already mentioned, that I have the first consciousness of existence; and I recollect distinctly that my situation and appearance were a little whimsical. Among the odd remedies recurred to to aid my larneness, some one had recommended that so often as a sheep was killed for the use of the family, I should be stripped, and swathed up in the skin warm as it was flayed from the carcass of the animal. In this Tartar-like habiliment I well remember lying upon the floor of the little parlour in the farm-house, while my grandfather, a venerable old man with white hair, used every excitement to make me try to crawl. I also distinctly remember the late Sir George MacDougal of Makerstoun, father of the present Sir Henry Hay MacDougal, joining in this kindly attempt. He was, God knows how, a relation of ours, and I still recollect him in his old-fashioned military habit, (he had been colonel of the Greys,) with a small cocked hat, deeply laced, an embroidered scarlet waistcoat, and a light-coloured coat, with milk-white locks tied in a military fashion, kneeling on the ground before me, and dragging his watch along the carpet to induce me to follow it. The benevolent old soldier and the infant wrapped in his sheep-skin would have afforded an odd group to uninterested spectators. This must have happened about my third year, for Sir George MacDougal and my grandfather both died shortly after that period."

He lived at Sandy-Knowe for some years, during which time the heat of the American war attained its highest intensity; and we regret to see in his record, that he was as anxious to hear of the defeat of General Washington as if he had had some deep and personal cause of antipathy to him." The political sentiments of the boy were tinctured therefore with toryismnor is it unnatural that they should have been. Surrounded with memorials of the departed grandeur of kingly legitimates on every hand; imbibing, from every page and ruin and tower that met his eye, a reverential feeling for the remnants of regal blazon, or the registers of monarchical domination, it is no marvel that his sympathies should have been captivated by lore so eventful, and objects so impressive. His was a peculiar spirit for the reception of the seeds of toryism; they fell on good ground, and brought forth abundantly. This sentiment grew with his growth and strengthened with his strength; and let us not complain of his memory, if it urged his genius to efforts which otherwise might have remained to this hour unattempted in prose or rhyme. Respecting his prejudice.against Washington he observes :-" I know not how this was combined with a very strong prejudice in favour of the Stuart family, which I had originally imbibed from the tales and songs of the Jacobites" ---which latter propensity, he informs us, was deeply confirmed by the stories he heard of the cruel executions at Carlisle, and in the Highlands, after the battle of Culloden. One or two of his distant relations had been killed on that occasion; and a Mr. Curl, husband to an aunt of his, had seen them executed. This increased his impressions of hatred against the name of Cumberland. He proceeds to give the subjoined account of the first impulses given to his mind towards romance and border chivalry. The recital is of high interest, as serving to show the gradations by which the stormy soul of battle-minstrelsy acquired dominion over his mind.

“The local information, which I conceive had some share in forming my future taste and pursuits, I derived from the old songs and tales which then formed the amusement of a retired country family. My grandmother, in whose youth the old Border depredations were matter of recent tradition, used to tell me many a tale of Watt of Harden, Wight Willie of Aikwood, Jamie Tellfer of the fair Dodhead, and other beroes -merrymen all of the persuasion and calling of Robin Hood and Little John. A more recent hero, but not of less note, was the celebrated Diel of Littledean, whom she well remembered, as he had married her mother's sister. Of this extraordinary person I learned many a story, grave and gay, comic and warlike. Two or three old books which lay in the window-seat were explored for my amusement in the tedious winter

VOL. XXII.-NO. 43. 27

« ПретходнаНастави »