LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
Chapter VIII 1810

Vol I Preface
Vol. I Contents.
Chapter I
Chapter II 1771-78
Chapter III 1778-83
Chapter IV 1783-86
Chapter V 1786-90
Chapter VI 1790-92
Chapter VII 1792-96
Chapter VIII 1796-97
Chapter IX 1798-99
Chapter X 1800-02
Chapter XI 1802-03
Chapter XII 1803-04
Vol. II Contents.
Chapter I 1804-05
Chapter II 1805
Chapter III 1806
Chapter IV 1806-08
Chapter V 1808
Chapter VI 1808-09
Chapter VII 1809-10
‣ Chapter VIII 1810
Chapter IX 1810
Chapter X 1810-11
Chapter XI 1811
Chapter XII 1811-12
Vol. III Contents.
Chapter I 1812-13
Chapter II 1813
Chapter III 1814
Chapter IV 1814
Chapter V 1814
Chapter VI 1814
Chapter VII 1814
Chapter VIII 1814
Chapter IX 1814
Chapter X 1814-15
Chapter XI 1815
Chapter XII 1815
Vol III Appendix
Vol. IV Contents.
Chapter I 1816
Chapter II 1817
Chapter III 1817
Chapter IV 1818
Chapter V 1818
Chapter VI 1818
Chapter VII 1818-19
Chapter VIII 1819
Chapter IX 1819
Chapter X 1819
Chapter XI 1820
Chapter XII 1820
Vol. V Contents.
Chapter I 1820
Chapter II 1820-21
Chapter III 1821
Chapter IV 1821
Chapter V 1821
Chapter VI 1821
Chapter VII 1822
Chapter VIII 1822
Chapter IX 1822-23
Chapter X 1823
Chapter XI 1823
Chapter XII 1824
Chapter XIII 1824-25
Vol. VI Contents.
Chapter I 1825
Chapter II 1825
Chapter III 1825
Chapter IV 1825
Chapter V 1826
Chapter VI 1826
Chapter VII 1826
Chapter VIII 1826
Chapter IX 1826
Chapter X 1826
Chapter XI 1826
Vol. VII Contents.
Vol VII Preface
Chapter I 1826-27
Chapter II 1827
Chapter III 1828
Chapter IV 1828
Chapter V 1829
Chapter VI 1830
Chapter VII 1830-31
Chapter VIII 1831
Chapter IX 1831
Chapter X 1831-32
Chapter XI 1832
Chapter XII
Vol VII Appendix
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There occurred, while the latter cantos of the Lady of the Lake were advancing through the press, an affair which gave Scott so much uneasiness, that I must not pass it in silence. Each Clerk of Session had in those days the charge of a particular office or department in the Great Register House of Scotland, and the appointment of the subalterns, who therein recorded and extracted the decrees of the Supreme Court, was in his hands. Some of these situations, remunerated, according to a fixed rate of fees, by the parties concerned in the suits before the Court, were valuable, and considered not at all below the pretensions of gentlemen who had been regularly trained for the higher branches of the law. About the time when Thomas Scott’s affairs as a Writer to the Signet fell into derangement, but before they were yet hopeless, a post became vacant in his brother’s office, which yielded an average income of L.400, and which he would very willingly have accepted. The Poet, however, considered a respectable man, who had grown grey at an inferior desk in the same depart-
ment, as entitled to promotion, and exerted the right of patronage in his favour accordingly, bestowing on his brother the place which this person left. It was worth about L.250 a-year, and its duties being entirely mechanical, might be in great part, and often had been in former times entirely, discharged by deputy. Mr Thomas Scott’s appointment to this Extractorship took place at an early stage of the proceedings of that Commission for enquiring into the Scotch System of Judicature, which had the poet for its secretary, Thomas, very soon afterwards, was compelled to withdraw from Edinburgh, and retired, as has been mentioned, to the Isle of Man, leaving his official duties to the care of a substitute, who was to allow him a certain share of the fees, until circumstances should permit his return. It was not, however, found so easy, as he and his friends had anticipated, to wind up his accounts, and settle with his creditors. Time passed on, and being an active man, in the prime vigour of life, he accepted a commission in the Manx Fencibles, a new corps raised by the Lord of that island, the
Duke of Athol, who willingly availed himself of the military experience which Mr Scott had acquired in the course of his long connexion with the Edinburgh Volunteers. These Manx Fencibles, however, were soon dissolved, and Thomas Scott, now engaged in the peaceful occupation of collecting materials for a History of the Isle of Man, to which his brother had strongly directed his views, was anxiously expecting a final arrangement, which might allow him to re-establish himself in Edinburgh, and resume his seat in the Register House, when he received the intelligence that the Commission of Judicature had resolved to abolish that, among many other similar posts. This was a severe blow; but it was announced, at the same time, that the Commission meant to recommend to Parliament a scheme
of compensation for the functionaries who were to be discharged at their suggestion, and that his retired allowance would probably amount to L.130 per annum.

In the spring of 1810, the Commission gave in its report, and was dissolved; and a bill, embodying the details of an extensive reform, founded on its suggestions, was laid before the House of Commons, who adopted most of its provisions, and among others passed, without hesitation, the clauses respecting compensation for the holders of abolished offices. But when the bill reached the House of Lords, several of these clauses were severely reprobated by some Peers of the Whig party, and the case of Thomas Scott, in particular, was represented as a gross and flagrant job. The following extract from Hansard’s Debates will save me the trouble of further details:

Thomas Scott.

The Earl of Lauderdale moved an amendment, ‘that those only be remunerated who were mentioned in the schedule.’ The application of this amendment was towards the compensation intended for Mr Thomas Scott, the brother of Walter Scott. It appeared the former was appointed to the office of an Extractor at a time when it must have been foreseen that those offices would be abolished. Mr Thomas Scott had not been connected previously with that sort of situation, but was recruiting for the Manx Fencibles in the Isle of Man at the time, and had not served the office, but performed its duties through the means of a deputy. He considered this transaction a perfect job. By the present bill Mr T. Scott would have L.130 for life as an indemnity for an office, the duties of which he never had performed, while those clerks who had laboured for twenty years had no adequate remuneration.

Viscount Melville supported the general provisions of the bill. With respect to Mr T. Scott, he certainly had been in business, had met with misfortunes, and on account of his circumstances went to the Isle of Man; but with respect to his appointment, this was the fact; a situation in the same office [of the Register House] with that of his brother, of L.400, became vacant, and he [Walter
Scott] thought it his duty to promote a person who had meritoriously filled the situation which was afterwards granted to Mr T. Scott. His brother was therefore so disinterested as to have appointed him to the inferior instead of the superior situation. The noble viscount saw no injustice in the case, and there was no partiality but what was excusable.

Lord Holland thought no man who knew him would suspect that he was unfavourable to men of literature; on the contrary, he felt a great esteem for the literary character of Walter Scott. He and his colleagues ever thought it their duty to reward literary merit without regard to political opinions; and he wished he could pay the same compliment to the noble and learned viscount, for he must ever recollect that the poet Burns, of immortal memory, had been shamefully neglected. But with respect to Mr Thomas Scott, the question was quite different, for he was placed in a situation which he and his brother knew at the time would be abolished; and from Parliament he claimed an indemnity for what could not be pronounced any loss. It was unjust as regarded others, and improper as it respected Parliament.

“The amendment was then proposed and negatived. The bill was accordingly read the third time and passed.” Hansard, June, 1810,

I shall now extract various passages from Scott’s letters to his brother and other friends, which will show what his feelings were while this affair continued under agitation.

To Thomas Scott, Esq., Douglas, Isle of Man.
“Edinburgh, 25th May, 1810.
“My dear Tom,

“I write under some anxiety for your interest, though I sincerely hope it is groundless. The devil or James Gibson* has put it into Lord Lauderdale’s head to challenge your annuity in the House of Lords on

* James Gibson, Esq. W.S. (now Sir James Gibson Craig of Riccarton, Bart.), had always been regarded as one of the most able and active of the Scotch Whigs—whose acknowledged chief in those days was the Earl of Lauderdale.

account of your non-residence, and your holding a commission in the militia. His lordship kept his intention as secret as possible, but fortunately it reached the kind and friendly ear of
Colin Mackenzie. Lord Melville takes the matter up stoutly, and I have little doubt will carry his point, unless the whole bill is given up for the season, which some concurring opposition from different quarters renders not impossible. In that case, you must, at the expense of a little cash and time, shew face in Edinburgh for a week or two and attend your office. But I devoutly hope all will be settled by the bill being passed as it now stands. This is truly a most unworthy exertion of private spite and malice, but I trust it will be in vain.”

. . . . . .
“Edinburgh, June 12th.
“Dear Tom,

“I have the pleasure to acquaint you that I have every reason to believe that the bill will pass this week. It has been committed; upon which occasion Lord Lauderdale stated various objections, all of which were repelled. He then adverted to your case with some sufficiently bitter observations. Lord Melville advised him to reserve his epithets till he was pleased to state his cause, as he would pledge himself to show that they were totally inapplicable to the transaction. The Duke of Montrose also intimated his intention to defend it, which I take very kind of his Grace, as he went down on purpose, and declared his resolution to attend whenever the business should be stirred. So much for

‘The Lord of Graham, by every chief adored,
Who boasts his native philabeg restored.’” *

* These lines are slightly altered from the Rolliad, p. 308. The Duke had obtained the repeal of an act of Parliament forbidding the use of the Highland garb.

“Edinburgh, 21st June, 1810.
“My dear Tom,

“The bill was read a third time in the House of Lords, on which occasion Lord Lauderdale made his attack, which Lord Melville answered. There was not much said on either side: Lord Holland supported Lord Lauderdale, and the bill passed without a division. So you have fairly doubled Cape Lauderdale. I believe his principal view was to insult my feelings, in which he has been very unsuccessful, for I thank God I feel nothing but the most hearty contempt both for the attack and the sort of paltry malice by which alone it could be dictated.”

The next letter is addressed to an old friend of Scott’s, who, though a stout Whig, had taken a lively interest in the success of his brother’s parliamentary business.

To John Richardson, Esq., Fludyer Street, Westminster.
“Edinburgh, 3d July, 1810
“My dear Richardson,

“I ought before now to have written you my particular thanks for your kind attention to the interest which I came so strangely and unexpectedly to have in the passing of the Judicature Bill. The only purpose which I suppose Lord Lauderdale had in view was to state charges which could neither be understood nor refuted, and to give me a little pain by dragging my brother’s misfortunes into public notice. If the last was his aim, I am happy to say it has most absolutely miscarried, for I have too much contempt for the motive which dictated his Lordship’s eloquence to feel much for its thunders. My brother loses by the bill from L.150 to L.200, which no power short of an act of Parliament could have taken from him, and far from having a view
to the compensation, he is a considerable loser by its being substituted for the actual receipts of his office. I assure you I am very sensible of your kind and friendly activity and zeal in my brother’s behalf.

“I received the Guerras* safe; it is a fine copy, and I think very cheap, considering how difficult it is now to procure foreign books. I shall be delighted to have the Traite des Tournois. I propose, on the 12th, setting forth for the West Highlands, with the desperate purpose of investigating the caves of Staffa, Egg, and Skye. There was a time when this was a heroic undertaking, and when the return of Samuel Johnson from achieving it was hailed by the Edinburgh literati with ‘per varios casus,’ and other scraps of classical gratulation equally new and elegant. But the harvest of glory has been entirely reaped by the early discoverers; and in an age when every London citizen makes Lochlomond his wash-pot, and throws his shoe over Ben-Nevis, a man may endure every hardship and expose himself to every danger of the Highland seas, from sea-sickness to the jaws of the great sea-snake, without gaining a single leaf of laurel for his pains.

“The best apology for bestowing all this tediousness upon you is, that John Burnet is dinning into the ears of the Court a botheration about the politics of the magnificent city of Culross. But I will release you sooner than I fear I shall escape myself, with the assurance that I am ever yours most truly,

Walter Scott.”

I conclude the affair of Thomas Scott with a brief extract from a letter which his brother addressed to him a few weeks later:—“Lord Holland has been in Edin-

* A copy of the Guerras Chiles de Granada.

burgh, and we met accidentally at a public party. He made up to me, but I remembered his part in your affair, and cut him with as little remorse as an old pen.” The meeting here alluded to occurred at a dinner of the Friday Club, at Fortune’s Tavern, to which Lord Holland was introduced by
Mr Thomas Thomson. Two gentlemen who were present, inform me that they distinctly remember a very painful scene, for which, knowing Scott’s habitual good-nature and urbanity, they had been wholly unprepared. One of them (Lord Jeffrey) adds, that this was the only example of rudeness he ever witnessed in him in the course of a lifelong familiarity. I have thought it due to truth and justice not to omit this disagreeable passage in Scott’s life, which shows how even his mind could at times be unhinged and perverted by the malign influence of political spleen. It is consolatory to add, that he enjoyed much agreeable intercourse in after days with Lord Holland, and retained no feelings of resentment towards any other of the Whig gentlemen named in the preceding correspondence.*

* I subjoin a list of the Members of The Friday Club, which was instituted in June 1803 (on the model, I believe, of Johnson’s at the Turk’s Head), down to the period of Scott’s death. The others marked, like his name, by an asterisk, are also dead.

1803 *Sir James Hall Thomas Thomson
*Professor Dugald Stewart Dr John Thomson
*Professor John Playfair John A. Murray (Lord
Rev. Arch. Alison Advocate in 1835)
Rev. Sidney Smith Henry Brougham (Lord
*Rev. Peter Elmslie Brougham)
Alex. Irving (Lord Newton) *Henry Mackenzie
*Wm. Erskine (Lord Kinnedder) H. Mackenzie (Lord
George Cranstoun (Lord Corehouse) Mackenzie)
Henry Cockburn (Lord Cockburn) *Malcolm Laing
*Walter Scott John Richardson

While these disagreeable affairs were still in progress, the poem of the Lady of the Lake was completed. Scott was at the same time arranging the materials, and superintending the printing, of the collection entitled “English Minstrelsy,” in which several of his own minor poems first appeared, and which John Ballantyne and Co. also published in the summer of 1810. The Swift, too, (to say nothing of reviews and the like), was going on; and so was the Somers. A new edition of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border was moreover at press, and in it the editor included a few features of novelty, particularly Mr Morritt’s spirited ballad of the Curse of Moy. He gives a lively description of his occupations in the following letter addressed to that gentleman:—

To J. B. S. Morritt, Esq., 24,, Portland Place, London.
“Edinburgh, 2d March, 1810.
“My dear Morritt,

“You are very good to remember such a false knave as I am, who have omitted so long to thank you for a
Francis Jeffrey (Lord John Allen
Jeffrey) *Francis Horner
William ClerkThomas Campbell
1804 *Alex. Hamilton 1812 *George Wilson
*Dr Coventry 1814 *Dr John Gordon
*Professor John Robison 1816 Andrew Rutherford
George Strickland 1817 James Keay
*Professor Dalzell 1825 Leonard Horner
*Lord Webb Seymour Professor Pillans
*Earl of Selkirk 1826 Count M. de Flahault
*Lord Glenbervie *D. Cathcart (Lord
1807 Rev. John Thomson Alloway)
1810 John Jeffrey 1827 Earl of Minto
1811 T. F. Kennedy William Murray
J. Fullerton (Lord Fullerton) 1830 Hon. Mountstuart Elphintonstone.
letter, bringing me the assurances of your health and remembrance, which I do not value the less deeply and sincerely for my seeming neglect. Truth is, I do not eat the bread of idleness. But I was born a Scotchman, and a bare one, and was therefore born to fight my way with my left hand where my right failed me, and with my teeth, if they were both cut off. This is but a bad apology for not answering your kindness, yet not so bad when you consider that it was only admitted as a cause of procrastination, and that I have been—let me see—I have been Secretary to the Judicature Commission, which sat daily during all the Christmas vacation. I have been editing
Swift, and correcting the press, at the rate of six sheets a-week. I have been editing Somers at the rate of four ditto ditto. I have written reviews—I have written songs—I have made selections—I have superintended rehearsals—and all this independent of visiting, and of my official duty, which occupies me four hours every working day except Mondays—and independent of a new poem with which I am threatening the world. This last employment is not the most prudent, but I really cannot well help myself. My office, though a very good one for Scotland, is only held in reversion; nor do I at present derive a shilling from it. I must expect that a fresh favourite of the public will supersede me, and my philosophy being very great on the point of poetical fame, I would fain, at the risk of hastening my own downfall, avail myself of the favourable moment to make some further provision for my little people. Moreover, I cannot otherwise honestly indulge myself in some of the luxuries which, when long gratified, become a sort of pseudo necessaries. As for the terrible parodies*

* I suppose this is an allusion to the “Lay of the Scotch Fiddle,” “the Goblin Groom,” and some other productions, like them, long since forgotten.

which have come forth, I can only say with Benedict, ‘A college of such witmongers cannot flout me out of my humour.’ Had I been conscious of one place about my temper, were it even, metaphorically speaking, the tip of my heel, vulnerable to this sort of aggression, I have that respect for mine own ease, that I would have shunned being a candidate for public applause, as I would avoid snatching a honey-comb from among a hive of live bees. My present attempt is a poem, partly Highland—the scene Loch Katrine, tempore
Jacobi quinti. If I fail, as Lady Macbeth gallantly says, I fail, and there is only a story murdered to no purpose; and if I succeed,, why then, as the song says—
‘Up with the bonnie blue bonnet,
The dirk and the feather and a’.’

“I hope to show this ditty to you soon in Portland Place, for it seems determined I must go to London, though the time is not fixed. The pleasure of meeting you and half a dozen other friends, reconciles me to this change of plan, for had I answered your letter the day I received it, I would have said nothing was less likely than my going to town in spring. I hope it will be so late as to afford me an opportunity of visiting Rokeby and Greta Side on my return. The felon sow herself could not think of them with more affection than I do; and though I love Portland Place dearly, yet I would fain enjoy both. But this must be as the Fates and Destinies and Sisters three determine. Charlotte hopes to accompany me, and is particularly gratified by the expectation of meeting Mrs Morritt. We think of our sunny days at Rokeby with equal delight.

Miss Baillie’s play went off capitally here, notwithstanding her fond and over-credulous belief in a Creator of the world. The fact is so generally believed that it is man who makes the deity, that I am surprised it has
never been maintained as a corollary, that the knife and fork make the fingers. We wept till our hearts were sore, and applauded till our hands were blistered—what could we more—and this in crowded theatres.

“I send a copy of the poetical collection, not for you, my good friend, because you would not pay your literary subscription,* but for Mrs Morritt. I thought of leaving it as I came through Yorkshire, but as I can get as yet an office frank, it will be safer in your charge. By a parity of reasoning, you will receive a copy of the new edition of the Minstrelsy just finished, and about to be shipped, enriched with your Curse of Moy, which is very much admired by all to whom I have shown it. I am sorry that dear —— —— is so far from you. There is something about her that makes me think of her with a mixture of affection and anxiety—such a pure and excellent heart, joined to such native and fascinating manners, cannot pass unprotected through your fashionable scenes without much hazard of a twinge at least, if not a stab. I remember we talked over this subject once while riding on the banks of Tees, and somehow (I cannot tell why) it falls like a death-bell on my ear. She is too artless for the people that she has to live amongst. This is all vile croaking, so I will end it by begging ten times love and compliments to Mrs Morritt, in which Charlotte heartily joins. Believe me ever, dear Morritt, yours most faithfully,

Walter Scott.”

Early in May the Lady of the Lake came out—as her two elder sisters had done—in all the majesty of quarto, with every accompanying grace of typography, and with,

* Scott alludes to some translations of Italian poetry which he had wished for Mr Morritt’s permission to publish in the “English Minstrelsy.”

moreover, an engraved frontispiece of
Saxon’s portrait of Scott; the price of the book, two guineas. For the copyright the poet had nominally received 2000 guineas, but as John Ballantyne and Co. retained three-fourths of the property to themselves (Miller of London purchasing the other fourth), the author’s profits were, or should have been, more than this.

It ought to be mentioned, that during the progress of the poem his feelings towards Constable were so much softened, that he authorized John Ballantyne to ask, in his name, that experienced bookseller’s advice respecting the amount of the first impression, the method of advertising, and other professional details. Mr Constable readily gave the assistance thus requested, and would willingly have taken any share they pleased in the adventure. The property had been disposed of before these communications occurred, and the triumphant success of the coup d’essai of the new firm was sufficient to close Scott’s ears for a season against any propositions of the like kind from the house at the Cross; but from this time there was no return of any thing like personal ill-will between the parties. One article of this correspondence will be sufficient.

To Mr Constable.
“Castle Street, 13th March, 1810.
Dear Sir,

“I am sure if Mr Hunter is really sorry for the occasion of my long absence from your shop, I shall be happy to forget all disagreeable circumstances, and visit it often as a customer and amateur. I think it necessary to add (before departing from this subject, and I hope for ever), that it is not in my power to restore our relative situation as author and publishers, because, upon the breach between us, a large capital was diverted by the Ballantynes
from another object, and invested in their present bookselling concern, under an express assurance from me of such support as my future publications could give them; which is a pledge not to be withdrawn without grounds which I cannot anticipate. But this is not a consideration which need prevent our being friends and well-wishers. Yours truly,

W. Scott.”

Mr Robert Cadell, the publisher of this Memoir, who was then a young man in training for his profession in Edinburgh, retains a strong impression of the interest which the Lady of the Lake excited there for two or three months before it was published. “James Ballantyne,” he says, “read the cantos from time to time to select coteries, as they advanced at press. Common fame was loud in their favour; a great poem was on all hands anticipated. I do not recollect that any of all the author’s works was ever looked for with more intense anxiety, or that any one of them excited a more extraordinary sensation when it did appear. The whole country rang with the praises of the poet—crowds set off to view the scenery of Loch Katrine, till then comparatively unknown; and as the book came out just before the season for excursions, every house and inn in that neighbourhood was crammed with a constant succession of visitors. It is a well-ascertained fact, that from the date of the publication of the Lady of the Lake the posthorse duty in Scotland rose in an extraordinary degree, and indeed it continued to do so regularly for a number of years, the author’s succeeding works keeping up the enthusiasm for our scenery which he had thus originally created.”

I owe to the same correspondent the following details:—“The quarto edition of 2050 copies disappeared in-
stantly, and was followed in the course of the same year by four editions in octavo, viz. one of 3000, a second of 3250, and a third and a fourth each of 6000 copies; thus, in the space of a few months, the extraordinary number of 20,000 copies were disposed of. In the next year (1811) there was another edition of 3000; there was one of 2000 in 1814; another of 2000 in 1815; one of 2000 again in 1819; and two, making between them 2500, appeared in 1825: Since which time the Lady of the Lake, in collective editions of his poetry, and in separate issues, must have circulated to the extent of at least 20,000 copies more.” So that, down to the month of July, 1836, the legitimate sale in Great Britain has been not less than 50,000 copies.

I have little to add to what the Introduction of 1830, and some letters already extracted have told us, concerning the history of the composition of this poem. Indeed the coincidences of expression and illustration in the Introduction and those private letters, written twenty years before, are remarkable. In both we find him quoting Montrose’s lines, and in both he quotes also “Up wi’ the bonnie blue bonnet,” &c. In truth, both letters and Introduction were literal transcripts of his usual conversation on the subject. “A lady,” he says, “to whom I was nearly related, and with whom I lived during her whole life on the most brotherly terms of affection, was residing with me (at Ashestiel) when the work was in progress, and used to ask me what I could possibly do to rise so early in the morning. At last I told her the subject of my meditations; and I can never forget the anxiety and affection expressed in her reply. ‘Do not be so rash,’ she said, ‘my dearest cousin. You are already popular—more so perhaps than you yourself will believe, or than even I or other partial friends can fairly allow to your merit. You
stand high do not rashly attempt to climb higher and incur the risk of a fall; for, depend upon it, a favourite will not be permitted even to stumble with impunity.’ I replied to this affectionate expostulation in the words of Montrose:
‘He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
Who dares not put it to the touch,
To win or lose it all.’
‘If I fail,’ I said—for the dialogue is strong in my recollection, ‘it is a sign that I ought never to have succeeded, and I will write prose for life: you shall see no change in my temper, nor will I eat a single meal the worse. But if I succeed—
‘Up wi’ the bonnie blue bonnet,
The dirk and the feather an’ a’!

“Afterwards I showed my critic the first canto, which reconciled her to my imprudence.”—The lady here alluded to was no doubt Miss Christian Rutherford, his mother’s sister, who, as I have already mentioned, was so little above his age, that they seem always to have lived together on the terms of equality indicated in her use of the word “cousin” in the dialogue before us. She was, however, about as devout a Shakspearian as her nephew, and the use of cousin, for kinsman in general, is common to all our elder dramatists.*

He says, in the same essay, “I remember that about the same time a friend started in to ‘heeze up my hope,’ like the minstrel in the old song. He was bred a farmer, but a man of powerful understanding, natural good taste, and warm poetical feeling, perfectly competent to supply the wants of an imperfect or irregular education. He was a passionate admirer of field sports, which we

* Thus Lady Capulet exclaims, on seeing the corpse of Tybalt,

“Tybalt, my cousin! oh! my brother’s child!”
often pursued together. As this friend happened to dine with me at Ashestiel one day, I took the opportunity of reading to him the first canto of the
Lady of the Lake, in order to ascertain the effect the poem was likely to produce upon a person who was but too favourable a representative of readers at large. His reception of my recitation, or prelection, was rather singular. He placed his hand across his brow, and listened with great attention through the whole account of the stag-hunt, till the dogs throw themselves into the lake to follow their master, who embarks with Ellen Douglas. He then started up with a sudden exclamation, struck his hand on the table, and declared in a voice of censure calculated for the occasion, that the dogs must have been totally ruined by being permitted to take the water after such a severe chase. I own I was much encouraged by the species of reverie which had possessed so zealous a follower of the sports of the ancient Nimrod, who had been completely surprised out of all doubts of the reality of the tale.” Scott adds—“Another of his remarks gave me less pleasure. He detected the identity of the king with the wandering knight, Fitz-James, when he winds his bugle to summon his attendants. He was probably thinking of the lively but somewhat licentious old ballad in which the dénouement of a royal intrigue” [one of James V. himself by the way] “takes place as follows:—
He took a bugle from his side,
He blew both loud and shrill,
And four-and-twenty belted knights
Came skipping owre the hill.
‘Then he took out a little knife,
Let a’ his duddies fa’,
And he was the bravest gentleman
That was amang them a’.
And we’ll go no more a roving’, &c.
“This discovery, as
Mr Pepys says of the rent in his camlet cloak, ‘was but a trifle, yet it troubled me;’ and I was at a good deal of pains to efface any marks by which I thought my secret could be traced before the conclusion, when I relied on it with the same hope of producing effect with which the Irish postboy is said to reserve a ‘trot for the avenue.’”

I believe the shrewd critic here introduced was the poet’s excellent cousin, Charles Scott, now laird of Knowe-south. The story of the Irish postilion’s trot he owed to Mr Moore.

In their reception of this poem, the critics were for once in full harmony with each other, and with the popular voice. The article in the Quarterly was written by George Ellis; but its eulogies, though less discriminative, are not a whit more emphatic than those of Mr Jeffrey in the rival Review. Indeed, I have always considered this last paper as the best specimen of contemporary criticism on Scott’s poetry; and I shall therefore indulge myself with quoting here two of its paragraphs:—

“There is nothing in Mr Scott of the severe and majestic style of Milton—or of the terse and fine composition of Pope—or of the elaborate elegance and melody of Campbell—or even of the flowing and redundant diction of Southey,—but there is a medley of bright images and glowing, set carelessly and loosely together a diction tinged successively with the careless richness of Shakspeare, the harshness and antique simplicity of the old romances, the homeliness of vulgar ballads and anecdotes, and the sentimental glitter of the most modern poetry—passing from the borders of the ludicrous to those of the sublime—alternately minute and energetic—sometimes artificial, and frequently negligent, but always full of spirit and vivacity—abounding in images that are striking at first sight to minds of every contexture—and never expressing a sentiment which it can cost the most ordinary reader any exertion to comprehend. Upon the whole, we are inclined to think more highly of the Lady of the

* Introduction to the Lady of the Lake—1830.

Lake than of either of its author’s former publications. We are more sure, however, that it has fewer faults, than that it has greater beauties; and as its beauties bear a strong resemblance to those with which the public has been already made familiar in these celebrated works, we should not be surprised if its popularity were less splendid and remarkable. For our own parts, however, we are of opinion, that it will be oftener read hereafter than either of them; and that if it had appeared first in the series, their reception would have been less favourable than that which it has experienced. It is more polished in its diction, and more regular in its versification; the story is constructed with infinitely more skill and address; there is a greater proportion of pleasing and tender passages, with much less antiquarian detail; and, upon the whole, a larger variety of characters, more artfully and judiciously contrasted. There is nothing so fine, perhaps, as the battle in
Marmion—or so picturesque as some of the scattered sketches in the Lay; but there is a richness and a spirit in the whole piece which does not pervade either of those poems—a profusion of incident, and a shifting brilliancy of colouring, that reminds us of the witchery of Ariosto and a constant elasticity, and occasional energy, which seem to belong more peculiarly to the author now before us.”

“It is honourable to Mr Scott’s genius that he has been able to interest the public so deeply with this third presentment of the same chivalrous scenes; but we cannot help thinking, that both his glory and our gratification would have been greater, if he had changed his hand more completely, and actually given us a true Celtic story, with all its drapery and accompaniments, in a corresponding style of decoration. Such a subject, we are persuaded, has very great capabilities, and only wants to be introduced to public notice by such a hand as Mr Scott’s, to make a still more powerful impression than he has already effected by the resurrection of the tales of romance. There are few persons, we believe, of any degree of poetical susceptibility, who have wandered among the secluded valleys of the Highlands, and contemplated the singular people by whom they are still tenanted with their love of music and of song—their hardy and irregular life, so unlike the unvarying toils of the Saxon mechanic—their devotion to their chiefs—their wild and lofty traditions—their national enthusiasm—the melancholy grandeur of the scenes they inhabit—and the multiplied superstitions which still linger among them without feeling that there is no existing people so well adapted for the purposes of poetry, or so capable of furnishing the occasions of new and striking inventions.


“We are persuaded, that if Mr Scott’s powerful and creative genius were to be turned in good earnest to such a subject, something might be produced still more impressive and original than even this age has yet witnessed.”*

The second of these paragraphs is a strikingly prophetic one; and if the details already given negative the prediction of the first,—namely, that the immediate popularity of the Lady of the Lake would be less remarkable than that of the Lay or Marmion had been—its other prediction, that the new poem would be “oftener read hereafter than either of the former,” has, I believe, proved just. The Lay, if I may venture to state the creed now established, is, I should say, generally considered as the most natural and original, Marmion as the most powerful and splendid, the Lady of the Lake as the most interesting, romantic, picturesque, and graceful of his great poems.

Of the private opinions expressed at the time of its first publication by his distinguished literary friends, and expressed with an ease and candour equally honourable to them and to him, that of Mr Southey was, as far as I know, the only one which called forth any thing like a critical reply; and even here, more suo, he seems glad

* It may interest the reader to compare with this passage a brief extract from Sir James Mackintosh’s Indian Diary of 1811:—

“The subject of The Lady,” says he, “is a common Highland irruption, but at a point where the neighbourhood of the Lowlands affords the best contrast of manners—where the scenery affords the noblest subject of description—and where the wild clan is so near to the Court, that their robberies can be connected with the romantic adventures of a disguised king, an exiled lord, and a high-born beauty. The whole narrative is very fine. There are not so many splendid passages for quotation as in the two former poems. This may indeed silence the objections of the critics, but I doubt whether it will promote the popularity of the poem. It has nothing so good as the Address to Scotland, or the Death of Marmion.”—Life of Mackintosh, v. ii. p. 82.

to turn from his own productions to those of his correspondent. It will be seen that Mr Southey had recently put forth the first volume of his
history of Brazil; that his Kehama was then in the Ballantyne press; and that he had mentioned to Scott his purpose of writing another poem under the title of “Don Pelayo” which in the issue was exchanged for that of “Roderick the Last of the Goths.”

To Robert Southey, Esq., Durham.
“Edinburgh, May 20, 1810.
“My dear Southey,

“I am very sensible of the value of your kind approbation of my efforts, and trust I shall, under such good auspices, keep my ground with the public. I have studied their taste as much as a thing so variable can be calculated upon, and I hope I have again given them an acceptable subject of entertainment. What you say of the songs is very just, and also of the measure. But, on the one hand, I wished to make a difference between my former poems and this new attempt, in the general tenor of versification, and on the other, having an eye to the benefits derivable from the change of stanza, I omitted no opportunity which could be given or taken, of converting my dog-trot into a hop-step-and-jump. I am impatient to see Kehama; James Ballantyne, who has a good deal of tact, speaks very highly of the poetical fire and beauty which pervades it; and, considering the success of Sir William Jones, I should think the Hindhu mythology would not revolt the common readers, for in that lies your only danger. As for Don Pelayo, it should be exquisite under your management; the subject is noble, the parties finely contrasted in manners, dress, religion, and all that the poet desires to bring into action; and your complete knowledge of every historian who has
touched upon the period, promises the reader at once delight and instruction.

“Twenty times twenty thanks for the History of Brazil, which has been my amusement, and solace, and spring of instruction for this month past. I have always made it my reading-book after dinner, between the removal of the cloth and our early tea-time. There is only one defect I can point out, and that applies to the publishers—I mean the want of a good map. For, to tell you the truth, with my imperfect atlas of South America, I can hardly trace these same Tups of yours (which in our Border dialect signifies rams), with all their divisions and subdivisions, through so many ramifications, without a carte de pays. The history itself is most singularly entertaining, and throws new light upon a subject which we have hitherto understood very imperfectly. Your labour must have been immense, to judge from the number of curious facts quoted, and unheard-of authorities which you have collected. I have traced the achievements of the Portuguese adventurers with greater interest than I remember to have felt since, when a schoolboy, I first perused the duodecimo collection of Voyages and Discoveries called the World Displayed—a sensation which I thought had been long dead within me; for, to say the truth, the philanthropic and cautious conduct of modern discoverers, though far more amiable, is less entertaining than that of the old Buccaneers, and Spaniards and Portuguese, who went to conquer and achieve adventures, and met with strange chances of fate in consequence, which could never have befallen a well-armed boat’s crew, not trusting themselves beyond their watering-place, or trading with the natives on the principles of mercantile good faith.

“I have some thoughts of a journey and voyage to the Hebrides this year, but if I don’t make that out, I
think I shall make a foray into your northern counties, go to see my friend
Morritt at Greta Bridge, and certainly cast myself Keswick-ways either going or coming. I have some literary projects to talk over with you, for the re-editing some of our ancient classical romances and poetry, and so forth. I have great command of our friends the Ballantynes, and I think, so far as the filthy lucre of gain is concerned, I could make a very advantageous bargain for the time which must necessarily be bestowed in such a labour, besides doing an agreeable thing for ourselves, and a useful service to literature. What is become of Coleridge’s Friend? I hope he had a letter from me, enclosing my trifling subscription. How does our friend Wordsworth? I won’t write to him, because he hates letter-writing as much as I do; but I often think on him, and always with affection. If you make any stay at Durham let me know, as I wish you to know my friend Surtees of Mainsforth.* He is an excellent antiquary, some of the rust of which study has clung to his manners; but he is good-hearted, and you would make the summer eve (for so by the courtesy of the kalendar we must call these abominable easterly blighting afternoons) short between you. I presume you are with my friend Dr Southey, who, I hope, has not quite forgotten me, in which faith I beg kind compliments to him, and am ever yours most truly,

Walter Scott.”

George Ellis having undertaken, at Gifford’s request, to review the Lady of the Lake, does not appear to have addressed any letter to the poet upon the subject, until

* This amiable gentleman, author of the History of Durham, in three volumes folio,—one of the most learned as well as interesting works of its class,—was an early and dear friend of Scott’s. He died at the family seat of Mainsforth, near Durham, 11th February 1834, in his 55th year.

after his article had appeared. He then says simply, that he had therein expressed his candid sentiments, and hoped his friend, as great a worshipper as himself of
Dryden’s tales, would take in good part his remarks on the octosyllabic metre as applied to serious continued narrative. The following was Scott’s reply:—

To G. Ellis, Esq.
My dear Ellis,

“I have been scandalously lazy in answering your kind epistle, received I don’t know how long since; but then I had been long your creditor, and I fancy correspondents, like merchants, are often glad to plead their friends’ neglect of their accompt-current as an apology for their own, especially when they know that the value of the payments being adjusted, must leave a sad balance against them. I have run up an attempt on the Curse of Kehama for the Quarterly; a strange thing it is—the Curse, I mean—and the critique is not, as the blackguards say, worth a damn; but what I could I did, which was to throw as much weight as possible upon the beautiful passages, of which there are many, and to slur over the absurdities, of which there are not a few. It is infinite pity of Southey, with genius almost to exuberance, so much learning and real good feeling of poetry, that, with the true obstinacy of a foolish papa, he will be most attached to the defects of his poetical offspring. This said Kehama affords cruel openings for the quizzers, and I suppose will get it roundly in the Edinburgh Review. I would have made a very different hand of it indeed, had the order of the day been pour déchirer.*

“I told you how much I was delighted with your critique on the Lady; but, very likely moved by the same

* See this article in his Miscellaneous Prose Works, vol. xvii. pp. 301—337.

feeling for which I have just censured
Southey, I am still inclined to defend the eight-syllable stanza, which I have somehow persuaded myself is more congenial to the English language—more favourable to narrative poetry at least—than that which has been commonly termed heroic verse. If you will take the trouble to read a page of Pope’s Iliad, you will probably find a good many lines out of which two syllables may be struck without injury to the sense. The first lines of this translation have been repeatedly noticed as capable of being cut down from ships of the line into frigates, by striking out the two said-syllabled words, as—
‘Achilles’ wrath to Greece, the direful spring
Of woes unnumbered, heavenly goddess sing,
That wrath which sent to Pluto’s gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs in battle slain,
Whose bones unburied on the desert shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.’

“Now, since it is true that by throwing out the epithets underscored, we preserve the sense without diminishing the force of the verses—and since it is also true that scarcely one of the epithets are more than merely expletive—I do really think that the structure of verse which requires least of this sort of bolstering, is most likely to be forcible and animated. The case is different in descriptive poetry, because there epithets, if they are happily selected, are rather to be sought after than avoided, and admit of being varied ad infinitum. But if in narrative you are frequently compelled to tag your substantives with adjectives, it must frequently happen that you are forced upon those that are merely commonplaces, such as ‘heavenly goddess,’ ‘desert shore,’ and so forth; and I need not tell you, that whenever any syllable is obviously inserted for the completion of a couplet, the reader is disposed to quarrel with it. Be-
sides, the eight-syllable stanza is capable of certain varieties denied to the heroic. Double rhymes for instance, are congenial to it, which often give a sort of Gothic richness to its cadences; you may also render it more or less rapid by retaining or dropping an occasional syllable. Lastly, and which I think its principal merit, it runs better into sentences than any length of line I know, as it corresponds, upon an average view of our punctuation, very commonly with the proper and usual space between comma and comma. Lastly the Second—and which ought perhaps to have been said first,—I think I have somehow a better knack at this ‘false gallop’ of verse, as Touchstone calls it, than at your more legitimate hexameters; and so there is the short and long of my longs and shorts. Ever yours,

Walter Scott.”

Mr Ellis recurs to the octosyllabic measure of the Lady of the Lake in his next letter. “I don’t think,” says he, “after all the eloquence with which you plead for your favourite metre, that you really like it from any other motive than that sainte paresse—that delightful indolence which induces one to delight in doing those things which we can do with the least fatigue. If you will take the trouble of converting Dryden’s Theodore and Honoria (a narrative, is it not?) into Hudibrastic measure, and after trying this on the first twenty lines you feel pleased with the transformation, I will give up the argument; although, in point of fact, I believe that I regret the variety of your own old stanza, much more than the absence of that heroic measure, which you justly remark is not, without great difficulty, capable of being moulded into sentences of various lengths. When, therefore, you give us another poem, pray indulge me with rather a larger share of your ancient dithyrambics.”


Canning, too, came to the side of Ellis in this debate. After telling Scott that “on a repeated perusal” he had been “more and more delighted” with the Lady of the Lake, he says “But I should like to see something a little different when you write next. In short, I have sometimes thought (very presumptuously) that partly by persuasion, and partly by shewing the effect of a change of dress of a fuller and more sweeping style upon some of your favourite passages, I could induce you to present yourself next time in a Drydenic habit. Has this ever occurred to you, and have you tried it, and not liked yourself so well?” We shall see by and by what attention Scott gave to these friendly suggestions.

Of the success of the new poem he speaks as follows in his Introduction of 1830:—“It was certainly so extraordinary as to induce me for the moment to conclude that I had at last fixed a nail in the proverbially inconstant wheel of Fortune. I had attained, perhaps, that degree of public reputation at which prudence, or certainly timidity, would have made a halt, and discontinued efforts by which I was far more likely to diminish my fame than to increase it. But—as the celebrated John Wilkes is said to have explained to King George the Third, that he himself, amid his full tide of popularity, was never a Wilkite—so I can with honest truth exculpate myself from having been at any time a partisan of my own poetry, even when it was in the highest fashion with the million. It must not be supposed that I was either so ungrateful, or so superabundantly candid, as to despise or scorn the value of those whose voice had elevated me so much higher than my own opinion told me I deserved. I felt, on the contrary, the more grateful to the public, as receiving that from partiality which I could not have claimed from merit: and I endeavoured
to deserve the partiality by continuing such exertions as I was capable of for their amusement.”

James Ballantyne has preserved in his Memorandum an anecdote strikingly confirmative of the most remarkable statement in this page of Scott’s confessions. “I remember,” he says, “going into his library shortly after the publication of the Lady of the Lake, and finding Miss Scott (who was then a very young girl) there by herself I asked her ‘Well, Miss Sophia, how do you like the Lady of the Lake?’ Her answer was given with perfect simplicity ‘Oh, I have not read it; papa says there’s nothing so bad for young people as reading bad poetry.’”

In fact, his children in those days had no idea of the source of his distinction—or rather, indeed, that his position was in any respect different from that of other Advocates, Sheriffs, and Clerks of Session. The eldest boy came home one afternoon about this time from the High School, with tears and blood hardened together upon his cheeks. “Well, Wat,” said his father, “what have you been fighting about to-day?” With that the boy blushed and hung his head, and at last stammered out—that “he had been called a lassie.” “Indeed!” said Mrs Scott, “this was a terrible mischief to be sure.” “You may say what you please, mamma,” Wat answered roughly, “but I dinna think there’s a waufer (shabbier) thing in the world than to be a lassie, to sit boring at a clout.” Upon further enquiry, it turned out that one or two of his companions had dubbed him The Lady of the Lake, and the phrase was to him incomprehensible, save as conveying some imputation on his prowess, which he accordingly vindicated in the usual style of the Yards. Of the poem he had never before heard. Shortly after, this story having got wind, one of Scott’s
colleagues of the Clerks’ Table said to the boy—“Gilknockie, my man, you cannot surely help seeing that great people make more work about your papa than they do about me or any other of your uncles—what is it, do you suppose, that occasions this?” The little fellow pondered for a minute or two, and then answered very gravely—“It’s commonly him that sees the hare sitting.” And yet this was the man that had his children all along so very much with him. In truth, however, young Walter had guessed pretty shrewdly in the matter, for his father had all the tact of the Sutherland Highlander, whose detection of an Irish rebel up to the neck in a bog, he has commemorated in a note upon
Rokeby. Like him, he was quick to catch the sparkle of the future victim’s eye; and often said jestingly of himself, that whatever might be thought of him as a maker (poet), he was an excellent trouveur.

Ballantyne adds:—“One day, about this same time, when his fame was supposed to have reached its acmé, I said to him—‘Will you excuse me, Mr Scott, but I should like to ask you what you think of your own genius as a poet, in comparison with that of Burns?’ He replied ‘There is no comparison whatever—we ought not to be named in the same day.’ ‘Indeed!’ I answered, ‘would you compare Campbell to Burns?’ ‘No, James, not at all—If you wish to speak of a real poet, Joanna Baillie is now the highest genius of our country.’ But, in fact,” (continues Ballantyne) “he had often said to me that neither his own nor any modern popular style of composition was that from which he derived most pleasure. I asked him what it was. He answered Johnson’s; and that he had more pleasure in reading London, and The Vanity of Human Wishes, than any other poetical composition he could mention; and I think I never saw his countenance more indicative
of high admiration than while reciting aloud from those productions.”*

* In his Sketch of Johnson’s Life (Miscellaneous Prose Works, vol. iii. p 264) Scott says—“The deep and pathetic morality of the Vanity of Human Wishes, has often extracted tears from those whose eyes wander dry over pages professedly sentimental.” And Lord Byron, in his Ravenna Diary (1821), has the following entry on the same subject, “Read Johnson’s Vanity of Human Wishes,—all the examples and mode of giving them sublime, as well as the latter part, with the exception of an occasional couplet. ’Tis a grand poem—and so true!—true as the 10th of Juvenal himself. The lapse of ages changes all things—time—language—the earth—the bounds of the sea—the stars of the sky, and every thing about, around, and underneath man, except man himself, who has always been, and always will be, an unlucky rascal. The infinite variety of lives conduct but to death, and the infinity of wishes lead but to disappointment.” (Life and Works, vol. v. p. 66). Yet it is the cant of our day, above all of its poetasters, that Johnson was no poet. To be sure, they say the same of Pope—and hint it occasionally even of Dryden.