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MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR.
SIR WALTER SCOTT was born at Edinburgh on the 15th of August 1771, the same day which gave birth to Napoleon Bonaparte. "My birth," says he, 66 was neither distinguished nor sordid. According to the prejudices of my country, it was esteemed gentle, as I was connected, though remotely, with ancient families, both by my father's and mother's side." His paternal great-grandfather-a cadet of the border family of Harden-was sprung in the fourteenth century from the great house of Buccleuch; his grandfather became a farmer in Roxburghshire; and his father, Walter Scott, was a writer to the signet in the Scottish capital. His mother, Anne Rutherford, was the daughter of one of the medical professors in the university of Edinburgh.
Neither Scott's poetical turn nor his extraordinary powere of memory seem to have been inherited from either of his parents.
Before he had completed his second year, delicacy of constitution, and lameness which proved permanent, assailed him, and soon afterwards caused his removal to the country. There, at his grandfather's farm-house of Sandy knowe, situated beneath the crags of a ruined baronial tower, and overlooking a district famous in border-history, the poet passed his childhood till about his eighth year, with scarcely any interruption but a year at Bath. At this early age was evinced his warm sympathy with the beauty and grandeur of nature; and the ballads and legends, recited to him amid the scenes in which their events were laid, co-operated in after-days with family and national pride to decide the bent of the border-minstrel's fancy.
His health being partially confirmed, he was recalled home; and from the end of 1778 till 1783 his education was conducted in the High School of Edinburgh, with the assistance of a tutor resident in his father's house. Prior to this change, he had shown a decided inclination towards literary pursuits; but now, introduced with imperfect preparation into a large and thoroughly trained class, consisting of boisterous boys,
his childish zeal for learning seems to have been quenched by ambition of another kind. His memory, it is true, was still remarkable, and procured for him from his master the title of historian of the class; while he produced some schoolverses, both translated and original, at least creditable for a boy of twelve. Even his intellectual powers, however, were less active in the proper business of the school than in enticing his companions from their tasks by merry jests and little stories; and his place as a scholar rarely rose above mediocrity. But his reputation stood high in the play-ground, where, possessed of unconquerable courage, and eager to defeat the scorn which his physical defects excited, he performed hazardous feats of agility, and gained pugilistic trophies over comrades who, that they might have no unfair advantage over the lame boy, fought, like him, lashed face to face on a plank. At home, his tutor, a zealous Presbyterian, instructed him, chiefly by conversation in the facts of Scottish history, though without being able to shake those opinions which the boy had already taken up as an inheritance from his Jacobite ancestors. every interval also which could be stolen from the watchfulness of his elders, he eagerly pursued a course of reading miscellaneous and undigested, embracing much that to most minds would have been either useless or positively injurious. "I left the High School," says he, "with a great quantity of general information, ill arranged, indeed, and collected without system, yet deeply impressed upon my mind, readily assorted by my power of connection and memory, and gilded, if I may be permitted to say so, by a vivid and active imagination."
His perusal of histories, voyages, and travels, fairy tales, romances, and English poetry, was continued with increasing avidity during a long visit which, in his twelfth year, he paid to his father's sister at the village of Kelso, where the young student read for the first time, with entranced enthusiasm, Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry. This work, besides the delight imparted by its poems, gave new dignity, in his eyes, to his favourite Scottish ballads, which he had already begun to collect from recitation, and to copy in little volumes, several of which are still preserved. "To this period, also," he tells us, "I can trace distinctly the awaking of that delightful feeling for the beauties of natural objects, which has never since deserted me. The romantic feelings which I have described as predominating in my mind, naturally rested upon and associated themselves with the grand features of the landscape around me; and the historical incidents or traditional legends connected with many of them gave to my admiration a sort of intense impression of reverence, which at times made my heart feel too big for its bosom. From this time the love of natural beauty, more especially when combined with ancient ruins, or remains of our fathers' piety or splendour, became with me an insatiable passion, which, if circumstances
had permitted, I would willingly have gratified by travelling over half the globe."
In November 1783, Scott became a student in the university of Edinburgh, where he seems to have attended the classes of Greek, Latin, and logic, during one session, with those of ethics and universal history at a later period, while preparing for the bar. At college the scholastic part of his education proceeded even more unprosperously than it had previously done. For science, mental, physical, or mathematical, he displayed no inclination; and in the acquisition of languages, for which he possessed considerable aptitude, he was but partially industrious or successful. Of Greek, as his son-inlaw and biographer admits, he had in later life forgotten the very alphabet. He had indeed entered on the study with disadvantages similar to those which had formerly impeded his progress in Latin. Inferior to his competitors, he petulantly resolved to despise the study; and by his carelessness, and by an essay maintaining Ariosto to be a better poet than Homer, he provoked Dr. Dalziel to pronounce of him "that dunce he was, and dunce he would remain." His knowledge of Latin also does not appear to have been more than superficial, although we are informed that for some writers in that tongue, especially Lucan, Claudian, and Buchanan, he had in after life a decided predilection. About the time now under review, he also acquired French, Italian, and Spanish, all of which he afterwards read with sufficient ease; and the German language was learned a few years later, but never critically understood.
During a severe illness between his twelfth and sixteenth year his stores of romantic and poetical reading received a vast increase, and one of his schoolfellows has given an interesting account of excursions in the neighbourhood of the city, during this period, when the two youths read poems and romances of knight-errantry, and exercised their invention in composing and relating to each other interminable tales modelled on their favourite books. The vocation of the romance-writer and poet of chivalry was thus already fixed. His health likewise became permanently robust, and the lameness in one leg, which was the sole remnant of his early complaints, was through life no obstacle to his habits of active bodily exertion, or to his love for out-of-door sports and exercise.
The next step in his life did not seem directed towards the goal to which all his favourite studies pointed. His father, a formal though high-spirited and high-principled man, designed him for the legal profession; and, although he was desirous that his son should embrace the highest department of it, considered it advisable, according to a practice not uncommon in Scotlaud, that he should be prepared for the bar by an education as an attorney. Accordingly, in May 1786, Scott, then nearly fifteen years old, was articled for five years as an
apprentice to his father, in whose chambers he continued to discharge the humble duties of a clerk, until, about the year 1790, he had, with his father's approbation, finally resolved on coming to the bar. Of the amount of the young poet's professional industry during those years of servitude we possess conflicting representations; but many circumstances in his habits, many peculiarities in the knowledge he exhibits incidently in his works, and perhaps even much of his resolute literary industry, may be safely referred to the period of his apprenticeship, and be admitted as evidence that at all events he was not systematically negligent of his duties. Historical and imaginative reading, however, continued to be prosecuted with undiminished ardour; summer excursions into the Highlands introduced him to the scenes and to more than one of the characters, which afterwards figured in his most successful works; while in the law-classes of the university, as well as in the juvenile debating societies, he formed, or renewed from his school-days, acquaintance with several who became in manhood his cherished friends and his literary advisers. In 1791 the Speculative Society made him acquainted with Mr Jeffrey and those other young men whose subsequent celebrity has reflected lustre on the arena of their early training.
Scott's attempts in poetry had now become more ambitious; for, about the completion of his fifteenth year, he is said to have composed a poem in four books on the Conquest of Granada, which, however, he almost immediately burned, and no trace of it has been preserved. During some years after this time, we hear of no other literary compositions than essays for the debating societies.
In July 1792 he was called to the bar. Immediately after his first circuit, he commenced that series of "raids," as he playfully called them, or excursions into the secluded borderdistricts, which in a few years enabled him to amass the materials for his first considerable work. His walks on the boards of the Parliament House, the Westminster Hall of Scotland, if they gained him for a time few professional fees, speedily procured him renown among his fellow-lawyers as a story-teller of high excellence; his father's connexions and his own friendships opened for him a ready admission into the best society of the city, in which his cheerful temper and his rich store of anecdotes made him universally popular; and his German studies produced, in 1796, his earliest poetical efforts that were published, namely, the translations of Burger's ballads, Lenora, and the Wild Huntsman. The same year witnessed the disappointment of a long and fondly-cherished hope, by the marriage of a young lady, whose image, notwithstanding, clung to his memory through life, and inspired some of the tenderest strains of his poetry. In the summer of 1797, however, on a visit to the watering-place of Gilsland, in Cam
berland, he became acquainted with Charlotte Margaret Carpenter, a young lady of French birth and parentage, and a mutual attachment having ensued, they were married at Carlisle in December of the same year.
The German ballads served as the translator's introduction to the then celebrated Matthew Gregory Lewis, who enlisted him as a contributor to his poetical Tales of Wonder; and one cannot now but smile to hear of the elation with which the author of Waverley at that time contemplated the patronising kindness extended to him by the author of The Monk. Early in 1788 was published Scott's translation of Goethe's Goetz von Berlichingen, which, through Lewis's assistance, was sold to a London bookseller for twenty-five guineas; but, though favourably criticised, it was coldly received by the public. In the summer of 1799, the poet wrote those ballads which he has himself called his "first serious attempts in verse;" the Glenfinlas, the Eve of St John, and the Grey Brother.
After Scott's marriage, several of his summers were spent in a pretty cottage at Lasswade, near Edinburgh, where he formed, besides other acquaintances, those of the noble houses of Melville and Buccleuch, whose influence procured for him, in the end of 1799, his appointment as sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire, an office imposing little duty, while it yielded a permanent salary of £300 per annum. His father's death had recently bestowed on him a small patrimony; his wife had an income considerable enough to aid him greatly; his practice as a lawyer yielded, though not much, yet more than barristers of his standing can usually boast of; and, altogether, his situation in life was strikingly favourable compared with that of most literary men. Still, however, though now twenty-eight years of age, he had done nothing to found a reputation as a man of letters; and there appeared as yet little probability that he would devote himself to literature as a profession, or consider it as any thing more than a relaxation for those leisure hours left unoccupied by business, and by the enjoyments of society.
In 1800 and 1801 those hours were employed in the preparation of the Border Minstrelsy, the first two volumes of which appeared in the beginning of the next year, and the edition, consisting of eight hundred copies, was sold off before its close. This work, the earliest which can be said to have contributed to his general fame, yielded him about eighty pounds of clear profit; a sum far inadequate to defray the expense of the investigations out of which it sprang. In 1803 it was completed by the publication of the third volume. Besides the value which the Minstrelsy possesses in itself, in the noble antique ballads, so industriously, tastefully, and yet conscientiously edited, in the curious and lively information which overflows through all the prose annotations, and in those few original poems which gave the earliest and most