« AnteriorContinuar »
Copyright, 1882, 1883, 1884, 1894, and 1896,
All rights reserved.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF SIR WALTER SCOTT
WALTER SCOTT was born in Edinburgh, August 15, 1771. He was the ninth of his parents' twelve children. His father was a Writer to the Signet, as an Edinburgh solicitor is called, and was himself the fifth in direct descent from the Walter Scott known in legend as Auld Wat of Harden, who figures in "The Lay of the Last Minstrel." The ancestors that came between were typical Scotchmen of the better sort, each in his day and generation loyal to king and country, and of strongly marked personal characteristics. "My birth was neither distinguished nor sordid," Scott himself wrote. "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." He took a special pride in being "lineally descended from that ancient chieftain [Auld Wat of Harden] whose name I have made to ring in many a ditty, and from his fair dame, the Flower of Yarrow, no bad genealogy for a Border minstrel." His mother's father, Dr. Rutherford, was a professor of medicine in the University of Edin
burgh. Besides inheriting from Mrs. Scott a gift of imagination, he came by native right into the best traditions of culture in the Scottish capital.
The result of a fever he had as a child was a lameness which lasted his lifetime. In spite of it, during his boyhood, much of which he passed with his father's father at Sandyknowe, he became early an excellent horseman, and active in every sport which he was at all able to enter. At home he showed the sweetness of nature which, through all the changing fortunes of his later life, made his fellow creatures love him. Of his diverse faculties of imagination and strength of purpose, an anecdote of his childhood is significant. It is told of him as a boy less than six years old, that one night he overheard the talk of two servants in the house. One of them, he found, was beginning to tell the other a ghost story. He longed to hear it, yet felt so sure of lying broad awake till morning if he did listen, that he pulled the bedclothes over his head, and went to sleep a man of better than courage many an older one who has not learned the saying of "No." Many tales might be told to show how the love of romance and the past, particularly of Scotland, became early a part of his very life. Good chance favored this natural bent towards antiquarian knowledge, for among his family, their friends and servants, there were many who could and would tell the eager
boy the stories of his country. Of his career at school, it has been written that he "glanced like a meteor from one end of the class to the other." "Little Latin and less Greek" was Shakespeare's store of classical learning; and Scott, at least in one regard, was more deficient, for of Greek he refused to learn a word. It must be of Latin that we are told how he excelled in translations, not by literal accuracy, but in catching the spirit of the language. Like other imaginative school-boys, he had successes with his mates, in which his masters were not concerned; for the boys valued highly his story-telling powers, and he took no little pride in them himself.
As a collegian and a student of law, in his father's office and in Edinburgh University, he did not distinguish himself for steady work or scholarship. But his marvellous memory, already stored with legendary lore, and his tremendous energy in accomplishing any end, of study or play, which especially attracted him, made a name for him that was entirely his own. At this time he read much in the direction of military adventure and ancient legend and romance, the themes which most appealed to him. He was adding also to his store of knowledge by the walking-tours he usually took with a friend into Liddesdale. These were boisterous excursions, in which the young men allowed themselves no little freedom of action, but Walter
Scott made them serve an end beyond that of present pleasure. He talked familiarly with everybody, "never made himsel' the great man or took any airs in the company," as an old companion said. The consequence was a knowledge of the historic scenes and the life of his country, in his own day and before it, such as he could hardly have gained from years spent over books. One can see the young fellow, high-spirited, full of humor and feeling, singing and laughing, then gravely serious, noticeable always for the forehead which won him the nickname of "Old Peveril," for his long, mobile upper lip, and for his lameness; one can see the part he played in the evening's sport in many a peasant's cottage, and whatever scruples may suggest themselves at the form it sometimes took, we may surely rejoice that the man who was to make most of us feel towards Scotland as we now do, entered with his whole heart into the life about him whatever its outward circumstance. His steady-going father could not see the value of these haphazard excursions, and said to him one day, "I greatly doubt, sir, you were born for nae better then a gangrel scrapegut."
His mistress, the law, must have had somewhat the same opinion of him. In any event, she treated him no better than she treats others who serve her halfheartedly. Scott's ambitions in his profession, how