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ever, were not for a great legal career so much as for securing posts which would yield him some income and more leisure. These he did obtain, and served in them faithfully enough to win himself, with the aid of his more personal work at the bar, a good, if not a distinguished name as a lawyer.
His legal career was not advanced by the reputation he soon began to gain as a poet. We may well believe that a canny client would seek another spokesman in a dispute than a man whose thoughts were known to be concerned with imagination and the past more than with facts and the present. He had not been long at the law when the mystical German ballad poetry of the time first became known to him, and he attempted at once a translation of Bürger's Lenore." In 1799 he made his first serious appearance in print as the translator of Goethe's "Götz von Berlichingen." The first book that could more truly be called his own, however, was "The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," which appeared in 1802. It put into permanent form the ballads which he and his friends had been collecting in their walking-tours, with masterly notes and an introduction by Scott himself, together with striking ballads of his own, written in imitation of the ancient manner. These gave him a name at once, and the success of the two volumes in which the work appeared was immediate. The whole edition of 800 copies was
sold within a year, and in 1803 a second edition, in three volumes, was brought out.
Yet this success was as nothing in comparison with that of "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," his next volume. The poem was begun in 1802, while Scott was confined to his room by the effects of the kick of a horse during a charge of a volunteer troop of cavalry in which the poet served enthusiastically as cornet. He first intended to give the "Lay" a place in his "Border Minstrelsy" as one of his attempts at balladwriting, but it soon grew beyond the proportions and importance of a poem that could stand as but one of many. For the suggestion of the story he was indebted to Lady Dalkeith, afterwards the Duchess of Buccleuch, to whom the dedication of the poem was a single evidence of Scott's devotion to the feudal head of his
house, the Duke of Buccleuch. The immediate popularity of the poem was almost without parallel. appeared in 1805, and within a year 2250 copies were sold. In the next year 4250 more supplied the public demands, and before 1830, 44,000 copies had been bought in Great Britain, solely in legitimate trade. Such a vogue can best be accounted for by remembering what the poetry of the period that was passing away had been, formally correct and dignified, but wholly without the stir of impetuous spirit which marks Scott at his best. "I am sensible," Sir Walter
himself once wrote, "that if there be anything good about my poetry, or prose either, it is a hurried frankness of composition, which pleases soldiers, sailors, and young people of bold and active dispositions." The natures which have no kinship with these classes, the persons of sluggish soul, are the only ones which Scott is quite incapable of touching.
Marmion," published in 1808, took possession of men's minds even more completely than the "Lay," as its better coherence and truer dramatic quality gave it the right to do. Sir Walter declared that he wrote most of it in the saddle, and the dash of the verse— hurrying the reader along with it fully bears out his assertion. The metre which was chosen for his longer poems proved at once its power of lodging its lines in men's heads. Mr. Richard H. Hutton in his Life of Scott tells a story worth reprinting: "I have heard of two old men complete strangers passing each other on a dark London night, when one of them happened to be repeating to himself . . . the last lines of the account of Flodden Field in Marmion,' 'Charge, Chester, charge,' when suddenly a reply came out of the darkness, On, Stanley, on,' whereupon they finished the death of Marmion between them, took off their hats to each other, and parted, laughing."
After "Marmion "" came The Lady of the Lake," in 1810. As it will speak for itself to every reader of
this book, we need do no more than cite one striking circumstance in its history, from the classic biography by Scott's son-in-law, Lockhart a passage that may fairly be said to stand alone in the annals of martial poetry: "In the course of the day when 'The Lady of the Lake' first reached Sir Adam Fergusson, he was posted with his company on a point of ground exposed to the enemy's artillery, somewhere no doubt. on the line of Torres Vedras. The men were ordered to lie prostrate on the ground; while they kept that attitude, the captain, kneeling at the head, read aloud the description of the battle in Canto VI., and the listening soldiers only interrupted him by a joyous huzza, when the French shot struck the bank close above them." That was a test of power to seize and hold the imagination which few poems have been called upon to stand.
We must not let ourselves forget that Sir Walter himself said: "Author as I am, I wish these good people would recollect that I began with being a gentleman, and don't mean to give up the character." Let us see, then, what he was doing with the more personal part of his life. After a disappointment in love which he could never quite forget, he married, in 1797, a Miss Charpentier, the daughter of a French refugee, a woman of beauty and spirit and good feeling, but without the depth of nature which the wife
of Sir Walter should have possessed. From 1798 to 1804 his home was at Lasswade, about six miles from Edinburgh, except for sojourns in the city itself. As Sheriff of Selkirkshire, it became evident that he must live within his district, and in 1804 he moved to Ashestiel, seven miles from Selkirk, the nearest town. Here he lived in an attractive house owned by a relative, indulged his outdoor tastes of riding, coursing, and salmon-spearing by night, made many pets of horses and dogs, who never in turn had a more sympathetic master, and worked all the while at his writing with a zeal of which the records seem barely credible. The poems of which we have already spoken were but a trifling part of what he did at this time. A "Life of Dryden," with a careful edition of his works in eighteen volumes, "Somers's Collection of Tracts," in thirteen volumes, "The Secret History of the Court of James I." these were but a few of the literary undertakings to which he gave his energy.
It was in 1805 that Sir Walter took the first step that led to the disasters of his fortune. He became the silent partner of James Ballantyne, an old schoolfriend, in a printing-house through which he hoped to reap more directly than by the ordinary means the profits of his labors. It would have been prejudicial to his standing, professional and social, if his connection. with a business enterprise had been publicly known.