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when men, however thoughtless, encounter duties Such, however, was not my case ; for the reader and circumstances which press consideration and will not wonder that my open interference with matplans of life upon the most careless minds. I had ters of light literature diminished my employment in been for some time married—was the father of a rising the weightier matters of the law. Nor did the solicifamily, and, though fully enabled to meet the conse- tors, upon whose choice the counsel takes rank in his quent demands upon me, it was my duty and desire profession, do me less than justice, by regarding to place myself in a situation which would enable me others among my contemporaries as fitter to discharge to make honourable provision against the various con- the duty due to their clients, than a young man who tingencies of life.
was taken up with running after ballads, whether It may be readily supposed that the attempts which I Teutonic or national. My profession and I, therehad made in literature had been unfavourable to mysuc- fore, came to stand nearly upon the footing which cess at the bar. The goddess Themis is, at Edinburgh, honest Slender consoled himself on having established and I suppose everywhere else, of a peculiarly jealous with Mistress Anne Page; “ There was no great love disposition. She will not readily consent to share her between us at the beginning, and it pleased Heaven authority, and sternly demands from her votaries, not to decrease it on farther acquaintance." I became only that real duty be carefully attended to and dis- sensible that the time was come when I must either charged, but that a certain air of business shall be buckle myself resolutely to the “ toil by day, the observed even in the midst of total idleness. It is lamp by night,” renouncing all the Delilahs of my prudent, if not absolutely necessary, in a young bar- imagination, or bid adieu to the profession of the law, rister, to appear completely engrossed by his profes- and hold another course. sion ; however destitute of employment he may in I confess my own inclination revolted from the reality be, he ought to preserve, if possible, the ap- more severe choice, which might have been deemed pearance of full occupation. He should, therefore, by many the wiser alternative. As my transgressions seem perpetually engaged among his law-papers, dust- had been numerous, my repentance must have been ing them, as it were ; and, as Ovid advises the fair, signalized by unusual sacrifices. I ought to have
“Si nullus erit pulvis, tamen excute nullum." 1 mentioned, that since my fourteenth or fifteenth year, Perhaps such extremity of attention is more especially my health, originally delicate, had become extremely required, considering the great number of counsellors robust. From infancy I had laboured under the inwho are called to the bar, and how very small a pro- firmity of a severe lameness, but, as I believe is usually portion of them are finally disposed, or find encou- the case with men of spirit who suffer under perragement, to follow the law as a profession. Hence the sonal inconveniences of this nature, I had, since the number of deserters is so great, that the least lingering improvement of my health, in defiance of this incapalook behind occasions a young novice to be set down as citating circumstance, distinguished myself by the one of the intending fugitives. Certain it is, that the endurance of toil on foot or horse-back, having often Scottish Themis was at this time peculiarly jealous of walked thirty miles a-day, and rode upwards of a any flirtation with the Muses, on the part of those who hundred, without resting. In this manner I made had ranged themselves under her banners. This was many pleasant journeys through parts of the country probably owing to her consciousness of the superior then not very accessible, gaining more amusement and attractions of her rivals. Of late, however, she has instruction than I have been able to acquire since I relaxed in some instances in this particular, an emi- have travelled in a more commodious manner. I nent example of which has been shown in the case of practised most silvan sports also, with some success, my friend, Mr. Jeffrey, who, after long conducting and with great delight. But these pleasures must one of the most influential literary periodicals of the have been all resigned, or used with great moderation, age, with unquestionable ability, has been, by the had l determined to regain my station at the bar. general consent of his brethren, recently elected to It was even doubtful whether I could, with perfect be their Dean of Faculty, or President,-being the character as a jurisconsult, retain a situation in a highest acknowledgment of his professional talents volunteer corps of cavalry, which I then held. The which they had it in their power to offer. But this threats of invasion were at this time instant and is an incident much beyond the ideas of a period of menacing; the call by Britain on her children was thirty years' distance, when a barrister who really universal, and was answered by some, who, like mypossessed any turn for lighter literature, was at as self, consulted rather their desire than their ability to much pains to conceal it, as if it had in reality been bear arms. My services, however, were found usefui' something to be ashamed of; and I could mention in assisting to maintain the discipline of the corps, more than one instance in which literature and society being the point on which their constitution rendered have suffered much loss, that jurisprudence might be them most amenable to military criticism. In other enriched.
respects, the squadron was a fine one, consisting
1 If dust be none, yet brush that none away.
elected Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. In 1830, under
Earl Grey's Ministry, he was appointed Lord Advocate of S Mr. Jeffrey, after conducting the Edinburgh Review for Scotland, and, in 1834, a Senator of the College of Justice by trenty-seven years, withdrew from that office in 1829, on being the title of Lord Jeffrey.-ED.
chiefly of landsome men, well mounted and armed apt to ascribe a very undue degree of consequence to at their own expense. My attention to the corps literary pursuits, as if they were, indeed, the business, took up a good deal of time; and while it occupied rather than the amusement, of life. The opposite many of the happiest hours of my life, it furnished an course can only be compared to the injudicious conadditional reason for my reluctance again to encounter duct of one who pampers himself with cordial and lusthe severe course of study indispensable to success in cious draughts, until he is unable to endure wholethe juridical profession.
some bitters. Like Gil Blas, therefore, I resolved to On the other hand, my father, whose feelings might stick by the society of my commis, instead of seeking have been hurt by my quitting the bar, had been for that of a more literary cast, and to maintain my two or three years dead, so that I had no control to general interest in what was going on around me, thwart my own inclination; and my income being reserving the man of letters for the desk and the liequal to all the comforts, and some of the elegancies, brary. of life, I was not pressed to an irksome labour by My second resolution was a corollary from the first. necessity, that most powerful of motives; consequently, I determined that, without shutting my ears to the I was the more easily seduced to choose the employ- voice of true criticism, I would pay no regard to that ment which was most agreeable to me. This was yet which assumes the form of satire. I therefore resolthe easier, that in 1800 I had obtained the prefermentved to arm myself with that triple brass of Horace, of of Sheriff of Selkirkshire, about £300 a-year in value, which those of my profession are seldom held deficient, and which was the more agreeable to me, as in that against all the roving warfare of satire, parody, and county I had several friends and relations. But I did sarcasm ; to laugh if the jest was a good one, or, if not abandon the profession to which I had been edu- otherwise, to let it hum and buzz itself to sleep. cated, without certain prudential resolutions, which, It is to the observance of these rules, (according to at the risk of some egotism, I will here mention ; not my best belief,) that, after a life of thirty years enwithout the hope that they may be useful to young gaged in literary labours of various kinds, I attribute persons who may stand in circumstances similar to my never having been entangled in any literary quarthose in which I then stood.
rel or controversy; and, which is a still more pleasing In the first place, upon considering the lives and result, that I have been distinguished by the personal fortunes of persons who had given themselves up to macuushup of my most approved contemporaries of all literature, or to the task of pleasing the public, it parties. seemed to me, that the circumstances which chiefly 1 adopted, at the same time, another resolution, on affected their happiness and character, were those which it may doubtless be remarked, that it was well from which Horace has bestowed upon authors the for me that I had it in my power to do so, and that, epithet of the Irritable Race. It requires no depth of therefore, it is a line of conduct which, depending upon philosophic reflection to perceive, that the petty war-accident, can be less generally applicable in other fare of Pope with the Dunces of his period could not cases. Yet I fail not to record this part of my plan, have been carried on without his suffering the most convinced that, though it may not be in every one's acute torture, such as a man must endure from mus- power to adopt exactly the same resolution, he may quittoes, by whose stings he suffers agony, although he nevertheless, by his own exertions, in some shape or can crush them in his grasp by myriads. Nor is it ne- other, attain the object on which it was founded, cessary to call to memory the many humiliating in- namely, to secure the means of subsistence, without stances in which men of the greatest genius have, to relying exclusively on literary talents. In this respect, avenge some pitiful quarrel, made themselves ridicu- I determined that literature should be my staff, but lous during their lives, to become the still more de- not my crutch, and that the profits of my literary lagraded objects of pity to future times.
bour, however convenient otherwise, should not, if I Upon the whole, as I had no pretension to the ge- could help it, become necessary to my ordinary exnius of the distinguished persons who had fallen into penses. With this purpose I resolved, if the interest such errors, I concluded there could be no occasion of my friends could so far favour me, to retire upon for imitating them in their mistakes, or what I consi- any of the respectable offices of the law, in which perdered as such; and, in adopting literary pursuits as sons of that profession are glad to take refuge, when the principal occupation of my future life, I resolved, they feel themselves, or are judged by others, incomif possible, to avoid those weaknesses of temper which petent to aspire to its higher honours. Upon such a seemed to have most easily beset my more celebrated post an author might hope to retreat, without any perpredecessors.
ceptible alteration of circumstances, whenever the With this view, it was my first resolution to keep as time should arrive that the public grew weary of his far as was in my power abreast of society, continuing endeavours to please, or he himself should tire of the to maintain my place in general company, without pen. At this period of my life, I possessed so many yielding to the very natural temptation of narrowing friends capable of assisting me in this object of ambimyself to what is called literary society. By doing so, tion, that I could hardly over-rate my own prospects I imagined I should escape the besetting sin of listen- of obtaining the preferment to which I limited my ing to language, which, from one motive or other, is wishes ; and, in fact, I obtained in no long period
the reversion of a situation which completely met | couplet, which seems congenial to our language, and them.
was, doubtless for that reason, so popular with our old Thus far all was well, and the Author had been minstrels, is, for the same reason, apt to prove a spare guilty, perhaps, of no great imprudence, when he re- to the composer who uses it in more modern days, by linquished his forensic practice with the hope of ma- encouraging him in a habit of slovenly composition. king some figure in the field of literature. But an | The necessity of occasional pauses often forces the established character with the public, in my new ca- young poet to pay more attention to sense, as the Loy's pacity, still remained to be acquired. I have noticed, kite rises highest when the train is loaded by a due that the translations from Bürger had been unsuccess- counterpoise. The Author was therefore intimidated fal, nor had the original poetry which appeared under by what Byron calls the “ fatal facility” of the octothe auspices of Mr. Lewis, in the “ Tales of Wonder,” syllabic verse, which was otherwise better adapted to in any great degree raised my reputation. It is true, I his purpose of imitating the more ancient poetry had private friends disposed to second me in my efforts I was not less at a loss for a subject which might to obtain popularity. But I was sportsman enough admit of being treated with the simplicity and wildto know, that if the greyhound does not run well, the ness of the ancient ballad. But accident dictated both halloos of his patrons will not obtain the prize for a theme and measure, which decided the subject, as him.
well as the structure of the poem. Neither was 1 ignorant that the practice of ballad- The lovely young Countess of Dalkeith, afterwards writing was for the present out of fashion, and that Harriet Duchess of Buccleuch, had come to the land any attempt to revive it, or to found a poetical cha- of her husband with the desire of making herself acracter upon it, would certainly fail of success. The quainted with its traditions and customs, as well as ballad measure itself, which was once listened to as its manners and history. All who remember this lady to an enchanting melody, had become hackneyed and will agree, that the intellectual character of her exsickening, from its being the accompaniment of every treme beauty, the amenity and courtesy of her mangrinding hand-organ; and besides, a long work inners, the soundness of her understanding, and her un. quatrains, whether those of the common ballad, or such bounded benevolence, gave more the idea of an angeas are termed elegiac, has an effect upon the mind lic visitant, than of a being belonging to this nether like that of the bed of Procrustes upon the human world; and such a thought was but too consistent body; for, as it must be both awkward and difficult with the short space she was permitted to tarry among to carry on a long sentence from one stanza to an- us. Of course, where all made it a pride and pleaother, it follows, that the meaning of each period must sure to gratify her wishes, she soon heard enough of be comprehended within four lines, and equally so Border lore; among others, an aged gentleman of that it must be extended so as to fill that space. The property, near Langholm, communicated to her lady. alternate dilation and contraction thus rendered ne- ship the story of Gilpin Horner, a tradition in which cessary is singularly unfavourable to narrative com- the narrator, and many more of that country, were position; and the “Gondibert” of Sir William D’Ave- firm believers. The young Countess, much delighted nant, though containing many striking passages, has with the legend, and the gravity and full confidence never become pöpular, owing chiefly to its being told with which it was told, enjoined on me as a task to in this species of elegiac verse.
compose a ballad on the subject. Of course, to hear In the dilemma occasioned by this objection, the was to obey; and thus the goblin story, objected to by idea occurred to the Author of using the measured several critics as an excrescence upon the poem, was, short line, which forms the structure of so much min- in fact, the occasion of its being written. strel poetry, that it may be properly termed the Ro- A chance similar to that which dictated the subject, mantic stanza, by way of distinction; and which ap- gave me also the hint of a new mode of treating it. pears so natural to our language, that the very best We had at that time the lease of a pleasant cottage, of our poets have not been able to protract it into the near Lasswade, on the romantic banks of the Esk, to verse properly called Heroic, without the use of epi- which we escaped when the vacations of the Court thets which are, to say the least, unnecessary. But, permitted me so much leisure. Here I had the pleaon the other hand, the extreme facility of the short sure to receive a visit from Mr. Stoddart, (now Sir
" Thus it has been often remarked, that, in the opening lines on her death will be found in a subsequent page of couplets of Pope's translation of the Iliad, there are two syl- this collection.-ED. Lables forming a superfluous word in each line, as may be
3 This was Mr. Beattie of Mickledale, a man then considerobserved by attending to such words as are printed in Italics.ably upwards of eighty, of a shrewd and sarcastic temper, “ Achilles' wrath to Greece the direful spring
which he did not at all times suppress, as the following anec. Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing;
dote will show SA worthy clergyman, now deceased, with That wrath which sent to Pluto's gloomy reign,
better good-will than tact, was endeavouring to push the senius The souls of mighty chiefs in battle slain,
forward in his recollection of Border ballads and legends, by
expressing reiterated surprise at his wonderful memory. "No, Whose bones, unburied on the desert shore,
sir,” said old Mickledale; “my memory is good for little, for Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore."
it cannot retain what ought to be preserved. I can remem• The Duchess died in August 1814. Sir Walter Scott's | ber all these stories about the auld riding days, which are of
John Stoddart, Judge-Advocate at Malta,) who was labour, though I was now furnished with a subject, at that time collecting the particu'ars which he after- and with a structure of verse which might have the wards embodied in his Remarks on Local Scenery in etfect of novelty to the public ear, and afford the Scotland. I was of some use to him in procuring the author an opportunity of varying his measure with the information which he desired, and guiding him to the variations of a romantic theme. On the contrary, it scenes which he wished to see. In return, he made was, to the best of my recollection, more than a year me better acquainted than I had hitherto been with after Mr. Stoddart's visit, that, by way of experiment, the poetic effusions which have since made the Lakes I composed the first two or three stanzas of “ The Lay of Westmoreland, and the authors by whom they have of the Last Minstrel.” I was shortly afterwards visited been sung, so famous wherever the English tongue is by two intimate friends, one of whom still survives. spoken.
They were men whose talents might have raised them I was already acquainted with the “ Joan of Arc,” to the highest station in literature, had they not prethe “ Thalaba,” and the “ Metrical Ballads” of Mr. ferred exerting them in their own profession of the Southey, which had found their way to Scotland, and law, in which they attained equal preferment. I was mere generally admired. But Mr. Stoddart, who had in the habit of consulting them on my attempts at comthe advantage of personal friendship with the authors, position, having equal confidence in their sound taste and who possessed a strong memory with an excellent and friendly sincerity. In this specimen I had, in the taste, was able to repeat to me many long specimens phrase of the Highland servant, packed all that was of their poetry, which had not yet appeared in print. my own at least, for I had also included a line of invo. Amongst others, was the striking fragment called cation, a little softened, from Coleridge Christabel, by Mr. Coleridge, which, from the singu
"Mary, mother, shield ug well." larly irregular structure of the stanzas, and the liberty which to allowed the author, to adapt the sound to the As neither of my friends said much to me on the subsense, seemed to be exactly suited to such an extra- ject of the stanzas I showed them before their depar. vaganza as I meditated on the subject of Gilpin Hor- ture, I had no doubt that their disgust had been
As applied to comic and humorous poetry, this greater than their good - nature chose to express. mescolanza of measures had been already used by Looking upon them, therefore, as a failure, I threw Anthony Hall, Anstey, Dr. Wolcott, and others; but the manuscript into the fire, and thought as little it was in Christabel that I first found it used in serious more as I could of the matter. Some time afterwards poetry, and it is to Mr. Coleridge that I am bound to I met one of my two counsellors, who enquired, with make the acknowledgment due from the pupil to his considerable appearance of interest, about the progress saster. I observe that Lord Byron, in noticing my of the romance I had commenced, and was greatly obligations to Mr. Coleridge, which I have been al- surprised at learning its fate. He confessed that neiways most ready to acknowledge, expressed, or was ther he nor our mutual friend had been at first able to understood to express, a hope, that I did not write an give a precise opinion on a poem so much out of the unfriendly review on Mr. Coleridge's productions. common road; but that as they walked home together On this subject I have only to say, that I do not even to the city, they had talked much on the subject, and know the review which is alluded to ; and were I ever the result was an earnest desire that I would proceed to take the unbecoming freedom of censuring a man with the composition. He also added, that some sort of Mr. Coleridge’s extraordinary talents, it would be of prologue might be necessary, to place the mind of on account of the caprice and indolence with which the hearers in the situation to understand and enjoy he has thrown from him, as if in mere wantonness, the poem, and recommended the adoption of such those unfinished scraps of poetry, which, like the quaint mottoes as Spenser has used to announce the Torso of antiquity, defy the skill of his poetical breth- contents of the chapters of the Faery Queen, such as ren to complete them. The charming fragments
“ Babe's bloody hands may not be cleansed. which the author abandons to their fate, are surely too The face of golden Mean: valuable to be treated like the proofs of careless en- Her sisters two, Extremities,
Strive her to banish clean." 3 gravers, the sweepings of whose studios often make the fortune of some painstaking collector.
I entirely agreed with my friendly critic in the neces. I did not immediately proceed upon my projected sity of having some sort of pitch-pipe, which might
no earthly importance ; but were you, reverend sir, to repeat
* To call up him who left half told Four best sermon in this drawing-room, I could not tell you
The story of Cambuscan bold?'" half an hour afterwards what you had been speaking about."
Notes to the Abbot.-ED.
4 One of these, William Erskine, Esq. (Lord Kinnedder), 1 1 Two volumes, royal octavo. 1801.
have often had occasion to mention, and though I may hardly & Medwin's Conversations of Lord Byron, p. 309.
be thanked for disclosing the name of the other, yet I cannot
but state that the second is George Cranstoun, Esq., now a * Sir Walter, elsewhere, in allusion to “ Coleridge's beau- Senator of the College of Justice, by the title of Lord Coretful and tantalizing fragment of Christabel," says, “ Has not house. 1831.-[Mr. Cranstoun resigned his seat on the Bench our own imaginative poet cause to fear that future ages will in 1839.] desire to summon him from his place of rest, as Milton longed 5 Book II. Canto II.
make readers aware of the object, or rather the tone, of division of profits between the author and pubof the publication. But I doubted whether, in assu- lishers, was not long after purchased by them for ming the oracular style of Spenser's mottoes, the inter- £500, to which Messrs. Longman and Company preter might not be censured as the harder to be un- afterwards added £100, in their own unsolicited derstood of the two. I therefore introduced the Old kindness, in consequence of the uncommon success of Minstrel, as an appropriate prolocutor, by whom the the work. It was handsomely given to supply the lay might be sung, or spoken, and the introduction of loss of a fine horse, which broke down suddenly while whom betwixt the cantos, might remind the reader at the author was riding with one of the worthy pubintervals, of the time, place, and circumstances of the lishers." recitation. This species of cadre, or frame, afterwards It would be great affectation not to own frankly, afforded the poem its name of “ The Lay of the Last | that the author expected some success from “ The Minstrel.”
Lay of the Last Minstrel.” The attempt to return to The work was subsequently shown to other friends a more simple and natural style of poetry was likely during its progress, and received the imprimatur of Mr. to be welcomed, at a time when the public had beFrancis Jeffrey, who had been already for some time come tired of heroic hexameters, with all the buckram distinguished by his critical talent.
and binding which belong to them of later days. But The poem, being once licensed by the critics as fit whatever might have been his expectations, whether for the market, was soon finished, proceeding at about moderate or unreasonable, the result left them far the rate of a canto per week. There was, indeed, behind, for among those who smiled on the adventulittle occasion for pause or hesitation, when a trouble- rous Minstrel, were numbered the great names of some rhyme might be accommodated by an alteration William Pitt and Charles Fox.? Neither was the of the stanza, or where an incorrect measure might be extent of the sale inferior to the character of the remedied by a variation of the rhyme. It was finally judges who received the poem with approbation. published in 1805, and may be regarded as the first Upwards of thirty thousand copies of the Lay were work in which the writer, who has been since so volu- disposed of by the trade; and the author had to perminous, laid his claim to be considered as an original form a task difficult to human vanity, when called anthor.
upon to make the necessary deductions from his own The book was published by Longman and Company, merits, in a calm attempt to account for his popuand Archibald Constable and Company. The principal larity.3 of the latter firm was then commencing that course of A few additional remarks on the author's literary bold and liberal industry which was of so much ad- attempts after this period, will be found in the Introvantage to his country, and might have been so to duction to the Poem of Marmion. himself, but for causes which it is needless to enter into here. The work, brought out on the usual terms ABBOTSFORT, April 1830.
1 Mr. Owen Rees, here alluded to, retired from the house 3 “ The poet has under-estimated even the patent and tanof Longman & Co., at Midsummer 1837, and died 5th Septem-gible evidence of his success. The first edition of the Lay was ber following, in his 67th year.-ED.
a magnificent quarto, 750 copies; but this was soon exhaust
ed, and there followed an octavo impression of 1500; in 1806, 2 “Through what channel or in what terms Fox made known two more, one of 2000 copies, another of 2250; in 1807, a fifth his opinion of the Lay, I have failed to ascertain. Pitt's praise, edition, of 2000, and a sixth, of 3000; in 1808, 3550 ; in 1809, as expressed to his niece, Lady Hester Stanhope, within a few 3000—a small edition in quarto (the ballads and lyrical pieces weeks after the poem appeared, was repeated by her to Mr. being then annexed to it)-and another octavo edition of William Stewart Rose, who, of course, communicated it forth- 3250 ; in 1811, 3060); in 1812, 3000; in 1816, 3000; in 1823, 1000. with to the author; and not long after, the Minister, in con- A fourteenth impression of 2000 foolscap appeared in 1825. versation with Scott's early friend, the Right Hon. William and besides all this, before the end of 1836, 11,000 copies had Dundas, signified that it would give him pleasure to find some gone forth in the collected editions of his poetical works. opportunity of advancing the fortunes of such a writer, "I Thus, nearly forty-four thousand copies had been disposed of remember," writes this gentleman, “at Mr. Pitt's table in in this country, and by the legitimate trade alone, before he 1806, the Chancellor asked me about you and yourthen situa- superintended the edition of 1830, to which his biographical tior, and after I had answered him, Mr. Pitt observed— He introductions were prefixed. In the history of British Poetry can't remain as he is,' and desired me to look to it.'"- nothing had ever equalled the demand for the Lay of the Last LOCKHART. Life of Scott, Vol. II. p. 226.
Minstrel.” -- Life, Vol. II. p. 226.