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chiefly of handsome 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 preferment ved 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 quar: those 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 friendship 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, 1 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 ny 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 snare 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 boy'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 ful, 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 I 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 in ners, the soundness of her understanding, and her unquatrains, 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 popular, 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 dirrful spring
which he did not at all times suppress, as the following anecof woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing;
dote will show :-A worthy clergyman, now deceased, with That wrath which sent to Pluto's gloomy reign,
better good-will than tact, was endeavouring to push the senior The souls of mighty chiefs in battle slaill,
forward in his recollection of Border ballads and legends, by Whose bones, unburied on the desert shore,
expressing reiterated surprise at his wonderful memory. “No, Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore."
sir," said old Mickledale; “my memory is good for little, for
it cannot retain what ought to be preserved. I can remom2 The Duct css 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 particulars which he after- and with a structure of verse which might have the wards embodied in his Remarks on Local Scenery in effect 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 were 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 invoAmongst others, was the striking fragment called cation, a little softened, from Coleridge-Christabel, by Mr. Coleridge, which, from the singu
“ Mary, mother, shield us well." larly irregular structure of the stanzas, and the liberty which it 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 deparvaganza 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 master. 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." 5 gravers, the sweepings of whose studios often make the fortune of some painstaking collector.
I entirely agreed with my friendly critic in the nece3I 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 your 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 Kinneddor), I 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 3 Sir Walter, else where, in allusion to “ Coleridge's beau- Senator of the College of Justice, by the title of Lord Corotiful 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 uncummon 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 bad to perminous, laid his claim to be considered as an original form a task difficult to human vanity, when called author.
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 ABBOTSFORD, 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 1946, 2 " Through what channel or in what terms Fox made known two more, one of 2000 copies, another of 2250 ; in 1807. & fifth his opinion of the Lay, I have failed to ascertain. Pitt's praise, edition, of 2000), and a sixth, of 3100; in 1908, 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, 3000; 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 thousaud 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 1805, the Chancellor asked me about you and your then situa- superintended the edition of 1830, to which his biographical tion, 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." – Lije, Vol. Il. p. 226.
PREFACE TO TIE FIRST EDITION. The Poem, now offered to the Public, is intended to illustrate the customs and manners which anciently prevailed on the Borders of England and Scotland. The inhalntants living in u state partly pastoral and partly warlike, and combining habits of constant depredation with the influence of a rule spirit of chivalry, were often engaged in scenes highly susceptible of poetical ornament. As the description of scenery and manners was more the object of the Author than a combined and regular narrative, the plan of the Ancient Metrical Romance was adopted, which allows greater latitude, in this respect, than would be consistent with the dinity of a regular Poem.' The same model offered other facilities, as it permits an occasional alteration of nueasure, which, in some degree, ardhorises the change of rhythm in the test. The machinery, also, adopted from popular belief, would have scemed pu-rile in a Poem which did not partake of the rudeness of the old Ballad, or Metrical Romance. For these reasons, the Poem was put into the mouth of an ancient Minstrel, the last of the race, ucho, as he is.
supposed to have survived the Revolution, inight have caught somewhat of the refinement of modern poetry, without losing the simplicity of his original model. The date of the Tale itself is about the middle of the sixteenth century, when most of the personages actually flourished. The time occupied by the action is Three Nights and Three Days.3
His wither'd cheek, and tresses gray,
The way was long, the wind was cold,
""The chief excellence of The Lay consists in the beauty his journey by every variety of motion. He is now at a trot, of the descriptions of local scenery, and the accurate picture now at a gallop; nay, he sometimes stops, as if to of customs and manners among the Scottish Borderers at the
• Make graceful caprioles, and prance time it refers to. The various exploits and adventures which
Between the pillars.' occur in those half-civilized times, when the bands of government were so loosely twisted, that every man depended for
A main objection to this plan is to be found in the shock which safety more on his own arm, or the prowess of his chief, than
the ear receives from violent and abrupt transitions. On the on the civil power, may be said to hold a middle rank between
other hand, it must be allowed, that as different species of history and private anecdote. War is always most picturesque
verse are individually better suited to the expression of the where it is least formed into a science; it has most variety and
different ideas, sentiments, and passions, which it is the obinterest where the prowess and activity of individuals has most ject of poetry to convey, the happiest efforts may be produced play; and the nocturnal expedition of Diomed and Ulysses to by adapting to the subject its most congenial structure of seize the chariot and horses of Rhesus, or a raid of the Scotts
verse."-Critical Revier, 1805. or the Kerrs to drive cat:le, will make a better figure in verse, than all the battles of the great King of Prussia. The sleuth
" From the novelty of its style and subject, and from the den, the beacon-fires, the Jertarood-axes, the moss-troopersethe spirit of its execution, Mr. Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel yell of the slogan, and all the irregular warfare of predatory
kindled a sort of enthusiasm among all classes of readers; and expeditions, or feuds of hereditary vengeance, are far more
the concurrent voice of the public assigned to it a very ex
alted rank, which, on more cool and dispassionate examinacaptivating to the imagination than a park of artillery and battalions of well-drilled soldiers." — Annual Revicu, 1801.
tion, its numerous essential beauties will enable it to main
tain. For vivid richness of colouring and truth of costume, 2 " It must be observed, that there is this difference between the license of the old romancer, and that assumed by carries us back in imagination to the time of action; and we
many of its descriptive pictures stand almost unrivalled; it Mr. Scott; the aberrations of the first are usually casual and slight; those of the other premeditated and systematic. The
wander with the poet along Tweedside, or among the wild old romancer may be compared to a man who trusts his reins glades of Ettrick Forest."— Monthly Review, Nay, 1943. to his horse ; his paifrey often blunders, and occasionally 3. “ We consider this poem as an attempt to transfer the breaks his pace, sometimes from vivacity, oftener through in refinements of modern poetry to the matter and the manner of dolence. Mr. Scott sets out with the intention of diversifying the ancient metrical romance. The author, enamoured of