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ADVERTISEMENT TO EDITION 1833. was once so popular, may still attract public attention THE INTRODUCTION to The LAY Of The Last Min- and curiosity, it seems to me not without its use to
record the manner and circumstances under which STREL, written in April 1830, was revised by the the present, and other Poems on the same plan, atAuthor in the autumn of 1831, when he also made tained for a season an extensive reputation. some corrections in the text of the Poem, and several additions to the notes. The work is now printed from the period at which I broke off in the Essay on the
I must resume the story of my literary labours at his interleaved copy. It is much to be regretted that the original MS. of enjoyed the first gleam of public favour, by the suc
Imitation of Popular Poetry, (see post,] when I had this Poem has not been preserved. We are thus denied the advantage of comparing throughout the tish Border. The second edition of that work, pub
cess of the first edition of the Minstrelsy of the ScotAuthor's various readings, which, in the case of Marmion, the Lady of the Lake, the Lord of the Isles, &c. lished in 1803, proved, in the language of the trade,
rather a heavy concern. The demand in Scotland are often highly curious and instructive.-Ed.
had been supplied by the first edition, and the curio
sity of the English was not much awakened by poems INTRODUCTION TO EDITION 1830. in the rude garb of antiquity, accompanied with notes A POEM of nearly thirty years' standing' may be sup- referring to the obscure feuds of barbarous clans, of posed hardly to need an Introduction, since, without whose very names civilized history was ignorant. It one, it has been able to keep itself afloat through was, on the whole, one of those books which are more the best part of a generation. Nevertheless, as, in praised than they are read.? the edition of the Waverley Novels now in course of At this time I stood personally in a different posipublication, [1830,] I have imposed on myself the tion from that which I occupied when I first dipt my task of saying something concerning the purpose and desperate pen in ink for other purposes than those of history of each, in their turn, I am desirous that the my profession. In 1796, when I first published the Poems for which I first received some marks of the translations from Bürger, I was an insulated indivipublic favour, should also be accompanied with such dual, with only my own wants to provide for, and scraps of their literary history as may be supposed to having, in a great measure, my own inclinations alone carry interest along with them. Even if I should be to consult. In 1803, when the second edition of the mistaken in thinking that the secret history of what Minstrelsy appeared, I had arrived at a period of life
· Published in 4to, (£1, 5s.) January 1803.
2 “The Lay' is the best of all possible comments on tho Border Minstrelsy."-British Critic, August 1805.
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 excuto 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 I 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 useful 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 * Mr. Jeffrey, after conducting the Edinburgh Review for Scotland, and, in 1834, a Senator of the College of Justice by twenty-seven years, withdrew from that office in 1829, on being the title of Lord Jeffrey.--Ed.
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 bum 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, 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 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. 1 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 l 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 as 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,s 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, bas 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 ber 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
8 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 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 slain,
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,
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. 2 The Duchess died in August 1814. Sir Walter Scott's | ber all these stories about the auld riding days, which are of