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It was so late as the 21st day of April 1788, that and regulation of taste, though at the risk of repress. the literary persons of Edinburgh, of whom, at that ing genius. period, I am better qualified to speak than of those of But it was not the dramatic literature alone of the Britain generally, or especially those of London, were Germans which was hitherto unknown to their neighfirst made aware of the existence of works of genius bours—their fictitious narratives, their ballad poetry, in a language cognate with the English, and pos- and other branches of their literature, which are parsessed of the same manly force of expression. They ticularly apt to bear the stamp of the extravagant learned, at the same time, that the taste which dic- and the supernatural, began to occupy the attention tated the German compositions was of a kind as nearly of the British literati. allied to the English as their language. Those who In Edinburgh, where the remarkable coincidence were accustomed from their youth to admire Milton between the German language and that of the Lowand Shakspeare, became acquainted, I may say for land Scottish, encouraged young men to approach the first time, with the existence of a race of poets this newly discovered spring of literature, a class was who had the same lofty ambition to spurn the flaming formed, of six or seven intimate friends, who proboundaries of the universe, and investigate the posed to make themselves acquainted with the Gerrealms of chaos and old night ; and of dramatists, man language. They were in the habit of living who, disclaiming the pedantry of the unities, sought, much together, and the time they spent in this new at the expense of occasional improbabilities and ex- study was felt as a period of great amusement. One travagancies, to present life in its scenes of wildest source of this diversion was the laziness of one of contrast, and in all its boundless variety of character, their number, the present author, who, averse to the mingling, without hesitation, livelier with more necessary toil of grammar and its rules, was in the serious incidents, and exchanging scenes of tragic practice of fighting his way to the knowledge of the distress, as they occur in common life, with those of German by his acquaintance with the Scottish and a comic tendency. This emancipation from the rules Anglo-Saxon dialects, and, of course, frequently comso servilely adhered to by the French school, and mitted blunders which were not lost on his more acparticularly by their dramatic poets, although it was curate and more studious companions. A more attended with some disadvantages, especially the risk general source of amusement, was the despair of the of extravagance and bombast, was the means of giving teacher, on finding it impossible to extract from his free scope to the genius of Goethe, Schiller, and Scottish students the degree of sensibility necessary, others, which, thus relieved from shackles, was not as he thought, to enjoy the beauties of the author to long in soaring to the highest pitch of poetic subli- whom he considered it proper first to introduce them. mity. The late venerable Henry Mackenzie, author We were desirous to penetrate at once into the reof “ The Man of Feeling,” in an Essay upon the Ger- cesses of the Teutonic literature, and therefore were man Theatre, introduced his countrymen to this new ambitious of perusing Goethé and Schiller, and others species of national literature, the peculiarities of whose fame had been sounded by Mackenzie. Dr. which he traced with equal truth and spirit, although Willich, (a medical gentleman,) who was our teacher, they were at that time known to him only through was judiciously disposed to commence our studies the imperfect and uncongenial medium of a French with the more simple diction of Gesner, and pretranslation. Upon the day already mentioned, (21st scribed to us “ The Death of Abel,” as the producApril 1788,) he read to the Royal Society an Essay tion from which our German tasks were to be drawn. on German Literature, which made much noise, and The pietistic style of this author was ill adapted to produced a powerful effect. “ Germany,” he ob- attract young persons of our age and disposition. We served, “ in her literary aspect, presents herself to could no more sympathize with the overstrained sentiobservation in a singular point of view; that of a mentality of Adam and his family, than we could country arrived at maturity, along with the neigh-have had a fellow-feeling with the jolly Faun of the bouring nations, in the arts and sciences, in the plea- same author, who broke his beautiful jug, and then, sures and refinements of manners, and yet only in its made a song on it which might have affected all infancy with regard to writings of taste and imagina- Staffordshire. To sum up the distresses of Dr. Wiltion. This last path, however, from these very cir- lich, we, with one consent, voted Abel an insufferable cumstances, she pursues with an enthusiasm which bore, and gave the pre-eminence, in point of mascuno other situation could perhaps have produced, the line character, to his brother Cain, or even to Lucifer enthusiasm which novelty inspires, and which the ser-himself. When these jests, which arose out of the vility incident to a more cultivated and critical state sickly monotony and affected ecstasies of the poet, of literature does not restrain.” At the same time, failed to amuse us, we had for our entertainment the the accomplished critic showed himself equally fami- unutterable sounds manufactured by a Frenchman, liar with the classical rules of the French stage, and our fellow-student, who, with the economical purpose failed not to touch upon the acknowledged advan- of learning two languages at once, was endeavourtages which these produced, by the encouragement ing to acquire German, of which he knew nothing,
by means of English, concerning which he was nearly 1 “Flammantia mcenia mundi."- LUCRETIL'S
as ignorant. Heaven only knows the notes which he
attered, in attempting, with unpractised organs, to man faery and diablerie, not forgetting the paths of her imitate the gutturals of these two intractable lan- enthusiastic tragedy and romantic poetry. guages. At length, in the midst of much laughing We are easily induced to imitate what we admire, and little study, most of us acquired some knowledge, and Lewis early distinguished himself by a romance more or less extensive, of the German language, and in the German taste, called “ The Monk.” In this selected for ourselves, some in the philosophy of work, written in his twentieth year, and founded op Kant, some in the more animated works of the Ger- the Eastern apologue of the Santon Barsisa, the man dramatists, specimens more to our taste than author introduced supernatural machinery with a “ The Death of Abel.”
courageous consciousness of his own power to manage About this period, or a year or two sooner, the its ponderous strength, which commanded the respect accomplished and excellent Lord Woodhouselee, of his reader. “ The Monk” was published in 1795, one of the friends of my youth, made a spirited ver- ; and, though liable to the objections common to the sion of “The Robbers” of Schiller, which I believe school to which it belonged, and to others peculiar to was the first published, though an English version itself, placed its author at once high in the scale of appeared soon afterwards in London, as the metro- men of letters. Nor can that be regarded as an ordipolis then took the lead in every thing like literary nary exertion of genius, to which Charles Fox paid the adventure. The enthusiasm with which this work unusual compliment of crossing the House of Comwas received, greatly increased the general taste for mons that he might congratulate the young author, German compositions.
whose work obtained high praise from many other While universal curiosity was thus distinguishing able men of that able time. The party which approved the advancing taste for the German language and “ The Monk” was at first superior in the lists, and it literature, the success of a very young student, in a was some time before the anonymous author of the juvenile publication, seemed to show that the prevail- " Pursuits of Literature” denounced as puerile and ing taste in that country might be easily employed as absurd the supernatural machinery which Lewis had a formidable auxiliary to renewing the spirit of our | introduced own, upon the same system as when medical persons
I bear an English heart, attempt, by the transfusion of blood, to pass into the
Unused at ghosts or rattling bones to start." veins of an aged and exhausted patient, the vivacity of the circulation and liveliness of sensation which Yet the acute and learned critic betrays some incondistinguish a young subject. The person who first sistency in praising the magic of the Italian poets, attempted to introduce something like the German and complimenting Mrs. Radcliffe for her success in taste into English fictitious dramatic and poetical supernatural imagery, for which at the same moment composition, although his works, when first published, he thus sternly censures her brother novelist. engaged general attention, is now comparatively for- A more legitimate topic of condemnation was the gotten. I mean Matthew Gregory Lewis, whose indelicacy of particular passages. The present author character and literary history are so immediately con- will hardly be deemed a willing, or at least an internected with the subject of which I am treating, that ested apologist for an offence equally repugnant to a few authentic particulars may be here inserted by decency and good breeding. But as Lewis at once, one to whom he was well known.”
and with a good grace, submitted to the voice of cenLewis's rank in society was determined by his birth, sure, and expunged the objectionable passages, we which, at the same time, assured his fortune. His cannot help considering the manner in which the father was Under-Secretary at War, at that time a fault was insisted on, after all the amends had been very lucrative appointment, and the young poet was offered of which the case could admit, as in the last provided with a seat in Parliament as soon as his age degree ungenerous and uncandid. The pertinacity permitted him to fill it. But his mind did not incline with which the passages so much found fault with him to politics, or, if it did, they were not of the com- were dwelt upon, seemed to warrant a belief that plexion which his father, attached to Mr. Pitt’s adıni- something more was desired than the correction of the nistration, would have approved. He was, moreover, author's errors; and that, wbere the apologies of er. indolent, and though possessed of abilities sufficient treme youth, foreign education, and instant submisto conquer any difficulty which might stand in the sion, were unable to satisfy the critics' fury, they must way of classical attainments, he preferred applying have been determined to act on the severity of the his exertions in a path where they were rewarded with old proverb, “ Confess and be hanged.” Certain it more immediate applause. As he completed his edu- is, that other persons, offenders in the same degree, cation abroad, he had an opportunity of indulging his have been permitted to sue out their pardon without inclination for the extraordinary and supernatural, by either retraction or palinode. wandering through the whole enchanted land of Ger- Another peccadillo of the author of “ The Monk"
1 Alexander Fraser Tytler, a Judge of the Court of Session sor of History in the University of Edinburgh. He died is by the title of Lord Woodhouselee, author of the well-known 1810.-Ed. • Elements of Generl History," and long eminent as Profes- 2 See more of Lewis in the Life of Scotl, vol. ii p. 8-14.
3 See Appendix, Note B.
was his having borrowed from Musæus, and from the Poetry, and the tree is still in my recollection, bepopular tales of the Germans, the singular and strik- neath which I lay and first entered upon the enchanting adventure of the “ Bleeding Nun.” But the bolding perusal of Percy’s “ Reliques of Ancient Poetry,” and free hand with which he traced some scenes, as although it has long perished in the general blight well of natural terror as of that which arises from which affected the whole race of Oriental platanus to supernatural causes, shows distinctly that the plagi- which it belonged. The taste of another person had arism could not have been occasioned by any deficiency strongly encouraged my own researches into this of invention on bis part, though it might take place species of legendary lore. But I had never dreamed from wantonness or wilfulness.
of an attempt to imitate what gave me so much In spite of the objections we have stated, “ The pleasure. Monk” was so highly popular, that it seemed to create I had, indeed, tried the metrical translations which an epoch in our literature. But the public were were occasionally recommended to us at the High chiefly captivated by the poetry with which Mr. Lewis School. I got credit for attempting to do what was had interspersed his prose narrative. It has now enjoined, but very little for the mode in which the task passed from recollection among the changes of literary was performed, and I used to feel not a little mortitaste; but many may remember, as well as I do, the fied when my versions were placed in contrast with effect produced by the beautiful ballad of “ Duran- others of admitted merit. At one period of my schooldarte,” which had the good fortune to be adapted to boy days I was so far left to my own desires as to bean air of great sweetness and pathos; by the ghost come guilty of Verses on a Thunder-storm, which tale of “ Alonzo and Imogine;" and by several other were much approved of, until a malevolent critic pieces of legendary poetry, which addressed them- sprung up, in the shape of an apothecary’s blueselves in all the charms of novelty and of simplicity to buskined wife, who affirmed that my most sweet a public who had for a long time been unused to any poetry was stolen from an old magazine. I never forregale of the kind. In his poetry as well as his prose, gave the imputation, and even now I acknowledge Mr. Lewis had been a successful imitator of the Ger- some resentment against the poor woman's memory. mans, both in his attachment to the ancient ballad, She indeed accused me unjustly, when she said I nad and in the tone of superstition which they willingly stolen my brooms ready made ; but as I had, like most mingle with it. New arrangements of the stanza, premature poets, copied all the words and ideas of and a varied construction of verses, were also adopted, which my verses consisted, she was so far right. I and welcomed as an addition of a new string to the made one or two faint attempts at verse, after I had British harp. In this respect, the stanza in which undergone this sort of daw-plucking at the hands of “ Alonzo the Bråve” is written, was greatly admired, the apothecary's wife; but some friend or other and received as an improvement worthy of adoption always advised me to put my verses in the fire, and, into English poetry.
like Dorax in the play, I submitted, though “ with a In short, Lewis's works were admired, and the swelling heart.” In short, excepting the usual tribute author became famous, not merely through his own to a mistress's eye-brow, which is the language of merit, though that was of no mean quality, but be- passion rather than poetry, I had not for ten years cause he had in some measure taken the public by indulged the wish to couple so much as love and dove, surprise, by using a style of composition, which, like when, finding Lewis in possession of so much reputanational melodies, is so congenial to the general taste, tion, and conceiving that, if I fell behind him in that, though it palls by being much hackneyed, it has poetical powers, I considerably exceeded him in geneonly to be for a short time forgotten in order to re- ral information, I suddenly took it into my head to cover its original popularity.
attempt the style of poetry by which he had raised It chanced that, while his fame was at the highest, himself to fame. Mr. Lewis became almost a yearly visitor to Scotland, This idea was hurried into execution, in consechiefly from attachment to the illustrious family of quence of a temptation which others, as well as the Argyle. The writer of these remarks had the advan- author, found it difficult to resist. The celebrated tage of being made known to the most distinguished ballad of “ Lenoré," by Bürger, was about this time author of the day, by a lady who belongs by birth to introduced into England; and it is remarkable, that, that family, and is equally distinguished by her beauty written as far back as 1775, it was upwards of twenty and accomplishments. Out of this accidental ac- years before it was known in Britain, though calcuquaintance, which increased into a sort of intimacy, lated to make so strong an impression. The wild consequences arose which altered almost all the Scot- character of the tale was such as struck the imagi. tish ballad-maker's future prospects in life.
nation of all who read it, although the idea of the In early youth I had been an eager student of Ballad lady's ride behind the spectre horseman had been
1 The Lady Charlotte Bury.-Ed.
4 See these Verses among the “Miscellanies," which follow See Life of Scott, vol. i. p. 53. this “ Essay," where also many other pieces from the pen
of 3 This tree grewir. a large garden attached to a cottage at Kel. Sir Walter Scott are now for the first time included in an 80, the residence of my father's sister, where I spent many of the edition of his Poetical Works. (1841.) happiest daysof my youth. (1831.) (See Life, vol. i. p. 156.-ED.)
long before hit upon by an English ballad-maker. But although he had then the distinguished advantage of this pretended English original, if in reality it be being a fainiliar friend and frequent visitor of Professuch, is so dull, flat, and prosaic, as to leave the dissor Stewart and his family. But he was absent from tinguished German author all that is valuable in his town while Miss Aikin was in Edinburgh, and it was story, by clothing it with a fanciful wildness of ex- | not until his return that he found all his friends in pression, which serves to set forth the marvellous tale rapture with the intelligence and good sense of their in its native terror. The ballad of “ Lenoré” ac- visitor, but in particular with the wonderful translacordingly possessed general attractions for such of the tion from the Gerinan, by means of which she had English as understood the language in which it is delighted and astonished them. The enthusiastic dewritten; and, as if there had been a charm in the scription given of Bürger's ballad, and the broken ballad, no one seemed to cast his eyes upon it without | account or the story, of which only two lines were a desire to make it known by translation to his own recollected, inspired the author, who had some accountrymen, and six or seven versions were accord- quaintance, as has been said, with the German laningly presented to the public. Although the present guage, and a strong taste for popular poetry, with a author was one of those who intruded his translation desire to see the original. on the world at this time, he may fairly exculpate This was not a wish easily gratified ; German works himself from the rashness of entering the lists against were at that time seldom found in London for sale so many rivals. The circumstances which threw him in Edinburgh never. A lady of noble German deinto this competition were quite accidental, and of a scent, whose friendship I have enjoyed for many nature tending to show how much the destiny of years, found means, however, to procure me a copy of human life depends upon unimportant occurrences, to Bürger's works from Hamburgh. The perusal of the which little consequence is attached at the moment. original rather exceeded than disappointed the expec
About the summer of 1793 or 1794, the celebrated tations which the report of Mr. Stewart's family had Miss Lætitia Aikin, better known as Mrs. Barbauld, induced me to form. At length, when the book had paid a visit to Edinburgh, and was received by such been a few hours in my possession, I found myself literary society as the place then boasted, with the giving an animated account of the poem to a friend, hospitality to which her talents and her worth entitled and rashly added a promise to furnish a copy in her. Among others, she was kindly welcomed by the English ballad verse. late excellent and admired Professor Dugald Stewart, I well recollect that I began my task after supper, his lady, and family. It was in their evening society and finished it about daybreak the next morning, by that Miss Aikin drew from her pocket-book a version which time the ideas which the task had a tendency of “ Lenoré," executed by William Taylor, Esq. of to summon up were rather of an uncomfortable chaNorwich, with as much freedom as was consistent racter. As my object was much more to make a good with great spirit and scrupulous fidelity. She read translation of the poem for those whom I wished to this composition to the company, who were electrified please, than to acquire any poetical fame for my. by the tale. It was the more successful, that Mr. self I retained in my translation the two lines which Taylor had boldly copied the imitative harmony of Mr. Taylor had rendered with equal boldness and the German, and described the spectral journey in felicity. language resembling that of original. Bürger My attempt succeeded far beyond my expectations ; had thus painted the ghostly career :
and it may readily be believed, that I was induced to “ Und hurre, hurre, hop, hop, hop,
persevere in a pursuit which gratified my own vanity, Gings fort in sausendem Galopp,
while it seemed to amuse others. I accomplished a Dass Ross und Reiter schnoben,
translation of “ Der Wilde Jäger"-a romantic ballad Und Kies und Funken stoben."
founded on a superstition universally current in GerThe words were rendered by the kindred sounds in many, and known also in Scotland and France. In English:
this I took rather more license than in versifying " Tramp, tramp, across the land they specde,
“ Lenoré ;” and I balladized one or two other poems Splash, splash, across the sea;
of Bürger with more or less success. In the course Hurra, the dead can ride apace!
of a few weeks, my own vanity, and the favourable Dost fear to ride with me?"
opinion of friends, interested by the temporary revival When Miss Aikin had finished her recitation, she of a species of poetry containing a germ of popularity replaced in her pocket-book the paper from which she of which perhaps they were not themselves aware, had read it, and enjoyed the satisfaction of having urged me to the decisive step of sending a selection, made a strong impression on the hearers, whose at least, of my translations to the press, to save the bosoms thrilled yet the deeper, as the ballad was not numerous applications which were made for copies. to be more closely introduced to them.
When was there an author deaf to such a recommenThe author was not present upon this occasion, dation? In 1796, the present author was prevailed
| Born Countess Harriet Bruhl of Martinskirchen, and the author's relative, and much-valued friend almost fruma married to Hugh Scott, Teq. of Harden, now Lord Polwarth, infancy.
on, " by request of friends,” to indulge his own vanity with which publications were then procured from the by publishing the translation of “ Lenoré," } with continent. The worthy and excellent friend, of whoni that of “ The Wild Huntsman,” in a thin quarto.”I gave a sketch many years afterwards in the person
The fate of this, my first publication, was by no of Jonathan Oldbuck, procured me Adelung's Dicmeans flattering. I distributed so many copies among tionary, through the mediation of Father Pepper, a my friends as, according to the booksellers, materially monk of the Scotch College of Ratisbon. Other wants to interfere with the sale ; and the number of trans- of the same nature were supplied by Mrs. Scott of lations which appeared in England about the same Harden, whose kindness in a similar instance I have time, including that of Mr. Taylor, to which I had had already occasion to acknowledge. Through this been so much indebted, and which was published in lady's connections on the continent, I obtained copies “ The Monthly Magazine,” were sufficient to exclude of Bürger, Schiller, Goethé, and other standard Gera provincial writer from competition. However diffe- man works; and though the obligation be of a distant rent my success might have been, had I been fortu- date, it still remains impressed on my memory, after a nate enough to have led the way in the general life spent in a constant interchange of friendship and scramble for precedence, my efforts sunk unnoticed kindness with that family, which is, according to Scotwhen launched at the same time with those of Mr. tish ideas, the head of my house. Taylor (upon whose property I had committed the Being thus furnished with the necessary originals, kind of piracy already noticed, and who generously I began to translate on all sides, certainly without forgave me the invasion of his rights); of my inge- any thing like an accurate knowledge of the lannious and amiable friend of many years, William guage ; and although the dramas of Goethé, Schiller, Robert Spenser ; of Mr. Pye, the laureate of the day, and others, powerfully attracted one whose early atand many others besides. In a word, my adventure, tention to the German had been arrested by Macwhere so many pushed off to sea, proved a dead loss, kenzie's Dissertation, and the play of “ The Robbers," and a great part of the edition was condemned to the yet the ballad poetry, in which I had made a bold service of the trunk-maker. Nay, so complete was the essay, was still my favourite. I was yet more delighted failure of the unfortunate ballads, that the very exis- on finding, that the old English, and especially the tence of them was soon forgotten; and, in a news Scottish language, were so nearly similar to the Gerpaper, in which I very lately read, to my no small man, not in sound merely, but in the turn of phrase, horror, a most appalling list of my own various publi- that they were capable of being rendered line for line, cations, I saw this, my first offence, had escaped the with very little variation. industrious collector, for whose indefatigable research By degrees, I acquired sufficient confidence to atI may in gratitude wish a better object.3
tempt the imitation of what I admired. The ballad The failure of my first publication did not operate, called “ Glenfinlas” was, I think, the first original in any unpleasant degree, either on my feelings or poem which I ventured to compose. As it is supposed spirits. I was coldly received by strangers, but my to be a translation from the Gaelic, I considered myreputation began rather to increase among my own self as liberated from imitating the antiquated lanfriends, and, on the whole, I was more bent to show guage and rude rhythm of the Minstrel ballad. A the world that it had neglected something worth versification of an Ossianic fragment came nearer to notice, than to be affronted by its indifference. Or the idea I had formed of my task ; for although conrather, to speak candidly, I found pleasure in the troversy may have arisen concerning the authenticity literary labour in which I had, almost by accident, of these poems, yet I never heard it disputed, by those become engaged, and laboured, less in the hope of whom an accurate knowledge of the Gaelic rendered pleasing others, though certainly without despair of competent judges, that in their spirit and diction they doing so, than in the pursuit of a new and agreeable nearly resemble fragments of poetry extant in that amusement to myself. I pursued the German language language, to the genuine antiquity of which no doubt keenly, and, though far from being a correct scholar, can attach. Indeed, the celebrated dispute on that became a bold and daring reader, nay, even transla- subject is something like the more bloody, though tor, of various dramatic pieces from that tongue. scarce fiercer controversy, about the Popish Plot in
The want of books at that time, (about 1796) was a Charles the Second's time, concerning which Dryden great interruption to the rapidity of my movements ; has said -for the young do not know, and perhaps my own
“ Succeeding times will equal folly call, contemporaries may have forgotten, the difficulty
Believing nothing, or believing all."
1 Under the title of " William and Helen."--ED.
4 Sir Walter Scott's second publication was a translation of 2 This thin quarto was published by Messrs. Manners and Goethe's drama of Goetz of Berlichingen with the Iron Hand, Miller of Edinburgh.-ED.
which appeared in 1799. He about the same time trans. 3 The list here referred to was drawn up and inserted in the lated several other German plays, which yet remain in MS. Caledonian Mercury, by Mr. James Shaw, for nearly forty -Ed. years past in the house of Sir Walter Scott's publishers. 6 The late George Constable, Esq. See Introduction to tho Messrs. Constable and Cadell, of Edinburgh. -Ed. (See it in Antiquary, Waverley Novels, vol. v. p.iv.--Ev. Life of Scott, vol. x. pp. 26-276.)
6 See Appendix, Note C.