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time a very lucrative appointment, and the young tionable passages, we cannot help considering the poet was provided with a seat in Parliament as manner in which the fault was insisted on, afta soon as his age permitted him to fill it. But his all the amends had been offered of which the case mind did not incline him to politics, or, if it did, could admit, as in the last degree ungenerous and they were not of the complexion which his father, uncandid. The pertinacity with which the pas attached to Mr. Pitts administration, would have sages so much found fault with were dwelt up, approved. He was, moreover, indolent, and though seemed to warrant a belief that something more possessed of abilities sufficient to conquer any diffi- was desired than the correction of the author's culty which might stand in the way of classical errors; and that, where the apologies of extreme attainments, he preferred applying his exertions youth, foreign education, and instant submission in a path where they were rewarded with more were unable to satisfy the critics' fury, they must immediate applause. As he completed his edu- have been determined to act on the severity of cation abroad, he had an opportunity of indulging the old proverb, “ Confess and be hanged." Cer his inclination for the extraordinary and supernatu- tain it is, that other persons, offenders in the same ral, by wandering through the whole enchanted degree, have been permitted to sue out their par land of German faery and diablerie, not forgetting don without either retraction or palinode.' the paths of her enthusiastic tragedy and romantic Another peccadillo of the author of " The Monk" poetry.
was his having borrowed from Musæus, and from We are easily induced to imitate what we ad- the popular tales of the Germans, the singular and mire, and Lewis early distinguished himself by a striking adventure of the “Bleeding Nun." But romance in the German taste, called " The Monk.” the bold and free hand with which he traced some In this work, written in his twentieth year, and scenes, as well of natural terror as of that which founded on the Eastern apologue of the Santon arises from supernatural causes, shows distinctly Barsisa, the author introduced supernatural ma- that the plagiarism could not have been occachinery with a courageous consciousness of his own sioned by any deficiency of invention on his part, power to manage its ponderous strength, which though it might take place from wantonness or commanded the respect of his reader. " The wilfulness. Monk” was published in 1795, and, though liable In spite of the objections we have stated, “The to the objections common to the school to which it Monk” was so highly popular, that it seemed to belonged, and to others peculiar to itself, placed create an epoch in our literature. But the public its author at once high in the scale of men of let- were chiefly captivated by the poetry with which ters. Nor can that be regarded as an ordinary Mr. Lewis had interspersed his prose narrative. It exertion of genius, to which Charles Fox paid the has now passed from recollection among the changes unusual compliment of crossing the House of Com- of literary taste ; but many may remember, as well mons that he might congratulate the young author, as I do, the effect produced by the beautiful balwhose work obtained high praise from many other lad of “ Durandarte,” which had the good fortune able men of that able time. The party which ap- to be adapted to an air of great sweetness and proved “The Monk” was at first superior in the pathos ; by the ghost tale of “ Alonzo and Imolists, and it was some time before the anonymous gine;" and by several other pieces of legendary author of the “Pursuits of Literature” denounced poetry, which addressed themselves in all the as puerile and absurd the supernatural machinery charms of novelty and of simplicity to a public which Lewis had introduced
who had for a long time been unused to any regale
of the kind. In his poetry as well as his prose, I bear an English heart, Unused at ghosts or rattling bones to start."
Mr. Lewis had been a successful imitator of the
Germans, both in his attachment to the ancient ! Yet the acute and learned critic betrays some in- ballad, and in the tone of superstition which they consistency in praising the magic of the Italian willingly mingle with it. New arrangements of poets, and complimenting Mrs. Radcliffe for her the stanza, and a varied construction of verses, success in supernatural imagery, for which at the
were also adopted, and welcomed as an addition same moment he thus sternly censures her brother of a new string to the British harp. In this renovelist.
spect, the stanza in which “ Alonzo the Brave" is A more legitimate topic of condemnation was written, was greatly admired, and received as an the indelicacy of particular passages. The present improvement worthy of adoption into English poeauthor will hardly be deemed a willing, or at least
1 try. an interested apologist for an offence equally re- In short, Lewis's works were admired, and the pugnant to decency and good breeding. But as
author became famous, not merely through his own Lewis at once, and with a good grace, submitted to the voice of censure, and expunged the objec
1 See Appendix, Note B.
merit, though that was of no mean quality, but plucking at the hands of the apothecary's wife; because he had in some measure taken the public but some friend or other always advised me to. by surprise, by using a style of composition, which, put my verses in the fire, and, like Dorax in the like national melodies, is so congenial to the gen- play, I submitted, though“ with a swelling heart.” eral taste, that, though it palls by being much In short, excepting the usual tribute to a mishackneyed, it has only to be for a short time for- tress's eye-brow, which is the language of passion gotten in order to recover its original popularity. rather than poetry, I had not for ten years in
It chanced that, while his fame was at the dulged the wish to couple so much as love and highest, Mr. Lewis became almost a yearly visitor dove, when, finding Lewis in possession of so much to Scotland, chiefly from attachment to the illus- reputation, and conceiving that, if I fell behind trious family of Argyle. The writer of these re- him in poetical powers, I considerably exceeded marks had the advantage of being made known him in general information, I suddenly took it into to the most distinguished author of the day, by a my head to attempt the style of poetry by which lady who belongs by birth to that family, and is he had raised himself to fame. equally distinguished by her beauty and accom- This idea was hurried into execution, in conseplishments.' Out of this accidental acquaintance, quence of a temptation which others, as well as which increased into a sort of intimacy, conse- the author, found it difficult to resist. The celequences arose which altered almost all the Scot- brated ballad of “ Lenoré," by Bürger, was about tish ballad-maker's future prospects in life. this time introduced into England; and it is re
In early youth I had been an eager student of markable, that, written as far back as 1775, it was Ballad Poetry, and the tree is still in my recol- upwards of twenty years before it was known in lection, beneath which I lay and first entered upon Britain, though calculated to make so strong an the enchanting perusal of Percy's “ Reliques of impression. The wild character of the tale was Ancient Poetry," although it has long perished in such as struck the imagination of all who read it, the general blight which affected the whole race although the idea of the lady's ride behind the of Oriental platanus to which it belonged. The spectre horseman had been long before hit upon taste of another person had strongly encouraged by an English ballad-maker. But this pretended my own researches into this species of legendary English original, if in reality it be such, is so dull, lore. But I had never dreamed of an attempt to flat, and prosaic, as to leave the distinguished Gerimitate what gave me so much pleasure.
man author all that is valuable in his story, by I had, indeed, tried the metrical translations clothing it with a fanciful wildness of expression, which were occasionally recommended to us at the which serves to set forth the marvellous tale in its High School. I got credit for attempting to do native terror. The ballad of “ Lenoré” accordwhat was enjoined, but very little for the mode ingly possessed general attractions for such of the in which the task was performed, and I used to English as understood the language in which it is feel not a little mortified when my versions were written; and, as if there had been a charm in the placed in contrast with others of admitted merit. ballad, no one seemed to cast his eyes upon it At one period of my school-boy days I was so far without a desire to make it known by translation left to my own desires as to become guilty of to his own countrymen, and six or seven versions Verses on a Thunder-storm," which were much were accordingly presented to the public. Alapproved of, until a malevolent critic sprung up, though the present author was one of those who in the shape of an apothecary's blue-buskined wife, intruded his translation on the world at this time, who affirmed that my most sweet poetry was he may fairly exculpate himself from the rashness stolen from an old magazine. I never forgave the of entering the lists against so many rivals. The imputation, and even now I acknowledge some circumstances which threw him into this competiresentment against the poor woman's memory. tion were quite accidental, and of a nature tendShe indeed accused me unjustly, when she said I ing to show how much the destiny of human life had stolen my brooms ready made; but as I had, depends upon unimportant occurrences, to which like most premature poets, copied all the words little consequence is attached at the moment. and ideas of which my verses consisted, she was About the summer of 1793 or 1794, the celeso far right. I made one or two faint attempts at brated Miss Lætitia Aikin, better known as Mrs. verse, after I had undergone this sort of daw. Barbauld, paid a visit to Edinburgh, and was re
1 The Lady Charlotte Bury.--Ed.
2 See Life of Scott, vol. i. p. 53.
of the happiest days of my youth. (1831.) [See Life, vol. i. p. 156.--Ep.)
4 See these Verses among the “* Miscellanies," which follow this “ Essay," where also many other pieces from the pen
of Sir Walter Scott are now for the first time included in an edition of his Poetical Works. (1841.)
3 This tree grew in a large garden attached to a cottage at Kelso, the residence of my father's sister, where I spent many
ceived by such literary society as the place then for sale—in Edinburgh never. A lady of noble , boasted, with the hospitality to which her talents German descent,' whose friendship I have enjoyed and her worth entitled her. Among others, she for many years, found means, however, to procure was kindly welcomed by the late excellent and me a copy of Bürger's works from Hamburgh. admired Professor Dugald Stewart, his lady, and The perusal of the original rather exceeded than family. It was in their evening society that Miss disappointed the expectations which the report of Aikin drew from her pocket-book a version of Mr. Stewart's family had induced me to form. Ai “ Lenoré,” executed by William Taylor, Esq., of length, when the book had been a few hours in Norwich, with as much freedom as was consistent my possession, I found myself giving an animated with great spirit and scrupulous fidelity. She account of the poem to a friend, and rashly added read this composition to the company, who were a promise to furnish a copy in English ballad electrified by the tale. It was the more successful, that Mr. Taylor had boldly copied the imita- I well recollect that I began my task after suptive harmony of the German, and described the per, and finished it about daybreak the next spectral journey in language resembling that of morning, by which time the ideas which the task the original. Bürger had thus painted the ghostly had a tendency to summon up were rather of an
uncomfortable character. As my object was much “ Und hurre, hurre, hop, hop, hop,
more to make a good translation of the poem for Gings fort in sausendem Galopp,
those whom I wished to please, than to acquire Dass Ross und Reiter schnoben,
any poetical fame for myself, I retained in my Und Kies und Funken stoben."
translation the two lines which Mr. Taylor had The words were rendered by the kindred sounds rendered with equal boldness and felicity. in English:
My attempt succeeded far beyond my expecta
tions; and it may readily be believed, that I was 'Tramp, tramp, across the land whey speede
induced to persevere in a pursuit which gratified Splash, splash, across the sea; Hurra, the dead can ride apace!
my own vanity, while it seemed to amuse others. Dost fear to ride with me?"
I accomplished a translation of “ Der Wilde Jäger"
—a romantic ballad founded on a superstition When Miss Aikin had finished her recitation, universally current in Germany, and known also she replaced in her pocket-book the paper from in Scotland and France. In this I took rather which she had read it, and enjoyed the satisfaction more license than in versifying “Lenoré;" and I of having made a strong impression on the hear- balladized one or two other poems of Bürger with ers, whose bosoms thrilled yet the deeper, as the more or less success. In the course of a few ballad was not to be more closely introduced to weeks, my own vanity, and the favorable opinion them.
of friends, interested by the temporary revival of The author was not present upon this occasion, a species of poetry containing a germ of popularity although he had then the distinguished advantage of which perhaps they were not themselves aware, of being a familiar friend and frequent visitor of urged me to the decisive step of sending a selecProfessor Stewart and his family. But he was tion, at least, of my translations to the press, to absent from town while Miss Aikin was in Edin- save the numerous applications which were made burgh, and it was not until his return that he for copies
. When was there an author deaf to found all his friends in rapture with the intelli- such a recommendation? In 1796, the present gence and good sense of their visitor, but in par-author was prevailed on, " by request of friends," ticular with the wonderful translation from the to indulge his own vanity by publishing the transGerman, by means of which she had delighted and lation of “ Lenord," with that of " The Wild Huntsastonished them. The enthusiastic description man,” in a thin quarto. given of Bürger's ballad, and the broken account The fate of this, my first publication, was by mo of the story, of which only two lines were recollect- means flattering. I distributed so many copies ed, inspired the author, who had some acquaint- among my friends as, according to the booksellers, ance, as has been said, with the German language, materially to interfere with the sale ; and the i and a strong taste for popular poetry, with a de- number of translations which appeared in England sire to see the original.
about the same time, including that of Mr. Taylor This was not a wish easily gratified; German to which I had been so much indebted, and which works were at that time seldom found in London was published in “The Monthly Magazine," were
1 Born Countess Harriet Bruhl of Martinskirchen, and married to Hugh Scott, Esq. of Harden, now Lord Polwarth, the author's relative, and much valued friend almost from infancy.
2 Under the title of William and Helen."-ED.
9 This thin quarto was published by Messrs. Manners and Miller of Edinburgh.--Ep.
sufficient to exclude a provincial writer from com- same nature were supplied by Mrs. Scott of Har petition. However different my success might den, whose kindness in a similar instance I have have been, had I been fortunate enough to have had already occasion to acknowledge. Through led the way in the general scramble for prece- this lady's connections on the continent, I obtained dence, my efforts sunk unnoticed when launched at copies of Bürger, Schiller, Goethé, and other stanthe same time with those of Mr. Taylor (upon dard German works; and though the obligation be whose property I had committed the kind of pi- of a distant date, it still remains impressed on my racy already noticed, and who generously forgave memory, after a life spent in a constant interme the invasion of his rights); of my ingenious change of friendship and kindness with that family, and amiable friend of many years, William Robert which is, according to Scottish ideas, the head of Spenser; of Mr. Pye, the laureate of the day, and my house. many others besides. In a word, my adventure, Being thus furnished with the necessary origiwhere so many pushed off to sea, proved a dead nals, I began to translate on all sides, certainly loss, and a great part of the edition was con- without any thing like an accurate knowledge of demned to the service of the trunk-maker. Nay, the language; and although the dramas of Goethe, so complete was the failure of the unfortunate Schiller, and others, powerfully attracted 'one ballads, that the very existence of them was soon whose early attention to the German had been forgotten; and, in a newspaper, in which I very arrested by Mackenzie's Dissertation, and the play lately read, to my no small horror, a most appall- of “The Robbers,” yet the ballad poetry, in which ing list of my own various publications, I saw this, I had made a bold essay, was still my favorite. I my first offence, had escaped the industrious col- was yet more delighted on finding, that the old lector, for whose indefatigable research I may in English, and especially the Scottish language, were gratitude wish a better object.'
so nearly similar to the German, not in sound The failure of my first publication did not ope- merely, but in the turn of phrase, that they were rate, in any unpleasant degree, either on my feel capable of being rendered line for line, with very ings or spirits. I was coldly received by strangers, little variation." but my reputation began rather to increase among By degrees, I acquired sufficient confidence to my own friends, and, on the whole, I was more attempt the imitation of what I admired. The bent to show the world that it had neglected ballad called “Glenfinlas” was, I think, the first something worth notice, than to be affronted by original poem which I ventured to compose. As its indifference. Or rather, to speak candidly, I it is supposed to be a translation from the Gaelic, found pleasure in the literary labor in which I had, I considered myself as liberated from imitating almost by accident, become engaged, and labored, the antiquated language and rude rhythm of the less in the hope of pleasing others, though certain- Minstrel ballad. A versification of an Ossianic ly without despair of doing so, than in the pursuit fragment came nearer to the idea I had formed of of a new and agreeable amusement to myself. I my task; for although controversy may have pursued the German language keenly, and, though arisen concerning the authenticity of these poems, far from being a correct scholar, became a bold yet I never heard it disputed, by those whom an and daring reader, nay, even translator, of various accurate knowledge of the Gaelic rendered comdramatic pieces from that tongue.”
petent judges, that in their spirit and diction they The want of books at that time (about 1796), nearly resemble fragments of poetry extant in that was a great interruption to the rapidity of my language, to the genuine antiquity of which no movements; for the young do not know, and per- doubt can attach. Indeed, the celebrated dispute haps my own contemporaries may have forgotten, on that subject is something like the more bloody, the difficulty with which publications were then though scarce fiercer controversy, about the Popish procured from the continent. The worthy and Plot in Charles the Second's time, concerning excellent friend, of whom I gave a sketch many which Dryden has said years afterwards in the person of Jonathan Old
"Succeeding times will equal folly call, buck, procured me Adelung's Dictionary, through
Believing nothing, or believing all." the mediation of Father Pepper, a monk of the Scotch College of Ratisbon. Other wants of the The Celtic people of Erin and Albyn had, in
which appeared in 1799. He about the same time translated several other German plays, which yet remain in MS.En.
1 The list here referred to was drawn up and inserted in the Caledonian Mercury, by Mr. James Shaw, for nearly forty years past in the house of Sir Walter Scott's publishers, Mesars. Constable and Cadell, of Edinburgh.-ED. (See it in Life of Scott, vol. x. pp. 269-276.)
2 Sir Walter Scott's second publication was a translation of Goethe's drama of Goetz of Berlichingen with the Tron Hand,
3 The late George Constable, Esq. See Introduction to the Antiquary, Waverley Novels, vol. v. p. iv.-ED.
4 See Appendix, Note C.
short, a style of poetry properly called national, for the merits of composition produced for the exthough MacPherson was rather an excellent poet press purpose of pleasing the world at large, can than a faithful editor and translator. This style only be judged of by the opinion of individuals
, and fashion of poetry, existing in a different lan- and perhaps, as in the case of Molière's old woman, guage, was supposed to give the original of “Glen- the less sophisticated the person consulted so much finlas," and the author was to pass for one who the better.” But I was ignorant, at the time I had used his best command of English to do the speak of, that though the applause of the many Gaelic model justice. In one point, the incidents , may justly appreciate the general merits of a piece, of the poem were irreconcilable with the costume it is not so safe to submit such a performance to of the times in which they were laid. The ancient the more minute criticism of the same individuals. Highland chieftains, when they had a mind to when each, in turn, having seated himself in the "hunt the dun deer down,” did not retreat into censor's chair, has placed his mind in a critical atsolitary bothies, or trust the success of the chase titude, and delivers his opinion sententiously and to their own unassisted exertions, without a single ex cathedra. General applause was in almost gillie to help them; they assembled their clan, every case freely tendered, but the abatements in and all partook of the sport, forming a ring, or en- the way of proposed alterations and corrections, closure, called the Tinchell, and driving the prey were cruelly puzzling. It was in vain the young towards the most distinguished persons of the author, listening with becoming modesty, and with hunt. This course would not have suited me, so a natural wish to please, cut and carved, tinkered Ronald and Moy were cooped up in their solitary and coopered, upon his unfortunate ballads-it wa wigwam, like two moorfowl-shooters of the present in vain that he placed, displaced, replaced, and day.
misplaced; every one of his advisers was displeased After “Glenfinlas,” I undertook another ballad, with the concessions made to his co-assessors, and called “The Eve of St. John." The incidents, ex- the author was blamed by some one, in almost cept the hints alluded to in the marginal notes, every case, for having made two holes in attemptare entirely imaginary, but the scene was that of ing to patch up one. my early childhood. Some idle persons had of At last, after thinking seriously on the subject, late years, during the proprietor's absence, torn I wrote out a fair copy (of Glenfinlas, I think), and the iron-grated door of Smailholm Tower from its marked all the various corrections which had been hinges, and thrown it down the rock. I was an proposed. On the whole, I found that I had been earnest suitor to my friend and kinsman, Mr. Scott required to alter every verse, almost every line, of Harden, already mentioned, that the dilapida- and the only stanzas of the whole ballad which estion might be put a stop to, and the mischief re- caped criticism were two which could neither be paired. This was readily promised, on condition termed good nor bad, speaking of them as poetry, that I should make a ballad, of which the scene but were of a mere commonplace character, abso should lie at Smailholm Tower, and among the lutely necessary for conducting the business of the crags where it is situated.' The ballad was ap tale. This unexpected result, after about a fortproved of, as well as its companion “Glenfinlas;" night's anxiety, led me to adopt a rule from which and I remember that they procured me many I have seldom departed during more than thirty marks of attention and kindness from Duke John years of literary life. When a friend, whose judg of Roxburghe, who gave me the unlimited use of ment I respect, has decided, and upon good adthat celebrated collection of volumes from which visement told me, that a manuscript was worth the Roxburghe Club derives its name.
nothing, or at least possessed no redeeming qualiThus I was set up for a poet, like a pedlar who ties sufficient to atone for its defects, I have gen has got two ballads to begin the world upon, and erally cast it aside ; but I am little in the èustonr: 1 I hastened to make the round of all my acquaint- of paying attention to minute criticisins, er of ances, showing my precious wares, and requesting offering such to any friend who may do me the criticism-a boon which no author asks in vain. honor to consult me. I am convinced, that, in For it may be observed, that, in the fine arts, general, in removing even errors of a trivial or those who are in no respect able to produce any venial kind, the character of originality is lost, specimens themselves, hold themselves not the which, upon the whole, may be that which is most less entitled to decide upon the works of others; valuable in the production. and, no doubt, with justice to a certain degree; About the time that I shook hands with criti
1 This is of little consequence, except in as far as it contradicts a story which I have seen in print, averring that Mr. Scott of Harden was himself about to destroy this ancient building; than which nothing can be more inaccurate.
2 See the account of a conversation between Sir Walter Scott and Sir Thomas Lawrence, in “ Cunningham's Lives of British Painters," &c. vol. vi. p. 236.-Ed.