Page images


actuated the lady, and it is not easy to decide, as some
have done, whether Scott felt himself aggrieved by her
conduct. We leave to our readers to interpret, as they
will, his comment to Morritt on the poem The Violet in
her Greenwood Bower-"a pitiful sonnet wrote in former
days to my mistress's eyebrow, or rather eyelid, after it
wept itself dry." It may mean much—or little.

We know that within a year Scott had got his heart "handsomely pieced together" by his marriage with Miss Charlotte Carpenter, to whom he told the tale of the "crack," which many years afterwards he confessed would remain till his dying day. The marriage took place at Carlisle after a short acquaintance made in the course of a summer tour in the lakes. It gave him happiness, but not complete content; for the lively little Frenchwoman had not her husband's depth of nature, and her fairy-like grace probably pleased his eye without touching his imagination to its depth. These are Scott's own words (which I shall always, where possible, give) as to his love and marriage, written in 1810 to his intimate friend the Duchess of Abercorn :

"Mrs. Scott's match and mine was of our own making, and proceeded from the most sincere affection on both sides, which has rather increased than diminished during twelve years' marriage. But it was something short of love in all its forms, which I suspect people only feel once in their lives; folks who have been nearly drowned in bathing rarely venturing a second time out of their depth."

His views on the subject generally were expressed in

several of his books, more particularly in the opening sentences in chapter xii. of Peveril of the Peak. Having quoted from the Midsummer Night's Dream the familiar lines ending with-

"The course of true love never did run smooth,"

he adds this heartfelt comment :

"The celebrated passage which we have prefixed to this chapter, has, like most observations of the same author, its foundation in real experience. The period at which love is formed for the first time, and felt most strongly, is seldom that at which there is much prospect of its being brought to a happy issue. The state of artificial society opposes many complicated obstructions to early marriages; and the chance. is very great, that such obstacles prove insurmountable. fine, there are few men who do not look back in secret to some period of their youth, at which a sincere and early affection was repulsed, or betrayed, or became abortive from circumstances. It is these little passages of secret history, which leave a tinge of romance in every bosom, scarce permitting us, even in the most busy or the most advanced period of life, to listen with total indifference to a tale of true love."

The story of Scott's first love is the more romantic that so little has ever been known of Lady Forbes, who remains a dim, elusive figure. She was the mother of a famous naturalist, she died young, she left no written records, nor has anyone attempted to describe her retired existence. We have no reason to believe that she was superior to Lady Scott in any way, and to compare the two were the merest folly. This much and no more ought to be said.




E will now go back a few years and see how Scott employed his time between his admission to the bar and his marriage. Although he confessed to having in his disposition a thread of the attorney, and had he concentrated his energies he might have risen very high in the legal profession, it is probable that the law interested him mainly as an antiquary, and the proceedings of the courts chiefly for the opportunities they afforded of studying human nature. Despite his literary tastes-never a recommendation to those who have the power of distributing briefs-his father's influence helped the young advocate to some little practice, so that his income rose from £24 35. in his first year at the bar to £144 10s. in the fifth. With his first considerable fee he bought a silver taper-stand for his mother. This was perhaps won in that case which took him down to Galloway, and suggested the scene and some of the names in the novel of Guy Mannering. He had to defend before the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland a minister (rather appropriately named

McNaught) who was accused of drunkenness, dancing with a "sweetie-wife" at a "penny wedding," and promoting irregular marriages. Scott put forward such defence as was possible, but could not make much of the case, in the course of which some of his young barrister friends were turned out of the venerable court for applauding him too vociferously.

His first appearance in a criminal court was more successful, though he got no fee, but the promise of a maukin, or hare, from the poacher and sheepstealer whose acquittal he had obtained. Another case-that of a housebreaker of some notorietywas equally unremunerative; but the client, when visited by his counsel in the condemned cell, gave him two bits of advice which he thought might be of use to Scott when he came to have a house of his own. "I am done with practice, you see," he said, "and here is my legacy. Never keep a large watchdog out of doors-we can always silence them cheaply-indeed if it be a dog, 'tis easier than whistling-but tie a little tight yelping terrier within; and secondly, put no trust in nice, clever, gimcrack locks-the only thing that bothers us is a huge old heavy one, no matter how simple the construction— and the ruder and rustier the key, so much the better



for the housekeeper." Scott, after telling the story, would wind up with the rhyme—

"Yelping terrier, rusty key,

Was Walter Scott's best Jeddart fee."

The Scottish legal system has this honourable feature ; the interests of poor suitors and poor prisoners have ever been carefully guarded. Like other young advocates Scott was fain sometimes to plead the cause of paupers like poor Peter Peebles, whose longstanding pleas no established practitioner cared to handle. Whether he actually argued in the Parliament House the cause of the broken-down bibulous mercer, to whom litigation had become a necessary of life, is not certain ; but at least he knew the man well enough to set forth a vivid portrait of him in his Waverley gallery.

In writing to the lady who shortly after became his wife, Scott frankly confessed that though, as a younger son, his success in life was dependent upon his own exertions, there were reasons which had hitherto caused his profession to be "culpably neglected"; but added that none of his advocate contemporaries could boast of having very far outstripped him in "the career of life or business." The cause he attributes to a certain lassitude of mind, which doubtless arose chiefly from his disappointment in love. At the same time he gives another express reason: "And as I reside with my father, I gave myself little trouble, provided my private income did but answer my personal expense and the

« PreviousContinue »