Page images




N the course of this life the chief works of Scott have been in turn described and criticised, and occasion has been taken to look at their author from various sides of his literary character. Thus any general remarks on this topic would be mere repetition, but one point the critics have very much neglected; they have not considered how profoundly Scott's professional character has influenced his work. It is worth our while, then, to devote some attention to Scott as a lawyer, and to note the skill and point with which he used his knowledge in several of his novels; and there is one other point akin to this. Scott was not merely a lawyer, but he was a Scotch lawyer; he was not merely a Scotch lawyer, but an Edinburgh lawyer, and an Edinburgh man, passionately devoted to his birthplace, profoundly acquainted with its history, contemplating its historic monuments with ever-fresh interest, sympathy, reverence. We have noted the keen interest with which he tracked out the Regalia. There were familiar places in the streets- the White Horse Inn, the site of the antique Netherbow Port, itself gone

ere Scott's day, to name but these-he never passed without notice, the very stones of the old capital were dear to him, and such an effect had old Edinburgh and old Scots law upon him that some parts of his writings you will never quite understand, certainly never feel their full beauty and force, unless you know something of both.

As to the town there must be a word of caution. Το

[graphic][merged small]


visit Scotia's darling seat" may be a good thing in many ways, but unless you are careful you are like to be much misled. The Edinburgh of Scott's novels is as different as may be from the Edinburgh of to-day, the bright gay town as you know it. You must blot all that entirely out, the whole new town you will ruthlessly destroy; you will fill up the valley of railway trains with water, you will repair the breaches which improve

ment schemes and bridged ways and so forth have made in the ramparts of the old town. You will confine yourself to the long street between the castle and Holyrood and the “closes" running down the steep on both sides of it; you will replace the Tolbooth to the north-west of St. Giles and the Netherbow, where the High Street ends and the Canongate begins, and you will run a wall round this limited portion. Having done this with the aid of a map, you will see that all fashionable, wealthy, prosperous Edinburgh has disappeared. It is almost like cutting London down to St. Giles and Seven Dials, the Tower and Westminster Abbey! The Edinburgh that remains is Scott's historic Edinburgh. Here is the theatre of the best bits of Guy Mannering, of The Heart of Midlothian, and Waverley, not to mention parts of The Antiquary and Old Mortality, in which so much that is gone forever, gone even in Scott's time, is recalled with such force and vividness that it well repays the loving and careful study you must give as the price of complete appreciation.

But this is all very well, you may say, but what about the law? Ah! this is a harder matter-"multiplepoinding," "decreet," "ranking," "tutor dative, "assoilze," "reclaiming note," "avizandum." What jawbreaking words! What uncouth phraseology! You may be told that the first is something like an "interpleader issue," but then you must be something of an English lawyer even to understand that. There is a still further cause of obscurity: legal arrangements and

ceremonials; aye, the very law itself is not now what it was in the times of Scott's novels, so that the very learning of the commentator is itself obsolete. Here is one illustration. Dandie Dinmont tells Counsellor Pleydell: "Besides, a man's aye the better thought o' in our country for having been afore the Feifteen." And does not Peter Peebles somewhere with respect and admiration speak of "a' the fifteen," for indeed this last was a well-known phrase in Old Scotland? Now, no doubt you recognise the quotations as from Guy Mannering and Redgauntlet respectively; but you must be told that "the fifteen" are the fifteen civil judges who, until the year 1806, sat all together in the Inner House, as the Court of Appeal in Scotland is termed, and to-day you might go wandering through the Parliament House hopelessly bewildered if the novels were your only guide. There are-there have been for a century-two divisions in the Inner House, and the judges are not merely divided, but reduced in number.

Again, if it were your misfortune to be present in the Court of Justiciary when some unhappy felon was sentenced to death, you would not see the Doomster (unless your historic fancy conjured up the shape of Jock Dalgleish, or another of his clan) come forward and repeat the words of the sentence, winding up with, "and this is pronounced for doom," all which, as you know, makes a very affecting and picturesque incident in the trial of poor Effie Deans. Now it is true that English law has suffered equal change, and that in both cases

picturesque effect has been sacrificed to utility and common sense, but then there is no great English novelist who has worked the mine in like manner. This may be because no great English novelist has been at the same time a great lawyer. There is, of course, a good deal about the law in Dickens, but he sticks to its popular side, and though there is a great deal of quaint legal lore in Ten Thousand a Year, no one places Samuel Warren in the front rank of writers of fiction. However, these two instances seem to show that if you are a novelist with any knowledge of law, you will naturally introduce it into your books.

Now Scott was really a thoroughly competent, you might almost say a profound jurist. Given his abilities, his application, his opportunities, his interests, it could scarce be otherwise. His father was a W.S., and from the first he lived in a legal atmosphere; he was two years in his father's office; he was admitted advocate in 1792. Scott, by the way, has a fancy for saying "barrister" instead of "advocate," just as the Scottish attorney of to-day calls himself "solicitor" instead of the old-fashioned "writer." Then he was sheriff depute of Selkirkshire, and as such administered civil and

criminal justice for many years. He was a principal clerk of Session; he was secretary to the Commission on Scottish Jurisprudence; he wrote on Judicial Reform, and in 1816 and 1817 he made some efforts to be appointed one of the Barons of the Exchequer, as certain of the Scotch judges, in imitation of an English

« PreviousContinue »