Page images

"my old Cossack manner." As usual with him the scenery that of his friend Morritt's country house in Yorkshire-was given with perfect fidelity and a spirit that was all his own. He described Rokeby as combining the romantic character of Scottish scenery with the "majesty and richness" that an English landscape derived from thick verdure and large forest trees. Revisiting it to refresh his memory, he made a most


Eglistone Abbey:

minute study of the locality, replying to some remonstrances of Morritt by pointing out the immense advantages to descriptive poetry of what would now be called "local colour." He found his "good robber's cave" among the old Brignal slate quarries and his "old church of the right sort" in the ruins of Egglestone Abbey. Here he places two of the most striking scenes, the ruins of Barnard Castle on the Tees and Mortham (now a farmhouse) on the Greta affording

studies for others.

The elaborateness of the description provoked Tom Moore (as yet unknown to the author) to write banteringly of the northern poet who

"Having quitted the Borders to seek new renown,"

"Coming by long quarto stages to town,"

"Beginning with Rokeby (the job's sure to pay),"

"To do all the gentlemen's seats on the way."

But the real strength of the work lies in its contrasts of character, which, however, are only hampered by the form in which it is cast as well as by the poet's imperfect comprehension of one side of the period chosen. In truth, though it contains some of his best lyrics, the chief value of Rokeby is the foreshadowing it gives of a power of portraiture, soon to attain its perfection in prose romance. Despite its manifest poetical inferiority, Lockhart, who was at the time an Oxford undergraduate, heard Scott, the old poet, still backed to hold his own with Rokeby against the new poet, Byron, who had just begun to publish his Childe Harold. Scott himself knew better, and though he wrote two more long works in verse, acknowledged his failure with The Lord of the Isles, a poem dealing with the exploits of Bruce and ending with Bannockburn. It appeared after Waverley had opened up his new mine; while Harold the Dauntless-announced as by the author of The Bridal of Triermain-had been preceded by several of the new nuggets, and was scarcely taken




seriously by its author himself. So that though some of the most beautiful of his shorter pieces (including Jock o' Hazeldean and the Lullaby) were yet unwritten, one may cease to think of Scott as primarily a poet after he had produced Rokeby and Triermain.

His reasons for declining the Laureateship (offered him during the year in which the latter appeared) did not include any plea of unworthiness. He objected on principle to official verse-making, and he thought himself already sufficiently rewarded by the State through his two offices; and he was glad to suggest the name of his friend Southey instead of his own for a piece of preferment, the pecuniary value of which was over-estimated at the time by himself and others. In the same year he accepted his first public honour, the freedom of Edinburgh being presented to him in grateful recognition of the gracious reception which the address to the Prince Regent, drawn up by his hand, had procured the city magistrates.

Meanwhile Scott was suffering much anxiety in connection with his business affairs, and though it is unnecessary for us to go into these complicated transactions at all deeply, it is impossible altogether to avoid glancing at them. Neither of the Ballantynes could be got to attend properly to the practical and less interesting side of their business, and the managing head of the publishing firm in particular was quite happy-golucky in his methods. He neglected to inform the predominant partner of his firm of the precarious condition

of its finances, only having recourse to him when it was absolutely necessary to meet pressing pecuniary demands. Scott in his desperation-he was more than once troubled by these missives in the midst of a country visit-besought to be treated "as a man, and not as a milch-cow"; and had it not been for the timely help of the Duke of Buccleuch and the readiness of Archibald Constable to renew his connection with a still rising author, the great crash of 1825 might have come some years sooner. It was ultimately resolved to wind up gradually the Ballantyne publishing house, while still continuing the printing business. Constable, in consideration of receiving a share in some of the copyrights, agreed to take over from Ballantyne part of the large surplus stock which he had on his hands. This was owing largely to Scott's eagerness to assist his friends by inducing the firm to take up their interesting but usually unremunerative publications. But we have not heard the last of the Ballantynes, much less of Constable.




E have now arrived at the eventful year in which Scott first began to realise where his true strength as a writer lay-the year of Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since. He had exercised the gifts of a storyteller by word of mouth all his life, from his High School days and those which he used to spend in holiday rambles with John Irving about Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags, relating his own or listening to his friend's extemporisations of the marvellous or miraculous, to those later times when he was wont to delight groups of briefless Edinburgh advocates by the cocked hats and canes with which he adorned in public Will Clerk's privately communicated plain tales. And he has himself admitted one charge often levelled against his poetry when, in the preface to Waverley, he says, Although one or two of my poetical attempts did not differ from romances otherwise than being written in verse." But the history of the composition of this first novel shows how little inclination he had felt to abandon verse for prose, and what slight store he at first set upon the latter. The romance of the rebellion of 1745"rising" is the word the author would have used-takes


« PreviousContinue »