Page images
PDF
EPUB

The boy was now considered well enough to live in his father's house at 25, George Square, Edinburgh. It cost him, he confesses, nothing less than agony to give up his position as a spoiled child and take his place in the family; but with his mother's help he succeeded. A great solace were the lessons which she gave him in reading poetry, Pope's Homer being the first book so read. Meanwhile his education had begun at the Edinburgh High School. He had already learned a little

Latin, but found himself rather behind his class; and it was not until he came to be under the Rector, or head master, that he really began to take pains with his lessons. But he himself denies that he was ever thought a dunce, only "an incorrigibly idle imp, who was always longing to do something else than what was enjoined him." Indeed, old Dr. Adam was eager, in after years, to claim him as one of his most promising pupils. Still, it appears that at school Scott made a brighter figure in the yards (or playground) than in class. His lameness did not prevent his taking part in those "bickers " or street fights which his schoolfellows carried on with the boys of the poorer classes in the neighbourhood.

These contests were usually were usually rough enough, though carried on in the spirit of sport rather than of enmity; and in one of them the head of the opposing faction was actually carried off to hospital after having been struck down with a hunting-knife. The Scott brothers must have had an intimate hand in this affair, and

In

perhaps one of them may even have been the culprit. But "Green-Breeks," as they called him, not only refused to name the offender, but even declined subsequent offers on their part of pecuniary compensation when the foes met at a neutral gingerbread shop. Thomas, Walter's favourite brother, had some of the literary gifts of his elder, and he at one time thought of making "Green-Breeks" the hero of a tale. another direction young Walter gave early proof of what he could do. In the winter play-hours, when hard exercise was impossible, his tales used to assemble an admiring audience round Lucky Brown's fireside, “And happy was he that could sit next to the inexhaustible narrator." Writing, arithmetic, and French he learned at home from a private instructor; and from this person (an enthusiastic Whig and Presbyterian) he also acquired much of that knowledge of the Covenanters which he was afterwards to turn to such good account in some of his best romances. The tutor allowed himself to be involved in constant theologico-political disputes, his pupil always taking the Cavalier side, "from an idea that it was the more gentlemanlike persuasion of the two." And this persuasion, though much modified later by reason and reading, was too much in his blood not to come out in his books.

Scott's general education-at least that part of it which was founded on the study of books-was completed at Edinburgh University. He neglected Greek (much to his subsequent regret), earning the name of

[ocr errors]

the "Greek Blockhead," and giving great offence by audaciously maintaining in an essay the superiority over Homer not of Virgil, which might have been pardoned-but of the Italian Ariosto, whom he had now begun to read. But he must have got some good out

[graphic]

Edinburgh University 1820:

of the historical lectures of Lord Woodhouselee, and have been, one trusts, edified by the eloquent discourses on moral philosophy of that trainer of Whig statesmen, Dugald Stewart. Scott's university studies were, however, somewhat curtailed by his father's desire that he should without delay enter upon a legal career; and they

were interrupted by visits, for the sake of his health, to his aunt at Kelso. Here, during his first stay, he learnt more Latin, and even for a time acted as usher. What was more important, he renewed his acquaintance with nature, and was inspired by the neighbourhood of “the most beautiful, if not the most romantic, village in Scotland," to connect with it in his mind memories of the picturesque past.

At Kelso two streams renowned in Scottish songTweed and Teviot-meet; and there, too, are the remains of an ancient abbey. Not far off stand the ruins of Roxburgh Castle, in besieging which a Scottish king met his death; while the neighbouring mansion of Floors Castle formed a link between the present and the past. It was in this delightful country, moreover, that Scott began his extensive acquaintance with English fiction and-significant fact-one day forgot his dinner when devouring under a plane tree the magnificent collection of ballads called Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry. This course of desultory reading he followed up during his apprenticeship (or articles) to his father, and extended by studies in French literature and a course of Italian lectures. Yet he worked well at his law, and sometimes did long tedious bits of copying in order to earn pocket-money. He had one more serious illness, during which he was prescribed a vegetarian diet, but got through much reading of a congenial nature. Like Sterne's Uncle Toby he had a fortress made for him, and used it to represent any place that

[ocr errors]

happened to be in his mind; for military history was always one of his hobbies.

Thenceforth for many years Scott enjoyed the most robust health, and became both a bold rider and a sturdy pedestrian. Of his feats as a horseman we shall have more to say later. Among his early walking exploits was an expedition to Prestonpans to see the scene of Charles Edward's victory in 1745. Having dined on tiled haddocks (viz. haddocks dried in the sun) and port wine, he and his fellow-clerks returned, as they had come, on foot, the distance in all being not less than thirty miles. The lame man did not feel at all fatigued. These walks became increasingly frequent, and were a source of some anxiety to the elder Scott; for his son would wander further afield and return later than he had intended. But they were of the first importance in the making both of poet and novelist. Scott could not sketch, so he used to form a kind of log-book by cutting off branches of trees in the places of historical interest which he visited—not a practice to be commended. He intended to have made a set of chessmen of the wood thus obtained; the kings coming from Falkland and Holyrood, the queens from Queen Mary's yew tree at Crookston, bishops from abbeys, knights from baronial residences, rooks from royal fortresses, and so forth. The plan may be said to have been realised on a larger scale when Abbotsford was built.

The most notable events of this period of apprentice

« PreviousContinue »