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and-twenty years ago, reckon amongst its inhabitants Mr. now SIR WALTER SCOTT, a writer who, beyond all others of the present age, has excited by his numerous compositions the deepest interest and the most varied delight.
It was about a year or two preceding this period, I think in 1799, that he was visited at Laswade by his friend Dr. Stoddart. He had then just made his first appearance in the literary world by a translation of Goethe's Goetz of Berlichingen, and was preparing for the press his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border; and the doctor, after noticing with due praise his poetical talents, adds, with a warmth of feeling which does honour to his heart, “ I cannot believe but that a reader of taste would be delighted even with a slight copy of that domestic picture which I contemplated with so much pleasure during my short visit to my friend-a man of native kindness and cultivated talent, passing the intervals of a learned profession amidst scenes highly favourable to his poetic inspiration; not in a churlish and rustic solitude, but in the daily exercise of the most precious sympathies, as a husband, a father, and a friend. To such an inhabitant, the simple, unostentatious clegance of the cottage at
Laswade is well suited; and its image will never recur to my memory without a throng of those pleasing associations whose outline I have faintly sketched *."
Since this interesting delineation was given to the world in 1801, how splendid and how varied has been the literary career of the accomplished person whose modest virtues it pourtrays! As evidence which will fully substantiate the remark, let us for a moment consider, setting aside the nu→ merous works which sir Walter has published during this period as an antiquary, a critic, an editor, and a miscellaneous writer, what has been the nature and extent of his productions in the department alone of imagination.
Having by his Border Minstrelsy, published in 1802, and by his notes to, and continuation of, Sir Tristrem, a metrical romance of the thirteenth century, which appeared in 1804, sufficiently proved how profoundly he was acquainted with, and how well he could imitate and rival, the ancient legendáry and ballad strains of the Scottish Muse, he
Remarks on Local Scenery and Manners in Scotland, during the Years 1799 and 1800, by John Stoddart, LL. B. Vol. i. p. 127.
presented to the public in 1805 his Lay of the Last Minstrel, a species of epic romance, whose originality of construction and felicity of execution were such as immediately to render it one of the most popular poems ever published. Thus encouraged, he produced in rapid succession, beside many minor poems which I need not here enumerate, his Marmion, Lady of the Lake, Rokeby, and Lord of the Isles, metrical romances, each embracing six cantos, and the last appearing in 1814.
It may justly be said that these pieces, combining, as they do, the interest of the novel with the charm of a very varied rythmical harmony, are entitled to establish, both as to matter and form, an era in British poetry. With the exception of Rokeby, whose scene is on English ground, they paint the manners and costume of Scotland and her isles, at a period most favourable to poetic colouring, with singular truth and vigour. There is, indeed, a boldness, a strength and freedom in their style peculiarly accordant with the wild and chivalric tone of the characters and incidents which they describe. Occasionally, as might be expected from the names, habits, and manners of the personages who are necessarily introduced, there is a
coarseness, roughness, and apparent slovenliness in the diction and versification; but in general, with a spirit which is ever effervescent, and never tires, there runs throughout the structure of each poem a very predominating share of beauty and melody. Almost every form of lyric metre is exemplified in the composition of the stanzas, and never did verse exhibit, in a more perfect degree, its power of bringing material objects before the mind's eye; in fact, every picture lives and glows before you! If I were called upon, however, to give a preference among these productions, it should be, from the loftier cast of its imagery, and the thrilling awfulness of many of its conceptions, in favour of Marmion; and let me add, that in point of moral pathos, and scenery worthy of a Claude or Poussin, I know few if any poems superior to its epistolary introductions.
Brilliant, however, as was the reputation acquired by these metrical tales, it has since been surpassed by the unprecedented fame which has followed the publication of the prose romances of probably the same author. It was in the year 1814, the very year which witnessed the last of the poetical series of fictions by the Border Minstrel, that Wa
verley made its appearance. This was immediately, and throughout nearly all the journals of the empire, ascribed to the pen of the Scottish bard; and as, during the unparalleled quick succession of pieces of a similar kind, and avowedly by the author of Waverley, which has followed even to the present day, no contradiction has been seriously or authoritatively given to an ascription now almost universal, we are fully warranted, I think, in considering them as the productions of sir Walter Scott.
The very nature, indeed, and construction of these celebrated works almost irresistibly led to this conclusion; for the same masterly powers of descriptive painting, the same cast and tone of character, the same minute attention to manners, customs, history, and tradition, the same love of the wild, the chivalric, and the awful, which so remarkably distinguished the poetical romances, are in an equal if not superior degree to be found in the Waverley novels. There is, in fact, a richness, depth, and truth in many of the very numerous characters with which these prose fictions abound, and especially in the historical ones, which need not fear competition from any writer, save the bard of Avon.