Page images

paid to these gentlemen from the aggregate gains of Scott's pen during the past two years, amounting very nearly to the unheard-of sum of £40,000. Such were the first-fruits of that hardy industry which he had determined to exert for the redemption of his credit and good name.

Scott's conduct and demeanour towards his old associates in business affairs becomes a matter of some importance, as it too oftens happens that commercial adversity introduces wrath into such fraternities. It is pleasant to relate, that even towards Mr Constable, who had been the cause of so much loss, he maintained a friendly bearing. He did not, indeed, shut his eyes to the new view he had obtained of Mr Constable's character as a man of business; but though he could trust no longer, he was far from hardening his heart. One thing he felt sorely—his last advance for Constable when in the jaws of ruin. Nor was it a soothing circumstance that the bookseller had endeavoured to get his credit for £20,000 more, which would have only been an additional loss at the speedy and inevitable day of reckoning. Still, he was willing to regard all this as only the effect of sanguine calculations; and accordingly all his expressions regarding the fallen publisher, both in his diary and his letters, are of a mild and even kindly tenor. Mr Cadell, on the other hand, had secured Sir Walter's esteem and confidence by an honest warning which he gave as to the above £20,000. From the first, he determined to befriend this member of the late house in preference to the other. With regard to James Ballantyne, Scott told him, on the very day when ruin was declared, that he would never forsake him. Mr Ballantyne now conducted business on his own account, was honoured with the steady friendship and patronage of his old schoolfellow, as On the other hand, the conduct of Scott's immediate dependents had been highly creditable. Deeply attached, in consequence of his long-enduring kindness, all were anxious to remain, if possible, about his person. His butler, Dalgleish, said he would take any or no wages, but go

of yore.

he would not. His coachman, Peter Matheson, went to work with his horses at the plough, glad to the core that he was allowed to remain at Abbotsford on such terms.

The spring of 1828 gave the world The Fair Maid of Perth, his last popular novel. He then indulged in a little relaxation, by spending a few weeks in London, in the enjoyment of Mr and Mrs Lockhart's society, as well as that of many attached friends. We have at this time a valuable addition to that testimony to his temper which the second last paragraph affords. He had some years before engaged his credit for £1200 in favour of his friend Daniel Terry the actor, who was then undertaking the management of the Adelphi Theatre. Being now informed of the ruin of Mr Terry's affairs, he wrote him a letter, in which the following passage occurs : ‘For my part, I feel as little title, as God knows I have the wish, to make any reflections on the matter, beyond the most sincere regret on your own account. The sum for which I stand noted in the schedule is of no consequence in the now more favourable condition of my affairs.

I told your solicitor that I desired he would consider me as a friend of yours, desirous to take, as a creditor, the measures which seemed best to forward your interest.' These are precious things to put into a biography; but they do not exhaust the list. Even while drudging so hard for the means of diminishing his own encumbrances, he is found pretty frequently composing and giving away a paper for the benefit of some unfortunate man of letters, little regarding, perhaps, the strict merits of



were weary.

Yet his genius triumphs in his own despite, and what he wrote for the amusement of a generation is fashioned for immortality, living with the fiery and generous life of his own heroic heart.

Scott's poetry suffers more from his 'hasty glance and random rhyme' than his prose, because from poetry more exquisite finish is expected. That finish is only to be found in his lyrics, the freshest, most musical, most natural and spirited of English verses. In his metrical romances he has spirit, speed, ringing cadences, all the magic of romance, all the grace of chivalry. Since Homer no man has written so much in Homer's mood, so largely, so bravely, with such delight in battle. But the grand style' is absent, save in the more inspired passages. Scott's lays are lighted with the Border sun, now veiled in mists, now broken with clouds: we are not here in the wide and luminous ether of Homer and of Hellas.

[ocr errors]

Wild as cloud, as stream, as gale,
Flow forth, flow unrestrained, my tale !

he exclaims, in lines addressed to Erskine, conscious of his fault, but impenitent. His fame must suffer in some degree from his own wilfulness, or, rather, from the incurable defect of a genius which was rich, but not rareabundant, but seldom fine. It may suffice for one man to have come nearer than any other mortal to Shakespeare in his fiction, and nearer than any other mortal to Homer in his verse.

His influence on literature was immense. The Romantic movement in France owed nearly as much to him as to Shakespeare. Alexander Dumas is his literary fosterchild, and his only true successor. To him also is due the beginning of a better appreciation of all ancient popular

antiquities, and a more human understanding of history.ANDREW LANG, in Chambers's Encyclopædia.

SCOTT'S POSITION TO-DAY. It is sixty years since Sir Walter Scott was laid to rest in Dryburgh Abbey, a period which has witnessed great changes in the literature of England as well as in the social life of the country. When Scott entered the field as a novelist he had few competitors, and assuredly not one capable of rivalling him in the field of romantic fiction. Jane Austen's genius, so consummate of its kind, differs as much from Scott's as the most famous of Dutch masters differs from Raphael or from Titian. Since Sir Walter's day, the writers of fiction have broken new ground in many directions, and have given their readers representations of life and character entirely distinct from the pictures that fill the spacious gallery of the Waverley Novels. The fresh fields and the new pastures are, many of them, full of fragrance, and of a beauty that is not likely to fade. To say nothing of living writers, it is impossible to believe that a time will come when readers will cease to care for the finest productions of novelists like Thackeray and Dickens, like Hawthorne and Charlotte Brontë, like George Eliot and Trollope, and some other writers of fiction who might be mentioned, scarcely inferior to these in versatility and power. In our day, much of the novelist's art is expended on the dissection, rather than on the healthy representation, of character ; but the authors we have mentioned are Sir Walter's brethren rather than his rivals, and, dear as they may be to the reader, they need not diminish one jot of the affection nd reverence which he feels for the illustrious name of Scott. Sir Walter stands apart from them all, and, in our judgment, above them all, in the largeness of

his sympathies ; in the number of lifelike characters that fill his pages; in the fresh, out-of-door atmosphere, alike wholesome and exhilarating, in which they move; in a humour and a pathos that are never strained; in a manly

1 reverence for everything that is pure and noble; and in the wealth of a creative and poetical genius, which, whatever may be the gulf between them, places Scott next to Shakespeare in the imaginative literature of his country.—Spectator, 1893.


Edinburgh :
Printed by W. & R. Chambers, Limited.

« PreviousContinue »