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_The following Volumes are now ready_ -

THOMAS CARLYLE. By Hector C. Macpherson.
ALLAN RAMSAY. By Oliphant Smeaton.
HUGH MILLER. By W. Keith Leask.
JOHN KNOX. By A. Taylor Innes.
ROBERT BURNS. By Gabriel Setoun.
RICHARD CAMERON. By Professor Herkless.
SIR JAMES Y. SIMPSON. By Eve Blantyre Simpson.
THOMAS CHALMERS. By Professor W. Garden Blaikie.
JAMES BOSWELL. By W. Keith Leask.
TOBIAS SMOLLETT. By Oliphant Smeaton.
THE BLACKWOOD GROUP. By Sir George Douglas.
NORMAN MACLEOD. By John Wellwood.
SIR WALTER SCOTT. By Professor Saintsbury.







* * * * *

The designs and ornaments of this volume are by Mr. Joseph
Brown, and the printing from the press of Morrison & Gibb
Limited, Edinburgh.

_June 1897._

* * * * *


To the very probable remark that 'Another little book about Scott is not
wanted,' I can at least reply that apparently it is, inasmuch as the
publishers proposed this volume to me, not I to them. And I believe
that, as a matter of fact, no 'little book about Scott' has appeared
since the _Journal_ was completed, since the new and important
instalment of _Letters_ appeared (in both cases with invaluable
editorial apparatus by Mr. David Douglas), and especially since Mr.
Lang's _Lockhart_ was published. It is true that no one of these, nor
any other book that is likely to appear, has altered, or is likely to
alter, much in a sane estimate of Sir Walter. His own matchless
character and the genius of his first biographer combined to set before
the world early an idea, of which it is safe to say that nothing that
should lower it need be feared, and hardly anything to heighten it can
be reasonably hoped. But as fresh items of illustrative detail are made
public, there can be no harm in endeavouring to incorporate something of
what they give us in fresh abstracts and _aper√Іus_ from time to time.
And for the continued and, as far as space permits, detailed criticism
of the work, it may be pleaded that criticism of Scott has for many
years been chiefly general, while in criticism, even more than in other
things, generalities are deceptive.



















Scott's own 'autobiographic fragment,' printed in Lockhart's first
volume, has made other accounts of his youth mostly superfluous, even to
a day which persists in knowing better about everything and everybody
than it or they knew about themselves. No one ever recorded his
genealogy more minutely, with greater pride, or with a more saving sense
of humour than Sir Walter. He was connected, though remotely, with
gentle families on both sides. That is to say, his great-grandfather was
son of the Laird of Raeburn, who was grandson of Walter Scott of Harden
and the 'Flower of Yarrow.' The great-grandson, 'Beardie,' acquired that
cognomen by letting his beard grow like General Dalziel, though for the
exile of James II., instead of the death of Charles I. - 'whilk was the
waur reason,' as Sir Walter himself might have said.

Beardie's second son, being more thoroughly sickened of the sea in his
first voyage than Robinson Crusoe, took to farming and Whiggery, and
married the daughter of Haliburton of Newmains - there was also Macdougal
and Campbell blood on the spindle side of the older generations of the
family. Their eldest son Walter, father of Sir Walter, was born in 1729,
and, being bred to the law, became the original, according to undisputed
tradition, of the 'Saunders Fairford' of _Redgauntlet_, the most
autobiographical as well as not the least charming of the novels. He
married Anne Rutherford, who, through her mother, brought the blood of
the Swintons of Swinton to enrich the joint strain; and from her father,
a member of a family distinguished in the annals of the University of
Edinburgh, may have transmitted some of the love for books which was not
the most prominent feature of the other ingredients.

Walter himself was the third 'permanent child' (to adopt an agreeable
phrase of Mr. Traill's about another person) of a family of twelve, only
five of whom survived infancy. His three brothers, John, Thomas, and
Daniel, and his sister Anne, all figure in the records; but little is
heard of John and not much of Anne. Thomas, the second, either had, or
was thought by his indulgent brother to have, literary talents, and was
at one time put up to father the novels; while Daniel (whose misconduct
in money matters, and still more in showing the white feather, brought
on him the only display of anything that can be called rancour recorded
in Sir Walter's history) concerns us even less. The date of the
novelist's birth was 15th August 1771, the place, 'the top of the
College Wynd,' a locality now whelmed in the actual Chambers Street face
of the present Old University buildings, and near that of Kirk of Field.
Escaping the real or supposed dangers of a consumptive wet-nurse, he was
at first healthy enough; but teething or something else developed the
famous lameness, which at first seemed to threaten loss of all use of
the right leg. The child was sent to the house of his grandfather, the
Whig farmer of Sandyknowe, where he abode for some years under the
shadow of Smailholm Tower, reading a little, listening to Border legends
a great deal, and making one long journey to London and Bath. This first
blessed period of 'making himself'[1] lasted till his eighth year, and
ended with a course of sea-bathing at Prestonpans, where he met the
original in name and perhaps in nature of Captain Dalgetty, and the
original in character of the Antiquary. Then he returned (_circ._ 1779)
to his father's house, now in George Square, to his numerous, if
impermanent, family of brothers and sisters, and to the High School. The
most memorable incident of this part of his career is the famous episode
of 'Greenbreeks.'[2]

His health, as he grew up, becoming again weak, the boy was sent once
more Borderwards - this time to Kelso, where he lived with an aunt, went
to the town school, and made the acquaintance there, whether for good or
ill, who shall say? of the Ballantynes. And he had to return to Kelso
for the same cause, at least once during his experiences at College,
where he did not take the full usual number of courses, and acquired no
name as a scholar. But he always read.

As it had not been decided whether he was to adopt the superior or the
inferior branch of the law, he was apprenticed to his father at the age
of fifteen, as a useful preparation for either career. He naturally
enough did not love 'engrossing,' but he did not cross his father's soul
by refusing it, and though returns of illness occurred now and then, his
constitution appeared to be gradually strengthening itself, partly, as
he thought, owing to the habit of very long walks, in which he took
great delight. He tried various accomplishments; but he could neither
draw, nor make music, nor (at this time) write. Still he always
read - irregularly, uncritically, but enormously, so that to this day Sir
Walter's real learning is under-estimated. And he formed a very
noteworthy circle of friends - William Clerk, 'Darsie Latimer,' the chief
of them all. It must have been just after he entered his father's office
that he met Burns, during that poet's famous visit to Edinburgh in

Considerably less is known of his late youth and early manhood than
either of his childhood or of his later life. His letters - those
invaluable and unparalleled sources of biographical information - do not
begin till 1792, the year of his majority, when (on July 11) he was
called to the Bar. But it is a universal tradition that, in these years
of apprenticeship, in more senses than one, he, partly in gratifying his
own love of wandering, and partly in serving his father's business by
errands to clients, etc., did more than lay the foundation of that
unrivalled knowledge of Scotland, and of all classes in it, which plays
so important a part in his literary work. I say 'of all classes in it,'
and this point is of the greatest weight. Scott has been accused (for
the most part foolishly) of paying an exaggerated respect to rank. If
this had been true, it would at least not have been due to late or
imperfect acquaintance with persons of rank. Democratic as the Scotland
of this century has sometimes been called, it is not uncommon to find a
considerable respect for aristocracy in the greatest Scotch Radicals;
and Scott was notoriously not a Radical. But his familiarity with all
ranks from an early age is undoubted, and only very shallow or
prejudiced observers will doubt the beneficial effect which this had on
his study of humanity.[6] The uneasy caricature which mars Dickens's
picture of the upper, and even the upper middle, classes is as much
absent from his work as the complete want of familiarity with the lower
which appears, for instance, in Bulwer. It is certain that before he had
written anything, he was on familiar terms with many persons, both men
and women, of the highest rank - the most noteworthy among his feminine
correspondents being Lady Louisa Stuart (sister of the Marquis of Bute
and grand-daughter of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu) and Lady Abercorn. With
the former the correspondence is always on the footing of mere though
close friendship, literary and other; in part at least of that with Lady
Abercorn, I cannot help suspecting the presence, especially on the
lady's side, of that feeling,

'Too warm for friendship and too pure for love,'

which undoubtedly sometimes does exist between men and women who cannot,
and perhaps who would not if they could, turn love into marriage.

However this may be, it is, let it be repeated, certain that Scott, in
the six years from his fifteenth, when he is said to have first visited
the Highlands and seen Rob Roy's country, to his majority, and yet again
in the five or six between his call to the Bar and his marriage, visited
many, if not all, parts of Scotland; knew high and low, rich and poor,
with the amiable interest of his temperament and the keen observation of
his genius; took part in business and amusement and conviviality (he
accuses himself later of having been not quite free from the prevalent
peccadillo of rather deep drinking); and still and always _read_. He
joined the 'Speculative Society' in January 1791, and, besides taking
part in the debates on general subjects, read papers on Feudalism,
Ossian, and Northern Mythology, in what were to be his more special

His young lawyer friends called him 'Colonel Grogg,' a _sobriquet_ not
difficult to interpret on one of the hints just given, and 'Duns
Scotus,' which concerns the other; while yet a third characteristic,
which can surprise nobody, is indicated in the famous introduction of
him to a boisterous party of midshipmen of the Marryat type by James
Clerk, the brother of Darsie Latimer, who kept a yacht, and was fond of
the sea: 'You may take Mr. Scott for a poor _lamiter_, gentlemen, but he
is the first to begin a row and the last to end it.'

It appears that it was from a time somewhat before the call that the
beginning of Scott's famous, his unfortunate, and (it has been the
fashion, rightly or wrongly, to add) his only love affair dates. Some
persons have taken the trouble to piece together and eke out the
references to 'Green Mantle,' otherwise Miss Stuart of Belches, later
Lady Forbes. It is better to respect Scott's own reticence on a subject
of which very little is really known, and of which he, like most
gentlemen, preferred to say little or nothing. The affection appears to
have been mutual; but the lady was probably not very eager to incur
family displeasure by making a match decidedly below her in rank, and,
at that time, distinctly imprudent in point of fortune. But the
courtship, such as it was, appears to have been long, and the effects of
the loss indelible. Scott speaks of his heart as 'handsomely
pieced' - 'pieced,' it may be observed, not 'healed.' A healed wound
sometimes does not show; a pieced garment or article of furniture
reminds us of the piecing till the day when it goes to fire or dustbin.
But it has been supposed, with some reason, that those heroines of
Scott's who show most touch of personal sympathy - Catherine Seyton, Die
Vernon, Lilias Redgauntlet - bear features, physical or mental or both,
of this Astarte, this

'Lost woman of his youth, yet unpossessed.'

And no one can read the _Diary_ without perceiving the strange
bitter-sweet, at the moment of his greatest calamity, of the fact that
Sir William Forbes, who rendered him invaluable service at his greatest
need, was his successful rival thirty years before, and the widower of
'Green Mantle.'

This affair came to an end in October 1796; and it may astonish some
wise people, accustomed to regard Scott as a rather humdrum and prosaic
person, who escaped the scandals so often associated with the memory of
men of letters from sheer want of temptation, to hear that one of his
most intimate friends of his own age at the time 'shuddered at the
violence of his most irritable and ungovernable mind.' There is no
reason to doubt the fidelity of this description. And those who know
something of human nature will be disposed to assign the disappearance
of the irritableness and ungovernableness precisely to this incident,
and to the working of a strong mind, confronted by fate with the
question whether it was to be the victim or the master of its own
passions, fighting out the battle once for all, and thenceforward
keeping its house armed against them, it may be with some loss, but
certainly with much gain.

It has been said that he states (with a touch of irony, no doubt) that
his heart was 'handsomely pieced'; and it is not against the theory
hinted in the foregoing paragraph, but, on the contrary, in favour of
it, that the piecing did not take long. In exactly a year Scott became
engaged to Miss Charlotte Margaret Carpenter or Charpentier,[4] and they
were married on Christmas Eve, 1797, at St. Mary's, Carlisle. They had
met at Gilsland Spa in the previous July, and the courtship had not
taken very long. The lady was of French extraction, had an only brother
in the service of the East India Company, and, being an orphan, was the
ward of the Marquis of Downshire, - circumstances on which gossips like
Hogg made impertinent remarks. It is fair, however, to 'the Shepherd' to
say that he speaks enthusiastically both of Mrs. Scott's appearance
('one of the most beautiful and handsome creatures I ever saw in my
life'; 'a perfect beauty') and of her character ('she is cradled in my
remembrance, and ever shall be, as a sweet, kind, and affectionate
creature').[5] She was very dark, small, with hair which the Shepherd
calls black, Lockhart dark brown; her features not regular, but her
complexion, figure, and so forth 'unusually attractive.' Not very much
is said about her in any of the authentic accounts, and traditional
tittle-tattle may be neglected. She does not seem to have been extremely
wise, and was entirely unliterary; but neither of these defects is a
_causa redhibitionis_ in marriage; and she was certainly a faithful and
affectionate wife. At any rate, Scott made no complaints, if he had any
to make, and nearly the most touching passage in the _Diary_ is that
written after her death.

The minor incidents, not literary, of his life, between his call to the
Bar and his marriage, require a little notice, for they had a very great
influence on the character of his future work. His success at the Bar
was moderate, but his fees increased steadily if slowly. He defended
(unsuccessfully) a Galloway minister who was accused among other counts
of 'toying with a sweetie-wife,' and it is interesting to find in his
defence some casuistry about _ebrius_ and _ebriosus_, which reminds one
of the Baron of Bradwardine. He took part victoriously in a series of
battles with sticks, between Loyalist advocates and writers and Irish
Jacobin medical students, in the pit of the Edinburgh theatre during
April 1794. In June 1795 he became a curator of the Advocates' Library,
and a year later engaged (of course on the loyal side) in another great
political 'row,' this time in the streets.

Above all, in the spring and summer between the loss of his love and his
marriage, he engaged eagerly in volunteering, becoming quartermaster,
paymaster, secretary, and captain in the Edinburgh Light Horse - an
occupation which has left at least as much impression on his work as
Gibbon's equally famous connection with the Hampshire Militia on his.
His friendships continued and multiplied; and he began with the sisters
of some of his friends, especially Miss Cranstoun (his chief confidante
in the 'Green Mantle' business) and Miss Erskine, the first, or the
first known to us, of those interesting correspondences with ladies
which show him perhaps at his very best. For in them he plays neither
jack-pudding, nor coxcomb, nor sentimentalist, nor any of the
involuntary counterparts which men in such cases are too apt to play;
and they form not the least of his titles to the great name of

But by far the most important contribution of these six or seven years
to his 'making' was the further acquaintance with the scenery, and
customs, and traditions, and dialects, and local history of his own
country, which his greater independence, enlarged circle of friends, and
somewhat increased means enabled him to acquire. It is quite true that
to a man with his gifts any microcosm will do for a macrocosm in
miniature. I have heard in conversation (I forget whether it is in any
of the books) that he picked up the word 'whomled' (= 'bucketed
over' - 'turned like a tub'), which adds so much to the description of
the nautical misfortune of Claud Halcro and Triptolemus in _The Pirate_,
by overhearing it from a scold in the Grassmarket. But still the
enlarged experience could not but be of the utmost value. It was during
these years that he saw Glamis Castle in its unspoiled state, during
these that, in connection with the case of the unfortunate but rather
happily named devotee of Bacchus and Venus, M'Naught, he explored
Galloway, and obtained the decorations and scenery, if not the story, of
_Guy Mannering_. He also repeated his visits to the English side of the
Border, not merely on the occasion during which he met Miss Carpenter,
but earlier, in a second excursion to Northumberland.

But, above all, these were the years of his famous 'raids' into
Liddesdale, then one of the most inaccessible districts of Scotland,
under the guidance of Mr. Shortreed of Jedburgh - raids which completed
the information for _Guy Mannering_, which gave him much of the material
for the _Minstrelsy_, and the history of which has, I think, delighted
every one of his readers and biographers, except one or two who have
been scandalised at the exquisite story of the Arrival of the Keg.[3] Of
these let us not speak, but, regarding them with a tender pity not
unmixed with wonder, pass to the beginnings of his actual literary life
and to the history of his early married years. The literature a little
preceded the life; but the life certainly determined the growth of the


[1] His friend Shortreed's well-known expression for the results of the
later Liddesdale 'raids.'

[2] See General Preface to the Novels, or Lockhart, i. 136.

[3] He attributes to Lady Balcarres the credit of being his earliest
patroness, and of giving him, when a mere shy boy, the run of her
drawing-room and of her box at the theatre.

[4] He himself, in his entries of his children's births, always gives
the order of the names as Margaret Charlotte.

[5] The Boar of the Forest seems, not unnaturally, to have had a rather
less warm 'cradle' in Lady Scott's feelings. She thought he took
liberties; and though he meant no harm, he certainly did.

[6] Lockhart, i. 270. I quote, as is usual, the second or ten-volume
edition. But, for reading, some may prefer the first, in which the
number of the volumes coincides with their real division, which has the
memories of the death of Sophia Scott and others connected with its
course, and to which the second made fewer positive additions than may
be thought. - [It has been pointed out to me in reference to the word
'whomle' on the opposite page that Fergusson has 'whumble' in 'The
Rising of the Session.' But if Scott had quoted, would he have altered
the spelling? The Grassmarket story, moreover, exactly corresponds to
his words, 'as a gudewife would whomle a bowie.']



It is pretty universally known, and must have been perceived even from
the foregoing summary, that Scott was by no means a very precocious
writer. He takes rank, indeed, neither with those who, according to a
famous phrase, 'break out threescore thousand strong' in youth; nor with
those who begin original composition betimes, and by degrees arrive at
excellence; nor yet with those who do not display any aptitude for
letters till late in life. His class - a fourth, which, at least as
regards the greater names of literature, is perhaps the smallest of
all - comprises those who may almost be said to drift into literary work
and literary fame, whose first production is not merely tentative and
unoriginal, but, so to speak, accidental, who do not discover their real
faculty for literary work till after a pretty long course of casual
literary play.

Part of this was no doubt due to the fact - vouched for sufficiently, and
sufficiently probable, though not, so far as I know, resting on any
distinct and firsthand documentary evidence - that Walter Scott the elder
had, even more than his _eidolon_ the elder Fairford, that horror of
literary employment on the part of his son which was for generations a
tradition among persons of business, and which is perhaps not quite
extinct yet. For this opposition, as is well known, rather stimulates
than checks, even in dutiful offspring, the noble rage. It was due
partly, perhaps, to a metaphysical cause - the fact that until Scott was
well past his twentieth year, the wind of the spirit was not yet
blowing, that the new poetical and literary day had not yet dawned; and
partly to a more commonplace reason or set of reasons. About 1790
literary work was extremely badly paid;[11] and, even if it had been paid
better, Scott had no particular need of money. Till his marriage he
lived at home, spent his holidays with friends, or on tours where the
expenses were little or nothing, and obtained sufficient pocket-money,
first by copying while he was still apprenticed to his father, then by
his fees when he was called. He could, as he showed later, spend money
royally when he had it or thought he had it; but he was a man of no
extravagant tastes of the ordinary kind, and Edinburgh was not in his
days at all an extravagant place of living. Even when he married, he was
by no means badly off. His wife, though not exactly an heiress, had
means which had been estimated at five hundred a year, and which seem
never to have fallen below two hundred; Scott's fees averaged about
another two hundred; he evidently had an allowance from his father (who
had been very well off, and was still not poor), and before very long
the Sheriffship of Selkirkshire added three hundred more, though he
seems to have made this an excuse for giving up practice, which he had
never much liked. His father's death in 1799 put him in possession of

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Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburySir Walter Scott → online text (page 1 of 12)