Walter Scott.

The poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet online

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« Highland subjects were qualified to
1, mere national prejudices
were, in the present day, very unlikely to inter-
fere with their -ii'

" I had also read a great deal, seen much, and
heard more, of that romantic country where I
was in the habit of spending some time every
autumn ; and the scenery of Loch Katrine was
connected with the recollection of many a dear
friend and merry expedition of former days.
This poem, the action of which lay among
scenes so beautiful and so deeply imprinted on
my recollections, was a labor of love, and it
was no less so to recall the manners and in-
cidents introduced. The frequent custom of
James IV., and particularly of James V., to
walk through their kingdom in disguise, af-
forded me the hint of an incident which never
fails to be interesting if managed with the
slightest address or dexterity.

"I may now confess, however, that the employ-
ment, though attended with great pleasure, was
not without its doubts and anxieties. A lady,
to whom I was nearly related, and with whom
I lived, during her whole life, on the most
brotherly terms of affection, was residing with
me at the time when the work was in progress,
and used to ask me what I could possibly do to
rise so early in the morning (that happening to
be the most convenient to me for composition).
At last I told her the subject of my meditations ;
and I can never forget the anxiety and affection
expressed in her reply. « Do not be so rash/
she said, 'my dearest cousin. You are already
popular, — more so, perhaps, than you yourself
will believe, or than even I, or other partial
friends, can fairly allow to your merit. You
stand high, — do' not rashly 'attempt to climb
higher, and incur the risk of a fall ; for, depend
upon it, a favorite will not be permitted even
to stumble with impunity.' I replied to this



affectionate expostulation in the words of
Montrose, —

" He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
Who dares not put it to the touch
To gain or lose it all."

" ' If I fail,' I said, for the dialogue is strong
in my recollection, ' it is a sign that I ought
never to have succeeded, and I will write prose
for life : you shall see no change in my temper,
nor will I 'eat a single meal the worse. But if
I succeed,

" Up with the bonnie blue bonnet,
The dirk, and the feather, and a'! " '

" Afterwards I showed my affectionate and
anxious critic the first canto of the poem, which
reconciled her to my imprudence. Neverthe-
less, although I answered thus confidently, with
the obstinacy often said to be proper to those
who bear my surname, I acknowledge that my
confidence was considerably shaken by the
warning of her excellent taste and unbiassed
friendship. Nor was I much comforted by her
retractation of the unfavorable judgment, when
I recollected how likely a natural partiality was
to effect that change of opinion. In such cases
affection rises like a light on the canvas, im-
proves any favorable tints which it formerly
exhibited, and throws its defects into the

" I remember that about the same time a
friend started in to ' heeze up my hope,' like the
' sportsman with his cutty gun,' in the old
song. He was bred a farmer, but a man of
powerful understanding, natural good taste, and
warm poetical feeling, perfectly competent to
supply the wants of an imperfect or irregular
education. He was a passionate admirer of
field-sports, which we often pursued together.

" As this friend happened to dine with me at
Ashestiel one day, I took the opportunity of
reading to him the first canto of The Lady of the
Lake, in order to ascertain the effect the poem
was likely to produce upon a person who was
but too favorable a representative of readers at
large. It is of course to be supposed that I
determined rather to guide my opinion by
what my friend might appear to feel, than by
what he might think fit to say. His reception
of my recitation, or prelection, was rather singu-
lar. He placed his hand across his brow, and
listened with great attention through the whole
account of the stag-hunt, till the dogs threw
themselves into the lake to follow their master,
who embarks with Ellen Douglas. He then
started up with a sudden exclamation, struck
his hand on the table, and declared, in a voice
of censure calculated for the occasion, that the
dogs must have been totally ruined by being
permitted to take the water after such a severe
chase. I own I was much encouraged by the
species of revery which had possessed so zealous
a follower of the sports of the ancient Nimrod,
who had been completely surprised out of all

doubts of the reality of the tale. Another of
his remarks gave me less pleasure. He de-
tected the identity of the king with the wander-
ing knight, Fitz-James, when he winds his bugle
to summon his attendants. He was probably
thinking of the lively, but somewhat licentious,
old ballad, in which the denouement of a royal
intrigue takes place as follows : —

" ' He took a bugle frae his side,
He blew both loud and shrill,
And four and twenty belted knights

Came skipping ower the hill ;
Then he took out a little knife,

Let a' his duddies fa',
And he was the brawest gentleman
That was amang them a'.

And we '11 go no more a roving,' etc.

" This discovery, as Mr. Pepys says of the
rent in his camlet cloak, was but a trifle, yet it
troubled me ; and I was at a good deal of pains
to efface any marks by which I thought my
secret could be traced before the conclusion,
when I relied on it with the same hope of pro-
ducing effect, with which the Irish post-boy is
said to reserve a ' trot for the avenue.'

" I took uncommon pains to verify the accu-
racy of the local circumstances of this story. I
recollect, in particular, that to ascertain whether
I was telling a probable tale I went into Perth-
shire, to see whether King James could actually
have ridden from the banks of Loch Vennachar
to Stirling Castle within the time supposed in
the poem, and had the pleasure to satisfy my-
self that it was quite practicable.

" After a considerable delay, The Lady of the
Lake appeared in June, 1810; and its success
was certainly so extraordinary as to induce me
for the moment to conclude that I had at last
fixed a nail in the proverbially inconstant wheel
of Fortune, whose stability in behalf of an indi-
vidual who had so boldly courted her favors for
three successive times had not as yet been
shaken. I had attained, perhaps, that degree
of reputation at which prudence, or certainly
timidity, would have made a halt, and discon-
tinued efforts by which I was far more likely to
diminish my fame than to increase it. But, as
the celebrated John Wilkes is said to have
explained to his late Majesty, that he himself,
amid his full tide of popularity, was never a
Wilkite, so I can, with honest truth, exculpate
myself from having been at any time a partisan
of my own poetry, even when it was in the
highest fashion with the million. It must not
be supposed that I was either so ungrateful or
so superabundantly candid as to despise or
scorn the value of those whose voice had ele-
vated me so much higher than my own opinion
told me I deserved. I felt, on the contrary,
the more grateful to the public, as receiving
that from partiality to me, which I could not
have claimed from merit; and I endeavored
to deserve the partiality by continuing such
exertions as I was capable of for their amuse-

" It may be that I did not, in this continued
course of scribbling, consult either the interest



of the public or my own. But the former had
effectual means of defending themselves, and
could, by their coldness, sufficiently check any
approach to intrusion ; and for myself, I had
now for several years dedicated my hours so
much to literary labor that I should have felt
difficulty in employing myself otherwise ; and
so, like Dogberry, I generously bestowed all
my tediousness on the public, comforting my-
self with the reflection that, if posterity should
think me undeserving of the favor with which
I was regarded by my contemporaries, ' they
could not but say I had the crown,' and had
enjoyed for a time that popularity which is so
much coveted.

" I conceived, however, that I held the distin-
guished situation I had obtained, however un-
worthily, rather like the champion of pugilism,
on the condition of being always ready to show
proofs of my skill, than in the manner of the
champion of chivalry, who performs his duties
only on rare and solemn occasions. I was in any
case conscious that I could not long hold a situa-
tion which the caprice rather than the judgment
of the public had bestowed upon me, and pre-
ferred being deprived of my precedence by some
more worthy rival, to sinking into contempt for
my indolence, and losing my reputation by what
Scottish lawyers call the negative prescription.
Accordingly, those who choose to look at the
Introduction to Rokeby, will be able to trace
the steps by which I declined as a poet to
figure as a novelist; as the ballad says, Queen
Eleanor sunk at Charing Cross to rise again at

" It only remains for me to say that, during
my short pre-eminence of popularity, I faithfully
observed the rules of moderation which I had
resolved to follow before I began my course as
a man of letters. If a man is determined to
make a noise in the world, he is as sure to en-
counter abuse and ridicule, as he who gallops
furiously through a village must reckon on be-
ing followed by the curs in full cry. Experi-
enced persons know that in stretching to flog
the latter, the rider is very apt to catch a bad
fall ; nor is an attempt to chastise a malignant
critic attended with less danger to the author.
On this principle, I let parody, burlesque, and
Bqaiba find their own level ; and while the latter
hissed most fiercely, I was cautious never to
catch them up, as schoolboys do, to throw them
back against the naughty boy who fired them
off, wisely remembering that they are in such
cases apt to explode in the handling. Let me
add that my reign (since Byron has so called it)
was marked by some instances of good-nature
as well as patience. I never refused a literary
>n of merit such services in smoothing his
way to the public as were in my power; and
I bad the- advantage — rather an uncommon
with our irritable race — to enjoy general
without incurring permanent ill-will,
so far as is known to me, among any of my

M &BBOTSFORD, Afrit, 1830."


2. Uam-var. Ua-Var, as the name is pro-
nounced, or more properly Uaigh-mor, is a
mountain to the northeast of the village of
Callander, in Menteith, deriving its name, which
signifies the great den, or cavern, from a sort of
retreat among the rocks on the south side, said,
by tradition, to have been the abode of a giant.
In latter times it was the refuge of robbers and
banditti, who have been only extirpated within
these forty or fifty years. Strictly speaking,
this stronghold is not a cave, as the name would
imply, but a sort of small enclosure, or recess,
surrounded with large rocks and open above

7. Saint Hubert's breed. Scott quotes Tuber-
vile here : " The hounds which we call Saint
Hubert's hounds are commonly all blacke, yet
neuertheless, the race is so mingled at these
days, that we find them of all colours. These
are the hounds which the abbots of St. Hubert
haue always kept some of their race or kind, in
honour or remembrance of the saint, which was
a hunter with S. Eustace. Whereupon we may
conceiue that (by the grace of God) all good
huntsmen shall follow them into paradise."

8. For the death-wound, etc. When the stag
turned to bay, the ancient hunter had the peril-
ous task of going in upon, and killing or dis-
abling, the desperate animal. At certain times
of the year this was held particularly dangerous,
a wound received from a stag's horn being then
deemed poisonous, and more dangerous than
one from the tusks of a boar, as the old rhyme
testifies : —

" If thou be hurt with hart, it brings thee to thy bier,
But barber's hand will boar's hurt heal, therefore thou
need'st not fear."

At all times, however, the task was dangerous,
and to be adventured upon wisely and warily,
either by getting behind the stag while he was
gazing on the hounds, or by watching an oppor-
tunity to gallop roundly in upon him and kill
him with the sword.

14. And now, to issue from the glen, etc. Until
the present road was made through the roman- ,
tic pass which I have presumptuously attempted
to describe in the preceding stanzas, there was
no mode of issuing out of the defile called the
Trosachs, excepting by a sort of ladder, com-
posed of the branches and roots of trees.

16. Highland plunderers. The clans who in-
habited the romantic regions in the neighbor-
hood of Loch Katrine were, even until a late
period, much addicted to predatory excursions
upon their Lowland neighbors.

2 3- ^ gray-haired sire, etc. If force of evi-
dence could authorize us to believe facts incon-
sistent with the general laws of nature, enough
might be produced in favor of the existence of
the second-sight. It is called in Gaelic Taishi-
taraugh, from Taish, an unreal or shadowy ap-
pearance ; and those possessed of the faculty
are called laishatrin, which may be aptly
translated visionaries. Martin, a steady be-



liever in the second-sight, gives the following
account of it : —

"The second-sight is a singular faculty of
seeing an otherwise invisible object without
any previous means used by the person that
uses it for that end : the vision makes such a
lively impression upon the seers, that they
neither see nor think of anything else, except
the vision, as long as it continues; and then
they appear pensive or jovial, according to the
object that was represented to them.

" At the sight of a vision, the eyelids of the
person are erected, and the eyes continue star-
ing until the object vanish. This is obvious to
others who are by when the persons happen
to see a vision, and occurred more than once
to my own observation, and to others that were
with me. ...

" If a woman is seen standing at a man's left
hand, it is a presage that she will be his wife,
whether they be married to others, or unmar-
ried at the time of the apparition.

" To see a spark of fire fall upon one's arm
or breast is a forerunner of a dead child to be
seen in the arms of those persons ; of which
there are several fresh instances. ...

" To see a seat empty at the time of one's
sitting in it is a presage of that person's death
soon after " (Martin's Description of the Western
Islands, 1 716, 8vo, p. 300 et sea.).

To these particulars innumerable examples
might be added, all attested by grave and credi-
ble authors. But, in despite of evidence which
neither Bacon, Boyle, nor Johnson was able to
resist, the Taish, with all its visionary proper-
ties, seems to be now universally abandoned to
the use of poetry. The exquisitely beautiful
poem of Lochiel will at once occur to the recol-
lection of every reader.

25. Here for retreat in dangerous hour, etc.
The Celtic chieftains, whose lives were con-
tinually exposed to peril, had usually, in the
most retired spot of their domains, some place
of retreat for the hour of necessity, which, as
circumstances would admit, was a tower, a cav-
ern, or a rustic hut, in a strong and secluded
situation. One of these last gave refuge to the
unfortunate Charles Edward, in his perilous
wanderings after the battle of Culloden.

28. Ferragus or Ascabart. These two sons
of Anak flourished in romantic fable. The first
is well known to the admirers of Ariosto by the
name of Ferrau. He was an antagonist of Or-
lando, and was at length slain by him in single
combat. . . . Ascapart, or Ascabart, makes a
very material figure in the History of Bevis of
Hampton, by whom he was conquered. His
effigies may be seen guarding one side of the
gate at Southampton, while the other is occu-
pied by Bevis himself.

29. Though all unasked his birth and name.
The Highlanders, who carried hospitality to a
punctilious excess, are said to have considered
it as churlish to ask a stranger his name or line-
age before he had taken refreshment. Feuds
were so frequent among them, that a contrary
rule would in many cases have produced the

discovery of some circumstance which might
have excluded the guest from the benefit of the
assistance he stood in need of.


1. A minstrel gray. Highland chieftains, to
a late period, retained in their service the bard,
as a family officer.

6. The Grceme. The ancient and powerful
family of Graham (which, for metrical reasons,
is here spelled after the Scottish pronuncia-
tion) held extensive possessions in the counties
of Dumbarton and Stirling. Few families can
boast of more historical renown, having claim
to three of the most remarkable characters in
the Scottish annals. Sir John the Graeme, the
faithful and undaunted partaker of the labors
and patriotic warfare of Wallace, fell in the
unfortunate field of Falkirk, in 1298. The cele-
brated Marquis of Montrose, in whom De Retz
saw realized his abstract idea of the heroes of
antiquity, was the second of these worthies.
And, notwithstanding the severity of his tem-
per, and the rigor with which he executed the
oppressive mandates of the princes whom he
served, I do not hesitate to name as the third,
John Graeme, of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dun-
dee, whose heroic death, in the arms of victory,
may be allowed to cancel the memory of his
cruelty to the non-conformists, during the reigns
of Charles II. and James II.

7. Saint Modan. I am not prepared to show
that Saint Modan was a performer on the harp.
It was, however, no unsaintly accomplishment;
for Saint Dunstan certainly did play upon that
instrument, which retaining, as was natural, a
portion of the sanctity attached to its master's
character, announced future events by its spon-
taneous sound.

8. Ere Douglases, to ruin driven. The down-
fall of the Douglases of the house of Angus,
during the reign of James V., is the event al-
luded to in the text.

12. In Holy- Rood a knight he slew. This was
by no means an uncommon occurrence in the
Court of Scotland ; nay, the presence of the
sovereign himself scarcely restrained the fero-
cious and inveterate feuds which were the per-
petual source of bloodshed among the Scottish

12. The Douglas, like a stricken deer, etc. The
exiled state of this powerful race is not exag-
gerated in this and subsequent passages. The
hatred of James against the race of Douglas
was so inveterate, that numerous as their allies
were, and disregarded as the regal authority
had usually been in similar cases, their nearest
friends, even in the most remote part of Scot-
land, durst not entertain them, unless under the
strictest and closest disguise.

13. Maronnati's cell. The parish of Kil-
?naronock, at the eastern extremity of Loch Lo-
mond, derives its name from a cell, or chapel,
dedicated to Saint Maronock, or Marnock, or

59 8


Maronnan, about whose sanctity very little is
now remembered.

14. Bracklinn's thundering wave. This beau-
tiful cascade is on the Keltie, a mile from Cal-
lander. The height of the fall is about fifty feet.

15. Tine-man. Archibald, the third Earl of
Douglas, was so unfortunate in all his enter-
prises, that he acquired the epithet of " tine-
man," because he fined, or lost, his followers in
every battle which he fought. He was van-
quished, as every reader must remember, in the
bloody battle of Homildon-hill, near Wooler,
where he himself lost an eye, and was made
prisoner by Hotspur. He was no less unfor-
tunate when allied with Percy, being wounded
and taken at the battle of Shrewsbury. He
was so unsuccessful in an attempt to besiege
Roxburgh Castle, that it was called the " Foul
Raid," or disgraceful expedition. His ill for-
tune left him indeed at the battle of Beauge, in
France ; but it was only to return with double
emphasis at the subsequent action of Vernoil,
the last and most unlucky of his encounters, in
which he fell, with the flower of the Scottish
chivalry, then serving as auxiliaries in France,
and about two thousand common soldiers,
A. D. 1424.

15. Did, self-unscabbarded, etc. The ancient
warriors, whose hope and confidence rested
chiefly in their blades, were accustomed to
deduce omens from them, especially from such
as were supposed to have been fabricated by
enchanted skill, of which we have various in-
stances in the romances and legends of the time.

17. Those thrilling sounds, etc. The con-
noisseurs in pipe-music affect to discover in a
well-composed pibroch the imitative sounds
of march, conflict, flight, pursuit, and all the
" current of a heady fight."

19. Roderigh Vich Alpine dhu. Besides his
ordinary name and surname, which were chiefly
used in the intercourse with the Lowlands,
every Highland chief had an epithet expressive
of his patriarchal dignity as head of the clan,
and which was common to all his predecessors
and successors, as Pharaoh to the kings of
Egypt, or Arsaces to those of Parthia. This
name was usually a patronymic, expressive of
his descent from the founder of the family. Thus
the Duke of Argyll is called MacCallum More,
or the son of Colin the Great. Sometimes, how-
ever, it is derived from armorial distinctions, or
the memory of some great feat ; thus Lord Sea-
forth, as chief of the Mackenzies,orClan-Kennet,
bears the epithet of Caber-fae, or Buck's Head,
as representative of Colin Fitzgerald, founder
of the family, who saved the Scottish king when
endangered by a stag.

20. The best of Loch Lomond, etc. The Len-
nox, as the district is called which encircles
the lower extremity of Loch Lomond, was
peculiarly exposed to the incursions of the
mountaineers, who inhabited the inaccessible
fastnesses at the upper end of the lake, and the
neighboring district of Loch Katrine. These
were often marked by circumstances of great


1. The Fiery Cross. When a chieftain de-
signed to summon his clan upon any sudden or
important emergency, he slew a goat, and mak-
ing a cross of any light wood, seared its extremi-
ties in the fire, and extinguished them in the
blood of the animal. This was called the Fiery
Cross, also Crean Tarigh, or the Cross of Shame,
because disobedience to what the symbol im-
plied, inferred infamy. It was delivered to a
swift and trusty messenger, who ran full speed
with it to the next hamlet, where he presented
it to the principal person, with a single word,
implying the place of rendezvous. He who re-
ceived the symbol was bound to send it forward,
with equal despatch, to the next village ; and
thus it passed with incredible celerity through all
the district which owed allegiance to the chief,
and also among his allies and neighbors, if the
danger was common to them. At sight of the
Fiery Cross, every man, from sixteen years old
to sixty, capable of bearing arms, was obliged
instantly to repair, in his best arms and accou-
trements, to the place of rendezvous. He who
failed to appear suffered the extremities of fire
and sword, which were emblematically de-
nounced to the disobedient by the bloody and
burnt marks upon this warlike signal. During
the civil war of 1745-46, the Fiery Cross often
made its circuit ; and upon one occasion it
passed through the whole district of Breadal-
bane, a tract of thirty-two miles, in three hours.
The late Alexander Stewart, Esq., of Inverna-
hyle, described to me his having sent round the
Fiery Cross through the district of Appine,
during the same commotion. The. coast was
threatened by a descent from two English frig-
ates, and the flower of the young men were
with the army of Prince Charles Edward, then
in England ; yet the summons was so effectual
that even old age and childhood obeyed it; and
a force was collected in a few hours, so numer-
ous and so enthusiastic that all attempt at the
intended diversion upon the country of the ab-
sent warriors was in prudence abandoned as

4. That monk, of savage form and face, etc.
The state of religion in the middle ages af-
forded considerable facilities for those whose
mode of life excluded them from regular wor-
ship, to secure, nevertheless, the ghostly as-
sistance of confessors, perfectly willing to adapt
the nature of their doctrine to the necessities

Online LibraryWalter ScottThe poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, Baronet → online text (page 68 of 78)