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Many and wonderful as are the romances which Sir Walter Scott wrote, there are none of them so wonderful as the romance of his own life. It is not that from a simple son of a Writer to the Siguet, he raised himself to wealth and title;—that many have done before him, and far more than that. That many a man of most ordinary brain can achieve; can, as it were, almost stumble into, he knows not how. That many a scrivener, a paviour, or a pawnbroker, has accomplished, and been still deemed no miracle. The city of London, from the days of Dick Whittington to those of Sir Peter Laurie, can show a legion of such culminations. But Sir Walter Scott won his wealth and title in fields more renowned for starvation and “Calamities," than for making of fortunes—those of literature. It was from the barren hills of Parnassus that he drew down wealth in quantities that struck the whole world with astonishment, and made those famous mountains, trodden bare with the feet of glorious paupers, rivals of the teeming heights of Mexico and Peru, of California and Australia. At a period when the sources of literature appeared to have exhausted themselves ; when it was declared that nothing original could be again expected in poetry, that all its secret places were rifled, all its fashions outworn, all its imagery beaten into triteness ; when romance was grown mawkish and even childish ; when Mrs. Radcliffe and Horace Walpole had exhausted its terrors, and the novelist's path through common life, it was thought, had been gleaned of all possible discovery by Fielding, Richardson and Smollett, Goldsmith and Sterne,—when this was confirmed in public opinion by the sentimentalities of Henry Mackenzie, forth started Scott as a giant of the first magnitude, and demolished all the fond ideas of such dusty-brained dreamers. He opened up on every side new scenes of invention. In poetry and romance, he showed that there was not a corner of these islands which was not, so far from being exhausted, standing thick with the richest materials for the most wonderful and beautiful creations. The reign of the schoolmen and the copyists was at an end. Nature, history, tradition, life, every thing and every place, were shown by this new and vigorous spirit to be full to overflowing with what had been, in the dim eyes of former soi-disunt geniuses, only dry bones; but which, at the touch of this bold necromancer, sprung up living forms of the most fascinating grace. The whole public opened eyes of wonder, and in breathless amazement and delight saw this active and unweariable agent call round him, from the brooks and mountains of his native land, troop after troop of kings, queens, warriors, women of regal forms and more regal spirits ; visions of purity and loveliness; and lowly creations of no less glorious virtues. The whole land seemed astir with armies, insurrections, pageantries of love, and passages of sorrow, that for twenty years kept the enraptured public in a trance, as it were, of ever-accumulating marvel and joy. There seemed no bounds to his powers, or the field of his operations. From Scotland he descended into England, stepped over into France, Germany, Switzerland, nay, even into Palestine and India ; and people asked, as volumes, any one of which would have established a first-rate reputation, were poured out, year after year, with the rapid prodigality of a mountain stream,—is there no limit to the wondrous powers of this mau's imagination and creative faculty? There really seemed none. Fresh stories, of totally novel construction, fresh characters, of the most startling originality, were continually coming forward, as from an inexhaustible world of soul. Not only did the loftiest and most marked characters of our history, either the Scotch or English, again move before us in all their vitality of passion and of crime, of virtue and of heroism,--as Bruce, James V. and VI., Richard Cæur de Lion, Elizabeth, Mary of Scots, Leicester, James I. of England, Montrose, Claverhouse, Cumberland the butcher; not only did the covenanters preach and fight anew, and the highland clans rise in aid of the Stuart, but new personages, of the rarest beauty, the haughtiest command, or the most curious humour, swarmed forth upon the stage of life, thick, as if their creation had cost no effort. Flora M'Ivor, Rose Bradwardine, Rebecca the highsouled Jewess, the unhappy Lucy Ashton and Amy Robsart, the lowly Ettie Deans, and her homey yet glorious sister Jenny, the bewitching Di Vernon, and Minna and Brenda Troil of the northern isles, stand radiant amid a host of lesser beauties ; while Rob Ror, the Robin Hood of the hills, treads in manly dignity his native heather; Balfour of Burley issues a stalwart apparition from his hiding-places ; and for infinitude of humour, and strangeness of aspect and mood, where are the pages that can present a troop like these: the Baron of Bradwardine, Dominie Sampson, Meg Merriles
, Monkbarns, Edie Ochiltree, Dugald Dalgetty, Old Mortality, Baile Nicol Jarvie, Andrew Fairservice, Caleb Balderstone, Flibbertigibbet, Norna of the Fitful Head, and that fine follow, the farmer of Liddesdale, with whom every one feels a desire to shake hands, honest Dandie Dinmont, with all his Peppers and Mustards yafiling at his heels ?
It may be safely said that, in twenty years, one man enriched the literature of his country with more story of intense beauty, and more original character, than all its literati together for two hundred years before. And this is only part of the wonder with Sir Walter Scott; he was all this time a man of business, of grave and various business-a Clerk of Session, sitting in the Parliament-house of Edinburgh daily, during term, from ten to four o'clock-the Sheriff of Selkirk, with its calls-an active cavalry volunteer-a member of gas and other committees—a zealous politician and reviewer-mixed up in a world of printing and publishing concerns, and ready to run off and traverse as diligently sea and land, in all directions, at every possible interval. Besides all this, he was a buyer of lands, a planter of extensive woods, a raiser of a fairy castle, a keen sportsman with greyhound and fish-spear. Amidst all these avocations and amuse ments, his writing appeared the produce of his odd hours; and this mass of romance, on which his fame chiefly rests, after all, but a fragment of his literary labour. In the enormous list of his works, to be found at the end of his Life by Lockhart, his novels and poems appear but a slight sprinkling amid his heavier toils :-reviews, translations, essays, six volumes ; Tales of a Grandfather, twelve volumes ; sermons, memoirs, a multitude ; editions of Swift and Dryden, in nineteen volumes and eighteen volumes ; Somers' Tracts, in thirteen volumes ; antiquities, lives, &c. &c. The array of works, written and edited, is astounding; and when we recollect that little of this was done before forty, and that he died at the age of sixtyone, our astonishment becomes boundless. It is in vain to look for another such life of gigantic literary labour, performed by a man of the world, and no exclusive, unmitigated bookworm ; much less of a life of such an affluent produce of originality. In these particulars, Scott stands alone.
But though the wonder of his life is seen in this, the romance of it yet remains. He arose to fill a great and remarkable point of time. A new era was commencing, which was to be enriched out of the neglected matter of the old. The suppression of the rebellion of 1745 was the really vitalizing act of the union of Scotland and England. By it the old clan life and spirit were extinguished. The spirit which maintained a multitude of old forms, costumes, and modes of life, was by that event annihilated; and the rapid amalgsmation of the two nations in a time of internal peace, would soon have obliterated much that was extremely picturesque and full of character, were it not seized and made permanent by some mighty and comprehensive mind. That mind was Scott's! He stood on the threshold of a new world, with the falling fabric of the past close beneath his view. Every circumstance which was necessary to make him the preserver of the memory and life of this past world met in him, as by a marked decree of the Almighty. He had all the sensibility and imagination of the past, with the keenest relish of everything that was prominent in living character amongst his fellow-men. He was inspired with the love of nature, as an undying passion, by having been, in his earliest years, suffered to run wild amid the rocks of Smailholm, and the beautiful scenery of Kelso. The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry—that herald of nature to all who were capable of loving her at that period, and which, with. out saying a word about the false taste of the age, at once awoke iu it the true one-was to him but the revelation of still further relics of the like kind in his own country. He had heard similar strains from his nurses; from the country people amongst whom he had been cast; from the ladies of his family; and Percy's volumes were but as a trumpet note, awakening him to a consciousness of poetic wealth, that lay all around him thick as the dews of a spring morning. In highland and in lowland, but especially along that wild border-land which had become the delight of his boyhood, the lays and the traditions of the past were in every mouth, and awaitec some fortunate hand to gather them. His was the hand destined to do that and more. Every step that he made in the pursuit of the old ballad literature of his country, only showed him more and more of the immense mass of the materials of poetry and romance which the past ages had neglected as vulgar. The so-called poets of two or three generations had gone about on the stilts of classical pride ; and had overlooked, nay, had scorned to touch even with their shoetoes, the golden ore of romantic character and deed, that lay in actual heaps on every mountain, and along every mountain stream. Young Scott, transported at the sight, flew east and west : traversed mountain and heath, with all the buoyancy of youth and the throbbing pulse of poetry. He went amongst the common people, and amidst shepherds, and with housewives at their wheels, and milkmaids over their pails; he heard the songs and ballads which had been flashed forth amid the clash of swords, or hymned mournfully over the fallen, in wild days of wrong and strife, and still stirred the blood of their descendants when they were become but the solace of the long watch on the brae with the flock, or the excitement of the winter fireside. Nay, he found not only poetry and romance, but poets and romancers. Hogg and Leyden, Laidlaw and Shortreed, all men of genius, all glowing with love of their native land, became his friends, companions, and fellow-gatherers. The romance of his life had now begun. Full of youth and the delicious buoyancy of its enjoyment, full of expanding hopes and aspirations, dreams of power came upon him. He put forth his volumes of The
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and found them realized. His horizon was at once wonderfully widened. The brightest spirits of England, as well as of his own country, hailed him as a true brother. The dawn of this new era was kindling apace. The hearts which had caught the same impulse from the same source as himself, and owned the native charms of nature, were now becoming vocal with the burden of this new music. Campbell, Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge, and others, were sending forth new strains of poetry, such as had not been
heard since Shakspeare, and Spenser, and Milton had lived. But Walter Scott was to become something more than a poet. His destiny was to become the great romance writer of his age ; to gather up and mould into a new form the life and spirit of the past many-coloured ages of his country, and to leave them as a legacy of delight to the world for ever. For this purpose he was qualified, by sundry accomplishments and experiences. He studied the literature of Germany, and drew thence a love of the wild and wonderful ; he became a lawyer, and thus was brought into closer contact with the inner workings of society, its forms and formalities. He was brought to a close gaze upon family history, upon the passions that agitate men in the transitions of property, and in the committal of crime, or the process of its arrest and punishment. He was made to study men, both as they were and had been, and was enriched with a knowledge of the techni. calities which are so essential to him who will describe, with accuracy, trials and transactions in which both life and property are at stake, and the crooked arts of villains, especially the villains of the law. To these most auspicious preparations for his great task-a task not yet revealed to him-he added a keen relish for antiquities; memory as gigantic as his frame was robust. Did there yet want anything? It was a genial humour, which rejoiced in the social pleasures of life, and that, while it lived amid the open hearts of his fellow-men, in the hours domestic freedom and convivial gaiety, saw deep into those hearts, and hoarded up without knowing it theories of the actuality of existence, and of original character. This too was eminently his.
His Border Minstrelsy published, he turned his views northward, and a still more stirring scene presented itself. The Highlands, with their beautiful mountains and lakes, their clan life, their thrilling traditions and stories of but recently-past conflicts, bloodshed, and sorrow ;—their striking costume, their pipers blowing strains that, amid the rocks, and forests, and dark heather of that romantic region, kindled even in the heart of the stranger a strange enthusiasm, -all was to him full of the fire of poetry, and of a romance too large, with all its quick and passionate characters, and its vivid details, for poetry itself. First came forth his Metrical Romances -themselves a new and inspiriting species of poetry, founded indeel on an old basis, but quickened with the soul of modern knowledge, and handled with the harmonious freedom of a modern master. These, however we may now regard them as somewhat overstepped by the more impassioned lays of Byron, and by the more expansive