LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
Chapter XII 1803-04

Vol I Preface
Vol. I Contents.
Chapter I
Chapter II 1771-78
Chapter III 1778-83
Chapter IV 1783-86
Chapter V 1786-90
Chapter VI 1790-92
Chapter VII 1792-96
Chapter VIII 1796-97
Chapter IX 1798-99
Chapter X 1800-02
Chapter XI 1802-03
‣ Chapter XII 1803-04
Vol. II Contents.
Chapter I 1804-05
Chapter II 1805
Chapter III 1806
Chapter IV 1806-08
Chapter V 1808
Chapter VI 1808-09
Chapter VII 1809-10
Chapter VIII 1810
Chapter IX 1810
Chapter X 1810-11
Chapter XI 1811
Chapter XII 1811-12
Vol. III Contents.
Chapter I 1812-13
Chapter II 1813
Chapter III 1814
Chapter IV 1814
Chapter V 1814
Chapter VI 1814
Chapter VII 1814
Chapter VIII 1814
Chapter IX 1814
Chapter X 1814-15
Chapter XI 1815
Chapter XII 1815
Vol III Appendix
Vol. IV Contents.
Chapter I 1816
Chapter II 1817
Chapter III 1817
Chapter IV 1818
Chapter V 1818
Chapter VI 1818
Chapter VII 1818-19
Chapter VIII 1819
Chapter IX 1819
Chapter X 1819
Chapter XI 1820
Chapter XII 1820
Vol. V Contents.
Chapter I 1820
Chapter II 1820-21
Chapter III 1821
Chapter IV 1821
Chapter V 1821
Chapter VI 1821
Chapter VII 1822
Chapter VIII 1822
Chapter IX 1822-23
Chapter X 1823
Chapter XI 1823
Chapter XII 1824
Chapter XIII 1824-25
Vol. VI Contents.
Chapter I 1825
Chapter II 1825
Chapter III 1825
Chapter IV 1825
Chapter V 1826
Chapter VI 1826
Chapter VII 1826
Chapter VIII 1826
Chapter IX 1826
Chapter X 1826
Chapter XI 1826
Vol. VII Contents.
Vol VII Preface
Chapter I 1826-27
Chapter II 1827
Chapter III 1828
Chapter IV 1828
Chapter V 1829
Chapter VI 1830
Chapter VII 1830-31
Chapter VIII 1831
Chapter IX 1831
Chapter X 1831-32
Chapter XI 1832
Chapter XII
Vol VII Appendix
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Shortly after the complete “Minstrelsy” issued from the press, Scott made his first appearance as a reviewer. The Edinburgh Review had been commenced in October, 1802, under the superintendence of the Rev. Sidney Smith, with whom, during his short residence in Scotland, he had lived on terms of great kindness and familiarity. Mr Smith soon resigned the editorship to Mr Jeffrey, who had by this time been for several years among the most valued of Scott’s friends and companions at the bar; and, the new journal being far from committing itself to violent politics at the outset, he appreciated the brilliant talents regularly engaged in it far too highly, not to be well pleased with the opportunity of occasionally exercising his pen in its service. His first contribution was, I believe, an article on Southey’s Amadis of Gaul, included in the number for October, 1803. Another, on Sibbald’s Chronicle of Scottish Poetry, appeared in the same number:—a third, on Godwin’s Life of Chaucer; a fourth, on Ellis’s Specimens of Ancient English Poetry; and a fifth, on the Life and Works of Chatterton, followed in the course of 1804.*

* Scott’s contributions to our periodical literature have been


During the summer of 1803, however, his chief literary labour was still on the “Tristrem;” and I shall presently give some further extracts from his letters to Ellis, which will amply illustrate the spirit in which he continued his researches about the Seer of Ercildoune, and the interruptions which these owed to the prevalent alarm of French invasion. Both as Quartermaster of the Edinburgh Light-horse, and as Sheriff of The Forest, he had a full share of responsibility in the warlike arrangements to which the authorities of Scotland had at length been roused; nor were the duties of his two offices considered as strictly compatible by Francis Lord Napier, then Lord-Lieutenant of Selkirkshire; for I find several letters in which his Lordship. complains that the incessant drills and musters of Musselburgh and Portobello prevented the Sheriff from attending county meetings held at Selkirk in the course of this summer and autumn, for the purpose of organizing the trained bands of the Forest, on a scale hitherto unattempted. Lord Napier strongly urges the propriety of his resigning his connexion with the Edinburgh troop, and fixing his summer residence somewhere within the limits of his proper jurisdiction; nay, he goes so far as to hint, that if these suggestions should be neglected, it must be his duty to state the case to the Government. Scott could not be induced (least of all by a threat), while the fears of invasion still prevailed, to resign his place among his old companions of “the voluntary band;” but he seems to have presently acquiesced in the propriety of the Lord-Lieutenant’s advice respecting a removal from Lasswade to Ettrick Forest.

The following extract is from a letter written at Musselburgh, during this summer or autumn:—

with some trivial exceptions, included in the recent collection of his Miscellaneous Prose Writings.


Miss Seward’s acceptable favour reaches me in a place, and at a time, of great bustle, as the corps of voluntary cavalry to which I belong is quartered for a short time in this village, for the sake of drilling and discipline. Nevertheless, had your letter announced the name of the gentleman who took the trouble of forwarding it, I would have made it my business to find him out, and to prevail on him, if possible, to spend a day or two with us in quarters. We are here assuming a very military appearance. Three regiments of militia, with a formidable park of artillery, are encamped just by us. The Edinburgh troop, to which I have the honour to be quartermaster, consists entirely of young gentlemen of family, and is, of course, admirably well mounted and armed. There are other four troops in the regiment, consisting of yeomanry, whose iron faces and muscular forms announce the hardness of the climate against which they wrestle, and the powers which nature has given them to contend with and subdue it. These corps have been easily raised in Scotland, the farmers being in general a high-spirited race of men, fond of active exercises, and patient of hardship and fatigue. For myself, I must own that to one who has, like myself, la tête un peu exaltée, the pomp and circumstance of war gives, for a time, a very poignant and pleasing sensation. The imposing appearance of cavalry, in particular, and the rush which marks their onset, appear to me to partake highly of the sublime. Perhaps I am the more attached to this sort of sport of swords, because my health requires much active exercise, and a lameness contracted in childhood renders it inconvenient for me to take it otherwise than on horseback. I have, too, a hereditary attachment to the animal—not, I flatter myself, of the common jockey cast, but because I regard him as the kindest and most generous of the subordinate
tribes. I hardly even except the dogs; at least they are usually so much better treated, that compassion for the steed should be thrown into the scale when we weigh their comparative merits. My
wife (a foreigner) never sees a horse ill-used without asking what that poor horse has done in his state of pre-existence? I would fain hope they have been carters or hackney-coachmen, and are only experiencing a retort of the ill-usage they have formerly inflicted. What think you?”

It appears that Miss Seward had sent Scott some obscure magazine criticism on his “Minstrelsy,” in which the censor had condemned some phrase as naturally suggesting a low idea. The lady’s letter not having been preserved, I cannot explain farther the sequel of that from which I have been quoting. Scott says, however:

“I am infinitely amused with your sagacious critic. God wot I have often admired the vulgar subtlety of such minds as can with a depraved ingenuity attach a mean or disgusting sense to an epithet capable of being otherwise understood, and more frequently, perhaps, used to express an elevated idea. In many parts of Scotland the word virtue is limited entirely to industry; and a young divine who preached upon the moral beauties of virtue was considerably surprised at learning that the whole discourse was supposed to be a panegyric upon a particular damsel who could spin fourteen spindles of yarn in the course of a week. This was natural; but your literary critic has the merit of going very far a-field to fetch home his degrading association.”

To return to the correspondence with EllisScott writes thus to him in July:—“I cannot pretend immediately to enter upon the serious discussion which you propose respecting the age of ‘Sir Tristrem;’ but yet, as it seems likely to strip Thomas the Prophet of the honours
due to the author of the English ‘Tristrem,’ I cannot help hesitating before I can agree to your theory; and here my doubt lies. Thomas of Ercildoune, called the Rhymer, is a character mentioned by almost every Scottish historian, and the date of whose existence is almost as well known as if we had the parish register. Now, his great reputation, and his designation of Rymour, could only be derived from his poetical performances; and in what did these consist excepting in the romance of ‘Sir Tristrem,’ mentioned by
Robert de Brunne? I hardly think, therefore, we shall be justified in assuming the existence of an earlier Thomas, who would be, in fact, merely the creature of our system. I own I am not prepared to take this step, if I can escape otherwise from you and M. de la Ravaillere and thus I will try it. M. de la R. barely informs us that the history of Sir Tristrem was known to Chretien de Troyes in the end of the twelfth century, and to the King of Navarre in the beginning of the thirteenth. Thus far his evidence goes, and I think not one inch farther for it does not establish the existence either of the metrical romance, as you suppose, or of the prose romance, as M. de la R. much more erroneously supposes, at that very early period. If the story of ‘Sir Tristrem’ was founded in fact, and if, which I have all along thought, a person of this name really swallowed a dose of cantharides intended to stimulate the exertions of his uncle, a petty monarch of Cornwall, and involved himself of course in an intrigue with his aunt, these facts must have taken place during a very early period of English history, perhaps about the time of the Heptarchy. Now, if this be once admitted, it is clear that the raw material from which Thomas wove his web, must have been current long before his day, and I am inclined to think that Chretien and the King of Navarre refer not to the spe-
cial metrical romance contained in
Mr Douce’s fragments, but to the general story of ‘Sir Tristrem,’ whose love and misfortunes were handed down by tradition as a historical fact. There is no difficulty in supposing a tale of this kind to have passed from the Armoricans, or otherwise, into the mouths of the French, as, on the other hand, it seems to have been preserved among the Celtic tribes of the Border, from whom, in all probability, it was taken by their neighbour, Thomas of Ercildoune. If we suppose, therefore, that Chretien and the King allude only to the general and well-known story of Tristrem, and not to the particular edition of which Mr Douce has some fragments—(and I see no evidence that any such special allusion to these fragments is made)—it will follow that they may be as late as the end of the thirteenth century, and that the Thomas mentioned in them may be the Thomas of whose existence we have historical evidence. In short, the question is, shall Thomas be considered as a landmark by which to ascertain the antiquity of the fragments, or shall the supposed antiquity of the fragments be held a sufficient reason for supposing an earlier Thomas? For aught yet seen, I incline to my former opinion, that those fragments are coeval with the ipsissimus Thomas. I acknowledge the internal evidence, of which you are so accurate a judge, weighs more with me than the reference to the King of Navarre; but after all, the extreme difficulty of judging of style, so as to bring us within sixty or seventy years, must be fully considered. Take notice, I have never pleaded the matter so high as to say, that the Auchinleck MS. contains the very words devised by Thomas the Rhymer. On the contrary, I have always thought it one of the spurious copies in queint Inglis, of which Robert de Brunne so heavily complains. But this will take little from the curiosity, perhaps little from the antiquity, of the romance. Enough of Sir
T. for the present.—How happy it will make us if you can fulfil the expectation you hold out of a northern expedition. Whether in the cottage or at Edinburgh, we will be equally happy to receive you and show you all the lions of our vicinity.
Charlotte is hunting out music for Mrs E., but I intend to add Johnson’s collection, which, though the tunes are simple, and often bad sets, contains much more original Scotch music than any other.”

About this time, Mr and Mrs Ellis, and their friend Douce, were preparing for a tour into the North of England; and Scott was invited and strongly tempted to join them at various points of their progress, particularly at the Grange, near Rotherham, in Yorkshire, a seat of the Earl of Effingham. But he found it impossible to escape again from Scotland, owing to the agitated state of the country. On returning to the Cottage from an excursion to his Sheriffship, he thus resumes:—

To George Ellis, Esq.
“Lasswade, August 27, 1803.
“Dear Ellis,

“My conscience has been thumping me as hard as if it had studied under Mendoza, for letting your kind favour remain so long unanswered. Nevertheless, in this it is like Launcelot Gobbo’s, but a hard kind of conscience, as it must know how much I have been occupied with Armies of Reserve, and Militia, and Pikemen, and Sharpshooters, who are to descend from Ettrick Forest to the confusion of all invaders. The truth is, that this country has for once experienced that the pressure of external danger may possibly produce internal unanimity; and so great is the present military zeal, that I really wish our rulers would devise some way of calling it into
action, were it only on the economical principle of saving so much good courage from idle evaporation.—I am interrupted by an extraordinary accident, nothing less than a volley of small shot fired through the window, at which my wife was five minutes before arranging her flowers. By Camp’s assistance, who run the culprit’s foot like a Liddesdale bloodhound, we detected an unlucky sportsman, whose awkwardness and rashness might have occasioned very serious mischief—so much for interruption.—To return to
Sir Tristrem. As for Thomas’s name, respecting which you state some doubts,* I request you to attend to the following particulars: In the first place, surnames were of very late introduction into Scotland, and it would be difficult to show that they became in general a hereditary distinction, until after the time of Thomas the Rhymer; previously they were mere personal distinctions peculiar to the person by whom they were borne, and dying along with him. Thus the children of Alan Durward were not called Durward, because they were not Ostiarii, the circumstance from which he derived the name. When the surname was derived from property, it became naturally hereditary at a more early period, because the distinction applied equally to the father and the son. The same happened with patronymics, both because the name of the father is usually given to the son; so that Walter Fitzwalter would have been my son’s name in those times as well as my own; and also because a clan often takes a sort of general patronymic from one common ancestor, as Macdonald, &c. &c. But though these classes of surnames become hereditary at an early period, yet, in the natural course of things, epithets merely per-

* Mr Ellis had hinted that “Rymer might not more necessarily indicate an actual poet, than the name of Taylor does in modern times an actual knight of the thimble.”

sonal are much longer of becoming a family distinction.* But I do not trust, by any means, to this general argument; because the charter quoted in the
Minstrelsy contains written evidence, that the epithet of Rymour was peculiar to our Thomas, and was dropped by his son, who designs himself simply, Thomas of Erceldoune, son of Thomas the Rymour of Erceldoune; which I think is conclusive upon the subject. In all this discussion, I have scorned to avail myself of the tradition of the country, as well as the suspicious testimony of Boece, Dempster, &c., grounded probably upon that tradition, which uniformly affirms the name of Thomas to have been Learmont or Leirmont, and that of the Rhymer a personal epithet. This circumstance may induce us, however, to conclude that some of his descendants had taken that name certain it is that his castle is called Leirmont’s Tower, and that he is as well known to the

* The whole of this subject has derived much illustration from the recent edition of the “Ragman’s Roll,” a contribution to the Bannatyne Club of Edinburgh by two of Sir Walter Scott’s most esteemed friends, the Lord Chief Commissioner Adam and Sir Samuel Shepherd. That record of the oaths of fealty tendered to Edward I., during his Scotch usurpation, furnishes, indeed, very strong confirmation of the views which the Editor of “Sir Tristrem” had thus early adopted concerning the origin of surnames in Scotland. The landed gentry, over most of the country, seem to have been then generally distinguished by the surnames still borne by their descendants—it is wonderful how little the land seems to have changed hands in the course of so many centuries. But the towns’ people have, with few exceptions, designations apparently indicating the actual trade of the individual; and, in many instances, there is distinct evidence that the plan of transmitting such names had not been adopted; for example, Thomas the Tailor is described as son of Thomas the Smith, or vice versâ. The chief magistrates of the burghs appear, however, to have been, in most cases, younger sons of the neighbouring gentry, and have of course their hereditary designations. This singular document, so often quoted and referred to, was never before printed in extenso.

country people by that name, as by the appellation of the Rhymer.

“Having cleared up this matter, as I think, to every one’s satisfaction, unless to those resembling not Thomas himself, but his namesake the Apostle, I have, secondly, to show that my Thomas is the Tomas of Douce’s MS. Here I must again refer to the high and general reverence in which Thomas appears to have been held, as is proved by Robert de Brunne; but above all, as you observe, to the extreme similarity betwixt the French and English poems, with this strong circumstance, that the mode of telling the story approved by the French minstrel, under the authority of his Tomas, is the very mode in which my Thomas has told it. Would you desire better sympathy?

“I lately met by accident a Cornish gentleman, who had taken up his abode in Selkirkshire for the sake of fishing—and what should his name be but Caerlion? You will not doubt that this interested me very much. He tells me that there is but one family of the name in Cornwall, or as far as ever he heard any where else, and that they are of great antiquity. Does not this circumstance seem to prove that there existed in Cornwall a place called Caerlion, giving name to that family? Caerlion would probably be Castrum Leonense, the chief town of Liones, which in every romance is stated to have been Tristrem’s country, and from which he derived his surname of Tristrem de Liones. This district, as you notice in the notes on the Fabliaux, was swallowed up by the sea. I need not remind you that all this tends to illustrate the Caerlioun mentioned by Tomas, which I always suspected to be a very different place from Caerlion on Uske—which is no seaport. How I regret the number of leagues which prevented my joining you and the sapient Douce, and how much ancient lore I have
lost. Where I have been, the people talked more of the praises of Ryno and Fillan (not
Ossian’s heroes, but two Forest greyhounds which I got in a present) than, I verily believe, they would have done of the prowesses of Sir Tristrem, or of Esplandian, had either of them appeared to lead on the levy en masse. Yours ever,

W. Scott.”

Ellis says in reply:—“My dear Scott, I must begin by congratulating you on Mrs Scott’s escape; Camp, if he had had no previous title to immortality, would deserve it, for his zeal and address in detecting the stupid marksman, who, while he took aim at a bird on a tree, was so near shooting your fair ‘bird in bower.’ If there were many such shooters, it would become then a sufficient excuse for the reluctance of Government to furnish arms indifferently to all volunteers. In the next place, I am glad to hear that you are disposed to adopt my channel for transmitting the tale of Tristrem to Chretien de Troye. The more I have thought on the subject the more I am convinced that the Normans, long before the Conquest, had acquired from the Britons of Armorica a considerable knowledge of our old British fables, and that this led them, after the Conquest, to enquire after such accounts as were to be found in the country where the events are supposed to have taken place. I am satisfied, from the internal evidence of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History, that it must have been fabricated in Bretagne, and that he did, as he asserts, only translate it. Now, as Marie, who lived about a century later, certainly translated also from the Breton a series of lays relating to Arthur and his knights, it will follow that the first poets who wrote in France, such as Chretien, &c., must have acquired their knowledge of our traditions from Bretagne. Observe, that the pseudo-
Turpin, who is supposed to have been anterior to Geoffry, and who, on that supposition, cannot have borrowed from him, mentions, among
Charlemagne’s heroes, Hoel (the hero of Geoffrey also), ‘de quo canitur cantilena usque ad hodiernum diem.’ Now, if Thomas was able to establish his story as the most authentic, even by the avowal of the French themselves, and if the sketch of that story was previously known, it must have been because he wrote in the country which his hero was supposed to have inhabited; and on the same grounds the Norman minstrels here, and even their English successors, were allowed to fill up with as many circumstances as they thought proper the tales of which the Armorican Bretons probably furnished the first imperfect outline.

“What you tell me about your Cornish fisherman is very curious; and I think with you that little reliance is to be placed on our Welsh geography—and that Caerlion on Uske is by no means the Caerlion of Tristrem. Few writers or readers have hitherto considered sufficiently that from the moment when Hengist first obtained a settlement in the Isle of Thanet, that settlement became England, and all the rest of the country became Wales; that these divisions continued to represent different proportions of the island at different periods; but that Wales, during the whole Heptarchy, and for a long time after, comprehended the whole western coast very nearly from Cornwall to Dunbretton; and that this whole tract, of which the eastern frontier may be easily traced for each particular period, preserved most probably to the age of Thomas a community of language, of manners, and traditions.

“As your last volume announces your Lay, as well as Sir Tristrem, as in the press, I begin, in common with all your friends, to be uneasy about the future disposal
of your time. Having nothing but a very active profession, and your military pursuits, and your domestic occupations to think of, and
Leyden having monopolized Asiatic lore, you will presently be quite an idle man! You are, however, still in time to learn Erse, and it is, I am afraid, very necessary that you should do so, in order to stimulate my laziness, which has hitherto made no progress whatever in Welsh. Your ever faithful, G. E.—P.S. Is Camp married yet?

Ellis had projected some time before this an edition of the Welsh Mabinogion, in which he was to be assisted by Mr Owen, the author of the “Welsh and English Dictionary,” “Cambrian Biography,” &c. “I am very sorry,” Scott says (September 14), “that you flag over those wild and interesting tales. I hope, if you will not work yourself (for which you have so little excuse, having both the golden talents and the golden leisure necessary for study), you will at least keep Owen to something that is rational—I mean to iron horses, and magic cauldrons, and Bran the Blessed, with the music of his whole army upon his shoulders, and, in short, to something more pleasing and profitable than old apophthegms, triads, and ‘blessed burdens of the womb of the isle of Britain.’ Talking of such burdens, Camp has been regularly wedded to a fair dame in the neighbourhood, but notwithstanding the Italian policy of locking the lady in a stable, she is suspected of some inaccuracy; but we suspend judgment, as Othello ought in all reason to have done, till we see the produce of the union. As for my own employment, I have yet much before me, and as the beginning of letting out ink is like the letting out of water, I daresay I shall go on scribbling one nonsense or another to the end of the chapter. People may say this and that of the pleasure of fame or of profit as a motive of writing. I think the only pleasure is in the
actual exertion and research, and I would no more write upon any other terms than I would hunt merely to dine upon hare-soup. At the same time, if credit and profit came unlooked for, I would no more quarrel with them than with the soup. I hope this will find you and
Mrs Ellis safely and pleasantly settled
‘In Yorkshire, near fair Rotherham.’

“—By the way, while you are in his neighbourhood, I hope you will not fail to enquire into the history of the valiant ‘Moor of Moorhall and the Dragon of Wantley.’ As a noted burlesque upon the popular romance, the ballad has some curiosity and merit. Ever yours, W. S.

Mr Ellis received this letter where Scott hoped it would reach him, at the seat of Lord Effingham; and he answers, on the 3d of October, “The beauty of this part of the country is such as to indemnify the traveller for a few miles of very indifferent road, and the tedious process of creeping up and almost sliding down a succession of high hills; and in the number of picturesque landscapes by which we are encompassed, the den of the dragon which you recommended to our attention is the most superlatively beautiful and romantic. You are, I suppose, aware that this same den is the very spot from whence Lady Mary Wortley Montague wrote many of her early letters; and it seems that an old housekeeper, who lived there till last year, remembered to have seen her, and dwelt with great pleasure on the various charms of her celebrated mistress; so that its wild scenes have an equal claim to veneration from the admirers of wit and gallantry, and the far-famed investigators of remote antiquity. With regard to the original Dragon, I have met with two different traditions. One of these (which I think is preserved by Percy) states him to have been a wicked attorney, a relentless persecutor of the poor, who
was at length, fortunately for his neighbours, ruined by a law-suit which he had undertaken against his worthy and powerful antagonist Moor of Moorhall. The other legend, which is current in the Wortley family, states him to have been a most formidable drinker, whose powers of inglutition, strength of stomach, and stability of head, had procured him a long series of triumphs over common visitants, but who was at length fairly drunk dead by the chieftain of the opposite moors. It must be confessed that the form of the den, a cavern cut in the rock, and very nearly resembling a wine or ale cellar, tends to corroborate this tradition; but I am rather tempted to believe that both the stories were invented apres coup, and that the supposed dragon was some wolf or other destructive animal, who was finally hunted down by Moor of Moorhall, after doing considerable mischief to the flocks and herds of his superstitious neighbours.

“The present house appears to have grown to its even now moderate size by successive additions to a very small logge (lodge), built by ‘a gentle knight, Sir Thomas Wortley,’ in the time of Henry VIII., for the pleasure, as an old inscription in the present scullery testifies, of ‘listening to the Hartes bell.’ Its site is on the side of a very high rocky hill, covered with oaks (the weed of the country), and overhanging the river Don, which in this place is little more than a mountain torrent, though it becomes navigable a few miles lower at Sheffield. A great part of the road from hence (which is seven miles distant) runs through forest ground, and I have no doubt that the whole was at no distant period covered with wood, because the modern improvements of the country, the result of flourishing manufactories, have been carried on almost within our own time in consequence of the abundance of coal which here breaks out in many places even on the surface. On the opposite side of the river begin almost imme-
diately the extensive moors which strike along the highest land of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, and following the chain of hills, probably communicated not many centuries ago with those of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Scotland. I therefore doubt whether the general face of the country is not better evidence as to the nature of the monster than the particular appearance of the cavern; and am inclined to believe that Moor of Moorhall was a hunter of wild-beasts, rather than of attorneys or hard drinkers.

“You are unjust in saying that I flag over the Mabinogion—I have been very constantly employed upon my preface, and was proceeding to the last section when I set off for this place—so you see I am perfectly exculpated, and all over as white as snow. Anne being a true aristocrat, and considering purity of blood as essential to lay the foundation of all the virtues she expects to call out by a laborious education of a true son of Camp—she highly approves the strict and even prudish severity with which you watch over the morals of his bride, and expects you, inasmuch as all the good knights she has read of have been remarkable for their incomparable beauty, not to neglect that important requisite in selecting her future guardian. We possess a vulgar dog (a pointer), to whom it is intended to commit the charge of our house during our absence, and to whom I mean to give orders to repel by force any attempts of our neighbours during the times that I shall be occupied in preparing hare-soup; but Fitz-Camp will be her companion, and she trusts that you will strictly examine him while yet a varlet, and only send him up when you think him likely to become a true knight. Adieu—mille choses,

G. E.

Scott tells Ellis in reply (October 14), that he was
“infinitely gratified with his account of Wortley Lodge and the Dragon,” and refers him to the article “Kempion,” in the
Minstrelsy, for a similar tradition respecting an ancestor of the noble house of Somerville. The reader can hardly need to be reminded that the gentle knight, Sir Thomas Wortley’s, love of hearing the deer bell was often alluded to in Scott’s subsequent writings. He goes on to express his hope, that next summer will be “a more propitious season for a visit to Scotland. The necessity of the present occasion,” he says, “has kept almost every individual, however insignificant, to his post. God has left us entirely to our own means of defence, for we have not above one regiment of the line in all our ancient kingdom. In the mean while, we are doing the best we can to prepare ourselves for a contest, which, perhaps, is not far distant. A beacon light, communicating with that of Edinburgh Castle, is just erecting in front of our quiet cottage. My field equipage is ready, and I want nothing but a pipe and a schnurbartchen to convert me into a complete hussar.* Charlotte, with the infantry (of the household troops, I mean), is to beat her retreat into Ettrick Forest, where, if the Tweed is in his usual wintry state of flood, she may weather out a descent from Ostend. Next year I hope all this will be over, and that not only I shall have the pleasure of receiving you in peace and quiet, but also of going with you through every part of Caledonia, in which you can possibly be interested. Friday se’ennight our corps takes the field

* Schnurbartchen is German for mustachio. It appears from a page of an early note-book previously transcribed, that Scott had been sometimes a smoker of tobacco in the first days of his lighthorsemanship. He had laid aside the habit at the time when this letter was written; but he twice again resumed it, though he never carried the indulgence to any excess.

for ten days—for the second time within three months—which may explain the military turn of my epistle.

“Poor Ritson is no more. All his vegetable soups and puddings have not been able to avert the evil day, which, I understand, was preceded by madness. It must be worth while to enquire who has got his MSS. I mean his own notes and writings. The ‘Life of Arthur,’ for example, must contain many curious facts and quotations, which the poor defunct had the power of assembling to an astonishing degree, without being able to combine any thing like a narrative, or even to deduce one useful inference—witness his ‘Essay on Romance and Minstrelsy,’ which reminds one of a heap of rubbish, which had either turned out unfit for the architect’s purpose, or beyond his skill to make use of. The ballads he had collected in Cumberland and Northumberland, too, would greatly interest me. If they have fallen into the hands of any liberal collector, I dare say I might be indulged with a sight of them. Pray enquire about this matter.

“Yesterday Charlotte and I had a visit which we owe to Mrs E. A rosy lass, the sister of a bold yeoman in our neighbourhood, entered our cottage, towing in a monstrous sort of bulldog, called emphatically Cerberus, whom she came on the part of her brother to beg our acceptance of, understanding we were anxious to have a son of Camp. Cerberus was no sooner loose (a pleasure which, I suspect, he had rarely enjoyed) than his father (supposé) and he engaged in a battle which might have been celebrated by the author of the ‘Unnatural Combat,’ and which, for aught I know, might have turned out a combat à l’outrance, if I had not interfered with a horsewhip, instead of a baton, as juge de Camp. The odds were indeed greatly against the stranger knight—two fierce Forest greyhounds having arrived, and, contrary
to the law of arms, stoutly assailed him. I hope to send you a puppy instead of this redoubtable Cerberus. Love to Mrs E.—
W. S.

After giving Scott some information about Ritson’s literary treasures, most of which, as it turned out, had been disposed of by auction shortly before his death, Mr Ellis (10th November) returns to the charge about Tristrem and True Thomas. “You appear,” he says, “to have been for some time so military that I am afraid the most difficult and important part of your original plan, viz., your History of Scottish poetry, will again be postponed, and must be kept for some future publication. I am, at this moment, much in want of two such assistants as you and Leyden. It seems to me that if I had some local knowledge of that wicked Ettrick Forest, I could extricate myself tolerably—but as it is, although I am convinced that my general idea is tolerably just, I am unable to guide my elephants in that quiet and decorous step-by-step march which the nature of such animals requires through a country of which I don’t know any of the roads. My comfort is, that you cannot publish Tristrem without a preface, that you can’t write one without giving me some assistance, and that you must finish the said preface long before I go to press with my Introduction.”

This was the Introduction to Ellis’sSpecimens of Ancient English Romances,” in which he intended to prove, that as Valentia was, during several ages, the exposed frontier of Roman Britain towards the unsubdued tribes of the North, and as two whole legions were accordingly usually quartered there, while one besides sufficed for the whole southern part of the island, the manners of Valentia, which included the district of Ettrick Forest, must have been greatly favoured by the continued residence of so many Roman troops. “It is
probable, therefore,” he says, in another letter, “that the civilisation of the northern part became gradually the most perfect. That country gave birth, as you have observed, to Merlin, and to
Aneurin, who was probably the same as the historian Gildas. It seems to have given education to Taliessin it was the country of Bede and Adonnan.”

I shall not quote more on this subject, as the reader may turn to the published essay for Mr Ellis’s matured opinions respecting it. To return to his letter of November 10th, 1803, he proceeds “And now let me ask you about the Lay of the Last Minstrel. That, I think, may go on as well in your tent, amidst the clang of trumpets and the dust of the field, as in your quiet cottage perhaps indeed still better nay, I am not sure whether a real invasion would not be, as far as your poetry is concerned, a thing to be wished.”

It was in the September of this year that Scott first saw Wordsworth. Their mutual acquaintance, Stoddart, had so often talked of them to each other, that they met as if they had not been strangers; and they parted friends.

Mr and Miss Wordsworth had just completed that tour in the Highlands, of which so many incidents have since been immortalized, both in the poet’s verse and in the hardly less poetical prose of his sister’s Diary. On the morning of the 17th of September, having left their carriage at Rosslyn, they walked down the valley to Lasswade, and arrived there before Mr and Mrs Scott had risen. “We were received,” Mr Wordsworth has told me, “with that frank cordiality which, under whatever circumstances I afterwards met him, always marked his manners; and, indeed, I found him then in every respect except, perhaps, that his animal spirits were somewhat higher precisely the same man that you knew
him in later life; the same lively, entertaining conversation, full of anecdote, and averse from disquisition; the same unaffected modesty about himself; the same cheerful and benevolent and hopeful views of man and the world. He partly read and partly recited, sometimes in an enthusiastic style of chant, the first four cantos of the
Lay of the Last Minstrel; and the novelty of the manners, the clear picturesque descriptions, and the easy glowing energy of much of the verse, greatly delighted me.”

After this he walked with the tourists to Rosslyn, and promised to meet them in two days at Melrose. The night before they reached Melrose they slept at the little quiet inn of Clovenford, where, on mentioning his name, they were received with all sorts of attention and kindness, the landlady observing that Mr Scott, “who was a very clever gentleman,” was an old friend of the house, and usually spent a good deal of time there during the fishing season; but, indeed, says Mr Wordsworth, “wherever we named him, we found the word acted as an open sesamum; and I believe, that in the character of the Sheriff’s friends, we might have counted on a hearty welcome under any roof in the Border country.”

He met them at Melrose on the 19th, and escorted them through the Abbey, pointing out all its beauties, and pouring out his rich stores of history and tradition. They then dined and spent the evening together at the inn; but Miss Wordsworth observed that there was some difficulty about arranging matters for the night, “the landlady refusing to settle any thing until she had ascertained from the Sheriff himself that he had no objection to sleep in the same room with William.” Scott was thus far on his way to the Circuit Court at Jedburgh, in his capacity of Sheriff, and there his new friends
again joined him; but he begged that they would not enter the court, “for,” said he “I really would not like you to see the sort of figure I cut there.” They did see him casually, however, in his cocked hat and sword, marching in the Judge’s procession to the sound of one cracked trumpet, and were then not surprised that he should have been a little ashamed of the whole ceremonial. He introduced to them his friend
William Laidlaw, who was attending the court as a juryman, and who, having read some of Wordsworth’s verses in a newspaper was exceedingly anxious to be of the party, when they explored at leisure, all the law-business being over, the beautiful valley of the Jed, and the ruins of the Castle of Fernieherst, the original fastness of the noble family of Lothian. The grove of stately ancient elms about and below the ruin was seen to great advantage in a fine, grey, breezy autumnal afternoon; and Mr Wordsworth happened to say, “What life there is in trees!”—“How different,” said Scott, “was the feeling of a very intelligent young lady, born and bred in the Orkney Islands, who lately came to spend a season in this neighbourhood! She told me nothing in the mainland scenery had so much disappointed her as woods and trees. She found them so dead and lifeless, that she could never help pining after the eternal motion and variety of the ocean. And so back she has gone, and I believe nothing will ever tempt her from the windswept Orcades again.”

Next day they all proceeded together up the Teviot to Hawick, Scott entertaining his friends with some legend or ballad connected with every tower or rock they passed. He made them stop for a little to admire particularly a scene of deep and solemn retirement, called Horne’s Pool, from its having been the daily haunt of a contemplative schoolmaster, known to him in his
youth; and at Kirkton he pointed out the little village schoolhouse, to which his friend
Leyden had walked six or eight miles every day across the moors “when a poor barefooted boy.” From Hawick, where they spent the night, he led them next morning to the brow of a hill, from which they could see a wide range of the Border mountains, Ruberslaw, the Carter, and the Cheviots; and lamented that neither their engagements nor his own would permit them to make at this time an excursion into the wilder glens of Liddisdale, “where,” said he, “I have strolled so often and so long, that I may say I have a home in every farm-house.” “And, indeed,” adds Mr Wordsworth, “wherever we went with him, he seemed to know every body, and every body to know and like him.” Here they parted—the Wordsworths to pursue their journey homeward by Eskdale—he to return to Lasswade.

The impression on Mr Wordsworth’s mind was, that on the whole he attached much less importance to his literary labours or reputation than to his bodily sports, exercises, and social amusements; and yet he spoke of his profession as if he had already given up almost all hope of rising by it; and some allusion being made to its profits, observed that “he was sure he could, if he chose, get more money than he should ever wish to have from the booksellers.”*

This confidence in his own literary resources appeared to Mr Wordsworth remarkable—the more so, from the careless way in which its expression dropt from him. As to his despondence concerning the bar, I confess his fee-book indicates much less ground for such a feeling than

* I have drawn up the account of this meeting from my recollection partly of Mr Wordsworth’s conversation—partly from that of his sister’s charming “Diary,” which he was so kind as to read over to me on the 16th May, 1836.

I should have expected to discover there. His practice brought him, as we have seen, in the session of 1796-7, £144, 10s.: its proceeds fell down, in the first year of his married life, to £79, 17s.; but they rose again, in 1798-9, to £135, 9s.; amounted, in 1799-1800, to £129, 13s in 1800-1, to £170—in 1801-2, to £202, 12s.—and in the session that had just elapsed (which is the last included in the record before me), to £228, 18s.

On reaching his cottage in Westmoreland, Wordsworth addressed a letter to Scott, from which I must quote a few sentences. It is dated Grasmere, October 16, 1803. “We had a delightful journey home, delightful weather, and a sweet country to travel through. We reached our little cottage in high spirits, and thankful to God for all his bounties. My wife and child were both well, and as I need not say, we had all of us a happy meeting. . . . . We passed Branxholme—your Branxholme, we supposed—about four miles on this side of Hawick. It looks better in your poem than in its present realities. The situation, however, is delightful, and makes amends for an ordinary mansion. The whole of the Teviot and the pastoral steeps about Mosspaul pleased us exceedingly. The Esk below Langholm is a delicious river, and we saw it to great advantage. We did not omit noticing Johnnie Armstrong’s keep; but his hanging place, to our great regret, we missed. We were, indeed, most truly sorry that we could not have you along with us into Westmoreland. The country was in its full glory the verdure of the valleys, in which we are so much superior to you in Scotland, but little tarnished by the weather, and the trees putting on their most beautiful looks. My sister was quite enchanted, and we often said to each other, What a pity Mr Scott is not with us! . . . . I had the pleasure of seeing Coleridge and Southey
at Keswick last Sunday. Southey, whom I never saw much of before, I liked much: he is very pleasant in his manner, and a man of great reading in old books, poetry, chronicles, memoirs, &c. &c., particularly Spanish and Portuguese. . . . . My
sister and I often talk of the happy days that we spent in your company. Such things do not occur often in life. If we live we shall meet again; that is my consolation when I think of these things. Scotland and England sound like division, do what ye can; but we really are but neighbours, and if you were no farther off, and in Yorkshire, we should think so. Farewell. God prosper you, and all that belongs to you. Your sincere friend, for such I will call myself, though slow to use a word of such solemn meaning to any one,—W. Wordsworth.”

The poet then transcribes his noble sonnet on Neidpath Castle, of which Scott had, it seems, requested a copy. In the MS. it stands somewhat differently from the printed edition; but in that original shape Scott always recited it, and few lines in the language were more frequently in his mouth.

I have already said something of the beginning of Scott’s acquaintance with “the Ettrick Shepherd.” Shortly after their first meeting, Hogg, coming into Edinburgh with a flock of sheep, was seized with a sudden ambition of seeing himself in print, and he wrote out that same night “Willie and Katie,” and a few other ballads, already famous in the Forest, which some obscure bookseller gratified him by putting forth accordingly; but they appear to have attracted no notice beyond their original sphere. Hogg then made an excursion into the Highlands, in quest of employment as overseer of some extensive sheep-farm; but, though Scott had furnished him with strong recommendations to various friends, he returned without success. He printed an account of his travels,
however, in a set of letters in the
Scots Magazine, which, though exceedingly rugged and uncouth, had abundant traces of the native shrewdness and genuine poetical feeling of this remarkable man. These also failed to excite attention; but, undeterred by such disappointments, the Shepherd no sooner read the third volume of the “Minstrelsy,” than he made up his mind that the Editor’s “Imitations of the Ancients” were by no means what they should have been. “Immediately,” he says, in one of his many Memoirs of himself, “I chose a number of traditional facts, and set about imitating the manner of the Ancients myself.” These imitations he transmitted to Scott, who warmly praised the many striking beauties scattered over their rough surface. The next time that Hogg’s business carried him to Edinburgh, he waited upon Scott, who invited him to dinner in Castle Street, in company with William Laidlaw, who happened also to be in town, and some other admirers of the rustic genius. When Hogg entered the drawingroom, Mrs Scott, being at the time in a delicate state of health, was reclining on a sofa. The Shepherd, after being presented, and making his best bow, forthwith took possession of another sofa placed opposite to hers, and stretched himself thereupon at all his length; for, as he said afterwards, “I thought I could never do wrong to copy the lady of the house.” As his dress at this period was precisely that in which any ordinary herdsman attends cattle to the market, and as his hands, moreover, bore most legible marks of a recent sheep-smearing, the lady of the house did not observe with perfect equanimity the novel usage to which her chintz was exposed. The Shepherd, however, remarked nothing of all this dined heartily and drank freely, and, by jest, anecdote, and song, afforded plentiful merriment to the more civilized part of the
company. As the liquor operated, his familiarity increased and strengthened; from “Mr Scott,” he advanced to “Sherra,” and thence to “Scott,” “Walter,” and “Wattie,” until, at supper, he fairly convulsed the whole party by addressing Mrs Scott as “Charlotte.”

The collection entitled “The Mountain Bard” was eventually published by Constable, in consequence of Scott’s recommendation, and this work did at last afford Hogg no slender share of the popular reputation for which he had so long thirsted. It is not my business, however, to pursue the details of his story. What I have written was only to render intelligible the following letter:

To Walter Scott, Esq., Advocate, Castle Street, Edinburgh.
“Ettrick-house, December 24, 1803.
“Dear Mr Scott,

“I have been very impatient to hear from you. There is a certain affair of which you and I talked a little in private, and which must now be concluded, that naturally increaseth this.

“I am afraid that I was at least half-seas over the night I was with you, for I cannot, for my life, recollect what passed when it was late; and, there being certainly a small vacuum in my brain, which, when empty, is quite empty, but is sometimes supplied with a small distillation of intellectual matter—this must have been empty that night, or it never could have been taken possession of by the fumes of the liquor so easily. If I was in the state in which I suspect that I was, I must have spoke a very great deal of nonsense, for which I beg ten thousand pardons. I have the consolation, however, of remembering that Mrs Scott kept in company all or most of the time, which she certainly could not have done, had I been very rude. I remember, too, of the filial
injunction you gave at parting, cautioning me against being ensnared by the loose women in town. I am sure I had not reason enough left at that time to express either the half of my gratitude for the kind hint, or the utter abhorrence I inherit at those seminaries of lewdness.

“You once promised me your best advice in the first lawsuit in which I had the particular happiness of being engaged. I am now going to ask it seriously in an affair, in which, I am sure, we will both take as much pleasure. It is this: I have as many songs beside me, which are certainly the worst of my productions, as will make about one hundred pages close printed, and about two hundred, printed as the Minstrelsy is. Now, although I will not proceed without your consent and advice, yet I would have you to understand that I expect it, and have the scheme much at heart at present. The first thing that suggested it, was their extraordinary repute in Ettrick and its neighbourhood, and being everlastingly plagued with writing copies, and promising scores which I never meant to perform. As my last pamphlet was never known, save to a few friends, I wish your advice what pieces of it are worth preserving. The ‘Pastoral’ I am resolved to insert, as I am ‘Sandy Tod.’ As to my manuscripts, they are endless; and as I doubt you will disapprove of publishing them wholesale, and letting the good help off the bad, I think you must trust to my discretion in the selection of a few. I wish likewise to know if you think a graven image on the first leaf is any recommendation; and if we might front the songs with a letter to you, giving an impartial account of my manner of life and education, and, which if you pleased to transcribe, putting He for I. Again, there is no publishing a book without a patron, and I have one or two in my eye, and of which I will,
with my wonted assurance to you, give you the most free choice. The first is
Walter Scott, Esq., Advocate, Sheriff-depute of Ettrick Forest, which, if permitted, I will address you in a dedication singular enough. The next is Lady Dalkeith, which, if you approved of, you must become the Editor yourself; and I shall give you my word for it, that neither word nor sentiment in it shall offend the most delicate ear. You will not be in the least jealous, if, alongst with my services to you, I present my kindest compliments to the sweet little lady whom you call Charlotte. As for Camp and Walter (I beg pardon for this pre-eminence), they will not mind them if I should exhaust my eloquence in compliments. Believe me, dear Walter, your most devoted servant,

James Hogg.”

The reader will, I doubt not, be particularly amused with one of the suggestions in this letter; namely, that Scott should transcribe the Shepherd’s narrative in fore of his life and education, and merely putting “He” for “I,” adopt it as his own composition. James, however, would have had no hesitation about offering a similar suggestion either to Scott, or Wordsworth, or Byron, at any period of their renown. To say nothing about modesty, his notions of literary honesty were always exceedingly loose; but, at the same time, we must take into account his peculiar notions, or rather no notions, as to the proper limits of a joke.

Literature, like misery, makes men acquainted with strange bed-fellows. Let us return from the worthy Shepherd of Ettrick to the courtly wit and scholar of Sunninghill. In the last quoted of his letters, he expresses his fear that Scott’s military avocations might cause him to publish the Tristrem unaccompanied by
his “Essay on the History of Scottish Poetry.” It is needless to add that no such Essay ever was completed; but I have heard Scott say that his plan had been to begin with the age of
Thomas of Ercildoune, and bring the subject down to his own, illustrating each stage of his progress by a specimen of verse imitating every great master’s style, as he had done that of the original Sir Tristrem in his “Conclusion” Such a series of pieces from his hand would have been invaluable, merely as bringing out in a clear manner the gradual divarication of the two great dialects of the English tongue; but seeing by his “Verses on a Poacher,” written many years after this, in professed imitation of Crabbe, with what happy art he could pour the poetry of his own mind into the mould of another artist, it is impossible to doubt that we have lost better things than antiquarian illumination by the non-completion of a design in which he should have embraced successively the tone and measure of Douglas, Dunbar, Lindesay, Montgomerie, Hamilton, Ramsay, Fergusson, and Burns.

The “Tristrem” was now far advanced at press. He says to Ellis, on the 19th March, 1804, “As I had a world of things to say to you, I have been culpably, but most naturally silent. When you turn a bottle with its head downmost, you must have remarked that the extreme impatience of the contents to get out all at once greatly impedes their getting out at all. I have, however, been forming the resolution of sending a grand packet with Sir Tristrem, who will kiss your hands in about a fortnight. I intend uncastrated copies for you, Heber, and Mr Douce, who, I am willing to hope, will accept this mark of my great respect and warm remembrance of his kindness while in London. Pray send me without delay the passage referring to Thomas in the
French ‘Hornchild.’ Far from being daunted with the position of the enemy, I am resolved to carry it at the point of the bayonet, and, like an able general, to attack where it would be difficult to defend. Without metaphor or parable, I am determined not only that my Tomas shall be the author of “Tristrem,” but that he shall be the author of “Hornchild” also. I must, however, read over the romance before I can make my arrangements. Holding, with
Ritson, that the copy in his collection is translated from the French, I do not see why we should not suppose that the French had been originally a version from our Thomas. The date does not greatly frighten me, as I have extended Thomas of Ercildoune’s life to the three-score and ten years of the Psalmist, and consequently removed back the date of, “Sir Tristrem” to 1250. The French translation might be written for that matter within a few days after Thomas’s work was completed and I can allow a few years. He lived on the Border, already possessed by Norman families, and in the vicinity of Northumberland, where there were many more. Do you think the minstrels of the Percies, the Vescies, the Morells, the Grais, and the De Vaux, were not acquainted with honest Thomas, their next door neighbour, who was a poet, and wrote excellent tales—and, moreover, a laird, and gave, I dare be sworn, good dinners? And would they not anxiously translate, for the amusement of their masters, a story like ‘Hornchild,’ so intimately connected with the lands in which they had settled? And do you not think, from the whole structure of ‘Hornchild,’ however often translated and retranslated, that it must have been originally of northern extraction? I have not time to tell you certain suspicions I entertain that Mr Douce’s fragments are the work of one Raoull de Beauvais, who flourished about the middle of the thirteenth century,
and for whose accommodation principally I have made Thomas, to use a military phrase, dress backwards for ten years.”

All this playful language is exquisitely characteristic of Scott’s indomitable adherence to his own views. But his making Thomas dress backwards—and resolving that, if necessary, he shall be the author of Hornchild, as well as Sir Tristrem may perhaps remind the reader of Don Quixote’s method of repairing the headpiece which, as originally constructed, one blow had sufficed to demolish: “Not altogether approving of his having broken it to pieces with so much ease, to secure himself from the like danger for the future, he made it over again, fencing it with small bars of iron within, in such a manner, that he rested satisfied of its strength—and, without caring to make a fresh experiment on it, he approved and looked upon it as a most excellent helmet.

Ellis having made some observations on Scott’s article upon Godwin’s Life of Chaucer, which implied a notion that he had formed a regular connexion with the Edinburgh Review, he in the same letter says: “I quite agree with you as to the general conduct of the Review, which savours more of a wish to display than to instruct; but as essays, many of the articles are invaluable, and the principal conductor is a man of very acute and universal talent. I am not regularly connected with the work, nor have I either inclination or talents to use the critical scalping knife, unless as in the case of Godwin, where flesh and blood succumbed under the temptation. I don’t know if you have looked into his tomes, of which a whole edition has vanished, I was at a loss to know how, till I conjectured that, as the heaviest materials to be come at, they have been sent on the secret expedition planned by Mr Phillips, and adopted by our sapient Government, for blocking up the mouth of our enemy’s harbours.
They should have had my free consent to take Phillips and Godwin, and all our other lumber, literary and political, for the same beneficial purpose. But, in general, I think it ungentlemanly to wound any person’s feelings through an anonymous publication, unless where conceit or false doctrine strongly calls for reprobation. Where praise can be conscientiously mingled in a larger proportion than blame, there is always some amusement in throwing together our ideas upon the works of our fellow labourers, and no injustice in publishing them. On such occasions, and in our way, I may possibly, once or twice a-year, furnish my critical friends with an article.”

Sir Tristrem” was at length published on the 2d of May, 1804, by Constable, who, however, expected so little popularity for the work that the edition consisted only of 150 copies. These were sold at a high price (two guineas), otherwise they would not have been enough to cover the expenses of paper and printing. Mr Ellis, and Scott’s other antiquarian friends, were much dissatisfied with these arrangements; but I doubt not that Constable was a better judge than any of them. The work, however, partook in due time of the favour attending its editor’s name. In 1806, 750 copies were called for; and 1000 in 1811. After that time Sir Tristrem was included in the collective editions of Scott’s poetry; but he had never parted with the copyright, merely allowing his general publishers to insert it among his other works, whenever they chose to do so, as a matter of courtesy. It was not a performance from which he had ever anticipated any pecuniary profit, but it maintained at least, if it did not raise, his reputation in the circle of his fellow antiquaries; and his own Conclusion, in the manner of the original romance, must always be admired as a remarkable specimen of skill and dexterity.


As to the arguments of the Introduction, I shall not in this place attempt any discussion.* Whether the story of Tristrem was first told in Welsh, Armorican, French, or English verse, there can, I think, be no doubt that it had been told in verse, with such success as to obtain very general renown, by Thomas of Ercildoune, and that the copy edited by Scott was either the composition of one who had heard the old Rhymer recite his lay, or the identical lay itself. The introduction of Thomas’s name in the third person, as not the author, but the author’s authority, appears to have had a great share in convincing Scott that the Auchinleck MS. contained not the original, but the copy of an English admirer and contemporary. This point seems to have been rendered more doubtful by some quotations in the recent edition of Warton’s History of English Poetry; but the argument derived from the enthusiastic exclamation “God help Sir Tristrem the knight—he fought for England,” still remains; and stronger perhaps even than that, in the opinion of modern philologists, is the total absence of any Scottish or even Northumbrian peculiarities in the diction.

All this controversy may be waved here. Scott’s object and delight was to revive the fame of the Rhymer, whose traditional history he had listened to while yet an infant among the crags of Smailholme. He had already celebrated him in a noble ballad;† he now devoted a volume to elucidate a fragment supposed to be substantially his work; and we shall find that

* The critical reader will find all the learning on the subject brought together with much ability in the Preface to “The Poetical Romances of Tristan, in French, in Anglo-Norman, and in Greek, composed in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries—Edited by Francisque Michel,” 2 vols. London, 1835.

† See the Minstrelsy (Edition 1833), vol. iv. p. 110.

SIR TRISTREM.—1804.417
thirty years after, when the lamp of his own genius was all but spent, it could still revive and throw out at least some glimmerings of its original brightness at the name of Thomas of Ercildoune.