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Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
Chapter IV 1783-86

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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On returning to Edinburgh, and entering the College, in November, 1783, Scott found himself once more in the fellowship of all his intimates of the High School; of whom, besides those mentioned in his autobiographical fragment, he speaks in his diaries with particular affection of Sir William Rae, Bart., David Monypenny, afterwards Lord Pitmilly, Thomas Tod, W.S., Sir Archibald Campbell of Succoth, Bart., all familiar friends of his through manhood, and the present Earl of Dalhousie, whom, on meeting with him after a long separation in the evening of life, he records as still being, and having always been, “the same manly and generous character that all about him loved as the Lordie Ramsay of the Yards.” His chosen intimate, however, continued to be for some time Mr John Irving—his suburban walks with whom have been recollected so tenderly, both in the Memoir of 1808, and in the Preface to Waverley of 1829. It will interest the reader to compare, with those beautiful descriptions, the following extract from a letter with which Mr Irving has favoured me:—

“Every Saturday, and more frequently during the vacations, we used to retire, with three or four books from the circulating library, to Salisbury Crags, Arthur’s Seat, or Blackford Hill, and read them together. He read faster than I, and had, on this account, to wait
a little at finishing every two pages, before turning the leaf. The books we most delighted in were romances of knight-errantry the
Castle of Otranto, Spenser, Ariosto, and Boiardo were great favourites. We used to climb up the rocks in search of places where we might sit sheltered from the wind; and the more inaccessible they were, the better we liked them. He was very expert at climbing. Sometimes we got into places where we found it difficult to move either up or down, and I recollect it being proposed, on several occasions, that I should go for a ladder to see and extricate him, but I never had any need really to do so, for he always managed somehow either to get down or ascend to the top. The number of books we thus devoured was very great. I forgot great part of what I read, but my friend, notwithstanding he read with such rapidity, remained, to my surprise, master of it all, and could even, weeks or months afterwards, repeat a whole page in which any thing had particularly struck him at the moment. After we had continued this practice of reading for two years or more together, he proposed that we should recite to each other alternately such adventures of knight-errants as we could ourselves contrive; and we continued to do so a long while. He found no difficulty in it, and used to recite for half an hour or more at a time, while I seldom continued half that space. The stories we told were, as Sir Walter has said, interminable—for we were unwilling to have any of our favourite knights killed. Our passion for romance led us to learn Italian together; after a time we could both read it with fluency, and we then copied such tales as we had met with in that language, being a continued succession of battles and enchantments. He began early to collect old ballads, and as my mother could repeat a great many, he used to come and learn those she could recite
to him. He used to get all the copies of these ballads he could, and select the best.”

These, no doubt, were among the germs of the collection of ballads in six little volumes, which, from the handwriting, had been begun at this early period, and which is still preserved at Abbotsford. And it appears, that at least as early a date must be ascribed to another collection of little humorous stories in prose, the Penny Chap-books, as they are called, still in high favour among the lower classes in Scotland, which stands on the same shelf. In a letter of 1830* he states that he had bound up things of this kind to the extent of several volumes, before he was ten years old.

Although the Ashestiel Memoir mentions so very lightly his boyish addiction to verse, and the rebuke which his vein received from the Apothecary’s blue-buskined wife as having been followed by similar treatment on the part of others, I am inclined to believe that while thus devouring, along with his young friend, the stores of Italian romance, he essayed, from time to time, to weave some of their materials into rhyme;—nay, that he must have made at least one rather serious effort of this kind, as early as the date of these rambles to the Salisbury Crags. I have found among his mother’s papers a copy of verses headed, “Lines to Mr Walter Scott on reading his poem of Guiscard and Matilda, inscribed to Miss Keith of Ravelston” There is no date; but I conceive the lines bear internal evidence of having been written when he was very young—not, I should suppose, above fourteen or fifteen at most. I think it also certain that the writer was a woman; and have almost as little doubt that they came from the pen of his old admirer, Mrs Cockburn. They are as follows:—

* See Strang’s Germany in 1831, vol. i., p. 265.

“LINES TO MR W. SCOTT,” &c. 123
“If such the accents of thy early youth
When playful fancy holds the place of truth;
If so divinely sweet thy numbers flow,
And thy young heart melts with such tender wo
What praise, what admiration shall be thine,
When sense mature with science shall combine
To raise thy genius and thy taste refine!
“Go on, dear youth, the glorious path pursue
Which bounteous Nature kindly smooths for you;
Go, bid the seeds her hand hath sown arise,
By timely culture, to their native skies;
Go, and employ the poet’s heavenly art,
Not merely to delight, but mend the heart.
Than other poets happier mayst thou prove,
More blest in friendship, fortunate in love,
Whilst Fame, who longs to make true merit known,
Impatient waits, to claim thee as her own.
“Scorning the yoke of prejudice and pride,
Thy tender mind let truth and reason guide
Let meek humility thy steps attend,
And firm integrity, youth’s surest friend.
So peace and honour all thy hours shall bless,
And conscious rectitude each joy increase;
A nobler meed be thine than empty praise—
Heaven shall approve thy life, and Keith thy lays.”

At the period to which I refer these verses, Scott’s parents still continued to have some expectations of curing his lameness, and Mr Irving remembers to have often assisted in applying the electrical apparatus, on which for a considerable time they principally rested their hopes. There is an allusion to these experiments in Scott’s autobiographical fragment, but I have found a fuller notice on the margin of his copy of the “Guide to Health, Beauty, Riches, and Longevity,” as Captain Grose chose to entitle an amusing collection of quack advertisements.

“The celebrated Dr Graham” (says the annotator)
“was an empiric of some genius and great assurance. In fact, he had a dash of madness in his composition. He had a fine electrical apparatus, and used it with skill. I myself, amongst others, was subjected to a course of electricity under his charge. I remember seeing the old
Earl of Hopetoun seated in a large arm-chair, and hung round with a collar, and a belt of magnets, like an Indian chief. After this, growing quite wild, Graham set up his Temple of Health, and lectured on the celestial bed. He attempted a course of these lectures at Edinburgh, and as the Magistrates refused to let him do so, he libelled them in a series of advertisements, the flights of which were infinitely more absurd and exalted than those which Grose has collected. In one tirade (long in my possession), he declared that ‘he looked down upon them’ (the Magistrates) ‘as the sun in his meridian glory looks down on the poor, feeble, stinking glimmer of an expiring farthing candle, or as G—— himself, in the plenitude of his omnipotence, may regard the insolent bouncings of a few refractory maggots in a rotten cheese.’ Graham was a good-looking man; he used to come to the Grey-friars’ Church in a suit of white and silver, with a chapeau-bras, and his hair marvellously dressed into a sort of double toupee, which divided upon his head like the two tops of Parnassus. Mrs Macauley, the historianess, married his brother. Lady Hamilton is said to have first enacted his Goddess of Health, being at this time a fille de joie of great celebrity.* The Temple of Health dwindled into a sort of obscene hell, or gambling house. In a quarrel which took place there, a poor young man was run into the bowels with a red-hot poker, of which injury he died. The mob vented their

* Lord Nelson’s connexion with this lady will preserve her celebrity.

fury on the house, and the Magistrates, somewhat of the latest, shut up the exhibition. A quantity of glass and crystal trumpery, the remains of the splendid apparatus, was sold on the South Bridge for next to nothing. Graham’s next receipt was the earth-bath, with which he wrought some cures, but that also failing, he was, I believe, literally starved to death.”

Graham’s earth-bath too was, I understand, tried upon Scott, but his was not one of the cases, if any such there were, in which it worked a cure. He, however, improved about this time greatly in his general health and strength, and Mr Irving, in accordance with the statement in the Memoir, assures me, that while attending the early classes at the College, the young friends extended their walks, so as to visit in succession all the old castles within eight or ten miles of Edinburgh. “Sir Walter” (he says) “was specially fond of Rosslyn. We frequently walked thither before breakfast—after breakfasting there walked all down the river side to Lasswade—and thence home to town before dinner. He used generally to rest one hand on my shoulder when we walked together, and leaned with the other on a stout stick.”

The love of picturesque scenery, and especially of feudal castles, with which the vicinity of Edinburgh is plentifully garnished, awoke, as the Memoir tells us, the desire of being able to use the pencil. Mr Irving says,—“I attended one summer a class of drawing along with him, but although both fond of it, we found it took up so much time that we gave this up before we had made much progress.” In one of his later diaries, Scott himself gives the following more particular account of this matter:—

“I took lessons of oil-painting in youth from a little Jew animalcule—a smouch called Burrell—a clever sen-
sible creature though. But I could make no progress either in painting or drawing. Nature denied me the correctness of eye and neatness of hand. Yet I was very desirous to be a draughtsman at least—and laboured harder to attain that point than at any other in my recollection to which I did not make some approaches. Burrell was not useless to me altogether neither. He was a Prussian, and I got from him many a long story of the battles of
Frederick, in whose armies his father had been a commissary, or perhaps a spy. I remember his picturesque account of seeing a party of the black hussars bringing in some forage carts which they had taken from a body of the Cossacks, whom he described as lying on the top of the carts of hay mortally wounded, and like the dying gladiator, eyeing their own blood as it ran down through the straw.”

A year or two later Scott renewed his attempt. “I afterwards” (he says) “took lessons from Walker, whom we used to call Blue Beard. He was one of the most conceited persons in the world, but a good teacher—one of the ugliest countenances he had that need be exhibited—enough, as we say, to spean weans. The man was always extremely precise in the quality of every thing about him; his dress, accommodations, and every thing else. He became insolvent, poor man, and, for some reason or other, I attended the meeting of those concerned in his affairs. Instead of ordinary accommodations for writing, each of the persons present was equipped with a large sheet of drawing-paper, and a swan’s quill. It was mournfully ridiculous enough. Skirving made an admirable likeness of Walker; not a single scar or mark of the smallpox, which seamed his countenance, but the too accurate brother of the brush had faithfully laid it down in longitude and latitude. Poor Walker destroyed it (being in crayons)
rather then let the caricature of his ugliness appear at the sale of his effects. I did learn myself to take some vile views from nature. When
Will Clerk and I lived very much together, I used sometimes to make them under his instruction. He to whom, as to all his family, art is a familiar attribute, wondered at me as a Newfoundland dog would at a greyhound which showed fear of the water.”

Notwithstanding all that Scott says about the total failure of his attempts in the art of the pencil, I presume few will doubt that they proved very useful to him afterwards; from them it is natural to suppose he caught the habit of analyzing, with some approach at least to accuracy, the scenes over which his eye might have continued to wander with the vague sense of delight. I may add that a longer and more successful practice of the crayon might, I cannot but think, have proved the reverse of serviceable to him as a future painter with the pen. He might have contracted the habit of copying from pictures rather than from nature itself; and we should thus have lost that which constitutes the very highest charm in his delineations of scenery, namely, that the effect is produced by the selection of a few striking features, arranged with a light unconscious grace, neither too much nor too little—equally remote from the barren generalizations of a former age and the dull servile fidelity with which so many inferior writers of our time fill in both background and foreground, having no more notion of the perspective of genius than Chinese paper-stainers have of that of the atmosphere, and producing in fact not descriptions but inventories.

The illness, which he alludes to in his Memoir as interrupting for a considerable period his attendance on the Latin and Greek classes in Edinburgh College, is spoken of more largely in one of his pre-
faces.* It arose from the bursting of a blood-vessel in the lower bowels; and I have heard him say that his uncle,
Dr Rutherford, considered his recovery from it as little less than miraculous. His sweet temper and calm courage were no doubt important elements of safety. He submitted without a murmur to the severe discipline prescribed by his affectionate physician, and found consolation in poetry, romance, and the enthusiasm of young friendship. Day after day John Irving relieved his mother and sister in their attendance upon him. The bed on which he lay was piled with a constant succession of works of imagination, and sad realities were forgotten amidst the brilliant day-dreams of genius drinking unwearied from the eternal fountains of Spenser and Shakspeare. Chess was recommended as a relief to these unintermitted though desultory studies; and he engaged eagerly in the game which had found favour with so many of his Paladins. Mr Irving remembers playing it with him hour after hour, in very cold weather when, the windows being kept open as a part of the medical treatment, nothing but youthful nerves and spirit could have persevered. But Scott did not pursue the science of chess after his boyhood. He used to say that it was a shame to throw away upon mastering a mere game, however ingenious, the time which would suffice for the acquisition of a new language. “Surely,” he said, “chess-playing is a sad waste of brains.”

His recovery was completed by another visit to Roxburghshire. Captain Robert Scott, who had been so kind to the sickly infant at Bath, finally retired about this time from his profession, and purchased the elegant villa of Rosebank, on the Tweed, a little below

* See Preface to Waverley, 1829.

Kelso. Here
Walter now took up his quarters, and here, during all the rest of his youth, he found, whenever he chose, a second home, in many respects more agreeable than his own. His uncle, as letters to be subsequently quoted will show, had nothing of his father’s coldness for polite letters, but entered into all his favourite pursuits with keen sympathy, and was consulted, from this time forth, upon all his juvenile essays, both in prose and verse.

He does not seem to have resumed attendance at College during the session of 1785-6; so that the Latin and Greek classes, with that of Logic, were the only ones he had passed through previous to the signing of his indentures as an apprentice to his father. The Memoir mentions the ethical course of Dugald Stewart, as if he had gone immediately from the logical professor (Mr Bruce) to that eminent lecturer; but he, in fact, attended Mr Stewart four years afterwards, when beginning to consider himself as finally destined for the bar.

I shall only add to what he sets down on the subject of his early academical studies, that in this, as in almost every case, he appears to have underrated his own attainments. He had, indeed, no pretensions to the name of an extensive, far less of an accurate, Latin scholar; but he could read, I believe, any Latin author, of any age, so as to catch without difficulty his meaning; and although his favourite Latin poet, as well as historian, in later days, was Buchanan, he had preserved, or subsequently acquired, a strong relish for some others of more ancient date. I may mention, in particular, Lucan and Claudian. Of Greek, he does not exaggerate in saying that he had forgotten even the alphabet; for he was puzzled with the words άοιδος and ποιητης, which he had occasion to introduce, from some authority on his table, into his “Introduction
to Popular Poetry,” written in April 1830; and happening to be in the house with him at the time, he sent for me to insert them for him in his MS.
Mr Irving has informed us of the early period at which he enjoyed the real Tasso and Ariosto. I presume he had at least as soon as this enabled himself to read Gil Blas in the original; and, in all probability, we may refer to the same time of his life, or one not much later, his acquisition of as much Spanish as served for the Guerras Civiles de Granada, Lazarillo de Tormes, and, above all, Don Quixote. He read all these languages in after life with about the same facility. I never but once heard him attempt to speak any of them, and that was when some of the courtiers of Charles X. came to Abbotsford, soon after that unfortunate prince took up his residence for the second time at Holyrood-house. Finding that one or two of these gentlemen could speak no English at all, he made some efforts to amuse them in their own language after the champagne had been passing briskly round the table; and I was amused next morning with the expression of one of the party, who, alluding to the sort of reading in which Sir Walter seemed to have chiefly occupied himself, said, “Mon Dieu! comme il estropiait, entre deux vins, le Français du bon sire de Joinville!” Of all these tongues, as of German somewhat later, he acquired as much as was needful for his own purposes, of which a critical study of any foreign language made at no time any part. In them he sought for incidents, and he found images; but for the treasures of diction he was content to dig on British soil. He had all he wanted in the old wells of “English undefiled,” and the still living, though fast shrinking, waters of that sister idiom which had not always, as he flattered himself, deserved the name of a dialect.

As may be said, I believe, with perfect truth of every
really great man,
Scott was self-educated in every branch of knowledge which he ever turned to account in the works of his genius—and he has himself told us that his real studies were those lonely and desultory ones of which he has given a copy in the first chapter of Waverley, where the hero is represented as “driving through the sea of books, like a vessel without pilot or rudder;” that is to say, obeying nothing but the strong breath of native inclination;—“He had read, and stored in a memory of uncommon tenacity, much curious, though ill arranged and miscellaneous information. In English literature, he was master of Shakspeare and Milton, of our earlier dramatic authors, of many picturesque and interesting passages from our old historical chronicles, and was particularly well acquainted with Spenser, Drayton, and other poets, who have exercised themselves on romantic fiction,—of all themes the most fascinating to a youthful imagination, before the passions have roused themselves, and demand poetry of a more sentimental description.”* I need not repeat his enumeration of other favourites, Pulci, the Decameron, Froissart, Brantome, Delanoue, and the chivalrous and romantic lore of Spain. I have quoted a passage so well known, only for the sake of the striking circumstance by which it marks the very early date of these multifarious studies.

* Waverley, vol. i. p 32.