LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
Chapter IV 1806-08

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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During the whole of 1806 and 1807 Dryden continued to occupy the greater share of Scott’s literary hours; but in the course of the former year he found time and, notwithstanding all these political bickerings, inclination, to draw up three papers for the Edinburgh Review; viz. one on the poems and translations of the Hon. William Herbert; a second, more valuable and elaborate, in which he compared the “Specimens of Early English Romances” by Ellis with the “Selection of Ancient English Metrical Romances” by Ritson; and, lastly, that exquisite piece of humour, his article on the Miseries of Human Life, to which Mr Jeffrey added some, if not all, of the Reviewers’ Groans with which it concludes, It was in September 1806, too, that Messrs Longman put forth, in a separate volume, those of his own Ballads which, having been included in the Minstrelsy, were already their property, together with a collection of his “Lyrical Pieces;” for which he received L.100. This publication, obviously suggested by the continued popularity of the Lay, was highly successful, seven thousand copies having been
disposed of before the first collective edition of his poetical works appeared. He had also proposed to include the
House of Aspen in the same volume, but on reflection once more laid his prose tragedy aside. About the same time he issued, though without his name, a miscellaneous volume, entitled, “Original Memoirs written during the Great Civil Wars; being the Life of Sir Henry Slingsby, and Memoirs of Captain Hodgson, with Notes,” &c. Scott’s preface consists of a brief but elegant and interesting biography of the gallant cavalier Slingsby; his notes are few and unimportant. This volume (by which he gained nothing as editor) was put forth in October by Messrs Constable; and in November, 1806, he began Marmion, the publication of which was the first important business of his in which that enterprising firm had a primary part.

He was at this time in frequent communication with several leading booksellers, each of whom would willingly have engrossed his labours; but from the moment that his literary undertakings began to be serious, he seems to have resolved against forming so strict a connexion with any one publisher, as might at all interfere with the freedom of his transactions. I think it not improbable that his interests as the partner of Ballantyne may have had some influence in this part of his conduct; at all events, there can be little doubt that the hope of sharing more and more in the profits of Scott’s original works induced the competing booksellers to continue and extend their patronage of the Edinburgh printer, who had been introduced to their notice as the personal friend of the most rising author of the day. But, nevertheless, I can have no doubt that Scott was mainly guided by his love of independence. It was always his maxim, that no author should ever let any one house fancy that they had obtained a
right of monopoly over his works—or, as he expressed it, in the language of the Scotch feudalists, “that they had completely thirled him to their mill;” and through life, as we shall see, the instant he perceived the least trace of this feeling, he asserted his freedom, not by word, but by some decided deed, on whatever considerations of pecuniary convenience the step might make it necessary for him to trample. Of the conduct of Messrs
Longman, who had been principally concerned in the publication of the Minstrelsy, the Lay, Sir Tristrem, and the Ballads, he certainly could have had no reason to complain; on the contrary, he has in various places attested that it was liberal and handsome beyond his expectation; but, nevertheless, a negotiation which they now opened proved fruitless, and ultimately they had no share whatever in the second of his original works.

Constable offered a thousand guineas for the poem very shortly after it was begun, and without having seen one line of it; and Scott, without hesitation, accepted this proposal. It may be gathered from the Introduction of 1830, that private circumstances of a delicate nature rendered it highly desirable for him to obtain the immediate command of such a sum; the price was actually paid long before the poem was published; and it suits very well with Constable’s character to suppose that his readiness to advance the money may have outstripped the calculations of more established dealers, and thus cast the balance in his favour. He was not, however, so unwise as to keep the whole adventure to himself. His bargain being fairly concluded, he tendered one-fourth of the copyright to Mr Miller of Albemarle Street, and another to Mr Murray, then of Fleet Street, London; and both these booksellers appear to have embraced his proposition with eagerness. “I am,” Murray wrote to Constable, on the 6th February, 1807
“truly sensible of the kind remembrance of me in your liberal purchase. You have rendered Mr Miller no less happy by your admission of him; and we both view it as honourable, profitable, and glorious to be concerned in the publication of a new poem by Walter Scott.” The news that a thousand guineas had been paid for an unseen and unfinished MS. appeared in those days portentous; and it must be allowed that the writer who received such a sum for a performance in embryo, had made a great step in the hazards, as well as in the honours, of authorship.

The private circumstances which he alludes to as having precipitated his re-appearance as a poet were connected with his brother Thomas’s final withdrawal from the profession of a Writer to the Signet, which arrangement seems to have become quite necessary towards the end of 1806; but it is extremely improbable that, in the absence of any such occurrence, a young, energetic, and ambitious man would have long resisted the cheering stimulus of such success as had attended the Lay of the Last Minstrel.

“I had formed,” he says, “the prudent resolution to bestow a little more labour than I had yet done on my productions, and to be in no hurry again to announce myself as a candidate for literary fame. Accordingly, particular passages of a poem which was finally called ‘Marmion’ were laboured with a good deal of care by one by whom much care was seldom bestowed. Whether the work was worth the labour or not, I am no competent judge; but I may be permitted to say, that the period of its composition was a very happy one in my life; so much so, that I remember with pleasure at this moment (1830) some of the spots in which particular passages were composed. It is probably owing to this that the introductions to the several cantos assumed the form of
familiar epistles to my intimate friends, in which I alluded, perhaps more than was necessary or graceful, to my domestic occupations and amusements—a loquacity which may be excused by those who remember that I was still young, light-headed, and happy, and that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”*

The first four of the Introductory Epistles are dated Ashestiel, and they point out very distinctly some of the “spots” which, after the lapse of so many years, he remembered with pleasure, for their connexion with particular passages of Marmion. There is a knoll with some tall old ashes on the adjoining farm of the Peel, where he was very fond of sitting by himself, and it still bears the name of the Sheriff’s knowe. Another favourite seat was beneath a huge oak hard by the Tweed, at the extremity of the haugh of Ashestiel. It was here a that while meditating his verses, he used
“to stray,
And waste the solitary day
In plucking from yon fen the reed,
And watch it floating down the Tweed;
Or idly list the shrilling lay
With which the milkmaid cheers her way.
Marking its cadence rise and fail,
As from the field, beneath her pail,
She trips it down the uneven dale.”

He frequently wandered far from home, however, attended only by his dog, and would return late in the evening, having let hours after hours slip away among the soft and melancholy wildernesses where Yarrow creeps from her fountains. The lines,
“Oft in my mind such thoughts awake,
By lone Saint Mary’s silent lake,” &c.,

* Introduction to Marmion, 1830.

paint a scene not less impressive than what Byron found amidst the gigantic pines of the forest of Ravenna; and how completely does he set himself before us in the moment of his gentler and more solemn inspiration, by the closing couplet,
“Your horse’s hoof-tread sounds too rude,
So stilly is the solitude.”
But when the theme was of a more stirring order, he enjoyed pursuing it over brake and fell at the full speed of his Lieutenant. I well remember his saying, as I rode with him across the hills from Ashestiel to Newark one day in his declining years—“Oh, man, I had many a grand gallop among these braes when I was thinking of
Marmion, but a trotting canny pony must serve me now.” His friend, Mr Skene, however, informs me that many of the more energetic descriptions, and particularly that of the battle of Flodden, were struck out while he was in quarters again with his cavalry, in the autumn of 1807. “In the intervals of drilling,” he says, “Scott used to delight in walking his powerful black steed up and down by himself upon the Portobello sands, within the beating of the surge; and now and then you would see him plunge in his spurs and go off as if at the charge, with the spray dashing about him. As we rode back to Musselburgh, he often came and placed himself beside me to repeat the verses that he had been composing during these pauses of our exercise.”

He seems to have communicated fragments of the poem very freely during the whole of its progress. As early as the 22d February, 1807, I find Mrs Hayman acknowledging, in the name of the Princess of Wales, the receipt of a copy of the Introduction to Canto III.,
in which occurs the tribute to Her Royal Highness’s heroic father, mortally wounded the year before at Jena—a tribute so grateful to her feelings that she herself shortly after sent the poet an elegant silver vase as a memorial of her thankfulness. And about the same time the
Marchioness of Abercorn expresses the delight with which both she and her lord had read the generous verses on Pitt and Fox, in another of those epistles. But his connexion with this noble family was no new one; for his father, and afterwards his brother Thomas, had been the auditors of their Scotch rental.

In March his researches concerning Dryden carried him again to the south. During several weeks he gave his day pretty regularly to the pamphlets and MSS. of the British Museum, and the evening to the brilliant societies that now courted him whenever he came within their sphere. His recent political demonstrations during the brief reign of the Whigs, seem to have procured for him on this occasion a welcome of redoubled warmth among the leaders of his own now once more victorious party. “As I had,” he writes to his brother-in-law, in India, “contrary to many who avowed the same opinions in sunshine, held fast my integrity during the Foxites’ interval of power, I found myself of course very well with the new administration.” But he uniformly reserved his Saturday and Sunday either for Mr Ellis, at Sunninghill, or Lord and Lady Abercorn, at their beautiful villa near Stanmore; and the press copy of Cantos I. and II. of Marmion attests that most of it reached Ballantyne in sheets, franked by the Marquis, or his son-in-law, Lord Aberdeen, during April, 1807.

Before he turned homeward he made a short visit to his friend William Stewart Rose, at his cottage of Gundimore, in Hampshire, and enjoyed in his company
various long rides in the New Forest, a day in the dockyard of Portsmouth, and two or three more in the Isle of Wight.* Several sheets of the MS., and corrected proofs of Canto III. are also under covers franked from Gundimore by Mr Rose; and I think I must quote the note which accompanied one of these detachments, as

* I am sure I shall gratify every reader by extracting some lines, alluding to Scott’s visit at Mr Rose’s Marine Villa, from an unpublished poem, entitled “Gundimore,“ kindly placed at my disposal by his host.

“Here Walter Scott has woo’d the northern muse;
Here he with me has joy’d to walk or cruise;
And hence has pricked through Yten’s holt, where we
Have called to mind how under greenwood tree,
Pierced by the partner of his ‘woodland craft,’
King Rufus fell by Tyrrell’s random shaft.
Hence have we ranged by Celtic camps and barrows,
Or climbed the expectant bark, to thread the Narrows
Of Hurst, bound westward to the gloomy bower
Where Charles was prisoned in yon Island tower;
Or from a longer flight alighted where
Our navies to recruit their strength repair—
And there have seen the ready shot and gun;
Seen in red steam the molten copper run;
And massive anchor forged, whose iron teeth
Should hold the three-decked ship when billows seethe;
And when the arsenal’s dark stithy rang
With the loud hammers of the Cyclop-gang,
Swallowing the darkness up, have seen with wonder,
The flashing fire, and heard fast-following thunder.
Here, witched from summer sea and softer reign,
Foscolo courted Muse of milder strain.
On these ribbed sands was Coleridge pleased to pace,
While ebbing seas have hummed a rolling base
To his rapt talk. Alas! all these are gone,
‘And I and other creeping things live on.’
The flask no more, dear Walter, shall I quaff
With thee, no more enjoy thy hearty laugh.
showing the good-natured buoyancy of mind and temper with which the Poet received in every stage of his progress the hints and suggestions of his watchful friends,
Erskine and Ballantyne. The latter having animadverted on the first draught of the song “Where shall the Lover rest,” and sketched what he thought would be a better arrangement of the stanza Scott answers as follows:—

“Dear James,

“I am much obliged to you for the rhymes. I presume it can make no difference as to the air if the first three lines rhyme; and I wish to know, with your leisure, if it is absolutely necessary that the fourth should be out of poetic rhythm, as ‘the deserted fair one’ certainly is.—For example would this do?
‘Should my heart from thee falter,
To another love alter,
(For the rhyme we’ll say Walter)
Deserting my lover.’
There is here the same number of syllables, but arrang-
No more shalt thou to me extend thy hand,
A welcome pilgrim to my father’s land!
* * * *
Alone such friends and comrades I deplore,
And peopled but with phantoms is the shore:
Hence have I fled my haunted beach; yet so
Would not alike a sylvan home forego.
Though wakening fond regrets its sere and yellow
Leaves, and sweet inland murmur, serve to mellow
And soothe the sobered sorrow they recall,
When mantled in the faded garb of fall;—
But wind and wave—unlike the sighing sedge
And murmuring leaf—gave grief a coarser edge:
And in each howling blast my fancy hears
‘The voices of the dead, and songs of other years.’”
May, 1807.121
ed in cadence. I return the proof and send more copy. There will be six Cantos. Yours truly,

W. S.”

In the first week of May we find him at Lichfield, having diverged from the great road to Scotland for the purpose of visiting Miss Seward. Her account of her old correspondent, whom till now she had never seen, was addressed to Mr Cary, the translator of Dante; and it may interest the reader to compare it with other similar sketches of earlier and later date. “On Friday last,” she says, “the poetically great Walter Scott came ‘like a sunbeam to my dwelling.’ This proudest boast of the Caledonian muse is tall, and rather robust than slender, but lame in the same manner as Mr Hayley, and in a greater measure. Neither the contour of his face nor yet his features are elegant; his complexion healthy, and somewhat fair, without bloom. We find the singularity of brown hair and eyelashes, with flaxen eyebrows, and a countenance open, ingenuous, and benevolent. When seriously conversing or earnestly attentive, though his eyes are rather of a lightish grey, deep thought is on their lids: he contracts his brow, and the rays of genius gleam aslant from the orbs beneath them. An upper lip too long prevents his mouth from being decidedly handsome, but the sweetest emanations of temper and heart play about it when he talks cheerfully or smiles; and in company he is much oftener gay than contemplative. His conversation—an overflowing fountain of brilliant wit, apposite allusion, and playful archness—while on serious themes it is nervous and eloquent; the accent decidedly Scotch, yet by no means broad. On the whole, no expectation is disappointed which his poetry must excite in all who feel the power and graces of human inspiration. . . . . Not less astonishing
than was
Johnson’s memory is that of Mr Scott; like Johnson, also, his recitation is too monotonous and violent to do justice either to his own writings or those of others. The stranger guest delighted us all by the unaffected charms of his mind and manners. Such visits are among the most high-prized honours which my writings have procured for me.” Miss Seward adds, that she showed him the passage in Cary’s Dante where Michael Scott occurs, and that though he admired the spirit and skill of the version, he confessed his inability to find pleasure in the Divina Comedia. “The plan,” he said, “appeared to him unhappy; the personal malignity and strange mode of revenge presumptuous and uninteresting.”

By the 12th of May he was at Edinburgh for the commencement of the summer session, and the printing seems thenceforth to have gone on at times with great rapidity, at others slowly and irregularly; the latter Cantos having no doubt been merely blocked out when the first went to press, and his professional avocations, but above all, his Dryden, occasioning frequent interruptions. Just a year had elapsed from his beginning the poem when he penned the Epistle for Canto IV. at Ashestiel; and who, that considers how busily his various pursuits and labours had been crowding the interval, can wonder to be told that
“Even now, it scarcely seems a day
Since first I tuned this idle lay—
A task so often laid aside
When leisure graver cares denied—
That now November’s dreary gale,
Whose voice inspired my opening tale,
That same November gale once more
Whirls the dry leaves on Yarrow shore.”

The fifth Introduction was written in Edinburgh in
AUGUST, 1807.123
the month following; that to the last Canto, during the Christmas festivities of Merton-house, where, from the first days of his ballad-rhyming, down to the close of his life, he, like his bearded ancestor, usually spent that season with the immediate head of the race. The bulky appendix of notes, including a mass of curious antiquarian quotations, must have moved somewhat slowly through the printers’ hands; but
Marmion was at length ready for publication by the middle of February 1808.

Among the “graver cares” which he alludes to as having interrupted his progress in the poem, the chief were, as has been already hinted, those arising from the pecuniary embarrassments of his brother. These are mentioned in a letter to Miss Seward, dated in August 1807. The lady had, among other things, announced her pleasure in the prospect of a visit from the author of “Madoc,” expressed her admiration of “Master Betty, the Young Roscius,” and lamented the father’s design of placing that “miraculous boy” for three years under a certain “schoolmaster of eminence at Shrewsbury.”* Scott says in answer:—

“Since I was favoured with your letter, my dear Miss Seward, I have brought the unpleasant transactions to which my last letter alluded pretty near to a conclusion, much more fortunate than I had ventured to hope. Of my brother’s creditors, those connected with him by blood or friendship, showed all the kindness which those ties are in Scotland peculiarly calculated to produce; and what is here much more uncommon, those who had no personal connexion with him or his family, showed a liberality which would not have misbecome the generosity of the English. Upon the whole, his affairs are

“See Miss Seward’s Letters, vol. vi. p. 364.

put in a course of management which I hope will enable him to begin life anew with renovated hopes, and not entirely destitute of the means of recommencing business.

“I am very happy—although a little jealous withal—that you are to have the satisfaction of Southey’s personal acquaintance. I am certain you will like the Epic bard exceedingly. Although he does not deign to enter into the mere trifling intercourse of society, yet when a sympathetic spirit calls him forth, no man talks with more animation on literary topics; and perhaps no man in England has read and studied so much with the same powers of making use of the information which he is so indefatigable in acquiring. I despair of reconciling you to my little friend Jeffrey, although I think I could trust to his making some impression on your prepossession, were you to converse with him. I think Southey does himself injustice in supposing the Edinburgh Review, or any other, could have sunk Madoc, even for a time. But the size and price of the work, joined to the frivolity of an age which must be treated as nurses humour children, are sufficient reasons why a poem, on so chaste a model, should not have taken immediately. We know the similar fate of Milton’s immortal work, in the witty age of Charles II., at a time when poetry was much more fashionable than at present. As to the division of the profits, I only think that Southey does not understand the gentlemen of the trade, emphatically so called, as well as I do. Without any greater degree of fourberie than they conceive the long practice of their brethren has rendered matter of prescriptive right, they contrive to clip the author’s proportion of profits down to a mere trifle. It is the tale of the fox that went a hunting with the lion, upon con-
AUGUST, 1807.125
dition of equal division of the spoil; and yet I do not quite blame the booksellers, when I consider the very singular nature of their mystery. A butcher generally understands something of black cattle, and wo betide the jockey who should presume to exercise his profession without a competent knowledge of horse-flesh. But who ever heard of a bookseller pretending to understand the commodity in which he dealt? They are the only tradesmen in the world who professedly, and by choice, deal in what is called ‘a pig in a poke.’ When you consider the abominable trash which, by their sheer ignorance, is published every year, you will readily excuse them for the indemnification which they must necessarily obtain at the expense of authors of some value. In fact, though the account between an individual bookseller and such a man as Southey may be iniquitous enough, yet I apprehend that upon the whole the account between the trade and the authors of Britain at large is pretty fairly balanced; and what these gentlemen gain at the expense of one class of writers, is lavished, in many cases, in bringing forward other works of little value. I do not know but this, upon the whole, is favourable to the cause of literature. A bookseller publishes twenty books, in hopes of hitting upon one good speculation, as a person buys a parcel of shares in a lottery, in hopes of gaining a prize. Thus the road is open to all, and if the successful candidate is a little fleeced, in order to form petty prizes to console the losing adventurers, still the cause of literature is benefited, since none is excluded from the privilege of competition. This does not apologize for Southey’s carelessness about his interest—for,
—‘his name is up, and may go
From Toledo to Madrid.’


“Pray, don’t trust Southey too long with Mr White. He is even more determined in his admiration of old ruins than I am. You see I am glad to pick a hole in his jacket, being more jealous of his personal favour in Miss Seward’s eyes than of his poetical reputation.

“I quite agree with you about the plan of young Betty’s education, and am no great idolater of the learned languages, excepting for what they contain. We spend in youth that time in admiring the wards of the key, which we should employ in opening the cabinet and examining its treasures. A prudent and accomplished friend, who would make instruction acceptable to him for the sake of the amusement it conveys, would be worth an hundred schools. How can so wonderfully premature a genius, accustomed to excite interest in thousands, be made a member of a class with other boys!”

To return to Scott’s own “graver cares” while Marmion was in progress—among them were those of preparing himself for an office to which he was formally appointed soon afterwards, namely, that of Secretary to a Parliamentary Commission for the improvement of Scottish Jurisprudence. This Commission, at the head of which was Sir Islay Campbell, Lord President of the Court of Session, continued in operation for two or three years. Scott’s salary, as secretary, was a mere trifle; but he had been led to expect that his exertions in this capacity would lead to better things. In giving a general view of his affairs to his brother-in-law in India, he says: “The Clerk of Session who retired to make way for me, retains the appointments, while I do the duty. This was rather a hard bargain, but it was made when the Administration was going to pieces, and I was glad
to swim ashore on a plank of the wreck; or, in a word, to be provided for any how, before the new people came in. To be sure, nobody could have foreseen that in a year’s time my friends were all to be in again. . . . I am principally pleased with my new appointment as being conferred on me by our chief law lords and King’s counsel, and consequently an honourable professional distinction. The employment will be but temporary, but may have consequences important to my future lot in life, if I give due satisfaction in the discharge of it.” He appears accordingly to have submitted to a great deal of miserable drudgery in mastering beforehand the details of the technical controversies which had called for legislatorial interference; and he discharged his functions, as usual, with the warm approbation of his superiors; but no result followed. This is alluded to, among other things, in his correspondence with
Mr Southey, during the printing of Marmion. I shall now go back to extract some of these letters; they will not only enable the reader to fill up the outline of the preceding narrative, as regards Scott’s own various occupations at this period, but illustrate very strikingly the readiness with which, however occupied, he would turn aside, whenever he saw any opportunity of forwarding the pursuits and interests of other literary men.

Mr Southey had written to Scott, on the 27th September, 1807, informing him that he had desired his booksellers to forward a copy of “Palmerin of England,” then on the eve of publication—announcing also his “Chronicle of the Cid;” and adding, “I rejoice to hear that we are to have another Lay, and hope we may have as many Last Lays of the Minstrel, as our ancestors had Last Words of Mr Baxter.” Scott’s answer was this:—

To Robert Southey, Esq.
“Ashestiel, 1st October, 1807.
“My dear Southey,

“It will give me the most sincere pleasure to receive any token of your friendly remembrance, more especially in the shape of a romance of knight-errantry. You know so well how to furbish the arms of a preux chevalier, without converting him à la Tressan into a modern light dragoon, that my expectations from Palmerin are very high, and I have given directions to have him sent to this retreat so soon as he reaches Edinburgh. The half-guinea for Hogg’s poems was duly received. The uncertainty of your residence prevented the book being sent at the time proposed—it shall be forwarded from Edinburgh to the bookseller at Carlisle, who will probably know how to send it safe. I hope very soon to send you my Life of Dryden, and eke my last Lay—(by the way, the former ditty was only proposed as the lay of the last Minstrel, not his last fitt). I grieve that you have renounced the harp; but still I confide, that, having often touched it so much to the delight of the hearers, you will return to it again after a short interval. As I don’t much admire compliments, you may believe me sincere when I tell you, that I have read Madoc three times since my first cursory perusal, and each time with increased admiration of the poetry. But a poem whose merits are of that higher tone does not immediately take with the public at large. It is even possible that during your own life—and may it be as long as every real lover of literature can wish—you must be contented with the applause of the few whom nature has gifted with the rare taste for discriminating in poetry. But the mere Readers of verse must one day come in, and then Ma-
doc will assume his real place at the feet of
Milton. Now this opinion of mine was not that (to speak frankly) which I formed on reading the poem at first, though I then felt much of its merit. I hope you have not and don’t mean to part with the copyright. I do not think Wordsworth and you understand the bookselling animal well enough, and wish you would one day try my friend Constable, who would give any terms for a connexion with you. I am most anxious to see the Cid. Do you know I committed a theft upon you (neither of gait, kine, nor horse, nor outside nor inside plenishing, such as my forefathers sought in Cumberland), but of many verses of the Queen Auragua,* or howsoever you spell her name? I repeated them to a very great lady (the Princess of Wales), who was so much delighted with them, that I think she got them by heart also. She asked a copy, but that I declined to give, under pretence I could not give an accurate one; but I promised to prefer her request to you. If you wish to oblige her R. H., I will get the verses transmitted to her; if not, the thing may be passed over.

“Many thanks for your invitation to Keswick, which I hope to accept, time and season permitting. Is your brother with you? if so, remember me kindly. Where is Wordsworth, and what doth he do? I wrote him a few lines some weeks ago, which I suspect never came to hand. I suppose you are possessed of all relating to the Cid, otherwise I would mention an old romance, chiefly relating to his banishment, which is in John Frere’s possession, and from which he made some lively translations in a tripping Alexandrine stanza. I dare say he would communicate the original, if it could

* The ballad of Queen Orraca was first published in the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1808.

be of the least use.* I am an humble petitioner that your interesting Spanish ballads be in some shape appended to
the Cid. Be assured they will give him wings. There is a long letter written with a pen like a stick. I beg my respects to Mrs Southey, in which Mrs Scott joins; and I am, very truly and affectionately, yours,

Walter Scott.”
To the Same.
“Edinburgh, November 1807.
“My dear Southey,

“I received your letter some time, but had then no opportunity to see Constable, as I was residing at some distance from Edinburgh. Since I came to town I spoke to Constable, whom I find anxious to be connected with you. It occurs to me that the only difference between him and our fathers in the Row is on the principle contained in the old proverb:—He that would thrive—must rise by five;—He that has thriven—may lye till seven. Constable would thrive, and therefore bestows more pains than our fathers who have thriven. I do not speak this without book, because I know he has pushed off several books which had got aground in the Row. But, to say the truth, I have always found advantage in keeping on good terms with several of the trade, but never suffering any one of them to consider me as a monopoly. They are very like farmers, who thrive best at a high rent; and, in general, take most pains to sell a book that has cost them money to purchase. The bad

* Mr Southey introduced, in the appendix to his Chronicle of the Cid, some specimens of Mr Frere’s admirable translation of the ancient Poema del Cid, to which Scott here alludes.

sale of
Thalaba is truly astonishing; it should have sold off in a twelvemonth at farthest.

“As you occasionally review, will you forgive my suggesting a circumstance for your consideration, to which you will give exactly the degree of weight you please. I am perfectly certain that Jeffrey would think himself both happy and honoured in receiving any communications which you might send him, choosing your books and expressing your own opinions. The terms of the Edinburgh Review are ten guineas a-sheet, and will shortly be advanced considerably. I question if the same unpleasant sort of work is any where else so well compensated. The only reason which occurs to me as likely to prevent your affording the Edinburgh some critical Assistance, is the severity of the criticisms upon Madoc and Thalaba. I do not know if this will be at all removed by assuring you, as I can do upon my honour, that Jeffrey has, notwithstanding the flippancy of these articles, the most sincere respect both for your person and talents. The other day I designedly led the conversation on that subject, and had the same reason I always have had to consider his attack as arising from a radical difference in point of taste, or rather feeling of poetry, but by no means from any thing approaching either to enmity or a false conception of your talents. I do not think that a difference of this sort should prevent you, if you are otherwise disposed to do so, from carrying a proportion at least of your critical labours to a much better market than the Annual.* Pray think of this, and if you are disposed to give your assistance, I am positively certain that I can transact the matter with the utmost delicacy towards both my friends. I am certain

* The Annual Review, conducted by Dr Arthur Aikin, commenced in 1802, and was discontinued in 1808.

you may add L.100 a-year, or double the sum, to your income in this way with almost no trouble, and, as times go, that is no trifle.

“I have to thank you for Palmerin, which has been my afternoon reading for some days. I like it very much, although it is, I think, considerably inferior to the Amadis. But I wait with double anxiety for the Cid, in which I expect to find very much information as well as amusement. One discovery I have made is, that we understand little or nothing of Don Quixote except by the Spanish romances. The English and French romances throw very little light on the subject of the doughty cavalier of La Mancha. I am thinking of publishing a small edition of the Morte Arthur, merely to preserve that ancient record of English chivalry; but my copy is so late as 1637, so I must look out for earlier editions to collate. That of Caxton is, I believe, introuvable. Will you give me your opinion on this project? I have written to Mr Frere about the Spanish books, but I do not very well know if my letter has reached him. I expect to bring Constable to a point respecting the poem of Hindoo Mythology.* I should esteem myself very fortunate in being assisting in bringing forth a twin brother of Thalaba. Wordsworth is harshly treated in the Edinburgh Review, but Jeffrey gives the sonnets as much praise as he usually does to any body. I made him admire the song of Lord Clifford’s minstrel, which I like exceedingly myself. But many of Wordsworth’s lesser poems are caviare, not only to the multitude, but to all who judge of poetry by the established rules of criticism. Some of them, I can safely say, I like the better for these aberrations; in

* The Curse of Kehama was published by Longman and Co. in 1810.

others they get beyond me at any rate, they ought to have been more cautiously hazarded. I hope soon to send you a
Life of Dryden and a lay of former times. The latter I would willingly have bestowed more time upon; but what can I do? my supposed poetical turn ruined me in my profession, and the least it can do is to give me some occasional assistance instead of it. Mrs Scott begs kind compliments to Mrs Southey, and I am always kindly yours,

Walter Scott.”

Mr Southey, in reply to this letter, stated at length certain considerations, political, moral, and critical, which rendered it impossible for him to enlist himself on any terms in the corps of the Edinburgh Reviewers. In speaking of his friend Wordsworth’s last work, which had been rather severely handled in this Review, he expresses his regret that the poet, in his magnificent sonnet on Killiecrankie, should have introduced the Viscount of Dundee without apparent censure of his character; and, passing to Scott’s own affairs, he says, “Marmion is expected as impatiently by me as he is by ten thousand others. Believe me, Scott, no man of real genius was ever a puritanical stickler for correctness, or fastidious about any faults except his own. The best artists, both in poetry and painting, have produced the most. Give us more lays, and correct them at leisure for after, editions,—not laboriously, but when the amendment comes naturally and unsought for. It never does to sit down doggedly to correct.” The rest, Scott’s answer will sufficiently explain.

To Robert Southey, Esq.
Edinburgh, 15th December, 1807.
“Dear Southey,

“I yesterday received your letter, and can perfectly enter into your ideas on the subject of the Review:—indeed, I dislike most extremely the late stream of politics which they have adopted, as it seems, even on their own showing, to be cruelly imprudent. Who ever thought he did a service to a person engaged in an arduous conflict, by proving to him, or attempting to prove to him, that he must necessarily be beaten; and what effect can such language have but to accelerate the accomplishment of the prophecy which it contains? And as for Catholic Emancipation—I am not, God knows, a bigot in religious matters, nor a friend to persecution; but if a particular sect of religionists are ipso facto connected with foreign politics and placed under the spiritual direction of a class of priests, whose unrivalled dexterity and activity are increased by the rules which detach them from the rest of the world—I humbly think that we may be excused from intrusting to them those places in the state where the influence of such a clergy, who act under the direction of a passive tool of our worst foe, is likely to be attended with the most fatal consequences. If a gentleman chooses to walk about with a couple of pounds of gunpowder in his pocket, if I give him the shelter of my roof, I may at least be permitted to exclude him from the seat next to the fire. So thinking, I have felt your scruples in doing any thing for the Review of late.

“As for my good friend Dundee, I cannot admit his culpability in the extent you allege; and it is scandalous of the Sunday bard to join in your condemnation, ‘and yet come of a noble Græme!’ I admit he was tant
soit peu savage, but he was a noble savage; and the beastly Covenanters against whom he acted, hardly had any claim to be called men, unless what was founded on their walking upon their hind feet. You can hardly conceive the perfidy, cruelty, and stupidity of these people according to the accounts they have themselves preserved. But I admit I had many cavalier prejudices instilled into me, as my ancestor was a Killiecrankie man.

“I am very glad the Morte Arthur is in your hands; it has been long a favourite of mine, and I intended to have made it a handsome book, in the shape of a small antique-looking quarto, with wooden vignettes of costume. I wish you would not degrade him into a squat 12mo; but admit the temptation you will probably feel to put it into the same shape with Palmerin and Amadis. If on this, or any occasion, you can cast a job in the way of my friend Ballantyne, I should consider it as a particular personal favour, and the convenience would be pretty near the same to you, as all your proofs must come by post at any rate. If I can assist you about this matter command my services. The late Duke of Roxburghe once showed me some curious remarks of his own upon the genealogy of the Knights of the Round Table. He was a curious and unwearied reader of romance, and made many observations in writing; whether they are now accessible or no I am doubtful. Do you follow the metrical or the printed books in your account of the Round Table, and would your task be at all facilitated by the use of a copy of Sir Lancelot, from the press of Jehan Dennis, which I have by me?

“As to literary envy, I agree with you, dear Southey, in believing it was never felt by men who had any powers of their own to employ to better purpose than in crossing or jostling their companions; and I can say with a safe conscience, that I am most delighted with praise from
those who convince me of their good taste by admiring the genius of my contemporaries. Believe me ever, dear Southey, with best compliments to
Mrs S., yours affectionately,

Walter Scott.”

The following letter to another accomplished and attached friend, will bring us back to the completion of Marmion.

To the Right Hon. the Lady Louisa Stuart, London.
“Edinburgh, 19th January, 1808.

“I am much flattered, dear Lady Louisa, by your kind and encouraging remembrance. Marmion is, at this instant, gasping upon Flodden field, and there I have been obliged to leave him for these few days in the death pangs. I hope I shall find time enough this morning to knock him on the head with two or three thumping stanzas. I thought I should have seen Lady Douglas while she was at Dalkeith, but all the Clerks of Session (excepting myself, who have at present no salary) are subject to the gout, and one of them was unluckily visited with a fit on the day I should have been at the Duke’s, so I had his duty and my own to discharge. Pray, Lady Louisa, don’t look for Marmion in Hawthornden or any where else, excepting in the too thick quarto which bears his name. As to the fair * * * * * * *, I beg her pardon with all my heart and spirit; but I rather think that the habit of writing novels or romances, whether in prose or verse, is unfavourable to rapid credulity; at least these sort of folks know that they can easily make fine stories themselves, and will be therefore as curious in examining those of other folks as a cunning vintner in detecting the sophistication of his neighbour’s claret by the help of his own experience.
Talking of fair ladies and fables reminds me of
Mr Sharpe’s ballads,* which I suppose Lady Douglas carried with her to Bothwell. They exhibit, I think, a very considerable portion of imagination, and occasionally, though not uniformly, great flow of versification. There is one verse, or rather the whole description of a musical ghost lady sitting among the ruins of her father’s tower, that pleased me very much. But his language is too flowery and even tawdry, and I quarrelled with a lady in the first poem who yielded up her affection upon her lover showing his white teeth. White teeth ought to be taken great care of and set great store by; but I cannot allow them to be an object of passionate admiration—it is too like subduing a lady’s heart by grinning. Grieved am I for Lady Douglas’s indisposition, which I hope will be short, and I am sure will be tolerable with such stores of amusement around her. Last night I saw all the Dalkeith family presiding in that happy scene of mixed company and Babylonian confusion, the Queen’s Assembly. I also saw Mr Alison there. I hope your ladyship has not renounced your intention, of coming to Edinburgh for a day or two, and that I shall have the honour to see you. We have here a very diverting lion and sundry wild beasts; but the most meritorious is Miss Lydia White, who is what Oxonians call a lioness of the first order, with stockings nineteen times nine dyed blue, very lively, very good-humoured, and extremely absurd. It is very diverting to see the sober Scotch ladies staring at this phenomenon. I am, with great respect, your ladyship’s honoured and obliged

Walter Scott.”

* A small volume, entitled “Metrical Legends and Other Poems,” was published in 1807 by Scott’s friend, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, Esq.


Marmion was published on the 23d of February. The letter which accompanied the presentation copy to Sunninghill, had been preceded a few weeks before by one containing, an abstract of some of Weber’s German researches, which were turned to account in the third edition of Sir Tristrem; but Mr Ellis was at this time in a very feeble state of health, and that communication had elicited no reply.

To George Ellis, Esq.
“Edinburgh, February 23, 1808.
‘Sleepest thou, wakest thou, George Ellis?’

“Be it known that this letter is little better than a fehde brief,—as to the meaning of which, is it not written in Wachter’s Thesaurus and the Lexicon of Adelung? To expound more vernacularly, I wrote you, I know not how long ago, a swinging epistle of and concerning German Romances, with some discoveries not of my own discovering, and other matter not furiously to the present purpose. And this I caused to be conveyed to you by ane gentil knizt, Sir William Forbes, knizt, who assures me he left it as directed, at Sir Peter Parker’s. ‘Since,’ to vary my style to that of the ledger, ‘none of yours.’ To avenge myself of this unusual silence, which is a manifest usurpation of my privileges (being the worst correspondent in the world, Heber excepted), I have indited to you an epistle in verse, and that I may be sure of its reaching your hands, I have caused to be thrown off 2000 copies thereof, that you may not plead ignorance.

“This is oracular, but will be explained by perusing the Introduction to the 5th canto of a certain dumpy quarto, entitled Marmion, a Tale of Flodden-field, of which I have to beg your acceptance of a copy. ‘So
wonder on till time makes all things plain.’ One thing I am sure you will admit, and that is, that ‘the hobbyhorse is not forgot;’ nay, you will see I have paraded in my introductions a plurality of hobby-horses a whole stud, on each of which I have, in my day, been accustomed to take an airing. This circumstance will also gratify our friend
Douce, whose lucubrations have been my study for some days.* They will, I fear, be caviare to the multitude, and even to the soi-disant connoisseurs, who have never found by experience what length of time, of reading, and of reflection is necessary to collect the archæological knowledge of which he has displayed such profusion. The style would also, in our Scotch phrase, thole a mends, i. e. admit of improvement. But his extensive and curious researches place him at the head of the class of black-letter antiquaries; and his knowledge is communicated—without the manifest irritation which his contemporaries have too often displayed in matters of controversy, without ostentation, and without self-sufficiency. I hope the success of his work will encourage this modest and learned antiquary to give us more collectanea. There are few things I read with more pleasure. Charlotte joins in kindest respects to Mrs Ellis. I have some hopes of being in town this spring, but I fear you will be at Bath. When you have run over Marmion, I hope you will remember how impatient I shall be to hear your opinion sans phrase. I am sensible I run some risk of being thought to fall below my former level, but those that will play for the gammon must take their chance of this. I am also anxious to have particular news of your health. Ever yours faithfully,

W. S.”

* Mr Douce’s Illustrations of Shakspeare were published late in 1807.


The letter reached Ellis before the book; but how well he anticipated the immediate current of criticism, his answer will show. “Before I have seen the stranger,” he says, “and while my judgment is unwarped by her seduction, I think I can venture, from what I remember of the Lay, to anticipate the fluctuations of public opinion concerning her. The first decision respecting the Last Minstrel was, that he was evidently the production of a strong and vivid mind, and not quite unworthy the author of Glenfinlas and the Eve of St John; but that it was difficult to eke out so long a poem with uniform spirit; that success generally emboldens writers to become more careless in a second production; that—— in short, months elapsed, before one-tenth ofour wise critics had discovered that a long poem which no one reader could bring himself to lay down till he had arrived at the last line, was a composition destined perhaps to suggest new rules of criticism, but certainly not amenable to the tribunal of a taste formed on the previous examination of models of a perfectly different nature. That Minstrel is now in its turn become a standard; Marmion will therefore be compared with this metre, and will most probably be in the first instance pronounced too long, or too short, or improperly divided, or &c. &c. &c., till the sage and candid critics are compelled, a second time, by the united voice of all who can read at all, to confess that ‘aut prodesse aut delectare’ is the only real standard of poetical merit. One of my reasons for liking your Minstrel was, that the subject was purely and necessarily poetical; whereas my sincere and sober opinion of all the epic poems I have ever read, the Odyssey perhaps excepted, is that they ought to have been written in prose; and hence, though I think with Mackintosh, that ‘forte epos acer ut nemo Varius scribit,’ I rejoice in your choice of a subject which cannot
be considered as epic, or conjure up in the memory a number of fantastic rules, which, like Harpies, would spoil the banquet offered to the imagination. A few days, however, will, I hope, enable me to write avec connaissance de cause.”

I have, I believe, alluded, in a former Chapter of this narrative, to a remark which occurs in Mr Southey’s Life of Cowper, namely, that a man’s character may be judged of even more surely by the letters which his friends addressed to him, than by those which he himself penned; and I cannot but think that—freely as Scott’s own feelings and opinions were poured from his head and heart to all whom he considered as worthy of a wise and good man’s confidence—the openness and candour with which the best and most sagacious of his friends wrote to him about his own literary productions, will be considered hereafter (when all the glories of this age shall, like him, have passed away), as affording a striking confirmation of the truth of the biographer’s observation. It was thus, for example, that Mr Southey himself, who happened to be in London when Marmion came out, expressed himself to the author, on his return to Keswick—“Half the poem I had read at Heber’s before my own copy arrived. I went punctually to breakfast with him, and he was long enough dressing to let me devour so much of it. The story is made of better materials than the Lay, yet they are not so well fitted together. As a whole, it has not pleased me so much—in parts, it has pleased me more. There is nothing so finely conceived in your former poem as the death of Marmion: there is nothing finer in its conception any where. The introductory epistles I did not wish away, because, as poems, they gave me great pleasure; but I wished them at the end of the volume, or at the beginning—any where except where they were. My taste is perhaps
peculiar in disliking all interruptions in narrative poetry. When the poet lets his story sleep, and talks in his own person, it has to me the same sort of unpleasant effect that is produced at the end of an act. You are alive to know what follows, and lo—down comes the curtain, and the fiddlers begin with their abominations. The general opinion, however, is with me, in this particular instance, . . . . . .” I have no right to quote the rest of Mr Southey’s letter, which is filled chiefly with business of his own; but towards its close, immediately after mentioning a princely instance of generosity on the part of his friend
Mr Walter Savage Landor to a brother poet, he has a noble sentence, which I hope to be pardoned for extracting, as equally applicable to his own character and that of the man he was addressing—“Great poets,” says the author of Thalaba, “have no envy; little ones are full of it! I doubt whether any man ever criticised a good poem maliciously, who had not written a bad one himself.” I must not omit to mention, that on his way from London down to Keswick, Mr Southey had visited at Stamford the late industrious antiquary Octavius Gilchrist, who was also at this time one of Scott’s frequent correspondents. Mr Gilchrist writes (May 21) to Scott, “Southey pointed out to me a passage in Marmion, which he thought finer than any thing he remembered.”

Mr Wordsworth knew Scott too well not to use the same masculine freedom. “Thank you,” he says, “for Marmion. I think your end has been attained. That it is not the end which I should wish you to propose to yourself, you will be well aware, from what you know of my notions of composition, both as to matter and manner. In the circle of my acquaintance, it seems as well liked as the Lay, though I have heard that in the world it is not so. Had the poem been much better than the
Lay, it could scarcely have satisfied the public, which has too much of the monster, the moral monster, in its composition. The spring has burst out upon us all at once, and the vale is now in exquisite beauty; a gentle shower has fallen this morning, and I hear the thrush, who has built in my orchard, singing amain. How happy we should be to see you here again! Ever, my dear Scott, your sincere friend, W. W.”

I pass over a multitude of the congratulatory effusions of inferior names, but must not withhold part of a letter on a folio sheet written not in the first hurry of excitement, but on the 2d of May, two months after Marmion had reached Sunninghill.

“I have,” says Ellis, “been endeavouring to divest myself of those prejudices to which the impression on my own palate would naturally give rise, and to discover the sentiments of those who have only tasted the general compound, after seeing the sweetmeats picked out by my comrades and myself. I have severely questioned all my friends whose critical discernment I could fairly trust, and mean to give you the honest result of their collective opinions; for which reason, inasmuch as I shall have a good deal to say, besides which, there seems to be a natural connexion between foolscap and criticism, I have ventured on this expanse of paper. In the first place, then, all the world are agreed that you are like the elephant mentioned in the Spectator, who was the greatest elephant in the world except himself, and consequently, that the only question at issue is, whether the Lay or Marmion shall be reputed the most pleasing poem in our language—save and except one or two of Dryden’s fables. But, with respect to the two rivals, I think the Lay is, on the whole, the greatest favourite.
It is admitted that the fable of Marmion is greatly superior—that it contains a greater diversity of character—that it inspires more interest—and that it is by no means inferior in point of poetical expression; but it is contended that the incident of Deloraine’s journey to Melrose surpasses any thing in Marmion, and that the personal appearance of the Minstrel, who, though the last, is by far the most charming of all minstrels, is by no means compensated by the idea of an author shorn of his picturesque beard, deprived of his harp, and writing letters to his intimate friends. These introductory epistles, indeed, though excellent in themselves, are in fact only interruptions to the fable; and accordingly, nine out of ten have perused them separately, either after or before the poem and it is obvious that they cannot have produced, in either case, the effect which was proposed—viz., of relieving the readers’ attention, and giving variety to the whole. Perhaps, continue these critics, it would be fair to say that Marmion delights us in spite of its introductory epistles—while the Lay owes its principal charm to the venerable old minstrel: the two poems may be considered as equally respectable to the talents of the author; but the first, being a more perfect whole, will be more constantly preferred. Now, all this may be very true—but it is no less true that every body has already read Marmion more than once—that it is the subject of general conversation—that it delights all ages and all tastes, and that it is universally allowed to improve upon a second reading. My own opinion is, that both the productions are equally good in their different ways: yet, upon the whole, I had rather be the author of Marmion than of the Lay, because I think its species of excellence of much more difficult attainment. What degree of bulk may be essentially necessary to the corporeal part of an Epic poem, I know not; but
sure I am that the story of Marmion might have furnished twelve books as easily as six—that the masterly character of Constance would not have been less bewitching had it been much more minutely painted—and that De Wilton might have been dilated with great ease, and even to considerable advantage;—in short, that had it been your intention merely to exhibit a spirited romantic story, instead of making that story subservient to the delineation of the manners which prevailed at a certain period of our history, the number and variety of your characters would have suited any scale of painting. Marmion is to Deloraine what Tom Jones is to Joseph Andrews the varnish of high breeding nowhere diminishes the prominence of the features—and the minion of a king is as light and sinewy a cavalier as the Borderer, rather less ferocious, more wicked, less fit for the hero of a ballad, and far more for the hero of a regular poem. On the whole, I can sincerely assure you, ‘sans phrase,’ that, had I seen Marmion without knowing the author, I should have ranked it with
Theodore and Honoria, that is to say, on the very top shelf of English poetry. Now for faults.” . . . . . . .

Mr Ellis proceeds to notice some minor blemishes, which he hoped to see erased in a future copy; but as most, if not all, of these were sufficiently dwelt on by the professional critics, whose strictures are affixed to the poem in the last collective edition, and as, moreover, Scott did not avail himself of any of the hints thus publicly, as well as privately tendered for his guidance, I shall not swell my page by transcribing more of this elegant letter. The part I have given may no doubt be considered as an epitome of the very highest and most refined of London table-talk on the subject of Marmion, during the first freshness of its popularity, and before the Edinburgh Review, the only critical journal of
which any one in those days thought very seriously, had pronounced its verdict.

When we consider some parts of that judgment, together with the author’s personal intimacy with the editor, and the aid which he had of late been affording to the Journal itself, it must be allowed that Mr Jeffrey acquitted himself on this occasion in a manner highly creditable to his courageous sense of duty; and that he relied on being considered as doing so by the poet himself, illustrates equally his sagacity, and the manly candour and strength of mind, for which Scott had all along been esteemed and honoured, the most by those who knew him the best. The Number of the Edinburgh Review containing the article on Marmion, was accompanied by this note:—

To Walter Scott, Esq., Castle Street.
“Queen Street, Tuesday.

“Dear Scott—If I did not give you credit for more magnanimity than any other of your irritable tribe, I should scarcely venture to put this into your hands. As it is, I do it with no little solicitude, and earnestly hope that it will make no difference in the friendship which has hitherto subsisted between us. I have spoken of your poem exactly as I think, and though I cannot reasonably suppose that you will be pleased with every thing I have said, it would mortify me very severely to believe I had given you pain. If you have any amity left for me, you will not delay very long to tell me so. In the mean time, I am very sincerely yours,

F. Jeffrey.”

The reader who has the Edinburgh Review for April, 1808, will I hope pause here and read the article as it
stands; endeavouring to put himself into the situation of
Scott when it was laid upon his desk, together with this ominous billet from the critic, who, as it happened, had been for some time engaged to dine that same Tuesday at his table in Castle Street. I have not room to transcribe the whole; but no unfair notion of its spirit and tenor may be gathered from one or two of the principal paragraphs. After an ingenious little dissertation on epic poetry in general, the reviewer says—

“We are inclined to suspect that the success of the work now before us will be less brilliant than that of the author’s former publication, though we are ourselves of opinion that its intrinsic merits are nearly, if not altogether equal; and that, if it had had the fate to be the elder born, it would have inherited as fair a portion of renown as has fallen to the lot of its predecessor. It is a good deal longer, indeed, and somewhat more ambitious; and it is rather clearer, that it has greater faults than that it has greater beauties—though, for our own parts, we are inclined to believe in both propositions. It has more flat and tedious passages, and more ostentation of historical and antiquarian lore; but it has also greater richness and variety, both of character and incident; and if it has less sweetness and pathos in the softer passages, it has certainly more vehemence and force of colouring in the loftier and busier representations of action and emotion. The place of the prologuising minstrel is but ill supplied, indeed, by the epistolary dissertations which are prefixed to each book of the present poem; and the ballad-pieces and mere episodes which it contains have less finish and poetical beauty; but there is more airiness and spirit in the higher delineations; and the story, if not more skilfully conducted, is at least better complicated, and extended through a wider field of adventure. The characteristics of both, however, are evidently the same; a broken narrative—a redundancy of minute description—bursts of unequal and energetic poetry—and a general tone of spirit and animation, unchecked by timidity or affectation, and unchastened by any great delicacy of taste or elegance of fancy.”

* * * * * * *

“But though we think this last romance of Mr Scott’s about as good as the former, and allow that it affords great indications of poetical talent, we must remind our readers that we never entertained
much partiality for this sort of composition, and ventured on a former occasion to express our regret that an author endowed with such talents should consume them in imitations of obsolete extravagance, and in the representation of manners and sentiments in which none of his readers can be supposed to take much interest, except the few who can judge of their exactness. To write a modern romance of chivalry, seems to be much such a phantasy as to build a modern abbey or an English pagoda. For once, however, it may be excused as a pretty caprice of genius; but a second production of the same sort is entitled to less indulgence, and imposes a sort of duty to drive the author from so idle a task, by a fair exposition of the faults which are, in a manner, inseparable from its execution. His genius, seconded by the omnipotence of fashion, has brought chivalry again into temporary favour. Fine ladies and gentlemen now talk indeed of donjons, keeps, tabards, scutcheons, tressures, caps of maintenance, portcullises, wimples, and we know not what besides; just as they did in the days of
Dr Darwin’s popularity of gnomes, sylphs, oxygen, gossamer, polygynia, and polyandria. That fashion, however, passed rapidly away, and Mr Scott should take care that a different sort of pedantry does not produce the same effects.”

The detailed exposition of faults follows; and it is, I am sure, done in a style on which the critic cannot now reflect with perfect equanimity, any more than on the lofty and decisive tone of the sweeping paragraphs by which it was introduced. All this, however, I can suppose Scott to have gone through with great composure; but he must, I think, have wondered, to say the least, when he found himself accused of having “throughout neglected Scottish feelings and Scottish characters!”—He who had just poured out all the patriotic enthusiasm of his soul in so many passages of Marmion which every Scotchman to the end of time will have by heart, painted the capital, the court, the camp, the heroic old chieftains of Scotland in colours instinct with a fervour that can never die; and dignified the most fatal of her national misfortunes by a celebration as loftily pathetic as ever blended pride with sorrow,—a battle-piece which
even his critic had pronounced to be the noblest save in
Homer! But not even this injustice was likely to wound him very deeply. Coming from one of the recent witnesses of his passionate agitation on the Mound, perhaps he would only smile at it.

At all events, Scott could make allowance for the petulancies into which men the least disposed to injure the feelings of others will sometimes be betrayed, when the critical rod is in their hands. He assured Mr Jeffrey that the article had not disturbed his digestion, though he hoped neither his booksellers nor the public would agree with the opinions it expressed; and begged he would come to dinner at the hour previously appointed. Mr Jeffrey appeared accordingly, and was received by his host with the frankest cordiality; but had the mortification to observe that the mistress of the house, though perfectly polite, was not quite so easy with him as usual. She, too, behaved herself with exemplary civility during the dinner; but could not help saying, in her broken English, when her guest was departing, “Well, good night, Mr Jeffrey—dey tell me you have abused Scott in de Review, and I hope Mr Constable has paid you very well for writing it.” This anecdote was not perhaps worth giving; but it has been printed already in an exaggerated shape, so I thought it as well to present the edition which I have derived from the lips of all the three persons concerned. No one, I am sure, will think the worse of any of them for it,—least of all of Mrs Scott. She might well be pardoned, if she took to herself more than her own share in the misadventures as well as the successes of the most affectionate of protectors. It was, I believe, about this time when, as Scott has confessed, “the popularity of Marmion gave him such a heeze he had for a moment almost lost his footing,” that a shrewd and sly observer, Mrs Grant
of Laggan, said, wittily enough, upon leaving a brilliant assembly where the poet had been surrounded by all the buzz and glare of fashionable ecstasy,—“Mr Scott always seems to me like a glass, through which the rays of admiration pass without sensibly affecting it; but the bit of paper that lies beside it will presently be in a blaze—and no wonder.”

I shall not, after so much of and about criticism, say any thing more of Marmion in this place, than that I have always considered it as, on the whole, the greatest of Scott’s poems. There is a certain light, easy, virgin charm about the Lay, which we look for in vain through the subsequent volumes of his verse; but the superior strength, and breadth, and boldness both of conception and execution in the Marmion appear to me indisputable. The great blot, the combination of mean felony with so many noble qualities in the character of the hero, was, as the poet says, severely commented on at the time by the most ardent of his early friends, Leyden; but though he admitted the justice of that criticism, he chose “to let the tree lie as it had fallen.” He was also sensible that many of the subordinate and connecting parts of the narrative are flat, harsh, and obscure—but would never make any serious attempt to do away with these imperfections; and perhaps they, after all, heighten by contrast the effect of the passages of high-wrought enthusiasm which alone he considered, in after days, with satisfaction. As for the “epistolary dissertations,” it must, I take it, be allowed that they interfered with the flow of the story, when readers were turning the leaves with the first ardour of curiosity; and they were not, in fact, originally intended to be interwoven in any fashion with the romance of Marmion. Though the author himself does not allude to, and had perhaps forgotten the circumstance, when writing the
Introductory Essay of 1830—they were announced, by an advertisement early in 1807, as “Six Epistles from Ettrick Forrest,” to be published in a separate volume, similar to that of the
Ballads and Lyrical Pieces; and perhaps it might have been better that this first plan had been adhered to. But however that may be, are there any pages, among all he ever wrote, that one would be more sorry he should not have written? They are among the most delicious portraitures that genius ever painted of itself,—buoyant, virtuous, happy genius—exulting in its own energies, yet possessed and mastered by a clear, calm, modest mind, and happy only in diffusing happiness around it.

With what gratification those Epistles were read by the friends to whom they were addressed it would be superfluous to show. He had, in fact, painted them almost as fully as himself; and who might not have been proud to find a place in such a gallery? The tastes and habits of six of those men, in whose intercourse Scott found the greatest pleasure when his fame was approaching its meridian splendour, are thus preserved for posterity; and when I reflect with what avidity we catch at the least hint which seems to afford us a glimpse of the intimate circle of any great poet of former ages, I cannot but believe that posterity would have held this record precious, even had the individuals been in themselves far less remarkable than a Rose, an Ellis, a Heber, a Skene, a Marriott, and an Erskine.

Many other friends, however, have found a part in these affectionate sketches; and I doubt whether any manifestation of public applause afforded the poet so much pleasure as the letter in which one of these, alluded to in the fourth Epistle as then absent from Scotland by reason of his feeble health, acknowledged the emotions that had been stirred in him when he came
upon that unexpected page. This was
Colin Mackenzie of Portmore, the same who beat him in a competition of rhymes at the High School, and whose ballad of Ellandonnan Castle had been introduced into the third volume of the Minstrelsy. This accomplished and singularly modest man, now no more, received Marmion at Lympstone. “My dear Walter,” he says, “amidst the greetings that will crowd on you, I know that those of a hearty, sincere, admiring old friend will not be coldly taken. I am not going to attempt an enumeration of beauties, but I must thank you for the elegant and delicate allusion in which you express your friendship for myself—Forbes—and, above all, that sweet memorial of his late excellent father.* I find I have got the mal du pays, and must return to enjoy the sight and society of a few chosen friends. You are not unaware of the place you hold on my list, and your description of our committees† has inspired me with tenfold ardour to renew a pleasure so highly enjoyed, and remembered with such enthusiasm. Adieu, my dear friend. Ever yours,

C. M.”

His next-door neighbour at Ashestiel, Mr Pringle of Whytbank, “the long-descended laird of Yair,” writes not less touchingly on the verses in the 2d Epistle, where his beautiful place is mentioned, and the poet introduces
“those sportive boys,
Companions of his mountain joys”—
and paints the rapture with which they had heard him “call
Wallace’ rampart holy ground.” “Your own

* Mr Mackenzie had married a daughter of Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, Bart., the biographer of Beattie.

† The supper meetings of the Cavalry Club. See Marmion, Introduction to Canto IV.

benevolent heart,” says the good laird, “would have enjoyed the scene, could you have witnessed the countenances of my little flock grouped round your book; and perhaps you would have discovered that the father, though the least audible at that moment, was not the most insensible to the honour bestowed upon his children and his parent stream, both alike dear to his heart. May my boys feel an additional motive to act well, that they may cast no discredit upon their early friend!”

But there was one personal allusion which, almost before his ink was dry, the poet would fain have cancelled. Lord Scott, the young heir of Buccleuch, whose casual absence from “Yarrow’s bowers” was regretted in that same epistle (addressed to his tutor, Mr Marriott)—
“No youthful baron’s left to grace
The forest sheriff’s lonely chase,
And ape in manly step and tone
The majesty of Oberon”
—this promising boy had left Yarrow to revisit it no more. He died a few days after
Marmion was published, and Scott, in writing on the event to his uncle Lord Montagu (to whom the poem was inscribed), signified a fear that these verses might now serve but to quicken the sorrows of the mother. Lord Montagu answers,—“I have been able to ascertain Lady Dalkeith’s feelings in a manner that will, I think, be satisfactory to you, particularly as it came from herself, without my giving her the pain of being asked. In a letter I received yesterday, giving directions about some books, she writes as follows:—‘And pray send me Marmion too—this may seem odd to you, but at some moments I am soothed by things which at other times drive me almost mad.’” On the 7th of April, Scott says to Lady Louisa Stuart—“The death of poor dear Lord
Scott was such a stunning blow to me, that I really felt for some time totally indifferent to the labours of literary correction. I had very great hopes from that boy, who was of an age to form, on the principles of his father and grandfather, his feelings towards the numerous families who depend on them. But God’s will be done. I intended to have omitted the lines referring to him in Marmion in the second edition; for as to adding any, I could as soon write the
Iliad. But I am now glad I altered my intention, as Lady Dalkeith has sent for the book, and dwells with melancholy pleasure on whatever recalls the memory of the poor boy. She has borne her distress like an angel, as she is, and always has been; but God only can cure the wounds he inflicts.”

One word more as to these personal allusions. While he was correcting a second proof of the passage, where Pitt and Fox are mentioned together, at Stanmore Priory, in April 1807, Lord Abercorn suggested that the compliment to the Whig statesman ought to be still further heightened, and several lines—
“For talents mourn untimely lost,
When best employed, and wanted most,” &c.—*
were added accordingly. I have heard, indeed, that they came from the accomplished Marquis’s own pen.
Ballantyne, however, from some inadvertence, had put the sheet to press before the revise, as it is called, arrived in Edinburgh, and some few copies got abroad in which

* In place of this couplet, and the ten lines which follow it, the original MS. of Marmion has only the following:—

“If genius high, and judgment sound,
And wit that loved to play, not wound,
And all the reasoning powers divine,
To penetrate, resolve, combine,
Could save one mortal of the herd
From error—Fox had never err’d.”
the additional couplets were omitted. A London journal (the
Morning Chronicle) was stupid and malignant enough to insinuate that the author had his presentation copies struck off with, or without, them according as they were for Whig or Tory hands. I mention the circumstance now, only because I see by a letter of Heber’s that Scott had thought it worth his while to contradict the absurd charge in the newspapers of the day.

The feelings of political partisanship find no place in this poem; but though the Edinburgh reviewers chose to complain of its “manifest neglect of Scottish feelings,” I take leave to suspect that the boldness and energy of British patriotism which breathes in so many passages, may have had more share than that alleged omission in pointing the pen that criticized Marmion. Scott had sternly and indignantly rebuked and denounced the then too prevalent spirit of anti-national despondence; he had put the trumpet to his lips, and done his part, at least, to sustain the hope and resolution of his countrymen in that struggle from which it was the doctrine of the Edinburgh Review that no sane observer of the times could anticipate any thing but ruin and degradation. He must ever be considered as the “mighty minstrel” of the Antigallican war; and it was Marmion that first announced him in that character.

Be all this as it may, Scott’s connexion with the Edinburgh Review was now broken off; and indeed it was never renewed, except in one instance, many years after, when the strong wish to serve poor Maturin shook him for a moment from his purpose. The loftiest and purest of human beings seldom act but under a mixture of motives, and I shall not attempt to guess in what proportions he was swayed by aversion to the political doctrines which the journal had lately been avowing with increased openness—by dissatisfaction with its judg-
ments of his own works—or, lastly, by the feeling that, whether those judgments were or were not just, it was but an idle business for him to assist by his own pen the popularity of the vehicle that diffused them. That he was influenced more or less by all of these considerations, appears highly probable; and I fancy I can trace some indications of each of them in a letter with which I am favoured by an
old friend of mine,—a warm lover of literature, and a sincere admirer both of Scott and Jeffrey, and though numbered among the Tories in the House of Commons, yet one of the most liberal section of his party,—who happened to visit Scotland shortly after the article on Marmion appeared, and has set down his recollections of the course of table-talk at a dinner where he for the first time met Scott in company with the brilliant editor of the Edinburgh Review.

“There were,” he says, “only a few people besides the two lions—and assuredly I have seldom passed a more agreeable day. A thousand subjects of literature, antiquities, and manners were started; and much was I struck, as you may well suppose, by the extent, correctness, discrimination, and accuracy of Jeffrey’s information; equally so with his taste, acuteness, and wit in dissecting every book, author, and story that came in our way. Nothing could surpass the variety of his knowledge, but the easy rapidity of his manner of producing it. He was then in his meridian. Scott, delighted to draw him out, delighted also to talk himself, and displayed, I think, even a larger range of anecdote and illustration; remembering every thing, whether true or false, that was characteristic or impressive; every thing that was good, or lovely, or lively. It struck me that there was this great difference—Jeffrey, for the most part, entertained us, when books were under discussion, with the detection of faults,
blunders, absurdities, or plagiarisms: Scott took up the matter where he left it, recalled some compensating beauty or excellence for which no credit had been allowed, and by the recitation, perhaps, of one fine stanza, set the poor victim on his legs again. I believe it was just about this time that Scott had abandoned his place in Mr Jeffrey’s corps. The journal had been started among the clever young society with which Edinburgh abounded when they were both entering life as barristers; and Jeffrey’s principal coadjutors for some time were
Sydney Smith, Brougham, Horner, Scott himself—and on scientific subjects, Playfair; but clever contributors were sought for in all quarters. Wit and fun were the first desiderata, and joined with general talent and literature, carried all before them. Neutrality, or something of the kind, as to party politics, seems to have been originally asserted—the plan being, as Scott understood, not to avoid such questions altogether, but to let them be handled by Whig or Tory indifferently, if only the writer could make his article captivating in point of information and good writing. But it was not long before Brougham dipped the concern deep in witty Whiggery; and it was thought at the time that some very foolish neglects on the part of Pitt had a principal share in making several of these brilliant young men decide on carrying over their weapons to the enemy’s camp. Scott was a strong Tory, nay, by family recollections and poetical feelings of association, a Jacobite. Jeffrey, however, was an early friend and thus there was a connection of feelings on both sides. Scott, as I was told, remonstrated against the deepening Whiggery—Jeffrey alleged that he could not resist the wit. Scott offered to try his hand at a witty bit of Toryism—but the editor pleaded off, upon the danger of
inconsistency. These differences first cooled—and soon dissolved their federation.—To return to our gay dinner. As the claret was taking its rounds, Jeffrey introduced some good-natured eulogy of his old supporters—Sydney Smith, Brougham, and Horner, ‘Come,’ says Scott, ‘you can’t say too much about Sydney or Brougham, but I will not admire your Horner: he always put me in mind of Obadiah’s bull, who, although, as Father Shandy observed, he never produced calf, went through his business with such a grave demeanour, that he always maintained his credit in the parish!’ The fun of the illustration tempted him to this sally, I believe; but Horner’s talents did not lie in humour, and his economical labours wore totally uncongenial to the mind of Scott.”

I shall conclude this chapter with a summary of booksellers’ accounts. Marmion was first printed in a splendid quarto, price one guinea and a half. The 2000 copies of this edition were all disposed of in loss than a month, when a second of 3000 copies, in 8vo, was sent to press. There followed a third and a fourth edition, each of 3000, in 1809; a fifth of 2000, early in 1810; and a sixth of 8000, in two volumes, crown 8vo, with twelve designs by Singleton, before the end of that year; a seventh of 4000, and an eighth of 5000 copies 8vo, in 1811; a ninth of 3000 in 1815; a tenth of 500, in 1820; an eleventh of 500, and a twelfth of 2000 copies, in foolscap—both in 1825. The legitimate sale in this country, down to the time of its being included in the collective edition of his poetical works, amounted to 31,000; and the aggregate of that sale down to the at which I am writing (May 1836), may be at 50,000 copies, I presume it is right for me to facilitate the task of future historians of our litera-
ture by preserving these details as often as I can. Such particulars respecting many of the great works even of the last century, are already sought for with vain regret; and I anticipate no day when the student of English civilisation will pass without curiosity the contemporary reception of the Tale of Flodden Field.