Page images
PDF
EPUB

7

RUSKIN AND SCOTT'

[See Letter 33, § 13 (Vol. XXVII. p. 616)]

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

ever

I MUST speak few words about myself, to-day, before entering on our subject. I should not venture to say anything to you of Scott, or of any other great man, unless I knew myself to be in closer sympathy with them than you can generally be yourselves; but observe, in claiming this sympathy I do not claim the least approach to any equality of power. I had sympathy with Tintoret, with Scott, with Turner, with Carlyle--as a child with its father or mother, not as friend with friend. What they feel, I, in a feeble and inferior way, feel also; what they are, I can tell you, because in a poor and weak way I am like them—of their race—but no match for them. It has curiously happened to me also to have been educated in many particulars under the same conditions as Scott, and often in the same places. My father was a High School lad of Edinburgh; the first picture i saw with conscious eyes was of Edinburgh Castle; the earliest patriotic delight I can remember, in my life, distinctly, is the delight of crossing the Tweed into Scotland ;? and I was educated to all intents and purposes—by my Puritan mother and aunt, first by thorough training in the Bible, and secondly by being let loose into Homer and Scott.

I translated half the Monastery into jingling rhyme when I was ten years old, and had seen before I was twelve every castle in Scotland, England, and Wales, from Stirling to Dover, and every abbey, from Dunkeld to St. Frideswide. Seen them, I say; meaning a very different thing from what you call "seeing ” nowadays. On our journeys, above described,4 either my father, or mother, or nurse Ann used to take me in the quiet summer afternoons to play or look, as long as I chose, wherever I chose

-which was always by a river side, or under an abbey or castle wall.
Among other inferiorities of power, one good flow in my gifts of thought
has been in some ways serviceable to me, like Scott's lanieness.5
totally destitute of invention, while I have curiously intense and long
practised habits of analysis ; hence I am always happy in contemplating or
explaining other people's work, and have been it will be found here-
after--a sound interpreter of the genius of others, without being able to

[ocr errors]

I am

1 [This passage is printed from sheets of MS. at Brantwood, headed “Fors."]
: Letter 51 (Vol. XXVIII. p. 273).]
3 See Vol. II. p. 260 n.]

See Letter 10 (Vol. XXVII. pp. 169, 170.]
5 See Letter 32 (Vol. XXVII. pp. 591, 592.

539

2 L

XXIX.

produce anything of the slightest value of my own. But in the merely contemplative and dreamy conditions of imagination, in the feelings which change material things into spiritual, I believe none, even of the strongest men, had much advantage of me; and whenever Scott speaks of sensation or impression instead of invention, I know that I can understand him better than most of his readers.

Thus much it was necessary to tell you, because henceforward I shall venture to speak of some personal experience of my own in illustration of Scott's.1

+ [In this connexion, see the notes in Vol. XXVII. p. 612.]

8

1

NOTES ON THE LIFE OF SCOTT

[See Letter 33, § 17 (Vol. XXVII. p. 621)]

1. No poet ever

" collects materials for his poetry. He lives his own life; and its casualties, good and evil, compel him into song. David lives his king's life; and the “materials” for, say, the hundredth Psalm, are All Lands, seen with kingly sight. Burns lives a ploughman's life ; and ploughs up his “materials,” be they daisy or field-mouse, with no previous search whatever.

2. Scott wrote three great poems-the Lay,” “ Marmion," and the * Lady”—and two_" Rokeby” and the “Lord so very far from being great, that, though written in the full noon of his intellectual powers, I can scarcely admit them to the name of being poems at all. He had diligently “gathered materials” for the two last, planned both with his best skill, worked on them under the stimulus of reputation to be kept, and of fortune to be gained. They came to nothing, however, and he quits the poetical trade, silenced.

3. The three great ones had been otherwise set about. When he was a boy of fifteen or sixteen * he set out on his first independent ride on his own pony to the Highlands; saw Perth for the first time, pulling rein on the Wicks of Baiglie "without meaning to do so” (“Since that hour the recollection of that inimitable landscape has possessed the strangest influence over my mind and retained its place as a memorable thing, while much that was influential on my own fortunes has fed from my recollection”†), and stays that autumn with his dear old friend Stewart of Invernahyle, from whose life and lips he receives the "materials” of Waverley _not to be used yet for twenty-five years—and among whose neighbours he is taught that women may do rough country work and yet lose none of their womanly dignity. I

* 1786 or 1787 indeterminate (Lockhart, i. 140); he himself says “not above fifteen.'

+ Lockhart, i. 141. I Lockhart, i. 142.

· [These are printed from sheets of MS. at Brantwood, headed “Scott. Recast Notes.” The numbering of the paragraphs is here inserted. The notes were clearly intended for a continuation of the sketch of the Life of Scott, which is broken off in Letter 33.]

? ("Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.”]

[For another reference to the poem of Burns, “To a mountain daisy, on turning one down with the plough,” see Vol. XXV. p. 431.]

never seen more.

4. The brother-in-law of Invernahyle has some refractory tenants, and a year or two later the young “writer's apprentice” is sent-authoritative -with his party of a sergeant and six men, obtained from a regiment lying in Stirling, to enforce execution on these refractory persons, and “to see that the gallant sergeant does not exceed his part by committing violence or plunder.” He rides in all the dignity of danger, with a front and rear guard and levelled arms. The sergeant is full of stories of Rob Roy and of himself, and thus they ride across Teith, by Lochs Vennachar and Achray, into the Trossachs. Captain Thornton's march from the Clachan of Aberfoil 1 is not written till nearly thirty years afterwards, and the Trossachs, as far as I can find, are

In that one ride from Stirling to Benvenue, the rider, wholly unconscious of any but strictly legal objects, diversified by refreshing admiration of proceed. ings—not altogether legal stolen delight—sees all the glories of Roderick, Helen, and King James.

5. These “materials” and spiritual provender being laid in, not according to the laws of demand and supply, but as the wild violet sows itself

, the seed sown lies buried many a day. This ride is in 1786, and is the first of many such holidays, thought of literally and only as such, while the boy plods on at the work his father desires to the day of his father's death. Thirteen years of obedience, in the strength of his youth, 1786 to 1799, of his own age fifteen to twenty-eight. At eight-and-twenty his father leaves him, established, as it seems, in life. He had married the year before, and was made Sheriff Depute of Selkirkshire in the autumnan active and thorough man of business now, though with a turn for verse-making which his colleagues looked on with some disfavour.

6. The gift was of course in his true Border blood; but he had caught some further trick of song from Bürger and Monk Lewis ; 3 and soon after his marriage is, as never before, elated at the honour of being asked by Lewis to dine with him at his hotel, and receives from the reverend “ Monk”-whose ear for rhythm was finer even than Byron's—severe correction of his false rhymes and Scotticisms. Under such encouragement and chastisement he makes his first serious attempt in verse,

“ Glenfinlas.” Except “Ellandonnan Castle,” 4 “Glenfinlas” is the exactly worst ballad in all the three volumes of the Border Minstrelsy. But, though crude and callow, yet the “materials” gathered in his boy's ride into the Trossachs, so many years ago, are beginning to move and curdle in the shell. The moon's radiance "quivering on Katrine's lakes” and “resting on Ben Ledi's head,” “the lovely Flora of Glengyle,” “Thy dame the Lady of the Flood,” the watchfire, the hounds, the harp, the seer, the “huntress maid in beauty bright"-what compressed embryo, though as yet wholly

3

1 (See Rob Roy, chaps. 29 and 30.]

. (In the outline of Scott's life in Letter 32, Ruskin makes this period end with 1796 : see Vol. XXVII. pp. 587-588.]

[Scott's first attempt in poetry was, it will be remembered, a version of Leonore-a spectre-ballad by Gottfried August Bürger (1748-1794). A version of the same ballad was one of the earliest exercises of another poet-D. G. Rossetti

. For Scott's intercourse with M. G. Lewis, called “Monk Lewis," after the title of his romance The Monk (1795), see Lockhart, i. pp. 290 seq.]

• [By Colin Mackenzie of Portmore.]

unintelligible, in this first small nest-egg of song under his honeymoon bower of Lasswade !

7. He has the sense still to distrust himself-still to seek for better things than his own. For four years more—and only in the playtime of these, following always his sheriff's or advocate's work manfully-he collects what Border song remains in authentic memory:

Even the first two volumes of the Border Minstrelsy were not published till January 1802.* During these years he receives his true poetical education by hard work in the Advocates' Library on Border history, and happy gathering of the true words of Border song by every cottage hearth of the dale and moors.

And at last, in the autumn of 1802, being now well over thirty, his time comes.

8. The young lady of Bowhill asks of him a ballad on the Legend of Gilpin Horner. He writes the opening stanzas; reads them to his friends Erskine and Cranstoun, who are not enthusiastic; he thinks no more of them; but gets a kick of a horse on Portobello sands a few days after, and is laid up for three days in his lodgings, during which leisure he carries on his rhyme to the end of its first canto.f It proceeds—when proceeding at all—at the rate of a canto a week, but is always getting thrown aside, though meditated on doubtless in the intervals. The four first cantos were read to Wordsworth at Lasswade in September 1803 ; ? but again the work is dropped for another year. At last, on 1st August 1804, he writes to Ellis of the “only 150 things he had to do,” | Ashestiel to furnish, Rosebank to sell, and among others to go into quarters with the cavalry. For then he wants a good horse, has not its price ready, and, thus pushed, finished the Lay of the Last Minstrel, ß which was published in January 1805.

In the history of British poetry nothing had ever equalled the demand for the Lay of the Last Minstrel, and from the Chancellor of England and Pitt 3 downwards through all ranks, and prevailing over all prejudices, flowed the full current of its power and praise.

Scott heard it all unmoved, his mind bent on what he still held to be the better work of others, and for his own, choosing the true history of his country, be it in prose or rhyme :

"My present employment is an edition of John Dryden's Works, which is already gone to press. As for riding on Pegasus, depend upon it, I will never again cross him in a serious way, unless I should by some strange accident reside so long in the Highlands, and make myself master of their ancient manners, so as to paint them with some degree of accuracy in a kind of companion to the Minstrel Lay.”.

* Lockhart, i. 343.
+ Lockhart, i. 365, 366.

Lockhart, ii. 6.

Thus at least must be interpreted his own statement to Crabbe (Lockhart, iii. 28); but compare Messrs. Longmans' gift of "Captain” (ii. 35).

1 (Lockhart, ii. 24.)
2 'Lockhart i. 403.
3 Lockhart, ii. 34.
• Letter to Ellis : Lockhart, ii. 51.]

« PreviousContinue »