Page images

burgh and their summers at the suburb Lasswade. During the resting time passed in the country cottage, Scott found enjoyment in composing poems based upon some of the legends and superstitions with which he had become familiar in his jaunts among ruined castles and scenes in the Highlands. Some of these verses, shown in an offhand manner to James Ballantyne, who was the head of a printing establishment in Kelso, met with such favorable recognition that Scott was encouraged to lay bare to his friend a plan that had been forming in his mind for publishing a great collection of Scotch ballads. As a result Scott entered upon the work of editing them and by 1803 had published the three volumes of his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. So successful was this venture that shortly afterward he began the Lay of the Last Minstrel, a lengthy poem in which his keen interest in the thrilling history of the Scottish Border found full expression. This poem, published in 1805, was heartily welcomed, and opened to its author the career for which he was best fitted.

The popularity of the Lay, together with the fact that the young poet had won no honors as an advocate, doubtless accounts for his retiring from the bar in 1806. He had been made sheriff of Selkirkshire in 1799, and to the income thus received was added that of a clerk of the Court of Sessions, an office to which he was appointed in 1806. More than this, he had in the preceding year become a partner in the Ballantyne printing establishment, which had moved to Edinburgh, and his growing fame as a writer seemed to promise that his association with this firm would bring considerable profit.

With a good income thus assured, Scott was able within the following four years to produce besides minor works, two other great poems, Marmion, a Tale of Flodden Field, and The Lady of the Lake. These rank with the most stirring and richly colored narrative poems in our language. So vivid, indeed, are the pictures of Scottish scenery found in The Lady of the Lake, that, according to a writer who was living when it was published, "The whole country rang with the praises of the poet—crowds set off to view the scenery of Loch Katrine, till then comparatively unknown; and as the book came out just before the season for excursions, every house and inn in that neighborhood was crammed with a constant succession of visitors."

This lively and pleasing story, with its graceful verse form, has become such a favorite for children's reading, that it seems very amusing to be told of the answer given by one of Scott's little daughters to a family friend who had asked her how she liked the poem: "Oh, I have not read it; papa says there's nothing so bad for young people as reading bad poetry." The biographer Lockhart recounts also a little incident in which young Walter Scott, returning from school with the marks of battle showing plainly on his face, was asked why he had been fighting, and replied, looking down in shame, that he had been called a lassie. Never having heard of even the title of his father's poem, the boy had fiercely resented being named, by some of his playmates, The Lady of the Lake.

In order to fulfil his duties as sheriff, Scott had in 1804 leased the estate of Ashestiel, and in this wild and beautiful stretch of country on the Tweed River had spent his summers. When his lease expired in 1811, he bought a farm of one hundred acres extending along the same river, and in the following year removed with his family to the cottage on this new property. This was the simple beginning of the magnificent Abbotsford home. Year after year changes were made, and land was added to the estate until by the close of 1824 a great castle had been erected. The building and furnishing of this mansion were of the keenest interest to its owner, an interest that was expressed probably with most delight in the two wonderful armories containing weapons borne by many heroes of history, and in the library with its carved oak ceiling, its bookcases filled with from fifteen to twenty thousand volumes, among which are some of unusual value, and its handsome portrait of the eldest of Scott's sons.

The building of this splendid dwelling place shows Scott to have been exceptionally prosperous as a writer. Yet his way was by no means always smooth. In 1808 he had formed with the Ballantynes a publishing house that, as a result of poor management, failed completely in 1813. Scott bore the trouble with admirable coolness, and by means of good management averted further disaster and made arrangements for the continued publication of his works.

By this time he had found through the marked success of his novel Waverley, published in 1814, that a new and promising field lay before him. He decided then to give up poetry and devote himself especially to writing romances, in which his love of the picturesque and thrilling in history and of the noble and chivalrous in human character could find the widest range of expression. With marvelous industry he added one after another to the long series of his famous Waverley Novels. Perhaps the height of his power was reached in 1819 in the production of Ivanhoe, though Waverley, Guy Mannering and The Heart of Midlothian, previously written, as well as Kenilworth and Quentin Durward, published later, must also be given first rank. In the intervals of his work on these novels, Scott also wrote reviews and essays and miscellaneous articles. He became recognized as the most gifted prose writer of his age, and his works, it is said, became "the daily food, not only of his countrymen, but of all educated Europe." He was sought after with eager homage by the wealthy and notable, and was given the title of baronet, yet remained as simple and sincere at heart as in the early days of his career.

With the sales of his books amounting to $50,000 or more a year, it is not strange that he should have felt his fortune assured. But again, and this time with the most serious results, he was deceived by the mismanagement of others. The printing firm of James Ballantyne and Company, in which he had remained a partner, became bankrupt in 1826. Had it not been for a high sense of honor, he would have withdrawn with the others of the firm; but the sense of his great debt pressed upon him so sorely that he agreed to pay all that he owed, at whatever cost to himself. For the remaining six years of his life he worked as hard as failing health would allow, and the strain of his labor told on him severely.

At length he consented to a trip to southern Europe, but the change did not bring back his health. Not long after his return to Abbotsford, in 1832, he called his son-in-law to his bedside early one morning, and speaking in calm tones, said: "Lockhart, I may have but a minute to speak to you. My dear, be a good man—be virtuous—be religious—be a good man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie here." After a few words more he asked God's blessing on all in the household and then fell into a quiet sleep from which he did not awake on earth.

Had Scott lived but a few years longer he would undoubtedly have paid off all his voluntarily assumed obligations. As it was, all his debts were liquidated in 1847 by the sale of copyrights.

Many years have passed since the death of Sir Walter Scott, and to the young readers of to-day the time in which he lived may seem far away and indistinct. But every boy and girl can share with him the pleasure that he felt, all his life, in stories of battle on sea and land, in love tales of knights and ladies, in mysterious superstitions and in everything else that spurs one on at the liveliest speed through the pages of a book. These interests and delights of his boyhood he never outgrew. They kept him always young at heart and gave to his works a freshness and brightness that few writers have been able to retain throughout their lives.

When he became laird of Abbotsford, the same sunny nature and kindly feeling for others that had drawn about him many comrades in his schoolboy days, attracted to him crowds of visitors who, though they intruded on his time, were received with generous courtesy. His tall, strongly built figure was often the center of admiring groups of guests

« PreviousContinue »