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RECOLLECTIONS OF THE AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY.
[The interest which continues to exist relative to the character and manners of the Author of Waverley, is in itself more than sufficient excuse for placing the following fragments before the public ; compiled as they are from notes taken at the very times to which they relate, and while the writer was filled with admiration of the great man, the honour of whose acquaintance he enjoyed. They rest their claim to attention less upon their literary merit, than as plain statements of facts, and true traits of the character of the great man of the nineteenth century.]
MY INTRobuction to SIR WALTER Scott.
* At length, after many disappointments from one reason or the other, G called on me and offered to introduce me to the Colossus of Literature, the Author of Waverley. This had been the aim and end of all my wishes, almost the chief object of my visit to “the modern Athens; ” and now it was about to be accomplished. I was to be introduced to a man whose same had spread to the very uttermost parts of the earth, where genius was worshipped, and talent appreciated.
You may guess that I was not long in preparing to accompany my friend; and tedious indeed seemed the way through the few streets which separated us from the residence of the ‘Great Unknown.” I cannot say that I busied myself in forming conjectures as to his personal appearance, for that was familiar to me from portraits, and the vivid descriptions of such of my acquaintances as had been happier than myself in obtaining the friendship of Sir Walter; but my cogitations were deep and manifold as to the manner in which he would receive us. Literary characters are in general so capricious, especially those spoiled by public indulgence, that there is no reckoning on the mood in which one may find them. Never shall I forget my emotions for the few moments when, after having been ushered into the drawing-room, the servant left us alone to acquaint Sir Walter of our presence. I was half-bewildered ; I gazed around on each article of furniture, as if it had been a hallowed thing in the possession of such a man; I seemed, in fact, as if in an enchanted palace, waiting in mingled hope and dread the coming of the master-spirit.
At length the door opened, and Sir Walter entered the room. Never was I so struck by the appearance of any living being. No portrait that has yet been issued of this great man can in the slightest degree convey the impress of genius on his lofty brow—the fire, even when quiescent, of his fine eye—the fascination of his smile—and the manners, so thoroughly at ease with himself and all around him—selfpossession without assurance, that must have struck every one on a first view. He was, I think, in about his 50th or 51st year, nearly six feet high, and though bulky in the upper part of his body, not at all inclining to corpulency. As for his lameness, it was scarcely perceptible,
although many writers have expatiated on it in broad terms. Watson Gordon's portrait" (which I have lately seen) is the best likeness of Sir Walter Scott, but even that is feeble; we have, in all the others, the body without the mind—the fire without the warmth—we have Sir Walter Scott, but not the Author of Waverley. He advanced with the utmost politeness, shook G—- warmly by the hand, and, on my introduction, bowed to me with urbanity and dignity. We resumed our seats, and, after a few prefatory remarks, and partaking of a slight refreshment, I felt as perfectly at my ease with him as if I had known him for years. The conversation now turned on politics and the affairs which Parliament was at that time discussing, his sentiments on which he expressed with a fluency and absence of reserve which spoke the man of the world: then, with a tact which only great minds can possess, he turned to the study of the law, in which I was at that time engaged; and lastly, with much pleasure, I perceived the conversation turn on literature. Sir Walter Scott spoke with admiration of the poems of Southey. “Although,” he said, “the peculiar style of his “Curse of Kehama” was an experiment in literature as bold as he believed it would prove unsuccessful, yet he doubted not the “Curse of Kehama” would be the alpha and omega of the style.” I remarked that I did not consider, in most cases, that the rhyme added to the charms of poetry, except of the lyrical kind; and instanced the many splendid passages in Shakspeare. “My dear Sir,” said Sir Walter, in a mild, yet decided tone, “the days of Shakspeare are passed—nay, I doubt, if any man living, endued with his powers, were to write a play equal to his finest efforts, and offer it for performance, whether it would be accepted, or if so, whether it would survive for three performances.t. But, with regard to rhyme, it has been so long allowed, that it is now almost necessary. I was last year at Abbotsford, training a Virginian creeper, and had placed maple poles to support it. The creeper flourished, and so did the maples, and so pretty had they become, their large green leaves opposed to the more delicate foliage of the creeper, that I resolved to let them remain, and there I believe they are now. It is a parallel case with the rhyme in poetry—having supported it through the various tastes of the darker ages, it has flourished, and is now, a part (and no mean one) of the art. Southey's was a bold attempt to restore poetry to her ancient purity; but I cannot help thinking he has failed in his object.” Sir Walter spoke enthusiastically in favour of Byron—of his stinging powers of satire, and ready turn of wit; but declared that the former was a dangerous weapon, and would always create more foes than friends —and those of the latter class rather from fear than love. Yet, notwithstanding all his faults, Sir Walter considered that Byron possessed a truly poetical mind, and a heart filled with benevolence, although, perhaps, a little weakened and warped by the effects of a badly-directed education, to which, indeed, he attributed all his failings. Several of the shafts (and those by no means blunt-pointed,) of the
* The engraving prefixed to the revised edition of his novels is from this portrait.
+ Has not the fate of Sheridan Knowles, even at the highest theatre of our self-named seat of taste, London, almost rendered Sir Walter's words prophetic *
noble poet's wit having been directed against Sir Walter himself, I expressed my surprise to find him so warm an advocate of Lord Byron. “Nay, nay, you judge too harshly,” replied Sir Walter, “malice, I am convinced, was not the instigator of his pen. Byron's was a mind suffused with sensibility; but the bad reception of his “Hours of Idleness,” some of the contents of which he really was most ill-advised to publish, rendered that sensibility almost morbid: he considered himself as ill-used by all literary men—as a victim to a party composed of every author and critic in England and Scotland; he did not allow himself time to discriminate between friends and foes; and when, in his ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,” he addresses me in the lines beginning— “And think'st thou, Scott —'
I know them by heart,” (continued Sir Walter, laughing,) “I am rather inclined to think his attack made upon any one but myself; and that the lines he then penned, had he afterwards had the power, would have been obliterated for ever. At all events, I entertain the flattering idea that his opinion of me was not always so bad as at that moment.” G— now interrupted us by saying that he had an appointment which must put an end to our conference; and, after a few further remarks of trivial importance, accompained by a pressing request from Sir Walter to me to repeat my visit, we made our congé. When we got again into the street, G asked me what I thought of the Author of “Waverley?” and I replied—
“The soul is noble, and the very soul
SIR WALTER Scott AT ABBotsford.
If I experienced so much gratification from a transient interview with Sir Walter Scott, you will believe how much greater was my delight, even years afterwards, at receiving an invitation to visit the bard in his very sanctum sanctorum at Abbotsford—to breathe the inspired air of his temple of the Muses—to be made one of his social circle.
I had hitherto seen Sir Walter only at Edinburgh, whither he was called by business, and during his stay in which, he was much occupied by a host of booksellers, publishers, printers, and the thousand other evils that authorship is heir to—besides the interest which he took in the affairs of the Parliament; and these (although I think I never saw any one who seemed less called from domestic comforts by them than Sir Walter) must necessarily have rendered him more reserved before company: I had seen the author—the politician—the gentleman,—now I was to be introduced to the man—the host, in retirement and unreserved.
It was a lovely afternoon when I arrived at Abbotsford; and when I saw the green woods of Yarrow—the gorgeous ruins of Melrose, and, lastly, the picturesque turrets and gabled-roofs of the mansion itself, rising out of the surrounding trees, I felt myself an elevated and superior being from my approximation to the abode of genius; and my heart bounded at the idea of being domesticated with the Author of “The Lady of the Lake,” “Marmion,” and “Waverley.”
G— had arrived before me; and, on my drawing up before the lawn, my host and he approached arm in arm. They had been enjoying a day's shooting, from which they had apparently but just returned, as Sir Walter's groom, loaded with game, was retreating in another direction, followed by one of those majestic hounds of which Sir Walter was such an admirer, and of which he so enthusiastically speaks in many parts of his works. He was remarkably fond of the sports of the field; and I have frequently known him to turn the most interesting conversation, with a remark upon the strength and beauty of such and such a dog; or the good shot of his master. Both Sir Walter and G had their guns; and a noble figure did the formerlook—a very pattern of a country gentleman, “all of the olden time,”—with his shooting-jacket, belt, galligaskins, and broad-brimmed hat—his portly visage glowing with health and beaming with welcome. I shall not soon forget the cordial manner in which he shook me by the hand, and his frank tone, as he said— “You are welcome, Mr. H to Abbotsford : you are young, and I am growing an aged man; yet I sincerely hope we may still enjoy each other's friendship many years.” We repaired, almost immediately, to the fine antique-fashioned diningroom, where we sat down to a comfortable repast; about twenty in number. James Hogg was one of the company: it was the first time that I had ever seen the “Ettrick Shepherd,” and I must own that I was excessively disappointed both in his personal appearance and manners. He is taciturn to a degree, and when he does speak, there is a brusquerie in his tone that is anything but prepossessing. He said little during the two or three days he was at Abbotsford; to me, nothing; and seemed to consider all beneath him but Sir Walter. After dinner, we adjourned to the drawing-room, or went strolling over the grounds, at the option of the guests: the latter party Sir Walter accompanied, and you may be sure that I was one of the number. Our host seemed delighted in pointing out to the attention of his visitors such points of view and objects as were most worthy of observation. The grounds of Abbotsford are (or were, I believe I should say, for I cannot tell what alteration the death of their respected occupant has made in them,) most tastefully laid out: the country is rude and romantic, the principal part of Roxburghshire being almost in the state we may imagine it to have been centuries ago. The nucleus of his fine estate, as Sir Walter informed us, was an insignificant farm, called, I think, Catley or Gatley-Hole, which he had purchased, and endowed with the more lofty-sounding name of Abbotsford. It is naturally very bad and unprofitable land; but with indefatigable pains, Sir Walter had planted and levelled it, until it now presents very many beautiful prospects: not, it is true, so cleanly shaven to the downy herbage, as we behold the “wellbehaved” parks of England, but still with sufficient of the roughness preserved, to enable the observer to indulge in ideal pictures of what the locale was, before the busy hand of man intruded on the Dryads in their secluded retreats by the banks of Tweed. From one elevated spot, we suddenly came upon a most magnificent coup d’azil, in the ruins of Melrose Abbey; the expression of our delight on witnessing the venerable walls of which, gilded by the setting sun, seemed to afford our conductor much gratification. We had one day proposed a visit to Dryburgh Abbey, then one of the lions of Roxburghshire, and since become even more sacred as the resting-place of the great bard himself: but the weather was unpropitious for our purpose. Notwithstanding our disappointment, however, the time was neither lost, nor appeared heavy on our hands,--being engaged in inspecting the library, rare specimens of ancient armour, &c., of which Sir Walter Scott was an industrious collector. I sent him, on my return home, an antique Roman ring; he was much pleased, and acknowledged its receipt in a very gracious letter, from which I extract a few remarks.
- “Allow me to assure you how much obliged I am for the ring you sent me, and flattered by the accompanying, note. I think with you that the head on the stone (an onyx) is a Julius Caesar, as the date, illegible as it is, further convinces me. I have given it a place of honour in my collection of specimens of virtu.
“Your remarks on the passion for collecting antiquities are very correct, excepting in the stress you appear to place on their inutility. There I cannot agree with you, considering the many valuable pieces of information as regards dates, costume, and even in a great measure the manners of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which we derive from a study of their beautiful, though half-obliterated coins. I consider a perfect collection (if such could be obtained) of ancient Roman coins, as capable of supplying many an hiatus in the pages of their history. On the score, of an aid and excitement to the imagination of those who (like myself) depend entirely on that “fiery particle, the mind, is not the collection of ancient arms and armour excessively useful ? You know the anecdote (or sable, as I am inclined to think it) of Fuseli, the painter, who, wishing to portray the nightmare, supped on raw pork to give him indigestion during the night, and, as a consequence, the feelings he would transfer to canvass : even so, may you not allow that in the presence of the familiar objects of bygone days, my imagination may conduct me back to those days? May I not,
azing at the knightly gear by which I am surrounded, see before me the ounding sons of chivalry Do not, I pray, then, consider the science of
antiquity as useless.”
The following morning the sun rose in almost unclouded majesty. There was now no obstacle to our excursion, and about nine o’clock we were mounted and had started. We proceeded by a most beautiful route, passing Melrose Abbey, which the bard has in fancy rebuilt in his splendid poem. At every turn of the way we came on some spot hallowed by him as the theme of his song: the majestic Eildon Hills, celebrated in the history of Michael Scott; Drygrange, Cowdenknows, where once spear and bonnet
“Glanced gaily through the broom,”
Smailholme Castle in the distance,—all were successively pointed out to our notice by Sir Walter, who seemed, as on every other occasion, to be filled with no desire but that of affording gratification to his guests. At length, after passing through Selkirk, Melrose, Darmick, and one or two other inferior hamlets or villages, we arrived at Dryburgh Abbey, surrounded in umbrageous forest-wood. It is decidedly the most beautiful ruin I ever beheld : the Abbey must have been, in its days of priestly magnificence, a gorgeous pile; even now, we see remains of architectural grandeur which few Gothic ruins exhibit, oriels, buttresses, screens, massive walls, and carved pillars, lay scattered in splendid confusion. As I stood and gazed at the main area of the Abbey, trains of thought flitted across my mind of the earlier habitants of the gloomy cell, and the former pomps of religious ceremonies that there had been enacted. I could almost fancy, in the mournful whisperings of the