The Bride of Lammermoor

Epitaphs and Images from Scottish Graveyards

Sir Walter Scott,
page 3 of 17

situations most favourable for their development. Accordingly when eighteen months old, the child fell ill, lost the power of the right leg, and when every remedy had failed, was conveyed with some hopes of, recovery through change of air to the farm of Sandy Knowe on the Tweed.

Here, under the care of his grandfather, he remained during the most of his childhood, learning to love the noble river, the Eildon hills, and above all, the old ruin, close by, called Smailholm Tower, which he made, long after, the scene of the ballad, “The Eve of St. John.” Although the age of freebooters and Border forays had long departed, still the traditions of these wild days were repeated at every fireside. The lame child drank them in with an eager interest which continued to animate the man; Deloraine is but a reminiscence of these old tales of Border reivers. One characteristic anecdote of Scott during his stay here is worth repeating. Recovering the use of his limb, he frequently accompanied the shepherd to the hill. On one of these occasions a thunderstorm came on, and the child had strayed from his companion. After a long search, the shepherd found him lying on his back, clapping his hands at each successive flash of lightning, and crying, “Bonnie! bonnie!”

After a visit to Bath, Walter returned to his father’s home in Edinburgh, and became a pupil in the High School, of which Dr. Adam was then rector. Scott earned no credit as a student either in school or college, attracting the attention of his teachers only by his incurable idleness and his precocious memory. Delighting in ballad minstrelsy, in tales of chivalry and war, and acquiring by some process unknown an acquaintance with several modern tongues, he displayed an unspeakable aversion for dead languages. After quitting the High School he entered the University, where his insensibility to the charms of the Greek poets provoked from Professor Dalzell a censure which has become historical: “A dunce he was and a dunce he would remain.” Scott lived to regret his negligence. In the flush of his fame he declared that he would willingly renounce all his literary renown for a well-grounded classical education. This generous condescension will not prevent his readers from rejoicing that his genius was a plant of national growth and fed by the legends and literature of his native land. The universal culture of Goethe would have dimmed the open vision of Homer and Scott, whose mission it was to see and relate, and not to reflect and judge.

Scott, therefore, left the University with very modest classical equipment, with no reputation in science, in philosophy, or any branch of academic learning. He was now, at the age of fifteen, apprenticed to the law in his father’s office. But law seems to have been as uncongenial to his tastes as Homer. During this year also we read of his first poetical production-a poem on the Siege of Granada, which he afterwards committed to the flames. Scott’s powers did not blossom early. There can be little doubt that he acquired the accomplishment of verse, in which he afterwards excelled, by unwearied study, although we are unable to trace his progress to perfection. While the youthful poet was elaborating his epic, a meeting took place in Edinburgh, which will be for ever memorable. In 1786 a volume of poems, issued from a Kilmarnock press, excited mingled curiosity and admiration. The poems, marked by great natural tenderness and humour, and full of passion and artless eloquence, fell upon men’s ears tike the voice of Nature recalling them from the frivolous inanities which passed for literature, to drink from purer and fuller springs


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