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Sir Walter Scott,
page 7 of 17

In 1806 he received the appointment of principal clerk to the Court of Session, with a prospective income of £1,300 per annum. The sale of his poems was immense, enabling the publishers to remunerate the author on a scale unprecedented in literature. Scott, who already occupied a position which the proudest might have coveted, aspired above all to become a Scottish laird and found a family. Believing that his potent pen could create illimitable wealth, he began to purchase land in the vicinity of Abbotsford, where he soon raised the “romance in stone and, mortar,” which men still travel far to admire. The poet, unknown to the world, had long been involved in a more hazardous speculation. In partnership with John Ballantyne, a friend of early days, he had founded a large printing establishment in Edinburgh, which was from the first conducted with a ruinous loss. Engaged in weaving his plots and planting trees, Scott knew nothing of the piles of unsaleable literature which accumulated on Ballantyne’s shelves. It was many years before he was startled from his dream of wealth, and learned the unsubstantial nature of his prosperity.

So early as 1805 Scott had turned his attention to prose fiction. Having written a few chapters of a novel in the manner of Fielding, whom he greatly admired, he showed the fragment to his friend Ballantyne, who advised him to throw it aside. Eight years afterwards, when searching for some fishing tackle, he discovered the old manuscript, and determined to complete the story. In 1814, under the name of “Waverley, or ’Tis Sixty Years Since,” the novel was ushered into the world anonymously. The public received it with unbounded applause. The publication of “Waverley” is indeed an era in the history of European literature. It raised fiction from its meanness and grossness, opening up a new field in which the highest and noblest minds might fulfil their mission. It is not so easy at this period, with George Eliot, Dickens, and Thackeray fresh in our remembrance, to estimate the greatness of Scott, but let the reader turn from “Waverley” to the tawdry inanities of the Minerva press, to “Cecilia” and “Clarissa,” even to ”Tom Jones,” and he will then be able to understand the illustrious service, moral and intellectual, which the Scottish novelist rendered to the readers of the world. Even after the lapse of more than fifty years, after fiction has been made the vehicle of the highest philosophy of the time, casting every other form of composition into the shade, the “Waverley” novels are still recognised as masterpieces and models. “Waverley,” the first of the series, still retains its hold on the public mind, notwithstanding the more brilliant novels which followed. Like “The Lady of the Lake,” it shed a pleasing light on the life of the Highland clans, but at a period more memorable, when, with ill-starred loyalty, they staked all and lost in the cause of the Pretender. It was not in this work, however, that Scott’s creative power reached its height. “Guy Mannering,” which he wrote in six weeks, displays a far more extensive and varied acquaintance with the different phases of society, and a deeper insight into human character. In this novel he first gave a loose rein to his imagination in the introduction of curious and abnormal personages, who have become as convenient for general reference as scientific formulas. We could not well spare Dominic Sampson, Meg Merrilees, Edie Ochiltree, and Monkbarns.

The authorship of the novels was carefully concealed,. but many discerning critics recognised the masterly hand. Mystery, according to a well-known law, invested Scott with extraordinary qualities. Dimly visible under his wizard‘s mantle, the Great Unknown received everywhere a deferen-


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