Tracing Your Family Tree

The Life of Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott,
page 8 of 17

tial homage. Even his great contemporaries tendered him a respect untainted by that jealousy which frequently embitters the relations of literary men. With Wordsworth and Southey he had long been on friendly terms, sympathising more perhaps with their political principles than their theories of poetry. Soon after the publication of “Guy Mannering,” in 1815, he visited London, and made the acquaintance of Lord Byron, who, at the age of twenty-seven, had already sounded all the depths of fortune; the object for a time of enthusiastic admiration, and at this date the butt of unlimited resentment and abuse. The two poets, who could be named rivals no longer, soon established a friendship, which forms an honourable episode in the lives of both. The majestic equanimity of Scott’s mind and character put to shame the egotistic melancholy of the younger poet, who might have derived much advantage from a closer association with a mind so sage and sober. Like two Homeric chiefs, the two poets exchanged presents and parted, Scott to pursue his chequered yet honourable career, and Byron to fulfil in a foreign land his sad, illustrious destiny. Letters, expressive of kindly interest and regard, continued to pass between them, and, when Byron’s brief career closed at Missolonghi, Scott paid a tender and eloquent tribute to the genius of his departed friend.

From London, Scott proceeded to Paris. The French capital, then occupied by the allies, contained a splendid assemblage of sovereigns, princes and generals, who had acquired distinction during the great European struggle which closed at Waterloo. Scott had no reason to complain of his reception. Men of all ranks and nations accorded him a respect as much due to his personal character as his reputation in letters. Platoff, the Cossack leader, who could only communicate with the Scottish novelist by signs, regarded him with a devotion akin to worship. No man ever lived who attracted to himself, not by interest, but by sympathy, so many individuals, separated by every barrier which divides man from man.

When Scott returned to Abbotsford, he resumed his pen, producing the “Antiquary” before the end of the year. In the character of the “Antiquary” Scott is supposed to have attempted to portray himself; but Edie Ochiltree and the German quack are better known than the credulous student of the Roman wall. In “Old Mortality,” published in 1816, the novelist entered a dangerous and disputed field. Tolerant as Scott was of men and things, his political bias coloured his whole retrospect of recent history. It was remarked that the bigotry and fanaticism of the Covenanters were unduly exaggerated; that the great issues of the struggle were ignored, and, above all, that Claverhouse of infamous memory was clothed with the graces of a hero. The novel provoked a storm of angry criticism, which Scott endeavoured without success to appease by writing a review of his own work. The controversy has long been silent, and the novel has been well received and widely read, notwithstanding this acknowledged blemish. As an historic novelist, throwing back his imagination into vanished times, and restoring the past in life-like scenes and forms, Scott never achieved a greater triumph than “Old Mortality.”

So numerous are the productions of these busy years, in which his mind teemed with new creations, that we can only stay to point out the conspicuous figures in that splendid procession which rose before the eyes of wondering and delighted readers. In “Rob Roy” he seized on a subject to which public curiosity had long turned, and invested the


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