Life of Sir Walter Scott

Heroes of Scotland Boxed Set

Sir Walter Scott,
page 9 of 17

adventures of the Highland robber with romantic interest. “The Heart of Midlothian,” founded on the Porteous Riots, added a new attraction to the traditional glories of his own romantic town. This work was the amende honorable to his fellow countrymen. In none of his novels does the Scottish character, in which stoicism and tenderness contend for mastery, attain such moral grandeur. The fair dames who irradiate the lists with their beauty and adorn their talk with figures of speech are less attractive than Jeanie Deans, with her unconscious heroism and artless pathos.

At this time the fortunes of Scott were at the flood. From his writings he received an income of £10,000 a year. He had “honour, love, obedience, troops of friends.” He was lord of a mansion, which, in picturesque architecture and historic interest, had no rival in the East. Flourishing woods, which his own hands had planted, gardens and avenues which he had planned, transformed the vicinity of Abbotsford into a romantic pleasure ground. Prouder of his fair estate and fine castle than of “Marmion” and the “Heart of Midlothian,” he displayed all the costly splendour of a country gentleman of the first rank. No peer in all the land entertained such a succession of noble and distinguished visitors. Princes, generals, discoverers, men of the highest celebrity in every walk of literature, science and art, repaired to Abbotsford as to a royal court. The centre of this brilliant society, the counsellor and companion of all, was meanwhile absorbed in literary enterprises vast enough to occupy the mind to the exclusion of every social distraction. How did he find the time to produce these elaborate volumes which succeeded one another with the rapidity and regularity of mechanical operations? Scott, like other great workers, had early learned the habit of early rising. During summer and winter he seated himself at his desk five o’clock. From that hour until nearly ten, he wrote or dictated without a pause. Rapid as was his manner of composition, he had attained such a mastery of expression that we turn over many successive pages of his manuscript without observing a single alteration or erasure. William Laidlaw’s pen toiled in vain to overtake his swift invention. Frequently the amanuensis, deeply interested in the development of the story, paused to listen to Scott composing the dialogue aloud, far in advance of the writer. At ten o’clock Scott retired from his ideal world with no shadow of the dreamer on his face. During the rest of the day he rode about his estate, and entertained his guests. Most successful of literary men, he was equally popular in society, maintaining the dual character with a natural dignity, equalled among modern authors by Goethe alone.

Until the age of forty, his health, guarded by a prudent temperance, stood the strain of his unwearied intellect without betraying any symptoms of decay. He enjoyed all rural pleasures with unusual zest; and night never failed to bring sound and refreshing sleep. In 1817 came the first premonitions of disease. Sitting at dinner one day he was attacked with cramp in the stomach, and although he recovered rapidly from this seizure, he continued for a long time liable to renewed attacks. Especially during the whole of the year 1819 he was the victim of a distressing malady which compelled him to have recourse to opiates for relief. While suffering from this illness he dictated to Laidlaw “The Bride of Lammermoor” and the romance of “Ivanhoe.” It was pointed out by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose critical sagacity on this occasion may have been due to his experience of the effects of opium, that these splendid stories displayed an exaggeration of style, untraceable in any of the Waverley series that went before. The criticism is true.


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