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Fond memory brings the light
The smiles, the tears
Of boyhood's years,
The eyes that shone,
Now dimmed and gone,
Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Of other days around me.
“When I remember all
The friends, so linked together,
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Of other days around me.”
In passing to the consideration of the chief name to be presented in this lecture, let it be remembered that that brilliant chapter in English literature, the Waverley Novels, is not comprehended within the scope of the present
That Scott's principal fame will rest upon themi I entertain no doubt; but we have at present to deal only with the character of his poems. Scott's career of authorship was probably the most amazing that has ever been witnessed in any country, whether we consider it with reference to its almost inexhaustible fertility, its substan. tial remuneration, or its wide-spread popularity and thu innocent gratification afforded to an incalculable number of readers. His poems form comparatively but a small proportion of all his productions. The rapid and brilliant popularity of Scott's poetry has been eclipsed by his imaginative prose, and thus people have often allowed themselves to judge of that poetry carelessly, disregarding it as a thing gone by and superseded. That is hardly fair; for poetry which had won a general admiration by no unworthy arts is entitled to a more deliberate judgment to know both the grounds of that popularity and the causes of its decline. Turning, then, away from the Waverley Novels as from a subject unconnected with this course of lectures, interesting as a general criticism of them might be, I must confine myself to the consideration of the character of Walter Scott as a poet.
In my last lecture I had occasion to allude to the influence of the traditionary minstrelsy in the development of Burns : it was an influence still more strikingly manifested upon the character of Scott, the second in rank of the Scottish poets. The succession had been quickly followed; for it was in the very year of Burns's death that Scott's first attempt in verse was published. His first attempts were not successful, for they were made in a track not truly congenial for the development of his powers. His first impulse was taken, not from the indigenous poetry of his own land, but from the ballads of German poets,-a foreign literature which acquired a short-lived popularity in the closing years of the last century. Imitation of the German ballad-poetry was not the true direction of the young poet's genius, which was destined to receive an impulse more effectual because more Scottish. The study of the ballads of some of the German poets was a mere matter of fashion among the literary circles of Edinburgh society; and Scott, quick in his apprehensions, was naturally affected by it for a
A much more abiding influence had begun earlier, and is to be traced back to a very early period of his life. In his second year, by a sudden paralysis, Waltes Scott was a cripple for life, the unformed strength of the tottering infant having then been stricken by a malady of old age. Among various remedies, he was sent from Edinburgh to dwell for a time in the open air of a neighbouring farm, where the regimen which invigorated his sickly frame wrought manifestly on his genius. It was at Sandy Knowe that his education began, his first teacher an illiterate shepherd, and the infant-school the rough ground of a Scottish sheepfold. When the old man went forth to watch the flocks as they browsed upon the hills, the child was carried along; and Scott long after said it was his delight to roll about upon the grass all the day long in the midst of the flock, and that the fellowship he thus formed with the sheep and lambs had impressed his mind with a degree of affectionate feeling towards them which lasted through life. Such, with his earliest consciousness of existence, was the beginning of his education, the shepherd and the shepherd's dog and the flock his daily companions. But, more than this, he was thus placed in familiar intercourse with nature herself; and no one can divine how it is that the material world around us exercises its influence upon the spiritual world within us. overstrained fancy to say that the senses of the little child
It is no
began even then to be tributary to his imagination and his moral being. For what an image of the poet's childhood is presented in the tradition illustrative of such influences, which tells of his having been one day forgotten among 'the knolls in a thunder-storm, and being found lying on his back, clapping his hands at the lightning, and crying out “Bonny! bonny !" at every flash!
Another part of his education consisted of the old songs and tales familiar to his daily companions as the lore appropriate to the spot itself; for the summit overhanging the farm-house commanded the prospect of a district of which it was said every field had its battle and every rivulet its song. With these the child became familiar, thus, no doubt, acquiring much before he could read. But, besides his communings with the outward world, and with the minstrelsy with which, it may be almost, said without exaggeration, the air was filled, there is one reminiscence which shows that his mind must early have dwelt with some earnestness on the pages of books. A lady writes to Mr. Lockhart that she distinctly remembers a sickly boy sitting at the gate of the house of one of his relatives, with his attendant, when a poor mendicant approached, old and woe-begone, to claim alms. When the man was retiring, the servant remarked to Walter that he ought to be thankful to Providence for having placed him above the want and misery he had been contemplating. The child looked up with a half-wistful, half-incredulous expression, and said, “Homer was a beggar.” “How do you know that ?" said the other. “Why, don't you remember," answered he,-
Seven Roman cities strove for Homer dead,
The lady smiled at the “Roman cities;” but already
“ Each blank in faithless memory void
The poet's glowing thoughts supplied."
This is a small matter, and so, in one sense, are all things reșpecting children; but there seems to us a ray of true genius in such thinking of so mere a child,--the finding in beggary an association between the idea of Homer and the mendicant, and then by a process of imagination investing the Scotch pauper with somewhat of the dignity of the prince of bards.
With Scott, the influence of tuition—that which is often exclusively styled education--bore an unusually small proportion to the self-education on which his genius chiefly relied. This was, perhaps, in some measure of necessity the case, for the ordinary school-process, at first delayed by his bodily infirmity, was interrupted by the general feebleness of his health. The boy, however, had acquired an impetuous love for reading, and the bent of his intellect was shown by the mastery he gained over the region of imaginative literature. While yet a mere stripling, he had peopled his mind with the old romances, the legendary_poetry, the “ Arabian Nights, and the loftier visions of the English poets. All this was undirected; and it was only a turn for historical pursuits, which never forsook him, that he conceived saved his mind from utter dissipation. Still, the boy's appetite for works of imagination, fierce as it was, was too healthy to feed on trashy fictions. His spirit, taking its first impulse from the Border-song, then roved at will through the fantastic realms of Oriental fiction, the gorgeous gallery of the