Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

66

'O, Will has mounted his bonny black,

And to the tower of Greæme did trudge;
And once again, on his sturdy back,
Has he hente up the weary judge.

"He brought him to the council stairs,
And there full loudly shouted he,
'Gie me my guerdon, my sovereign liege,
And take ye back your auld Durie !'"

From the minstrelsy of the border naturally grew the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," the first of Scott's important poems, with which his career of prolific and prosperous authorship began. It is a poem which was due, like "Cowper's Task," to a woman's suggestion. I am very much disposed to rank it first in merit as well as time of Scott's poetical productions. Certainly it at once presented the prominent traits of his character as a poet. "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," "Marmion," and the “Lady of the Lake," all won a speedy and wide popularity. There was an animation about them which gave to all readers delight; but after a while it began to be discovered that it was a pleasure not to be sustained at its first elevation: the poems did not bear that repeated and repeated reperusal which the highest order of poetry always admits of. Then people were begging back the fame they had given with such open hand.

This makes it Lecessary to judge more carefully of the real character of Scott's poetry. Certainly it has no pretensions to be classed with the greatest productions of the art. Admirable as were his powers, he did not possess that sage and meditative imagination—the rare endow

*ANDRA AN

ment of "the vision and the faculty divine"- which

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

alone constitutes the inspiration of the greatest poets. But, having taken the true measure of his own strength, that which he attempted he achieved; and his poems have set him beyond the reach of rivalry as the descriptive bard of a period of history and legend rich in adventure and romance. They are full of the martial spirit which was a predominant passion with him; and to no one could be more aptly appropriated the lines of a bard of ancient Greece,

"If the glory of their days,

Their strength of arm, their steely war,

Be the chosen theme of praise,

Let any score a leap for me afar;

And he shall see

With what a lightsome knee

My bounding sinew springs:

The mighty eagle beats his wings,
And, lo! he is beyond the sea.

The character of Walter Scott's poetry admits of a very specific and express statement. Its chief merit lies in its power of description and narrative. Beyond this it does not pass into the region of the deep passions of human nature. He is the descriptive poet of the manners and society of some former ages. Numerous passages of the most vivid description might be cited. One may be mentioned, as fine a piece of descriptive poetry of its kind as could be found in the whole range of poetry the night-ride of William of Deloraine to Melrose Abbey, in the "Lay of the Last Minstrel." It is something of a risk to break the continued flow of the passage; but I must venture one or two fragments of it :

:

with Kandung

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"Unchallenged thence, pass'd Deloraine
To ancient Riddel's fair domain,

Where Aill, from mountains freed,
Down from the lakes did raving come,
Each wave was crested with tawny foam

Like the mane of a chestnut steed.
In vain; no torrent deep or broad
Might bar the bold moss-trooper's road;
At the first plunge the horse sunk low,
And the water broke o'er the saddle-bow;
Above the foaming tide, I ween,
Scarce half the charger's neck was seen,
For he was barded from counter to tail,
And the rider was armed complete in mail;
Never heavier man and horse

Stemmed a midnight torrent's force.

The warrior's very plume, I say,

Was daggled by the dashing spray;

Yet, through good heart and our Ladye's grace
At length he gained the landing-place."

The midnight opening of the grave of the wizard, Michael Scott, is given with fine effect:

"Full many a scutcheon and banner riven
Shook to the cold night-wind of heaven
Around the screenéd altar's pale;

And there the dying lamps did burn
Before thy low and lonely urn,

O gallant chief of Otterburne,

And thine, dark Knight of Liddesdale!
O, fading honours of the dead

O, high ambition lowly laid!

*

*

*

An iron bar the warrior took,

And the monk made a sign with his withered hand

The grave's huge portal to expand.

With beating heart to the task he went;
His sinewy frame, o'er the gravestone bent,

[ocr errors]

With bar of iron heaved amain,

Till the toil-drops fell from his brow like rain.
It was by dint of passing strength

That he moved the massy stone at length.
I would you had been there to see
How the light broke forth so gloriously,
Streamed upward to the chancel roof,
And, through the galleries, far aloof,
*

*

*

*

And, issuing from the tomb,
Showed the monk's cowl and visage pale,
Danced on the dark-browed warrior's mail
And kissed his waving plume.
Before their eyes the wizard lay
As if he had not been dead a day.

*

*

*

*

Now, speed thee what thou hast to do,
'Or, warrior, we may dearly rue;

For those thou mayest not look upon

Are gathering fast round the yawning stone!'

Then Deloraine, in terror, took

From the cold hand the mighty book,

With iron clasped and with iron bound;

He thought, as he took it, the dead man frowned:
But the glare of the sepulchral light

Perchance had dazzled the warrior's sight."

The escape of the soldier from the supernatural spot into the fresh morning air fitly closes the description:

"The knight breathed free in the morning wind,

And strove his hardihood to find.

He was glad when he passed the tombstones grey
Which girdled round the fair Abbaye!

*

*

*

Full fain was he when the dawn of day
Began to brighten Cheviot grey;

He joyed to see the cheerful light,

And he said Ave Mary as well as he might."

Scott's second poem showed another influence at work upon his mind. Although just entering manhood when Europe was startled by the outbreak of the French Revolution, he appears not to have been much affected by that great convulsion. With the times that succeeded it was widely different.

The mighty military genius of Bonaparte was sweeping in every direction with the swiftness of a destroying wind. In every quarter of Europe-to borrow a figurative illustration from a usage in times of danger in ancient Greece-might be seen on the walls of the towns the signal of torches waved in tumultuous consternation. It is an interesting fact in Scott's history that his authorship began when the military fervour was at its height. Napoleon's meditated invasion of Great Britain was stirring the latent energies of the nation. Among his own countrymen Scott saw the ancient martial spirit of their ancestors-the decline of which he had mourned over-reanimated, and, like the spectre of the elder Hamlet, bursting its cerements and starting from the tomb in arms. Edinburgh was converted into a camp; citizens of all classes wore the military dress, and upwards of ten thousand volunteers were constantly under arms, and beacon-fires were kept in readiness along the coast and through the mountains. In all this Scott took a large and active part. The zeal with which he shared in the military movements of his countrymen suggested to him afterwards that spirited chapter at the close of "The Antiquary," describing the false alarm from the mistaken firing of one of the beacons. The notes added to that fine novel, after the lapse of many years, still maui

« ZurückWeiter »