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and, as soon as he was of legal age (1792), he was admitted to the practice of the Scottish bar. In the character of Darsie Latimer we read, no doubt, his own feelings as to the drudgery of this profession-straining like a greyhound in the slips for a freer course. But, whatever were his feelings, he restrained them sufficiently to become well versed in its technicalities, to acquire a fair reputation, and moderate practice in it, and add one other element to his future powers as a novelist : I mean that niceness of distinction, and that acuteness in tracing the chain of moral probabilities, which is so preeminent in his writings, and which is to be learned no where so thoroughly as in the studies and practice of this most intellectual of professions. So far, at least, Scott was a lawyer, and often evinces, in the management of his incidents and characters, the habits of a wary counsel and the skill of a thorough bred cross-examiner.
But nature was too strong for all his resolutions. In 1794 he translated the Lenore of Bürger; and the zeal with which it was done proves how congenial was the poetic task. He began it one evening, after supper, and completed it as the day was dawning. Glenfinlas was his earliest attempt at original poetry, and was published together with a few other things, in 1796, but without attracting much attention. His subsequent contributions to Lewis's Tales of Wonder(in 1801) shared the same fate ; partly from their company, being jocosely termed the Tales of Plunder, instead of Wonder ; and partly from their own deficiencies, for he had not as yet struck upon the true vein of his genius. In the language of miners, he was following a dead lode-or, to take the figure from his favourite pursuit, a false scent; but the quarry was almost in view—the golden ore was near-and, as if aware of his approach to it, he proceeded more boldly with (what Bacon terms) his "tentative experiments.” His “Scottish Minstrelsy” was a decided step in advance, but still, in the phraseology of the trade,“ a heavy concerp.” In the mean
time, it was more than fame he was writing for : he had married, some years before, Miss Carpenter, a young lady of the island of Jersey; and the claims of a rising family must have made him look with no little anxiety to the dubious profits of his new labors, and the retiring ones of his old profession; since, in Scotland as elsewhere, to use his own words, “ the goddess Themis is peculiarly jealous of any flirtation with the muses on the part of those who have ranged themselves under her banners."
In this emergency our author took a course as marked by prudence as it subsequently was by the higher trait of consistency. He resolved, abandoning all ambitious prospects at the bar, to seek nevertheless some official station connected with it; the salary of which, together with his private means, might raise him above dependence, and thus leave the casual profits of literature to be, as he resolved they should be, "the staff and not the crutch" of his declining years. To such a man the needful patronage could not long be wanting : we accordingly soon find him in possession of the moderate preferment of sheriff of Selkirkshire, worth about three hundred pounds per annum; to which was not long after added, through the personal friendship of Dundas, and the patronage of Pitt, the more lucrative, but at the same time more laborious situation, of one of the principal clerks of session. The former of these appointments he held at the period of my visit, and it was one suited alike to his taste and habits; there was not only something baronial in its influence, but what was still more congenial, it gave him the opportunity of conferring many and important kindnesses, both as a man and a magistrate. The latter station he either had, or was then about resigning from the fatigue attendant upon its duties. It was one of pure drudgery, the labors of which he had gratuitously performed under agreement with its former incumbent for five years after he had nominally enjoyed the profits. By a singular coin
cidence this gift of office required the concurrence of the two eminent and rival statesmen of the age; the sanction of Fox was requisite to complete a grant made by Pitt. That such sanction was freely given, notwithstanding the political principles of Scott, is not perhaps any very high praise, and yet it probably dictated to the tory poet a kindlier strain, when the grave had closed prematurely over both, and he sung a requiem on the one hand over England's stately column, and on the other, over her talented but reckless son.
“ The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” published in the winter of 1805, was the first outbreaking of the genius of Scott. It was my chance to be at that time a temporary resident at Peter House College, Cambridge, (England,) where I was witness to its immediate, and what may well be termed its overwhelming popularity in that temple of the muses. It roused them
quasi classico dato," as if with the sound of a trumpet :
Awakening at the inspired strain,
It was in every hand and on every tongue, insomuch that it may be doubted whether any subsequent effort of his pen either acquired or deserved a higher popularity.
The task of its composition had been enjoined upon him " by one whom, as he says, to hear was to obey,” the young and lovely countess of Dalkeith, of whom he has given us so touching a picture, “as one more like an angelic visitant than of a being belonging to this nether world,"_"a thought but too consistent with the short space she was permitted to tarry." When youth, rank, and beauty meet, to the poet
their command is inspiration, and so it proved ; but if to one gifted being he owed his subject, to another not less highly gifted, though in other ways, was he indebted for the form of his poem. The Christabel of Coleridge was the model of his verse, and never surely did subject and measure better harmonize. The freedom and power with which it flows eminently fit it for action and movement; its variety of pause and melody, make it in the hand of a master, graphic as painting itself; while its novelty (for Christabel had failed to familiarize it even to English ears) made all its beauties stand out in double contrast to the tame and servile measures of the last followers of the school of Pope. The fame of Scott was now established, he stood before the public a literary man, an author of acknowledged merit and rising popularity, as the founder of a new and captivating school of poetry.
This was a novel situation, and called for the decision on his part of more than one momentous question. Should he repose upon his laurels, or go forth and peril them in new contests ? Should he attach himself to literary society, or live engaged in the ordinary duties and intercourse of life? And lastly, should he show himself careful of his reputation and stand upon his defence, or give critics and criticism to the winds ?
To the first of these questions nature may be said to have returned an answer, "my father, said young Scott to me, cannot live without writing." But it was also the dictate of reflection. “I looked, said he, around my library, and could not but observe that from the time of Chaucer to that of Byron, the most popular authors had been the most prolific,” _“that by a prolonged course of exertion their errors were obliterated, they became identified with the literature of their country, and after having long received law from the critics, came at last in some degree to impose it;" should he fail, he
was yet resolved to eat no meal the worse, but should he succeed, then said he, in his own hearty manner, it was to be
“Up with the bonnie blue bonnet,
“ A writer's intellects,” he was wont to say,
were not worth much, if they would not stand more than a single creaming." So he resolved to go on. He bethought him too of the enchanted chamber of Britomart, how all around it was writ
" Be bold-be bold-and every where be bold,”
and resolved to know no other bounds to his boldness than in his own words, “the sacred and eternal boundaries of honor and virtue.” Acting on this rule, he became the most prolific author of his own or almost
age. To the second question he returned to himself an answer as full of good sense, as it was of resolution and self-denial. " It was my first resolution, said he, to keep as far as was in my power, abreast of society;" “ maintaining my general interest in what was going on around me, reserving the man of letters for the desk and the library.” By acting thus, he rightly imagined that he should escape the besetting sin of authors, “ that of listening to language too favorable for a just opinion of their own importance in society." How strictly he observed this judicious and high-minded rule, may be judged of from the simple fact, that during four days' intimate intercourse, amid frequent recitations of poetry, he never once quoted a line of his own, or made reference to a single work, and when quoted or alluded to by others, turned off the subject with such perfect simplicity, as made me often doubtful whether he heard or understood what was said. To direct questions in relation to them, he returned indeed simple and satisfactory answers; but invariably dropped the topic when left in his hands, and introduced another so soon as courtesy permitted.