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Preface by the General Editor
The editors are chosen because of their thorough training and special fitness to deal with the books committed to them, and because they agree with this idea of what a Gateway Series ought to be. They express, in each case, their own views of the books which they edit. Simplicity, thoroughness, shortness, and clearness, — these, we hope, will be the marks of the series.
HENRY VAN DYKE.
Ancestry. “Every Scottishman,” says Walter Scott, in his Autobiography, “ has a pedigree. It is a national prerogative as unalienable as his pride and his poverty.” His own birth, he modestly adds, was “neither distinguished nor sordid," though esteemed gentle because of connections with ancient families. He took pride in his great grandfather, the first Laird of Raeburn; and traced back his line to the Laird of Raeburn's grandfather, an ancient Border Chieftain, called in tradition Auld Wat of Harden, whose prowess he sung in the Lay of the Last Minstrel.1 He was proud also of his descent, on his mother's side, from the Rutherfords and the Swintons; and, farther back, from Mary Scott, the “ Flower of Yarrow," the beautiful bride brought home by Auld Wat 'in 1567 to his tower at Harden. In later years Scott emblazoned the Hall at Abbotsford with the armorial bearings of his forefathers; and was wont, even in his old age, to make an annual excursion to the ruined tower of Harden, the home of the Laird of Raeburn, hidden in a deep and narrow glen through which rushed a mountain stream. “The castle is perched,” says Lockhart,2 « on the brink of the precipitous bank, and from the ruinous windows you look down into the crows' uests on the summits of the old mouldering elms, that have their roots on the margin of the stream far below.”
But while Scott's imagination was fed by the memory of the stirring lives of his remoter ancestors, the immediate influences upon him were of a quieter, a more practical sort. His grandfather, Robert Scott of Sandy-Knowe, was a shepherd-farmer to whose simple virtues the poet paid a tribute
i Canto iv. 9. 2 Life of Sir Walter Scott, by J. G. Lockhart.
in Marmion.1 Scott's father, Walter Scott of Edinburgh, was a man of sincerity and industry, zealous and successful in his profession. He was, in Scotch legal language, a Writer to the Signet. The Signet was the royal seal employed in Scottish law for authenticating writs, or warrants, or conveyances, connected with the administration of justice; and the Writers to the Signet were the meinbers of the Society of the Signet, an incorporated law society of great antiquity, whose members had exclusive right to issue such writs as required the royal seal. This was an honourable branch of the legal profession, though too humdrum and narrow for Scott's own taste when he came to the point of choosing his own career. The Writers to the Signet controlled the admissions to their own ranks; in great measure regulated the terms of admission to the Bar; held an assured legal position; and were universally respected. It was, however, a severely practical profession, quite out of accord with the earlier traditions of the family. Two kinds of influences, therefore, united in the ancestry of Scott; and one cannot but feel that this mingling of the romantic and the useful had important effect upon his temperament and his mental constitution.
Early Life.- Scott was born, August 15, 1771, in the College Wynd, in the old town of Edinburgh. Of his father's twelve children six died in early infancy, and Scott was the third of the six who lived to maturity. In his second year a fever left him lame in the right leg, and threatened his health so seriously that he was sent to his grandfather's, at the farm Sandy-Knowe, where he lived until he was eight years old. He grew to be a bright, healthy, active boy, loving nature, delighting in country life and in the talk of the country folk. When about eight years old, he came back to his father's home (then removed to George's Square in the new southern part of Edinburgh), and soon after entered the High School. His father's house was his home for nearly seventeen years thereafter. In November, 1783, when twelve years old, he became a special student at the University of Edinburgh, taking, for two years, courses in Latin, Greek, and Logic, but
1 Canto iii, Introduction, II. 2:1-217.