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Certainly, if ancestry could bequeath the spirit of romance, Walter Scott was rich in the inheritance most fitting for a chronicler of the deeds of chivalry. He was descended from a long line of Border chieftains, many of whom he has immortalized in song and story. “My father's grandfather,” says he in his Autobiography, “was Walter Scott, well known in Teviotdale by the surname of · Beardie.' He was the second son of Walter Scott, first Laird of Raeburn, who was the third son of Sir William Scott, and the grandson of Walter Scott, commonly called in tradition Auld Watt of Harnden. I am therefore lineally descended from that ancient chieftain whose name I have made to ring in many a ditty, and from his fair dame, the Flower of Yarrow, - no bad genealogy for a Border minstrel.” The novelist was fortunate, too, in his inheritance from his own parents, from each of whom he received qualities contributing to his success. His father was an industrious lawyer of the plodding type of mind, while his mother was a woman of vivid imagination, tenacious memory, and great power as a narrator.
Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh, August 15, 1771. When about eighteen months old he was affected with a teething fever which deprived him of the use of his right leg. After all the ordinary restoratives had proven futile, he was taken to the home of his paternal grandfather at SandyKnowe in the hope that country air and exercise might cure the diseased member. Here the boy lived until he was eight years of age, growing strong and robust except for a permanent lameness, and here he absorbed a vast quantity of Border tales and ballads with remarkable readiness. His own picture
of this period of his life, given in the introduction to the third canto of Marmion, portrays well his romantic temperament.
It was a barren scene, and wild,
And still I thought that shatter'd tower
When eight years old Scott returned to Edinburgh and entered the high school. From several years of more or less desultory schooling here and elsewhere he seems to have emerged with a fairly good knowledge of Latin, French, and Italian, and with a contemptuous ignorance of Greek that he greatly deplored in later years.
His real education, however, lay in his omnivorous reading of romance, ballad, legend, drama, and fiction. All this he retained without apparent effort. From the beginning of his high-school days he was noted for the prodigious memory that enabled him to recite innumerable ballads and tales of adventure.“ This memory of mine," says he in his Autobiography,
was a very fickle ally, and has through my whole life acted merely upon its own capricious motion, and might have enabled me to adopt old Beattie of Meikledale's answer, when complimented by a certain reverend divine on the strength of the same faculty : 'No, sir,' answered the old Borderer, •I have no command of my memory. It only retains what hits my fancy; and probably, sir, if you were to preach to me for two hours, I would not be able when you finished to remember a word you had been saying.'”
To Scott's father the qualities of mind that gave such promise of literary achievement were of secondary importance, and the young dreamer was apprenticed to the law. He seems to have followed his legal studies with considerable faithfulness, and to have become a fairly good advocate, in spite of the allurements of romance which led him off on long excursions to pick up some of the ancient riding ballads of the moss-troopers, or to explore some ruined castle from foundation to turret. His vagabond antiquarian tendencies were a source of no small annoyance to the staid lawyer mind of his father, who protested that his gifted son was born to be a strolling peddler.
After admission to the bar the young man continued to practice law, nominally at least, for fourteen years. In his
eighth year at the bar he received a permanent appointment as sheriff of Selkirkshire, a position which brought him a salary of $1500 per year. This bit of good fortune coming soon after his marriage to a lady of some means enabled him to devote a larger proportion of his time to literature.
Scott's first literary work to attract wide attention was the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a collection of ballads edited with great care and skill. One of the critics of that day said with prophetic insight that the book contained the elements of a hundred historical romances.”
From 1802, when the Border Minstrelsy was published, until 1815 there appeared from time to time his great metrical romances, the most important of which are the Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and the Lady of the Lake.
With the publication of Byron's Childe Harold in 1812 Scott's reputation as a poet began to decline. He cheerfully accepted the public verdict in Byron's favor, and began to write those prose romances which from that day to this have been the delight of all who were youthful in spirit. In this field his sway is supreme, and will remain so in spite of the perennial crop of romancers who have their day and cease to be. Here, as in Shakespeare, we find a charm that is ever fresh. The action is always vigorous and the characters are outlined with vividness and individuality.
Comparing him with Shakespeare, however, we must admit that he has certain well-defined limitations such as the “ Bard of Avon " never knew. Scott has no deep psychological character study, - no Hamlet, Macbeth, or Lear. Of tragedy in the higher sense of the soul history of a man's downfall there is none. His characters remain as they are drawn at first. We do not see the slight moral defect which, growing through a long course of action, produces inevitable ruin.
His catastrophes are those of fact and incident, and his plots hinge upon events rather than upon character. His portrayal of character often depends largely for its interest upon