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The Life of Buddha and Its Lessons By Henry Steel Olcott Characters: 12978

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


In the following year, 1797, Scott married a Miss Charpentier, daughter of a French refugee. She was not his first love, that place having been usurped by a Miss Stuart Belches, for whom Scott had felt perhaps the only deep passion of his life, and memory of whom was to come to the surface touchingly in his old age. Miss Charpentier, or Carpenter, as she was called, with her vivacity and quaint foreign speech "caught his heart on the rebound"; there can be no doubt that, in spite of a certain shallowness of character, she made him a good wife, and that his affection for her deepened steadily to the end. The young couple went to live at Lasswade, a village near Edinburgh, on the Esk. Scott, in whom the proprietary instinct was always very strong, took great pride in the pretty little cottage. He made a dining-table for it with his own hands, planted saplings in the yard, and drew together two willow-trees at the gate into a kind of arch, surmounted by a cross made of two sticks. "After I had constructed this," he says, "mamma (Mrs. Scott) and I both of us thought it so fine that we turned out to see it by moonlight, and walked backwards from it to the cottage door, in admiration of our magnificence and its picturesque effect." It would have been well indeed for them both if their pleasures of proprietorship could always have remained so touchingly simple.

Now that he was married, Scott was forced to look a little more sharply to his fortunes. He applied himself with more determination to the law. In 1799 he became deputy-sheriff of Selkirkshire, with a salary of three hundred pounds, which placed him at least beyond the reach of want. He began to look more and more to literature as a means of supplementing his income. His ballads in the Tales of Wonder had gained him some reputation; this he increased in 1802 by the publication, under the title Border Minstrelsy, of the ballads which he had for several years been collecting, collating, and richly annotating. Meanwhile he was looking about for a congenial subject upon which to try his hand in a larger way than he had as yet adventured. Such a subject came to him at last in a manner calculated to enlist all his enthusiasm in its treatment, for it was given him by the Countess of Dalkeith, wife of the heir-apparent to the dukedom of Buccleugh. The ducal house of Buccleugh stood at the head of the clan Scott, and toward its representative the poet always held himself in an attitude of feudal reverence. The Duke of Buccleugh was his "chief," entitled to demand from him both passive loyalty and active service; so, at least, Scott loved to interpret their relationship, making effective in his own case a feudal sentiment which had elsewhere somewhat lapsed. He especially loved to think of himself as the bard of his clan, a modern representative of those rude poets whom the Scottish chiefs once kept as a part of their household to chant the exploits of the clan. Nothing could have pleased his fancy more, therefore, than a request on the part of the lady of his chief to treat a subject of her assigning-namely, the dark mischief-making of a dwarf or goblin who had strayed from his unearthly master and attached himself as page to a human household. The subject fell in with the poet's reigning taste for strong supernaturalism. Gilpin Horner, the goblin page, though he proved in the sequel a difficult character to put to poetic use, was a figure grotesque and eerie enough to appeal even to Monk Lewis. At first Scott thought of treating the subject in ballad-form, but the scope of treatment was gradually enlarged by several circumstances. To begin with, he chanced upon a copy of Goethe's G?tz von Berlichingen, and the history of that robber baron suggested to him the feasibility of throwing the same vivid light upon the old Border life of his ancestors as Goethe had thrown upon that of the Rhine barons. This led him to subordinate the part played by the goblin page in the proposed story, which was now widened to include elaborate pictures of medieval life and manners, and to lay the scene in the castle of Branksome, formerly the stronghold of Scott's and the Duke of Buccleugh's ancestors. The verse form into which the story was thrown was due to a still more accidental circumstance, i.e., Scott's overhearing Sir John Stoddard recite a fragment of Coleridge's unpublished poem "Christabel." The placing of the story in the mouth of an old harper fallen upon evil days, was a happy afterthought; besides making a beautiful framework for the main poem, it enabled the author to escape criticism for any violent innovations of style, since these could always be attributed to the rude and wild school of poetry to which the harper was supposed to belong. In these ways The Lay of the Last Minstrel gradually developed in its present form. Upon its publication in 1805, it achieved an immediate success. The vividness of its descriptive passages, the buoyant rush of its meter, the deep romantic glow suffusing all its pages, took by storm a public familiar to weariness with the decorous abstractions of the eighteenth century poets. The first edition, a sumptuous quarto, was exhausted in a few weeks; an octavo edition of fifteen hundred was sold out within the year; and before 1830, forty-four thousand copies were needed to supply the popular demand. Scott received in all something under eight hundred pounds for the Lay, a small amount when contrasted with his gains from subsequent poems, but a sum so unusual nevertheless that he determined forthwith to devote as much time to literature as he could spare from his legal duties; those he still placed foremost, for until near the close of his life he clung to his adage that literature was "a good staff, but a poor crutch."

A year before the publication of the Lay, Scott had removed to the small country seat of Ashestiel, in Selkirkshire, seven miles from the nearest town, Selkirk, and several miles from any neighbor. In the introductions to the various cantos of Marmion he has given us a delightful picture of Ashestiel and its surroundings-the swift Glenkinnon dashing through the estate in a deep ravine, on its way to join the Tweed; behind the house the rising hills beyond which lay the lovely scenery of the Yarrow. The eight years (1804–1812) at Ashestiel were the serenest, and probably the happiest, of Scott's life. Here he wrote his two greatest poems, Marmion and The Lady of the Lake. His morn

ings he spent at his desk, always with a faithful hound at his feet watching the tireless hand as it threw off sheet after sheet of manuscript to make up the day's stint. By one o'clock he was, as he said, "his own man," free to spend the remaining hours of light with his children, his horses, and his dogs, or to indulge himself in his life-long passion for tree-planting. His robust and healthy nature made him excessively fond of all out-of-door sports, especially riding, in which he was daring to foolhardiness. It is a curious fact, noted by Lockhart, that many of Scott's senses were blunt; he could scarcely, for instance, tell one wine from another by the taste, and once sat quite unconscious at his table while his guests were manifesting extreme uneasiness over the approach of a too-long-kept haunch of venison, but his sight was unusually keen, as his hunting exploits proved. His little son once explained his father's popularity by saying that "it was him that commonly saw the hare sitting." What with hunting, fishing, salmon-spearing by torchlight, gallops over the hills into the Yarrow country, planting and transplanting of his beloved trees, Scott's life at Ashestiel, during the hours when he was "his own man," was a very full and happy one.

Unfortunately, he had already embarked in an enterprise which was destined to overthrow his fortunes just when they seemed fairest. While at school in Kelso he had become intimate with a school fellow named James Ballantyne, and later, when Ballantyne set up a small printing house in Kelso, he had given him his earliest poems to print. After the issue of the Border Minstrelsy, the typographical excellence of which attracted attention even in London, he set Ballantyne up in business in Edinburgh, secretly entering the firm himself as silent partner. The good sale of the Lay had given the firm an excellent start; but more matter was presently needed to feed the press. To supply it, Scott undertook and completed at Ashestiel four enormous tasks of editing-the complete works of Dryden and of Swift, the Somers' Tracts, and the Sadler State Papers. The success of these editions, and the subsequent enormous sale of Scott's poems and novels, would have kept the concern solvent in spite of Ballantyne's complete incapacity for business, but in 1809 Scott plunged recklessly into another and more serious venture. A dispute with Constable, the veteran publisher and bookseller, aggravated by the harsh criticism delivered upon Marmion by Francis Jeffrey, editor of the Edinburgh Review, Constable's magazine, determined Scott to set up in connection with the Ballantyne press a rival bookselling concern, and a rival magazine, to be called the Quarterly Review. The project was a daring one, in view of Constable's great ability and resources; to make it foolhardy to madness Scott selected to manage the new business a brother of James Ballantyne, a dissipated little buffoon, with about as much business ability and general caliber of character as is connoted by the name which Scott coined for him, "Rigdumfunnidos." The selection of such a man for such a place betrays in Scott's eminently sane and balanced mind a curious strain of impracticality, to say the least; indeed, we are almost constrained to feel with his harsher critics that it betrays something worse than defective judgment-defective character. His greatest failing, if failing it can be called, was pride. He could not endure even the mild dictations of a competent publisher, as is shown by his answer to a letter written by one of them proposing some salaried work; he replied curtly that he was a "black Hussar" of literature, and not to be put to such tame service. Probably this haughty dislike of dictation, this imperious desire to patronize rather than be patronized, led him to choose inferior men with whom to enter into business relations. If so, he paid for the fault so dearly that it is hard for a biographer to press the issue against him.

For the present, however, the wind of fortune was blowing fair, and all the storm clouds were below the horizon. In 1808 Marmion appeared, and was greeted with an enthusiasm which made the unprecedented reception of the Lay seem lukewarm in comparison. Marmion contains nothing which was not plainly foreshadowed in the Lay, but the hand of the poet has grown more sure, his descriptive effects are less crude and amateurish, the narrative proceeds with a steadier march, the music has gained in volume and in martial vigor. An anecdote is told by Mr. Hutton which will serve as a type of a hundred others illustrative of the extraordinary hold which this poetry took upon the minds of ordinary men. "I have heard," he says, "of two old men-complete strangers-passing each other on a dark London night, when one of them happened to be repeating to himself, just as Campbell did to the hackney coachman of the North Bridge of Edinburgh, the last lines of the account of Flodden Field in Marmion, 'Charge, Chester, charge,' when suddenly a reply came out of the darkness, 'On, Stanley, on,' whereupon they finished the death of Marmion between them, took off their hats to each other, and parted, laughing." The Lady of the Lake, which followed in little more than a year, was received with the same popular delight, and with even greater respect on the part of the critics. Even the formidable Jeffrey, who was supposed to dine off slaughtered authors as the Giant in "Jack and the Beanstalk" dined off young Englishmen, keyed his voice to unwonted praise. The influx of tourists into the Trossachs, where the scene of the poem was laid, was so great as seriously to embarrass the mail coaches, until at last the posting charges had to be raised in order to diminish the traffic. Far away in Spain, at a trying moment of the Peninsular campaign, Sir Adam Ferguson, posted on a point of ground exposed to the enemy's fire, read to his men as they lay prostrate on the ground the passage from The Lady of the Lake describing the combat between Roderick Dhu's Highlanders and the forces of the Earl of Mar; and "the listening soldiers only interrupted him by a joyous huzza when the French shot struck the bank close above them." Such tributes-and they were legion-to the power of his poetry to move adventurous and hardy men, must have been intoxicating to Scott; there is small wonder that the success of his poems gave him, as he says, "such a heeze as almost lifted him off his feet."

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