1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Scott

Anonymous, "Cabinet of Varieties: Walter Scott" New Monthly Magazine 7 (May 1817) 325-26.



In another corner — probably the Poets' Corner — you may occasionally find Walter Scott, though he is not a frequent visitor of these places. I should imagine that there is scarcely any other person in the profane world who is so much talked of as Walter Scott, and but few travellers come to Edinburgh without inquiring whether he be visible. In a small dark room where one of the courts is held, he is to be seen every morning in term time, seated at a small table with the acts of the court before him. He s a broad-shouldered and rather robust man, with light hair, eyes between blue and grey, broad nose, round face, with an almost sleepy look, dressed a shabby black gown, his lame leg concealed under the table, and the other extended in such a way as never leg, whether lame or sound, ought to be: — a man, forsooth, to whom you would swear that heaven had given a good-natured, honest soul, not overburdened with intellect — a jolly, loyal subject, who is fond of port and porter, pays his taxes without grumbling, and can sing God save the King. Not a poetic feature, not a ray of genius in his face, except a somewhat animated eye, distinguishes the bust of the author of the Lay of the last Minstrel, from the stupid, vacant, and unlettered loon.

Mr. Scott is about 47 years old, and is descended from an obscure family in Lothian. In his infancy, as he himself relates, the old people took him upon their knees, called him Little Watty, and told him all sorts of old stories and legends, while his brothers were abroad at work, from which he was exempted on account of his lameness. Some of the philosophers who attach a moral to all their fables, will probably make the discovery that the world owed one more great poet to the circumstance that Walter Scott was born with one leg shorter than the other. Well! e'en let them if they will! — Scott has been some time married to a Guernsey lady, a natural daughter of the late Duke of Devonshire, with whom he is said to have received a portion of 10,000. She was born in the island, and spoke wretched broken English. To her virtues belong an ungovernable fury against all the unlucky wights who censure her husband's works. It is reported, that when his Marmion was criticized in the Edinburgh Review, she could scarcely be restrained from pulling the ears of the editor when she met him some time after at a dinner party.

Mr. Scott is blest with some other good things that rarely fall to the lot of a poet. He is sheriff-depute of a county, commits offenders to gaol, and sends them to the gallows with great ability. He is also clerk of the above-mentioned court. These two places produce him from 800 to 1,000 per annum.

Though a great number of travellers have letters of recommendation to Mr. Scott, yet his parties are not numerous; he confines himself to a chosen few of the ministerial side, and is warmly attached to the king and the church. His manners are agreeable, untainted with variety, and the only affectation to be perceived in him is, that he is solicitous not to appear as a poet. He is very lively and full of anecdote; and though not brilliant in company, is always cheerful and unassuming.