1871 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Scott

S. C. Hall, "Sir Walter Scott" in A Book of Memories: Great Men and Women of the Age, from personal Acquaintance (1871) 319-36.



Of SIR WALTER SCOTT I knew so little that I am barely justified in introducing him into these "Memories." I saw him but twice: first in 1827 or 1828, at an exhibition of Haydon's pictures, and I was then and there introduced to the "great unknown;" for such, at that time, he in one sense was. I had previously corresponded with him, however; and he did not consider me altogether a stranger. I seem at this moment to feel the cordial pressure of the hand he gave me, and to hear his words of gracious recognition. Scott was leaning on the arm of Lockhart, his son-in-law, of whom I have just spoken in the Memory of Wilson.

Scott was then at the summit of fame: subsequently it was a downward path. His name was known throughout the world, his books were read in every language of civilised man, the mask had been removed; for the secret of the great magician was divulged by a calamity that compelled him to work in harness till he died: over-tasked, over-worked, the brain gave way! It is a sad picture — that which has been presented to us — of broken spirits, disappointed hopes, vain ambition, mental and constitutional sufferings — all his gatherings from life before he rested in his grave.

Every incident of his literary career is known: his marvellous industry, his intense application, his continual study, his labour at dry technical pursuits, his simple habits, his rigid morality, his avoidance of all unhealthy excitements — these are the keys, no less than his vast and comprehensive genius, to the success he achieved, when volume after volume issued from the press; so that between the year 1802, when his first book was printed, and the year 1830, when his last appeared, he had actually written almost as many volumes as there were months in all these years.

The person of Scott has been so frequently described as to be almost as familiar as his novels or his poems.

The other occasion on which I saw "the great magician" was at the house of Allan Cunningham.

I can readily recall the robust and hearty frame of the man; his lofty forehead, broad too, but losing its breadth in its remarkable height; his keen yet kindly grey eyes; and his firm yet pleasant mouth, easy to smile, yet evidencing indomitable will. He disappointed no one; his manner was peculiarly gracious; the very humblest of his fellow-labourers was at ease with him at once; it was kindness without the weight of condescension, and counsel without the burden of advice. No man better understood that maxim of Lord Shaftesbury, "Politeness is benevolence in trifles." All who had intercourse with him, either personally or by letter, mingled regard with respect, and affection with veneration.

What a debt is owing to him by mankind! a debt that will accumulate as generations after generations yet to come, profit by his superhuman labours — creations of genius that teach and inculcate chivalric honour, homely virtue, and eternal truth—

Clothing the palpable and the familiar,
In golden exhalations of the dawn.