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Abbotsford a helpless and almost unconscious wreck.
He lingered on for some time, listening occasionally
to passages read to him from the Bible, and from his favourite author Crabbe. Once he tried to write, but his fingers would not close upon the pen. He never spoke of his literary labours or success. At times his imagination was busy preparing for the reception of the Duke of Wellington at Abbotsford; at other times he was exercising the functions of a Scottish judge, as if presiding at the trial of mem| bers of his own family. His mind never appeared to wander in its delirium towards those works which had filled all Europe with his fame. This we learn from undoubted authority, and the fact is of interest in literary history. But the contest was soon to be over; ‘the plough was nearing the end of the fur| row.” “About half-past one, P.M.,’ says Mr Lock|hart, ‘on the 21st of September 1832, Sir Walter | breathed his last, in the presence of all his children. It was a beautiful day—so warm that every window |
was wide open—and so perfectly still that the sound of all others most delicious to his ear, the gentle ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles, was distinctly | audible as we knelt around the bed, and his eldest son kissed and closed his eyes.'
Call it not vain; they do not err
Who say, that when the poet dies,
Mute nature mourns her worshipper,
And celebrates his obsequies;
Who say tall cliff and cavern lone,
For the departed bard make moan ;
And oaks, in deeper groans, reply;
- And rivers teach their rushing wave
To murmur dirges round his grave.
Lay of the Last Minstrel.
The novelty and originality of Scott's style of poetry, though exhausted by himself, and debased by imitators, formed his first passport to public favour and applause. The English reader had to go back to Spenser and Chaucer ere he could find so knightly and chivalrous a poet, or such paintings of antique manners and institutions. The works of the elder worthies were also obscured by a dim and obsolete phraseology; while Scott, in expression, sentiment, and description, could be read and understood by all. The perfect clearness and transparency of his style is one of his distinguishing features; and it was further aided by his peculiar versification. Coleridge had exemplified the fitness of the octosyllabic measure for romantic narrative poetry, and parts of his “Christabel’ having been recited to Scott, he adopted its wild rhythm and harmony, joining to it some of the abruptness and irregularity of the old ballad metre. In his hands it became a powerful and flexible instrument, whether for light narrative and pure description, or for scenes of to: wildness and terror, such as the trial and | death of Constance in ‘Marmion, or the swell and agitation of a battle-field. The knowledge and enthusiasm requisite for a chivalrous poet Scott possessed in an eminent degree. He was an early worshipper of ‘hoar antiquity. He was in the maturity | of his powers (thirty-four years of age) when the | Lay was published, and was perhaps better informed on such subjects than any other man living. Border story and romance had been the study and the passion of his whole life. In writing ‘Marmion’ and “Ivanhoe, or in building Abbotsford, he was impelled by a natural and irresistible impulse. The baronial castle, the court and camp—the wild Highland chase, feud, and foray—the antique blazonry,
and institutions of feudalism, were constantly present to his thoughts and imagination. Then, his powers of description were unequalled—certainly never surpassed. His landscapes, his characters and situations, were all real delineations; in general effect and
individual details, they were equally perfect. None
of his contemporaries had the same picturesqueness, fancy, or invention; none so graphic in depicting manners and customs; none so fertile in inventing incidents; none so fascinating in narrative, or so various and powerful in description. His diction was proverbially careless and incorrect. Neither in prose nor poetry was Scott a polished writer. He hooked only at broad and general effects; his words had to make pictures, not melody. Whatever could be grouped and described, whatever was visible and tangible, lay within his reach. Below the surface he had less power. The language of the heart was not his familiar study; the passions did not obey his call. The contrasted effects of passion and situation he could portray vividly and distinctly—the sin and suffering of Constance, the remorse of Marmion and Bertram, the pathetic character of Wilfrid, the knightly grace of Fitz-James, and the rugged virtues and savage death of Roderick Dhu, are all fine specimens of moral painting. Byron has nothing better, and indeed the noble poet in some of his tales copied or paraphrased the sterner passages of Scott. But even in these gloomy and powerful traits of his genius, the force lies in the situation, not in the thoughts and expression. There are no talismanic words that pierce the heart or usurp the memory; none of the impassioned and reflective style of Byron, the melodious pathos of Campbell, or the profound sympathy of Wordsworth. The great strength of Scott undoubtedly lay in the prolific richness of his fancy, and the abundant stores of his memory, that could create, collect, and arrange such a multitude of scenes and adventures; that could find materials for stirring and romantic poetry in the most minute and barren antiquarian details; and that could reanimate the past, and paint the present, in scenery and manners with a vividness and energy unknown since the period of Homer. The “Lay of the Last Minstrel' is a Border story of the sixteenth century, related by a minstrel, the last of his race. The character of the aged minstrel, and that of Margaret of Branksome, are very finely drawn: Deloraine, a coarse Border chief, or mosstrooper, is also a vigorous portrait; and in the description of the march of the English army, the personal combat with Musgrave, and the other feudal accessories of the piece, we have finished pictures of the olden time. The goblin page is no favourite of ours, except in so far as it makes the story more accordant with the times in which it is placed. The introductory lines to each canto form an exquisite setting to the dark feudal tale, and tended greatly to cause the popularity of the poem. The minstrel is thus described:—
The way was long, the wind was cold, |
FROM 1780 CYCLOPAEDIA OF TILL The PRESENT time.
No longer courted and caressed,
Not less picturesque are the following passages, *
which instantly became popular:—
[Description of Melrose Abbey.]
If thou would'st view fair Melrose aright,
[Love of Country.]
Breathes there a man with soul so dead,
This is my own, my native land 1
From wandering on a foreign strand
O Caledonial stern and wild,
Day set on Norham's castled steep,
Nor martial shout, nor minstrel tone,
[Evening fell on the deadly struggle, and the spectators were forced from the agitating scene.]
But as they left the darkening heath,
When, doffed his casque, he felt free air,
O, woman in our hours of ease,
Deep drank Lord Marmion of the wave,
With fruitless labour Clara bound, And strove to stanch the gushing wound: The monk, with unavailing cares, Exhausted all the church’s prayers; Ever, he said, that, close and near, A lady's voice was in his ear, And that the priest he could not hear, For that she ever sung, “In the lost battle, borne down by the flying, Where mingles war's rattle with groans of the dying!" So the notes rung; “Avoid thee, fiend —with cruel hand, Shake not the dying sinner's sand 1 O look, my son, upon yon sign Of the Redeemer's grace divine ; O think on faith and bliss' By many a death-bed I have been, And many a sinner's parting seen, But never aught like this.” The war, that for a space did fail, Now trebly thundering, swelled the gale, And—Stanley! was the cry; A light on Marmion’s visage spread, And fired his glazing eye : With dying hand above his head He shook the fragment of his blade, And shouted ‘Victory ! Charge, Chester, charge ' On, Stanley, on '' Were the last words of Marmion.
We may contrast with this the silent and appalling death-scene of Roderick Dhu, in the ‘Lady of the Lake.” The savage chief expires while listening to a tale chanted by the bard or minstrel of his clan;–
At first, the chieftain to his chime
Thus motionless and moanless drew
The ‘Lady of the Lake” is more richly picturesque than either of the former poems, and the plot is more regular and interesting. ‘The subject,” says Sir James Mackintosh, “is a common Highland irruption; but at a point where the neighbourhood of the Lowlands affords the best contrast of manners —where the scenery affords the noblest subject of description—and where the wild clan is so near to the court, that their robberies can be connected with the romantic adventures of a disguised king, an exiled lord, and a high-born beauty. The whole narrative is very fine.' It was the most popular of the author's poems: in a few months twenty thousand copies were sold, and the district where the
action of the poem lay was visited by countless
thousands of tourists.
great popularity of Scott as a poet. “Rokeby, a tale
With this work closed the
of the English Cavaliers and Roundheads, was considered a failure, though displaying the utmost art ||
and talent in the delineation of character and passion. “Don Roderick’ is vastly inferior to “Rokeby;' and “Harold' and “Triermain' are but faint copies of the Gothic epics, however finely finished in some of the tender passages. The ‘Lord of the Isles' is
of a higher mood. It is a Scottish story of the days
of Bruce, and has the characteristic fire and anima