« AnteriorContinuar »
discrepancy between the dispositions of Sir Walter and those of his biographer towards both the Ballantynes.
However this may be, it is Lockhart's good name which is chiefly brought into question in this pamphlet.
We do not perceive that the statements which it contains materially affect the character of Sir Walter Scott. They certainly bring no stain upon bis integrity and uprightness. These remain, in our judgment, unquestioned and unquestionable. It was certainly unfortunate that he should have made the transfer of his real estate at the time he did. Nay, we are free to say, that, all things considered, he ought not to have done it. It was indiscreet, and furnished but too plausible occasion for reproach. But of the remotest purpose of defrauding his creditors, or circumventing them in any way or manner, he was wholly incapable. In fact, the interest he still retained in this property, had his creditors chosen to lay hold of it, would have gone near to discharge his own personal liabilities. The failure of Constable had involved him to nearly double the amount of these ; the whole running up to the frightful sum of near half a million of dollars. Still the creditors chose to forego this interest, and look for indemnity to his future exertions. The event showed that, as "children of this world,” they decided wisely.
The trials of great and well-ordered minds furnish the occasions of their most signal triumphs. And so it was with Scott. How he could bear the test of unprecedented popularity and success, the world had already seen. It was now to witness how he would acquit himself under the sterner teachings of adversity. He shrunk not from the encounter, nor suffered the blow to overwhelm him. With indomitable resolution he set himself to redeem his engagements, in the only way in which he could, — by carrying his literary reputation and talents into the market, by the labors of his own brain, the produce of his pen. A Herculean task, before which the most resolute spirit might well have quailed, and the thought of attempting which, but a few years before, would have been regarded, in any one, as little less than insanity. And what he boldly undertook he pursued with an industry and efficiency perhaps never surpassed. He spared not himself either in health or in sickness, but tasked his faculties to the uttermost. Domestic sorrows, too, and bitter bereavement came to mingle gall in his cup.
6 Some natural tears he shed, but wiped them soon,” and addressed himself to his task.
Nothing was suffered to deter him from his
purpose, him to falter in its execution. The creditors of Constable, as we have said, having no hope elsewhere, looked to him for the payment of their claims; and they stood by, cormorants that they were, and permitted him to coin his heart's blood to replenish their coffers, and shook, with no gentle hand, the sands that were measuring out his departing hours. He accomplished his purpose, but at fearful cost. His bodily and mental powers gave way beneath the pressure ; and the harp of the minstrel, and the romancer's wand, were broken in the grasp of death. Thus toil and sorrow, the energies of the mind overstretched, the burdens of meridian life imposed on declining powers, did their work; and the grave, in very kindness and commiseration, closed over that venerable form, from which the intellectual orb had been already unsphered, or overspread with “dim eclipse.”
The life and character of Scott are full of instruction, and rich in moral uses. They are themes which we delight to dwell upon.
Amidst the dandyism and malapertness, the silly affectation, false or exaggerated sentiment, distortion, and caricature, and spasmodic throes, which disfigure so much of the current literature of the day, it is absolutely refreshing to recur to the strong, homely sense, and quiet wisdom of this natural, simple, and manly writer. He has not a spice of artifice or affectation in his manner, or in his works. Cant, of every sort, he held in utter contempt. He needed it not.
He had no occasion to “cozen fortune," and attempt to pass himself for more than he was worth. The clear and honest impress of sterling value was on his mind, and on his manners; and his works are the fair counterparts and exponents of these, the honest outpourings of his sound and healthful sentiments, and clear and vigorous intellect. It is the primary excellence of Scott, and his noblest distinction, as a writer as well as a man, that he was a thoroughly honest man; honest, in the fullest and broadest sense of the term. This is, to a great degree, the secret and source of his
There is no discord between the tenor of his language and that of his life; none of that weakness and wavering, which betray a conscious discrepancy between the sentiment and the utterance. The tone of his morality, both in his writings and his conduct, without any parade of prudery or refinement, or one touch of transcendentalism, is uniformly healthy, vigorous, and sustained. It never
pretends to rise above the level of humanity; and it never sinks below it. Humanity and common sense are the prevailing characteristics of his philosophy. Discarding nice distinctions and artificial refinements, it embraces the great interests and relations of human life with a firm and vigorous grasp.
Hence, in his wildest fictions and most romantic adventures, he is a perfectly safe and trustworthy guide. There is no danger that he will lead you to an irretrievable distance from the sentiments or the duties of every-day life, that he will either sap the principles, or pervert the affections. There is no danger, even, that the perusal of his works should induce an overwrought sensibility, or an undue ascendancy of the imagination over the judgment. They coincide, in these respects, with the laws of the mind, as well as the general order of things; and their effects are analogous to those of the great discipline of life. This, we are sensible, is high praise; but, in our judgment, it is justly merited. We know no writer in this department of literature, not even Shakspeare himself, whose claims, in this respect, are of a higher order.
Works of fiction must occupy a large space in the literature of all cultivated communities. There is in all minds, especially of the young and imaginative, a craving for such works, that may not safely be refused. It will be gratified; and it ought to be. The imagination is an essential and important faculty of the mind, and calls for its appropriate culture, and this culture cannot be neglected but at the hazard of the safety and well-being of the soul. For the will is moved and swayed, and the character controlled, not by the understanding alone, but far more by the imagination and affections. It is through these, that error and falsehood assail us in the guise of truth, and lead us captive at their will. Works of fiction, in the wide sense of the terms, have far more influence on the morals of society and the welfare of individuals than works of direct and dogmatic instruction. For good, or for evil, they are, to a great degree, the teachers of sentiment, “the glass of fashion, and the mould of form." Their influence may be decried or depreciated; but no one can deny it. For ourselves, we think that this love of fiction and romance holds of the poetic and the lofty in our nature; and we would not see it extinguished or perverted. We deem it our duty to cherish and direct it; with a wise discretion, certainly, if we may, but by all means to cherish it. And in this regard we consider Scott as one of the greatest benefactors of society, by furnishing so wide a field, in which the imagination may safely and healthfully expatiate. We can put his works into the hands of those who are dearest to us, whose characters are forming under our eyes and under our influence, and to whom we sustain what we regard as the highest and the holiest of human obligations, without apprehension or misgiving. We have no fears that, by perusing these, their sentiments will be corrupted, their affections perverted, the balance of their powers disturbed, or their vigor enervated. We do not mean, that there is nothing in these works which we would not see changed or omitted; that they are faultless and without a spot. But we do say, that their influence and tendency are, on the whole, decidedly favorable to moral purity and power, to a free, healthy, and vigorous tone of mind and feeling. To this praise — and who will say this is not the highest? -- he is certainly entitled.
The example of Scott is of great value, too, in teaching, so forcibly as it does, the perfect compatibility of high genius with plain, practical good sense and the quiet virtues of domestic life. He never thought, for a moment, that his high endowments exempted him from the discharge of any office of affection, or from any exertion to promote the welfare of the humblest of his dependents. There was in him nothing of the petulance and waywardness that have so often disfigured and marred the characters of eminent men. On the contrary, he was remarkably exemplary and amiable in all the walks of social and domestic life. He claimed no privileges, he required no allowances. He was always ready to concede to the wishes and convenience of those about him, and entered into all their pursuits and amusements with the earnest and honest sympathies of a schoolboy. The world needed — it always needs such an example as this. The prevalent conception of genius is loose and vague; often false and mischievous. It is thought to be something that is strange and peculiar, and walks apart ; that it is not to be met with along the beaten highway of life; that its manifestations must be wild, and fitful, and extravagant; and that its temperament must be one that neither the judgment nor the conscience can control. In short, genius, in the vulgar apprehension, has too often been only another name for eccentricity. Now this is not only an error in point of fact and criticism; it is much worse; it is both false in principle, and highly injurious in a moral view. It perverts the judgments and dims the moral discernment of men. It not only leads them to palliate, but absolutely hallows, the errors, the weakness, and the wickedness of men of eminent endowments. If such a man is tyrannical to his dependents, heartless, or brutal to his wife, estranged from the charities of the hearth and the fireside, irregular and distempered in his affections, it is only the irritability and sensitive temperament of genius, and he must not be too severely judged. So deep and general has been this impression, or something like it, that the world is slow to believe, that true genius actually exists, where no extravagance and disproportion is discernible in the character. Now, we take it, that perfect genius necessarily implies entire harmony and proportion in all the faculties; and that all eccentricity is, so far, an evidence of weakness and imperfection; not a distinction to be coveted and boasted of, but a blot and defect to be deplored, and, by rigorous self-discipline, to be remedied. The truth is, that what are termed the aberrations of genius are, usually, the results of unsteady principles, perverted feelings, or undisciplined desires. With genius they have nothing to do.
Another trait in the character of Scott, both personal and literary, is his simplicity of manner. He has no ambitious pretensions, no affectation of lofty sentiment or profound thought. The style of his conversation was remarkably plain and homely; so much so as to be pronounced by many even coarse and commonplace. So different was it from the strained and elaborate style of those who talk for reputation. Now this, we think, is a virtue of a high order, the characteristic of a truly great mind, as well as an evidence of sound discernment and good taste.
We do not think that the obscure, the mystic, the incomprehensible, are the marks of true genius, though they often pass current for such. Truth may, doubtless, sometimes have its place at the bottom of the well; but we see no occasion that, besides this, the water should also be muddy. And we think there is an essential defect in that man's mind, who either cannot form a clear and definite conception of his subject, or, having formed such, cannot communicate it to others. The profoundest thinkers, the world has ever seen, have been as remarkable for the clearness as for the grandeur of their views. In the atmosphere of genius, as in that of nature, the dim and misty regions are not the higher, but the lower.
Our limits will permit us to notice only one more trait in Sir Walter's character. We mean the essential kindness of his