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MEMOIRS OF THE LIFE of Sir WALTER Scott, Bart. By J. G. Lockhart. Part
One. pp. 228. Philadelphia: CAREY, LEA AND BLANCHARD.
We had barely leisure and space to announce the publication of this delightful volume in our number for May; and we propose now rather to indicate the great interest of the work by extracts from its pages, than by extended comments upon them. Aside from the autobiographical fragment, from the pen of the great novelist himself, for the absence of which nothing could have atoned, Mr. Lockhart, by the relation which he bore to the illustrious subject of his labors, has been enabled to bring together a mass of facts and incidents of the most interesting description, by which the reader is made thoroughly acquainted with the boy and the man, the poet and the novelist. Indeed, we think the writer ‘shines unrivalled in the gay Memoir.' He has avoided the too common error of biographers, and made no excursions into ideal realms, to fortify his deductions in relation to the character or habits of the man whose life he is depicting; and with a style the farthest possibly removed from the manufactured, he unites attractiveness of theme with grace and ease of manner, to a remarkable degree.
We commence our extracts with some passages from the autobiography. The writer is now at the Edinburgh High School:
“In the intervals of my school hours I had always perused with avidity such books of history or poetry or voyages and travels as chance presented to me — not forgetting the usual, or rather ten times the usual quantity of fairy tales, eastern stories, romances, etc. These studies were totally unregulated and undirected. My tutor thought it almost a sin to open a profane play or poem; and my mother, beside that she might be in some degree trammelled by the religious scruples which he suggested, had no longer the opportunity to hear me read poetry as formerly. I found, however, in her dressing-room (where I slept at one time) some odd volumes of Shakspeare; nor can I easily forget the rapture with which I sate up in my shirt reading them by the light of a fire in her apartment, until the bustle of the family rising from supper warned me it was time to creep back to my bed, where I was supposed to have been safely deposited since nine o'clock. Chance, however, threw in my way a poetical preceptor. This was no other than the excellent and benevolent Dr. Blacklock, well known at that time as a literary character. I know not bow I attracted his attention, and that of some of the young men who boarded in his family; but so it was that I became a frequent and favoured guest. The kind old man opened to me the stores of his library, and through his recommendation I be. came intimate with Ossian and Spenser. I was delighted with both, vet I think chiefly with the latter poet. The tawdry repetitions of the Ossianic phraseology disgusted me rather sooner than might have been expected from my age. But Spenser I could have read for ever. Too young to trouble myself about the allegory, I considered all the knights and ladies and dragons and giants in their outward and exoteric sense, and God only knows how delighted I was to find myself in such society. As I had always a wonderful facility in retaining in my memory whatever verses pleased me, the quantity of Spenser's stanzas which I could repeat was 'really marvellous. But this memory of mine was a very fickle ally, and has through my whole life acted merely upon its own capricious motion, and might have enabled me to adopt old Beattie of Meikledale's answer, when complimented by a certain reverend divine on the strength of the same faculty: 'No, sir,' anVOL. IX.
swered the old Borderer, 'I have no command of my memory. It only retains what hits my fancy, and probably, sir, if you were to preach to me for two hours, I would not be able when you finished to remember a word you had been saying. My memory was precisely of the same kind; it seldom failed to preserve most tenaciously a favourite passage of poetry, a playhouse ditty, or, above all, a Borderraid ballad; but names, dates, and the other technicalities of history, escaped me in a most melancholy degree. The philosophy of history, a much more important subject, was also a sealed book at this period of my life; but I gradually assembled much of what was striking and picturesque in historical narrative; and when, in riper years, I attended more to the deduction of general principles, i was furnished with a powerful host of examples in illustration of them. I was, in short, like an ignorant gamester, who kept up a good hand until he knew how to play it.
“I left the High School, therefore, with a great quantity of general information, ill arranged indeed, and collected without system, yet deeply impressed upon my mind ; readily assorted by my power of connexion and memory, and gilded, if I may be permitted to say so, by a vivid and active imagination. If my studies were not under any direction at Edinburgh, in the country; it may be well imagined, they were less so. A respectable subscription library, a circulating library of ancient standing, and some private book-shelves, were open to my random perusal, and I waded into the stream like a blind man into a ford, without the power of searching my way, unless by groping for it.”
Scott says elsewhere, in an account of certain literary societies in Edinburgh, of which he was a member:
"In the business of these societies — for I was a member of more than one successively — I cannot boast of having made any great figure. I never was a good speaker unless upon some subject which strongly animated my feelings; and, as I was totally unaccustomed to composition, as well as to the art of generalizing my ideas upon any subject, my literary essays were but very poor work. I never attempted them unless when compelled to do so by the regulations of the society, and then I was like the Lord of Castle Rackrent, who was obliged to cut down a tree to get a few faggots to boil the kettle; for the quantity of ponderous and miscellaneous knowledge which I really possessed on many subjects, was not easily condensed, or brought to bear upon the object I wished particularly to become master of. Yet there occurred opportunities when this odd lumber of my brain, especially that which was connected with the recondite parts of history, did me, as Hamlet says, 'yeoman's service.' My memory of events was like one of the large, old-fashioned stone-cannons of the Turks- very difficult to load well and discharge, but making a powerful effect when by good chance any object did come within range of its shot. Such fortunate opportunities of exploding with effect maintained my literary character among my companions, with whom I soon met with great indulgence and regard.”
The following anecdotes are taken from Mr. Lockhart's addenda to Scou's Account of his early school-days:
"He speaks of himself as occasionally 'glancing like a meteor from the bottom to the top of the form. His school-fellow, Mr. Claud Russell, remembers that he once made a great leap in consequence of the stupidity of some laggard on what is called the dult's (dolt's) bench, who being asked on boggling at cum, what part of speech is with ?' answered 'a substantive. The rector, after a moment's pause, thought it worth while to ask his dux, 'Is with ever a substantive ? but all were silent until the query reached Scott, then near the bottom of the class, who instantly responded by quoting a verse of the book of Judges : 'And Sampson said unto Delilah, If they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and as another man. Another upward movement, accomplished in a less lauda. ble manner, but still one strikingly illustrative of his ingenious resources, I am enabled to preserve through the kindness of a brother poet and esteemed friend, to whom Sir Walter himself communicated it in the melancholy twilight of his bright
"Mr. Rogers says: 'Sitting one day alone with him in your house, in the Regent's Park -(it was the day but one before he left it to embark at Portsmouth for Malta)- I led him, among other things, to tell me once again a story of himself, which he had formerly told me, and which I had often wished to recover. When I returned home, I wrote it down as nearly as I could, in his own words: and here they are. The subject is an achievement worthy of Ulysses himself, and such as many of his school-fellows could, no doubt, have related of him; but I fear I have done it no justice, though the story is so very characteristic that it should not be lost. The inimitable manner in which he told it — the glance of the eye, the turn of the head, and the light that played over his faded features as, one by one, the circumstances came back to him, accompanied by a thousand boyish feelings, that had slept perhaps for years — there is no language, not even his own, could convey to you; but you can supply them. Would that others could do so, who had not the good fortune to know him !- The memorandum (Friday, October 21, 1831) is as follows:
" There was a boy in my class at school, who stood always at the top, nor could I with all my efforts supplant him. Day came after day, and still he kept his place, do what I would : till at length I observed that, when a question was asked him, he always fumbled with his fingers at a particular button in the lower part of his waistcoat. To remove it, therefore, became expedient in my eyes; and in an evil moment it was removed with a knife. Great was my anxiety to know the success of my measure; and it succeeded too well. When the boy was again questioned, his fingers sought again for the button, but it was not to be found. In his distress he looked down for it; it was to be seen no more than to be felt. He stood confounded, and I took possession of his place; nor did he ever recover it, or ever, I believe, suspect who was the author of his wrong. Often in after-life has the sight of him smote me as I passed by him; and often have I resolved to make him some reparation ; but it ended in good resolutions. Though I never renewed my acquaintance with him, I often saw him, for he filled some inferior office in one of the courts of law at Edinburgh. Poor fellow! I believe he is dead; he took early to drinking.'"
Since we cannot find room for that portion of the autobiography which treats of Scott's apprenticeship, in the law office of his father, we give the following, from his biographer, with the hope that it will not be lost upon the humblest literary aspirant, who may feel his intellectual nature drepressed by the force of circumstances :
" That he entered with ready zeal into such professional business as inferred Highland expeditions with comrades who had known Rob Roy, no one will think strange ; but more than one of his biographers allege, that in the ordinary in-door fagging of the chamber in George's Square, he was always an unwilling, and rarely an efficient assistant. Their addition that he often played chess with one of his companions in the office, and had to conceal the board with precipitation when the old gentleman's footsteps were heard on the staircase, is, I do not doubt, true; and we may remember along with it his own insinuation that his father was sometimes poring in his secret nook over Spottiswoode or Wodrow when his apprenti. ces supposed him to be deep in Dirleton's Doubts, or Stair's Decisions. But the Memoir of 1808, so candid — indeed, more than candid - as to many juvenile irregularities, contains no confession that supports the broad assertion to wbich I have alluded; nor can I easily believe, that with his affection for his father, and that sense of duty which seems to have been inherent in his character, and lastly, with the evidence of a most severe training in industry which the habits of his after-life presented, it is at all deserving of serious acceptation. His mere handwriting, indeed, continued, during the whole of his prime, to afford most striking and irresistible proof how completely he must have submitted himself for some very considerable period to the mechanical discipline of his father's office. It spoke to months after months of this humble toil, as distinctly as the illegible scrawl of Lord Byron did to his self-mastership from the hour that he left Harrow. There are some little technical tricks, such as no gentleman who has not been subjected to a similar regimen ever can fall into, which he practised invariably while composing his poetry, which appear not unfrequently on the MSS. of his best novels. and which now and then dropt instinctively from his pen, even in the private letters and diaries of his closing years. I allude particularly to a sort of flourish at the bottom of the page, originally, I presume, adopted in engrossing as a safeguard against the intrusion of a forged line between the legitimate text and the attesting signature. He was quite sensible that this ornament might as well be dispensed with ; and his family often heard him mutter, after involuntarily performing it, "There goes the old shop again!'
"I dwell on this matter, because it was always his favourite tenet, in contradiction to what he called the cant of sonnetteers, that there is no necessary connection between genius and an aversion or contempt for any of the common duties of life; he thought, on the contrary, that to spend some fair portion of every day in any matter-of-fact occupation, is good for the higher faculties themselves in the upshot, In a word, from beginning to end, he piqued himself on being a man of business ; and did — with one sad and memorable exception — whatever the ordinary course of things threw in his way, in exactly the business-like fashion which might have been expected from the son of a thoroughbred old Clerk to the Signet, who had never deserted his father's profession."
We pause for the present, but with the purpose of renewing a review of the volume before us, in connection with Part Two, which has already appeared in this country.
THE GRAMMAR OF ENGLISH GRAMMARS: With an Introduction Historical and Criti. cal, an Appendix in Four Parts, and a Key to the Oral Exercises.
We have been permitted to examine the manuscript sheets of a work entitled as above, now in course of preparation by Goold Brown, Esq., of this city; and we can affirm, with confidence, that a book more complete upon every essential point of its subject, has never been given to the American public. It is, indeed, 'fully ripe,' for the author came amply prepared to his task. It was not, as we gather from the preface, until after fifteen years devoted by the writer to grammatical studies and exercises, during most of which time he had been alternately instructing youth in four different languages, that he published 'The Institutes of English Grammar,' which has been gradually increasing in reputation and demand, until it has reached fifteen editions. In the volume under notice, the principles contained in the
Institutes' are, with great additional labor, carried out into farther detail, and illustrated by a multiplicity of examples and exercises, accompanied by numerous criticisms and literary notices, which it must have required a long time and laborious research to amass, and patient assiduity to arrange. A book of grammar is too often justly regarded as a dull work on a dull subject: but the fault has generally been with the desultory and immethodical authors, or author-compilers, who have added dullness to the other faults of their originals, and who have dealt in the notional and conjectural, rather than with the correct principles of the science which they professed to teach. In this 'Grammar of English Grammars,' however, the writer's claim to method and distinctness will be acknowledged by every reader. Nothing is left unexplained. The study of the language is facilitated by an extension of its grammatical code, and an improvement of the phraseology of its doctrines — by new illustrations, and by so clear an arrangement of a vast number of particulars, that each item may be readily referred to. The pupil is shown how to parse that which is right, and to correct that which is wrong - and both are made equally easy. In short, we take it upon ourselves to predict — and to prevent misconception, we should add, that our remarks are not made with the knowledge of the writer - that when this volume shall, at some future, perhaps distant, day, be given to the public, it will be found to reflect the highest credit upon its industrious and erudite author, and to supply a most important desideratum to students in our higher institutions of learning, not less than to teachers, authors, and general readers.
We subjoin an extract from the critical portion of our author's 'Introduction,' wherein one who has as good a right to make a book as those who know how' is handled with some causticity. Being elevated, however, as he himself boasts, upon a high pedestal above all the grammarians of the nation, he must not complain, if the fearless independence of a gifted fellow-laborer should change that lofty position to a bad eminence. 'Having built the pillory with his own hands, he must abide the missive eggs.' The historian seems familiar with his vouchers:
"AMONG the professed copiers of Murray, there is not one who has attempted any thing more honourable to himself, or more beneficial to the public, than what their master had before achieved ; nor is there any one, who, with the same disinterestedness, has guarded his design from the imputation of a pecuniary motive. It is comical to observe what they say in their prefaces. Between praise to sustain their choice of a model, and blame to make room for their pretended amendments, they are often placed in as awkward a dilemma, as that which was contrived when grammar was identified with compilation. I should have much to say, were I to show them all in their true light. Few of them have had such success as to be worthy of notice here; but the names of many will find frequent place in my code of false grammar. The one who seems to be now taking the lead in fame and reve. nue, filled with glad wonder at his own popularity, is SAMUEL KIRKHAM. Upon this gentleman's performance, I shall therefore bestow a few brief observations. Kirkham's treatise is entitled 'English Grammar in Familiar Lectures, accompanied by a Compendium ;' that is, by a folded sheet. Of this work, of which I have recently seen copies purporting to be of the 'sixty-seventh edition, and others again of the hundred and fifth edition, each published at Baltimore in 1835, I can give no earlier account, than what may be derived from the 'second edition, enlarged and much improved, which was published at Harrisburg in 1825. The preface, which appears to have been written for his first edition, is dated 'Fredericktown, Md., August 22, 1823.' In it, there is no recognition of any obligation to Murray, or to any other grammarian in particular; but it is said: "The author of this production has endeavored to condense all the most important subject-matter of the whole science, and present it in so small a compass, that the learner can become familiarly acquainted with it in a short time. He makes but small pretensions to originality in theoretical matter. Most of the principles laid down, have been selected from our best modern philologists. If his work is entitled to any degree of merit, it is not on account of a judicious selection of principles and rules, but for the easy mode adopted of communicating these to the mind of the learner.''
Kirkham's Grammar, 1925, p. 10. " It will be found on examination, that what this author regarded as all the most important subject-matter of the whole science of grammar, included nothing more than the most common elements of the orthography, etymology, and syntax of the English tongue — beyond which his scholarship appears not to have extended. Whatsoever relates to derivation, to the sounds of the letters, to prosody, (as punctuation, utterance, figures, versification, and poetic diction,) found no place in his 'comprehensive system of grammar;' nor do his later editions treat any of these things amply or well. In short, he treats nothing well; for he is a bad writer.' Take from his 'hundred and fifth edition' a few brief sentences, as a sample of his thoughts and style:
“They, however, who introduce usages which depart from the analogy and philosophy of the language, are conspicuous among the number of those who form thui language, and have power to control it.' p. 18.
• PRINCIPLE. A principle in grammar is a peculiar construction of the language, sanctioned by good usage.'-lb.
• DEFINITION. A definition in grammar is a principle of language expressed in a definite form - b
*Rule. A rule describes the peculiar construction or circumstantial relation of words, which custom has established for our observance.'- Ib.
“Now, as 'a rule describes the peculiar construction, and a principle is a peculiar construction,' and 'a definition is a principle,' it is certainly not easier for ihe learner to conceive of all these things distinctly, than it is to understand how a departure from philosophy may make a man deservedly conspicuous.' Once more:
'It is correct to say, The man eals, he eats; but we cannot say, The man dog eats, he dog eats. Why not? Because the man is here represented as the possessor, and dog, the property, or thing possessed; and the genius of our language requires, that when we add to the possessor the thing which he is represented as possessing, the possessor shall take a particular form to show its case, or relation to the property.'--p. 52.