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literary labors included, besides his poetry, a "Life of Dryden,” "The Secret History of James I.,” and many other works of less importance.
In 1812 Scott moved to Abbotsford, where he spent the rest of his life. He was a man of great personal and family pride. It was his ambition to live in great magnificence, and to dispense hospitality on a large scale. He bought a large area of land at an aggregate expense of twenty-nine thousand pounds, and erected a baronial castle. Here he realized for a time his ideal of life. He was visited by distinguished men and hero-worshippers from all parts of the world. Indeed, his fame became oppressive. His correspondence was enormous, and as many as sixteen parties of sight-seers visited Abbotsford in a single day.
For his friends Scott was the prince of hosts. Devoting only the earlier part of the day to work, he placed his afternoons wholly at the service of his guests. Hunting was his favorite sport, and he led many a brilliant party over the hills and through the valleys to the echoing music of his hounds. His large, benevolent nature drew men to him. To all classes he was thoroughly kind. "Sir Walter speaks to every man as if they were blood relations," was a common description of his demeanor. Even the dumb animals recognized in him a
Apart from his social enjoyments, Scott found most delight in planting trees. He greatly beautified his estate, and imparted a taste for arboriculture to the landholders about him. "Planting and pruning trees," he said, "I could work at from morning to night. There is a sort of self-congratulation, a little self-flattery, in the idea that while you are pleasing and amusing yourself, you are seriously contributing to the future welfare of the country, and that your acorn may send its future ribs of oak to future victories like Trafalgar."
The great mistake in Scott's life lay in his business ventures. Through them came ultimately embarrassment and disaster. In the hope of increasing his income, he established
the publishing house of John Ballantyne & Co., in Edinburgh. John Ballantyne was a frivolous, dissipated man, wholly unfit for the management of the enterprise. Scott, though possessing sufficient discernment, was easily led away by his feelings. As a consequence, the warehouses of the new firm were soon filled with a great quantity of unsalable stock. Only the extensive sale of his novels saved the company from early bankruptcy. But ultimately the crash came, and in 1825 Scott found himself personally responsible for the enormous debt of one hundred and thirty thousand pounds.
For years he had been the literary sovereign of Great Britain. He had lived in the midst of great splendor at Abbotsford. To find his means swept away in a single moment was a terrific blow, sufficient to crush an ordinary man. But at no time in his career did Scott exhibit so fully his heroic character. Instead of crushing him, misfortune only called forth his strength. With indomitable will and sturdy integrity, he set to work to meet his immense obligations. There is nothing more heroic in the course of English literature. Work after work came from his pen in rapid succession. He well-nigh accomplished his purpose; but at last, as we shall see, his mind and body gave way under the tremendous strain, and he fell a martyr to high-souled integrity.
In 1814, when the affairs of Ballantyne & Co. were in a perplexing condition, Scott took up a work in prose, which he had begun in 1805, and pushed it rapidly to completion.. This was Waverley," the first of that wonderful series which has placed his name at the head of historical novelists. Though published anonymously, as were all its successors, it met with astonishing success. It decided his future literary career. His poetic vein had been exhausted, and Byron's verse was attracting public attention. Henceforth he devoted himself to historical fiction, for which his native powers and previous training were precisely adapted.
For the remainder of his life he composed, in addition to other literary labors, on an average two romances a year, il
lustrating every period in Scottish, English, and Continental history from the time of the Crusades to the middle of the eighteenth century. The series is, upon the whole, remarkably even in excellence; but among the most interesting may be mentioned "Old Mortality," which describes the sufferings of the Covenanters; "The Heart of Midlothian," to which many critics assign the highest rank; "Ivanhoe " which is very popular; and "Quentin Durward," which holds a distinguished place.
In the composition of these works, Scott wrote with extraordinary rapidity. "Guy Mannering" is said to have been written in six weeks. Carlyle finds fault with what he calls the "extempore method." But in reality it was not extempore. It had been Scott's delight from childhood to store his capacious memory with the antiquarian and historical information which he embodied in his novels. Instead of laborious special investigations, he had but to draw on this great reservoir of learning. He did not wait for moments of inspiration; but morning after morning, he returned to his task with the same zest, and turned out the same amount of work.
Even acute physical suffering did not overcome his creative power. He dictated "The Bride of Lammermoor," "The Legend of Montrose," and "Ivanhoe" to amanuenses. His suffering sometimes forced from him cries of agony. When his amanuensis once begged him to stop dictating, he only answered, "Nay, Willie, only see that the doors are fast; I would fain keep all the cry as well as all the wool to ourselves." A few other writers have equalled or even surpassed Scott in the number of novels; but, if we consider the quality of work and the many centuries covered by his romances, we must regard him as still without a successful rival.
The Waverley novels are characterized by largeness of thought and style. They turn on public rather than private inIn place of narrow social circles, we are introduced into the midst of great public movements. Crusaders, Papists, Puritans, Cavaliers, Roundheads, Jacobites, Jews, freebooters,
preachers, schoolmasters, gypsies, beggars, move before us with the reality of life. The past is made to live again. The style corresponds to the largeness of the subjects. Scott could not have achieved distinction in domestic novels, with their petty interests and trifling distinctions.
He was an admirer of Miss Austen, in reference to whose manner he said: "The big bow-wow strain I can do myself, like any now going; but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied me." "Scott needed," observes Hutton, "a certain largeness of type, a strongly marked class-life, and where it was possible, a free out-of-doors life, for his delineations. No one could paint beggars and gypsies, and wandering fiddlers, and mercenary soldiers, and peasants, and farmers, and lawyers, and magistrates, and preachers, and courtiers, and statesmen, and best of all perhaps queens and kings, with anything like his ability.”
In 1825, after the failure of Ballantyne & Co., Scott resolutely set to work to pay his creditors. His only resource was his pen. Although his cherished hopes were all blasted, he toiled on indomitably till nature gave way. Two days after the news of the crash reached him, he was working on "Woodstock.” In three years he earned and paid over to his creditors no less than forty thousand pounds. If his health had continued, he would have discharged the enormous debt. But unfavorable symptoms began to manifest themselves in 1829, and the following year he had a stroke of paralysis. Though he recovered from it, his faculties never regained their former clearness and strength. Nevertheless, in spite of the urgent advice of physicians and friends, he continued to toil on. "Count Robert of Paris" and "Castle Dangerous" appeared in 1831. But they showed a decline in mental vigor his magic wand was broken. An entry in his diary at this time is truly pathetic: "The blow is a stunning one, I suppose, for I scarcely feel it. It is singular, but it comes with as little surprise as if I had a remedy ready; yet God knows I am at sea in the dark, and
the vessel leaky, I think, into the bargain." It is the pathos of a strong man's awaking to a consciousness that his strength is gone.
A sea voyage was recommended; and in October, 1831, he sailed in a vessel, put at his disposal by the government, for Malta. He visited various points on the Mediterranean, but without material benefit. With the failing of his strength, he longed for Abbotsford. As he caught sight of the towers once more, he sprang up with a cry of delight. A few days before his death he called his son-in-law Lockhart to his bedside. "Lockhart," he said, "I may have but a minute to speak to you. My dear, be a good man, be virtuous, be religious,
be a good man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie here." These were almost his last words. Four days afterwards, during which time he showed scarcely any signs of consciousness, he quietly passed away, Sept. 21, 1832 -one of the grandest, but, also if we think of his disappointed hopes one of the saddest characters in English literature.