Page images


SIR WALTER SCOTT was one of the sons of Walter Scott, Esq., writer to the signet, by Anne, daughter of Dr John Rutherford, professor of the practice of medicine, in the university of Edinburgh; and was born in that city, on the fifteenth of August, 1771, being the third of a family consisting of six sons and one daughter. His paternal grandfather, Mr Robert Scott, farmer at Sandyknow, in the vicinity of Smailholm Tower, in Roxburghshire, was the son of Mr Walter Scott, a younger son of Walter Scott of Raeburn, third son of Sir William Scott of Harden.

The above-mentioned Walter lived at the time of the restoration, and embraced the tenets of quakerism; but for this he endured no little persecution, both from Presbyterian and Episcopalian. Walter, the second son of this gentleman, and father to the novelist's grandfather, was so zealous a Jacobite, that he made a vow never to shave his beard till the exiled house of Stuart should be restored, whence he acquired the name of Beardie.

Dr John Rutherford, maternal grandfather to the subject of this memoir, and one of the pupils of Boerhaave, was the first professor of the practice of physic in the university of Edinburgh, to which office he was elected in 1727, and which he resigned in 1766, in favour of the celebrated Dr John Gregory. His

wife, the maternal grandmother of Sir Walter, was Jean Swinton, daughter of Swinton of Swinton, in Berwickshire, one of the oldest families in Scotland, and at one period very powerful. Sir Walter has introduced a chivalric representative of this race into his drama of "Halidon Hill. '

Existence opened upon the author of Waverley, in one of the duskiest parts of the northern capital, which was the head of the College Wynd, a narrow alley leading from the Cowgate to the gate of the college and before he was two years old, he received a fall out of the arms of a careless nurse, which injured his right foot, and rendered him lame for life; but this accident did not otherwise affect his health or general activity. His mother, who had a taste for poetry, and was intimately acquainted with the poets of her day, particularly Ramsay, Blacklock, Beattie, and Burns, is said to have shown a mother's fondness when the boy made his first attempt at verse. Before Sir Walter could receive any impressions from the romantic scenery of the old town of Edinburgh, he was removed, on account of the delicacy of his health, to the country, and lived for a considerable period under the charge of his paternal grandfather at Sandy know. This farm is situate upon a rising ground, near the bottom of Leader Water, and overlooks a large part of the vale of Tweed. In the immediate neighbourhood of the farm-house, upon a rocky foundation, stood the Border fortlet called Smailholm Tower, which possessed many features to attract the attention of the young poet. At the "evening fire" of Sandyknow also, Sir Walter learned much of that Border lore which he afterwards wrought up in his fictions.

After having undergone the usual routine of juve nile instruction, Sir Walter became a pupil in the High School of Edinburgh; but as a scholar, he appears to have been by no means remarkable for proficiency. There is his own authority for saying, that even in the exercise of metrical translation, he fell far short of some of his companions; although others pretend that this was a department in which he always manifested a superiority. There is one anecdote, however, worth preserving, connected with this

period. It is said, that Burns, while at Professor Ferguson's one day, was struck by some lines attached to a print of a soldier dying in the snow. He inquired by whom they were written and none of the company having returned answer,-after a pause, the youthful poet replied, "They are by Langhorne."Burns fixed his large bright eyes on the boy, and striding up to him, said, "It is no common course of reading which has taught you this: this lad will be heard of yet."

With regard to Sir Walter's inclination for fictitious story, we have his own testimony, at the distance of nearly half a century, for this habit of his early youth: "I must refer to a very early period of my life, were I to point out my first achievements as a tale-teller; but I believe some of my old school-fellows can still bear witness that I had a distinguished character for that talent, at a time when the applause of my companions was my recompense for the disgraces and punishments which the future romancewriter incurred for being idle himself, and keeping others idle, during hours that should have been employed on our tasks. The chief enjoyment of my holidays was to escape with a chosen friend, who had the same taste with myself, and alternately to recite to each other such wild adventures as we were able to devise. We told, each in turn, interminable tales of knight-errantry, and battles, and enchantments, which were continued from one day to another as opportunity offered, without our ever thinking of bringing them to a conclusion. As we observed a strict secrecy on the subject of this intercourse, it aoquired all the character of concealed pleasure: and we used to select for the scenes of our indulgence, long walks through the solitary and romantic environs of Arthur's Seat, Salisbury Crags, Braid Hills, and similar places in the vicinity of Edinburgh; and the recollection of those holidays still forms an oasis in the pilgrimage which I have to look back upon."

After having been two years under the rector of the High School, Sir Walter entered himself, in 1783, for the Humanity or Latin class in the university of Edinburgh, under Professor Hill, and the Greek class

« PreviousContinue »