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LIFE OF SIR WALTER SCOTT.
BY ALEXANDER LEIGHTON.
It has been sometimes said, that there is nothing of which a man is more vain than of authorship, yet Sir Walter Scott was certainly more proud of his pedigree than of his writings; and, what is scarcely less strange, that which he valued the less was the means of making him, while that which he valued the more was the source of his greatest misfortunes. The Border, that great nursery of families, gave birth to the Dukes of Buccleuch, with whom the poet was connected. It is fortunate that those who are proud of lineage are exempted from questioning, or even looking at the origin of their families; for it is more true than pleasant to their descendants, that the beginnings of these Border septs were often men whose superiority was founded on nothing better than the stealing of cattle. Yet such is the power of genius in transferring qualities, that even so mean and disreputable a calling has received at the hand of this, one of her sons, something so like an appearance of dignity and heroism, that the author could congratulate himself on both ends of his pedigree.
Sir Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh, on the 15th of August 1771, a day signalised by the birth of Napoleon. His father, a man of unblemished reputation for correct business habits, honesty, and benevolence, was a writer to the signet; his mother, Ann Rutherford, was daughter of Dr John Rutherford, first professor of physic in the University of Edinburgh, who had studied under the celebrated Boerhave. Mr Robert Scott, farmer at Sandyknowe, in the vicinity of Smailholm Tower, upon the Borders, was the paternal grandfather, being the son of Mr Walter Scott, a younger son of Walter Scott of Raeburn, third son of Sir Walter Scott of Harden. The Scotts of Harden, again, came, in the fourteenth century, from the stock of
the Buccleuchs, whereby arose the connexion between the poet and the greatest of the Border clans.
Scott was a healthy infant from the beginning, and the lameness with which he was affected through life was not congenital, neither did it come of what may be called accident, if the origin of it may not be called strange, as described by himself. One night he had a great aversion to go to bed, and it was not till he was chased round the room and laid hold of, that he could be prevailed upon to comply with the wishes of his mother. In the morning he was affected with fever, and after three days it was discovered that he had lost the use of his right log. After this, and till he was about eight years of age, his childhood was chiefly spent at his grandfather's house of Sandyknowe, where, even at this early time, he began to be lovingly familiar with the scenery of the Border, and even some of the simplest of the traditions and ballads, which he heard narrated or sung in the farmhouse. At this early stage, or a little beyond it, he began to show that love for miscellaneous reading, but chiefly that which was connected with his. tory and adventure, which he entertained so passionately almost through his whole life, and which he turned to the account of his genius. This gave rise, as it generally does, to hopes of scholarship; but on being placed in the High School of Edinburgh, in 1779, he failed to signalise himself in the studies of his class, if, indeed, he was not numbered amongst the dullards. The circumstance is worth an obser. vation, not unuseful, as it may tend to disabuse us of a notion which is all but ineradicable, that scholarship forms any index of success in studies and avocations which belong altogether to faculties not com. prehended among those necessary for classic superiority. All the intellectual powers which follow in the train of the emotional may be almost in abeyance, while the memory, exercised upon languages, may raise a youth to academic honours, so often vainly looked to as a pre. sage of future greatness. Nor are we to forget that precocity, always in the physical kingdom, and not seldom in the moral, bespeaks short duration,
Even then, however, Scott, in place of showing the general dulness ascribed to him in the “Percy Anecdotes," evinced eminence in historical, anecdotal, and miscellaneous knowledge, treasuring up avariciously names and facts which were destined to impart substance and charms to his subsequent writings. The poet and chronicler were, in short, in the germ; already his story-telling was shrewd and capti. vating; and, in his twelfth year, his love of ballad poetry was in. eradicably established by the delight with which he devoured “Percy's Reliques.”
About this time, his health, which ever since the fever had been weakly, began again to give way, and he was sent, for the benefit of a change of air, to reside at Kelso with his aunt. How strangely are the threads of a great man's early life woven! If he had not gone there he might never have been acquainted, at least connected in a literary way, with James and John Ballantyne, afterwards the eminent