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All these books were to be printed
by Ballantyne, and many of them edited by himself; while, when the
direct publishing business was added, there was no longer any check on
this dangerous proceeding. It is most curious how Scott, the shrewdest
and sanest of men in the vast majority of affairs, seems to have lost
his head wherever books or lands were concerned. Himself both an
antiquary and an antiquarian,[15] as well as a lover of literature, he
seems to have taken it for granted that the same combination of tastes
existed in the public to an extent which would pay all expenses, however
lavishly incurred. To us, nowadays, who know how cold a face publishers
turn on what we call really interesting schemes, and how often these
schemes, even when fostered, miscarry or barely pay expenses,--who are
aware that even the editors of literary societies, where expenses are
assured beforehand, have to work for love or for merely nominal fees,
simply because the public will not buy the books,--it is not so
wonderful that some of Scott's schemes never got into being at all, and
that others were dead losses, as that any 'got home.' His _Dryden_, an
altogether admirable book, on which he lavished labour, and great part
of which appealed to a still dominant prestige, may just have carried
the editor's certainly not excessive fee of forty guineas a volume, or
about £750 for the whole. But when one reads of twice that sum paid for
the _Swift_, of £1300 for the thirteen quartos of the _Somers Papers_,
and so forth, the feeling is not that the sums paid were at all too much
for the work done, but that the publishers must have been very lucky men
if they ever saw their money again. The two first of these schemes
certainly, the third perhaps, deserved success; and still more so did a
great scheme for the publication of the entire _British Poets_, to be
edited by Scott and Campbell, which indeed fell through in itself, but
resulted indirectly in Campbell's excellent _Specimens_ and Chalmers's
invaluable if not very comely _Poets_. Even another project, a _Corpus
Historicorum_, would have been magnificent, though it could hardly have
been bookselling war. But the _Somers Tracts_ themselves, the _Memoirs_
and papers of Sadler, Slingsby, Carleton, Cary, etc., were of the class
of book which requires subvention of some kind to prevent it from being
a dead loss; and when the preventive check of the unwillingness of
publishers was removed by the fatal establishment of '_John_ Ballantyne
& Co.,' things became worse still. There are few better instances of the
eternal irony of fate than that the author of the admirable description
of the bookseller's horror at Mr. Pembroke's Sermons[14] should have
permitted, should have positively caused, the publishing at what was in
effect his own risk, or rather his own certainty of loss, not merely of
Weber's ambitious _Beaumont and Fletcher_, but of collections of _Tixall
Poetry_, _Histories of the Culdees_, Wilson's _History of James the
First_, and the rest.

As the beginning of 1805 saw the first birth of his real books, so the
end of it saw that of the last of his children according to the flesh.
His firstborn, as has been said, did not live. But Walter (born November
1799), Sophia (born October 1801), Anne (born February 1803), and
Charles (born December 1805) survived infancy; and it is quite probable
that these regular increases to his family, by suggesting that he might
have a large one, stimulated Scott's desire to enlarge his income. As a
matter of fact, however, the quartette of two boys and two girls was not
exceeded. The domestic life at Castle Street and Ashestiel, from the
publication of the _Lay_ to that of _Marmion_ in 1808,--indeed to that
of _The Lady of the Lake_ in May 1810,--ran smoothly enough; and there
can be little doubt that these five years were the happiest, and in
reality the most prosperous, of Scott's life. He had at once attained
great fame, and was increasing it by each successive poem; his immense
intellectual activity found vent besides in almost innumerable projects,
some of which were in a way successful, and some of which, if they did
himself no very great good pecuniarily, did good to more or less
deserving friends and _protégés_. His health had, as yet, shown no signs
whatever of breaking down; he was physically in perfect condition for,
and at Ashestiel he had every opportunity of indulging in, the field
sports in which his soul delighted at least as much as in reading and
writing; he had pleasant intervals of wandering; and, to crown it all,
he was, during this period, established in reversionary prospect, if not
yet in actual possession, of an income which should have put even his
anxieties at rest, and which certainly might have made him dissociate
himself from the dangerous and doubtful commercial enterprises in which
he had engaged. This reversion was that of a Clerkship of Session, one
of an honourable, well-paid, and by no means laborious group of offices
which seems to have been accepted as a comely and comfortable set of
shelves for advocates of ability, position, and influence, who, for this
reason or that, were not making absolutely first-rate mark at the Bar.
The post to which Scott was appointed was in the possession of a certain
Mr. Hope, and as no retiring pension was attached to these places, it
was customary to hold them on the rather uncomfortable terms of doing
the work till the former holder died, without getting any money. But
before many years a pension scheme was put in operation; Mr. Hope took
his share of it, and Scott entered upon thirteen hundred a year in
addition to his Sheriffship and to his private property, without taking
any account at all of literary gains. The appointment had not actually
been completed, though the patent had been signed, when the Fox and
Grenville Government came in, and it so happened that the document had
been so made out as to have enabled Scott, if he chose, to draw the
whole salary and leave his predecessor in the cold. But this was soon
set right.

In the visit to London which he paid (apparently for the purpose of
getting the error corrected), he made the acquaintance of the unlucky
Princess of Wales, who was at this time rather a favourite with the
Tories. And when he came back to Scotland, the trial of Lord Melville
gave him an opportunity of distinguishing himself by a natural and very
pardonable partisanship, which made his Whig friends rather sore.
Politics in Edinburgh ran very high during this short break in the long
Tory domination, and from it dates a story, to some minds, perhaps, one
of the most interesting of all those about Scott, and connected
indelibly with the scene of its occurrence. It tells how, as he was
coming down the Mound with Jeffrey and another Whig, after a discussion
in the Faculty of Advocates on some proposals of innovation, Jeffrey
tried to laugh the difference off, and how Scott, usually stoical
enough, save in point of humour, broke out with actual tears in his
eyes, 'No, no! it is no laughing matter. Little by little, whatever your
wishes may be, you will destroy and undermine until nothing of what
makes Scotland Scotland shall remain!' He would probably have found no
great reason at the other end of the century to account himself a false
prophet; and he might have thought his prophecies in fair way of
fulfilment not in Scotland only.

During 1806 and 1807 the main occupations of Scott's leisure (if he can
ever be said to have had such a thing) were the _Dryden_ and _Marmion_.
The latter of these appeared in February and the former in April 1808, a
perhaps unique example of an original work, and one of criticism and
compilation, both of unusual bulk and excellence, appearing, with so
short an interval, from the same pen.

As for _Marmion_, it is surely by far the greatest, taking all
constituents of poetical greatness together, of Scott's poems. It was
not helped at the time, and probably never has been helped, by the
author's plan of prefixing to each canto introductions of very
considerable length, each addressed to one or other of his chief
literary friends, and having little or nothing at all to do with the
subject of the tale. Contemporaries complained that the main poem was
thereby intolerably interrupted; posterity, I believe, has taken the
line of ignoring the introductions altogether. This is a very great
pity, for not only do they contain some of Scott's best and oftenest
quoted lines, but each is a really charming piece of occasional verse,
and something more, in itself. The beautiful description of Tweedside in
late autumn, the dirge on Nelson, Pitt, and Fox (which last, of course,
infuriated Jeffrey), and, above all, the splendid passage on the _Morte
d'Arthur_ (which Scott had at this time thought of editing, but gave up
to Southey) adorn the epistle to Rose; the picture of Ettrick Forest in
that to Marriott is one of the best sustained things the poet ever did;
the personal interest of the Erskine piece is of the highest, though it
has fewer 'purple' passages, and it is well-matched with that to Skene;
while the fifth to Ellis and the sixth and last to Heber nobly complete
the batch. Only, though the things in this case _are_ both rich and
rare,

'We wonder what the devil they do there';

and Lockhart unearthed, what Scott seems to have forgotten, the fact
that they were originally intended to appear by themselves. It is a pity
they did not; for, excellent as they are, they are quite out of place as
interludes to a story, the serried range of which not only does not
require but positively rejects them.

For here, while Scott had lost little, if anything, of the formal graces
of the _Lay_, he had improved immensely in grip and force. Clare may be
a bread-and-butter heroine, and Wilton a milk-and-water lover, but the
designs of Marmion against both give a real story-interest, which is
quite absent from the _Lay_. The figure of Constance is really tragic,
not melodramatic merely, and makes one regret that Scott, in his prose
novels, did not repeat and vary her.



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