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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

To die at Abbotsford on 21st September 1832


His

life was for many years a very happy one; for his marriage, if not passionately, was fairly successful, he was extremely fond of his children, and while his poems and novels began before he had fully reached middle life to make him a rich man, his Sheriffship, and a Clerkship of Session which was afterwards added (though he had to wait some time for its emoluments), had already made him secure of bread and expectant of affluence. From a modest cottage at Lasswade he expanded himself to a rented country house at Ashestiel on the Tweed, having besides a comfortable town mansion in Edinburgh; and when he was turned out of Ashestiel he bought land and began to build at Abbotsford on the same river. The estate was an ill-chosen and unprofitable one. The house grew with the owner's fortunes, which, founded in part as they were on the hardest and most honest work that author ever gave, were in part also founded on the quicksand of his treacherous connection with men, reckless, ill-judging, and, though perhaps not in intention dishonest, perpetually trading on their secret partner's industry and fame. In the great commercial crash of 1825, Constable, the publisher of most of the novels, was involved; he dragged the Ballantynes down with him; and the whole of Scott's fortune, except his appointments and the little settled on his wife and children, was liable for the Ballantynes' debts. But he was not satisfied with ruin. He must needs set to work at the hopeless task of paying debts which
he had never, except technically, incurred, and he actually in the remaining years of his life cleared off the greater part of them. It was at the cost of his life itself. His wife died, his children were scattered; but he worked on till the thankless, hopeless toil broke down his strength, and after a fruitless visit to Italy, he returned, to die at Abbotsford on 21st September 1832.

Scott's poetry has gone through various stages of estimate, and it can hardly be said even now, a hundred years after the publication of his first verses, to have attained the position, practically accepted by all but paradoxers, which in that time a poet usually gains, unless, as the poets of the seventeenth century did in the eighteenth, he falls, owing to some freak of popular taste, out of really critical consideration altogether. The immense popularity which it at first obtained has been noted, as well as the fact that it was only ousted from that popularity by, so to speak, a variety of itself. But the rise of Byron in the long run did it far less harm than the long-delayed vogue of Wordsworth and Coleridge and the success even of the later schools, of which Tennyson was at once the pioneer and the commander-in-chief. At an uncertain time in the century, but comparatively early, it became fashionable to take Scott's verse as clever and spirited improvisation, to dwell on its over-fluency and facility, its lack of passages in the grand style (whatever the grand style may be), to indicate its frequent blemishes in strictly correct form and phrase. And it can hardly be said that there has been much reaction from this tone among professed and competent critics.

To a certain extent, indeed, this undervaluation is justified, and Scott himself, who was more free from literary vanity than any man of letters of whom we have record, pleaded guilty again and again. Dropping as he did almost by accident on a style which had absolutely no forerunners in elaborate formal literature, a style almost absolutely destitute of any restrictions or limits, in which the length of lines and stanzas, the position of rhymes, the change from narrative to dialogue, and so forth, depended wholly and solely on the caprice of the author, it would have been extremely strange if a man whose education had been a little lacking in scholastic strictness, and who began to write at a time when the first object of almost every writer was to burst old bonds, had not been somewhat lawless, even somewhat slipshod. _Christabel_ itself, the first in time, and, though not published till long afterwards, the model of his _Lay_, has but a few score verses that can pretend to the grand style (whatever that may be). Nor yet again can it be denied that, acute as was the sense which bade Scott stop, he wrote as it was a little too much in this style, while he tried others for which he had far less aptitude.


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