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SIR WALTER SCOTT,
Sir Walter Scott's arrival in Ireland, which took place at the close of the last Summer, is an event that produced a very vivid impression on our minds. We were pleased to see our venerable soil trodden by the footsteps of him, who, confessedly iş at the head of the literature of Europe, and who has won his way, gallantly and nobly, to that intellectual throne, upon which, the suffrages of the world, and his own heroism, have conspired to place him. His, assuredly, is nó iron despotism. His empire, while it is more extensive than that which bows the neck before the autocrat of all the Russias, is also more truly glorious, and will probably outlast its duration. It has laid hold on our purest, and best affections; it has entwined itself about the very fibres of our hearts, and it has struck its roots deeply and fixedly into our mind and memory. The country of his birth, and of his predilection, although previously distinguished for its sober, steady, and persevering progress in all the arts, and all the elegancies that indicate a high state of civilization, as well as for the eminent rank it held in the various departments of poetry, history, and the moral and physical sciences, did not, after all, attract any thing like a preponderating share in the attention of the writers and philosophers of the rest of Europe, and no share whatever, in the jnterest and consideration of the ordinary mass of dissipated witlings and thoughtless'aythors, and of equally thoughtless and more dissipated readers. Scotland may have had its literary, like its political convulsions, its variations in the form and the aim of its philosophy, as well as of its religion; it may have had its hot rebellions on paper, and its bloodless battles of books; it may have witnessed and applauded the deposition from his high throne, and the exile, and very nearly the decapitation of some luckless and aspiring book-king, who began to encroach on the liberties of subject-scribblers, and forgot, in the 'hey-day of his intellectual Jacobitism, that licentiousness has its thousands, and dulness its tens of thousands: such things as these, may have been-nay, actually have beenin constant operation, and producing their natural and obvious effects on the face, and within the heart of that kingdom, without exciting the apprehensions, and commanding the sympathy of the rest of mankind. These sudden revolutions, and these gradual and imperceptible changes, however important to the people on whom they have been found to exert a beneficial influence, have, with very few exceptions, passed without any notice, and almost without any effect, in the contemporary history of the surrounding nations. They have formed, as far as regards both politics and literature, either a part and parcel of that very history, and of course, have merged in its general features, and its ultimate issues: or, wherever they can be contemplated as distinct from it, they have shrunk into insignificance, and dwindled away into unimportant minuteness. The fame of Scotland reposed in antiquated and dusty magnificence, on piles of monastic legends, and tales of prowess and chivalry, or heaps of interminable and unreadable state-papers; of musty records about faithless promises, and violated treaties; turbulent barons, and honourable free-booters; the reckless gambols of sovereigns, and the disedifying frolics of monks, and the tiny and “ auld-warld" freaks of harmless fayes, or of mischievous wizards;- all preserved in rude prose, and still ruder verse, with here and there, an intermitting gleam of meaning, and an interrupted and irregular swell of tender. ness. Next came attempts at a clumsy species of chronicling and historytelling, very nearly as heavy and as long as its progenitor, but not quite so dark. There was more sense —more intelligibility diffused through the dense and dreary bulk of the narrative. As to the value of those old musty memoirs, and the faith to which they are entitled, it may be very fairly gathered from the well-known fact, that they were generally compiled by hot and intemperate partisans, always ready to exaggerate, or to extenuate, as occasion required, and in many instances, unprincipled enough to set down any thing, or every thing in malice. Then too, Scotland abounded in those rude border songs, those rhyming stories about love and robbery, and madness and murder, which certainly, in spite of what some gentle and sighing critics have advanced, were as good as the old French, German, and Italian productions of the same school, and which, with corresponding fidelity, and sympathetic harshness,' reflected the predominant sentiments and habits of that period of European Society. After a tedious interval, the sweet and simple strains of Ramsay's pastoral muse, came breathing peace, gentleness, and love, over the mountains, and along the valleys of his country: while the tragic spirit of Home mingled its dark shadows, and its tender and melancholy light-the indistinct voices of the storm and moan. ings of the forest, with the suffocating anguish, and the wild shrieks of human passions, when they are crushed by an unexpected and overwhelming fate into the dust, or when they are wrought up to acute and searching agony, and to a sort of terrible vitality by the mutual conflict, which oftener prolongs than extinguishes their power of mischief. Then we have the hallowed names of Baillie and of Burns; the one disclosing, with an energy that is not extravagant, and with a natural pathos equally remote from polished coldness and outrageous sentimentalism, the seeds and the growth of all that poisons, and of all that sweetens our existence, arresting our attention, soothing our heart, instructing our reason, in whatever is praiseworthy, and winning us over to what is truly great, by shewing its connexion with what is surpassingly good;—the other, nature's own pupil, without any education from man, with scarcely any aid from art, communing with the most majestic forms, and the softest tints of mountain-scenery; aiming at the faithful and unshackled interpretation of the mysterious movements of the human heart, and of the dark and tempestuous visitations by which its transient and fitfal sunshine is so ofted overcast, transferring to his rich and varied page, with a humour almost unparalleled, the caprices, the peculiarities, the whims, the alternate vanity and meanness that beset our present condition, and the mischances that befall it; never failing to shade and relieve the flaring colours, and the broad and somewhat grotesque strokes of his pleasantry, with some touch of inimitable tenderness that generally closes even his lighter and more airy productions, and communicates to them the interest of a deep and pathetic moral.
There were other names, too, that for a great part of the last century, and at the commencement of the present, shed lustre on the science and the literature of Scotland; and that very appropriately connect, whatever was splendid and substantial in the recent period, with the unbounded exuberance and glory of that in which we now write. Its celebrity in Medicine was sustained by a host of writers, always respectable, and often eminent--that enabled its University, in numberless instances, to emulate the fame of Leyden and of Padua,--and that it would be an endless task to enumerate. There was no dearth of metaphısical acuteness or of curious researches partly philological, partly plilosophical, in the mysteries, the principles and the structure of language, and the progress of man in society, as is evident from the startling but ingenious speculations of Hume, the quaint adsurdities of Monboddo and the profound and extensive erudition of Kames, perverted occasionally by the obliquity of some of his views, but always rendered respectable by the honest and simplehearted sincerity in which he pursued them. In Historical composition there were some who have never been surpassed by any writers either ancient or modern; and Robertson alone may stand as the personification of whatever majestic gravity, gorgeous eloquence, and picturesque description can be consistent with the legitimate style of history. There were besides many others, Stuart and Hume, the graces and unrivalled beauty of whose diction are however but poor compensation, for the want of accuracy, fidelity and candour,-the indispensible qualities that ought to characterise and adorn the office of historian-We had also the admirable “ annals" of Lord Hailes-and, in our own days, the elegant and valuable productions of Tytler's pen, and (though the Patriarch of this generation-yet the earliest efforts of his genius belong to that what is gone by,) the venerable Henry M'Kenzie, whose essays and novels have won him an imperishable renown-blending all that was unaffected and harmonious in the language of his predecessors, with the gentle warmth of his own conceptions and the deep and unexhausted fountain of his pure and fresh affections: and steeping the heart of the reader, alternately in the most placid joy, and the most melting sorrow.' In mental philosophy it is enough to refer merely to the names of such men as Reid and Stewart, and a number of other distinguished writers, who either immediately preceded them, or have trodden in their footsteps. We have thus very summarily touched on one or two epochs, and very faintly characterised a few of those great men to whom Scotland is indebted for that portion of literary eminence she enjoyed about the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is not a connected view of her splendid career, that we have thought of giving,—nor a well arTanged series and analysis of the works that have mainly contributed to accellerate it (now a superfluous and almost an endless labour;) but we have simply glanced at a few bright links in the chain, and contented ourselves with suggesting, rather than enumerating, the elements of which her intellectual glory was made up. 'The intervals will be readily supplied by the well-informed reader.
Now, it is certain, that, notwithstanding these powerful claims, which Scotland possessed, on the attention, and perhaps on the gratitude, of the rest of Europe; her influence was after all restricted within very narrow - limits. Her sages and her poets, in spite of the depth and value of their speculations and the genuine tenderness and warmth of their enthusiasm, were very imperfectly known, and wh.ere they happened to be known, very generally disregarded and undervalued. Her antiquaries were permitted to slumber away in undisturbed obscurity, poking, amidst their congenial dust and cobwebs, their crumbling ruins and their unintelligible and mutilated parchments, with fruitless minuteness and miraculous perseverance; and substituting for the vacuities produced by time or by barbarism, in manuscript and monuments, the bewildering, yet SUBSTANTIAL vacaity of their own conjectural nonsense. Her historians indeed became more extensively celebrated, and their reputation arose and spread in proportion as the subjects they undertook to illustrate, were interesting and popular, and the style they employed, was graceful and attractive. This class, of course may be said to have formed an exception, but at the utmost, the exception did not reach very far: and we can safely assert that the knowledge, men had of Scottish writers, as well as the interest that men took in Scottish subjects, was trivial and unimportant; unless indeed we bring within our calculation, a few straggling University men, and some dozen or two of litterateurs, whom curiosity or accident, their good or their evil genius, their affectation or their taste, may have beckoned aside into this obscure and untravelled path of studies.
It was reserved for Sir Walter Scott not only to work a revolution, in literature, unparalleled both for the splendour of its immediate achievements, and for the utility of its remote effects, but also to shed an unfading beauty and an irresistable charm over the wild, sterile, and unfrequented tracts of the history of his own romantic land. Other causes perhaps may have concurred, some imperceptibly, some prominently, but all in a very slight and partial way, towards the producing of this wonderful change. Some share may be ascribed to the great political revolution that had burst upon the world a short time previously, and had made itself be felt by the terrible agitation into which it threw every, even the most distant province of human thought and human passion. The whole frame of man's moral nature was convulsed. New wants were generated; the old flagging appetite acquired a fresh vigour and sharpness; and the world became nauceated with the old-never-failing-monotonous " manna” of literature, as well as of government. They grew all on a sudden, very difficult to please, and in a paroxysm of insanity, or in the spring and exuberance of their young health; in a fit of reyalutionary impiety, or of an interval of dawning reason, they sturdily rejected the “light food," and imperiously demanded a supply of rich, savoury, and exhilirating viands. Their cry was heard, and the supply was abundant and various. Originality and power, were the characteristics principally looked for, in every writer that had any pretension to popular favour; while the eccentricities that sprung from the first, and the grotesque and even excessive exertions of the second, were seen to meet not only lenient censors, but very indulgent advocates and partisans. There was, to be sure, a good deal of sentimentalism, affectation, and waywardness mixt up in compositions, of which the prevailing ingredients were strong delineation of passion, enthusiastic worship of all that is delicately beautiful, and all that is wildly stupendous in the aspect of external nature, and a cordial sympathy with whatever guides, or controuls, whatever drenches in affliction, or warms and brightens up in sunshine, the internal world of the heart. All the staid propriety, sterling good sense, and artificial graces of the ancient standardworks, presented a very feeble barrier to the encroachments of the adventurous, and headlong spirit of ingovation that was abroad. Each new accession of dominion brought, of course, a new encrease of audacity and of enterprize; and the conquests were speedily pushed to the very heart of the old Empire of taste, until it became a question, whether the whole stock of antiquated wisdom and learning should not be denounced as a bulky, and somewhat troublesome incumbrance, that ought to be quietly set apart in appropriate cells, and crypts and niches, to be just gazed at occasionally, as a rare curiosity, or smiled at, as a ludicrous oddity, or, in some instances, to be reverentially contemplated by a more scrupulous eye, as the venerable relic, and instructive specimen of a world that had perished. When matters had grown to this head, and the revolutionizing torrent (we cannot help recurring, though we know 'tis common-place, to the obvious analogy furnished by the phenomenon of the volcano) had demolished and overlaid the political institutions which stood in its way, on the surface of society; and had, besides, sent its hot and searching principles into the deep recesses, and the subterranean and hallowed retreats of the muses, and of literature, there came to be in the public mind, an extraordinary, but by no means unaccountable aptitude for the reception of the new, the wonderful, the magnificent, the paradoxical, and the mysterious—for whatever, in short, was splendidly extravagant, or irregularly bold, or carelessly intrepid, to the contempt and exclusion of whatever was correctly dull; exquisitely feeble, or most elaborately and scientifically tame.
The genius of Scott; enrichied with the treasures that his indefatigable industry, had gathered and gleaned from every province of human learning, saw, in one glance, the dangerous, as well as the advantageous points of such a state of things. Something might be done, both for the legitimate and salutary gratification of the taste that had been produced, and for the restriction and government of its indiscriminate and reckless excess : something also for the redemption and ornament of what was every day, exposed to greater peril, of being either contemptuously Aung aside, or utterly lost. He was resolved that the intrinsic worth and beauty that still adhered to the historical records, and the romantic legends in prose and verse, connected with the manners and events of the "elder day," should not perish for want of a champion to espouse their quatrel; and vindicate their claims. He was resolved io convert to his own noble purposes, the mighty spirit that was abroad at its work of alternate ruin and renovation, and of whose inspiration he must himself have drunk deeply, without, however, resigning his own magical power of controlling it. The breath of genius had gone forth, and the fire was enkindled—and all that was truly rich and precious and beautiful in the tradition or monuments of the nearer or more distant periods, the triumphs, the sorrows, the struggles, the tears unavailingly shed, and the glory as unprofitably reaped, of patriotism and love and valour, but shone the more beauteously and softly beneath the radiance of a flame, that when it touched, only purified them. His powerful grasp, and his keen perception, detected and rescued from amidst the rubbish in which they were involved and obscured, many a brilliant gem; of otherwise unhonoured virtue, and unrecorded heroism and the sterner features; and the rough and more revolting accompaniments of feudal wars and feudal amusements—the more disgusting and repulsive incidents, the more formal and scientific bloodshed, and the more cunning and hypocritical pretexts of comparatively modern warfare and modern policy, were all relieved and redeemed by the matchless skill; and the unrivalled freedom and force with which the mighty wizard interwove his delicious visions of private worth and honour, of generous friendship, of unsullied faith, of gentle and all-confiding love, and of the whole group of domestic charities, with the darker and more tumultuous scenes of his narrative; and actually sealed up, by his enchantments, all our senses and attention from the world in which we live, and wrapt our souls in an undivided interest for that past world into which he had transported us, and which he had created anew, and summoned out of that faint and shadowy outline, which is all that our ordinary recollections of what has