“I saw thee eye the gen’ral
With boundless love."
Burns is one of the great masters of lyrical verse. He preferred that form. He wrote neither epic nor dramatic poetry. He excels in “short swallow flights of song.”
There are not many ways in which a poet can keep larger audiences or come nearer to them than by writing verses that naturally lend themselves to daily song. There are few persons, from the peasant to the lord, who have not sung some of Burns’s songs such as Auld Lang Syne, Coming through the Rye, John Anderson my Jo, or Scots Wha hae wi’ Wallace Bled. Since the day of his death, the audiences of Robert Burns have for these reasons continually grown larger.
[Illustration: WALTER SCOTT. From the painting by William Nicholson.]
Life.—Walter Scott, the son of a solicitor, was born in Edinburgh in 1771. In childhood he was such an invalid that he was allowed to follow his own bent without much attempt at formal education. He was taken to the country, where he acquired a lasting fondness for animals and wild scenery. With his first few shillings he bought the collection of early ballads and songs known as Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. Of this he says, “I do not believe I ever read a book half so frequently, or with half the enthusiasm.” His grandmother used to delight him with the tales of adventure on the Scottish border.
Later, Scott went to the Edinburgh High School and to the University. At the High School he showed wonderful genius for telling stories to the boys. “I made a brighter figure in the yards than in the class,” he says of himself at this time. This early practice of relating tales and noting what held the attention of his classmates was excellent training for the future Wizard of the North.
After the apprenticeship to his father, the son was called to the bar and began the practice of law. He often left his office to travel over the Scottish counties in search of legendary ballads, songs, and traditions, a collection of which he published under the title of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. In 1797 he married Miss Charlotte Carpenter, who had an income of L500 a year. In 1799, having obtained the office of sheriff of Selkirkshire at an annual salary of L300, with very light duties, he found himself able to neglect law for literature. His early freedom from poverty is in striking contrast to the condition of his fellow Scotsman, Robert Burns.
During the period between thirty and forty years of age, he wrote his best poems. Not until he was nearly forty-three did he discover where his greatest powers lay. He then published Waverley, the first of a series of novels known by that general name. During the remaining eighteen years of his life he wrote twenty-nine novels, besides many other works, such as the Life of Napoleon in nine volumes, and an entertaining work on Scottish history under the title of Tales of a Grandfather.