[Illustration: ABBOTSFORD, HOME OF SIR WALTER SCOTT.]
The crisis that showed Scott’s sterling character came in the winter of 1825-1826, when an Edinburgh publishing firm in which he was interested failed and left an his shoulders a debt of L117,000. Had he been a man of less honor, he might have taken advantage of the bankrupt law, which would have left his future earnings free from past claims; but he refused to take any step that would remove his obligation to pay the debt. At the age of fifty four, he abandoned his happy dream of founding the house of Scott of Abbotsford and sat down to pay off the debt with his pen. The example of such a life is better than the finest sermon on honor. He wrote with almost inconceivable rapidity. His novel Woodstock, the product of three months’ work, brought him L8228. In four years he paid L70,000 to his creditors. One day the tears rolled down his cheeks because he could no longer force his fingers to grasp the pen. The king offered him a man-of-war in which to make a voyage to the Mediterranean. Hoping to regain his health, Scott made the trip, but the rest came too late. He returned to Abbotsford in a sinking condition, and died in 1832, at the age of sixty-one.
[Illustration: SCOTT’S GRAVE IN DRYBURGH ABBEY.]
Poetry.—Scott’s three greatest poems are The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808), and The Lady of the Lake (1810). They belong to the distinct class of story-telling poetry. Like many of the ballads in Percy’s collection, these poems are stories of old feuds between the Highlander and the Lowlander, and between the border lords of England and Scotland. These romantic tales of heroic battles, thrilling incidents, and love adventures, are told in fresh, vigorous verse, which breathes the free air of wild nature and moves with the prance of a war horse. Outside of Homer, we can nowhere find a better description of a battle than in the sixth canto of Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field:—
“They close, in clouds of smoke
With sword sway and with lance’s thrust;
And such a yell was there,
Of sudden and portentous birth,
As if men fought upon the earth,
And fiends in upper air;
* * * * *
And in the smoke the pennons flew,
As in the storm the white sea mew.”
The Lady of the Lake, an extremely interesting story of romantic love and adventure, has been the most popular of Scott’s poems. Loch Katrine and the Trossachs, where the scene of the opening cantos is laid, have since Scott’s day been thronged with tourists.
[Illustration: LOCH KATRINE AND ELLEN’S ISLE.]
The most prominent characteristic of Scott’s poetry is its energetic movement. Many schoolboys know by heart those dramatic lines which express Marmion’s defiance of Douglas, and the ballad of Lochinvar, which is alive with the movements of tireless youth. These poems have an interesting story to tell, not of the thoughts, but of the deeds, of the characters. Scott is strangely free from nineteenth century introspection.