« PreviousContinue »
VII.-MORNING IN THE HIGHLANDS OF SCOTLAND. EXECUTION OF A HOSTAGE FOR BREACH OF FAITH.
[WALTER SCOTT was born in Edinburgh, August 15, 1771, and died at Ab botsford, September 21, 1832. In 1792 he was called to the Scotch bar as an advocate; but he made little progress in his profession, and was soon allured from it by the higher attractions of literature. After having written and published a few fugitive pieces, and edited a collection of border ballads, he broke upon the world, in 1805, with his "Lay of the Last Minstrel," which was received with a burst of admiration almost without parallel in literary history. This was followed by "Marmion," and "The Lady of the Lake," which added to the author's reputation, and by "Rokeby," and "The Lord of the Isles," which fairly sustained it. These poems were unlike anything that had preceded them. Their versification was easy and graceful, though sometimes careless; their style was energetic and condensed; their pictures were glowing and faithful; the characters and incidents were fresh and startling, and in the battle scenes there was a power of painting which rivalled the pages of Homer. The whole civilized world rose up to greet with admiration the poet who transported them to the lakes and mountains of Scotland, introduced them to knights and moss-troopers, and thrilled them with scenes of wild adventure and lawless violence. Scott held exclusive possession of the poetical throne until Lord Byron disputed it with him, and won a popularity more intense, if not more wide.
But these brilliant and successful poems were hardly more than an introduction to Scott's literary career. In 1814, there appeared, without any preliminary announcement, and anonymously, a novel called "Waverley," which soon attracted great attention, and gave rise to much speculation as to its authorship. This was the beginning of that splendid series of works of fiction commonly called the Waverley novels, which continued to be poured forth in rapid succession till 1827. From the first, there was very little doubt that Scott was the author of these works, although they were published without any name; and when the avowal was made, in 1827, it took nobody by surprise. Of the great powers put forth in these novels-of their immense popularitv — and of the influence they have exerted, and are still exerting, upon literature, it is not necessary to speak, nor could such a subject be discussed in a notice like this. Admirable as the whole series is, there is a power, a freshness, and an originality in the earlier ones, such as "Guy Mannering," and "The Antiquary, "where the scenery and characters are Scotch, which give them a marked superiority over their younger brethren.
Besides his poems and novels, Scott wrote a Life of Napoleon, various other biographies, and many works besides. He was a man of immense literary industry, and his writings fill eighty-eight volumes of small octavo size. All this did not prevent his discharging faithfully the duties of a citizen, of a father of a family, and (for many years) of a magistrate.
Scott's life has been written by his son-in-law, Lockhart; and it is a truthful record of what he was and what he did. His was a noble nature, with much to love and much to admire. He was a warm friend, most affectionate in his domestic relations, and ever ready to do kind acts to those who stood in need of them. After his first literary successes, he lived before the lig eye; and since his death, his whole life and being have been expos- to
the general gaze and there are few lives on record that would bear such an ordeal better.
In consequence of an unwise secret partnership with a printer and publisher, Scott became a bankrupt at the age of fifty-five. He met this blow with an heroic spirit, and addressed himself to the task of discharging the liabili- * ties against him, with a moral energy which was nothing less than sublime. The amount of work he performed between this date and that of his death is fearful to contemplate. His life was shortened by his excessive toils; but he accomplished what he proposed to himself. His debts, materially diminished before his death, have since been entirely discharged by the profits on his collected works. In the portion of his life, from his bankruptcy to his death, Scott's character shines with a moral grandeur far above mere literary fame, Scott was made a baronet in 1820.
This extract is from "Rob Roy," one of the most spirited and popular of the Waverley novels, originally published in 1817. Rob Roy, a Highland chieftain, had been taken prisoner. Morris, an Englishman, had been sent as a hostage to guarantee the personal safety of Rob Roy. The violation of this pledge called down upon his head the vengeance of the wife of Rob Roy,
I SHALL never forget the delightful sensation with which I exchanged the dark, smoky, smothering atmosphere of the Highland hut, in which we had passed the night so uncomfortably, for the refreshing fragrance of 5 the morning air, and the glorious beams of the rising sun, which, from a tabernacle of purple and golden clouds, were darted full on such a scene of natural romance and beauty as had never before greeted my eyes. To the left lay the valley, down which the Forth wandered on its 10 easterly course, surrounding the beautiful detached hill, with all its garland of woods. On the right, amid a profusion of thickets, knolls, and crags, lay the bed of a broad mountain lake, lightly curled into tiny waves by the breath of the morning breeze, each glittering in its 15 course under the influence of the sunbeams. High hills, rocks, and banks, waving with natural forests of birch and oak, formed the borders of this enchanting sheet of water; and, as their leaves rustled to the wind and twinkled in the sun, gave to the depth of solitude a sort of 20 life and vivacity. Man alone seemed to be placed in a state of inferiority, in a scene where all the ordinary features of nature were raised and exalted.
It was under the burning influence of revenge that the wife of MacGregor commanded that the hostage, exchanged for her husband's safety, should be brought into her presence. I believe her sons had kept this unfortunate wretch 5 out of her sight, for fear of the consequences; but if it was so, their humane precaution only postponed his fate.
They dragged forward, at her summons, a wretch, already half dead with terror, in whose agonized features I recognized, to my horror and astonishment, my old acquaint10 ance Morris.
He fell prostrate before the female chief with an effort to clasp her knees, from which she drew back, as if his touch had been pollution, so that all he could do in token of the extremity of his humiliation, was to kiss the hem 15 of her plaid. I never heard entreaties for life poured forth with such agony of spirit. The ecstasy of fear was such, that, instead of paralyzing his tongue, as on ordinary occasions, it even rendered him eloquent, and, with
cheeks as pale as ashes, hands compressed in agony, eyes 20 that seemed to be taking their last look of all mortal objects, he protested, with the deepest oaths, his total ignorance of any design on the life of Rob Roy, whom he swore he loved and honored as his own soul.. - In the inconsistency of his terror, he said, he was but the agent 25 of others, and he muttered the name of Rashleigh.
He prayed but for life for life he would give all he had in the world; it was but life he asked-life, if it were to be prolonged under tortures and privations; - he asked only breath, though it should be drawn in the damps of 30 the lowest caverns of their hills.
It is impossible to describe the scorn, the loathing, and contempt, with which the wife of MacGregor regarded this wretched petitioner for the poor boon of existence.
“I could have bid you live," she said, "had life been 35 to you the same weary and wasting burden that it is to that it is to every noble and generous mind. -But
you wretch! you could creep through the world unaffected by its various disgraces, its ineffable miseries, its constantly accumulating masses of crime and sorrow; you could live and enjoy yourself, while the noble-minded 5 are betrayed, while nameless and birthless villains tread on the neck of the brave and long-descended ; — y ɔu could enjoy yourself, like a butcher's dog in the shambles, fattening on garbage, while the slaughter of the brave went on around you! This enjoyment you shall not live 10 to partake of; you shall die, base dog, and that before yon cloud has passed over the sun!"
She gave a brief command, in Gaelic, to her attendants, two of whom seized upon the prostrate suppliant, and hurried him to the brink of a cliff which overhung the flood. 15 He set up the most piercing and dreadful cries that fear ever uttered—I may well term them dreadful, for they haunted my sleep for years afterwards. As the murderers, or executioners, call them as you will, dragged him along, he recognized me even in that moment of hor20 ror, and exclaimed, in the last articulate words I ever heard him utter, "O, Mr. Osbaldistone, save me! - save me!"
I was so much moved by this horrid spectacle, that, although in momentary expectation of sharing his fate, I 25 did attempt to speak in his behalf, but, as might have been expected, my interference was sternly disregarded. The victim was held fast by some, while others, binding a large heavy stone in a plaid, tied it round his neck, and others again eagerly stripped him of some part of his 30 dress. Half naked, and thus manacled, they hurried him into the lake, there about twelve feet deep, drowning his last death-shriek with a loud halloo of vindictive triumph, over which, however, the yell of mortal agony was distinctly heard. The heavy burden splashed in the dark 35 blue waters of the lake, and the Highlanders, with their pole-axes and swords, watched an instant, to guard, lest,
extricating himself from the load to which he was at tached, he might have struggled to regain the shore. But the knot had been securely bound; the victim sunk without effort; the waters, which his fall had disturbed, set5 tled cal ly over him, and the unit of that life, for which he had pleaded so strongly, was forever withdrawn from the sum of human existence.
(DANIEL WEBSTER was born at Salisbury, New Hampshire, January 18, 1782, and died at Marshfield, Massachusetts, October 24, 1852. He was graduated at Dartmouth College in 1801, was admitted to the bar in 1805, and settled in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1807. He was a member of the House of Representatives from New Hampshire from 1813 to 1817. In the latter part of 1815 he removed to Boston, and resided in that city, or at Marshfield, during the remainder of his life. He was chosen to the House of Representatives from the district of Boston in 1822, and was a member of that body till 1827, when he was elected to the United States Senate by the Legislature of Massachusetts. He continued there during the remainder of his life, with the exception of two intervals, when he held the office of Secretary of State, first under the administrations of Presidents Harrison and Tyler, and secondly under that of President Fillmore.
For the last twenty-five years of his life, Mr. Webster's biography is identified with the history of his country. Having been a leader of one of its great political parties, the time has hardly yet come for a calm and unbiased judgment to be passed upon his services; but no candid mind will ever question the sincerity and comprehensiveness of his patriotism, still less the splendor of his intellectual powers. He was a great lawyer, a great statesman, a great debater, and a great writer. As a writer-in which point of view alone we have now to regard him-he stands among the very first of his class. No style can be found more suited for the subjects of which it treats than his. It is strong, simple, and dignified; vehement and impassioned when necessary; readily rising into eloquence, and occasionally touched with high imaginative beauty. He excels in the statement of a case or the exposition of a principle; and in his occasional discourses there are passages of a lofty moral grandeur by which the heart and mind are alike affected. Some of his state papers may fairly challenge comparison with the best productions of the kind which the past has transmitted to us.
The following passage is taken from a discourse, pronounced at Plymouth, December 22, 1820, in commemoration of the first settlement of New England.]
If the blessings of our political and social condition have not now been too highly estimated, we cannot well overrate the responsibility which they impose upon us