I. SCOTT AT ASHESTIEL.
Sir Walter Scott’s love of the country induced him, after his marriage in 1797, to settle in a cottage at the pretty village of Lasswade, near Edinburgh. Four years after leaving this district he took Mr. Morritt of Rokeby to see the little dwelling, telling him that, though not worth looking at, ‘it was our first house when newly married, and many a contrivance it had to make it comfortable.’ He then enumerated various devices, by which he had secured for Mrs. Scott and himself what seemed to both, at the time, additional convenience and elegance in and about their home. His reminiscences culminated in an account of an arch over the gate-way, which he had constructed by fastening together the tops of two convenient willows and placing above them ‘a cross made of two sticks.’ This is very beautiful and characteristic; and there is much freshness and charm in the further picture of the young cottagers rejoicing over the success of the arrangements. ‘To be sure,’ Scott concluded, ‘it is not much of a lion to show a stranger; but I wanted to see it again myself, for I assure you after I constructed it, Mamma (Mrs. Scott) and I both of us thought it so fine, we turned out to see it by moonlight, and walked backwards from it to the cottage-door in admiration of our own magnificence and its picturesque effect.’ It was his way to invest his circumstances with an interest over and above what intrinsically belonged to them, and to prompt his friends to a share in his delight.
When, in 1804, Scott was appointed Sheriff of Selkirkshire, a condition attaching to his post was that he should reside during part of the year within the bounds of his sheriffdom. He then removed from Lasswade, and settled at Ashestiel on the Tweed, seven miles from Selkirk. This is his own account of the new home:-
‘We found a delightful retirement, by my becoming the tenant of my intimate friend and cousin-german, Colonel Russell, in his mansion of Ashestiel, which was unoccupied during his absence on military service in India. The house was adequate to our accommodation, and the exercise of a limited hospitality. The situation is uncommonly beautiful, by the side of a fine river, whose streams are there very favourable for angling, surrounded by the remains of natural woods, and by hills abounding in game. In point of society, according to the heartfelt phrase of Scripture, we dwelt “amongst our own people”; and as the distance from the metropolis was only thirty miles, we were not out of reach of our Edinburgh friends, in which city we spent the terms of the summer and winter Sessions of the Court, that is, five or six months in the year.’
The functions of the Sheriff of Selkirkshire admitted of considerable leisure, and Scott settled at Ashestiel full of literary projects, as well as heartily prepared to meet his new responsibilities and to add to his numerous and valuable friendships. An enterprise that early engaged his attention was a complete edition of the British poets, but the deliberations on the subject came to nothing except in so far as they helped towards the preparation of Campbell’s ‘Specimens of the British Poets,’ which appeared in 1819. Writing Scott regarding his project of a complete edition of the poets, his friend George Ellis said, ‘Much as I wish for a corpus poetarum, edited as you would edit it, I should like still better another Minstrel Lay by the last and best Minstrel; and the general demand for the poem seems to prove that the public are of my opinion.’ The work of editing, however, he seemed at the time determined on having, and he finally abandoned the idea of an exhaustive issue of the British poetry previous to his own time and settled down to edit Dryden. This was a work much needed, and Scott did it extremely well, as may be seen by comparing his own issue of Dryden’s Life and Works in 1808 with the recent reproduction of it, admirably edited by Mr.