Sunday, October 10, 2010

Edinburgh Review

On October 10, 1802, the Edinburgh Review was born.  Sir Walter Scott made several contributions to this publication, which are availabe in "The Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, Bart."  Included in this work is a biographry of John Leyden, which includes the following discussion:

'In December, 1802, Leyden was summoned to join the Christmas fleet of Indiamen, in consequence of his appointment as assistant-surgeon on the Madras establishment. It was sufficiently understood that his medical character was only assumed to bring him within the compass of Mr. Dundas's patronage, and that his talents should be employed in India with reference to his literary researches. He was, however, pro forma, nominated to the Madras hospital. While awaiting this call, he bent his whole energies to the study of the Oriental languages, and amused his hours of leisure by adding to the Scenes of Infancy many of those passages addressed to his friends, and bearing particular reference to his own situation on the eve of departure from Scotland ; which, flowing warm from the heart, constitute the principal charm of that impressive poem. Mr. Ballantyne, of Kelso, an early and intimate friend of Leyden, had just then established in Edinburgh his press, which has since been so distinguished. To the critical skill of a valued and learned friend, and to the friendly, as well as professional care of Mr. Ballantyne, Leyden committed this last memorial of his love to his native land. The last sheets reached him before he left Britain, no more to return.

Upon examining these, it would appear that he imagined his critical friends had exercised, with more rigour than mercy, the prerogative of retrenchment with which he had invested them. He complains of these alterations in a letter, which is no bad picture of his manner in conversation. It is dated from the Isle of Wight, where he states himself to be " like a weathercock, veering about with every wind," expecting and hoping every moment when the boatswain's whistle should pipe all hands on board, and that he may be off from the old island for ever in fifteen minutes." I fancy," he continues, " you expect to receive a waggonload, at least, of thanks for Tour midwife skill, in swaddling my bantling so tight, that 1 fear it will be strangled in the growth ever after. On the contrary, I have in my own mind been triumphing famously over you, and your razor-witted, hair-splitting, intellectual associate, whose tastes I do not pretend to think any thing like equal to my own, though, before I left Scotland, I thought them amazingly acute ; but I fancy there is something in a London atmosphere, which greatly brightens the understanding, and furbishes the taste. This is all the vengeance you have unfortunately left in my power ; for 1 sincerely am of opinion, that you ought to have adopted the alterations in the first sheet, which 1 think most indubitably better than those you have retained. The verses you excluded were certainly the most original in all the second canto, and certainly the next best to the Spectre Ship, in the whole poem: and 1 defy you and , and the whole Edinburgh Review, to impeach their originality. ...'

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