The "Lay of the Last Minstrel," Scott's first romantic tale, was published in January, 1805, and won for its author his first great success. The writing of "Marmion" was begun in November, 1806. Constable offered as publisher to pay at once a thousand guineas for the copyright, when he heard that the new poem was begun, though he had not yet seen a line of it. Miller and Murray joined, each taking a fourth part of the venture, and John Murray said, "We both view it as honourable, profitable, and glorious to be concerned in the publication of a new poem by Walter Scott." Scott, thirty-five years old, had the impulse upon his mind of a preceding great success, took more than usual pains, and thoroughly enjoyed the writing. On pleasant knolls, under trees, and by the banks of Yarrow, many lines were written; and trotting quietly over the hills in later life he said to Lockhart, his son-in-law, "Oh, man, I had many a grand gallop among these bracs when I was thinking of 'Marmion.'" The description of the battle of Flodden was shaped in the autumn of 1807, when Scott was out practising with the Light Horse Volunteers, which had been formed in prospect of an invasion from France, and of which Scott was quartermaster and secretary. Scott at those gatherings was full of companionable mirth, and in intervals between drill he would sometimes ride his charger at full speed up and down on the sands of Portobello within spray of the wave, while his mind was at work on such lines as -
"They close, in clouds of smoke and dust, With sword-sway and with lance's thrust; And such a yell was there, Of sudden and portentous birth, As if men fought in upper earth, And fiends in upper air."
Francis Jeffrey, in the Edinburgh Review, complained of anti- Scottish feeling, and otherwise criticised his friend's work in a way that alienated Scott, not from Jeffrey, but from the Review, and opened to John Murray a prospect of securing Scott for a contributor to another Review, the Quarterly, which he would found as a representative of other political opinions with which Scott would be more in accord. "Marmion" thus has a place in the story of the origin of the Quarterly Review. Of the great popularity of "Marmion," Scott himself said at the time that it gave him "such a heeze that he had almost lost his footing." The Letters introducing the several Books are, in all Scott's verse, perhaps the poems that most perfectly present to us his own personality. They form no part of "Marmion," in fact there had been a plan for their publication as a distinct book. As they stand they interweave the poet with his poem, making "Marmion," too, a "Lay of the Last Minstrel," in the first days of its publication. George Ellis playfully observed to Scott that "the personal appearance of the Minstrel who, though the Last, is by far the most charming of all minstrels, is by no means compensated by the idea of an author shorn of his picturesque beard, deprived of his harp, and writing letters to his intimate friends." The Minstrel of the Lay was but a creature of imagination; the Minstrel of "Marmion" is Scott himself.
* * * * * * * * * * * *