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Significant Scots
Michael Scott


SCOTT, MICHAEL, -- From the nature of the authorship of the present day, as well as its exuberant abundance, the desire of literary fame has undergone a striking change. Formerly, to write a book was equivalent to achieving the conquest of a kingdom; and no one ventured upon the feat except upon the principle of do or die, Aut Caesar aut nihil. The general diffusion of intelligence and equalization of talent, have produced a change in this respect that constitutes the chief intellectual distinction of the present age. Able writers are now produced by the hundred, and that too, not for a century, but a single year; while their productions appear, not in ponderous tomes, but in reviews, magazines, and newspapers, the readers of which, however delighted they may be with the perusal, never trouble themselves with the anonymous source from which their gratification has proceeded. In this fashion, authors of first-rate excellence appear and pass away with no other designations than some unmeaning letter of the alphabet, and are only known, even at their brightest, as alpha or omega. From such a fate, so common to thousands amongst us, Michael Scott escaped by a mere hair’s-breadth.

This talented writer was born at Glasgow, on the 30th October, 1789. He was educated first at the high school, and afterwards at the university of that great emporium of Scottish merchandise and manufacture. As he as destined for business, and obliged to betake himself to it at an early period, his stay at college was a brief one; for, in October, 1806, when he had only reached the age of seventeen, he sailed for Jamaica, and was there employed in the management of several estates till 1810, when he joined a mercantile house in Kingston, Jamaica. As he was much employed in the active business of this establishment, his avocations led him often to the adjacent islands and the Spanish main; and it was in that rich tropical climate, and in his peregrinations by land and water, that he acquired his knowledge of West India scenery and character, as well as of sea-life, which he afterwards so richly and powerfully delineated. Mr. Scott returned home in 1817, and was married in the following year, after which he went back to Jamaica; but after remaining there till 1822, he finally bade adieu to the West Indies, and became permanently a settler in his native Scotland. He does not appear to have been particularly successful as a merchant; but the buoyant imagination and restless love of adventure which his writings betoken, were perhaps scarcely compatible with that plodding persevering spirit for which his countrymen are so generally distinguished, especially in mercantile enterprise abroad and in the colonies. It is difficult, indeed, if not impossible, at one and the same time to establish a goodly rich mansion on terra firma, and build bright castles in the air.

It was not till 1829 that Michael Scott appears to have ventured into authorship, by the publication of "Tom Cringle’s Log." The first specimens, which he sent to "Blackwood’s Magazine," were fragmentary productions, under the name of "Tom Cringle;" but the sharp, experienced eye of "Old Ebony" was not long in detecting their merit, and he therefore advised the anonymous author to combine them into a continuous narrative, even though the thread that held them together should be as slender as he pleased. This advice Mr. Scott adopted; and when the papers appeared as a "Log," detailing the eventful voyage of a strange life through calm and hurricane, through battle and tempest, as they successively occurred to his fancy, the "Quarterly Review" characterized them as the most brilliant series of magazine papers of the time, while Coleridge, in his "Table Talk," proclaimed them "most excellent." The magazine reading public was of the same opinion, and accordingly the question was circulated through every class, "Who is the author of ‘Tom Cringle’s Log?’" But no one could answer; no, not even Blackwood himself, so well had Scott preserved his incognito; and this eminent publisher descended to the grave without knowing assuredly by whom the most popular series in his far-famed magazine had been written. Afterwards the chapters were published as an entire work, in two volumes, and so highly was it prized, that it was generally read upon the Continent, while in Germany it has been repeatedly translated. After Michael Scott had thus led a life almost as mythic as that of his wondrous namesake, he died in Glasgow, on the 7th of November, 1835, and it was only through this melancholy event that the full fact of his authorship was ascertained by the sons of Mr. Blackwood.


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