Education - Meeting With Robert Burns, 1778-1795

Next year, 1778, the boy aged seven went to the famous Royal High School of Edinburgh where he became a good Latinist, in spite of his saying of himself that he was better at the 'yards' (playground) than in the class. All this time he was reading much English literature such as Shakespeare, Spencer, Ossian and Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. He also composed romances for a friend as did this friend for Walter. This went on for two or three years and, as he says, 'had no small effect in directing the turn of my imagination to the chivalrous and romantic in poetry and verse.' His later writings were to bear ample witness to the truth of this.

In 1783 when twelve he entered Edinburgh University, where he remained for two years. During this time he learned Italian, Spanish and French and all through his life retained his fondness for Latin poems, among them being some hymns of the Catholic Church which he was later to recite to himself on his death-bed. He now studied law and was called to the Bar as an Advocate (Barrister) in 1792. One of his most memorable experiences was his meeting with Robert Burns whom Scott calls 'the boast of Scotland'. This happened about 1787 and is described by Scott himself in a letter more than forty years after the two great Scots had met.

'His person was strong and robust. I think his countenance was more massive than it looks in any of his portraits. I would have taken known what he was, as a very sagacious country farmer of the old Scotch school. His eyes were large and glowed (I say literally glowed) when he spoke with feeling and interest. I never saw such eyes in a human head, though I have seen the most distingushed men in my time.

'His conversation expressed perfect self-confidence, without the slightest presumption. Among the men who were the most learned of their time and country he expressed himself with perfect firmness, but without the least intrusive forwardness.' One feels that most if not all of this could be said just as well of Scott himself.

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