Here’s Jean Glover, dg’s mother, reciting Sir Walter Scott’s poem “Breathes there the man with soul so dead…,” actually an excerpt from “The Lay of the Last Minstrel.” This is unrehearsed and you can hear the refrigerator whirring in the background as well as assorted whining dogs who, apparently, cannot abide the poem (everybody’s a critic). We were sitting in her kitchen, on the family farm in Ontario. She rides a stationary bike most days over the winter and memorizes poems while she’s riding. Scott is a favourite because her great-grandfather (or is it great-great…?) was raised by Scott who, seeing the boy playing in the street one day, discovered his widowed mother and offered to pay for the boy’s education. The family story is that Scott was writing his novel Rob Roy at the time. The boy and his brother were in and out of the Scott house as they grew and later Scott paid for them to go on the Grand Tour (somewhere there is a diary of this). The boy eventually succeeded to some family money and owned slaves and a plantation on the island of Cariacou. As soon as the British government offered to buy the slaves and free them, he sold up and moved to Canada. His daughter Anne married Daniel Abiel McCall. And their daughter Sarah married John Brock. And their daughter Kathleen was Jean’s mother. I give you the stripped down version of the story—we are a family that carries some history in its genes. And thus Scott comes easily to her mind. There is some Scott silver somewhere in the house, passed down through the family. In the video, Jean is just shy of her 90th birthday.
Here’s the poem:
Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored , and unsung.
—Sir Walter Scott