Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter V

Choice of a Profession

From the minuteness with which I have traced Waverley’s pursuits, and the bias which these unavoidably communicated to his imagination, the reader may perhaps anticipate, in the following tale, an imitation of the romance of Cervantes. But he will do my prudence injustice in the supposition. My intention is not to follow the steps of that inimitable author, in describing such total perversion of intellect as misconstrues the objects actually presented to the senses, but that more common aberration from sound judgment, which apprehends occurrences indeed in their reality, but communicates to them a tincture of its own romantic tone and colouring. So far was Edward Waverley from expecting general sympathy with his own feelings, or concluding that the present state of things was calculated to exhibit the reality of those visions in which he loved to indulge, that he dreaded nothing more than the detection of such sentiments as were dictated by his musings. He neither had nor wished to have a confidant, with whom to communicate his reveries; and so sensible was he of the ridicule attached to them, that, had he been to choose between any punishment short of ignominy, and the necessity of giving a cold and composed account of the ideal world in which he lived the better part of his days, I think he would not have hesitated to prefer the former infliction. This secrecy became doubly precious as he felt in advancing life the influence of the awakening passions. Female forms of exquisite grace and beauty began to mingle in his mental adventures; nor was he long without looking abroad to compare the creatures of his own imagination with the females of actual life.

The list of the beauties who displayed their hebdomadal finery at the parish church of Waverley was neither numerous nor select. By far the most passable was Miss Sissly, or, as she rather chose to be called, Miss Cecilia Stubbs, daughter of Squire Stubbs at the Grange. I know not whether it was by the ‘merest accident in the world,’ a phrase which, from female lips, does not always exclude malice prepense, or whether it was from a conformity of taste, that Miss Cecilia more than once crossed Edward in his favourite walks through Waverley-Chase. He had not as yet assumed courage to accost her on these occasions; but the meeting was not without its effect. A romantic lover is a strange idolater, who sometimes cares not out of what log he frames the object of his adoration; at least, if nature has given that object any passable proportion of personal charms, he can easily play the Jeweller and Dervise in the Oriental tale,18 and supply her richly, out of the stores of his own imagination, with supernatural beauty, and all the properties of intellectual wealth.

But ere the charms of Miss Cecilia Stubbs had erected her into a positive goddess, or elevated her at least to a level with the saint her namesake, Mrs. Rachel Waverley gained some intimation which determined her to prevent the approaching apotheosis. Even the most simple and unsuspicious of the female sex have (God bless them!) an instinctive sharpness of perception in such matters, which sometimes goes the length of observing partialities that never existed, but rarely misses to detect such as pass actually under their observation. Mrs. Rachel applied herself with great prudence, not to combat, but to elude, the approaching danger, and suggested to her brother the necessity that the heir of his house should see something more of the world than was consistent with constant residence at Waverley-Honour.

Sir Everard would not at first listen to a proposal which went to separate his nephew from him. Edward was a little bookish, he admitted, but youth, he had always heard, was the season for learning, and, no doubt, when his rage for letters was abated, and his head fully stocked with knowledge, his nephew would take to field-sports and country business. He had often, he said, himself regretted that he had not spent some time in study during his youth: he would neither have shot nor hunted with less skill, and he might have made the roof of Saint Stephen’s echo to longer orations than were comprised in those zealous Noes, with which, when a member of the House during Godolphin’s administration, he encountered every measure of government.

Aunt Rachel’s anxiety, however, lent her address to carry her point. Every representative of their house had visited foreign parts, or served his country in the army, before he settled for life at Waverley-Honour, and she appealed for the truth of her assertion to the genealogical pedigree, an authority which Sir Everard was never known to contradict. In short, a proposal was made to Mr. Richard Waverley, that his son should travel, under the direction of his present tutor Mr. Pembroke, with a suitable allowance from the Baronet’s liberality. The father himself saw no objection to this overture; but upon mentioning it casually at the table of the minister, the great man looked grave. The reason was explained in private. The unhappy turn of Sir Everard’s politics, the minister observed, was such as would render it highly improper that a young gentleman of such hopeful prospects should travel on the Continent with a tutor doubtless of his uncle’s choosing, and directing his course by his instructions. What might Mr. Edward Waverley’s society be at Paris, what at Rome, where all manner of snares were spread by the Pretender and his sons — these were points for Mr. Waverley to consider. This he could himself say, that he knew his Majesty had such a just sense of Mr. Richard Waverley’s merits, that, if his son adopted the army for a few years, a troop, he believed, might be reckoned upon in one of the dragoon regiments lately returned from Flanders.

A hint thus conveyed and enforced was not to be neglected with impunity; and Richard Waverley, though with great dread of shocking his brother’s prejudices, deemed he could not avoid accepting the commission thus offered him for his son. The truth is, he calculated much, and justly, upon Sir Everard’s fondness for Edward, which made him unlikely to resent any step that he might take in due submission to parental authority. Two letters announced this determination to the Baronet and his nephew. The latter barely communicated the fact, and pointed out the necessary preparations for joining his regiment. To his brother, Richard was more diffuse and circuitous. He coincided with him, in the most flattering manner, in the propriety of his son’s seeing a little more of the world, and was even humble in expressions of gratitude for his proposed assistance; was, however, deeply concerned that it was now, unfortunately, not in Edward’s power exactly to comply with the plan which had been chalked out by his best friend and benefactor. He himself had thought with pain on the boy’s inactivity, at an age when all his ancestors had borne arms; even Royalty itself had deigned to inquire whether young Waverley was not now in Flanders, at an age when his grandfather was already bleeding for his king in the Great Civil War. This was accompanied by an offer of a troop of horse. What could he do? There was no time to consult his brother’s inclinations, even if he could have conceived there might be objections on his part to his nephew’s following the glorious career of his predecessors. And, in short, that Edward was now (the intermediate steps of cornet and lieutenant being overleapt with great agility) Captain Waverley, of Gardiner’s regiment of dragoons, which he must join in their quarters at Dundee in Scotland, in the course of a month.

Sir Everard Waverley received this intimation with a mixture of feelings. At the period of the Hanoverian succession he had withdrawn from parliament, and his conduct in the memorable year 1715 had not been altogether unsuspected. There were reports of private musters of tenants and horses in Waverley-Chase by moonlight, and of cases of carbines and pistols purchased in Holland, and addressed to the Baronet, but intercepted by the vigilance of a riding officer of the excise, who was afterwards tossed in a blanket on a moonless night, by an association of stout yeomen, for his officiousness. Nay, it was even said, that at the arrest of Sir William Wyndham, the leader of the Tory party, a letter from Sir Everard was found in the pocket of his night-gown. But there was no overt act which an attainder could be founded on, and government, contented with suppressing the insurrection of 1715, felt it neither prudent nor safe to push their vengeance farther than against those unfortunate gentlemen who actually took up arms.

Nor did Sir Everard’s apprehensions of personal consequences seem to correspond with the reports spread among his Whig neighbours. It was well known that he had supplied with money several of the distressed Northumbrians and Scotchmen, who, after being made prisoners at Preston in Lancashire, were imprisoned in Newgate and the Marshalsea, and it was his solicitor and ordinary counsel who conducted the defence of some of these unfortunate gentlemen at their trial. It was generally supposed, however, that, had ministers possessed any real proof of Sir Everard’s accession to the rebellion, he either would not have ventured thus to brave the existing government, or at least would not have done so with impunity. The feelings which then dictated his proceedings were those of a young man, and at an agitating period. Since that time Sir Everard’s Jacobitism had been gradually decaying, like a fire which burns out for want of fuel. His Tory and High-Church principles were kept up by some occasional exercise at elections and quarter-sessions; but those respecting hereditary right were fallen into a sort of abeyance. Yet it jarred severely upon his feelings, that his nephew should go into the army under the Brunswick dynasty; and the more so, as, independent of his high and conscientious ideas of paternal authority, it was impossible, or at least highly imprudent, to interfere authoritatively to prevent it. This suppressed vexation gave rise to many poohs and pshaws which were placed to the account of an incipient fit of gout, until, having sent for the Army List, the worthy Baronet consoled himself with reckoning the descendants of the houses of genuine loyalty, Mordaunts, Granvilles, and Stanleys, whose names were to be found in that military record; and, calling up all his feelings of family grandeur and warlike glory, he concluded, with logic something like Falstaff’s, that when war was at hand, although it were shame to be on any side but one, it were worse shame to be idle than to be on the worst side, though blacker than usurpation could make it. As for Aunt Rachel, her scheme had not exactly terminated according to her wishes, but she was under the necessity of submitting to circumstances; and her mortification was diverted by the employment she found in fitting out her nephew for the campaign, and greatly consoled by the prospect of beholding him blaze in complete uniform. Edward Waverley himself received with animated and undefined surprise this most unexpected intelligence. It was, as a fine old poem expresses it, ‘like a fire to heather set,’ that covers a solitary hill with smoke, and illumines it at the same time with dusky fire. His tutor, or, I should say, Mr. Pembroke, for he scarce assumed the name of tutor, picked up about Edward’s room some fragments of irregular verse, which he appeared to have composed under the influence of the agitating feelings occasioned by this sudden page being turned up to him in the book of life. The doctor, who was a believer in all poetry which was composed by his friends, and written out in fair straight lines, with a capital at the beginning of each, communicated this treasure to Aunt Rachel, who, with her spectacles dimmed with tears, transferred them to her commonplace book, among choice receipts for cookery and medicine, favourite texts, and portions from High-Church divines, and a few songs, amatory and Jacobitical, which she had carolled in her younger days, from whence her nephew’s poetical tentamina were extracted when the volume itself, with other authentic records of the Waverley family, were exposed to the inspection of the unworthy editor of this memorable history. If they afford the reader no higher amusement, they will serve, at least, better than narrative of any kind, to acquaint him with the wild and irregular spirit of our hero:—

Late, when the Autumn evening fell

On Mirkwood-Mere’s romantic dell,

The lake return’d, in chasten’d gleam,

The purple cloud, the golden beam:

Reflected in the crystal pool,

Headland and bank lay fair and cool;

The weather-tinted rock and tower,

Each drooping tree, each fairy flower,

So true, so soft, the mirror gave,

As if there lay beneath the wave,

Secure from trouble, toil, and care,

A world than earthly world more fair.

But distant winds began to wake,

And roused the Genius of the Lake!

He heard the groaning of the oak,

And donn’d at once his sable cloak,

As warrior, at the battle-cry,

Invests him with his panoply:

Then, as the whirlwind nearer press’d

He ‘gan to shake his foamy crest

O’er furrow’d brow and blacken’d cheek,

And bade his surge in thunder speak.

In wild and broken eddies whirl’d.

Flitted that fond ideal world,

And to the shore in tumult tost

The realms of fairy bliss were lost.

Yet, with a stern delight and strange,

I saw the spirit-stirring change,

As warr’d the wind with wave and wood,

Upon the ruin’d tower I stood,

And felt my heart more strongly bound,

Responsive to the lofty sound,

While, joying in the mighty roar,

I mourn’d that tranquil scene no more.

So, on the idle dreams of youth,

Breaks the loud trumpet-call of truth,

Bids each fair vision pass away,

Like landscape on the lake that lay,

As fair, as flitting, and as frail,

As that which fled the Autumn gale. —

For ever dead to fancy’s eye

Be each gay form that glided by,

While dreams of love and lady’s charms

Give place to honour and to arms!

In sober prose, as perhaps these verses intimate less decidedly, the transient idea of Miss Cecilia Stubbs passed from Captain Waverley’s heart amid the turmoil which his new destinies excited. She appeared, indeed, in full splendour in her father’s pew upon the Sunday when he attended service for the last time at the old parish church, upon which occasion, at the request of his uncle and Aunt Rachel, he was induced (nothing both, if the truth must be told) to present himself in full uniform.

There is no better antidote against entertaining too high an opinion of others than having an excellent one of ourselves at the very same time. Miss Stubbs had indeed summoned up every assistance which art could afford to beauty; but, alas! hoop, patches, frizzled locks, and a new mantua of genuine French silk, were lost upon a young officer of dragoons who wore for the first time his gold-laced hat, jack-boots, and broadsword. I know not whether, like the champion of an old ballad, —

His heart was all on honour bent,

He could not stoop to love;

No lady in the land had power

His frozen heart to move;

or whether the deep and flaming bars of embroidered gold, which now fenced his breast, defied the artillery of Cecilia’s eyes; but every arrow was launched at him in vain.

Yet did I mark where Cupid’s shaft did light;

It lighted not on little western flower,

But on bold yeoman, flower of all the west,

Hight Jonas Culbertfield, the steward’s son.

Craving pardon for my heroics (which I am unable in certain cases to resist giving way to), it is a melancholy fact, that my history must here take leave of the fair Cecilia, who, like many a daughter of Eve, after the departure of Edward, and the dissipation of certain idle visions which she had adopted, quietly contented herself with a pisaller, and gave her hand, at the distance of six months, to the aforesaid Jonas, son of the Baronet’s steward, and heir (no unfertile prospect) to a steward’s fortune, besides the snug probability of succeeding to his father’s office. All these advantages moved Squire Stubbs, as much as the ruddy brown and manly form of the suitor influenced his daughter, to abate somewhat in the article of their gentry; and so the match was concluded. None seemed more gratified than Aunt Rachel, who had hitherto looked rather askance upon the presumptuous damsel (as much so, peradventure, as her nature would permit), but who, on the first appearance of the new-married pair at church, honoured the bride with a smile and a profound curtsy, in presence of the rector, the curate, the clerk, and the whole congregation of the united parishes of Waverley cum Beverley.

I beg pardon, once and for all, of those readers who take up novels merely for amusement, for plaguing them so long with old- fashioned politics, and Whig and Tory, and Hanoverians and Jacobites. The truth is, I cannot promise them that this story shall be intelligible, not to say probable, without it. My plan requires that I should explain the motives on which its action proceeded; and these motives necessarily arose from the feelings, prejudices, and parties of the times. I do not invite my fair readers, whose sex and impatience give them the greatest right to complain of these circumstances, into a flying chariot drawn by hippogriffs, or moved by enchantment. Mine is a humble English post-chaise, drawn upon four wheels, and keeping his Majesty’s highway. Such as dislike the vehicle may leave it at the next halt, and wait for the conveyance of Prince Hussein’s tapestry, or Malek the Weaver’s flying sentrybox. Those who are contented to remain with me will be occasionally exposed to the dulness inseparable from heavy roads, steep hills, sloughs, and other terrestrial retardations; but with tolerable horses and a civil driver (as the advertisements have it), I engage to get as soon as possible into a more picturesque and romantic country, if my passengers incline to have some patience with me during my first stages.19

18 See Hoppner’s tale of The Seven Lovers.

19 These Introductory Chapters have been a good deal censured as tedious and unnecessary. Yet there are circumstances recorded in them which the author has not been able to persuade himself to retrench or cancel.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/waverley/chapter5.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29