The second essay in fiction of an author who has triumphed in his first romance is a doubtful and perilous adventure. The writer is apt to become self-conscious, to remember the advice of his critics, — a fatal error, — and to tremble before the shadow of his own success. He knows that he will have many enemies, that hundreds of people will be ready to find fault and to vow that he is “written out.” Scott was not unacquainted with these apprehensions. After publishing “Marmion” he wrote thus to Lady Abercorn:—
“No one acquires a certain degree of popularity without exciting an equal degree of malevolence among those who, either from rivalsbip or from the mere wish to pull down what others have set up, are always ready to catch the first occasion to lower the favoured individual to what they call his ‘real standard.’ Of this I have enough of experience, and my political interferences, however useless to my friends, have not failed to make me more than the usual number of enemies. I am therefore bound, in justice to myself and to those whose good opinion has hitherto protected me, not to peril myself too frequently. The naturalists tell us that if you destroy the web which the spider has just made, the insect must spend many days in inactivity till he has assembled within his person the materials necessary to weave another. Now, after writing a work of imagination one feels in nearly the same exhausted state as the spider. I believe no man now alive writes more rapidly than I do (no great recommendation); but I never think of making verses till I have a sufficient stock of poetical ideas to supply them, — I would as soon join the Israelites in Egypt in their heavy task of making bricks without clay. Besides, I know, as a small farmer, that good husbandry consists in not taking the same crop too frequently from the same soil; and as turnips come after wheat, according to the best rules of agriculture, I take it that an edition of Swift will do well after such a scourging crop as ‘Marmion.’”
[March 13, 1808. Copied from the Collection of Lady Napier and Ettrick.]
These fears of the brave, then, were not unfamiliar to Scott; but he audaciously disregarded all of them in the composition of “Guy Mannering.” He had just spun his web, like the spider of his simile, he had just taken off his intellectual fields the “scourging crop” of “The Lord of the Isles,” he had just received the discouraging news of its comparative failure, when he “buckled to,” achieved “Guy Mannering “ in six weeks, and published it. Moliere tells us that he wrote “Les Facheux” in a fortnight; and a French critic adds that it reads indeed as if it had been written in, a fortnight. Perhaps a self-confident censor might venture a similar opinion about “Guy Mannering.” It assuredly shows traces of haste; the plot wanders at its own will; and we may believe that the Author often — did not see his own way out of the wood. But there is little harm in that. “If I do not know what is coming next,” a modern novelist has remarked, “how can the public know?” Curiosity, at least, is likely to be excited by this happy-go-lucky manner of Scott’s. “The worst of it is;” as he wrote to Lady Abercorn about his poems (June 9,1808), “that I am not very good or patient in slow and careful composition; and sometimes I remind myself of the drunken man, who could run long after he could not walk.” Scott could certainly run very well, though averse to a plodding motion.
[He was probably thinking of a famous Edinburgh character, “Singing Jamie Balfour.” Jamie was found very drunk and adhering to the pavement one night. He could not raise himself; but when helped to his feet, ran his preserver a race to the tavern, and won!]
The account of the year’s work which preceded “Guy Mannering” is given by Lockhart, and is astounding. In 1814 Scott had written, Lockhart believes, the greater part of the “Life of Swift,” most of “Waverley” and the “Lord of the Isles;” he had furnished essays to the 14 Encyclopaedia,” and had edited “The Memorie of the Somervilles.” The spider might well seem spun out, the tilth exhausted. But Scott had a fertility, a spontaneity, of fancy equalled only, if equalled at all, by Alexandre Dumas.
On November 7 of this laborious year, 1814, Scott was writing to Mr. Joseph Train, thanking him for a parcel of legendary lore, including the Galloway tale of the wandering astrologer and a budget of gypsy traditions. Falling in the rich soil of Scott’s imagination, the tale of the astrologer yielded a name and an opening to “Guy Mannering,” while the gypsy lore blossomed into the legend of Meg Merrilies. The seed of the novel was now sown. But between November 11 and December 25 Scott was writing the three last cantos of the “Lord of the Isles.” Yet before the “Lord of the Isles” was published (Jan. 18, 1815), two volumes of “Guy Mannering “ were in print (Letter to Morritt, Jan. 17, 1815.) The novel was issued on Feb. 14, 1815. Scott, as he says somewhere, was like the turnspit dog, into whose wheel a hot cinder is dropped to encourage his activity. Scott needed hot cinders in the shape of proof-sheets fresh from the press, and he worked most busily when the printer’s devil was waiting. In this case, not only the printer’s devil, but the wolf was at the door. The affairs of the Ballantynes clamoured for moneys In their necessity and his own, Scott wrote at the rate of a volume in ten days, and for some financial reason published “Guy Mannering” with Messrs. Longmans, not with Constable. Scott was at this moment facing creditors and difficulties as Napoleon faced the armies of the Allies, — present everywhere, everywhere daring and successful. True, his “Lord of the Isles” was a disappointment, as James Ballantyne informed him. “‘Well, James, so be it; but you know we must not droop, for we cannot afford to give over. Since one line has failed, we must just stick to something else.’ And so he dismissed me, and resumed his novel.”
In these circumstances, far from inspiring, was “Guy Mannering” written and hurried through the press. The story has its own history: one can watch the various reminiscences and experiences of life that crystallized together in Scott’s mind, and grouped themselves fantastically into his unpremeditated plot. Sir Walter gives, in the preface of 1829, the legend which he heard from John MacKinlay, his father’s Highland servant, and on which he meant to found a tale more in Hawthorn’s manner than in his own. That plan he changed in the course of printing,” leaving only just enough of astrology to annoy pedantic reviewers and foolish Puritans.’ Whence came the rest of the plot, — the tale of the long-lost heir, and so on? The true heir, “kept out of his own,” and returning in disguise, has been a favourite character ever since Homer sang of Odysseus, and probably long before that. But it is just possible that Scott had a certain modern instance in his mind. In turning over the old manuscript diary at Branxholme Park (mentioned in a note to “Waverley”), the Editor lighted on a singular tale, which, in the diarist’s opinion, might have suggested “Guy Mannering “ to Sir Walter. The resemblance between the story of Vanbeest Brown and the hero of the diarist was scanty; but in a long letter of Scott’s to Lady Abercorn (May 21, 1813), a the Editor finds Sir Walter telling his correspondent the very narrative recorded in the Branxholme Park diary. Singular things happen, Sir Walter says; and he goes on to describe a case just heard in the court where he is sitting as Clerk of Sessions. Briefly, the anecdote is this: A certain Mr. Carruthers of Dormont had reason to suspect his wife’s fidelity. While proceedings for a divorce were pending, Mrs. Carruthers bore a daughter, of whom her husband, of course, was legally the father. But he did not believe in the relationship, and sent the infant girl to be brought up, in ignorance of her origin and in seclusion, among the Cheviot Hills. Here she somehow learned the facts of her own story. She married a Mr. Routledge, the son of a yeoman, and “compounded” her rights (but not those of her issue) for a small sung of ready money, paid by old Dormont. She bears a boy; then she and her husband died in poverty. Their son was sent by a friend to the East Indies, and was presented with a packet of papers, which he left unopened at a lawyer’s. The young man made a fortune in India, returned to Scotland, and took a shooting in Dumfriesshire, near bormont, his ancestral home. He lodged at a small inn hard by, and the landlady, struck by his name, began to gossip with him about his family history. He knew nothing of the facts which the landlady disclosed, but, impressed by her story, sent for and examined his neglected packet of papers. Then he sought legal opinion, and was advised, by President Blair, that he had a claim worth presenting on the estate of Dormont. “The first decision of the cause,” writes Scott, “was favourable.” The true heir celebrated his legal victory by a dinner-party, and his friends saluted him as “Dormont.” Next morning he was found dead. Such is the true tale. As it occupied Scott’s mind in 1813, and as he wrote “Guy Mannering” in 1814-15, it is not impossible that he may have borrowed his wandering heir, who returns by pure accident to his paternal domains, and there learns his origin at a woman’s lips, from the Dormont case. The resemblance of the stories, at least, was close enough to strike a shrewd observer some seventy years ago.
Another possible source of the plot — a more romantic origin, certainly — is suggested by Mr. Robert Chambers in “Illustrations of the Author of ‘Waverley.’” A Maxwell of Glenormiston, “a religious and bigoted recluse,” sent his only son and heir to a Jesuit College in Flanders, left his estate in his brother’s management, and died. The wicked uncle alleged that the heir was also dead. The child, ignorant of his birth, grew up, ran away from the Jesuits at the age of sixteen, enlisted in the French army, fought at Fontenoy, got his colours, and, later, landed in the Moray Firth as a French officer in 1745. He went through the campaign, was in hiding in Lochaber after Drumossie, and in making for a Galloway port, was seized, and imprisoned in Dumfries. Here an old woman of his father’s household recognized him by “a mark which she remembered on his body.” His cause was taken up by friends; but the usurping uncle died, and Sir Robert Maxwell recovered his estates without a lawsuit. This anecdote is quoted from the “New Monthly Magazine,” June, 1819. There is nothing to prove that Scott was acquainted with this adventure. Scott’s own experience, as usual, supplied him with hints for his characters. The phrase of Dominie Sampson’s father, “Please God, my bairn may live to wag his pow in a pulpit,” was uttered in his own hearing. There was a Bluegown, or Bedesman, like Edie Ochiltree, who had a son at Edinburgh College. Scott was kind to the son, the Bluegown asked him to dinner, and at this meal the old man made the remark about the pulpit and the pow.’ A similar tale is told by Scott in the Introduction to “The Antiquary” (1830). As for the good Dominie, Scott remarks that, for “certain particular reasons,” he must say what he has to say about his prototype “very generally.” Mr. Chambers’ finds the prototype in a Mr. James Sanson, tutor in the house of Mr. Thomas Scott, Sir Walter’s uncle. It seems very unlike Sir Walter to mention this excellent man almost by his name, and the tale about his devotion to his patron’s daughter cannot, apparently, be true of Mr. James Sanson. The prototype of Pleydell, according to Sir Walter himself (Journal, June 19, 1830), was “my old friend Adam Rolland, Esq., in external circumstances, but not in frolic or fancy.” Mr. Chambers, however, finds the original in Mr. Andrew Crosbie, an advocate of great talents, who frolicked to ruin, and died in 1785. Scott may have heard tales of this patron of “High Jinks,” but cannot have known him much personally. Dandie Dinmont is simply the typical Border farmer. Mr. Shortreed, Scott’s companion in his Liddesdale raids, thought that Willie Elliot, in Millburnholm, was the great original. Scott did not meet Mr. James Davidson in Hindlee, owner of all the Mustards and Peppers, till some years after the novel was written. “Guy Mannering,” when read to him, sent Mr. Davidson to sleep. “The kind and manly character of Dandie, the gentle and delicious one of his wife,” and the circumstances of their home, were suggested, Lockhart thinks, by Scott’s friend, steward, and amanuensis, Mr. William Laidlaw, by Mrs. Laidlaw, and by their farm among the braes of Yarrow. In truth, the Border was peopled then by Dandies and Ailies: nor is the race even now extinct in Liddesdale and Teviotdale, in Ettrick and Yarrow. As for Mustard and Pepper, their offspring too is powerful in the land, and is the deadly foe of vermin. The curious may consult Mr. Cook’s work on “The Dandie Dinmont Terrier.” The Duke of Buccleugh’s breed still resembles the fine example painted by Gainsborough in his portrait of the duke (of Scott’s time). “Tod Gabbie,” again, as Lockhart says, was studied from Tod Willie, the huntsman of the hills above Loch Skene. As for the Galloway scenery, Scott did not know it well, having only visited “the Kingdom” in 1793, when he was defending the too frolicsome Mr. McNaught, Minister of Girthon. The beautiful and lonely wilds of the Glenkens, in central Galloway, where traditions yet linger, were, unluckily, terra incognita to Scott. A Galloway story of a murder and its detection by the prints of the assassin’s boots inspired the scene where Dirk Hatteraick is traced by similar means. In Colonel Mannering, by the way, the Ettrick Shepherd recognized “Walter Scott, painted by himself.”
The reception of “Guy Mannering” was all that could be wished. William Erskine and Ballantyne were “of opinion that it is much more interesting than ‘Waverley.’” Mr. Morritt (March, 1815) pronounced himself to be “quite charmed with Dandie, Meg Merrilies, and Dirk Hatteraick, — characters as original as true to nature, and as forcibly conceived as, I had almost said, could have been drawn by Shakspeare himself.” The public were not less appreciative. Two thousand copies, at a guinea, were sold the day after publication, and three thousand more were disposed of in three months. The professional critics acted just as Scott, speaking in general terms, had prophesied that they would. Let us quote the “British Critic” (1815).
“There are few spectacles in the literary world more lamentable than to view a successful author, in his second appearance before the public, limping lamely after himself, and treading tediously and awkwardly in the very same round, which, in his first effort, he had traced with vivacity and applause. We would not be harsh enough to say that the Author of ‘Waverley’ is in this predicament, but we are most unwillingly compelled to assert that the second effort falls far below the standard of the first. In ‘Waverley’ there was brilliancy of genius. . . . In ‘Guy Mannering’ there is little else beyond the wild sallies of an original genius, the bold and irregular efforts of a powerful but an exhausted mind. Time enough has not been allowed him to recruit his resources, both of anecdote and wit; but, encouraged by the credit so justly, bestowed upon one of then most finished portraits ever presented to the world, he has followed up the exhibition with a careless and hurried sketch, which betrays at once the weakness and the strength of its author.
“The character of Dirk Hatteraick is a faithful copy from nature, — it is one of those moral monsters which make us almost ashamed of our kind. Still, amidst the ruffian and murderous brutality of the smuggler, some few feelings of our common nature are thrown in with no less ingenuity than truth. . . . The remainder of the personages are very little above the cast of a common lively novel. . . . The Edinburgh lawyer is perhaps the most original portrait; nor are the saturnalia of the Saturday evenings described without humour. The Dominie is overdrawn and inconsistent; while the young ladies present nothing above par . . . .
“There are parts of this novel which none but one endowed with the sublimity of genius could have dictated; there are others which any ordinary character cobbler might as easily have stitched together. There are sparks both of pathos and of humour, even in the dullest parts, which could be elicited from none but the Author of ‘Waverley.’ . . . If, indeed, we have spoken in a manner derogatory to this, his later effort, our censure arises only from its comparison with the former. . .
“We cannot, however, conclude this article without remarking the absurd influence which our Author unquestionably attributes to the calculations of judicial astrology. No power of chance alone could have fulfilled the joint predictions both of Guy Mannering and Meg Merrilies; we cannot suppose that the Author can be endowed with sufficient folly to believe in the influence of planetary conjunctions himself, nor to have so miserable an idea of the understanding of his readers as to suppose them capable of a similar belief. We must also remember that the time of this novel is not in the dark ages, but scarcely forty years since; no aid, therefore, can be derived from the general tendency of popular superstition. What the clew may be to this apparent absurdity, we cannot imagine; whether the Author be in jest or earnest we do not know, and we are willing to suppose in this dilemma that he does not know himself.”
The “Monthly Review” sorrowed, like the “British,” over the encouragement given to the follies of astrology. The “Critical Review” “must lament that ‘Guy Mannering’ is too often written in language unintelligible to all except the Scotch.” The “Critical Monthly” also had scruples about morality. The novel “advocates duelling, encourages a taste for peeping into the future, — a taste by far too prevalent, — and it is not over nice on religious subjects!”
The “Quarterly Review” distinguished itself by stupidity, if not by spite. “The language of ‘Guy Mannering,’ though characteristic, is mean; the state of society, though peculiar, is vulgar. Meg Merrilies is swelled into a very unnatural importance.” The speech of Meg Merrilies to Ellangowan is “one of the few which affords an intelligible extract.” The Author “does not even scruple to overturn the laws of Nature” — because Colonel Mannering resides in the neighbourhood of Ellangowan! “The Author either gravely believes what no other man alive believes, or he has, of malice prepense, committed so great an offence against good taste as to build his story on what he must know to be a contemptible absurdity. . . . The greater part of the characters, their manners and dialect, are at once barbarous and vulgar, extravagant and mean. . . . The work would be, on the whole, improved by being translated into English. Though we cannot, on the whole, speak of the novel with approbation, we will not affect to deny that we read it with interest, and that it repaid us with amusement.”
It is in reviewing “The Antiquary” that the immortal idiot of the “Quarterly” complains about “the dark dialect of Anglified Erse.” Published criticism never greatly affected Scott’s spirits, — probably, he very seldom read it. He knew that the public, like Constable’s friend Mrs. Stewart, were “ reading ‘Guy Mannering’ all day, and dreaming of it all night.”
Indeed, it is much better to read “Guy Mannering” than to criticise it. A book written in six weeks, a book whose whole plot and conception was changed “in the printing,” must have its faults of construction. Thus, we meet Mannering first as “a youthful lover,” a wanderer at adventure, an amateur astrologer, and suddenly we lose sight of him, and only recover him as a disappointed, “disilluded,” and weary, though still vigorous, veteran. This is the inevitable result of a novel based on a prediction. Either you have to leap some twenty years just when you are becoming familiar with the persons, or you have to begin in the midst of the events foreseen, and then make a tedious return to explain the prophecy. Again, it was necessary for Scott to sacrifice Frank Kennedy, who is rather a taking adventurer, like Bothwell in “Old Mortality.” Readers regret the necessity which kills Kennedy. The whole fortunes of Vanbeest Brown, his duel with the colonel, and his fortunate appearance in the nick of time, seem too rich in coincidences: still, as the Dormont case and the Ormiston case have shown, coincidences as unlooked for do occur. A fastidious critic has found fault with Brown’s flageolet. It is a modest instrument; but what was he to play upon, — a lute, a concertina, a barrel-organ?
The characters of the young ladies have not always been applauded. Taste, in the matter of heroines, varies greatly; Sir Walter had no high opinion of his own skill in delineating them. But Julia Mannering is probably a masterly picture of a girl of that age, — a girl with some silliness and more gaiety, with wit, love of banter, and, in the last resort, sense and good feeling. She is particularly good when, in fear and trembling, she teases her imposing father.
“I expect,” says Colonel Mannering, “that you will pay to this young lady that attention which is due to misfortune and virtue.” “Certainly, sir. Is my future friend red-haired?” Miss Mannering is very capable of listening to Brown’s flageolet from the balcony, but not of accompanying Brown, should he desire it, in the boat. As for Brown himself, he is one of Sir Walter’s usual young men, — “brave, handsome, not too clever,” — the despair of their humorous creator. “Once you come to forty year,” as Thackeray sings, “then you’ll know that a lad is an ass;” and Scott had come to that age, and perhaps entertained that theory of a jeune premier when he wrote “Guy Mannering.” In that novel, as always, he was most himself when dealing either with homely Scottish characters of everyday life, with exaggerated types of humorous absurdity, and with wildly adventurous banditti, who appealed to the old strain of the Border reiver in his blood. The wandering plot of “Guy Mannering” enabled him to introduce examples of all these sorts. The good-humoured, dull, dawdling Ellangowan, a laird half dwindled to a yeoman, is a sketch absolutely accurate, and wonderfully touched with pathos. The landladies, Mrs. MacCandlish and Tib Mumps, are little masterpieces; so is Mac-Morlan, the foil to Glossin; and so is Pleydell, allowing for the manner of the age. Glossin himself is best when least villanous. Sir Robert Hazlewood is hardly a success. But as to Jock Jabos, a Southern Scot may say that he knows Jock Jabos in the flesh, so persistent is the type of that charioteer. It is partly Scott’s good fortune, partly it is his evil luck, to be so inimitably and intimately true in his pictures of Scottish character. This wins the heart of his countrymen, indeed; but the stranger can never know how good Scott really is, any more than a Frenchman can appreciate Falstaff. Thus the alien may be vexed by what he thinks the mere clannish enthusiasm of praise, in Scott’s countrymen. Every little sketch of a passing face is exquisite in Scott’s work, when he is at his best. For example, Dandie Dinmont’s children are only indicated “with a dusty roll of the brush;” but we recognize at once the large, shy, kindly families of the Border. Dandie himself, as the “Edinburgh Review” said (1817), “is beyond all question the best rustic portrait that has ever yet been exhibited to the public, — the most honourable to rustics, and the most creditable to the heart as well as to the genius of the Author, the truest to nature, the most complete in all its lineaments.” Dandie is always delightful, — whether at Mumps’s Hall, or on the lonely moor, or at home in Charlieshope, or hunting, or leistering fish, or entering terriers at vermin, or fighting, or going to law, or listening to the reading of a disappointing will, or entertaining the orphan whom others neglect; always delightful he is, always generous, always true, always the Border farmer. There is no better stock of men, none less devastated by “the modern spirit.” His wife is worthy of him, and has that singular gentleness, kindliness, and dignity which prevail on the Border, even in households far less prosperous than that of Dandie Dinmont. —[Dr. John Brown’s Ailie, in “Rab and his Friends,” will naturally occur to the mind of every reader.]
Among Scott’s “character parts,” or types broadly humorous, few have been more popular than Dominie Sampson. His ungainly goodness, unwieldy strength, and inaccessible learning have made great sport, especially when “Guy Mannering” was “Terryfied” for the stage.
As Miss Bertram remarks in that singular piece, — where even Jock Jabos “wins till his English,” like Elspeth in the Antiquary, — the Dominie “rather forces a tear from the eye of sentiment than a laugh from the lungs of ribaldry.” In the play, however, he sits down to read a folio on some bandboxes, which, very naturally, “give way under him.” As he has just asked Mrs. Mac-Candlish after the health of both her husbands, who are both dead, the lungs of ribaldry are more exercised than the fine eye of sentiment. We scarcely care to see our Dominie treated thus. His creator had the very lowest opinion of the modern playwright’s craft, and probably held that stage humour could not be too palpable and practical. Lockhart writes (v. 130): “What share the novelist himself had in this first specimen of what he used to call ‘the art of Terryfying’ I cannot exactly say; but his correspondence shows that the pretty song of the ‘Lullaby’ was not his only contribution to it; and I infer that he had taken the trouble to modify the plot and rearrange for stage purposes a considerable part of the original dialogue.” Friends of the Dominie may be glad to know, perhaps on Scott’s own testimony, that he was an alumnus of St. Andrews. “I was boarded for twenty pence a week at Luckie Sour-kail’s, in the High Street of St. Andrews.” He was also fortunate enough to hold a bursary in St. Leonard’s College, which, however, is a blunder. St. Leonard’s and St. Salvator’s had already been merged in the United College (1747). All this is in direct contradiction to the evidence in the novel, which makes the Dominie a Glasgow man. Yet the change seems to be due to Scott rather than to Terry. It is certain that Colonel Mannering would not have approved of the treatment which the Dominie undergoes, in a play whereof the plot and conduct fall little short of the unintelligible.
Against the character of Pleydell “a few murmurs of pedantic criticism,” as Lockhart says, were uttered, and it was natural that Pleydell should seem an incredible character to English readers. But there is plenty of evidence that his “High Jinks” were not exaggerated.
There remains the heroine of the novel, as Mr. Ruskin not incorrectly calls her, Meg Merrilies, the sybil who so captivated the imagination of Keats. Among Scott’s many weird women, she is the most romantic, with her loyal heart and that fiery natural eloquence which, as Scott truly observed, does exist ready for moments of passion, even among the reticent Lowlanders. The child of a mysterious wandering race, Meg has a double claim to utter such speeches as she addresses to Ellangowan after the eviction of her tribe. Her death, as Mr. Ruskin says, is “self — devoted, heroic in the highest, and happy.” The devotion of Meg Merrilies, the grandeur of her figure, the music of her songs, more than redeem the character of Dirk Hatteraick, even if we hold, with the “Edinburgh” reviewer, that he is “a vulgar bandit of the German school,” just as the insipidity and flageolet of the hero are redeemed by the ballad sung in the moment of recognition.
“Are these the Links of Forth, she said,
Or are they the crooks of Dee,
Or the bonnie woods of Warroch Head,
That I so fain would see?”
“Guy Mannering,” according to Lockhart, was “pronounced by acclamation fully worthy to share the honours of ‘Waverley.’ “One star differeth from another in glory, and “Guy Manneriug” has neither that vivid picture of clannish manners nor that noble melancholy of a gallant and forlorn endeavour of the Lost Cause,
“When all was done that man may do,
And all was done in vain,”
which give dignity to “Waverley.” Yet, with Lockhart, we may admire, in “Guy Mannering,” “the rapid, ever-heightening interest of the narrative, the unaffected kindliness of feeling, the manly purity of thought, everywhere mingled with a gentle humour and homely sagacity, but, above all, the rich variety and skilful contrast of character and manners, at once fresh in fiction and stamped with the unforgeable seal of truth and nature.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00