“Under which King, Bezonian? Speak, or die!”
Henry IV., Part II.
“What is the value of a reputation that probably will not last above one or two generations? “Sir Walter Scott once asked Ballantyne. Two generations, according to the usual reckoning, have passed; “‘T is Sixty Years since” the “wondrous Potentate” of Wordsworth’s sonnet died, yet the reputation on which he set so little store survives. A constant tide of new editions of his novels flows from the press; his plots give materials for operas and plays; he has been criticised, praised, condemned: but his romances endure amid the changes of taste, remaining the delight of mankind, while new schools and little masters of fiction come and go.
Scott himself believed that even great works usually suffer periods of temporary occultation. His own, no doubt, have not always been in their primitive vogue. Even at first, English readers complained of the difficulty caused by his Scotch, and now many make his “dialect” an excuse for not reading books which their taste, debauched by third-rate fiction, is incapable of enjoying. But Scott has never disappeared in one of those irregular changes of public opinion remarked on by his friend Lady Louisa Stuart. In 1821 she informed him that she had tried the experiment of reading Mackenzie’s “Man of Feeling” aloud: “Nobody cried, and at some of the touches I used to think so exquisite, they laughed.” 6 His correspondent requested Scott to write something on such variations of taste, which actually seem to be in the air and epidemic, for they affect, as she remarked, young people who have not heard the criticisms of their elders.7 Thus Rousseau’s “Nouvelle Heloise,” once so fascinating to girls, and reputed so dangerous, had become tedious to the young, Lady Louisa says, even in 1821. But to the young, if they have any fancy and intelligence, Scott is not tedious even now; and probably his most devoted readers are boys, girls, and men of matured appreciation and considerable knowledge of literature. The unformed and the cultivated tastes are still at one about Scott. He holds us yet with his unpremeditated art, his natural qualities of friendliness, of humour, of sympathy. Even the carelessness with which his earliest and his kindest critics — Ellis, Erskine, and Lady Louisa Stuart — reproached him has not succeeded in killing his work and diminishing his renown.
It is style, as critics remind us, it is perfection of form, no doubt, that secure the permanence of literature; but Scott did not overstate his own defects when he wrote in his Journal (April 22, 1826): “A solecism in point of composition, like a Scotch word, is indifferent to me. I never learned grammar. . . . I believe the bailiff in ‘The Goodnatured Man’ is not far wrong when he says: ‘One man has one way of expressing himself, and another another; and that is all the difference between them.’” The difference between Scott and Thackeray or Flaubert among good writers, and a crowd of self-conscious and mannered “stylists” among writers not so very good, is essential. About Shakspeare it was said that he “never blotted a line.” The observation is almost literally true about Sir Walter. The pages of his manuscript novels show scarcely a retouch or an erasure, whether in the “Waverley” fragment of 1805 or the unpublished “Siege of Malta” of 1832.8
The handwriting becomes closer and smaller; from thirty-eight lines to the page in “Waverley,” he advances to between fifty and sixty in “Ivanhoe.” The few alterations are usually additions. For example, a fresh pedantry of the Baron of Bradwardine’s is occasionally set down on the opposite page. Nothing can be less like the method of Flaubert or the method of Mr. Ruskin, who tells us that “a sentence of ‘Modern Painters’ was often written four or five tunes over in my own hand, and tried in every word for perhaps an hour, — perhaps a forenoon, — before it was passed for the printer.” Each writer has his method; Scott was no stipples or niggler, but, as we shall see later, he often altered much in his proof-sheets. 9
As long as he was understood, he was almost reckless of well- constructed sentences, of the one best word for his meaning, of rounded periods. This indifference is not to be praised, but it is only a proof of his greatness that his style, never distinguished, and often lax, has not impaired the vitality of his prose. The heart which beats in his works, the knowledge of human nature, the dramatic vigour of his character, the nobility of his whole being win the day against the looseness of his manner, the negligence of his composition, against the haste of fatigue which set him, as Lady Louisa Stuart often told him, on “huddling up a conclusion anyhow, and so kicking the book out of his way.” In this matter of denouements he certainly was no more careful than Shakspeare or Moliere.
The permanence of Sir Walter’s romances is proved, as we said, by their survival among all the changes of fashion in the art of fiction. When he took up his pen to begin “Waverley,” fiction had not absorbed, as it does to-day, almost all the best imaginative energy of English or foreign writers. Now we hear of “art” on every side, and every novelist must give the world his opinion about schools and methods. Scott, on the other hand, lived in the greatest poetical ago since that of Elizabeth. Poetry or the drama (in which, to be sure, few succeeded) occupied Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Crabbe, Campbell, and Keats. Then, as Joanna Baillie hyperbolically declared, “The Scotch novels put poetry out of fashion.” 10
Till they appeared, novels seem to have been left to readers like the plaintive lady’s-maid whom Scott met at Dalkeith, when he beheld “the fair one descend from the carriage with three half-bound volumes of a novel in her hand.” Mr. Morritt, writing to Scott in March, 1815, hopes he will “restore pure narrative to the dignity from which it gradually slipped before it dwindied into a manufactory for the circulating library.” “Waverley,” he asserted, “would prevail over people otherwise averse to blue-backed volumes.” Thus it was an unconsidered art which Scott took up and revived. Half a century had passed since Fielding gave us in “Tom Jones “ his own and very different picture of life in the “‘forty-five,” — of life with all the romance of the “Race to Derby” cut down to a sentence or two. Since the age of the great English novelists, Richardson and Fielding and Miss Burney, the art of fiction had been spasmodically alive in the hands of Mrs. Radcliffe, had been sentimental with Henry Mackenzie, and now was all but moribund, save for the humorous Irish sketches of Miss Edgeworth. As Scott always insisted, it was mainly “the extended and well-merited fame of Miss Edgeworth” which induced him to try his hand on a novel containing pictures of Scottish life and character. Nothing was more remarkable in his own novels than the blending of close and humorous observation of common life with pleasure in adventurous narratives about “what is not so, and was not so, and Heaven forbid that it ever should be so,” as the girl says in the nursery tale. Through his whole life he remained the dreamer of dreams and teller of wild legends, who had held the lads of the High School entranced round Luckie Brown’s fireside, and had fleeted the summer days in interchange of romances with a schoolboy friend, Mr. Irving, among the hills that girdle Edinburgh. He ever had a passion for “knights and ladies and dragons and giants,” and “God only knows,” he says, “how delighted I was to find myself in such society.” But with all this delight, his imagination had other pleasures than the fantastic: the humours and passions of ordinary existence were as clearly visible to him as the battles, the castles, and the giants. True, he was more fastidious in his choice of novels of real life than in his romantic reading. “The whole Jemmy and Jessamy tribe I abhorred,” he said; “and it required the art of Burney or the feeling of Mackenzie to fix my attention upon a domestic tale.” But when the domestic tale was good and true, no man appreciated it more than he. None has more vigorously applauded Miss Austen than Scott, and it was thus that as the “Author of Waverley’” he addressed Miss Edgeworth, through James Ballantyne: “If I could but hit it Miss Edgeworth’s wonderful power of vivifying all her persons, and making there live as beings in your mind, I should not be afraid.” “Often,” Ballantyne goes on, “has the Author of ‘Waverley’ used such language to me; and I knew that I gratified him most when I could say, ‘Positively, this is equal to Miss Edgeworth.’
Thus Scott’s own taste was catholic: and in this he was particularly unlike the modern novelists, who proclaim, from both sides of the Atlantic, that only in their own methods, and in sharing their own exclusive tastes, is literary salvation. The prince of Romance was no one-sided romanticiste; his ear was open to all fiction good in its kind. His generosity made him think Miss Edgeworth’s persons more alive than his own. To his own romances he preferred Mrs. Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” 11
As a critic, of course, he was mistaken; but his was the generous error of the heart, and it is the heart in Walter Scott, even more than the brain, that lends its own vitality to his creations. Equipped as he was with a taste truly catholic, capable in old age of admiring “Pelham,” he had the power to do what he calls “the big bow-wow strain;” yet he was not, as in his modesty he supposed, denied “the exquisite torch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment.”
The letter of Rose Bradwardine to Waverley is alone enough to disprove Scott’s disparagement of himself, his belief that he had been denied exquisiteness of touch. Nothing human is more delicate, nothing should be more delicately handled, than the first love of a girl. What the “analytical” modern novelist would pass over and dissect and place beneath his microscope till a student of any manliness blushes with shame and annoyance, Scott suffers Rose Bradwardine to reveal with a sensitive shyness. But Scott, of course, had even less in common with the peeper and botanizer on maidens’ hearts than with the wildest romanticist. He considered that “a want of story is always fatal to a book the first reading, and it is well if it gets a chance of a second.” From him Pride and Prejudice” got a chance of three readings at least. This generous universality of taste, in addition to all his other qualities of humour and poetry, enabled Scott to raise the novel from its decadence, and to make the dry bones of history live again in his tales. With Charles Edward at Holyrood, as Mr. Senior wrote in the “Quarterly Review,” “we are in the lofty region of romance. In any other hands than those of Sir Walter Scott, the language and conduct of those great people would have been as dignified as their situations. We should have heard nothing of the hero in his new costume ‘majoring afore the muckle pier-glass,’ of his arrest by the hint of the Candlestick, of his examination by the well-powdered Major Melville, or of his fears of being informed against by Mrs. Nosebag.” In short, “while the leading persons and events are as remote from ordinary life as the inventions of Scudery, the picture of human nature is as faithful as could have been given by Fielding or Le Sage.” Though this criticism has not the advantage of being new, it is true; and when we have added that Scott’s novels are the novels of the poet who, next to Shakspeare, knew mankind most widely and well, we have the secret of his triumph.
For the first time in literature, it was a poet who held the pen of the romancer in prose. Fielding, Richardson, De Foe, Miss Rurnev, were none of them made by the gods poetical. Scott himself, with his habitual generosity, would have hailed his own predecessor in Mrs. Radcliffe. “The praise may be claimed for Mrs. Radcliffe of having been the first to introduce into her prose fictions a beautiful and fanciful tone of natural description and impressive narrative, which had hitherto been exclusively applied to poetry. . . . Mrs. Radcliffe has a title to be considered the first poetess of romantic fiction.” When “Guy Mannering” appeared, Wordsworth sneered at it as a work of the Radcliffe school. The slight difference produced by the introduction of humour could scarcely be visible to Wordsworth. But Scott would not have been hurt by his judgment. He had the literary courage to recognize merit even when obscured by extravagance, and to applaud that in which people of culture could find neither excellence nor charm. Like Thackeray, he had been thrilled by Vivaidi in the Inquisition, and he was not the man to hide his gratitude because his author was now out of fashion.
Thus we see that Scott, when he began “Waverley” in 1805, brought to his labour no hard-and-fastt theory of the art of fiction, but a kindly readiness to be pleased, and to find good in everything. He brought his wide knowledge of contemporary Scottish life “from the peer to the ploughman; “he brought his well-digested wealth of antiquarian lore, and the poetic skill which had just been busied with the “Lay of the Last Minstrel,” and was still to be occupied, ere he finished his interrupted novel, with “Marmion,” “The Lady of the Lake,” “Rokeby,” and “The Lord of the Isles.” The comparative failure of the last-named no doubt strengthened his determination to try prose romance. He had never cared mach for his own poems, he says, Byron had outdone him in popularity, and the Muse — “the Good Demon” who once deserted Herrick — came now less eagerly to his call. It is curiously difficult to disentangle the statements about the composition of “Waverley.” Our first authority, of course, is Scott’s own account, given in the General Preface to the Edition of 1829. Lockhart, however, remarks on the haste with which Sir Walter wrote the Introductions to the magnum opus; and the lapse of fifteen years, the effects of disease, and his habitual carelessness about his own works and mode of working may certainly to some extent have clouded his memory. “About the year 1805,” as he says, he “threw together about one third part of the first volume of ‘Waverley.’” It was advertised to be published, he goes on, by Ballantvne, with the second title, “‘T is Fifty Years since.” This, obviously, would have made 1755 the date of the events, just as the title “‘T is Sixty Years since” in 1814 brought the date of the events to 1754. By inspecting the water-mark of the paper Lockhart discovered that 1805 was the period in which the first few chapters were composed; the rest of the paper was marked 1814. Scott next observes that the unfavourable opinion of a critical friend on the first seven chapters induced him to lay the manuscript aside. Who was this friend? Lockhart thinks it was Erskine. It is certain, from a letter of Ballantyne’s at Abbotsford, — a letter printed by Lockhart, September 15, 1810, — that Ballantyne in 1810 saw at least the earlier portions of “Waverley,” and it is clear enough that he had seen none of it before. If any friend did read it in 1805, it cannot have been Ballantyne, and may have been Erskine. But none of the paper bears a water-mark, between 1805 and 1813, so Scott must merely have taken it up, in 1810, as it had been for five years. Now Scott says that the success of “The Lady of the Lake,” with its Highland pictures, induced him “to attempt something of the same sort in prose.” This, as Lockhart notes, cannot refer to 1805, as the “Lady of the Lake” did not appear till 1810. But the good fortune of the “Lady” may very well have induced him in 1810 to reconsider his Highland prose romance. In 1808, as appears from an undated letter to Surtees of Mainsforth (Abbotsford Manuscripts), he was contemplating a poem on “that wandering knight so fair,” Charles Edward, and on the adventures of his flight, on Lochiel, Flora Macdonald, the Kennedys, and the rest. Earlier still, on June 9, 1806, Scott wrote to Lady Abercorn that he had “a great work in contemplation, a Highland romance of love, magic, and war.” “The Lady of the Lake” took the place of that poem in his “century of inventions,” and, stimulated by the popularity of his Highland romance in verse, he disinterred the last seven chapters of “Waverley” from their five years of repose. Very probably, as he himself hints, the exercise of fitting a conclusion to Strutt’s “Queenloo Hall” may have helped to bring his fancy back to his own half-forgotten story of “Waverley.” In 1811 Scott went to Abbotsford, and there, as he tells us, he lost sight of his “Waverley” fragment. Often looked for, it was never found, till the accident of a search for fishing-tackle led him to discover it in the drawer of an old bureau in a lumber-garret. This cabinet afterwards came into the possession of Mr. William Laidlaw, Scott’s friend and amanuensis, and it is still, the Editor understands, in the hands of Miss Laidlaw. The fishing-tackle, Miss Laidlaw tells the Editor (mainly red hackles, tied on hair, not gut), still occupies the drawer, except a few flies which were given, as relics, to the late Mr. Thomas Tod Stoddart. In 1813, then, volume i. of “Waverley” was finished. Then Scott undertook some articles for Constable, and laid the novel aside. The printing, at last, must have been very speedy. Dining in Edinburgh, in June, 1814, Lockhart saw “the hand of Walter Scott” busy at its task. “Page after page is finished, and thrown on the heap of manuscripts, and still it goes on unwearied.” The book was published on July 7, the press hardly keeping up with the activity of the author. Scott had written “two volumes in three summer weeks” and the printers had not shown less activity, while binders and stitchers must have worked extra tides.
“Waverley” was published without the Author’s name. Scott’s reasons for being anonymous have been stated by himself. “It was his humour,” — that is the best of the reasons and the secret gave him a great deal of amusement. The Ballantynes, of course, knew it from the first; so did Mr. Morritt, Lady Louisa Stuart, and Lord and Lady Montague, and others were gradually admitted. In an undated letter, probably of November, 1816, Scott says to the Marchioness of Abercorn, a most intimate friend: “I cannot even conjecture whom you mean by Mr. Mackenzie as author of ‘The Antiquary.’ I should think my excellent old friend Mr. Harry Mackenzie [author of the ‘Man of Feeling,’ etc.] was too much advanced in years and plugged in business to amuse himself by writing novels; and besides, the style in no degree resembles his.” (Lady Abercorn meant ‘Young Harry Mackenzie,” not the patriarch.) “I am told one of the English reviews gives these works by name and upon alleged authority to George Forbes, Sir William’s brother; so they take them off my hands, I don’t care who they turn to, for I am really tired of an imputation which I am under the necessity of confuting at every corner. Tom will soon be home from Canada, as the death of my elder brother has left him a little money. He may answer for himself, but I hardly suspect him, unless much changed, to be Possessed of the perseverance necessary to write nine volumes.” Scott elsewhere rather encouraged the notion that his brother Thomas was the author, and tried to make him exert himself and enter the field as a rival. Gossip also assigned the “Scotch novels” to Jeffrey, to Mrs. Thomas Scott, aided by her husband and Sir Walter, to a Dr. Greenfield, a clergyman, and to many others. Sir Walter humorously suggested George Cranstoun as the real offender. After the secret was publicly confessed, Lady Louisa Stuart reminded Scott of all the amusement it had given them. “Old Mortality” had been pronounced “too good” for Scott, and free from his “wearisome descriptions of scenery.” Clever people had detected several separate hands in “Old Mortality,” as in the Iliad. All this was diverting. Moreover, Scott was in some degree protected from the bores who pester a successful author. He could deny the facts very stoutly, though always, as he insists, With the reservation implied in alleging that, if he had been the author, he would still have declined to confess. In the notes to later novels we shall see some of his “great denials.”
The reception of “Waverley” was enthusiastic. Large editions were sold in Edinburgh, and when Scott returned from his cruise in the northern islands he found society ringing with his unacknowledged triumph. Byron, especially, proclaimed his pleasure in “Waverley.” It may be curious to recall some of the published reviews of the moment. Probably no author ever lived so indifferent to published criticism as Scott. Miss Edgeworth, in one of her letters, reminds him how they had both agreed that writers who cared for the dignity and serenity of their characters should abstain from “that authors’ bane-stuff.” “As to the herd of critics,” Scott wrote to Miss Seward, after publishing “The Lay,” “many of those gentlemen appear to me to be a set of tinkers, who, unable to make pots and pans, set up for menders of them.” It is probable, therefore, that he was quite unconcerned about the few remarks which Mr. Gifford, in the Quarterly Review “ (vol. xl., 1814), interspersed among a multitude of extracts, in a notice of “Waverley” manufactured with scissors and paste. The “Quarterly” recognized “a Scotch Castle Rackrent,” but in “a much higher strain.” The tale was admitted to possess all the accuracy of history, and all the vivacity of romance. Scott’s second novel, “Guy Mannering,” was attacked with some viciousness in the periodical of which he was practically the founder, and already the critic was anxious to repeat what Scott, talking of Pope’s censors, calls “the cuckoo cry of written out’!” The notice of “Waverley” in the “Edinburgh Review “ by Mr. Jeffrey was not so slight and so unworthy of the topic. The novel was declared, and not unjustly, to be “very hastily, and in many places very unskilfully, written.” The Scotch was decried as “unintelligible” dialect by the very reviewer who had accused “Marmion” of not being Scotch enough. But the “Edinburgh” applauded “the extraordinary fidelity and felicity” with which all the inferior agents in the story are represented. “Fastidious readers” might find Callum Beg and Mrs. Nosebag and the Cumberland peasants “coarse and disgusting,” said the reviewer, who must have had in his imagination readers extremely superfine. He objected to the earlier chapters as uninteresting, and — with justice — to the passages where the anthor speaks in “the smart and flippant style of modern makers of paragraphs.” “These form a strange and humiliating contrast with the force and freedom of his manner when engaged in those dramatic and picturesque representations to which his genius so decidedly inclines.” He spoke severely of the places where Scott explains the circumstances of Waverley’s adventures before he reaches Edinburgh; and Scott himself, in his essay on Mrs. Radcliffe, regrets that explanatory chapters had ever been invented. The reviewer broadly hints his belief that Scott is the author; and on the whole, except for a cautious lack of enthusiasm, the notice is fair and kindly. The “Monthly Review” differed not much from the Blue and Yellow (the “Edinburgh Review”).
“It is not one of the least merits of this very uncommon production that all the subordinate characters are touched with the same discriminating force which so strongly marks their principals; and that in this manner almost every variety of station and interest, such as existed at the period under review, is successively brought before the mind of the reader in colours vivid as the original.
“A few oversights, we think, we have detected in the conduct of the story which ought not to remain unnoticed. For example, the age of Stanley and Lady Emily does not seem well to accord with the circumstances of their union, as related in the commencement of the work; and we are not quite satisfied that Edward should have been so easily reconciled to the barbarous and stubborn prejudices which precluded even the office of intercession for his gallant friend and companion-in-arms.
“The pieces of poetry which are not very profusely scattered through these volumes can scarcely fail to he ascribed to Mr. Scott, whatever may be judged of the body of the work. In point of comparative merit, we should class them neither with the highest nor with the meanest effusions of his lyric minstrelsy.”
Lord Byron’s “Grandmother’s Review, the British,” was also friendly and sagacious, in its elderly way.
“We request permission, therefore, to introduce ‘Waver1ey,’ a publication which has already excited considerable interest in the sister kingdom, to the literary world on this side the Tweed.
“A very short time has elapsed since this publication made its appearance in Edinburgh, and though it came into the world in the modest garb of anonymous obscurity, the Northern literati are unanimous, we understand, in ascribing part of it, at, least, to the pen of W. Scott.
“We are unwilling to consider this publication in the light of a common novel whose fate it is to be devoured with rapidity for a day, and afterwards forgotten forever, but as a vehicle of curious and accurate information upon a subject which must at all times demand our attention, — the history and manners of a very large and renowned portion of the inhabitants of these islands. We would recommend this tale as faithfully embodying the lives, the manners, and the opinions of this departed race, and as affording those features of ancient days which no man probably, besides its author, has had the means to collect, the desire to preserve, or the power to portray.
“Although there are characters sufficient to awaken the attention and to diversify the scenes, yet they are not in sufficient number to perplex the memory or to confuse the incidents. Their spirit is well kept up till the very last, and they relieve one another with so much art that the reader will not find himself wearied even with the pedantic jargon of the old Baron of Bradwardine.
“Of Waverley himself we shall say but little, as his character is far too common to need a comment; we can only say that his wanderings are not gratuitous, nor is he wavering and indecisive only because the author chooses to make him so. Every feature in his character is formed by education, and it is to this first source that we are constantly referred for a just and sufficient cause of all the wandering passions as they arise in his mind.
“The secondary personages are drawn with much spirit and fidelity, and with a very striking knowledge of the peculiarities of the Scotch temper and disposition. The incidents are all founded on fact, and the historical parts are related with much accuracy. The livelier scenes which are displayed are of the most amusing species, because they flow so naturally from the personages before us that the characters, not the author, appear to speak. A strong vein of very original humour marks the whole: in most instances it is indeed of a local and particular nature, but in many cases it assumes a more general appearance.
“Of the more serious portions we can speak with unqualified approbation; the very few pathetic scenes which occur are short, dignifed, and affecting. The love-scenes are sufficiently contracted to produce that very uncommon sensation in the mind, — a wish that they were longer.
“The religious opinions expressed in the course of the tale are few, but of those few we fully approve.
“The humorous and happy adaptation of legal terns shows no moderate acquaintance with the arcana of the law, and a perpetual allusion to the English and Latin classics no common share of scholarship and taste.”
The “Scots Magazine” illustrated the admirable unanimity of reviewers when they are unanimous. The “Anti-Jacobin” objected that no Chateau-Margaux sent in the wood from Bordeaux to Dundee in 1713 could have been drinkable in 1741. “Claret two-and-thirty years old! It almost gives us the gripes to think of it.” Indeed, Sir Walter, as Lochhart assures its, was so far from being a judge of claret that he could not tell when it was “corked.” One or two points equally important amused the reviewer, who, like most of his class, detected the hand of Scott. There was hardly a possibility, as Mr. Morritt told Sir Walter, that the poems in “Waverley” could fail to suggest their author. No man who ever heard you tell a story over a table but must recognize you at once.” To his praise of “Waverley” Mr. Morritt hardly added any adverse criticism, beyond doubting the merit of the early chapters, and denouncing the word “sombre” as one which had lately “kept bad company among the slipshod English of the sentimental school.” Scott, in defence, informed Mr. Morritt that he had “left the story to flag in the first volume on purpose. . . . I wished (with what success Heaven knows) to avoid the ordinary error of novelists, whose first volume is usually their best.”
It must be admitted that if Scott wished to make “Waverley” “flag” in the beginning, he succeeded extremely well, — too well for many modern readers, accustomed to a leap into the midst of the story. These introductory chapters,” he observes in a note on the fifth of them, “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 retract or cancel.” These “circumstances” are probably the studies of Waverley, his romantic readings, which are really autobiographic. Scott was, apparently, seriously of opinion that the “mental discipline” of a proper classical education would have been better for himself than his own delightfully desultory studies. Ballantyne could not see what Waverley’s reading had to do with his adventures and character. Scott persisted in being of another mind. He himself, writing to Morritt, calls his hero “a sneaking piece of imbecility;” but he probably started with loftier intentions of “psychological analysis” than he fulfilled. He knew, and often said, in private letters, as in published works, that he was no hand at a respectable hero. Borderers, buccaneers, robber, and humorsome people, like Dugald Dalgetty and Bailie Nicol Jarvie and Macwheeble, whom he said he preferred to any person in “Waverley,” were the characters he delighted in. We may readily believe that Shakspeare too preferred Jacques and the Fat Knight to Orlando or the favoured lover of Anne Page. Your hero is a difficult person to make human, — unless, indeed, he has the defects of Pendennis or Tom Jones. But it is likely enough that the Waverley whom Scott had in his mind in 1805 was hardly the Waverley of 1813. His early English chapters are much in the ordinary vein of novels as they were then written; in those chapters come the “asides” by the author which the “Edinburgh Review” condemned. But there remains the kindly, honourable Sir Everard, while the calm atmosphere of English meadows, and the plump charms of Miss Cecilia Stubbs, are intended as foils to the hills of the North, the shy refinement of Rose, and the heroic heart of Flora Mac-Ivor. Scott wished to show the remote extremes of civilization and mental habit co-existing in the same island of Scotland and England. Yet we regret such passages as “craving pardon for my heroics, which I am unable in certain cases to resist giving way to,” and so forth. Scott was no Thackeray, no Fielding, and failed (chiefly in “Waverley”) when he attempted the mood of banter, which one of his daughters, a lady “of Beatrice’s mind,” “never got from me,” he observes.
In any serious, attempt to criticise “Waverley” as a whole, it is not easy to say whether we should try to put ourselves at the point of view of its first readers, or whether we should look at it from the vantage-ground of to-day. In 1811 the dead world of clannish localty was fresh in many memories. Scott’s own usher had often spoken with a person who had seen Cromwell enter Edinburgh after Dunbar. He himself knew heroes of the Forty-five, and his friend Lady Louisa Stuart had been well acquainted with Miss Walkinshaw, sister of the mistress of Charles Edward. To his generation those things were personal memories, which to us seem as distant as the reign of Men-Ka-Ra. They could not but be “carried off their feet” by such pictures of a past still so near them. Nor had they other great novelists to weaken the force of Scott’s impressions. They had not to compare him with the melancholy mirth of Thackeray, and the charm, the magic of his style. Balzac was of the future; of the future was the Scott of France, — the boyish, the witty, the rapid, the brilliant, the inexhaustible Dumas. Scott’s generation had no scruples abort “realism,” listened to no sermons on the glory of the commonplace; like Dr. Johnson, they admired a book which “was amusing as a fairy-tale.” But we are overwhelmed with a wealth of comparisons, and deafened by a multitudee of homilies on fiction, and distracted, like the people in the Erybyggja Saga, by the strange rising and setting, and the wild orbits of new “weirdmoons” of romance. Before we can make up our minds on Scott, we have to remember, or forget, the scornful patronage of one critic, the over-subtlety and exaggerations of another, the more than papal infallibility of a third. Perhaps the best critic would be an intelligent school-boy, with a generous heart and an unspoiled imagination. As his remarks are not accessible, as we must try to judge “Waverley” like readers inured to much fiction and much criticism, we must confess, no doubt, that the commencement has the faults which the first reviewers detected, and it which Scott acknowledged. He is decidedly slow in getting to business, as they say; he began with more of conscious ethical purpose than he went on, and his banter is poor. But when once we enter the village of Tully-Veolan, the Magician finds his wand. Each picture of place or person tells, — the old butler, the daft Davie Gellatley, the solemn and chivalrous Baron, the, pretty natural girl, the various lairds, the factor Macwheeble, — all at once become living people, and friends whom we can never lose. The creative fire of Shakspeare lives again. The Highlanders — Evan Dhu, Donald Bean Lean, his charming daughter, Callum Beg, and all the rest — are as natural as the Lowlanders. In Fergus and Flora we feel, indeed, at first, that the author has left his experience behind, and is giving us creatures of fancy. But they too become human and natural, — Fergus in his moods of anger, ambition, and final courageous resignation; Flora, in her grief. As for Waverley, his creator was no doubt too hard on him. Among the brave we hear that he was one of the bravest, though Scott always wrote his battlepieces in a manner to suggest no discomfort, and does not give us particular details of Waverley’s prowess. He has spirit enough, this “sneaking piece of imbecility,” as he shows in his quarrel with Fergus, on the march to Derby. Waverley, that creature of romance, considered as a lover, is really not romantic enough. He loved Rose because she loved him, — which is confessed to be unheroic behaviour. Scott, in “Waverley,” certainly does not linger over love-scenes. With Mr. Ruskin, we may say: “Let it not be thought for an instant that the slight and sometimes scornful glance with which Scott passes over scenes, which a novelist of our own day would have analyzed with the airs of a philosopher, and painted with the curiosity of a gossip, indicates any absence in his heart of sympathy with the great and sacred elements of personal happiness.” But his mind entertained other themes of interest, loyalty, patriotism, piety.” On the other hand, it is necessary to differ from Mr. Ruskin when he says that Scott “never knew ‘l’amor che move ‘l sol e l’ altre stelle.’” He whose heart was “broken for two years,” and retained the crack till his dying day, he who, when old and tired, and near his death, was yet moved by the memory of the name which thirty years before he had cut in Runic characters on the turf at the Castle-gate of St. Andrew, knew love too well to write of it much, or to speak of it at all. He had won his ideal as alone the ideal can be won; he never lost her: she was with him always, because she had been unattainable. “There are few,” he says, who have not, at one period of life, broken ties of love and friendship, secret disappointments of the heart, to mourn over, — and we know no book which recalls the memory of them more severely than ‘Julia de Roubigne.’” He could not be very eager to recall them, he who had so bitterly endured them, and because he had known and always knew “l’amor che move ‘l sol e l’altre stelle,” a seal was on his lips, a silence broken only by a caress of Di Vernon’s.’
This apology we may make, if an apology be needed, for what modern readers may think the meagreness of the love-passages in Scott. He does not deal in embraces and effusions, his taste is too manly; he does not dwell much on Love, because, like the shepherd in Theocritus, he has found him an inhabitant of the rocks. Moreover, when Scott began novel-writing, he was as old as Thackeray when Thackeray said that while at work on a love-scene he blushed so that you would think he was going into an apoplexy. “Waverley” stands by its pictures of manners, of character, by its humour and its tenderness, by its manly “criticism of life,” by its touches of poetry, so various, so inspired, as in Davie Gellatley with his songs, and Charles Edward in the gallant hour of Holyrood, and Flora with her high, selfless hopes and broken heart, and the beloved Baron, bearing his lot “with a good-humoured though serious composure.” “To be sure, we may say with Virgilius Maro, ‘Fuimus Troes’ and there ‘s the end of an auld sang. But houses and families and men have a’ stood lang eneugh when they have stood till they fall with honour.”
“Waverley” ends like a fairy-tale, while real life ever ends like a Northern saga. But among the good things that make life bearable, such fairy-tales are not the least precious, and not the least enduring.
6 Abbotsford Manuscripts.
7 See Scott’s reply, with the anecdote about Mrs. Aphra Behn’s novels, Lockhart, vi. 406 (edition of 1839).
8 A history of Scott’s Manuscripts, with good fac-similes, will be found in the Catalogue of the Scott Exhibition, Edinburgh, 1872.
9 While speaking of correction, it may be noted that Scott, in his “Advertisement” prefixed to the issue of 1829, speaks of changes made in that collected edition. In “Waverley” these emendations are very rare, and are unimportant. A few callidae juncturae are added, a very few lines are deleted. The postscript of the first edition did not contain the anecdote about the hiding-place of the manuscript among the fishing tackle. The first line of Flora Macdonald’s battle-song (chapter xxii.) originally ran, “Mist darkens the mountain, night darkens the vale,” in place of “There is mist on the mountain and mist on the vale.” For the rest, as Scott says, “where the tree falls it must lie.”
10 Abbotsford Manuscripts. Hogg averred that nobody either read or wrote poetry after Sir Walter took to prose.
11 Scott reviewed “Frankenstein” in 1818. Mr. Shelley had sent it with a brief note, it, which he said that it was the work of a friend, and that he had only seen it through the press. Sir Walter passed the hook on to Mr. Murritt, who, in reply, gave Scott a brief and not very accurate history of Shelley. Sir Walter then wrote a most favourable review of “Frankenstein” in “Blackwood’s Magazine,” observing that it was attributed to Mr. Percy Bysshe Shelley, a son-in-law of Mr. Godwin. Mrs. Shelley presently wrote thanking him for the review, and assuring him that it was her own work. Scott had apparently taken Sheller’s disclaimer as an innocent evasion; it was an age of literary superscheries. — Abbotsford Manuscripts.
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