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Ch. 1: Walter Scott

Walter Scott.[1]

It was reserved for Walter Scott, "the Ariosto of the North," "the historiographer royal of feudalism," to accomplish the task which his eighteenth-century forerunners had essayed in vain. He possessed the true enchanter's wand, the historic imagination. With this in his hand, he raised the dead past to life, made it once more conceivable, made it even actual. Before Scott no genius of the highest order had lent itself wholly or mainly to retrospection. He is the middle point and the culmination of English romanticism. His name is, all in all, the most important on our list. "Towards him all the lines of the romantic revival converge." [2] The popular ballad, the Gothic romance, the Ossianic poetry, the new German literature, the Scandinavian discoveries, these and other scattered rays of influence reach a focus in Scott. It is true that his delineation of feudal society is not final. There were sides of mediaeval life which he did not know, or understand, or sympathize with, and some of these have been painted in by later artists. That his pictures have a coloring of modern sentiment is no arraignment of him but of the genre. All romanticists are resurrectionists; their art is an elaborate make-believe. It is enough for their purpose if the world which they re-create has the look of reality, the verisimile if not the verum. That Scott's genius was in extenso rather than in intenso, that his work is largely improvisation, that he was not a miniature, but a distemper painter, splashing large canvasses with a coarse brush and gaudy pigments, all these are commonplaces of criticism. Scott's handling was broad, vigorous, easy, careless, healthy, free. He was never subtle, morbid, or fantastic, and had no niceties or secrets. He was, as Coleridge said of Schiller, "master, not of the intense drama of passion, but the diffused drama of history." Therefore, because his qualities were popular and his appeal was made to the people, the general reader, he won a hearing for his cause, which Coleridge or Keats or Tieck, with his closer workmanship, could never have won. He first and he alone popularised romance. No literature dealing with the feudal past has ever had the currency and the universal success of Scott's. At no time has mediaevalism held so large a place in comparison with other literary interests as during the years of his greatest vogue, say from 1805 to 1830.

The first point to be noticed about Scott is the thoroughness of his equipment. While never a scholar in the academic sense, he was, along certain chosen lines, a really learned man. He was thirty-four when he published "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" (1805), the first of his series of metrical romances and the first of his poems to gain popular favour. But for twenty years he had been storing his mind with the history, legends, and ballad poetry of the Scottish border, and was already a finished antiquarian. The bent and limitations of his genius were early determined, and it remained to the end wonderfully constant to its object. At the age of twelve he had begun a collection of manuscript ballads. His education in romance dated from the cradle. His lullabies were Jacobite songs; his grandmother told him tales of moss-troopers, and his Aunt Janet read him ballads from Ramsay's "Tea-table Miscellany," upon which his quick and tenacious memory fastened eagerly. The ballad of "Hardiknute," in this collection, he knew by heart before he could read. "It was the first poem I ever learnt—the last I shall ever forget." Dr. Blacklock introduced the young schoolboy to the poems of Ossian and of Spenser, and he committed to memory "whole duans of the one and cantos of the other." "Spenser," he says, "I could have read forever. Too young to trouble myself about the allegory, I considered all the knights and ladies and dragons and giants in their outward and exoteric sense, and God only knows how delighted I was to find myself in such society." A little later Percy's "Reliques" fell into his hands, with results that have already been described.[3]

As soon as he got access to the circulating library in Edinburgh, he began to devour its works of fiction, characteristically rejecting love stories and domestic tales, but laying hold upon "all that was adventurous and romantic," and in particular upon "everything which touched on knight-errantry." For two or three years he used to spend his holidays with his schoolmate, John Irving, on Arthur's Seat or Salisbury Crags, where they read together books like "The Castle of Otranto" and the poems of Spenser and Ariosto; or composed and narrated to each other "interminable tales of battles and enchantments" and "legends in which the martial and the miraculous always predominated." The education of Edward Waverley, as described in the third chapter of Scott's first novel, was confessedly the novelist's own education. In the "large Gothic room" which was the library of Waverley Honour, the young book-worm pored over "old historical chronicles" and the writings of Pulci, Froissart, Brantome, and De la Noue; and became "well acquainted with Spenser, Drayton, and other poets who have exercised themselves on romantic fiction—of all themes the most fascinating to a youthful imagination."

Yet even thus early, a certain solidity was apparent in Scott's studies. "To the romances and poetry which I chiefly delighted in," he writes, "I had always added the study of history, especially as connected with military events." He interested himself, for example, in the art of fortification; and when confined to his bed by a childish illness, found amusement in modelling fortresses and "arranging shells and seeds and pebbles so as to represent encountering armies. . . . I fought my way thus through Vertot's 'Knights of Malta'—a book which, as it hovered between history and romance, was exceedingly dear to me."

Every genius is self-educated, and we find Scott from the first making instinctive selections and rejections among the various kinds of knowledge offered him. At school he would learn no Greek, and wrote a theme in which he maintained, to the wrath of his teacher, that Ariosto was a better poet than Homer. In later life he declared that he had forgotten even the letters of the Greek alphabet. Latin would have fared as badly, had not his interest in Matthew Paris and other monkish chroniclers "kept up a kind of familiarity with the language even in its rudest state." "To my Gothic ear, the 'Stabat Mater,' the 'Dies Irae,'[4] and some of the other hymns of the Catholic Church are more solemn and affecting than the fine classical poetry of Buchanan." In our examination of Scott's early translations from the German,[5] it has been noticed how exclusively he was attracted by the romantic department of that literature, passing over, for instance, Goethe's maturer work, to fix upon his juvenile drama "Götz von Berlichingen." Similarly he learned Italian just to read in the original the romantic poets Tasso, Ariosto, Boiardo, and Pulci. When he first went to London in 1799, "his great anxiety," reports Lockhart, "was to examine the antiquities of the Tower and Westminster Abbey, and to make some researches among the MSS. of the British Museum." From Oxford, which he visited in 1803, he brought away only "a grand but indistinct picture of towers and chapels and oriels and vaulted halls", having met there a reception which, as he modestly acknowledges, "was more than such a truant to the classic page as myself was entitled to expect at the source of classic learning." Finally, in his last illness, when sent to Rome to recover from the effects of a paralytic stroke, his ruling passion was strong in death. He examined with eagerness the remains of the mediaeval city, but appeared quite indifferent to that older Rome which speaks to the classical student. It will be remembered that just the contrary of this was true of Addison, when he was in Italy a century before.[6] Scott was at no pains to deny or to justify the one-sidedness of his culture. But when Erskine remonstrated with him for rambling on

"through brake and maze
With harpers rude, of barbarous days,"

and urged him to compose a regular epic on classical lines, he good-naturedly but resolutely put aside the advice.

"Nay, Erskine, nay—On the wild hill
Let the wild heath-bell[7] flourish still . . . .
Though wild as cloud, as stream, as gale,
Flow forth, flow unrestrained, my tale!" [8]

Scott's letters to Erskine, Ellis, Leyden, Ritson, Miss Seward, and other literary correspondents are filled with discussions of antiquarian questions and the results of his favourite reading in old books and manuscripts. He communicates his conclusions on the subject of "Arthur and Merlin" or on the authorship of the old metrical romance of "Sir Tristram." [9] He has been copying manuscripts in the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh. In 1791 he read papers before the Speculative Society on "The Origin of the Feudal System," "The Authenticity of Ossian's Poems," "The Origin of the Scandinavian Mythology." Lockhart describes two note-books in Scott's hand-writing, with the date 1792, containing memoranda of ancient court records about Walter Scott and his wife, Dame Janet Beaton, the "Ladye" of Branksome in the "Lay"; extracts from "Guerin de Montglave"; copies of "Vegtam's Kvitha" and the "Death-Song of Regner Lodbrog," with Gray's English versions; Cnut's verses on passing Ely Cathedral; the ancient English "Cuckoo Song," and other rubbish of the kind.[10] When in 1803 he began to contribute articles to the Edinburgh Review, his chosen topics were such as "Amadis of Gaul," Ellis' "Specimens of Ancient English Poetry," Godwin's "Chaucer," Sibbald's "Chronicle of Scottish Poetry," Evans' "Old Ballads," Todd's "Spenser," "The Life and Works of Chatterton," Southey's translation of "The Cid," etc.

Scott's preparation for the work which he had to do was more than adequate. His reading along chosen lines was probably more extensive and minute than any man's of his generation. The introductions and notes to his poems and novels are even overburdened with learning. But this, though important, was but the lesser part of his advantage. "The old-maidenly genius of antiquarianism" could produce a Strutt[11] or even perhaps a Warton; but it needed the touch of the creative imagination to turn the dead material of knowledge into works of art that have delighted millions of readers for a hundred years in all civilised lands and tongues.

The key to Scott's romanticism is his intense local feeling.[12] That attachment to place which, in most men, is a sort of animal instinct, was with him a passion. To set the imagination at work some emotional stimulus is required. The angry pride of Byron, Shelley's revolt against authority, Keats' almost painfully acute sensitiveness to beauty, supplied the nervous irritation which was wanting in Scott's slower, stronger, and heavier temperament. The needed impetus came to him from his love of country. Byron and Shelley were torn up by the roots and flung abroad, but Scott had struck his roots deep into native soil. His absorption in the past and reverence for everything that was old, his conservative prejudices and aristocratic ambitions, all had their source in this feeling. Scott's Toryism was of a different spring from Wordsworth's and Coleridge's. It was not a reaction from disappointed radicalism; nor was it the result of reasoned conviction. It was inborn and was nursed into a sentimental Jacobitism by ancestral traditions and by an early prepossession in favour of the Stuarts—a Scottish dynasty—reinforced by encounters with men in the Highlands who had been out in the '45. It did not interfere with a practical loyalty to the reigning house and with what seems like a somewhat exaggerated deference to George IV. Personally the most modest of men, he was proud to trace his descent from "auld Wat of Harden" [13] and to claim kinship with the bold Buccleuch. He used to make annual pilgrimages to Harden Tower, "the incunabula of his race"; and "in the earlier part of his life," says Lockhart, "he had nearly availed himself of his kinsman's permission to fit up the dilapidated peel for his summer residence."

Byron wrote: "I twine my hope of being remembered in my line with my land's language." But Scott wished to associate his name with the land itself. Abbotsford was more to him than Newstead could ever have been to Byron; although Byron was a peer and inherited his domain, while Scott was a commoner and created his. Too much has been said in condemnation of Scott's weakness in this respect; that his highest ambition was to become a laird and found a family; that he was more gratified when the King made him a baronet than when the public bought his books, that the expenses of Abbotsford and the hospitalities which he extended to all comers wasted his time and finally brought about his bankruptcy. Leslie Stephen and others have even made merry over Scott's Gothic,[14] comparing his plaster-of-Paris 'scutcheons and ceilings in imitation of carved oak with the pinchbeck architecture of Strawberry Hill, and intimating that the feudalism in his romances was only a shade more genuine than the feudalism of "The Castle of Otranto." Scott was imprudent; Abbotsford was his weakness, but it was no ignoble weakness. If the ideal of the life which he proposed to himself there was scarcely a heroic one, neither was it vulgar or selfish. The artist or the philosopher should perhaps be superior to the ambition of owning land and having "a stake in the country," but the ambition is a very human one and has its good side. In Scott the desire was more social than personal. It was not that title and territory were feathers in his cap, but that they bound him more closely to the dear soil of Scotland and to the national, historic past.

The only deep passion in Scott's poetry is patriotism, the passion of place. In his metrical romances the rush of the narrative and the vivid, picturesque beauty of the descriptions are indeed exciting to the imagination; but it is only when the chord of national feeling is touched that the verse grows lyrical, that the heart is reached, and that tears come into the reader's eyes, as they must have done into the poet's. A dozen such passages occur at once to the memory; the last stand of the Scottish nobles around their king at Flodden; the view of Edinburgh—"mine own romantic town "—from Blackford Hill;

"Fitz-Eustace' heart felt closely pent:
As if to give his rapture vent,
The spur he to his charger lent,
And raised his bridle-hand,
And, making demi-volte in air,
Cried, 'Where's the coward that would not dare
To fight for such a land?'"

and the still more familiar opening of the sixth canto in the "Lay"—"Breathes there the man," etc.:

"O Caledonia! stern and wild,
Meet nurse for a poetic child!
Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood,
Land of my sires! what mortal hand
Can e'er untie the filial band
That knits me to thy rugged strand?"

In such a mood geography becomes poetry and names are music.[15] Scott said to Washington Irving that if he did not see the heather at least once a year, he thought he would die.

Lockhart tells how the sound that he loved best of all sounds was in his dying ears—the flow of the Tweed over its pebbles.

Significant, therefore, is Scott's treatment of landscape, and the difference in this regard between himself and his great contemporaries. His friend, Mr. Morritt of Rokeby, testifies; "He was but half satisfied with the most beautiful scenery when he could not connect it with some local legend." Scott had to the full the romantic love of mountain and lake, yet "to me," he confesses, "the wandering over the field of Bannockburn was the source of more exquisite pleasure than gazing upon the celebrated landscape from the battlements of Stirling Castle. I do not by any means infer that I was dead to the feeling of picturesque scenery. . . . But show me an old castle or a field of battle and I was at home at once." And again: "The love of natural beauty, more especially when combined with ancient ruins or remains of our fathers' piety[16] or splendour, became with me an insatiable passion." It was not in this sense that high mountains were a "passion" to Byron, nor yet to Wordsworth. In a letter to Miss Seward, Scott wrote of popular poetry: "Much of its peculiar charm is indeed, I believe, to be attributed solely to its locality. . . . In some verses of that eccentric but admirable poet Coleridge[17] he talks of

"'An old rude tale that suited well
The ruins wild and hoary.'

"I think there are few who have not been in some degree touched with this local sympathy. Tell a peasant an ordinary tale of robbery and murder, and perhaps you may fail to interest him; but, to excite his terrors, you assure him it happened on the very heath he usually crosses, or to a man whose family he has known, and you rarely meet such a mere image of humanity as remains entirely unmoved. I suspect it is pretty much the same with myself."

Scott liked to feel solid ground of history, or at least of legend, under his feet. He connected his wildest tales, like "Glenfinlas" and "The Eve of St. John," with definite names and places. This Antaeus of romance lost strength, as soon as he was lifted above the earth. With Coleridge it was just the contrary. The moment his moonlit, vapory enchantments touched ground, the contact "precipitated the whole solution." In 1813 Scott had printed "The Bridal of Triermain" anonymously, with a preface designed to mislead the public; having contrived, by way of a joke, to fasten the authorship of the piece upon Erskine. This poem is as pure fantasy as Tennyson's "Day Dream," and tells the story of a knight who, in obedience to a vision and the instructions of an ancient sage "sprung from Druid sires," enters an enchanted castle and frees the Princess Gyneth, a natural daughter of King Arthur, from the spell that has bound her for five hundred years. But true to his instinct, the poet lays his scene not in vacuo, but near his own beloved borderland. He found, in Burns' "Antiquities of Westmoreland and Cumberland" mention of a line of Rolands de Vaux, lords of Triermain, a fief of the barony of Gilsland; and this furnished him a name for his hero. He found in Hutchinson's "Excursion to the Lakes" the description of a cluster of rocks in the Vale of St. John's, which looked, at a distance, like a Gothic castle, this supplied him with a hint for the whole adventure. Meanwhile Coleridge had been living in the Lake Country. The wheels of his "Christabel" had got hopelessly mired, and he now borrowed a horse from Sir Walter and hitched it to his own wagon. He took over Sir Roland de Vaux of Triermain and made him the putative father of his mysterious Geraldine, although, in compliance with Scott's romance, the embassy that goes over the mountains to Sir Roland's castle can find no trace of it. In Part I. Sir Leoline's own castle stood nowhere in particular. In Part II. it is transferred to Cumberland, a mistake in art almost as grave as if the Ancient Mariner had brought his ship to port at Liverpool.

Wordsworth visited the "great Minstrel of the Border" at Abbotsford in 1831, shortly before Scott set out for Naples, and the two poets went in company to the ruins of Newark Castle. It is characteristic that in "Yarrow Revisited," which commemorates the incident, the Bard of Rydal should think it necessary to offer an apology for his distinguished host's habit of romanticising nature—that nature which Wordsworth, romantic neither in temper nor choice of subject, treated after so different a fashion.

"Nor deem that localised Romance
Plays false with our affections;
Unsanctifies our tears—made sport
For fanciful dejections:
Ah no! the visions of the past
Sustain the heart in feeling
Life as she is—our changeful Life,
With friends and kindred dealing."

The apology, after all, is only half-hearted. For while Wordsworth esteemed Scott highly and was careful to speak publicly of his work with a qualified respect, it is well known that, in private, he set little value upon it, and once somewhat petulantly declared that all Scott's poetry was not worth sixpence. He wrote to Scott, of "Marmion": "I think your end has been attained. That it is not the end which I should wish you to propose to yourself, you will be aware." He had visited Scott at Lasswade as early as 1803, and in recording his impressions notes that "his conversation was full of anecdote and averse from disquisition." The minstrel was a raconteur and lived in the past, the bard was a moralist and lived in the present.

There are several poems of Wordsworth's and Scott's touching upon common ground which serve to contrast their methods sharply and to illustrate in a striking way the precise character of Scott's romanticism. "Helvellyn" and "Fidelity" were written independently and celebrate the same incident. In 1805 a young man lost his way on the Cumberland mountains and perished of exposure. Three months afterwards his body was found, his faithful dog still watching beside it. Scott was a lover of dogs—loved them warmly, individually; so to speak, personally; and all dogs instinctively loved Scott.[18]

Wordsworth had a sort of tepid, theoretical benevolence towards the animal creation in general. Yet as between the two poets, the advantage in depth of feeling is, as usual, with Wordsworth. Both render, with perhaps equal power, though in characteristically different ways, the impression of the austere and desolate grandeur of the mountain scenery. But the thought to which Wordsworth leads up is the mysterious divineness of instinct

". . . that strength of feeling, great Above all human estimate:"—

while Scott conducts his story to the reflection that Nature has given the dead man a more stately funeral than the Church could have given, a comparison seemingly dragged in for the sake of a stanzaful of his favourite Gothic imagery.

"When a Prince to the fate of the Peasant has yielded,
The tapestry waves dark round the dim-lighted hall;
With 'scutcheons of silver the coffin is shielded,
And pages stand mute by the canopied pall:
Through the courts at deep midnight the torches are gleaming,
In the proudly arched chapel the banners are beaming,
Far adown the long aisle sacred music is streaming,
Lamenting a chief of the people should fall."

Wordsworth and Landor, who seldom agreed, agreed that Scott's most imaginative line was the verse in "Helvellyn":

"When the wind waved his garment how oft didst thou start!"

In several of his poems Wordsworth handled legendary subjects, and it is most instructive here to notice his avoidance of the romantic note, and to imagine how Scott would have managed the same material. In the prefatory note to "The White Doe of Rylstone," Wordsworth himself pointed out the difference. "The subject being taken from feudal times has led to its being compared to some of Sir Walter Scott's poems that belong to the same age and state of society. The comparison is inconsiderate. Sir Walter pursued the customary and very natural course of conducting an action, presenting various turns of fortune, to some outstanding point on which the mind might rest as a termination or catastrophe. The course I attempted to pursue is entirely different. Everything that is attempted by the principal personages in 'The White Doe' fails, so far as its object is external and substantial. So far as it is moral and spiritual it succeeds."

This poem is founded upon "The Rising in the North," a ballad given in the "Reliques," which recounts the insurrection of the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland against Elizabeth in 1569. Richard Norton of Rylstone, with seven stalwart sons, joined in the rising, carrying a banner embroidered with a red cross and the five wounds of Christ. The story bristled with opportunities for the display of feudal pomp, and it is obvious upon what points in the action Scott would have laid the emphasis; the muster of the tenantry of the great northern Catholic houses of Percy and Neville; the high mass celebrated by the insurgents in Durham Cathedral; the march of the Nortons to Brancepeth; the eleven days' siege of Barden Tower; the capture and execution of Marmaduke and Ambrose; and—by way of episode—the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346.[19] But in conformity to the principle announced in the preface to the "Lyrical Ballads"—that the feeling should give importance to the incidents and situation, not the incidents and situation to the feeling—Wordsworth treats all this outward action as merely preparatory to the true purpose of his poem, a study of the discipline of sorrow, of ruin and bereavement patiently endured by the Lady Emily, the only daughter and survivor of the Norton house.

"Action is transitory—a step, a blow. . . .
Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark,
And has the nature of infinity.
Yet through that darkness (infinite though it seem
And irremoveable) gracious openings lie. . . .
Even to the fountain-head of peace divine."

With the story of the Nortons the poet connects a local tradition which he found in Whitaker's "History of the Deanery of Craven"; of a white doe which haunted the churchyard of Bolton Priory. Between this gentle creature and the forlorn Lady of Rylstone he establishes the mysterious and soothing sympathy which he was always fond of imagining between the soul of man and the things of nature.[20]

Or take again the "Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle," an incident in the Wars of the Roses. Lord Clifford, who had been hidden away in infancy from the vengeance of the Yorkists and reared as a shepherd, is restored to the estates and honours of his ancestors. High in the festal hall the impassioned minstrel strikes his harp and sings the triumph of Lancaster, urging the shepherd lord to emulate the warlike prowess of his forefathers.

"Armour rusting in his halls
On the blood of Clifford calls;
'Quell the Scot,' exclaims the Lance—
Bear me to the heart of France
Is the longing of the Shield."

Thus far the minstrel, and he has Sir Walter with him; for this is evidently the part of the poem that he liked and remembered, when he noted in his journal that "Wordsworth could be popular[21] if he would—witness the 'Feast at Brougham Castle'—'Song of the Cliffords,' I think, is the name." But the exultant strain ceases and the poet himself speaks, and with the transition in feeling comes a change in the verse; the minstrel's song was in the octosyllabic couplet associated with metrical romance. But this Clifford was no fighter—none of Scott's heroes. Nature had educated him.

"In him the savage virtue of the Race" was dead.

"Love had he found in huts where poor men lie;
His daily teachers had been woods and rills,
The silence that is in the starry sky,
The sleep that is among the lonely hills."

Once more, consider the pronounced difference in sentiment between the description of the chase in "Hartleap Well" and the opening passage of "The Lady of the Lake":

"The stag at eve had drunk his fill.
Where danced the moon on Monan's rill," etc.[22]

Scott was a keen sportsman, and his sympathy was with the hunter.[23] Wordsworth's, of course, was with the quarry. The knight in his poem—who bears not unsuggestively the name of "Sir Walter"—has outstripped all his companions, like Fitz James, and is the only one in at the death. To commemorate his triumph he frames a basin for the spring whose waters were stirred by his victim's dying breath; he plants three stone pillars to mark the creature's hoof-prints in its marvellous leap from the mountain to the springside; and he builds a pleasure house and an arbour where he comes with his paramour to make merry in the summer days. But Nature sets her seal of condemnation upon the cruelty and vainglory of man. "The spot is curst"; no flowers or grass will grow there; no beast will drink of the fountain. Part I. tells the story without enthusiasm but without comment. Part II. draws the lesson

"Never to blend our pleasure or our pride
With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels."

The song of Wordsworth's "Solitary Reaper" derives a pensive sorrow from "old, unhappy, far-off things and battles long ago." But to Scott the battle is not far off, but a vivid and present reality. When he visited the Trosachs glen, his thought plainly was, "What a place for a fight!" And when James looks down on Loch Katrine his first reflection is, "What a scene were here . . .

"For princely pomp or churchman's pride!
On this bold brow a lordly tower;
In that soft vale a lady's bower;
On yonder meadow, far away,
The turrets of a cloister grey," etc.

The most romantic scene was not romantic enough for Scott till his imagination had peopled it with the life of a vanished age.

The literary forms which Scott made peculiarly his own, and in which the greater part of his creative work was done, are three: the popular ballad, the metrical romance, and the historical novel in prose. His point of departure was the ballad.[24] The material amassed in his Liddesdale "raids"—begun in 1792 and continued for seven successive years—was given to the world in the "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border" (Vols. I. and II. in 1802; Vol. III. in 1803), a collection of ballads historical, legendary, and romantic, with an abundant apparatus in the way of notes and introductions, illustrating the history, antiquities, manners, traditions, and superstitions of the Borderers. Forty-three of the ballads in the "Minstrelsy" had never been printed before; and of the remainder the editor gave superior versions, choosing with sureness of taste the best among variant readings, and with a more intimate knowledge of local ways and language than any previous ballad-fancier had commanded. He handled his texts more faithfully than Percy, rarely substituting lines of his own. "From among a hundred corruptions," says Lockhart, "he seized, with instinctive tact, the primitive diction and imagery, and produced strains in which the unbroken energy of half-civilised ages, their stern and deep passions, their daring adventures and cruel tragedies, and even their rude wild humour are reflected with almost the brightness of a Homeric mirror."

In the second volume of the "Minstrelsy" were included what Scott calls his "first serious attempts in verse," viz., "Glenfinlas" and "The Eve of St. John," which had been already printed in Lewis' "Tales of Wonder." Both pieces are purely romantic, with a strong tincture of the supernatural; but the first—Scott himself draws the distinction—is a "legendary poem," and the second alone a proper "ballad." "Glenfinlas," [25] founded on a Gaelic legend, tells how a Highland chieftain while hunting in Perthshire, near the scene of "The Lady of the Lake," is lured from his bothie at night and torn to pieces by evil spirits. There is no attempt here to preserve the language of popular poetry; stanzas abound in a diction of which the following is a fair example:

"Long have I sought sweet Mary's heart,
And dropp'd the tear and heaved the sigh:
But vain the lover's wily art
Beneath a sister's watchful eye."

"The Eve of St. John" employs common ballad stuff, the visit of a murdered lover's ghost to his lady's bedside—

"At the lone midnight hour, when bad spirits have power"—

but the poet, as usual, anchors his weird nightmares firmly to real names and times and places, Dryburgh Abbey, the black rood of Melrose, the Eildon-tree, the bold Buccleuch, and the Battle of Ancram Moor (1545). The exact scene of the tragedy is Smailholme Tower, the ruined keep on the crags above his grandfather's farm at Sandynowe, which left such an indelible impression on Scott's childish imagination.[26] "The Eve" is in ballad style and verse:

"Thou liest, thou liest, thou little foot page,
Loud dost thou lie to me!
For that knight is cold, and low laid in the mould,
All under the Eildon tree."

In his "Essay on the Imitation of Popular Poetry," Scott showed that he understood the theory of ballad composition. When he took pains, he could catch the very manner as well as the spirit of ancient minstrelsy; but if his work is examined under the microscope it is easy to detect flaws. The technique of the Pre-Raphaelites and other modern balladists, like Rossetti and Morris, is frequently finer, they reproduce more scrupulously the formal characteristics of popular poetry: the burden, the sing-song repetitions, the quaint turns of phrase, the imperfect rimes, the innocent, childlike air of the mediaeval tale-tellers. Scott's vocabulary is not consistently archaic, and he was not always careful to avoid locutions out of keeping with the style of Volkspoesie.[27] He was by no means a rebel against eighteenth-century usages.[28] In his prose he is capable of speaking of a lady as an "elegant female." In his poetry he will begin a ballad thus:

"The Pope he was saying the high, high mass
All on St. Peter's day";

and then a little later fall into this kind of thing:

"There the rapt poet's step may rove,
And yield the muse the day:
There Beauty, led by timid Love,
May shun the tell-tale ray," etc.[29]

It is possible to name single pieces like "The Ancient Mariner," and "La Belle Dame sans Merci," and "Rose-Mary," of a rarer imaginative quality and a more perfect workmanship than Scott often attains; yet upon the whole and in the mass, no modern balladry matches the success of his. The Pre-Raphaelites were deliberate artists, consciously reproducing an extinct literary form; but Scott had lived himself back into the social conditions out of which ballad poetry was born. His best pieces of this class do not strike us as imitations but as original, spontaneous, and thoroughly alive. Such are, to particularise but a few, "Jock o' Hazeldean," "Cadyow Castle," on the assassination of the Regent Murray; "The Reiver's Wedding," a fragment preserved in Lockhart's "Life"; "Elspeth's Ballad" ("The Red Harlow") in "The Antiquary"; Madge Wildfire's songs in "The Heart of Mid-Lothian," and David Gellatley's in "Waverley"; besides the other scraps and snatches of minstrelsy too numerous for mention, sown through the novels and longer poems. For in spite of detraction, Walter Scott remains one of the foremost British lyrists. In Mr. Palgrave's "Treasury" he is represented by a larger number of selections than either Milton, Byron, Burns, Campbell, Keats, or Herrick; making an easy fourth to Wordsworth, Shakspere, and Shelley. And in marked contrast with Shelley especially, it is observable of Scott's contributions to this anthology that they are not the utterance of the poet's personal emotion; they are coronachs, pibrochs, gathering songs, narrative ballads, and the like—objective, dramatic lyrics touched always with the light of history or legend.

The step from ballad to ballad-epic is an easy one, and it was by a natural evolution that the one passed into the other in Scott's hands. "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" (1805) was begun as a ballad on the local tradition of Gilpin Horner and at the request of the Countess of Dalkeith, who told Scott the story. But his imagination was so full that the poem soon overflowed its limits and expanded into a romance illustrative of the ancient manners of the Border. The pranks of the goblin page run in and out through the web of the tale, a slender and somewhat inconsequential thread of diablerie. Byron had his laugh at it in "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers";[30] and in a footnote on the passage, he adds: "Never was any plan so incongruous and absurd as the groundwork of this production." The criticism was not altogether undeserved; for the "Lay" is a typical example of romantic, as distinguished from classic, art both in its strength and in its weakness; brilliant in passages, faulty in architechtonic, and uneven in execution. Its supernatural machinery—Byron said that it had more "gramarye" than grammar—is not impressive, if due exception be made of the opening of Michael Scott's tomb in Canto Second.

When the "Minstrelsy" was published, it was remarked that it "contained the elements of a hundred historical romances." It was from such elements that Scott built up the structure of his poem about the nucleus which the Countess of Dalkeith had given him. He was less concerned, as he acknowledged, to tell a coherent story than to paint a picture of the scenery and the old warlike life of the Border; that tableau large de la vie which the French romanticists afterwards professed to be the aim of their novels and dramas. The feud of the Scotts and Carrs furnished him with a historic background; with this he enwove a love story of the Romeo and Juliet pattern. He rebuilt Melrose Abbey, and showed it by moonlight; set Lords Dacre and Howard marching on a Warden-raid, and roused the border clans to meet them; threw out dramatic character sketches of "stark moss-riding Scots" like Wat Tinlinn and William of Deloraine; and finally enclosed the whole in a cadre most happily invented, the venerable, pathetic figure of the old minstrel who tells the tale to the Duchess of Monmouth at Newark Castle.

The love story is perhaps the weakest part of the poem. Henry Cranstoun and Margaret of Branksome are nothing but lay figures. Scott is always a little nervous when the lover and the lady are left alone together. The fair dames in the audience expect a tender scene, but the harper pleads his age, by way of apology, gets the business over as decently as may be, and hastens on with comic precipitation to the fighting, which he thoroughly enjoys.[31]

The "light-horseman stanza" which Scott employed in his longer poems was caught from the recitation by Sir John Stoddart of a portion of Coleridge's "Christabel," then still in manuscript. The norm of the verse was the eight-syllabled riming couplet used in most of the English metrical romances of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It is a form of verse which moves more swiftly than blank verse or the heroic couplet, and is perhaps better suited for romantic poetry.[32] But it is liable to grow monotonous in a long poem, and Coleridge's unsurpassed skill as a metrist was exerted to give it freedom, richness, and variety by the introduction of anapaestic lines and alternate rimes and triplets, breaking up the couplets into a series of irregular stanzas.

With "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" romanticism came of age and entered on its career of triumph. One wishes that Collins and Tom Warton might have lived to hail it as the light, at last, towards which they had struggled through the cold obstruction of the eighteenth century. One fancies Dr. Johnson's disgust over this new Scotch monstrosity, which had every quality that he disliked except blank verse; or Gray's delight in it, tempered by a critical disapproval of its loose construction and irregularity. Scott's romances in prose and verse are still so universally known as to make any review of them here individually an impertinence. Their impact on contemporary Europe was instantaneous and wide-spread. There is no record elsewhere in literary history of such success. Their immense sales, the innumerable editions and translations and imitations of them, are matters of familiar knowledge. Poem followed poem, and novel, novel in swift and seemingly exhaustless succession, and each was awaited by the public with unabated expectancy. Here once more was a poet who could tell the world a story that it wanted to hear; a poet

"Such as it had
In the ages glad,
Long ago."

The Homeric[33] quality which criticism has attributed or denied to these poems is really there. The difference, the inferiority is obvious of course. They are not in the grand style; they are epic on a lower plane, ballad-epic, bastard-epic perhaps, but they are epic. No English verse narrative except Chaucer's ranks, as a whole, above Scott's. Chaucer's disciple, William Morris, has an equal flow and continuity, and keeps a more even level of style; but his story-telling is languid compared with Scott's. The latter is greater in the dynamic than in the static department—in scenes of rapid action and keen excitement. His show passages are such as the fight in the Trosachs, Flodden Field, William of Deloraine's ride to Melrose, the trial of Constance, the muster on the Borough Moor, Marmion's defiance to Douglas, the combat of James and Roderick Dhu, the summons of the fiery cross, and the kindling of the need-fires—those romantic equivalents of the lampadephoroi in the "Agamemnon."

In the series of long poems which followed the "Lay," Scott deserted the Border and brought in new subjects of romantic interest, the traditions of Flodden and Bannockburn, the manners of the Gaelic clansmen, and the wild scenery of the Perthshire Highlands, the life of the Western Islands, and the rugged coasts of Argyle. Only two of these tales are concerned with the Middle Ages, strictly speaking: "The Lord of the Isles" (1813), in which the action begins in 1307; and "Harold the Dauntless" (1817), in which the period is the time of the Danish settlements in Northumbria. "Rokeby" (1812) is concerned with the Civil War. The scene is laid in Yorkshire, "Marmion" (1808), and "The Lady of the Lake" (1810), like "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," had to do with the sixteenth century, but the poet imported mediaeval elements into all of these by the frankest anachronisms. He restored St. Hilda's Abbey and the monastery at Lindisfarne, which had been in ruins for centuries, and peopled them again with monks and nuns, He revived in De Wilton the figure of the palmer and the ancient custom of pilgrimage to Palestine. And he transferred "the wondrous wizard, Michael Scott" from the thirteenth century to the end of the fifteenth. But, indeed, the state of society in Scotland might be described as mediaeval as late as the middle of the sixteenth century. It was still feudal, and in great part Catholic. Particularly in the turbulent Borderland, a rude spirit of chivalry and a passion for wild adventure lingered among the Eliots, Armstrongs, Kerrs, Rutherfords, Homes, Johnstons, and other marauding clans, who acknowledged no law but march law, and held slack allegiance to "the King of Lothian and Fife." Every owner of a half-ruinous "peel" or border keep had a band of retainers within call, like the nine-and-twenty knights of fame who hung their shields in Branksome Hall; and he could summon them at short notice, for a raid upon the English or a foray against some neighbouring proprietor with whom he was at feud.

But the literary form under which Scott made the deepest impression upon the consciousness of his own generation and influenced most permanently the future literature of Europe, was prose fiction. As the creator of the historical novel and the ancestor of Kingsley, Ainsworth, Bulwer, and G. P. R. James; of Manzoni, Freytag, Hugo, Mérimée, Dumas, Alexis Tolstoi, and a host of others, at home and abroad, his example is potent yet. English fiction is directly or indirectly in his debt for "Romola," "Hypatia," "Henry Esmond," and "The Cloister and the Hearth." In several countries the historical novel had been trying for centuries to get itself born, but all its attempts had been abortive. "Waverley" is not only vastly superior to "Thaddeus of Warsaw" (1803) and "The Scottish Chiefs" (1809); it is something quite different in kind.[34] The Waverley Novels, twenty-nine in number, appeared in the years 1814-31. The earlier numbers of the series, "Waverley," "Guy Mannering," "The Antiquary," "Old Mortality," "The Black Dwarf," "Rob Roy," "The Heart of Mid-Lothian," "The Bride of Lammermoor," and "A Legend of Montrose," were Scotch romances of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In "Ivanhoe" (1819) the author went to England for his scene, and back to the twelfth century for his period. Thenceforth he ranged over a wide region in time and space; Elizabethan England ("Kenilworth"), the France and Switzerland of Louis XI. and Charles the Bold ("Quentin Durward" and "Anne of Geierstein"), Constantinople and Syria ("Count Robert of Paris," "The Betrothed," and "The Talisman") in the age of the Crusades. The fortunes of the Stuarts, interested him specially and engaged him in "Woodstock," "The Fortunes of Nigel," "The Monastery," and its sequel, "The Abbot." He seems to have had, in the words of Mr. R. H. Hutton, "something very like personal experience of a few centuries."

Scott's formula for the construction of a historical romance was original with himself, and it has been followed by all his successors. His story is fictitious, his hero imaginary. Richard I. is not the hero of "Ivanhoe," nor Louis XI. of "Quentin Durward." Shakspere dramatised history; Scott romanticised it. Still it is history, the private story is swept into the stream of large public events, the fate of the lover or the adventurer is involved with battles and diplomacies, with the rise and fall of kings, dynasties, political parties, nations. Stevenson says, comparing Fielding with Scott, that "in the work of the latter . . . we become suddenly conscious of the background. . . . It is curious enough to think that 'Tom Jones' is laid in the year '45, and that the only use he makes of the rebellion is to throw a troop of soldiers in his hero's way." [35] And it is this background which is, after all, the important thing in Scott—the leading impression; the broad canvas, the swarm of life, the spirit of the age, the reconstitution of an extinct society. This he was able to give with seeming ease and without any appearance of "cram." Chronicle matter does not lie about in lumps on the surface of his romance, but is decently buried away in the notes. In his comments on "Queenhoo Hall" he adverts to the danger of a pedantic method, and in his "Journal" (October 18th, 1826) he writes as follows of his own numerous imitators: "They have to read old books and consult antiquarian collections, to get their knowledge. I write because I have long since read such works and possess, thanks to a strong memory, the information which they have to seek for. This leads to a dragging in historical details by head and shoulders, so that the interest of the main piece is lost in minute description of events which do not affect its progress."

Of late the recrudescence of the historical novel has revived the discussion as to the value of the genre. It may be readily admitted that Scott's best work is realistic, and is to be looked for in such novels as "The Antiquary," "Old Mortality," "The Heart of Mid-Lothian," and in characters like Andrew Fairservice, Bailie Nicol Jarvie, Dandie Dinmont, Dugald Dalgetty, Jeanie Deans, Edie Ochiltrie, which brought into play his knowledge of men, his humour, observation of life, and insight into Scotch human nature. Scott knew these people; he had to divine James I., Louis XI., and Mary Stuart. The historical novel is a tour de force. Exactly how knights-templars, burgomasters, friars, Saracens, and Robin Hood archers talked and acted in the twelfth century, we cannot know. But it is just because they are strange to our experience that they are dear to our imagination. The justification of romance is its unfamiliarity—"strangeness added to beauty"—"the pleasure of surprise" as distinguished from "the pleasure of recognition." Again and again realism returns to the charge and demands of art that it give us the present and the actual; and again and again the imagination eludes the demand and makes an ideal world for itself in the blue distance.

Two favourite arts, or artifices, of all romantic schools, are "local colour" and "the picturesque." "Vers l'an de grâce 1827," writes Prosper Mérimée, "j'étais romantique. Nous disions aux classiques; vos Grecs ne sont pas des Grecs, vos Romains ne sont pas des Romains; vous ne savez pas donner à vos compositions la couleur locale. Point de salut sans la couleur locale." [36]

As to the picturesque—a word that connotes, in its critical uses, some quality in the objects of sense which strikes us as at once novel, and characteristic in its novelty—while by no means the highest of literary arts, it is a perfectly legitimate one.[37] Creçy is not, at bottom, a more interesting battle than Gettysburg because it was fought with bows and arrows, but it is more picturesque to the modern imagination just for that reason. Why else do the idiots in "MacArthur's Hymn" complain that "steam spoils romance at sea"? Why did Ruskin lament when the little square at the foot of Giotto's Tower in Florence was made a stand for hackney coaches? Why did our countryman Halleck at Alnwick Towers resent the fact that "the Percy deals in salt and hides, the Douglas sells red herring"? And why does the picturesque tourist, in general, object to the substitution of naphtha launches for gondolas on the Venetian canals? Perhaps because the more machinery is interposed between man and the thing he works on, the more impersonal becomes his relation to nature.

Carlyle, in his somewhat grudging estimate of Scott, declares that "much of the interest of these novels results from contrasts of costume. The phraseology, fashion of arms, of dress, of life belonging to one age is brought suddenly with singular vividness before the eyes of another. A great effect this; yet by the very nature of it an altogether temporary one. Consider, brethren, shall not we too one day be antiques and grow to have as quaint a costume as the rest? . . . Not by slashed breeches, steeple hats, buff belts, or antiquated speech can romance-heroes continue to interest us; but simply and solely, in the long run, by being men. Buff belts and all manner of jerkins and costumes are transitory; man alone is perennial." [38] Carlyle's dissatisfaction with Scott arises from the fact that he was not a missionary nor a transcendental philosopher, but simply a teller of stories. Heine was not troubled in the same way, but he made the identical criticism, "Like the works of Walter Scott, so also do Fouqué's romances of chivalry[40] remind us of the fantastic tapestries known as Gobelins, whose rich texture and brilliant colors are more pleasing to our eyes than edifying to our souls. We behold knightly pageantry, shepherds engaged in festive sports, hand-to-hand combats, and ancient customs, charmingly intermingled. It is all very pretty and picturesque, but shallow; brilliant superficiality. Among the imitators of Fouqué, as among the imitators of Walter Scott, this mannerism of portraying—not the inner nature of men and things, but merely the outward garb and appearance—was carried to still greater extremes. This shallow art and frivolous style is still [1833] in vogue in Germany as well as in England and France. . . . In lieu of a knowledge of mankind, our recent novelists evince a profound acquaintance with clothes." [39]

Elsewhere Heine acknowledges a deeper reason for the popularity of the Scotch novels. "Their theme . . . is the mighty sorrow for the loss of national peculiarities swallowed up in the universality of the newer culture—a sorrow which is now throbbing in the hearts of all peoples. For national memories lie deeper in the human breast than is generally thought." But whatever rank may be ultimately assigned to the historical novel as an art form, Continental critics are at one with the British in crediting its invention to Scott. "It is an error," says Heine, "not to recognise Walter Scott as the founder of the so-called historical romance, and to endeavour to trace it to German imitation." He adds that Scott was a Protestant, a lawyer and a Scotchman, accustomed to action and debate, in whose works the aristocratic and democratic elements are in wholesome balance; "whereas our German romanticists eliminated the democratic element entirely from their novels, and returned to the ruts of those crazy romances of knight-errantry that flourished before Cervantes." [41] "Quel est Fouvrage littéraire," asks Stendhal in 1823,[42] "qui a le plus réussi en France depuis dix ans? Les romans de Walter Scott. . . . On s'est moqué à Paris pendant vingt ans du roman historique; l'Académie a prouvé doctement le ridicule de ce genre; nous y croyions tous, lorsque Walter Scott a paru, son Waverley à la main; et Balantyne, son libraire vient de mourir millionaire." [43]

Lastly the service of the Waverley Novels to history was an important one. Palgrave says that historical fiction is the mortal enemy of history, and Leslie Stephen adds that it is also the enemy of fiction. In a sense both sayings are true. Scott was not always accurate as to facts and sinned freely against chronology. But he rescued a wide realm from cold oblivion and gave it back to human consciousness and sympathy. It is treating the past more kindly to misrepresent it in some particulars, than to leave it a blank to the imagination. The eighteenth-century historians were incurious of life. Their spirit was general and abstract; they were in search of philosophical formulas. Gibbon covers his subject with a lava-flood of stately rhetoric which stiffens into a uniform stony coating over the soft surface of life. Scott is primarily responsible for that dramatic, picturesque treatment of history which we find in Michelet and Carlyle. "These historical novels," testifies Carlyle, "have taught all men this truth, which looks like a truism, and yet was as good as unknown to writers of history and others, till so taught; that the bygone ages of the world were actually filled by living men, not by protocols, state papers, controversies, and abstractions of men. . . . It is a great service, fertile in consequences, this that Scott has done; a great truth laid open by him." [44] In France, too, historians like Barante and Augustin Thierry, were Scott's professed disciples. The latter confesses, in a well-known passage, that "Ivanhoe" was the inspirer of his "Conquête d'Angleterre," and styles the novelist "le plus grand maître qu'il y ait jamais eu en fait de divination historique." [45]

Scott apprehended the Middle Ages on their spectacular, and more particularly, their military side. He exhibits their large, showy aspects: battles, processions, hunts, feasts in hall, tourneys,[46] sieges, and the like. The motley mediaeval world swarms in his pages, from the king on his throne down to the jester with his cap and bells. But it was the outside of it that he saw; the noise, bustle, colour, stirring action that delighted him. Into its spiritualities he did not penetrate far; its scholasticisms, strange casuistries, shuddering faiths, grotesque distortions of soul, its religious mysticisms, asceticisms, agonies; the ecstactic reveries of the cloister, terrors of hell, and visions of paradise. It was the literature of the knight, not of the monk, that appealed to him. He felt the awfulness and the beauty of Gothic sacred architecture and of Catholic ritual. The externalities of the mediaeval church impressed him, whatever was picturesque in its ceremonies or august in its power. He pictured effectively such scenes as the pilgrimage to Melrose in the "Lay"; the immuring of the renegade nun in "Marmion"; the trial of Rebecca for sorcery by the Grand Master of the Temple in "Ivanhoe." Ecclesiastical figures abound in his pages, jolly friars, holy hermits, lordly prelates, grim inquisitors, abbots, priors, and priests of all descriptions, but all somewhat conventional and viewed ab extra. He could not draw a saint.[47] Significant, therefore, is his indifference to Dante, the poet par excellence of the Catholic Middle Age, the epitomizer of mediaeval thought. "The plan" of the "Divine Comedy," "appeared to him unhappy; the personal malignity and strange mode of revenge presumptuous and uninteresting." Scott's genius was antipathetic to Dante's; and he was as incapable of taking a lasting imprint from his intense, austere, and mystical spirit, as from the nebulous gloom of the Ossianic poetry. Though conservative, he was not reactionary after the fashion of the German "throne-and-altar" romanticists, but remained always a good Church of England man and an obstinate opponent of Catholic emancipation.[48] "Creeds are data in his novels," says Bagehot; "people have different creeds but each keeps his own."

Scott's interest in popular superstitions was constant. As a young man—in his German ballad period—they affected his imagination with a "pleasing horror." But as he grew older, they engaged him less as a poet than as a student of Cultur geschichte.

A wistful sense of the beauty of these old beliefs—a rational smile at their absurdity—such is the tone of his "Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft" (1830), a passage or two from which will give his attitude very precisely; an attitude, it will be seen, which is after all not so very different from Addison's, allowing for the distance in time and place, and for Scott's livelier imagination.[49] Scott had his laugh at Mrs. Radcliffe, and in his reviews of Hoffmann's "Tales" and Maturin's "Fatal Revenge" [50] he insists upon the delicacy with which the supernatural must be treated in an age of disbelief. His own management of such themes, however, though much superior to Walpole's or Mrs. Radcliffe's, has not the subtle art of Coleridge. The White Lady of Avenel, e.g., in "The Abbot," is a notorious failure. There was too much daylight in his imagination for spectres to be quite at home. "The shapes that haunt thought's wildernesses"; the "night side of things"; the real shudder are not there, as in Hawthorne or in Poe. Walter Pater[51] says that Meinhold's "Amber Witch" has more of the true romantic spirit than Tieck, who was its professional representative. On the contrary, it has less of the romantic spirit, but more of the mediaeval fact. It is a literal, realistic handling of the witch superstition, as Balzac's "Succube," in the "Contes Drolatiques" is a satirical version of similar material. But Tieck's "Märchen" are the shadows thrown by mediaeval beliefs across a sensitive, modern imagination, and are in result, therefore, romantic. Scott's dealing with subjects of the kind is midway between Meinhold and Tieck. He does not blink the ugly, childish, stupid, and cruel features of popular superstition, but throws the romantic glamour over them, precisely as he does over his "Charlie over the water" Jacobites.[52]

Again Scott's apprehension of the spirit of chivalry, though less imperfect than his apprehension of the spirit of mediaeval Catholicism, was but partial. Of the themes which Ariosto sang—

"Le donne, i cavalier, l'arme, gli amori,
Le cortesie, l'audaci imprese io canto"—

the northern Ariosto sang bravely the arme and the audaci imprese; less confidently the amori and the cortesie. He could sympathise with the knight-errant's high sense of honour and his love of bold emprise; not so well with his service of dames. Mediaeval courtship or "love-drurye," the trembling self-abasement of the lover before his lady, the fantastic refinements and excesses of gallantry, were alien to Scott's manly and eminently practical turn of mind. It is hardly possible to fancy him reading the "Roman de la Rose" with patience—he thought "Troilus and Creseyde" tedious, which Rossetti pronounces the finest of English love poems; or selecting for treatment the story of Heloise or Tristram and Iseult, or of "Le Chevalier de la Charette"; or such a typical mediaeval life as that of Ulrich von Liechtenstein.[53] These were quite as truly beyond his sphere as a church legend like the life of Saint Margaret or the quest of the Sangreal. In the "Talisman" he praises in terms only less eloquent than Burke's famous words, "that wild spirit of chivalry which, amid its most extravagant and fantastic nights, was still pure from all selfish alloy—generous, devoted, and perhaps only thus far censurable, that it proposed objects and courses of action inconsistent with the frailties and imperfections of man." In "Ivanhoe," too, there is something like a dithyrambic lament over the decay of knighthood—"The 'scutcheons have long mouldered from the walls," etc.; but even here, enthusiasm is tempered by good sense, and Richard of the Lion Heart is described as an example of the "brilliant but useless character of a knight of romance." All this is but to say that the picture of the Middle Age which Scott painted was not complete. Still it was more nearly complete than has yet been given by any other hand; and the artist remains, in Stevenson's phrase, "the king of the Romantics."

APPENDIX A.

"Jamais homme de génie n'a eu l'honneur et le bonheur d'être imité par plus d'hommes de genié, si tous les grands écrivains de l'époque romantique depuis Victor Hugo jusqu'à Balzac et depuis Alfred de Vigny jusqu'à Mérimée, lui doivent tous et se sont tous glorifiés de lui devoir quelque chose. . . . Il doit nous suffire pour l'instant d'affirmer que l'influence de Walter Scott est à la racine même des grandes oeuvres qui ont donné au nouveau genre tant d'éclat dans notre littérature; que c'est elle qui les a inspirées, suscitées, fait éclore; que sans lui nous n'aurions ni 'Hans d'Islande,' ni 'Cinq-Mars,' ni 'Les Chouans,' ni la 'Chronique de Charles IX.,' ni 'Notre Dame de Paris,' . . . Ce n'est rien moins que le romantisme lui-même dont elle a hâté l'incubation, facilité l'eclosion, aidé le développement."—MAIGRON, "Le Roman Historique," p. 143.

"Il nous faut d'abord constater que c'est véritablement de Walter Scott, et de Walter Scott seul, que commence cette fureur des choses du moyen âge, cette manie de couleur locale qui sévit avec tant d'intensité quelque temps avant et longtemps après 1830, et donc qu'il reste, au moins pour ce qui est de la description, le principal initiateur de la génération nouvelle. Sans doute et de toute part, cette résurrection du moyen âge était des long-temps préparée. Le 'Génie du Christianisme,' le 'Cours de litterature dramatique' de Schlegel, l''Allemagne' de Mme. de Staël avaient fait des moeurs chrétiennes et chevaleresques le fondement et la condition de renouvellement de l'art français. Et, en effet, dès 1802, le moyen âge était découvert, la cathédrale gothique restaurée, l'art chretien remis à la place éminente d'où il aurait fallu ne jamais le laisser choir. Mais où sont les oeuvres exécutées d'après ce modèle et ces principes? S'il est facile d'apercevoir et de déterminer la cathédrale religieuse de Chateaubriand, est il donc si aisé de distinguer sa cathédrale poétique? . . . Un courant vigoureux, que le 'Genie du Christianisme' et les 'Martyrs' ont puissamment contribué à detérminer, fait dériver les imaginations vers les choses gothiques; volontiers, l'esprit français se retourne alors vers le passé comme vers la seule source de poésie; et voici qu'un étranger vient se faire son guide et fait miroiter, devant tous les yeux éblouis, la fantasmagorie du moyen âge, donjons et créneaux, cuirasses et belles armures, haquenées et palefrois, chevaliers resplendissants et mignonnes et délicates chatelaines. . . . Sur ses traces, on se précipita avec furie dans la voie qu'il venait subitement d'élargir. Ce moyen age, jusqu'à lui si convoité et si infécond, devinait enfin une source inépuisable d'émotions et de productions artistiques. La 'cathédrale' était bien restaurée cette fois. Elle le fut même trop, et borda trop obstinement tous les sentiers littéraires. Mais de cet excès, si vite fatigant, c'est Walter Scott et non Chateaubriand, quoi qu'il en ait pu dire, qui reste le grand coupable. Il fit plus que découvrir le moyen âge; il le mit à la mode parmi les Français."—Ibid., pp. 195 ff.

APPENDIX B.

"The magical touch and the sense of mystery and all the things that are associated with the name romance, when that name is applied to 'The Ancient Mariner,' or 'La Belle Dame sans Merci,' or 'The Lady of Shalott,' are generally absent from the most successful romances of the great mediaeval romantic age. . . . The true romantic interest is very unequally distributed over the works of the Middle Ages, and there is least of it in the authors who are most representative of the 'age of chivalry.' There is a disappointment prepared for any one who looks in the greater romantic authors of the twelfth century for the music of 'The Faery Queene' or 'La Belle Dame sans Merci.' . . . The greater authors of the twelfth century have more affinity to the 'heroic romance' of the school of the 'Grand Cyrus' than to the dreams of Spenser or Coleridge. . . . The magic that is wanting to the clear and elegant narrative of Benoit and Chrestien will be found elsewhere; it will be found in one form in the mystical prose of the 'Queste del St. Graal'—a very different thing from Chrestien's 'Perceval'—it will be found, again and again, in the prose of Sir Thomas Malory; it will be found in many ballads and ballad burdens, in 'William and Margaret,' in 'Binnorie,' in the 'Wife of Usher's Well,' in the 'Rime of the Count Arnaldos,' in the 'Königskinder'; it will be found in the most beautiful story of the Middle Ages, 'Aucassin and Nicolette,' one of the few perfectly beautiful stories in the world."—"Epic and Romance," W. P. Ker, London, 1897, p. 371 ff.

FOOTNOTES:


[1] Scott's translations from the German are considered in the author's earlier volume, "A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth Century." Incidental mention of Scott occurs throughout the same volume; and a few of the things there said are repeated, in substance though not in form, in the present chapter. It seemed better to risk some repetition than to sacrifice fulness of treatment here.

[2] "The Development of the English Novel," by Wilbur L. Cross, p. 131.

[3] Vol. i., p. 300.

[4] The sixth canto of the "Lay" closes with a few lines translated from the "Dies Irae" and chanted by the monks in Melrose Abbey.

[5] Vol. i., pp. 389-404.

[6] Vol. i., pp. 48-49.

[7] "Scott was entirely incapable of entering into the spirit of any classical scene. He was strictly a Goth and a Scot, and his sphere of sensation may be almost exactly limited by the growth of heather."—Ruskin, "Modern Painters," vol. iii., p. 317.

[8] "Marmion": Introduction to Canto third. In the preface to "The Bridal of Triermain," the poet says: "According to the author's idea of Romantic Poetry, as distinguished from Epic, the former comprehends a fictitious narrative, framed and combined at the pleasure of the writer; beginning and ending as he may judge best; which neither exacts nor refuses the use of supernatural machinery; which is free from the technical rules of the Epée. . . . In a word, the author is absolute master of his country and its inhabitants."

[9] Scott's ascription of "Sir Tristram" to Thomas the Rhymer, or Thomas of Erceldoune, was doubtless a mistake. His edition of the romance was printed in 1804. In 1800 he had begun a prose tale, "Thomas the Rhymer," a fragment of which is given in the preface to the General Edition of the Waverley Novels (1829). This old legendary poet and prophet, who flourished circa 1280, and was believed to have been carried off by the Queen of Faerie into Eildon Hill, fascinated Scott's imagination strongly. See his version of the "True Thomas'" story in the "Minstrelsy," as also the editions of this very beautiful romance in Child's "Ballads," in the publications of the E. E. Text So.; and by Alois Brandl, Berlin: 1880.

[10] See vol. i., p. 390.

[11] See the General Preface to the Waverley Novels for some remarks on "Queenhoo Hall" which Strutt began and Scott completed.

[12] Cf. vol. i., p. 344.

[13] "I am therefore descended from that ancient chieftain whose name I have made to ring in many a ditty, and from his fair dame, the Flower of Yarrow—no bad genealogy for a Border minstrel."

[14] "He neither cared for painting nor sculpture, and was totally incapable of forming a judgment about them. He had some confused love of Gothic architecture because it was dark, picturesque, old and like nature; but could not tell the worst from the best, and built for himself probably the most incongruous and ugly pile that gentlemanly modernism ever devised."—Ruskin. "Modern Painters," vol. iii., p. 271.

[15] See vol. i., p. 200.

[16] The Abbey of Tintern was irrelevant to Wordsworth.—Herford. "The Age of Wordsworth," Int., p. xx.

[17] "Dear Sir Walter Scott and myself were exact, but harmonious, opposites in this:—that every old ruin, hill, river or tree called up in his mind a host of historical or biographical associations; . . . whereas, for myself . . . I believe I should walk over the plain of Marathon without taking more interest in it than in any other plain of similar features."—Coleridge, "Table Talk," August 4, 1833.

[18] See the delightful anecdote preserved by Carlyle about the little Blenheim cocker who hated the "genus acrid-quack" and formed an immediate attachment to Sir Walter. Wordsworth was far from being an acrid quack, or even a solemn prig—another genus hated of dogs—but there was something a little unsympathetic in his personality. The dalesmen liked poor Hartley Coleridge better.

[19] Scott could scarcely have forborne to introduce the figure of the Queen of Scots, to insure whose marriage with Norfolk was one of the objects of the rising.

[20] For a full review of "The White Doe" the reader should consult Principal Shairp's "Aspects of Poetry," 1881.

[21] Scott averred that Wordsworth offended public taste on system.

[22] This is incomparable, not only as a masterpiece of romantic narrative, but for the spirited and natural device by which the hero is conducted to his adventure. R. L. Stevenson and other critics have been rather hard upon Scott's defects as an artist. He was indeed no stylist: least of all a precieux. There are no close-set mosaics in his somewhat slip-shod prose, and he did not seek for the right word "with moroseness," like Landor. But, in his large fashion, he was skilful in inventing impressive effects. Another instance is the solitary trumpet that breathed its "note of defiance" in the lists of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, which has the genuine melodramatic thrill—like the horn of Hernani or the bell that tolls in "Venice Preserved."

[23] See the "Hunting Song" in his continuation of "Queenhoo Hall"—

"Waken, lords and ladies gay,
On the mountain dawns the day."

[24] See vol. i., pp. 277 and 390.

[25] The Glen of the Green Women.

[26] "And still I thought that shattered tower
The mightiest work of human power;
And marvelled as the aged hind
With some strange tale bewitched my mind,
Of foragers who, with headlong force,
Down from that strength had spurred their horse,
Their Southern rapine to renew,
Far in the distant Cheviots blue;
And, home returning, filled the hall
With revel, wassail-rout and brawl."—"Marmion." Introduction
to Canto Third. See Lockhart for a description of the view from
Smailholme, à propos of the stanza in "The Eve of St. John":

"That lady sat in mournful mood;
Looked over hill and vale:
O'ver Tweed's fair flood, and Mertoun's wood,
And all down Teviot dale."

[27] See vol. i., pp. 394-395.

[28] Scott's verse "is touched both with the facile redundance of the mediaeval romances in which he was steeped, and with the meretricious phraseology of the later eighteenth century, which he was too genuine a literary Tory wholly to put aside."—"The Age of Wordsworth," C. H. Herford, London. 1897.

[29] "The Gray Brother" in vol. iii. of the "Minstrelsy."

[30] "And goblin brats, of Gilpin Horner's brood,
Decoy young border-nobles through the wood,
And skip at every step, Lord knows how high,
And frighten foolish babes, the Lord knows why."

[31] "Now leave we Margaret and her knight
To tell you of the approaching fight."—Canto Fifth, xiii.

[32] Landor says oddly of Warton that he "had lost his ear by laying it down on low swampy places, on ballads and sonnets."

[33] Does not the quarrel of Richard and Philip in "The Talisman" remind one irresistibly of Achilles and Agamemnon in the "Iliad"?

[34] For a review of English historical fiction before Scott, consult Professor Cross' "Development of the English Novel," pp. 110-114.

[35] "Familiar Studies of Men and Books," by R. L. Stevenson. Article, "Victor Hugo's Romances."

[36] "Le Roman Historique à l'Epoque Romantique." Essai sur l'influence de Walter Scott. Par Louis Maigron. Paris (Hachette). 1898, p. 331, note. And ibid., p. 330: "Au lieu que les classiques s'efforçaient toujours, à travers les modifications que les pays, les temps et les circonstances peuvent apporter aux sentiments et aux passions des hommes, d'atteindre à ce que ces passions et ces sentiments conservent de permanent, d'immuable et d'éternel, c'est au contraire à l'expression de l'accidentel et du relatif que les novateurs devaient les efforts de leur art. Plus simplement, à la place de la vérité humaine, ils devaient mettre la vérité locale." Professor Herford says that what Scott "has in common with the Romantic temper is simply the feeling for the picturesque, for colour, for contrast." "Age of Wordsworth," p. 121.

[37] De Quincey defines picturesque as "the characteristic pushed into a sensible excess." The word began to excite discussion in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. See vol. i., p. 185, for Gilpin's "Observations on Picturesque Beauty." See also Uvedale Price, "Essays on the Picturesque as Compared with the Sublime and the Beautiful," three vols., 1794-96. Price finds the character of the picturesque to consist in roughness, irregularity, intricacy, and sudden variation. Gothic buildings are more picturesque than Grecian, and a ruin than an entire building. Hovels, cottages, mills, interiors of old barns are picturesque. "In mills particularly, such is the extreme intricacy of the wheels and the wood work: such is the singular variety of forms and of lights and shadows, of mosses and weather stains from the constant moisture, of plants springing from the rough joints of the stones—that, even without the addition of water, an old mill has the greatest charm for a painter" (i., 55). He mentions, as a striking example of picturesque beauty, a hollow lane or by-road with broken banks, thickets, old neglected pollards, fantastic roots bared by the winter torrents, tangled trailers and wild plants, and infinite variety of tints and shades (i., 23-29). He denounces the improvements of Capability Brown (see "Romanticism," vol. i., p. 124): especially the clump, the belt and regular serpentine walks with smooth turf edges, the made water with uniformly sloping banks—all as insipidly formal, in their way, as the old Italian gardens which Brown's landscapes displaced.

[38] "Essay on Walter Scott."

[39] Andrew Lang reminds us that, after all, only three of the Waverley Novels are "chivalry romances." The following are the only numbers of the series that have to do with the Middle Ages: "Count Robert of Paris," circa 1090 A.D.; "The Betrothed," 1187; "The Talisman," 1193; "Ivanhoe," 1194; "The Fair Maid of Perth," 1402; "Quentin Durward," 1470; "Anne of Geierstein," 1474-77.

[40] "The Romantic School in Germany," p. 187. Cf. Stendhal, "Walter Scott et la Princesse de Clèves." "Mes reflexions seront mal accueilles. Une immense troupe de littérateurs est intéressée à porter aux nues Sir Walter Scott et sa maniere. L'habit et le collier de cuivre d'un serf du moyen âge sont plus facile à décrire que les mouvements du coeur humain. . . . N'oublions pas un autre avantage de l'école de Sir Walter Scott: la description d'un costume et la pose d'un personnage . . . prennent au moins deux pages. Les mouvements de l'âme fourniraient à peine quelques lignes. Ouvrez au hazard un cies volumes de la 'Princesse de Clèves,' prenez dix pages au hasard, et ensuite comparez les aux dix pages d'Ivanhoe' ou de 'Quentin Durward': ces derniers ouvrages ont un mérite historique. Ils apprennent quelques petites choses sur l'histoire aux gens qui l'ignorent ou qui le savent mal. Ce mérite historique a causé un grand plaisir: je ne le nie pas, mais c'est ce mérite historique qui se fanera le premier. . . . Dans 146 ans, Sir Walter Scott ne sera pas à la hauteur où Corneille nous apparait 146 ans après sa mort." "To write a modern romance of chivalry." says Jeffrey, in his review of "Marmion" in the Edinburgh, "seems to be much such a phantasy as to build a modern abbey or an English pagoda. . . . [Scott's] genius, seconded by the omnipotence of fashion, has brought chivalry again into temporary favor. Fine ladies and gentlemen now talk, indeed, of donjons, keeps, tabards, 'scutcheons, tressures, caps of maintenance, portcullises, wimples, and we know not what besides; just as they did, in the days of Dr. Darwin's popularity, of gnomes, sylphs, oxygen, gossamer, polygynia, and polyandria. That fashion, however, passed rapidly away, and Mr. Scott should take care that a different sort of pedantry," etc.

[41] For an exhaustive review of Scott's influence on the evolution of historical fiction in France, consult Maigron, "Le Roman Historique," etc. A longish passage from this work will be found at the end of the present chapter. For English imitators and successors of the Waverley Novels, see Cross, "Development of the English Novel," pp. 136-48. See also De Quincey's "Literary Reminiscences," vol. iii., for an amusing account of "Walladmor" (1824), a pretended German translation of a non-existent Waverley novel.

[42] "Racine et Shakespeare."

[43] "Don Quixote."

[44] "Sir Walter Scott."

[45] "Dix ans d'études historiques": preface.

[46] Walter Bagehot says that "Ivanhoe" "describes the Middle Ages as we should have wished them to be," ignoring their discomforts and harsh barbarism. "Every boy has heard of tournaments and has a firm persuasion that in an age of tournaments life was thoroughly well understood. A martial society where men fought hand to hand on good horses with large lances," etc. ("The Waverley Novels").

[47] "Of enthusiasm in religion Scott always spoke very severely. . . . I do not think there is a single study in all his romances of what may be fairly called a pre-eminently spiritual character" (R. H. Hutton: "Sir Walter Scott," p. 126).

[48] "Unopposed, the Catholic superstition may sink to dust, with all its absurd ritual and solemnities. Still it is an awful risk. The world is in fact as silly as ever, and a good competence of nonsense will always find believers." ("Diary" for 1829).

[49] See vol. i., p. 42. "We almost envy the credulity of those who in the gentle moonlight of a summer night in England, amid the tangled glades of a deep forest, or the turfy swell of her romantic commons, could fancy they saw the fairies tracing their sportive ring. But it is in vain to regret illusions which, however engaging, must of necessity yield their place before the increase of knowledge, like shadows at the advance of morn." ("Demonology." p. 183). "Tales of ghosts and demonology are out of date at forty years of age and upward. . . . If I were to write on the subject at all, it should have been during a period of life when I could have treated it with more interesting vivacity. . . . Even the present fashion of the world seems to be ill-suited for studies of this fantastic nature: and the most ordinary mechanic has learning sufficient to laugh at the figments which in former times were believed by persons far advanced in the deepest knowledge of the age." (Ibid., p. 398).

[50] See vol. i., pp. 249 and 420.

[51] "Postscript" to "Appreciations."

[52] For the rarity of the real romantic note in mediaeval writers see vol. i., pp. 26-28, and Appendix B to the present chapter.

[53] See "Studies in Mediaeval Life and Literature," by Edward T. McLaughlin, p. 34.

Henry Augustin Beers