I knew Anselmo. He was shrewd and prudent,
Wisdom and cunning had their shares of him;
But he was shrewish as a wayward child,
And pleased again by toys which childhood please;
As---book of fables, graced with print of wood,
Or else the jingling of a rusty medal,
Or the rare melody of some old ditty,
That first was sung to please King Pepin's cradle
'The Antiquary' was Scott's third novel and was his own personal favourite. It is set in a Scottish burgh town and begins with the arrival of a young Englishman, Lovel, who is in Fairport on mysterious business. He befriends Jonathan Oldbuck, the Antiquary of the title, a middle-aged bachelor who has 'commenced misogynist' after a disappointment in love and has retreated into antiquarian pursuits as consolation. His study is full of miscellaneous objects which cover every surface, manuscripts, busts,swords, daggers, helmets.....He is furious if his female relatives attempt to tidy his dusty lair. Of course, Oldbuck's interests reflect Scott's own, and Scott affectionately mocks Oldbuck's absurdities, and the way he sometimes has the wool pulled over his eyes, such as when he buys an 'ancient' coin which turns out to be worth a penny, or believes a local earthwork is the site of an important Roman battle. Embarrassingly, the beggar Edie Ochiltree points out that it is an agricultural ditch dug a few decades before. Oldbuck is really Scott as he would have been if he had remained a bachelor and retreated completely into his antiquarian world. 'The Antiquary' is untypical of Scott's oeuvre in that, although it takes place during the French Revolutionary Wars and the events of the novel can be dated to the invasion threat of 1794, for the most part these great public events are kept offstage. The novel is really a social comedy, the study of a seaside burgh town and its inhabitants, in the town, fisherman's village and manor. We find out about the fishermen and their families, the nosy women in the post office trying to find out what is in the letters, the funny and rather touching Antiquary, and the local cash-strapped baronet, Sir Arthur Wardour and his daughter Isabella, who provides the love interest. Most memorably, there is the beggar Edie Ochiltree,who has been called the most Shakespearean character outside Shakespeare with his humour and eloquence, albeit with heavy use of Scots dialect, which meant frequent resort to the glossary (and I'm Scottish). But it's not necessary to look up every unfamiliar word. So this part of the novel is full of comic treasures. And there's a very good running joke about a seal..... Alongside the comic social observation is a convoluted Gothic-influenced plot worthy of Ann Radcliffe, involving, among other things, buried treasure, a ruined priory, incest, suicide and poison. The main criticism of 'The Antiquary' has been that it mixes several different genres- comedy, social realism and melodrama, and that these elements do not 'hang together'. There is undoubtedly truth in this. Scott threw in everything but the kitchen sink, and there is some screeching of gears from one section to the next. For me, the best part of the novel was the comedy of the humorous and engaging Antiquary and his circle. Overall, 'The Antiquary' ranks with the best of Scott that I have read so far.
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