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de candeur_ than Rose, and nothing else; and Julia's genteel-comedy
missishness does not do much more than pair off with Flora's
tragedy-queen air. 'Mannering, Guy, a Colonel returned from the Indies,'
is, perhaps, also too fair a description of the player of the
title-part.[23] But we trouble ourselves very little about these persons.
As for characters, the author opens fire on us almost at the very first
with Dominie Sampson and Meg Merrilees, and the hardly less excellent
figure of Bertram's well-meaning booby of a father; gives us barely time
to make their acquaintance before we meet Dandie Dinmont; brings up
almost superfluous reinforcements with Mr. Pleydell, and throughout
throws in Hatteraick and Glossin, Jock Jabos and his mistress, and Sir
Robert Haslewood, the company at Kippletringan, and at the funeral, and
elsewhere, in the most reckless spirit of literary lavishness. Nor is he
less prodigal of incident and scene. The opening passage of Mannering's
night-ride could not have been bettered if the painter had taken
infinitely more pains. Bertram's walk and the skirmish with the prowlers
are simply first-rate; the Edinburgh scenes have always excited
admiration as the very best of their kind; and the various passages
which lead to the working out of justice on Glossin and Hatteraick are
not merely told with a gusto, but arranged with a craftsmanship, of
which the latter is unfortunately less often present than the former in
the author's later work. There is hardly any book of Scott's on which it
is more tempting to dwell than this. Although the demand had not yet
reached anything like its height, two thousand copies were sold in
forty-eight hours, and five thousand in three months.

In March 1815 Scott went to London, and met two persons of distinction,
the Regent and Lord Byron. There seems to be a little doubt whether
George did or did not adapt the joke of the hanging judge, about
'checkmating this time,' to the authorship of the _Waverley_ novels; but
there is no doubt that he was very civil. With Byron Scott was at once
on very good terms, for Scott was not the man to bear any grudge for the
early fling in _English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_; and Byron, whatever
his faults, 'had more of lion' in him than to be jealous of such a
rival. The difference of their characters was such as to prevent them
from being in the strict sense friends; and Scott's comparison of Byron,
after the separation, to a peacock parted from the hen and lifting up
his voice to tell the world about it, has a rather terribly far-reaching
justice, both of moral and literary criticism, on that noble bard's
whole life and conversation. But there were no little jealousies between
them, and apparently some real liking.

This visit to London was extended to Brussels and Paris, with the result
in verse of the already mentioned and not particularly happy _Field of
Waterloo_, in prose of the interesting _Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk_,
an account of the tour. Both were published (the poem almost
immediately, _Paul_ not till the new year) after Scott's return to
Abbotsford at the end of September; and he set to work during the later
autumn on his third novel, _The Antiquary_. The book appeared in May
1816, at about the time of the death of Major John Scott, the last but
one of the poet's surviving brothers. It was not at first so popular as
_Guy Mannering_, which, however, it very rapidly caught up even in that
respect: nor is this bad start surprising. To good judges nowadays the
book appeals as strongly at least as any other of its author's - in fact,
Monkbarns and the Mucklebackits, the rescue of Sir Arthur and Isabel,
the scenes in the ruins of St. Ruth's, and especially Edie Ochiltree,
were never surpassed by him. But the story was a daring innovation, or
return, among the novels of its own day. It boldly rejected most of the
ordinary sources of romance interest. It had very little plot; its
humorous characters, though touched with the rarest art, were not
caricatured; and (for which it certainly cannot be praised) that
greatest fault of Scott's, - perhaps his only great fault as a
novelist, - the 'huddling up' of the end, appears in it for the first,
though unluckily by no means for the last, time. But it would have been
a very sad thing for the public taste if it had definitely refused _The
Antiquary_. A book which contains within the compass of the opening
chapters such masterpieces as the journey to the Hawes, the description
of the Antiquary's study, and the storm and rescue, must have had a
generation of idiots for an audience if it had not been successful.
Moreover, it had, as Scott's unwearied biographer has already noted, a
new and special source of interest in the admirable fragmentary mottoes,
invented to save the greater labour of discovery, which adorn its
chapter-headings.[22] Lockhart himself thought that Scott never quite
equalled these first three novels. I cannot agree with him there; but
what is certain is that he in them discovered, with extraordinary
felicity, skill in three different kinds of novel - the historical, the
romantic-adventurous, and that of ordinary or almost wholly ordinary
life; and that even he never exactly added a fourth kind to his
inventions, though he varied them wonderfully within themselves. The
romance partly historical, the romance mainly or wholly fictitious, and
the novel of manners; these were his three classes, and hardly any
others.

It is not entirely explained what were the reasons which determined
Scott to make his next venture, the _Tales of my Landlord_, under a
fresh pseudonym, and also to publish it not with Constable, but with
Murray and Blackwood. Lockhart's blame of John Ballantyne may not be
unfair; but it is rather less supported by documentary evidence than
most of his strictures on the Ballantynes. And the thing is perhaps to
be sufficiently accounted for by Scott's double dislike, both as an
independent person and a man of business, of giving a monopoly of his
work to one publisher, and by his constant fancy for trying experiments
on the public - a fancy itself not wholly, though partially,
comprehensible. As a matter of fact, _Old Mortality_ and the _Black
Dwarf_ were offered to and pretty eagerly accepted by Murray and
Blackwood, on the terms of half profits and the inevitable batch of 'old
stock.' The story of the unlucky quarrel with Blackwood in consequence
of some critical remarks of his on the end of the _Black
Dwarf_, - remarks certainly not inexcusable, - and of Scott's famous
letter in reply, will doubtless receive further elucidation in the
forthcoming chronicle of the House of 'Ebony'; but it is told with fair
detail, in the second edition of Lockhart, from the actual archives.

Scott doubled his work during the summer and autumn by undertaking the
historical department, relinquished by Southey, of the _Edinburgh Annual
Register_, yet the two _Tales_ were ready in November, and appeared on
the 1st of December 1816. Murray wrote effusively to Scott (who, it must
be remembered, was not even to his publishers the known author), and
received a very amusing reply, from which one sentence may be quoted as
an example of those which have brought upon Sir Walter the reproach of
falsehood, or at least disingenuousness, from Goodman Dull. 'I assure
you,' he writes, 'I have never read a volume of them till they were
printed,' a delightful selection of words, for it looks decisive, and
means absolutely nothing. Nobody but a magician, and no ordinary
magician, could read a _volume_ (which in the usual parlance means a
printed volume) before it was printed. To back his disclaimer, Scott
offered to review himself in the _Quarterly_, which he did. I certainly
do not approve of authors being their own reviewers; though when (as
sometimes happens) they have any brains, they probably know the faults
and merits of their books better than anyone else, and can at anyrate
state, with a precision which is too rare in the ordinary critic, what
the book is meant to be and tries to do. But this case was clearly one
out of the common way, and rather part of an elaborate practical joke
than anything else.

Dulness, however, had in many ways found stumbling-blocks in the first
foster-children of the excellent Jedediah. The very pious and learned,
if not exactly humorous or shrewd, Dr. M'Crie, fell foul of the picture
of the Covenanters given in _Old Mortality_. No one who knows the
documents is likely to agree with him now, and from hardly any point of
view but his could the greatness of the book be denied. Although Scott's
humour is by no means absent from it, that quality does not perhaps find
quite such an opportunity, even in Mause and Cuddie, as in the Baron,
and the Dominie, and the inhabitants of Monkbarns. But as a historical
novel, it is a far greater one than _Waverley_. Drumclog, the siege of
Tillietudlem, above all, the matchless scene where Morton is just saved
from murder by his own party, surpass anything in the earlier book. But
greater than any of these single things is one of the first and the
greatest of Scott's splendid gallery of romantic-historic portraits, the
stately figure of Claverhouse. All the features which he himself was to
sum up in that undying sentence of Wandering Willie's Tale later are
here put in detail and justified.

As for the companion to this masterly book, I have always thought the
earlier part of the _Black Dwarf_ as happy as all but the best of
Scott's work. But the character of the _Dwarf_ himself was not one that
he could manage. The nullity of Earnscliff and Isabel is complete.
Isabel's father is a stagy villain, or rather rascal (for Victor Hugo's
antithesis between _scélérat_ and _maroufle_ comes in here), and even
Scott has never hustled off a conclusion with such complete
_insouciance_ as to anything like completeness. Willie of Westburnflat
here, like Christie of the Clinthill later, is one of our old friends of
the poems back again, and welcome back again. But he and Hobbie can
hardly save a book which Scott seems to have thrown in with its
admirable companion, not as a makeweight, but rather as a foil.

Between the first and the second sets of _Tales_, the 'Author of
_Waverley_,' true to his odd design of throwing the public off the
scent, reappeared, and the result was _Rob Roy_. Perhaps because it was
written under the first attacks of that 'cramp of the stomach' which,
though obscurely connected with his later and more fatal ailments, no
doubt ushered them in something more than an accidental manner, Scott
did not at first much like _Rob_. But he was reconciled later; and
hardly anybody else (except those exceedingly unhappy persons who cannot
taste him at all) can ever have had any doubt about it. That the end is
even more than usually huddled, that the beginning may perhaps have
dawdled a little over commercial details (I do not think so myself, but
Lady Louisa Stuart did), and that the distribution of time, which
lingers over weeks and months before and after it devotes almost the
major part of the book to the events of forty-eight hours, is irregular,
even in the eyes of those who are not serfs to the unities, cannot be
denied. But almost from the introduction of Frank to Diana, certainly
from his setting off in the grey of the morning with Andrew Fairservice,
to the point at least where the heroine stoops from her pony in a manner
equally obliging and graceful, there is no dropped stitch, no false
note. Nor in any book are there so many of Scott's own characters, and
others not quite so much his own. Helen Macgregor, perhaps, does not
'thrill our blood and overpower our reason,' as she did Lady Louisa's,
simply because we were born some hundred years later than that acute and
accomplished granddaughter of Lady Mary; and Rashleigh pretty
frequently, Rob himself now and then, may also savour to us a little of
the boards and the sawdust. But, as a rule, Rob does not; and for nobody
else, not even for the fortunate Frank, - who has nothing to do but to
walk through his part creditably, and does it, - need any allowance be
made. The Bailie is, with Shallow, his brother justice (upon whom he
justly looks down, but to whom he is, I think, kind) in Arthur's bosom;
Andrew Fairservice and the Dougal creature, Justice Inglewood and Sir
Hildebrand, are there too. As for Die Vernon, she is the one of Scott's
heroines with whom one _has to_ fall in love, just as, according to a
beautiful story, a thoughtless and reluctant world _had to_ believe the
Athanasian Creed. It is painful to say that persons on whom it is
impossible to retort the charge, have sometimes insinuated a touch of
vulgarity in Di. For these one can but pray; and, after all, they are
usually of her sex, which in such judgments of itself counts not. All
men, who are men and gentlemen, must delight in her. And here, as
always, to all but the very last, even in the twilight of _Anne of
Geierstein_, the succession of scenes hurries the reader along without
breath or time to stop and criticise, with nothing to do, if he is a
reasonable person, but to read and enjoy and admire.

Lockhart has taken the opportunity of this point of time (1817-1818),
which may be said to mark the zenith of Scott's prosperity, if not of
his fame, to halt and to give a sort of survey of his father-in-law's
private life at Castle Street and at Abbotsford. It forms one of the
pleasantest portions of his book, containing nothing more tragic than
the advent of the famous American tragedy of _The Cherokee Lovers_,
which its careful author sent, that Scott might approve and publish it,
in duplicate, so that the unfortunate recipient had to pay five pounds
twice over for the postage of the rubbish. Of course things were not
entirely as they seemed. The cramps with which, as mentioned, Scott had
been already seized, during the progress of _Rob Roy_, were, though
probably not caused, yet all too much helped and hastened, by the
ferocious manner in which he worked his brains. For it must be doubted
whether social intercourse, or even bodily exercise in company with
others, is really the best refreshment after very severe mental labour.
Both distract and amuse; but they do not refresh, relax, relieve, like a
bath of pure solitude.

Divers events of importance happened to Scott, in the later course of
the year 1818[21] (besides a much worse recurrence of his disorder),
after the _Heart of Midlothian_ (the second series of the _Tales_) had
been published in June, and the _Bride of Lammermoor_ (the third series)
had been begun. The Duke of Buccleuch, his chief, his (as he would
himself have cheerfully allowed) patron, his helper in time of need, and
his most intimate friend, died. So did his brother-in-law, Charles
Carpenter, this latter death adding considerably, though to an extent
exaggerated at first and only reversionary, to the prospects of Scott's
children. He gave up an idea, which he had for some time held, of
obtaining a judgeship of the Scotch Exchequer; but he received his
baronetcy in April 1820. Abbotsford went on gradually and expensively
completing itself; the correspondence which tells us so much and is such
delightful reading continued, as if the writer had nothing else to write
and nothing else to do. But for us the chief matters of interest are the
two novels mentioned, and that admirable supplement to the second of
them, the _Legend of Montrose_.

There can be little doubt, I think, that in at least passages, and those
very large ones, of the _Heart of Midlothian_, Scott went as high as he
ever had done, or ever did thereafter. I have never agreed with Lady
Louisa Stuart that 'Mr. Saddletree is not amusing,' nor that there is
too much Scots law for English readers. It must be remembered that until
Scott opened people's eyes, there were some very singular conventions
and prejudices, even in celestial minds, about novels. Technical details
were voted tedious and out of place - as, Heaven knows! M. Zola and
others have shown us since, that they may very easily be made.
Professional matters, the lower middle classes, etc., were thought
'low,' as Goldsmith's audience had had it, 'vulgar,' as Madame de Staël
said of Miss Austen. That the farrago of the novelist's book is
absolutely universal and indiscriminate, provided only that he knows
what to do with it, had not dawned on the general mind. On the other
hand, Lady Louisa was right in objecting to the finale, - it has been
admitted that Scott was never good at a conclusion, - and personally I
have always thought George Staunton uninteresting throughout. But how
much does this leave! The description of the lynching of Porteous and
the matchless interview with Queen Caroline are only the very best of
such a series of good things that, except just at the end, it may be
said to be uninterrupted. Jeanie it is unnecessary to praise; the same
Lady Louisa's admiration of the wonderful art which could attract so
much interest to a plain, good, not clever, almost middle-aged woman
sums up all. But almost everyone plays up to Jeanie in perfection - her
father and, to no small extent, her sister, her husband and Dumbiedykes,
Madge Wildfire (a most difficult and most successful character) and her
old fiend of a mother, the Duke and the tobacco-shop keeper. Abundant as
are the good things afterwards, I do not know that Scott ever showed his
actual original genius, his faculty of creation and combination, to such
an extent and in such proportion again.

He certainly did not, so far as my taste goes, in _The Bride of
Lammermoor_, a book which, putting the mere fragment of the _Black
Dwarf_ aside, seems to me his first approach to failure in prose.
Lockhart, whose general critical opinions deserve the profoundest
respect, thought differently - thought it, indeed, 'the most pure and
perfect of all the tragedies that Scott ever penned.' Perhaps there is
something in this of the same ingenuity which Scott himself showed in
his disclaimer to Murray quoted above, for tragedy _per se_ was
certainly not Scott's forte to the same extent as were comedy and
history. But I know that there are many who agree with Lockhart. On the
other hand, I should say that while we do not know enough of the House
of Ravenswood to feel much sympathy with its fortunes as a house, the
'conditions,' in the old sense, of its last representative are not such
as to attract us much to him personally. He is already far too much of
that hero of opera which he was destined to become, a sulky, stagy
creature, in theatrical poses and a black-plumed hat, who cannot even
play the easy and perennially attractive part of _desdichado_ so as to
keep our compassion. Lucy is a simpleton so utter and complete that it
is difficult even to be sorry for her, especially as Ravenswood would
have made a detestable husband. The mother is meant to be and is a
repulsive virago, and the father a time-serving and almost vulgar
intriguer. Moreover - and all this is not in the least surprising, since
he was in agonies during most of the composition, and nearly died before
its close[20] - the author has, contrary to his wont, provided very few
subsidiary characters to support or carry off the principals. Caleb
Balderstone has been perhaps unduly objected to by the very persons who
praise the whole book; but he is certainly somewhat of what the French
call a _charge_. Bucklaw, though agreeable, is very slight; Craigengelt
a mere 'super'; the Marquis shadowy. Even such fine things as the hags
at the laying-out, and the visit of Lucy and her father to Wolf's Crag,
and such amusing ones as Balderstone's _fabliau_-like expedients to
raise the wind in the matter of food, hardly save the situation; and
though the tragedy of the end is complete, it leaves me, I own, rather
cold.[19] One is sorry for Lucy, but it was really her own fault - a
Scottish maiden is not usually unaware of the possibilities and
advantages of 'kilting her coats of green satin' and flying from the lad
she does not love to the lad she does. The total disappearance of Edgar
is the best thing that could happen to him, and the only really
satisfactory point is Bucklaw's very gentlemanlike sentence of arrest on
all impertinent questioners.

But if the companion of the first set of _Tales_ was a dead-weight
rather than a make-weight, the make-weight of the third would have
atoned for anything. Sometimes I think, allowing for scale and
conditions, that Scott never did anything much better than _A Legend of
Montrose_. First, it is pervaded by the magnificent figure of Dugald
Dalgetty. Secondly, the story, though with something of the usual huddle
at the end, is interesting throughout, with the minor figures capitally
sketched in. Menteith, though merely outlined, is a good fellow, a
gentleman, and not a stick; Allan escapes the merely melodramatic;
'Gillespie Grumach' is masterly in his brief appearances; and Montrose
himself seems to me to be brought in with a skill which has too often
escaped notice. For it would mar the story to deal with the tragedy of
his end, and his earlier history is a little awkward to manage.
Moreover, that faculty of hurrying on the successive _tableaux_ which is
so conspicuous in most of Scott's work, and so conspicuously absent in
the _Bride_ (where there are long passages with no action at all) is
eminently present here. The meeting with Dalgetty; the night at
Darnlinvarach, from the bravado of the candlesticks to Menteith's tale;
the gathering and council of the clans; the journey of Dalgetty, with
its central point in the Inverary dungeon; the escape; and the battle of
Inverlochy, - these form an exemplary specimen of the kind of interest
which Scott's best novels possess as nothing of the kind had before
possessed it, and as few things out of Dumas have possessed it since.
Nor can the most fervent admirer of Chicot and of Porthos - I know none
more fervent than myself - say in cool blood that their creator could
have created Dalgetty, who is at once an admirable human being, a
wonderful national type of the more eccentric kind, and the embodiment
of an astonishing amount of judiciously adjusted erudition.

Many incidents of interest and some of importance occurred in Scott's
private life between the date of 1818 and that of 1820, besides those
mentioned already. One of these was the acquisition by Constable of the
whole of his back-copyrights for the very large sum of twelve thousand
pounds, a contract supplemented twice later in 1821 and 1823 by fresh
purchases of rights as they accrued for nominal sums of eleven thousand
pounds in addition. Unfortunately, this transaction, like almost all his
later ones, was more fictitious than real. And though it was lucky that
the publisher never discharged the full debt, so that when his
bankruptcy occurred something was saved out of the wreck which would
otherwise have been pure loss, the proceeding is characteristic of the
mischievously unreal system of money transactions which brought Scott to
ruin. Except for small things like review articles, etc., and for his
official salaries, he hardly ever touched real money for the fifteen
most prosperous years of his life, between 1810 and 1825. Promises to
receive were interchanged with promises to pay in such a bewildering
fashion that unless he had kept a chartered accountant of rather
unusual skill and industry perpetually at work, it must have been
utterly impossible for him to know at any given time what he had, what
he owed, what was due to him, and what his actual income and expenditure
were. The commonly accepted estimate is that during the most flourishing
time, 1820-1825, he made about fifteen thousand a year, and on paper he
probably did. Nor can he ever have spent, in the proper sense of the
term, anything like that sum, for the Castle Street house cannot have
cost, even with lavish hospitality, much to keep up, and the Abbotsford
establishment, though liberal, was never ostentatious. But when large
lump sums are constantly expended in purchases of land, building,
furnishing, and the like; when every penny of income except official
salaries goes through a complicated process of abatement in the way of
discounts for six and twelve months' bills, fines for renewal, payments
to banks for advances and the like - the 'clean' sums available at any
given moment bear quite fantastic and untrustworthy relations to their
nominal representatives. It may be strongly suspected, from the admitted
decrease of a very valuable practice under Walter Scott _père_, and from
its practical disappearance under Thomas, that the genius of the Scott


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Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburySir Walter Scott → online text (page 6 of 12)