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family did not precisely lie in the management of money.

The marriage of Sophia Scott to Lockhart, and the purchase of a
commission for her eldest brother Walter in the 18th Hussars, made gaps
in Scott's family circle, and also, beyond all doubt, in his finances.
The first was altogether happy for him. It did not, for at anyrate some
years, absolutely sever him from the dearest of his children, a lady
who, to judge from her portraits, must have been of singular charm, and
who seems to have been the only one of the four with much of his mental
characteristics; it provided him with an agreeable companion, a loyal
friend, and an incomparable biographer. Of Sir Walter Scott the second
and last, not much personal idea is obtainable. The few anecdotes handed
down, and his father's letters to him (we have no replies), suggest a
good sort of person, slightly 'chuckle-headed' and perfervid in the
wrong places, with next to no intellectual gifts, and perhaps more his
mother's son than his father's. He had some difficulties in his first
regiment, which seems to have been a wild one, and not in the best form;
he married an heiress of the unpoetical name of Jobson, to whom and of
whom his father writes with a pretty old-fashioned affection and
courtesy, which perhaps gave Thackeray some traits for Colonel Newcome.
Of the younger brother Charles, an Oxford man, who went into the Foreign
Office, even less is recorded than of Walter. Anne Scott, the third of
the family, and the faithful attendant of her father in his last evil
days, died in her sister's house shortly after Sir Walter, and Mrs.
Lockhart herself followed before the _Life_ was finished. Scott can
hardly be said to have bequeathed good luck to any of these his

It was at the end of 1819, after Walter the younger left home, and
before Sophia's marriage, that the next in order of the _Waverley
Novels_ (now again such by title, and not _Tales of my Landlord_)
appeared. This was _Ivanhoe_, which was published in a rather costlier
shape than its forerunners, and yet sold to the extent of twelve
thousand copies in its three-volume form. Lockhart, perhaps with one of
the few but graceful escapes of national predilection (it ought not to
be called prejudice) to be noticed in him, pronounces this a greater
work of art, but a less in genius than its purely Scottish predecessors.
As there is nothing specially English in _Ivanhoe_, but only an attempt
to delineate Normans and Saxons before the final blend was formed, an
Englishman may, perhaps, claim at least impartiality if he accepts the
positive part of Lockhart's judgment and demurs to the negative.
Although the worst of Scott's cramps were past, he was still in anything
but good health when he composed the novel, most of which was dictated,
not written; and his avocations and bodily troubles together may have
had something to do with those certainly pretty flagrant anachronisms
which have brought on _Ivanhoe_ the wrath of Dryasdust. But Dryasdust is
_adeo negligibile ut negligibilius nihil esse possit_, and the book is a
great one from beginning to end. The mere historians who quarrel with it
have probably never read the romances which justify it, even from the
point of view of literary 'document.' The picturesque opening; the
Shakespearean character of Wamba; the splendid Passage of Arms; the more
splendid siege of Torquilstone; the gathering up of a dozen popular
stories of the 'King-and-the-Tanner' kind into the episodes of the Black
Knight and the Friar; the admirable, if a little conventional, sketch of
Bois-Guilbert, the pendant in prose to Marmion; the more admirable
contrast of Rebecca and Rowena; and the final Judgment of God, which for
once vindicates Scott from the charge of never being able to wind up a
novel, - with such subsidiary sketches as Gurth, Prior Aymer, Isaac,
Front-de-Boeuf (Urfried, I fear, will not quite do, except in the
final interview with her tempter-victim), Athelstane, and others - give
such a plethora of creative and descriptive wealth as nobody but Scott
has ever put together in prose. Even the nominal hero, it is to be
observed, escapes the curse of most of Scott's young men (the young men
to several of whom Thackeray would have liked to be mother-in-law), and
if he is not worthy of Rebecca, he does not get her. As for Richard, no
doubt, he is not the Richard of history, but what does that matter? He
is a most admirable re-creation, softened and refined, of the Richard of
a romance which, be it remembered, is itself in all probability as old
as the thirteenth century.

After speaking frankly of the _Bride of Lammermoor_ and of some others
of Scott's works, it may perhaps be permissible to rate the successor to
_Ivanhoe_ rather higher than it was rated at the time, or than it has
generally been rated since. _The Monastery_ was at its appearance (March
1820) regarded as a failure; and quite recently a sincere admirer of
Scott confided to a fellow in that worship the opinion that 'a good deal
of it really is rot, you know.' I venture to differ. Undoubtedly it does
not rank with the very best, or even next to them. In returning to
Scottish ground, Scott may have strengthened himself on one side, but
from the distance of the times and the obscure and comparatively
uninteresting period which he selected (just after the strange and rapid
panorama of the five Jameses and before the advent of Queen Mary), he
lost as much as he gained. An intention, afterwards abandoned, to make
yet a fresh start, and try a new double on the public by appearing
neither as 'Author of _Waverley_' nor as Jedediah Cleishbotham, may have
hampered him a little, though it gave a pleasant introduction. The
supernatural part, though much better, as it seems to me, than is
generally admitted, is no doubt not entirely satisfactory, being
uncertainly handled, and subject to the warning of _Nec deus intersit_.
There is some return of that superabundance of interval and inaction
which has been noted in the _Bride_. And, above all, there appears here
a fault which had not been noticeable before, but which was to increase
upon Scott, - the fault of introducing a character as if he were to be of
great pith and moment, and then letting his interest, as the vernacular
says, 'tail off.' The trouble taken about Halbert by personages natural
and supernatural promises the case of some extraordinary figure, and he
is but very ordinary. Still, at the works of how many novelists except
Scott should we grumble, if we had the admirable descriptions of
Glendearg, the scenes in the Abbey, the night-ride of poor Father
Philip, the escape from the Castle of Avenel, the passage of the
interview of Halbert with Murray and Morton? Even the episode of Sir
Piercie Shafton, though it is most indisputably true that Scott has not
by any means truly represented Euphuism, is good and amusing in itself;
while there are those who boldly like the White Lady personally. She is
more futile than a sprite beseems; but she is distinctly 'nice.'

At any rate, nobody could (or indeed did) deny that the author, six
months later, made up for any shortcoming in _The Abbot_, where, except
the end (eminently of the huddled order), everything is as it should be.
The heroine is, except Die Vernon, Scott's masterpiece in that kind,
while all the Queen Mary scenes are unsurpassed in him, and rarely
equalled out of him. Nor was there any falling off in _Kenilworth_ (Jan.
1821), where he again shifted his scene to England. He has not indeed
interested us very much personally in Amy Robsart, but as a hapless
heroine she is altogether the superior of Lucy Ashton. The book is,
among his, the 'novel without a hero,' and, considering his defects in
that direction, this was hardly a drawback. It cannot be indeed said to
have any one minor character which is a success of the first class. But
the whole is interesting throughout. The journeys of Tressilian to
Devonshire and of Amy and Wayland to Kenilworth have the curious
attraction which Scott, a great traveller, and a lover of it, knew how
to give to journeys, and the pageantry and Court scenes, at Greenwich
and elsewhere, command admiration. Indeed, _Kenilworth_ equals any of
the novels in sustained variety of interest, and, unlike too many of
them, it comes to a real end.

It was in 1821 that a book now necessarily much forgotten and even rare
(it is comparatively seldom that one sees it in catalogues), Adolphus's
_Letters on the Author of Waverley_, at once showed the interest taken
in the identity of the 'Great Unknown,' and fixed it as being that of
the author of the _Lay_, with a great deal of ingenuity and with a most
industrious abundance of arguments, bad and good. After such a proof of
public interest, neither Scott nor Constable could be much blamed for
working what has been opprobriously called the 'novel manufactory' at
the highest pressure; and _The Pirate_, _The Fortunes of Nigel_,
_Peveril of the Peak_, _Quentin Durward_, _St. Ronan's Well_, and
_Redgauntlet_ were written and published in the closest succession.
These books, almost all of wonderful individual excellence (_Peveril_, I
think, is the only exception), and of still more wonderful variety, were
succeeded, before the crash of 1825-26, by the _Tales of the Crusaders_,
admirable in part, if not wholly. When we think that all these were,
with some other work, accomplished in less than five years, it scarcely
seems presumption in the author to have executed, or rashness in the
bookseller to have suggested, a contract for four of them in a batch - a
batch unnamed, unplanned, not even yet in embryo, but simply existing
_in potentia_ in the brain of Walter Scott himself.

In surveying together this batch, written when the first novelty of the
novels was long over, and before there was any decadence, one obtains,
as well perhaps as from any other division of his works, an idea of
their author's miraculous power. Many novelists since have written as
much or more in the same time. But their books for the most part, even
when well above the average, popular, and deservedly popular too, leave
next to no trace on the mind. You do not want to read them again; you
remember, even with a strong memory, nothing special about their plots;
above all, their characters take little or no hold on the mind in the
sense of becoming part of its intellectual circle and range.

How different is it with these six or eight novels, 'written with as
much care as the others, that is to say, with none at all,' as the
author wickedly remarked! _The Pirate_ (December 1821) leads off, its
scenery rendered with the faithfulness of recent memory, and yet
adjusted and toned by the seven years' interval since Scott yachted
round Orkney and Shetland. Here are the admirable characters of Brenda
(slight yet thoroughly pleasing), and her father, the not too
melodramatic ones of Minna, Cleveland, and Norna, the triumph of Claud
Halcro (to whom few do justice), and again, the excellent keeping of
story and scenery to character and incident. _The Fortunes of Nigel_
(May 1822) originated in a proposed series of 'Letters of the
Seventeenth Century,' in which others were to take part, and perhaps
marks a certain decline, though only in senses to be distinctly defined
and limited. Nothing that Scott ever did is better than the portrait of
King James, which, in the absence of one from the hand of His Majesty's
actual subject for some dozen years, Mr. William Shakespeare of New
Place, Stratford, is probably the most perfect thing of the kind that
ever could have been or can be done. And the picture of Whitefriars,
though it is borrowed to a great extent, and rather anticipated in point
of time, from Shadwell's _Squire of Alsatia_, sixty or seventy years
after date, is of the finest, whilst Sir Mungo Malagrowther[18] all but
deserves the same description. But this most cantankerous knight is not
touched off with the completeness of Dalgetty, or even of Claud Halcro.
Lord Glenvarloch adds, to the insipidity which is the bane of Scott's
good heroes, some rather disagreeable traits which none of them had
hitherto shown. Dalgarno in the same way falls short of his best bad
heroes. Dame Suddlechop suggests, for the first time _un_favourably, a
Shakespearean ancestress, Mistress Quickly, and the story halts and
fails to carry the reader rapidly over the stony path. Even Richie
Moniplies, even Gentle Geordie, good as both are, fall short of their
predecessors. Ten years earlier _The Fortunes of Nigel_ would have been
a miracle, and one might have said, 'If a man begins like this, what
will he do later?' Now, thankless and often uncritical as is the chatter
about 'writing out,' we can hardly compare _Nigel_ with _Guy Mannering_,
or _Rob Roy_, or even _The Abbot_, and not be conscious of something
that (to use a favourite quotation of Scott's own), 'doth appropinque an
end,' though an end as yet afar off. The 'bottom of the sack,' as the
French say, is a long way from us; but it is within measurable distance.

Even a friendly critic must admit that this distance seemed to be
alarmingly shortened by _Peveril of the Peak_ (January 1823), which
among the full-sized novels seems to me quite his least good book, worse
even than 'dotages,' as they are sometimes thought, like _Anne of
Geierstein_ and _Count Robert_. No one has defended the story, which,
languid as it is, is made worse by the long gaps between the passages
that ought to be interesting, and by a (for Scott) quite abnormal and
portentous absence of really characteristic characters. Lockhart pleads
for some of these, but I fear the plea can hardly be admitted. I imagine
that those who read Scott pretty regularly are always sorely tempted to
skip _Peveril_ altogether, and that when they do read it, they find the
chariot wheels drive with a heaviness of which elsewhere they are
entirely unconscious.

But in the same year (1823), _Quentin Durward_ not only made up for
_Peveril_, but showed Scott's powers to be at least as great as when he
wrote _The Abbot_, if not as great as ever. He has taken some liberties
with history, but no more than he was perfectly entitled to take; he has
paid the historic muse with ample interest for anything she lent him, by
the magnificent sketch of Louis and the fine one of Charles; he has
given a more than passable hero in Quentin, and a very agreeable if not
ravishing heroine in Isabelle. Above all, he has victoriously shown his
old faculty of conducting the story with such a series of enthralling,
even if sometimes episodic passages, that nobody but a pedant of
'construction' would care to inquire too narrowly whether they actually
make a whole. Quentin's meeting with the King and his rescue from
Tristan by the archers; the interviews between Louis and Crevecoeur,
and Louis and the Astrologer; the journey (another of Scott's admirable
journeys); the sack of Schonwaldt, and the feast of the Boar of
Ardennes; Louis in the lion's den at Peronne, - these are things that are
simply of the first order. Nor need the conclusion, which has shocked
some, shock any who do not hold, with critics of the Rymer school, that
'the hero ought always to be successful.' For as Quentin wins Isabelle
at last, what more success need we want? and why should not Le Balafré,
that loyal Leslie, be the instrument of his nephew's good fortune?

The recovery was perfectly well maintained in _St. Ronan's Well_ (still
1823) and _Redgauntlet_ (1824), the last novels of full length before
the downfall. They were also, be it noticed, the first planned (while
_Quentin_ itself was completed) after some early symptoms of apoplectic
seizure, which might, even if they had not been helped by one of the
severest turns of fortune that any man ever experienced, have punished
Scott's daring contempt of ordinary laws in the working of his
brains.[17] The harm done to _St. Ronan's Well_ by the author's
submission to James Ballantyne's Philistine prudery in protesting
against the original story (in which Clara did not discover the cheat
put on her till a later period than the ceremony) is generally
acknowledged. As it is, not merely is the whole thing made a much ado
about nothing, - for no law and no Church in Christendom would have
hesitated to declare the nullity of a marriage which had never been
consummated, and which was celebrated while one of the parties took the
other for some one else, - but Clara's shattered reason, Tyrrel's
despair, and Etherington's certainty that he has the cards in his hand,
are all incredible and unaccountable - mere mid-winter madness.
Nevertheless, this, Scott's only attempt at actual contemporary fiction,
has extraordinary interest and great merit as such, while Meg Dods would
save half a dozen novels, and the society at the Well is hardly

And then came _Redgauntlet_. A great lover of Scott once nearly invoked
the assistance of Captain M'Turk to settle matters with a friend of his
who would not pronounce _Redgauntlet_ the best of all the novels, and
would only go so far as to admit that it contains some, and many, of the
best things. The best as a novel it cannot be called, because the action
is desultory in the extreme. There are wide gaps even in the chain of
story interest that does exist, and the conclusion, admirable in itself,
has even for Scott a too audacious disconnection with any but the very
faintest concern of the nominally first personages. But even putting
'Wandering Willie's Tale' aside, and taking for granted the merits of
that incomparable piece (of which, it may yet be gently hinted, it was
not so very long ago still a singularity and mark of daring to perceive
the absolute supremacy), the good things in this fascinating book defy
exaggeration. The unique autobiographic interest - so fresh and keen and
personal, and yet so free from the odious intrusion of actual
personality - of the earlier epistolary presentment of Saunders and Alan
Fairford, of Darsie and Green Mantle; Peter Peebles, peer of Scott's
best; Alan's journey and Darsie's own wanderings; the scenes at the
Provost's dinner-table and in Tam Turnpenny's den; that unique figure,
the skipper of the _Jumping Jenny_; the extraordinarily effective
presentment of Prince Charles, already in his decadence, if not yet in
his dotage; the profusion of smaller sketches and vignettes everywhere
grouped round the mighty central triumph of the adventures of Piper
Steenie, - who but Scott has done such things? He never put so much again
in a single book. There is something in it which it is hardly fanciful
to take as a 'note of finishing,' as the last piece of the work, that,
gigantic as it was, was not exactly collar work, not sheer hewing of
wood and drawing of water for the taskmasters. And it was fitting that
the book, so varied, so fresh, so gracious and kindly, so magnificent in
part, with a magnificence dominating Scott's usual range, should begin
with the beginnings of his own career, and should end with the practical
finish, not merely of the good days, but of the days that dawned with
any faint promise of goodness, in the career of the last hope of the
Jacobite cause.


[17] _Lockhart_, iv. chaps. xxviii.-xxxiii.

[18] The name, which, as many people now know since Aldershot Camp was
established, is a real one, had been already used with the double
meaning by Charlotte Smith, a now much-forgotten novelist, whom Scott

[19] The once celebrated 'Polish dwarf.'

[20] I may be permitted to refer - as to a _pièce justificatif_ which
there is no room here to give or even abstract in full - to a set of
three essays on this subject in my _Essays in English Literature_.
Second Series. London, 1895.

[21] This part, however, has a curious adventitious interest, owing to
the idea - fairly vouched for - that Scott intended to delineate in the
Colonel some points of his own character. His pride, his generosity, and
his patronage of the Dominie, are not unrecognisable, certainly. And a
man's idea of himself is often, even while strange to others, perfectly
true to his real nature.

[22] All who do not skip such things must have enjoyed these scraps,
sometimes labelled particularly, sometimes merely dubbed 'Old Play'; and
they are well worth reading together, as they appear in the editions of
the _Poems_. At the same time, they have been, in some cases, too
hastily attributed to Sir Walter himself. For instance, that in _The
Legend of Montrose_, ch. xiv., assigned to _The Tragedy of Brennoralt_
(not '_v_alt,' as misprinted), is really from Sir John Suckling's
sententious play (act iv. sc. 1), though loosely quoted.

[23] In the earlier months had taken place that famous rediscovery of
the Regalia of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle, which was one of the
central moments of Scott's life, and in which, as afterwards in the
restoring of Mons Meg, he took a great, if not the chief, part. His
influence with George IV. as Prince and King had much to do with both,
and in the earlier he took the very deepest interest. The effect on
himself (and on his daughter Sophia) of the actual finding of the Crown
jewels is a companion incident to that previously noticed (p. 52) as
occurring on the Mound. Those who cannot sympathise with either can
hardly hope to understand either Scott or his work.

[24] From March to May 1819 he had a series of attacks of the cramp, so
violent that he once took solemn leave of his children in expectation of
decease, that the eccentric Earl of Buchan forced a way into his
bedchamber to 'relieve his mind as to the arrangements of his funeral,'
and that he entirely forgot the whole of the _Bride_ itself. This, too,
was the time of his charge to Lockhart (_Familiar Letters_, ii. 38), as
to his successor in Tory letters and politics -

'Take thou the vanguard of the three,
And bury me by the bracken-bush
That grows upon yon lily lee.'

[25] It has always struck me that the other form of the legend
itself - that in which the 'open window' suggests that the bridegroom's
wounds were due to his rival - has far greater capabilities.

[26] Said to embody certain mental peculiarities of that ingenious
draughtsman, but rather unamiable person, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe.

[27] He had said in a letter to Terry, as early as November 20, 1822,
that he feared _Peveril_ 'would smell of the apoplexy.' But he made no
definite complaint to any one of a particular seizure, and the date,
number, and duration of the attacks are unknown.



_Redgauntlet_, it has been said, was the last novel on the full scale
before the downfall of Scott's prosperity. But before this he had begun
_The Life of Napoleon_ and _Woodstock_, and, in June 1825, had published
the _Tales of the Crusaders_, which contain some work almost, if not
quite, equal to his best, and which obtained at first a greater
popularity than their immediate predecessors. It was, and generally is,
held that _The Betrothed_, the earlier of the two, was saved by _The
Talisman_; and there can be no doubt that this latter is the better.
Contrary to the wont of novelists, Scott was at least as happy with
Richard here as he had been in _Ivanhoe_, and though he owed a good deal
in both to the presentation of his hero in the very interesting romance
published by his old secretary Weber, - one of the best of all the
English verse romances and the first English poem to show a really
English patriotism, - he owed nothing but suggestion. The duel at the
Diamond in the Desert is admittedly one of the happiest things of the
kind by a master in that kind, and if the adventures in the chapel of
Engedi are both a little farcical and a little 'apropos of nothing in
particular,' the story nowhere else halts or fails till it reaches its
real 'curtain' with the second _Accipe hoc!_ If it had been longer, it
might not have been so strong, but as it is, it is nearly perfect.

But there is also more good in _The Betrothed_ than it is usual to
allow. The beginning, the siege of the Garde Doloureuse, and the ghostly
adventure of Eveline at the Saxon manor are excellent; while, even
later, Scott has entangled the evidence against Damian and the heroine
with not a little of the skill which he had shown in compromising
Waverley. Had not James Ballantyne dashed the author's spirits with some
of his cavillings, the whole might have been as much of a piece as _The
Talisman_ is. Indeed, it must be confessed that, though Lockhart is
generous enough on this point to the man to whom he has been accused of

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Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburySir Walter Scott → online text (page 7 of 12)