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Sir Walter Scott - Famous Scots Series
by George Saintsbury
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Unfortunately, if nothing else—family affection and perhaps also family pride did still, it may be feared, supply something else—the unlucky settlement of Abbotsford stood in the way. Legally, it is true or at least probable, this settlement might have been upset; but the trustees of Mrs. Walter Scott would probably also have felt bound to resist this, and leave to unsettle could only have been obtained on the humiliating and even slightly disgraceful plea that the granter, being practically insolvent at the time, was acting beyond his rights. It seems to have been proposed by the Bank of Scotland, during the negotiations for the arrangement which followed, that this should be done; and the reasons which dictated Scott's refusal would have equally, no doubt, prevented him from doing it in the other case.

Accordingly, it was resolved, as he declined to go into bankruptcy, that his whole property should, under a procedure half legal, half amicable, be vested in trustees for the benefit of his creditors; nothing except the Castle Street house and some minor chattels being actually sold. He, on the other hand, undertook to devote to the liquidation of the balance of his debts all the proceeds of his future work, except a bare maintenance for himself and (on a reduced scale) for Abbotsford. How 'this fatal venture of mistaken chivalry' (to borrow a most applicable phrase of Kingsley's about another matter) was carried out we shall see, but how grossly unfair it was to Scott himself must appear at once. In return for his sacrifices he had no real legal protection; any creditor could, as a Jew named Abud actually did, threaten at any time to force bankruptcy unless he were paid at once and in full. Instead of retaining (as he would have done had the whole of his property been actually surrendered, and had he allowed the debts which came with the law to go with it) complete control of his future earnings and exertions, and making, as he might have made, restitution by instalments as a free gift, he was in such a plight that any creditor was entitled to regard him as a kind of thrall, paying debt by service as a matter of course, and deserving neither rest, nor gratitude, nor commendation. One really sometimes feels inclined to regret that Abud or somebody else was not more relentless—to pray for a Sir Giles Overreach or a Shylock among the creditors. For such a one, by his apparently malevolent but really beneficent grasping, would have in effect liberated the bondsman, who, as it was, was compelled to toil at a hopeless task to his dying day, and to hasten that dying day by the attempt.

Mention has been made above of a certain Diary which is our main authority, and, indeed, makes other authorities merely illustrative for a great part of the few and evil last years of Sir Walter's life. It was begun before the calamities, and just after the return from Ireland, being pleasantly christened 'Gurnal,' after a slight early phonetic indulgence of his daughter Sophia's. It was suggested—and Lockhart seems to think that it was effective—as a relief from the labour of Napoleon, which went slightly against the grain, even before it became bond-work. It may have been a doubtful prescription, for 'the cud[28] of sweet and bitter fancy' is dangerous food. But it has certainly done us good. When Mr. Douglas obtained leave to publish it as a whole, there were, I believe, wiseacres who dreaded the effect of the publication, thinking that the passages which Lockhart himself had left out might in some way diminish and belittle our respect for Scott. They had no need to trouble themselves. It was already, as published in part in the Life, one of the most pathetically interesting things in biographical literature. This quality was increased by the complete publication, while it also became a new proof that 'good blood cannot lie,' that the hero is a hero even in utterances kept secret from the very valet. If, as has happened before and might conceivably happen again, some cataclysm destroyed all Scott's other work, we should still have in this not merely an admirable monument of literature, but the picture of a character not inhumanly flawless, yet almost superhumanly noble; of the good man struggling against adversity, not, indeed, with a sham pretence of stoicism, but with that real fortitude of which stoicism is too often merely a caricature and a simulation. It is impossible not to recur to the Marmion passage already quoted as one reads the account of the successive misfortunes, the successive expedients resorted to, the absolute determination never to cry craven.[33]

It is from the Diary that we learn his own complete knowledge of the fact urged above, that it would have been better for him if his creditors had been in appearance less kind. 'If they drag me into court,' he says,[31] 'instead of going into this scheme of arrangement, they would do themselves a great injury, and perhaps eventually do the good, though it would give me great pain.' The Diary, illustrated as it is by the excellent selections from Skene's Reminiscences and other scattered or unpublished matter which Mr. Douglas has appended, exhibits the whole history of this period with a precision that could not otherwise have been hoped for, especially as pecuniary misfortunes were soon, according to the fashion of this world, to be complicated by others. For some two years before the catastrophe Lady Scott had been in weak health; and though the misfortune itself does not seem to have affected her much after the first shock, she grew rapidly worse in the spring of 1826, and, her asthma changing into dropsy, died at Abbotsford during Scott's absence in Edinburgh, when his work began in May. His successive references to her illness, and the final and justly-famous passage on her death, are excellent examples of the spirit which pervades this part of the Diary. This spirit is never unmanly, but displays throughout, and occasionally, as we see, to his own consciousness, that strange yet not uncommon phenomenon which is well expressed in a French phrase, il y a quelque chose de casse, and which frequently comes upon men after or during the greater misfortunes of life. Neither in his references to this, nor in those to another threatened, though as yet deferred blow, expected from the ever-declining health of the Lockharts' eldest child, the 'Hugh Littlejohn' of the Tales of a Grandfather, is there any tone of whining on the one hand, or any mark of insensibility on the other. But there is throughout something like a confession, stoutly avoided in words, but hinted in tone and current of quotation and sentiment, that the strength, though not the courage, is hardly equal to the day. The Diary, both here and elsewhere, is full of good things, pleasant wit still, shrewd criticism of life, quaint citation of wise old Scots saws and good modern instances, happy judgment of men and books,—above all, that ever-present touch of literature, without mere bookishness, which is as delightful to those who can taste it as any of Scott's gifts. And perhaps, too, we may trace, even behind this, a secret sense that, as his own Habakkuk Mucklewrath has it in the dying curse on Claverhouse, the wish of his heart had indeed been granted to his loss, and that the hope of his own pride had gone too near to destroy him.

FOOTNOTES:

[28] Some say L130,000, but this seems to include the L10,000 mortgage on Abbotsford. This, however, was a private affair of Scott's own, not a transaction of the firm.

[29] I have consulted high authority on the legal side of this counter-bill story, and have been informed (with the expected caution that, the facts being so doubtful, the law is hard to give) that under Scots law these counter-bills, if they existed, would probably be allowed to rank, supposing that twenty shillings in the pound had not been paid on the first set, and to an extent sufficient to make up that sum. But Lockhart's allegation clearly is that they were so used as to charge Scott's estate to the extent of forty shillings in the pound.

[30] John Ballantyne had died in 1821, before the mischief was punished, but after it was done.

[31] Lockhart, vii. 370, 371.

[32] I am not certain whether the second advance, which was secured by mortgage on Abbotsford, included the first or not. Probably it did.

[33] A pet name for his 'curios.'

[34] Our now-accepted texts, of course, read 'food'; but no one who remembers the pleasant use which Sir Walter himself has made of the other reading in the Introduction to Quentin Durward will readily give it up.

[35] As Scott, like Swift and Shakespeare, like Thackeray and Fielding, never hesitated at a touch of grim humour even though it might border on grotesque, he himself would probably not have missed the coincidence of—

'Though billmen ply the ghastly blow,'

which suggests itself only too tragi-comically.

[36] Journal, Feb. 3, 1826, p. 103, ed. Douglas; Lockhart, viii. 216, 217.



CHAPTER VI

LAST WORKS AND DAYS

It has been mentioned that when Scott returned from Ireland, and before his misfortunes came upon him, he had already engaged in two works of magnitude, a new novel, Woodstock, and a Life of Napoleon, planned upon a very large scale, for which Constable made great preparations, and from which he expected enormous profits. After the catastrophe it became a question whether Constable's estate could claim the fulfilment of these contracts, or whether the profits of them could be devoted wholly to the liquidation of Scott's, or rather Ballantyne & Co.'s, own debts. The completion of Woodstock was naturally delayed until this point was settled. But from the very moment when Sir Walter had resolved to devote himself to the heroic but apparently hopeless task of paying off his nominal liabilities in full, he arranged a system of work upon these two books, and especially upon the Napoleon, which exceeded in dogged determination anything that even he had hitherto done. The novel was, of course, to him comparative child's play: he had written novels before in six weeks or thereabouts all told, though his impaired vigour, the depression of his spirits, and the sense of labouring for the mere purpose of pouring the results into a sieve, made things harder now. But the Napoleon, though he had made some preparation for this kind of writing by his elaborate and multifarious editorial work, especially by that on Dryden and Swift, was to a great extent new; and it required, what was always irksome to him, elaborate reading up of books and documents for the special purpose. No man has ever utilised the results of previous reading for his own pleasure better than Scott, and few men, not mere professed book-grubbers, have ever had vaster stores of it. But he frequently confesses—a confession which in many ways makes his plight in these years still more to be pitied—an ingrained dislike to task-work of any kind; and there is no more laborious task-work than getting up and piecing together the materials for history.

The book, one, at a rough guess, of at least a million words, was completed from end to end in less than eighteen months, during which he also wrote Woodstock, Malachi Malagrowther (vide infra), with several reviews and minor things, besides serving his usual number of days at the Clerk's table, devoting necessarily much time to the not more painful than troublesome business of his pecuniary affairs, his removal from Castle Street, etc., and taking one journey of some length in the summer of 1826 to London and Paris for materials. The feat was accomplished by a rigid system of 'so much per day'—by dint of which, no doubt, an amount of work, surprising to the inexperienced, can be turned out with no necessarily disastrous consequences. But Scott, disgusted with society, and avoiding it from motives of economy as well as of want of heart, disturbed hardly at all by strangers at Abbotsford, and not at all in the lodgings and furnished houses which he took while in Edinburgh, let 'his own thought drive him like a goad' to work in the interest of his task-masters, and perhaps, also, for the sake of drowning care, pushed the system to the most extravagant lengths. We know that he sometimes worked from six in the morning to six at even, with breakfast and luncheon brought into his study and consumed there; and though his court duties made this fortunately impossible for a part of the year, at least during a part of the week, they were not a complete preservative. In the eighteen months he cleared for his bloodsuckers nearly twenty thousand pounds, eight thousand for Woodstock and eleven or twelve for Napoleon. The trifling profits of Malachi and the reviews seem to have been permitted to go into his own pocket. He was naturally proud of the exploit, but it may be feared that it made the end certain.

Of the merits of the Napoleon (the second edition of which, by the way, carried its profits to eighteen thousand pounds) it is perhaps not necessary to say very much. I should imagine that few living persons have read it word for word through, and I confess very frankly that I have not done so myself, though I think I have read enough to qualify me for judging it. It is only unworthy of its author in the sense that one feels it to have been not in the least the work that he was born to do. It is nearly as good, save for the technical inferiority of Scott's prose style, as the historical work of Southey, and very much better than the historical work of Campbell and Moore. The information is sufficient, the narrative clear, and the author can at need rise to very fair eloquence, or at least rhetoric. But it is too long to be read, as one reads Southey's Nelson, for its merits as biography, and not technically authoritative enough to be an exhaustive work of reference from the military, diplomatic, and political side. Above all, one cannot read a page without remembering that there were living then in England at least a dozen men who could have done it better,—Grote, Thirlwall, Mitford, Arnold, Hallam, Milman, Lingard, Palgrave, Turner, Roscoe, Carlyle, Macaulay, to mention only the most prominent, and mention them at random, were all alive and of man's estate,—and probably scores who could have done it nearly or quite as well; while there was not one single man living, in England or in the world, who was capable of doing the work which Scott, if not as capable as ever, was still capable of doing like no one before and scarcely any one after him.

Take, for instance, Woodstock itself. In a very quaint, characteristic, agreeable, and, as criticism, worthless passage of Wild Wales, Borrow has stigmatised it as 'trash.' I only wish we had more such trash outside the forty-eight volumes of the Waverley Novels, or were likely to have more. The book, of course, has certain obvious critical faults—which are not in the least what made Borrow object to it. Although Scott, and apparently Ballantyne, liked the catastrophe, it has always seemed to me one of his worst examples of 'huddling up.' For it is historically and dramatically impossible that Cromwell should change his mind, or that Pearson and Robbins should wish to thwart severity which, considering the death of Humgudgeon, had a good deal more excuse than Oliver often thought necessary. Nor may the usual, and perhaps a little more than the usual, shortcomings in construction be denied. But as of old, and even more than on some occasions of old, the excellences of character, description, dialogue, and incident are so great as to atone over and over again for defects of the expected kind. If Everard has something of that unlucky quality which the author recognised in Malcolm Graeme when he said, 'I ducked him in the lake to give him something to do; but wet or dry I could make nothing of him,' Alice is quite of the better class of his heroines; and from her we ascend to personages in whose case there is very little need of apology and proviso. Sir Henry Lee, Wildrake, Cromwell himself, Charles, may not satisfy others, but I am quite content with them; and the famous scene where Wildrake is a witness to Oliver's half-confession seems to me one of its author's greatest serious efforts. Trusty Tomkins, perhaps, might have been a little better; he comes somewhat under the ban of some unfavourable remarks which Reginald Heber makes in his diary on this class of Scott's figures, though the good bishop seems to me to have been rather too severe. But the pictures of Woodstock Palace and Park have that indescribable and vivid charm which Scott, without using any of the 'realist' minuteness or 'impressionist' contortions of later days, has the faculty of communicating to such things. For myself, I can say—and I am sure I may speak for hundreds—that Tullyveolan, Ellangowan, the Bewcastle moor where Bertram rescued Dandie, Clerihugh's, Monkbarns (I do not see Knockwinnock so clearly), the home of the Osbaldistones, and the district from Aberfoyle to Loch Ard, the moors round Drumclog, Torquilstone, and, not to make the list tedious, a hundred other places, including Woodstock itself, are as real as if I had walked over every inch of the ground and sat in every room of the houses. In some cases I have never seen the supposed originals, in others, I have recognised them as respectable, though usually inferior, representatives of Scott's conceptions. But in any case these are all real, all possessions, all part of the geographical and architectural furniture of the mind. They are like the wood in the 'Dream of Fair Women': one knows the flowers, one knows the leaves, one knows the battlements and the windows, the platters and the wine-cups, the cabinets and the arras. They are, like all the great places of literature, like Arden and Elsinore, like the court before Agamemnon's palace, and that where the damsel said to Sir Launcelot, 'Fair knight, thou art unhappy,' our own—our own to 'pass freely through until the end of time.'

It must not be forgotten in this record of his work that Scott wrote 'Bonnie Dundee' in the very middle of his disaster, and that he had not emerged from the first shock of that disaster, when the astonishingly clever Letters of Malachi Malagrowther appeared. Of the reasonableness of their main purpose—a strenuous opposition to the purpose of doing away, in Scotland as in England, with notes of a less denomination than five pounds—I cannot pretend to judge. It is possible that suppressed rage at his own misfortunes found vent, and, for him, very healthy vent, while it did harm to no one, in a somewhat too aggressive patriotism, of a kind more particularist than was usual with him. But the fire and force of the writing are so great, the alternations from seriousness to humour, from denunciation to ridicule, so excellently managed, that there are few better specimens of this particular kind of pamphlet. As for 'Bonnie Dundee,' there are hardly two opinions about that. As a whole, it may not be quite equal to 'Lochinvar,' to which it forms such an excellent pendant, and which it so nearly resembles in rhythm. But the best of it is equal as poetry, and perhaps superior as meaning. And it admirably completes in verse the tribute long before paid by Old Mortality in prose, to the 'last and best of Scots,' as Dryden called him in the noble epitaph,[46] which not improbably inspired Scott himself to do what he could to remove the vulgar aspersions on the fame of the hero of Killiecrankie.

Moreover, according to his wont, Scott had barely finished, indeed he had not finished, the Napoleon before he had arranged for new work of two different kinds; and he was soon, without a break, actually engaged upon both tasks, one of them among the happiest things he ever undertook, and the other containing, at least, one piece of his most interesting work. These were the Tales of a Grandfather and the Chronicles of the Canongate. Both supplied him with his tasks, his daily allowance of 'leaves,'[38] for great part of 1827, and both were finished and the Chronicles actually published, before the end of it.[39]

For the actual stories comprising these Chronicles I have never cared much. The chief in point of size, the Surgeon's Daughter, deals with Indian scenes, of which Scott had no direct knowledge, and in connection with which there was no interesting literature to inspire him. It appears to me almost totally uninteresting, more so than Castle Dangerous itself. The Two Drovers and The Highland Widow have more merit; but they are little more than anecdotes.[40] On the other hand, the 'Introduction' to these Chronicles, with the history of their supposed compiler, Mr. Chrystal Croftangry, is a thing which I should be disposed to put on a level with his very greatest work. Much is admittedly personal reminiscence of himself and his friends, handled not with the clumsy and tactless directness of reporting, which has ruined so many novels, but in the great transforming way of Fielding and Thackeray. Chrystal's early thoughtless life, the sketch of his ancestry (said to represent the Scotts of Raeburn), the agony of Mr. Somerville, suggested partly by the last illness of Scott's father, the sketches of Janet M'Evoy and Mrs. Bethune Baliol (Mrs. Murray Keith of Ravelston), the visit to the lost home,—all these things are treated not merely with consummate literary effect, but with a sort of sourdine accompaniment of heart-throbs which only the dullest ear can miss. Nor, as we see from the Diary, were the author's recent misfortunes, and his sojourn in a moral counterpart of the Deserted Garden of his friend Campbell, the only disposing causes of this. He had in several ways revived the memory of his early love, Lady Forbes, long since dead. Her husband had been among the most active of his business friends in arranging the compromise with creditors, and was shortly (though Scott did not know it) to discharge privately the claim of the recalcitrant Jew bill-broker Abud, who threatened Sir Walter's personal liberty. Her mother, Lady Jane Stuart, had renewed acquaintance with him, and very soon after the actual publication sent him some MS. memorials of the days that were long enough ago—memorials causing one of those paroxysms of memory which are the best of all things for a fairly hale and happy man, but dangerous for one whom time and ill-luck have shaken.[41] He had, while the Chronicles were actually a-writing, revisited St. Andrews, and, while his companions were climbing St. Rule's Tower, had sat on a tombstone and thought how he carved her name in Runic letters thirty-four years before. In short, all the elements, sentimental and circumstantial, of the moment of literary projection were present, and the Introduction was no vulgar piece of 'chemic gold.'

The delightful and universally known Tales of a Grandfather present no such contrasts of literary merit, and were connected with no such powerful but exhausting emotions of the mind. They originated in actual stories told to 'Hugh Littlejohn,' they were encouraged by the fact that there was no popular and readable compendium of Scottish history, they came as easily from his pen as the Napoleon had run with difficulty, and are as far removed from hack-work as that vast and, to his creditors, profitable compilation must be pronounced to be on the whole near to it. The book, of course, is not in the modern sense strictly critical, though it must be remembered that the authorities for at least the earlier history of Scotland are so exceedingly few and meagre, that criticism of the saner kind has very little to fasten upon. But in this book eminently, in the somewhat later compilation for Lardner's Cyclopaedia to a rather less degree, this absence of technical criticism is more than made up by Scott's knowledge of humanity, by the divining power, so to say, which his combined affection for the subject and general literary skill gave him, and by that singularly shrewd and pervading common sense which in him was so miraculously united with the poetical and romantic gift. I was pleased, but not at all surprised, when, some year or so ago, I asked a professed historian, and one of the best living authorities on the particular subject, what he thought of the general historic effect of Scott's work, to find him answer without the slightest hesitation that it was about the soundest thing, putting mere details aside, that exists on the matter. It may be observed, in passing, that the later compilation referred to was a marked example of the way in which Scott could at this time 'coin money.' He was offered a thousand pounds for one of the Lardner volumes; and as his sketch swelled beyond the limit, he received fifteen hundred. The entire work, much of which was simple paraphrase of the Tales, occupied him, it would seem, about six working weeks, or not quite so much. Can it be wondered that both before and after the crash this power of coining money should have put him slightly out of focus with pecuniary matters generally? Mediaeval and other theorisers on usury have been laughed at for their arguments as to the 'unnatural' nature of usurious gain, and its consequent evil. One need not be superstitious more than reason, to scent a certain unnaturalness in the gift of turning paper into gold in this other way also. Every peau de chagrin has a faculty of revenging itself on the possessor.

For the time, however, matters went with Scott as swimmingly as they could with a man who, by his own act, was, as he said, 'eating with spoons and reading books that were not his own,' and yet earning by means absolutely within his control, and at his pleasure to exercise or not, some twenty thousand a year. The Fair Maid of Perth, a title which has prevailed over what was its first, St. Valentine's Eve, and has entirely obscured the fact that it was issued as a second series of the Chronicles of the Canongate, provided money for a new scheme. This scheme, outlined by Constable himself, and now carried out by Cadell and accepted by Scott's trustees, was for buying in the outstanding copyrights belonging to the bankrupt firm, and issuing the entire series of novels, with new introductions and notes by Scott himself, with attractive illustrations and in a cheap and handy form. Scott himself usually designates the plan as the Magnum Opus, or more shortly (and perhaps not without remembrance of more convivial days) 'the Magnum'. The Fair Maid itself was very well received, and seems to have kept its popularity as well as any of the later books. Indeed, the figures of the Smith, of Oliver Proudfute (the last of Scott's humorous-pathetic characters), of the luckless Rothsay, and of Ramornie (who very powerfully affected a generation steeped in Byronism), are all quite up to the author's 'best seconds.' The opening and the close are quite excellent, especially the fight on the North Inch and 'Another for Hector!' and the middle part is full of attractive bits of the old kind. But Conachar-Eachin is rather a thing of shreds and patches, and the entire episode of Father Clement and the heresy business is dragged in with singularly little initial excuse, valid connection, or final result.

We have unluckily no diary for the last half of 1828, after Scott returned from a long stay with the Lockharts in London, and we thus hear little of the beginnings of the next novel, Anne of Geierstein. When the Journal begins again, complaints are heard from Ballantyne. Alterations (which Scott always loathed, and which certainly are detestable things) became or were thought necessary, and when the poor Maid of the Mist at length appeared in May 1829, she was dismissed by her begetter very unkindly, as 'not a good girl like the other Annes'—his daughter and her cousin, fille de Thomas, who were living with him. The book was not at all ill received, but Lockhart is apologetic about it, and it has been the habit of criticism since to share the opinions of 'Aldiborontiphoscophormio.'[45] I cannot agree with this, and should put Anne of Geierstein—as a mere romance and not counting the personal touches which exalt Redgauntlet and the Introduction to the Chronicles—on a level with anything, and above most things, later than The Pirate. Its chief real fault is not so much bad construction—it is actually more, not less, well knit than The Fair Maid of Perth,—as the too great predominance of merely episodic and unnecessary things and persons, like the Vehmgericht and King's Rene's court. Its merits are manifold. The opening storm and Arthur's rescue by Anne, as well as the quarrel with Rudolf, are excellent; the journey (though too much delayed by the said Rudolf's tattlings), with the sojourn at Grafslust and the adventures at La Ferette, ranks with Scott's many admirable journeys, and high among them; Queen Margaret is nobly presented (I wish Shakespeare, Lancastrian that he was, had had the chance of versifying the scene where she flings the feather and the rose to the winds, as a pendant to 'I called thee then vain shadow of my fortune'); and not only Philipson's rattling peal of thunder to wake Charles the Bold from his stupor, but the Duke's final scenes, come well up to the occasion. Earlier, Scott would not have made Rene quite such a mere old fool, and could have taken the slight touch of pasteboard and sawdust out of the Black Priest of St. Paul's. But these are small matters, and the whole merits of the book are not small. Even Arthur and Anne are above, not below, the usual hero and heroine.

The gap in the Journal for the last half of 1828 is matched by another and more serious one for nearly a twelvemonth, from July 1829 to May 1830, a period during which Sir Walter's health went from bad to worse, and in which he lost his Abbotsford factotum, Tom Purdie. But the first six months of 1829, and perhaps a little more, are among its pleasantest parts. The shock of the failure and of his wife's death were, as far as might be, over; he had resumed the habit of seeing a fair amount of society; his work, though still busily pursued, was less killing than during the composition of the Napoleon; and his affairs were looking almost rosily. A first distribution, of thirty-two thousand pounds at once, had been made among the creditors. Cadell's scheme of the Magnum—wisely acquiesced in by the trustees, and facilitated by a bold purchase at auction of Constable's copyrights for some eight thousand pounds, and later, of those of the poems from Longmans for about the same or a little less—was turning out a great success. They had counted on a sale of eight thousand copies; they had to begin with twelve thousand, and increase it to twenty, while the number ultimately averaged thirty-five thousand. The work of annotation and introduction was not hard, and was decidedly interesting.

Unluckily, irreparable mischief had already been done, and when the Diary begins again, we soon see signs of it. The actual beginning of the end had occurred before the resumption, on February 15, 1830, when Sir Walter had, in the presence of his daughter and of Miss Violet Lockhart, experienced an attack of an apoplectic-paralytic character, from which he only recovered by much blood-letting and starvation. There can be little doubt that this helped to determine him to do what he had for some time meditated, and resign his place at the Clerk's table: nor perhaps could he have well done otherwise. But the results were partly unfortunate. The work had been very trifling, and had saved him from continual drudgery indoors at home, while it incidentally provided him with society and change of scene. He was now to live at Abbotsford,—for neither his means nor his health invited an Edinburgh residence when it was not necessary,—with surroundings only too likely to encourage 'thick-coming fancies,' out of reach of immediate skilled medical attendance, and with very dangerous temptations to carry on the use of his brain, which was now becoming almost deadly. Yet he would never give in. The pleasant and not exhausting task of arranging the Magnum (which was now bringing in from eight to ten thousand a year for the discharge of his debts) was supplemented by other things, especially Count Robert of Paris, and a book on Demonology for Murray's Family Library.

This last occupied him about the time of his seizure, and after the Diary was resumed, it was published in the summer of 1830. Scott was himself by this time conscious of a sort of aphasia of the pen (the direct result of the now declared affection of his brain), which prevented him from saying exactly what he wished in a connected manner; and the results of this are in part evident in the book. But it must always remain a blot, quite unforgivable and nearly inexplicable, on the memory of Wilson, that 'Christopher North' permitted himself to comment on some lapses in logic and style in a way which would have been rather that side of good manners and reasonable criticism in the case of a mere beginner in letters. It is true that he and Scott were at no time very intimate friends, and that there were even some vague antipathies between them. But Wilson had been deeply obliged to Scott in the matter of his professorship;[44] he at least ought to have been nearly as well aware as we are of the condition of his benefactor's health; and even if he had known nothing of this, the rest of Sir Walter's circumstances were known to all the world, and should surely have secured silence. But it seems that Wilson was for the moment in a pet with Lockhart, to whom the Letters on Demonology were addressed, and so he showed, as he seldom, but sometimes did, the 'black drop,' which in his case, though not in Lockhart's, marred at times a generally healthy and noble nature. As a matter of fact, it needs either distinct malevolence or silly hypercriticism to find any serious fault with the Demonology. If not a masterpiece of scientific treatment in reference to a subject which hardly admits of any such thing, it is an exceedingly pleasant and amusing and a by no means uninstructive medley of learning, traditional anecdote, reminiscence, and what not, on a matter which, as we know, had interested the writer from very early days, and which he regarded from his usual and invaluable combined standpoint of shrewd sense and poetical appreciation.

The decay, now not to be arrested, though its progress was comparatively slow, was more evident in the last two works of fiction which Scott completed, Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous. Against the first ending of the former (we do not possess it, so we cannot criticise their criticism) Ballantyne and Cadell formally protested, and Scott rewrote a great deal of it by dictation to Laidlaw. The loss of command both of character and of story-interest is indeed very noticeable. But the opening incident at the Golden Gate, the interview of the Varangian with the Imperial family, the intrusion of Count Robert, and, above all, his battle with the tiger and liberation from the dungeon of the Blachernal, with some other things, show that astonishing power of handling single incidents which was Scott's inseparable gift, and which seems to have accompanied him throughout to the very eve of his death. The much briefer Castle Dangerous (which is connected with an affecting visit of Scott and Lockhart to the tombs of the Douglases) is too slight to give room for very much shortcoming. Its chief artistic fault is the happy ending—for though a romancer is in no respect bound to follow his text exactly, and happy endings are quite good things, yet it is rather too much to turn upside down the historic catastrophe of the Good Lord James's fashion of warfare. Otherwise the book is more noticeable for a deficiency of spirit, life, and light—for the evidence of shadow and stagnation falling over the once restless and brilliant scene—than for anything positively bad.

These two books were mainly dictated, the paralytic affection having injured the author's power of handwriting,[43] to William Laidlaw between the summer of 1830 and the early autumn of 1831, increasing weakness, and the demands of the Magnum, preventing more speed. The last pages of Castle Dangerous contain Scott's farewell, and the announcement to the public of that voyage to Italy which had actually begun when the novels appeared in the month of November.

The period between the fatal seizure and the voyage to the Mediterranean has not much diary concerning it, but has been related with inimitable judgment and sympathy by Lockhart. It was, even putting failing health and obscured mental powers aside, not free from 'browner shades'; for the Reform agitation naturally grieved Sir Walter deeply, while on two occasions he was the object of popular insult and on one of popular violence. Both were at Jedburgh; but the blame is put upon intrusive weavers from Hawick. The first, a meeting of Roxburghshire freeholders, saw nothing worse than unmannerly interruption of a speech made partially unintelligible by the speaker's failing articulation. He felt it bitterly, and when hissing was repeated as he bowed farewell, is said to have replied, low, but now quite distinctly, 'Moriturus vos saluto!' On the second, the election after the throwing out of the first Bill, he was stoned, spat upon, and greeted with cries of 'Burke Sir Walter.'[42] Natural indignation has often been expressed at this behaviour towards the best neighbour and the greatest man in Scotland—behaviour which, as we know, haunted him on his deathbed; but it is to be presumed that the persons who thus proclaimed their cause knew the line of conduct most worthy of it.

It does not appear with absolute certainty who first suggested the Italian journey. It could not have been expected to produce any radical cure; but it seems to have been hoped that change of scene would prevent the patient from indulging in that attempt to write from which at Abbotsford it was impossible to keep him, though it was simply slow, and not so very slow, suicide. The wishes of his family were most kindly and generously met by the Government of the day, among whose members he had many personal friends, though political opponents; and the frigate Barham, a cut-down seventy-four, which had the credit of being one of the smartest vessels in the navy, was assigned to take him to Malta. He had, before he left Abbotsford itself, an affecting interview with Wordsworth, which occasioned Yarrow Revisited and the beautiful sonnet, 'A trouble, not of clouds or weeping rain,' and had no doubt part in the initiation of the last really great thing that Wordsworth ever wrote—the Effusion on the deaths of Hogg, Coleridge, Crabbe, Lamb, and Scott himself, in 1835. Some stay was made with the Lockharts in London, and a little at Portsmouth, waiting for a wind; but the final departure took place on October 29, 1831.

Scott was abroad for the best part of a year, the time being chiefly made out in visits of some length to Malta, Naples, and Rome. We have a good deal of diary for this period, and it, even more than the subsidiary documents and Lockhart's summary of no doubt much that is unpublished, betrays the state of the case. Every now and then—indeed, for long passages—there is nothing very different from the matter to which, since the first warning in 1818, we have been accustomed. Scott is, if not the infinitely various but never mutable Scott of the earlier years, still constant in fun and kindness, in quaint erudition and hearty friendship, though he is all this in a slightly deadened and sicklied degree. But there are strange breaks-down and unfamiliar touches, now of almost querulous self-concern (the thing most foreign to his earlier nature), as where he complains that his companions, his son and daughter, 'are neither desirous to follow his amusements nor anxious that he should adopt theirs'; now of still more foreign callousness, as where he dismisses the news of the death of Hugh Littlejohn, whose illnesses earlier had been almost his chief anxiety, and records in the same entry that he 'went to the opera.' The passage in the Introduction to the Chronicles, written not so very long before, traces with an almost horrible exactness the changes which were now taking place in himself. Moreover, he would resume the pen; and, first in Malta, then at Naples, began and went far to complete two new novels, The Siege of Malta and Il Bizarro, which, I suppose, are still at Abbotsford, with Lockhart's solemn curse on the person who shall publish them. He had now (it does not seem clear on what grounds, or by what stages) confirmed himself in the belief that he had paid off all his debts, instead of nearly half of them.[37] And he founded divers schemes on the profits of these works, added to the (as he thought) liberated returns of the Magnum; and even revived his notions of buying Faldonside with its thousand acres, and 'holding all Tweed-bank, from Ettrick-foot to Calla weel.' Feted, too, as he was, and in this condition of mind, it seems to have been difficult for his companions to make him observe the absolute temperance in food and drink which was as necessary to the staving off of the end as abstinence from brain-work; and it must be regarded as a signal proof of the extraordinary strength of his constitution that it resisted as long as it did.

At last, and of course suddenly, came the final warning of all: the occurrence, without notice, of an almost agonising home-sickness. The party travelled by land, as speedily as they could, to the Channel, a last attack of apoplectic paralysis taking place at Nimeguen; and after crossing it and reaching London, Sir Walter was taken by sea to the Forth, and thence home. The actual end was delayed but very little longer, and it has been told by Lockhart in one of those capital passages of English literature on which it is folly to attempt to improve or even to comment, and which, a hundred times quoted, can never be stale. Sir Walter Scott died at Abbotsford on September 21, 1832, and was buried four days later at Dryburgh, a post-mortem examination having disclosed considerable softening of the brain.

There remained unpaid at his death about fifty-five thousand pounds of the Ballantyne debts, besides private encumbrances on Abbotsford, etc., including the ten thousand which Constable had extracted, he knowing, from Scott unknowing, the extent of the ruin, in the hours just before it. The falling in of assurances cleared off two-fifths of this balance, and Cadell discharged the rest on the security of the Magnum, which was equal, though not much more than equal, to the burden in the longrun. Thus, if Scott's exertions during the last seven years of his life had benefited his own pocket, his ambition—whether wise or foolish, persons more confident in their judgment of human wishes than the present writer must decide—would have been amply fulfilled, and his son, supposing the money to have been invested with ordinary care and luck, would have been left a baronet and squire, with at least six or seven thousand a year. As it was, he did not succeed to much more than the title, a costly house, and a not very profitable estate, burdened, though not heavily, with mortgages. This burden was reduced by the good sense of the managers of the English memorial subscription to Scott, who devoted the six or seven thousand pounds, remaining after some embezzlement, to clearing off the encumbrances as far as possible. The chief result of many Scottish tributes of the same kind was the well-known Scott Monument on the edge of Princes Street Gardens, which has the great good luck to be one of the very few not unsatisfactory things of the kind in the British Islands. By mishap rather than neglect, no monument in Westminster Abbey was erected for the greater part of the century; but one has been at last set up in May of the present year.

FOOTNOTES:

[37] This is a translation, of course; but if anyone will compare Pitcairn's Latin and Dryden's English, he will see where the poetry comes in.

[38] He wrote on sheets of a large quarto size, in a very small and close hand, so that his usual 'task' of six 'leaves' meant about thirty pages of print, though not very small or close print.

[39] It was early in this year, on February 23, at a Theatrical Fund dinner, that he made public avowal of the authorship of Waverley.

[40] Cadell did not like any of them much, and objected still more to others intended to follow them. Sir Walter, therefore, kept these back, and gave them later to Heath's Keepsake. They now appear with their intended companions: the slightest, The Tapestried Chamber, is perhaps the best.

[41] Compare Diary, 1827, Nov. 7 ('I fairly softened myself like an old fool with recalling old stories, till I was fit for nothing but shedding tears and repeating verses the whole night'), with the famous couplet in 'Rose Aylmer'—

'A night of memories and of sighs I consecrate to thee.'

[42] Scott's name for James Ballantyne, as 'Rigdumfunnidos' was for John.

[43] See his own unqualified and almost too gushing acknowledgment of this ten years before, in the Familiar Letters, ii. 84-85, note.

[44] It had also caused great and very painful trouble in his lame leg, which from this time onwards had to be mechanically treated.

[45] The Burke and Hare murders were recent.

[46] The success of the Magnum had allowed a second large dividend to be paid, and the creditors had been generous enough to restore Scott's forks, spoons, and books to him.



CHAPTER VII

CONCLUSION

It is natural—indeed the feeling is not merely easy of excuse, but entitled to respect—that 'the pity of it,' the sombre close of so brilliant a career as Scott's, should attract somewhat disproportionate attention. Thus readers of his life are drawn more especially either to sorrow for his calamities, or to admiration of this stoutest of all hearts set to nearly the stiffest of all hills, or to casuistical debate on the 'dram of eale' that brought about his own share in causing his misfortunes. Undoubtedly, none of these things ought to escape our attention. But, in the strict court of literary and critical audit, they must not have more than their share. As a matter of fact, Scott's work was almost finished—nothing distinctly novel in kind and first-rate in quality, except the Tales of a Grandfather and the Introduction to the Chronicles, remained to be added to it—when that fatal bill of Constable's was suffered by Hurst & Robinson to be returned. And the trials which followed, though they showed the strength, the nobleness, the rare balance and solidity of his character, did not create these virtues, which had been formed and established by habit long before. Respice finem is not here a wise, at least a sufficient, maxim: we must look along the whole line to discern satisfactorily and thoroughly what manner of man this was in life and in letters.

What manner of man he was physically is pretty well-known from his originally numerous and almost innumerably reproduced and varied portraits; not extremely tall, but of a goodly height, somewhat shortened by his lameness and massive make, the head being distinguished by a peculiar domed, or coned, cranium. This made 'Lord Peter' Robertson give him the nickname of 'Peveril of the Peak,' which he himself after a little adopted, and which, shortened to 'Peveril,' was commonly used by his family. His expression, according to the intelligence of those who saw him and the mood in which he found himself, has been variously described as 'heavy,' 'homely,' and in more complimentary terms. But the more appreciative describers recognise the curiously combined humour, shrewdness, and kindliness which animated features naturally irregular and quite devoid of what his own generation would have called 'chiselled elegance.' He himself asserts—and it seems to be the fact—that from the time of the disappearance of his childish maladies to the attack of cramp, or gallstones, or whatever the evil was which came on in 1818, and from which he never really recovered, his health was singularly robust; and he appears as quite a young man to have put it to considerable, though not excessive, tests.

His conversation, like his countenance, has been variously characterised, and it is probable that the complexion of both depended, even more than it does with most men, on his company. He is acknowledged never to have 'talked for victory,' an evil and barbarous practice, which the Edinburgh wits seem to have caught from their great enemy and guest, Dr. Johnson; to have (like all good men) simply abominated talking about his own works, or indeed bookishly at all, full as his conversation was of literature; and, though a great tale-teller, to have been no monopoliser of the conversation in any way. He admits having been in youth and early middle age not disinclined to solitude,—and he does not appear to have at any time liked miscellaneous society much, though he prided himself, and very justly, on having, from all but his earliest youth, frequented many kinds of it, including the best. The perfect ease of his correspondence with all sorts and conditions of men and women may have owed something to this; but, no doubt, it owed as much to the happy peculiarities and composition of his nature and temperament.

The only fault or faults of which he has been accused with any plausibility are those which attend or proceed from a somewhat too high estimate of rank and of riches;—that is to say, a too great eagerness to obtain these things, and at the same time a too great deference for those who possessed them. From avarice, in any of the ordinary senses of the word, he was, indeed, entirely free. His generosity, if not absolutely and foolishly indiscriminate, was extraordinary, and as unostentatious as it was lavish. He certainly had no delight in hoarding money, and his personal tastes, except in so far as books, 'curios,' and so forth were concerned, were of the simplest possible. Yet, as we have seen, he was never quite content with an income which, after very early years, was always competent, and when he launched into commercial ventures, already, in prospect at least, considerable; while in the one article of spending money on house and lands he was admittedly excessive. So, too, he seems to have been really indifferent about his title, except as an adjunct to these possessions, and as something transmissible to, and serving to distinguish, the family he longed to found. Yet no instance of the slightest servility on his part to rank—much less to riches—has been produced. His address, no doubt, both in writing and conversation, was more ceremonious than would now be customary. But it must be remembered that this was then a point of good manners, and that 'your Lordship' and 'my noble friend,' even between persons intimate with each other and on the common footing of gentlemen, were then phrases as proper and usual in private as they still are in public life.[51] Attempts have been made to excuse his attitude, on the plea that it was inherited from his father (vide the scene between Saunders Fairford and Herries), that it was national, that it was this, that, and the other. For my own part, I have never read or heard of any instance of it which seemed to me to exceed the due application to etiquette of the rule of distributive justice, to give every man his own. Scott, I think, would have accepted the principle, though not the application, of the sentence of Timoleon de Cosse, Duke of Brissac—'God has made thee a gentleman, and the king has made thee a duke.' And he honoured God and the king by behaving accordingly.

Of his infinite merits as a host and a guest, as a friend and as a relation, there is a superabundance of evidence. It does not appear that he ever lost an old friend; and though, like most men who have more talent for friendship than for acquaintance, he did not latterly make many new ones, the relations existing between himself and Lockhart are sufficient proof of his faculty of playing the most difficult of all parts, that of elder friend to younger. I have said above that, though in no sense touchy, he was a very dangerous person to take a liberty with; he adopted to the full the morality of his time about duelling, though he disapproved of it;[49] he was in all respects a man of the world, yet without guile.

It is, moreover, quite certain that Scott, though never talking much about religion (as, indeed, he never talked much about any of the deeper feelings of the heart), was a man very sincerely religious. He was not a metaphysician in any way, and therefore had no special inclination towards that face or summit of metaphysics which is called theology. And it is pretty clear that he had towards disputed points of doctrine, ceremony, and discipline, a not sharply or decidedly formulated attitude. But there is no doubt whatever that he was a thoroughly and sincerely orthodox Christian, and there are some slight escapes of confession unawares in his private writings, which show in what thorough conformity with his death his life had been. Few men have ever so well observed the one-half of the apostle's doctrine as to pure religion; and if he did not keep himself (in the matter of the secret partnership and others) altogether unspotted from the world, the sufferings of his last seven years may surely be taken as a more than sufficient purification. More blameless morally, I think, few men have been; fewer still better equipped with the positive virtues. And, above all, we must recognise in Scott (if we have any power of such recognition) what has been already called a certain nobleness, a certain natural inclination towards all things high, and great, and pure, and of good report, which is rarer still than negative blamelessness or even than positive virtue.

To speak of Scott's politics is a little difficult and perhaps a little dangerous; yet they played so large a part in his life and work that the subject can hardly be omitted, especially as it comes just between those aspects of him which we have already discussed, and those to which we are coming. It has sometimes been disputed whether his Toryism was much more than mere sentiment; and of course there were not wanting in his own day fellows of the baser sort who endeavoured to represent it as mere self-interest. But no impartial person nowadays, I suppose, doubts, however meanly he may think of Scott's political creed, that that creed was part, not of his interests, not even of his mere crotchets and crazes, literary and other, but of his inmost heart and soul. That reverence for the past, that distaste for the vulgar, that sense of continuity, of mystery, of something beyond interest and calculation, which the worst foes of Toryism would, I suppose, allow to be its nobler parts, were the blood of Scott's veins, the breath of his nostrils, the marrow of his bones. My friend Mr. Lang thinks that Scott's Toryism is dead, that no successor has arisen on its ruins, that it was, in fact, almost a private structure, of which he was the architect, a tree fated to fall with its planter. Perhaps; but perhaps also

'The Little Tower with no such ease Is won';

and there are enough still to keep watch and ward of it.

But we have of course here to look even more to his mental character than to his moral, to do with him rather as a man of genius than as a 'man of good,' though it is impossible to overlook, and difficult to overestimate, his singular eminence as both combined. Of his actual literary accomplishment, something like a detailed view has been given in this little book, and of some of its separate departments estimates have been attempted.[48] But we may, or rather must, gather all these up here. Nor can we proceed better than by the old way of inquiry—first, What were the peculiar characteristics of his thought? and, secondly, What distinguished his expression of this thought?

As to the first point, it has been pretty generally admitted—though the admissions have in some cases been carried almost too far—that we are not to look for certain things in Scott. We are not to look for any elaborately or at least scholastically minute faculty or practice of analysis or of argument. But to proceed from this to a general denial of 'philosophy' to him—that is to say, to allow him a merely superficial knowledge of human nature—is an utter mistake. I have quoted elsewhere, but the book from which the quotation is made is so rare that I may well quote here again, some remarkable words on this subject from M. Milsand, Mr. Browning's friend, and the recipient of the Dedication of the reprint of Sordello.[50] It is certain that this praise might be supported with a large anthology of passages in the novels and even the poems—passages indicating an anthropological science as intimate as it is unpretentiously expressed. To some good folk in our days, who think that nothing can be profound which is naturally and simply spoken, and who demand that a human philosopher shall speak gibberish and wear his boots on his brows, the fact may be strange, but it is a fact. And it may be added that even if chapter and verse could not thus be produced, a sufficient proof, the most sufficient possible, could be otherwise provided. Scott, by the confession of all competent judges, save a very few, has created almost more men and women, undoubtedly real and lifelike, than any other prose novelist. Now you cannot create a man or a woman without knowing whereof a man and a woman are made, though the converse proposition is unfortunately by no means so universally predicable. He was content, as a rule, to put this great science of his into practice rather than to expound it in theory, to demonstrate it rather than to lecture on it, but that is all.

In the second place, we are not to look to him for any great intensity of delineation of passion, especially in the sense to which that word is more commonly confined. He has nowhere left us (as some other men of letters have) any hint that he abstained from doing this because the passion would have been so tremendous that it was on the whole best for mankind that they should not be exposed to it. The qualities of humour and of taste which were always present with Scott would have prevented this. But I should doubt whether he felt any temptation to unbosom himself, or any need to do so. The slight hints given at the time of the combined action of his misfortunes and the agitation arising from his renewed communications with Lady Jane Stuart, are almost all the indications that we have on the subject, and they are too slight to found any theory upon. It is evident that this was not his vein, or that, if the vein was there, he did not choose to work it.

To pass from negations to positives, the region in which Scott's power of conception and expression did lie, and which he ruled with wondrous range and rarely equalled power, was a strangely united kingdom of common-sense fact and fanciful or traditional romance. No writer who has had such a sense of the past, of tradition, of romantic literature, has had such a grasp of the actual working motives and conduct of mankind; none who has had the latter has even come near to his command of the former. We may take Spenser and Fielding as the princes of these separate principalities in English literature, and though each had gifts that Scott had not,—though Scott had gifts possessed by neither,—yet if we could conceive Spenser and Fielding blended, the blend would, I think, come nearer to Scott's idiosyncrasy than anything else that can be imagined. He had advanced (or rather returned) from that one-sided eighteenth-century conception of nature which was content to know human nature pretty thoroughly up to a certain point, and to dismiss 'prospects,' in Johnson's scornful language to Thrale, as one just like the other. But he had retained the eighteenth-century grasp of man himself, while recovering the path to the Idle Lake and the Cave of Despair, to the many-treed wood through which Una and her knight journeyed, and the Rich Strand where all the treasures of antiquity lay. We may think—apparently some of us do think—that we have improved on him in the recovery, and even in the retaining grasp. The fact of the improvement on him will take a great deal of proving, I am inclined to think; of the fact of his achievement there is no doubt.

If I must select Scott's special literary characteristic, next to that really magical faculty of placing scenes and peopling them with characters in the memory of his readers which I have noticed before, I should certainly fix on his humour. It is a good old scholastic doctrine, that the greatest merit of anything is to be excellent in the special excellence of its kind. And in that quality which so gloriously differentiates English literature from all others, Scott is never wanting, and is almost always pre-eminent. If his patriotism, intense as it is, is never grotesque or offensive, as patriotism too often is to readers who do not share it; if his pathos never touches the maudlin; if his romantic sentiment is always saved by the sense of solid fact,—and we may assert these things without hesitation or qualification,—it is due to his humour. For this humour, never merely local, never bases its appeal on small private sympathies and understandings and pass-words which leave the world at large cold, or mystified, or even disgusted. Nor is it perhaps uncritical to set down that pre-eminently happy use, without abuse, of dialect, which has attracted the admiration of almost all good judges, to this same humour, warning him alike against the undisciplined profusion and the injudicious selection which have not been and are not unknown in some followers of his. And, further, his universal quality is free from some accompanying drawbacks which must be acknowledged in the humour of some of the other very great humorists. It is not coarse—a defect which has made prigs at all times, and especially at this time, affect horror at Aristophanes; it is not grim, like that of Swift; it is free from any very strong evidences of its owner having lived at a particular date, such as may be detected by the Devil's Advocate even in Fielding, even in Thackeray. No tricks or grimaces, no mere elaboration, no lingering to bespeak applause; but a moment of life and nature subjected to the humour-stamp and left recorded and transformed for ever—there is Scott.

That the necessary counterpart and companion of this breadth of humour should be depth of feeling can be no surprise to those who accept the only sound distinction between humour and wit. Scott himself never wore his heart on his sleeve; but to those who looked a little farther than the sleeve its beatings were sufficiently evident. The Scott who made that memorable exclamation on the Mound, and ejaculated 'No, by——!' at the discovery of the Regalia,[47] who wrote Jeanie's speech to Queen Caroline and Habakkuk Mucklewrath's to Claverhouse, had no need ever to affect emotion, because it was always present, though repressed when it had no business to exhibit itself. And his romantic imagination was as sincere as his pathos or his indignation. He never lost the clue to 'the shores of old romance'; and, at least, great part of the secret which made him such a magician to his readers was that the spell was on himself—that the regions of fancy were as open, as familiar as Princes Street or the Parliament Square to this solid practical Clerk of Session, who avowed that no food could to his taste equal Scotch broth, and in everything but the one fatal delusion was as sound a man of business as ever partook of that nourishing concoction.

In his execution both in prose and verse, but especially, or at least more obviously, in the latter there are certain peculiarities, in the nature (at least partly) of defect, which strike every critical eye at once. At no time, and in no case, was Scott of the order of the careful, anxious miniaturists of work, who repaint every stroke a hundred times, adjust every detail of composition over and over again, and can never have done with rehandling and perfecting. Nor did he belong to that very rare class whose work seems to be, at any rate after a slight apprenticeship, faultless from the first, to whom inelegancies of style, incorrect rhymes, licences of metre—not deliberate and intended to produce the effect they achieve, but the effect of carelessness or of momentary inability to do what is wanted—are by nature or education impossible. His nature did not give him this endowment, and his education was of the very last sort to procure it for him. He himself, not out of pique or conceit, things utterly alien from his nature, still less out of laziness, but, I believe, as a genuine, and, what is more, a correct self-criticism, has left in his private writings repeated expressions of his belief that revision and correction in his case not only did not improve the work, but were in most cases likely to do it positive harm, that the spoon was made or the horn spoiled (to adapt his country proverb) at the first draft, and once for all. I think that this was a correct judgment, and I do not see that it implies any inferiority on his part. It is not as if he ever aimed at the methods of the precisians and failed, as if it was his desire to be a 'correct' writer, a careful observer of proportion and construction, a producer of artful felicities in metre, rhythm, rhyme, phrase. We may yield to no one in the delight of tracing the exact correspondence of strophe and antistrophe in a Greek chorus, the subtle vowel-music of a Latin hymn or a passage of Rossetti's. But I cannot see why, because we rejoice in these things, we should demand them of all poetry, or why, because we rejoice in the faultless construction of Fielding or the exquisite finish of Jane Austen as novelists, we should despise the looser handling and more sweeping touch of Scott in prose fiction. It is extremely probable that, as Mr. Balfour suggested the other day in unveiling the Westminster Abbey monument, this breadth of touch obtained him his popularity abroad, nor need it impair his fame at home.

Unquestionably, though he had many minor gifts and graces, including that of incomparable lyric snatch, from the drums and fifes of 'Lochinvar' and 'Bonnie Dundee' to the elfin music of 'Proud Maisie,' his faculty of weaving a story in prose or in verse, with varied decorations of dialogue and description and character, rather than on a cunning canvas of plot, was Scott's main forte. If it is in verse—and admirable as it is here, I think we must allow it to be—less pre-eminent than in prose, it is, first, because minor formal defects are more felt in verse than in prose; secondly, because the scope of the medium is less; and thirdly, because the medium itself was in reality not what he wanted. The verse romance of Scott is a great achievement and a delightful possession: it has had extraordinary influence on English literature, from the work of Byron, which it directly produced, and which pretty certainly would never have been produced without it, to that of Mr. William Morris, which may not impossibly have been its last echo—transformed and refreshed, but still an echo—for some time to come. But there was a little of the falsetto in it, and the interludes, of which the introductions to Marmion and to the Bridal are the most considerable, show that it gave no outlets, or outlets only awkward, for much of what he wanted to say. He defines his own general literary object admirably in a letter to Morritt. 'I have tried to induce the public to relax some of the rules of criticism, and to be amused with that medley of tragic and comic with which life presents us, not only in the same course of action, but in the same character.' The detailed remarks which have been given in earlier chapters make it unnecessary to bring out the application of this to all his work, both verse and prose. And it need but be pointed out in passing how much more satisfactorily the form of prose fiction lent itself, than the form of verse romance, to the expression of a creed which, as it had been that of Shakespeare, so it was the creed of Scott.

But a few words must be added in reference to the complaint which is often openly made, and which, I understand, is still more often secretly entertained, or taken for proved, by the younger generation—to wit, the complaint that Scott is 'commonplace' and 'conventional,' not merely in thought, but in expression. As to the thought, that is best met by the reply churlish, if not even by the reproof valiant. Scott's thought is never commonplace, and never merely conventional: it can only seem so to those who have given their own judgments in bondage to a conventional and temporary cant of unconventionality. In respect of expression, the complaint will admit of some argument which may best take the form of example. It is perfectly true that Scott's expression is not 'quintessenced'—that it has to a hasty eye an air of lacking what is called distinction; and, especially, that it has no very definite savour of any particular time. At present, as at other periods during the recorded story of literature, there is a marked preference for all these things which it is not; and so Scott is, with certain persons, in disfavour accordingly. But it so happens that the study of this now long record of literature is itself sufficient to convince anyone how treacherous the tests thus suggested are. There never, for instance, was an English writer fuller of all the marks which these, our younger critics, desiderate in Scott, and admire in some authors of our own day, than John Lyly, the author of Euphues, of a large handful of very charming and interesting court dramas, and of some delightful lyrics. Those who have to teach literature impress the importance, and try to impress the interest, of Lyly on students and readers, and they do right. For he was a man not merely of talent, but (with respect to my friend Mr. Courthope, who thinks differently), I think, of genius. He had a poetical fancy, a keen and biting wit, a fairly exact proficiency in the scholarship of his time. He eschewed the obvious, the commonplace in thought, and still more in style, as passionately as any man ever has eschewed it, and, having not merely will and delicacy, but power, he not only achieved an immense temporary popularity, but even influenced the English language permanently. Yet—and those who thus praise him know it—he, the apostle of ornate prose, the model of a whole generation of the greatest wits that England has seen, the master of Shakespeare in more things than one, including romantic comedy, the originator of the English analytic novel, the 'raiser' (as I think they call it) 'of his native language to a higher power,' is dead. We shall never get anybody outside the necessarily small number of those who have cultivated the historic as well as the aesthetic sense in literature, to read him except as a curiosity or a task, because he not merely cultivated art, but neglected nature for it; because he fooled the time to the top of its bent, and let the time fool him in return; because, instead of making the common as though it were not common, he aimed and strained at the uncommon in and per se.

Scott did just the contrary. He never tried to be unlike somebody else; if he hit, as he did hit, upon great new styles of literature,—absolutely new in the case of the historical novel, revived after long trance in the case of the verse tale,—it was from no desire to innovate, but because his genius called him. Though in ordinary ways he was very much a man of his time, he did not contort himself in any fashion by way of expressing a (then) modern spirit, a Georgian idiosyncrasy, or anything of that sort; he was content with the language of the best writers and the thoughts of the best men. He was no amateur of the topsy-turvy, and had not the very slightest desire to show how a literary head could grow beneath the shoulders. He was satisfied that his genius should flow naturally. And the consequence is that it was never checked, that it flows still for us with all its spontaneous charm, and that it will flow in omne volubilis aevum. Among many instances of the strength which accompanied this absence of strain one already alluded to may be mentioned again. Scott is one of the most literary of all writers. He was saturated with reading; nothing could happen but it brought some felicitous quotation, some quaint parallel to his mind from the great wits, or the small, of old. Yet no writer is less bookish than he; none insults his readers less with any parade, with any apparent consciousness of erudition; and he wears his learning so lightly that pedants have even accused him of lacking it because he lacks pedantry. His stream, to resume the simile, carries in solution more reading as well as more wit, more knowledge of life and nature, more gifts of almost all kinds than would suffice for twenty men of letters, yet the very power of its solvent force, as well as the vigour of its current, makes these things comparatively invisible.

In dealing with an author so voluminous and so various in his kinds and subjects of composition, it is a hard matter to say what has to be said within prescribed limits such as these, just as it is still harder to select from so copious a store of biographical information details which may be sufficient, and not more than sufficient, to give a firm and distinct picture of his life. Yet it may perhaps be questioned whether very elaborate handling is necessary for Scott. No man probably, certainly no man of letters, is more of a piece than he. As he has been subjected to an almost unparalleled trial in the revelation of his private thoughts, so his literary powers and performances extend over a range which is unusual, if not absolutely singular, in men of letters of the first rank. Yet he is the same throughout, in romance as in review, in novel as in note-writing. Except his dramatic work, a department for which he seems to have been almost totally unfitted (despite the felicity of his 'Old Play' fragments), nothing of his can be neglected by those who wish to enjoy him to the full. Yet though there is no monotony, there is a uniformity which is all the more delightfully brought out by the minor variations of subject and kind. The last as the first word about Scott should perhaps be, 'Read him. And, as far as may be, read all of him.'

When, in comparatively early days of his acquaintance with Lockhart, Scott, thinking himself near death in the paroxysms of his cramps, bequeathed to his future son-in-law, in the words of the ballad, 'the vanguard of the three,' the duty of burying him and continuing his work, if possible, he had himself limited the heritage to the defence of ancient faith and loyalty—a great one enough. But his is, in fact, a greater. From generation to generation, whosoever determines, in so far as fate and the gods allow, to hold these things fast, and, moreover, to love all good literature, to temper erudition with common sense, to let humour wait always upon fancy, and duty upon romance; whosoever at least tries to be true to the past, to show a bold front to the present, and to let the future be as it may; whosoever 'spurns the vulgar' while endeavouring to be just to individuals, and faces 'the Secret' with neither bravado nor cringing,—he may take, if not the vanguard, yet a place according to his worth and merit, in the legion which this great captain led. Of the frequent parallels or contrasts drawn between him and Shakespeare it is not the least noteworthy that he is, of all men of letters, that one of whom we have the most intimate and the fullest revelation, while of Shakespeare we have the least. There need be very little doubt that if we knew everything about Shakespeare, he would come, as a man of mould might, scathless from the test. But we do know everything, or almost everything, about Scott, and he comes out nearly as well as anyone but a faultless monster could. For all the works of the Lord in literature, as in other things, let us give thanks—for Blake and for Beddoes as well as for Shelley and for Swift. But let everyone who by himself, or by his fathers, claims origin between Tol-Pedn-Penwith and Dunnet Head give thanks, with more energy and more confidence than in any other case save one, for the fact that his is the race and his the language of Sir Walter Scott.

FOOTNOTES:

[47] So, in a still earlier generation, Johnson, after calling his step-daughter 'my dearest love,' and writing in the simplest way, will end, and quite properly, with, 'Madam, your obedient, humble servant.'

[48] He made, as is well known, preparations to 'meet' General Gourgaud, who was wroth about the Napoleon, but who never actually challenged him.

[49] Most injustice has perforce been done to his miscellaneous verse lying outside the great poems, and not all of it included in the novels. It would be impossible to dwell on all the good things, from Helvellyn and The Norman Horseshoe onward; and useless to select a few. Some of his best things are among them: few are without force, and fire, and unstudied melody. The song-scraps, like the mottoes, in his novels are often really marvellous snatches of improvisation.

[50] Il y a plus de philosophie dans ses ecrits ... que dans bon nombre de romans philosophiques.

[51] When some tactless person tried to play tricks with the Crown.



INDEX

SCOTT, SIR WALTER: Ancestry and parentage, 9, 10; birth, 10; infancy, 11; school and college days, ibid.; apprenticeship, ibid.; friends and early occupations, 12, 13; call to the Bar, 12, 14; first love, 14-16; engagement and marriage, 16; briefs, fights, and volunteering, 17; journeys to Galloway and elsewhere, 18, 19; slowness of literary production and its causes, 20, 21; call-thesis and translations of Buerger, 22; reception of these last and their merit, 23; contributes to Tales of Wonder, 24; remarks on Glenfinlas and The Eve of St. John, 25, 26; Goetz von Berlichingen and The House of Aspen, 26; dramatic work generally, 27, note; friendship with Leyden, Ritson, and Ellis, 28; Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 28-33; contributes to the Edinburgh Review, 33-35; his domestic life for the first seven years after his marriage, 35-37; The Lay of the Last Minstrel, 38-46; partnership with Ballantyne, 46-50; children and pecuniary affairs, 50, 51; Clerkship of Session, 51; politics during Fox and Grenville administration, 52; anecdote of, on Mound, ibid.; Marmion, 52-55; coolness with Edinburgh and starting of Quarterly Review, 55, 56; quarrel with Constable, 56, 57; affair of Thomas Scott's appointment, 58, 59; The Lady of the Lake, 59, 60; The Vision of Don Roderick, 61; Rokeby, 61-63; The Lord of the Isles, 63, 64; The Bridal of Triermain, 64-66; Harold the Dauntless, 66, 67; remarks on the verse romances generally, 67, 68; Waverley, its origin, character, and reception, 69-76; settlement at Abbotsford, 70, 71; danger of Ballantyne & Co., and closer alliance with Constable, 71, 72; yachting tour, 72; Guy Mannering, 77-79; introduced in London to the Regent and to Byron, 79; journey to Brussels, Field of Waterloo, and Paul's Letters, 79; The Antiquary, 80; original mottoes, 81 and note; Old Mortality and Black Dwarf, 81-84; quarrel with Blackwood, 82; Rob Roy, 84, 85; domestic affairs, 85-87; Heart of Midlothian, 87, 88; Bride of Lammermoor and Legend of Montrose, 88-91; attacked by cramp, 84, 86, 89, note; domestic affairs, 91-93; Ivanhoe, 93, 96; The Monastery, 95, 96; The Abbot and Kenilworth, 96, 97; The Pirate, 97, 98; The Fortunes of Nigel, 99; Peveril of the Peak, 100; Quentin Durward, 100, 101; St. Ronan's Well, 101, 102; Redgauntlet, 102, 103; Tales of the Crusaders, 104, 105; domestic affairs, to tour in Ireland, 105, 106; commercial crisis and fall of Constable and Ballantyne, 106, 107; discussion of the facts, 107-114; the Journal, 114-117; death of Lady Scott, 116; Life of Napoleon, 118-121; Woodstock, 121-123; Letters of Malachi Malagrowther, 123; 'Bonnie Dundee,' ibid.; Chronicles of the Canongate, 124-126; Tales of a Grandfather, 126, 127; The Fair Maid of Perth and the 'Magnum Opus,' 128; Anne of Geierstein, 129; declining health, 130; success of the 'Magnum,' ibid.; stroke of paralysis and resignation of Clerkship, 131; Letters on Demonology and Christopher North's criticism, 131, 132; Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous, 133; political annoyances and insults at Jedburgh, 134; last visit of Wordsworth and departure for Italy, 135; sojourn on the Mediterranean, 136; return and death, 137; settlement of debts, ibid.; monuments to Scott, 138; general view of Scott desirable, 139; his physique and conversation, 140; his alleged subserviency to rank, 141, 142; his moral and religious character, 142, 143; his politics, 144; characteristics of his thought, 145-147; his combination of the practical and the romantic, 147; his humour, 148; his feeling, 149; his style, 150; his power of story, 151; not 'commonplace,' 151, 154; comparison with Lyly, 153; final remarks, 155, 156.



OPINIONS OF THE PRESS ON THE "FAMOUS SCOTS" SERIES.

Of THOMAS CARLYLE, by H. C. MACPHERSON, the British Weekly says:—

"We congratulate the publishers on the in every way attractive appearance of the first volume of their new series. The typography is everything that could be wished, and the binding is most tasteful.... We heartily congratulate author and publishers on the happy commencement of this admirable enterprise."

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