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For,
fine as it is, it seems to me to display the drawbacks of Scott's scheme
and method more than any of the longer poems. Douglas, Ellen, Malcolm,
are null; Roderick and the king have a touch of theatricality which I
look for in vain elsewhere in Scott; there is nothing fantastic in the
piece like the Goblin Page, and nothing tragical like Constance. There
is something teasing in what has been profanely called the 'guide-book'
character--the cicerone-like fidelity which contrasts so strongly with
the skilfully subordinated description in the two earlier and even in
the later poems. Moreover, though Ellis ought not to have called the
octosyllable 'the Hudibrastic measure' (which is only a very special
variety of it), he was certainly right in objecting to its great
predominance in unmixed form here.

The critics, however, sang the praises of the poem lustily. Even
Jeffrey--perhaps because it was purely Scottish (he had thought
_Marmion_ not Scottish enough), perhaps because its greater
conventionality appealed to him, perhaps because he wished to make
atonement--was extremely complimentary. And certainly no one need be at
a loss for things to commend positively, whatever may be his comparative
estimate. The fine Spenserian openings (which Byron copied almost
slavishly in the form of the stanza he took for _Harold_), the famous
beginning of the stag, the description of the pass (till Fitz-James
begins to soliloquise), some of the songs (especially the masterly
'Coronach'), the passage of the Fiery Cross, the apparition of the clan
(not perhaps so great as some have thought it, but still great), the
struggle, the guard-room (which shocked Jeffrey dreadfully)--these are
only some of the best things. But I own that I turn from the best of
them to the last stand of the spearmen at Flodden, and the unburying of
the Book in the _Lay_.

It may, perhaps, not be undesirable to anticipate somewhat, in order to
complete the sketch of the verse romances in this chapter; for not very
long after the publication of the _Lady of the Lake_, Scott resumed the
writing of _Waverley_, which effected an entire change in the direction
of his literature; and it was not a twelvemonth later that he planned
the establishment at Abbotsford, which was thenceforward the
headquarters of his life.

The first poem to follow was one which lay out of the series in subject,
scheme, and dress, and which perhaps should rather be counted with his
minor and miscellaneous pieces--_The Vision of Don Roderick_. It was
written with rapidity, even for him, and with a special purpose; the
profits being promised beforehand to the Committee of the Portuguese
Relief Fund, formed to assist the sufferers from Massena's devastations.
It consists of rather less than a hundred Spenserian stanzas, the story
of Roderick merely ushering in a magical revelation, to that too-amorous
monarch, of the fortunes of the Peninsular War and its heroes up to the
date of writing. The _Edinburgh Review_, which hated the war, was very
angry because Scott did not celebrate Sir John Moore (whether as a good
Whig or a bad general it did not explain); but even Jeffrey was not
entirely unfavourable, and the piece was otherwise well received. The
description of the subterranean hall beneath the Cathedral of Toledo is
as good as we should expect, and the verses on Saragossa and on the
forces of the three kingdoms are very fine. But the whole was something
of a _torso_, and it is improbable that Scott could ever have used the
Spenserian stanza to good effect for continuous narrative. Even in its
individual shape, that great form requires the artistic patience as well
as the natural gift of men like its inventor, or like Thomson, Shelley,
and Tennyson, in other times and of other schools, to get the full
effect out of it; while to connect it satisfactorily with its kind and
adjust it to narrative is harder still.

The true succession, however, after this parenthesis, was taken up by
_Rokeby_, which was dated on the very last day of 1812. Its reception
was not exceedingly enthusiastic; for Byron, borrowing most of his
technique and general scheme from Scott, and joining with these greater
apparent passion and a more novel and unfamiliar local colour, had
appeared on the scene as a 'second lion.' The public, a 'great-sized
monster of ingratitudes,' had got accustomed to Scott, if not weary of
him. The title[12] was not very happy; and perhaps some harm was really
done by one of the best of Moore's many good jokes in the _Twopenny
Postbag_, where he represented Scott as coming from Edinburgh to London

'To do all the gentlemen's seats by the way'

in romances of half a dozen cantos.

The poem, however, is a very delightful one, and to some tastes at least
very far above the _Lady of the Lake_. Scott, indeed, clung to the
uninterrupted octosyllable more than ever; but that verse, if a poet
knows how to manage it, is by no means so unsuited for story-telling as
Ellis thought; and Scott had here more story to tell than in any of his
preceding pieces, except _Marmion_. The only character, indeed, in which
one takes much interest is Bertram Risingham; but he is a really
excellent person, the cream of Scott's ruffians, whether in prose or
verse; appearing well, conducting himself better, and ending best of
all. Nor is Oswald, the contrasted villain, by any means to be despised;
while the passages--on which the romance, in contradistinction to the
classical epic, stands or falls--are equal to all but the very best in
_Marmion_ or the _Lay_. Bertram's account of the first and happier
events at Marston Moor, as well as of his feelings as to his
comradeship with Mortham; the singularly beautiful opening of the
second canto--

'Far in the chambers of the west';

with the description of Upper Teesdale; Bertram's clamber on the cliff,
with its reminiscences of the 'Kittle Nine Steps,'--these lead on to
many other things as good, ending with that altogether admirable bit of
workmanship, Bertram's revenge on Oswald and his own death. Matilda is
one of the best of Scott's verse-heroines, except Constance--that is to
say, the best of his good girls--and she has the interest of being
avowedly modelled on 'Green Mantle.' Nor in any of the poems do the
lyrics give more satisfactory setting-off to the main text. Indeed, it
may be questioned whether any contains such a garland as--to mention
only the best--is formed by

'O, Brignall banks are wild and fair';

the exquisite

'A weary lot is thine, fair maid,'

adapted from older matter with a skill worthy of Burns himself; the
capital bravura of Allen-a-Dale; and that noble Cavalier lyric--

'When the dawn on the mountain was misty and grey.'

_The Bridal of Triermain_ was published in 1813, not long after
_Rokeby_, and, like that poem, drew its scenery from the North of
England; but in circumstances, scale, and other ways it forms a pair
with _Harold the Dauntless_, and they had best be noticed together.

_The Lord of the Isles_, the last of the great quintet, appeared in
December 1814. Scott had obtained part of the scenery for it in an
earlier visit to the Hebrides, and the rest in his yachting voyage (see
below) with the Commissioners of Northern Lights, which also gave the
_décor_ for _The Pirate_. The poem was not more popular than _Rokeby_ in
England, and it was even less so in Scotland, chiefly for the reason,
only to be mentioned with all but silent amazement, that it was 'not
bitter enough against England.' Its faults are, of course, obvious
enough. Central story there is simply none; the inconvenience that
arises to the hero from his being addressed by two young ladies cannot
awake any very sympathetic tear, nor does either Edith of Lorn or Isabel
Bruce awaken any violent desire to offer to relieve him of one of them.
The versification, however, is less uniform than that of _Rokeby_ or
_The Lady of the Lake_, and there are excellent passages--the best
being, no doubt, the Abbot's extorted blessing on the Bruce; the great
picture of Loch Coruisk, which, let people say what they will, is
marvellously faithful; part of the voyage (though one certainly could
spare some of the 'merrilys'); the landing in Carrick; the rescue of the
supposed page; and, finally, Bannockburn, which even Jeffrey admired,
though its want of 'animosity' shocked him.

The two last of the great poems--there was indeed a third, _The Field of
Waterloo_, written hastily for a subscription, and not worthy either of
Scott or of the subject--have not by any means the least interest,
either intrinsic or that of curiosity. Indeed, as a matter of liking,
not quite disjoined from criticism, I should put them very high indeed.
Both were issued anonymously, and with indications intended to mislead
readers into the idea that they were by Erskine; the intention being, it
would seem, partly to ascertain how far the author's mere name counted
in his popularity, partly also to 'fly kites' as to the veering of the
public taste in reference to the verse romance in general. By the time
of the publication of _Harold the Dauntless_ in 1817, Scott could hardly
have had any intention of deserting the new way--his own exclusive
right--in which he was already walking firmly. But the _Bridal of
Triermain_ appeared very shortly after _Rokeby_, and was, no doubt,
seriously intended as a test.

In both pieces the author fell back upon his earlier scheme of metre,
the _Christabel_ blend of iambic with anapćstic passages, instead of the
nearly pure iambs of his middle poems. The _Bridal_, partly to encourage
the Erskine notion, it would seem, is hampered by an intermixed
outline-story, told in the introductions, of the wooing and winning of a
certain Lucy by a certain Arthur, both of whom may be very heartily
wished away. But the actual poem is more thoroughly a Romance of
Adventure than even the _Lay_, has much more central interest than that
poem, and is adorned by passages of hardly less beauty than the best of
the earlier piece. It is astonishing how anyone of the slightest
penetration could have entertained the slightest doubt about the
authorship of

'Come hither, come hither, Henry my page,
Whom I saved from the sack of Hermitage';

still more of that of the well-known opening of the Third Canto, one of
the triumphs of that 'science of names' in which Scott was such a
proficient--

'Bewcastle now must keep the Hold,
Speir-Adam's steeds must bide in stall,
Of Hartley-burn the bowmen bold
Must only shoot from battled wall;
And Liddesdale may buckle spur,
And Teviot now may belt the brand,
Tarras and Ewes keep nightly stir,
And Eskdale foray Cumberland!'

But these are only the most unmistakable, not the best.



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