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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. The opening
specification of the Bride; the admirable 'Lyulph's Tale,' with the
first appearance of the castle, and the stanza (suggested no doubt by a
famous picture) of the damsels dragging Arthur's war-gear; the
courtship, and Guendolen's wiles to retain Arthur, and the parting; the
picture of the King's court; the tournament; all these are good enough.
But I am not sure that the description of Sir Roland's tantalised vigil
in the Vale of St. John, with the moonlit valley (itself a worthy
pendant even to the Melrose), and the sudden and successful revelation
of the magic hold when the knight flings his battle-axe, does not even
surpass the Tale. Nor do I think that the actual adventures of this
Childe Roland in the dark towers are inferior. The trials and
temptations are of stock material, but all the best matter is stock, and
this is handled with a rush and dash which more than saves it. I hope
the tiger was only a magic tiger, and went home comfortably with the
damsels of Zaharak. It seems unfair that he should be actually killed.
But this is the only thing that disquiets me; and it is impossible to
praise too much De Vaux's ingenious compromise between tasteless
asceticism and dangerous indulgence in the matter of 'Asia's willing
maids.'

_Harold the Dauntless_ is much slighter, as indeed might be expected,
considering that it was finished in a hurry, long after the author had
given up poetry as a main occupation. But the half burlesque Spenserians
of the overture are very good; the contrasted songs, 'Dweller of the
Cairn' and 'A Danish Maid for Me,' are happy. Harold's interview with
the Chapter is a famous bit of bravura; and all concerning the Castle of
the Seven Shields, from the ballad introducing it, through the
description of its actual appearance (in which, by the way, Scott shows
almost a better grasp of the serious Spenserian stanza than anywhere
else) to the final battle of Odin and Harold, is of the very best
Romantic quality. Perhaps, indeed, it is because (as the _Critical
Review_, the Abdiel of 'classical' orthodoxy among the reviews of the
time, scornfully said), 'both poems are romantic enough to satisfy all
the parlour-boarders of all the ladies' schools in England,' that they
are so pleasant. It is something, in one's grey and critical age, to
feel genuine sympathy with the parlour-boarder.

The chapter has already stretched to nearly the utmost proportions
compatible with the scale of this little book, and we must not indulge
in very many critical remarks on the general character of the
compositions discussed in it. But I have never carried out the plan
(which I think indispensable) of reading over again whatever work,
however well known, one has to write about, with more satisfaction. The
main defects lie on the surface. Despite great felicities of a certain
kind, these poems have no claim to formal perfection, and occasionally
sin by very great carelessness, if not by something worse. The poet
frankly shows himself as one whose appeal is not that of 'jewels five
words long,' set and arranged in phrases of that magical and unending
beauty which the very greatest poets of the world command. His effect,
even in description, is rather of mass than of detail. He does not
attempt analysis in character, and only skirts passion. Although
prodigal enough of incident, he is very careless of connected plot. But
his great and abiding glory is that he revived the art, lost for
centuries in England, of telling an interesting story in verse, of
riveting the attention through thousands of lines of poetry neither
didactic nor argumentative. And of his separate passages, his patches of
description and incident, when the worst has been said of them, it will
remain true that, in their own way and for their own purpose, they
cannot be surpassed. The already noticed comparison of any of Scott's
best verse-tales with _Christabel_, which they formally imitated to some
extent, and with the _White Doe of Rylstone_, which followed them, will
no doubt show that Coleridge and Wordsworth had access to mansions in
the house of poetry where Scott is never seen. But in some respects even
their best passages are not superior to his; and as tales, as romances,
his are altogether superior to theirs.

FOOTNOTES:

[12] It is fair to him to say that he made no public complaints, and
that when some gutter-scribbler in 1810 made charges of plagiarism from
him against Scott, he furnished Southey with the means of clearing him
from all share in the matter (_Lockhart_, iii. 293; Southey's _Life and
Correspondence_, iii. 291). But there is a suspicion of fretfulness even
in the Preface to _Christabel_; and the references to Scott's poetry
(not to himself) in the _Table Talk_, etc., are almost uniformly
disparaging. It is true that these last are not strictly evidence.

[13] The objection taken to this word by precisians seems to ignore a
useful distinction. The _antiquary_ is a collector; the _antiquarian_ a
student or writer. The same person may be both; but he may not.

[14] _Waverley_, chap. vi. It owes a little to Smollett's Introduction
to _Humphry Clinker_, but as usual improves the loan greatly.

[15] Inasmuch as he himself was secretary to the Commission which did
away with it.

[16] Taken from the name of his friend Morritt's place on the Greta.




CHAPTER IV

THE NOVELS, FROM _WAVERLEY_ TO _REDGAUNTLET_


In the opening introduction to the collected edition of the novels,
Scott has given a very full account of the genesis of _Waverley_. These
introductions, written before the final inroad had been made on his
powers by the united strength of physical and moral misfortune, animated
at once by the last glow of those powers, and by the indefinable charm
of a fond retrospection, displaying every faculty in autumn luxuriance,
are so delightful that they sometimes seem to be the very cream and
essence of his literary work in prose. Indeed, I have always wondered
why they have not been published separately as a History of the Waverley
Novels by their author. Yet the public, I believe, with what I fear must
be called its usual lack of judgment in some such matters, seems never
to have read them very widely. An exception, however, may possibly have
been made in the case of this first one, opening as it has long done
every new issue of the whole set of novels. At anyrate, in one way or
another, it is probably known, at least to those who take an interest in
Scott, that he had begun _Waverley_ and thrown it aside some ten years
before its actual appearance, at a time when he was yet a novice in
literature. He had also attempted one or two other things,--a completion
of Strutt's _Queenhoo Hall_, the beginning of a tale about Thomas the
Rhymer, etc., which are now appended to the introduction itself,--and he
had once, in 1810, resumed _Waverley_, and again thrown it aside. At
last, when his supremacy as a popular poet was threatened by Byron, and
when, perhaps, he himself was a little wearying of the verse tale, he
discovered the fragment while searching for fishing-tackle in the old
desk where he had put it, and after a time resolved to make a new and
anonymous attempt on public favour.

By the time--1814--when the book actually appeared, considerable
changes, both for good and for bad, had occurred in Scott's
circumstances; and the total of his literary work, independently of the
poems mentioned in the last chapter, had been a good deal increased.
Ashestiel had been exchanged for Abbotsford; the new house was being
planned and carried out so as to become, if not exactly a palace,
something much more than the cottage which had been first talked of; and
the owner's passion for buying, at extravagant prices, every
neighbouring patch of mostly thankless soil that he could get hold of
was growing by indulgence. He himself, in 1811 and the following years,
was extremely happy and extremely busy, planting trees, planning rooms,
working away at _Rokeby_ and _Triermain_ in the general sitting-room of
the makeshift house, with hammering all about him (now, the hammer and
the pen are perhaps of all manual implements the most deadly and
irreconcilable foes!), corresponding with all sorts and conditions of
men; furnishing introductions and contributions (in some cases never yet
collected) to all sorts and conditions of books, and struggling, as best
he saw his way, though the way was unfortunately not the right one, with
the ever-increasing difficulties of Ballantyne & Company. I forget
whether there is any evidence that Dickens consciously took his humorous
incarnation of the duties of a 'Co.' from Scott's own experience. But
Scott as certainly had to provide the money, the sense, the good-humour,
and the rest of the working capital as Mark Tapley himself. The merely
pecuniary part of these matters may be left to the next chapter; it is
sufficient to say that, aggravated by misjudgment in the selection and
carrying out of the literary part, it brought the firm in 1814
exceedingly near the complete smash which actually happened ten years
later.



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