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Even the nominal hero, it is to be
observed, escapes the curse of most of Scott's young men (the young men
to several of whom Thackeray would have liked to be mother-in-law), and
if he is not worthy of Rebecca, he does not get her. As for Richard, no
doubt, he is not the Richard of history, but what does that matter? He
is a most admirable re-creation, softened and refined, of the Richard of
a romance which, be it remembered, is itself in all probability as old
as the thirteenth century.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But in the same year (1823), _Quentin Durward_ not only made up for
_Peveril_, but showed Scott's powers to be at least as great as when he
wrote _The Abbot_, if not as great as ever. He has taken some liberties
with history, but no more than he was perfectly entitled to take; he has
paid the historic muse with ample interest for anything she lent him, by
the magnificent sketch of Louis and the fine one of Charles; he has
given a more than passable hero in Quentin, and a very agreeable if not
ravishing heroine in Isabelle.



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