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Lockhart pleads
for some of these, but I fear the plea can hardly be admitted. I imagine
that those who read Scott pretty regularly are always sorely tempted to
skip _Peveril_ altogether, and that when they do read it, they find the
chariot wheels drive with a heaviness of which elsewhere they are
entirely unconscious.

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

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

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

FOOTNOTES:

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

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

[19] The once celebrated 'Polish dwarf.'

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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




CHAPTER V

THE DOWNFALL OF BALLANTYNE & COMPANY


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

But there is also more good in _The Betrothed_ than it is usual to
allow.



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