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But all these
causes together, and others, join to produce a freer effect in _The
Eve_. The eighteenth century is farther off; the genuine mediæval
inspiration is nearer. And it is especially noticeable that, as in most
of the early performances of the great poetical periods, an alteration
of metrical etiquette (as we may call it) plays a great part. Scott had
not yet heard that recitation of _Christabel_ which had so great an
effect on his work, and through it on the work of others. But he had
mastered for himself, and by study of the originals, the secret of the
_Christabel_ metre, that is to say, the wide licence of equivalence in
trisyllabic and dissyllabic feet,[10] of metre catalectic or not, as need
was, of anacrusis and the rest. As is natural to a novice, he rather
exaggerates his liberties, especially in the cases where the internal
rhyme seduces him. It is necessary not merely to slur, but to gabble, in
order to get some of these into proper rhythm, while in other places the
mistake is made of using so many anapæsts that the metre becomes, not
as it should be, iambic, with anapæsts for variation, but anapæstic
without even a single iamb. But these are 'sma' sums, sma' sums,' as
saith his own Bailie Jarvie, and on the whole the required effect of
vigour and variety, of narrative giving place to terror and terror to
narrative is capitally achieved. Above all, in neither piece, in the
less no more than in the more successful, do we find anything of what
the poet has so well characterised in one of his early reviews as the
'spurious style of tawdry and affected simplicity which trickles through
the legendary ditties' of the eighteenth century. 'The hunt is up' in
earnest; and we are chasing the tall deer in the open hills, not
coursing rabbits with toy terriers on a bowling-green.

The writing of these pieces had, however, been preceded by the
publication of Scott's second volume, the translation of _Goetz von
Berlichingen_, for which Lewis had arranged with a London bookseller, so
that this time the author was not defrauded of his hire. He received
twenty-five guineas, and was to have as much more for a second edition,
which the short date of copyright forestalled. The book appeared in
February 1799, and received more attention than the ballads, though, as
Lockhart saw, it was in fact belated, the brief English interest in
German _Sturm und Drang_ having ceased directly, though indirectly it
gave Byron much of his hold on the public a dozen years later. At about
the same time Scott executed, but did not publish, an original, or
partly original, dramatic work of the same kind, _The House of Aspen_,
which he contributed thirty years later to _The Keepsake_. Few good
words have ever been said for this, and perhaps not many persons have
ever cared much for the _Goetz_, either in the original or in the
translation. Goethe did not, in drama at least, understand adventurous
matter, and Scott had no grasp of dramatic form.[9]

It has been said that there was considerable delay in the publication of
the _Tales of Wonder_; and some have discussed what direct influence
this delay had on Scott's further and further advance into the waters of
literature. It is certain that he at one time thought of publishing his
contributions independently, and that he did actually print a few copies
of them privately; and it is extremely probable that his little
experiments in publication, mere _hors-d'oeuvre_ as they were, had
whetted his appetite. Even the accident of his friend Ballantyne's
having taken to publishing a newspaper, and having room at his press for
what I believe printers profanely call 'job-work,' may not have been
without influence. What is certain is that the project of editing a few
Border ballads--a selection of his collection which might make 'a neat
little volume of four or five shillings'--was formed roughly in the late
autumn of 1799, and had taken very definite shape by April 1800. Heber,
the great bibliophile and brother of the Bishop, introduced Scott to
that curious person Leyden, whose gifts, both original and erudite, are
undoubted, although perhaps his exile and early death have not hurt
their fame. And it so happened that Leyden was both an amateur of old
ballads and (for the two things went together then, though they are
sternly kept apart now) a skilful fabricator of new. The impetuous
Borderer pooh-poohed a 'thin thing' such as a four or five shilling
book, and Scott, nothing loath, extended his project. Most of his spare
time during 1800 and 1801 was spent on it; and besides corresponding
with the man who 'fished this murex up,' Bishop Percy, he entered into
literary relations with Joseph Ritson. Even Ritson's waspish character
seems to have been softened by Scott's courtesy, and perhaps even more
by the joint facts that he had as yet attained no literary reputation,
and neither at this nor at any other time gave himself literary airs. He
also made the acquaintance of George Ellis, who became a warm and
intimate friend. These were the three men of the day who, since Warton's
death, knew most of early English poetry, and though Percy was too old
to help, the others were not.

The scheme grew and grew, especially by the inclusion in it of the
publication not merely of ballads, but of the romance of _Sir Tristrem_
(of the authorship of which by someone else than Thomas the Rhymer,
Scott never would be convinced), till the neat four or five shilling
volume was quite out of the question. When at last the two volumes of
the first (Kelso) edition appeared in 1802, not merely was _Sir
Tristrem_ omitted, but much else which, still without 'the knight who
fought for England,' subsequently appeared in a third. The earliest form
of the _Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border_ is a very pretty book; it
deservedly established the fame of Ballantyne as a printer, and as it
was not printed in the huge numbers which have reduced the money value
of Sir Walter's later books, it is rather surprising that it is not more
sought after than it is at present. My copy--I do not know whether by
exception or not--wears the rather unusual livery of pink boards instead
of the common blue, grey, or drab. The paper and type are excellent; the
printing (with a few slips in the Latin quotations such as _concedunt_
for _comedunt_) is very accurate, and the frontispiece, a view of
Hermitage Castle in the rain, has the interest of presenting what is
said to have been a very faithful view of the actual state of Lord
Soulis' stronghold and the place of the martyrdom of Ramsay, attained by
the curious stages of (1) a drawing by Scott, who could not draw at all;
(2) a rifacimento by Clerk, who had never seen the place; and (3) an
engraving by an artist who was equally innocent of local knowledge.

The book, however, which brought in the modest profit of rather less
than eighty pounds, would have been of equal moment under whatever guise
it had pleased to assume. The shock of Percy's _Reliques_ was renewed,
and in a far more favourable atmosphere, before a far better prepared
audience. The public indeed had not yet been 'ground-baited' up to the
consummation of thousands of copies of poetry as they were later by
Scott himself and Byron; but an edition of eight hundred copies went off
in the course of the year, and a second, with the additional volume, was
at once called for. It contained, indeed, not much original verse,
though 'Glenfinlas' and 'The Eve,' with Leyden's 'Cout of Keeldar,'
'Lord Soulis,' etc., appeared in it after a fashion which Percy had set
and Evans had continued. But the ballads, familiar as they have become
since, not merely in the _Minstrelsy_ itself, but in a hundred fresh
collections, selections, and what not, could never be mistaken by
anyone fitted to appreciate them. 'The Outlaw Murray,' with its
rub-a-dub of _e_ rhymes throughout, opens the book very cunningly, with
something not of the best, but good enough to excite expectation,--an
expectation surely not to be disappointed by the immortal agony (dashed
with one stroke of magnificent wrath) of 'Helen of Kirkconnell,' the
bustle, frolic, and battle-joy of the Border pieces proper, the solemn
notes of 'The Lyke-Wake Dirge,' the eeriness of 'Clerk Saunders' and
'The Wife of Usher's Well.'

Even Percy had not been lucky enough to hit upon anything so
characteristic of the _average_ ballad style at its best as the opening
stanza of 'Fause Foodrage'--

'King Easter courted her for her lands,
King Wester for her fee,
King Honour for her comely face
And for her fair bodie';

and Percy would no doubt have been tempted to 'polish' such more than
average touches as Margaret's 'turning,' without waking, in the arms of
her lover as he receives his deathblow, or as the incomparable stanza in
'The Wife of Usher's Well' which tells how--

'By the gates of Paradise
That birk grew fair enough.'

Those who study literature in what they are pleased to call a scientific
manner have, as was to be expected, found fault (mildly or not,
according to their degree of sense and taste) with Scott, for the manner
in which he edited these ballads. It may be admitted that the practice
of mixing imitations with originals is a questionable one; and that in
some other cases, Scott, though he was far from the illegitimate and
tasteless fashion of alteration, of which in their different ways Allan
Ramsay and Percy himself had set the example, was not always up to the
highest lights on this subject of editorial faithfulness. It must, for
instance, seem odd to the least pedantic nowadays that he should have
thought proper to print Dryden's _Virgil_ with Dr. Somebody's pedantic
improvements instead of Dryden's own text. But the case of the ballads
is very different. Here, it must be remembered, there is no authentic
original at all. Even in the rare cases, where very early printed or MS.
copies exist, we not only do not know that these are the originals, we
have every reasonable reason for being pretty certain that they are not.
In the case of ballads taken down from repetition, we know as a matter
of certainty that, according to the ordinary laws of human nature, the
reciter has altered the text which he or she heard, that that text was
in its day and way altered by someone else, and so on almost _ad
infinitum_.



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