Galloglas: Hebridean and West Highland Mercenary Kindreds in Medieval Ireland

Sir Walter Scott,
page 10 of 17

Everything — sentiment, incident, character, and language — assumes larger proportions, as if seen through a magnifying medium. This result may have been produced by the drug, but it may also have been occasioned by the unusual stimulus of pain.

To show the disordered state of his mental powers at this period, it is recorded that on his recovery, the story of the “Bride of Lammermoor” had faded completely from his memory, leaving only the tradition on which the novel is founded. Among critics of the highest class “The Bride” has always been a favourite. Consciously or unconsciously Scott walked in the footsteps of the Greek tragedians who read the riddle of human destinies by invoking the influence of an inscrutable but irresistible fate. When the curtain rises, we behold the figures swaying in the outmost eddies of a moral maelstrom, and we watch, with solemn and deepening interest, as they sweep helplessly round in the narrowing circles that close in the dark abyss. The romance of “Ivanhoe” is a splendid pageant, in which the lurid magnificence of feudalism is depicted with unparalleled power. Notwithstanding the gorgeous spectacles, the martial music, and the thrilling suspense, and the shock of fight, the character of Rebecca constitutes the principal charm of “Ivanhoe.” Through siege and storm, through persecution and infamy the Jewish maiden shines starlike and serene. Scott himself had a special fondness for Rebecca. “I shall make something of my Jewess,” he said, with pardonable pride to Laidlaw, while filling up the outline of her character with some new grace. “You will, indeed,’ replied his friend. “And I cannot help saying that you are doing an immense good, Sir Walter, by such sweet and noble tales, for the young people now will never bear to look at the vile trash of novels that used to be in the circulating libraries.” As Laidlaw spoke tears rose to Sir Walter‘s eyes.

On the accession of George IV. to the throne, Scott was created a baronet. It has been said that, “to many men of Scott‘s moral calibre, this gift of the most worthless of sovereigns would have been repugnant.” The sovereign was the fountain of honour, and to the poet of chivalry imbued with the love of rank and title, the seal of royal approbation represented more than wealth or fame. It was the mystic symbol by which loyal and noble natures recognised their peers. If Scott desired the honour, it must be granted that he had won it more worthily than most. The new baronet was present at the coronation. The fervent loyalty of Scott had preserved intact his personal attachment to the king during all the stormy discussions provoked by the trial of Queen Caroline. Nothing ever caused this feeling to waver. In subsequent years, the conduct of the king troubled the staunchest adherents of the throne, but the chivalrous devotion of the author of Waverley continued to burn unabated.

The secret of the authorship of the Waverley novels — it had long been an open secret — had now to be disclosed. At a dinner of the Theatrical Fund, Henry Glassford Bell, afterwards Sheriff of Glasgow, proposed the health of the “Great Unknown.” Sir Walter immediately rose and replied to the toast in a speech full of that quiet, kindly humour which long survived his brighter days.

From this date Scott’s genius declined; but slowly and reluctantly, and with frequent bursts of splendour that rivalled the brightness of noon. His early fictions stand beyond comparison or cavil. The master‘s hand is less marked in the later novels. The march of the narrative is still imposing, but it lacks something of the buoyancy and


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