Glasgow & West Of Scotland Property Index, 1933

From Bannockburn to Flodden

Sir Walter Scott,
page 15 of 17

reaction against the artificial poetry which, in spite of its feeble sentiment and monotonous chime, had remained in fashion since the days of Pope. Readers, accustomed to the insipid correctness of Hayley’s “Triumphs of Temper,” found a nameless fascination in the Scottish minstrel‘s careless but masculine style, and rough irregular music. Judged by a later standard, the poetry of Scott is deficient in deep feeling, in genuine sympathy with man and nature, in living lines to which the memory accords a willing home. No great, absorbing passion fuses his various and splendid materials into harmonious, organic unity : his imagination never reaches that white heat in which immortal images are struck. The poems of Scott, with all their shining pageants and glorious scenery, present only a brilliant succession of dissolving views.

Delivered from the shackles of rhyme, Scott immediately displayed creative and descriptive powers of the first order. To prove, indeed, that he possessed high poetical endowments, we would turn, not to the ‘Lady of the Lake,” but to the romance of “Ivanhoe.” The “Waverley” novels, like the plays of Shakspeare and the songs of Burns, belong to the select category of great works which have been removed by universal consent from the battlefields of criticism. Taken as stories, the novels of Scott are not, like the majority of popular fictions, mechanical combinations of striking incidents. They are authentic records of human vicissitudes, written by a sage who was equally at home in court and camp, and familiar alike with the destinies of knights and nobles, and “the short and simple annals of the poor.” In depicting the manners and customs of different centuries, countries and conditions; in restoring the scenic splendours of tournament, castle and throne; in describing storms and “moving accidents by flood and field,” here produces scenes and circumstances with a vivid reality which suggests clairvoyance rather than literary art. It is not, however, the interest of his plots, or the truth of his descriptions, that constitute the supreme merit of Scott. By his vigorous historical portraits he peopled the past with animated figures, and the vague abstractions of the historians started into, life as Elizabeth, Mary, and Cromwell. The “Waverley” novels gave the first impulse to the new historical method-adopted with such signal success by Macaulay and Carlyle-which illumines the night of the past by the light of a strong imagination.. Besides making memorable personages live and move again, he called into existence a multitude of human types, curious, delightful, and interesting, and endowed them with such life-like attributes, that they rise to the memory like distinguished men and women who have lived and died. The number of his characters is no less remarkable than their diversity: the children of Adam are not more various in their moral qualities and worldly fortunes than the creations of the author of “Waverley.” In the surprising fertility of his creative faculty-which, if not the highest quality of genius, is decidedly the rarest-Scott claims intellectual kindred with Cervantes and Shakspeare. From the latter, indeed, he is separated by a vast interval. The wonderful conceptions which the great dramatist endued with life are more complex beings in themselves, and more mysteriously related to external circumstances. Constituted of simpler elements, and moving in a more limited sphere of thought and feeling, the creatures of Scott’s imagination are yet as distinctly human as Falstaff or Macbeth.

What may be regarded as the defects of the ‘Waverley” novels become more conspicuous as the century advances. The tedious preliminaries which introduce the characters upon the scene, and the intricate webs of relationship in which


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