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magical surroundings. Thus the weird powers of the Ladye of Branksome, the Spirits of the Fell and of the Flood, the Sealed Book, and Michael Scott, all relieve and are relieved by the pranks of the elfish dwarf, while there is a fitness in making the great traditionary magician of the Scott family still interested in the fortunes of his house. (It will be noticed that the poet wisely omits the Peter Bertram of the tale, and hints it was Michael Scott who called the dwarf away, vi. 26.) In proper setting, these superstitions themselves help to remove the scene from the present day, since they form one of the 'notes' of the time of chivalry.
The second difficulty is that a poem must evoke our interests, and even if we manage to realize a being who is but half-human, we cannot feel even fear or hate, nor anything but contempt for a creature who had the inglorious province of deluding children. But the blunders of deluded children may be intensely tragical, and may have consequences so far beyond the results which mere mistakes seem adequate to produce, that they provoke the idea of an interference from the spiritual world. Thus the companionship of the dwarf causes the capture of the young Buccleuch. This capture occasions the single combat, in which Cranstoun, in the guise of Deloraine, recovers the captured son, and thus arises the reconciliation, which makes “ pride be quelled and love be free.”
But if we notice the prodigality with which the poet uses the magical thread on which he weaves his poem, we must also notice the economy in its use. One of the great tests of a fiction is the naturalness of the actions ; the motives must be clear and adequate. The supernatural therefore must not unduly rule the action. It is perhaps most happily used when it gives an outward form to an inward motive; thus enabling us, as it were, to see with the eye what is really an invisible process of the mind. Thus in Macbeth the witches are thoroughly real and tangible, but at the same time they make us see Macbeth's ambitious thoughts, as he saw them, seemingly outside himself and constraining his will. So in Homer the gods are perfectly real, or in other words perfectly human, feeling as we do even such motives as pride, jealousy and fear; but their appearances also make us see as it were in the flesh alike the influences which move men to deeds of bravery beyond themselves, and hidden laws of “fate” which baffle the most heroic efforts. So here the magical powers do not crush or obscure the natural motives of the human actors, but rather illustrate them and bring them into relief. We see this in the dwarf's main action, when it
“Seemed to the boy, some comrade gay
Led him forth to the woods to play"while the bewilderment which followed the revelation of the dwarf at the running stream is a natural picture of the terror of a child who has lost his way. So again the impish counterfeiting of the child helps by contrast to bring out the spirit of the true young Buccleuch, and illustrates the nature of the dwarf without interfering with the action of the piece.
So again the Ladye's magic is restrained from excessive disturbance of the action. Though she has a secret prescience' of the coming help, she dares not own her magic, and therefore fails to prevent the proposed single combat, which is to loose the main complication of the plot, the rejection of Cranstoun's suit. Her foreknowledge seems only one of those vivid presentiments which are themselves unaccountable. Lastly, her spell only acts so tardily that, while it blinds her to Cranstoun's deception, the re-appearance of Deloraine, which leads to the discovery, might after all have been natural.3
Thus was the germ of the poem developed into the leaves and blossoms which belied so mean an origin ;*
3 v. 24
4 So that the critic Jeffrey called the Goblin Page the “capital deformity of the poem,” and entreated Scott to "purge the Lay of this ungraceful intruder."
but the plant looked like an exotic, unhoused and unsheltered in the open air of our century. The poem seemed so much “out of the common road,” that the friends who heard the first stanzas could give no opinion on them, but suggested a “prologue to place the mind of the hearers in the situation to understand and enjoy the poem.” Scott writes, “I entirely agreed with my friendly critic on the necessity of having some pitch-pipe which might make readers aware of the object, or rather the tone, of the publication. I therefore introduced the old minstrel as an appropriate prolocutor, by whom the Lay might be sung or spoken, and the introduction of whom between the cantos might remind the reader at intervals of the time, place, and circumstances of the recitation. This species of cadre, or frame, afterwards afforded the poem its name of the Lay of the Last Minstrel.””
DATES OF SCOTT'S LIFE
Born the year before Coleridge, and year after Wordsworth
. . . . . 1771 At 18 in his father's office, the year of French Revo
lution At 34 published Lay, the year of Trafalgar . . 1805 At 43 published Waverley, the year before Waterloo . 1814 At 61 died, the year of Reform Bill . . . 1832
The Poem now offered to the Public, is intended to illustrate the customs and manners which anciently prevailed on the Borders of England and Scotland. The inhabitants, living in a state partly pastoral and partly warlike, and combining habits of constant depredation with the influence of a rude spirit of chivalry, were often engaged in scenes highly susceptible of poetical ornament. As of the description scenery and manners was more the object of the Author than a combined and regular narrative, the plan of the Ancient Metrical Romance was adopted, which allows greater latitude, in this respect, than would be consistent with the dignity of a regular Poem. The same model offered other facilities, as it permits an occasional alteration of measure, which, in some degree, authorises the change of rhythm in the text. The machinery, also, adopted from popular belief, would have seemed puerile in a Poem which did not partake of the rudeness of the old Ballad, or Metrical Romance.
For these reasons, the Poem was put into the mouth of an ancient Minstrel, the last of the race, who, as he is supposed to have survived the Revolution, might have caught somewhat of the refinement of modern poetry, without losing the simplicity of his original model. The date of the Tale itself is about the middle of the sixteenth century, when most of the personages actually flourished. The time occupied in the action is Three Nights and Three Days.
THE LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL
THE way was long, the wind was cold,
T The Minstrel was infirm and old ;
He pass'd where Newark's stately tower