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THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE GENIUS OF SCOTT,
BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.
Having already (in No. IX. p. 301.) tendered our homage to the memory of Scott in his capacity of vindicator of the character of Genius, we proceed to discuss his other claims to the veneration and gratitude of society.
In doing this, we shall not enter into any elaborate criticism of his compositions as works of art. This has been done a hundred times before, and will be done a hundred times again, to the great benefit of literature and the fine arts, and to the exalted entertainment of both those who lead and those who follow in the discrimination of the manifold beauties and graces with which Scott has adorned the realms of taste. We apply ourselves to the contemplation of the works of Scott, in their effects as influences, rather than to an analysis of their constitu. tion as specimens of art. If we include in our inquiry the services which he rendered to society, negatively as well as positively, unconsciously as well as designedly, it may appear that the gratitude of one age and one empire is but a sample of the reward which his achieve. ments deserve and will obtain.
There is little reason to question that Scott has done more for the morals of society, taking the expression in its largest sense, than all the divines, and other express moral teachers, of a century past. When we consider that all moral sciences are best taught by exemplification, and that these exemplifications produce teníld effect when exhibited unprofessionally, it appears that dramatists and novelists of a high order have usually the advantage, as moralists, over those whose office it is to present morals in an abstract form. The latter are needed to systematize the science, and to prevent its being lost sight of as the highest of the sciences; but the advantage of practical influence rests with the former. When we, moreover, consider the extent of Scott's practical influence, and multiply this extent by its force, there will be little need of argument to prove that the whole living phalanx of clergy, orthodox and dissenting, of moral philosophers, of all moral teachers, except statesmen and authors of a high order, must yield the sceptre of moral sway to Scott. If they are wise, they will immediately acknowledge this, esti. mate his achievements, adopt, to a certain extent, his methods, and step forward to the vantage ground he has gained for them. If they be disposed to question the fact of the superiority of his influence, let them measure it for an instant against their own. Let them look to our universities, and declare whether they have, within a century, done much for the advancement of morals at home, or to bring morals into respect abroad. Let them look to the weight of the established clergy, and say how much they actually modify the thoughts and guide the conduct of the nation ; taking into the account, as a balance against the good they do, the suspicion there exists against them in their character of a craft, and the disrepute which attaches itself to what they teach, through an admixture of abuses. Let them look to the dissenting clergy,— far more influential as they are than the established, -and say, whether they ope. rate as extensively and benignantly upon the human heart, as he who makes life itself the language in which he sets forth the aims and ends of life; who not only uses a picture-alphabet, that the untutored and the truant may be allured to learn, but imparts thereto a hieroglyphic character, from which the most versed in human life may evolve con
NO, X.- VOL. II.
tinually a deeper and yet deeper lore. Let our moral philosophers (usefully employed though they be in arranging and digesting the science, and enlightened in modifying, from time to time, the manifestations of its eternal principles,)- let our moral philosophers declare whether they erpect their digests and expositions to be eagerly listened to by the hun. dred thousand families, collected, after their daily avocations, under the spell of the northern enchanter; whether they would look for thumbed copies of their writings in workshops and counting-houses, in the saloons of palaces, and under many a pillow in boarding schools. Our universities may purify morals, and extend their influence as far as they can; their importance in this case runs a chance of being overlooked ; for Scott is the president of a college where nations may be numbered for individuals. Our clergy may be and do all that an established clergy can be and do; yet they will not effect so much as the mighty lay preacher who has gone out on the highways of the world, with cheerful. ness in his mien and benignity on his brow; unconscious, perhaps, of the dignity of his office, but as much more powerful in comparison with a stalled priesthood as the troubadour of old,-firing hearts wherever he went with the love of glory,—than the vowed monk. Our dissenting preachers may obtain a hold on the hearts of their people, and employ it to good purpose ; but they cannot send their voices east and west to wake up the echoes of the world. Let all these classes unite in a missionary scheme, and encompass the globe, and still Scott will teach mo. rals more effectually than them all. They will not find audiences at every turn who will take to heart all they say, and bear it in mind for ever; and if they attempt it now, they will find that Scott has been before them everywhere. He has preached truth, simplicity, benevolence, and retribution in the spicy bowers of Ceylon, and in the verandahs of Indian bungalowes, and in the perfumed dwellings of Persia, and among groups of settlers at the Cape, and amidst the pinewoods and savannahs of the Western world, and in the vineyards of the Peninsula, and among the ruins of Rome, and the recesses of the Alps, and the hamlets of France, and the cities of Germany, and the palaces of Russian despots, and the homes of Polish patriots. And all this in addition to what has been done in his native kingdom, where he has exalted the tastes, ameliorated the tempers, enriched the associations, and exercised the intellects of millions. This is already done in the short space of eighteen years; a mere span in comparison with the time that it is to be hoped our language and literature will last. We may assume the influence of Scott, as we have described it, to be just beginning its course of a thousand years; and now, what class of moral teachers, (except politicians, who are not too ready to regard themselves in this light,) will venture to bring their influence into comparison with that of this great lay preacher ?
If they do so, it will be on the ground, not of disputing the extent of his influence, but its moral effect; which, therefore, we proceed to ilvestigate; beginning with his lesser, and going on to consider his greater achievements.
His grateful countrymen, of all ranks, acknowledge that he has benefited Scotland, as much morally as in respect of her worldly prosperity. Not only has he carried civilization into the retreats of the mountains and made the harmonious voices of society float over those lakes where the human war-cry once alternated with the scream of the eagle; not only has he introduced decency and comfort among the wilder classes of his countrymen, a full half century before they could have been anti
cipated, and led many thousands more into communion with nature, who would not, but for him, have dreamed of such an intercourse ; not only has he quickened industry and created wealth, and cherished intelligence within the borders of his native land; he has also exercised a direct moral influence over the minds of those on whom Scotland's welfare largely depends ; softening their prejudices, widening their social views, animating their love of country while drawing them into closer sympathy with men of other countries. may be said,—it is said, that his country is not sensible of his having done all this ; that she cannot be sensible of it, since she suffered his latter days to be overclouded by sorrows which she could have removed, and his mighty heart and brain to be crushed by a weight of care and toil of which she could have relieved him. The fact is undeniable; and it is on record forever, with a thousand similar facts, from which it is to be hoped that men will in time have philosophy enough to draw an inference, and establish a conclusion in morals to which Walter Scott has failed to lead them, even by the mute eloquence of his own sufferings. They may in time perceive that the benefactor of a nation should be the cherished of a nation, before he has become insensible of their affection; and that it is a small thing to make splendid the narrow home of him who was allowed to perish unsheltered in the storm. It is not enough to abstain from the insult which aggravated the sufferings of Lear;-to be innocent of inflicting his woes. It is not enough for the subjects of this intel. lectual being to have honoured him equally when his train was shortened, and to have uncovered their heads as he passed, in respectful compassion for his reverses: they ought to have felt that in having been made their king, he had become their charge; and that whencesoever adversity arose, it was their duty to avert it from his honoured head, It is folly to talk of the evil of a precedent in such a case. The line of intellectual sovereigns is not so long as to make the maintenance of their prerogative a burdensome imposition; and we ask no loyalty to pretenders. As for the present case, bitterly as we feel the crudeness of the world's morality of gratitude, we are as far as was the illustrious departed from imputing blame to individuals,—to any thing but the system under which he suffered. He was too humble-too little consci. ous of his own services to apply to himself the emotions with which the lot of other social benefactors were regarded by him, and with which his own is too late regarded by us—the emotions of grief and shame that society has not yet learned to prize the advent of genius ; that the celestial guest is still permitted to tread, solitary and unsheltered, the rugged highways of the world, however eagerly its deeds of power and beneficence may have been accepted. That the countrymen of Scott feel truly grateful to their benefactor, we doubt not. We implore them to strengthen this gratitude from a sanction into a principle of conduct ; that, if it should please Heaven again to bless them with such a guest, they may duly cherish him while yet in the body, delay his departure till the latest moment, and be disturbed by no jarring mockeries of shame and remorse while chanting their requiem at his tomb.
To do his next work of beneficence, this great moralist stepped be. yond the Border, and over continents and seas. He implanted or nourished pure tastes, not only in a thousand homes, but among the homeless in every land. How many indolent have been roused to thought and feeling, how many licentious have been charmed into the temporary love of purity, how many vacant minds have become occupied
with objects of interest and affection, it would be impossible to esti. mate, unless we could converse with every Briton, from the Factory Terrace at Canton round the world to the shores of the Pacific, and with every foreigner on the Continent of Europe whose countenance lights up at the name of Scott. If one representative only of every class which have been thus benefited were to repair to his grave, the mourning train would be of a length that kings might envy. There would be the lisping child, weeping that there should be no more tales of the Sherwood Foresters and the Disinherited Knight ; there would be the school-boy, with his heart full of the heroic deeds of Cæur de Lion in Palestine ; and the girl, glowing with the loyalty of Flora, and saddening over the griefs of Rebecca ; and the artisan who foregoes his pipe and pot for the adventures of Jeanie Deans; and the clerk and apprentice, who refresh their better part from the toils of the counting-house amidst the wild scenery of Scotland ; and soldier and sailor relieved of the tedium of barracks and cabin by the interest of more stirring scenes presented to the mind's eye ; and rambling youth chained to the fireside by the link
of a pleasant fiction; and sober manhood made to grow young again ; and sickness beguiled, and age cheered, and domestic jars forgotten, and domestic sympathies enhanced ;—all who have thus had pure tastes gratified by the creations of his genius, should join the pilgrim train which will be passing in spirit by his grave for centuries to
Of these, how many have turned from the voice of the preacher, have cast aside “ good books," have no ear for music, no taste for drawing, no knowledge of any domestic accomplishment which might keep them out of harm's way, but have found that they have a heart and mind which Scott could touch and awaken! How many have thus to thank him, not only for the solace of their leisure, but for the ennobling of their toils !
Another great service rendered is one which could be administered only by means of fiction—a service respecting which it matters not to decide whether it was afforded designedly or unconsciously. We mean the introduction of the conception of nature, as existing and following out its own growth in an atmosphere of convention ; a conception of very great importance to the many who, excluded from the regions of convention, are apt to lose their manhood in its contemplation. There is little use in assuring people of middling rank, that kings eat beef and mutton, and queens ride on horseback : they believe, but they do not realize. And this is the case, not only with the child who pictures a monarch with the crown on his head, on a throne, or with the maid. servant who gazes with awe on the Lord Mayor's coach ; but, to a much greater degree than is commonly supposed, with the father of the child, the master of the maid,—with him whose interests have to do with kings and courts, and who ought, therefore, to know what is passing there. It would be impossible to calculate how much patriotism has lain dormant, through the ignorance of the plain citizen of what is felt and thought in the higher regions of society, to which his voice of complaint or suggestion ought to reach, if he had but the courage to lift it up. The ignorance may be called voluntary : it may be truly said that every one ought to know that human hearts answer to one another as a reflection in water, whether this reflection be of a glow-worm on the brink, the loftiest resplendent star. This is true ; but it is not a truth easy in the use; and its use is all-important. The divine preaches it, as is his duty, to humble courtly pride, and to remind the lowly of their
manhood : but the divine himself realizes the doctrine better while reading Kenilworth, or the Abbot, than while writing his sermon; and his hearers use this same sermon as a text, of which Nigel and Peveril are the exposition. Is this a slight service to have rendered ?-to have, perhaps unconsciously, taught human equality, while professing to exhi. bit human inequality ?--to have displayed, in its full proportion, the distance which separates man from man, and to have shewn that the very same interests are being transacted at one and the other end of the line ? Walter Scott was exactly the man to render this great service; and how well he rendered it, he was little aware. A man, born of the people, and therefore knowing man, and at the same time a Tory antiquarian, and therefore knowing courts, he was the fit person to show the one to the other. At once a benevolent interpreter of the heart, and a worshipper of royalty, he might be trusted for doing honour to both parties; though not, we must allow, equal honour. We cannot award him the praise of perfect impartiality in his interpretations. We cannot but see a leaning towards regal weaknesses, and a toleration of courtly vices. We cannot but observe, that the same licentiousness which would have been rendered disgusting under equal temptation in humble life, is made large allowance for when diverting itself within palace walls. Retribution is allowed to befall ; but the vices which this whip is permitted to scourge are still pleasant vices, instead of vulgar ones. This is not to be wondered at; and perhaps the purity of the writer's own imagination may save us from lamenting it ; for he viewed these things, though partially, yet too philosophically, to allow of any shadow of an imputation of countenancing, or alluring to vice, with whatever wit he may have depicted the intrigues of Buckingham, or whatever veil of tenderness he may have cast over the crimes of the unfortunate Mary. His desire was to view these things in the spirit of charity ; and he was less aware than his readers of a humble rank, that he threw the gloss of romance over his courtly scenes of every character, and that, if he had drawn the vices of the lower classes, it would have been without such advantage. Meanwhile, we owe him much for having laid open to us the affections of sovereigns,—the passions of courtiers, -the emotions of the hearts,--the guidance of the conduct,—the cares and amusements,--the business and the jests of courts. He has taughé many of us how royalty may be reached and wrought upon; and has therein done more for the state than perhaps any novelist ever contemplated. That he did not complete his work by giving to courts accurate representations of the people, seems a pity ; but it could not be helped, since there is much in the people of which Walter Scott knew nothing. If this fact is not yet recognised in courts, it soon will be; and to Walter Scott again it may be owing (as we shall hereafter show) that the true condition and character of the people will become better known in aristocratic regions than they are at present.
The fictions of Scott have done more towards exposing priestcraft and fanaticism than any influence of our own time short of actual observation; and this actual observation of what is before their eyes is not made by many who see the whole matter plainly enough in the characters and doings of Boniface, Eustace, and the monks in Ivanlioe,-of Balfour, Warden, and Bridgenorth. It is, we allow, no new thing to meet with exposures of spiritual domination ; but the question is, not of the newness, but of the extent of the service. These things are condemned in the abstract by books on morals; they are disclaimed from