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whole prophecies of Isaiah are not equal in extent to this cobweb of a review article."
“Look upon this picture and on that," painted both by master-hands. In each estimate of Scott there is much truth. It were presumption to attempt a harmony of them. Remember that the shield which was golden on the one side, was coated with silver on the other.
Sources and Results of Scott's Poetry. We have already mentioned two of the sources from which Scott's poetry sprang—the poem of Goethe's youth, which Scott himself translated, Goetz von Berlichingen, with the Iron Hand, “a grain of seed that has lighted in the right soil ;” and the collection which he made himself, the “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.” And we should add to these the book, which probably gave him the idea of his own collection, “Percy’s Reliques," a favourite, as we know, of his boyish years.
Such are the seeds : let us note the fruit also. First we may place the “ Waverley Novels,” foremost of their kind, the first and most substantial result; and consider how much the modern novel in its best type, perhaps also in its less praiseworthy features, owes to these. Then, in the sphere of verse, Macaulay's “ Lays” owe much of their spirit, and even turns of their expression, to the poetry of Scott. Aytoun's “ Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers,” Lockhart's “Spanish Ballads,” Bode's “ Ballads from Herodotus," may, each and all, be affiliated to it. Lastly, in quite recent days, Mr. Conington's translation of the “ Æneid,” the best that has yet appeared, has borrowed more than its metre from Sir Walter Scott.
But it was not only the ballads of the Border, it was the whole mass of the Border traditions acting on his young imagination, which produced this poetry. Their influence must be traced through the “ Lay of the Last Minstrel” to “Marmion,” both of them tales of that
charmed Border which Scott loved so well. But the “ Lay of the Last Minstrel " is a tale of the Border proper, of the forays which made its very life; whilst "Marmion " centres round one of its later, more historical scenes, and at times wanders far away.
It was the popularity and success of the “Lay” which produced “Marmion.” “Marmion," in its turn, was greeted with the same applause. But it must be noted that this applause was given by the people, readers and purchasers of the poem; not by the professional critics, amongst whom protesting voices might be heard—two especially, the voices of Jeffrey* and Lord Byron.t
Hostile Criticism.-Jeffrey's opinion of its faults may be summed up thus : he thought it affected and inaccurate, Gothic and irregular. He lamented the day when a gentleman of such endowments was corrupted by the wicked tales of knight-errantry and enchantment.
Lord Byron's opinions will be found in the following lines :
Next view in state, proud prancing on his roan,
A mighty mixture of the great and base. He then proceeds to vent his anger upon Scott for selling his poem to its publishers, an accusation which seems to take us back to the complaint of Socrates against the Sophists. We should require in these modern days some proof that Lord Byron received nothing for his poems, and we should also remember that this particular bargain of Scott was caused by the necessities of his brother Thomas. In his own Introduction, written in 1830, he mentions this fact as an apology for the haste with which the poem was originally published.
* Edinburgh Review, April 1808. + English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,
The indictment against this poem has a fourfold count:-1. It is irregular; 2. It is affected; 3. It is inaccurate; 4. The character of the hero is unsuited to the age in which he is placed.
Answer to Charges. The first of these charges, that he built his poem upon Gothic models, that he has introduced into an epic poem all the irregularities of a ballad, is an accusation which the poet would not have cared to meet, because he offended with his eyes open. Perhaps he did not feel equal to an epic poem-perhaps the age would have been impatient of it. How many readers has the “Excursion”? What has been the success of “ Festus”? Tennyson has not produced an “ Arthuriad,” but the “ Idylls of the King."
The affectations are twofold—of allusions, needing notes; of language, needing a glossary. The first are the result of the placing of the scene in days not our own: all the details of the life of the Middle Ages, the clothes and the castle ceremonies, the kirtles and the wimples, the seneschals and sewers, against which Jeffrey is very angry, are intended to transport the reader more completely to the earlier times. The affectations of language are due partly to the same cause ; but in some measure they are caused by the author's carelessness.
The inaccuracies are chiefly to be found in the host's story in Canto III., and are probably intended to represent the inaccuracy of an uneducated man. There are some also for which he has an excuse in poetic license, as well as in the example of Shakespeare, who in the play of “Henry VIII.” introduces the Earl of Surrey and his father the Duke of Norfolk, although at the time his father was dead. In this poem of “Marmion " there are at least four such inaccuracies, for each of which the author makes apology in his notes :(1.) The substitution of Lady Ford for her husband
as a hostage at the Scottish Court, and the alteration of his name from William to Hugh.
(2.) Placing nuns at Whitby, Tynemouth, and Holy
Island in the reign of Henry VIII. ; also at
to St. Cuthbert, who hated women.
years before he attained that office; in this
Scott followed the poem of “Flodden Field.” (4.) Introducing Gawain Douglas as Bishop of Dun
keld, before he succeeded to the see. On the last count of the indictment, no other has used such strong language as the author. In his Introduction (1830) he says:
“The nature of Marmion's guilt, although similar instances were found, and might be quoted, as existing in feudal times, was nevertheless not sufficiently peculiar to be indicative of the character of the period, forgery being the crime of a commercial rather than of a proud and warlike age. This gross defect ought to have been remedied or palliated. Yet I suffered the tree to lie as it had fallen.”*
We have not, however, finished with fault-finding. There is yet another accuser. This poem has been made the basis of an historical drama, published anonymously in the year 1812, written especially with a design, according to the Preface, to introduce two alterations : “the first bringing the supposed guilt of Wilton nearer to the time of his unjust punishment; the other softening a little the dreadful doom of Constance, that the Abbess of Whitby (a good character, though tinged with professional prejudices) might no longer concur in a direct murder.” The dramatist, therefore, makes Clara and the Abbess go to release Constance. On the second point the reader is referred to the note on II. xxv. 4. On the former, it may be observed that though the time is cer
* Another point to be noticed in Marmion's character is his combination of religious unbelief (IV. xxi. 23 and III. xxx, 7) with such credillity as made him issue forth at night to meet a spirit,
tainly long, twenty-five years from Stokefield to Flodden*—and this is probably due to the hurry-guilt frequently remains long undiscovered ; and there is, therefore, no inherent improbability that a charge should be trumped up many years after the time to which it alluded.
We have dwelt too long on the faults; but when they are all told, and every necessary deduction made from the merits of the poem, how much remains upon the other side ? A friend of the author said that he should assign to it the very highest shelf of English poetry. This is not, however, the place for the language of eulogy, rather for that of discrimination.
When a teacher puts a book into his pupil's hands, it is because, having himself learned to appreciate its excellences, he would give his pupil an opportunity of doing the same. But the pupil, as yet untrained in taste, may easily fail to discover these without assistance; while, at the same time, it is certain that the points of excellence, in any work, are by none so keenly appreciated as by those who have found them for themselves. Some help then must be given with the opportunity, in order to secure its being improved, but not too much; enough only to direct the judgment, not enough to rob it of its independence. What is wanted is not a complete system of labelling, in the fashion of a botanical garden; but something more like the presentation of a nosegay, gathered at random and offered at the entrance, suggesting the kinds of flowers in some of their numerous varieties which may be found within, and stimulating search for them. With this conviction the following sentences are written.
Perhaps the best ideal standard by which to measure a work of art is given in the word harmony—that is,
* Marmion was engaged at Bosworth Field; and this would be consistent with his being of the same age as Wilton.