« AnteriorContinuar »
"I SHALL not own 'Waverley,'" wrote Sir Walter Scott to a friend in the year of its publication. "My chief reason is that it would prevent me of the pleasure of writing again. . . In truth, I am not sure it would be considered quite decorous for me, as a Clerk of Session, to write novels. Judges being monks, clerks are a sort of lay brethren, from whom some solemnity of walk and conduct may be expected. So, whatever I may do of this kind, 'I shall whistle it down the wind, and let it prey at fortune.'”
In this confession-one of the earliest notices Scott gave his friends of his determination to be secret in his novels-we have a clue to the passages of real and original history woven in the chapters of "Waverley." For the story was not like some other of his historical tales-"Ivanhoe," "Quentin Durward," and "Kenilworth" among them—the result only of the inquest of a great magician upon dead documents and literary remains. It was a book drawing upon events still alive in the memories of his own people and acquaintance; a book that might (and indeed did) give some offence by its accounts of things within the line of the contemporary susceptibility of his own folk.
There was more in Scott's disclaimer, then, than the mere question of his professional dignity, or the relative position of the novel as a gentlemanly form of art; and the tag of "Tis Sixty Years Since" on the Waverley title-page helps to explain not only his concern for the story's effect on his fellow-countrymen, but to point its unique value as an original history-book. It is, in fact, not historical romance as we generally understand it. It is real life from a man's own experience, or in other words, surprised in the very act of happening, if not by the man himself who reports it, by those at any rate who were witness to the days and occurrences described, and who survived to be the contemporaries of him who wrote them down.
Scott first began "Waverley" in 1805, the year when he finished the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," and was at work on "Dryden” and writing hard for the "Edinburgh Review." The Rebellion of '45, as one must realize, was no further away from him than the Hungry Forties are from us to-day. He can say of Stewart of Invernahyle,
as Hamlet said of Yorick, "I knew him well." So some parts of this book are not only historical romance, they are history itself, and deserve to be considered as genuine documents, although presented in an informal fashion, or as evidence heard out of court.
And on one side, the story, even where it is dealing with its mainly fictitious creatures, has a value now that Scott himself, perhaps, did not quite foresee. He expressly separated it, when accounting for its qualities, from the novels of manners and the "Queenhoo Hall" type of story, upon which he had already (in supplying Strutt's unfinished book with a finishing chapter) tried his hand. "It was to be," he said, "more a description of men than manners." But now, another hundred years having gone since he first began it, and his "Sixty Years Since" being our “hundred and sixty," the value of his picture of Scottish manners and customs in the days he recalls is immensely increased. It is true no adding of a century can add any life to the title-rôle, Waverley the walking gentleman. But while in himself, as an English hero of '45, he is a lay-figure of the most patent order (Scott termed him on one occasion "a sneaking bit of imbecility"), his uses as a Scottish spectator are invaluable. His "Tour into the Lowlands and Highlands" is at least as authentic as the latest piece of Scottish topography in colours; and it is much more interesting, since it offers us mountains warmed by the passions of men, and scenery made dramatic by human nature.
In his social and other illustrations by the way, Scott permitted himself in "Waverley" the usual liberties. Edward Waverley, travelling to the Perthshire confines, reaches Tully-Veolan in the dark ages of Scottish agriculture. There he hears Killancureit talk of "top-dressing" long before it was known in that region. Scott admits this, and it is only a trifle, and need not spoil our faith in him as a chronicler. But it may serve to remind us of one thing useful in reading "Waverley" for the sake of its history -namely, that Scott, writing of George the Second's time, was still liable to look at it across the circumstance of George the Third's; just as Shakespeare saw Henry the Fourth's reign along an Elizabethan vista.
This affects the minor rather than the major topics and figures. The great historical question involved in "Waverley," and Scott's reading of the year '45 and its actors, is one of character. Is his romantic likeness of Prince Charles Edward true to the original? Or, is it flattered, with the blemishes removed, as to-day the photo
1 See Author's Appendix.
graphers make smooth the face of a beauty or a royal personage? Not all that the historians and novelists of the Jacobite Rebellion have written since Scott has gone to increase our sense of the Pretender's heroic qualities. Even Robert Louis Stevenson did something to lower the estimate. But if Prince Charles's later years were such as to disillusion his admirers, it does not say that his youth was the less shining. Youth is an inspiration in itself, and opportunity creates heroes. The Stuarts were a race very dependent on circumstance, and circumstance favouring, the best of them did well. Prince Charles Edward had all their dangerous graces, and some Polish imagination added. He was superb in his day of adventure, while his physical forces were still unsapped. He was a meagre creature when his nerves and hopes alike failed him. He ought to have died on the field: then the last Prince of Scotland would have been as consistent a romance-hero as the last native Prince of Wales. What he would have been had he succeeded and become King it is, of course, impossible to say. He might easily have been a better king than Charles II or James I-or, for that matter, than that other Prince Regent who became George IV and whose acquaintance Sir Walter Scott made.
Most of Prince Charlie's associates-indeed most of the characters, Highland or Lowland, in "Waverley"-were probably suggested by real people, though the names were changed. An Angus MacDonald may have suggested Fergus Mac-Ivor; and for Flora Mac-Ivor's original we need not look far.1 The Baron of Bradwardine was a free portrait of Lord Pitsligo, whose coatof-arms had two bears for supporters. In the Notes to "Waverley," Scott speaks of the Baron's place at Tully-Veolan as a composite picture of "various old Scottish seats." However, Robert Chambers, in his "Illustrations," points out that Tully-Veolan strikingly resembles Traquair House in Peeblesshire.
"The aspect of the gateway, avenue, and house itself, is precisely that of the semi-Gothic, bear-guarded mansion of Bradwardine. It is true that, in place of the multitudinous representations of the bear, so profusely scattered around Tully-Veolan, we have here only a single pair, which adorn the gate at the head of the avenue; and that the avenue itself cannot pretend to match the broad continuous shade through which Waverley approached the Highland Castle; and also that several other important features
1 See the curious "Journall and Memoirs of PC-" in the Lockhart Papers, which contain an inimitable portrait of Prince Charlie on board the vessel that carried him to Scotland.
are wanting to complete the resemblance; yet, it we be not altogether imposed upon by fancy, there is a likeness sufficiently strong to support the idea that this scene formed the original study of the more finished and bold-featured picture of the novelist. Traquair House was finished in the reign of Charles I, by the first earl, who was lord high treasurer of Scotland at that period. This date corresponds with that assigned to TullyVeolan, which, says the author, was built when architects had not yet abandoned the castellated style peculiar to the preceding warlike ages, nor yet acquired the art of constructing a baronial mansion without a view to defence."
It is worth adding, that Charles, fifth Earl of Traquair, was a sleeping rebel in the 1745 Rebellion; that is, he gave it moral and pecuniary support.
Scott's sense of place, shown in his account of Tully-Veolan, and of the still wilder scenes in the Highlands, never served him better than in his first romance. The Black Bog below the pass of Bally Brough, the cavern of Donald Bean, the tower or highland mansion of Vich Ian Vohr, and the surroundings of Glennaquoich: they are admirably realized. For the sake of tracking Prince Charlie's route from the wilds of Moidart, and so east and south to Edinburgh, via Glenfinnan, Glen More, Invergarry, Corriearric, Dalwhinnie, Dunkeld, Perth, Dunblane, Doune, Stirling, one ought to have a military map of Scotland,- -never was there history or novel written that could draw upon a Celtic region more full of old romantic associations. Many of the Jacobite songs of this time have a mingled echo of its glens and duns :
"He's the flower o' a' Glenisla,
And the darlin' o' Dunkel'.
One may say of the Highland and Gaelic effects in "Waverley, that they give it a claim to rank as a forerunner of the movement that brought Celtic romance and Celtic folk-lore to bear upon English literature. This was in spite of a certain lurking Lowland prejudice against the Gaelic temper and character, which Scott nourished and never quite overcame, and which betrays him in his treatment of Fergus Mac-Ivor. But romance has its sure revenges; and so it is, Waverley, the pattern-hero, the English