« AnteriorContinuar »
for their virtues and indulgence for their foibles. I thought also, that much of what I wanted in talent might be made up by the intimate acquaintance with the subject which I could lay claim to possess, as having travelled through most parts of Scotland, both Highland and Lowland, having been familiar with the elder as well as more modern race, and having had from my infancy free and unrestrained communication with all ranks of my countrymen, from the Scottish peer to the Scottish ploughman. Such ideas often occurred to me, and constituted an ambitious branch of my theory, however far short I may have fallen of it in practice.
But it was not only the triumphs of Miss Edgeworth which waked in me emulation, and disturbed my indolence. I chanced actually to engage in a work which formed a sort of assay piece, and gave me hope that I might in time become free of the craft of romance-writing, and be esteemed a tolerable work
In the year 1807-8 I undertook, at the request of John Murray, Esq., of Albemarle Street, to arrange for publication some posthumous productions of the late Mr. Joseph Strutt, distinguished as an artist and an antiquary, amongst which was an unfinished romance, entitled Queenhoo Hall. The scene of the tale was laid in the reign of Henry VI., and the work was written to illustrate the manners, customs, and language of the people of England during that period. The extensive acquaintance which Mr. Strutt had acquired with such subjects in compiling his laborious Horda Angel-Cynnan, his Regal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities, and his Essay on the Sports and Pastimes of the People of England had rendered him familiar with all the antiquarian lore necessary for the purpose of composing the projected romance; and although the manuscript bore the marks of hurry and incoherence natural to the first rough draught of the author, it evinced (in my opinion) considerable powers of imagination.
As the work was unfinished, I deemed it my duty, as editor, to supply such a hasty and inartificial conclusion as could be shaped out from the story, of which Mr. Strutt had laid the foundation. This concluding chapter* is also added to the present Introduction, for the reason already mentioned regarding the preceding fragment. It was a step in my advance towards romantic composition; and to preserve the traces of these is in a great measure the object of this Essay.
* See Appendix No. II.
Queenhoo Hall was not, however, very successful. thought I was aware of the reason, and supposed that, by rendering his language too ancient, and displaying his antiquarian knowledge too liberally, the ingenious author had raised up an obstacle to his own success. Every work designed for mere amusement must be expressed in language easily comprehended; and when, as is sometimes the case in Queenhoo Hall, the author addresses himself exclusively to the antiquary, he must be content to be dismissed by the general reader with the criticism of Mungo, in the Padlock, on the Mauritanian music, 'What signifies me hear, if me no understand?'
I conceived it possible to avoid this error; and, by rendering a similar work more light and obvious to general comprehension, to escape the rock on which my predecessor was shipwrecked. But I was, on the other hand, so far discouraged by the indifferent reception of Mr. Strutt's romance as to become satisfied that the manners of the middle ages did not possess the interest which I had conceived; and was led to form the opinion that a romance founded on a Highland story and more modern events would have a better chance of popularity than a tale of chivalry. My thoughts, therefore, returned more than once to the tale which I had actually commenced, and accident at length threw the lost sheets in my way.
I happened to want some fishing-tackle for the use of a guest, when it occurred to me to search the old writing-desk already mentioned, in which I used to keep articles of that nature. I got access to it with some difficulty; and, in looking for lines and flies, the long-lost manuscript presented itself. I immediately set to work to complete it according to my original purpose. And here I must frankly confess that the mode in which I conducted the story scarcely deserved the success which the romance afterwards attained. The tale of Waverley was put together with so little care that I cannot boast of having sketched any distinct plan of the work. The whole adventures of Waverley, in his movements up and down the country with the Highland cateran Bean Lean, are managed without much skill. It suited best, however, the road I wanted to travel, and permitted me to introduce some descriptions of scenery and manners, to which the reality gave an interest which the powers of the Author might have otherwise failed to attain for them. And though I have been in other instances a sinner in this sort, I do not recollect any of these novels in
which I have transgressed so widely as in the first of the series.
Among other unfounded reports, it has been said that the copyright of Waverley was, during the book's progress through the press, offered for sale to various booksellers in London at a very inconsiderable price. This was not the case. Messrs. Constable and Cadell, who published the work, were the only persons acquainted with the contents of the publication, and they offered a large sum for it while in the course of printing, which, however, was declined, the Author not choosing to part with the copyright.
The origin of the story of Waverley, and the particular facts on which it is founded, are given in the separate introduction prefixed to that romance in this edition, and require no notice in this place.
Waverley was published in 1814, and, as the title-page was without the name of the author, the work was left to win its way in the world without any of the usual recommendations. Its progress was for some time slow; but after the first two or three months its popularity had increased in a degree which must have satisfied the expectations of the Author, had these been far more sanguine than he ever entertained.
Great anxiety was expressed to learn the name of the author, but on this no authentic information could be attained. My original motive for publishing the work anonymously was the consciousness that it was an experiment on the public taste which might very probably fail, and therefore there was no occasion to take on myself the personal risk of discomfiture. For this purpose considerable precautions were used to preserve secrecy. My old friend and schoolfellow, Mr. James Ballantyne, who printed these Novels, had the exclusive task of corresponding with the Author, who thus had not only the advantage of his professional talents, but also of his critical abilities. The original manuscript, or, as it is technically called, copy, was transcribed under Mr. Ballantyne's eye by confidential persons; nor was there an instance of treachery during the many years in which these precautions were resorted to, although various individuals were employed at different times. Double proof-sheets were regularly printed off. One was forwarded to the Author by Mr. Ballantyne, and the alterations which it received were, by his own hand, copied upon the other proofsheet for the use of the printers, so that even the corrected proofs of the Author were never seen in the printing office; and
thus the curiosity of such eager inquirers as made the most minute investigation was entirely at fault.
But although the cause of concealing the author's name in the first instance, when the reception of Waverley was doubtful, was natural enough, it is more difficult, it may be thought, to account for the same desire for secrecy during the subsequent editions, to the amount of betwixt eleven and twelve thousand copies, which followed each other close, and proved the success of the work. I am sorry I can give little satisfaction to queries on this subject. I have already stated elsewhere that I can render little better reason for choosing to remain anonymous than by saying with Shylock, that such was my humour. It will be observed that I had not the usual stimulus for desiring personal reputation, the desire, namely, to float amidst the conversation of men. Of literary fame, whether merited or undeserved, I had already as much as might have contented a mind more ambitious than mine; and in entering into this new contest for reputation I might be said rather to endanger what I had than to have any considerable chance of acquiring
I was affected, too, by none of those motives which, at an earlier period of life, would doubtless have operated upon me. My friendships were formed, my place in society fixed, my life had attained its middle course. My condition in society was higher perhaps than I deserved, certainly as high as I wished, and there was scarce any degree of literary success which could have greatly altered or improved my personal condition.
I was not, therefore, touched by the spur of ambition, usually stimulating on such occasions; and yet I ought to stand exculpated from the charge of ungracious or unbecoming indifference to public applause. I did not the less feel gratitude for the public favour, although I did not proclaim it; as the lover who wears his mistress's favour in his bosom is as proud, though not so vain, of possessing it as another who displays the token of her grace upon his bonnet. Far from such an ungracious state of mind, I have seldom felt more satisfaction than when, returning from a pleasure voyage, I found Waverley in the zenith of popularity, and public curiosity in full cry after the name of the Author. The knowledge that I had the public approbation was like having the property of a hidden treasure, not less gratifying to the owner than if all the world knew that it was his own. Another advantage was connected with the secrecy which I observed: I could appear or retreat
from the stage at pleasure, without attracting any personal notice or attention, other than what might be founded on suspicion only. In my own person also, as a successful author in another department of literature, I might have been charged with too frequent intrusions on the public patience; but the Author of Waverley was in this respect as impassible to the critic as the Ghost of Hamlet to the partizan of Marcellus. Perhaps the curiosity of the public, irritated by the existence. of a secret, and kept afloat by the discussions which took place on the subject from time to time, went a good way to maintain an unabated interest in these frequent publications. There was a mystery concerning the author which each new novel was expected to assist in unravelling, although it might in other respects rank lower than its predecessors.
I may perhaps be thought guilty of affectation, should I allege as one reason of my silence a secret dislike to enter on personal discussions concerning my own literary labours. It is in every case a dangerous intercourse for an author to be dwelling continually among those who make his writings a frequent and familiar subject of conversation, but who must necessarily be partial judges of works composed in their own society. The habits of self-importance which are thus acquired by authors are highly injurious to a well-regulated mind; for the cup of flattery, if it does not, like that of Circe, reduce men to the level of beasts, is sure, if cagerly drained, to bring the best and the ablest down to that of fools. This risk was in some degree prevented by the mask which I wore; and my own stores of self-conceit were left to their natural course, without being enhanced by the partiality of friends or adulation of flatterers.
If I am asked further reasons for the conduct I have long observed, I can only resort to the explanation supplied by a critic as friendly as he is intelligent; namely, that the mental organisation of the novelist must be characterised, to speak craniologically, by an extraordinary development of the passion for delitescency! I the rather suspect some natural disposition of this kind; for, from the instant I perceived the extreme curiosity manifested on the subject, I felt a secret satisfaction in baffling it, for which, when its unimportance is considered, I do not well know how to account.
My desire to remain concealed, in the character of the author of these Novels, subjected me occasionally to awkward embarrassments, as it sometimes happened that those who