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"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 2. Years Since" on the Waverley title-page helps to explain not only á his concern for the story's effect on his fellow-countrymen, but to è point its unique value as an original history-book. It is, in fact, o 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 Killancurcit 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.