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I therefore considered myself entitled, like an accused person put upon trial, to refuse giving my own evidence to my own conviction, and flatly to deny all that could not be proved against me. At the same time I usually qualified my denial by stating that, had I been the author of these works, I would have felt myself quite entitled to protect my secret by refusing my own evidence, when it was asked for to accomplish a discovery of what I desired to conceal.
The real truth is, that I never expected or hoped to disguise my connection with these Novels from any one who lived on terms of intimacy with me. The number of coinci
dences which necessarily existed between narratives recounted, modes of expression, and opinions broached in these Tales and such as were used by their Author in the intercourse of private life must have been far too great to permit any of my familiar acquaintances to doubt the identity betwixt their friend and the Author of Waverley; and I believe they were all morally convinced of it. But while I was myself silent, their belief could not weigh much more with the world than that of others; their opinions and reasoning were liable to be taxed with partiality, or confronted with opposing arguments and opinions; and the question was not so much whether I should be generally acknowledged to be the author, in spite of my own denial, as whether even my own avowal of the works, if such should be made, would be sufficient to put me in undisputed possession of that character.
I have been often asked concerning supposed cases, in which I was said to have been placed on the verge of discovery; but, as I maintained my point with the composure of a lawyer of thirty years' standing, I never recollect being in pain or confusion on the subject. In Captain Medwyn's Conversations of Lord Byron the reporter states himself to have asked my noble and highly-gifted friend, "If he was certain about these novels being Sir Walter Scott's?" To which Lord Byron replied, "Scott as much as owned himself the Author of Waverley to me in Murray's shop. I was talking to him about that novel, and lamented that its author had not carried back the story nearer to the time of the Revolution. Scott, entirely off his guard, replied, Ay, I might have done so; but there he stopped. It was in vain to attempt to correct himself; he looked confused, and relieved his embarrassment by a precipitate retreat." I have no recollection whatever of this scene taking place, and I should have thought that I was more likely to have laughed than to appear confused, for I certainly never hoped to impose upon
Lord Byron in a case of the kind; and from the manner in which he uniformly expressed himself, I knew his opinion was entirely formed, and that any disclamations of mine would only have savored of affectation. I do not mean to insinuate that the incident did not happen, but only that it could hardly have occurred exactly under the circumstances narrated, without my recollecting something positive on the subject. In another part of the same volume Lord Byron is reported to have expressed a supposition that the cause of my not avowing myself the Author of Waverley may have been some surmise that the reigning family would have been displeased with the work. I can only say, it is the last apprehension I should have entertained, as indeed the inscription to these volumes sufficiently proves. The sufferers of that melancholy period have, during the last and present reign, been honored both with the sympathy and protection of the reigning family, whose magnanimity can well pardon a sigh from others, and bestow one themselves, to the memory of brave opponents, who did nothing in hate, but all in honor.
While those who were in habitual intercourse with the real author had little hesitation in assigning the literary property to him, others, and those critics of no mean rank, employed themselves in investigating with persevering patience any characteristic features which might seem to betray the origin of these Novels. Among these, one gentleman, equally remarkable for the kind and liberal tone of his criticism, the acuteness of his reasoning, and the very gentlemanlike manner in which he conducted his inquiries, displayed not only powers of accurate investigation, but a temper of mind deserving to be employed on a subject of much greater importance; and I have no doubt made converts to his opinion of almost all who thought the point worthy of consideration.* Of those letters, and other attempts of the same kind, the Author could not complain, though his incognito was endangered. He had challenged the public to a game at bo-peep, and if he was discovered in his "hidinghole," he must submit to the shame of detection.
Various reports were of course circulated in various ways; some founded on an inaccurate rehearsal of what may have been partly real, some on circumstances having no concern whatever with the subject, and others on the invention of some impatient persons, who might perhaps imagine that the readiest mode of forcing the author to disclose himself was to assign some dishonorable and discreditable cause for his silence.
• Letters on the Author of Waverley; Rodwell & Martin, London, 1822.
It may be easily supposed that this sort of inquisition was treated with contempt by the person whom it principally regarded; as, among all the rumors that were current, there was only one, and that as unfounded as the others, which had nevertheless some alliance to probability, and indeed might have proved in some degree true.
I allude to a report which ascribed a great part, or the whole, of these Novels to the late Thomas Scott, Esq., of the 70th Regiment, then stationed in Canada. Those who remember that gentleman will readily grant that, with general talents at least equal to those of his elder brother, he added a power of social humor and a deep insight into human character which rendered him an universally delightful member of society, and that the habit of composition alone was wanting to render him equally successful as a writer. The Author of Waverley was so persuaded of the truth of this, that he warmly pressed his brother to make such an experiment, and willingly undertook all the trouble of correcting and superintending the press. Mr. Thomas Scott seemed at first very well disposed to embrace the proposal, and had even fixed on a subject and a hero. The latter was a person well known to both of us in our boyish years, from having displayed some strong traits of character. Mr. T. Scott had determined to represent his youthful acquaintance as emigrating to America, and encountering the dangers and hardships of the New World, with the same dauntless spirit which he had displayed when a boy in his native country. Mr. Scott would probably have been highly successful, being familiarly acquainted with the manners of the native Indians, of the old French settlers in Canada, and of the Brulés or Woodsmen, and having the power of observing with accuracy what I have no doubt he could have sketched with force and expression. In short, the Author believes his brother would have made himself distinguished in that striking field in which, since that period, Mr. Cooper has achieved so many triumphs. But Mr. T. Scott was already affected by bad health, which wholly unfitted him for literary labor, even if he could have reconciled his patience to the task. He never, I believe, wrote a single line of the projected work; and I only have the melancholy pleasure of preserving in the Appendix* the simple anecdote on which he proposed to found it.
To this I may add, I can easily conceive that there may have been circumstances which gave a color to the general report of my brother being interested in these works; and in
*See Appendix No. III.
particular that it might derive strength from my having occasion to remit to him, in consequence of certain family transactions, some considerable sums of money about that period. To which it is to be added that if any person chanced to evince particular curiosity on such a subject, my brother was likely enough to divert himself with practising on their credulity.
It may be mentioned that, while the paternity of these Novels was from time to time warmly disputed in Britain, the foreign booksellers expressed no hesitation on the matter, but affixed my name to the whole of the Novels, and to some besides to which I had no claim.
The volumes, therefore, to which the present pages form a Preface are entirely the composition of the author by whom they are now acknowledged, with the exception, always, of avowed quotations, and such unpremeditated and involuntary plagiarisms as can scarce be guarded against by any one who has read and written a great deal. The original manuscripts are all in existence, and entirely written (horresco referens) in the Author's own hand, excepting during the years 1818 and 1819, when, being affected with severe illness, he was obliged to employ the assistance of a friendly amanuensis.
The number of persons to whom the secret was necessarily intrusted, or communicated by chance, amounted, I should think, to twenty at least, to whom I am greatly obliged for the fidelity with which they observed their trust, until the derangement of the affairs of my publishers, Messrs. Constable & Co., and the exposure of their accompt books, which was the necessary consequence, rendered secrecy no longer possible. The particulars attending the avowal have been laid before the public in the introduction to the Chronicles of the Canongate.
The preliminary advertisement has given a sketch of the purpose of this edition. I have some reason to fear that the notes which accompany the tales, as now published, may be thought too miscellaneous, and too egotistical. It may be some apology for this, that the publication was intended to be posthumous, and still more that old men may be permitted to speak long, because they cannot in the course of nature have long time to speak. In preparing the present edition, I have done all that I can do to explain the nature of my materials, and the use I have made of them; nor is it probable that I shall again revise or even read these Tales. I was therefore desirous rather to exceed in the portion of new and explanatory matter which is added to this edition than that
the reader should have reason to complain that the information communicated was of a general and merely nominal character. It remains to be tried whether the public (like a child to whom a watch is shown) will, after having been satiated with looking at the outside, acquire some new interest in the object when it is opened and the internal machinery displayed to them.
That Waverley and its successors have had their day of favor and popularity must be admitted with sincere gratitude; and the Author has studied (with the prudence of a beauty whose reign has been rather long) to supply, by the assistance of art, the charms which novelty no longer affords. The publishers have endeavored to gratify the honorable partiality of the public for the encouragement of British art, by illustrating this edition with designs by the most eminent living artists.
To my distinguished countryman, David Wilkie, to Edwin Landseer, who has exercised his talents so much on Scottish subjects and scenery, to Messrs. Leslie and Newton, my thanks are due, from a friend as well as an author. Nor am I less obliged to Messrs. Cooper, Kidd, and other artists of distinction to whom I am less personally known, for the ready zeal with which they have devoted their talents to the same purpose.
Farther explanation respecting the Edition is the business. of the publishers, not of the Author; and here, therefore, the latter has accomplished his task of Introduction and explanation. If, like a spoiled child, he has sometimes abused or trifled with the indulgence of the public, he feels himself entitled to full belief when he exculpates himself from the charge of having been at any time insensible of their kindness.
ABBOTSFORD, 1st January, 1829.