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geologically termed their transition state; passing from the forms of poetry, to those of romance, or, in other words, that these latter poems had risen in the display of character, but fallen in poetic imagery. Other causes, however, operated ; the public began to weary of the romantic school : its rhymes were cheap in the market, since it was found that measures, once considered the prerogative of genius, had become the inheritance of every bold and lawless scribbler, who was for justifying anarchy under the name and sanction of an illustrious and successful rebel--but
“Licence they mean, when they cry Liberty."
Scott, therefore, soon ceased as a poet, to be lord of the ascendant. Another star too, had then just arisen, whose meteor light attracted all eyes, and Scott himself acknowledges, that the consciousness of Byron's advance, in the lists, "a mighty and unexpected rival” palsied his powers, and made the task of composition in his latter poems “somewhat heavy and hopeless.”
To yield power without a sigh, may be the part of wisdom, but to yield it without a struggle, belongs only to a feeble mind. Such was not Scott's, and the failure of his poetry in the presence of Byron's, (a fact which his family in conversation were more apt to over-state than to deny,) threw him upon a new effort to recover the ground he had lost, and led to one of the most remarkable and successful instances of anonymous authorship, which the literary world had ever witnessed : to borrow the happy allusion of Cunningham's, “it was like his own black knight in Ivanhoe, who not only chose to fight with his beaver down, but refused to raise it and show himself, when he had overcome all opponents :" and to this analogy we may add, that the cause of refusal was in both the same, viz. because it was their own banished sovereign, come to vindicate, with resistless arm, his lost dominion.
The motive assigned by the author to me in conversation for its adoption, was simply caprice, or, as he has said in print—"such was my humor”—but we may easily conjecture, it was not void of judgment. It was an inroad he was making on a new province, where, knowing neither his own strength, nor the difficulties of the way, victory was by no means certain : it was a venture on an untried ocean, where, like a prudent merchant, he was unwilling to embark his whole treasure. But it is singular, how dubious he was of his own powers, in a department of composition for which every natural talent seemed to fit him, and one in which the judgment of the public at once set him above every competitor. A third part of the first volume of Waverley went literally through the Horatian ordeal, “nonum prematur in annum," though it must be acknowledged, that its nine years' sleep was passed in a very uncritical way, in a neglected cabinet, among flies and fishing-tackle. It was written in 1805, and published in 1814.
If the period of its publication was one of anxiety, as it necessarily must have been, it was fortunate for the author that chance or choice had made him, at that very time, one of an official but gay ocean party, making the tour and leisurely survey of the capes and headlands of the northern part of the island; and just escaping, at its close (what to some of us might have had its consolations) the perilous visit of an American privateer. Waverley, in the mean time, had taken hold on the feelings of the public, and he returned just in time to be greeted with his own praises, in the universal hue and cry that was raised after the nameless author.
Why he chose to continue in masque after the public had decided in his favor, and more especially, as the secret often subjected him to dilemmas, in which no man of a nice sense of veracity would voluntarily place himself; is a question more easily asked than answered, even with all the light the
author has thrown upon it. He says naturally enough, that his incognito gave him the pleasure of one who was in possession of a secret treasure; but this were too childish a reason for so grave an act. That his reputation and standing needed not, as he justly argues, the support of their popularity, is still no reason why he should go out of the plain path to avoid it. The dread of giving offence to majesty, from the tenderness they displayed towards an exiled race, he himself has rejected with scorn, as if the magnanimity of him who filled their throne, could not "pardon a sigh from others, or bestow one themselves to the memory of brave opponents.” Something may undoubtedly be assigned to the author's love of mystery, and something to his fear of breaking the charm which that mystery seemed to have with the public; but after all, I am inclined to attribute much, very much, to that more honorable cause to which he himself alludes, and the sincerity of which his whole life so strikingly displays, namely, a wish “to avoid the partiality of friends, or the adulation of flatterers," and a secret dislike to enter on personal discussion concerning his own literary labors. “It is a dangerous intercourse, he observes, for an author to be dwelling continually among those who make his writings a frequent and familiar subject of conversation.”“ The habits of self-importance, thus acquired, are highly injurious to a well regulated mind."
For the long period of twelve years, during which these splendid and touching romances, some historical, some of pure fiction, continued to issue forth from their secret recesses with a rapidity unparalleled ; the mask was worn ; and although to near friends the disguise was far from complete, yet to the literary world it was still “ The Black Knight of the Fetterlock," whom no man knew by his device, however they might recognize him by his power : it was in short "the great Unknown.” In the meantime, Scott appeared fully engaged by his occasional acknowledged productions,
all avenues to the secret were barred with jealous care; the chosen few, (twenty in number,) to whom it had been necessarily entrusted, remained faithful; and although suspicion ever and anon rested on him, it was as often thrown at fault by some implied or even direct denial on his part. Such evasions it is not my intention to justify; his own reply to me was, “Sir, it was not a crime of which I was accused.”“ No man had a right to put me on trial, and wrest from my silence or ambiguous answer a secret which I had a right to keep."
I turn to a more pleasing theme—the wondrous number, and still more wondrous merits of the works themselves. I will not weary you, gentlemen, with their enumeration, their names are all familiar to our ears as household words,” and to republican ears much more so than “Harry the king, Bedford, and Exeter.” In the order of merit, amid much difference of opinion, all will acknowledge in them both a rise and declension of power, somewhat similar, though less marked, to what has been already noticed in his poems. For myself, I should say, that they continued to rise in merit from their commencement in “Waverley” until we come to “Rob Roy," "Old Mortality," and the “Heart of Mid Lothian." These three following in order, look to me like the Eildon Hill with its triple crown, at whose feet they were written—while the splendid epic of Ivanhoe, somewhat separated from them, shoots up like some one of the solitary hills of that classic range, to an equal or perhaps superior height; it came, in short, to redeem and re-establish a claim which in the opinion of the public began to waver. But throughout the whole series, almost to its very close, the same graphic pen, and the same master's hand may be traced, varying indeed much, but still, rather with the excitement of the heart of the author, than the powers of his mind. And when his heart was engaged in his subject, where shall we find his equal ! How just the conception, how felicitous the execution, how overwhelming the
emotion! How does he bow the heart with a thought, and call forth tears with a word! In those scenes of tenderness it is not Scott'tis nature herself that speaks; no wonder then that the heart obeys; as a child, at the call of its mother, so do we become children in his hands, and hearing that maternal voice which never speaks in vain, yield to him a passive obedience to lead us how and where he will.He leads us to the listed plain of the preceptory at Templestowe, the heavy bell with its slow sullen sounds salutes our ear, the drawbridge falls, and lo! the pale proud Jewess with her slow but undismayed step, the champion of the order, fierce yet ghastly pale as he reins in his pawing war-horse, the floating standard, and the hurried cry of “ A champion, A champion !"-all this rises at once before our glistening eyes.Again, we enter with him the cottage at Mussel Crag, and seated by the side of the heart-broken Mucklebackit, feel how sympathetic are tears when they course down weatherbeaten cheeks; while the mother's cry breaks our very heart, “O my bairn, my bairn, my bairn! what for is thou lying there? and eh! what for am I left to greet for ye !"— With the elder Philipson, we tremble with desperation on the rock at Gierstein, as he watches the perils of an only son; and like him are only withheld from some act of despair, by the sorrowing appeal of the youthful guide on his bended knee, " I too have a father.”—We enter the cottage of Jeannie Deans, and our proud hearts are humbled before the lofty integrity of a low-born Scottish maiden ;-while again in a roofless and ruined mansion, they are raised to such a height of piety, as it would be well that holier walls should always inspire, as we listen to the simple wisdom of the grandmother of poor Hobbie Elliot. If any one doubt the power of Scott to teach the lesson of thankful piety, let him read the story of that good old dame,“ who lost no opportunity of impressing her lesson when the heart was best open to receive it." “ Was it not my word, said she, “that if ye could say his