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will be done, ye might hae cause to say, “His name be praised.""
Scriptural quotation has been made a charge against the piety of Scott; but as it is a charge common to all, from Milton to Mrs. Sherwood, the only question is, in what spirit it has been done, and with what influence it has been accompanied. Now in this, each must judge for himself; but to me, it seems that Scott has done it with equal sincerity to Milton, and perhaps more than equal awe. Had Scott been wanting, as some think, in the “root of the matter," such characters as Mc Briar, Mucklewrath, and Dominie Sampson, would have been turned into impious mockery. As it is, their religion bears them up, and from the pen of Scott, that is made to give dignily even to folly and insanity, which, with a Smollett or a Fielding, would have constituted the main but of ridicule. Scott's sensibilities, as well in church as state, were all no doubt strong in favor of antiquity. He was no friend to innovation or rising sects; yet such was his catholic spirit, and such his respect for the religion of the heart, under whatever form, that his fictions are kinder, and perhaps truer than history; and the Cameronian and the Quaker may look elsewhere in vain for so pleasing a portrait as they will find given of themselves in the family of Mount Sharon and the cottage of St. Leonards.
And in their moral aspect, how pure the light that beams from the works of Scott! Shakspeare, with all his genius, evinces no such moral principle. Spenser, with all his high imaginings, had not so chaste a muse. Dryden wrote willingly for “a ribbald king and court," and Pope's religion could not save him from being sometimes a pander to vice; but he who can extract from the pages of Scott, even in his pictures of the most vile, one licentious thought, stands in the court of conscience self-condemned; he is his own betrayer! his own imagination is the traitor that has poisoned a pure fountain.
What too shall we say of him, when compared with his
ill-fated rival Byron, whom placing first in the list of genius, we must place first also in the painful list of those who, in the lofty language of our poet,
“ Profaned their God-given strength,
Up to his time English poets at least had purified as they run, and cast off with the passions of youth what even the passions of youth can never excuse. But Byron's, with all its soundless depth, was ever a dark stream: no olive branch of peace ever sweetened its black and bitter waters, which ever and anon settled into stagnant pools of pestilential corruption. How different the muse, the imagination of Scott! Here, the fountain, humanly speaking, was pure, for it was a heart of noble and tender feeling; and the stream was pure, for it flowed through the channels of a virtuous life : it was, in short, like his own sweet river, on whose banks he dwelt, now a brawling brook and now a placid lake, but ever sweet-waters; now kissing its banks of flowers, now rushing impetuous among rocks, now visiting the vine-clad cottage, and now some mouldering ruin; but still, wherever it went, by tower or town, diffusing life and verdant beauty till it reached that ocean, to which now, alas, it is gone down to mingle with its parent flood.
It has been asked by some, who measure genius by a scale of subjects, where are the solid works on which Scott's fame is built? And by others, in the same tone, it is lamented that such a genius had not consecrated his powers to higher and nobler themes; but with respect be it spoken, this is a narrow and false view, both of the subjects on which he did write, and the duties to which he was bound.
What makes a work solid, I would ask, but truth? And what is truth, but a faithful portraiture of that which the author professes to copy? And where shall the author find a nobler theme (at least in human subjects) than in the de
lineation of all that in our nature is good and brave, and gentle and high-minded, and self-denying? Is there more truth in the oft-told tales of ancient story-ay—or of modern either? Is there a purer morality or nobler lesson taught in its dark pages of vice and crime, and bloodshed, than in the pure and lofty fictions of Scott ? It is not on the score of truth, that history and works of imagination are to be set in contrast: as each has its use, so each has its own truth and moral value. What we term works of fiction, however useless or injurious in ordinary hands, are, in those of genius, works of high philosophy; they paint man as he truly is, with a truth above and beyond the individualities of local history; and I do not hesitate to assert, that there is a hundred times more truth, and a thousand times more solid instruction in the Heart of Mid Lothian, in the high resolve and virtuous resolution of untutored integrity, than in all those learned fables,
“Quicquid Grecia mendax audet in historia ;"
and yet forsooth, the one is to be termed fact, and the other fiction !
Let us be tender, gentlemen, how we condemn moral truth in the garb of fiction—its use has been consecrated by the holiest of authorities, and therefore, in lower measure, according to the powers of erring men, may it still be a sacred vehicle for the inculcation of high and virtuous lessons; and the author, who finds his powers best fitted thus to teach those lessons, in it will find also the highest application of the intellect that God has given him.
If fiction, then, rank according to the end at which it aims, the question at issue is—how does it appear in the pages of Scott ? In this he will stand comparison with any, I think, of his predecessors or contemporaries; with any moral or religious novelist whatsoever: I do not say in the moral lessons proposed, but in the moral influence produced,
for that is the test. Scott knew well, that to proclaim the lesson, was not the best way to teach it-he knew human nature too well for that— ruimur in vetitum nefas”-he therefore softens the metal, before be stamps it; he makes the heart in love with virtue, before he says to the understanding "pursue it.” 'Tis true, he does not with the herd of inferior novelists, who take to themselves credit for the moral lesson they teach, always deck forth virtue in human rewards. Such is not the course of the world—therefore it is not truth. Such is not the lesson of providence, therefore it is not piety; for where is the thought of future recompense, if all be made up here? Human rewards should, therefore, in fiction as in life, be sometimes given, and sometimes withheld: sometimes to fix our thoughts on a present retributive providence—sometimes to carry them forward to a future recompense.
But I do wrong to take this defence out of his own hands“worldly rewards, says Sir W. Scott, are not the recompense which providence has deemed worthy of suffering merit; and it is a dangerous and fatal doctrine to teach young persons, that rectitude of conduct and of principle, is either naturally allied with, or adequately rewarded by the gratification of our passions, or attainment of our wishes. A glance at the great picture of life, will show, that the duties of self-denial, and the sacrifice of passion to principle, are seldom thus remunerated; and that the internal consciousness of their high-minded discharge of duty, produces on their own reflections a more adequate recompense in the form of that peace, which the world can neither give nor take away."
Among his favorite heroes of romance, none seemed to equal Rob Roy and Claverhouse. In his armory hung the freebooter's gun, and in his study a small full-length likeness: of Claverhouse too, there hung full in his sight--an original portrait—and one need but look upon its flowing hair,
and feminine but straight-lined features, with its cruel but melancholy eye and compressed lips, to have read in it that unnatural union of ferocity and womanly gentleness, which Scott has so inimitably painted. Among the many stories which the portrait called forth, one rests on my memory as strikingly illustrative of his character. The son of a friend had joined his troop, but in the very first engagement, fear overcame his resolution, and he fled. Claverhouse represented it to him, not as a fault, but as a misfortune; evidencing solely, that nature had not fitted bim for the soldier, and urged him to quit the service for some other equally honorable pursuit ; this, through shame or spirit, the young man declined, and solicited a further trial. In granting it, Claverhouse said to him, with severity-"but remember you abide the consequences.” A second engagement took place, and the youth was again in the act of retreating, when Claverhouse riding up to him, said—“Your father's son is too good a man to dic the death of a menial,” drew his pistol, and shot him through the head. The head of the unfortunate Mary, severed from her body, there too hung, bearing date the day after her decapitation : this melancholy picture was highly prized by Sir W., as an undoubted original, and the gift of a Prussian prince.
Scott's storehouse of character, though essentially Scottish, was yet so varied from history, observation, and wide experience, and above all, from that inward philosophy, which enabled him to draw from universal nature—that his pictures suit every where—some few were drawn from living individuals: those to which he has confessed, are the Antiquary, Edie Ochiltree, Jeannie Deans, Dominie Sampson, and Old Mortality ; to which I would add, in the opinion of the neighborhood, the Clerk of the Parish, and Capt. Dalgetty. Speaking to him, one day, of the foreign countries where he had laid his scene, I ventured to suggest to him my own, upon the high ground of that moral influence writers of his