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Scott's literary earnings had been enormous, unprecedented in the history of English literature. When he published Waverley, a new venture, Constable had offered him £700, an amount which Scott refused, saying it was too much if the novel should not prove successful, and too little if it should. That Constable had been generous in his offer is evident from Lockhart's assertion that Miss Edgeworth, Scott's successful contemporary, had never received tithe of that amount for one novel. Yet within the first year of its publication publisher and author, who shared the profits, had each made over £1,000 from the sales of Waverley, and by 1821 eight editions had appeared.
Without going into detail as to the various profits on his writings, we may say that Scott probably earned with his pen the enormous sum of £140,000. For Woodstock alone he received over £8,000, and his Life of Napoleon, the first and second editions, produced for his creditors £18,000. From the close of 1825 to June, 1827, his literary industry had enabled him to pay his creditors £28,000. Had he lived he could have paid off his enormous debt within eight or nine years after the failure; as it was, his creditors were paid in full by the copyrights that brought in their revenues after the author's death.
Last Days. —No man, however rugged, could stand the pace set by such a worker as Scott. Knowing his persistent industry, especially after his desire to meet his money obligations, one is not surprised to learn that the wizard's brain gave way, a slight stroke of paralysis impairing his mental powers in 1831. With a timely generosity too rarely recorded in the history of nations, the English government placed a warship at his disposal, urging him to seek health in a trip on the Mediterranean. Scott consented, all the more readily because he at times enjoyed the delusion that he had paid off all his debt. His stay in Italy was brief; depressed by the news of the death of Goethe, he longed to be back at Abbotsford. “ Alas! for Goethe," he cried, “but he at least died at home."
His delight on his return as he came in sight of his home was pathetic. The familiar scenes aroused him from a stupor into
which the fatigue of the journey had thrown him, and his joy became almost beyond control. When he was carried into the house and placed upon his bed, he sat bewildered until his eye fell on Laidlaw, the manager of his estate: “Ha! Willie Laidlaw! O man, how often have I thought of you!” And then we have a picture of his faithful dogs fawning upon him and licking his hands, while the great man in his weakness sobbed and smiled over them, until like a weary child he fell asleep.
Lockhart's tender and beautiful description of Scott's end deserves to be quoted in full:
"As I was dressing on the morning of Monday the 17th of September, Nicolson came into my room, and told me that his master had awoke in a state of composure and consciousness, and wished to see me immediately. I found him entirely himself, though in the last extreme of feebleness. His eye was clear and calm every trace of the wild fire of delirium extinguished. “Lockhart,' he said, 'I may have but a minute to speak to you. My dear, be a good man - be virtuous - be religious - be a good man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie here.' He paused, and I said, 'Shall I send for Sophia and Anne?' 'No,' said he, ‘don't disturb them. Poor souls ! I know they were up all night God bless you all. With this he sunk into a very tranquil sleep, and, indeed, he scarcely afterwards gave any sign of consciousness, except for an instant on the arrival of his sons. They, on learning that the scene was about to close, obtained new leave of absence from their posts, and both reached Abbotsford on the 19th. About half-past one P. M., on the 21st of September, Sir Walter breathed his last, in the presence of all his children. It was a beautiful day - so warm that every window was wide open and so perfectly still that the sound of all others most delicious to his ear, the gentle ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles, was distinctly audible as we knelt around the bed, and his eldest son kissed and closed his eyes."
Qualities as a Writer. - Scott was not a man who took infinite pains to acquire style; although most prolific of writers, he was not a bookish man, as was Stevenson, or Pater, or Milton; in his attitude towards literature he was more like Chaucer and Shakspere. Scott cared more for Abbotsford, for his dogs and his horses, than for literary criticism. Not that he thought himself above criticism — “I value your criticism as much as ever,” he writes to a friend, “but the worst is my faults are better
known to myself than to you.” A man who published three long novels in a year had no time to polish his sentences; therefore we need not look to Scott for that subtle discrimination in the choice of words, that striking combination of words and phrases, found in the great masters of style. Some of his best novels were written in the shortest time, while in imagination he heard the "thumping, clattering, and banging" of the printing press. The chief charm of his style is its naturalness; he writes well, though not brilliantly; neither his prose nor his poetry furnish many notable sayings; "there are few purple patches in his writings; ... he scarcely ever utters a thought which illumines the depths of things.” He has not the Shaksperean instinct for style — but, then, very few have.
Nor is Scott a master in the making of plot, and we usually must read through a long introduction before we come to the story itself. The lack of a coherent plot may be due to the rapidity with which he composed. With less assurance as to his fertility of imagination, he would have been obliged to outline his story before he plunged into it. The very richness of his equipment made him careless where a lesser mind would have been careful. In his Introductory Epistle to The Fortunes of Nigel, he has confessed to an inability to keep to a plan:
“I have repeatedly . . . endeavored to construct a story which I meant should evolve itself gradually and strikingly, maintain suspense, and stimulate curiosity; and which finally should terminate in a striking catastrophe. But I think there is a demon who seats himself on the feather of my pen when I begin to write, and leads it astray from the purpose. Characters expand under my hand; incidents are multiplied; the story lingers, while my materials increase; my regular mansion turns out a Gothic anomaly, and the work is closed long before I have attained the purpose I proposed."
A third criticism is that he is lacking in psychological interest, meaning that he does not have the power to analyze character; that his men and women, especially his more important personages, are uninteresting. It is true that Scott describes the pageant of life rather than the forces, the emotions and reflection, that cause the pageant. Had he written Hamlet we should have a
brilliant description of the court of Denmark; Rosencranz and Guildenstern would have been delineated in a characteristic and interesting episode, but Hamlet and Ophelia would have played a minor part, and no glimpse whatever would we have had of the soul of Hamlet. After reading Guy Mannering, who can forget Dandie Dinmont and Meg Merrilies and Dominie Sampson, and who can remember the ostensible main story of Vanbeest Brown and Julia Mannering?
But his excellencies were greater than his faults. “Scott at his worst excels all others at their best," writes Saintsbury in discussing his imitators, whose number is legion. Scott himself has given us his own comment on the difference between himself and his imitators. In 1826 he wrote:
“I take up again my remarks on imitators. I am sure I mean the gentlemen no wrong by calling them so, and heartily wish they had followed a better model. . . . One advantage, I think, I still have over all of them. They may do their fooling with better grace; but I, like Sir Andrew Aguecheek, do it more natural. They have to read old books, and consult antiquarian collections, to get their knowledge; I write because I have long since read such works, and possess, thanks to a strong memory, the information which they have to seek for. This leads to a dragging-in historical details by head and shoulders, so that the interest of the main piece is lost in minute descriptions of events which do not affect its progress. . . . In my better efforts, while I conducted my story through the agency of historical personages, and by connecting it with historical incidents, I have endeavored to weave them pretty closely together, and in future I will study this more. Must not let the background eclipse the principal figures — the framework overpower the picture.
"Another thing in my favor is that my contemporaries steal too openly. Mr. Smith has inserted in Brambletye House whole pages from De Foe's Fire and Plague of London.
'Steal! foh! a fico for the phrase -
“When I convey an incident or so, I am at as much pains to avoid detection as if the offence could be indicted at the Old Bailey. ... There is one way to give novelty - to depend for success on the interest of a well-contrived story. But, wie's me! that requires thought, consideration - above all, the adhering to one — which I never can do, for the
ideas rise as I write, and bear such a disproportioned extent to that which each occupied at the first concoction, that (cocksnowns) I shall never be able to take the trouble.”
Wholesomeness. - Deficiencies in style, in plot structure, in subtle analysis of character, were forgotten, and are still forgotten, by readers who find in his fiction a wholesome interpretation of life. What do we find in Scott ? As the writer of historical romance he is the creator of a new species of literature. Out of the abundance of his antiquarian lore he has made the past live, and that without the effort that smacks of pedantry. His “local color" is convincing. Not that it is always true. His errors can be exposed by the erudite historian, but so can Shakspere's. In the Antiquary he causes the huge disk of the sun to set in the ocean off the east coast of Scotland, and he twists some of the facts of history to suit his needs; but Shakspere was guilty of giving Bohemia a sea-coast and of making clocks strike in the time of Julius Caesar. How many thousands owe their interest in the medieval history of Europe, not to the accurate and dull historian, but to the brilliant writer of The Talisman and Ivanhoe? He has peopled the past with living human beings.
Scott is more than a romanticist who has made the past live in charming descriptions of the pageantry of court, the tilt of tournament, the march and battle of crusader; he has given accurate, realistic pictures of contemporary Scotch life. In fiction like Old Mortality and The Heart of Midlothian he is a realist. His power to delineate the life and manners of the
has never been questioned. Though he fails in the highest gift of the creative artist, the power to create a man or woman who becomes as real as Hamlet and Portia, his characters are not individualized by some tricksy mannerism of phrase or gesture, as is often the case with Dickens. Scott's great characters may be “wooden," but many of his subsidiary characters are creations that almost match a Dogberry or a Touchstone. This is due to his broad humanity. The largeness of his nature included sympathies which caused him to be idolized not only by his servants, but even by his dogs and horses, and at one time by a discriminating