페이지 이미지

ble exerebis chanth whicted a

it has been discovered that the novel is a very flexible and comprehensive form of composition, applicable to many purposes, and capable of combining much instruction with amusement. There is scarcely any subject not either repulsive or of a very abstruse nature which must be of necessity excluded from it.'

Plainly, then, the status of the novel had been established as 'a more creditable exercise of ability than it was pre'viously considered”; and this change, as the Review said with great justice in the article from which we quote these last words, was due to Scott. We have insisted at some length upon this citation of contemporary opinion to emphasise what is imperfectly realised to-day—the importance of Scott's example, and the depth of the slough from which he dragged this admirable vehicle for thought. It is true that, before • Waverley' was written, Miss Austen had done, in silence and almost without recognition, five-sixths of her whole wonderful work. But Miss Austen, impeccable though she was, lacked what the greatest possess—that personal magnetism which kindles. Realising, perhaps more fully than any other, that the novel must rest on observation and experience, she confined herself to effects perfectly within a scope so limited that nothing but sheer greatness could draw matter from it. She had no wide first-hand knowledge of life, no treasury of reading to draw upon such as Scott had; had she possessed the latter, she would scarce have utilised it, for fear of those artificialities and imperfections which Scott himself did not avoid. With Scott's resources, she would only have been a kind of glorified Galt; her mission was to intensify, not to extend, the range of observation. She might quicken the sense of comedy, and that human sympathy which lies so near it; she could not enlarge and nourish the imagination. It was for Scott to show outlying tracts of the world, and backward ranges of time, peopled with living creatures, who were not mere human abstractions, like the personages of French tragedy; to carry abroad and into the past something of that noticing eye which makes the present living and significant, and to blend, as Shakespeare did, romance and comedy, high life and low life, into one many-coloured pattern. And, dealing as he did from the first with Celtic peoples, where the point of honour is in no way confined to a caste and gentility is claimed by the bare-legged follower as well as by the chief, he went far to make an end of the conventional distinctions in art between the motives and the sentiments of gentle and simple, rich and poor. In a sense, Scott, the clansman,

paved the way for Dickens, the Cockney, and for the romance of familiar life.

It must be freely allowed that Scott had probably no intention of doing any such thing. No great man of letters, with the possible exception of Shakespeare, ever attached so light a value to his own productions as did the author of • Marmion” and “Waverley.' He rehabilitated the novel, perhaps, less in his own eyes than in those of the world ; and certainly his last wish would have been to establish a democratic form of literature. Nevertheless, such was the result-a result achieved, as it were, accidentally and by reaction. Scott himself at first accepted bodily the convention of a superior intrigue for the gentlefolk, and a secondary plot for the servants. But his principals, heroes, and heroines were gentlemen and ladies, so impeccable as to be devoid of vitality, while his Cuddie Headriggs, Andrew Fairservices, and the rest were affluent in life, stamped with the individuality of all real creatures. Beyond the interest of the plot was the interest of the secondary characters, who were, indeed, the living forces that actuated and guided those accurate pieces of machinery, the highspirited young man and the ringletted young lady. And it was not long before even the primary convention disappeared in the Heart of Midlothian,' when he produced a heroine of humble birth, without beauty, without romantic affection for any lover-a creature of mere prose, and yet indisputably heroic. Jeanie Deans was, perhaps, the first heroine in prose literature sketched consistently with the eye of a humourist, and her strong existence put to shame the phantasmal Lucys and Julias. Scott's failures were only less instructive than his successes. He showed the compatibility of romance with the most solid stuff of realism, and though from first to last it was seldom that he permitted himself to treat his leading lady or gentleman as he treated Jeanie Deans, yet he made it sufficiently plain how even heroines ought to be treated. And it was only the dashing young man and the pretty young woman of his own class who paralysed his faculty: kings were handled in his pages with the same free imagination as beggars, and James I. of England or Louis XI. of France is drawn in not less boldly, not less unsparingly, than Edie Ochiltree or Davie Deans. Fundamentally, Scott was a realist; the romancer had his feet planted on the solid ground of fact; only at certain points did his method fail him, or, rather, did he fall short of his method's requirements. He had no desire to

write stories altogether of ordinary or uneventful life in the shop or the cottage; in so far as he had theories, this pro cedure was against them. But, owing to the mere fact that the restraint of certain conventions, from which he never shook himself free, rendered low life in his books far more interesting than high life, both novelists and novel-readers were made ready to look for stories of romantic or tragic cast from which the traditionally picturesque and decorative elements, the obviously romantic, should be entirely excluded.

It must be allowed that this was by no means an immediate result. The first things to be imitated in Scott were not his essential excellences, but his accidental attractions. The Review, in summing up his work, attributed his success to the fact that he 'made a discovery in literature,' which showed how history might be made available for the purposes of fiction by 'attention to localities, to manners, and costume.' Scott, said Jeffrey, had 'taught the im

portance of truth to nature. That was a sound observation, but the truth which made Scott great was the truth which he shared with Shakespeare, and not the historic accuracy or verisimilitude in accidentals. Yet what struck the mind of his contemporaries was just this affluence of • local colour,' to use a phrase greatly in vogue from 1830 onwards. The result is evident in various ways. A crop of writers—Harrison Ainsworth foremost among them-followed Scott's lead in the historical novel, finding their account in a vast deal of that jargon which Stevenson wittily called • tushery,' and in all the Wardour Street accessories for which Scott had an antiquary's passion. They caught the trick, but they missed the magic. All the difference between talent and genius is shown by the contrast between Ainsworth's lay figures in armour and those surprising personages of ‘Ivanhoe,' The Talisman,' and the rest—the Brian de Bois Guilberts and the others, who at one time are mere stuffed creatures of pasteboard and at another come suddenly to life and breathe the very breath of battle. Moreover, as Scott knew and said himself, the other men studied up as a matter of business all the antiquarian lore which had always been his preoccupation, till at the last he was really impregnated with the spirit of medievalism. Nevertheless, on this side Scott was most imitable, and he has made the fortune of a host of imitators from that day to this.

On another side his achievement had better results.

With his customary generosity, he avowed himself in debt to Miss Edgeworth for the demonstration that local peculiarities of character, circumstances, and dialect might be emphasised with effect in fiction. Needless to say, he bettered the instruction, and his success paved the way for other writers of genuine talent. Galt, who had been told in 1811 that a novel purely Scottish in subject could never take, found by 1820 à fair field open for his works, whose merit has perhaps hardly been adequately recognised. He at least relied solely upon truth to nature—the minute delineation of small and parochial affairs. Without talent for construction, without any brilliancy of style or of wit, he achieved a success which but for Scott would never have come his way. And his method, employed afresh on a kindred subject by Mr. J. M. Barrie, has given us some of the finest work done by any writer now living-work almost as superior to Galt's as was Waverley' to Castle Rackrent.' Another contemporary owed, like Galt, little to Scott's example, but much to the taste which he bad created. Miss Ferrier's broadly humorous studies of Scotch character are still excellent reading-much better reading than Miss Burney's stories, whose disciple, nevertheless, Miss Ferrier may be said to be. Yet neither Marriage' nor "The • Inheritance' would have been likely to find a publisher or a public but for the interest which Scott had generated in local peculiarities of life, thought, and speech. Nor was the influence confined to Scotland. From Miss Edgeworth's country Lady Morgan sent her "Wild Irish Girl,' who had a vogue that is now surprising. Work of far higher quality than bers was done by the Banims and by Carleton, peasants of genius, who failed of greatness only by the lack of adequate literary equipment and of a literary tradition behind them. Yet they too scored a certain success by the picturesque presentment of unfamiliar conditions of existence. So in a different way did Hope, who won a great reputation by his study of a Levantine adventurer in 'Anastasius'-so great a reputation that the Review ranked him next to Scottlongo sed proximus intervallo.

Outside Great Britain Scott's example was not less fruitful. Byron alone of his contemporaries exerted an influence abroad comparable with his, and he exercised that influence, as did Byron, chiefly through Paris, the intellectual clearing-house of Europe. Scott's influence in France was not so direct as that of Byron, but it was not less important: significantly enough, he was the forerunner of Shakespeare. Men went on from the great master of prose romance to the greater master of romantic drama. Not only in Hugo's writings and those of Dumas can we trace the leaven at work : Mérimée's prefaces comment with their quiet irony on the craze for local colour--which, if it produced a crop of absurdities, produced also such tales as Colomba' and • Carmen,' tales unlike enough to anything that ever came from the pen that wrote Waverley,' yet worthy of it, and beyond a doubt traceable to its inspiration.

Scarcely more resemblance unites Scott to his only rival, the great Dumas: there is between the two writers all the gulf that divides Dalgetty from D'Artagnan. But Scott's was the parent inspiration : without Scott we had never known the immortal Musketeers.' Few things in criticism are more curious than the divergence between the estimate of Dumas père which obtains in his own country and that which has been given by such judges as Stevenson and Mr. Lang. French opinion rates Dumas much as we rate Marryat or Lever; and there is, perhaps, something in the contention, put forward the other day by Mr. Gosse, that to set an extravagant value even on the · Musketeers' series is a kind of puerility. In the art of holding attention by brilliant improvisation, whether of incident or dialogue, Dumas outdoes his master; but even his best figures, with the single exception of D'Artagnan-even Athos, Aramis, Porthos himself—are at best splendid creatures of the stage. But Cuddie Headrigg and his mother, Bailie Nicol Jarvie and Evan Dhu, Dandie Dinmont and Meg Merrilies, Claverhouse and Burley, old Elspeth in the Antiquary,' Jeanie Deans and her sister—all these creations are simply part of life ; you cannot match them in Dumas-it is hard to say where you can match them.

Nevertheless, though Scott more than any other man established the novel as the characteristic expression of an age in literature, it was not Waverley'—and still less

Ivanhoe'—that furnished the type of novel destined to dominate. True, Waverley 'has had, and always will have, successors, and among the progeny of Scott must be reckoned Stevenson, one of the two or three outstanding names of recent years. And in at least one European literature that of Poland-the historical novel appears to have been the tool most natural to the hand of a man of genius. It is difficult to judge work in a translation, yet, perhaps, Sienkiewicz's epic story, With Fire and Sword,' may be allowed to offset the great novels of Russia. But the type

« 이전계속 »