Waverley is a historical novel and Sir Walter Scott's first venture into prose fiction. The novel considered as the first historical novel in the western tradition. The book became so popular that Scott's later novels were advertised as being 'by the author of Waverley'. His series of works on similar themes written during the same period have become collectively known as the 'Waverley Novels'.
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And must I ravel out
My weaved-up follies?
Richard II, Act IV.
Having undertaken to give an Introductory Account of the compositions which are here offered to the public, with Notes and Illustrations, the Author, under whose name they are now for the first time collected, feels that he has the delicate task of speaking more of himself and his personal concerns than may perhaps be either graceful or prudent. In this particular he runs the risk of presenting himself to the public in the relation that the dumb wife in the jest-book held to her husband, when, having spent half of his fortune to obtain the cure of her imperfection, he was willing to have bestowed the other half to restore her to her former condition. But this is a risk inseparable from the task which the Author has undertaken, and he can only promise to be as little of an egotist as the situation will permit. It is perhaps an indifferent sign of a disposition to keep his word, that, having introduced himself in the third person singular, he proceeds in the second paragraph to make use of the first. But it appears to him that the seeming modesty connected with the former mode of writing is overbalanced by the inconvenience of stiffness and affectation which attends it during a narrative of some length, and which may be observed less or more in every work in which the third person is used, from the Commentaries of Caesar to the Autobiography of Alexander the Corrector.
I must refer to a very early period of my life, were I to point out my first achievements as a tale-teller; but I believe some of my old schoolfellows can still bear witness that I had a distinguished character for that talent, at a time when the applause of my companions was my recompense for the disgraces and punishments which the future romance-writer incurred for being idle himself, and keeping others idle, during hours that should have been employed on our tasks. The chief enjoyment of my holidays was to escape with a chosen friend, who had the same taste with myself, and alternately to recite to each other such wild adventures as we were able to devise. We told, each in turn, interminable tales of knight-errantry and battles and enchantments, which were continued from one day to another as opportunity offered, without our ever thinking of bringing them to a conclusion. As we observed a strict secrecy on the subject of this intercourse, it acquired all the character of a concealed pleasure, and we used to select for the scenes of our indulgence long walks through the solitary and romantic environs of Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags, Braid Hills, and similar places in the vicinity of Edinburgh; and the recollection of those holidays still forms an oasis in the pilgrimage which I have to look back upon. I have only to add, that my friend still lives, a prosperous gentleman, but too much occupied with graver business to thank me for indicating him more plainly as a confidant of my childish mystery.
When boyhood advancing into youth required more serious studies and graver cares, a long illness threw me back on the kingdom of fiction, as if it were by a species of fatality. My indisposition arose, in part at least, from my having broken a blood-vessel; and motion and speech were for a long time pronounced positively dangerous. For several weeks I was confined strictly to my bed, during which time I was not allowed to speak above a whisper, to eat more than a spoonful or two of boiled rice, or to have more covering than one thin counterpane. When the reader is informed that I was at this time a growing youth, with the spirits, appetite, and impatience of fifteen, and suffered, of course, greatly under this severe regimen, which the repeated return of my disorder rendered indispensable, he will not be surprised that I was abandoned to my own discretion, so far as reading (my almost sole amusement) was concerned, and still less so, that I abused the indulgence which left my time so much at my own disposal.
There was at this time a circulating library in Edinburgh, founded, I believe, by the celebrated Allan Ramsay, which, besides containing a most respectable collection of books of every description, was, as might have been expected, peculiarly rich in works of fiction. It exhibited specimens of every kind, from the romances of chivalry and the ponderous folios of Cyrus and Cassandra, down to the most approved works of later times. I was plunged into this great ocean of reading without compass or pilot; and, unless when some one had the charity to play at chess with me, I was allowed to do nothing save read from morning to night. I was, in kindness and pity, which was perhaps erroneous, however natural, permitted to select my subjects of study at my own pleasure, upon the same principle that the humours of children are indulged to keep them out of mischief. As my taste and appetite were gratified in nothing else, I indemnified myself by becoming a glutton of books. Accordingly, I believe I read almost all the romances, old plays, and epic poetry in that formidable collection, and no doubt was unconsciously amassing materials for the task in which it has been my lot to be so much employed.
At the same time I did not in all respects abuse the license permitted me. Familiar acquaintance with the specious miracles of fiction brought with it some degree of satiety, and I began by degrees to seek in histories, memoirs, voyages and travels, and the like, events nearly as wonderful as those which were the work of imagination, with the additional advantage that they were at least in a great measure true. The lapse of nearly two years, during which I was left to the exercise of my own free will, was followed by a temporary residence in the country, where I was again very lonely but for the amusement which I derived from a good though old-fashioned library. The vague and wild use which I made of this advantage I cannot describe better than by referring my reader to the desultory studies of Waverley in a similar situation, the passages concerning whose course of reading were imitated from recollections of my own. It must be understood that the resemblance extends no farther.
Time, as it glided on, brought the blessings of confirmed health and personal strength, to a degree which had never been expected or hoped for. The severe studies necessary to render me fit for my profession occupied the greater part of my time; and the society of my friends and companions, who were about to enter life along with, me, filled up the interval with the usual amusements of young men. I was in a situation which rendered serious labour indispensable; for, neither possessing, on the one hand, any of those peculiar advantages which are supposed to favour a hasty advance in the profession of the law, nor being, on the other hand, exposed to unusual obstacles to interrupt my progress, I might reasonably expect to succeed according to the greater or less degree of trouble which I should take to qualify myself as a pleader.
It makes no part of the present story to detail how the success of a few ballads had the effect of changing all the purpose and tenor of my life, and of converting a painstaking lawyer of some years’ standing into a follower of literature. It is enough to say, that I had assumed the latter character for several years before I seriously thought of attempting a work of imagination in prose, although one or two of my poetical attempts did not differ from romances otherwise than by being written in verse. But yet I may observe, that about this time (now, alas! thirty years since) I had nourished the ambitious desire of composing a tale of chivalry, which was to be in the style of the Castle of Otranto, with plenty of Border characters and supernatural incident. Having found unexpectedly a chapter of this intended work among some old papers, I have subjoined it to this introductory essay, thinking some readers may account as curious the first attempts at romantic composition by an author who has since written so much in that department. [Footnote: See Appendix No I.] And those who complain, not unreasonably, of the profusion of the Tales which have followed Waverley, may bless their stars at the narrow escape they have made, by the commencement of the inundation, which had so nearly taken place in the first year of the century, being postponed for fifteen years later.
This particular subject was never resumed, but I did not abandon the idea of fictitious composition in prose, though I determined to give another turn to the style of the work.
My early recollections of the Highland scenery and customs made so favourable an impression in the poem called the Lady of the Lake, that I was induced to think of attempting something of the same kind in prose. I had been a good deal in the Highlands at a time when they were much less accessible and much less visited than they have been of late years, and was acquainted with many of the old warriors of 1745, who were, like most veterans, easily induced to fight their battles over again for the benefit of a willing listener like myself. It naturally occurred to me that the ancient traditions and high spirit of a people who, living in a civilised age and country, retained so strong a tincture of manners belonging to an early period of society, must afford a subject favourable for romance, if it should not prove a curious tale marred in the telling.
It was with some idea of this kind that, about the year 1805, I threw together about one-third part of the first volume of Waverley. It was advertised to be published by the late Mr. John Ballantyne, bookseller in Edinburgh, under the name of Waverley; or, ‘Tis Fifty Years Since—a title afterwards altered to ‘Tis Sixty Years Since, that the actual date of publication might be made to correspond with the period in which the scene was laid. Having proceeded as far, I think, as the seventh chapter, I showed my work to a critical friend, whose opinion was unfavourable; and having then some poetical reputation, I was unwilling to risk the loss of it by attempting a new style of composition. I therefore threw aside the work I had commenced, without either reluctance or remonstrance. I ought to add that, though my ingenious friend’s sentence was afterwards reversed on an appeal to the public, it cannot be considered as any imputation on his good taste; for the specimen subjected to his criticism did not extend beyond the departure of the hero for Scotland, and consequently had not entered upon the part of the story which was finally found most interesting.
Be that as it may, this portion of the manuscript was laid aside in the drawers of an old writing-desk, which, on my first coming to reside at Abbotsford in 1811, was placed in a lumber garret and entirely forgotten. Thus, though I sometimes, among other literary avocations, turned my thoughts to the continuation of the romance which I had commenced, yet, as I could not find what I had already written, after searching such repositories as were within my reach, and was too indolent to attempt to write it anew from memory, I as often laid aside all thoughts of that nature.
Two circumstances in particular recalled my recollection of the mislaid manuscript. The first was the extended and well-merited fame of Miss Edgeworth, whose Irish characters have gone so far to make the English familiar with the character of their gay and kind-hearted neighbours of Ireland, that she may be truly said to have done more towards completing the Union than perhaps all the legislative enactments by which it has been followed up.
Without being so presumptuous as to hope to emulate the rich humour, pathetic tenderness, and admirable tact which pervade the works of my accomplished friend, I felt that something might be attempted for my own country, of the same kind with that which Miss Edgeworth so fortunately achieved for Ireland—something which might introduce her natives to those of the sister kingdom in a more favourable light than they had been placed hitherto, and tend to procure sympathy for their virtues and indulgence for their foibles. I thought also, that much of what I wanted in talent might be made up by the intimate acquaintance with the subject which I could lay claim to possess, as having travelled through most parts of Scotland, both Highland and Lowland, having been familiar with the elder as well as more modern race, and having had from my infancy free and unrestrained communication with all ranks of my countrymen, from the Scottish peer to the Scottish plough-man. Such ideas often occurred to me, and constituted an ambitious branch of my theory, however far short I may have fallen of it in practice.
But it was not only the triumphs of Miss Edgeworth which worked in me emulation, and disturbed my indolence. I chanced actually to engage in a work which formed a sort of essay piece, and gave me hope that I might in time become free of the craft of romance-writing, and be esteemed a tolerable workman.
In the year 1807-08 I undertook, at the request of John Murray, Esq., of Albemarle Street, to arrange for publication some posthumous productions of the late Mr. Joseph Strutt, distinguished as an artist and an antiquary, amongst which was an unfinished romance, entitled Queenhoo Hall. The scene of the tale was laid in the reign of Henry VI, and the work was written to illustrate the manners, customs, and language of the people of England during that period. The extensive acquaintance which Mr. Strutt had acquired with such subjects in compiling his laborious Horda Angel-Cynnan, his Regal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities, and his Essay on the Sports and Pastimes of the People of England had rendered him familiar with all the antiquarian lore necessary for the purpose of composing the projected romance; and although the manuscript bore the marks of hurry and incoherence natural to the first rough draught of the author, it evinced (in my opinion) considerable powers of imagination.
As the work was unfinished, I deemed it my duty, as editor, to supply such a hasty and inartificial conclusion as could be shaped out from the story, of which Mr. Strutt had laid the foundation. This concluding chapter [Footnote: See Appendix No. II.] is also added to the present Introduction, for the reason already mentioned regarding the preceding fragment. It was a step in my advance towards romantic composition; and to preserve the traces of these is in a great measure the object of this Essay.
Queenhoo Hall was not, however, very successful. I thought I was aware of the reason, and supposed that, by rendering his language too ancient, and displaying his antiquarian knowledge too liberally, the ingenious author had raised up an obstacle to his own success. Every work designed for mere amusement must be expressed in language easily comprehended; and when, as is sometimes the case in QUEENHOO HALL, the author addresses himself exclusively to the antiquary, he must be content to be dismissed by the general reader with the criticism of Mungo, in the PADLOCK, on the Mauritanian music, ‘What signifies me hear, if me no understand?’
I conceived it possible to avoid this error; and, by rendering a similar work more light and obvious to general comprehension, to escape the rock on which my predecessor was shipwrecked.
But I was, on the other hand, so far discouraged by the indifferent reception of Mr. Strutt’s romance as to become satisfied that the manners of the middle ages did not possess the interest which I had conceived; and was led to form the opinion that a romance founded on a Highland story and more modern events would have a better chance of popularity than a tale of chivalry.
My thoughts, therefore, returned more than once to the tale which I had actually commenced, and accident at length threw the lost sheets in my way.
I happened to want some fishing-tackle for the use of a guest, when it occurred to me to search the old writing-desk already mentioned, in which I used to keep articles of that nature.
I got access to it with some difficulty; and, in looking for lines and flies, the long-lost manuscript presented itself.
I immediately set to work to complete it according to my original purpose.
And here I must frankly confess that the mode in which I conducted the story scarcely deserved the success which the romance afterwards attained.
The tale of WAVERLEY was put together with so little care that I cannot boast of having sketched any distinct plan of the work. The whole adventures of Waverley, in his movements up and down the country with the Highland cateran Bean Lean, are managed without much skill. It suited best, however, the road I wanted to travel, and permitted me to introduce some descriptions of scenery and manners, to which the reality gave an interest which the powers of the Author might have otherwise failed to attain for them. And though I have been in other instances a sinner in this sort, I do not recollect any of these novels in which I have transgressed so widely as in the first of the series.
Among other unfounded reports, it has been said that the copyright of Waverley was, during the book’s progress through the press, offered for sale to various book-sellers in London at a very inconsiderable price. This was not the case. Messrs. Constable and Cadell, who published the work, were the only persons acquainted with the contents of the publication, and they offered a large sum for it while in the course of printing, which, however, was declined, the Author not choosing to part with the copyright.
The origin of the story of Waverley, and the particular facts on which it is founded, are given in the separate introduction prefixed to that romance in this edition, and require no notice in this place.
Waverley was published in 1814, and, as the title-page was without the name of the Author, the work was left to win its way in the world without any of the usual recommendations. Its progress was for some time slow; but after the first two or three months its popularity had increased in a degree which must have satisfied the expectations of the Author, had these been far more sanguine than he ever entertained.
Great anxiety was expressed to learn the name of the Author, but on this no authentic information could be attained. My original motive for publishing the work anonymously was the consciousness that it was an experiment on the public taste which might very probably fail, and therefore there was no occasion to take on myself the personal risk of discomfiture. For this purpose considerable precautions were used to preserve secrecy. My old friend and schoolfellow, Mr. James Ballantyne, who printed these Novels, had the exclusive task of corresponding with the Author, who thus had not only the advantage of his professional talents, but also of his critical abilities. The original manuscript, or, as it is technically called, copy, was transcribed under Mr. Ballantyne’s eye by confidential persons; nor was there an instance of treachery during the many years in which these precautions were resorted to, although various individuals were employed at different times. Double proof-sheets were regularly printed off. One was forwarded to the Author by Mr. Ballantyne, and the alterations which it received were, by his own hand, copied upon the other proof-sheet for the use of the printers, so that even the corrected proofs of the Author were never seen in the printing office; and thus the curiosity of such eager inquirers as made the most minute investigation was entirely at fault.
But although the cause of concealing the Author’s name in the first instance, when the reception of Waverley was doubtful, was natural enough, it is more difficult, it may be thought, to account for the same desire for secrecy during the subsequent editions, to the amount of betwixt eleven and twelve thousand copies, which followed each other close, and proved the success of the work. I am sorry I can give little satisfaction to queries on this subject. I have already stated elsewhere that I can render little better reason for choosing to remain anonymous than by saying with Shylock, that such was my humour. It will be observed that I had not the usual stimulus for desiring personal reputation, the desire, namely, to float amidst the conversation of men. Of literary fame, whether merited or undeserved, I had already as much as might have contented a mind more ambitious than mine; and in entering into this new contest for reputation I might be said rather to endanger what I had than to have any considerable chance of acquiring more. I was affected, too, by none of those motives which, at an earlier period of life, would doubtless have operated upon me. My friendships were formed, my place in society fixed, my life had attained its middle course. My condition in society was higher perhaps than I deserved, certainly as high as I wished, and there was scarce any degree of literary success which could have greatly altered or improved my personal condition.
I was not, therefore, touched by the spur of ambition, usually stimulating on such occasions; and yet I ought to stand exculpated from the charge of ungracious or unbecoming indifference to public applause. I did not the less feel gratitude for the public favour, although I did not proclaim it; as the lover who wears his mistress’s favour in his bosom is as proud, though not so vain, of possessing it as another who displays the token of her grace upon his bonnet. Far from such an ungracious state of mind, I have seldom felt more satisfaction than when, returning from a pleasure voyage, I found Waverley in the zenith of popularity, and public curiosity in full cry after the name of the Author. The knowledge that I had the public approbation was like having the property of a hidden treasure, not less gratifying to the owner than if all the world knew that it was his own. Another advantage was connected with the secrecy which I observed. I could appear or retreat from the stage at pleasure, without attracting any personal notice or attention, other than what might be founded on suspicion only. In my own person also, as a successful author in another department of literature, I might have been charged with too frequent intrusions on the public patience; but the Author of Waverley was in this respect as impassible to the critic as the Ghost of Hamlet to the partisan of Marcellus. Perhaps the curiosity of the public, irritated by the existence of a secret, and kept afloat by the discussions which took place on the subject from time to time, went a good way to maintain an unabated interest in these frequent publications. There was a mystery concerning the Author which each new novel was expected to assist in unravelling, although it might in other respects rank lower than its predecessors.
I may perhaps be thought guilty of affectation, should I allege as one reason of my silence a secret dislike to enter on personal discussions concerning my own literary labours. It is in every case a dangerous intercourse for an author to be dwelling continually among those who make his writings a frequent and familiar subject of conversation, but who must necessarily be partial judges of works composed in their own society. The habits of self-importance which are thus acquired by authors are highly injurious to a well-regulated mind; for the cup of flattery, if it does not, like that of Circe, reduce men to the level of beasts, is sure, if eagerly drained, to bring the best and the ablest down to that of fools. This risk was in some degree prevented by the mask which I wore; and my own stores of self-conceit were left to their natural course, without being enhanced by the partiality of friends or adulation of flatterers.
If I am asked further reasons for the conduct I have long observed, I can only resort to the explanation supplied by a critic as friendly as he is intelligent; namely, that the mental organisation of the novelist must be characterised, to speak craniologically, by an extraordinary development of the passion for delitescency! I the rather suspect some natural disposition of this kind; for, from the instant I perceived the extreme curiosity manifested on the subject, I felt a secret satisfaction in baffling it, for which, when its unimportance is considered, I do not well know how to account.
My desire to remain concealed, in the character of the Author of these Novels, subjected me occasionally to awkward embarrassments, as it sometimes happened that those who were sufficiently intimate with me would put the question in direct terms. In this case, only one of three courses could be followed. Either I must have surrendered my secret, or have returned an equivocating answer, or, finally, must have stoutly and boldly denied the fact. The first was a sacrifice which I conceive no one had a right to force from me, since I alone was concerned in the matter. The alternative of rendering a doubtful answer must have left me open to the degrading suspicion that I was not unwilling to assume the merit (if there was any) which I dared not absolutely lay claim to; or those who might think more justly of me must have received such an equivocal answer as an indirect avowal. 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 coincidences 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 savoured 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 honoured 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 honour.
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. Amongst 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. [Footnote: Letters on the Author of Waverley; Rodwell and Martin, London, 1822.] 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 ‘hiding-hole,’ 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 importunate persons, who might perhaps imagine that the readiest mode of forcing the Author to disclose himself was to assign some dishonourable and discreditable cause for his silence.
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 rumours 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 humour 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 Brules 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 labour, 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 [Footnote: See Appendix No. III.] 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 colour to the general report of my brother being interested in these works; and in 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 entrusted, 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 and Co., and the exposure of their account 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 maybe 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 favour 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 endeavoured to gratify the honourable partiality of the public for the encouragement of British art, by illustrating this edition with designs by the most eminent living artists. [Footnote: The illustrations here referred to were made for the edition of 1829]
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.
FRAGMENT OF A ROMANCE WHICH WAS TO HAVE BEEN ENTITLED
THOMAS THE RHYMER.
[It is not to be supposed that these fragments are given as possessing any intrinsic value of themselves; but there may be some curiosity attached to them, as to the first etchings of a plate, which are accounted interesting by those who have, in any degree, been interested in the more finished works of the artist.]
The sun was nearly set behind the distant mountains of Liddesdale, when a few of the scattered and terrified inhabitants of the village of Hersildoun, which had four days before been burned by a predatory band of English Borderers, were now busied in repairing their ruined dwellings. One high tower in the centre of the village alone exhibited no appearance of devastation. It was surrounded with court walls, and the outer gate was barred and bolted. The bushes and brambles which grew around, and had even insinuated their branches beneath the gate, plainly showed that it must have been many years since it had been opened. While the cottages around lay in smoking ruins, this pile, deserted and desolate as it seemed to be, had suffered nothing from the violence of the invaders; and the wretched beings who were endeavouring to repair their miserable huts against nightfall, seemed to neglect the preferable shelter which it might have afforded them, without the necessity of labour.
Before the day had quite gone down, a knight, richly armed, and mounted upon an ambling hackney, rode slowly into the village. His attendants were a lady, apparently young and beautiful, who rode by his side upon a dappled palfrey; his squire, who carried his helmet and lance, and led his battle-horse, a noble steed, richly caparisoned. A page and four yeomen, bearing bows and quivers, short swords, and targets of a span breadth, completed his equipage, which, though small, denoted him to be a man of high rank.
He stopped and addressed several of the inhabitants whom curiosity had withdrawn from their labour to gaze at him; but at the sound of his voice, and still more on perceiving the St. George’s Cross in the caps of his followers, they fled, with a loud cry that the Southrons were returned. The knight endeavoured to expostulate with the fugitives, who were chiefly aged men, women, and children; but their dread of the English name accelerated their flight, and in a few minutes, excepting the knight and his attendants, the place was deserted by all. He paced through the village to seek a shelter for the night, and despairing to find one either in the inaccessible tower or the plundered huts of the peasantry, he directed his course to the left hand, where he spied a small, decent habitation, apparently the abode of a man considerably above the common rank. After much knocking, the proprietor at length showed himself at the window, and speaking in the English dialect, with great signs of apprehension, demanded their business. The warrior replied that his quality was an English knight and baron, and that he was travelling to the court of the king of Scotland on affairs of consequence to both kingdoms.
“Pardon my hesitation, noble Sir Knight,” said the old man, as he unbolted and unbarred his doors,—
“Pardon my hesitation, but we are here exposed to too many intrusions to admit of our exercising unlimited and unsuspicious hospitality. What I have is yours; and God send your mission may bring back peace and the good days of our old Queen Margaret!”
“Amen, worthy franklin,” quoth the knight,—“Did you know her?”
“I came to this country in her train,” said the franklin; “and the care of some of her jointure lands, which she devolved on me, occasioned my settling here.”
“And how do you, being an Englishman,” said the knight, “protect your life and property here, when one of your nation cannot obtain a single night’s lodging, or a draught of water, were he thirsty?”
“Marry, noble sir,” answered the franklin, “use, as they say, will make a man live in a lion’s den; and as I settled here in a quiet time, and have never given cause of offence, I am respected by my neighbours, and even, as you see, by our forayers from England.”
“I rejoice to hear it, and accept your hospitality. Isabella, my love, our worthy host will provide you a bed. My daughter, good franklin, is ill at ease. We will occupy your house till the Scottish king shall return from his Northern expedition. Meanwhile call me Lord Lacy of Chester.”
The attendants of the baron, assisted by the franklin, were now busied in disposing of the horses and arranging the table for some refreshment for Lord Lacy and his fair companion. While they sat down to it, they were attended by their host and his daughter, whom custom did not permit to eat in their presence, and who afterwards withdrew to an outer chamber, where the squire and page (both young men of noble birth) partook of supper, and were accommodated with beds. The yeomen, after doing honour to the rustic cheer of Queen Margaret’s bailiff, withdrew to the stable, and each, beside his favourite horse, snored away the fatigues of their journey. Early on the following morning the travellers were roused by a thundering knocking at the door of the house, accompanied with many demands for instant admission, in the roughest tone. The squire and page, of Lord Lacy, after buckling on their arms, were about to sally out to chastise these intruders, when the old host, after looking out at a private casement, contrived for reconnoitring his visitors, entreated them, with great signs of terror, to be quiet, if they did not mean that all in the house should be murdered. He then hastened to the apartment of Lord Lacy, whom he met dressed in a long furred gown and the knightly cap called a mortier, irritated at the noise, and demanding to know the cause which had disturbed the repose of the household.
“Noble sir,” said the franklin, “one of the most formidable and bloody of the Scottish Border riders is at hand. He is never seen,” added he, faltering with terror, “so far from the hills, but with some bad purpose, and the power of accomplishing it; so hold yourself to your guard, for—”
A loud crash here announced that the door was broken down, and the knight just descended the stair in time to prevent bloodshed betwixt his attendants and the intruders. They were three in number. Their chief was tall, bony, and athletic, his spare and muscular frame, as well as the hardness of his features, marked the course of his life to have been fatiguing and perilous. The effect of his appearance was aggravated by his dress, which consisted of a jack, or jacket, composed of thick buff leather, on which small plates of iron of a lozenge form were stitched, in such a manner as to overlap each other and form a coat of mail, which swayed with every motion of the wearer’s body. This defensive armour covered a doublet of coarse gray cloth, and the Borderer had a few half-rusted plates of steel on his shoulders, a two-edged sword, with a dagger hanging beside it, in a buff belt; a helmet, with a few iron bars, to cover the face instead of a visor, and a lance of tremendous and uncommon length, completed his appointments. The looks of the man were as wild and rude as his attire; his keen black eyes never rested one moment fixed upon a single object, but constantly traversed all around, as if they ever sought some danger to oppose, some plunder to seize, or some insult to revenge. The latter seemed to be his present object, for, regardless of the dignified presence of Lord Lacy, he uttered the most incoherent threats against the owner of the house and his guests.
“We shall see—ay, marry shall we—if an English hound is to harbour and reset the Southrons here. Thank the Abbot of Melrose and the good Knight of Coldingnow that have so long kept me from your skirts. But those days are gone, by St. Mary, and you shall find it!”
It is probable the enraged Borderer would not have long continued to vent his rage in empty menaces, had not the entrance of the four yeomen, with their bows bent, convinced him that the force was not at this moment on his own side.
Lord Lacy now advanced towards him. “You intrude upon my privacy, soldier; withdraw yourself and Your followers. There is peace betwixt our nations, or my servants should chastise thy presumption.”
“Such peace as ye give such shall you have,” answered the moss-trooper, first pointing with his lance towards the burned village, and then almost instantly levelling it against Lord Lacy. The squire drew his sword, and severed at one blow the steel head from the truncheon of the spear.
“Arthur Fitzherbert,” said the baron, “that stroke has deferred thy knighthood for one year; never must that squire wear the spurs whose unbridled impetuosity can draw unbidden his sword in the presence of his master. Go hence, and think on what I have said.”
The squire left the chamber abashed.
“It were vain,” continued Lord Lacy, “to expect that courtesy from a mountain churl which even my own followers can forget. Yet before thou drawest thy brand,” for the intruder laid his hand upon the hilt of his sword, “thou wilt do well to reflect that I came with a safe-conduct from thy king, and have no time to waste in brawls with such as thou.”
“From my king,—from my king!” re-echoed the mountaineer. “I care not that rotten truncheon,” striking the shattered spear furiously on the ground, “for the king of Fife and Lothian. But Habby of Cessford will be here belive; and we shall soon know if he will permit an English churl to occupy his hostelry.”
Having uttered these words, accompanied with a lowering glance from under his shaggy black eyebrows, he turned on his heel and left the house with his two followers; they mounted their horses, which they had tied to an outer fence, and vanished in an instant.
“Who is this discourteous ruffian?” said Lord Lacy to the franklin, who had stood in the most violent agitation during this whole scene.
“His name, noble lord, is Adam Kerr of the Moat, but he is commonly called by his companions the Black Rider of Cheviot. I fear, I fear, he comes hither for no good; but if the Lord of Cessford be near, he will not dare offer any unprovoked outrage.”
“I have heard of that chief,” said the baron; “let me know when he approaches. And do thou, Rodulph,” to the eldest yeoman, “keep a strict watch. Adelbert,” to the page, “attend to arm me.” The page bowed, and the baron withdrew to the chamber of the lady Isabella, to explain the cause of the disturbance.
No more of the proposed tale was ever written; but the Author’s purpose was that it should turn upon a fine legend of superstition which is current in the part of the Borders where he had his residence, where, in the reign of Alexander III. of Scotland, that renowned person, Thomas of Hersildoune, called the Rhymer, actually flourished. This personage, the Merlin of Scotland, and to whom some of the adventures which the British bards assigned to Merlin Caledonius, or the Wild, have been transferred by tradition, was, as is well known, a magician, as well as a poet and prophet. He is alleged still to live in the land of Faery, and is expected to return at some great convulsion of society, in which he is to act a distinguished part,—a tradition common to all nations, as the belief of the Mahomedans respecting their twelfth Imaum demonstrates.
Now, it chanced many years since that there lived on the Borders a jolly, rattling horse-cowper, who was remarkable for a reckless and fearless temper, which made him much admired, and a little dreaded, amongst his neighbours. One moonlight night, as he rode over Bowden Moor, on the west side of the Eildon Hills, the scene of Thomas the Rhymer’s prophecies, and often mentioned in his story, having a brace of horses along with him which he had not been able to dispose of, he met a man of venerable appearance and singularly antique dress, who, to his great surprise, asked the price of his horses, and began to chaffer with him on the subject. To Canobie Dick—(for so shall we call our Border dealer)—a chap was a chap, and he would have sold a liaise to the devil himself, without minding his cloven hoof, and would have probably cheated Old Nick into the bargain. The stranger paid the price they agreed on; and all that puzzled Dick in the transaction was that the gild which he received was in unicorns, bonnet-pieces, and other ancient coins, which would have been invaluable to collectors, but were rather troublesome, in modern currency.
It was gold, however, and therefore Dick contrived to get better value for the coin than he perhaps gave to his customer. By the command of so good a merchant, he brought horses to the same slot more than once; the purchaser only stipulating that he should always come by night, and alone. I do not know whether it was from mere curiosity, or whether some hope of gain mixed with it, but after Dick had sold several horses in this way, he began to complain that dry-bargains were unlucky, and to hint that since his chap must live in the neighbourhood, he ought, in the courtesy of dealing, to treat him to half a mutchkin.
“You may see my dwelling if you will,” said the stranger; “but if you lose courage at what you see there, you will rue it all your life.”
Dicken, however, laughed the warning to scorn, and having alighted to secure his horse, he followed the stranger up a narrow foot-path, which led them up the hills to the singular eminence stuck betwixt the most southern and the centre peaks, and called, from its resemblance to such an animal in its form, the Lucken Hare. At the foot of this eminence, which is almost as famous for witch meetings as the neighbouring wind-mill of Kippilaw, Dick was somewhat startled to observe that his conductor entered the hill-side by a passage or cavern, of which he himself, though well acquainted with the spot, had never seen or heard.
“You may still return,” said his guide, looking ominously back upon him; but Dick scorned to show the white feather, and on they went. They entered a very long range of stables; in every stall stood a coal-black horse; by every horse lay a knight in coal-black armour, with a drawn sword in his hand; but all were as silent, hoof and limb, as if they had been cut out of marble. A great number of torches lent a gloomy lustre to the hall, which, like those of the Caliph Vathek, was of large dimensions. At the upper end, however, they at length arrived, where a sword and horn lay on an antique table.
“He that shall sound that horn and draw that sword,” said the stranger, who now intimated that he was the famous Thomas of Hersildoune, “shall, if his heart fail him not, be king over all broad Britain. So speaks the tongue that cannot lie. But all depends on courage, and much on your taking the sword or the horn first.” Dick was much disposed to take the sword; but his bold spirit was quailed by the supernatural terrors of the hall, and he thought to unsheathe the sword first, might be construed into defiance, and give offence to the powers of the Mountain. He took the bugle with a trembling hand, and a feeble note, but loud enough to produce a terrible answer. Thunder rolled in stunning peals through the immense hall; horses and men started to life; the steeds snorted, stamped, grinned their bits, and tossed on high their heads; the warriors sprung to their feet, clashed their armour, and brandished their swords. Dick’s terror was extreme at seeing the whole army, which had been so lately silent as the grave, in uproar, and about to rush on him. He dropped the horn, and made a feeble attempt to seize the enchanted sword; but at the same moment a voice pronounced aloud the mysterious words,—
“Woe to the coward, that ever he was born,
Who did not draw the sword before he blew the horn!”
At the same time a whirlwind of irresistible fury howled through the long hall, bore the unfortunate horse-jockey clear out of the mouth of the cavern, and precipitated him over a steep bank of loose stones, where the shepherds found him the next morning with just breath sufficient to tell his fearful tale, after concluding which he expired.
This legend, with several variations, is found in many parts of Scotland and England. The scene is sometimes laid in some favourite glen of the Highlands, sometimes in the deep coal-mines of Northumberland and Cumberland, which rim so far beneath the ocean. It is also to be found in Reginald Scott’s book on Witchcraft, which was written in the sixteenth century. It would be in vain to ask what was the original of the tradition. The choice between the horn and sword may, perhaps, include as a moral that it is foolhardy to awaken danger before we have arms in our hands to resist it.
Although admitting of much poetical ornament, it is clear that this legend would have formed but an unhappy foundation for a prose story, and must have degenerated into a mere fairy tale. Dr. John Leyden has beautifully introduced the tradition in his “Scenes of Infancy”:—
“Mysterious Rhymer, doomed by fate’s decree
Still to revisit Eildon’s fated tree,
Where oft the swain, at dawn of Hallow-day,
Hears thy fleet barb with wild impatience neigh,—
Say, who is he, with summons long and high,
Shall bid the charmed sleep of ages fly,
Roll the long sound through Eildon’s caverns vast,
While each dark warrior kindles at the blast,
The horn, the falchion, grasp with mighty hand,
And peal proud Arthur’s march from Fairy-land?”
In the same cabinet with the preceding fragment, the following occurred among other ‘disjecta membra’. It seems to be an attempt at a tale of a different description from the last, but was almost instantly abandoned. The introduction points out the time of the composition to have been about the end of the eighteenth century.
THE LORD OF ENNERDALE.
IN A FRAGMENT OF A LETTER FROM JOHN B______, ESQ., OF THAT ILK, TO WILLIAM G______, F.R.S.E.
“Fill a bumper,” said the knight; “the ladies may spare us a little longer. Fill a bumper to the Archduke Charles.”
The company did due honour to the toast of their landlord.
“The success of the archduke,” said the muddy vicar, “will tend to further our negotiation at Paris; and if—”
“Pardon the interruption, Doctor,” quoth a thin, emaciated figure, with somewhat of a foreign accent; “but why should you connect those events, unless to hope that the bravery and victories of our allies may supersede the necessity of a degrading treaty?”
“We begin to feel, Monsieur L’Abbe,” answered the vicar, with some asperity, “that a Continental war entered into for the defence of an ally who was unwilling to defend himself, and for the restoration of a royal family, nobility, and priesthood who tamely abandoned their own rights, is a burden too much even for the resources of this country.”
“And was the war, then, on the part of Great Britain,” rejoined the Abbe, “a gratuitous exertion of generosity? Was there no fear of the wide-wasting spirit of innovation which had gone abroad? Did not the laity tremble for their property, the clergy for their religion, and every loyal heart for the Constitution? Was it not thought necessary to destroy the building which was on fire, ere the conflagration spread around the vicinity?”
“Yet if upon trial,” said the doctor, “the walls were found to resist our utmost efforts, I see no great prudence in persevering in our labour amid the smouldering ruins.”
“What, Doctor,” said the baronet, “must I call to your recollection your own sermon on the late general fast? Did you not encourage us to hope that the Lord of Hosts would go forth with our armies, and that our enemies, who blasphemed him, should be put to shame?”
“It may please a kind father to chasten even his beloved children,” answered the vicar.
“I think,” said a gentleman near the foot of the table, “that the Covenanters made some apology of the same kind for the failure of their prophecies at the battle of Danbar, when their mutinous preachers compelled the prudent Lesley to go down against the Philistines in Gilgal.”
The vicar fixed a scrutinizing and not a very complacent eye upon this intruder. He was a young man, of mean stature and rather a reserved appearance. Early and severe study had quenched in his features the gaiety peculiar to his age, and impressed upon them a premature cast of thoughtfulness. His eve had, however, retained its fire, and his gesture its animation. Had he remained silent, he would have been long unnoticed; but when he spoke, there was something in his manner which arrested attention.
“Who is this young man?” said the vicar, in a low voice, to his neighbour.
“A Scotchman called Maxwell, on a visit to Sir Henry,” was the answer.
“I thought so, from his accent and his manner,” said the vicar. It may be here observed that the Northern English retain rather more of the ancient hereditary aversion to their neighbors than their countrymen of the South. The interference of other disputants, each of whom urged his opinion with all the vehemence of wine and politics, rendered the summons to the drawing-room agreeable to the more sober part of the company.
The company dispersed by degrees, and at length the vicar and the young Scotchman alone remained, besides the baronet, his lady, daughters, and myself. The clergyman had not, it would seem, forgot the observation which ranked him with the false prophets of Dunbar, for he addressed Mr. Maxwell upon the first opportunity.
“Hem! I think, sir, you mentioned something about the civil wars of last century. You must be deeply skilled in them indeed, if you can draw any parallel betwixt those and the present evil days,—davs which I am ready to maintain are the most gloomy that ever darkened the prospects of Britain.”
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