1811 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Polwhele

Walter Scott to Richard Polwhele, 1 December 1811; Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:644-45.



Edinburgh, Dec. 1, 1811.

MY DEAR SIR,

I received yours when I was in the very bustle of leaving Ashestiel, which has been my summer-residence, and a very sweet one, for these eight years past. It was not, however, for a distant migration, as I was only removing to a small property of my own, about five miles lower down the Tweed. Now, although with true masculine indifference I leave to my better half the care of furniture and china, yet there are such things as books and papers, not to mention broad-swords, and targets, battle-axes and helmets, guns, pistols, and dirks, the care of which devolved upon me, besides the bustle of ten thousand directions to be given in one breath of time, concerning ten thousand queries carefully reserved for that parting moment, by those who might as well have made them six months before. Besides I really wished to be here, and to consult with my friends and publishers, the Messrs. Ballantynes, before answering the most material part of your letter. They will esteem themselves happy and proud to publish any thing of yours. They only hesitate upon the scruple of its not being an original work, but a continuation of one already before the public; one or two attempts of the same kind having been made unsuccessfully. I told them I thought the title-page might be so moulded as not to express the poem to be a continuation of Beattie's work, and that the explanation might be reserved for the preface or introduction. As this was an experiment, they proposed the terms should be those of sharing the profits with the author, they being at the expense of print and paper. I can answer for their dealing justly and honourably.

With respect to the work itself, I believe Beattie says in some of his letters, that he did intend the "Minstrel" to play the part of Tyrtaeus on some invasion of his country. But I conceive one reason of his deserting the task he had so beautifully commenced was, a suspicion that he had given his hero an education and a tone of feeling inconsistent with the plan he had laid down for his subsequent exploits; and your termination of Edwin's history will be much more natural and pleasing than that intended by the author himself. I shall have the utmost pleasure in attending the progress of your poem through the press, and doing all in my power to give it celebrity. I was under the necessity of making the Ballantynes my confidants as to the real name of the author, which, be assured, smoothed all difficulties at once; as they are both readers of poetry, and no strangers to yours.

Yours, &c.

WALTER SCOTT.