1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Scott

Rev. Charles Burton, in The Bardiad; a Poem (1823) pp. 18, 104-6n.



In Lochs and Glens the fam'd SIR WALTER sings
Of Ladies, Hunters, Castles, Knights, and Kings;
Amusing, graceful, picturesque and gay,
His "Lake" must please; so must his "Minstrel's lay."

Upon the poetical productions of the "Author of Waverley" it is needless to expatiate. Criticism has been so universally employed upon them, that few can have failed, long before this, to have formed their own opinions. To me, the "Lady of the Lake" and the "Lay of the last Minstrel" appear the best; and of these, the former much superior in it's general character and effect, to the latter. His mode of introducing and terminating the poem by the prologue and epilogue to his harp; and of relieving the cantos by apostrophes to nature, and diversifying them with the song of the Bard and the Huntsman, has an effect by no means inferior to the Chorus of the Greek Tragedy. Before the "Lady of the Lake," as far as I can recollect, the same peculiar style and plan had never been adopted. And yet, when we consider the history of Celtic Bards and Border Minstrelsy, we wonder that the Poets of Caledonia had no sooner adopted it. The "Lady of the Lake" has many peculiar scenes of exquisite beauty. The description of Loch-Katrine, and the surrounding scenery — the Stranger's reflections on his viewing the expansion of the Lake — the Maiden's pause at the sound of the approaching Stranger — and the delineation of her own person and character — the Stranger's dream — the Minstrel's conversation with Ellen — the meeting of Douglas with his daughter Ellen, and the introduction of Malcolm Graeme — the feelings of Ellen on the proposals of Roderick Dhu — the mode of commanding and dismissing the Hench-man, and his extraordinary velocity and success in summoning the Clan — the manner in which the Clan-Alpine Chieftain's summons is received, even amid the sorrows of bereavement, and the ecstacy of bridal anticipations — the noble spirit of the undeveloped, and the amazing ardours of the detected, Chieftains, with the scene of their dreadful conflict — the death of Roderick Dhu — the introduction of the unsuspecting Ellen to the splendid court, led by the hand of the undiscovered Monarch, and the manner in which the pledge of the royal ring is redeemed, — are all of them scenes beautifully wrought up. Perhaps the greatest beauty of the piece, is the manner in which the plot and sequence of the Poem is conducted, to the very last stanza, and even last line of the Poem; when the turn given is so surprisingly sudden, so exquisitely delicate, so highly magnanimous, so beautiful in it's expression, and so delightful in the consummation to which it conducts, that the man whose heart bursts not, when be sees "the clasp on Ellen's hand," is "earth, earth, earth," indeed. Extracts can scarcely give adequate conceptions, because the beauties of the Poem are like gems, which look best in the location of elegance in which they are set.