1805 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Scott

Robert Southey to C. W. W. Wynn, 5 March 1805; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 2:316.



I have read Scott's poem [Lay of the Last Minstrel] this evening, and like it much. It has the fault of mixed language which you mentioned, and which I expected; and it has the same obscurity, or, to speak accurately, the same want of perspicuousness, as his Glenfinlas. I suspect that Scott did not write poetry when a boy, for he has little command of language. His vocabulary of the obsolete is ample; but in general his words march stiffly, like half-trained recruits, — neither a natural walk, nor a measured march which practice has made natural. But I like his poem, for it is poetry, and in a company of strangers I would not mention that it had faults. The beginning of the story is too like Coleridge's Christobell, which he had seen; the very line, "Jesu Maria, shield her well!" is caught from it. When you see the Christobell, you will not doubt that Scott has imitated it; I do not think designedly, but the echo was in his ear, not for emulation, but "propter amorem." This only refers to the beginning, which you will perceive attributes more of magic to the lady than seems in character with the rest of the story.