1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Scott

John Wilson, in "An Hour's Talk about Poetry" 1831; Recreations of Christopher North (1852) 77.



Up to the era of Sir Walter, living people had some vague, general, indistinct notions about dead people mouldering away to nothing centuries ago, in regular kirkyards and chance burial places, ''mang muirs and mosses many O,' somewhere or other in that difficulty-distinguished and very debatable district called the Borders. All at once he touched their tombs with a divining rod, and the turf streamed out ghosts, some in woodmen's dresses — most in warrior's mail; green archers leaped forth with yew-bows and quivers — and giants stalked shaking spears. The gray chronicler smiled; and, taking up his pen, wrote in lines of light the annals of the chivalrous and heroic days of auld feudal Scotland. The nation then, for the first time, knew the character of its ancestors; for those were not spectres — not they indeed — nor phantoms of the brain — but gaunt flesh and blood, or glad or glorious; — base-born cottage churls or the olden time, because Scottish, became familiar to the love of the nation's heart, and so to its pride did the high-born lineage of palace-kings.