1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Scott

John Scott, in "The Author of the Scotch Novels" London Magazine 1 (January 1820) 12-13.



His compositions are not marked by particular veins of thought or language: he is not studiously moody like Lord Byron, nor involuntarily mystical like Wordsworth, nor laboriously gay like Moore: his mind, in fact, presents no obstacles, in the shape of pre-conceptions or pre-dispositions, to the free and fair developement of his story and characters. He speaks just what is set down for him in the book of nature, and we know that its pages are always open before his eyes, and we feel assured that what we read in his, has been faithfully transcribed from them. In the works of almost all other writers we find the disposition of their author reflected on their surface; and the peculiarities of this disposition form at once the principle of their power and beauty, and the source of their objectionable qualities. Thus, to refer again to the authors we have already named, Byron is impassioned, and grandly sombre, but too frequently false and theatrically pretending; Wordsworth is sublime and pathetic, but he is also sometimes trifling, and often prosing and unwieldy; Moore has a sparkling fancy, but occasionally overpowers his readers with conceits, betrays the pains he has taken to be tender, and the labour with which he is gay. The writer of the Scotch novels betrays nothing of himself, but the vivid impression which the genuine features of his subject have made on his mind: he is personally lost in the idea of the characters which he represents; and whatever fault we may have to find with his descriptions, or whatever merit we may see in them, they all pass as more or less lucky seizures of the actual lineaments of nature.