Sir Walter Scott

John Neal, in "Character of Walter Scott" The Portico [Baltimore] 1 (April 1816) 334-35.

To deny him great copiousness of fancy would be unjust; but he seems too prolifick to allow of discrimination his store of images is exhaustless, but they are not always such as a correct taste can admire, or a judicious poet would make use of. He writes much, and yet his great resources always keep him from being tiresome; his variety is endless, but his variations are not always happy or beautiful; he is capable of harmony, and yet he is frequently harsh and rugged; always a master of the pathetick, he is not equally successful in the sublime, in attempting which he too often degenerates to turgidity. In depicting bad characters, and horrid scenes, he is without a rival; but I am not disposed to infer unfavourable qualities from his failure in opposite tasks.

When Scott adopts the measure of eight feet, he dwindles to the pigmy gingle of a rhymster, and scarcely avoids the contempt of a manly and full grown taste, formed on the classick models of English poets. This limited measure does not afford room for bold expression; the rhyme too often breaks in upon the sense, and tires the ear by satiety of musick. No measure is so suitable to narrative, as the heroick; and Scott, as well as every other poet, pleases most, when he adopts this old-fashioned strain.

For the same reason, the stanza of Spencer is objectionable; as well as all those irregular measures occasionally used by Mr. Scott. There is too much sound between the sense, and frequently too great a space between the sound; and I am convinced that the sooner our fashionable poets renounce these redundant trappings of rhyme, the sooner will they attain that immortality, for which they tune their notes, and exercise their genius. Let the voice of experience, echoed through many ages, tell them of this obvious, but important truth; and let their vanity or their arrogance, their genius or intrepidity, stoop for a moment to receive that advice, which aims at the perpetuity of their name, and the perfection of their powers.

I cannot relinquish the invidious task of an advisor, without pronouncing a still more unpleasant truth, which I thoroughly believe the march of time will solemnly confirm. Subjects remote from familiar incidents and daily passions, can never live in the minds of posterity; their novelty may at first procure them celebrity, but when the curiosity of the moment has been satisfied, they will be given to oblivion, and never revived again for repeated pleasure, amusement, or instruction.