1817
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Harold the Dauntless: Introduction.

Harold the Dauntless; a Poem in Six Cantos.

Sir Walter Scott


As had become his habit, Sir Walter Scott sets a tone by framing his cantos with 32 Spenserians. In the introduction to The Fortunes of Nigel (1822) he comments that "My course is like the enchanted chamber of Britomart, 'Where, as she look'd about, she did behold | How over that same door was likewise writ, | Be Bold — Be Bold, and everywhere Be Bold.'" Harold the Dauntless was published anonymously, as Scott attempted to determine whether his poetry was being rejected out of personal animus or whether it had merely become unfashionable. Not seen.

Walter Scott to Lady Louisa Stuart: "This accompanies Harold the Dauntless. I thought once I should have made it something clever, but it turned vapid upon my imagination; and I finished it at last with hurry and impatience. Nobody knows, that has not tried the feverish trade of poetry, how much it depends upon mood and whim. I don't wonder, that, in dismissing all the other deities of Paganism, the Muse should have been retained by common consent; for, in sober reality, writing good verses seems to depend upon something separate from the volition of the author" 31 January 1817; in Lockhart, Life of Scott (1837-38; 1902) 3:138-39.

Lord Byron: "Scott found peculiar favour and imitation among the fair sex: there was Miss Holford, and Miss Mitford, and Miss Francis; but, with the greatest respect be it spoken, none of his imitators did much honour to the original, except Hogg, the Ettrick shepherd, until the appearance of The Bridal of Triarmain, and Harold the Dauntless, which in the opinion of some equalled if not surpassed him; and lo! after three or four years they turned out to be the Master's own compositions" Reply to Blackwood's Magazine (1819) in in Letters and Journals, ed. Prothero (1898-1901) 4:494.

William Hazlitt: "Sir Walter Scott, in his zeal to restore the spirit of loyalty, of passive obedience and non-resistance as an acknowledgment for his having been created a Baronet by a Prince of the House of Brunswick, may think it a fine thing to return in imagination to the good old times ... but for our own parts we beg to be excused; we had rather live in the same age with the author of Waverley and Blackwood's Magazine" Spirit of the Age (1825) 44.

Felicia Hemans: "The whole expression of his benevolent countenance changes if he has but to speak of the dirk and the claymore; you see the spirit that would 'say amidst the trumpets, Ha! ha!' suddenly flashing from his grey eyes, and sometimes, in repeating a verse of warlike minstrelsy, he will spring up, as if he caught the sound of a distant gathering cry" in Russell Book of Authors (1860) 386.

Allan Cunningham: "The Bridal of Triermain, and Harold the Dauntless, require no lengthened examination; they were chiefly remarkable for the vigorous images which they gave, particularly the latter, of times which we have no sympathy in, and for being published anonymously" The Athenaeum (6 October1832) 646.

George Saintsbury: "The fact is that Scott was almost a consummate master of prosody — wherever he failed, it was not there. Turn to the much-abused Harold the Dauntless, on which vials of critical wrath and contempt have been poured ever since a Critical Reviewer gravely discovered that the 'preparations and adornments are not consistent with the state of society two hundred years before the Danish invasion.' Put the 'Lotos-Eaters,' Adonais, and the Eve of St. Agnes aside, and it will not be easy to find, in the nineteenth century, better Spenserians than the stanzas describing the murder-chambers of the Castle of Seven Shields. It will certainly be hard to match them in Childe Harold, though the measure of that poem will be found frequently, if not always, in the Vision of Don Roderick, which is one of the least good things that Scott did" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 3:80.



There is a mood of mind we all have known
On drowsy eve, or dark and low'ring day,
When the tired spirits lose their sprightly tone,
And nought can chase the lingering hours away;
Dull on our soul falls Fancy's dazzling ray,
And wisdom holds his steadier torch in vain,
Obscured the painting seems, mistuned the lay,
Nor dare we of our listless load complain,
For who for sympathy may seek that cannot tell of pain?

The jolly sportsman knows such drearihood
When bursts in deluge the autumnal rain,
Clouding that morn which threats the heath-cock's brood;
Of such, in summer's drought, the anglers plain,
Who hope the soft mild southern shower in vain;
But, more than all, the discontented fair,
Whom father stern and sterner aunt restrain
From country-ball, or race occurring rare,
While all her friends around their vestments gay prepare.

Ennui! or as our mothers call'd thee, Spleen!
To thee we owe full many a rare device;
Thine is the sheaf of painted cards, I ween,
The rolling billiard-ball, the rattling dice,
The turning-lathe for framing gimcrack nice;
The amateur's blotch'd pallet thou mayst claim,
Retort, and air-pump threatening frogs and mice
(Murderers disguised by philosophic name)
And much of trifling grave, and much of buxom game.

Then of the books, to catch thy drowsy glance
Compiled, what bard the catalogue may quote!
Plays, poems, novels, never read but once;—
But not of such the tale fair Edgeworth wrote,
That bears thy name, and is thine antidote;
And not of such, the strain my Thomson sung,
Delicious dreams inspiring by his note,
What time to Indolence his harp he strung:
Oh! might my lay be rank'd that happier list among!

Each hath his refuge whom thy cares assail,
For me, I love my study-fire to trim
And con right vacantly some idle tale,
Displaying on the couch each listless limb,
Till on the drowsy page the lights grow dim,
And doubtful slumber half supplies the theme,
While antique shapes of knight and giant grim,
Damsel and dwarf, in long procession gleam,
And the romancer's tale becomes the reader's dream.

'Tis thus my malady I well may bear,
Albeit outstretch'd like Pope's own Paridel
Upon the rack of a too-easy chair,
And find, to cheat the time, a powerful spell
In old romauts of errantry that tell,
Or later legends of the Fairy-folk,
Or Oriental tale of Afrite fell,
Of Genii, Talisman, and broad-wing'd Roc,
Though taste may blush and frown, and sober reason mock.

Oft at such season, too, will rhymes unsought
Arrange themselves in some romantic lay;
The which, as things unfitting graver thought,
Are burnt or blotted on some wiser day
These few survive; and, proudly let me say,
Court not the critic's smile, nor dread his frown;
They well may serve to while an hour away,
Nor does the volume ask for more renown
Than Ennui's yawning smile what time she drops it down.

[Poems, ed. Robertson (1904) 517-18]