Ivanhoe - A Scotch Magician
( Originally Published 1877 )
I DON'T think I shall ever forget my first reading of Scott's story of " Ivanhoe"—not if I live to be as old as Dr. Parr.
It was about the time when I was half through Adams's Latin Grammar (which nobody studies now). I was curled up in an easy-chair, with one of those gilt-backed volumes in my hand, which made a long array in a little upstairs book-case of a certain stone house that fronts the sea. Snowing, I think, and promising good sliding down hill (we knew nothing about any such word as "coasting" in those days). But snow and sleds and mittens were all forgotten in that charming story, where I saw old Saxon England, and the brave Coeur de Lion who was king, and a pretty princess, and dashing men-at-arms, and heard clash of battle, and bugle notes, and prayerful entreaties of a sweet Jewess, and anthems in old abbeys.
All these so lingered in my mind, that when, years after, I went rambling through England, I wandered one day all around the town of Ashby-de-la-Zouche to find —if it might be found — the old tournament-ground where was held the famous fête that opens so grandly the story of " Ivanhoe ; " and, in going through Sher-wood Forest (what is left of it), I think the Robin Hood of Scott's story was as lively in my thought as the Robin Hood of the old ballads.
And now the story must be told over in a few pages. A few pages ! Ah, there was a time when I wished the two hundred pages could be stretched into five hundred ! I hear the young people of our day complain that they can't like the long talks and the long descriptions ; and that Scott's books are too slow for them. Well, well ! I know that the day of chivalry, and of men-at-arms, and "knights caparisoned," is gone by ; but there are old heads into which the din of those gone-by times does come at odd intervals, floating musically, — and never so musically as on the pages of Scott. What if we try to whisk a little of this music into a page of story?
The first scene shows a swineherd, with rough jerkin ; his tangled hair is his only cap, and a brass band is around his neck, and he is talking with the fool Wamba, who sits upon a bank in the forest. They are the serfs of an old Saxon named Cedric, who lives near by, in a great, sprawling, half-fortified country-house. And when Gurth, the swineherd, and Wamba go home at night, there is met a great company in the hall of Cedric, their master. A famous Templar knight, Sir Brian du Bois-Guilbert, is there with his retinue ; and Cedric has seated by him Rowena, a beautiful princess, who is living under his guardianship ; and there is a pilgrim from the Holy Land in the company, —who is a disguised knight (and the son of Cedric, but has been disinherited by the father because he has dared to love the beautiful Rowena) ; and there is a rich old white-bearded Jew, — Isaac of York, — who is buffeted by the company, but who is richer than them all. The timber roof of the apartment is begrimed with smoke, that rises from a great fireplace at the end of the hall. Yet the meats are good, and there is wine and ale. There is talk of the battles of the Crusaders in Palestine, and of the valiant deeds of Richard the Lion-hearted, who is a prisoner (or thought to be) somewhere on the Continent ; and there is talk, too, of the great tournament at Ashby, where all the company is going on the morrow.
But no one knows the secret of the disguised pilgrim, who at dawn next day steals out secretly, — taking Gurth with him, and telling the swineherd who he really is. He befriends the Jew too ; and so, through his aid, procures a steed and new armor for the battle of the tournament.
It was a gorgeous scene at Ashby. Prince John, the usurping king. (brother to Richard), was there with his court, and Rowena—beautiful as ever ; and still more beautiful was Rebecca, the " peerless daughter " of the Jew, Isaac of York. Of course there was, too, a great crowd of Saxon knights and of Norman barons, and of people of all degrees, —such a crowd, in short, as gathers at one of our great fairs or races. But remember that very few of the great people, even in this gathering of Richard Coeur de Lion's day, could write their own names ; and it was a long time before there was any such thing in existence as a printed book. But yet I think the show of fine feathers and silks, and coquetry, was as great then as it would be in any such great assemblage now.
Well, in all the knightly sports of the early part of the day, Bois-Guilbert was easily chief ; but before the day ended, a new knight made his appearance on the field, with visor down, unknown to all, and with only this device on his shield, —a young oak torn up by the roots, and the word "Disinherited." Everybody ad-mired his motions and his carriage ; and everybody trembled when he rode bravely up to the tents of the challengers, and smote the shield of Bois-Guilbert with the point of his lance. This meant deadly strife ; while, before this time, all the combats had been with blunted javelins.
So the knights took up position, and at a blast from the trumpets dashed forward into the middle of the lists, and met with a shock that must have been a fearful thing to see. Neither was unhorsed, though the lances of both were shattered in splinters. At the second trial, Bois-Guilbert rolled over in the dust, and the strange knight (whose real name was Ivanhoe) was declared victor.
The air rang with shouts, and Ivanhoe rode around the lists to single out a fair lady who should be queen of the next day's fête. Of course he chose Rowena, the Saxon princess, who sat beside Athelstane, who was of royal Saxon blood and was her declared lover, and favored by Cedric, who sat also beside her.
But neither Cedric, nor Rowena, nor Prince John knew who the strange knight could be, since he had refused to lift the visor of his helmet, or to declare his name. The Jew, Isaac of York, doubtless knew the steed and the armor, and may have whispered what he knew to Rebecca; for when Ivanhoe at evening sent his man Gurth to pay the Jew for his equipments, the beautiful Rebecca detained the messenger at the door, and paid him back the money—and more ; saying that so true and good a knight, who had befriended her father, owed him nothing.
This was a most splendid thing for Rebecca to do, we all thought.
The next day, there was a little army on each side in the contest ; Bois-Guilbert leading one, and Ivanhoe the other. For a long time the result was doubtful ; but at last Ivanhoe was beset by three knights at once, — Bois-Guilbert, Athelstane, and Front de Boeuf ; and surely would have been conquered if a new party had not appeared. This was a gigantic knight in black armor, with no device, and who had acted the sluggard. He rode up at sight of Ivanhoe's sore need, and, with a careless blow or two from mace or battle-axe, sent Front de Boeuf and Athelstane reeling in the dust. After this, the victory of Ivanhoe was easy and complete.
They led him up to receive the crown from Rowena, the queen of the fête ; and they unloosed his helmet, though he made signs to them to forbear ; and Cedric knew his son, and Rowena knew her lover, and Prince John knew the favorite of the wronged King Richard, whose power he was usurping.
But the poor knight was wounded grievously ; and, taking off his corslet, the attendants found a spear-head driven into his breast. And he was taken away to be cared for, — none knew exactly by whom ; but it appeared afterward that it was by those in the employ of Rebecca, who, like many ladies of that day, was a great mistress of the healing craft.
A day or two later, as I remember, he was journeying in a litter under care of the Jew and Rebecca, who were attacked by outlaws ; and, after this, claimed the protection of Cedric and Athelstane, and their company, who also were journeying through the same region ; but these latter did not know who was the wounded man in the litter. Even if they had known, they could not have protected him against the enemies who presently beset them ; for they all were taken captive, and lodged in the great castle of Front de Boeuf.
Ah, what a castle it was f What dungeons ! What mysterious posterns ! What embrasures, and courts, and turrets, and thick walls, and secret passages !
I see in one of its dungeons the old Jew, appealing to Front de Boeuf, who threatens to draw out his teeth one by one, or to roast him by the dungeon fire, if he will not disgorge his money.
I see Rebecca, beautiful and defiant, wooed by Bois-Guilbert as- captives are always wooed by conquerors, until with proud daring she threatens to throw herself from the embrasure of the window, headlong down the walls.
I see Ivanhoe stretched upon his sick-couch, helpless, and listening yearningly to the sounds that come up from the castle walls. I see the beautiful Rebecca — who is in attendance upon him (we boys were all so glad of that !) —exposing herself to chance arrows from Robin Hood's band, who are attacking the castle, only that she may look out and report to the poor knight Ivanhoe how the battle is going. She says a giant in black armor is heading the attacking party, and that he thunders with his great battle-axe upon the postern gate as if the might of an army were in his hand. She says the men go down under his strokes as if God's lightning had smitten them. He knows who it must be. It is — it can be no other than the Black Sluggard of the tournament — Richard I. of England !
" Look again, Rebecca."
" God of Abraham ! They are toppling over a great stone from the battlements ; it must crush the brave knight ! "
Poor Ivanhoe ! Poor captives !
" But no, he is safe ; he is thundering at the gate ; it splinters under his blows! Ah, the blood! the trampled men ! Great God ! are these thy children ? "
Yet even now there are inner and higher walls of the castle to be climbed or battered down. Never would they have been taken except there had been treachery within. A wretched woman — Ulrica, victim of Front de Boeuf —has set a match to a great store of fuel, and smoke and flame belch out : the defenders have fires to fight, and their outposts are weakened ; and the attacking party press on, and secure the citadel. I seem to see smoke and flame, and crushing towers, under whose ruins lie buried Front de Boeuf and the miserable Ulrica.
I see Cedric disguised as priest, and making his es-cape, and flinging back bribes in scorn.
Then, upon a patch of greensward under the shadow of a near grove of oaks, the victors gather slowly to measure their spoil.
The Saxon Rowena is safe — so is the Jew and Cedric. Athelstane has received what seems his death-wound. Ivanhoe has been snatched out of the jaws of destruction by the arm of King Richard, who bids Cedric be reconciled with his son ; which bidding, the old Saxon curmudgeon cannot deny ; and he is half disposed — now that the royal lover Athelstane is out of the way — to favor the pretensions of Ivanhoe to the hand and heart of Rowena. Robin Hood, in his suit of green, gets free grace .for all his misdeeds as outlaw, and with one of his "merry men," —a certain jolly friar of Copmanhurst, who does not know the secret of the Black Knight, — the easy-going, stalwart king has a sparring-match (which to every boy reader of our time was delightful) ; and which ended with putting the great jolly friar sprawling in the dirt. What a brave, stout king was Richard, to be sure !
But the only real grief among all who have been rescued is shown by the poor old Jew—not so much for the moneys which the barons and the church people have shorn him of, as for his daughter. The sweet Rebecca has not been crushed, indeed, in the ruin of the castle;. but she has been borne away a captive by a knight who was none other than the wicked Templar, Bois-Guilbert. Whither, none knew ; nor does the story of her seizure come to the ears of Ivanhoe (for which, I fear, Rowena was glad), who is borne away to some religious house, where he will have more orthodox, —though not more gentle care than the tender Rebecca would have rendered.
After this, I seem to see a great crowd of mourners in some old monastery or religious house of some sort, bewailing (with good eating and flagons of ale) the lost Athelstane; and in the middle of the funeral feast—which the king had honored with his presence, and Rowena, and the knight Ivanhoe—lo! Athelstane him-self, with his grave-clothes on him, suddenly appears'. Good old Walter Scott loved such surprises as he loved a good dinner. The royal Saxon lover of Rowena was not really dead, but had only been stunned by a fearful blow. But the blow has cleared his brain, and made him see that Rowena cares more for the little finger of Ivanhoe than for his whole body ; so he tells Cedric he gives up his claim.
And what does Ivanhoe say ?
There is no Ivanhoe to be found. A mysterious messenger has summoned him away ; and, though scarce able to sit his horse for his sore wounds, he has put on his armor, and dashed through the outlying forests. He rides hard, and he rides fast, for there is a dear life at stake. Whose ?
(If we were writing a novel, we should say "CHAPTER SECOND" here, and make a break. Then we should begin----)
We return now to Rebecca. Bois-Guilbert had in-deed borne her away, and had lodged her in a great house that belonged to the Knights Templars. But the Grand Master of the Templars, to whom Bois-Guilbert owed obedience, was a very severe man, and a very curious, prying man ; and he found out speedily what Bois-Guilbert had done ; and he found out that this young woman, beautiful as she was, was a Jewess ; and there were some among the Templars who said she was a sorceress too, and had practised her sorcery upon Bois-Guilbert. So this Grand Master of the Templars brought the poor girl to trial for sorcery, though she was the most Christian and most lovable creature in the whole book !
It was a sorry, sham trial : the Templars all on one side, anti the poor Jewess on the other;—for the miser-able fellow, Bois-Guilbert, was afraid to open his mouth in her defence. He told her, indeed, that he would save her, and run off with her if she would go ; but she scorned him with a most brave and beautiful scorn. Of course she came off badly at the trial, — as they meant she should. She was condemned to be burned. Only one chance for escape was left, — she might summon a knight to her defence, who must contend against the bravest and strongest of the Templars. If her champion won, she might go free ; if he failed by a hair's breadth, the fagots would be kindled around her.
But who would defend a Jewess? Who would be champion for a suspected sorceress ?
She craved the privilege of sending out a messenger, in faint hope of finding-a champion. And the messenger rode —a good fellow — rode fast, rode far ; 'twas he that found Ivanhoe, and 'twas with him that the good knight left the scene of Athelstane's coming to life.
The morning carne. The fagots were piled up ; the match-fire was ready ; the Templars were all gathered ; the stout Brien du Bois-Guilbert, armed cap-a-pie, was ready for any champion ; the great warning-bell began tolling—One! two ! three
What dust is that rising yonder? It is — it is a knight — in full armor ; he approaches — he comes in plain sight. It is Ivanhoe ; but ah ! so weak, so wearied, so wasted by his sickness ! There is but little hope for poor Rebecca. But he enters the lists ; he braves. the challenger ; the trumpet sounds ; the steeds dash may to the encounter, and the crash of meeting comes.
The Grand Master strains his eyes to see what figures shall come out from the cloud of dust. One is down, — prostrate utterly, — dying. Of course it must be enfeebled and fatigued Ivanhoe. But no — no — it is not ! It is Bois-Guilbert who is dying.
And what is this new cloud of dust and tramp of cavalry ? It is Richard of England, who has followed hard upon the track of Ivanhoe ; for he has heard of his errand, and knows he is unfit to encounter the strongest of the Templar Knights. He has brought a squadron of armed men with him, too, to seize upon all traitors in the ranks of the Templars ; and lo ! above the roof and towers of the Grand Master of the Templars, the royal standard of England is even now floating in the breeze. And Rebecca is safe, and Ivanhoe is safe.
And did he marry her ?
Ah, no! He married the Saxon Rowena ; and they had a grand wedding in York Minster, where now you may see the pavement on which they walked.
One day after the wedding, — it may have been a week later, — a visitor asked an interview with the bride. The visitor was a closely veiled lady of most graceful figure. You guess who it was, — Rebecca. She brought a gift for the bride of Ivanhoe, —a gorgeous necklace of diamonds, — so magnificent that Rowena felt like refusing the gift.
"I pray you take them, dear lady," said Rebecca. "I owe this, and more, to the good knight—your honored "— Here she broke down ; but she recovered herself presently — kissed the hand of Rowena -- passed out.
I think Rowena was glad her visitor did not meet Ivanhoe upon the stairs ; I think she was glad, too, that the lovely Rebecca went over seas presently to Spanish Granada ; though she pretended not to be.
I know if I had been Ivanhoe But we will not try to mend a story of Scott's; least of all, when we crowd one of his novels into a few pages, as we have done here.
Walter Scott's Home
It is among the very earliest recollections of my school-days, — that the master, after some exercise in reading, told us youngsters—with a grave face—that the great author Sir Walter Scott was dead. And I think some lout of a boy down the bench —with a big shock of hair, and who was a better hand at marbles than he ever was at books—said, in a whisper that two or three of us caught, — " I wonder who under the canopy he was ? "
I don't think that, for any of us, Scott was so large a man, in that time, as Peter Parley, — who, if I remember rightly, was at about that date writing his little square books of " Travels " in strange lands.
It was at a later day that we boys began to catch the full flavor of Waverley, and the Heart of Mid-Lothian, and of that glorious story of battles and single-handed fights in which the gallant Saladin and the ponderous Richard of the Lion Heart took part. . We may possibly have read at that tender age his " Tales of a Grandfather " (which will make good reading for young people now) ; and we may have heard our lady kinsfolk talk admiringly of the Lady of the Lake, and of Marmion ; but we did not measure fairly the full depth of the school-master's grave manner, when he told us, in 1832, that Walter Scott was dead.
For my part, when I did get into the full spirit of Guy Mannering and of Ivanhoe, some years later, it seemed to me a great pity that a man who could make such books should die at all, — and a great pity that he should not go on writing them to the latest generation of men. And I do not think that I had wholly shaken off this feeling, when I wandered twelve years later along the Tweed, —looking sharply out in the Scotch mist that drifted among the hollows of the hills, for the gray ruin of Melrose Abbey.
I knew that this beautiful ruin was near to the old homestead of Walter Scott, toward which I had set off on a foot pilgrimage, a day before, from the old border-town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. If you have read any Scottish history, or if you have read Miss Porter's great story (as we boys thought it) of " The Scottish Chiefs," you will have heard of this old border-town.
I had kept close along the banks of the river, — seeing men drawing nets for salmon, — seeing charming fields green with the richest June growth, — seeing shepherds at sheep-washing on Tweedside, — seeing old Norham Castle, and Coldstream Bridge, and. the palace of the Duke of Roxburgh. I had slept at Kelso, — had studied the great bit of ruin which is there, and had caught glimpses of Teviotdale, and of the Eildon Hills ; I had dined at a drover's inn of St. Boswell's ; I had trudged out of my way for a good look at Smaillholme Tower, and at the farmhouse of Sandy Knowe —both which you will find mention of, if you read (as you should) Lockhart's Life of Scott. Dryburgh Abbey, with its gloom, and rich tresses of ivy vines, — where the great writer lies buried, — came later in the day ; and at last, in the gloaming (which is the pretty Scotch word for twilight), a stout oarsman ferried me across a stream, and I toiled foot-sore into the little town of Mel-rose. There is not much to be seen there but the Abbey in its ghostly ruin. I slept at the George Inn, dreaming —as I dare say you would have done—of Ivanhoe, Rebecca, and border wars and Old Mortality.
Next morning, after a breakfast upon trout which had been taken from some near stream (was it the Yarrow ?) I strolled two miles or so down the road, and by a little green foot-gate entered upon the grounds of Abbots-ford —which was the home that Walter Scott created, and the home where he died.
The forest trees — not over-high at that time — under which I walked were those which he had planted. I found his favorite out-of-door seat, — sheltered by a thicket of arbor-vitae trees, —from which there could be caught a glimpse of the rippled surface of the Tweed, and a glimpse of the many turrets which crowned the house of Abbotsford.
It was all very quiet ; quiet in the walks through the wide-stretching wood ; and quiet as you came to the court-yard and doorway of the beautiful house. I think there was a yelp from some young hound in an out-building ; there was a little twitter from some birds I did not know with my American eyes ; there was the pleasant and unceasing murmur of the river, rustling over its broad, pebbly bed. Beside these sounds the silence was unbroken ; and when I rang the bell at the entrance door, the echoes of it fairly startled me,—and they startled a little terrier too, whose quick, sharp bark rang noisily through the outer court of the great building.
This seemed very dismal. Where, pray, were Tom Purdy, and Laidlaw, and Maida, and Sibyl Gray ? For you must remember I was, in that day, fresh from a first reading of Lockhart's Life of Scott, in which all these — and many more — appear, and give life and stir to the surroundings of this home of Abbotsford.
You will read that book of Lockhart's some day, and you will find in it — that Tom Purdy was an old out-of-door servant of Scott's, who looked after the plantation and the dogs, and always accompanied the master upon his hunting frolics and his mountain strolls. Laidlaw did service in a more important way in-doors, — reading and writing for the master of the house. Maida was a noble stag-hound, whom Scott loved almost as much as any creature about him, and of whom he has left a charming portrait in old " Bevis," — whose acquaintance you will make whenever you come to read the tale of " Woodstock." As for Sibyl Gray, it was the name of the stout nag which carried Scott safely through fords and fens.
But, as I said, there were none of them to be seen on that morning— thirty odd years ago — at Abbotsford. I could not even be sure that the terrier which set up so shrill and discordant a barking belonged to that sharp " Mustard " family, which traces back to Dandie Dinmont's home in Guy Mannering.
Only an old housekeeper was in charge ; who, though she might have seen service in the family, had fallen into that parrot-like way of telling visitors what things were best worth seeing, that frets one terribly who goes to such a place with the memory of old stories glowing in his thought. What would you or I care,—fresh from Ivanhoe, —whether a certain bit of carving came from Jedburgh, or from Kelso ? What should we care about the number of jets in the chandelier in the great hall ? What should we care about the way in which Prince Somebody —wrote his name in the visit-ors' book ?
But when we catch sight of the desk at which the master wrote, or of the chair in which he sat, and of his shoes, and coat, and cane, — looking as if they might have been worn only yesterday, — this seems to bring us nearer to the man who has written so much to cheer and charm the world. There was too, I remember, a little box in the corridor, — simple and iron-bound, — with the line written below it, — " Post will close at two."
It was as if we had heard the master of the house say it to a guest, — " The post will close at two."
Perhaps the notice was in his own handwriting, — perhaps not ; yet somehow, more than the library, more than the portrait bust of the dead author, — more than all the chatter of the well-meaning housekeeper,—it brought back the halting old gentleman in his shooting-coat, and with his ivory-headed cane, —hobbling with a vigorous pace along the corridor, to post in that old iron-bound box a chapter — maybe, of Ivanhoe.
But no : Ivanhoe was written before this great pile of Abbotsford was finished. Indeed, the greater part of his best work was done under a roof much more homely and modest, — perhaps at a farmhouse he once occupied some miles away on the Esk, — perhaps in the humbler building which was overbuilt and swamped in this great pile of masonry.
It is not old, as you may think : it has a vexing look of newness for those who love his tales of the Covenanters. Of course it was more vexing thirty-three years ago than now ; but even now, if you go there, — and all who go to Scotland are tempted to run down over that thirty miles of distance which separates it from Edinboro', —you will still find none of the venerable oldness, which — going from our new country --we love to meet.
The walls and halls of that house of Abbotsford are fine ; but there are far finer ones to be seen in England and Scotland. I do not know what mosses may have grown over it during these thirty-three years last past, to make it venerable ; but — that number of years ago, it wore a showy newness that was quite shocking to one that had learned to think (from his books) that dear old Walter Scott should have lived all his life sheltered by a mossy roof, and by walls mellowed in their hue by the storms, and stains, and suns of centuries.
I found no whit of this about Abbotsford. You know, I dare say, that it had been only a little while his home at the time of his death : only twice after its completion had all the great rooms been thrown open, — once when his son Capt. Walter Scott, of the Royal Hussars, was married to a Highland heiress; and again when Sir Walter Scott, baronet and author, lay in state there, and the house was thronged with mourners.
Its turrets and great stretch of courts and corridors and halls tell a mournful story of that weak ambition in him which sought to dignify in this way a great family pride. It was an ambition that was not gratified in his lifetime ; and now there is not one of his lineage or name to hold possession of it.
How and When He wrote
It is not so very long ago that Scott wrote his charming stories : — since Goldsmith — long since Dr. Swift — since Miss Edgeworth made her fame (though he died before she died) indeed, he is nearer to our times than any I have spoken of, or shall speak of, in this budget of " Old Story-Tellers." There are those alive who remember well the great mystery about the Waverley Novels ; — for, while everybody was reading them, nobody could say certainly who wrote them.
Scott did not place his name upon the title-page of these books ; he did not allow it to be known for years —even among his intimate friends — who wrote them. There were those who went to his home, and staid there day after day, — joining him in his rambles over the gray hills, — listening to his dinner tales, and the snatches of old songs he loved to recite, — who said it could never be Walter Scott, who wrote the tales at which the world was wondering ; for what time could such a man find for such amazing work ?
But there were keener ones who noted that the master of the house never, or very rarely, showed himself to his guests until after ten in the morning; and between that hour and sunrise —at which time he rose — those who were most familiar with him knew that this wonderful work was done. Never, I suppose, did any literary man work more rapidly. Writing thus, and aiming only at those broad effects which enchanted the whole world of readers, — he could not and did not give that close attention to his sentences which Goldsmith and Swift both gave, and which makes their writings far safer and better as models of style. He wrote so swiftly, and dashed so strongly into the current of what he had to say, that he was careless about every thing except what went to engage the reader, and enchain his attention.
But do you say that this is the very best aim of all writing ? Most surely it is wise for a writer to seek to engage attention ; and failing of this, he must fail of any further purpose ; but if he gains this by simple means, — by directness, — by clear, limpid language, and no more words than the thought calls for, — and such rhythmic and beguiling use of them as tempts the reader to keep all in mind, he is a safer example to follow than one who, by force of genius, can bring into large use extravagant expressions, and great redundance of words.
Scott has in one of his stories — " The Talisman " — an account of a trial of prowess between Saladin, the Eastern monarch, and our old friend, Richard the Lion-hearted. They are together somewhere on one of those fairy islets of green, which are scattered over the sandy wastes of Palestine. The subjects of both monarchs are gathered together : there is peace between them for the time ; they mingle in friendly games. The great Saxon king — that is, Richard — wishes to astonish and impress those light-limbed warriors of the East : so he takes a great iron mace, or, as we might say, a solid iron bludgeon, and lays it upon a block which he has ordered to be brought into the presence of Saladin and his attendant chieftains. Then he raises his great two-handed broad-sword, not over-sharp, but immensely heavy, —and, sweeping it through the air, brings it down with a mighty thwack upon the iron bludgeon, which straightway falls clanging in two pieces, —cleft apart by the force of the king's blow.
The light cimeter and the light arm of Saladin can do no such thing as this : the men of Palestine know it ; the British warriors —looking on—all know it, and cannot keep down a shout of triumph.
What then does Saladin, —whose turn to show his prowess has now come? He can cleave no iron mace : he looks upon the cleft bludgeon with as much wonder as any. He tests coolly the edge of his cimeter : he knows its keenness ; he knows what swiftness and surety he can give to its sweep. He takes a scarf of silken gauze —so fine that spiders might have woven it, —so light, it seems to float on the air, as the Saladin tosses it from him. Then—quick as lightning, he draws his cimeter —strikes at the silken gauze, and the scarf, cleanly divided, drifts in two parcels down the wind.
Though we may admire almost evenly (as Scott meant we should) these feats of hand, it is certain we could never approach the doughty doing of Richard unless we were possessed of his gigantic power of muscle; but skill and practice would bring one to a very close approach to the deft accomplishment of Saladin.
Now, why have I brought in this little side-scene from the Talisman ? You must remember that I was talking of words and style. Do you see now my intent? A man of genius—well informed as to his subject-matter, and full of enthusiasm—may be sure of triumph, through whatever cumbersome welter of words ; but a better example for you and for me to study, will be the work of one who gained his victories by simple, clear-cut sentences, that carry no burden of repetitions, ' and strike straight and sharp to the mark.
His Life and Ways
But how came this man to write at all ? His father, who was a quiet old gentleman in Edinburgh, believed and hoped that this son Walter would keep on with him in that steady office-work—it was of a legal sort— in which he himself grew old. He had fears indeed, when Walter was a boy, that he would slip from life early; for he had a grievous illness that left him a crippled man always, — not indeed badly crippled, but with a slight limp in his walk, which made his cane a thing of real service to him. He was a well-looking boy, — as you may see from this little picture of him in his child-hood ; and much of his time was passed with his grand-parents and relatives out by Kelso, or Sandy Knowe ; and I think he grew into a love for that region, and for all of Teviotdale, and Tweedside, which he never outgrew.
He did put himself to work, when the time came for it, in the office of his father ; but he did not bring a strong love for it.
He had read ballads out at Sandy Knowe, and had listened to old wives' tales, — in those days of his illness, —which stuck by him ; and the Eildon Hills, and the blue line of the Cheviots, I dare say kept coming into view, over his desk in Castle Street, Edinburgh.
There were young fellows too in the city — friends of his — who loved the heather, and border tales, and old lore, as well as he ; and we may be sure they had their junketings together, and that the legal work was none the better for it. There were certain ballads in their times, translated from the German, so daintily done, that they passed from hand to hand among the literary people of Edinburgh ; and the story ran that the pretty and musical translations were the work of Walter Scott, — a presentable young man, of some six feet in height, with a tall forehead, and bushy eyebrows, and a limp in his gait.
Then came a volume or two of collected Scottish minstrelsy, — much of the best work in them known to have been done by the same Walter Scott, and published with his name.
It did not help the law business ; and when a jingling, charming poem, full of the spirit of old balladry, and called " The Lay of the Last Minstrel," appeared under his name, it hurt the law business still more ; and we may well believe that the old gentleman—his father — shook his head despairingly.
But he received five or six hundred pounds for it, — which was better worth than two or three years of his law work.
Still, he tells us, he hesitated : should he give up rhyme-making, and keep close to his office ?
Well, if he had done so, we might possibly have had the Decisions of Justice Scott, in law calf ; but should we have had " Ivanhoe " ?
His poems had a taking, jingling resonance, and a fire, and a dash, and bold rich painting of Scotch scenery in them, that made them the delight of all England and Scotland. Everybody talked of the young Mr. Scott.
He married in this time a pretty Miss Carpenter, who was the orphan daughter of a French mother, and under the guardianship of Lord Downshire. This was very much against the wish of the elder Scotts. They were too old-fashioned to think well of French blood. But I believe she made a good wife, though she never got over her broken English, and always had over-due respect for titles ; and never, I think, had full and deep sympathy with the higher impulses of the great Scotch-man, or any wise appreciation of his best work. Perhaps I ought not to say this : certainly there was never any lack of that affection, on both sides, which is, after all, the thing that is most sure to make lasting domestic happiness.
Scott's poems are not yet, I think, wholly gone by. Marmion and the Lady of the Lake are still read, and are worth the reading, were it only for their charming glimpses of Scotch landscape ; and if you ever go to Inversnaid and Loch Katrine, or sleep at one of the little ivy-embowered inns among the Trosachs, or look off from the heights of Stirling Castle,—you will be glad these old poems are still printed, and that you have read them. And, if you never visit those places, a reading of the poems will almost carry you there.
But Mr. Scott could not go on making poems forever : he had lifted all the blinding mists from those charming Scotch lakes ; but when he carried his eight-syllabled music—which was ringing in everybody's ears—to England and " Rokeby," there was a pause in the welcomes that had greeted him. Besides, Byron had begun his chant in a new and more brilliant strain.
There was wisdom in his decision to strike a new note in Waverley, and Guy Mannering,—a note that is ringing yet. The clash of Marmion we only catch the hearing of here and there, at long intervals ; but it is very hard, I think, to go where you will not meet those who know Dominie Samson, and Meg Merrilies.
Do you ask what I would counsel you to read among these novels of Scott ?
Well—well! Does the maple, or the ash, or the pepperidge, or the dogwood show a richer color in autumn ? Which of these shall we gather? which shall we leave ungathered ?
Whatever else you may, or may not do, in the reading of Scott, I say —by all means read Old Mortality ; read Waverley ; read Guy Mannering ; read the Heart of Mid-Lothian ; read Ivanhoe ; and if you would be in weeping mood, and sigh over distresses you cannot help, — read the Bride of Lammermoor.
I have told you that Scott was not for a long time known as the author of these tales, — save to a few of his most intimate friends ; and the full story of it was only noised widely, and to all 'the world, when his for-tune broke down under the weight of Johnny Ballantyne's recklessness, and Constables' (his publishers) canny self-seeking, and the costs of that great pile of Abbotsford, and of the profitless moorlands he had with a strange ambition heaped together about his home.
All this brought age to him, and blight. He struggled bravely indeed ; he wrote in this time of breaking hopes that charming story of Woodstock.
But he fought at very hard odds the battle of life, after this. Great earnings were small, compared with the great debts that shadowed him.
Death came too, into his new and splendid home : Charlotte, his wife, the companion of so many years, died. The tragedy of Lammermoor will not touch you more than the story of this grief, as he has written it down in a few swift, crazy words, in his Diary.
After this, the wrecked fortune, the loneliness, the bitterness, weighed on him more and more. He went to Paris, —seeking some facts about the life of Napoleon on which he was working. But the beauty of that gay capital could not bring back the old cheer and life and hopefulness to this breaking man. He went to Italy, the Government placing a ship at his disposal for the trip ; but Italy, with its sunny skies, and wealth of art, could not bring into his veins the old tides of life which had run brimfull along Tweedside and Teviotdale. He came back to Abbotsford a wreck. The Esk and the Yarrow murmured, as he was borne along their banks, just as sweetly as they did fifty years be-fore ; but ear and heart and hopes were palsied.
Sometimes a gleam of the old life seemed to return, and he asked for his pens, his ink, and the old seat at his table.
Could he write? No, the weak fingers could not even grasp the pen. There was a new dog in the place of old Maida ; he could pat him, and he did. He could say a kind word to this and that familiar friend ; not saying all he would say, and stammering through the little he could say.
At last, in the sunshine on the Tweed banks, —there before his doors, —he summons Lockhart, his son-in-law, to his side.
"Will he have Anne (his daughter) called too?"
No, she — poor girl — has slept none the night past : he will not have her disturbed.
" Lockhart," he says, " be good —be virtuous ; nothing else will bring you comfort when you come to the end."
It was the end — for this great Scotchman. A half-hour later, and he was wholly still.
If I had known all these things of him when our old master said, " Walter Scott is dead," — I should have felt very differently.