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Pickling Virgil?: Scott’s Notes to The Lay of the Last Minstrel


Modern editions of Scott’s narrative poems often omit his notes, which frequently extend well beyond straightforward elucidation to seem embarrassingly prolix or obscurely antiquarian. However, unlike the notes to his novels, the notes to Scott’s poems were present from first publication. Their function for the early nineteenth-century reader is discussed with relation to Scott’s first long narrative poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, where their treatment of the supernatural is compared with that of the verse itself. With Scott, tropes of translation, scholarship, and antiquarianism serve to widen access to the uncanny and remind readers that even in the most enlightened age the human imagination responds powerfully to extra-rational explanation. Scott’s notes are a vital part of his poems.