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  • Byron and Scott: The Waverley Novels and Historical Engagement
  • Susan Oliver
Byron and Scott: The Waverley Novels and Historical Engagement. By Roderick Speer. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. Pp. xiii + 116. ISBN 1 4438 0587 4. £34.99.

There are problems with Roderick Speer's book that are probably best mentioned up front. To begin with, studies exploring the literary relationship of Scott and Byron are by no means as absent from critical scholarship as the author claims. A number of works on that topic have been published in recent years, and some have received international acclaim. Nor does such recent work 'treat mainly of the personal relationship' between the two authors or 'stop short' of suggesting more than 'some possible literary implications of the relationship'. Byron's 'humanitarian concerns' have directly been discussed in the context of his literary relationship with Scott. To deny that recent scholarship exists is poor practice. Additionally, it is disappointing to those who have assiduously researched books and articles that identify, discuss and account for reciprocal influences between two of the most important writers of the Romantic period.

The reason for the lack of accounting for recent work in Scott and Byron becomes immediately clear when the reader looks at the lengthy bibliography: only five of the secondary works mentioned were published after 1973, and one of those is a 1979 article by Speer. I am sorry to say that this book has all the hallmarks of a virtually unrevised piece of work from the early 1970s. I venture that it may be a doctoral thesis written during that period. Whilst there is nothing wrong with publishing work that has been carefully prepared over decades, such work must take account of developments in its field. The major shortcoming does not stop at comparative studies of Byron and Scott. Unfortunately, Speer shows little awareness of more recent developments in studies of either of his two chosen authors. The 'recent biographer' mentioned on the first page of the introduction turns out to be Hesketh Pearson writing in 1954. Similar instances occur elsewhere in the book, and the ubiquitous 'one critic' who has said something invariably transpires to be from the 1950s or '60s. In a study published with a scholarly press, it is essential to engage with other academic work and to place one's argument within a wider field of debate. I am surprised that Cambridge Scholars Publishing did not require references to more up-to-date work.

Another problem with Scott and Byron is that there are omissions, factual errors and simplifications. Mainly, the issues here are a product of the datedness of the secondary resources that have been used. For example, we know who reviewed English Bards and Scotch Reviewers for the Edinburgh Review. The author was Henry Brougham, who later acted for Lady Byron in separation proceedings against her husband. Byron did not know that Brougham was responsible for the review, and that is almost certainly why he later made the ironic reference to Jeffrey alongside Scott in Canto X of Don Juan that Speer discusses. I wondered why Speer did not identify the reviewer, at least in a note. The anti-Scottish sentiment in The Curse of Minerva was mainly directed at Lord Elgin for his appropriation of the Parthenon marbles, and not, as is suggested, at the Scottish nation more generally. Still on the matter of Byron, more careful [End Page 67] consideration of the poet's changing attitudes after English Bards and Scotch Reviewers is needed than has been given in Speer's account. The claim that Byron 'did not like Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel', supported by the appropriate lines from English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, should be followed by discussion of the letter sent to Scott three-and-a-half years later on 6 December 1812. Byron wrote in that letter that the Prince Regent had 'asked which of your works pleased me most, it was a difficult question - I answered, I thought the "Lay"'. Scott, meanwhile, began writing Waverley several years before Byron published the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and the first of his eastern tales. In 'Dating...


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