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THE CENTENARY OF SIR WALTER SCOTT M. W. WALLACE M EN have always been interested in anniversaries, whether of events in their own lives or the lives " " of others. When we can say that a great man was born or a great battle fought exactly"one hundred or one thousand years ago, the event takes on in our mjnds a fresh reality, and -temporarily at least we feel that we have defeated the rolling years in their task of blotting out "all human happenings. To one of a studious or scholarly bent it is;therefore, a most natural thing to use these recurring anniversaries as an opportunity for revis--:ing one's judgment as to the significance of -the men or events which have preceded us. Indeed, much of the best literary criticism of the present" century has been written as a contribution to these secular celebrations. Sir Walter -Scott died on September 21, 1832, and during the p"resent year there have been anumber of new and significant attempts to re-estimate the character of the man, and the permanent value of his contribution to . literature~ Mr. John Buchan has written a most readable - "Life in which warm enthusiasm is tempered by a finely discriminating feeling. for literary worth. Mr. Buchan regards Sir Walter as the greatest and most representative of Scotsmen. Lord David Cecil in a stimulating essay contributed to-Life and Letters places him almost alone "of English writers in the"narrow aristocracy of the world's novelists. ' Many other eminent critics froin Bagehot and Ruskin to Professor Elton have appraised Scott's worth in high III THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY terms, but it would be idle to pretend that the passing of time has enhanced his popular reputGl:tion. _In his own day his popularity was a unique phenomenon. With characteristic modesty he himself was accustomed to depreciate the abiding worth of his novels, and to think that their hurried frankness of cOlnposition 'would please soldiers, sailors and young people of bold and active dispositions. I know not how it may be with the soldiers and sailors of to-day, but the great majority of young people of all dispositions refuse to be pleased. They can draw up a formidable list of the defects-of Scott's qualities. All'the most trenchant criticisms of the past century are 'warmly re-echoed by them. Stevenson thought him a day-dreamer, but hardly a great-artist. Carlyle thought his characters fashioned from the skin inwards, that he never got near the heart of them. "It seems taus there goes other stuff to the making of great men th'an can be detected here. His life was worldly, his ambitions wer'e worldly, there is nothing spiritual in him. All is economic, material, of the earth, earthy. He wished not the world to elevate itself, to amend itself, to do this or do that, except simply pay him for the books he kept writing." In our own day Mr. E. M. Forster thinks -Scott a glorified writer of children's books. Any undergraduate can tell 'you of his longueurs, how slowly his novels get under way, how absurdly stilted is his language, how impossible his - heroes and heroines, how conventional his outlook on life. Perhaps the best we can say for him is that literary - reputations are notoriously subject to' ebbs and flows, and that the centenary of Scott's death finds his reputation at the ebb, at any rate as far as the gene~al reader is concerned. It may be of interest to examine the causes of Scott's present disrepute, and to attempt a brief 112 THE CENTENARY OF SIR WALTER SCOTT analysis of .those 'qualities in his novels in which his strength peculiarly resides. . I t is not strange that Scott's popularity should have waned in our own day: indeed, it is inevitable. On the morrow of a world catastrophe we are sceptical of all the values which yesterday were taken for granted. To call a point of view nineteenth century. is to condemn it. We are seeking painfully to find 4 new interpretation; to discover a better way of living and thinking...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 111-132
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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