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SIR WALTER SCOTT AS EDITOR OF DRYDEN AND SWIFT GEORGE FALLE In the literary career of Sir Walter Scott the range, quality, and variety of achievement match the intrinsic virtues of man and artist. As poet, novelist, scholar, journalist, he stamps his very individual character and taste upon his materials. While it may be true that the poems do not secure the highest effects of romantic poetry, that the novels are not everywhere of the same excellence, they succeed in reflecting the honesty and integrity that inform all his work. And this is no less true of his editorial undertakings. The greatest and most significant of these are the editions of Dryden and Swift, but they also include the State Papers of Sir Ralph Sadleir in three volumes, the Tracts of Lord Somers in thirteen volumes, and the private memoirs of Sir Henry Slingsby, Captain Hodgson, Captain Carleton, and the Earl of Monmouth- curiously enough, all subjects that relate to various aspects of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century history. As an historian, Scott was delighted by such writings, but there was a humane principle at work, too, as he admitted to Lockhart when he wrote, "there was hardly one of my schemes that did not afford me the means of serving some poor devil of a brother author.'" It will be in order, first, to make a few general observations upon Scott's editions of Dryden and Swift that will point up his editorial limitations as well as his virtues, and then to proceed to a more particular analysis of each that will aim to demonstrate why the Dryden is to be preferred to the Swift. The "Lives" of Dryden and Swift that constitute the first volume of each edition show Scott at his very best. It is extraordinary that early in the nineteenth century, when Dryden's poetic reputation was at its lowest ebb, and Swift's critics could not (or would not) distinguish between the man and the artist, Scott dared to present them to the public as respectable authors and men. The major reviews of the editions appeared in the Edinburgh Review: Henry Hallam, the historian, reviewed the Dryden in October, 1808, and Francis Jeffrey mingled his usual condemnation with just, if slight, praise in his review of the Volume XXXVI, Number 2, January, 1967 162 GEORGE FALLE Swift in September, 1816. In each case, these reviews serve to point up the superiority of Scott's judgments to those of his critics. Hallam, with the customary prejudice of the historian that reaches its apogee in the Victorian animadversions of Lord Macaulay, is rather humourless in his major complaint that Scott had tended to "represent the Restoration as a favourable epoch to literature." "Nothing," he argues, "can be more unfounded than to make an Augustan age of the times of Charles II. Taste was then, in fact, at its lowest ebb; an assertion of which the trash collected in this edition of Dryden would furnish abundant proof" (I 18-9). In another place he writes: "Through a series of uninteresting dates, and loads of contemporary trash, Mr. Scott's genius sometimes gleams more or less, and sometimes he is quite lost in the abyss" (134); and he is troubled that the editor has been "too copious" in his notes and annotations. It must be admitted that, with all due allowance for Scott's enthusiastic appraisal of the seventeenth century and especially of the age of Dryden eso clearly and urbanely set forth in his review of Pepys's Diary for the Quarterly Review in March, 1826), he demonstrates in his approach to his materials in his life of Dryden an impartiality that Hallam, the professional historian, might well have studied to advantage. Scott's sympathy for the troubled soul that he found in Swift was a focal point of attack in Jeffrey's review. For Jeffrey, Scott had been excessively lenient in his presentation of Swift's character; in his indulgence and tenderness "towards individuals of all deseriptions,-more full . .. of kindness and veneration for genius and social virtue, than of indignation at baseness and profligacy." In the memoir of Swift, Scott tried to balance "misanthropical" principles with benevolent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 161-180
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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