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20 2. The Young Person’s Sir Walter: Scott and the Nineteenth-Century Child Reader PAUL BARNABY In the closing decades of the nineteenth century, Sir Walter Scott came to be seen as a writer ideally suited to the British schoolroom. This chapter will examine the pedagogical ends that he was made to serve and chart how these ultimately undermined his status for child and adult reader alike. This is not, however, a straightforward tale of Scott’s ‘relegation’ from an adult to a juvenile canon. Even in his heyday, children were a major part of Scott’s public. As Teresa Michals has recently shown, Scott and his contemporaries consciously addressed a mixed-age audience.1 Only much later in the century did a vision of the novel emerge which exclusively targeted the adult reader. The repackaging of Scott for children shows rather how a key component of his original readership was transformed into his core market. Scott himself frequently discussed his popularity among ‘young persons’. The preface to Peveril of the Peak (1823), for example, is a humorous dialogue in which Scott’s fictional antiquarian Dr Dryasdust accuses the ‘Author of Waverley’ of ‘misleading the young, the indolent, and the giddy’ through ‘the crude, uncertain, and often false statements, which [his] novels abound with’. The ‘Author’ counters that he is ‘doing a real service to the more ingenious and the more apt’ among the ‘busy’ and ‘youthful’ by introducing them to ‘truths severe in fairy fiction dressed’.2 In the introduction to the Magnum Opus edition of Ivanhoe (1830), Scott refutes the doctrine of poetic justice on the grounds that it is dangerous to teach ‘young persons, the most common readers of romance’ that ‘rectitude of conduct and of principle’ are naturally awarded with worldly success.3 Such passages are a response to critics like the anonymous reviewer of Quentin Durward (1823) who accused Scott of ‘blunting the sympathies of youth with the cause of human civilization’ by ‘accustoming the mind to 21 scott and the nineteenth-century child reader the contemplation of political vice unaccompanied by censure, or rather dressed out in the garb of amiability and goodness’. The reviewer cited the ‘total confusion of right and wrong’ produced in a ‘young female’ of his acquaintance who judged Scott’s Louis XI ‘a pleasant gentleman’. It was not enough, he concluded, to argue that such works ‘are not intended for youth’, for ‘youth will read them’.4 Other reviewers, conversely, praised Scott precisely for the moral lessons that he offered to young readers. As early as 1814, the British Critic recommended Waverley (1814) to ‘those who are engaged in forming the minds of the youth of this country’ and hoped that ‘those who are placed under their care’ would learn from the flaws in the protagonist’s character and education.5 From the outset, then, Scott and his critics are united in the assumption that he will be extensively read by the young and in the conviction that the novel plays a didactic role. When a later generation of critics comes to see didacticism as the exclusive property of children’s writing, Scott’s works will increasingly be perceived as addressing youth alone. The terms ‘youthful’ and ‘young persons’ may suggest that Scott and his critics are referring to teenagers or young adults. There is much evidence, however, that Scott’s original audience contained many significantly younger readers. In 1808, seven-year-old Thomas Macaulay was, in his mother’s words, ‘so fired up with reading’ the Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion that he composed his own six-canto poem on ‘The Battle of Cheviot’.6 In 1811, eight-year-old Marjory Fleming quoted in her journal from Scott’s ‘most beautiful’ poem ‘hill Villean’ [i.e. ‘Helvellyn’].7 Eleven-year-old Elizabeth Barrett begged her mother to send her the second volume of Waverley in 1817 and read Rob Roy later that year.8 In 1820, another eleven-year-old, Fanny Kemble ‘hungered and thirsted’ at her Parisian boarding school for Scott’s ‘romantic epics’ which had been her ‘daily bread’ at home. So ‘intense was her desire’ that she wrote out the Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion ‘from memory, so as not absolutely to lose my possession of them’.9 Another boarder, twelve-year-old William Makepeace, at Charterhouse in 1823, was lingering after lights out ‘to read one little half-page more of my dear Walter Scott’ when ‘down came the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781908980304
Related ISBN
9781908980298
MARC Record
OCLC
1104628745
Pages
476
Launched on MUSE
2019-06-15
Language
English
Open Access
No
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