« PreviousContinue »
Scotland and connecting it with the scarcely yet forgotten Porteous riot. The influence of an old schoolfellow, who held an important municipal office, procured for him the door of the old prison and the stones of its gateway, and the author of The Heart of Midlothian was thus enabled to look upon a permanent memorial of one of his best works whenever he approached his kitchen at Abbotsford.
Lockhart now first made the acquaintance of his future father-in-law, and took off his hands the task (no longer a pleasure since the termination of the great war) of writing the historical summary for the Edinburgh Annual Register. He tells us how Scott knew every house in the old town, and would never let his coachman drive him down the Canongate or past Holyrood at a speed calculated to disturb his historic musings. Little wonder that so devoted a native of Auld Reekie should linger lovingly over the description of the scene in the Grassmarket, or should tell with vivid animation how the doors of the old prison were forced by the mysteriously organised mob and the obnoxious captain of the town guard dragged out to die. Nor can we be surprised that the author, quite forgetting that he was masquerading as the old schoolmaster Jedediah Cleishbotham, should, when he takes Butler out of the city on the day after his involuntary presence at Porteous's lynching, break forth into raptures over that "fascinating path" round Salisbury Crags, once his favourite evening and morning resort,
"when engaged with a favourite author or new subject of study." He found himself able, when revising the tale, to tell his readers in a footnote that the reparation
of this picturesque pathway-" the scene to me of so much delicious musing when life was young and promised to be happy "-had been directly due to the passage in question.
The strikingly situated ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel, rising above Muschat's Cairn, where Jeanie and her sister's seducer had their midnight meeting, and whence the latter afterwards escaped, warned by Madge Wildfire's singing, are still to be seen, and, indeed, are a favourite Sunday afternoon resort of Edinburgh citizens. And St. Leonard's Crags, even to-day, keep much of the wild beauty which they had when Scott knew them and placed in their neighbourhood the little farm and dwelling-place of Douce Davie Deans and his daughters. Here it was that a few years later, Scott and Crabbea devoted admirer of The Heart of Midlothian, as was his friend of the verses of Byron's "Pope in Worsted Stockings "-enjoyed a quiet walk and talked of the early struggles of the East Anglian poet. When Jeanie, under the auspices of her patriotic countryman the Duke of Argyll, has had her interview with Queen Caroline at Richmond, and all is satisfactorily settled, her creator is not content with providing a manse for her husband and a farm for her father in MacCallumore's western dominions, but must needs bring Effie's husband back to the scene of his crimes, make him taste the agonies of remorse and encounter risks of recognition, and finally die by the hand of the son whom he was seeking.
The scene of this epilogue is the island of Roseneath in the Frith of Clyde which the Dukes of Argyll used as an occasional residence, and the adjoining shore of Dumbartonshire. The mountains, precipices, and caverns
afford a fitting theatre for the dénouement of the drama; but in spite of all the beauties of description and the tragic power displayed, we could have been well content to have taken leave of the homely heroine and her family in their peaceful home, undisturbed by the retributive justice which follows the visit of her erring sister and her aristocratic husband. These again are rhetorical and unreal, whilst in the character of Jeanie
Deans and her father Scott has scored well-nigh his greatest success. The sterling merit of the old man, his little failings, his worldly shrewdness, and, underlying all, his profound devotion to the truth as he sees it, are altogether admirable. His daughter is a heroine, but a perfectly natural one; she is the ideal Scottish peasant woman, but an ideal based on Scott's actual observation of her class. "This is enlisting the affections in the cause of virtue' ten times more than
ever Richardson did," wrote Lady Louisa Stuart from London; and she testifies that the popularity of the story had completely disproved the notion that the author was wearing himself out. From her own family knowledge, too, the same correspondent (than whom no one was in a better position to form an opinion) acknowledges the truthfulness of the historical portraiture in the persons of the Queen and Argyll, though she urges the authority of her mother in favour of the character of Lady Suffolk.
The first conception of the poor mad creature Madge Wildfire was derived from the substance of a Lowland ballad concerning a certain romantic character known as Feckless Fannie. The invaluable Mr. Joseph Train collected the particulars, but the character was altered in the novel beyond all recognition. In truth, a common reputation for witchcraft appears to have been the only feature of resemblance between the wandering shepherdess, who was quite innocent of any weakness for fine clothes, and the demented vagrant who, swelling in her garish attire, dragged poor Jeanie Deans up the aisle of Willingham Church. No, the credit of this British Ophelia belongs to Scott alone. We need say nothing here of the incomparable Dumbiedikes, or the somewhat too intrusive Saddle-tree; but are not their likes plentiful in Scotland even to this day? Scott must have had some affection for the old covenanting father of his heroine, since he called the last horse which he used to ride by the name of Douce Davie Deans.