« PreviousContinue »
love scenes between Roland and the sprightly Catherine Seyton, a worthy Scottish successor of Di Vernon, a real creation of flesh and blood, and far superior to the average of Scott's heroines. Opening at the waterlocked fastness of Avenel which the sight of Lochleven recalled to the memory of of the page whom Murray sent to spy upon his sister, it takes the reader back to the old Monastery of St. Mary's, now sadly despoiled, and shows him the election of its last Abbot interrupted by the incursion of the mob headed by the rude Abbot of Unreason. Abbot Ambrose is introduced later to play an important part in the Queen's escape; but we are perhaps more interested in the reappearance of old Abbot Boniface of The Monastery as the horticulturist of Kinross who would fain leave Church and State to take care of themselves if only he may grow his pears and plums in peace. With Roland and the old Yorkshire falconer the scene shifts to Edinburgh, and we are witnesses of the fray between Seytons and Leslies in the High Street, and the bickerings of Murray and Morton at Holyrood, ere we cross to the Fifeshire shore and reach the castle, where Lady Douglas holds in duress her royal captive. In the interests of the picturesque, Scott chose to retain the incorrect topography which made Mary look upon the rout of her troops from Crookstone Castle rather than from Cathcart. He justified it by citing the story of the Highland shepherd, who, though perfectly aware that Dundee had been killed at a spot miles away, always
told the Saxon gentlemen that he fell where certain striking-looking ancient stone pillars stood, because they liked to hear that best. But he has followed history pretty closely throughout, and has both in it and The Monastery sketched with bold and impartial hand the ? warring ideals of the old faith of Rome and the new. religion of the Reformers.
The absence from Abbotsford household of the young Walter with his dogs and guns and young companions, and still more that of his sister Sophia, with her store of legends and old songs, made a blank in the life of their father; but a more than usually plentiful supply of guests must have done something to fill it. The most distinguished among them were old Henry Mackenzie, the septuagenarian Man of Feeling; Sir Humphry Davy, the miner's friend; and the young Gustavus, ex-Crown Prince of Sweden. Scott had a great tenderness for the last-named exile, a portrait of whose ancestor, Voltaire's hero, Charles the Twelfth, hung in his dining-room at Edinburgh. This descendant of the royal house of Vasa was much interested in the melancholy story of another exiled prince, Charles Edward Stewart; but he seems to have taken warning from it, for instead of sinking into a sot, he lived to attain honourable rank in the Austrian Army, though never to mount the throne of Sweden. "Poor lad, poor lad! God help him!" murmured Scott, when he saw him shed tears at the proclamation of George IV. in Edinburgh; and he treasured with something akin
to reverence the seal which the exile left him as a memorial of his visit to Tweedside.
An absurd report that Abbotsford had been attacked by a mob from Selkirk at the beginning of the winter moved its owner to great scorn. People who perpetrated such hoaxes and who mistook a dull lie for a good jest, reminded him, he declared, of the decrepit old laird of Pitmilly answering the inquiries as to his health of those who met him as he walked the streets
of St. Andrews with, "Ay, man, Ay, man, do ye ca' that wut?"
He could never conceive a Selkirk mob so numerous but he would have "met them beard to beard" and driven them back before they had got within two miles of his house. It is certain that he would have had the whole countryside at his back on such an occasion; for there was scarcely a man in it who had not experienced from him some individual kindness, not to speak of the constant employment which the building and laying out of Abbotsford had provided for them. However, annoyed as he was, he dismissed the incident with the good-humoured reflection that having himself destroyed many a castle with his pen, he could not complain that his own had been assaulted—“ Cossaqué ' as he put it-with the same harmless implement. That pen had been plying busily every morning throughout the autumn and winter before the Abbotsford guests were up. One of them, Captain Basil Hall, calculated that one hundred and eight pages of Kenil worth were written in ten days!
The new English romance was the outcome of Scott's wish to conciliate Constable (with whom there had been some friction over The Abbot) by writing a story about Queen Elizabeth. Scott had long been familiar with Mickle's ballad on the subject of Amy Robsart, and he wished to take his title from the scene of her death, Cumnor Place; but Constable was bent upon a fulldress historical novel, and insisted upon having it named from the castle where Dudley entertained his
royal mistress in such princely style. Sir Walter was never loath to enter upon subjects which gave him opportunities for picturesque pageantry, and so he recked nothing of the fact that the revels at Kenilworth were not held till several years after the tragedy at Cumnor. He saw, too, what an effective contrast these pomps and vanities would make with the sufferings of the injured wife who came, without the knowledge of her lord, to witness them. So, too, resolved to please his publisher and gratify the public with a sight of all the figures in the Elizabethan drama, he shows them Ralegh spreading his cloak before the Queen at Greenwich at a date when
he should have been in the nursery; and gives them a peep at Shakespeare as an actor whose poems and plays were in everyone's mouth long before any of them had been written or a theatre had been built, and when the great man himself was probably still holding horses.
Students of the period may find many similar anachronisms, due in part to the exigencies of the narrator, and partly to a desire for effect; but the fact remains that, with all this, and with all his prejudices against her as Mary Stewart's captor, the central figure of Elizabeth is as true to history as it is great in art, and the scenes in which she figures are at least as faithfully portrayed as those in which the author depicted the to him more familiar and congenial Scottish Queen. For sustained interest the narrative of the tragic fate of Lord Robert Dudley's wife is probably equal to anything Scott ever wrote. And, though he has taken almost as great liberties with it as he has with the historical setting, we find so shrewd a judge as Mr. Andrew Lang, with all the results of recent research and controversy before him, inclining to the view that the novelist's solution is by no means unlikely, even though "suicide" be the more generally accepted verdict.
So great was the popularity of Kenilworth that the tale goes that the Earl of Abingdon forgot that some ten years before its publication he had ordered the demolition of Anthony Foster's house, and drove over a party of enthusiastic sightseers to gaze upon what remained of Cumnor Place. Amy Robsart, whether