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where dwelt Miss Ritchie, the true original of the landlady of the Cleikum Inn in the Aultoun of St. Ronan's.
If in St. Ronan's Well the author did not exactly exceed himself, he, at the very least, executed a highly skilful tour de force. And if he did not do morewhich seems quite open to question-the fault lay rather with Ballantyne and Constable than himself. Clara Douglas's state of mind and conduct towards Etherington and Tyrrel is insufficiently accounted for by the trick put upon her by the former. We should remember, however, that as the tale was originally written, the mere mock marriage was not the extent of her wrong. Scott altered his plan against his better judgment and fatally injured his work. Nearly all the action is crowded into the last few chapters, and the catastrophe is by no means skilfully engineered. The writing is careless throughout, and calls for revision. Here, as elsewhere, Scott had too low an opinion of his own art. The novel is merely for amusement and money-making; it is not first of all a serious study of home life and character, yet is there not enough to make the reputation of a great master of fiction in Meg Dods, the old landlady, who with her besom discomfits the soi-disant Captain McTurk, and in Peregrine Scrogie Touchwood, whose wrinkled visage was a reminiscence of that singularly effusive admirer of the author, the Cossack leader Platoff? One gets something like a foretaste of Dickens in these two.
Then, also, there is Josiah Cargill, the tender-hearted and absent-minded minister whom Scott drew from that friend of his childhood, the venerable minister of Smailholm; Lady Penelope Penfeather, the affected précieuse; and the relict of Captain Blower of the Lovely Peggy, who falls a not unwilling victim to the designs of the hard-hearted but canny Dr. Quackleben. Here, as always, Scott is at his best in drawing the characters of his humbler countrymen and women.
ISLE OF MAN
Even the smaller figures are finely conceived. Nelly Trotter and Saunders Mecklewham are admirable little pictures, as perfect in their way as the more prominent Meg Dods, that unsurpassable example of the old type of Scottish landlady. Scott had entered upon this new field with many modest apologies for his inexperience, urging the necessity of novelty as his only excuse for competing with such occupants as Miss Austen (whose name, by the way, he misspells) and Maria Edgeworth; but that he was not so very far behind the English and Irish depicters of contemporary
manners is surely in some degree proved by the significant fact that though St. Ronan's Well fell rather flat in England, those who were nearer the scene found some of its leading characters so faithful as to be almost recognisable in living persons. Miss Edgeworth herself
wrote to Scott to tell him how much she had been interested and amused by the story, though, like Lady Abercorn, who sent a letter from Paris testifying to the author's vogue on the Continent, she found fault with the unfortunate ending.
The Irish novelist had been Sir Walter's guest for a fortnight of the preceding August, which was one of the happiest, we are told, in his life. She found everything about him "exactly what one ought to have had wit enough to dream "; and when she left, her host showed his appreciation of her visit by naming after her the stone on which she had sat during a picnic in Rhymer's Glen.
Some two months before the publication of the next Waverley, we find Scott admitting to a correspondent that if he had not been a builder and a buyer of books and land, he would long since have "resigned the office of standing public tale-teller." "But," he adds, "while it is worth a great many thousand pounds a year, what mortal wight can refrain from labouring his brains?" However, this year, which saw the completion of Abbotsford, he only finished one novel, though besides smaller undertakings he got through the press a heavy piece of work in his new edition of The Life and Works
of Swift. But that novel, Redgauntlet: a Tale of the Eighteenth Century, was one of his finest-perhaps the last of them. Whether we look at it as a story, which for the variety and excellence of its characters is inferior only to a play of Shakespeare, or as a profoundly interesting revelation of its author's temperament and early life, it will be found equally noteworthy to all who value Scott either as man or writer.
With the highly probable supposition that Sir Walter has given us in this story a peep into his own loveromance I have already dealt; also the fact that we have in the precise old lawyer, Saunders Fairford, the portrait of a well-loved father drawn by a sympathetic and clear-sighted son. But there are other reminiscences besides these. Thus we find Scott laughing at his own representation of himself as the young law student, in the person of Darsie Latimer rallying his friend on his affectation of sobriety. It is really, of course, Will Clerk who writes:
"How hadst thou the heart to represent thine own individual self, with all thy motions like those of a great Dutch doll, depending on the presence of certain springs, as duty, reflection, and the like; without the impulse of which thou wouldst doubtless have me believe thou wouldst not budge an inch? But have I not seen Gravity out of his bed at midnight? And must I, in plain terms, remind thee of certain mad pranks? Thou hadst ever, with the gravest sentiments in thy mouth, and the most starched reserve in thy manner, a kind of lumbering proclivity towards mischief."
That last phrase is a surprisingly delightful piece of
self-criticism; and the whole passage reminds us of an allusion of Maria Edgeworth, on receiving from her brother novelist an account of the perplexity caused him by the conflicting claims of birth and wealth in the persons of certain aristocratic ladies, and of Mrs. Coutts (former actress and future duchess) :
"I wish I had been by to see 'Rank and Wealth' fighting it out, and you sitting by, not to judge the prize-with your innocent look, which I could never see without laughing internally. There is a humorously demure composure at times in the drawn-down corners of your mouth, and a lurking humour in your eyes, when you vainly attempt to expel from them all expression save that of perfectly polite submission, which no portrait could represent."
However, if we are to believe Lockhart, Scott by no means "let rank and wealth fight it out" on this occasion, but rather interposed with skilful diplomacy in favour of the weaker party, who was the "mistress of millions." His modesty did him as much injustice when he described the incident to his friend as when he made Darsie say of Alan that "he had more inclination to set mischief a-going than address to carry it through."
The visit of the self-styled Mr. Herries of Birrenswork, and old Saunders Fairford's manner of "homologating" his self-given invitation to a dinner, is a chapter in Redgauntlet which may well have had its origin in the author's recollection of the circumstances attending that interview between his own father and Murray of Broughton which ended in the saucer incident related in the Autobiography. Mount Sharon and its worthy