« PreviousContinue »
“GUY MANNERING," BYRON, AND WATERLOO
AVING arranged for its publication with
finish The Lord of the Isles. The poem duly appeared in January, 1815, but the sales showed a decided falling off. James Ballantyne has left on record how he broke the news of this comparative failure ; and how Scott, after showing a momentary disappointment, declared that he wondered his poetical popularity had lasted so long. “Well, well, James, so be it; but you know we must not droop, for we can't afford to give
Since one line has failed, we must just stick to something else.” In fact, he had then nearly finished Guy Mannering, which was issued only a month after the poem, having been, in his own words, "the work of six weeks at a Christmas." Although the success of Waverley may have had something to do with this haste, its main cause was John Ballantyne and his publishing difficulties, which Constable could not see his way to take altogether upon his own shoulders. . The house of Longman was entrusted with the new novel, but Constable had an interest in it, and issued most of the subsequent volumes.
Guy Mannering quite equalled its predecessor in popularity, the first edition being sold out on the day after publication. Simply as a story it is far superior to Waverley, and the present writer is in agreement with those who have considered it as in this respect quite the best of the series. The original idea of the author, suggested to him by a legend told him by an old Highland servant of his father, was an astrological tale; but the notion, though adopted as a startingpoint, was gradually lost sight of as the work progressed. It had been the outcome of correspondence with an inhabitant of the locality—the south-western corner of Scotland, known as Galloway--in which most of the action takes place. This was Mr. Joseph Train, Supervisor of Excise at Castle Stewart, who had written a volume of poems illustrative of Galloway and Ayrshire traditions, which being printed by Ballantyne, had attracted Scott's attention. A correspondence was opened up between them about Turnberry Castle, the scene of Bruce's landing after leaving Arran. Train visited the ruins of the old castle on the Ayrshire coast and supplied Scott with materials for some of the most picturesque passages in The Lord of the Isles, including the incident of the meteoric gleam. As time went on, Train fell completely under the spell of Scott's genius, and abandoning all his own literary plans and aspirations, became thenceforth the most useful of the Great Unknown's unseen helpers.
As regards locality “Ellangowan” is clearly Caerlaverock Castle. The gipsy part of Guy Mannering Scott
put together largely from what his father had told him of Jean Gordon of Yetholm, the gigantic gipsyqueen who was ducked to death as a Jacobite at Carlisle by the mob, crying, “Charlie yet!" with her last breath. He himself, when a boy, had seen her granddaughter Madge, and his memory was haunted by “the solemn
CAERLAVEROCK CASTLE, DUMFRIESSHIRE
remembrance of a woman of more than female height, dressed in a long red cloak," who had been friendly enough to give him an apple. Meg Merrilies was a compound of these two. The story of Dominie Sampson's fidelity to his young mistress was a transcript from real life, and some of his characteristics were no doubt suggested by the lame Dominie Thomson (popularly pronounced Thamson), who was tutor at Abbotsford; Dandie Dinmont was drawn after William Laidlaw, with a
touch of Willie Elliot and perhaps other sheep farmers of the Border; Dirk Hatteraick had no ascertainable original, though a Dutch skipper called Yawkins has been suggested. He is more melodramatic than the others mentioned. For these three, the Gipsy, the Dominie, the Farmer, are at once strongly individual and at the same time highly characteristic types of old Scottish life taken sur le vif-true creations of genius, with their chief traits not exaggerated yet sufficiently conspicuous to give them marked prominence. There were, however, those who knew more than the author himself about the origin of his characters; and one Davidson, an honest Liddesdale yeoman, though he was wont to say that “the Shirra had not written about him mair than about ither folk, but only about his dogs," and though it was only after the publication of Guy Mannering that his existence was known to Scott, had no objection to be identified with Dandie Dinmont, by which name he was once actually addressed in a letter of application for a brace of his celebrated terriers. Scott, however, did not resent Hogg's pronouncement that Colonel Mannering was “just Walter Scott painted by himself.” The dominant feature of the character, shrewd sagacity mingled with kindliness, certainly fits him well enough When Terry dramatised this second Waverley, the result greatly pleased the author, who was particularly delighted with Liston's impersonation of the Dominie. Author and actor had a short interview behind the scenes at Edinburgh in 1817.
Scott spent the Easter vacation of the memorable year 1815 in London. The journey, on which he was accompanied by his wife and eldest daughter, was as usual made by sea—“very successfully and even pleasantly, bating three circumstances.” These werethat the wind was in constant and methodical opposition; that a collier brig ran foul of them in the dark ("and nearly consigned us all to the bottom of the sea”); and that they struck on a rock and “lay hammering for two hours ” until they floated with the rising tide. The great event of this visit to London, apart from Scott's presentation to the Prince Regent already referred to in connection with Waverley, was his meeting with his successful rival in the poetic field-Lord Byron. Any unpleasantness between them arising out of Byron's comments on Scott in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers had long since been removed and explained in friendly correspondence. And the feeling of the younger poet towards the man whom he was ousting in public favour is shown by James Ballantyne's story of the presentation copy of poems inscribed “To the Monarch of Parnassus from one of his subjects," which he found in Scott's possession. Scott, as we have seen, was far from taking up any such position ; and on this very occasion he frankly confesses his preference for his English rival's work : “ James, Byron hits the mark where I don't even pretend to fledge my arrow.'
His appreciation of their position as rivals with the