Home  »  Volume XII: English THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL The Nineteenth Century, I  »  § 1. The Scottish literary revival of the eighteenth century

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

I. Sir Walter Scott

§ 1. The Scottish literary revival of the eighteenth century

LIKE Burns, Scott is, in his way, an anomaly in English literature. Both as poet and novelist, he bore the badge of singularity. It was as poet that he made his first appeal to the world, and his poetic tendencies were not directly inspired by modern English verse. In matter and manner, if not in metrical form, his poetry has as little kinship with that of his immediate English predecessors as has the verse of Burns. His relations are more intimate with ancient, than with modern, bards, though not with the same bards as Burns; and, like him, he is very specifically—though not so peculiarly and completely—Scottish. His immense interest in the Scottish past represents a phase of the reaction against the ecclesiastical obsession of previous generations. With the advent of the reformation, Scotland’s interest in her secular past was, for a long time, almost extinguished. Even the memories of Bannockburn and of her stern struggles for national independence became obscured by the new protestant alliance with England; while her catholic past acquired, in the eyes of the majority of the nation, a kind of criminal aspect from its supposed association with a long period of “idolatry” and spiritual decline. One of the most marked features of the Scottish literary revival of the eighteenth century was the awakened interest in her secular past. This was further accentuated by the romantic, though futile, Jacobite risings. Scott inherited strong Jacobite partialities, and, through his father and others, was brought into close contact with Jacobite traditions; while the feats of his old border ancestry captivated the imagination of his early childhood. Interest in the past, and specially in the feudal and chivalric past, was the predominant inspiration of his verse; and conferred on it a marked dissimilarity from that of his immediate predecessors.