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

I. Sir Walter Scott

§ 10. Scott’s lyrics

Little importance attaches to any of Scott’s dramatic efforts—Halidon Hill (1822), Macduff’s Cross (1822), The Doom of Devorgoil (1830) or The Tragedy of Auchindrane (1830)—which but serve to show that his genius or his training unfitted him to excel in this more concise form of imaginative art. As for his poetic romances, they might conceivably have gained by more careful elaboration and considerable condensation; but, on the other hand they might, by such a process, have lost much of their fire and spirit and naïve picturesqueness. Their main charm lies in their vivid presentation of the exciting incidents and wondrous occurrences of former times, in association with their antique environment, with old surviving memorials of the past and with notably characteristic scenery. If their poetry be lacking in condensed effectiveness, in emotional depth and in the more exquisite beauties and splendours of imaginative art, it is generally admirably spirited, and it is almost unmatched for its brilliant pictures of adventure, pageantry and conflict.

But, on the whole, it is, perhaps, as a lyric poet that Scott is seen to best advantage; though, even in Scotland, his lyric greatness has been rather overlooked. Here, he has been overshadowed by Burns, and he hardly deserves to be so. Necessarily, he was not a little indebted to the example of Burns, of whom he was one of the most ardent of admirers, and his minute acquaintance with Johnson’s Musical Museum is, also, evident. But, if, here, he owes something to Burns, he was, in some respects, a close rival of him. He does not rival him as a love poet; but, if, also, in other respects, a much less voluminous writer of lyrics, he showed, perhaps, a more independent fertility, and his diversity is quite as remarkable. Various examples of his lyric art in his poetic romances have already been quoted; and, scattered throughout his novels, there are, also, many exquisite lyrical fragments and other incidental verse. Such purely English pieces as Brignal Banks; A Weary Lot; Rest, Warrior, Rest; Allan a Dale; County Guy; Waken Lords and Ladies Gay; Love Wakes and Weeps and Young Lochinvar have no parallel in Burns. Burns was almost devoid of romance—as, indeed, were generally the Scottish vernacular bards—except when, as in It was a’ for our Richtfu’ King, he borrowed the sentiment of a predecessor; nor could he have penned the tenderly mournful Proud Maisie. Of Scott’s mastery of rollicking humour, we have at least one example in Donald Caird; his Bonnie Dundee, Pibroch of Donald Dhu and Macgregor’s Gathering are unsurpassed as spirited martial odes; the mournful pathos of old age is finely expressed in The Sun upon the Weirdlaw Hill; and Rebecca’s hymn When Israel of the Lord Beloved is a majestic summary of Jewish faith.