Home  »  Volume XII: English THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL The Nineteenth Century, I  »  § 14. The sweep and compass of his narrative; The Waverley Novels

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

I. Sir Walter Scott

§ 14. The sweep and compass of his narrative; The Waverley Novels

Again, while employing an immense multiplicity of scenic effects, he is peculiarly lavish in his introduction of personages. His narrative, thus, has an immense sweep and compass. It is not sufficient that his tale should relate the fortunes of hero and heroine. They mainly assist in reviving a particular period of the past, or the chief features of a great historic drama, or the characteristics of certain ecclesiastical or political episodes. The journey, for example, and adventures of Waverley are merely a kind of pretext for a glimpse behind the scenes of the ’45; Guy Mannering and Redgauntlet deal more particularly with the lawless aspects of southern Scotland shortly anterior to Scott’s own time, interspersed with amusing pictures of the characteristic features of old legal Edinburgh; Old Mortality mirrors the Scotland of the covenanting persecution; and The Fortunes of Nigel calls up the eccentric James VI and I, but, more particularly, the seamy side of his court and the ruffianly features of the London of his time. How instructively he contrives to give a national interest to his tale is especially seen in the case of The Heart of Midlothian. It is founded on the actual case of a young woman who made a journey to London on her sister’s behalf, just as Jeanie Deans did, but, with this, he interweaves the striking story of the Porteous mob and the midnight attack on the Edinburgh Tolbooth, paints vivid pictures of old burgher Edinburgh, of old rustic Scottish life, of the stern Cameronians, of the old-world Scottish laird and his domestic affairs and of various Edinburgh reprobates, sets before us the ancient perils of the Great North road, introduces us to queen Caroline and the great duke of Argyll and his potent representatives, and describes the sovereign sway of the duke’s factor, the great Knockdunder, in the west Highlands.