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

I. Sir Walter Scott

§ 17. His humour

But the singularity of Scott is the peculiar combination in him of the humourist with the romance writer, of the man of the world with the devoted lover of nature and ardent worshipper of the past. While, with a certain superficiality in the portrayal of particular characters, he, pace Carlyle, displays an extraordinary felicity in the portrayal of others, he unites with this peculiar gift an exceptional power of vivifying the past on a very extended scale—the past, at least, as conceived by him. The question has been raised as to the historic value or historic correctness of his presentations. It need hardly be said that he was much more minutely and comprehensively versed in Scottish history and Scottish antiquarianism than in those of other countries, and had a much better understanding of Scottish than of other national characteristics. At the same time, his training as a Scottish novelist was of immense service to him when he found it advisable to seek fresh woods and pastures new. Without his previous Scottish experiences he could, for example, hardly have been so successful as he was in the case either of Quentin Durward or of Ivanhoe, which may be deemed his purely romantic masterpieces. He had no original mastery of the period of Louis XI. He had not even visited the scenes of his story; for these, he relied mainly on certain drawings of landscapes and ancient buildings made by his friend Skene of Rubislaw, who had just returned from a tour in the district. Lockhart, also, observed him “many times in the Advocates’ Library, poring over maps and gazetteers with care and anxiety.” For his historical and biographical inspiration, he was dependent mainly on the Mémoires of Philippe de Comines, supplemented by details from the chronicles of the period. We have only to turn to these authorities in order to see with what deftness he created his living world from a few records of the past, and the striking character of his success was attested by the admiring enthusiasm with which the work was received in France.