Home  »  Volume XII: English THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL The Nineteenth Century, I  »  § 2. Scott’s relations with the past

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

I. Sir Walter Scott

§ 2. Scott’s relations with the past

As a novelist, his distinctiveness largely depends, also, on his historic and antiquarian enthusiasms. Here, it is true, his relations with his immediate literary predecessors were much more intimate. Though his tales derive something of their romantic flavour from his familiarity with the older romance writers—both in prose and verse—he was also much advantaged by the antecedence of the great eighteenth century novelists and later and lesser novelists. He himself described Fielding as “the father of the English novel”; he had a very strong admiration for Smollett; and he also confessed that, but for the success attained by Maria Edgeworth in her Irish tales, he might never have thought of attempting a novel of Scottish life. His prefaces to Ballantyne’s Novelists’ Library, also, show, as Lockhart remarks, “how profoundly he had investigated the principles and practices of those masters before he struck out a new path for himself.” But, while more dependent as novelist than as poet on the stimulus and guidance of his modern predecessors, he was a much greater, a much more outstanding, novelist than poet. Here, he discovered his true literary vocation. Here, he found scope for a more complete and varied exercise of his special accomplishments and genius; and, great as were the merits of his chief eighteenth century predecessors, he was able to compass achievements, in some essential respects markedly different from theirs, and, at the same time, so comprehensive and many-sided as to confer on him a peculiar lustre.