The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 16. William Black
William Black’s first popular novel, A Daughter of Heth (1871), has its setting in the Ayrshire country; but his wont is to picture the western islands. He makes full use of the properties, highland pride and feuds, pipers, legends, ballads and superstitions, the trusted and officious old retainer and dialect; to all this he imparts a personal quality by two rather novel practices. First, he develops the description, in a quasi-poetical style, of the sky and heather and sea of the Hebrides into a separate art, his skill in which won for him a standing among artists; twelve of the most famous illustrators of the day contributed to Macleod of Dare (1878). He afterwards employed this gift in the composition of books such as The Strange Adventures of a Phaeton (1872), a blend of guide book and novel; an epidemic of word painting in fiction resulted from his success. A second device which Black elaborated (Susan Ferrier had already hit upon it) was the clash of temperaments of widely differing racial types. The Gaelic Macleod of Dare, moody, passionate, foredoomed, should have shown vividly in contrast with the actress Gertrude White, city-born and bred. More successful, perhaps because it retains some actual memories of youth, is the contrast between the boisterous “whaup” and his charming French cousin Catherine Cassilis in A Daughter of Heth; but, here and everywhere, Black’s vision is impeded by romantic sentiment.