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when we merely meant to indicate an argument. But we have reached the conclusions we desired to draw—that the race, whether abroad or at home, is much the same as it has always been ; consequently that the elements of romance and dramatic surprise are to be found in abundance even among those canny'folk who have seldom strayed beyond their parish bounds, although these may lie hidden under an impassive demeanour which repels the scrutiny of the uninstructed observer.
Perhaps for all purposes of argument, it would have come much to the same thing, had we gone straight to the Waverley Novels, which must remain, so long as there is a national literature, the alpha and omega of Scottish fiction. Sir Walter is at once the encouragement and despair of those who have followed or are to follow in his footsteps. He showed all that may be made of the character of his country people, and handled it with a versatility of knowledge and flexibility of touch that at once invite and defy imitation. He had in him all that was needful to do them the most complete poetical justice-a poet's nature and sympathies, intuitive powers of
perception, intense but enlightened patriotism, a sense of humour as goodnaturedly alive to their failings as it keenly appreciated their native wit, and an artistic discrimination which rejected what was coarse, while it could throw a halo of romance over the homely. An aristocrat by nature and a high Tory in politics, he never enjoyed life more heartily than when mixing with the rough farmers of the dales. He had the key to the hearts of humble retainers like the Purdies, and drawing instinctively to sympathetic and sterling worth, he stepped lightly over social barriers without breaking them down. The secret of the sparkling realism of his pictures was his lifelong familiarity with the people he dashed on to his canvas. He reproduced what rose naturally before him, scarcely drawing on memory, far less on fancy. An enthusiastic boy absorbed in the perusal of old romances, he had been sent for the benefit of his failing health to the seclusion of a border farmhouse. He had basked out on the hillsides in the summer day, among sturdy shepherds familiar with lays and legends of the Tweed and its tributaries; and in the cool evenings had drawn in his stool among the good people who gathered round the ingle • nook' for the nightly gossip. As a lawyer's apprentice going on business errands beyond the Highland line, his observation was straying in fields more congenial than jurisprudence, and his imagination was unconsciously assimilating all he heard and all he saw. Afterwards when the sheriff, as he told Lock
hart, had many a grand gallop along these braes when 'thinking of Marmion,' he would often draw rein to find a welcome among the hospitable Dandie Dinmonts of the Forest.' He goes a cruise with the Commissioners of Northern Lights along the eastern coast and in the northern islands, and it is not only in the · Pirate,' the immediate fruit of the expedition, that you may trace his course by the information he gathered. Thenceforth he shows a wonderful familiarity with the seafaring population he had merely got glimpses of, and his marine pieces are painted with the hand of a master.
Like all great artists, he closely followed nature, and availed himself to the utmost of the wide range of his personal observations. But the winning man of the world and indefatigable student of manners was a poet before everything ; his genius refused to be fettered, and notwithstanding his fidelity to nature, which was the spell with which the wizard worked his marvels, he occasionally departed from inartistic realities and took bold liberties for the sake of his art. It was not that he did it of deliberate purpose. The man who threw off page after page of his great fictions with the swift regularity of an office drudge, probably seldom paused to reflect, never hesitated as to how he should express himself. He wrote from inspiration; his matter naturally arranged and expressed itself in the most telling forms; and such is the glamour he throws over his works that criticism is charmed into silence, or forgets to carp at details. Poetic expression is the very soul of Scottish fiction ; for like all earnest and strongly self-contained peoples, the feelings of the Scotch, when they do break out, are apt to seek vent in poetic language, and there is an eloquent dignity in their rudest lamentations. It is the same with the inhabitants of the Basse Bretagne for example-a race who have much in common with the Scotch-and whose heaths and woodlands have a ballad literature as rich and passionate as that of the Scottish border. To our mind the prose Scott places in the mouths and cottage scenes of the humblest of the Scotch is more exquisite poetry than anything in the Lady of the Lake,' or Marmion.'
Others, of course, struck into the rich vein Scott had been working, and the conspicuous absence of effort in his writings possibly made imitation seem comparatively easy. Nothing gives more decided proof of his power than the comparative failure of very capable contemporaries. Both Lockhart and Wilson were men of real genius, and the latter especially could boast many of the qualifications by which Sir Walter attained success. Wilson knew his countrypeople well, and had an
intense sympathy with the humbler classes ; he had the eye
of an artist and the soul of a poet. Perhaps the redundant poetry of his temperament proved a snare to him. It is certain his works, abounding as they do in beautiful descriptions, and overabounding in elaborate pathos, showed little of the nervous and manly tone of Christopher North the trenchant essayist. Neither in his. Margaret Lyndsay’nor his ‘Lights and Shadows of Scot
tish Life,' nor yet in the Adam Blair' of Lockhart, is there the well-balanced handling and lifelike versatility of their great prototype. Wilson over-refined in overwrought sentimentLockhart introduced a dramatic and theatrical element, almost anticipating in scenes in the Highland glens something of the hazardous social sensationalism of the French romances of later generations.
Galt struck into another line altogether, and succeeded all the better that he always went on the maxim, ne sutor ultra crepidam. A shrewd, clear, self-made Scot of the middle ranks, he described with inimitable accuracy the manners, feelings, and motives of action of the class of which he came. His provincials have but a dim idea of the world that lay beyond their parochial horizons, but their sight is keen enough within the range of their everyday vision. Although sufficiently neighbourly, and the readier to do a good-natured action that it cost them little but words or time, perhaps their most conspicuous quality is reputable selfishness. The author's peculiar humour delights in following them into the most trivial details of their daily life, and in analysing those petty motives of conduct that we are all conscious of, though we take pains to conceal them. His ministers are godly and kindly men, but we see them in their manses, troubled by their parochial cares, divested of the dignity of their sacred office, though seldom insensible to its high responsibilities. The most trifling local incidents
. are the same to them as the public events that may sway the fortunes of kingdoms--a subscription to a parish charity is more welcome than the news of a decisive national victory; and even when they are ministering to the sick and suffering in spiritual sympathy, the associations that cling to them are of the earth, earthy. His laymen are of similar stamp.
His provosts and baillies are really bits o' bodies ’-very decent in their
way, but eaten up by a sense of their personal consequence, and extraordinarily adroit in shaping a self-seeking course in accordance with their lax interpretation of the moral law. They are as likely to be elected to the kirk session as to the town council; but you feel that nature never could have meant them for higher spheres than the council chambers of
their own burghs. Galt, in short, gives an unjust impression of his countrypeople, while keeping very strictly to the truth. You are compelled to admit the striking likenesses in a portraiture which brings foibles and meannesses into the light, while it leaves more engaging qualities in impenetrable shadow. But you are led into generalising as to the character of the nation from the delineation of a class which morally and æsthetically is decidedly one of its Jeast favourable specimens. We have called attention to these points because some of our contemporary writers are inclined to imitate him in these respects. You have only to compare Galt's characters with Scott's, the ministers of the one with those of the other--and Scott had no partiality for the Presbyterian Church-or Baillie Nicol Jarvie with the Provost, and you may judge of the artistic merits of their respective methods of treatment by the very different impressions they leave behind. The writer of genius studies the use of shadow as well as of light. He knows where to eliminate and where to idealise.
We may pass at once from Galt to the writers of our own time, for we find nothing characteristic enough to arrest us between; and among three of the most distinguished of these whom we single out for review, giving place to the ladies, we begin with Mrs. Oliphant. Mrs. Oliphant, moreover, has been writing for many years—her • Margaret Maitland,' if we are not mistaken, made its appearance more than a quarter of a century ago. Since then she has laboured indefatigably, and of late has laid her scenes, for the most part, out of her native country. She has acquired great literary experience, has cultivated her style, ripened her judgment, and greatly extended her knowledge of the world, while losing little of her early freshness. But perhaps she has never written anything more simply enjoyable than her maiden novel, though the
Minister's Wife - which we shall notice by-and-bye-is as admirable in its way, and far more finished. Mrs. Oliphant, we may say at once, is in no way amenable to the imputations we have brought against Galt. She turns for choice to the more graceful sides of human nature, and never overlooks anything that is picturesque in the homeliest of the scenes she embodies in her pages. It is evident that she has gone to
. nature for her men and women: in her female creations, in particular, we cannot doubt that she has freely drawn inspiration from an examination of her personal idiosyncrasy. But though she must have borrowed largely from her own experience, we can never trace any decided self-portraiture. From the first she has shown herself both original and enterprising in her search after studies, and the play of her imagination introduces marked variations even in types she is somewhat fond of repeating. In examining into an individual, writers like Galt never care to penetrate far beneath the surface, though they reflect to us very clearly all they have seen, so far as they have gone. Mrs. Oliphant invariably dives far deeper, giving us glimpses besides at those mysterious tides and currents which insensibly influence the course of human existences.
We said that all the most successful Scotch novels have been written from personal knowledge and close observation, and Mrs. Margaret Maitland' is an instance in point. We know nothing of Mrs. Oliphant's early life, but we suspect that much of it must have been passed in the retirement of a rural parish. So her first story suggested itself naturally to one who had a natural impulse to writing. There is a truthful and old-world simplicity about it which perhaps can only be fairly appreciated by residents in Scotland who have passed middle age. Pasturelands, although within hearing of the distant murmur of the great city' of Glasgow, was yet entirely secluded. There were no railways then with branch lines, developing traffic, stimulating enterprise, bringing in patent manures and machinery, and exciting the country folk with unfamiliar ambitions. Where they were born
Where they were born the parishioners were contented to die, and even the lairds lived own people. There was a great house' in the parish, inhabited by the Earl’; but to the parish in general, and indeed to the author in particular, it is altogether an unfamiliar region. The peer, his family, and his guests are drawn so fancifully as to throw their quieter neighbours out into more effective relief. Although they lived in Pasturelands, they were not of it-- a pleasant country place, where there was • neither stir nor bustle, but a quiet kirk to preach in, and a . godly congregation to minister to Pasturelands is by no means exempt from sin and scandal, even as it is idyllised in Mrs. Oliphant's pages. The heritor of most consequence, next to the earl, seems at one time likely to bring reproach on his honourable family. Subsequently when he goes in impulsively for rash parochial reforms, he unintentionally fosters a deal of violence and rascality. But the general tone is · douce' and pious : public opinion establishes a strong but benevolent rule of morality; and the clergyman exercises a friendly authority on a flock who hang on his pulpit utterances, and listen respectfully to his affectionate rebukes. The predominating religious feeling is not opposed to innocent merrymaking; ou