THE LIFE OF SCOTT
BY J. G. LOCKHART
PREFATORY LETTER BY J. R. HOPE SCOTT, Q. C.
Arundel Castle, _April_ 10, 1871.
My Dear Gladstone,---
Although our friendship has endured for many years, and
has survived great changes, it is not on account of my affection for
you that I have desired to connect these lines with your name. It is
because from you, more than from any one who is now alive, I have received
assurances of that strong and deep admiration of Walter Scott, both
as an author and as a man, which I have long felt myself, and which
I heartily agree with you in wishing to extend and to perpetuate. On
my part, such a desire might on other grounds be natural; on yours,
it can only spring from the conviction, which I know you entertain,
that both the writings and the personal history of that extraordinary
man, while affording entertainment of the purest kind, and supplying
stores of information which can nowhere else be so pleasantly acquired,
have in them a great deal which no student of human nature ought to
neglect, and much also which those who engage in the struggle of life
with high purposes---men who are prepared to work earnestly, and to
endure nobly---cannot pass by without loss.
This, then, is my object in addressing you. I wish, after
the manner of my profession, to call the best witness I can find, and
by the weight alike of your authority and of your example to revive
and strengthen a taste which, to the no small discredit of a portion,
and that not the least educated, of our modern society, appears to need
It was in the autumn of 1868, when you were on the eve
of a great enterprise, and with care and labour enough on your hands
to weigh down a spirit which possessed less of Scott's own energy, that
you wrote to me:---
``With great delight, and under fascination, I have been
treading (in mind) much ground familiar to you, and have been upon a
regular perusal of Lockhart's `Life of Scott,' from end to end. I am
already reflecting with concern how soon I shall probably read the last
page of the last volume.''
It was at that time too that you concluded a letter on
the absorbing topics of the day, by saying:---
``I wish I had time to write about the `Life of Scott.'
I may be wrong, but I am vaguely under the impression that it has never
had a really wide circulation.<*> If so, it is the saddest pity:
* Between 1837 and 1856 there were sold, of all the
* editions, 38,900 copies. Between 1856 and 1871, only 1900.
should greatly like (without any censure on its present
length) to see published an abbreviation of it.''
To the suggestion made in the last extract, I paid, as
I was bound to do, immediate attention; but, misled, not by your intimation,
but by some from other quarters, I began by supposing that what the
public needed was a wholly new work; and being unable to attempt this
myself, and, at the same time, being jealous of intrusting it to less
reverent, even though more skilful, hands, I found it difficult to proceed.
One eminent man, to whom I proposed the work, combined
all the qualifications which I could desire, but his own pursuits prevented
him from undertaking it; and, after his refusal, the prospect of a new
Life, such as alone I could have wished to see published, became gradually
But while thus engaged, I learnt, with great surprise,
how little Lockhart's own abridgment of the larger Life, published in
1848, and here reprinted, was known, even among professed admirers of
Scott. The charms of the original work appear to have hindered its progress
from the first, and to have justified Lockhart's unwillingness to undertake
it.<*> I found
* See the preface to this volume.
that it was unknown to you, and that the able writer
of an article which appeared in the _Quarterly Review_ of January 1868,
seemed also to have been ignorant of it, for he refers to the ``veil
of mystery'' which Lockhart had thrown over the story of Scott's first
and unsuccessful love, and which, while denying its necessity, he declines
to withdraw; yet in this abridgment the names of the lady and of her
eventual husband are both fully given (p. <? M_Belches>).
This circumstance, and a further consideration of the
subject, led me to abandon altogether the idea of a new Life. Lockhart
had a personal familiarity with his subject, and the command of a mass
of materials such as cannot fall to the share of any other writer; and
therefore, even if his mode of dealing with his subject were less admirable
than it confessedly is, his larger work would, of necessity, form the
foundation of any fresh attempt. But when we examine that work, and
observe the skill of its construction, its wonderful diction, and the
glow of feeling which pervades it, the conclusion seems inevitable that
any effort, worthy of the name, must take the form either of a review
or of an abridgment of this great model of biography.
But as regards a review, the _Quarterly_ has within a
few years furnished, in the article above mentioned, nearly all that
could be desired; and, for a good abridgment, conditions are required
which scarcely any one but the author himself can properly fulfil.
A work of art in writing is subject to the same rules
as one in painting or in architecture. Those who seek to represent it
in a reduced form, must, above all things, study its proportions, and
make their reduction equal over all its parts. But in the case of written
composition there are no mechanical appliances, as there are in painting
and architecture, for varying the scale, and there is, moreover, a greater
difficulty in catching the leading principle of the design, and thus
establishing the starting-point for the process which is to follow.
Hence an abridgment by the author himself must necessarily
be the best, indeed the only true abridgment of what he has intended
in his larger work; and I deem it a very fortunate thing that Cadell's
influence overcame Lockhart's repugnance to the task.
These, then, are my reasons for proposing to the public,
as the best of all the easier modes of studying the life of Scott, the
cheap and convenient reprint to which this letter is prefixed. Nor is
it an objection, to my mind, that it is the work of one who grudged
to shorten, and wished rather to extend; for, though many of those for
whom Lockhart wrote have passed, or are passing, from the scene, and
much of the private interest which attended Scott's manifold relations
with almost every class of his contemporaries must by degrees die out,
there is an abiding reason why Scott's personal history should not be
too freely generalised, and an abstract notion be substituted for the
When Keble, himself a true admirer of Scott, seeks to
restrain unquiet minds by telling them that---
``The trivial round, the common task,''
afford ample means for attaining to Christian perfection,
he points to a rule of life which it is most difficult to observe, whether
in the pursuit of holiness or in the exercise of natural gifts. But
in Scott, if in any man, what was remarkable was the sustained and continuous
force of his character. It is to be traced in the smallest things as
well as in the greatest, in his daily habits as much as in his public
actions, in his fancies and follies as well as in his best and wisest
doings. Everywhere we find the same power of imagination, and the same
energy of will; and though it has been said that ``no man is a hero
to his _valet de chambre,_'' I am satisfied that Scott's most familiar
attendant never doubted his greatness, or looked upon him with less
respect than those who judged him as he stood forth amidst the homage
of the world.
In dealing with such a character, it is hardly necessary
to say that the omission of details becomes, after a certain point,
a serious injury to the truth of the whole portrait; and if any man
should object that this volume is not short enough, I should be tempted
to answer, that if he reads by foot-rule, he had better not think of
studying, in any shape, the life of Walter Scott.
But besides the reduction of bulk, by which eighty-four
chapters have been compressed into eighteen, this edition has other
claims upon attention. The larger Life, which was first published in
seven volumes in 1837--8, was succeeded by one in ten volumes in 1839,
and by another in one volume, with double columns, in 1842; but though
both the latter were entered at Stationers' Hall as new editions ``with
alterations,'' and did, in fact, each differ, in some respects, from
the original edition, and from each other, yet Lockhart did not think
the changes worthy of a public notice, and the preface of the edition
of 1837--8 was published, unaltered, with the two later editions. But
the preface of the abridgment of 1848 intimates changes arising from
later information, and the book itself more than bears out this promise.
Time and death had been at work in the interval, and to these causes
we owe some alterations and additions of interest. One of these I have
already mentioned, and I cannot refrain from recommending to special
notice the touching memorials of Scott's two sons, Walter and Charles,
which occur towards the conclusion of this volume.
Those who read them will see new proofs of that depth
and tenderness of feeling which Lockhart, in daily life, so often hid
under an almost fierce reserve, and will be able to form some idea---though,
after all, it can be but a very faint one---of what he suffered on the
death of his surviving son.
They may imagine too how much he was spared by dying
before his only daughter---that daughter whose singular likeness to
her mother must have continually recalled to him both the features and
the character of her of whom he wrote---
``She whom I may now sadly record as, next to Sir Walter
himself, the chief ornament and delight at all those simple meetings---she
to whom I owed my own place in them---Scott's eldest daughter, the one
of all his children who, in countenance, mind, and manners, most resembled
himself, and who indeed was as like him in all things as a gentle innocent
woman can ever be to a great man deeply tried and skilled in the struggles
and perplexities of active life---she too is no more.''<*>
* See Chapter liv. of the larger biography. Who but Lockhart
* himself would have dared to reduce this passage to the
* monumental terseness of the two lines which occur at p. <? p801>
* of this abridgment?
As regards the preparation of this reprint, I have not
been able to do what I had proposed. It was my intention to have revised
the text, and to have added notes; but, as the time which I had destined
for this work drew near, it pleased God suddenly to stay my hand, and
so to occupy my thoughts that even this easy task became impossible
to me. With the exception, therefore, of the change of form from two
volumes to one, and of the addition<*> of a short and
* See the footnote to page <? p804>.
melancholy notice, which it seemed impossible to withhold,
this narrative goes forth as Lockhart left it; and since I am sure that
I could not have added to its substantial interest without unduly increasing
its bulk, I feel but little regret that my intention failed.
And now, my dear Gladstone, _Vive valeque._ You have
already earned a noble place in the history of your country, and, though
there is one great subject on which we differ, I am able heartily to
desire that your future career may be as distinguished as your past.
But since it is only too certain that the highest honours of statesmanship
can neither be won nor held without exertions which are full of danger
to those who make them, I will add the further wish, that you may long
retain, as safeguards to your health, your happiness, and your usefulness,
that, fresh and versatile spirit, and that strong sense of the true
and the beautiful, which have caused you to be addressed on this occasion
Your affectionate friend,
JAMES R. HOPE SCOTT.
The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, &c. &c
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