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SIR WALTER SCOTT.
Sir WALTER Scott is undoubtedly the most popular writer of the age—the “lord of the ascendant” for the time being. He is just half what the human intellect is capable of being : if
you take the universe, and divide it into two parts, he knows all that it has been; all that it is to be is nothing to him. His is a mind brooding over antiquity-scorning “the present ignorant time.”
He is “laudator temporis acti”—a “prophesier of things past.” The old world is to him a crowded map; the new one a dull, hateful blank. He dotes on all wellauthenticated superstitions; he shudders at the shadow of innovation. His retentiveness of memory, his accumulated weight of interested prejudice or romantic association have
overlaid his other faculties. The cells of his memory are vast, various, full even to bursting with life and motion; his speculative understanding is empty, flaccid, poor, and dead. His mind receives and treasures up every thing brought to it by tradition or custom-it does not project itself beyond this into the world unknown, but mechanically shrinks back as from the edge of a prejudice. The land of pure reason is to his apprehension like Van Dieman's Land ;-barren, miserable, distant, a place of exile, the dreary abode of savages, convicts, and adventurers. Sir Walter would make a bad hand of a description of the Millennium, unless he could lay the scene in Scotland five hundred years ago, and then he would want facts and worm-eaten parchments to support his drooping style. Our historical novelist firmly thinks that nothing is but what has been—that the moral world stands still, as the material one was supposed to do of oldand that we can never get beyond the point where we actually are without utter destruction, though every thing changes and will change from what it was three hundred years ago to what it is now,—from what it is now to all that the bigoted admirer of the good old times most dreads and hates!
It is long since we read, and long since we thought of our author's poetry. It would probably have gone out of date with the immediate occasion, even if he himself had not contrived to banish it from our recollection. It is not to be denied that it had great merit, both of an obvious and intrinsic kind. It abounded in vivid descriptions, in spirited action, in smooth and flowing versification. But it wanted character. It was poetry" of no mark or likelihood.” It slid out of the mind as soon as read, like a river; and would have been forgotten, but that the public curiosity was fed with evernew supplies from the same teeming liquid source. It is not every man that can write six quarto volumes in verse, that are caught up with avidity, even by fastidious judges. But what a difference between their popularity and that of the Scotch Novels! It is true, the public read and admired the Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and so on, and each individual was contented to read and admire because the public did so: but with regard to the proseworks of the same (supposed) author, it is quite another-guess sort of thing. Here every one stands forward to applaud on his own ground, would be thought to go before the public opinion, is eager to extol his favourite characters
louder, to understand them better than every body else, and has his own scale of comparative excellence for each work, supported by nothing but his own enthusiastic and fearless convictions. It must be amusing to the Author of Waverley to hear his readers and admirers (and are not these the same thing ?*) quarrelling which of his novels is the best, opposing character to character, quoting passage against passage, striving to surpass each other in the extravagance of their encomiums, and yet unable to settle the precedence, or to do the author's writings justice—so various, so equal, so transcendant are their merits! His volumes of poetry were received as fashionable and welldressed acquaintances : we are ready to tear the others in pieces as old friends. There was, something meretricious in Sir Walter's ballad. rhymes; and like those who keep opera figurantes, we were willing to have our admiration shared, and our taste confirmed by the town:
* No! For we met with a young lady who kept a circulating library and a milliner's-shop, in a watering-place in the country, who, when we inquired for the Scotch Novels, spoke indifferently abõut them, said they were “so dry she could hardly get through them," and recommended us to read Agnes. We never thought of it before; but we would venture to lay a wager that there are many other
ladies in the same situation, and who think “Old Mortality" “ dry.”