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ADDRESS AT THE CELEBRATION BY THE MASSACHUSETTS
HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF THE CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH. BOSTON, AUGUST 15, 1871
THE memory of Sir Walter Scott is dear to this Society, of which he was for ten years an Honorary Member. If only as an eminent antiquary who has shed light on the history of Europe and of the English race, he had high claims to our regard. But to the rare tribute of a centennial anniversary of his birthday, which we gladly join with Scotland and indeed with Europe to keep, he is not less entitled, perhaps he alone among the literary men of this century is entitled, — by the exceptional debt which all English-speaking men have gladly owed to his character and genius. I think no modern writer has inspired his readers with such affection to his own personality. I can well remember as far back as when “ The Lord of the Isles ” was first republished in Boston, in 1815, — my own and my school-fellows' joy in the book. “Marmion” and “ The Lay ” had gone before, but we were then learning to spell. In the face of the later novels, we still claim that his poetry is the delight of boys. But this means that when we re-open these old books, we all consent to be boys again. We tread over our youthful grounds with joy. Critics have found them to be only rhymed prose. But I believe that many of those who read them in youth, when, later, they come to dismiss et
finally their schooldays' library, will make some fond exception for Scott as for Byron.
It is easy to see the origin of his poems. His own ear had been charmed by old ballads crooned by Scottish dames at firesides, and written down from their lips by antiquaries; and, finding them now outgrown and dishonored by the new culture, he attempted to dignify and adapt them to the times in which he lived. Just so much thought, so much picturesque detail in dialogue or description as the old ballad required, so much suppression of details, and leaping to the event, he would keep and use, but without any ambition to write a high poem after a classic model. He made no pretension to the lofty style of Spenser, or Milton, or Wordsworth. Compared with their purified songs,
purified of all ephemeral color or material, --- his were vers de société. But he had the skill proper to vers de société, - skill to fit his verse to his topic, and not to write solemn pentameters alike on a hero or a spaniel. His good sense probably elected the ballad to make his audience larger. He apprehended in advance the immense enlargement of the reading public, which almost dates from the era of his books, – an event which his books and Byron's inaugurated; and which, though until then unheard of, has become familiar to the present time.
If the success of his poems, however large, was partial, that of his novels was complete. The tone of strength in “Waverley” at once announced the master, and was more than justified by the superior genius of the following romances, up to the “ Bride of Lammermoor,” which almost goes back to Æschylus for a counterpart, as a painting of Fate, leaving on every reader the impression of the highest and purest tragedy.
His power on the public mind rests on the singular
union of two influences. By nature, by his reading and taste, an aristocrat, in a time and country which easily gave him that bias, he had the virtues and graces of that class, and by his eminent humanity and his love of labor escaped its harm. He saw in the English Church the symbol and seal of all social order; in the historical aristocracy, the benefits to the State which Burke claimed for it; and in his own reading and research, such store of legend and renown as won his imagination to their cause. Not less his eminent humanity delighted in the sense and virtue and wit of the common people. In his own household and neighbors, he found characters and pets of humble class, with whom he established the best relation, — small farmers and tradesmen, shepherds, fishermen, gypsies, peasant-girls, crones, — and came with these into real ties of mutual help and good-will
. From these originals he drew so genially his Jeanie Deans, his Dinmonts and Edie Ochiltrees, Caleb Balderstone and Fairservice, Cuddie Headriggs, Dominies, Meg Merrilies and Jeannie Rintherouts, full of life and reality; making these, too, the pivots on which the plots of his stories turn; and meantime without one word of brag of this discernment, — nay,
, this extreme sympathy reaching down to every beg. gar and beggar's dog, and horse and cow. In the number and variety of his characters, he approaches Shakspeare. Other painters in verse or prose have thrown into literature a few type-figures; as Cervantes, Defoe, Richardson, Goldsmith, Sterne, and Fielding; but Scott portrayed with equal strength and success every figure in his crowded company.
His strong good sense saved him from the faults and foibles incident to poets, - from nervous egotism, sham modesty, or jealousy. He played ever a manly part, With such a fortune and such a genius,
we should look to see what heavy toll the Fates took of him, as of Rousseau or Voltaire, of Swift or Byron. But no: he had no insanity, or vice, or blemish. He was a thoroughly upright, wise, and great-hearted man, equal to whatever event or fortune should try him. Disasters only drove him to immense exertion. What an ornament and safeguard is humor! Far better than wit for a poet and writer. It is a genius itself, and so defends from the insanities.
Under what rare conjunction of stars was this man born, that, wherever he lived, he found superior men, passed all his life in the best company, and still found himself the best of the best! He was apprenticed at Edinburgh to a Writer to the Signet, and became a Writer to the Signet, and found himself in his youth and manhood and age in the society of Mackintosh, Horner, Jeffrey, Playfair, Dugald Stewart, Sydney Smith, Leslie, Sir William Hamilton, Wilson, Hogg, De Quincey, - to name only some of his literary neighbors.
REMARKS CLOSING A MEETING HELD IN BOSTON, MAY
30, 1867, TO CONSIDER THE CONDITIONS, WANTS, AND PROSPECTS OF FREE RELIGION IN AMERICA
I HARDLY felt, in finding this house this morning, that I had come into the right hall. I came, as I supposed myself summoned, to a little committee meeting, for some practical end, when I should happily and humbly learned my lesson; and I supposed myself no longer subject to your call when I saw this house. I have listened with great pleasure to the lessons we have heard. To many, to those last spoken, I have found so much in accord with my own thought, that I have little left to say. I think that it does great honor to the sensibility of the committee that they have felt the universal demand in the community for just the movement they have begun. I say again, in the phrase used by my friend, that we began many years ago — yes, and many ages before that. But I think the necessity very great, and it). has prompted an equal magnanimity, that thus invites all classes, all religious men, whatever their connections, whatever their special ties, in whatever relation they stand to the Christian church, to unite in a movement of benefit to men, under the sanction of religion. We are all very sensible, it is forced on us every day, of the feeling that the churches are outgrown; that the creeds are outgrown; that a technical theology no longer suits us. It is not the ill