18 FEBRUARY 1949, Page 28

Reintroducing Scott

Sir Walter Scott. By Una Pope-Hennessy. (Home and Van Thal. 6s.)

WRITING in a series which is to reintroduce the English novelists to the English novel-reader (I refuse here to quibble with " English "), Dame Una Pope-Hennessy has produced a lively little book which will possibly be more valuable to the student of Scott than to the general reader. She takes for granted some familiarity with the outlines of Scott's life, and her biographical section is something in the nature of an addendum to previous lives. She indicates Lockhart's limitations, quotes from Sir Herbert Grierson's monu- mental edition of the Letters, and uses her own knowledge of the country to annotate the young Scott's excursions to the North of England.

Dame Una's main interest, which runs through both " the man " and " the work," is to examine the view of Scott as a writer who, after Byron beat him as a narrative poet, turned instead to novels

and with magical fluency wrote the whole series of Waverleys between 1814 and 1832. Research into his life and examination of

his work have convinced her that the novels fall into two groups— the romances that appear to have been written "off the reel" (these include The Antiquary, The Heart of Midlothian, Old Mortality, Bride of Lammermoor) and those that show signs of being " patched . work." Scott, aged seventeen, owned to " spoiling a vast quantity of good paper " ; Dame Una considers it highly likely that among the scribbling of his twenties and thirties were narratives of excur- sions, drafts of novels, attempts at writing fiction in letter form, that came in extremely handy when he was an established novelist turning out a couple of books a year.

To reach this conclusion she has used three tests. There is the test of early experience ; Guy Mannering, St. Ronan's Well and Red Gauntlet all embody scenes and episodes from Scott's youthful excursions over the Border, described with a keenness, vividness— and, sometimes, immaturity—that mark them as contemporary work. Then there is the test of knowledge. In The Monastery (1821) Scott shows a far greater familiarity with the Catholic Church than he does in The Fair Maid of Perth (1828) or Castle Dangerous (1831) ; therefore these two were probably early work, patched up. Finally, there is the test of style. The Betrothed and The Talisman were issued together in 1825 as " Tales of the Crusaders " ; but " the one pursues its zig-zag, amateur, fumbling course and the other swings along in an assured competence and mastery over language." The inference is that The Betrothed was dug out of a drawer and tidied up, while The Talisman was a wholly fresh work.

Dame Una takes a good-humoured tilt at Scottish admirers of Scott, and patriotism obliges me to take up her challenge. She thinks we prefer the Scottish novels because " they display an intense degree of interest in morality." I should rather say we love them because they make us articulate. In The Antiquary, Guy Mannering, Old Mortality, Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian, are all manner of Scots, all kinds of Scottish landscape ; and a country that is very conscious about being a country cannot help loving the books that give it individuality, shape and colour.