misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

John Sutherland's Life of Walter Scott: the ruthless obsessive man under the masquerade

Dear Friends,

What could be more appropriate for reverie under the sign of Austen than a realistic, sceptical biography of her rival (as she saw him, even in 1817), Walter Scott? 

Over the past month and a half for an autumn retrospective on Walter Scott on Trollope19thCStudies at Yahoo, I've been reading John Sutherland's new ground-breaking biography, The Life of Walter Scott.  While it's not based on any primary material not known, and makes heavy use of secondary (other critical and biographical studies), it has the great merit of telling the truth accurately with no obfuscation in clear lively English, something apparently not done frequently in Scott studies until very recently.  It resembles his sceptical and disillusioned literary biography of Mary (or Mrs Humphry Ward), is similarly psychologically perceptive and written in a lively wry style. 

When you finish this biography, Scott's use of anonymity (the pseudonymous "author of Waverley) is not a mystery or anomalous; it's essentially characteristic of the man who kept much of his activities a secret; his carapace and self-guard was a continual masquerade.

Walter Scott (1824) by Edwin Landseer

The boy and young man

To begin with, in Chapter 1,  Sutherland situates Scott in a dream of primal freedoms in Scottish history. As a boy and man these allured him, as did mythic genealogies for his family.  Sutherland then goes over the real genealogy back to Scott's great grandfather (which is about as far as one can go for real in the sense of influence), and then moves onto Scott's early years.

This early time is very important and shows up characteristics of Scott that never left him and he had formative experiences. He had a very good memory and was a deep feeling little boy.  His mother was loving and tender but endlessly pregnant and didn't have much time or space for her crippled third son.  Probably Scott had infantile paralysis and he limped afterwards all his life. This crippling was central to the way he was treated. He was frail, probably sensitive and was sent to live in the country with grandparents and loving kind aunt, Jenny (father's sister).  This Aunt Jenny functioned as mother.  The boy was precocious and very much encouraged by his grandparents, made a pet of.

He did find himself having to return to the crowded household in Edinburgh and it was miserable for him there. His eldest brother was a bully and the next not much better. His father was a grasping hard man and gave the boy a minimal public education, with as soon a possible putting him in university briefly and then making a Writer of the Signet out of him.  Sutherland points out how many fathers there are in Scott's fiction and how most of them are pretty bad.  Redgauntlet's father is the exception (a later book)

A significant early visit was to Bath to help his health.  He picked up an English accent there. There are the usual horror stories of boys' schools at the time. Efforts were made to keep Scott away from the cruellest schoolmasters (who would beat boys).  His nuclear family came up in the world and moved to the new town, but Scott's roots were also in the old and worlds of servants.

Much of the chapter is on what we can glean of the boy's inner life, what he read, how much he remembered.  I found myself very moved here and (oddly I suppose) identified or found myself remembering my own childhood where when I was 18 months old I was sent to live with my father's youngest sister (a kind sensitive woman, but poor, with 3 children of her own, 2 stepchildren, and she was alcoholic, and I loved her), then at 3 to Jewish grandparents (where I met my very kind grandmother and remember experiences of very like Scott is said to, like how she would play cards with me and how aware I was of how kind this was of her, and her troubles too, she was a woman who had been matched with a man she was not congenial with, and how I moved about only not in a wild country but in a slum, southeastern Bronx). The moving around, the going with relatives (even a kind aunt), the good memory from a very good age which Sutherland attributes to Scott (on good evidence if numbers of his stories are fantasies) reminded me of myself. I feel that a child's memory is made more vivid and the child remembers more if there is disruption of routine and sudden changes, and that's what happened to me.  Each new event is startling (or unnerving or scary) and I at least reacted to them strongly and remember more from my early childhood than a lot of people seem to be able to.  I do admit my feelings about it to myself and hope I don't fantasize too much :)  I've compared "notes" with relatives (all of them but one now dead) on what I remember and know these early memories have been to some extent shaped by what I've been told since, but I try not to keep what I've been told separate from what I remember. Hard to do.

So Sutherland shows the earliest origin of Scott's peculiar sycophancies and how he identified with the law so that in a book like Heart of Midlothian what saves Effie  is justice and rich unelected potentates not her heroic sister.  But as Sutherland says actually Effie would have died.  Scott early on was led to identify with the professions of his father and male relatives and cling to this for security and respect. On the other hand, Scott was not heir, the third son and he could have rebelled but he didn't.  We also can see that Scott's later ruthlessness and determination to be as rich as possible, control much that was around him, probably came as a survival reaction and attempt to gain later in life what he had been deprived of when young.  Later on Sutherland shows the great coldness of Scott to towards those dismissed and hurt by the system. A woman will complain about something and be punished for it, and Scottscarcely regards her. This reminds me of the high Tory, ruthless of the journals who excludes people without remorse from jobs or places and works hard to keep up conservative propaganda.

In this part of his biography Sutherland suggesst that Scott's son-in-law's early biography of is more sceptical and disillusioned than you think. Scott told a lot of fibs (or lies) about his great precocities and feats which are unlikely. He has himself in school as central to other boys and them following him about. Most improbable. Fantasies he wove later on which he would not let go of.  But then that probably shored up his identifications with the powerful.  Not much about women when he was young,except the kind aunt and put-upon mother with no time for him.

In Chapters 2-3, Student and Apprentice, Getting Forward, Sutherland shows us Scott's father rushed him through school to give him the forms of a gentleman's education, too accelerated for the boy to pick up much, especially given his frequent absences for sickness. So Scott educated himself, and remarkably well, but as any self-educated person he went for his own interests. 

He was as a personality remarkably "pliable to authorityy," "no poet in his youth was "less non servam").  A vein of subservice runs through his work reflecting the way he followed for his own advantage Henry Dundas (a principle Tory satrap giving out plums,  and therefore a social dictator, "Henry IX of Scotland); the worst of this is the way for his life he bowed down before Robert Macqueen, Robert Braxfield, a real brute in a wig, who engineered horrific punishments for anyone who could be caught or seen to be working against the establishment (transportation, hanging). Scots law, Sutherland reminds us, was rooted in Roman law.   Law to Scott was an instrument of control (not justice, certainly nothning to do with achieving equalities or rights).

At the same time Scott was reading romance, touring with one friend particularly, John Irving.  Absurdly improbable descriptions of Scott's prowess as a walker and great jollity. Sutherland shows Scott to have been singularly immune in real life to the charm of peasants (this reminds me of Trollope). Scott and Lockhart continually present Scott as rock-climbing, schoolyard brawling, but the list of serious ailments to say nothing of his lame leg makes all this impossible. In fact Scott was nervous, often preferred to stay in and read. He was a tall talker.

His life was suddenly changed at the death of his older brothers.  Robert had been a bully and heavy drinker and helped on by one Captain Robert Scott; he died of malaria at 41. At the death of Robert, this Scott took on Walter; Robert Scott was an antiquarian, bookish too (or could be) and they visited castles together, shot and became close. This Scott influenced some of Scott's portraits of older men.

He did begin to go against his father's desires for him by declining to be his father's partner and keeping up more college for a while.  Sutherland here shows us Scott's noctural activities in clubs and making friends (and later useful contacts).

Getting forward is about expeditions, career building and "finding a wife."  Expeditions is in making friends, going with some of them to collect antiquities and anecdotes (hoarding ms's, coins, relics, non philosophical history which Sutherland defends vigorously).

The truth about Scott's early career as an advocate is he didn't get on. He didn't make a lot of money and didn't get many clients: "For someone with Scott's contacts, the lack of fees was ominous."  So the way Scott got on was securing sinecures; therefore if he has any Whiggish or other propensities he would have had to hide them. Here's where we see him backing the cruel Braxfield to the hilt. A man named Muir who was an effective leaders of a Friends of the People society was destryoed for "sedition" (he had peacefully advocated universal suffrage and annual parliaments); he was transported. Witchhunts of the 1790s in which Scott participated as an underling and supporter are described.

Three women. It's here Edgar Johnson comes out a fatuous fool. 

A digression that's not a digression:  I've read a number of Scot's novels because I took a course as a graduate student with none other than Edgar Johnson. He actually had the nerve to simply sit there and read his book aloud and not one student protested (not me either). By the end of the term, there were 3 students left attending. I don't remember his outlook anymore, but he was certainly a Victorian celebratory type. I have his book on Dickens which I did read (I never read Johnson's book on Scott -- after all it was being read aloud to us) and it is the same sort of thing: nothing of a modern psychoanalytic kind of understanding. Unlike Ackroyd, Johnson (as I recall, I may be misremembering) thought Dickens had sex with Ellen Ternan, but he never brought any insights or thought about this relationship to bear on the fiction. It's this old-fashioned kind of thematic criticism which to me is finally unsatisfying: it doesn't explain what's there enough at all, nor why it continues to have power.

I don't have space to go through how Sutherland shows all the insinuations of Edgar Johnson about Scott's early romantic love life are naive dreams which don't fit the facts (chronology as we know it).  There were three. The one who counted most was Jessie: she was a shopkeeper's daughter, and they had a physical affair on and off for a couple fo years. There seems to have been a bastard child who was got rid of somehow (sent out for adoption, given to an obscure family member -- it's still common in some institutions run by religious groups in the US to today to try to force a girl to have her child and then force her to give it up for adoption to a "worthy" [read religious] couple who haven't got children).  Finally she married elsewhere when a deaf aunt died, and left her a bit of property and a medical student married her. She nurses a lifelong resentment for Scott every after.

The second is the nonsense about "the green mantle." This refers to Wilhelmina Belsches who it seems Scott never had a chance of marrying and was attracted to and Lockhart told stories about that don't make sense when you compare it to her engagement and marriage dates to another; her higher rank than he, much more money.  Sutherland finds the pictures conjured up by Johnson charming. I don't.  What's told is not the sort of thing that's real or rooted in any personal experience; it's all blather this stuff about "pure love" from afar. Sutherland suggests it's a kind of unexamined front for what Scott was really getting up to. I'd liken it to the stories of his great prowess and jollity when he was really nervous and at home reading or quietly with a this or that friend gathering materials he later used in his novels and writing. 

Apparently Scott did see Wilhemina in a green cloak.  Throughout this loving from afar and attraction on Scott's part (there is no evidence of what Wilhelmina felt one way or another). Scott continued his affair with Jessie. It was Jessie's necklace he wore and Jessie who kept him from prostitutes in Edinburgh.  Rather quickly a rival supplanted Scott's desires, a man with a title and ties to financial institutions William Forbes.  Women were married off to further the ambitions of the men in their family. Sutherland discerns Scott's father in some of this refusing to pay or offer to pay the huge dowry and settlement the match would have cost him.

How heart-broken Scott was we cannot tell says Sutherland but it was only a few months later he married Charlotte Carpenter who was an equal match for rank and property and prospects.

I did find myself remembering Scott's very quiet or sober and moving objection to Austen's morality in Emma. He says surely we don't need anyone to encourage prudence and worldliness in novels, as that is done quite enough in life, and a couple of other such sentences (on the side of romance). It's at such moments I think we might say we see the older Scott's memories for real of what he lost or could have had if he did have any personal liking for Wilhelmina.  It's at such moments (and they are not I repeat not infrequent in his fiction and even more his criticism) I like Scott.

From his journal by the way he seemed to get along with his wife, but there is no sense of intimate companionship or support; rather it's a partnership both understand. I can't remember much about the children any more but if Scott did take advantage of one daughter, leant on her, he also was tied emotionally and this was what was done to girls as a matter of course. Sutherland shows Scott's father had done the same to a sister of Scott's.  Girls could be used this way: they had no recourse to school, were not trained for profession and the gentry ones could only marry where they met, and their movements were strictly conttroled; so partents could refuse them marriage and then use them as upper servants in effect (no matter ow this would have been covered up and rationalized and we see these girls miserable, with nervous breakdowns and so on; maybe beging a governess for some was escape as in Claire Claremont). That's what Wordsworth did to his one daughter until late in life when she finally escaped him and her mother. It's no real excuse of course since it's not that hard to find others at the same time acting decently (e.g., Southey who as a person except for his obdurate cruelty to women writers rather decent).

What bothers me about Scott's lies, Lockhart's refabrications and the fatuous romancing of Edgar Johnson is they reinforce cruel and pernicious stereotypes of masculinity and women's lives.  If they made his life easier and kept his reputation up, they distort what is valuable in the books, which is all we have left that's worth anything.

Cover illustration of recent edition of Heart of Mid-Lothian (Porteous Mob by Victorian painter, Drummond), a novel actually about a young woman seduced, impregnated and then accused of infanticide when her baby is born dead

Young adulthood, poetry, early scholarly and biographical work

In Chapters 3-5, settling down, and building an endurable life, the book continues debunking hypocrisies and fatuities step-by-step and giving a real picture of Scott's life and work. 

Getting forward ends on Scott's marriage to Charlotte Carpentier. Both were eager to find partners and that helped too: for both it was time.  Charlotte was apparently the daughter of the Marquis of Downshire, and the portrait of Fairford (very appealing) in Regauntlet is a portrait of Scott's de facto father-in-law. Charlotte was educated in a convent and her brother helped by the count's interest to a lucrative post in the East India company. Another man replaced Fairford:  Wyrriot Owen who left Madame Carpentier money to live.  Fairford married and gave Mme Charpentier an allowance and she lived in France.  When Charlotte was dying, she did call for or mention this real father of hers.

She helped Scott live a far more social life than he had known, having a kind of salon in Edinburgh, but there was intense dislike between Scott's parents and his new wife, and life was pretty awful between them all at home.  Apparently Scott's father again did all he could to ruin this marriage (disliking the Frenchness, Catholicism of the woman) but didn't succeed in time (he died).  The marriage became slowly a prudent mutually affectionate partnership. Four children were born and in the early years Charlotte was in good health; later not, and we don't know why.

Scott turned to literary work now that his marital social life and working life too was partly settled.  He had gotten a sinecure through making the right impression on Dundas: every after he was Sheriff of Selkirkshire.  He got an underling to do much of the work and kept the money. He doesn't come out too badly here; he was to decide the big cases (most were these venomous kind of petty money and property squabbles Leonard Woolf describes in his dark novel about village life in Sri Lanka, the sort of thing people murder one another over with subtexts about sex and pride.)  Scott mostly was very humane, didn't hang people and writes that for the most part most of these cases should not be in any court in the first place. Sutherland doesn't say this but I should think Scott learned more about human nature here and its relationship to authority and law.

The early ballads about horseness Sutherland puts down to Scott's compensation for his lameness. One place he could keep up was on horse and he liked to ride and wrote about riding as high romance. He had gone to London with his translations of Goethe and met the right people and also Monk Lewis to help him. But such a project could go nowehere; anyway as St Clair would say the texts were sold far too expensively. They were also strange to English peopel and erudite.

So he came back to his friends in Scotland, one Heber sound like a nice type. Scott gets involved repeatedly with people who are reclusive, men who are probably homosexual and sensitive literary men. It's through these acquaintances and his abiilty to also connect to people like Percy and Ritson (both who themselves hated one another) that really led to his career. Bourdeius would call this social capital and Scott's abilty to make and keep friends -- he was socially able.

The long chapter on the Ministrelsey of the Scottish borders is fascinating. I don't want to summarize the details as it would take too long and people can read it themselves who are interested -- by which I mean much of this doesn't shed that much light on Scott's novels and poetry and criticism. What does I'll now recount beyond that Johnson and Lockhard wrongly made fun of and misrepresented John Leyden (one of these central friends and associates) as a uncouth half-mad genius who became this learned person all by himself and they didn't give him the central credit for what was produced which he should have gotten. It was due to Leyden it became a 3 volume big work. Leyden himself is a credit to the Scottish educational system at the time, showing what can happen when education is given out to people based on principles of democratic universality.  He was seen to be very bright and got to university for 7 years.  Scott did give him a lucrative position in India to pay him off and that's what he wanted, but he is not properly credited in the book.

Much of the footwork of gathering the ballads was done by these other people who themselves often had not much to do (or much money).  Scott was a married man and he had his job in Edinburgh for 3 sessions a year.

Scott never it seems says anything that can be construed as for progressive thought -- at least not in his public and daylight self or life.  The theory behind Minstrelsy is also all wrong and pro-aristocratic.  He stayed with idea that the ballads are the product of a few aristocratic types, and are Scottish. In fact at the time there was enough knowledge to know some of the most famous poems are redos of earlier French pieces and they do rise from communities, perhaps from individuals originally but are much changed in transmission and women could have therefore had a hand in them too.

This Minstrelsey set Scott's career off.  The Ministresley volumes would only reach a limited set of people, but they were the right people and Scott began to write in a vein that was fruitful for his fantasy life. He began to write originally these ballads which whipped up his id and appetites and dreams. They are very gory and violent but also insipid and probably mroe than a little repetitive and dull. I've seen this kind of thing in early English anonymous verse from the middle ages.

Meanwhile Scott's uncle died and left him a lot money.  He and Charlotte have a townhouse in Edinburgh which they kept for 25 years. He also settled through connections in a lovely country house which cost him only 30 pounds a year; it was amply big for the four children, it was in Lasswade. He need never have been broke. (p. 73). Some of his income also came from his being in effect a top police man.   It never mattered to him how broke the people around him were, how miserabl these wars were for them.  His downfall was vanity, pride, and it reminds me of my neighbors (really) who buy houses which are just fine and then go into big loans to make them huge and fancy and impressive. (The depression here in the US only hits some classes; the Bushite types are many of them still just fine; Obama has done nothing to cut into their incomes at all; his tax changes just bring us back to Reagon years.)

In chapter 5 we see Scott take up with some society ladies and write a poem which pleased one: Cadyow Castle -- vivid trailer for violent movie really. This was still ballad stull  He gets involved with the Ballantyne brothers, one of whom Sutherland says was a crook and the other deluded. And he takes up a working writing life like Trollope"s: he gets up early in the morning and for the first three hours writes away.  

We are told repeatedly Scott's one sin was his love of Abbotsford and he went into bad debt because of that and then the Ballantyne brothers failed. It makes him sound relatively innocent -- after all it's not such a bad failing to want to make a beautiful estate that is today still treasured by the many who visit it.

Abbotsford, dreamt about over photos by those who can't afford to

But according to Sutherland thus far, in fact Ballantyne brothers were from the get-go financed by Scott. Through his connections Scott borrowed money to get them started and keep them going. He brought other authors to them, and he began to make needed money by his editions and criticisms of Swift and Dryden.

Is this so bad?  Well, partly relying on Quayle, Sutherland characterized Scott as more than worried about provision for his family, but as someone avid for money, property, higher rank, prestige, and willing to do anything to anyone to get this. One story here:  Scott ruined his younger brother, Daniel. Daniel made two mistakes: when sent to the Carribean he did not savagely put down a slave revolt and was not kept on in his job.  Scott castigated him for lack of courage.  Even worse: Daniel fell in love with the housekeeper to the Marquis of Abercorn. Scott was mortified and deeply angry. Now how could Scott visit the Abercorns with his brother involved with their housekeeper.  Scott was at the time flattering and cajoling this pair of people, especially the woman.

A digression: I'm also reading at this time Arlette Farge's Fragile Lives and she talks of the intense anger, real wrath and revenge taken by families on anyone who persisted in marrying beneath them or someone who would not aggrandize the family. In France there were lettres de cachet, but for the most part she can't give particulars as the police records don't have them. Lettres de cachet were used because you just went to the king, he could sign, no habeas corpus law was in place.  Farge is astonished at the rage: I'm not. The family members are like Mrs Norris: they hate the person who shows us their viciousness.

Back to Daniel: Daniel got Miss Currie Laugh pregnant and marriage was not an option. He had in fact been sent away to prevent this and the baby was born out of wedlock. Then (as in Farge) he had the temerity (and disgusting lowness) to return to her and live with her again. It seems he may even have married her on the sly. How low can you get? Daniel like Scott's older brother drank himself to death. He collapsed. Scott would not attend his funeral. Lockhardt covers this all up, and then tells us how Scott felt all this remorse and gave us a picture of Daniel as a hero in Fair Maid of Perth. Apparently Edgar Johnson goes on about this.

How good of him.  But it appears Scott did not (as Lockhardt claimed) provide for Daniel's son by Miss Laugh. He did give the boy 100 pounds to be apprenticed to a clothier in Edinburgh, but when Scott went bankrupt, he informed the boy that he could not continue payments.  The young man was cast adrift with 10 pounds; his mother could or would not help him and he vanishes from "good society."  The mother did marry again, this time to Mitchell of Selkirk, a gentlemen of a small standing in his town. She had been an educated women (a housekeeper is not nothing). 

Sutherland says of Quayle's book, The Ruin of Walter Scott, that Quayle treats Scott as an enemy and villain and he does not.  It's true that Sutherland makes Scott's motives understandable and shows him to be deluded over the youngest brother (endlessly supporting him even after he was discovered to be an embezzler).  One might say what worse could one say than Sutherland here? Apparently Quayle shows an intense "innate greed" and other behaviors in the Ballantyne business that are even more ruthless and inexcusable.  For Scott was behaving the way people of his type behaved at this time, particularly with his values, outlook and as a person wanting to climb up no matter what.  He would have been supported as pious by many had this story got out; and it was probably known. 

Another non-digression:  The Ruin of Sir Walter Scott by Quayle, is a very old-fashioned hard back copy (dead cheap). I can see Quayle is an expert on the Ballantyne family; I don't know how much I can get into this one which is so detailed but I can pick up Quayle's attitude towards Scott in the opening epigraph:  "O what a tangled web we weave/when first we practice to deceive" (that's from Marmion) and also the picture of Scott which is an unusual one showing Scott not looking like some eternal monument but with his eyes bloodshot and also looking shifty or bleak and angry, askance, and his face tired and grim. I like it better than any other I've seen; he's more human. Looking a little closer at the picture of Scott in Quayle's book, I find it's by Andrew Geddes and I'd describe it a little more fully as  his eyes bloodshot and also looking shifty or bleak and angry, askance, and his face tired and grim. His lips are set tight and yet he looks like he is about to laugh (or grimace).  His hair is slightly awry too. I do not wonder why this one is not better known -- like Cassandra's portrait of Jane Austen, this reality is not wanted.  I remember how Virginia Woolf said how that much that we read is so dull and bland and a wasteland and it need not be that way at all.

The man described in Sutherland's biography is the man I met in Scott's journals. I was startled by three elements in the journals:  one, the genius.  Nothing in Scott's fictions come near his character sketches.  His character sketches in his fiction are for the most part bland in comparison and stereotypes with nothing political for real brought out.  He really captures real people in their actual setting. It gives you insight into how he could manipulate others.

Which gets me to two: I did dislike the man as I read on.  How ruthless and cold he could be.  I found him actually actively working to prevent liberal and other progressive types from being taken on anywhere. It was no skin off his nose in a couple of instances.

Three: melancholy. The man was partly a depressive. He was very sensitive and did love beauty and appreciated how hard and dark the world is. This comes out towards the end of his journals.

I'd like to stress I didn't read them through. Too long. I dipped and read and dipped.  But I certainly got enough to agree with Carlyle that Scott could have written so much better.  He wrote down and (like Trollope) censored himself to fit a political agenda. If he goes well beyond this, which he does at times, it's his unconscious and better self coming out.

What really gets me is how Edgar Johnson, a man of our time, covered all this sort of thing up too.  I was too young ever to ask Coleman Parsons any serious questions about Scott. I wonder what he would have said. He told me he was at Columbia at a time when salaries were low and if it hadn't been for his family, could not have persevered in his career.  So who knows?  Nothing he ever said or wrote came near what you can find in Sutherland.

Well, Scott maintained an extraordinary pace and did so many things all at once and then drove himself to write book after book once he and Ballantyne went bankrupt.  In fact he didn't save Abbotsford for himself -- I haven't gotten there, but know that it went into a kind of receivership for a while.  In the journal I read the last three years he did little at long last and just travelled a little out of Scotland (to Italy) at long last.

He did write for money and his books show this. I came across a wry comment by Anna Barbauld where reading his poetry she quipped something about how it was the product of a need to sell and quickly. Now this is before the novels had begun :). 

Briefly, Scott himself funded the Ballantyne brothers and did all he could to undermine Constable and others. Very close and unscrupulous dealings by the way with people like Malone whose scholarship Scott relied upon but didn't pay for or acknowledge. Meanwhile he was churning out these appalling poems -- The lay of the Last Minstrel was however popular. It has a lot of alluring picturesque descriptions (set in the verse) which appeals and was published with suitable illustrations.  When Ballantyne went under, it was Scott who was going under. Basically he lived well beyond his means and kept making books he couldn't get the money for (well beyond his own); the cost of running the business (which included him using someone else as a front for a Tory quarterly) was just about even and then he went and gave up his Ashetiel property where he was a tenant (he couldn't bear to be a tenant) and moved into the extravaganza of Abbottsford.

On Abbotsford Sutherland is very good: he pictures it for us and says  how it was built and who did it.  He demonstrates it's been very influential, far more than super-respected architects because it answers to a dream of the past which is popular. I have just gotten to Waverley.  And Sutherland is exposing the myths here too: about finding the opening six chapters six years later and ho hum going to it. At the same time Sutherland shows what a genius Scott could be. His Dryden is the first sociological and close reading literary biography in English. He felt for Dryden: Scott seems to admire all the some people today find what is worst about him: how he changed sides when he needed to, his party man, his extreme conservatism towards the end.  If he ruthlessly used the work of others, he used it to make the first modern studies of a period in the way we understand it, sort of anthropological, an outlook which informs the novels.

The novelist

Arthur's Seat, Craig's Tower by Wm Turner

What a sort of relief when one gets to Waverley.  While Sutherland does justice to Scott as an original critic, his activities to enrich himself enormously, put up his status, and grasp the hands of a press which he could control (I think this is like Dickens, Bob, who I regard as a canny businessman when it comes to getting his own press and his hard-dealing with publishers), and his behavior to various people and ruthless politics just are so offputting.  The fun of this part is partly seeing Sutherland expose the fatuity and (shall I call it) Victorianism (in the worst sense) of EJ (Edgar Johnson).

But when he gets to the novels although he's hasn't the space to get at the inner life of the novels at their finest, he is very good. I've gotten up to 1820 so I've now read past Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, and the English phase.  Sutherland divides the books into Scottish phase, English phase, and then (dropping these categories), a kind of breakthrough in Bride of Lammermoor.

He spends 12 close packed pages on Heart of Midlothian as one of Scott's "very imperfect masterpieces" and I've not got the time nor would it be really helpful to summarize as the argument and analysis is so complicated. For this kind of section alone though I'd say this biography is worth it. (Garside's critique is the result of academic politics and his career bias.) I think I'll just emphasize that Sutherland presents Heart of MidLothian as "the first nonpornographic novel in the English language to deal with "the tricky matter of contraception, infanticide, abortion, and the embarrassing propensities of the working classes to breed." Alas, as I feared, Scott is actually on the side of the law which would hang Effie Deans ("pour encourager les autres" to quote Voltaire's succinct quip on this mindset) really for succumbing to seduction and then desperate and understandably not behaving according to codes which would at least have not murdere dher when she gave birth to a stillborn child.  Why do I want to read a heartless book?  A good question. I should say according to Sutherland The Heart of Midlothian sold manically: huge numbers of books.

Sutherland devotes far fewer pages to both of The Abbot and Monastery than, and sees The Abbot as a sequel (a first sequel in the English marketplace, Sutherland thinks) intended to make up for inadequacies in the rushed Monastery. (We shoudl not forget this writing is for money, big money and Scott wanted this bad and drove himsel.) In the event, The Abbot and Ivanhoe were seen in context by sophisticated readers as about very hot issues. In the case of The Abbot Queen Caroline who was treated very badly by the king and then died. Scott's novels were topical and present adulterous women as a vexing issue but he does glamorize Mary to an extent it took a very long time for her to be de-glamorized and become unsympathetic (only in recent movies where Elizabeth is now replacing her -- as in Cate Blanchard's and Helen Mirren's embodiments). Again he's on the wrong side and doesn't see how this is compensatory victimhood thrown out to women to wallow in.

Sutherland proposes an interesting topical slant on Ivanhoe. I could summarize the concise explanations for Old Mortality too. The Antiquarian is more like Heart of Midlothian: long, densely packed and too rich a book and analysis.

However, what Sutherland is talking about is the conscious Scott, the conscious message we might say that can be read in these books. I would argue that it's the unconscious mythic level of another level of Scot'ts writing self that we can find depths and interests in both in the picturesque passages, the characters and actions and also the narrator's ruminatons.  And I think it's this level of Heart of MidLothian I'd like to acquaint myself with again -- if I can read it at night.  Sutherland is enormously readable (like Trollope); Scott as a novelist is not.

The Tory Grandee and influential man behind the acrimonious hack-attack journals of the time

Sutherland's tale of the real Scott in the journalistic world of his times and his son-in-law Lockhart is important.  The opening of Chapter 12 tells all sorts of things I didn't know about Lockhart but am not surprized at.  First once Scott is the author of these famous stupendous best-selling novels and has gotten his hand into and controlling a press (Ballantynes which he funded and exploited for his career) and a couple of notably Tory quarterlies, to say nothing of his positions in the Scottish establishement, plum houses, and connections, he wields patronage Big.  He got John Wilson (the great attacker of Barbauld by the way), the chair of Blackwood's instead of the qualified Sir William Hamilton:  Sutherland calls this a Caligula like appointment, and say it was justified to Soctt on groups of the man's Tory politics and (to Scott) amusing wit.

Then we get the story of Lockhart:  his nickhame was the Scorpion, and Sutherland says he most of the time was "saturnine," misanthropic, and often venomous outside his knack of a very few chosen friendships. I knew that Scott made his career from the journal but not what shits the pair were together.  Lockhart came to Abbotsford and fell in love with the place; he would not be the first or uncommon for marrying to get a certain father-in-law. I knew this as also his descriptions of Scott go beyond sycophancy into idolatry. I didn't know how often they veer so far from the truth (until I read this book and Quayle).

Scott did warn Lockhart against the kind of brutal satire the journals of the time did promulgate (maybe Keats was really done in by one of these; they didn't help a TB victim I'm sure).  First John Scott, editor of Baldwin's openly accused Lockhart of being the secret editor of Blackwood's and attacking the "Cockney school of poetry" on political grounds, and he had the courage to call Scott a man with a "penchant for hoaxing and masquerade;" in brief, John Scott ended up dead; Lockhart challenged him and then after publicly branding John Scott a liar and coward (not so at all), retreated to leave his second, Jonathan Christie to murder John Scott in a duel.

Scott then urged Lockhart to mend his ways and Lockhart wrote an "excruciatingly dull classical romance Valerius; only Walter Scott ever found merit in it. Walter also showed little sympathy for John Scott on his deathbed.  Scott then did all he could to insinuate his son-in-law into the higher echelons of tory power and get him a career as a London editor. Lockhart rose only to be "the eventually embittered editor of a decayed Quarterly Review."  It was often venomous.  His one book that has lasted is his life of Scott

In character I have to say (from my reading of the journals)

John Ballantyne died, and Scott wrote for him a set of introductions to the novelists's library; it was a gift as he didn't charge. The man has TB and Scott then insisted he work hard to publish the novelists' library against Constable.  John did die; Scott was kind ot his family: John left Scott a non-existence 2000 pounds, earning Lockhart's scoffing at him.  Quayle, who is the biographer of the Ballantynes outlines this phase:  when John died, Scott lured James back into the business on advantageous terms to get someone in place.

Scott then started a magazine called the Beacon; it was intended to be ruthlessly Tory in every way.  It slandered a whig, James Wilson and one James Stuart who thrashed an editor in the street.  According to Sutherland, those in the know who knew the realities of the literary commercial marketplace world, especially magazines had begun to see that Scott was "a provocateur of unprincipled literary ruffianism". Gibson threatened Scott with a challenge (once you were challenged in this atavastic male atmosphere that reigned then you had to fight somehow or other or would be bullied and ridiculed out of all social places by thug-types). James Stuart was not satisfied with not knowing and when the attacks on him were resumed, he managed to find out the writer was Alexander Boswell (I wonder if and how related to James); a duel ensued, and Stuart murdered Boswell, and was acquitted (defended by distinguished Whig lawyers, Francis Jeffreys and Henry Cockburn).

Lockhart wrote that Scott had nothing to do with the Beacon; it is not at all persuasive; Scott founded, designed, launched the thing. He knew what was written in it (from his journal). Boswell had dined with Scott a couple of days before the murder, a dinner Scott recorded he much enjoyed. Sutherland writes: "although he could contemplate the death of John Scott as the disposal of so much dung, the shooting of his nobleman friend affected Scott deeply. Lockhart said as how a duel in St Ronan's Well memorializes Boswell.

It was a scummy world that of early 19th century journalism, but Scott did nothing to restrain Lockhart and for real encouraged him. Sutherland ends: "he was an accomplice before and after the fact and bestowed favours on those who did his party's dirtiest work."

No wonder so much in his novels are aksi dull; he (as Carlyle says) hiding fundamental aspects of his personality all the time.  The difficult years of Scott's youth (crippled, sensitive and so accused of not being manly, no secure mother nor supportive father or loving person to be absolutley depended upon, only the contingent kind aunt, the third brother) -- led to an adult so determined not to go under he overcompensated into ruthlessness, innate greed (he never had enough to satisfy him) and clawing his way to the top of the hierarchies of his era.  Indeed we also see a kind of deep anger coming out, and lack of compassion for most others vulnerable.

The thing is such a childhood could produce an opposite effect: someone who identifies with the vulnerable and hurt and wants to bring them along with him or her.  So yes there's no reason to like him especially. Sutherland's book has great explanatory power and gives context for Carlyle's famous assessment. But he does forget the writing self and he continually leaves out or minimizes how there is an artist's self which comes out differently and he is not inward when he gets into the books either. He has little patience for the melancholy sensitive Scott we do find in the books. Now that self was in his public consciousness too and helps explain how good he was at making friends.

Chapter 12 ends on succinct analyses of Kenilworth, The Pirate, and The Fortunes of NigelKenilworth was influential if only because if inaugurated the three volumer for the century to come.  He suggests the complete disregard of historical realities shows a kind of contempt for Scott's readership.  Carlyle thought this too.

Kenilworth's mixing of history and events is so complicated, I leave it to others to read good introductions or Sutherland: it is meant as a celebration of English nationhood as a pastiche Elizabethanism; many of its incidents are now enshrined as having happened (Raleigh putting his cloak on the mud before Elizabeth I; and it became a main source for illustrated Elizabethanism.  Sutherland suggests analysis of its inward text (which we did on ECW and I invite people who are interested to join, determinedly search the archives) is as worth doing as Goethe's Elective Affinities. I agree for the portraits of women, men, and sexually.

The Pirate is one I've not read and is here presented as based on stories Scott was told by friends; Scott loved "the thresholds of history" he said, "the ancient rough and wild manners of a barbarous age ... just becoming innovated upon and contrasted by the illumination of learning and instructions of renewed or reformed religion."  The descriptions of the Northern Isles is what it's famous for. The Fortunes of Nigel (another one I've not read) is said to be really about the coronation of 1821, and come out of the concoctions of (false) nationalism, highlander traditions all cooked up by Scott. Scott in fact knew very little about militant women (who appear in these books) as he did the life of the NOrthern Isles at the time or on the oceans.

Scott's price was beginning to go down at this point but he was still milking the Ballantyne firm ruthlesssly, taking its capital out to build Abbotsford. Ballantyne thought Abbotsford was part of his security; it wasn't.

Yes novels were written in three volume form frequently before Scott's time:  Austen makes fun of the 297 page "rule" (or maybe it's 279) for each volume in one of her texts.  But it was in a sort of institution exploited for commercial gain.  Kenilworth was retailed not just as 3 volumes, but for a guinea and one half, and in a luxurious binding and octavo.  That's the ticket until late in the century. Novels were marketed in instalments and then published in this way and only a couple of years later came the cheaper editions.  This way of marketing enabled people like Trollope and Dickens to grow rich by their ability to write to this formula and extract a high fee (Trollope) or develope their own publishing press (Dickens did this in his magazines). St Clair points to how convenient this was to the establishment too in controlling what books reached the public.

So Scott led the way for this Victorian tool of commerce.  

A curious quotation: Goethe's response to Kenilworth was he would never read a Scott novel again. He had too little time to waste on what he could not "learn" anything from. Sutherland points out how Scott completely re-arranges history.  Goethe would not have been interested to read for how Scott regards sex and women and murder :).  Sutherland (I think I said) says that you can gain as much from close reading of Kenilworth as Electrive Affinities:  that second book is well chosen as EA is a stunner when you are reading for attitudes towards love, marriage, sexuality, deeply iconoclastic, brilliant, disturbing and (I think) utterly accurate about human nature.  Goethe saw Kenilworth as a low in commercialism in Scott.  It did make pots of money, and (I agree -- read it with Judy on ECW about 2 years ago) is a rapid fast read, just what people say is true of Ivanhoe is actually true of Kenilworth. Ivanhoe is slower going.

I should mention I am noticing that Sutherland often quotes Herbert Grierson's 1938 Sir Walter Scott book when he is discussing the novels.  I am wondering if in fact that is a good book for analysis.

Almost Done:  Crash and Carry on Regardless

There's a memoir I love (by Nuala O'Faolain) called "Almost Done" -- it takes her into middle age.  I've read several more chapters as can be seen from my header and can't summarize all that I've read.  Rather I'll give succint synopses; 

Chapter 13 tells of how Scott almost single-handedly (well, with a little help from all his well-placed and favored friends) engineered a royal visit which made it seem as if George IV was a spectacularly popular man, and where Scott invented a number of hitherto unknown traditions out of scattered habits, clothes, history which are now used in nationalistic celebrations of Scottishness; then Sutherland goes into Redgauntlet, another of Scott's finer and genuinely interesting novels.  What's remarkable is its subjectivity -- it's epistolary for about 1/3 through. It's here we are told Scott's journal began and became his "best writing" of his last years. That this one hero (as well I think as the antiquary) is Scott's alter ego can be seen in one of Darsie's (the hero's name) letters journal entries in Redgauntlet:
     "Yet, in the meanwhile, the exercise of the pen seems to act as a sedative on my own agitated thoughts and tumultuous passions. I never lay it down but I rise stronger in resolution and ardent hope.  A thousand vague fears, wild expectations, and indigested schemes, hurry through one's thoughts in seasons of doubt and of danger. But by arresting them as they flit across the mind, by throwing them on paper, and even by that mechanical act compelling ourselves to consider them with scrupulous and minute attention, we may become the dupes of our own excited imagination; just as a young horse is cured of the vice of starting, by being made to stand still and look for some time without interruption."

On line image of a page of 1814 manuscript of Waverley

I wonder if this isn't a key to the impulse to write for many writers. It's brilliant and important as a statement about the experience of writing. Trollope and James can give us analysis of how their imaginations work, but they do not tell us how the act of imagining and writing lifts them from their narrow selves and depression and circumstances.  When Sutherland quotes this kind of passage, I know he's a great biographer as well as understands books.  I would say the above is the kind of passage I've been pointing to when I say what I read Scott for and there are more of these in his novels than is ever supposed when you read literary readings or interpretations or criticisms of his texts.

Chapters 14 and 15 are "The Crash" and "Working for Creditors."  I couldn't myself give a real precis since I don't understand the finer ins and outs of bill discounting (so I sometimes get lost in a Trollope book. Suffice to say Scott along with Constable and Ballantyne (all three knew what they were doing) borrowed hugely and weren't making off their presses what they borrowed; on top of that Scott creamed off a lot of the money for building Abbotsford and whatever else he needed to make the right splashes, as for example, when he married his heir off to the "right woman" (who at least Scott liked but not the son very much and she never produced any child). It made Lady Scott just miserable (remember her, the socialite) and her very last years were awful -- she had had this bad illness since the 4th pregnancy and child and she died fairly young -- as did all Scott and her children.  Sutherland says Scott was not very sympathetic; I can see he (like many writers) spends huge amounts of time reading and writing and that's the life he really lives (so to speak). EJ and Lockhardt (Scott's cheerers-on) go on about how honorable Scott was when he could have declared bankruptcy, but had he done that he would have lost his house and status, and by letting him keep the house, and try to keep paying the creditors had a hope of getting something and he of not losing all he had worked to gain.  On the plus side, Scott had made the novels a respectable potent form (we talked of his when this weekend in response to Nick: historical, marxist, European, a vehicle for nationalisms, and certainly now men took over); Ballantyne had run a small town newspaper, now he was teh head of a printing factory with major UK-wide important publications for the world of culture in many areas; Constable went from a second-hand bookseller to a powerful publisher.  Constable lost most and so did his family (and Scott did behave badly): Scott "demonized Constable" (blamed him); for Ballantyne, Quayle is apparently an heir, but Daiches tells of Scott's callousness as he continued to live comfortably when his two ex-colleagues and erstwhile friends went down the drain. 

Chapter 16 is Magnum Opus.  Remarkably Scott did carry on writing and wrote some remarkable books:  Fair Maid of Perth is one (the most bloody novel Scott ever wrote). He was aging and no longer well, but it does seem he could forget all consciously and throw himself into his books.  He had put into Constable's head the idea of collecting and publishing all his fiction.  It's a good marketing step and was later used by George Eliot and G.H. Lewes for her fiction, Henry James for his. It makes an automatic landmark and if it builds on previous popularity or at least some niche, it can "make" an author part of the canon.

I was pleased to find in Sutherland that he agrees with me that Scott's journal late in life is a work of genius often and Scott was moving from the novels to autobiography at the time.  But this influenced no one as it was not published until much later and only recently whole and unabridged and uncensored.  I regret Sutherland does not go into Scott's excellent biographical and critical essays of his contemporary novelists, perhaps because they are mostly of women? (eg. Austen, Smith, Radcliffe).  Nor Scott's Tory series of novelists; by contrast Barbauld's earlier one contains almost equal women novelists and writers from the later 18th century and various types of novels (Scott goes for his predecessors), and also heterodox ones.

Scott's study

Last years

It seems obvious to me that Sutherland does not like Scott the man, though he admires him for his tenacity and worldly successes.  That may be seen in the ending of the book. Most biographies end somewhat sadly, with a sense of tragedy -- as the subject usually dies and death rarely comes without much grief. 

This is not true of this book.  It carries on rather in its tone of bring out the truth at last in the context of exposing the falsities of what has been written (mostly by Lockhart and Edgar Johnson).  We are told all of Scott's failing intellects, the later unhappy years of his nuclear family, their relatively short lives, his persistence in writing, and Sutherland sees that his friends and business associates should have encouraged him to rest, and they did not.  Maybe he wouldn't let them :).  And he himself had not been kind to others; why should they be so to him?  He had not chosen friends for their decent natures.  Towards the end the one partner who kept him going was Cadell (not Constable or the Ballantynes who he had variously betrayed) and it was Cadell who helped him publish and sells widely his Magnum Opus (his works). 

He did write more original works: the book on witchcraft is a early version of serious anthropology (I've actually read about half of it), Anne of Geierstein (like Fanny Burney's last book) is about aging people; there were more Tales of my Grandfather (which Scott kept the profits from somehow or other); Count Robert of Paris, marred as it is by Scott's incoherence and his son-in-law's censorship and whole-scale rewriting, shows the grotesquerie of humanity, its customs and societies powerfully.

He was also (as Sutherland says) "an odd kind of bankrupt."  He had 1600 pounds (in effect) unearned income each year, lived in one of the finest private houses in Scotland rent-free, and beyond that kept 1000 pounds a year from his pen (beyond the Grandfather Tales).

Tags: historical novels, literary biography

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