A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Twenty-six
SCOTT

WE have noted that the movement which we are discussing in these chapters has been variously called the Return to Nature, the Renascence of Wonder, the Romantic Revival. The first of these names makes us think of Wordsworth, the second of Coleridge, the third of Sir Walter Scott ( 1771-1832). Historically, Scott's poetry is very important: it effected a revolution in taste, a "shift of sensibility" which made Wordsworth and Coleridge acceptable and paved the way for Byron, Shelley, and Keats: in a word, it popularised romance. Intrinsically too its value is far from negligible: if Scott's long poems have sunk in the estimation of critics, his songs have risen, till so good a judge as Professor Elton can maintain that he is the best lyric poet between Burns and Shelley.

Like many other poets, Scott began as an imitator. He had a natural gift for mimicry: his Poacher is pure Crabbe; the lines in Old Mortality beginning "Thy hue, dear pledge, is pure and bright," are very Byronic; the song,

Oh, say not, my love, with that mortified air,
That your spring-time of pleasure is flown,

might be Tom Moore's; mimicry is too base a word for so noble a poem as Glencoe, but its form obviously came from Campbell's Hohenlinden. These, however, were casual imitations, and had no sequels: the line Scott followed up was the line he began on--translation and imitation of German romance. German romance was in part a revolt against French classicism: Bürger carried it to extremes in wild folk-tales of crude supernaturalism. The taste for the supernatural may have come from England, from Horace Walpole's mock-solemn Castle of Otranto; it was re-imported, in full solemnity, by Mrs. Radcliffe and 'Monk' Lewis. A craze for German had been started in Edinburgh by Henry Mackenzie, the Man of Feeling; Scott caught it, and learned German enough to translate Bürger's

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