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The Pirate

Walter Scott


  Nothing in him---- But doth suffer a sea-change.


  Bibliophile Edition

  This Edition of the Works of Sir Walter Scott, Bart, is limited to One Thousand Numbered and Signed Sets, of which this is

  Number ...

  University Library Association

  Bibliophile Edition

  The Waverley Novels

  With New Introductions, Notes and Glossaries by Andrew Lang





  University Library AssociationPhiladelphia

  Copyright, 1893By Estes & Lauriat

  Andrew Lang Edition.







  The circumstances in which "The Pirate" was composed have for the Editora peculiar interest. He has many times scribbled at the old bureau inChiefswood whereon Sir Walter worked at his novel, and sat in summerweather beneath the great tree on the lawn where Erskine used to readthe fresh chapters to Lockhart and his wife, while the burn murmured byfrom the Rhymer's Glen. So little altered is the cottage of Chiefswoodby the addition of a gabled wing in the same red stone as the olderportion, so charmed a quiet has the place, in the shelter of EildonHill, that there one can readily beget the golden time again, and thinkoneself back into the day when Mustard and Spice, running down the shadyglen, might herald the coming of the Sheriff himself. Happy hours andgone: like that summer of 1821, whereof Lockhart speaks with an emotionthe more touching because it is so rare,--

  the first of several seasons, which will ever dwell on my memory as the happiest of my life. We were near enough Abbotsford to partake as often as we liked of its brilliant society; yet could do so without being exposed to the worry and exhaustion of spirit which the daily reception of new visitors entailed upon all the society except Sir Walter himself. But, in truth, even he was not always proof against the annoyances connected with such a style of open-house-keeping. Even his temper sank sometimes under the solemn applause of learned dulness, the vapid raptures of painted and periwigged dowagers the horse-leech avidity with which underbred foreigners urged their questions, and the pompous simpers of condescending magnates. When sore beset in this way, he would every now and then discover that he had some very particular business to attend to on an outlying part of his estate, and, craving the indulgence of his guests overnight, appear at the cabin in the glen before its inhabitants were astir in the morning. The clatter of Sibyl Grey's hoofs, the yelping of Mustard and Spice, and his own joyous shout of _reveillee_ under our window, were the signal that he had burst his bonds, and meant for that day to take his ease in his inn.... After breakfast he would take possession of a dressing-room upstairs, and write a chapter of "The Pirate"; and then, having made up and dispatched his parcel for Mr. Ballantyne, away to join Purdie where the foresters were at work....

  The constant and eager delight with which Erskine watched the progress of the tale has left a deep impression on my memory: and indeed I heard so many of its chapters first read from the MS. by him, that I can never open the book now without thinking I hear his voice. Sir Walter used to give him at breakfast the pages he had written that morning, and very commonly, while he was again at work in his study, Erskine would walk over to Chiefswood, that he might have the pleasure of reading them aloud to my wife and me under our favourite tree.[1]

  "The tree is living yet!" This long quotation from a book but too littleread in general may be excused for its interest, as bearing on thecomposition of "The Pirate," in the early autumn of 1821. In "ThePirate" Scott fell back on his recollections of the Orcades, as seen byhim in a tour with the Commissioners of Light Houses, in August 1814,immediately after the publication of "Waverley." They were accompaniedby Mr. Stevenson, the celebrated engineer, "a most gentlemanlike andmodest man, and well known by his scientific skill."[2] It is understoodthat Mr. Stevenson also kept a diary, and that it is to be published bythe care of his distinguished grandson, Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson,author of "Kidnapped," "The Master of Ballantrae," and other novels inwhich Scott would have recognised a not alien genius.

  Sir Walter's Diary, read in company with "The Pirate," offers a mostcurious study of his art in composition. It may be said that he scarcelynoted a natural feature, a monument, a custom, a superstition, or alegend in Zetland and Orkney which he did not weave into the magic webof his romance. In the Diary all those matters appear as very ordinary;in "The Pirate" they are transfigured in the light of fancy. Historygives Scott the career of Gow and his betrothal to an island lady:observation gives him a few headlands, Picts' houses, ruined towers, andold stone monuments, and his characters gather about these, in rhythmicarray, like the dancers in the sword-dance. We may conceive thatCleveland, like Gow, was originally meant to die, and that Minna, likeMargaret in the ballad of Clerk Saunders, was to recover her troth fromthe hand of her dead lover. But, if Scott intended this, he wasgood-natured, and relented.

  Taking the incidents in the Diary in company with the novel, we find, inthe very first page of "The Pirate," mention of the roost, or rost, ofSumburgh, the running current of tidal water, which he hated so, becauseit made him so sea-sick. "All the landsmen sicker than sick, and ourViceroy, Stevenson, qualmish. It is proposed to have a light on SumburghHead. Fitful Head is higher, but is to the west, from which quarter fewvessels come." As for Sumburgh Head, Scott climbed it, rolled down arock from the summit, and found it "a fine situation to compose an odeto the Genius of Sumburgh Head, or an Elegy upon a Cormorant--or to havewritten or spoken madness of any kind in prose or poetry. But I gavevent to my excited feelings in a more simple way, and, sitting gentlydown on the steep green slope which led to the beach, I e'en slid down afew hundred feet, and found the exercise quite an adequate vent to myenthusiasm."

  Sir Walter was certainly not what he found Mrs. Hemans, "too poetical."

  In the first chapter, his Giffords, Scotts (of Scotstarvet, theFifeshire house, not of the Border clan), and Mouats are the very gentrywho entertained him on his tour. His "plantie cruives," in the novel,had been noted in the Diary (Lockhart, iv. 193). "Pate Stewart," theoppressive Earl, is chronicled at length in "the Diary." "His huge towerremains wild and desolate--its chambers filled with sand, and its riftedwalls and dismantled battlements giving unrestrained access to theroaring sea-blast." So Scott wrote in his last review for the"Quarterly," a criticism of Pitcairn's "Scotch Criminal Trials" (1831).The Trows, or Drows, the fairy dwarfs he studied on the spot, andconnects the name with Dwerg, though _Trolls_ seem rather to be theirspiritual and linguistic ancestors. The affair of the clergyman who wastaken for a Pecht, or Pict, actually occurred during the tour, and Mr.Stevenson, who had met the poor Pecht before, was able to clear hischaracter.[3] In the same place the Kraken is mentioned: he had beenvisible for nearly a fortnight, but no sailor dared go near him.

  He lay in the offing a fortnight or more, But the devil a Zetlander put from the shore. If your Grace thinks I'm writing the thing that is not, You may ask at a namesake of ours, Mr. Scott,

  Sir Walter wrote to the Duke
of Buccleugh. He paid a visit to an oldlady, who, like Norna, and Aeolus in the Odyssey, kept the winds in abag, and could sell a fair breeze. "She was a miserable figure, upwardsof ninety, she told me, and dried up like a mummy. A sort ofclay-coloured cloak, folded over her head, corresponded in colour to hercorpse-like complexion. Fine light-blue eyes, and nose and chin thatalmost met, and a ghastly expression of cunning gave her quite theeffect of Hecate. She told us she remembered _Gow the Pirate_, betrothedto a Miss Gordon,"--so here are the germs of Norna, Cleveland, andMinna, all sown in good ground, to bear fruit in seven years(1814-1821). Triptolemus Yellowley is entirely derived from the Diary,and is an anachronism. The Lowland Scots factors and ploughs were onlycoming in while Scott was in the isles. He himself saw the absurd littlemills (vol. i. ch. xi.), and the one stilted plough which needed twowomen to open the furrows, a feebler plough than the Virgilian specimenswhich one still remarks in Tuscany. "When this precious machine was inmotion, it was dragged by four little bullocks, yoked abreast, and asmany ponies harnessed, or rather strung, to the plough by ropes andthongs of raw hide.... An antiquary might be of opinion that this wasthe very model of the original plough invented by Triptolemus," son ofthe Eleusinian king, who sheltered Demeter in her wanderings. Thesword-dance was not danced for Scott's entertainment, but he heard ofthe Pupa dancers, and got a copy of the accompanying chant, and waspresented with examples of the flint and bronze Celts which Nornatreasured. All over the world, as in Zetland, they were regarded as"thunder stones." (Diary; Lockhart, iv. 220.) The bridal of Norna, byclasping of hands through Odin's stone ring, was still practised as aform of betrothal. (Lockhart, iv. 252.) Some island people weredespised, as by Magnus Troil, as "poor sneaks" who ate limpets, "thelast of human meannesses." The "wells," or smooth wave-currents, werealso noted, and the _Garland_ of the whalers often alluded to in thetale. The Stones of Stennis were visited, and the Dwarfie Stone of Hoy,where Norna, like some Eskimo Angekok, met her familiar demon. Scottheld that the stone "probably was meant as the temple of some northernedition of the _dii Manes_. They conceive that the dwarf may be seensometimes sitting at the door of his abode, but he vanishes on a nearerapproach." The dwelling of Norna, a Pict's house, with an overhangingstory, "shaped like a dice-box," is the ancient Castle of Mousa.[4] Thestrange incantation of Norna, the dropping of molten lead into water, isalso described. Usually the lead was poured through the wards of a key.In affections of the heart, like Minna's, a triangular stone, probably aneolithic arrow-head, was usually employed as an amulet. (Lockhart, iv.208.) Even the story of the pirate's insolent answer to the Provost isadapted from a recent occurrence. Two whalers were accused of stealing asheep. The first denied the charge, but said he had seen the animalcarried off by "a fellow with a red nose and a black wig. Don't youthink he was like his honour, Tom?" "By God, Jack, I believe it was thevery man." (Diary; Lockhart, iv. 222; "The Pirate," vol. ii. ch. xiv.)The goldless Northern Ophir was also visited--in brief, Scott scarcelymade a remark on his tour which he did not manage to transmute into therare metal of his romance. It is no wonder that the Orcadians at oncedetected his authorship. A trifling anecdote of the cruise has recentlybeen published. Scott presented a lady in the isles with a piano, which,it seems, is still capable of producing a melancholy jingling tune.[5]

  Lockhart says, as to the reception of "The Pirate" (Dec. 1821): "Thewild freshness of the atmosphere of this splendid romance, the beautifulcontrast of Minna and Brenda, and the exquisitely drawn character ofCaptain Cleveland, found the reception which they deserved." "The wildfreshness of the atmosphere" is indeed magically transfused, andbreathes across the pages as it blows over the Fitful Head, theskerries, the desolate moors, the plain of the Standing Stones ofStennis. The air is keen and salt and fragrant of the sea. Yet SydneySmith was greatly disappointed. "I am afraid this novel will depend uponthe former reputation of the author, and will add nothing to it. It maysell, and another may half sell, but that is all, unless he comes outwith something vigorous, and redeems himself. I do not blame him forwriting himself out, if he knows he is doing so, and has done his_best_, and his _all_. If the native land of Scotland will supply nomore scenes and characters, for he is always best in Scotland, though hewas very good in England the (time) he was there; but pray, wherever thescene is laid, no more Meg Merrilies and Dominie Sampsons--very good thefirst and second times, but now quite worn out, and always recurring."("Archibald Constable," iii. 69.)

  It was Smith's grammar that gave out, and produced no apodosis to hisphrase. Scott could not write himself out, before his brain was affectedby disease. Had his age been miraculously prolonged, with health, itcould never be said that "all the stories have been told," and he wouldhave delighted mankind unceasingly.

  Scott himself was a little nettled by the criticisms of Norna as areplica of Meg Merrilies. She is, indeed, "something distinct from theDumfriesshire gipsy"--in truth, she rather resembles the Ulrica of"Ivanhoe." Like her, she is haunted by the memory of an awful crime, aninsane version of a mere accident; like her, she is a votaress of thedead gods of the older world, Thor and Odin, and the spirits of thetempest. Scott's imagination lived so much in the past that the ancientcreeds never ceased to allure him: like Heine, he felt the fascinationof the banished deities, not of Greece, but of the North. Thus Norna,crazed by her terrible mischance, dwells among them, worships the RedBeard, as outlying descendants of the Aztecs yet retain some faith intheir old monstrous Pantheon. Even Minna keeps, in her girlishenthusiasm, some touch of Freydis in the saga of Eric the Red: for herthe old gods and the old years are not wholly exiled and impotent. Allthis is most characteristic of the antiquary and the poet in Scott, wholingers fondly over what has been, and stirs the last faint embers offallen fires. It is of a piece with the harmless Jacobitism of hisfestivals, when they sang

  Here's to the King, boys! Ye ken wha I mean, boys.

  In the singularly feeble and provincial vulgarities which Borrowlaunches, in the appendix to "Lavengro," against the memory of Scott,the charge of reviving Catholicism is the most bitter. That rowdyevangelist might as well have charged Scott with a desire to restore theworship of Odin, and to sacrifice human victims on the stone altar ofStennis. He saw in Orkney the ruined fanes of the Norse deities, as atMelrose of the Virgin, and his loyal heart could feel for all that wasold and lost, for all into which men had put their hearts and faiths,had made, and had unmade, in the secular quest for the divine. Like alater poet, he might have said:--

  Not as their friend or child I speak, But as on some far Northern strand, Thinking of his own gods, a Greek In pity and mournful awe might stand Beside some fallen Runic stone, For both were gods, and both are gone.

  And surely no creed is more savage, cruel, and worthy of death thanBorrow's belief in a God who "knew where to strike," and deliberatelystruck Scott by inducing Robinson to speculate in hops, and so bringdown his Edinburgh associate, Constable, and with him Sir Walter! Suchwas the religion which Borrow expressed in the style of a writer in afourth-rate country newspaper. We might prefer the frank Heathenism ofthe Red Beard to the religion of the author of "The Bible in Spain."

  There is no denying that Scott had in his imagination a certain mould ofromance, into which his ideas, when he wrote most naturally, and mostfor his own pleasure, were apt to run. It is one of the charms of "ThePirate" that here he is manifestly writing for his own pleasure, with acertain boyish eagerness. Had we but the plot of one of the tales whichhe told, as a lad, to his friend Irving, we might find that it turned ona romantic mystery, a clue in the hands of some witch or wise woman, ofsome one who was always appearing in the nick of time, was always roundthe corner when anything was to be heard. This is a standingcharacteristic of the tales: now it is Edie Ochiltree, nowFlibbertigibbet, now Meg Merrilies, now Norna, who holds the thread ofthe plot, but these characters are all well differentiated. Again, hehad types, especially the pedantic type, which attracted him, but theyvary as much as Yellowley and Dugald Dalgetty, the Antiquary, an
dDominie Sampson. Yellowley is rather more repressed than some of Scott'sbores; but then he is not the only bore, for Claud Halcro, with all hismerits, is a professed proser. Swift had exactly described thecharacter, the episodical narrator, in a passage parallel to one inTheophrastus. In writing to Morritt, Scott says (November 1818): "Isympathise with you for the _dole_ you are _dreeing_ under theinflictions of your honest proser. Of all the boring machines everdevised, your regular and determined story-teller is the most peremptoryand powerful in his operations."

  "With what perfect placidity he submitted to be bored even by bores ofthe first water!" says Lockhart. The species is one which we all havemany opportunities of studying, but it may be admitted that Scottproduced his studies of bores with a certain complacency. Yet they areall different bores, and the gay, kind _scald_ Halcro is very unlikeMaster Mumblasen or Dominie Sampson.

  For a hero Mordaunt may be called almost sprightly and individual. Hismysterious father occasionally suggests the influence of Byron,occasionally of Mrs. Radcliffe. The Udaller is as individual and genialas Dandie Dinmont himself; or, again, he is the Cedric of Thule, thoughmuch more sympathetic than Cedric to most readers. His affection for hisdaughters is characteristic and deserved. Many a pair of sisters, blondeand brune, have we met in fiction since Minna and Brenda, but none havebeen their peers, and, like Mordaunt in early years, we know not towhich of them our hearts are given. They are "L'Allegro" and "IlPenseroso" of the North, and it is probable that all men would fall inlove with Minna if they had the chance, and marry Brenda, if they could.Minna is, indeed, the ideal youth of poetry, and Brenda of the practicallife. The innocent illusions of Minna, her love of all that is old, herchampionship of the forlorn cause, her beauty, her tenderness, hertruth, her passionate waywardness of sorrow, make her one of Scott'smost original and delightful heroines. She believes and trembles not,like Bertram in "Rokeby." Brenda trembles, but does not believe inNorna's magic, and in the spirits of ancient saga. As for Cleveland,Scott managed to avoid Byron's Lara-like pirates, and produced afreebooter as sympathetic as any _hostis humani generis_ can be, while"Frederick Altamont" (Thackeray borrowed the name for his romanticcrossing-sweeper) has a place among the Marischals and Bucklaws ofromance. Scott's minute studies in Dryden come to the aid of his localobservations, and so, out of not very promising materials, and out ofthe contrast of Lowland Scot and Orcadian, the romance is spun. Probablythe "psychological analysis" which most interested the author is thedouble consciousness of Norna, the occasional intrusions of the rationalself on her dreams of supernatural powers. That double consciousness,indeed, exists in all of us: occasionally the self in which we believehas a vision of the real underlying self, and shudders from the sight,like the pair "who met themselves" in the celebrated drawing.

  "The Pirate" can scarcely be placed in the front rank of Scott's novels,but it has a high and peculiar place in the second, and probably willalways be among the special favourites of those who, being young, arefortunate enough not to be critical.

  Scott's novels at this time came forth so frequently that the lumbering"Quarterlies" toiled after them in vain. They adopted the plan ofreviewing them in batches, and the "Quarterly" may be said to haveomitted "The Pirate" altogether. About this time Gifford began to findthat the person who spoke of a "dark dialect of Anglified Erse" was nota competent critic, and Mr. Senior noticed several of the tales in amore judicious manner. As to "The Pirate," the "Edinburgh Review"found "the character and story of Mertoun at once commonplace andextravagant." Cleveland disappoints "by turning out so much betterthan we had expected, and yet substantially so ill." "Nothing canbe more beautiful than the description of the sisters." "Norna isa new incarnation of Meg Merrilies, and palpably the same in thespirit ... but far above the rank of a mere imitated or borrowedcharacter." "The work, on the whole, opens up a new world to ourcuriosity, and affords another proof of the extreme pliability,as well as vigour, of the author's genius."

  ANDREW LANG. _August 1893._


  [1] Lockhart, vi. 388-393. Erskine died before Scott, slain by a sillypiece of gossip, and Mr. Skene says: "I never saw Sir Walter so muchaffected by any event, and at the funeral, which he attended, he wasquite unable to suppress his feelings, but wept like a child." Hiscorrespondence with Scott fell into the hands of a lady, who, seeingthat it revealed the secret of Scott's authorship, most unfortunatelyburned all the letters. (Journal, i. 416.)

  [2] Scott's Diary, July 29, 1814. Lockhart, vi. 183.

  [3] See Author's Note No. I.

  [4] Diary; Lockhart, iv. 223.

  [5] "Atalanta," December 1892.