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Ivanhoe: A Romance, Page 2

Walter Scott




  Residing in the Castle-Gate, York.

  Much esteemed and dear Sir,

  It is scarcely necessary to mention the various and concurring reasonswhich induce me to place your name at the head of the followingwork. Yet the chief of these reasons may perhaps be refuted by theimperfections of the performance. Could I have hoped to render it worthyof your patronage, the public would at once have seen the propriety ofinscribing a work designed to illustrate the domestic antiquities ofEngland, and particularly of our Saxon forefathers, to the learnedauthor of the Essays upon the Horn of King Ulphus, and on the Landsbestowed by him upon the patrimony of St Peter. I am conscious, however,that the slight, unsatisfactory, and trivial manner, in which the resultof my antiquarian researches has been recorded in the following pages,takes the work from under that class which bears the proud motto,"Detur digniori". On the contrary, I fear I shall incur the censure ofpresumption in placing the venerable name of Dr Jonas Dryasdust at thehead of a publication, which the more grave antiquary will perhaps classwith the idle novels and romances of the day. I am anxious to vindicatemyself from such a charge; for although I might trust to your friendshipfor an apology in your eyes, yet I would not willingly stand convictionin those of the public of so grave a crime, as my fears lead me toanticipate my being charged with.

  I must therefore remind you, that when we first talked over togetherthat class of productions, in one of which the private and familyaffairs of your learned northern friend, Mr Oldbuck of Monkbarns, wereso unjustifiably exposed to the public, some discussion occurred betweenus concerning the cause of the popularity these works have attainedin this idle age, which, whatever other merit they possess, must beadmitted to be hastily written, and in violation of every rule assignedto the epopeia. It seemed then to be your opinion, that the charm layentirely in the art with which the unknown author had availed himself,like a second M'Pherson, of the antiquarian stores which lay scatteredaround him, supplying his own indolence or poverty of invention, by theincidents which had actually taken place in his country at no distantperiod, by introducing real characters, and scarcely suppressing realnames. It was not above sixty or seventy years, you observed, since thewhole north of Scotland was under a state of government nearly as simpleand as patriarchal as those of our good allies the Mohawks and Iroquois.Admitting that the author cannot himself be supposed to have witnessedthose times, he must have lived, you observed, among persons who hadacted and suffered in them; and even within these thirty years, suchan infinite change has taken place in the manners of Scotland, thatmen look back upon the habits of society proper to their immediateancestors, as we do on those of the reign of Queen Anne, or even theperiod of the Revolution. Having thus materials of every kind lyingstrewed around him, there was little, you observed, to embarrass theauthor, but the difficulty of choice. It was no wonder, therefore, that,having begun to work a mine so plentiful, he should have derived fromhis works fully more credit and profit than the facility of his laboursmerited.

  Admitting (as I could not deny) the general truth of these conclusions,I cannot but think it strange that no attempt has been made to excite aninterest for the traditions and manners of Old England, similiar tothat which has been obtained in behalf of those of our poorer andless celebrated neighbours. The Kendal green, though its date is moreancient, ought surely to be as dear to our feelings, as the variegatedtartans of the north. The name of Robin Hood, if duly conjured with,should raise a spirit as soon as that of Rob Roy; and the patriots ofEngland deserve no less their renown in our modern circles, than theBruces and Wallaces of Caledonia. If the scenery of the south be lessromantic and sublime than that of the northern mountains, it must beallowed to possess in the same proportion superior softness and beauty;and upon the whole, we feel ourselves entitled to exclaim with thepatriotic Syrian--"Are not Pharphar and Abana, rivers of Damascus,better than all the rivers of Israel?"

  Your objections to such an attempt, my dear Doctor, were, you mayremember, two-fold. You insisted upon the advantages which the Scotsmanpossessed, from the very recent existence of that state of societyin which his scene was to be laid. Many now alive, you remarked, wellremembered persons who had not only seen the celebrated RoyM'Gregor, but had feasted, and even fought with him. All those minutecircumstances belonging to private life and domestic character, all thatgives verisimilitude to a narrative, and individuality to the personsintroduced, is still known and remembered in Scotland; whereas inEngland, civilisation has been so long complete, that our ideas of ourancestors are only to be gleaned from musty records and chronicles, theauthors of which seem perversely to have conspired to suppress in theirnarratives all interesting details, in order to find room for flowers ofmonkish eloquence, or trite reflections upon morals. To match an Englishand a Scottish author in the rival task of embodying and reviving thetraditions of their respective countries, would be, you alleged, in thehighest degree unequal and unjust. The Scottish magician, you said, was,like Lucan's witch, at liberty to walk over the recent field of battle,and to select for the subject of resuscitation by his sorceries, a bodywhose limbs had recently quivered with existence, and whose throathad but just uttered the last note of agony. Such a subject even thepowerful Erictho was compelled to select, as alone capable of beingreanimated even by "her" potent magic--

  ----gelidas leto scrutata medullas, Pulmonis rigidi stantes sine vulnere fibras Invenit, et vocem defuncto in corpore quaerit.

  The English author, on the other hand, without supposing him less ofa conjuror than the Northern Warlock, can, you observed, only have theliberty of selecting his subject amidst the dust of antiquity, wherenothing was to be found but dry, sapless, mouldering, and disjointedbones, such as those which filled the valley of Jehoshaphat. Youexpressed, besides, your apprehension, that the unpatriotic prejudicesof my countrymen would not allow fair play to such a work as that ofwhich I endeavoured to demonstrate the probable success. And this, yousaid, was not entirely owing to the more general prejudice in favour ofthat which is foreign, but that it rested partly upon improbabilities,arising out of the circumstances in which the English reader is placed.If you describe to him a set of wild manners, and a state of primitivesociety existing in the Highlands of Scotland, he is much disposed toacquiesce in the truth of what is asserted. And reason good. If he beof the ordinary class of readers, he has either never seen those remotedistricts at all, or he has wandered through those desolate regions inthe course of a summer tour, eating bad dinners, sleeping on trucklebeds, stalking from desolation to desolation, and fully prepared tobelieve the strangest things that could be told him of a people, wildand extravagant enough to be attached to scenery so extraordinary.But the same worthy person, when placed in his own snug parlour, andsurrounded by all the comforts of an Englishman's fireside, is not halfso much disposed to believe that his own ancestors led a very differentlife from himself; that the shattered tower, which now forms a vistafrom his window, once held a baron who would have hung him up at hisown door without any form of trial; that the hinds, by whom his littlepet-farm is managed, a few centuries ago would have been his slaves;and that the complete influence of feudal tyranny once extended over theneighbouring village, where the attorney is now a man of more importancethan the lord of the manor.

  While I own the force of these objections, I must confess, at the sametime, that they do not appear to me to be altogether insurmountable. Thescantiness of materials is indeed a formidable difficulty; but no oneknows better than Dr Dryasdust, that to those deeply read in antiquity,hints concerning the private life of our ancestors lie scatteredthrough the pages of our various historians, bearing, indeed, a slenderproportion to the other matters of which they treat, but still, whencollected together, sufficient to throw considerable light upon the "vieprive" of our forefathers; indeed, I am convinced, that however I myselfmay fail in the ensuing attempt, yet, with more labour in collecting, ormore
skill in using, the materials within his reach, illustrated as theyhave been by the labours of Dr Henry, of the late Mr Strutt, and, aboveall, of Mr Sharon Turner, an abler hand would have been successful;and therefore I protest, beforehand, against any argument which may befounded on the failure of the present experiment.

  On the other hand, I have already said, that if any thing like a truepicture of old English manners could be drawn, I would trust to thegood-nature and good sense of my countrymen for insuring its favourablereception.

  Having thus replied, to the best of my power, to the first class ofyour objections, or at least having shown my resolution to overleap thebarriers which your prudence has raised, I will be brief in noticingthat which is more peculiar to myself. It seems to be your opinion, thatthe very office of an antiquary, employed in grave, and, as thevulgar will sometimes allege, in toilsome and minute research, must beconsidered as incapacitating him from successfully compounding a tale ofthis sort. But permit me to say, my dear Doctor, that this objectionis rather formal than substantial. It is true, that such slightcompositions might not suit the severer genius of our friend Mr Oldbuck.Yet Horace Walpole wrote a goblin tale which has thrilled through many abosom; and George Ellis could transfer all the playful fascination ofa humour, as delightful as it was uncommon, into his Abridgement of theAncient Metrical Romances. So that, however I may have occasion to ruemy present audacity, I have at least the most respectable precedents inmy favour.

  Still the severer antiquary may think, that, by thus interminglingfiction with truth, I am polluting the well of history with moderninventions, and impressing upon the rising generation false ideas of theage which I describe. I cannot but in some sense admit the force of thisreasoning, which I yet hope to traverse by the following considerations.

  It is true, that I neither can, nor do pretend, to the observation ofcomplete accuracy, even in matters of outward costume, much less in themore important points of language and manners. But the same motivewhich prevents my writing the dialogue of the piece in Anglo-Saxon or inNorman-French, and which prohibits my sending forth to the public thisessay printed with the types of Caxton or Wynken de Worde, prevents myattempting to confine myself within the limits of the period in which mystory is laid. It is necessary, for exciting interest of any kind, thatthe subject assumed should be, as it were, translated into the manners,as well as the language, of the age we live in. No fascination hasever been attached to Oriental literature, equal to that produced by MrGalland's first translation of the Arabian Tales; in which, retainingon the one hand the splendour of Eastern costume, and on the other thewildness of Eastern fiction, he mixed these with just so much ordinaryfeeling and expression, as rendered them interesting and intelligible,while he abridged the long-winded narratives, curtailed the monotonousreflections, and rejected the endless repetitions of the Arabianoriginal. The tales, therefore, though less purely Oriental than intheir first concoction, were eminently better fitted for the Europeanmarket, and obtained an unrivalled degree of public favour, which theycertainly would never have gained had not the manners and style beenin some degree familiarized to the feelings and habits of the westernreader.

  In point of justice, therefore, to the multitudes who will, I trust,devour this book with avidity, I have so far explained our ancientmanners in modern language, and so far detailed the characters andsentiments of my persons, that the modern reader will not find himself,I should hope, much trammelled by the repulsive dryness of mereantiquity. In this, I respectfully contend, I have in no respectexceeded the fair license due to the author of a fictitious composition.The late ingenious Mr Strutt, in his romance of Queen-Hoo-Hall, [5]acted upon another principle; and in distinguishing between what wasancient and modern, forgot, as it appears to me, that extensive neutralground, the large proportion, that is, of manners and sentiments whichare common to us and to our ancestors, having been handed down unalteredfrom them to us, or which, arising out of the principles of our commonnature, must have existed alike in either state of society. In thismanner, a man of talent, and of great antiquarian erudition, limited thepopularity of his work, by excluding from it every thing which was notsufficiently obsolete to be altogether forgotten and unintelligible.

  The license which I would here vindicate, is so necessary to theexecution of my plan, that I will crave your patience while I illustratemy argument a little farther.

  He who first opens Chaucer, or any other ancient poet, is so muchstruck with the obsolete spelling, multiplied consonants, and antiquatedappearance of the language, that he is apt to lay the work down indespair, as encrusted too deep with the rust of antiquity, to permit hisjudging of its merits or tasting its beauties. But if some intelligentand accomplished friend points out to him, that the difficulties bywhich he is startled are more in appearance than reality, if, byreading aloud to him, or by reducing the ordinary words to the modernorthography, he satisfies his proselyte that only about one-tenth partof the words employed are in fact obsolete, the novice may be easilypersuaded to approach the "well of English undefiled," with thecertainty that a slender degree of patience will enable him to to enjoyboth the humour and the pathos with which old Geoffrey delighted the ageof Cressy and of Poictiers.

  To pursue this a little farther. If our neophyte, strong in the new-bornlove of antiquity, were to undertake to imitate what he had learnt toadmire, it must be allowed he would act very injudiciously, if he wereto select from the Glossary the obsolete words which it contains, andemploy those exclusively of all phrases and vocables retained in moderndays. This was the error of the unfortunate Chatterton. In order to givehis language the appearance of antiquity, he rejected every word thatwas modern, and produced a dialect entirely different from any thathad ever been spoken in Great Britain. He who would imitate an ancientlanguage with success, must attend rather to its grammatical character,turn of expression, and mode of arrangement, than labour to collectextraordinary and antiquated terms, which, as I have already averred, donot in ancient authors approach the number of words still in use, thoughperhaps somewhat altered in sense and spelling, in the proportion of oneto ten.

  What I have applied to language, is still more justly applicable tosentiments and manners. The passions, the sources from which these mustspring in all their modifications, are generally the same in all ranksand conditions, all countries and ages; and it follows, as a matterof course, that the opinions, habits of thinking, and actions, howeverinfluenced by the peculiar state of society, must still, upon the whole,bear a strong resemblance to each other. Our ancestors were not moredistinct from us, surely, than Jews are from Christians; they had "eyes,hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions;" were "fed withthe same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer," as ourselves. Thetenor, therefore, of their affections and feelings, must have borne thesame general proportion to our own.

  It follows, therefore, that of the materials which an author has touse in a romance, or fictitious composition, such as I have venturedto attempt, he will find that a great proportion, both of language andmanners, is as proper to the present time as to those in which he haslaid his time of action. The freedom of choice which this allows him,is therefore much greater, and the difficulty of his task much morediminished, than at first appears. To take an illustration from a sisterart, the antiquarian details may be said to represent the peculiarfeatures of a landscape under delineation of the pencil. His feudaltower must arise in due majesty; the figures which he introduces musthave the costume and character of their age; the piece must representthe peculiar features of the scene which he has chosen for his subject,with all its appropriate elevation of rock, or precipitate descent ofcataract. His general colouring, too, must be copied from Nature: Thesky must be clouded or serene, according to the climate, and the generaltints must be those which prevail in a natural landscape. So far thepainter is bound down by the rules of his art, to a precise imitation ofthe features of Nature; but it is not required
that he should descend tocopy all her more minute features, or represent with absolute exactnessthe very herbs, flowers, and trees, with which the spot is decorated.These, as well as all the more minute points of light and shadow, areattributes proper to scenery in general, natural to each situation, andsubject to the artist's disposal, as his taste or pleasure may dictate.

  It is true, that this license is confined in either case withinlegitimate bounds. The painter must introduce no ornament inconsistentwith the climate or country of his landscape; he must not plant cypresstrees upon Inch-Merrin, or Scottish firs among the ruins of Persepolis;and the author lies under a corresponding restraint. However far he mayventure in a more full detail of passions and feelings, than is to befound in the ancient compositions which he imitates, he must introducenothing inconsistent with the manners of the age; his knights, squires,grooms, and yeomen, may be more fully drawn than in the hard, drydelineations of an ancient illuminated manuscript, but the character andcostume of the age must remain inviolate; they must be the same figures,drawn by a better pencil, or, to speak more modestly, executed in an agewhen the principles of art were better understood. His language mustnot be exclusively obsolete and unintelligible; but he should admit, ifpossible, no word or turn of phraseology betraying an origin directlymodern. It is one thing to make use of the language and sentiments whichare common to ourselves and our forefathers, and it is another toinvest them with the sentiments and dialect exclusively proper to theirdescendants.

  This, my dear friend, I have found the most difficult part of my task;and, to speak frankly, I hardly expect to satisfy your less partialjudgment, and more extensive knowledge of such subjects, since I havehardly been able to please my own.

  I am conscious that I shall be found still more faulty in the tone ofkeeping and costume, by those who may be disposed rigidly to examinemy Tale, with reference to the manners of the exact period in which myactors flourished: It may be, that I have introduced little which canpositively be termed modern; but, on the other hand, it is extremelyprobable that I may have confused the manners of two or three centuries,and introduced, during the reign of Richard the First, circumstancesappropriated to a period either considerably earlier, or a good deallater than that era. It is my comfort, that errors of this kind willescape the general class of readers, and that I may share in theill-deserved applause of those architects, who, in their modern Gothic,do not hesitate to introduce, without rule or method, ornaments properto different styles and to different periods of the art. Thosewhose extensive researches have given them the means of judging mybackslidings with more severity, will probably be lenient in proportionto their knowledge of the difficulty of my task. My honest and neglectedfriend, Ingulphus, has furnished me with many a valuable hint; but thelight afforded by the Monk of Croydon, and Geoffrey de Vinsauff, isdimmed by such a conglomeration of uninteresting and unintelligiblematter, that we gladly fly for relief to the delightful pages of thegallant Froissart, although he flourished at a period so much moreremote from the date of my history. If, therefore, my dear friend, youhave generosity enough to pardon the presumptuous attempt, to frame formyself a minstrel coronet, partly out of the pearls of pure antiquity,and partly from the Bristol stones and paste, with which I haveendeavoured to imitate them, I am convinced your opinion of thedifficulty of the task will reconcile you to the imperfect manner of itsexecution.

  Of my materials I have but little to say. They may be chiefly found inthe singular Anglo-Norman MS., which Sir Arthur Wardour preserves withsuch jealous care in the third drawer of his oaken cabinet, scarcelyallowing any one to touch it, and being himself not able to read onesyllable of its contents. I should never have got his consent, on myvisit to Scotland, to read in those precious pages for so many hours,had I not promised to designate it by some emphatic mode of printing,as {The Wardour Manuscript}; giving it, thereby, an individualityas important as the Bannatyne MS., the Auchinleck MS., and any othermonument of the patience of a Gothic scrivener. I have sent, for yourprivate consideration, a list of the contents of this curious piece,which I shall perhaps subjoin, with your approbation, to the thirdvolume of my Tale, in case the printer's devil should continue impatientfor copy, when the whole of my narrative has been imposed.

  Adieu, my dear friend; I have said enough to explain, if not tovindicate, the attempt which I have made, and which, in spite of yourdoubts, and my own incapacity, I am still willing to believe has notbeen altogether made in vain.

  I hope you are now well recovered from your spring fit of the gout, andshall be happy if the advice of your learned physician should recommenda tour to these parts. Several curiosities have been lately dug up nearthe wall, as well as at the ancient station of Habitancum. Talking ofthe latter, I suppose you have long since heard the news, that a sulkychurlish boor has destroyed the ancient statue, or rather bas-relief,popularly called Robin of Redesdale. It seems Robin's fame attractedmore visitants than was consistent with the growth of the heather, upona moor worth a shilling an acre. Reverend as you write yourself, berevengeful for once, and pray with me that he may be visited with sucha fit of the stone, as if he had all the fragments of poor Robin in thatregion of his viscera where the disease holds its seat. Tell this not inGath, lest the Scots rejoice that they have at length found a parallelinstance among their neighbours, to that barbarous deed which demolishedArthur's Oven. But there is no end to lamentation, when we betakeourselves to such subjects. My respectful compliments attend MissDryasdust; I endeavoured to match the spectacles agreeable to hercommission, during my late journey to London, and hope she has receivedthem safe, and found them satisfactory. I send this by the blindcarrier, so that probably it may be some time upon its journey. [6]

  The last news which I hear from Edinburgh is, that the gentleman whofills the situation of Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries ofScotland, [7] is the best amateur draftsman in that kingdom, and thatmuch is expected from his skill and zeal in delineating those specimensof national antiquity, which are either mouldering under the slowtouch of time, or swept away by modern taste, with the same besom ofdestruction which John Knox used at the Reformation. Once more adieu;"vale tandem, non immemor mei". Believe me to be,

  Reverend, and very dear Sir,

  Your most faithful humble Servant.

  Laurence Templeton.

  Toppingwold, near Egremont, Cumberland, Nov. 17, 1817.