Imágenes de páginas

unknown; and as the book came out just before the season for excursions, every house and inn in that neighbourhood was crammed with a constant succession of visitors. It is a wellascertained fact that from the date of the publication of The Lady of the Lake, the post-horse duty in Scotland rose to an extraordinary degree." Five editions of The Lady of the Lake, numbering in all over twenty thousand copies, were sold during the year of publication, and ten thousand more before 1825, when the poem was included in Scott's collected works.

The rest of Scott's life must be shortly told. Other poems— Don Roderick, Rokeby, The Bridal of Triermain (published at first anonymously) and The Lord of the Isles-followed in succession. But the popularity of Scott's poems declined. Rokeby, and still more The Lord of the Isles, seemed to lack the freshness of the earlier poems, and Byron had begun to catch the public ear with his more luxurious and sensuous oriental ballads.

Meanwhile, in 1814, Scott published, anonymously, Waverley, the first of that wonderful series of Waverley Novels that has made him even more famous as a novelist than as a poet. Riches and honour came to Scott, and the little farm on the Tweed, to which he had moved from Ashestiel, grew into the castle and estate of Abbotsford. He had been appointed, in 1807, Clerk to the Court of Session at Edinburgh, and in 1820 was made a baronet by George IV. But in 1825 a publishing firm, in which Scott was a sleeping partner, became bankrupt, with debts of over £100,000, which Scott felt himself bound in honour to pay. The rest of his life is the story of his brave struggle to raise this immense sum. The general regard felt for him was shewn by the offers of help which he received from all sides as soon as his position became known. But he declined them all, as he was determined that "his own right hand should do it." By hard work he had paid more than half the amount, when his health broke down, and after a voyage to Italy in a frigate placed at his disposal by the Government, he came home, only to die at Abbotsford, within hearing of the murmur of his loved Tweed, in 1832.

The Poem: its natural scenery.

The Lady of the Lake no doubt owed some part of its popularity to the beauty of the scenery which forms the background to the incidents of the poem. The Highlands of Scotland were not altogether unknown when Scott made them the scene of this poem. As early as 1703 Martin's Description of the Western Islands of Scotland had aroused interest in Highland customs and scenery, and had inspired Collins' Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, considered as the subject of poetry, in which he urges Home, the author of the tragedy of Douglas, to take his pencil to his hand, and paint the Highlander and his customs. After the suppression of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 a small but constantly growing band of travellers visited the northern districts of Scotland, and not a few books were written describing the scenery. Dr Johnson's tour in Scotland is famous, and a full and interesting description of parts of this region was published by Pennant in 1769. In 1794 Mr Robertson, a minister in Callander, speaks of the Trosachs as already frequented by “persons of taste who are desirous of seeing Nature in her rudest and most unpolished shapes." But as with the Romantic revival, so with the scenery of the Highlands, it was Scott who first popularized what was already known only to a cultured few.

The district in which the greater part of the poem is located lies around three lakes in west Perthshire-Lochs Vennachar, Achray and Katrine. Loch Vennachar, the most easterly of these, is an uninteresting sheet of water, except on its northern shore, where the dark mass of Ben Ledi rises 'ridge on ridge.' After passing the Brigg of Turk and the entrance to Glenfinlas, the road skirts Loch Achray, a silver lake the quiet beauty of which sets off by contrast the wild grandeur of the Trosachs. The Pass of the Trosachs, hemmed in by Ben Venue on the south, and by the ridge of Ben-an on the north, extends for about two miles, from the western shore of Loch Achray to the silver strand on Loch Katrine. The road winds among

rocky hillocks, which rise out of the thick wood that covers the valley and the slopes of the cliffs that surround it; and the whole forms as romantic a scene as could well be imagined. Loch Katrine opens gradually on the view-" a narrow inlet, still and deep"-fringed with thickly wooded promontories and islands along its eastern shores, but growing bare and unin. teresting towards the west.

Scott uses the beauty of this scenery very skilfully in maintaining the interest of the poem. We are made to move through it as the plot developes; every Canto opens with a sunrise painted with a master hand, and almost every incident has its background of lake, wood or hill

This use of natural scenery is an interesting feature of Scott's poetry. In older Romance poetry supernatural agencies play a large part, and help to awaken and sustain interest. The background of the stage is crowded with gnomes and giants, spectres and goblins. But Scott wrote for an age when men's imaginations were stirred more by the beauty of the natural world than by the wonder of the supernatural. And so, while the German Romance writers, and their English followers like Lewis, 'harked back' to the supernatural machinery of earlier Romances, Scott, in The Lady of the Lake, weaves into his story the world of nature instead.

In Scott's treatment of natural scenery two points of interest may be noted. In the first place, Scott regards the world of nature as a painter rather than as a poet, He does not find in her a solution of human problems, or an echo of human passions. He pictures natural scenes as he sees them, studies in light and colour. Form, as Ruskin points out, occupies little place in his descriptions, and in the one passage in this poem where he tries to give form to the scenery, the whole machinery of cupolas, minarets and pagodas gives a less vivid and true picture than the one line that describes the sunset view of Loch Katrine:

"One broad sheet of living gold."

It is this sense of the charm of colour that makes Scott

select hills and lakes, where broad colour-effects are best seen, as the prominent natural objects in the scenery of his poems.

But Scott also sees Nature with the eye of an antiquarian. It is thoroughly characteristic of his view of scenery that he makes Fitz-James, in Canto I. xv., picture the shores of Loch Katrine as occupied with all the machinery of mediaeval Feudalism-castle, bower, cloister, and cell. Just so Scott had from his earliest years loved to dream of the castles and hills of his own Border country as full of the moss-troopers and barons of the old days of foray and war; and it was this power of associating every scene with the life of the past that made Scott the greatest Romance writer of his own, or perhaps of any other age.

Chief characters.

James V. is the only historical character who appears in The Lady of the Lake. He was born in 1512, and succeeded to the Scottish throne in 1513, after the death of James IV. at Flodden. During the years of his minority he was kept almost a captive by a group of nobles who ruled in his name (see v. vi. 11-16). The Duke of Albany, the nominal Regent, was gradually ousted from power by the party of the Earl of Angus, the king's stepfather, who became practical regent, and guardian of the king, in 1526. Two years later the young king escaped from his control, and Angus and all his family were banished. After some years, spent in reducing the Border and Highland clans to order, James visited France, in 1536, and married Magdalen, the daughter of the French King. On his return he alienated many of his nobles by attempting to curb their power, and finally became involved in a war with Henry VIII., which resulted in the defeat of his army at Solway Moss-an event which is said to have caused his death, which took place in December, 1542.

James was regarded as a friend of the lower orders, and was popularly known as the King of the Commons. Many stories

are told of his adventures when wandering in disguise through his dominions, generally under the name of the Gudeman (i.e. farmer) of Ballenguich, a name which Scott found unsuited for poetry, and so changed to the Knight of Snowdoun.

The character of James in this poem illustrates Byron's remark to the Regent that Scott was "particularly the poet of Princes, for they never appeared more fascinating than in Marmion and The Lady of the Lake." The picture of the King is true to history except in one particular-he is described as middle-aged. This change, unimportant in itself, is interesting as illustrating Scott's preference for middle-aged heroes. Cranstoun and Deloraine in the Lay, Marmion and De Wilton in Marmion, Roderick Dhu and Fitz-James in this poem, are all examples in point. Possibly this preference may be due to the fact that Scott was himself verging on middle-age when these poems were written.

James Douglas, the supposed uncle of the Earl of Angus, is a fictitious character. Representatives of the Douglas family appear in all Scott's first poems. The older branch of the family had fallen into obscurity under James III.; and the Earls of Angus, the representatives of a younger branch, whom he raised to power, were from this time forward among the most powerful Scottish nobles till their exile under James V. Scott has transferred to James Douglas the guardianship of the King, which had been exercised by Angus, and in the return of Douglas in Canto v. he has followed to some extent the history of Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie, an uncle of Angus, and a friend of the King's boyhood, whose return to Court, however, ended not in reconciliation but in his banishment to France.

The exiled Douglas, confronting adversity with stately and uncomplaining dignity, stands in strong contrast with the impetuous and passionate Highland chief under whose protection he lives. Roderick Dhu is an illustration of the difficulty, which other poets besides Scott have found, of preventing the villain of a poem from becoming its hero. It is only by keeping constantly in the foreground the reckless and brutal character of Roderick's raids that Scott succeeds in retaining us on the

« AnteriorContinuar »