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brilliant passages, has always seemed to me more of a versified novelette—without the higher and broader characteristics of Scott's prose novels-than of a poem.
I suppose what one expects from a poem as distinguished from a romance-even though the poem incorporates a story— is that it should not rest for its chief interest on the mere development of the story; but rather that the narrative should be quite subordinate to that insight into the deeper side of life and manners, in expressing which poetry has so great an advantage over prose."
There is, no doubt, a measure of truth in the criticism, but the impression left on the mind after reading the poem is not so much of the actual story, as of a brilliant series of scenes and incidents, told with a vigour and picturesqueness which would be scarcely possible in prose.
It may be well, in conclusion, to try to form some estimate for ourselves of The Lady of the Lake. In doing so it must be remembered that the poem is a Metrical Romance. The special characteristics which we expect in Romance poetry are sustained and vigorous action, freshness of scene, incident and language, and a sense of reality. Romance poetry is a failure when it is dull, commonplace, or unreal.
(1) Sustained and vigorous action is certainly a characteristic of The Lady of the Lake, more than of either Marmion or The Lay. It has scarcely any dull passages, vivid pictures of scenery filling in the intervals between the incidents of the poem.
It is the vigour and energy of Scott's greatest poems that have made some critics call him 'Homeric.' In his diary he notes: "If there is anything good in my poetry, it is a hurried frankness of composition, which pleases soldiers, sailors, and young people of bold and active dispositions."
As an illustration of this power of Scott's poetry over his own countrymen an anecdote may be quoted from Lockhart.
"In the course of the day when The Lady of the Lake first reached Sir Adam Fergusson, he was posted with his company on a point of ground exposed to the enemy's artillery; somewhere, no doubt, on the lines of Torres Vedras. The men were ordered to lie prostrate on the ground; while they kept that attitude, the Captain, kneeling at their head, read aloud the description of the battle in Canto VI., and the listening soldiers only interrupted him by a joyous huzza, whenever the French shot struck the bank close above them."
(2) Freshness of scene, incident, and language, was more possible to Scott than to other Romance writers, because, as the leading reviver of Romance poetry in his age, he could bring old types into fresh use, and also because his vast antiquarian knowledge gave him access to a store of materials such as few men have enjoyed. The crowd of imitators, whom his success encouraged to follow him, could do little more than reproduce the same types, without the same power of giving variety to them. Some of the incidents in The Lady of the Lake are, in themselves, commonplaces of Romance. The gift of the ring by Fitz-James, the hospitality of Roderick to the stranger-knight, Douglas' surrender and subsequent restoration-incidents similar to these could easily be found in earlier Romance literature; but they were fresh to the age for which Scott wrote-an age that was only beginning to awaken to an interest in Romance— and they are still best known as they appear in this poem.
Freshness of language is a characteristic in which verse has necessarily a great advantage over prose, owing to its larger command of words. This is especially true of Romance poetry, which can borrow words from the past as well as the present, and so gain at once an antique tone and variety of language. In this way Scott, who is not notable among poets for command of words, manages to give freshness to the language of The Lady of the Lake. Thus a sword is described as a glaive, falchion, claymore, broad-sword, blade or brand; a boat as a shallop, frigate, barge, skiff or bark; a hill as a down, fell, brae or slope. But though the language is fresh, there is scarcely anything in Scott's poems of that almost magic art of
the use of words, that makes the verses of some poets linger in the memory like music.
(3) Reality is, or should be, the special characteristic of Romance poetry. A poet is a 'maker.' He may be a maker of thought, like Wordsworth; or of emotion, like Shelley or Keats; or he may be, like Scott, a maker of imagery, one who can create a world for us, in which we seem for the time to live and act-a Romance poet. This realization of the life and action of the past we expect to find more vivid and intense in Romance poetry than in prose. In this The Lady of the Lake is inferior to the Lay and Marmion, just as Rokeby is inferior to The Lady of the Lake.
The plot of The Lady of the Lake is more elaborate, and its characters better developed, but we do not share their life quite as fully as we fight with Marmion at Flodden, or ride with Deloraine to Melrose. Perhaps Scott himself entered more fully into the past life of the Borders than into that of the Highlands, and so can make it more vivid for us.
But the inferiority of The Lady of the Lake is only comparative, and if it has a sense of reality less strong than its predecessors, it has a more delicate beauty-the beauty of sunrise, and winding lakes, and mountain-air; of innocent love, and chivalrous valour, and patient endurance.
The Scene of the following Poem is laid chiefly in the vicinity of Loch-Katrine, in the Western Highlands of Perthshire. The time of Action includes Six Days, and the transactions of each Day occupy a Canto.
THE LADY OF THE LAKE.
HARP of the North! that mouldering long hast hung
Not thus, in ancient days of Caledon,
Was thy voice mute amid the festal crowd,
When lay of hopeless love, or glory won,
Was Knighthood's dauntless deed, and Beauty's matchless eye. L. L.