Carlyle describes him as “a precise, brief, active person of considerable faculty, which however, had shaped itself gigmanically only. Fond of quizzing, yet not very maliciously. Has a broad, black brow, indicating force and penetration, but the lower half of the face diminishing into the character at best of distinctness, almost of triviality.”
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There is certainly a good deal of perversity about the abuse of Vathek, so startlingly combined with almost immoderate eulogy: to which the discriminating enthusiasm of his Coleridge affords a pleasing contrast.
It should be noticed that Lockhart has also been credited with the bitter critical part of the Jane Eyre review, printed below—of which any man ought to have been ashamed—as Miss Rigby (afterwards Lady Eastlake) is believed to have written “the part about the governess.” He probably had a hand in the Blackwood series on “The Cockney School of Poetry” (see below); and, in some ways, those reviews are more characteristic.
It would be out of place here to enter upon any biography or criticism of the author of Waverley, or for that matter of Jane Austen. It is sufficient to notice that Scott has found something generous to say (in diaries, letters, or formal criticism) on every writer he had occasion to mention, and that in his somewhat neglected, but frequently quoted, Lives of the Novelists, a striking pre-eminence was given to women; particularly Mrs. Radcliffe and Clara Reeve. Indeed, the essay on Mrs. Radcliffe, a “very novel and rather heretical revelation” is “probably the best in the whole set.”
We remember, too, the famous passage in his General Preface to the Waverley Novels:—“without being so presumptuous as to hope to emulate the rich humour, pathetic tenderness and admirable tact of my accomplished friend, I felt that something might be attempted for my own country, of the same kind with that which Miss Edgeworth so fortunately achieved for Ireland";—an ambition of which the modesty only equals the success achieved.
In “appreciating” Jane Austen, indeed, Scott is far more cautious, if not apologetic, than any critic of to-day would dream of being; but, when we remember the prejudices then existing against women writers (despite the popularity of Madame D’Arblay) and the well-nigh universal neglect accorded the author of Pride and Prejudice, we should perhaps rather marvel at the independent sincerity of his pronounced praise. The article, at any rate, has historic significance, as the first serious recognition of her immortal work.