We confess that we have, speaking generally, a great objection to what may be called historical romance, in which real and fictitious personages, and actual and fabulous events are mixed together to the utter confusion of the reader, and the unsettling of all accurate recollections of past transactions; and we cannot but wish that the ingenious and intelligent author of Waverley had rather employed himself in recording historically the character and transactions of his countrymen Sixty Years since, than in writing a work, which, though it may be, in its facts, almost true, and in its delineations perfectly accurate, will yet, in sixty years hence, be regarded, or rather, probably, disregarded, as a mere romance, and the gratuitous invention of a facetious fancy.
ON SCOTT’S “TALES OF MY LANDLORD”
[From The Quarterly Review, January, 1817]
Tales of My Landlord. 4 vols. 12mo. Third Edition. Blackwood, Edinburgh. John Murray, London. 1817.
These Tales belong obviously to a class of novels which we have already had occasion repeatedly to notice, and which have attracted the attention of the public in no common degree,—we mean Waverley, Guy Mannering, and the Antiquary, and we have little hesitation to pronounce them either entirely, or in a great measure, the work of the same author. Why he should industriously endeavour to elude observation by taking leave of us in one character, and then suddenly popping out upon us in another, we cannot pretend to guess without knowing more of his personal reasons for preserving so strict an incognito that has hitherto reached us. We can, however, conceive many reasons for a writer observing this sort of mystery; not to mention that it has certainly had its effect in keeping up the interest which his works have excited.
We do not know if the imagination of our author will sink in the opinion of the public when deprived of that degree of invention which we have been hitherto disposed to ascribe to him; but we are certain that it ought to increase the value of his portraits, that human beings have actually sate for them. These coincidences between fiction and reality are perhaps the very circumstances to which the success of these novels is in a great measure to be attributed: for, without depreciating the merit of the artist, every spectator at once recognizes in those scenes and faces which are copied from nature an air of distinct reality, which is not attached to fancy-pieces however happily conceived and elaborately executed. By what sort of freemasonry, if we may use the term, the mind arrives at this conviction, we do not pretend to guess, but every one must have felt that he instinctively and almost insensibly recognizes in painting, poetry, or other works of imagination, that which is copied from existing nature, and that he forthwith clings to it with that kindred interest which thinks nothing which is human indifferent to humanity. Before therefore we proceed to analyse the work immediately before us, we beg leave briefly to notice a few circumstances connected with its predecessors.