Again Scott’s apprehension of the spirit of chivalry, though less imperfect than his apprehension of the spirit of mediaeval Catholicism, was but partial. Of the themes which Ariosto sang—
“Le donne, i cavalier, l’arme,
Le cortesie, l’audaci imprese io canto”—
the northern Ariosto sang bravely the arme and the audaci imprese; less confidently the amori and the cortesie. He could sympathise with the knight-errant’s high sense of honour and his love of bold emprise; not so well with his service of dames. Mediaeval courtship or “love-drurye,” the trembling self-abasement of the lover before his lady, the fantastic refinements and excesses of gallantry, were alien to Scott’s manly and eminently practical turn of mind. It is hardly possible to fancy him reading the “Roman de la Rose” with patience—he thought “Troilus and Creseyde” tedious, which Rossetti pronounces the finest of English love poems; or selecting for treatment the story of Heloise or Tristram and Iseult, or of “Le Chevalier de la Charette”; or such a typical mediaeval life as that of Ulrich von Liechtenstein. These were quite as truly beyond his sphere as a church legend like the life of Saint Margaret or the quest of the Sangreal. In the “Talisman” he praises in terms only less eloquent than Burke’s famous words, “that wild spirit of chivalry which, amid its most extravagant and fantastic nights, was still pure from all selfish alloy—generous, devoted, and perhaps only thus far censurable, that it proposed objects and courses of action inconsistent with the frailties and imperfections of man.” In “Ivanhoe,” too, there is something like a dithyrambic lament over the decay of knighthood—“The ’scutcheons have long mouldered from the walls,” etc.; but even here, enthusiasm is tempered by good sense, and Richard of the Lion Heart is described as an example of the “brilliant but useless character of a knight of romance.” All this is but to say that the picture of the Middle Age which Scott painted was not complete. Still it was more nearly complete than has yet been given by any other hand; and the artist remains, in Stevenson’s phrase, “the king of the Romantics.”
“Jamais homme de genie n’a eu l’honneur et le bonheur d’etre imite par plus d’hommes de genie, si tous les grands ecrivains de l’epoque romantique depuis Victor Hugo jusqu’a Balzac et depuis Alfred de Vigny jusqu’a Merimee, lui doivent tous et se sont tous glorifies de lui devoir quelque chose. . . . Il doit nous suffire pour l’instant d’affirmer que l’influence de Walter Scott est a la racine meme des grandes oeuvres qui ont donne au nouveau genre tant d’eclat dans notre litterature; que c’est elle qui les a inspirees, suscitees, fait eclore; que sans lui nous n’aurions ni ‘Hans d’Islande,’ ni ‘Cinq-Mars,’ ni ‘Les Chouans,’ ni la ‘Chronique de Charles IX.,’ ni ‘Notre Dame de Paris,’ . . . Ce n’est rien moins que le romantisme lui-meme dont elle a hate l’incubation, facilite l’eclosion, aide le developpement.”—MAIGRON, “Le Roman Historique,” p. 143.