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St. Ronan's Well   By: (1771-1832)

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Standard Edition

St. Ronan's Well


Sir Walter Scott, Bart.


With Introductory Essay and Notes

by Andrew Lang


Dana Estes and Company Publishers ... Boston

The Standard Edition

of the Novels and Poems of Sir Walter Scott. Limited to one thousand numbered and registered sets, of which this is

No. 835

Copyright, 1894. BY ESTES AND LAURIAT




PAGE Meg Dods (p. 13) Frontispiece The Meeting in the Wood 137 Preparing for the Duel 198


Reappearance of Tyrrel 127 Clara entering Tyrrel's Room 307




"'St. Ronan's Well' is not so much my favourite as certain of its predecessors," Lady Louisa Stuart wrote to Scott on March 26, 1824. "Yet still I see the author's hand in it, et c'est tout dire . Meg Dods, the meeting" (vol. i. chap. ix.), "and the last scene between Clara and her brother, are marked with the true stamp, not to be matched or mistaken. Is the Siege of Ptolemais really on the anvil?" she goes on, speaking of the projected Crusading Tales, and obviously anxious to part company with "St. Ronan's Well." All judgments have not agreed with Lady Louisa's. There is a literary legend or fable according to which a number of distinguished men, all admirers of Scott, wrote down separately the name of their favourite Waverley novel, and all, when the papers were compared, had written "St. Ronan's." Sydney Smith, writing to Constable on Dec. 28, 1823, described the new story as "far the best that has appeared for some time. Every now and then there is some mistaken or overcharged humour but much excellent delineation of character, the story very well told, and the whole very interesting. Lady Binks, the old landlady, and Touchwood are all very good. Mrs. Blower particularly so. So are MacTurk and Lady Penelope. I wish he would give his people better names; Sir Bingo Binks is quite ridiculous.... The curtain should have dropped on finding Clara's glove. Some of the serious scenes with Clara and her brother are very fine: the knife scene masterly. In her light and gay moments Clara is very vulgar; but Sir Walter always fails in well bred men and women, and yet who has seen more of both? and who, in the ordinary intercourse of society, is better bred? Upon the whole, I call this a very successful exhibition."

We have seldom found Sydney Smith giving higher praise, and nobody can deny the justice of the censure with which it is qualified. Scott himself explains, in his Introduction, how, in his quest of novelty, he invaded modern life, and the domain of Miss Austen. Unhappily he proved by example the truth of his own opinion that he could do "the big bow wow strain" very well, but that it was not his celebrare domestica facta . Unlike George Sand, Sir Walter had humour abundantly, but, as the French writer said of herself, he was wholly destitute of esprit .

We need not linger over definition of these qualities; but we must recognise, in Scott, the absence of lightness of touch, of delicacy in the small sword play of conversation. In fencing, all should be done, the masters tell us, with the fingers. Scott works not even with the wrist, but with the whole arm. The two handed sword, the old claymore, are his weapons, not the rapier. This was plain enough in the word combats of Queen Mary and her lady gaoler in Loch Leven. Much more conspicuous is the "swashing blow" in the repartee of "St. Ronan's." The insults lavished on Lady Binks are violent and cruel; even Clara Mowbray taunts her... Continue reading book >>

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