WALTER SCOTT AND THE COMMON NOVEL, 18081819
Scott’s strategy from the commencement of the Waverley Novels, it might be argued, was to create a ‘superior’ kind of fiction, pitched in such a way as to draw back a male book-buying audience as acknowledged readers of fiction. Ina Ferris in her The Achievement of Literary Authority (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1991) has shown how the privileged discourses at work in Waverley; or, ’Tis Sixty Years Since (1814) and its immediate successors were capable of interlocking smoothly with the social-historical outlook of the Edinburgh and Quarterly reviews, whose sales at this time exceeded 10,000. A similar equivalence can be sensed in the seemingly gentle but condescending spoofing of ‘common’  fictional modes in the first chapter of Waverley, a routine similar to that found in Scott’s review of Maturin’s Fatal Revenge for the Quarterly in 1810. Contemporary reviewers followed suit in signalising Scott as an exceptional novelist who had single-handedly rescued the genre, and traditional literary history has completed the process in proclaiming Scott as the innovator of a new historical novel. In recent years, several commentators have challenged this view in the light of Scott’s position vis-à-vis a mostly female-authored ‘national’ fiction, stemming from Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806). Yet there is perhaps a danger in such moves of positioning newly privileged authors ahead of old favourites, while continuing to ignore uncharted ground below.
This essay aims to show that Scott was more in tune with current trends and development in contemporary fiction, especially in the years immediately prior to the publication of Waverley, than his official aloof stance might suggest. It comes in the immediate wake of the completion of a new Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles 1770–1830, scheduled for publication in two volumes in Spring 2000. In all, the second volume, covering the years 1800–1829 inclusive, provides details of 2,256 novels, published for the first time during these thirty years, a large proportion of the entries being based on first editions held in the library of Castle Corvey, in Germany. Viewed from this vantage point, Scott’s early fiction output can take on a very different aspect compared with that provided by the official literary historical version or by some of the new realignments. Even handling Scott’s earlier, unspectacularly-presented (12mo) fiction alongside contemporaneous fiction has the effect of diminishing a sense of difference.
It would be misleading to present Scott as a wholesale reader of novels throughout his lifehis busy public and private career clearly militated against that. On the other hand, there is a danger in fostering an exaggerated reverse picture, with Lady Scott glutting herself of ‘common’ female novels from the circulating library, and Scott churning out masculine masterpieces which she herself hardly knew about. In particular, there appear to have been two phases when Scott was especially involved in fiction. The first, which is relatively well known, occurred in the later 1780s, when he was apprenticed to his father, and is recorded by the Ashestiel ‘Memoir’ in a section probably written about 1810:
My desk usually contained a store of the most miscellaneous volumes especially works of fiction of every kind which were my supreme delight. … all that was adventurous and romantic I devoured without much discrimination and I really believe that I have read as much nonsense of this class as any man now living.
Scott also mentions his subscription to James Sibbald’s Edinburgh Circulating Library, and, though the connection is not explicitly made, it is more than likely that most of his novels were procured that way. A near contemporary surviving Catalogue [1780–6] of Sibbald’s library, indicates fiction holdings of approximately 20% from nearly 4,500 items, while appendices point to an accession rate of some sixty novels annually in the mid-1780s. This latter reflects an explosion in the production of new fiction generally at this time, much of it by women authors, with production doubling in 1785 and reaching new heights near the end of the decade.
The second period of involvement is less well recorded. Its roots lay in a scheme for a collected edition of novelists, first discussed between Scott and the publisher John Murray at Ashestiel early in October 1808, aimed at replacing the faded-looking Harrison’s Novelist’s Magazine (1780–8). From the start it was envisaged that the set, in addition to the main classics, should include in its later volumes more modern works. Murray’s letter from London of 26 October, shortly after his return, includes under the heading ‘Novels for Consideration’ several titles from the later 1780s, as well as some translated titles only just issued. Scott in his letter of 30 October, which crossed with Murray’s, pressed the case for the inclusion of material still in copyright; and also requested that Murray send Hookham’s and Lane’s circulating library catalogues so that he could survey the field. On 17 November Murray was able to send the specified catalogues, the same letter enclosing a list considerably extending the agreed ‘additional’ titles, with works such as Charlotte Smith’s Old Manor House (1793), Ann Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest (1791) and Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1801)marked as a group as ‘all Copy R[igh]t’. Murray’s letters also show him sending copies of novels to Scott by mail-coach, a procedure that probably accelerated when the latter’s planned visit south was postponed. In many ways, the situation parallels that of the 1780s, though Scott’s own position changes from consumer to a potential exploiter of the mode. Output of new fiction at this time was booming, as Figure 1, based on the entries in the forthcoming Novels bibliography, illustrates. In all 111 new titles are found with 1808 imprints, the largest figure by far for the years surveyed.
Fig 1. Total Output of New Fiction, 1800–29
The novels scheme continued into the new year, but then foundered on the breakdown of relations between Murray and James and John Ballantyne (Scotts printer and literary agent respectively), and was finally pre-empted by the appearance of Anna Barbauld’s fifty-volume British Novelists (1810). One survivor from the wreck, I would suggest, however, is no less than Waverley itself. Similarities between the first chapter’s burlesque of novel modes and the Maturin review, as well as other internal and bibliographical evidence, point to an inception in 1808/9, rather than as Scott later implied in 1805. The next clear sign of an engagement occurs in early Autumn 1810, when sample chapters were sent to James Ballantyne, and his brother John, newly established as a bookseller/publisher, advertised Waverley as ‘in the press’. Though the evidence again is ultimately unclear, it seems likely that Scott, encouraged partly by the now evident popularity of the ‘national tale’, went on to write the Highland incidents in the story, before falling back on the more certain rewards of another poem.
If Scott’s own account is to be believed the unfinished manuscript went into the attic at Abbotsford, and was forgotten, but in reality, with an uncompleted novel on hand he most likely kept a firm eye on the market. This would have been facilitated through John Ballantyne’s association with Longman & Co, for whom Ballantyne now served as Edinburgh agent. Longmans were steady ‘middle-market’ producers of fiction at this period, publishing between 1810 and 1814 some thirty new titles, representing slightly less than 10% of output, against a noticeably smaller base. By this stage the house had built up a group of regular (mainly female) novelists, such as Amelia Opie and the Porter sisters, on occasions paying out advances as large as four or five hundred guineas. As Figure 2 indicates, their list reflected a more general pattern of female dominance in the period, with women novelists accounting for more than 50% of production in six years between 1810–17, even allowing for a considerable gender-unknown component. Female-authored novels outnumber those by males by two to one in years 1810, 1812, 1813, 1814, and 1816, and are never exceeded during the whole decade. As these figures suggest, the Waverley novels first emerged at a time when male authorship was at an unusually low ebb; though from 1820 the position changes sharply, and by the later 1820s, no doubt partly because of Scott’s influence, male novelists are dominant.
Fig 2. Gender, by Percentage, 1800–29
The bibliographical entries below describe three novels, all by women writers, which Scott might have come across in his second main engagement with fiction, and where it is possible to draw interesting parallels with the first phase of Waverley fictions to 1819.
THE LOYALISTS: AN HISTORICAL NOVEL. BY THE AUTHOR OF LETTERS TO A YOUNG MAN, A TALE OF THE TIMES, &C. IN THREE VOLUMES.
London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, Paternoster-Row, 1812.
I 364p; II 307p; III 352p. 12mo. 21s (ECB, ER, QR).
ER 20: 501 (Nov 1812); QR 7: 471 (June 1812); WSW I: 557.
BRu ENC; ECB 631; NSTC W1348 (BI BL, C, O).
Notes: Further edns: 2nd edn. 1812 (Corvey), CME 3-628-48893-1; Boston 1813 (NUC).
SANTO SEBASTIANO: OR, THE YOUNG PROTECTOR. A NOVEL. IN FIVE VOLUMES. BY THE AUTHOR OF THE ROMANCE OF THE PYRENÉES.
London: Printed for George Robinson, 25, Paternoster-Row, 1806.
I 418p; II 405p; III 416p; IV 422p; V 455p. 12mo. 30s (ECB, ER).
ER 9: 500 (Jan 1807); WSW I: 233.
BL 12650.aaa.166; ECB 514; NSTC C4645 (BI E).
Notes: Colophon in vol. 1 reads: ‘T. Davison, Printer, Whitefriars’, vol. 2, 3, and 4 read: ‘Printed by William Ballintine, Duke-Street, York-buildings, Strand’, vol. 5 reads: ‘Printed by S. Hollingsworth, Crane-Court, Fleet-street’.
Further edns: 2nd edn. 1809 (NSTC); 3rd edn. 1814 (Corvey), CME 3-628-48619-X; 4th edn. 1820 (NUC); 1847 (NSTC); Philadelphia 1813 (NUC). Published in penny numbers as The Heiress of Montalvan; or, First and Second Love, W. Caffyn, Oxford Street, London, 1845-6 (Summers).
COTTIN, [Sophie Ristaud]; MEEKE, [Mary] (trans.).
ELIZABETH; OR, THE EXILES OF SIBERIA. A TALE, FOUNDED ON FACTS. ALTERED FROM THE FRENCH OF MADAME DE COTTIN, BY MRS. MEEKE.
London: Printed at the Minerva-Press, for Lane, Newman, and Co. Leadenhall-Street, 1807.
vi, 237p. 12mo. 4s 6d (ER).
ER 10: 241 (Apr 1807), 10: 493 (July 1807).
CtY Hfd29.602m; xNSTC.
Notes: Trans. of Élisabeth, ou les exilés de Sibérie (Paris, 1806). This story also appeared with Meeke’s translation of Ducray-Duminil’s Julien; or, My Father’s House (CME 3-628-48208-9), published by the Minerva Press with the same year imprint. French language version of this tale received a full review in ER, 11: 448-62 (Jan 1808). ECB 138 lists 3rd edn. 1809, Tegg, 3s.
Further edns: 1808 (NSTC C3815); 3rd edn. 1809 (NSTC); 1810 (NSTC); Dublin 1811 (NSTC); 1814 (NSTC); [at least 15 more edns. to 1850]; Philadelphia 1808 (NUC).
The Loyalists: An Historical Novel, by Mrs Jane West appeared in 1812, by which point West was an established author, well known for a series of conservative anti-Jacobin novels, all published by Longmans, beginning with A Gossip’s Story (1796). In this instance (her fifth novel) she makes a distinctive shift in employing a historical setting, the English Civil War. The story’s hero, Evellin, a loyal royalist, is in reality Sir Allan Neville, heir to the Earldom of Bellingham, who, on the advice of his treacherous brother-in-law, De Vallance, has fled from London. Evellin finds a temporary haven in Ribbesdale, Lancashire, where he eventually marries Isabel, the sister of the staunchly Anglican divine Dr Beaumont. A rival local admirer of Isabel had been the fainéant Sir William Waverly [sic] of Waverly Park, ‘lord of a vast demesne, but selfish, ignorant, scant of courtesy, and proud of wealth’ (I, 36). With the onset of hostilities, in spite of entreaties from the now Colonel Evellin, Sir William hedges his bets, fearful of losing out. At last he throws his hat in with Prince Rupert, but is then mortally wounded, reportedly shot by his own son, who at his instigation had joined the Cromwellian forces. Waverly Hall becomes ‘a complete ruin’:
A few of the meaner offices, and a part of the walls, marked where the residence stood, which once sheltered crafty selfishness. The park afforded a temporary asylum to a gang of gipseys, whose cattle grazed unmolested on the unclaimed demesne … (II, 179)
This was not the first wavering Waverley to have appeared in a novel: as Wilbur L. Cross’s article of 1902 indicates, the most likely single source for Scott’s choice is Charlotte Smith’s Desmond (1792). The composition of the early chapters of Waverley at least by 1810 also clearly precludes any possibility that West’s novel influenced the inception of Scott’s work. Yet there are a number of factors which might have guided Scott to this title in the interim years before completiona similarity in subject to Rokeby (1813) is oneso it is perhaps not entirely vain to look for an element of overlap in the later stages of Scott’s novel. The dilapidation of West’s Waverly Hall matches in some ways the devastation at Tully-Veolan in Waverley after the suppression of the Jacobite rising, though Scott’s account offers a bleaker and more generalised view of the downside of civil discord. In both novels, too, the renovated and re-possessed estate offers a symbol for a newly united society. In West’s account, the inheritors are Evellin’s daughter, Isabel, and her husband, the decent son of the dastardly De Vallance:
It was agreed to disuse the dishonoured name of De Vallance, and adopt the endeared appellative of Evellin, to which was annexed the title of Baronet. Waverly-Park was now changed into Evellin-hall. An elegant mansion was erected on the scite of the ruins … (III, 341)
It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that West’s novel left trace marks on a number of subsequent Waverley novels, say The Tale of Old Mortality (1816). A single instance must suffice here, however, to show how similar motifs were manipulated by both authors, albeit ultimately in different ways. One interesting feature of The Loyalists is the way in which the anagram Evellin is employed to mask the identity of Sir Allan Neville, finally persisting to the extent that it serves to re-name an estate. In Scott’s third novel, The Antiquary (1816), the unknown Lovel first emerges from his chrysalis as Major Neville, and then is revealed to be the son of Eveline, the deceased wife of Earl of Glenallan. Scott’s relish in the word play involved is apparent in the following exchange:
But whowho is he? continued Lord Glenallan, holding the Antiquary with a convulsive grasp.
Formerly I would have called him Lovel, but now he turns out to be Major Neville.
Whom my brother brought up as his natural sonwhom he made his heirGracious Heaven! the child of my Eveline!
In this instance, however, the disclosure of disguises leads more directly and obtrusively to the restoration of male lineage.
The second novel first came to my attention indirectly, and at first hardly seemed worth following as a lead. In his Recollections of Sir Walter Scott (1837), R. P. Gillies recalls a visit by Scott circa 1813 to his private library when Scott ‘wished to find out a now-forgotten novel, entitled Santo Sebastiano . Santo Sebastiano: Or, the Young Protector, an anonymous work by Catherine Cuthbertson, was first published in 1806, and rapidly became one of the most popular novels of its time. Cuthbertson’s output was widely advertised in front-page adverts in both the London and Edinburgh, and between 1810–14 she stood at the height of her (anonymous) fame. Notwithstanding its unwieldy look, Santo Sebastiano is still immensely readable, filled as it is with interesting characters and dramatic incidents, and marked by sharp social satire. Its orphan heroine, Julia de Clifford, not unexpectedly considering the commonness of such denouements, turns out to be a rich heiress, as the granddaughter of the Duke of Avondale. Nevertheless in constructing the plot Cuthbertson shows unusual skill, in holding together two main components: present events in England and past events which have already taken place abroad, the revelation of the latter eventually disclosing the mystery of identity. One interesting effect is the way in which the unknown and alien unexpectedly intrude into the domestic present. An incident of this kind takes place when Julia, walking on the Dorsetshire seashore, is almost kidnapped by seamen:
one of the men instantly sprung from the boat, and, fleet as the wind, almost instantaneously seized her in his arms, and was bearing her, struggling, shrieking, to the boat; when two gentlemen, on horseback, with attendants, came at full speed down the path-way, and presenting pistols at the man who held Julia, he let her drop, deprived of senses, upon the sands; and taking to the boat, again, he, with his companions, got off to the cutter, which immediately stood out to sea. (II, 189–90)
As a whole the novel throws up a number of parallels with Guy Mannering (1815), Scott’s second novel, which in the course of composition Scott himself described as ‘a tale of private life only varied by the perilous exploits of smugglers and excisemen’. Just as in the above seashore incident one might sense the seeds of the kidnapping of the young Henry Bertram, which ends the first narrative phase in Guy, so another attempt on Julia de Clifford’s life, a sudden and abortive shooting, brings to mind the wounding of young Hazelwood by the newly-returned Bertram (consecutive Ch. 31). The saviour of Cuthbertson’s heroine is her secret protector and eventual husband:
Lord St. Orville, encircling our heroine’s waist with his left arm, pressed her with convulsive eagerness to his breast, to shield her from threatened destruction; and with his right hand grasped at a pistol, directed to her heart; but as, with almost frensied rapidity, he turned the muzzle from her, he received the contents of the dreadful weapon in his side. (III, 302)
At this point one approaches a level of difference. Scott’s account is given through the eyes of Julia Mannering, herself an avid reader of novels and something of a self-dramatist. One might also point to broader re-orientations, such as Scott’s masculinisation of the familiar trope in women’s fiction of the rediscovered heiress. Whereas the Julia de Clifford’s social position remains painfully uncertain for the bulk of Cuthbertson’s novel, in Guy, with the past disruptions already mostly laid out, there is little doubt who Brown really is when he purposefully first strides into novel. Already it could argued Scott is found actively ‘recycling’ female forms of fiction into heartier and more profitable male equivalents.
The last title for consideration is Sophie Cottin’s short tale, Elizabeth; or, the Exiles of Siberia, first published in French in 1806, which includes a number of parallels with Scott’s The Heart of Mid-Lothian (1818). Cottin’s ‘Elizabeth’ was one of the most recent works to be considered for inclusion in Murray and Scott’s projected edition of novelsas a foreign work it was not subject to the rules of copyright and hence freely available. It was first published in English in a translation by Mary Meeke, packaged in 1807 by the Minerva Press both as a single volume and as a makeweight in another work translated by Meeke (see ‘Notes’ field in Entry listed above). Mrs Meeke, at that point, was one of the Minerva’s most popular and successful authors. Indeed, between 1796 and 1823 she was responsible for no less twenty-five original works of fiction in ninety-three volumes, making her unquestionably the most prolific novelist of the Romantic era, outmatching incidentally Scott’s own twenty-three novels in seventy-five volumes. Elizabeth itself rapidly gained a reputation as a classic moral tale, and was frequently reprinted both in Meeke’s and other translations. In fact, no other work included in the forthcoming Novels Bibliography, for the years 1800–29, received more further editions to a cut-off point in 1850at least twenty to that date. This figure excludes versions in French, which were also much in use as an educational tool, as combining language tuition with homiletic instruction.
When planning with the Heart of Mid-Lothian a novel that would highlight Presbyterian virtues, it is not impossible that Scott’s mind hit on this classic pietistic story, itself by now more exclusively marketed as a text for ‘young persons’. Certainly the similarities between the two plots are striking. In Elizabeth, the heroine makes a long trip on foot to plead on behalf of her exiled parents, finally gaining a pardon through a direct appeal to the Emperor in Moscow. In the Heart, Jeanie Deans’s journey to London likewise culminates in a similar appeal to the Crown, in the person of Queen Caroline. There are also some interesting overlaps in the specifics of both narratives. Cottin’s Elizabeth enlists the support of an admirer, Smoloff, the governor’s son, while planning her journey, confiding in him first, though eventually her parents are told before she sets off. Jeanie leaves without telling her father, but the gap is filled by her admirer and confidant, Butler, who sends a letter to Davie Deans. Both heroines are waylaid by robbers, but are guarded by a firm faith. Just as Jeanie resides in London with Mrs Glass, Elizabeth after arriving in Moscow receives protection from an innkeeper and his wife. Whereas the Duke of Argyle accompanies Jeanie at her interview with Caroline, in Elizabeth Smoloff, who is found in attendance on the Emperor, performs a similar function.
If there is an essential difference, it lies in Scott’s application of the story. Elizabeth’s journey serves as an illustration of filial devotion and piety, Jeanie’s provides a model through which Scott can explore the issue of Anglo-Scottish relations after the Union. An initially private concern is thus made obtrusively public in its bearing, encouraging assessments such as Monthly Review’s that the author had ‘raise[d] himself from the general mass of novelists to sit on the same bench with the annalists of his country’. Noticeably less effusive was the reviewer in Blackwood’s Magazine, almost certainly the veteran Henry Mackenzie, who noted a number of specifically literary prototypes, including for Jeanie’s character and journey ‘the French story of Elizabeth ’.
How new then was Waverley? Very new according to Henry Cockburn: ‘The unexpected newness of the thing, the profusion of original characters, the Scotch language, Scotch scenery, Scotch men and women, the simplicity of the writing, and the graphic force of the descriptions, all struck us with an electric shock of delight.’ Cockburn’s most emphatic word noticeably is ‘Scotch’, yet even here there is room for further reappraisal, notwithstanding recent manoeuvres involving the ‘national’ tale. No space as yet has been found in literary history for such works as Caledonia; or, the Stranger in Scotland: A National Tale (4 vols, 1810; CME 3-628-48270-4), written under the pseudonym of Kate Montalbion, but probably by Catherine Bayley, Sarah Wigley’s Glencarron: A Scottish Tale (3 vols, 1811; CME 3-628-48921-0), and the sequence of titles by Honoria Scott (herself possibly identifiable as Mrs Susan Fraser), which includes The Vale of Clyde: A Tale (2 vols, 1810; CME 3-628-48543-6), A Winter in Edinburgh (3 vols, 1810; CME 3-628-48544-4), and Strathmay: Or Scenes in the North, Illustrative of Scottish Manners (2 vols, 1813). Our comparative lack of knowledge of such authors and their titles, now made more accessible through Corvey, indicates that still more excavation is needed in certain domains of the novel.
This article is copyright © 1999 Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, and is the result of the independent labour of the scholar or scholars credited with authorship. The material contained in this document may be freely distributed, as long as the origin of information used has been properly credited in the appropriate manner (e.g. through bibliographic citation, etc.).
Thanks are due to the trustees of the National Library of Scotland for permission to cite manuscript materials in the library's care in this essay.
This article is a revised version of a paper originally presented at the 6th Quadrennial Meeting of the International Scott Conference, Scott, Scotland and Romanticism held at the University of Oregon, Eugene, on 2125 July 1999.
REFERRING TO THIS
P. D. GARSIDE. Walter Scott and the Common Novel, 1808-1819, Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text 3 (September 1999). Online: Internet (date accessed): <http://www.cf.ac.uk/encap/corvey/articles/cc03_n02.html>.
Peter Garside (MA Cantab., PhD Cantab., AM Harvard) is Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University and Chair of the Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research. As well as specialising in Romantic and Augustan literature, he has recently completed work on a Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles (with James Raven and Rainer Schöwerling; OUP forthcoming), and is currently editing James Hoggs Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.
His other involvements include participation in the advisory board of the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels (from 1985) and the Stirling/South Carolina Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg (from 1991), as well as editing for both projects. He has published widely in the field of Scottish fiction, publishing history, and Romantic literature, and recent publications relevant to fiction of the Romantic period include a chapter on Romantic Gothic, in Literature of the Romantic Period, ed. Michael ONeill (Oxford, 1998), pp. 31540.
Last modified 31 December, 2001 .