Walter Scott, by Henry Raeburn, 1822
While the goal here is to locate works that were in the Godmersham Park Library [GPL] that have gone missing, there is also an interest in just seeing what authors and subjects were included in the collection. I have written previously about Samuel Johnson where we find some of the works in the existing Knight Collection at Chawton House and some are unfortunately Lost Sheep.
Today I am going to look at Sir Walter Scott, an author Austen wrote about in her letters and alluded to in her works. We know she admired him but in no way tried to emulate him – in her famous letter to the Prince Regent’s Librarian James Stanier Clarke, she is certainly referring to Scott when she writes:
“I am fully sensible than an Historical Romance founded on the House of Saxe Cobourg might be more to the purpose of Profit or Popularity, than such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as I deal in – but I could no more write a Romance than an Epic Poem. – I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other notice than to save my Life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I finished the first Chapter.- No – I must keep to my own style & go on in my own Way…” (Ltr. 138(D), p. 312).
What we find in the GPL catalogue are only two works by Scott, and both remain in the Knight collection today. So no Lost Sheep. But we also find a good number of other Scott titles in this extant collection and so we might infer from this that the Austen Family were avid fans of Sir Walter Scott!
Jane Austen and Walter Scott (1771-1832) really had a fair amount to say about each other. They were contemporaries after all, and Scott a respected poet before he started writing his highly successful novels. Jane Austen is not silent on this development, and writes in Ltr. 108. 28 Sept 1814 to her niece Anna Austen (later Lefroy):
“Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. – It is not fair.- He has Fame & Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. – I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but fear I must.”
In February 1813, Austen writes her sister about Pride and Prejudice being “too light & bright & sparkling” and writes that perhaps “something unconnected with the story; an Essay on Writing, a critique of Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte…” would offer the necessary contrast.
We know she had access to his works, either in her brother’s collections or in the local circulating library. The two titles listed in the GPL 1818 catalogue are Marmion and The Lady of the Lake and she mentions both in her letters and her novels:
- Marmion (6th ed. 1810):
Marmion; a tale of flodden field, by Walter Scott, Esq. In two volumes. Sixth edition. Edinburgh / London: Printed for Archibald Constable and Company, Edinburgh: and William Miller, Albemarle-Street and John Murray, London, 1810.
- Located in the South Case: slip 1, shelf 5 (an interesting fact: Marmion was shelved at the GPL right next to Northanger Abbey!)
- Current location: Knight Collection, Chawton House
- Full text: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100613514
Austen’s thoughts on Marmion:
“Ought I to be very much pleased with Marmion? – as yet I am not. – James reads it aloud in the Eveng – the short Eveng- beginning about 10 & broken by supper…” [Note that this Letter 53, dated June 20-22, 1808 is written from Godmersham].
“Charles’s rug will be finished today, & sent tomorrow to Frank, to be consigned by him to Mr. Turner’s care – & I am going to send Marmion out with it – very generous in me, I think.” [Ltr. 64: Jan 10-22, 1809].
Later, when writing about her just published Pride and Prejudice: “There are a few Typical errors – & a ‘said he’ or a ‘said she’ would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear – but ‘I do not write for such dull Elves’ ‘As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.’” [Ltr. 79: 4 Feb 1813].
– As Deirdre Le Faye points out (Letters, 4th ed. p 420), this is a quote from Scott’s Marmion (vi. 38):
I do not rhyme to that dull elf
Who cannot image to himself…
- The Lady of the Lake (1810):
The Lady of the Lake. A poem. By Walter Scott, Esq. The fourth edition. Printed for John Ballantyne and Co. Edinburgh; and Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and William Miller, London; by James Ballantyne and Co. Edinburgh, 1810.
Austen’s references to The Lady of the Lake:
“We began Pease on Sunday, but our gatherings are very small – not at all like the Gathering in the Lady of the Lake.” [Ltr. 75. 6 June 1811].
Both Marmion and The Lady of the Lake are referred to in Persuasion: “Trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred” and in her final unfinished work Sanditon, we find the poetry-obsessed Sir Edward Denham directly quoting from both Marmion and The Lady of the Lake as he spouts off as a “Man of Feeling.”
Austen also refers to other works by Scott that are not in the GPL catalogue. As noted, some are in the current Knight Collection: these may have been in the library at the Chawton Great House, or mistakenly not listed in 1818, or never owned by Austen or her brother but added to the library by future generations:
3. The Field of Waterloo (1815):
She writes to John Murray during her brother Henry’s severe illness: “My Brother begs his Compts & best Thanks for your polite attention in supplying him with a Copy of Waterloo.” [Ltr. 124: 3 Nov 1815].
– Scott’s poem The Field of Waterloo was published in 1815 and written to raise funds for the families of soldiers killed in the battle. (Le Faye, 450). It is not extant in the Knight Collection.
4. Paul’s Letters to His Kinfolk (1815):
And later that month, she writes again to Murray: “My Brother returns Waterloo, with many thanks for the Loan of it. – We have heard much of Scott’s account of Paris – it is be not incompatible with other arrangements, would you favour us with it – supposing you have a set already opened? – You may depend upon its’ being in careful hands.” [Ltr. 126: 23 Nov 1815].
-The reference is to Scott’s Paul’s Letters to His Kinfolk (Murray, 1815), his personal writings on his travels to the battlefield of Waterloo and through Paris and occupied France. This title is in the Knight Collection.
5. The Antiquary (1816): On December 16-17, 1816 [Ltr. 146], Austen writes to her nephew James Edward Austen (later Leigh), referring to the character Isabella Wardour in Scott’s The Antiquary:
“Uncle Henry writes very superior Sermons.- You & I must try to get hold of one or two & put them in our Novels; – it would be a fine help to a volume; & we could make our Heroine read it aloud of a Sunday evening, just as well as Isabella Wardour in the Antiquary, is made to read the History of the Hartz Demon in the ruins of St Ruth – tho’ I beleive, upon recollection, Lovell is the Reader.”
The Antiquary title page, 1871 ed.
The Antiquary, considered to be Scott’s own favorite of his novels, is in the current Knight Collection.
6. The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805):
The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805): Austen directly quotes Scott’s chivalric romance on two occasions in Mansfield Park, one by Fanny and the other about Fanny, and this work, though not in the GPL catalogue, is in the Knight Collection. This is the poem that brought Scott instant success.
The other Scott works in the Knight Collection:
- The Vision of Don Roderick (1811)
- Ballads (1806)
- Rokeby (1813)
- The Waverley Novels (20 volumes)
- The Lord of the Isles (1815)
- Scott’s History of Scotland (1829-1830)
- Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830)
- Other editions of Marmion and The Lady of the Lake
- And also Lockhart’s 7 volume Life of Scott (1848)
7. The Quarterly Review (1816):
One final mention of Scott in Austen’s letters refers to the review of Emma in the Quarterly Review (issued March 1816). She writes on April 1, 1816 [Ltr. 139] to her publisher John Murray:
“I return you the Quarterly Review with many Thanks. The Authoress of Emma has no reason to complain of her treatment in it – except in the total omission of Mansfield Park.- I cannot but be sorry that so clever a Man as the Reveiwer of Emma, should consider it as unworthy of being noticed.”
Though an anonymous review, it was widely known to have been written by Walter Scott. This is still disputed by some critics. And whether Austen knew if her “so clever a Man” was Scott has also not been definitively established.
You can read the original text here at the British Library:
We can’t discuss Scott and Austen without a few words by him about her:
Sir Walter Scott wrote in his journal on March 14, 1826, with his oft-quoted “Bow-wow”:
I have amused myself occasionally very pleasantly during the last few days, by reading over Lady Morgan’s novel of _O’Donnel, which has some striking and beautiful passages of situation and description, and in the comic part is very rich and entertaining. I do not remember being so much pleased with it at first. There is a want of story, always fatal to a book the first reading–and it is well if it gets a chance of a second. Alas! poor novel! Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of _Pride and Prejudice_. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!
Scott’s journal entry for September 18, 1827, has the following reference to Austen:
Wrote five pages of the _Tales_. Walked from Huntly Burn, having gone in the carriage. Smoked my cigar with Lockhart after dinner, and then whiled away the evening over one of Miss Austen’s novels. There is a truth of painting in her writings which always delights me. They do not, it is true, get above the middle classes of society, but there she is inimitable.
Scott by William Allen
Jane Austen , by Cassandra Austen
Images of Marmion and The Lady of the Lake: the Reading with Austen website.
Image from The Antiquary is from The Geste of Robin Hood
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