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LETTERS

TO

RICHARD HEBER, ESQ.

LETTER I.

Mirantur, ut unum
Scilicet egregii mortalem altique silentî.

Hor. Sat. II, vi. 57.

It is, I think, four years, Sir, since I had the good fortune to be present when the novels of Waverley, Guy Mannering, and The Antiquary, formed the subject of a conversation, in which you participated. On the never-failing question, to what author those delightful works should be ascribed, I was gratified by hearing you advance and strongly support the same opinion which had been for some time established in my own mind. The manner in which

you reviewed and illustrated the subject rendered it doubly interesting, and while I felt an increased confidence in the justness of my former conclusions, I became eager to confirm them, if possible, beyond a doubt, by new accessions of evidence.

Opportunities were quickly offered for the pursuit of this object. Another tale, another series of tales, and again another series, were launched with dazzling rapidity into the world by the same concealed and wonder-working hand. I failed not to remark in each successive production some characteristic features which sufficiently betrayed its origin: but the zeal with which I prosecuted this fanciful speculation was occasionally damped by the reflection that I might be wasting perseverance in penetrating a mystery which would, perhaps, in a few more days be laid open to the public hy a voluntary announcement. But days and months of expectation follow one another, and still the accomplished unknown inexorably persists in his concealment: it is even dreaded by some worthy and inquisitive persons, that the same reserved humour may descend with him to his grave; for what limits can be assigned to that man's taciturnity, who has already kept a secret nearly seven years? In the mean time public conjecture, which had long been unsettled and contradictory, has begun to take a more uniform and constant direction. I remember that when I had the pleasure of listening to you on this subject, you recapitulated the names and pretensions of several persons in whom different literary parties had affected to discern the author of Waverley. But of all these individuals there now remains only one, whose claims to that honourable title have not gradually faded into obscurity. The vague and far-fetched surmises, which engaged attention for a time, have almost every where given place to that more probable opinion, in which I had the satisfaction of concurring with you, that the historian of Waverley and Henry Bertram, of Cosmo Comyne Bradwardine and Jonathan Oldbuck; that the pensive Peter Pattieson, the sagacious Jedediah Cleishbotham, the erudite Laurence Templeton, and the discreet Captain Clutterbuck, are one and the same personage with the poetical chronicler of Flodden Field and Bannockburn, the enchanting minstrel of Loch-Katrine, the grey-headed harper whose romantic verse beguiled the melancholy of Monmouth's widow, and the cunning yeoman of Cumberland, who wooed a simple heiress with legends of King Arthur's knights, and carried her to Scotland between the cantos.

Concluding then, that the object of our curiosity has unkindly determined to keep that curiosity at bay for an indefinite period, and observing most persons inclined to adopt what I conceive to be the only plausible opinion, I have collected into one series, which I now take the liberty of submitting to your consideration, those arguments which have had the greatest effect in deciding my own judgment, and which may serve to justify, if they did not originally assist in convincing, the many who think as I do. Some of the proofs which I propose to offer, have never yet, I believe, been noticed; others, although they may from time to time have presented themselves to the public mind, and insensibly given it a bias toward the opinion now prevailing, have not hitherto been closely examined or distinctly stated; and even those which are most obvious and familiar will gain something in force and clearness, when systematically arranged, and exhibited in one view.

It may at first sight appear idle and frivolous to propose the formal discussion of a subject like this; and I am not so much impressed with the importance of my own labours as to feel very deeply interested in averting the imputation. Yet I think the trifling pains bestowed on such a task may be justified even to the most rigid inquirer after utility. It is a useful exercise of the mind to pursue any truth through a course of circumstantial evidence; and as the proofs I am about to adduce will, in a great measure, be derived from the characteristic beauties and blemishes of works deservedly

admired, it is surely excusable to hope that a dissertation of this kind, considered without reference to its ultimate object, and merely as an essay of comparative criticism, will not be found wholly uninteresting or unprofitable.

It must indeed be remembered that conjectures and speculations on any matter of fact, lose all their importance as soon as that fact is positively and directly ascertained, and that on the present occasion it is in the power of one mysterious individual, by pronouncing either a broad negative or a decided affirmative, to transport my fair and hopeful fabric of presumptions into the obscure world of things lost and forgotten. But this is a catastrophe for which every builder of an hypothesis must hold himself prepared; and should the monument of my trivial researches be doomed to vanish from its place like Aladdin's palace, or the castle in the Vale of St. John*, I shall depart well satisfied if I hear a by-stander observe, that its proportions were not ungraceful, that its parts were architecturally combined, and its ornaments aptly selected.

I will now, Sir, detain you no longer by prefatory observations, which are attended with the double disadvantage of exhausting patience and augmenting expectation, but hasten to my proposed task of identifying the author of Waverley with the author of Marmion. In making this attempt, my chief dependence will be, as I have already intimated, on the internal evidence of their respective works. I neither have the means, nor feel much desire, to obtain information from other sources; it is not for me that hints break forth, and anecdotes transpire, and oracular whispers circulate; and even if I were thus privileged, it certainly is not to you that I should offer such communications as either

* Bridal of Triermain.

novel or curious, for a packet of literary news transmitted from my hands to yours would appear almost as preposterous, to use the vulgar similitude, as a London collier unlading in the Tyne.

I would, however, suggest two or three observations applying rather to the personal conduct and circumstances of the novelist and the poet, than to the character or peculiar features of the novels or poems, and which it may be as well to consider shortly by themselves in the beginning of our inquiry. The facts I propose to touch upon are all sufficiently notorious, and may already have led many persons to draw the inferences about to be stated.

If the author of Waverley be any other than the excellent poet so often alluded to, it is astonishing that he should be able to remain concealed. The various literary accomplishments and the distinguished qualifications for society so strongly evinced in all his works, would excite observation in the most crowded community, and could not but shine conspicuously in a narrow circle. That he has passed his latter years in seclusion, or in a remote country, or in any situation estranged from active life and polished intercourse, is a supposition which, although it once obtained some countenance, must now, I think, be totally abandoned. If then we cast our eyes among

those

persons whose talents and acquirements have in any degree attracted general attention, how many shall we find who have given proofs of a genius, I will not say equal, but strikingly correspondent to that which has produced the celebrated novels? One such there is, but we look in vain for a second. I therefore reason like Prince Manfred's servants in the Castle of Otranto, who when they had seen the leg of an armed giant in the gallery, and his hand upon the staircase, concluded that this same preternatural personage

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