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such a one it will be fully appreciated. This picture is of the simplest kind. Nowhere is the canon to which I before alluded, more rigorously obeyed. The elements of which it consists are so few, that there is scarce any grouping. But mark the skill with which the poet has chosen those few—the dark red sky above; the motion of the flame tossing and stormy, like the waves of a troubled ocean; and then, following one upon another, with a sublime slowness which the very sound of the word expresses—the fall of each massive building, checking for an instant by his own work the progress of the destroyer; and, last of all, the fire itself, victorious over every obstacle, bathing the whole landscape in its triumphant light, then, self-destroyed, sinking at once into darkness. These are the elements of a picture to which we may fairly accord that highest praise—that it is worthy of the awful reality.
In both the pictures which I have read to you there is action, or at least motion ; and I think it will be generally admitted, that as this was the kind of word-painting which Walter Scott best loved, so in this he has been most successful. Indeed, in one important respect, it is easier to draw a successful picture of action than a successful picture of still life. There we paint as the eye would see it. We paint successively that which happens successively; here we are forced to paint successively that which is present to the eye simultaneously. In the former case, therefore, we can place a great many figures successively on our canvas without imposing any very difficult task upon the imagination of the reader. In the latter case, on the other hand, where the figures are necessarily simultaneous, the poet, if he would not make his picture meagre, must assume the existence in his reader of a considerable imaginative power. Let us see how Walter Scott overcomes this difficulty. I take as an example the picture of still life in which he has been, I think, on the whole, most successful. It is the well-known passage in the “ Lady of the Lake,” in which the poet describes Loch Katrine as it first presented itself to the eye of Fitz-James :
" — Gleaming with the setting sun,
One burnish'd sheet of living gold,
Ben-an heaved high his forehead bare." It cannot be denied that this description has all the effect of a finished picture, and yet a very moderate imaginative power will suffice to place it before the mind's eye of the reader. But if we examine
it carefully we shall see, that, although a finished picture, it is far from being a minute picture. Its success is due, not to the number of the elements, which is really very small, but to the judgment with which they are chosen, and to the truthful and brilliant colouring in which each of them is drawn. If you would understand the difference between a minute picture and a picture which is complete without being minute, contrast with the passage just read the part of the poem which immediately precedes it, containing a description of the Trosachs Glen, through which Fitz-James is forcing his way. This also is an admirable piece of painting, but it is too minute; the imagination is fatigued by too many details—difficult to be combined into a picture—wholly different from the few strokes of bold drawing and gorgeous colouring to which the other owes its completeness.
The fault which to some extent mars the effect of a description, all whose parts are exceedingly beautiful, is, it must be admitted, not very uncommon either in the poetry of our author or in his prose. Most frequently, perhaps, he is betrayed into the commission of this fault by his antiquarian zeal. Certainly, the most striking examples of over-minute drawing are to be found, more especially in his prose works, in passages descriptive of the manners and, above all, of the costume of former times. To the zealous antiquarian this is so entirely a labour of love-every detail, even the most minute, is so sacred in his eyes, that he cannot bring himself to omit one. In the fervour of antiquarian zeal, the principles of art are forgotten; the imagination of the reader is wearied by the multiplicity of details; the grouping of the elements becomes to him an impossibility, and the effect of the picture is marred.
This is another reason for the fact which we all must have observed, that Scott is more happy in his pictures of action, than in his pictures of still lifemore especially, of the still life which precedes action. He is so particular in dressing his figures, so careful to tell us how every strap and buckle was arranged, that, before the picture is complete, our eyes become weary, and the prospect grows dim. But when the figures are dressed, and have once got into action, instantly all mist melts away, and the picture stands before us in all the clear outlines and brilliant colouring of reality.
Less conspicuous than the power of word painting, yet not inconspicuous in the poetry of Sir Walter Scott, is one which, for want of a better name, I must call word-music. I cannot call it the power of versification, for that word expresses but a part of the idea which I wish to convey. Although more strikingly characteristic of poetry, to which indeed it is generally supposed to be essential, it is not absent from the highest kind of prose. As found in either prose or poetry, it denotes the power of so choosing and arranging the words, that their very sound shall concur in producing the effect which the writer desires. It would detain you too long were I to attempt a metaphysical (or physical) analysis of this power; and although in some in
stances it admits of explanation, the connection of certain sounds, or combinations of sounds, with certain mental emotions, enabling the one to evoke or assist in evoking the other, will be often found to be an ultimate fact in human nature, not admitting of further analysis. But of the reality of the power there can be no doubt. Let me try to exemplify it to you in the following lines, taken from the second canto of “ Marmion "
... “bade the passing knell to toll
So far was heard the mighty knell,
This very beautiful passage has indeed many merits wholly independent of its music. But who will deny to it that merit? Do we not almost hear in its slow, monosyllabic tones, the sound of that passing bell ? And yet, read as a quotation, it is shorn of half its power. For it is the closing movement of a mighty symphony. Grand or beautiful as it may be in itself, the composer would not that it should be heard, severed from the connexion in which he has placed