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Quotes from and about Sir Walter Scott

September 8, 2009

Some of my favorites, from books recently read…

… of all the propensities which teach mankind to torment themselves, that of causeless fear is the most irritating, busy, painful, and pitiable. (Rob Roy)

The country’s in little ultimate danger, when the beggar’s as ready to fight for his dish as the laird for his land. (The Antiquary)

Scott, quoted in Buchan:

“Without courage, there cannot be truth, and without truth there can be no other virtue.”

Poetry, as he told Ellis a year or two later, was a scourging crop which should not be overdone, but editing was to be likened to a ‘good crop of turnips and peas, extremely useful for those whose circumstances do not admit of their giving their farm a summer fallow.’

It must be allowed that the regular recurrence of annual festivals among the same individuals has, as life advances, something in it that is melancholy. We meet on such occasions like the survivors of some perilous expedition, wounded and weakened ourselves, and looking through the diminished ranks of those who remain, while we think of those who are no more. Or they are like the feasts of the Caribs, in which they held that the pale and speechless phantoms of the deceased appeared and mingled with the living.

Buchan on Scott:

Buchan styles Scott “rather an anti-revolutionary than an anti-reformer.”

Scott had not the metaphysical turn of his countrymen, and he had no instinct to preach, but the whole of his life and work was based on a reasoned philosophy of conduct. Its corner-stones were humility and discipline. The life of man was difficult, but not desperate, and to live it worthily you must forget yourself and love others. The failures were the egotists who were wrapped up in self, the doctrinaires who were in chains to a dogma, the Pharisees who despised their brethren. In him the ‘common sense’ of the eighteenth century was colored and lit by Christian charity. Happiness could only be attained by the unselfregarding.

Buchan, quoting a paper by Scott, in which Scott “professes explicitly his moral code” and the path for the humble pilgrim, the precepts of which are, ‘to narrow our wishes and desires within the scope of our present powers of attainment; to consider our misfortunes as our inevitable share in the patrimony of Adam; to bridle those irritable feelings which, ungoverned, are sure to become governors; to shun that intensity of galling and self-wounding reflection which our poet has described in his own burning language; to stoop, in short, to the realities of life, repent if we have offended, and pardon if we have been trespassed against; to look on the world less as our foe than as a doubtful and capricious friend whose applause we ought as far as possible to deserve, but neither to court nor to condemn.’

… above all he had the good fortune to stand at the meeting-place of two worlds, and to have it in him to be their chief interpreter.

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2 Comments
  1. Heidi permalink
    September 9, 2009 9:14 am

    Some very good stuff in there. I esp. liked what was said about happiness being attained by the un-self regarding.

  2. September 9, 2009 9:49 am

    My sense is that Scott’s Christian views are best represented in his expansive humanism, meaning his insistence on the presence of God’s goodness in the soul of every man. His own humility is strongly noted by Buchan, as is his lack of self-regard and esteem for and charity toward others.

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