Waverley Novels

Household Edition. Boston : Tieknor & Fields. 16mo.

THIS beautiful edition of Scott’s Novels will be completed in forty-eight volumes. Thirty are already published, and the remaining eighteen will be issued at the rate of two volumes a month. As this edition, in the union of elegance of mechanical execution with cheapness of price, is the best which has yet been published in the United States, and reflects great credit on the taste and enterprise of the publishers, its merits should be universally known. The paper is white, the type new and clear, the illustrations excellent, the volumes of convenient size, the notes placed at the foot of the page, and the text enriched with the author’s latest corrections. It is called the “ Household Edition ” ; and we certainly think it would be a greater adornment, and should be considered a more indispensable necessity, than numerous articles of expensive furniture, which, in too many households, take the place of such books.

The success of this edition, which has been as great as that of most new novels, is but another illustration of the permanence of Scott’s hold on the general imagination, resulting from the instinctive sagacity with which He perceived and met its wants. The generation of readers for which he wrote has mostly passed away; new fashions in fiction have risen, had their day, and disappeared ; he has been subjected to much acute and profound criticism of a disparaging kind ; and at present he has formidable rivals in a number of novelists, both eminent and popular;—yet his fame has quietly and steadily widened with time, the “reading public” of our day is as much his public as the reading public of his own, and there has been no period since he commenced writing when there were not more persons familiar with his novels than with those of any other author. Some novelists are more highly estimated by certain classes of minds, but no other comprehends in his popularity so many classes, and few bear so well that hardest of tests, re-perusal. Many novels stimulate us more, and while we are reading them we think they are superior to Scott’s; but we miss, in the general impression they leave on the mind, that peculiar charm which, in Scott, calls us back, after a few years, to his pages, to revive the recollection of scenes and characters which may be fading away from our memories. We doubt, also, if any other novelist has, in a like degree, the power of instantaneously withdrawing so wide a variety of readers from the perplexities and discomforts of actual existence, and making them for the time denizens of a new world. He has stimulating elements enough, and he exhibits masterly art in the wise economy with which he uses them ; but he still stimulates only to invigorate ; and when he enlivens jaded minds, it is rather by infusing fresh life than by applying fierce excitements, and there is consequently no reaction of weariness and disgust. He appeases, satisfies, and enchants, rather than stings and inflames. The interest he rouses is not of that absorbing nature which exhausts from its very intensity, but is of that genial kind which continuously holds the pleased attention while the story is in progress, and remains in the mind as a delightful memory after the story is finished. It may also be said of his characters, that, if some other novelists have exhibited a finer and firmer power in delineating higher or rarer types of humanity, Scott is still unapproached in this, that he has succeeded in domesticating his creations in the general heart and brain, and thus obtained the endorsement of human nature as evidence of their genuineness. His characters are the friends and acquaintances of everybody,—quoted, referred to, gossipped about, discussed, criticized, as though they were actual beings. He, as an individual, is almost lost sight of in the imaginary world his genius has peopled; and most of his readers have a more vivid sense of the reality of Dominie Sampson, Jeanie Deans, or any other of his characterizations, than they have of himself. And the reason is obvious. They know Dominie Sampson through Scott; they know Scott only through Lockhart. Still, it is certain that the nature of Scott, that essential nature which no biography can give, underlies, animates, disposes, and permeates all the natures he has delineated. It is this, which, in the last analysis, is found to be the source of his universal popularity, and which, without analysis, is felt as a continual charm by all his readers, whether they live in palaces or cottages. His is a nature which is welcomed everywhere, because it is at home everywhere. The mere power and variety of his imagination cannot account for his influence ; for the same power and variety might have been directed by a discontented and misanthropic spirit, or have obeyed the impulses of selfish and sensual passions, and thus conveyed a bitter or impure view of human nature and human life. It is, then, the man in the imagination, the cheerful, healthy, vigorous, sympathetic, good-natured, and broad-natured Walter Scott himself, who, modestly hidden, as he seems to be, behind the characters and scenes he represents, really streams through them the peculiar quality of life which makes their abiding charm. He has been accepted by humanity, because he is so heartily humane,—humane, not merely as regards man in the abstract, but as regards man in the concrete.

We have spoken of the number of his readers, and of his capacity to interest all classes of people; but we suppose, that, in our day, when everybody knows how to read without always knowing what to read, even Scott has failed to reach a multitude of persons abundantly capable of receiving pleasure from his writings, but who, in their ignorance of him, are content to devour such frightful trash in the shape of novels as they accidentally light upon in a leisure hour. One advantage of such an edition of his works as that which has occasioned these remarks is, that it tends to awaken attention anew to his merits, to spread his fame among the generation of readers now growing up, and to place him in the public view fairly abreast of unworthy but clamorous claimants for public regard, as inferior to him in the power to impart pleasure as they are inferior to him in literary excellence. That portion of the public who read bad novels cannot be reached by criticism ; but if they could only be reached by Scott, they would quickly discover and resent the swindle of which they have so long been the victims.