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Lockhart modestly speaks of this book in his Life of Scott as one that “none but a very young and thoughtless person would have written.” It may safely be said that no one but a very clever person, whether young or old, could have written it, though it is too long and has occasional faults of a specially youthful kind. But it made, coming as it did upon the heels of the Chaldee Manuscript, a terrible commotion in Edinburgh. The impartial observer of men and things may, indeed, have noticed in the records of the ages, that a libelled Liberal is the man in all the world who utters the loudest cries. The examples of the Reformers, and of the eighteenth-century Philosophes, are notorious and hackneyed; but I can supply (without, I trust, violating the sanctity of private life) a fresh and pleasing example. Once upon a time, a person whom we shall call A. paid a visit to a person whom we shall call B. “How sad,” said A., “are those personal attacks of the —- on Mr. Gladstone.”–“Personality,” said B., “is always disgusting; and I am very sorry to hear that the —- has followed the bad example of the personal attacks on Lord Beaconsfield.”–“Oh! but,” quoth A., “that was quite a different thing.” Now B. went out to dinner that night, and sitting next to a distinguished Liberal member of Parliament, told him this tale, expecting that he would laugh. “Ah! yes,” said he with much gravity, “it is very different, you know.”

In the same way the good Whig folk of Edinburgh regarded it as very different that the Edinburgh Review should scoff at Tories, and that Blackwood and Peter should scoff at Whigs. The scorpion which delighted to sting the faces of men, probably at this time founded a reputation which has stuck to him for more than seventy years after Dr. Peter Morris drove his shandrydan through Scotland. Sir Walter (then Mr.) Scott held wisely aloof from the extremely exuberant Toryism of Blackwood, and, indeed, had had some quarrels with its publisher and virtual editor. But he could not fail to be introduced to a man whose tastes and principles were so closely allied to his own. A year after the appearance of Peter’s Letters, Lockhart married, on 29th April 1820 (a perilous approximation to the unlucky month of May), Sophia Scott, the Duke of Buccleuch’s “Little Jacobite,” the most like her father of all his children. Every reader of the Life knows the delightful pictures, enough for interest and not enough for vulgar obtrusion, given by Lockhart of life at Chiefswood, the cottage near Abbotsford which he and his wife inhabited for nearly six years.

They were very busy years for Lockhart. He was still active in contributing to Blackwood ; he wrote all his four novels, and he published the Spanish Ballads. Valerius and Adam Blair appeared in 1821, Reginald Dalton and the Ballads in 1823, Matthew Wald in 1824.

The novels, though containing much that is very remarkable, are not his strongest work; indeed, any critic who speaks with knowledge must admit that Lockhart had every faculty for writing novels, except the faculty of novel-writing. Valerius, a classical story of the visit of a Roman-Briton to Rome, and the persecution of the Christians in the days of Trajan, is, like everything of its author’s, admirably written, but, like every classical novel without exception, save only Hypatia (which makes its interests and its personages daringly modern), it somehow rings false and faint, though not, perhaps, so faint or so false as most of its fellows. Adam Blair, the story of the sudden succumbing to natural temptation of a pious minister of the kirk, is unquestionably Lockhart’s masterpiece in this kind. It is full of passion, full of force, and the characters of Charlotte Campbell and Adam Blair himself are perfectly conceived. But the story-gift is still wanting. The reader finds himself outside: wondering why the people do these things, and whether in real life they would have done them, instead of following the story with absorption, and asking himself no questions at all. The same, in a different way, is the case with Lockhart’s longest book, Reginald Dalton ; and this has the additional disadvantage that neither hero nor heroine are much more than lay-figures, while in Adam Blair both are flesh and blood. The Oxford scenes are amusing but exaggerated–the obvious work of a man who supplies the defects of a ten years’ memory by deepening the strokes where he does remember. Matthew Wald, which is a novel of madness, has excellent passages, but is conventional and wooden as a whole. Nothing was more natural than that Lockhart, with the example of Scott immediately before him, should try novel-writing; not many things are more indicative of his literary ability than that, after a bare three years’ practice, he left a field which certainly was not his.