Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


by [?]

In the early autumn of 1825, just before the great collapse of his affairs, Scott went to Ireland with Lockhart in his company. But very early in the following year, before the collapse was decided, Lockhart and his family moved to London, on his appointment as editor of the Quarterly, in succession to Gifford. Probably there never was a better appointment of the kind. Lockhart was a born critic: he had both the faculty and the will to work up the papers of his contributors to the proper level; he was firm and decided in his literary and political views, without going to the extreme Giffordian acerbity in both; and his intelligence and erudition were very wide. “He could write,” says a phrase in some article I have somewhere seen quoted, “on any subject from poetry to dry-rot;” and there is no doubt that an editor, if he cannot exactly write on any subject from poetry to dry-rot, should be able to take an interest in any subject between and, if necessary, beyond those poles. Otherwise he has the choice of two undesirables; either he frowns unduly on the dry-rot articles, which probably interest large sections of the public (itself very subject to dry-rot), or he lets the dry-rot contributor inflict his hobby, without mercy and unedited, on a reluctant audience. But Lockhart, though he is said (for his contributions are not, as far as I know, anywhere exactly indicated) to have contributed fully a hundred articles to the Quarterly, that is to say one to nearly every number during the twenty-eight years of his editorship, by no means confined himself to this work. It was, indeed, during its progress that he composed not merely the Life of Napoleon, which was little more than an abridgment, though a very clever abridgment, of Scott’s book, but the Lives of Burns and of Scott himself. Before, however, dealing with these, his Spanish Ballads and other poetical work may be conveniently disposed of.

Lockhart’s verse is in the same scattered condition as his prose; but it is evident that he had very considerable poetical faculty. The charming piece, “When youthful hope is fled,” attributed to him on Mrs. Norton’s authority; the well-known “Captain Paton’s Lament,” which has been republished in the Tales from Blackwood ; and the mono-rhymed epitaph on “Bright broken Maginn,” in which some wiseacres have seen ill-nature, but which really is a masterpiece of humorous pathos, are all in very different styles, and are all excellent each in its style. But these things are mere waifs, separated from each other in widely different publications; and until they are put together no general impression of the author’s poetical talent, except a vaguely favourable one, can be derived from them. The Spanish Ballads form something like a substantive work, and one of nearly as great merit as is possible to poetical translations of poetry. I believe opinions differ as to their fidelity to the original. Here and there, it is said, the author has exchanged a vivid and characteristic touch for a conventional and feeble one. Thus, my friend Mr. Hannay points out to me that in the original of “The Lord of Butrago” the reason given by Montanez for not accompanying the King’s flight is not the somewhat fade one that

Castile’s proud dames shall never point the finger of disdain,

but the nobler argument, showing the best side of feudal sentiment, that the widows of his tenants shall never say that he fled and left their husbands to fight and fall. Lockhart’s master, Sir Walter, would certainly not have missed this touch, and it is odd that Lockhart himself did. But such things will happen to translators. On the other hand, it is, I believe, admitted (and the same very capable authority in Spanish is my warranty) that on the whole the originals have rather gained than lost; and certainly no one can fail to enjoy the Ballads as they stand in English. The “Wandering Knight’s Song” has always seemed to me a gem without flaw, especially the last stanza. Few men, again, manage the long “fourteener” with middle rhyme better than Lockhart, though he is less happy with the anapaest, and has not fully mastered the very difficult trochaic measure of “The Death of Don Pedro.” In “The Count Arnaldos,” wherein, indeed, the subject lends itself better to that cadence, the result is more satisfactory. The merits, however, of these Ballads are not technical merely, or rather, the technical merits are well subordinated to the production of the general effect. About the nature of that effect much ink has been shed. It is produced equally by Greek hexameters, by old French assonanced tirades, by English “eights and sixes,” and by not a few other measures. But in itself it is more or less the same–the stirring of the blood as by the sound of a trumpet, or else the melting of the mood into or close to tears. The ballad effect is thus the simplest and most primitive of all poetical effects; it is Lockhart’s merit that he seldom fails to produce it. The simplicity and spontaneity of his verse may, to some people, be surprising in a writer so thoroughly and intensely literary; but Lockhart’s character was as complex as his verse is simple, and the verse itself is not the least valuable guide to it.