Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Praise of Artificial Emotions

Each summer I assign myself a reading project centered around one writer or subject and this past summer it was Sir Walter Scott's turn. Its just possible that you are wondering why anyone would subject himself to such heavy doses of Sir Walter.
Scott (1771-1832) was one of the favorite writers of the Boston Unitarians and of much of America during the heyday (brief as it was) of Boston Unitarianism. Why? The historian Daniel Walker Howe put it this way. The delicate, escapist, and artificial emotions of Walter Scott...appealed to the Unitarians (Though I love Daniel Walker Howe, I think he is a little hard on Sir Walter!)
Scott is probably best know today for his novel "Ivanhoe." His "Waverly Novels" of which Ivanhoe is one, are massive, historical and, in a very real sense, helped define modern Scotland.
John Buchan described his merits thus, His greatness consists in the fact that to a soaring imagination and profound emotions he joined commen sense-the vision of the plain man: that he was an adventurer and dreamer who never forgot the standards of ordinary one has excelled him in taking a large tract of human life, with all its complexities, and shaping it to the purposes of art by eliciting its beauty and drama...He was a great gentleman, for he had the highest and strictest code of honor; and he was a great domocrat, for he took all men for his brothers, and spoke to everybody, as if he were their blood relation.
Finally, this from Scott himself, in a postscript to one of his greatest novels, "The Heart of Midlothian": Reader-This tale will not be told in vain, if it shall be found to illustrate the great truth, that guilt, though it may attain temporal splendour, can never confer real happiness; that the evil consequences of our crimes long survive their commission, and like the ghosts ofthe murdered, forever haunt the steps of the malefactor; and that the paths of virtue, though seldom those of worldly greatness, are always those of pleasentness and peace.
A gentleman and democrat illuminating the paths of virtue. If these things are "artificial", "escapist" and "delicate", may we have more of them. blessings

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