The Antiquary

Chapter XIV

Walter Scott

If I may trust the flattering eye of sleep,
My dreams presage some joyful news at hand:
My bosom’s lord sits lightly on his throne,
And all this day, an unaccustomed spirit
Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.


THE ACCOUNT of Sir Arthur’s unhappy adventure had led Oldbuck somewhat aside from his purpose of catechising Lovel concerning the cause of his residence at Fairport. He was now, however, resolved to open the subject. “Miss Wardour was formerly known to you, she tells me, Mr. Lovel?”

“He had had the pleasure,” Lovel answered, “to see her at Mrs. Wilmot’s, in Yorkshire.”

“Indeed! you never mentioned that to me before, and you did not accost her as an old acquaintance.”

“I—I did not know,” said Lovel, a good deal embarrassed, “it was the same lady, till we met; and then it was my duty to wait till she should recognise me.”

“I am aware of your delicacy: the knight’s a punctilious old fool, but I promise you his daughter is above all nonsensical ceremony and prejudice. And now, since you have, found a new set of friends here, may I ask if you intend to leave Fairport as soon as you proposed?”

“What if I should answer your question by another,” replied Lovel, “and ask you what is your opinion of dreams?”

“Of dreams, you foolish lad!—why, what should I think of them but as the deceptions of imagination when reason drops the reins? I know no difference betwixt them and the hallucinations of madness—the unguided horses run away with the carriage in both cases, only in the one the coachman is drunk, and in the other he slumbers. What says our Marcus Tullius—Si insanorum visis fides non est habenda, cur credatur somnientium visis, quae multo etiam perturbatiora sunt, non intelligo.

“Yes, sir; but Cicero also tells us, that as he who passes the whole day in darting the javelin must sometimes hit the mark, so, amid the cloud of nightly dreams, some may occur consonant to future events.”

“Ay—that is to say, you have hit the mark in your own sage opinion? Lord! Lord! how this world is given to folly! Well, I will allow for once the Oneirocritical science—I will give faith to the exposition of dreams, and say a Daniel hath arisen to interpret them, if you can prove to me that that dream of yours has pointed to a prudent line of conduct.”

“Tell me, then,” answered Lovel, “why when I was hesitating whether to abandon an enterprise, which I have perhaps rashly undertaken, I should last night dream I saw your ancestor pointing to a motto which encouraged me to perseverance?—why should I have thought of those words which I cannot remember to have heard before, which are in a language unknown to me, and which yet conveyed, when translated, a lesson which I could so plainly apply to my own circumstances?”

The Antiquary burst into a fit of laughing. “Excuse me, my young friend—but it is thus we silly mortals deceive ourselves, and look out of doors for motives which originate in our own wilful will. I think I can help out the cause of your vision. You were so abstracted in your contemplations yesterday after dinner, as to pay little attention to the discourse between Sir Arthur and me, until we fell upon the controversy concerning the Piks, which terminated so abruptly;—but I remember producing to Sir Arthur a book printed by my ancestor, and making him observe the motto; your mind was bent elsewhere, but your ear had mechanically received and retained the sounds, and your busy fancy, stirred by Grizel’s legend I presume, had introduced this scrap of German into your dream. As for the waking wisdom which seized on so frivolous a circumstance as an apology for persevering in some course which it could find no better reason to justify, it is exactly one of those juggling tricks which the sagest of us play off now and then, to gratify our inclination at the expense of our understanding.”

“I own it,” said Lovel, blushing deeply;—“I believe you are right, Mr. Oldbuck, and I ought to sink in your esteem for attaching a moment’s consequence to such a frivolity;—but I was tossed by contradictory wishes and resolutions, and you know how slight a line will tow a boat when afloat on the billows, though a cable would hardly move her when pulled up on the beach.”

“Right, right,” exclaimed the Antiquary. “Fall in my opinion!—not a whit—I love thee the better, man;—why, we have story for story against each other, and I can think with less shame on having exposed myself about that cursed Prætorium—though I am still convinced Agricola’s camp must have been somewhere in this neighbourhood. And now, Lovel, my good lad, be sincere with me—What make you from Wittenberg?—why have you left your own country and professional pursuits, for an idle residence in such a place as Fairport? A truant disposition, I fear.”

“Even so,” replied Lovel, patiently submitting to an interrogatory which he could not well evade. “Yet I am so detached from all the world, have so few in whom I am interested, or who are interested in me, that my very state of destitution gives me independence. He whose good or evil fortune affects himself alone, has the best right to pursue it according to his own fancy.”

“Pardon me, young man,” said Oldbuck, laying his hand kindly on his shoulder, and making a full halt—“sufflamina—a little patience, if you please. I will suppose that you have no friends to share or rejoice in your success in life—that you cannot look back to those to whom you owe gratitude, or forward to those to whom you ought to afford protection; but it is no less incumbent on you to move steadily in the path of duty—for your active exertions are due not only to society, but in humble gratitude to the Being who made you a member of it, with powers to serve yourself and others.”

“But I am unconscious of possessing such powers,” said Lovel, somewhat impatiently. “I ask nothing of society but the permission of walking innoxiously through the path of life, without jostling others, or permitting myself to be jostled. I owe no man anything—I have the means of maintaining, myself with complete independence; and so moderate are my wishes in this respect, that even these means, however limited, rather exceed than fall short of them.”

“Nay, then,” said Oldbuck, removing his hand, and turning again to the road, “if you are so true a philosopher as to think you have money enough, there’s no more to be said—I cannot pretend to be entitled to advise you;—you have attained the acmé—the summit of perfection. And how came Fairport to be the selected abode of so much self-denying philosophy? It is as if a worshipper of the true religion had set up his staff by choice among the multifarious idolaters of the land of Egypt. There is not a man in Fairport who is not a devoted worshipper of the Golden Calf—the mammon of unrighteousness. Why, even I, man, am so infected by the bad neighbourhood, that I feel inclined occasionally to become an idolater myself.”

“My principal amusements being literary,” answered Lovel, “and circumstances which I cannot mention having induced me, for a time at least, to relinquish the military service, I have pitched on Fairport as a place where I might follow my pursuits without any of those temptations to society which a more elegant circle might have presented to me.”

“Aha!” replied Oldbuck, knowingly,—“I begin to understand your application of my ancestor’s motto. You are a candidate for public favour, though not in the way I first suspected,—you are ambitious to shine as a literary character, and you hope to merit favour by labour and perseverance?”

Lovel, who was rather closely pressed by the inquisitiveness of the old gentleman, concluded it would be best to let him remain in the error which he had gratuitously adopted.

“I have been at times foolish enough,” he replied, “to nourish some thoughts of the kind.”

“Ah, poor fellow! nothing can be more melancholy; unless, as young men sometimes do, you had fancied yourself in love with some trumpery specimen of womankind, which is indeed, as Shakspeare truly says, pressing to death, whipping, and hanging all at once.”

He then proceeded with inquiries, which he was sometimes kind enough to answer himself. For this good old gentleman had, from his antiquarian researches, acquired a delight in building theories out of premises which were often far from affording sufficient ground for them; and being, as the reader must have remarked, sufficiently opinionative, he did not readily brook being corrected, either in matter of fact or judgment, even by those who were principally interested in the subjects on which he speculated. He went on, therefore, chalking out Lovel’s literary career for him.

“And with what do you propose to commence your début as a man of letters?—But I guess—poetry—poetry—the soft seducer of youth. Yes! there is an acknowledging modesty of confusion in your eye and manner. And where lies your vein?—are you inclined to soar to the higher regions of Parnassus, or to flutter around the base of the hill?”

“I have hitherto attempted only a few lyrical pieces,” said Lovel.

“Just as I supposed—pruning your wing, and hopping from spray to spray. But I trust you intend a bolder flight. Observe, I would by no means recommend your persevering in this unprofitable pursuit—but you say you are quite independent of the public caprice?”

“Entirely so,” replied Lovel.

“And that you are determined not to adopt a more active course of life?”

“For the present, such is my resolution,” replied the young man.

“Why, then, it only remains for me to give you my best advice and assistance in the object of your pursuit. I have myself published two essays in the Antiquarian Repository,—and therefore am an author of experience, There was my ‘Remarks on Hearne’s edition of Robert of Gloucester’, signed Scrutator; and the other signed Indagator, upon a passage in Tacitus. I might add, what attracted considerable notice at the time, and that is my paper in the Gentleman’s Magazine, upon the inscription of Œlia Lelia, which I subscribed Œdipus. So you see I am not an apprentice in the mysteries of author-craft, and must necessarily understand the taste and temper of the times. And now, once more, what do you intend to commence with?”

“I have no instant thoughts of publishing.”

“Ah! that will never do; you must have the fear of the public before your eyes in all your undertakings. Let us see now: A collection of fugitive pieces; but no—your fugitive poetry is apt to become stationary with the bookseller. It should be something at once solid and attractive—none of your romances or anomalous novelties—I would have you take high ground at once. Let me see: What think you of a real epic?—the grand old-fashioned historical poem which moved through twelve or twenty-four books. We’ll have it so—I’ll supply you with a subject—The battle between the Caledonians and Romans—The Caledoniad; or, Invasion Repelled;—let that be the title—it will suit the present taste, and you may throw in a touch of the times.”

“But the invasion of Agricola was not repelled.”

“No; but you are a poet—free of the corporation, and as little bound down to truth or probability as Virgil himself—You may defeat the Romans in spite of Tacitus.”

“And pitch Agricola’s camp at the Kaim of—what do you call it,” answered Lovel, “in defiance of Edie Ochiltree?”

“No more of that, an thou lovest me—And yet, I dare say, ye may unwittingly speak most correct truth in both instances, in despite of the toga of the historian and the blue gown of the mendicant.”

“Gallantly counselled!—Well, I will do my best—your kindness will assist me with local information.”

“Will I not, man?—why, I will write the critical and historical notes on each canto, and draw out the plan of the story myself. I pretend to some poetical genius, Mr. Lovel, only I was never able to write verses.”

“It is a pity, sir, that you should have failed in a qualification somewhat essential to the art.”

“Essential?—not a whit—it is the mere mechanical department. A man may be a poet without measuring spondees and dactyls like the ancients, or clashing the ends of lines into rhyme like the moderns, as one may be an architect though unable to labour like a stone-mason—Dost think Palladio or Vitruvius ever carried a hod?”

“In that case, there should be two authors to each poem—one to think and plan, another to execute.”

“Why, it would not be amiss; at any rate, we’ll make the experiment;—not that I would wish to give my name to the public—assistance from a learned friend might be acknowledged in the preface after what flourish your nature will—I am a total stranger to authorial vanity.”

Lovel was much entertained by a declaration not very consistent with the eagerness wherewith his friend seemed to catch at an opportunity of coming before the public, though in a manner which rather resembled stepping up behind a carriage than getting into one. The Antiquary was indeed uncommonly delighted; for, like many other men who spend their lives in obscure literary research, he had a secret ambition to appear in print, which was checked by cold fits of diffidence, fear of criticism, and habits of indolence and procrastination. “But,” thought he, “I may, like a second Teucer, discharge my shafts from behind the shield of my ally; and, admit that he should not prove to be a first-rate poet, I am in no shape answerable for his deficiencies, and the good notes may very probably help off an indifferent text. But he is—he must be a good poet; he has the real Parnassian abstraction—seldom answers a question till it is twice repeated—drinks his tea scalding, and eats without knowing what he is putting into his mouth. This is the real æstus, the awen of the Welsh bards, the divinus afflatus that transports the poet beyond the limits of sublunary things. His visions, too, are very symptomatical of poetic fury—I must recollect to send Caxon to see he puts out his candle to-night—poets and visionaries are apt to be negligent in that respect.” Then, turning to his companion, he expressed himself aloud in continuation—

“Yes, my dear Lovel, you shall have full notes; and, indeed, think we may introduce the whole of the Essay on Castrametation into the appendix—it will give great value to the work. Then we will revive the good old forms so disgracefully neglected in modern times. You shall invoke the Muse—and certainly she ought to be propitious to an author who, in an apostatizing age, adheres with the faith of Abdiel to the ancient form of adoration.—Then we must have a vision—in which the Genius of Caledonia shall appear to Galgacus, and show him a procession of the real Scottish monarchs:—and in the notes I will have a hit at Boethius—No; I must not touch that topic, now that Sir Arthur is likely to have vexation enough besides—but I’ll annihilate Ossian, Macpherson, and Mac-Cribb.”

“But we must consider the expense of publication,” said Lovel, willing to try whether this hint would fall like cold water on the blazing zeal of his self-elected coadjutor.

“Expense!” said Mr. Oldbuck, pausing, and mechanically fumbling in his pocket—“that is true;—I would wish to do something—but you would not like to publish by subscription?”

“By no means,” answered Lovel.

“No, no!” gladly acquiesced the Antiquary—“it is not respectable. I’ll tell you what: I believe I know a bookseller who has a value for my opinion, and will risk print and paper, and I will get as many copies sold for you as I can.”

“O, I am no mercenary author,” answered Lovel, smiling; “I only wish to be out of risk of loss.”

“Hush! hush! we’ll take care of that—throw it all on the publishers. I do long to see your labours commenced. You will choose blank verse, doubtless?—it is more grand and magnificent for an historical subject; and, what concerneth you, my friend, it is, I have an idea, more easily written.”

This conversation brought them to Monkbarns, where the Antiquary had to undergo a chiding from his sister, who, though no philosopher, was waiting to deliver a lecture to him in the portico. “Guide us, Monkbarns! are things no dear eneugh already, but ye maun be raising the very fish on us, by giving that randy, Luckie Mucklebackit, just what she likes to ask?”

“Why, Grizel,” said the sage, somewhat abashed at this unexpected attack, “I thought I made a very fair bargain.”

“A fair bargain! when ye gied the limmer a full half o’ what she seekit!—An ye will be a wife-carle, and buy fish at your ain hands, ye suld never bid muckle mair than a quarter. And the impudent quean had the assurance to come up and seek a dram—But I trow, Jenny and I sorted her!”

“Truly,” said Oldbuck (with a sly look to his companion), “I think our estate was gracious that kept us out of hearing of that controversy. Well, well, Grizel, I was wrong for once in my life ultra crepidam—I fairly admit. But hang expenses!—care killed a cat—we’ll eat the fish, cost what it will.—And then, Lovel, you must know I pressed you to stay here to-day, the rather because our cheer will be better than usual, yesterday having been a gaudé-day—I love the reversion of a feast better than the feast itself. I delight in the analecta, the collectanea, as I may call them, of the preceding day’s dinner, which appear on such occasions—And see, there is Jenny going to ring the dinner-bell.”

The Antiquary - Contents    |     Chapter XV

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