Monday, January 10, 2011

Mary Russell Mitford

'...Did I, when talking of 'Waverley,' tell you that I had happened a year or two ago to meet with a most curious book—alluded to, though not named, in that -work—entitled, 'Some Passages in the Life of Colonel Gardiner, by Dr. Doddridge?' This Colonel Gardiner is the Colonel G of Waverley,' and this biographical morceau is exactly calculated to form le pendant to the life of Johanna Southcote with which Mr. Toser will probably some day favour the world. The supernatural illumination is precisely the same in both cases, though I cannot find that the worthy colonel ever fancied himself in the family-way, or that he ever made any money of his conversion. Of course he was more fool and she is more knave—if knave can ever be feminine, which, alas! for the sex, I fear it can.

I am still firmly of opinion that Walter Scott had some share in 'Waverley;' and I know not the evidence that should induce me to believe that Dugald Stewart had anything to do with it. He! the triptologist!—as Horace Walpole says. He! the style-monger, whose periods, with their nice balancing and their elaborate finish, always remind me of a worthy personage in blue and silver, yclept, I believe, the Flemish Hercules, whom I have seen balancing a ladder on his finger, with three children on one end and two on the other—he write that half French, half English, half Scotch, half Gaelic, half Latin, half Italian—that hotch-potch of languages—that moveable Babel called 'Waverley!' My dear Sir William, there is not in the whole book one single page of pure and vernacular English; there is not one single period, of which you forget the sense in admiration of the sound...'

Mary Russell Mitford had fairly mixed opinions on Walter Scott's writing.  She refers to it as "dull as the fat weed that grows on Lethe's bank (he never could write ' Guy Mannering ' I am sure—it is morally impossible!)" - with the exception of the Scott's Life of Dryden, which she was reading.

But Scott loomed large in her reckoning, and she was on to something when she suspected in 1814 that he had "something to do with Waverley".  The text above, as well as the quote in the paragraph following, was published in "The Life of Mary Russell Mitford", edited by Alfred Guy L'Estrange.  The first comes from a letter Mitford wrote to Sir William Elkord on December 14, 1814.  Waverley was published in 1814, and Scott's authorship was still not public at that point.

Ms. Mitford's most notable work is "Our Village", which contains sketches of rural life.  Mary Russell Mitford died on January 10, 1855.

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