Now that we have examined in some detail Scott's various
points of contact with the theatre we may, I think, stop a moment
to ask, what did he do for the drama? what did the drama do for
His own dramas we may leave aside, for they have little or
no practical significance; but in these "dramatic grand -children"
of his, he captured, for two decades, the interest of play -goers
everywhere. Professor Nicoll contents that his plots had, from
their very nature, the effect of tightening the fetters of melodramatic tradition. It seems to me, nevertheless, that the Waverley dramas rendered two important services. In the first place,
as I have tried to show, they gave to the bastard race of melodrama at least-a few examples in which sense, feeling and historical accuracy mingled with clear characterization well -oiled motivation and sound, but not smug morality. With the rise of melodrama, Scott had nothing to do - he would gladly have seen it
"swept from the boards" - and it is obvious, when we consider how
it has persisted even to our own day that there are about it many
"fetters" stronger than any hammered by Scott. In rendering melodrama more artistic, therefore, I believe that the Waverley series
did more good than harm. The second service is pointed out in
the reminiscences of Edward Fitzball, one of the most facile of
Scott's adaptors. He hails Sir Walter Scott as "the mighty luminary which reflected its lustre upon the so- called illegitimate
drama" - by which he means that Scott helped to make the Minor Theatres popular, - for the great majority of the Waverley dramatizations, so far, at least, as London was concerned, were produced
outside the pale of legitimacy. The competition of these unlicensed but ambitious Minor Theatres caused eventually, - though we
may smile at some of the immediate results, - the downfall of monopoly and so prepared the way for the slow but sure regeneration of
dramatic art in England. It would be foolish to claim for the
Waverley plays any very great part in this movement, but their influence, though small, was definite, and so, I think, deserves
Scott's agreement and co- operation with John Kemble on the
subject of accurate stage costume and setting was another distinct
contribution to the betterment of the theatre. J. Robinson
Planche, whom we remember as one of Fitzball's rivals, has in fact
ascribed to Sir Walter "the honour of having first attracted public attention to the advantages derivable from the study of such
subjects as a new source of effect as well as of historical illustration", and Professor Nicoll agrees that here, at least, Scott's
influence, though he left the actual achievement, indeed, to other
men, can hardly be over-exaggerated.
Worthy of mention, too, is his lifelong condemnation alike of
the unwieldy size of the Major Theatres in London and the immoral
conditions which were still allowed to prevail there. The opinions
of a man of his eminence and popularity were not, it is easy to
believe, without weight, and had effect in the campaign against
both of these evils.
For the Scottish stage, Sir Walter did a great deal more.
It is curious to note in passing that Fitzball's "mighty luminary"
was in his own country the saviour of the patent house, the Edinburgh Theatre -Royal. As a shareholder, a public trustee, and a
regular attendant, he lent the theatre the mantle of his eminent
respectability; his open- hearted friendship with some of the foremost actors and actresses on the English stage and his evident
fondness for their company at AshestriS 1 and Abbotsford, must certainly have lessened the prejudices of his countrymen toward the
theatre and its folk. Not the least of his services, finally,
was the entertaining tolerant and enthusiastic way he wrote of the
drama in his letters, essays and review articles.
quite apart from the pleasure and recreation which he got
from the stage throughout his life,|Scott in his turn owes much
to the drama. Benson Hill, the actor, thought that "as other
authors read for a style, so he drugged himself at theatres for
plots and characters" and went on to point out that there were coincidences between Scott's novels and "sundry plays, those of Shakes1
peare in particular." There can be no doubt, I third that Hill's
last observation at least, is perfectly true, for nothing could be
more natural than a man's interests being reflected in his work.
Yet when we try to put a finger on specific instances of
Scott's borrowings, we find it no simple task. "Then I convey
an incident or so", he wrote in his Journal, "I am at as much
pains to avoid detection as if the offense could be indicted in
literal fact at the Old Bailey ". Nevertheless it is sometimes
possible to detect him. Hill was not the -only contemporary to
notice Shakespeare's importance in the works of Scott.
In 1833, several years before the material in Lockhart's
memoir was available, there appeared a. series of three lectures,
the author of which is unknown, entitled A Parallel of Shakespeare
and Scott. Recently the subject was taken up seriously by Dr
Wilmon Brewer of Harvard, who set about combing the complete works
of both authors. His care and accumen as well as the systematic
presentation of his findings are commendable and convincing. Dr
Brewer points out that Scott's writings from his novels to his
Journal simply teem with Shakespearian allusions, and scarcely
gives him credit in fact for an original idea. We must certainly
discount to some extent the enthusiasm of the investigation, but
one cannot I think escape the fact that Shakespeare was the greatest single influence on Scott's creative career.
Lesser in degree, but quite as distinct, is his debt to other
English dramatists, particularly those of the late Sixteenth and
Seventeenth Centuries. Most of them, even such forgotten men as
Dekker Middleton, Brome and Southerne, furnish him with occasional
mottos for his chapter headings. With others he was more intimate.
Throughout his writings, he quotes freely from Ben Jonson; but
he seems to have been particularly fond of Captain Bobadil who
was probably (with Pistol) the original of Colepepper in Nigel.
Much of the atmosphere of Old London and its characters in the same
novel may well have come from his recollection of Eastward Ho.
Beaumont and Fletcher, also, particularly the latter partner, interested Scott greatly. I have referred already to his use of a. long speech from their Bonduca to preface his war-song for the Light Dragoons. In the heroine of this play we recognize many
of the fierce traits of Helen Macgregor. To Philaster the poem
of Harold the Dauntless owed the first part of the story of Eiver.
Nearly every Restoration dramatist is mentioned at least by
name in The Pirate; and in his introduction to The Fortunes of
Nigel, Mr Andrew Lang says "The scenes in Alsatia, are a distinct
gain to literature, a pearl rescued from the unread mass of Shadwell" - particularly, of course, The Squire of Alsatia. Scott
often quoted from Otway's Venice Preserved, and he may have found
in The Orphan many suggestions for the betrayal of Clara in St.
Ronan's Well. Chief of the Restoration influences, naturally,
was that of Dryden himself. The poetry of The Lay seems at some
points to resemble passages in Tyrannic Love; but the outstanding
example of borrowing, it seems to me, is Ivanhoe, which is "heroic"
and Drydonian throughout. The trial of Rebecca follows closely
the outline of Alma hide's in The Conquest of Granada. The tournament, it is true, owes something to Drydon's Chaucerian Pala.mon and Arcite and The Knight's Tale, but there is in it also much
of the bull-fight which begins the same play. Czmyn salutes
and curvets exactly as the editor's Ivanhoe does before the Royal
Box at Ashby.
To Schiller, as well, Scott owes a debt. In Kenilworth the
whole of Chapter eighteen is based on Wallenstein; which supplied
many of the picturesque details of Leicester's interview with his
astrologer. The chapter in Ivanhoe which describes the attack
on the castle of Torquilstone is headed by a quotation (probably
Scott's own rendering for at that time no translation had appeared)
from The Maid of Orleans, and Rebecca's description of the battle
may have drawn inspiration from the play. Schiller's chief influence, however, was a matter more of method than of context,
for he had developed Shakespeare's practice of combining romance
and history, and must share with Shakespeare himself the credit
of having passed it along to Scott.
Finally, we can hardly do better than to quote his own remark
a few years before his death which sums up rather adequately our
study of Walter Scott and the Drama:
"In Short, the drama is in ours, as in most civilized
countries, an engine possessing the most powerful effect on the
manners of society. The frequency of reference, quotation and
allusion to plays of all kinds, from the masterpieces of Shakespeare's genius down to the farce which has the run of a season,
gives a dramatic colouring to the conversation and habits of expression; and those who look into the matter strictly will be
surprised to find, how much our ordinary language and ordinary
ideas are modified by what we have seen and heard on the stage."