SIR WALTER SCOTT AS AN EMPIRE-BUILDER.
An Address by the Rev. ALEXANDER MACMILLAN, Of Toronto, before the Empire Club of Canada, on April 21, 1910.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,
To determine the part played by certain men in the development of our Empire is comparatively easy. We are able to trace the course of the men of enterprise who long ago sailed across the seas to discover new lands; of the men of action who fought and prepared the way for construction; and the men who, in the Mother-land or lands beyond, framed and administered the laws. We may estimate also the value of the labours of humble men and women, who left the homeland to lay by toil and thrift the foundations of material prosperity. But it is by no means easy to trace and estimate the effect of the thoughts of great masters of literature upon the minds of lesser men. Nevertheless, the character of a people, scattered through many lands, is so largely determined by this that such eminent men are truly Empire builders. I therefore venture to offer for consideration the effect of the life and work of Walter Scott, as a great man of letters, upon the minds of men throughout the Empire.
The influence of Sir Walter Scott was in this respect largely indirect and unconscious, and he would probably have been greatly surprised had any one of his contemporaries designated him an Empire-builder. Singularly modest, even to the extent of self-depreciation, his estimate of the permanent value of his own work was far below the reality. Yet the impress of that work, the enthusiasm he aroused, the ideals he held before the eyes of men, the courage he infused, all passed into the life of the Empire. "His work," as Professor Grant, of Leeds, says, "is far better and greater and more important than he himself ever guessed."
The first and immediate effect of his life and work lay in this--he did much to unify Scotland. It is well known that, prior to the middle of the Eighteenth Century, Scotland was for the most part a country of two peoples. North of the "Highland line," the Celtic races lived their own life, while the Lowland people, a composite race with the Saxon element predominant, occupied the Lowlands and the eastern coast for some distance northward. Between these two places there was a wide gulf, with 'little of mutual understanding and scarcely any sense of kinship. One remembers in this connection the passage in Rob Roy, in which Sir Walter, describing the streets of Glasgow in the early part of the Eighteenth Century, tells of herds of wild, shaggy, dwarfish cattle being driven from the dusky mountains of the western highlands to the marts of St. Mungo by Highlanders as wild, shaggy and sometimes as dwarfish as themselves. He tells of the surprise with which strangers looked upon the antique and fantastic dress, and listened to the unknown and dissonant sounds of their language. In the passage referred to the utter diversity of race is vividly set forth.
After the fateful year 1746, when the hopes of Bonnie Prince Charlie were extinguished at Culloden, various influences were at work to bring the peoples into closer association, but much bitterness and misunderstanding persisted. It was, we are convinced, an important epoch for Scottish national life, when Walter Scott crossed the Highland line. He became enraptured by the grandeur of the Highland scenery, by the purple heather hills, the rush of water through the gorges, the brown heath and shaggy wood. He felt, too, the heroic valour and highsouled fidelity of its people. The results of these Highland influences were given to the world in The Lady o f the Lake, and more powerfully continued in Waverley, Rob Roy, the Fair Maid o f Perth, and the Legend o f Montrose. It may be that only the Highlander can understand fully the Highlander, and that even Sir Walter may have missed certain subtle qualities that lie in the Highland nature, but in so far as land and people lay open to the Lowlander, Walter Scott realized and recorded. To the people of the Lowlands the Highland race and region became a new fact and factor in the national life. They learned to admire the splendid devotion of many of the Highland chieftains and their clansmen to the Stuart race-devotion misplaced, it may be, but deep and sincere. And when they read of the highsouled fidelity of Clansmen to the Chieftain; of Evan Maccombich who offered to die on the scaffold in place of his beloved Chieftain; of Torquil of the Oak who devoted all his sons to die in defence of the Chief; they learned to know the Highland spirit at its best.
At last, and in part, at least, through this leavening, there emerged a Scottish nation, diverse in race, but one in spirit. Into this united people, Walter Scott did much to infuse a noble type of patriotism, 'a patriotism that seeks not its own. Through his influence the Lowlander glories not only in the south-land with its memories of Wallace and Bruce, Knox and the Reformers, but in the heather hills and glens. The Highlander, brought into association with the south, appropriated the best traditions of Lowlands and Highlands alike. It was with a deep sense of possession of all the land that Walter Scott penned from a full heart the impassioned lines:
"0 Caledonia, stern and wild.
Meet nurse for a poetic child!
Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood.
Land of my Sires! What mortal hand
Can e'er untie the filial band
That knits me to thy rugged strand?"
Now Scottish men and women, consciously or unconsciously affected by the pervasive influence of this mighty Scotsman, have crossed the seas to Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and Canada. They have brought, if they be of the right stamp, the traditions of Scotland as an animating principle and are distinguished by love of country. One Scottish-born loves Scotland to the last, yet is nor; the less possessed by enthusiasm for the land of adoption. Walter Scott has done much for the lives of many who have done much in the life of Canada.
Sir Walter Scott has not only thus affected the national life of Scotland, he has also done much to draw the people of England and Scotland together. Time would fail to tell of the gradual process by which the once ancient enemies, the English and the Scots, gradually assumed toward each other the truly admirable relation of mutual trust and appreciation they exhibit today. When the union of the Crowns took place in 1603, there was much mutual jealousy and distrust, which was only in a measure moderated when the union of the Parliaments took place in 1707. Scott was jealous for the dignity and perpetuity of the Kingdom of Scotland. He exerted himself to preserve to Edinburgh the Scottish Regalia, and that ancient cannon, now over four centuries old, Mons Meg. They are today, largely through his exertions, in the Castle of Edinburgh-the Regalia in the Crown room and Mons Meg proudly set on the highest rampart of the Castle. Yet he delighted in England and the English. He wrote of gentle King Jamie in London, of the princely revels of Kenilworth, of Richard the Lion-hearted, and this won for Scotland the admiration and gratitude of England. He turned the eyes of the people of the south to the Scottish Hills, and taught the history of the nation, if not in scientific exactitude, surely in its inner spirit and meaning. Today, there is not amalgamation of the two nations, but there is true brotherhood with mutual understanding and regard. Thus united the nation at home is strong, and has sent forth its sons and daughters to the Dominions beyond the Seas, to carry on the great work which has been initiated and developed at home.
But further, Walter Scott has given to the people of the Empire pure literature. It is needless to maintain the high gifts of this Wizard of the North. Tennyson declared him to be the author with the widest range since Shakespeare; Ruskin ranked him in power of imagination with Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare; and others of high rank in the realm of literature have vied with each other in paying tribute. The fact that his work is chiefly imaginative and that, to use a phrase of Robert Louis Stevenson, he is the King of Romancists, ensures a very wide circle of readers. In answer to a question as to the extent to which the Waverleys were being read, Dr. John Brown wrote to Ruskin that in 1873 one firm alone, that of Adam Black and his sons, had issued 250,000 copies of the Waverleys. Today scarcely a great British Publisher neglects to issue editions. In so far as these works are read there is clear gain to our land. The greatness of an Empire must be founded on a people morally good and enlightening, and there is no question as to the moral quality of the writings of Walter Scott. With him there is no confusion of moral issues; the good is always the good and is lovely; the evil, is always the evil and is hideous. There is in him, as Ruskin says, a virginal purity of thought. We may place with absolute confidence in the hands of our sons and daughters anything Walter Scott has written. The high qualities of courage, purity, fidelity, unstained honour and humility by which he was himself distinguished, shine upon his pages. Today he touches the life of the Empire through his imperishable works, and is potent in the lives of many in guiding them toward the choice of the things which are true and honourable, just and pure, lovely and of good report.