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Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
George Ellis to Walter Scott, [May? 1805]

Vol I Preface
Vol. I Contents.
Chapter I
Chapter II 1771-78
Chapter III 1778-83
Chapter IV 1783-86
Chapter V 1786-90
Chapter VI 1790-92
Chapter VII 1792-96
Chapter VIII 1796-97
Chapter IX 1798-99
Chapter X 1800-02
Chapter XI 1802-03
Chapter XII 1803-04
Vol. II Contents.
Chapter I 1804-05
Chapter II 1805
Chapter III 1806
Chapter IV 1806-08
Chapter V 1808
Chapter VI 1808-09
Chapter VII 1809-10
Chapter VIII 1810
Chapter IX 1810
Chapter X 1810-11
Chapter XI 1811
Chapter XII 1811-12
Vol. III Contents.
Chapter I 1812-13
Chapter II 1813
Chapter III 1814
Chapter IV 1814
Chapter V 1814
Chapter VI 1814
Chapter VII 1814
Chapter VIII 1814
Chapter IX 1814
Chapter X 1814-15
Chapter XI 1815
Chapter XII 1815
Vol III Appendix
Vol. IV Contents.
Chapter I 1816
Chapter II 1817
Chapter III 1817
Chapter IV 1818
Chapter V 1818
Chapter VI 1818
Chapter VII 1818-19
Chapter VIII 1819
Chapter IX 1819
Chapter X 1819
Chapter XI 1820
Chapter XII 1820
Vol. V Contents.
Chapter I 1820
Chapter II 1820-21
Chapter III 1821
Chapter IV 1821
Chapter V 1821
Chapter VI 1821
Chapter VII 1822
Chapter VIII 1822
Chapter IX 1822-23
Chapter X 1823
Chapter XI 1823
Chapter XII 1824
Chapter XIII 1824-25
Vol. VI Contents.
Chapter I 1825
Chapter II 1825
Chapter III 1825
Chapter IV 1825
Chapter V 1826
Chapter VI 1826
Chapter VII 1826
Chapter VIII 1826
Chapter IX 1826
Chapter X 1826
Chapter XI 1826
Vol. VII Contents.
Vol VII Preface
Chapter I 1826-27
Chapter II 1827
Chapter III 1828
Chapter IV 1828
Chapter V 1829
Chapter VI 1830
Chapter VII 1830-31
Chapter VIII 1831
Chapter IX 1831
Chapter X 1831-32
Chapter XI 1832
Chapter XII
Vol VII Appendix
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Mr Ellis does not seem to have written at any length on the subject of the Lay, until he had perused the article in the Edinburgh Review. He then says, “Though I had previously made up my mind, or rather perhaps because I had done so, I was very anxious to compare my sentiments with those of the Edinburgh critic, and I found that in general we were perfectly agreed, though there are parts of the subject which we consider from
very different points of view.
Frere, with whom I had not any previous communication about it, agrees with me; and trusting very much to the justice of his poetical feelings, I feel some degree of confidence in my own judgment though in opposition to Mr Jeffrey, whose criticism I admire upon the whole extremely, as being equally acute and impartial, and as exhibiting the fairest judgment respecting the work that could be formed by the mere assistance of good sense and general taste, without that particular sort of taste which arises from the study of romantic compositions.

“What Frere and myself think, must be stated in the shape of a hyper-criticism—that is to say, of a review of the reviewer. We say that the Lay of the Last Minstrel is a work sui generis, written with the intention of exhibiting what our old romances do indeed exhibit in point of fact, but incidentally, and often without the wish, or rather contrary to the wish of the author;—viz. the manners of a particular age; and that therefore, if it does this truly, and is at the same time capable of keeping the steady attention of the reader, it is so far perfect. This is also a poem, and ought therefore to contain a great deal of poetical merit. This indeed it does by the admission of the reviewer, and it must be admitted that he has shown much real taste in estimating the most beautiful passages; but he finds fault with many of the lines as careless, with some as prosaic, and contends that the story is not sufficiently full of incident, and that one of the incidents is borrowed from a merely local superstition, &c. &c. To this we answer—1st, that if the Lay were intended to give any idea of the Minstrel compositions, it would have been a most glaring absurdity to have rendered the poetry as perfect and uniform as the works usually submitted to modern readers—and as in telling a story, nothing, or very little would be lost,
though the merely connecting part of the narrative were in plain prose, the reader is certainly no loser by the incorrectness of the smaller parts. Indeed, who is so unequal as
Dryden? It may be said that he was not intentionally so—but to be very smooth is very often to be tame; and though this should be admitted to be a less important fault than inequality in a common modern poem, there can be no doubt with respect to the necessity of subjecting yourself to the latter fault (if it is one) in an imitation of an ancient model. 2d, Though it is naturally to be expected that many readers will expect an almost infinite accumulation of incidents in a romance, this is only because readers in general have acquired all their ideas on the subject from the prose romances, which commonly contained a farrago of metrical stories. The only thing essential to a romance was, that it should be believed by the hearers. Not only tournaments, but battles are indeed accumulated in some of our ancient romances, because tradition had of course ascribed to every great conqueror a great number of conquests, and the minstrel would have been thought deficient if, in a warlike age, he had omitted any military event. But in other respects a paucity of incident is the general characteristic of our minstrel poems. 3d, With respect to the Goblin Page, it is by no means necessary that the superstition on which this is founded should be universally or even generally current. It is quite sufficient that it should exist somewhere in the neighbourhood of the castle where the scene is placed; and it cannot fairly be required that because the goblin is mischievous, all his tricks should be directed to the production of general evil. The old idea of goblins seems to have been, that they were essentially active, and careless about the mischief they produced, rather than providentially malicious.

“We therefore (i.e. Frere and myself) dissent from all
the reviewer’s objections to these circumstances in the narrative; but we entertain some doubts about the propriety of dwelling so long on the Minstrel songs in the last Canto. I say we doubt, because we are not aware of your having ancient authority for such a practice; but though the attempt was a bold one, inasmuch as it is not usual to add a whole canto to a story which is already finished, we are far from wishing that you had left it unattempted. I must tell you the answer of a philosopher (
Sir Henry Englefield) to a friend of his who was criticising the obscurity of the language used in the Minstrel. ‘I read little poetry, and often am in doubt whether I exactly understand the poet’s meaning; but I found, after reading the Minstrel three times, that I understood it all perfectly.’ ‘Three times?’ replied his friend. ‘Yes, certainly; the first time, I discovered that there was a great deal of meaning in it; a second would have cleared it all up, but that I was run away with by the beautiful passages, which distracted my attention; the third time I skipped over these, and only attended to the scheme and structure of the poem, with which I am delighted.’ At this conversation I was present, and though I could not help smiling at Sir Henry’s mode of reading poetry, was pleased to see the degree of interest which he took in the narrative.”*