Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reflections on Sir Walter Scott’s Birthday, August 15th

That elder leader’s calm reply
In steady voice was given,
‘In man’s most dark extremity
Oft succor dawns from heaven.’

-- Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles

As soon as the Tea Party Movement became a movement to prove “we are not racist,” it was finished. And so is every “grass roots” conservative movement finished before it starts when white Europeans of American and European heritage believe it is a sin for white people to defend or champion their own people. They have derived that idea from their schools and churches, both of which taught them that hatred of the white and love of the colored were the first and second of the Ten Commandments. Until white people are willing to abandon church theology and dismantle the schools, there will be no successful ‘tea parties’ in America or Europe.

Until that blessed time, when church theology is abandoned and the schools are destroyed, the Europeans who are not afraid of being called racist must keep the bridge to the European past safe and secure in case some last minute convertites want to become Europeans again and need access to the European past.

If a scared and timid European came to me and asked how he could stop being afraid of the racist label and start listening to the voice of his European ancestors, I would tell him to start with the man whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow, Walter Scott.

Scott has been called the father of the historical novel, but that does not describe the man’s work. Scott’s achievement was Shakespearean; he established the universal truth that Christ is risen from the dead, by faithfully depicting the culture of a particular people, the Europeans. By chronicling the lives and loves of the European people, Scott, like Shakespeare, gave us a vision of the living God. He is a mere “historical novelist” to the modern European because the modern European does not know how to think. Scott thought biblically, which means he thought from the heart outward. His heart informed his mind, not the reverse.

In the European fairy tales, the third dumb brother is really only dumb in the eyes of his worldly brothers. The third brother’s thought springs from a heart connected to Christ; therefore, his mind expresses thoughts that seem like idiocy to those men whose minds are corrupt. In their hearts they covet the things that only Satan can provide. When and if the European man tires of the Faustian things, he can turn to Scott to help him understand the eternal things.

I once read a literary critic’s commentary on Jane Austen in which he claimed that you couldn’t tell from her writings that she was a Christian. What fools these literary critics be! Austen’s Christianity is evident in every line she wrote. It is the same with Scott. The reason the modern intellectuals and the modern halfway-house Christians do not see Christianity in the novels of Scott is because their concept of religious faith is a modern, anti-Christian notion of faith. They think a faith that is embodied in a culture is not a faith. For them a faith must be made into a disembodied theology in order to be genuine. But the poet from antique Europe does not desire to be wiser than God. The Savior took flesh and dwelt among us; why then should we not look to see the faith embodied in the people who believed in the incarnate God? In Scott’s works, the European Christ, the God who is above us and beside us in spirit and in blood, takes center stage.

Because Walter Scott’s thought came from his heart, he was one of the last European intellectuals who was not a blood-sucking leech. We are all too familiar with the blood-suckers. They need the European past because it was real; there were genuine men and women back then. So the blood-sucking leech feeds on that past. He writes books and articles about those interesting antique Europeans, but always concludes by telling us just how wrong those people were – wrong about God, wrong about men and women, and wrong about love and honor.

A book called The Return to Camelot by a leech named Mark Girouard is an example of the modern European practice of desecrating Christian Europe and Walter Scott in particular. Girouard writes about the revival of chivalry in Britain during the late 18th century, extending through the 19th century, and into the early 20th century. Scott is credited with starting the revival, but Girouard has a surprise waiting for the reader who picks up the book thinking it is a book in praise of British chivalry. Oh no. At the end of the book he informs us that the English gentleman’s love of chivalry was the major reason for Britain’s involvement in World War I. He goes on to tell us that World War I was the end of chivalry altogether, and good riddance to it. And by extension, good riddance to Scott, since Girouard claims Scott spawned the chivalric revival in Britain.

In its essentials Girouard’s attack on Scott is the same as Mark Twain’s. By writing favorably about men and women who took the Christian principles of honor, loyalty, and pieta seriously, Scott undermined the modern civilization which liberals like Twain and Girouard think is self-evidently superior to antique Europe. Now, for the defense: The chivalric code of the Middle Ages is infinitely superior to the modern anti-chivalric code, but Scott’s chivalry is not medieval. Scott appreciates what was good in the Middle Ages, but he does not want to revive the cult of chivalry as practiced then. Scott’s chivalry, like his Christianity, is more organic, more personal, and more like the Christianity of his European forefathers who humanized the overly systematized and overly intellectualized Roman Christianity. The cult of chivalry as an affectation, as something separate from a man’s Christian faith, was repellent to Scott. The genuine chivalric code comes from a filial relationship with the triune God, not from the mind of man; nor is it necessary to be a soldier in order to practice it. Witness Reuben Butler in Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian.

Far from causing Britain’s involvement in World War I, Scott’s brand of chivalry, if the British people had adhered to it, would have prevented their involvement in World War I. The War came about because the leaders of Britain and the other European nations no longer believed in the code that flowed naturally from a belief in the God whose portrait we see in the novels and epic poems of Sir Walter Scott.

I’m frequently chided and sometimes excoriated by practical-minded right-wingers for bringing mere writers of fictional fables, such as Walter Scott, into serious discussions on such issues as race and immigration. But don’t you see? Europeans are hopeless and helpless in the race war because they don’t see what Scott saw when he looked at Europe. The men and women of Scott’s Europe would not write a protest letter when barbarians murdered and tortured their own people. Nor would they try to vote an invasion away. Scott is more than relevant, he is a necessity. The European must see what Scott saw and feel like he felt if he is ever going to reclaim his soul and his nation. Scott taught us as Dominie Sampson taught young Bertram of Ellangowan:

“But I trust,” said Bertram, “I am encouraged to hope, we shall all see better days. All our wrongs shall be redressed, since Heaven has sent me means and friends to assert my right.”

“Friends indeed!” echoed the Dominie, “and sent, as you truly say, by Him, to whom I early taught you to look up as the source of all that is good.” +


In Scotland Again

No home, I am sure, in which a great man has lived, preserves his memory more vividly and more lovingly than Abbotsford preserves the memory of its founder.

Sitting here in his study, it is difficult to think of Scott’s place in literature. It is of the man I think, the man whose character was pure gold. It is a commonplace that we who come after must forgive many a man for his sins because he was a great artist. Scott needs no forgiveness. He was a perfect man.

-- by H. V. Morton


Tales of a Traveller

Of his public character and merits, all the world can judge. His works have incorporated themselves with the thoughts and concerns of the whole civilized world, for a quarter of a century, and have had a controlling influence over the age in which he lived. But when did a human being ever exercise an influence more salutary and benignant? Who is there that, on looking back over a great portion of his life, does not find the genius of Scott administering to his pleasures, beguiling his cares, and soothing his lonely sorrows? Who does not still regard his works as a treasury of pure enjoyment, an armory to which to resort in time of need, to find weapons with which to fight off the evils and the griefs of life? For my own part, in periods of dejection, I have hailed the announcement of a new work from his pen as an earnest of certain pleasure in store for me, and have looked forward to it as a traveller in a waste looks to a green spot at a distance, where he feels assured of solace and refreshment. When I consider how much he has thus contributed to the better hours of my past existence, and how independent his works still make me, at times, of all the world for my enjoyment, I bless my stars that cast my lot in his days, to be thus cheered and gladdened by the outpourings of his genius. I consider it one of the greatest advantages that I have derived from my literary career, that it has elevated me into genial communion with such a spirit; and as a tribute of gratitude for his friendship, and veneration for his memory, I cast this humble stone upon his cairn, which will soon, I trust, be piled aloft with the contributions of abler hands.

-- by Washington Irving

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