British Fiction, 18001829

SCOTT, Sir Walter. Monastery, The (1820)

Anecdotal Records

Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray II.
1 Mar 1820.
Pray send me W. Scott’s new novels—what are their names and characters? […] What is Ivanhoe?—and what do you call his other—are there two?—Pray make him write two a year.—I like no reading so well.
Source: Byron’s Letters and Journals, ed. by Leslie A. Marchand, 13 vols (London: Murray, 1973–94), VII, 48.
Notes: Ivanhoe is EN2 1820: 62. The other two novels inquired about are The Monastery, published in March and The Abbot (EN2 1820: 64), published in September.

Letter from Sydney Smith to Archibald Constable.
25 Mar 1820.
I am much obliged by your present of The Monastery, which I have read, and which I must frankly confess I admire less than any of the others—much less. Such I think you will find the judgment of the public to be. The idea of painting ancient manners in a fictitious story and in well-known scenery is admirable, and the writer has admirable talents for it; but nothing is done without pains, and I doubt whether pains have been taken in The Monastery,—if they have, they have failed. It is quite childish to introduce supernatural agency; as much of the [350/351] terrors and follies of superstition as you please, but no actual ghosts and hobgoblins. I recommend one novel every year, and more pains. […] You will excuse my candour,—you know I am your wellwisher. I was the first to praise Ivanhoe, as I shall be to praise the next, if I can do so conscientiously.
Source: The Letters of Sydney Smith, ed. by Nowell C. Smith, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), I, 350–51.
Notes: Letter is addressed from Foston, York. Ivanhoe was also published by Constable.

Letter from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Thomas Allsop.
8 Apr 1820.
I have not read the Monastery; but I suspect that the Thought or Element of the Faery Work is from the German. I perceive from that passage in the Old Mortality where Morton is discovered by old Alice [Alison] to in consequence of calling his Dog, Elphin, that W.S. has been reading Tiek’s Phantaasus (a collection of Faery or Witch Tales) from which both the incident & name [are] borrowed.
Source: Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. by Earl Leslie Griggs, 6 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956–71), V, 35.
Notes: Tiek is Ludwig Tieck. ‘Old Mortality’ is the second tale in Tales of my Landlord (EN2 1816: 53).

Diary Entry by Anne Lister.
10 Apr 1820.
[…] M[ariana] made me read aloud the first 126pp., vol. 2, of Sir Walter Scott’s (he has just been made a baronet) last novel The [120/121] Monastery, in 3 vols., 12mo. Stupid enough.
Source: I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791–1840, ed. by Helena Whitbread (New York and London: New York University Press, 1988), pp. 120–21.
Notes: Mariana Lawton was Lister’s lover.

Letter from Mary Russell Mitford to Mrs. Hofland.
11 Apr 1820.
I was sure you would like ‘Ivanhoe:’ Robin Hood’s ballads were my childhood’s delight too; not in a pamphlet, but in Bishop Percy’s ‘Reliques of Ancient Poetry,’ […] Rebecca is divine. How do you like ‘The Monastery?’ To me it appears a falling off. That White Spirit, though she talks nothing but verse, is a very unpoetical personage, and harmonizes as ill with the admirable tone of common life preserved in the rest of the book, as Walter Scott’s witches and soothsayers commonly do. Shakespeare—to whom the ‘Edinburgh Review’ has, with a truly Scottish impudence, compared the great novelist—managed these matters differently; nothing can exceed the fine keeping of his supernatural dramas […] Besides this great fault, the story is hurried; and the Elizabethan dandy, though admirably done, almost as tiresome as the real man would be himself. I am told, though it seems scarcely credible, that Longman and Co. have given ten thousand pounds for the copyright, and that there are two more novels ready for the press, so soon as this has attained a second edition.
Source: Letters of Mary Russell Mitford. Second Series, ed. by Henry Chorley, 2 vols (London: Bentley, 1872), I, 88.

Letter from Sydney Smith to Lord Grey.
15 Apr 1820.
Walter Scott’s novel is generally thought to be a failure? its only defenders I have heard of are Lord Grenville and Sir William Grant.
Source: Letters of Sydney Smith, ed. by Nowell C. Smith, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), I, 352.
Notes: Letter is addressed from 20 Savile-row.

Diary Entries by Henry Crabb Robinson.
2 June 1820.
At night I began The Monastery, the only one of the Scotch novels which does not generally please. Hitherto, I like the parts in which the fairy or White Lady appears, the best, though certainly they do not harmonize with the rest of the tale, and it must be offensive, almost, to serious Christians to have such machinery brought in close contact with the Bible, and connected intimately with the controverted question agitated by Catholics and Protestants concerning the expediency of permitting the use of it in the vernacular tongue.

4 June 1820.
Read The Monastery. At first the songs of the While Lady had pleased me, but on reflection I like them less. There are some good characters—the Sub-Prior and the Reformer Warden—well-matched, and justice done to each party. Some fine scenes—the adventures in the freebooters’ or baron’s castle. The tale on the whole an inferior one.
Source: Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and their Writers, ed. by Edith J. Morley, 3 vols (London: Dent, 1938), I, 241.

Letter from John Bacon Sawrey Morritt to Walter Scott.
12 Sept 1820.
Pray desire the anonymous author of The Abbot to send me his cargo to Rokeby, as The Monastery was left at my house in London, and if The Abbot is sent to the same place he will fall into the hands of a dainty widow to whom I let my house till next January and who will not know what to make of him. Her name is Mrs Read, supposed to be derived ‘a non readendo’. The Abbot I hear is extremely popular, and two or three of my correspondents are in raptures with it.
Source: The Private Letter Books of Sir Walter Scott, ed. by Wilfred Partington (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1930), p. 31. See Millgate #12594.

Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray II.
12 Oct 1820.
[…] a considerable quantity of books have arrived […] // ‘I’m thankful for your books dear Murray / But why not send Scott’s Monastery?’ // the only book in four living volumes I would give a baiccho [sic] to see, abating the rest of the same author.
Source: Byron’s Letters and Journals, ed. by Leslie A. Marchand, 13 vols (London: Murray, 1973–94), VII, 200.
Notes: Letter is addressed from Ravenna.

Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray II.
16 Oct 1820.
The Abbot has just arrived: many thanks; as also for The Monasterywhen you send it!!! // The Abbot will have more than ordinary interest for me; for an ancestor of mine by the mother’s side, Sir J. Gordon of Gight, the handsomest of his day, died on a Scaffold at Aberdeen for his loyalty to Mary, of whom he was an imputed paramour as well as her relation. His fate was much commented on in the Chronicles of the time.
Source: Byron’s Letters and Journals, ed. by Leslie A. Marchand, 13 vols (London: Murray, 1973–94), VII, 204.
Notes: Letter is addressed from Ravenna.

Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray II.
25 Oct 1820.
Send me the Monastery and some Soda powders […].
Source: Byron’s Letters and Journals, ed. by Leslie A. Marchand, 13 vols (London: Murray, 1973–94), VII, 212.
Notes: Letter is addressed from Ravenna.

Letter from Lord Byron to Richard Belgrave Hoppner.
28 Oct 1820.
I have Scott’s ‘Abbot’—which is not his best—‘a Sequel to the Monastery’ which Murray[?] has not sent me.
Source: Byron’s Letters and Journals, ed. by Leslie A. Marchand, 13 vols (London: Murray, 1973–94), VII, 214.
Notes: Question mark in square brackets appears as given in the printed source.

Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray II.
4 Nov 1820.
[postscript] […] W. Scott’s Monastery just arrived—many thanks for that Grand Desideratum of the last Six Months.
Source: Byron’s Letters and Journals, ed. by Leslie A. Marchand, 13 vols (London: Murray, 1973–94), VII, 217.

Letter from Lady Louisa Stuart to Walter Scott.
4 Dec 1820.
At the moment you are mobbed for the Queen’s enemy, some wise mortals will have it you wrote the Abbot to defend her, and see her pictured in poor Mary; as they would in [309/310] Robertson’s History of Scotland if a new book. But I forget—the Abbot, &c. are not yours; that point is cleared up. […] Whoever wrote the Abbot may be satisfied with its success, which was not so compleat that it sent its readers back to the Monastery, and forced them to see the merits they had denied before. A secret triumph to me. Not that I liked this latter as well as Waverley and some of the others, but I thought it had a full share of what is in my mind the principal charm of them all, masterly touches of character.
Source: Grierson, VI, 309–10n; also see Millgate #4463.
Notes: Waverley is EN2 1814: 52.

Letter from Sarah Harriet Burney to Charlotte Francis Barrett.
27 Feb 1821.
Of course you have read Kenilworth Castle, and I trust, liked it. I greatly prefer it to the Monastery, & am almost as much pleased with it as with the Abbot: but not quite; the catastrophe is painful, & Elizabeth features not so appropriately in a Romance, as her beautiful Rival; neither is the false varnish given to Leicester’s character capable of making one forget his historical turpitude.
Source: The Letters of Sarah Harriet Burney, ed. by Lorna J. Clark (Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1997), p. 230.
Notes: Charlotte was Burney’s niece; she married Henry Barrett in 1807. The letter is addressed to her at Richmond, Surrey. Kenilworth is EN2 1821: 64.

Letter from Jonathan Gray to Mary Gray.
19 Sept 1821.
The wild weather has discouraged me from going into Cumberland, and I think of staying here until Saturday morning. I have begun Walter Scott’s ‘Monastery’.
Source: Papers and Diaries of a York Family 1764–1839, ed. by Mrs. Edwin Gray (London: The Sheldon Press, 1927), p. 169.
Notes: Letter is addressed from Blackpool.

Letter from Eliza Fenwick to Mary Hays.
10 Dec 1821.
[Fenwick remarks on reading The Heart of Mid-Lothian (EN2 1818: 56).] The Monastery pained me. I did not like that this genius should adopt supernatural agency & that of no very dignified kind. It has however fine portraits & beautiful passages.
Source: The Fate of the Fenwicks: Letters to Mary Hays (1798–1828), ed. by A. F. Wedd (London: Methuen & Co, 1927), p. 216.
Notes: Letter is addressed from Barbadoes. Eliza is also the name of Fenwick’s daughter. In this letter, Fenwick also remarks on The Abbot (EN2 1820: 62), Ivanhoe (EN2 1820: 63), and Kenilworth (EN2 1821: 64).

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Mrs Margaret Ruxton.
9 Mar 1822.
[…] breakfasted at Dr. and Mrs. Somervilles at ten—Anecdotes of Walter Scotts quickness and skill in working up every fact he gleans in conversation and even every good expression. Clerk and Thomson are two friends of his who have helped him to much in antiquarian lore and in humourous expression. Clerk is an odd long armed figure. Once when he was stirring the punch before supper he saw Scott and Thomson laugh. ‘I know you are laughing at me—I know I look like the red lion on a sign post predominating over a bowl of punch.’ This appears word for word in Waverley. The first volume of the Abbot or Monastery was printed [366/367] when one day Clerk went to Scott with an old musty record he had rummaged out, of some Monastery’s accounts in which in the bill of daily fare appeared what do you think Scott? Why oatmeal porridge I suppose or broth or broz—No such thing—stewed Almonds. In the next volume Scott’s monks were feasted on stewed Almonds and Thomson meeting Clerk exclaimed ‘How this Walter Scott finds out everything. I thought I had the stewed Almonds a secret snug to myself. How did he get at it?’ ‘I told it to him’ answered Clerk. If any proofs were wanting who could doubt after this of Scotts being the author of those novels.
Source: Maria Edgeworth: Letters from England 1813–1844, ed. by Christina Colvin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 366–67.

Marginal comments by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
[?Sept 1823–1825].
[Coleridge’s comments, written in his copy of The Monastery, are recorded in Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Marginalia, ed. by H. J. Jackson and George Whalley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), XII.4, 594–97.]

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