The Wizard of the North: a Life of Sir Walter Scott by Casaba Oman (Hodder and Stoughton £3.95)
Scott was undoubtedly the most lovable of all our great British novelists. He was kind, generous, thoughtful and always magnanimous. Carola Oman's life of him will add not only to this view of Scott but to the biographer's reputation. She is on of' those rare scholarly writers who can combine the most careful documentation with an exciting narrative.
Her hook is crammed with the details of Scott's eventful life, yet it does not give the impression of condensationScott's life is made to appear like an exciting adventure story as. indeed, in many ways it was.
Scott had married Charlotte Carpenter (who was in fact wholly French in origin) in 1797. They had four children after the death of their first son, and Scott's favourite was his elder daughter Sophia.
Charlotte was delighted when at last the family settled down in a house of their own in George Street, Edinburgh. After his marriage. Miss Oman tells us, Scott gave up his "youthful, wild drinking habits". We are also told that his wife thought Scott wrote too much.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Scott's life, apart from his fantastic literary habits, is the travelling he did, whether in rambles or on long journeys.. All this helped to give the complete conviction to the backgrounds of his novels.
Scott was much exercised by the Battle of Trafalgar. In short, he never ceased to lose his enthusiasm for life and literature. All this Miss Oman presents to us with her own zest and knowledge.
Her narrative never falters, and she has much to tell us of this so active writer. Her searches must have been laborious but, when she gives the results of them to us. they are never tedious.
Finally. we must consider Scott's almost unbelievable fictional output and his money difficulties. His novels were first
published in Scotland by Ballantyne. His first, Waverley was published anonymously and was a great success. The many others followed at varying intervals.
Scott was offered the Poet Laureateship a little earlier than the publication of Waverley, but with typical modesty he refused it and suggested Southey instead. Guy Mannering was also a success.
Scott travelled a great deal, mainly in the British Isles, but he also visited Brussels and Paris. It is no wonder that he later suffered from ill-health, since he wrote so much and led such an active life.
Miss Oman tells us of a journal started in his later life which was unique of its kind. In this journal Scott wrote of his money difficulties; he also confided in his elder daughter about them.
The Scottish Publishing House, which he helped to found. had run into serious financial distress but Scott was heroically determined to give up "lavish living", provide for his family and work to pay off all his debts.
To the end of his life he retained his humour and generosity. 1-le worked increasingly harder at his novels in order to avoid bankruptcy.
Even illness would not stop him, but William IV produced a yacht to take the ailing writer to the Mediterranean. Worn out with work and worry about others, he died at Abbotsford in 1832. He kept his faith in God and men to the very end.
Carola Oman has written a most exciting hook about a wonderful man and writer. It cannot fail to intrigue a large public. The biographer's own work must have been arduous. but she writes with an enthusiasm which well befits her subject.