Philosophical history in Scott's Waverley novels
This study explores Scott's vision of historical progress and how its impact on various aspects of human life is reflected in his Scottish novels. Central to this study are civic and heroic virtues in the contexts of religion, family, nationalism, politics, economy, law and justice . It falls into an introduction, six chapters and a conclusion. The introduction sets these concerns in the context of Scottish philosophy and history and argues that Scott rejects Burke's absolutism but looks for a more flexible and rational evolution of the institutions and principles that make for social cohesion. The first chapter argues that Scott's historicism is not the product of a mixture of Romantic and Enlightenment attitudes, of sympathy or nostalgia and rationalism or progressivism. Rather it is derived from the so-called "philosophical" historians of the Scottish Enlightenment. For these writers the individualism of modern commercial society had been a problematic development, since unchecked individualism might ultimately undermine social cohesion necessary for all human flourishing. Scott is thus the inheritor of a rationalist, progressive philosophy of history, but one with well-defined reservations about progress and modernity. The second chapter questions the traditional reading of Waverley as a mixture of Romantic nostalgia and Enlightenment skepticism about "primitive" societies. Scott's Highlanders, I argue, function not simply as colourful quasi-Romantic primitives, but as the embodiment of civic and heroic virtues, which renders the novel a Scottish Enlightenment parable on the indispensability of "civic virtue". The third chapter deals with Old Mortality, a novel now often read as a sort of Hobbesian critique of the seventeenth-centut British civil wars. Indeed, the civic virtue of the parties involved in the conflict is displayed in such a light that selfIsh individualism might seem preferable. But on comparing the novel's treatment of the civil wars to that of David Hume's History of England, I show that Old Mortality is a profound meditation on the fundamentally social constitution of human nature, and that it defends rather than belittles public-spiritedness. In the fourth chapter I show how Scott undercuts the political conflict in Rob Roy by reducing it to a sort of clash of cullures which nevertheless share certain values. Using J.G.A. Pocock's seminal work, Virtue, Commerce, and History, I suggest that Scott calls for an updating of civic virtue. Chivalric Honour mutates into Credit to meet commercial needs, and to define social relationships. Also, Scott attempts a synthesis of the otherwise antagonist principles of Burke and Paine concerning family affairs. The virtue of paternal piety, as a cohesive force, is redefined as mutual understanding rather than dictatorship. Scott recognizes the law of inheritance but submits it to civil law. The fifth chapter deals with The Heart of Midlothian. The novel, I argue, gives civic virtue a religious dimension by making it providentially recognized. Skeptical of secular values in establishing the genuine civil society, the novel legitimizes a moral autonomy that derives from rational and progressive religion. Moral autonomy in this sense defines actions of mundane authority in whatever capacity, domestic, political, economical and judicial. Updating religion in one of its aspects, I show, aims at asserting Scottish national and cultural identity, given the fact that historically the Kirk has always been one of its crucial components. On the other hand, the novel attempts to define the tense relationship between Scotland and England within the Union in terms of moral values. Taken in the context of colonization, the novel focuses on vices infiltrating into English commercial society, which in a similar manner are transferred into Scottish society, and threaten the morality of the British nation at large. The sixth chapter on Redgauntlet focuses on Scott's treatment of loyalty as a civic virtue in more than one context. In the context of law and justice, loyalty is modified to operate under the rubric of personal integrity and civil courage. In the political context it is defined in terms of national consensus. In the economic context, it supports advancement as long as it operates within communal interest. The concluding chapter uses Guy Mannering, The Antiquary and The Bride of Lammermoor to support the thesis that Scott's fictional dealings with history in the "Scottish" novels is directed to an accommodation of ancient virtues with present forms of society and nationhood.