Story of the Day for Tuesday July 31, 3012
The Mystery Critic
Love. . . doesn’t envy. It doesn’t boast, it isn’t proud.
1 Corinthians 13:4
Sir Walter Scott, who was born in 1771, pulled off a feat that no one author had ever accomplished. He became the first English writer to enjoy an international reputation while he was still alive – with avid fans in Great Britain, Europe, North America, and Australia.
Scott is best known for his novels. In fact, he invented the genre of the historical narrative. But historical novels weren’t his only innovation: in order to maintain his image as Great Britain’s leading poet, he wrote his first novels anonymously. After his first novel, Waverly, he published his later novels as “Author of Waverly.”
As if being the best writer in the English world wasn’t enough, Sir Walter Scott was granted permission by the future King George IV to search for the long lost crown of Charles II. Armed with military assistants, Scott found the Crown Jewels of Scotland in the bowels of a castle in Edinburgh, and a grateful royalty granted Scott the title of baronet.
Sir Walter Scott could hardly rise higher in popularity.
At the height of Scott’s popularity, however, a usurper arose. Lord Byron, a young, charismatic poet began to publish his works.
A London paper printed the reviews of an anonymous contributor. The reviewer gushed over the works of Bryron – praising his poetic genius. Sir Walter Scott, the anonymous critic maintained, could no longer be considered the leading poet of England. Later, it was discovered that the mystery critic was Sir Walter Scott himself.
Scott considered literary envy “a base sensation” and lauded Byron as “the man whose splendour dimmed the fame of his competitors.”
Not only did Scott work to bolster the popularity of Lord Byron, but he also defended authors that were scoffed at by the critics. Jane Austen, who today is recognized as a literary giant, was, in the 19th century dismissed as a “woman’s novelist.” Sir Walter Scott was one of the few males who came to her defense and commended Austen’s genius.
Scott desperately needed readers to buy his books. When businesses, in which he was heavily invested, crashed, he was financially ruined. Rather than declare bankruptcy, however, he determined to write himself out of debt. But he never considered the option of bettering his popularity by trying to diminish the fame of his fellow authors.
Love is an odd thing. It doesn’t resent the success of others but rejoices for them, rejoices with them. When the Bible urges us to love our neighbor as ourselves, we begin to learn that we are not at our greatest when we stand boastfully above our rivals, but when we devote our attention to making others better.