Home | Corson
Collection | Biography | Works | Image
Collection | Recent
Publications | Portraits | Correspondence | Forthcoming
Events | Links | E-Texts | Contact
St. Valentine's Day; or, The Fair Maid
of the Canongate, Second
First Edition, First Impression:
Chronicles of the Canongate. Second Series.
By the Author of "Waverley", &c. In Three Volumes.
Vol. I (II-III). Edinburgh: Printed for Cadell and Co., Edinburgh;
And Simpkin and Marshall, London, 1828.
Sources | Synopsis | Reception | Links
Fair Maid of Perth, Scott's first novel since Woodstock (1826), was
published on May 15, 1828 as the Second Series of Chronicles
of the Canongate.
Scott's original plan, however, had been to compile a miscellany
of shorter fiction in the manner of the First Series of Chronicles.
The contract for the Second Series was signed on 29 November 1827
and by 3 December he had completed an introductory narrative by
'Chrystal Croftangry' and two short tales 'My Aunt Margaret's
Mirror' and 'The
Jock'. Scott was momentarily uncertain how to proceed, declaring
in his Journal for 4 December that he felt 'a little puzzled
about the character and style of the next tale'. The world, he
was sated with tales of chivalry, although James
Ballantyne was once again urging him in that direction.
By the next day, he believed he had hit upon a means of refreshing
potentially stale subject-matter. His new tale, provisionally titled
'The North Inch of Perth' would deal with a ceremonial battle in
1396 in which the champions of two Highland Clans fought to settle
a grievance in the presence of King Robert III and his court. What
particularly caught Scott's imagination was the tradition that one
of the champions had fled the field either before or during the combat.
'Suppose', Scott wrote in his Journal for 5 December 'a
man's nerves supported by feelings of honour, or say by the spur
supporting him against constitutional timidity to a certain point,
then suddenly giving way,—I think something tragic might be
produced.' The theme of the 'brave coward or cowardly brave man'
would be embodied in the finished narrative by Conachar, chief
of Clan Quhele.
Scott began work on 7 December and was making steady
progress when on 11 December he was shaken by a letter from his
publisher Robert Cadell. Cadell, backed by James Ballantyne, pointed
to the moderate success of the First Series of Chronicles and expressed
dissatisfaction with the two tales and introductory narrative so
far submitted for the Second Series. Scott initially responded
with an acknowledgement that inspiration was wearing thin and a
suggestion that he take a break from writing. His Journal for
that his financial circumstances would permit no rest. In
particular, he and Cadell had been hoping to use the anticipated
the Second Series of Chronicles to bid for a half-share
in the copyright of the earlier Waverley Novels which was being
by Archibald Constable's creditors on 20 December. Their ultimately
successful bid would pave the way for the publication of the lucrative
'Magnum Opus' edition of Scott's fiction (1829-33). On further
reflection, then, he suggested to Ballantyne and Cadell that he
abandon 'the losing game of novel writing' for another field of
literature. The two men, both financially dependent on Scott's
success as a novelist, were horrified. A compromise was hammered
out. Scott would continue work on the Chronicles but would
omit 'My Aunt Margaret's Mirror' and 'The Death of the Laird's
radically reduce the Croftangry narrative, and concentrate on the
'Perth' tale, the opening pages of which Cadell and Ballantyne
had now seen and approved. Originally conceived as a short-story,
this was now recast as a
novel. (Scott would subsequently publish the rejected tales in
Frederic Reynold's annual Christmas gift-book The Keepsake.
Together with 'The Tapestried Chamber', they are generally known
as the Keepsake Stories.)
By 15 December Scott was back at work on what was
now known as 'Saint Valentine's Eve'. After an extended Christmas
break, the first volume was complete by 5 February 1828. In his
Journal Scott declared himself 'but indifferently pleased',
fearing that 'either
the kind of thing is worn out or I am worn out myself'. Ballantyne
too was unenthusiastic, objecting to the murder of Oliver Proudfute
and regretting the tragic bent of the tale. The remaining volumes
were written at extraordinary speed, even by Scott's exceptional
standards. The second volume was complete on 2 March, Scott again
proclaiming himself 'not much pleased with it' and lamenting its
lack of 'passion'. The third and final volume was complete by 29
March, although Scott was not satisfied that he had convincingly
bound together the novel's three narrative threads: the clan fight
and cowardice of Conachar, the love affair between Henry Smith
and Catherine Glover, and the involvement of the Duke of Rothsay
and other historical characters. He was, though, proud of his industry:
'I have let no grass grow beneath my heels this bout.'
Back to top
Scott had long been familiar with the historical and legendary
core material from which the novel grew.
As far back as Rob Roy (1818),
there is a reference to the artisan Henry Smith or Gow who, according
to legend, made up the numbers for one of the clans in the 1396
battle when it found itself a man short. Scott drew extensively on
medieval and Renaissance sources: John Barbour's The Bruce,
Blind Hary's The Wallace, Andrew of Wyntoun's Original
Chronicle of Scotland, John of Fordun's Chronica gentis
Bower's Scotichronicon, and Boece's Scotorum historiae.
Two later sources proved particularly fruitful: Henry Adamson's
The Muses Threnodie (1638) for its poetical history of
Perth and John Pinkerton's History of Scotland under the House
of Stuart (1797) for its portrayal of Robert
III, Albany, Rothsay, and Ramorny.
Scott's sources permitted him ample liberty of invention. Details
of the battle are scarce, and there is not even general agreement
on which clans were involved. In the Introduction, Scott's narrator
Chrystal Croftangry explains that he prefers to avoid 'the well
known paths of history, where every one can read the finger
posts carefully set up to advise them of the right turning; and
the very boys and girls, who learn the history of Britain by way
of question and answer, hoot at a poor author if he abandons the
highway'. Scott abandons the highway so far as to telescope ten
years of history into six weeks, bringing forward the murder of
Rothsay by six years and the death of Robert III by ten.
Back to top
The novel is set in the late fourteenth century during the reign
of Robert III of Scotland. The King's son, the Duke of Rothsay,
attempts to abduct Catharine Glover, the 'Fair Maid of Perth',
daughter of an honest burgher. He is thwarted by the intervention
of Henry Smith or Gow, an armourer and renowned swordsman, who
hacks off the hand of Sir John Ramorny, the Duke's Master of Horse.
Although backed by Catharine's father Simon, Henry appears too
warlike to win the hand of the mild-mannered 'Maid'. Ramorny tries
and fails to avenge himself on Henry, then vents his anger on Rothsay,
who has dismissed him at his father's behest. Rothsay is lured
to the castle of Falkland and murdered; the crime is discovered
and Ramorny promptly executed. Meanwhile, a bitter rivalry develops
between Henry and Conachar, his Highland apprentice, as both contend
for Catharine's affections. Conachar becomes chief of Clan Quhele
after the death of his father, and the King demands that the longstanding
feud between Clan Quhele and Clan Chattan be resolved by mortal
combat between thirty members of each clan. At the last moment
one of the representatives of Clan Chattan withdraws and is replaced
by Henry who relishes the opportunity of confronting Conachar.
At the end of a bloody battle, the two come face to face. Betrayed
by his constitutional cowardice, Conachar flees and, overcome with
shame, commits suicide. Henry, weary of battle and bloodshed, vows
that henceforth he will only fight in Scotland's service, and is
finally accepted by Catharine.
Back to top
The Fair Maid of Perth was an immense and immediate success,
winning applause from no less a figure than Goethe.
Criticism was almost unanimously favourable, with the Athenaeum declaring
that it 'may fairly be ranked as equal with the best and most admired
productions of the author'. Scott was modest about the success
of the novel but in his Journal he wrote proudly: 'I can spin a
tough yarn still' (5 June 1828). Together with Redgauntlet,
The Fair Maid of Perth represents one of the peaks of Scott's
Back to top
Back to top
Back to Index of Works
Last updated: 19-Dec-2011
© Edinburgh University Library