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Paul's Letters to His Kinsfolk
First Edition, First Impression:
Paul's Letters to His Kinsfolk. Edinburgh:
Printed by James Ballantyne and Co. For Archibald Constable and
Company, Edinburgh; and Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, and
John Murray, London. 1816.
Synopsis | Reception | Links
On hearing the news of the Allied victory at Waterloo (June 18,
1815), Scott longed to visit the battlefield and to see newly conquered
Paris. Continental Europe had been closed to British visitors during
the Napoleonic Wars, and Scott had never before travelled abroad.
In August, he set sail for Belgium, hoping to recuperate his expenses
by writing a series of imaginary letters recording his impressions.
Collected as Paul's Letters to His Kinsfolk (1816), these
not only document Scott's personal reaction to the scenes he passed
through, but provide a detailed history of Napoleon's last campaign
based on interviews with participants and (not always reputable)
eyewitnesses. Here, Scott is notably equitable in his treatment
of the Emperor, acknowledging his military genius and regretting
only that he chose not to lay down his own life along with his
Guard. A similarly non-partisan approach would later be adopted
Life of Napoleon Buonaparte
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Scott was amongst the first British civilians to view the battlefield
at Waterloo, and provides in letters VII-VIII a close account
the conflict. Contemporaneously, he subjected the same material
to a poetic treatment in his The
Field of Waterloo, a verse narrative published in aid
of a fund set up for widows and orphans of soldiers. In the Letters,
Scott goes on to describe the scene of devastation on the battlefield,
and the emergence of a tourist industry selling relics of the battle.
Passing through Flanders, Scott describes the artistic and architectural
treasures of its cities, but also devotes space to an analysis
the economic and political repercussions of its union with the
|Crossing into France, Scott shows remarkably
little bitterness to the conquered enemy. He laments instead
the brutality of
the victorious Prussians while acknowledging that they had
been sorely provoked by harsh treatment at French hands. Proceeding
to Paris, Scott compares the behaviour and discipline of the
armies of the victorious, occupying powers and describes his
meetings with their leaders. Pride of place goes to Scott's
meeting with the Duke of Wellington (portrayed, right), whose
lack of conceit and pretension greatly impressed him. Wellington
with much invaluable information for his descriptions of Waterloo
and Napoleon's last campaign, although subsequent commentators
have felt that Scott overstates Wellington's role at the expense
of the Prussian Field-Marshall Blücher.
Scott goes on to analyse the state of the various parties in post-Napoleonic
France (royalists, imperialists, and liberals), noting the weakness
and instability of the restored Bourbon dynasty and foreseeing the
reaction that would bring it down. He is concerned by the apparent
decline in religious sentiment of the French people and perceives
a concomitant decay in morality.
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Upon his return to Scotland, Scott found writing up his travel
notes a wearisome chore and yearned to press ahead with his third
novel The Antiquary.
Published on January 25, 1816, the Letters were nonetheless
well received by the public, rapidly going through three editions.
For once, the reviews too were unanimously laudatory. Although the
volume appeared anonymously, none had any difficulty in recognizing
Scott as the author. Indeed, for the Antijacobin Review,
the Letters showed that Scott was 'a much better prose-writer
than a poet'. There was almost no adverse criticism, with the Augustan
Review, British Critic, Gentleman's Review, and
Scots Magazine being particularly fulsome in their praise.
Only the Eclectic Review took issue with Scot's analysis
of the religious state of France but still spoke of the Letters
as capable of giving 'much pleasure'.
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Last updated: 19-Dec-2011
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