Printer Friendly

"Fanciful devotion": ritualization in Scott's Old Mortality.

RITUALS AND RITUALISTIC BEHAVIORS PERVADE OLD MORTALITY, THOUGH curiously for a novel depicting religious strife, few have an explicit or official sacramental purpose. From Old Mortality's endless pilgrimage restoring Covenanter gravestones to Alison Wilson's ritualized care of Milnewood after Henry Morton's presumed death, most of the rituals in Old Mortality are symbolic actions operating in a culture struggling over symbols. Many of these rituals have received critical attention individually as examples of Scott's ironic distancing between ritual performance and real conditions in the face of historical change or of the subtle ways in which Scott's ostensibly evenhanded treatment favors Royalists (and Claverhouse) over superstitious Whigs. (1) But along with sharpening his satiric treatment of Whig and Royalist extremes and registering his present anxieties about radical Presbyterians, Scott's employment of ritual complicates his depiction of historical change. The most obvious rituals include those performed privately by comic or grotesque figures, such as Lady Margaret's devoted re-enactment of Charles II's breakfast at Tillietudlum, and public spectacles staged by the Privy Council, such as the wappen-schaw and the triumphal procession that follows the Whig defeat. Even Morton's seemingly natural behavior, however, has ritual elements. All can be seen as strategies for resisting--or appropriating--historical change.

As Scott presents it, the conflict leading to the Whig uprising of 1679 involves more than the obvious religious and political differences. It also encompasses "the opposition of ancient manners to those which are gradually subduing them," as he described cultural change in his introduction to The Fortunes of Nigel. (2) But it is not simply a matter of one stage of development succeeding another, even though Morton's fictional party of moderates may represent the future. It is a struggle, rather, between different responses to modernity. Historically, neither Whigs nor Royalists had much use for traditional rituals--the Calvinist Whigs despised High Church and Catholic rituals, and the court of Charles II at times openly mocked secular rituals of state. Scott presents both camps as using reinvented or ad hoc rituals as ways of negotiating rather than simply resisting historical change; his individual characters use them less self-consciously as a way of appropriating a place in a changing order. Scott's anthropological imagination is less concerned with accurately depicting Whig and Royalist rituals than with showing how ritualization separates insiders from outsiders, high from low, and the sacred from the profane. Scott's own "invention of tradition" in staging a Highland fantasy for George IV's state visit to Edinburgh is well known and suggests even less concern for accurate recreation. (3) But the improvised rituals and invented traditions of Old Mortality are more than fantasy: despite their lack of historicity, they express historical change.


Two rituals structure Scott's opening chapters and establish patterns for the private and public rituals that follow. In the first chapter, the framing narrative of Old Mortality's "pilgrimage" to the graves of martyred Covenanters appears private, but it also connects isolated members of a dispersed community. In the second chapter, Scott opens the narrative proper with the wappen-schaw, which he describes as a Stuart attempt to revive "feudal institutions," (4) and while it fails as revival, it provides a rite of initiation for Morton. In both cases, the ritual's manifest purpose differs from its practical effect. Old Mortality's pilgrimage is not purely religious, nor is the wappen-schaw wholly secular. By restoring obscure graves as monuments to "martyrs," Old Mortality also memorializes their social and political opposition. His efforts may be recognized only by a few, but he links them as members of a community who set themselves apart from the world both spiritually and politically. The wappen-schaw ostensibly revives feudal bonds, but it is more specifically intended to counter the influence of the Covenanters by exposing young men to sermons friendly to the government. Perhaps more significantly, the competition is expected to produce an esprit de corps among the competitors, and it does initiate Morton and Evandale into an idealized community that, for Scott, transcends their differences in love and war.

To be sure, Scott uses rituals for multiple purposes and his attitude may be comic or satirical depending on who performs them. He makes little effort at historical accuracy in either case, however--one of the most significant rituals, the improvised trial of Morton by the Covenanters at Drumshinnel, was based on a story about smugglers, not presbyterians (see Dickson 56). What almost all of the rituals do share in common is a mixture of adapted or invented tradition with contemporary politics, and each represents a public or private effort to negotiate historical change. Rituals, as Catherine Bell observes, cannot be distinguished absolutely from other behaviors on the basis of their form, but ritualization can be understood as a process employing "strategies for setting some activities off from others, for creating and privileging a qualitative distinction between the 'sacred' and the 'profane,' and for ascribing such distinctions to realities thought to transcend the powers of human actors." (5) Ritualization draws lines, not only differentiating the sacred from the profane, but also distinguishing outsiders from members of a community and high and low within that community. In Old Mortality, even those rituals that seem most improvised or idiosyncratic aim at privileging and naturalizing distinctions between inside and outside or high and low.

By restoring Covenanter grave stones, for example, Old Mortality not only creates a sacred space that is largely hidden from outsiders, he also reinscribes the lines separating believers from nonbelievers. He is a "religious enthusiast" of the late eighteenth-century who makes an annual circuit among the scattered graves of Covenanters who were killed in battle or executed during the reigns of Charles II and James n, "cleansing the moss from the grey stones, renewing with his chisel the half-defaced inscriptions, and repairing the emblems of death with which these simple monuments are usually adorned" (Old Mortality 9-10) The novel is called The Tale of Old Mortality because he supplies the "anecdotes" (13) or "legends" (287) about the Covenanters recorded by the fictive author, Peter Pattieson. Though Old Mortality provides a human connection with the Whig uprising (6) as an example of the "scattered remnant of serious, scrupulous, and harmless enthusiasts" (287), Pattieson must "correct or verify" these stories in order to represent "the good and bad of both parties" (13; 14). As recent critical work has shown, however, Scott did not regard the Covenanters of his own time as altogether harmless, (7) making the flaming narrative of Old Mortality's pilgrimage a cautionary tale as well, since it maintains a living community as well as memories.

While Old Mortality considers his pilgrimage a "sacred duty" (12), it is ritualistic without following any recognizable ritual. Pilgrimages, as Victor Turner observes, are "liminal phenomena" that separate individuals from the stability of a fixed place and the formal social structures of a community. (8) Pilgrimages are liminal not simply because a conversion experience may be involved, but because the journey takes pilgrims out of their everyday space, exposing them to other cultures and practices and thus to the temptation of remaining in the outside world. Most commonly, the result is normative, but the temptation of straying beyond the bounds is real and necessary. And while a pilgrimage may last months or even years, it nonetheless represents an extended liminal moment in the pilgrim's life, a suspension of the everyday space and time of their community. Old Mortality's pilgrimage, by contrast, has no foreseeable end, and there is no everyday life or stable community to which he will return--we are told by Pattieson that "he left his house, his home, and his kindred, and wandered about until the day of his death, a period, it is said, of nearly thirty years" (9). (9) For Old Mortality the ritual process has become stasis rather than limen, and his name suggests that he finds his community among the dead--indeed, Pattieson's schoolchildren call him a ghost.

And yet he is not so much cut off from his former community as he has become part of a new, less formally structured community of believers who acknowledge and support him: "wherever he went, he found ready quarters in the house of some Cameronian of his own sect, or of some other religious person" (10). Indeed, since he connects isolated believers, he could be said to institute a new community, which notably encompasses more than "his own sect." To a degree, Old Mortality resembles Edie Ochiltree of The Antiquary, whom Katie Trumpener calls a "bardic tale-teller" whose function is to "bind the community together, to harmonize a range of voices and classes into a single polyphonic chorus." (10) But while Ochiltree may be marginalized as a beggar, he is not so isolated as Old Mortality, and he finds an audience with high and low. Old Mortality's chorus contrastingly tends toward the monophonic because his more homogeneous community is bound together by a shared opposition to the dominant culture, which, though it encompasses a somewhat broader range of doctrines than found among the original Covenanters, nonetheless is narrower than the community Ochiltree could be said to institute. Callum G. Brown argues that eighteenth-century Scotland witnessed a "shift in the covenanting ideology of the peasantry from one centred on resistance to religious persecution in the seventeenth century to one more broadly focused on unease with change in rural society," so that religious differences often meant less than rural identity. (11) Even though this unease with change produced only "episodic and inchoate" resistance, Scott would not have seen it as altogether harmless. By collecting and disseminating tales of the Covenanters and contrasting them to the present "generation of vipers," Old Mortality preserves a shared opposition to the dominant culture. While Pattieson sees the aging Whig's "fanciful devotion" as simply an attempt to "warn future generations to defend their religion even unto blood," Old Mortality's ritual performance also shapes the present.

Like Old Mortality's story, the wappen-schaw has a specific narrative function; as Jane Millgate observes, it "serves as a kind of dumb show adumbrating the outlines of what will follow." (12) But it also introduces the theme of"invented tradition" (see Hobsbawm and Ranger) in a manner that suggests that its effects are neither simple nor easily controlled. This ritual muster of men-at-arms, Scott notes, grows out of

an anxious wish on the part of the government to counteract, by every means in their power, the strict or puritanical spirit which had been the chief characteristic of the republicans, and to revive those feudal institutions which united the vassal to the liege-lord, and both to the crown. (Old Mortality 14)

As a counter to the Covenanters' puritanical spirit and as a revival of feudal institutions, the wappen-schaw largely fails--and yet not completely. Scott may have had in mind Adam Smith's argument that "publick diversions" would dissipate "that melancholy and gloomy humour which is almost always the nurse of popular superstition and enthusiasm," but this particular diversion does little to dispel religious enthusiasm. (13) The enforced festivity and the show of allegiance meet with active resistance from the Covenanters, and many landholders participate only from fear of penalties--indeed, no one seems to take it seriously as ritual except Lady Margaret. (14) But the real effect is on young men like Henry Morton, who are "unable to resist the temptation of sharing in the sports" (16).

Morton's victory in shooting at the popinjay becomes a public rite of passage. Even though he has sought to avoid political conflict, his mere participation gives some countenance to the ritual. It puts him in a new relationship with all three communities: Covenanters, indulged moderates, and Royalists. The "elder and more rigid puritans," whose "curiosity" has "overcome their bigotry" enough to watch the game, are disappointed "to see his father's son at the like o' these fearless follies," whereas the more moderate presbyterians are "contented to wish success to the son of a deceased presbyterian leader, without strictly examining the propriety of his being a competitor for the present prize" (20). For them, David Brown argues, "rebelliousness takes the more moderate form of the championship of Henry Morton against Lord Evandale in the popinjay contest: a form of dissent which is equally galling to the Royalist gentry." (15) And yet however galling Morton's success may be to some of the gentry, the contest also contains dissent by giving it a harmless outlet within the Royalist ritual system. Scott was well aware of the uses of ritual for containing rebellion; in The Abbot, for example, he observes that the Catholic Church "not only connived at, but encouraged" popular burlesques of Church rites in order to "indemnify themselves for the privations and penances imposed ... at other seasons." (16) Further, the royalist gentry who have determined that Morton is "within that class whom a great man might notice without derogation" (Old Mortality 23) do not treat Morton's victory as a galling defeat; rather, they calculate how much his father's history as a Covenanter can be overlooked and whether he can be embraced as a member of their community.

Each community recognizes Morton's victory as a rite of passage and attaches particular importance to the way in which this father's son will become a man. But what, precisely, has Morton passed into? For both Covenanters and Royalists, the rite initiates him into the Royalist community, though the moderates are ready to claim him as their own. All, however, may misconceive what has happened. Pierre Bourdieu asks whether the phrase "rites of passage," with its emphasis on the temporal passage to adulthood,
   does not conceal one of the essential effects of rites, namely that
   of separating those who have undergone it, not from those who have
   not yet undergone it, but from those who will not undergo it in any
   sense, and thereby instituting a lasting difference between those
   to whom the rite pertains and those to whom it does not pertain.

Bourdieu uses gender as an example of the lines drawn by such rites, and the popinjay contest obviously does not pertain to women, a distinction underscored by Scott's satiric treatment of Lady Margaret competing for her "right of rank in leaving the field" after the wappen-schaw (Old Mortality 24). The final popinjay competition between Morton and Evandale becomes even more exclusive as a rite of chivalry that does not pertain even to Cuddle. Cuddle may be able to compete (in disguise) in the test of skill and even finish third, but class lines become more important than skill at shooting. Cuddie's disguise not only shields him from his mother's wrath, it also conceals the fact that he would not be recognized as a participant in the more significant ritual, which tests who can be the more chivalrous and which Morton wins by offering his horse to Evandale.

That competition continues throughout the novel as Morton and Evandale try to outdo each other in gallantry. Morton rescues Evandale after the battle of Loudon-hill and at the siege of Tillietudlum and declines interfering when he learns that Evandale will marry Edith. Evandale, in turn, intercedes for Morton with Claverhouse, carries Morton's petition to Monmouth and, as his dying act, joins Morton's hand with Edith's. What separates Morton and Evandale from Cuddle and from a host of others is not so much their moderation as their "courtesy" (22), sense of honor, and desire to compete--qualities that ultimately attract Morton more to Claverhouse's "fanaticism of honour" than to Burley's "dark and sullen superstition" (270).

Chivalry belongs to the world that the wappen-schaw seeks to recreate, but the chivalry practiced by Morton and Evandale is less a formal code of behavior than a vaguer sense of honor. Eric Hobsbawm's category of "invented traditions" as distinct from customary practices would surely comprehend a revived ritual like the wappen-schaw and the popinjay as a contest in chivalry. Whereas customary traditions involve "specific and strongly binding social practices," invented traditions are "quite unspecific and vague as to the nature of the values, rights, and obligations of the group membership they inculcate: 'patriotism,' 'loyalty,' 'playing the game,' 'the school spirit' and the like." If the wappen-schaw fails to reinstitute the "strongly binding social practices" of feudalism, it nonetheless succeeds at inculcating the vaguer requirements of honor and courtesy among a narrowly defined group (Hobsbawm and Ranger 10).

In the larger communities, the ritual does not succeed because its purpose is more easily recognized. The objections of the stricter presbyterians to the wappen-schaw, Scott notes, might be set down to "a supercilious condemnation of all manly pastimes and harmless recreations" (Old Mortality 15). More to the point, however, they recognize that suppressing attendance "lessen[s] not only the apparent, but the actual strength of the government, by impeding the extension of that esprit de corps which soon unites young men who are in the habit of meeting together for manly sport, or military exercise" (15). It is not, then, the reinstitution of feudal relations that the Covenanters want to prevent, but the new and vaguer kinds of values that Hobsbawm finds particularly well suited for binding together "all-embracing pseudo-communities" like nations (to). Indeed, Scott himself would prove an adept inventor of tradition for that very purpose, as in his preparations for the royal visit to Edinburgh of 1822, which manufactured Highland "traditions" that could be employed in imagining the community of the British nation. (18) Like Old Mortality's pilgrimage, the wappen-schaw's most important effect is in defining (however ambiguously) and binding together an imagined community. (19) Yet the only community it creates is a fictional community of moderates.

Rituals that fail to enforce or maintain communities are the most common in Old Mortality. The wappen-schaw finds its grotesque analogue in the triumphal procession staged by the Privy Council after the Whig defeat, but here the visible effort is to consolidate the Royalist victory by subjecting prisoners to "inventive mockery and insult" (275). (20) As Morton watches, the heads of two Whig preachers killed at Bothwell Bridge appear on pikes, "and before each bloody head were carried the hands of the dismembered sufferers, which were ... often approached towards each other as if in the attitude of exhortation or prayer." Yet Scott is at pains to suggest that this "brutal mockery" does not produce the desired effect on the defeated or on the witnessing crowd. Macbriar and two other prisoners follow the bloody trophies on their way to execution but "looked around them with an air rather of triumph than dismay, and appeared in no respect moved either by the fate of their companions." Even the "huzzas of the rabble" at seeing the prisoners, Scott suggests, result merely from their "being permitted to huzza for any thing whatsoever which call them together." There are those indeed among the hundreds of prisoners who seem "pale, dispirited, dejected, questioning in their own minds their prudence in espousing a cause which Providence seemed to have disowned," but their dejection proceeds from their defeat rather than from their humiliation.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the "ghastly procession" is that Claverhouse declines to take part, which distances him from other Royalists and the Privy Council, and his sentiment brings him nearer Scott's hierarchy of courtesy and honor. Morton ultimately comes to admire "the gentleness and urbanity of [Claverhouse's] general manners" and "deep and accurate insight into the human bosom" despite Claverhouse's "cold indifference to military violence and cruelty" (270). In Claverhouse's social space, Royalist troops treat him "rather as a friend and companion than as a prisoner," which contrasts strongly to the "feverish dream" of Drumshinnel, where he is an outsider and apostate in the eyes of the Covenanters (274; 264). At Drumshinnel, Morton had lost "that eager and animating sense of right" that he had felt when first imprisoned by Claverhouse at Tillietudlum, because none of the "fanatics" with Macbriar "were lamenting his condition" or "applauded his conduct" (263-64). If Drumshinnel alienated him from the Covenanters, however, the effect of the Privy Council's triumphal procession is more equivocal. Morton's horror at the brutality of the procession prevents his feeling a part of the Royalist community, but Claverhouse's "distaste" for participating opens the possibility of another kind of affiliation. Morton finds no sympathy among the Covenanters at Drumshinnel, but his shared response to the procession pushes him toward an imagined third community.


The farce of Lady Margaret's attempt to assume her "right of rank in leaving the field" of the wappen-schaw initiates a series of comic, failed rituals enacted to resist change. Scott's satiric treatment of Lady Margaret mixes an attack on gender transgressions with a critical look at the pretensions of rank. It is by no means accidental that the preeminent comic representatives of the Royalists and the Whigs--Lady Margaret and Mause Headrigg--are both women who attempt to occupy the places of their deceased husbands. Not only does that make it easier for the title-obsessed Sir Walter to mock some aspects of rank and religion, it also subtly feminizes representatives of the Stuart court and the (sometimes) gender-transgressing presbyterians. (21) At the same time, Scott presents these comic rituals with some sympathy as genuine efforts to negotiate a place in a changing symbolic landscape.

Lady Margaret's obsessive care in recreating--both verbally and physically--her table as it had been prepared for Charles' "disjune" clearly serves for her as a ritual that affirms her identity and place in a stable order. She "seldom partook of that meal, either at home or abroad, without detailing the whole circumstances of the royal visit" (19). Not only is the pillow on which Charles sat preserved as a sacred relic, but she invests even the order of the tableware with meaning: "whatever way his most sacred majesty ordered the position of the trenchers and flagons, that, as weel as his royal pleasure in greater matters, should be a law unto his subjects, and shall ever be to those of the house of Tillietudlum" (95). James Kerr calls Lady Margaret's retelling of the story an "incantation" invoking "a Royalist daydream, a verbal world generated by the repeated retelling of an old story." (22) The ritual, of course, has no currency even in the community of Tillietudlum: her servants and family indulge her at best, and while Claverhouse flatters her with what Scott calls "polite ritual" (99), he will not acknowledge her authority to influence Morton's fate even within the walls of Tillietudlum. Her tenuous connection to the King does lead Bothwell, whose real name is Francis Stuart, to assert his own unrecognized connection to the court through the "forfeited Earl of Bothwell" and "a natural son of James v" (78; 29). Like the wappen-schaw, Lady Margaret's ritual neither legitimates her authority nor reinstitutes the feudal order. The symbolic and strategic power of Tillietudlum remains unquestionable for Claverhouse and Burley, but Lady Margaret seeks a place that cannot be found in their ritual systems.

As the housekeeper who inherits Milnewood after Morton's presumed death and the death of his uncle, Alison Wilson finds it even more difficult to place herself in any conventional hierarchy. Scott calls her the "ci-devant housekeeper," putting her change in status in an ironic political register. Like Lady Margaret, she improvises ritual rules and preserves a sacred space. By locking herself out of the hall and opening the parlor only when it is "to be aired, washed, and dusted, according to the invariable practice of the family, unless upon their most solemn festivals" (317), she defers facing the contradictions of her place. Though we might simply dismiss her careful observance of the family rules as Scott's fantasy of the devoted servant, it also represents a way to place herself in the absence of a familiar structure. By avoiding any appearance that might confirm a change in her status and by preserving family rituals, she maintains--not unlike Old Mortality--the community that gave her identity. Once Morton has returned from Holland, Alison regards him as Milnewood's master even though she retains possession of the property--the preparation of an annual meal for Morton and Edith gives her "business for the whole year round" (352). If the ritualistic behaviors of Lady Margaret and Alison Wilson have no performative force beyond merely being indulged, they nonetheless give each woman a sense of belonging to a natural order even though that order is changing beyond recognition.

Like the wappen-schaw, Lady Margaret's comically inflated "solemn bed of justice" (51), which banishes Mause Headrigg and her son Cuddie from Tillietudlum, appropriates an outmoded institution. "Bed of justice" (lit de justice), Douglas Mack notes, designates a session of the French Parliament that registered royal edicts while the King, reclining on a bed, observed. (23) Lady Margaret's misnomer illustrates her pretensions at the same time that it identifies her absolutely with Royal rituals (and perhaps with the ancien regime). (24) The trial, at which Lady Margaret's servants appear both as "witnesses" and "assessors" and in which the defendants do not appear at all, works as ritual because all accede to her right to speak for the community. Afterward, when Lady Margaret visits the Headrigg cottage to "reprimand the culprits in person" (52), Mause accepts her authority with "a certain solemnity and embarrassment, like an accused party on his first appearance in presence of his judge, before whom he is, nevertheless, determined to assert his innocence" (52). But Mause counters by appearing to a different, but shared ritual system: she presents her "best curtesy to the ground" and with a "mute motion of reverence ... point[s] to the chair, which, on former occasions, Lady Margaret (for the good lady was somewhat of a gossip) had deigned to occupy for half an hour sometimes at a time, hearing news of the village and of the borough" (52). Two strategies of differentiation are at work here, one public and one domestic. When Lady Margaret calls her a "fause-hearted vassal" (53) for claiming that Cuddle had been too ill to attend the wappen-schaw, she invokes her own proximity to the monarchical center, whereas Mause stresses the domestic bond that separates both women from outsiders. Mause sincerely regards herself as a "born servant o' the house o' Tillietudlem" whose son would "fight ower boots in blude for your leddyship and Miss Edith, and the auld Tower" (53), but her loyalty and assent remain strictly local, confined to Tillietudlum. Lady Margaret forces a crisis of loyalties (and perhaps reveals her own insecurity) by tracing her authority through all its degrees, insisting that Mause is called to obey her "by the command of the King--by the writ of the Privy Council--by the order of the lord-lieutenant--by the warrant of the sheriff" (54). Until the issue is forced, Mause and Lady Margaret can comfortably

ignore their conflicting allegiances beyond the community of Tillietudlum.

What is remarkable about this scene--beyond Scott's comic mastery--is the extent to which it reveals tensions in a ritual system held together by compromises and selective blindness. Catherine Bell observes that such systems usually involve
   a complex orchestration of standard binary oppositions that
   generate flexible sets of relationships both differentiating and
   integrating activities, gods, sacred places, and communities vis-a
   vis each other. (125)

These binary oppositions include "superior and inferior," "here and there, or us and them," and "central and local." Under ordinary circumstances, the ritual practices that order and bind together the community of Tillietudlum would be flexible enough to accommodate Mause's excuse for Cuddie, but all three oppositions are in play here. Mause does not question her place as it is situated either vertically or horizontally--she accepts her inferior social position and regards herself as one of "us" rather than one of "them." What the conflict lays bare is a radically different understanding of central and local. For Lady Margaret, the King represents both center and apex. The presbyterians, however, are not only politically opposed to the King, but have a fundamentally different relationship to centers and peripheries. They reject the central authority of an episcopal hierarchy, and the practice of field preaching--whatever it causes--refuses to limit the sacred to a particular site. At the same time, the presbyterians' habitual use of biblical typology in interpreting current events and places radically separates them from unbelievers. The preaching at Loudoun-hill, for example--particularly that of Macbriar, whom Scott gives none of the comic grotesquerie of Kettledrummle--refigures the skirmish as a sacrifice, identifying the persecuted presbyterians with the tribes of Israel.

Mause threatens Lady Margaret's sense of order by challenging both its hierarchy of power and of knowledge. When Mause argues that her conscience would not let her allow Cuddie's participation in the wappen-schaw, Lady Margaret complains that "the evil spirit of the year sixteen hundred and forty-twa is at wark again as merrily as ever, and ilka auld wife in the chimley-neuck will be for knapping doctrine wi' doctors o' divinity and the godly fathers o' the church" (54), voicing a chief objection to the leveling beliefs of dissenters: that not only lay people, but women are allowed to preach. Indeed, on the road to Drumclog, Mause competes with Knockdunder as a preacher. Before the "bed of justice," Mause had accepted domestic hierarchies, though she apparently never wholly accepted gender boundaries. Her late husband had submitted "implicitly in most things to her boast of superior acuteness, [but] he used on certain occasions, when driven to extremity, to be seized with fits of obstinacy which neither remonstrance, flattery, nor threats, were capable of overpowering" (60), restraining Mause's enthusiasm. But it is not simply the death of her husband that allows her to assert her will and knowledge. When Lady Margaret asserts her place in the sphere of royal power, having exchanged her usual cane for the public--and male--authority of "an immense gold-head staff which had belonged to her father, the deceased Earl of Torwood," Mause intuitively recognizes that she has entered a different kind of space with a different set of rules.

Her behavior at Milnewood confirms that recognition: when Bothwell tests the family in the name of the King, Mause's sense of what is right in the contested public space overrides her sense of private and domestic space; she is "emancipated, by the very mention of the test, from the restraints of her own prudence and of Cuddie's admonition" (68). Mause's seemingly compulsive reaction to Bothwell's test involves more than lack of restraint, however. Her language, and the language of the Covenanters in general, reveals more than religious enthusiasm, as Ina Ferris observes:
   What makes [their] language 'uncivil' is not only that it assumes
   direct access to the authoritative word but also that it admits no
   distance or difference. It deploys biblical metaphor in a curiously
   single-minded way that recognizes no distinctions of linguistic,
   cultural, or temporal levels. (25)

In domestic space, Mause's language had less frequently been biblical, and she did not interpret that space through biblical typology, but her language now enacts a ritual of resistance. The very opacity of her language marks it as a kind of demotic speech that differentiates her from both Royalists and indulged presbyterians by asserting knowledge unavailable to outsiders. Michel de Certeau suggests that it is not just the language, but the knowledge itself that is a means of resistance:
   Knowledge becomes, for a religious society, a means of
   selfdefinition.... Truth appears less as what the group defends and
   more as what it uses to defend itself: finally, truth is what it
   does, it is its style of fashioning, of diffusing, and of
   centralizing what the group is. (26)

For Puritans in the early years of the Civil War, de Certeau writes, "[p]rophetic beginnings make room for a sociopolitical opposition" and "[t]he enunciation of meaning becomes a resistance to royal power or to ecclesiastical hierarchy (another form of power)" (168). Mause's language takes on a similar function. While Scott's cariacature may dismiss "unruly, demotic speech as gibberish," as Jerome Christensen puts it, Mause's strange biblical jargon also constitutes a ritualized strategy for resistance. (27)

Similarly, when Mause reveals her real reason for keeping Cuddie home, her elliptical answer suggests secret knowledge: "if the truth maun e'en come out, there's Ane abune whase commands I maun obey before your leddyship's" (53). Like Cuddie at his trial before the Privy Council, she may simply speak with what Scott calls "true Caledonian indirection of response" (279). But unlike Cuddie, who ultimately "cannot deny" being at Bothwell Bridge and cannot bring himself to affirm it either, Mause does not so much avoid a direct confession as she resists Lady Margaret's authority by asserting a privileged form of knowledge. When Lady Margaret calls her "ower learned and ower godly for the like o' me to dispute wi'" (55), her tone may be ironic, but her reaction suggests that Mause's strategy has some effect.


Lady Margaret's "bed of justice" is only one of many trials and tests that punctuate the narrative. Most seem ad hoc rather than based on established forms, but each nonetheless operates within a recognizable ritual logic. In most cases, however, that logic has force only for the judges, and indirection is one of many strategies of resistance used by the judged. In the trials and tests Morton undergoes in the early chapters, Judith Wilt observes, "the field of possibilities, first multiple, swiftly narrows to two, and then one," and it is Morton's role "in action and language, to hold off this remorseless narrowing, to keep the bridge open between choices, to try to add width and depth, memory and posterity, condition and qualification, to the stripped down dualities which are always presenting themselves a 'reality' to him." (28) Accepting those "stripped down dualities" means accepting them as natural and acquiescing to the ritual system that enforces them.

Morton is by no means the only character tested, nor are the tests limited to the early chapters. In addition to Lady Margaret's "bed of justice," Sergeant Bothwell tests Burley by making him toast the Archbishop (30-31) and later tests the entire Milnewood household. At Tillietudlum, Claverhouse tries Cuddle along with Morton; both are also tried with Macbriar by the Privy Council at Edinburgh. In the later parts of the novel, Morton stands alone only in front of Macbriar and the "wild western whigs" (260) at Drumshinnel, and even there, after Claverhouse has rescued him, Habbakuk Meiklewraith summons Claverhouse "to appear before the tribunal of God" (269). Few of these trials judge specific crimes so much as they, as Wilt suggests, institute realities. Evidence as such is rarely needed in these trials; as Peter Garside observes generally of Old Mortality, "'speech' is the main token by which characters judge each other" (Garside 151). Just as Mause Headrigg is condemned for her Covenanting rhetoric, Morton is condemned first for his constitutionalist defense of rights, and then, by Macbriar and other Covenanters, for his Erastian-sounding language--"He hath spoken the word" and "again hath his mouth spoken it," they declare (262). Morton says almost nothing at his final trial before the Privy Council, but his silence condemns him in the eye of Macbriar, who resists the Council's authority even under torture. At the end of the novel, Lord Evandale is shot as a "traitor" when he challenges Basil Olifant's fight to "beset the road" (347). In each case having "spoken the word" reveals not only the speaker's identity, but his or her adherence to a different ritual system.

As with Mause's reversion to Covenanting rhetoric, language is most revealing when the speaker is under stress, making her or his responses habitual rather than carefully considered. Like the Covenanter envoy that Major Bellenden calls "an absurd automaton" (199), many of Old Mortality's characters react automatically when tested. Mause appears to respond most compulsively when her life, and her son's life, are endangered by the very words she speaks. Lady Margaret cannot keep quiet about the King's visit to Tillietudlum even at the most inappropriate moments. Morton's uncle takes back his purse "mechanically" after Bothwell has removed his "civility-money," and he can speak only of "the siller I hae counted sae of ten ower" when giving it all could ransom his nephew (71, 70). The "maniac" Habbakuk Meiklewrath spends his last breath denouncing Claverhouse (268). Habitual behaviors, Bourdieu argues, are not governed by a system of rules, but by the "durably installed generative principle of regulated improvisations" that "causes an individual agent's practices, without either explicit reason or signifying intent, to be none the less 'sensible' and 'reasonable.'" (29) No doubt Scott's Tory sympathies give an edge to his ridicule of Whig excess; thus he ameliorates Claverhouse's barbaric suppression of the Covenanters by making him genteel and learned, while the chief Whigs are represented as unthinking grotesques. Yet the grotesque and automatic behavior of Mause Headrigg and Habbakuk Meiklewrath, like Lady Margaret's absurd attachment to a trivial incident, reveals real differences in the habitus of Whig, Royalist, and moderate, and even Morton appears at times to act as automatically, if not as comically, under stress.

Like the Covenanters, Morton speaks a language that is unintelligible to his interrogators except as demotic speech, though of course Morton's constitutionalist speech would have been far more "sensible and reasonable" to Scott's readers than the biblical jargon of the Covenanters. (30) His defiant speeches have the air of ritual formula, but none of its power--except, again, to Scott's readers. Morton's responses under stress, however, are represented as natural rather than mechanical. Since he has avoided politics up to the time he meets Burley, his constitutionalist speech in the face of oppression would appear spontaneous rather than habitual. As Garside notes, Morton's constitutionalist rhetoric lacks the efficacy of Whig or Royalist discourse (159). His political language belongs to no recognized ritual system--indeed, even though he staunchly defends his "chartered rights as a freeman," he remains vague about where these rights originate. When Cuddie asks him to name the charter granting them, he can only call on the example of the Apostle Paul (124). Morton's clearest use of a ritual formula is his Anglican prayer at Drumshinnel, but Scott represents it as natural rather than habitual or automatic: he "instinctively" has "recourse to the petition for deliverance and for composure of spirit which is to be found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England" (264). That language condemns him as surely in the eyes of Macbriar as Mause's language condemns her in Bothwell's eyes. In both cases, far more is revealed than religious preferences. In the eyes of Scott's contemporary audience, however, Morton's Anglican prayer would simply appear natural in contrast to the biblical jargon of the "wild western whigs" (260).

Morton's most decisive--and yet automatic--steps turn on his perceived social place more than on his religion or even his politics. Lacking the regulated improvisations of either Royalist or Whig, Morton under pressure does not act "naturally" so much as he is guided by a conflicted sense of national and filial honor. Thus he reluctantly shelters Burley out of loyalty to his father and later, despite distrusting Burley's motives, he "hastily acquiesce[s]" to Burley's demand that he leave the siege of Tillietudlum when reminded that "men will say, that the son of Silas Morton hath fallen away from the paths of his father" (210). He is oversensitive to "common rumour" (111) and defies Claverhouse because he believes that Edith has rejected him because of rank. He is all too ready to transform a perceived personal slight into "the accursed tyranny which afflicts at once our bodies, souls, estates, and affections" (112).

While Morton is among the least mediocre of Scott's heroes, his competence does not extend to negotiating unfamiliar social spaces--and both Whig and Royalist spaces are largely unfamiliar to him. He lacks neither military prowess nor leadership skills, and he takes a far more active role than most of Scott's heroes. Yet, as George Levine observes, "he has a power in the novel incommensurate with his own ability to effect change." (31) Levine rightly observes that giving Morton the ability to effect change would also mark him with the "taint of revolution" (255), but Morton's particular mode of ineffectiveness merits a closer look. Unlike the characters who do effect change, Morton is rarely able to adjust himself to circumstances--he cannot recognize Whig and Royalist rituals or speak in more than one register. His attempts at compromise fail in part because he has little understanding of what is sensible or right among either group.

Unlike Morton, the characters who make things happen in Old Mortality are particularly adroit at negotiating different spaces and different ritual systems. Bothwell and Claverhouse, for example, adopt the language and ritual of court or camp with ease. Bothwell in particular is, as Daniel Whitmore calls him, a "polyglot" whose "choice of idiom is solely dictated by social and political context" (255). Likewise, BurRy has clearly mastered the ritualized rhetoric of the Covenanters, but is not mastered by it. When the situation calls for it, he can speak the "worldly language" of "carnal reason" (170) and the discourse of honor as well. Even Niel Blane, the innkeeper who serves both Royalist soldiers and Whigs, negotiates the space of conflict not so much by remaining neutral as by knowing how to preserve Whig and Royalist sensibilities when their worlds overlap. Characters who have mastered more than one cultural discourse are by no means unique to Old Mortality among Scott's novels--they begin with Fergus and Flora Mac-Ivor in Waverley--and Morton is by no means unique in his failure to master those discourses. But his failure is more striking in that he has represented the moderate, constitutionalist position from the beginning rather than wavering between two camps.

Though he finds "misrule, license, and brutality" of the Royalist soldiers (110) and "discord wild" among the Whigs (176), Morton's moderation is not simply progress over barbarism, but rather an alternative approach to modernity. The many improvised or imposed rituals in Old Mortality represent largely unsuccessful Whig and Royalist attempts to resist change, or, more precisely, attempts to shape the future by projecting an idealized past. The religious primitivism of the Whigs and the appeals to feudalism of the Privy Council are both essentially modern strategies analogous to the appeal to the "Ancient Constitution" that would shortly provide the basis for the Revolution Settlement of 1689. Such a "return to origins," Michel de Certeau argues,
   always states the contrary of what it believes, at least in the
   sense that it presupposes a distancing in respect to a past ... and
   a will to recover what, in one fashion or another, seems lost in a
   received language. In this way the "return to origins" is always a
   modernism as well. (136)

Though he portrays both Royalists and Whigs as making foundational appeals, it is doubtful that Scott would consciously portray the Covenanters as modern. That would seem to break with, or at least complicate, the idea of developmental stages that Scott inherited from the Scottish Enlightenment. In novels like Rob Roy, he presents the Highlanders as belonging to an earlier stage of development, and he would seem to be doing the same for the Covenanters in Old Mortality when he compares the women to "females of the ancient German tribes" (131). Indeed, John Gibson Lockhart records that for Scott, the "beastly Covenanters ... hardly had any claim to be called men, unless what was founded on their walking upon their hind feet" (quoted in MacKay 61). But, as Beth Dickson argues, "what annoyed Scott [was] the demotic impulse in presbyterianism," not the backwardness of the Covenanters (61).

The Glorious Revolution and arguments about the ancient constitution, however, are conspicuously absent from Morton's story, especially given the prominence of the Revolution Settlement in debates about the French Revolution in Scott's own time. Scott may have had multiple reasons for sending Morton offstage during the Revolution, (32) but omitting the foundational appeal from Morton's arguments (outside of his reference to "chartered rights" and his vague reference to the Apostle Paul) further differentiates him from Whigs and Royalists. Morton's political argument, like his spontaneous prayer at Drumshinnel, seems to him natural and self-evident, whereas rituals and foundational appeals are made to seem artificial attempts at clinging to the past. At the same time, Morton's place in post-Revolution Scotland is unsettled. His distance from traditional rituals and practices may align him with the British nationalism that eventually prevails, but it also leaves him without strong ties to a particular community.

Central Washington University

(1.) See, for example, Beth Dickson, "Sir Walter Scott and the Limits of Toleration," Scottish Literary Journal 18.2 (1991):46-62 and Ross MacKay, "The Scattered Ruins of Evidence: Non-Eventworthy History in Old Mortality and The Brownie of Bodsbeck," Studies in Hogg and his World 12 (2001): 56-79.

(2.) Sir Walter Scott, The Fortunes of Nigel (Edinburgh: Oxford UP, 1925) ix.

(3.) See Hugh Trevor-Roper, "The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland," The Invention of Tradition, ed Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (1983; Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992) 15-41.

(4.) Sir Walter Scott, The Tale of Old Mortality, ed. Douglas Mack (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1993) 9, 14. Hereafter cited in the text as Old Mortality.

(5.) Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford UP, 1992) 74.

(6.) See John B. Humma, "Narrative Framing Apparatus of Scott's Old Mortality," Studies in the Novel 12 (1980): 301-15. Humma argues that Old Mortality's role in the narrative "extends beyond the chapter into the very structure and central theme of the novel" (308) and that the introductory materials (including Cleishbotham's general introduction to the Tales of My Landlord and Scott's Magnum Opus introduction) are a fundamental rhetorical strategy in establishing the historicity and authority of the material.

(7.) See Peter D. Garside, "Old Mortality's Silent Minority" Critical Essays on Sir Walter Scott: The Waverley Novels, ed. Harry E. Shaw (New York: G. K. Hall; London: Prentice Hall, (1996) 149-50.

(8.) Victor Turner, Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1975) 166.

(9.) Scott's Magnum Opus introduction of 1830 reports that the historical Old Mortality, Robert Paterson, abandoned his wife and five children altogether. The Magnum Opus introduction can be found in Sir Walter Scott, Old Mortality, ed. Angus Calder (London: Penguin Classics, 1985).

(10.) Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997) 120-24.

(11.) Callum G. Brown, Religion and Society in Scotland Since 1707 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997) 16.

(12.) Jane Millgate, Walter Scott: The Making of the Novelist (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1984) 119.

(13.) Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 2 vols. (1976; Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1981) 2: 796.

(14.) Daniel Whitmore observes that her "literalist faith in an archaic ritual ... contributes directly to the social polarization that sets the stage for revolution." "Bibliolatry and the Rule of the World: A Study of Scott's Old Mortality," Philological Quarterly 65 (1986): 246.

(15.) David Brown, Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979) 70.

(16.) Sir Walter Scott, The Abbot (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913) 175.

(17.) Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, trans. Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson, ed., John B. Thompson (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991) 117.

(18.) See Trevor-Roper for a history of this invented tradition.

(19.) The term "imagined community" comes from Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 1991).

(20.) Andrew D. Krull's nuanced reading of this scene discusses its affective dimension at length. Krull, "Spectacles of Disaffection: Politics, Ethics, and Sentiment in Walter Scott's Old Mortality," ELH 73 (2006): 695-727.

(21.) Eighteenth-century satires directed at religious enthusiasm frequently targeted women in men's roles. In the anti-Methodist satire The Spiritual Quixote (1773), for example, Richard Graves reserves his most acerbic satire for a group of enthusiasts who not only paired "higgledy-piggledy," but for whom "it sometimes happened, that the men wore petticoats, and the women wore breeches." Richard Graves, The Spiritual Quixote (London: Oxford UP, 1967) 241.

(22.) James Kerr, Fiction Against History: Scott as Storyteller (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989) 46.

(23.) Douglas Mack, explanatory notes, The Tale of Old Mortality 448.

(24.) Scott changed the expression to the blander "solemn court of justice" in the Magnum Opus edition, which makes Lady Margaret a little less absurd and precludes any identification of English Royalists with the ancien regime (Calder 115).

(25.) Ina Ferris, The Achievement of Literary Authority: Gender, History, and the Waverley Novels (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991) 175.

(26.) Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History, trans. Tom CoNey (New York: Columbia UP, 1988) 127.

(27.) Jerome Christensen, Romanticism at the End of History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins LIP, 2000) 24.

(28.) Judith Wilt, Secret Leaves: The Novels of Walter Scott (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985) 85-86.

(29.) Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (1985; Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1977) 78-79.

(30.) See Garside for a close analysis of speech acts in Old Mortality. Garside observes that Morton's constitutionalist speech is singularly ineffective; it performs nothing because it is unrecognizable to his interlocutors among both the Royalists and the Covenanters.

(31.) George Levine, Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988) 252.

(32.) See, for example Krull's argument that Scott "exiles Morton because he cannot imagine a place for this man of feeling in the seventeenth-century milieu," specifically at the moment "when the ethos of sentimentality in the nation at large has sunk to its nadir" (717).
COPYRIGHT 2010 Boston University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Walter Scott
Author:Drake, George A.
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2010
Previous Article:Essence, gender, race: William Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion.
Next Article:A "huge colossal constable": liberalism and international law in Joseph Fawcett's The Art of War.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters