Old Mortality

Old Mortality

by Walter Scott

Perhaps the finest and certainly the most readable of Scott's Waverley novels, Old Mortality is a swift-moving historical romance that pits an anachronistically liberal hero against the forces of fanaticism in seventeenth-century Scotland - the period notorious as "the killing time." Its central character, Henry Morton, finds himself torn between his love for a royalist's granddaughter and his loyalty to his oppressed countrymen.

  • Series: Tales of My Landlord
  • Language: English
  • Category: Classics
  • Rating: 3.74
  • Pages: 608
  • Publish Date: July 30th 1975 by Penguin Classics
  • Isbn10: 0140430989
  • Isbn13: 9780140430981

What People Think about "Old Mortality"

I read this book as a teenager in the Seventies, and what I loved even better than the action, adventure, and romance was the striking similarities between the "culture war" of 17th century Scotland and the lingering bitterness in America at the end of the Vietnam era. Not only were they clearly related to the Puritans who founded America, but the people they hated -- foppish, decadent, arrogant and overly cultured Cavaliers -- reminded me in striking ways of the spoiled, self-involved student protestors of the Sixties, many of whom later became college professors, journalists, and the like.

Old Mortality was the first Sir Walter Scott book I had the pleasure of picking up.

This novel was full of it at the beginning but that's because of the conflict between the aristocrats and the peasants in Scotland.

"Old Mortality" is a novel by Sir Walter Scott set in 1679 in south west Scotland. It didn't help that I had just got through "The Black Dwarf" that almost drove me crazy with the Scottish dialect, and it also probably didn't help that we were stranded in a hotel room with our only means of transporation broken down in a truck garage at the time, but even in perfect circumstances "Old Mortality" still wouldn't be on my favorite list. The Covenanters have an easier way, instead of trying to figure out who to fight with, they just fight with everyone as seen here during a sermon given by one of their pastors: "presently he charged the guilt and misery of the people on the awful negligence of their rulers, who had not only failed to establish presbytery as the national religion, but had tolerated sectaries of various descriptions, Papists, Prelatists, Erastians, assuming the name of Presbyterians, Independents, Socinians, and Quakers: all of whom Kettledrummle proposed, by one sweeping act, to expel from the land, and thus re-edify in its integrity the beauty of the sanctuary." Then there is this: "Burley and his confederates had drawn together a considerable body of these sectaries, amounting to a hundred horse and about fifteen hundred foot, clouded and severe in aspect, morose and jealous in communication, haughty of heart, and confident, as men who believed that the pale of salvation was open for them exclusively; while all other Christians, however slight were the shades of difference of doctrine from their own, were in fact little better than outcasts or reprobates." And then this: "You are right," said Claverhouse, with a smile; "you are very rightwe are both fanatics; but there is some distinction between the fanaticism of honour and that of dark and sullen superstition." "Yet you both shed blood without mercy or remorse," said Morton, who could not suppress his feelings. As to the actual characters in the book, our hero is Henry Morton of Milnwood, a moderate Presbyterian, Morton is arrested for harbouring John Burley of Balfour, a Covenanting friend of his father. Edith belongs to a Royalist family, that's not important to me any more than it's important that Evandale is a Lord or Morton is a Presbyterian, but it's important to everyone else in the novel, so picture me sighing right now. We also have the Reverand Gabriel Kettledrummle one of the Covenators who loved to talk and talk and talk: "Two mortal hours did he preach at a breathing; and certainly no lungs, or doctrine, excepting his own, could have kept up, for so long a time, the attention of men in such precarious circumstances. And Gabriel is just a regular guy compared to another of the Covenator preachers, Habakkuk Mucklewrath: "Who talks of safe conduct and of peace?" said a shrill, broken, and overstrained voice, from the crowd. I say take the infants and dash them against the stones; take the daughters and the mothers of the house and hurl them from the battlements of their trust, that the dogs may fatten on their blood as they did on that of Jezabel, the spouse of Ahab, and that their carcasses may be dung to the face of the field even in the portion of their fathers!" One of the things that struck me about the book comes not so much from the book as from reading things about the book other people have written. One of the reasons given in an article I read as to why you could tell that Scott was against the Covenators was that "there was no beautiful maiden on the Covenanters' side, to present their cause to us in ardent and seductive terms". Cuddie is a peasant who reluctantly joins the rebellion because of his personal loyalty to Morton, as well as his own fanatical Covenanting mother, this lady almost drove me crazy; Cuddie acts as a manservant to Morton and he was the one who would make me smile, when I could understand what he was saying that is which brings me to this, the Scottish dialect again. Sae I took up the syke a wee bit, away to the right, where I saw the marks o'mony a horsefoot, and sure eneugh I cam to a place where there had been some clean leatherin', and a' the puir chields were lying there buskit wi' their claes just as they had put them on that morningnaebody had found out that pose o' carcagesand wha suld be in the midst thereof (as my mither says) but our auld acquaintance, Sergeant Bothwell?" There's also: "Haena I e'en now?" said Cuddie, with great exultation. "To be sure," said Cuddie, "the auld leddy 's unto kittle in thae points." If you have all that sorted out and are ready for more, go get the book, between The Black Dwarf and Old Mortality there is plenty of Scottish dialect for you to get through. However, I am in no mood right now for a trip back through Waverly and I have a feeling that by the time the book comes up again on my re-reading I'll have forgotten my Scottish dialect all over again.

There were, however, different degrees of belief among the Covenanters, from radicals who justified any form violence against the government forces, including assassinations of non-combatants. Scott's novel begins in leisurely fashion by describing an old man, many years after the wars, who goes about the countryside cleaning and repairing deteriorating grave markers of Covenanters who were killed in the wars. He goes by the name of "Old Morality", and serves to remind the reader that without his efforts, and by symbolic extension, Scott's story, these religious warriors of the past and what they fought for would be forgotten. Scott moves his story along by following the chief character, Henry Morton of Milnwood, a moderate.

This is a little known Sir Walter Scott book, but it's packed full of adventure, romance, and battles... Morton escapes and that begins his adventures in the Highlands!

Certainly accompanies by such easy narrative and vivid style.

Scott created and popularized historical novels in a series called the Waverley Novels. In his novels Scott arranged the plots and characters so the reader enters into the lives of both great and ordinary people caught up in violent, dramatic changes in history. Central themes of many of Scott's novels are about conflicts between opposing cultures.