“A Belated Tribute” (E40)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, November 12, 1932
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Robert Benchley


Benchley apologizes for being otherwise engaged while the literary world celebrated the life and works of Walter Scott on the 100th anniversary of his death in September of 1932. RB explains that he meant to say something earlier, as his “particular lack of interest in Scott” gives him a different perspective on the 19th century icon’s career. Warming to his subject, RB jestingly scrambles Scott’s Waverley cycle of novels with the, if anything, even more obnoxious “Leatherstocking” books that they inspired on this side of the Atlantic. He then presents his credentials as a teen-aged victim of Ivanhoe poisoning. After being forced into the lists against this medievalist monstrosity at every new high school he attended, the battered Benchley felt compelled to gather a few facts about their creator, if only as a means of self-defense.

Omitting any further discussion of the books themselves, Benchley focuses on the fabulous wealth Scott amassed by dint of his best-selling assault upon the annals of history. Strongly implying that these legendary sums have kept Scott’s name alive long past its aesthetic expiration date, RB digresses into a manic passage trumpeting his discovery of the £ sign on his typewriter. For a moment, the tone becomes genuinely jubilant. But from that point on, the piece proceeds to plot every line of Scott’s prose, poetry and correspondence onto a literary ledger, with the ridiculous expense of Abbotsford on the other side. One finishes this tribute with the sense that the wily old Tory spent wisely on his citadel, which certainly makes a better conversation piece than his reactionary ramblings.

Favourite Moment:
It was here that Scott dined with Coleridge and made his famous remark: “Sam, the more I see of gooseberries, the sicker I get of them. Honest, I do.” He got £15,000 for this.

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