Sir Walter Scott, on ancient obscenity

Yesterday I was reading the collected letters of C.S.Lewis, and saw a description of Boswell as the best biography ever written.  As it is a favourite of mine, I concur.  But Lewis also gave second place to Lockhart’s “Life of Sir Walter Scott”. 

I’m not a great fan of much of Scott’s writing, but of course that is neither here nor there as regards the biography.  So today I went to Google Books and had a look for a copy.  Turning at random to p.140 of a one-volume version, I came across the following letter to Mr. Ellis:

“My principal companion in this solitude is John Dryden.  After all, there are some passages in his translations from Ovid and Juvenal that will hardly bear reprinting, unless I would have the Bishop of London and the whole corps of Methodists about my ears.  I wish you would look at the passages I mean. One is from the fourth book of Lucretius; the other from Ovid’s Instructions to his Mistress. They are not only double-entendres, but good plain single-entendres — not only broad, but long, and as coarse as the mainsail of a first-rate. What to make of them I know not ; but I fear that, without absolutely gelding the bard, it will be indispensable to circumcise him a little by tearing out some of the most obnoxious lines. Do, pray, look at the poems and decide for me.”

Of course this was in a period when being accused of indecency was not the mild thing that it is today, but more like being accused of racism — something that could ruin a career. 

I’ve ordered a copy of the old Everyman edition of Lockhart.  It cannot fail to be of interest, I think.


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