The Black Dwarf (novel)

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The Black Dwarf
Sir Walter Scott - Elshie, The Black Dwarf.jpg
"Elshie, the Black Dwarf", from an 1886 printing of the novel by Adam and Charles Black
Author Sir Walter Scott
Country Scotland
Language English, Lowland Scots
Series Tales of My Landlord (1st series)
Genre Historical novel
Publisher William Blackwood, Edinburgh
John Murray, London
Publication date
2 December 1816

Walter Scott's novel The Black Dwarf was part of his Tales of My Landlord, 1st series, published along with Old Mortality on 2 December 1816 by William Blackwood, Edinburgh, and John Murray, London. Originally the four volumes of the series were to tell separate stories, but Old Mortality came to occupy three of them.

Plot introduction[edit]

The story is set just after the Union of Scotland and England (1707), in the Liddesdale hills of the Scottish Borders, familiar to Scott from his work collecting ballads for The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. The main character is based on David Ritchie, whom Scott met in the autumn of 1797. In the tale, the dwarf is Sir Edward Mauley, a hermit regarded by the locals as being in league with the Devil, who becomes embroiled in a complex tale of love, revenge, betrayal, Jacobite schemes and a threatened forced marriage. Scott began the novel well, "but tired of the ground I had trode so often before... I quarrelled with my story, & bungled up a conclusion."

Critics and public found it poor in comparison with its popular companion Old Mortality. One of the harshest reviews was in the Quarterly Review, written anonymously by Scott himself.

The introduction to The Black Dwarf attributes the work to Jedediah Cleishbotham, whom Scott had invented as a fictional editor of the Landlord series. It is here that we have the most complete view of this character.

Plot summary[edit]

As Hobbie Elliot was returning over a wild moor from a day's sport, thinking of the legends he had heard of its supernatural occupants after nightfall, he was overtaken by Patrick Earnscliff, whose father had been killed in a quarrel with the laird of Ellislaw, Richard Vere. The moon suddenly revealed the figure of a human dwarf, who, on being spoken to, refused their offers of assistance, and bid them begone. Having invited Earnscliff to sup with his womenfolks, and pass the night at his farm, Hobbie accompanied him next morning to confront the strange being by daylight; and having assisted him in collecting stones for constructing a hut, they supplied him with food and other necessaries. In a short time he had completed his dwelling, and became known to the neighbours, for whose ailments he prescribed, as Elshender the Recluse.

Being visited by Isabel Vere and two of her friends, he told their fortunes, and he gave her a rose, with strict injunctions to bring it to him in her hour of adversity. As they rode homewards, their conversation implied that she loved young Patrick Earnscliff, but that Mr Vere intended her to marry Sir Frederick Langley. Another of the dwarf's visitors was Willie Graeme of Westburnflat, on his way to avenge an affront he had received from Hobbie Elliot, whose dog the next day killed one of the dwarf's goats, for which he warned him that retribution was at hand.

Shortly afterwards, Willie Graeme brought word that he and his companions had fired Hobbie's farm, and carried off his sweetheart, Grace Armstrong, and some cattle. On hearing this Elshie despatched him with an order for some money, and insisted that Grace should be given up uninjured. Having dispersed his neighbours in search of her, Hobbie Elliot went to consult Elshie, who handed him a bag of gold, which he declined, and intimated that he must seek her whom he had lost "in the west." Earnscliff and his party had tracked the cattle as far as the English border, but on finding a large Jacobite force assembling there they returned, and it was decided to attack Westburnflat's stronghold. On approaching it, a female hand, which her lover swore was Grace's, waved a signal to them from a turret, and as they were preparing a bonfire to force the door, Graeme agreed to release his prisoner, who proved to be Isabel Vere. On reaching home, however, Elliot found that Grace had been brought back, and at dawn he started off to accept the money which the dwarf had offered him to repair his homestead. Isabel had been seized by ruffians while walking with her father, who appeared overcome with grief, and under the impression that Earnscliff was the offender; whereas Mr Ratcliffe, who managed his affairs, suggested that Sir Frederick had stronger motives for placing her under restraint. Mr Vere's suspicion seemed justified by their meeting his daughter returning under her lover's care; but she confirmed his version of the circumstances under which he had intervened, to the evident discomfiture of his rival and her father.

At a large gathering, the same day, of the Pretender's adherents in the hall of Ellieslaw Castle, Ralph Mareschal produced a letter which dissipated all their hopes, and Sir Frederick insisted that his marriage with Isabel should take place before midnight. She had consented, on her father's representation that his life would be forfeited if she refused, when Mr Ratcliffe persuaded her to make use of the token which Elshie had given her, and escorted her to his dwelling. He promised that at the foot of the altar he would redeem her; and, just as the ceremony was commencing in the chapel, a voice, which seemed to proceed from her mother's tomb, uttered the word "Forbear." The dwarf's real name and rank were then revealed, as well as the circumstances under which he had acquired the power of thus interfering on Isabel's behalf, while Hobbie and his friends supported Mr Ratcliffe in dispersing the would-be rebels. Sir Edward at the same time disappeared from the neighbourhood, and Mr Vere retired, with an ample allowance, to the Continent, all the Ellieslaw property, as well as the baronet's, being settled on Earnscliff and his bride Isabel. Sir Frederick Langley was a few years afterwards executed at Preston, and Westburnflat earned a commission in Marlborough's army by his services in providing cattle for the commissariat.

List of characters[edit]

  • Hobbie Elliot, of the Heughfoot farm
  • His grandmother.
  • Old Annapple, his foster mother
  • Lilias, Jean and Annot, his sisters
  • Grace Armstrong, his cousin and sweetheart
  • Patrick Earnscliff, a young squire
  • Elshie, the Dwarf Of Mucklestane Moor; revealed as Sir Edward Mauley
  • Mr Richard Vere, the Laird of Ellislaw, who had betrayed Sir Edward
  • Isabel Vere, his daughter
  • Sir Frederick Langley, her suitor
  • Lucy Ilderton, her friend
  • Willie Graeme of Westerburnflat, a freebooter
  • Mr Hubert Ratcliffe, a friend of Sir William Mauley
  • Ralph Mareschal, Mr Vere's cousin
  • Dr Hobbler, a priest

External links[edit]

This article incorporates text from the revised 1898 edition of Henry Grey's A Key to the Waverley Novels (1880), now in the public domain.