Brander Matthews (18521929). The Short-Story. 1907.
Notes to Wandering Willies Tale
By Walter Scott (17711832)
SCOTT relished rather the free amplitude of the novel than the compression of the short-story; and it is only by accident that he adventured himself in the briefer form. Strictly speaking, his one masterpiece is not exactly a short-story, since it is only a narrative placed in the mouth of one of the characters in Redgauntlet. The novel was published in 1824; and perhaps Wandering Willies Tale is what it is because Scott had read Rip Van Winkle four or five years earlier. Scott had a high regard for Irvings tales; and he praised one of them as a fantasy equal to the best German attempts at the eerie and uncanny. The Scotsman here achieves the same commingling of the humorous and the supernatural that the American had already essayed successfully.
Generally Scott is an improviser, affluent, easy, and careless in his story-telling. Here he is careful and swift. He was interested in the tale he had invented; and he evidently did his best to set it forth as artistically as he could. One of his biographers, who has examined his proof-sheets, records that Scott took far more pains over those pages than was his custom. Scott notes that he had heard some such wild tale in his youth; and it may be that he had retold it orally more than once,which would help to account for its directness when he came to amplify it as an episode in his novel.