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Ivanhoe | Study Guide

Sir Walter Scott

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Ivanhoe | Dedicatory Epistle | Summary



This dedication letter is addressed to "The Rev. Dr. Dryasdust, F.A.S, Residing in the Castle Gate, York." In it Laurence Templeton (Scott's penname for Ivanhoe) says he is "anxious to vindicate [him]self" of any charge of "presumption in placing the venerable name of Dr Jonas Dryasdust at the head of a publication, which the more grave antiquary will perhaps class with the idle novels and romances of the day." His motivation in writing this book was to "excite an interest for the traditions and manners of Old England" just as recent books about Scotland had for that country's history. The heroes of English history are as deserving as the heroes of Scottish history.

Templeton next addresses a series of objections made by his friend Dryasdust. Dryasdust's first objection is that the events the Scottish author is writing about were in the near past and the author could interview people who remembered the events. Therefore, he could bring them to life in his prose. This would not be true for an author writing about English events long past; the people involved in them are all long dead, and the only sources available would be "musty records and chronicles." Templeton disagrees, though. There are many "hints concerning the private life of our ancestors ... scattered through the pages of" history books. Dryasdust's second objection is that a historian would not be a suitable author for a historical romance. Templeton lists several authors who, he says, did so. The next objection is that mixing fact and fiction gives false impressions about the time period of the story. Templeton says he doesn't claim to be completely accurate. To be interesting to a contemporary audience, it has to be "translated into the manners, as well as the language, of the age we live in." Anyway, people's "passions" are the same regardless of class, time, place, or culture. Templeton admits it's difficult to do this without introducing inconsistencies and apologizes for doing so. Templeton's main source materials come from an Anglo-Norman manuscript owned by Sir Arthur Wardour.

The letter closes with some comments on the destruction of historical monuments by property owners who found them inconvenient and a reference to an artist who created etchings Scott had used in his research.


Scott's dedicatory epistle is a tongue-in-cheek response to those critics who complained of historical inaccuracies in his novels. He includes some facts, such as real sources of the information he uses in Ivanhoe, but they are nestled in a work of fiction written to a fictional character by a fictional author. Jonas Dryasdust is a character in Scott's novel The Antiquary (1816), and Scott refers to that novel in this letter. The fictional Dr. Dryasdust is a historian of the sort who deals in dry, objective facts and believes emotions have nothing to do with history. As a historian himself Scott believed that history involves people, so it must involve emotions. His attitude and the way his novels blend fact and imagination angered some academic historians of the day, and Scott created Dryasdust to embody and poke fun at them. Dryasdust appears several times in Scott's works—as a character, a recipient of letters, and even as a writer—and later in the work of the Scottish historian, philosopher, and writer Thomas Carlyle (who borrowed him to make a point). The name has also been taken into the English language to describe someone or something as dull and pedantic.

Incidentally, Castle Gate (today spelled Castlegate)—Dryasdust's address—is a street in the center of the city of York that leads up to the castle precinct. In York many streets are called gates; this reflects the city's Viking origins.

The supposedly Anglo-Norman manuscript Scott mentions is another invention. He claims it is owned by Sir Arthur Wardour. Wardour was a fictional Scottish baronet and, like Dryasdust, one of the historians in The Antiquary.

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