Saunders Mucklebackit

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Saunders Mucklebackit
Saunders Mucklebackit.jpg
Saunders Mucklebackit, the Old Fisherman (1853) by Henry Stacy Marks
First appearance The Antiquary (1816)
Created by Walter Scott
Gender Male
Occupation Fisherman
Spouse(s) Maggie Mucklebackit
Relatives Reginald Cheyne (Grandfather)
Elspeth Mucklebackit (née Cheyne) (Mother)
Simon Mucklebackit (Father)
Steenie Mucklebackit (Son)
Jenny Mucklebackit (Daughter)
Patie Mucklebackit (Son)
Religion Presbyterian
Nationality Scottish

Saunders Mucklebackit is a character in Walter Scott's 1816 novel The Antiquary, an elderly fisherman and smuggler who is bereaved of his son. Though a comparatively minor character he has often been singled out for praise as one of the novel's most masterly creations.

His role in the novel

Mucklebackit first appears in the novel as one of the rescuers of Sir Arthur Wardour and his companions when they are stranded on a cliff-face and in danger of drowning. His impatience of the title-character Jonathan Oldbuck's interference is also seen for the first time. Much later Mucklebackit's son Steenie is drowned, and at the lad's funeral Saunders is almost incoherent with grief. Since he is too overcome to help to carry the coffin to the graveyard Oldbuck takes his place. While the interment is taking place the Mucklebackit cottage is visited by Lord Glenallan, who, unaware of the funeral, wishes to speak with Saunders' mother Elspeth. Saunders indignantly refuses him entrance, but is over-ruled by his mother. Oldbuck returns to find Mucklebackit repairing the fishing-boat from which Steenie had been swept, and says how pleased he is to find him capable of that job. Mucklebackit replies,

"And what would you have me to do…unless I wanted to see four children starve, because ane is drowned? It's weel wi' you gentles, that can sit in the house wi' handkerchers at your een when ye lose a friend; but the like o' us maun to our wark again, if our hearts were beating as hard as my hammer."[1]

Finding the job too much for him he flings his hammer aside, and Oldbuck offers to send a professional carpenter to repair the boat. Mucklebackit thanks him for this and for the honour he did him in helping to carry the body, and the two men break into tears.

Critical assessment

Several contemporary reviews of The Antiquary quoted the scene of the Mucklebackit funeral as a highlight of the novel.[2][3] The Monthly Review found the scene strongly drawn with a terrible effectiveness,[4] Francis Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review found it "in the highest degree striking and pathetic",[5] and the British Critic commented on how cold, forced and heartless various of Byron's poems seemed by comparison.[6] Byron himself and Scott's son-in-law and biographer J. G. Lockhart were both struck by the power of the scene in which Mucklebackit is found repairing his boat despite his son's death.[7][8]

Moving forward to the 20th century, Andrew Lang found the character of Mucklebackit to be an example of Scott's art at its very best.[9] Virginia Woolf presented the same opinion through her character Mr. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse,[10] and in her own voice said that in the funeral scene the various elements "come together…drawn, one knows not how, to make a whole, a complete presentation of life".[11] The boat-repairing speech put Catherine Macdonald Maclean in mind of David's lament for Absalom in the Second Book of Samuel.[12] John Buchan wrote that Mucklebackit and Edie Ochiltree were the true heroes of The Antiquary, and that through strong emotion the fisherman rose to an epic dignity with the austere quality of the sagas.[13] Scott's biographer Edgar Johnson praised the "racy and picturesque Scots" of Mucklebackit's dialogue, and found his rhetoric "beautiful and effective", but wondered whether its poetry and eloquence were true to life.[14] David D. Brown thought the interchange between Mucklebackit and Oldbuck the most poignant in all Scott's work, Mucklebackit being Scott's "only spokesman for the incipient working classes".[15] Likewise Harry E. Shaw found the boat-repairing scene unforgettable, and saw Mucklebackit as the voice of social protest by the Scottish peasant class against the gentry.[16] Jane Millgate considered the tragedy of Mucklebackit's bereavement an essential strand of the novel's plot, in that it shows us the empathetic and humane side of Oldbuck's character and prepares both Oldbuck and the reader for his generous response to Lord Glenallan's plea for help in recovering his lost son.[17] The scholar Robin Mayhead, noting that Mucklebackit is, with Edie Ochiltree, the character furthest from sham and pretension, was reminded of the stoical Scott who endured the troubled years that followed the death of his wife Charlotte.[18]


  1. ^ Chapter 34
  2. ^ "[Review of The Antiquary]". Augustan Review. 3: 171, 177. 1816. Retrieved 8 April 2016. 
  3. ^ Hayden, John O., ed. (1970). Scott: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 103, 105. ISBN 0710067240. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  4. ^ "[Review of The Antiquary]". Monthly Review. 82: 51. 1817. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  5. ^ Smith, D. Nichol, ed. (1928). "Jeffrey's Literary Criticism". London: Humphrey Milford: 100. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  6. ^ "[Review of The Antiquary]". The British Critic. New Ser. 5: 655–656. 1816. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  7. ^ Speer, Roderick S. (2009). Byron and Scott. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars. p. 55. ISBN 1443805874. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  8. ^ Lockhart, J. G. (1845) [1837–1838]. Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. Edinburgh: Robert Cadell. p. 332. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  9. ^ Lang, Andrew (1906). Sir Walter Scott. London: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 143. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  10. ^ Woolf, Virginia (2007). Selected Works of Virginia Woolf. Ware, Herts.: Wordsworth Library Collection. p. 332. ISBN 9781840225587. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  11. ^ McNeillie, Andrew, ed. (1988). The Essays of Virginia Woolf. Volume 3: 1919–1924. London: Hogarth Press. p. 457. ISBN 0701206683. Retrieved 27 April 2016. 
  12. ^ Maclean, Catherine Macdonald (2011) [1927]. Dorothy and William Wordsworth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 91. ISBN 9781107619272. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  13. ^ Buchan, John (1961) [1932]. Sir Walter Scott. London: Cassell. pp. 151–153. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  14. ^ Johnson, Edgar (1970). Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown. Volume 1: 1771–1821. London: Hamish Hamilton. pp. 539, 541–542. ISBN 0241017610. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  15. ^ Brown, David (1979). Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 66. ISBN 0710003013. Retrieved 27 April 2016. 
  16. ^ Shaw, Harry E. (1983). The Forms of Historical Fiction. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 75–76. ISBN 0801415926. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  17. ^ Millgate, Jane (1987) [1984]. Walter Scott: The Making of the Novelist. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 99–101. ISBN 0802066925. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  18. ^ Mayhead, Robin (1973). "The Problem of Coherence in The Antiquary". In Bell, Alan. Scott Bicentenary Essays. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press. p. 145. ISBN 070111987X. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 

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