Last minstrels: Medievalism, emotion and poetic performance in Walter Scott and Goethe


Walter Scott’s narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) employs the theme of improvized musical and poetic performance to an attentive audience as a model of the potential relation between a modern present and a medievalized past. Through varying fictions of ʻminstrel’ improvization and its reception, both Scott’s poem and Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship suggest the right relation of poetry to history can best be understood as neither a passing on of ancient truths nor an unalterable set of personal memories, but a changing critical ʻconversation’ that allows the emergence of new aesthetic and emotional alignments.

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  1. 1.

    See OED online, s.v. ʻlatest,’ adj., n., and adv. A 1: ʻLast, final. Now rare (arch. and poet. in later use),’ and A 3: ʻMost recent; (in later use also) belonging to or characteristic of the most up-to-date fashion or trend.’


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I thank the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CE1101011) for supporting research that led to the writing of this article.

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Lynch, A. Last minstrels: Medievalism, emotion and poetic performance in Walter Scott and Goethe. Postmedieval 10, 423–438 (2019).

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