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The Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart
Chapter 4: 1815-17
John Gibson Lockhart to Jonathan Christie, 22 December 1816

Vol. I. Preface
Vol. I Contents.
Chapter 1: 1794-1808
Chapter 2: 1808-13
Chapter 3: 1813-15
Chapter 4: 1815-17
Chapter 5: 1817-18
Chapter 6: 1817-19
Chapter 7: 1818-20
Chapter 8: 1819-20
Chapter 9: 1820-21
Chapter 10: 1821-24
Chapter 11: 1817-24
Chapter 12: 1821-25
Chapter 13: 1826
Vol. II Contents
Chapter 14: 1826-32
Chapter 15: 1828-32
Chapter 16: 1832-36
Chapter 17: 1837-39
Chapter 18: 1837-43
Chapter 19: 1828-48
Chapter 20: 1826-52
Chapter 21: 1842-50
Chapter 22: 1850-53
Chapter 23: 1853-54
Chapter 24: Conclusion
Vol. II Index
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Produced by CATH
Edinburgh, 73 George Street,
December 22, 1816 (Sunday forenoon).

My dear Christie,—I am most willing to believe that your obstinate silence is owing entirely
to your hard studies, so, being unconscious of any such excuse, I am resolved to make one more attempt on you. I presume I need not ask you what you are doing. You are no doubt fagging hard at the law all the day, and drinking tea and reading Greek plays with Buchanan all the evening. Now and then you have a tavern shine with some young fellows—perhaps with
Traill, if he has in good earnest returned unto himself. I, you must know, pursue a more dignified strain of life. I am now an advocate of a week’s standing—have trod the boards of the Parliament House all that time, with the air of a man wrapped up in Potier and Cujacius, and have pocketed one fee of three guineas, which I spent in punch and tobacco the same evening—so far well. I am going west in a few days to cultivate the procurators of Glasgow.

“There is a young and itching devil here—so God speed the attorneys and damn sentiment.

“I suppose you have read before this time the new novels, supposed to be, like ‘Waverley,’ by Walter Scott. The ‘Old Mortality’ story was very delightful to me, as the scene is admirably laid and preserved in that part of the country with which I am most familiar; but I have, unfortunately, read too much of the history of that period to approve of the gross violations of historical truth which he has taken the liberty—often, I think, without gaining anything by it—to introduce. Burley has long been known by me as a short, in-kneed, squinting, sallow, snarling
viper,1 and now behold he is uselessly swelled out into a Covenanting giant, with a blue bonnet of the cut of Brobdingnag. He was drowned, on his way from Holland to Scotland, about the date of the Revolution.
Claverhouse’s original letters I have seen—they are vulgar and bloody, without anything of the air of a polished man, far less of a sentimental cavalier in them.2 These productions, in which true events and real personages are blended in so close a manner with nonentities of all kinds, are only tolerable to us in proportion to our ignorance of the places and period and persons described. The novels in question have so much merit in almost every other point of view, that they naturally attract uncommon attention to those passages of history on which they are, or pretend to be, founded, and so by their very merit work their own destruction. I wish the author had either stuck close to facts—in so far as never to invent anything which could be contradicted by history—or followed fiction altogether. This last tale is far more offensive than ‘Waverley,’ inasmuch as Waverley is a person more obscure than Morton, and more likely to have been omitted by the contemporary writers. At the same time, the general truth of the Covenanting manners exceeds, I should think, anything the author has executed in that

1 One is reminded of Mrs. Squeers’ turned-up-nosed peacock.

2 Here the biographer utterly dissents from this child of the Remnant.

Defoe’s history of that period in Scotland is, however, after all equally picturesque, better kept up, and incomparably better written; with all the other advantages that truth ever possesses over fiction. There is no doubt of it, that man has the strongest imagination of any prose writer that ever lived. Such is his power that he can make plain matter of fact infinitely brighter than all the inventions in the world could ever render a fictitious event.

This is sad prosing, but we are now so much separated that new books and old friends are the only subjects in which we can reckon on finding each other’s attention alive. Sir William Hamilton is very well at the other side of my table, and requests me to hand you his love. Remember us both to Buchanan. I rejoice to hear of his being so happy with you. I dined yesterday with his aunt, and they are all perfectly well.—Yours most affectionately,

J. G. L.

“How is Nicoll? I wish, if you are writing him, you would desire him to send me and Hannay our exhibs. with all speed convenient. Write me quickly, at Glasgow—if not for ten days (quod Deus avertat) here again.”