LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
Chapter V 1818

Vol I Preface
Vol. I Contents.
Chapter I
Chapter II 1771-78
Chapter III 1778-83
Chapter IV 1783-86
Chapter V 1786-90
Chapter VI 1790-92
Chapter VII 1792-96
Chapter VIII 1796-97
Chapter IX 1798-99
Chapter X 1800-02
Chapter XI 1802-03
Chapter XII 1803-04
Vol. II Contents.
Chapter I 1804-05
Chapter II 1805
Chapter III 1806
Chapter IV 1806-08
Chapter V 1808
Chapter VI 1808-09
Chapter VII 1809-10
Chapter VIII 1810
Chapter IX 1810
Chapter X 1810-11
Chapter XI 1811
Chapter XII 1811-12
Vol. III Contents.
Chapter I 1812-13
Chapter II 1813
Chapter III 1814
Chapter IV 1814
Chapter V 1814
Chapter VI 1814
Chapter VII 1814
Chapter VIII 1814
Chapter IX 1814
Chapter X 1814-15
Chapter XI 1815
Chapter XII 1815
Vol III Appendix
Vol. IV Contents.
Chapter I 1816
Chapter II 1817
Chapter III 1817
Chapter IV 1818
‣ Chapter V 1818
Chapter VI 1818
Chapter VII 1818-19
Chapter VIII 1819
Chapter IX 1819
Chapter X 1819
Chapter XI 1820
Chapter XII 1820
Vol. V Contents.
Chapter I 1820
Chapter II 1820-21
Chapter III 1821
Chapter IV 1821
Chapter V 1821
Chapter VI 1821
Chapter VII 1822
Chapter VIII 1822
Chapter IX 1822-23
Chapter X 1823
Chapter XI 1823
Chapter XII 1824
Chapter XIII 1824-25
Vol. VI Contents.
Chapter I 1825
Chapter II 1825
Chapter III 1825
Chapter IV 1825
Chapter V 1826
Chapter VI 1826
Chapter VII 1826
Chapter VIII 1826
Chapter IX 1826
Chapter X 1826
Chapter XI 1826
Vol. VII Contents.
Vol VII Preface
Chapter I 1826-27
Chapter II 1827
Chapter III 1828
Chapter IV 1828
Chapter V 1829
Chapter VI 1830
Chapter VII 1830-31
Chapter VIII 1831
Chapter IX 1831
Chapter X 1831-32
Chapter XI 1832
Chapter XII
Vol VII Appendix
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH

On the 12th of May, as we have seen, Scott left Abbotsford, for the summer session in Edinburgh.

At this moment, his position, take it for all in all, was, I am inclined to believe, what no other man had ever won for himself by the pen alone. His works were the daily food, not only of his countrymen, but of all educated Europe. His society was courted by whatever England could show of eminence. Station, power, wealth, beauty, and genius strove with each other in every demonstration of respect and worship—and, a few political fanatics and envious poetasters apart, wherever he appeared in town or in country, whoever had Scotch blood in him, “gentle or simple,” felt it move more rapidly through his veins when he was in the presence of Scott. To descend to
EDINBURGH, MAY, 1818.145
what many looked on as higher things, he considered himself, and was considered by all about him, as rapidly consolidating a large fortune: the annual profits of his novels alone had, for several years, been not less than L.10,000: his domains were daily increased his castle was rising and perhaps few doubted that ere long he might receive from the just favour of his Prince some distinction in the way of external rank, such as had seldom before been dreamt of as the possible consequence of a mere literary celebrity. It was about this time that the compiler of these pages first had the opportunity of observing the plain easy modesty which had survived the many temptations of such a career; and the kindness of heart pervading, in all circumstances, his gentle deportment, which made him the rare, perhaps the solitary, example of a man signally elevated from humble beginnings, and loved more and more by his earliest friends and connexions, in proportion as he had fixed on himself the homage of the great, and the wonder of the world.

It was during the sitting of the General Assembly of the Kirk in May 1818, that I first had the honour of meeting him in private society: the party was not a large one, at the house of a much-valued common friend—Mr Home Drummond of Blair Drummond, the grandson of Lord Kames. Mr Scott, ever apt to consider too favourably the literary efforts of others, and more especially of very young persons, received me, when I was presented to him, with a cordiality which I had not been prepared to expect from one filling a station so exalted. This, however, is the same story that every individual, who ever met him under similar circumstances, has had to tell. When the ladies retired from the dinner-table I happened to sit next him; and he, having heard that I had lately returned from a tour in Germany, made that country and its recent literature
the subject of some conversation. In the course of it, I told him that when, on reaching the inn at Weimar, I asked the waiter, whether
Goethe was then in the town, the man stared as if he had not heard the name before; and that on my repeating the question, adding Goethe der grosse dichter (the great poet), he shook his head as doubtfully as before until the landlady solved our difficulties, by suggesting that perhaps the traveller might mean “the Herr Geheimer-Rath (Privy-Counsellor) Von Goethe” Scott seemed amused with this, and said, “I hope you will come one of these days and see me at Abbotsford; and when you reach Selkirk or Melrose, be sure you ask even the landlady for nobody but the Skeriff.” He appeared particularly interested when I described Goethe as I first saw him, alighting from a carriage, crammed with wild plants and herbs which he had picked up in the course of his morning’s botanizing among the hills above Jena. “I am glad,” said he, “that my old master has pursuits somewhat akin to my own. I am no botanist, properly speaking; and though a dweller on the banks of the Tweed, shall never be knowing about Flora’s beauties;* but how I should like to have a talk with him about trees!” I mentioned how much any one must be struck with the majestic beauty of Goethe’s countenance (the noblest certainly by far that I have ever yet seen) “Well,” said he, “the grandest demigod I ever saw was Dr Carlyle, minister of Musselburgh, commonly called Jupiter Carlyle, from having sat more than once for the king of gods and men to Gavin Hamilton and a shrewd, clever old carle was he, no doubt, but no more a poet than his precentor. As
* “What beauties does Flora disclose,
How sweet are her smiles upon Tweed.” &c.
EDINBURGH, MAY, 1818.147
for poets, I have seen, I believe, all the best of our own time and country—and, though
Burns had the most glorious eyes imaginable, I never thought any of them would come up to an artist’s notion of the character, except Byron.” A reverend gentleman present, (I think, Principal Nicoll of St Andrews), expressed his regret that he had never seen Lord Byron. “And the prints,” resumed Scott, “give one no impression of him—the lustre is there, Doctor, but it is not lighted up. Byron’s countenance is a thing to dream of. A certain fair lady, whose name has been too often mentioned in connexion with his, told a friend of mine that, when she first saw Byron it was in a crowded room, and she did not know who it was, but her eyes were instantly nailed, and she said to herself that pale face is my fate. And poor soul, if a godlike face and godlike powers could have made any excuse for devilry, to be sure she had one.” In the course of this talk, an old friend and schoolfellow of Scott’s asked him across the table if he had any faith in the antique busts of Homer? “No, truly,” he answered, smiling, “for if there had been either limners or stuccoyers worth their salt in those days, the owner of such a headpiece would never have had to trail the poke. They would have alimented the honest man decently among them for a lay-figure.”

A few days after this, I received a communication from the Messrs Ballantyne, to the effect that Mr Scott’s various avocations had prevented him from fulfilling his agreement with them as to the historical department of the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1816, and that it would be acceptable to him as well as them, if I could undertake to supply it in the course of the autumn. This proposal was agreed to on my part, and I had consequently occasion to meet him pretty often during that summer session. He told me that if the war had gone
on, he should have liked to do the historical summary as before; but that the prospect of having no events to record but radical riots, and the passing or rejecting of corn bills and poor bills, sickened him; that his health was no longer what it had been; and that though he did not mean to give over writing altogether—(here he smiled significantly, and glanced his eye towards a pile of MS. on the desk by him)—he thought himself now entitled to write nothing but what would rather be an amusement than a fatigue to him—“Juniores ad labores

He at this time occupied as his den a square small room, behind the dining parlour in Castle Street. It had but a single Venetian window, opening on a patch of turf not much larger than itself, and the aspect of the place was on the whole sombrous. The walls were entirely clothed with books; most of them folios and quartos, and all in that complete state of repair which at a glance reveals a tinge of bibliomania. A dozen volumes or so, needful for immediate purposes of reference, were placed close by him on a small movable frame—something like a dumb-waiter. All the rest were in their proper niches, and wherever a volume had been lent, its room was occupied by a wooden block of the same size, having a card with the name of the borrower and date of the loan, tacked on its front. The old bindings had obviously been retouched and regilt in the most approved manner; the new, when the books were of any mark, were rich but never gaudy—a large proportion of blue morocco—all stamped with his device of the portcullis, and its motto clausus tutus ero—being an anagram of his name in Latin. Every case and shelf was accurately lettered, and the works arranged systematically; history and biography on one side—poetry and the drama on another—law books and dictionaries behind his own chair. The only table was
a massive piece of furniture which he had had constructed on the model of one at Rokeby; with a desk and all its appurtenances on either side, that an amanuensis might work opposite to him when he chose; and with small tiers of drawers, reaching all round to the floor. The top displayed a goodly array of session papers, and on the desk below were, besides the MS. at which he was working, sundry parcels of letters, proof-sheets, and so forth, all neatly done up with red tape. His own writing apparatus was a very handsome old box, richly carved, lined with crimson velvet, and containing ink-bottles, taper-stand, &c. in silver—the whole in such order that it might have come from the silversmith’s window half an hour before. Besides his own huge elbow chair, there were but two others in the room, and one of these seemed, from its position, to be reserved exclusively for the amanuensis. I observed, during the first evening I spent with him in this sanctum, that while he talked, his hands were hardly ever idle. Sometimes he folded letter-covers—sometimes he twisted paper into matches, performing both tasks with great mechanical expertness and nicety; and when there was no loose paper fit to be so dealt with, he snapped his fingers, and the noble Maida aroused himself from his lair on the hearth-rug, and laid his head across his master’s knees, to be caressed and fondled. The room had no space for pictures except one, an original portrait of
Claverhouse, which hung over the chimneypiece, with a Highland target on either side, and broadswords and dirks (each having its own story), disposed star-fashion round them. A few green tin-boxes, such as solicitors keep title-deeds in, were piled over each other on one side of the window; and on the top of these lay a fox’s tail, mounted on an antique silver handle, wherewith, as often as he had occasion to take down a book, he gently brushed the
dust off the upper leaves before opening it. I think I have mentioned all the furniture of the room except a sort of ladder, low, broad, well-carpeted, and strongly guarded with oaken rails, by which he helped himself to books from his higher shelves. On the top step of this convenience, Hinse of Hinsfeldt,—(so called from one of the German Kinder-märchen)—a venerable tom-cat, fat and sleek, and no longer very locomotive, usually lay watching the proceedings of his master and Maida with an air of dignified equanimity; but when Maida chose to leave the party, he signified his inclinations by thumping the door with his huge paw, as violently, as ever a fashionable footman handled a knocker in Grosvenor Square; the Sheriff rose and opened it for him with courteous alacrity,—and then Hinse came down purring from his perch, and mounted guard by the foot-stool, vice Maida absent upon furlough. Whatever discourse might be passing was broken, every now and then, by some affectionate apostrophe to these four-footed friends. He said they understood every thing he said to them, and I believe they did understand a great deal of it. But at all events, dogs and cats, like children, have some infallible tact for discovering at once who is, and who is not, really fond of their company; and I venture to say, Scott was never five minutes in any room before the little pets of the family, whether dumb or lisping, had found out his kindness for all their generation.

I never thought it lawful to keep a journal of what passes in private society, so that no one need expect from the sequel of this narrative any detailed record of Scott’s familiar talk. What fragments of it have happened to adhere to a tolerably retentive memory, and may be put into black and white without wounding any feelings which my friend, were he alive, would have
wished to spare, I shall introduce as the occasion suggests or serves; but I disclaim on the threshold any thing more than this; and I also wish to enter a protest once for all against the general fidelity of several literary gentlemen who have kindly forwarded to me private lucubrations of theirs, designed to Boswellize Scott, and which they may probably publish hereafter. To report conversations fairly, it is a necessary prerequisite that we should be completely familiar with all the interlocutors, and understand thoroughly all their minutest relations, and points of common knowledge, and common feeling, with each other. He who does not, must be perpetually in danger of misinterpreting sportive allusion into serious statement; and the man who was only recalling, by some jocular phrase or half-phrase, to an old companion, some trivial reminiscence of their boyhood or youth, may be represented as expressing, upon some person or incident casually tabled, an opinion which he had never framed, or if he had, would never have given words to in any mixed assemblage—not even among what the world calls friends at his own board. In proportion as a man is witty and humorous, there will always be about him and his a widening maze and wilderness of cues and catchwords, which the uninitiated will, if they are bold enough to try interpretation, construe, ever and anon, egregiously amiss—not seldom into arrant falsity. For this one reason, to say nothing of many others, I consider no man justified in journalizing what he sees and hears in a domestic circle where he is not thoroughly at home; and I think there are still higher and better reasons why he should not do so where he is.

Before I ever met Scott in private, I had, of course, heard many people describe and discuss his style of
conversation. Every body seemed to agree that it overflowed with hearty good humour, as well as plain unaffected good sense and sagacity; but I had heard not a few persons of undoubted ability and accomplishment maintain, that the genius of the great poet and novelist rarely, if ever, revealed itself in his talk. It is needless to say, that the persons I allude to were all his own countrymen, and themselves imbued, more or less, with the conversational habits derived from a system of education in which the study of metaphysics occupies a very large share of attention. The best table-talk of Edinburgh was, and probably still is, in a very great measure made up of brilliant disquisition—such as might be transferred without alteration to a professor’s note-book, or the pages of a critical Review—and of sharp word-catchings, ingenious thrusting and parrying of dialectics, and all the quips and quibblets of bar pleading. It was the talk of a society to which lawyers and lecturers had, for at least a hundred years, given the tone. From the date of the Union Edinburgh ceased to be the headquarters of the Scotch nobility—and long before the time of which I speak they had all but entirely abandoned it as a place of residence. I think I never knew above two or three of the Peerage to have houses there at the same time and these were usually among the poorest and most insignificant of their order. The wealthier gentry had followed their example. Very few of that class ever spent any considerable part of the year in Edinburgh, except for the purposes of educating their children, or superintending the progress of a lawsuit; and these were not more likely than a score or two of comatose and lethargic old Indians, to make head against the established influences of academical and forensic celebrity. Now Scott’s
tastes and resources had not much in common with those who had inherited and preserved the chief authority in this provincial hierarchy of rhetoric. He was highly amused with watching their dexterous logomachies—but his delight in such displays arose mainly, I cannot doubt, from the fact of their being, both as to subject-matter and style and method, remote a Scævolæ studiis. He sat by, as he would have done at a stage-play or a fencing-match, enjoying and applauding the skill exhibited, but without feeling much ambition to parade himself as a rival either of the foil or the buskin. I can easily believe, therefore, that in the earlier part of his life—before the blaze of universal fame had overawed local prejudice, and a new generation, accustomed to hear of that fame from their infancy, had grown up—it may have been the commonly adopted creed in Edinburgh, that Scott, however distinguished otherwise, was not to be named as a table-companion in the same day with this or that master of luminous dissertation or quick rejoinder, who now sleeps as forgotten as his grandmother. It was natural enough that persons brought up in the same circle with him, who remembered all his beginnings, and had but slowly learned to acquiesce in the justice of his claim to unrivalled honour in literature, should have clung all the closer for that late acquiescence to their original estimate of him as inferior to themselves in other titles to admiration. It was also natural that their prejudice on that score should be readily taken up by the young aspirants who breathed, as it were, the atmosphere of their professional renown. Perhaps, too, Scott’s steady Toryism, and the effect of his genius and example in modifying the intellectual sway of the long dominant Whigs in the north, may have had some share in this matter. However all that may have been, the sub-
stance of what I had been accustomed to hear certainly was, that Scott had a marvellous stock of queer stories, which he often told with happy effect, but that, bating these drafts on a portentous memory, set off with a simple old-fashioned naiveté of humour and pleasantry, his strain of talk was remarkable neither for depth of remark nor felicity of illustration; that his views and opinions on the most important topics of practical interest were hopelessly perverted by his blind enthusiasm for the dreams of by-gone ages; and that, but for the grotesque phenomenon presented by a great writer of the 19th century gravely uttering sentiments worthy of his own
Dundees and Invernahyles, the main texture of his discourse would be pronounced by any enlightened member of modern society rather bald and poor than otherwise. I think the epithet most in vogue was commonplace.

It will easily be believed, that, in companies such as I have been alluding to, made up of, or habitually domineered over by voluble Whigs and political economists, Scott was often tempted to put forth his Tory doctrines and antiquarian prejudices in an exaggerated shape—in colours, to say the truth, altogether different from what they assumed under other circumstances, or which had any real influence upon his mind and conduct on occasions of practical moment. But I fancy it will seem equally credible, that the most sharp-sighted of these social critics may not always have been capable of tracing, and doing justice to, the powers which Scott brought to bear upon the topics which they, not he, had chosen for discussion. In passing from a gas-lit hall into a room with wax candles, the guests sometimes complain that they have left splendour for gloom; but let them try by what sort of light it is most satisfactory to read, write, or embroider, or consider at leisure under
which of the two either men or women look their best.

The strongest, purest, and least observed of all lights is, however, daylight; and his talk was commonplace, just as sunshine is, which gilds the most indifferent objects, and adds brilliancy to the brightest. As for the old-world anecdotes which these clever persons were condescending enough to laugh at as pleasant extravagances, serving merely to relieve and set off the main stream of debate, they were often enough, it may be guessed, connected with the theme in hand by links not the less apt that they might be too subtle to catch their bedazzled and self-satisfied optics. There might be keener knowledge of human nature than was “dreamt of in their philosophy” which passed with them for commonplace, only because it was clothed in plain familiar household words, not dressed up in some pedantic masquerade of antithesis. “There are people,” says Landor, “who think they write and speak finely, merely because they have forgotten the language in which their fathers and mothers used to talk to them;” and surely there are a thousand homely old proverbs, which many a dainty modern would think it beneath his dignity to quote either in speech or writing, any one of which condenses more wit (take that word in any of its senses) than could be extracted from all that was ever said or written by the doctrinaires of the Edinburgh school. Many of those gentlemen held Scott’s conversation to be commonplace exactly for the same reason that a child thinks a perfectly limpid stream, though perhaps deep enough to drown it three times over, must needs be shallow. But it will be easily believed that the best and highest of their own idols had better means and skill of measurement: I can never forget the pregnant expression of one of the ablest of that school and
Lord Cockburn—who, when some glib youth chanced to echo in his hearing the consolatory tenet of local mediocrity, answered quietly—“I have the misfortune to think differently from you—in my humble opinion Walter Scott’s sense is a still more wonderful thing than his genius.”

Indeed I have no sort of doubt that, long before 1818, full justice was done to Scott, even in these minor things, by all those of his Edinburgh acquaintance, whether Whig or Tory, on whose personal opinion he could have been supposed to set much value. With few exceptions, the really able lawyers of his own or nearly similar standing had ere that time attained stations of judicial dignity, or were in the springtime of practice; and in either case they were likely to consider general society much in his own fashion, as the joyous relaxation of life, rather than the theatre of exertion and display. Their tables were elegantly, some of them sumptuously spread; and they lived in a pretty constant interchange of entertainments upon a large scale, in every circumstance of which, conversation included, it was their ambition to imitate those voluptuous metropolitan circles, wherein most of them had from time to time mingled, and several of them with distinguished success. Among such prosperous gentlemen, like himself past the mezzo cammin, Scott’s picturesque anecdotes, rich easy humour, and gay involuntary glances of mother-wit, were, it is not difficult to suppose, appreciated above contributions of a more ambitious stamp; and no doubt his London reputation de salon (which had by degrees risen to a high pitch, although he cared nothing for it) was not without its effect in Edinburgh. But still the old prejudice lingered on in the general opinion of the place, especially among the smart praters of the Outer-House, whose glimpses of the
social habits of their superiors were likely to be rare, and their gall-bladders to be more distended than their purses.

In truth it was impossible to listen to Scott’s oral narrations, whether gay or serious, or to the felicitous fun with which he parried absurdities of all sorts, without discovering better qualities in his talk than wit—and of a higher order; I mean especially a power of vivid painting—the true and primary sense of what is called Imagination. He was like Jacques though not a “Melancholy Jacques;” and “moralized” a common topic “into a thousand similitudes.” Shakspeare and the banished Duke would have found him “full of matter.” He disliked mere disquisitions in Edinburgh, and prepared impromptus in London; and puzzled the promoters of such, things sometimes by placid silence, sometimes by broad merriment. To such men he seemed common-place—not so to the most dexterous masters in what was to some of them almost a science; not so to Rose, Hallam, Moore, or Rogers,—to Ellis, Macintosh, Croker, of Canning.

Scott managed to give and receive such great dinners as I have been alluding to at least as often as any other private gentleman in Edinburgh; but he very rarely accompanied his wife and daughters to the evening assemblies, which commonly ensued under other roofs—for early to rise, unless in the case of spare-fed anchorites, takes for granted early to bed. When he had no dinner engagement, he frequently gave a few hours to the theatre; but still more frequently, when the weather was fine, and still more, I believe, to his own satisfaction, he drove out with some of his family, or a single friend, in an open carriage; the favourite rides being either to the Blackford Hills, or to Ravelston, and so home by Corstorphine; or to the beach of Portobello, where Peter was always instructed to keep his horses as near as pos-
sible to the sea. More than once, even in the first summer of my acquaintance with him, I had the pleasure of accompanying him on these evening excursions; and never did he seem to enjoy himself more fully than when placidly surveying at such sunset or moonlight hours, either the massive outlines of his “own romantic town,” or the tranquil expanse of its noble estuary. He delighted, too, in passing when he could, through some of the quaint windings of the ancient city itself, now deserted, except at mid-day, by the upper world. How often have I seen him go a long way round about, rather than miss the opportunity of halting for a few minutes on the vacant esplanade of Holyrood, or under the darkest shadows of the Castle rock, where it overhangs the Grassmarket, and the huge slab that still marks where the gibbet of
Porteous and the Covenanters had its station. His coachman knew him too well to move at a Jehu’s pace amidst such scenes as these. No funeral hearse crept more leisurely than did his landau up the Canongate or the Cowgate; and not a queer tottering gable but recalled to him some long-buried memory of splendour or bloodshed, which, by a few words, he set before the hearer in the reality of life. His image is so associated in my mind with the antiquities of his native place, that I cannot now revisit them without feeling as if I were treading on his gravestone.

Whatever might happen on the other evenings of the week, he always dined at home on Sunday, and usually some few friends were then with him, but never any person with whom he stood on ceremony. These were, it may readily be supposed, the most agreeable of his entertainments. He came into the room rubbing his hands, his face bright and gleesome, like a boy arriving at home for the holydays, his Peppers and Mustards gambolling about his heels, and even the stately
Maida grinning and wagging his tail in sympathy. Among the most regular guests on these happy evenings were, in my time, as had long before been the case,
Mrs Maclean Clephane of Torloisk, (with whom he agreed cordially on all subjects except the authenticity of Ossian), and her daughters, whose guardian he had become, at their own choice. The eldest of them had been for some years married to the Earl Compton (now Marquis of Northampton), and was of course seldom in the north; but the others had much of the same tastes and accomplishments which so highly distinguished the late Lady Northampton; and Scott delighted especially in their proficiency in the poetry and music of their native isles. Mr and Mrs Skene of Rubislaw were frequent attendants and so were the Macdonald-Buchanans of Drumakiln, whose eldest daughter, Isabella, was his chief favourite among all his nieces of the Clerk’s table—as was, among the nephews, my own dear friend and companion, Joseph Hume, a singularly graceful young man, rich in the promise of hereditary genius, but, alas! cut off in the early bloom of his days. The well-beloved Erskine was seldom absent; and very often Terry or James Ballantyne came with him—sometimes, though less frequently, Constable. Among other persons who now and then appeared at these “dinners without the silver dishes,” as Scott called them, I may mention to say nothing of such old cronies as Mr Clerk, Mr Thomson, and Mr Kirkpatrick SharpeSir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, who had all his father Bozzy’s cleverness, good humour, and joviality, without one touch of his meaner qualities,—wrote Jenny dang the Weaver, and some other popular songs, which he sang capitally—and was moreover a thorough bibliomaniac; the late Sir Alexander Don of Newton, in all courteous and elegant accomplishments the model of a cavalier; and last, not
William Allan, R. A., who had shortly before this time returned to Scotland from several years of travel in Russia and Turkey. At one of these plain hearty dinners, however, the company rarely exceeded three or four, besides the as yet undivided family.

Scott had a story of a topping goldsmith on the Bridge who prided himself on being the mirror of Amphitryons, and accounted for his success by stating that it was his invariable custom to set his own stomach at ease, by a beef-steak and a pint of port in his backshop, half an hour before the arrival of his guests. But the host of Castle Street had no occasion to imitate this prudent arrangement, for his appetite at dinner was neither keen nor nice. Breakfast was his chief meal. Before that came he had gone through the severest part of his day’s work, and he then set to with the zeal of Crabbe’s Squire Tovell—
“And laid at once a pound upon his plate.”
No foxhunter ever prepared himself for the field by more substantial appliances. His table was always provided, in addition to the usually plentiful delicacies of a Scotch breakfast, with some solid article, on which he did most lusty execution—a round of beef—a pasty, such as made Gil Blas’s eyes water—or, most welcome of all, a cold sheep’s head, the charms of which primitive dainty he has so gallantly defended against the disparaging sneers of
Dr Johnson and his bear-leader.* A huge brown loaf flanked his elbow, and it was placed upon a broad wooden trencher, that he might cut and come again with the bolder knife. Often did the Clerks’ coach, commonly called among themselves the Lively—which trundled round every morning to pick up the

* See Croker’s Boswell (edit. 1831), vol. iii. p. 88.

brotherhood, and then deposited them at the proper minute in the Parliament Close—often did this lumbering hackney arrive at his door before he had fully appeased what
Homer calls “the sacred rage of hunger”: and vociferous was the merriment of the learned uncles, when the surprised poet swung forth to join them, with an extemporized sandwich, that looked like a ploughman’s luncheon, in his hand. But this robust supply would have served him in fact for the day. He never tasted any thing more before dinner, and at dinner he ate almost as sparingly as Squire Tovell’s niece from the boarding-school—
——“Who cut the sanguine flesh in frustums fine,
And marvelled much to see the creatures dine.”

The only dishes he was at all fond of were the old-fashioned ones, to which he had been accustomed in the days of Saunders Fairford; and which really are excellent dishes, such, in truth, as Scotland borrowed from France before Catherine de Medicis brought in her Italian virtuosi to revolutionize the kitchen like the court. Of most of these, I believe, he has in the course of his novels found some opportunity to record his esteem. But, above all, who can forget that his King Jamie, amidst the splendours of Whitehall, thinks himself an ill-used monarch unless his first course includes cockyleekie?

It is a fact, which some philosophers may think worth setting down, that Scott’s organization, as to more than one of the senses, was the reverse of exquisite. He had very little of what musicians call an ear; his smell was hardly more delicate. I have seen him stare about, quite unconscious of the cause, when his whole company betrayed their uneasiness at the approach of an overkept haunch of venison; and neither by the nose nor the palate could he distinguish corked wine from sound.
He could never tell Madeira from Sherry—nay, an Oriental friend having sent him a butt of sheeraz, when he remembered the circumstance some time afterwards, and called for a bottle to have
Sir John Malcolm’s opinion of its quality, it turned out that his butler, mistaking the label, had already served up half the binn as sherry. Port he considered as physic: he never willingly swallowed more than one glass of it, and was sure to anathematize a second, if offered, by repeating John Home’s epigram—
“Bold and erect the Caledonian stood,
Old was his mutton, and his claret good;
Let him drink port, the English statesman cried—
He drank the poison, and his spirit died.”
In truth, he liked no wines except sparkling Champagne and claret; but even as to this last he was no connoisseur; and sincerely preferred a tumbler of whisky-toddy to the most precious “liquid ruby” that ever flowed in the cup of a prince. He rarely took any other potation when quite alone with his family; but at the Sunday board he circulated the Champagne briskly during dinner, and considered a pint of claret each man’s fair share afterwards. I should not omit, however, that his Bourdeaux was uniformly preceded by a small libation of the genuine mountain dew, which he poured with his own hand, more majorum, for each guest—making use for the purpose of such a multifarious collection of ancient Highland quaighs (little cups of curiously dovetailed wood, inlaid with silver) as no Lowland sideboard but his was ever equipped with—but commonly reserving for himself one that was peculiarly precious in his eyes, as having travelled from Edinburgh to Derby in the canteen of
Prince Charlie. This relic had been presented to “the wandering Ascanius” by some very careful follower, for its bottom is of glass, that he who
quaffed might keep his eye the while upon the dirk hand of his companion.

The sound of music—(even, I suspect, of any sacred music but psalm-singing)—would be considered indecorous in the streets of Edinburgh on a Sunday night; so, upon the occasions I am speaking of, the harp was silent, and Otterburne and The Bonny House of Airlie must needs be dispensed with. To make amends, after tea in the drawing-room, Scott usually read some favourite author, for the amusement of his little circle; or Erskine, Ballantyne, or Terry did so, at his request. He himself read aloud high poetry with far greater simplicity, depth, and effect, than any other man I ever heard; and, in Macbeth or Julius Cæsar, or the like, I doubt if Kemble could have been more impressive. Yet the changes of intonation were so gently managed, that he contrived to set the different interlocutors clearly before us, without the least approach to theatrical artifice. Not so the others I have mentioned: they all read cleverly and agreeably, but with the decided trickery of stage recitation. To them he usually gave the book when it was a comedy, or, indeed, any other drama than Shakspeare’s or Joanna Baillie’s. Dryden’s Fables, Johnson’s two Satires, and certain detached scenes of Beaumont and Fletcher, especially that in the Lover’s Progress, where the ghost of the musical innkeeper makes his appearance, were frequently selected. Of the poets, his contemporaries, however, there was not one that did not come in for his part. In Wordsworth, his pet pieces were, I think, the Song for Brougham Castle, the Laodamia, and some of the early sonnets:—in Southey, Queen Orraca, Fernando Ramirez, the Lines on the Holly Tree—and, of his larger poems, the Thalaba. Crabbe was perhaps, next to Shakspeare, the standing resource; but in those days Byron was
pouring out his spirit fresh and full; and, if a new piece from his hand had appeared, it was sure to be read by Scott the Sunday evening afterwards, and that with such delighted emphasis, as showed how completely the elder bard had kept all his enthusiasm for poetry at the pitch of youth, all his admiration of genius free, pure, and unstained by the least drop of literary jealousy. Rare and beautiful example of a happily constituted and virtuously disciplined mind and character!

Very often something read aloud by himself or his friends suggested an old story of greater compass than would have suited a dinner-table—and he told it, whether serious or comical, or, as more frequently happened, part of both, exactly in every respect in the tone and style of the notes and illustrations to his novels. A great number of his best oral narratives have, indeed, been preserved in those parting lucubrations; and not a few in his letters. Yet very many there were of which his pen has left no record—so many, that, were I to task my memory, I could, I believe, recall the outlines at least of more than would be sufficient to occupy a couple of these volumes. Possibly, though well aware how little justice I could do to such things, rather than think of their perishing for ever, and leaving not even a shadow behind, I may at some future day hazard the attempt.

Let me turn, meanwhile, to some dinner-tables very different from his own, at which, from this time forward, I often met Scott. It is very true of the societies I am about to describe, that he was “among them, not of them;” and it is also most true that this fact was apparent in all the demeanour of his bibliopolical and typographical allies towards him whenever he visited them under their roofs—not a bit less so than when they were received at his own board; but still, considering how
closely his most important worldly affairs were connected with the personal character of the Ballantynes, I think it a part, though neither a proud nor a very pleasing part, of my duty as his biographer, to record my reminiscences of them and their doings in some detail.

James Ballantyne then lived in St John Street, a row of good, old-fashioned, and spacious houses, adjoining the Canongate and Holyrood, and at no great distance from his printing establishment. He had married a few years before the daughter of a wealthy farmer in Berwickshire—a quiet, amiable woman, of simple manners, and perfectly domestic habits: a group of fine young children were growing up about him; and he usually, if not constantly, had under his roof his aged mother, his and his wife’s tender care of whom it was most pleasing to witness. As far as a stranger might judge, there could not be a more exemplary household, or a happier one; and I have occasionally met the poet in St John Street when there were no other guests but Erskine, Terry, George Hogarth,* and another intimate friend or two, and when James Ballantyne was content to appear in his own true and best colours, the kind head of his family, the respectful but honest school-fellow of Scott, the easy landlord of a plain, comfortable table. But when any great event was about to take place in the business, especially on the eve of a new novel, there were doings of a higher strain in St John Street; and to be present at one of those scenes was truly a rich treat, even—if not especially—for persons who, like myself, had no more knowledge than the rest of the world as to the

* George Hogarth, Esq., W.S., brother of Mrs James Ballantyne. This gentleman is now, well known in the literary world; especially by a History of Music, of which all who understand that science speak highly.

authorship of
Waverley. Then were congregated about the printer all his own literary allies, of whom a considerable number were by no means personally familiar with “the great unknown:”—who, by the way, owed to him that widely adopted title;—and He appeared among the rest with his usual open aspect of buoyant good-humour—although it was not difficult to trace, in the occasional play of his features, the diversion it afforded him to watch all the procedure of his swelling confidant, and the curious neophytes that surrounded the well-spread board.

The feast was, to use one of James’s own favourite epithets, gorgeous; an aldermanic display of turtle and venison, with the suitable accompaniments of iced punch, potent ale, and generous Madeira. When the cloth was drawn the burley preses arose, with all he could muster of the port of John Kemble, and spouted with a sonorous voice the formula of Macbeth—
“Fill full!
I drink to the general joy of the whole table!”
This was followed by “the King, God bless him!” and second came—“Gentlemen, there is another toast which never has been nor shall be omitted in this house of mine—I give you the health of
Mr Walter Scott, with three times three!” All honour having been done to this health, and Scott having briefly thanked the company with some expressions of warm affection to their host, Mrs Ballantyne retired; the bottles passed round twice or thrice in the usual way; and then James rose once more, every vein on his brow distended, his eyes solemnly fixed upon vacancy, to propose, not as before in his stentorian key, but with “’bated breath,” in the sort of whisper by which a stage conspirator thrills the gallery “Gentlemen, a bumper to the immortal Au-
thor of Waverley!” The uproar of cheering, in which Scott made a fashion of joining, was succeeded by deep silence, and then Ballantyne proceeded
“In his Lord-Burleigh-look, serene and serious,
A something of imposing and mysterious”—
to lament the obscurity in which his illustrious but too modest correspondent still chose to conceal himself from the plaudits of the world—to thank the company for the manner in which the nominis umbra had been received—and to assure them that the Author of Waverley would, when informed of the circumstance, feel highly delighted “the proudest hour of his life,” &c. &c. The cool, demure fun of Scott’s features during all this mummery was perfect; and
Erskine’s attempt at a gay non-chalance was still more ludicrously meritorious. Aldiborontiphoscophornio, however, bursting as he was, knew too well to allow the new novel to be made the subject of discussion. Its name was announced, and success to it crowned another cup; but after that no more of Jedediah. To cut the thread, he rolled out unbidden some one of his many theatrical songs, in a style that would have done no dishonour to almost any orchestra—The Maid of Lodi, or, perhaps, the Bay of Biscay, oh!—or The sweet little cherub that sits up aloft. Other toasts followed, interspersed with ditties from other performers; old George Thomson, the friend of Burns, was ready for one with The Moorland Wedding, or Wittie brew’d a peck o’ maut; and so it went on, until Scott and Erskine, with any clerical or very staid personage that had chanced to be admitted, saw fit to withdraw. Then the scene was changed. The claret and olives made way for broiled bones and a mighty bowl of punch; and when a few glasses of the hot beverage had restored his powers, James opened ore rotunda on the merits of the forthcoming romance. “One chapter—one chapter
only” was the cry. After “nay, byr Lady, nay!” and a few more coy shifts, the proof-sheets were at length produced, and James, with many a prefatory hem, read aloud what he considered as the most striking dialogue they contained.

The first I heard so read was the interview between Jeanie Deans, the Duke of Argyle, and Queen Caroline, in Richmond Park; and notwithstanding some spice of the pompous tricks to which he was addicted, I must say he did the inimitable scene great justice. At all events, the effect it produced was deep and memorable, and no wonder that the exulting typographer’s one bumper more to Jedediah Cleishbotham preceded his parting-stave, which was uniformly The Last Words of Marmion, executed certainly with no contemptible rivalry of Braham.

What a different affair was a dinner, although probably including many of the same guests, at the junior partner’s. He in those days retained, I think, no private apartments attached to his auction-rooms in Hanover Street, over the door of which he still kept emblazoned “John Ballantyne and Company, Booksellers.” At any rate, such of his entertainments as I ever saw Scott partake of, were given at his villa near to the Frith of Forth, by Trinity; a retreat which the little man had named “Harmony Hall,” and invested with an air of dainty voluptuous finery, contrasting strikingly enough with the substantial citizen-like snugness of his elder brother’s domestic appointments. His house was surrounded by gardens so contrived as to seem of considerable extent, having many a shady tuft, trellised alley, and mysterious alcove, interspersed among their bright parterres. It was a fairy-like labyrinth, and there was no want of pretty Armidas, such as they might be, to glide half-seen among its mazes. The
“HARMONY HALL”—1818.169
sitting-rooms opened upon gay and perfumed conservatories, and John’s professional excursions to Paris and Brussels in quest of objects of virtu, had supplied both the temptation and the means to set forth the interior in a fashion that might have satisfied the most fastidious petite maitresse of Norwood or St Denis. John too was a married man: he had, however, erected for himself a private wing, the accesses to which, whether from the main building or the bosquet, were so narrow that it was physically impossible for the handsome and portly
lady who bore his name to force her person through any one of them. His dinners were in all respects Parisian, for his wasted palate disdained such John Bull luxuries as were all in all with James. The piquant pasty of Strasburg or Perigord was never to seek; and even the pièce de résistance was probably a boar’s head from Coblentz, or a turkey ready stuffed with truffles from the Palais Royal. The pictures scattered among John’s innumerable mirrors, were chiefly of theatrical subjects—many of them portraits of beautiful actresses—the same Peg Woffingtons, Bellamys, Kitty Clives, and so forth, that found their way in the sequel to Charles Matthews’s gallery at Highgate. Here that exquisite comedian’s own mimicries and parodies were the life and soul of many a festival, and here, too, he gathered from his facetious host not a few of the richest materials for his at homes and monopolylogues. But, indeed, whatever actor or singer of eminence visited Edinburgh, of the evenings when he did not perform several were sure to be reserved for Trinity. Here Braham quavered, and here Liston drolled his best—here Johnstone, and Murray, and Yates, mixed jest and stave—here Kean revelled and rioted and here the Roman Kemble often played the Greek from sunset to dawn. Nor did the popular cantatrice or danseuse of the time disdain to freshen her
roses, after a laborious week, amidst these Paphian arbours of Harmony Hall.

Johnny had other tastes that were equally expensive. He had a well-furnished stable, and followed the foxhounds whenever the cover was within an easy distance. His horses were all called after heroes in Scott’s poems or novels; and at this time he usually rode up to his auction on a tall milk-white hunter, yclept Old Mortality; attended by a leash or two of greyhounds,—Die Vernon, Jenny Dennison, and so forth, by name. The featherweight himself appeared uniformly, hammer-in-hand, in the half-dress of some sporting club—a light grey frock, with emblems of the chase on its silver buttons, white cord breeches, and jockey-boots in Meltonian order. Yet he affected in the pulpit rather a grave address; and was really one of the most plausible and imposing of the Puff tribe. Probably Scott’s presence overawed his ludicrous propensities; for the poet was, when sales were going on, almost a daily attendant in Hanover Street, and himself not the least energetic of the numerous competitors for Johnny’s uncut fifteeners, Venetian lamps, Milanese cuirasses, and old Dutch cabinets. Maida, by the way, was so well aware of his master’s habits, that about the time when the Court of Session was likely to break up for the day, he might usually be seen couched in expectation among Johnny’s own tail of greyhounds at the threshold of the mart.

It was at one of those Trinity dinners this summer, that I first saw Constable. Being struck with his appearance, I asked Scott who he was, and he told me—expressing some surprise—that any body should have lived a winter or two in Edinburgh without knowing, by sight at least, a citizen whose name was so familiar to the world. I happened to say that I had not been prepared to find the great bookseller a man of
such gentlemanlike and even distinguished bearing. Scott smiled and answered—“Ay, Constable is indeed a grandlooking chield. He puts me in mind of
Fielding’s apology for Lady Booby—to wit, that Joseph Andrews had an air which, to those who had not seen many noblemen, would give an idea of nobility.” I had not in those days been much initiated in the private jokes of what is called, by way of excellence, the trade, and was puzzled when Scott, in the course of the dinner, said to Constable, “Will your Czarish Majesty do me the honour to take a glass of Champagne?” I asked the master of the feast for an explanation. “Oh!” said he, “are you so green as not to know that Constable long since dubbed himself The Czar of Muscovy, John Murray The Emperor of the West, and Longman and his string of partners The Divan?”—“And what title,” I asked, “has Mr John Ballantyne himself found in this new almanac imperial?” “Let that flee stick to the wa’,” quoth Johnny; “When I set up for a bookseller, The Crafty christened me The Dey of Alljeers—but he now considers me as next thing to dethroned.” He added—“His majesty the autocrat is too fond of these nicknames. One day a partner of the house of Longman was dining with him in the country, to settle an important piece of business, about which there occurred a good deal of difficulty. ‘What fine swans you have in your pond there,’ said the Londoner, by way of parenthesis.—‘Swans!’ cried Constable—‘they are only geese, man. There are just five of them, if you please to observe, and their names are Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown.’ This skit cost The Crafty a good bargain.”

It always appeared to me that James Ballantyne felt his genius rebuked in the presence of Constable; his manner was constrained, his smile servile, his hilarity
elaborate. Not so with
Johnny: the little fellow never seemed more airily frolicsome than when he capered for the amusement of the Czar.* I never, however, saw those two together, where I am told the humours of them both were exhibited to the richest advantage—I mean at the Sunday dinners with which Constable regaled, among others, his own circle of literary serfs, and when “Jocund Johnny” was very commonly his croupier. There are stories enough of practical jokes upon such occasions, some of them near akin to those which the author of Humphrey Clinker has thought fit to record of his own suburban villa, in the most diverting of young Melford’s letters to Sir Watkin Philips. I have heard, for example, a luculent description of poor Elshender Campbell, and another drudge of the same class, running a race after dinner for a new pair of breeches, which Mr David Bridges, tailor in ordinary to this northern potentate—himself a wit, a virtuoso, and the croupier on that day in lieu of Rigdum—had been instructed to bring with him, and display before the threadbare rivals. But I had these pictures from John Ballantyne, and I daresay they might be overcharged. That Constable was a most bountiful and generous patron to the ragged tenants of Grub Street there can, however, be no doubt; and as little that John himself acted on all occasions by them in the same spirit, and this to an extent greatly beyond what prudence (if he had ever consulted that guide in any thing) would have dictated.

* “Now, John,” cried Constable one evening after he had told one of his best stories—“Now, John, is that true?” His object evidently was, in Iago’s phrase, to let down the pegs; but Rigdum answered gaily, “True, indeed? Not one word of it!—any blockhead may stick to truth, my hearty—but ’tis a sad hamperer of genius.”


When I visited Constable, as I often did at a period somewhat later than that of which I now speak, and for the most part in company with Scott, I found the bookseller established in a respectable country gentleman’s seat, some six or seven miles out of Edinburgh, and doing the honours of it with all the ease that might have been looked for had he been the long-descended owner of the place. There was no foppery, no show, no idle luxury, but to all appearance the plain abundance and simple enjoyment of hereditary wealth. His conversation was manly and vigorous, abounding in Scotch anecdotes of the old time, which he told with a degree of spirit and humour only second to his great author’s. No man could more effectually control, when he had a mind, either the extravagant vanity which, on too many occasions, made him ridiculous, or the despotic temper, which habitually held in fear and trembling all such as were in any sort dependent on his Czarish Majesty’s pleasure. In him I never saw (at this period) any thing but the unobtrusive sense and the calm courtesy of a well-bred gentleman. His very equipage kept up the series of contrasts between him and the two Ballantynes. Constable went back and forward between the town and Polton in a deep-hung and capacious green barouche, without any pretence at heraldic blazonry, drawn by a pair of sleek, black, long-tailed horses, and conducted by a grave old coachman in plain blue livery. The Printer of the Canongate drove himself and his wife about the streets and suburbs in a snug machine, which did not overburthen one powerful and steady cob; while the gay auctioneer, whenever he left the saddle for the box, mounted a bright blue dog-cart, and rattled down the Newhaven road with two high-mettled steeds, prancing tandem before him, and most probably—especially if he was on his way to the
races at Musselburgh—with some “sweet singer of Israel” flaming, with all her feathers, beside him. On such occasions, by the by, Johnny sometimes had a French horn with him, and he played on it with good skill, and with an energy by no means prudent in the state of his lungs.

The Sheriff told with peculiar unction the following anecdote of this spark. The first time he went over to pick up curiosities at Paris, it happened that he met, in the course of his traffickings, a certain brother bookseller of Edinburgh, as unlike him as one man could well be to another—a grave, dry Presbyterian, rigid in all his notions as the buckle of his wig. This precise worthy having ascertained John’s address, went to call on him, a day or two afterwards, with the news of some richly illuminated missal, which he might possibly be glad to make prize of. On asking for his friend, a smiling laquais de place informed him that Monsieur had gone out, but that Madame was at home. Not doubting that Mrs Ballantyne had accompanied her husband on his trip, he desired to pay his respects to Madame, and was ushered in accordingly. “But oh, Mr Scott!” said, or rather groaned the austere elder, on his return from this modern Babylon “oh, Mr Scott, there was nae Mrs John yonder, but a painted Jezabel sittin’ up in her bed, wi’ a wheen impudent French limmers like hersel’, and twa or three whiskered blackguards, takin’ their collation o’ nicknacks and champagne wine! I ran out o’ the house as if I had been shot. What judgment will this wicked warld come to! The Lord pity us!” Scott was a severe enough censor in the general of such levities, but somehow, in the case of Rigdumfunnidos, he seemed to regard them with much the same toleration as the naughty tricks of a monkey in the “Jardin des Plantes.”


Why did Scott persist in mixing up all his most important concerns with such people as I have been describing? I asked himself that question too unceremoniously at a long subsequent period, and in due time the reader shall see the answer I received. But it left the main question, to my apprehension, as much in the dark as ever. I shall return to the sad subject hereafter more seriously; but in the meantime let it suffice to say, that he was the most patient, long-suffering, affectionate, and charitable of mankind; that in the case of both the Ballantynes he could count, after all, on a sincerely, nay, a passionately devoted attachment to his person; that, with the greatest of human beings, use is in all but unconquerable power; and that he who so loftily tossed aside the seemingly most dangerous assaults of flattery, the blandishment of dames, the condescension of princes, the enthusiasm of crowds—had still his weak point upon which two or three humble besiegers, and one unwearied, though most frivolous underminer, well knew how to direct their approaches. It was a favourite saw of his own, that the wisest of our race often reserve the average stock of folly to be all expended upon some one flagrant absurdity.