LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
Chapter VI 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
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Hoping to be forgiven for a long digression, the biographer willingly returns to the thread of Scott’s story. The Heart of Mid-Lothian appeared, as has been mentioned, before the close of June 1818; and among the letters which he received soon afterwards from the friends by this time in the secret, there is one which (though I do not venture to name the writer) I am tempted to take the liberty of quoting:

“ . . . . . . Now for it . . . . I can speak to the purpose, as I have not only read it myself, but am in a house where every body is tearing it out of each other’s hands, and talking of nothing else. So much for its success—the more flattering, because it overcomes a prejudice. People were beginning to say the author would wear himself out; it was going on too long in the same key, and no striking notes could possibly be produced. On the contrary, I think the interest is stronger here than in any of the former ones (always excepting my first-love Waverley) and one may congratulate you upon having effected what many have tried to do, and nobody yet succeeded in, making the
perfectly good character the most interesting. Of late days, especially since it has been the fashion to write moral and even religious novels, one might almost say of some of the wise good heroines, what a lively girl once said to ***** of her well-meaning aunt—‘Upon my word she is enough to make any body wicked.’ And though beauty and talents are heaped on the right side, the writer, in spite of himself, is sure to put agreeableness on the wrong; the person, from whose errors he means you should take warning, runs away with your secret partiality in the mean time. Had this very story been conducted by a common hand, Effie would have attracted all our concern and sympathy, Jeanie only cold approbation. Whereas Jeanie, without youth, beauty, genius, warm passions, or any other novel-perfection, is here our object from beginning to end. This is ‘enlisting the affections in the cause of virtue’ ten times more than ever
Richardson did; for whose male and female pedants, all-excelling as they are, I never could care half so much as I found myself inclined to do for Jeanie before I finished the first volume.

“You know I tell you my opinion just as I should do to a third person, and I trust the freedom is not unwelcome. I was a little tired of your Edinburgh lawyers in the introduction; English people in general will be more so, as well as impatient of the passages alluding to Scotch law throughout. Mr Saddletree will not entertain them. The latter part of the fourth volume unavoidably flags to a certain degree; after Jeanie is happily settled at Roseneath, we have no more to wish for. But the chief fault I have to find relates to the reappearance and shocking fate of the boy. I hear on all sides—‘Oh I do not like that!’—I cannot say what I would have had instead; but I do not like it either; it is a lame, huddled conclusion. I know you so well in
it by the by!—you grow tired yourself, want to get rid of the story, and hardly care how. Sir George Staunton finishes his career very fitly; he ought not to die in his bed, and for Jeanie’s sake one would not have him hanged. It is unnatural, though, that he should ever have gone within twenty miles of the tolbooth, or shown his face in the streets of Edinburgh, or dined at a public meeting, if the Lord Commissioner had been his brother. Here ends my per contra account. The opposite page would make my letter too long, if I entered equally into particulars. Carlisle and Corby-castles in
Waverley did not affect me more deeply than the prison and trial scenes. The end of poor Madge Wildfire is also most pathetic. The meeting at Muschat’s cairn tremendous. Dumbiedykes and Rory Bean are delightful. And I shall own that my prejudices were secretly gratified by the light in which you place John of Argyle, whom Mr Coxe so ran down to please Lord Orford. You have drawn him to the very life. I heard so much of him in my youth, so many anecdotes, so often ‘as the Duke of Argyle used to say’ that I really believe I am almost as good a judge as if I had seen and lived with him. The late Lady ****** told me, that when she married, he was still remarkably handsome; with manners more graceful and engaging than she ever saw in any one else; the most agreeable person in conversation, the best teller of a story. When fifty-seven thus captives eighteen, the natural powers of pleasing must be extraordinary. You have likewise coloured Queen Caroline exactly right—but I was bred up in another creed about Lady Suffolk, of whom, as a very old deaf woman, I have some faint recollection. Lady ****** knew her intimately, and never would allow she had been the King’s mistress, though she owned it was currently believed. She said he had just enough liking
for her to make the Queen very civil to her, and very jealous and spiteful; the rest remained always uncertain at most, like a similar scandal in our days, where I, for one, imagine love of seeming influence on one side, and love of lounging, of an easy house and a good dinner on the other, to be all the criminal passions’ concerned. However, I confess, Lady ****** had that in herself which made her not ready to think the worst of her fellow-women.

“Did you ever hear the history of John Duke of Argyle’s marriage, and constant attachment, before and after, to a woman not handsomer or much more elegant than Jeanie Deans, though very unlike her in understanding? I can give it you, if you wish it, for it is at my finger’s ends. Now I am ancient myself, I should be a great treasure of anecdote to any body who had the same humour, but I meet with few who have. They read vulgar tales in books, Wraxall, and so forth, what the footmen and maids only gave credit to at the moment, but they desire no farther information. I dare swear many of your readers never heard of the Duke of Argyle before. ‘Pray, who was Sir Robert Walpole,’ they ask me, ‘and when did he live?’—or perhaps—‘Was not the great Lord Chatham in Queen Anne’s days?’

“We have, to help us, an exemplification on two legs in our country apothecary, whom you have painted over and over without the honour of knowing him; an old, dry, arguing, prosing, obstinate Scotchman, very shrewd, rather sarcastic, a sturdy Whig and Presbyterian, tirant un peu sur le democrat. Your books are birdlime to him, however; he hovers about the house to obtain a volume when others have done with it. I long to ask him whether douce Davie was any way sib to him. He acknowledges he would not now go to
Muschat’s Cairn at night for any money he had such a horror of it ‘sixty years ago’ when a laddie. But I am come to the end of my fourth page, and will not tire you with any more scribbling.” . . . . . .

“P.S.—If I had known nothing, and the whole world had told me the contrary, I should have found you out in that one parenthesis,—‘for the man was mortal, and had been a schoolmaster.’”

This letter was addressed from a great country house in the south; and may, I presume, be accepted as a fair index of the instantaneous English popularity of Jeanie Deans. From the choice of localities, and the splendid blazoning of tragical circumstances that had left the strongest impression on the memory and imagination of every inhabitant, the reception of this tale in Edinburgh was a scene of all-engrossing enthusiasm, such as I never witnessed there on the appearance of any other literary novelty. But the admiration and delight were the same all over Scotland. Never before had he seized such really noble features of the national character as were canonized in the person of his homely heroine: no art had ever devised a happier running contrast than that of her and her sister or interwoven a portraiture of lowly manners and simple virtues, with more graceful delineations of polished life, or with bolder shadows of terror, guilt, crime, remorse, madness, and all the agony of the passions.

In the introduction and notes to the Heart of MidLothian, drawn up in 1830, we are presented with details concerning the suggestion of the main plot, and the chief historical incidents made use of, to which I can add nothing of any moment.

The 12th of July restored the author as usual to the
SEPTEMBER 10, 1818.181
supervision of his trees and carpenters; but he had already told the Ballantynes, that the story which he had found it impossible to include in the recent series of Jedediah should be forthwith taken up as the opening one of a third; and instructed
John to embrace the first favourable opportunity of offering Constable the publication of this, on the footing of 10,000 copies again forming the first edition; but now at length without any more stipulations connected with the unfortunate “old stock” of the Hanover Street Company.

Before he settled himself to his work, however, he made a little tour of the favourite description with his wife and children—halting for a few days at Drumlanrig, thence crossing the Border to Carlisle and Rokeby, and returning by way of Alnwick. On the 17th August, he writes thus to John Ballantyne from Drumlanrig: “This is heavenly weather, and I am making the most of it, as I shall have a laborious autumn before me. I may say of my head and fingers as the farmer of his mare, when he indulged her with an extra feed—
‘Ye ken that Maggie winna sleep
For that or Simmer.’
We have taken our own horses with us, and I have my poney, and ride when I find it convenient.”

The following seems to have been among the first letters he wrote after his return.

To J. B. S. Morritt, Esq. M. P. Rokeby.
“Abbotsford, 10th Sept. 1818.
“My dear Morritt,

“We have been cruising to and fro since we left your land of woods and streams. Lord Melville wished me to come and stay two days with him at Melville Castle, which has broken in upon my time a little, and
interrupted my purpose of telling you as how we arrived safe at Abbotsford, without a drop of rain, thus completing a tour of three weeks in the same fine weather in which we commenced it—a thing which never fell to my lot before.
Captain Ferguson is inducted into the office of Keeper of the Regalia, to the great joy, I think, of all Edinburgh. He has entered upon a farm (of eleven acres) in consequence of this advancement, for you know it is a general rule, that whenever a Scotsman gets his head above water, he immediately turns it to land. As he has already taken all the advice of all the notables in and about the good village of Darnick, we expect to see his farm look like a tailor’s book of patterns, a snip of every several opinion which he has received occupying its appropriate corner. He is truly what the French call un drole de corps.

“I wish you would allow your coachman to look out for me among your neighbours a couple of young colts (rising three would be the best age) that would match for a carriage some two years hence. I have plenty of grass for them in the mean while, and should never know the expense of their keep at Abbotsford. He seemed to think he could pick them up at from L.25 to L.30, which would make an immense saving hereafter. Peter Matheson and he had arranged some sort of plan of this kind. For a pair of very ordinary carriage-horses in Edinburgh they ask L.140 or more; so it is worth while to be a little provident. Even then you only get one good horse, the other being usually a brute. Pray you excuse all this palaver—
‘These little things are great to little men.’
Our harvest is almost all in, but as farmers always grumble about something, they are now growling about the lightness of the crop. All the young part of our
SEPTEMBER 10, 1818.183
household are wrapt up in uncertainty concerning the
Queen’s illness—for—if her Majesty parts cable, there will be no Forest Ball, and that is a terrible prospect. On Wednesday (when no post arrives from London) Lord Melville chanced to receive a letter with a black seal by express, and as it was of course argued to contain the expected intelligence of poor Charlotte, it sold a good many ells of black cloth and stuffs before it was ascertained to contain no such information. Surely this came within the line of high treason, being an imagining of the Queen’s death. Ever yours truly,

Walter Scott.

P.S. Once more anent the colts. I am indifferent about colour; but, cæteris paribus, would prefer black or brown to bright bay or grey. I mention two off—as the age at which they can be best judged of by the buyer.”

Of the same date I find written in pencil, on what must have been the envelope of some sheriff’s-process, this note, addressed to Mr Charles Erskine, the sheriff-substitute of Selkirkshire:—

“September 10, 1818.
“Dear Charles,

“I have read these papers with all attention this morning but think you will agree with me that there must be an Eke to the Condescendence. Order the Eke against next day. Tom leaves with this packet a blackcock, and (more’s the pity) a grey hen. Yours,

W. S.”

And again he thus writes by post to James Ballantyne:—

“Abbotsford, September 10, 1813.
“Dear James,

“I am quite satisfied with what has been done as to the London bills. I am glad the presses move. I have been interrupted sadly since my return by tourist gazers—this day a confounded pair of Cambridge boys have robbed me of two good hours, and you of a sheet of copy—though whether a good sheet or no, deponent saith not. The story is a dismal one, and I doubt sometimes whether it will bear working out to much length after all. Query, if I shall make it so effective in two volumes as my mother does in her quarter of an hour’s crack by the fireside. But nil desperandum. You shall have a bunch to-morrow or next day—and when the proofs come in, my pen must and shall step out. By the by, I want a supply of pens—and ditto of ink. Adieu for the present, for I must go over to Toftfield, to give orders anent the dam and the footpath, and see item as to what should be done anent steps at the Rhymer’s Waterfall, which I think may be made to turn out a decent bit of a linn, as would set True Thomas his worth and dignity. Ever yours,

W. S.”

It must, I think, be allowed that these careless scraps, when combined, give a curious picture of the man who was brooding over the first chapters of the Bride of Lammermoor. One of his visitors of that month was Mr R. Cadell, who was of course in all the secrets of the house of Constable; and observing how his host was harassed with lion-hunters, and what a number of hours he spent daily in the company of his work-people, he expressed, during one of their walks, his wonder that Scott should ever be able to write books at all while in
ABBOTSFORD, OCT. 8, 1818.185
the country. “I know,” he said, “that you contrive to get a few hours in your own room, and that may do for the mere pen-work; but when is it that you think?” “O,” said Scott, “I lie simmering over things for an hour or so before I get up—and there’s the time I am dressing to overhaul my half-sleeping half-waking projet de chapitre—and when I get the paper before me, it commonly runs off pretty easily. Besides, I often take a dose in the plantations, and, while
Tom marks out a dyke or a drain as I have directed, one’s fancy may be running its ain riggs in some other world.”

It was in the month following that I first saw Abbotsford. He invited my friend John Wilson (now Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh) and myself to visit him for a day or two on our return from an excursion to Mr Wilson’s beautiful villa on the Lake of Windermere, but named the particular day (October 8th) on which it would be most convenient for him to receive us; and we discovered on our arrival, that he had fixed it from a good-natured motive. We found him walking in one of his plantations, at no great distance from the house, with five or six young people, and his friends Lord Melville and Captain Ferguson. Having presented us to the First Lord of the Admiralty, he fell back a little and said, “I am glad you came to-day, for I thought it might be of use to you both, some time or other, to be known to my old schoolfellow here, who is, and I hope will long continue to be, the great giver of good things in the Parliament House. I trust you have had enough of certain pranks with your friend Ebony, and if so, Lord Melville will have too much sense to remember them.”* We then walked round the

* Ebony was Mr Blackwood’s own usual designation in the jeux d’esprit of his young Magazine, in many of which the persons thus

plantation, as yet in a very young state, and came back to the house by a formidable work which he was constructing for the defence of his haugh against the wintry violences of the Tweed; and he discoursed for some time with keen interest upon the comparative merits of different methods of embankment, but stopped now and then to give us the advantage of any point of view in which his new building on the eminence above pleased his eye. It had a fantastic appearance—being but a fragment of the existing edifice—and not at all harmonizing in its outline with “Mother Retford’s” original tenement to the eastward.
Scott, however, expatiated con amore on the rapidity with which, being chiefly of darkish granite, it was assuming a “time-honoured” aspect. Ferguson, with a grave and respectful look, observed, “yes, it really has much the air of some old fastness hard by the river Jordan.” This allusion to the Chaldee MS., already quoted, in the manufacture of which Ferguson fancied Wilson and myself to have had a share, gave rise to a burst of laughter among Scott’s merry young folks and their companions, while he himself drew in his nether lip, and rebuked the Captain with “Toots, Adam! toots, Adam!” He then returned to his embankment, and described how a former one had been entirely swept away in one night’s flood. But the Captain was ready with another verse of the Chaldee MS., and groaned out, by way of echo—“Verily my fine gold hath perished!” Whereupon the “Great Magician” elevated his huge oaken staff as if to lay it on the waggish soldier’s back—but flourished it gaily over his own head, and laughed louder than the

addressed by Scott were conjoint culprits. They both were then, as may be inferred, sweeping the boards of the Parliament House as “briefless barristers.”

ABBOTSFORD, OCT. 8, 1818.187
youngest of the company. As we walked and talked, the Pepper and Mustard terriers kept snuffing about among the bushes and heather near us, and started every five minutes a hare, which scudded away before them and the ponderous staghound Maida—the Sheriff and all his tail hollowing and cheering in perfect confidence that the dogs could do no more harm to poor puss than the venerable tom-cat, Hinse of Hinsfeldt, who pursued the vain chase with the rest.

At length we drew near Peterhouse, and found sober Peter himself and his brother-in-law, the facetious factotum Tom Purdie, superintending, pipe in mouth, three or four sturdy labourers busy in laying down the turf for a bowling-green. “I have planted hollies all round it, you see,” said Scott, “and laid out an arbour on the right-hand side for the laird; and here I mean to have a game at bowls after dinner every day in fine weather—for I take that to have been among the indispensables of our old vie de chateau.” But I must not forget the reason he gave me some time afterwards for having fixed on that spot for his bowling-green. “In truth,” he then said, “I wished to have a smooth walk and a canny seat for myself within earshot of Peter’s evening psalm.” The coachman was a devout Presbyterian, and many a time have I in after-years accompanied Scott on his evening stroll, when the principal object was to enjoy, from the bowling-green, the unfailing melody of this good man’s family worship and heard him repeat, as Peter’s manly voice led the humble choir within, that beautiful stanza of Burns’s Saturday Night:—
“They chaunt their artless notes in simple guise;
They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim,” &c.

It was near the dinner-hour before we reached the house, and presently I saw assembled a larger company
than I should have fancied to be at all compatible with the existing accommodations of the place; but it turned out that
Captain Ferguson, and the friends whom I have not as yet mentioned, were to find quarters elsewhere for the night. His younger brother, Captain John Ferguson of the Royal Navy (a favourite lieutenant of Lord Nelson’s), had come over from Huntly Burn; there were present also, Mr Scott of Gala, whose residence is within an easy distance; Sir Henry Hay MacDougal of Mackerstone, an old baronet with gay, lively, and highly polished manners, related in the same degree to both Gala and the Sheriff; Sir Alexander Don, the member for Roxburghshire, whose elegant social qualities have been alluded to in the preceding chapter; and Dr Scott of Darnlee, a modest and intelligent gentleman, who having realized a fortune in the East India Company’s medical service, had settled within two or three miles of Abbotsford, and though no longer practising his profession, had kindly employed all the resources of his skill in the endeavour to counteract his neighbour’s recent liability to attacks of cramp.—Our host and one or two others appeared, as was in those days a common fashion with country gentlemen, in the lieutenancy uniform of their county. How fourteen or fifteen people contrived to be seated in the then diningroom of Abbotsford I know not—for it seemed quite full enough when it contained only eight or ten; but so it was—nor, as Sir Harry Macdougal’s fat valet, warned by former experience, did not join the train of attendants, was there any perceptible difficulty in the detail of the arrangements. Every thing about the dinner was, as the phrase runs, in excellent style; and in particular, the potage à la Meg Merrilees, announced as an attempt to imitate a device of the Duke of Buccleuch’s celebrated cook—by name Monsieur Florence—seemed, to
ABBOTSFORD, OCT. 8, 1818.189
those at least who were better acquainted with the Kaim of Derncleuch than with the cuisine of Bowhill,* a very laudable specimen of the art. The champagne circulated nimbly—and I never was present at a gayer dinner. It had advanced a little beyond the soup when it received an accompaniment which would not, perhaps, have improved the satisfaction of Southern guests, had any such been present. A tall and stalwart bagpiper, in complete Highland costume, appeared pacing to and fro on the green before the house, and the window being open, it seemed as if he might as well have been straining his lungs within the parlour. At a pause of his strenuous performance, Scott took occasion to explain that
John of Skye was a recent acquisition to the rising hamlet of Abbotstown; that the man was a capital hedger and ditcher, and only figured with the pipe and philabeg on high occasions in the after-part of the day; “but indeed,” he added, laughing, “I fear John will soon be discovering that the hook and mattock are unfavourable to his chanter hand.” When the cloth was drawn, and the never-failing salver of quaighs introduced, John of Skye, upon some well-known signal, entered the room, but en militaire, without removing his bonnet, and taking his station behind the landlord, received from his hand the largest of the Celtic bickers brimful of Glenlivet. The man saluted the company in his own dialect, tipped off the contents (probably a quarter of an English pint of raw aquavitæ) at a gulp, wheeled about as solemnly as if the whole ceremony had

* I understand that this new celebrated soup was extemporized by M. Florence on Scott’s first visit to Bowhill after the publication of Guy Mannering. Florence had served—and Scott having on some sporting party made his personal acquaintance, he used often afterwards to gratify the Poet’s military propensities by sending up magnificent representations in pastry of citadels taken by the Emperor, &c.

been a movement on parade, and forthwith recommenced his pibrochs and gatherings, which continued until long after the ladies had left the table, and the autumnal moon was streaming in upon us so brightly as to dim the candles.

I had never before seen Scott in such buoyant spirits as he showed this evening—and I never saw him in higher afterwards; and no wonder, for this was the first time that he, Lord Melville, and Adam Ferguson, daily companions at the High-school of Edinburgh, and partners in many joyous scenes of the early volunteer period, had met since the commencement of what I may call the serious part of any of their lives. The great poet and novelist was receiving them under his own roof, when his fame was at its acmé, and his fortune seemed culminating to about a corresponding height—and the generous exuberance of his hilarity might have overflowed without moving the spleen of a Cynic. Old stories of the Yards and the Crosscauseway were relieved by sketches of real warfare, such as none but Ferguson (or Charles Matthews, had he been a soldier) could ever have given; and they toasted the memory of Greenbreeks and the health of the Beau with equal devotion.

When we rose from table, Scott proposed that we should all ascend his western turret, to enjoy a moonlight view of the valley. The younger part of his company were too happy to do so: some of the seniors, who had tried the thing before, found pretexts for hanging back. The stairs were dark, narrow, and steep; but the Sheriff piloted the way, and at length there were as many on the top as it could well afford footing for. Nothing could be more lovely than the panorama; all the harsher and more naked features being lost in the delicious moonlight; the Tweed and the Gala winding and spark-
ABBOTSFORD, OCT. 8, 1818.191
ling beneath our feet; and the distant ruins of Melrose appearing, as if carved of alabaster, under the black mass of the Eildons. The poet, leaning on his battlement, seemed to hang over the beautiful vision as if he had never seen it before. “If I live,” he exclaimed, “I will build me a higher tower, with a more spacious platform, and a staircase better fitted for an old fellow’s scrambling.” The piper was heard retuning his instrument below, and he called to him for Lochaber no more.
John of Skye obeyed, and as the music rose, softened by the distance, Scott repeated in a low key the melancholy words of the song of exile.

On descending from the tower, the whole company were assembled in the new dining-room, which was still under the hands of the carpenters, but had been brilliantly illuminated for the occasion. Mr Bruce took his station, and old and young danced reels to his melodious accompaniment until they were weary, while Scott and the Dominie looked on with gladsome faces, and beat time now and then, the one with his staff, the other with his wooden leg. A tray with mulled wine and whisky punch was then introduced, and Lord Melville proposed a bumper, with all the honours, to the Roof-tree. Captain Ferguson having sung Johnnie Cope, called on the young ladies for Kenmures on and awa; and our host then insisted that the whole party should join, standing in a circle hand-in-hand more majorum, in the hearty chorus of
“Weel may we a’ be,
Ill may we never see,
God bless the king and the gude companie!”
—which being duly performed, all dispersed. Such was the handsel, for Scott protested against its being considered as the house-heating, of the new Abbotsford.


When I began this chapter I thought it would be a short one, but it is surprising how, when one digs into his memory, the smallest details of a scene that was interesting at the time, shall by degrees come to light again. I now recall, as if I had seen and heard them yesterday, the looks and words of eighteen years ago. Awaking between six and seven next morning, I heard Scott’s voice close to me, and looking out of the little latticed window of the then detached cottage called the chapel, saw him and Tom Purdie pacing together on the green before the door, in earnest deliberation over what seemed to be a rude daub of a drawing, and every time they approached my end of their parade I was sure to catch the words Blue Bank. It turned out in the course of the day, that a field of clay near Toftfield went by this name, and that the draining of it was one of the chief operations then in hand. My friend Wilson, mean while, who lodged also in the chapel, tapped at my door, and asked me to rise and take a walk with him by the river, for he had some angling project in his head. He went out and joined in the consultation about the Blue Bank, while I was dressing; presently Scott hailed me at the casement, and said he had observed a volume of a new edition of Goethe on my table—would I lend it him for a little? He carried off the volume accordingly, and retreated with it to his den. It contained the Faust, and, I believe, in a more complete shape than he had before seen that masterpiece of his old favourite. When we met at breakfast a couple of hours after, he was full of the poem—dwelt with enthusiasm on the airy beauty of its lyrics, the terrible pathos of the scene before the Mater Dolorosa, and the deep skill shown in the various subtle shadings of character between Mephistophiles and poor Margaret. He remarked, however, of the Introduction (which I suspect was new
ABBOTSFORD, OCT. 9, 1818.193
to him) that blood would out—that, consummate artist as he was, Goethe was a German, and that nobody but a German would ever have provoked a comparison with the book of Job, “the grandest poem that ever was written.” He added, that he suspected the end of the story had been left in obscuro, from despair to match the closing scene of our own
Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Mr Wilson mentioned a report that Coleridge was engaged on a translation of the Faust. “I hope it is so,” said Scott; “Coleridge made Schiller’s Wallenstein far finer than he found it, and so he will do by this. No man has all the resources of poetry in such profusion, but he cannot manage them so as to bring out any thing of his own on a large scale at all worthy of his genius. He is like a lump of coal rich with gas, which lies expending itself in puffs and gleams, unless some shrewd body will clap it into a cast-iron box, and compel the compressed element to do itself justice. His fancy and diction would have long ago placed him above all his contemporaries, had they been under the direction of a sound judgment and a steady will.* I

* In the Introduction to The Lay of the Last Minstrel, 1830, Sir Walter says, “Were I ever to take the unbecoming freedom of censuring a man of Mr Coleridge’s extraordinary talents, it would be on account of the caprice and indolence with which he has thrown from him, as in mere wantonness, those unfinished scraps of poetry, which, like the Torso of antiquity, defy the skill of his poetical brethren to complete them. The charming fragments which the author abandons to their fate, are surely too valuable to be treated like the proofs of careless engravers, the sweepings of whose studios often make the fortune of some pains-taking collector.” And in a note to The Abbot, alluding to Coleridge’s beautiful and tantalizing fragment of Christabel, he adds, “Has not our own imaginative poet cause to fear that future ages will desire to summon him from his place of rest, as Milton longed

‘To call up him who left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold.”
don’t now expect a great original poem from Coleridge, but he might easily make a sort of fame for himself as a poetical translator, that would be a thing completely unique and sui generis.”

While this criticism proceeded, Scott was cutting away at his brown loaf and a plate of kippered salmon in a style which strongly reminded me of Dandie Dinmont’s luncheon at Mump’s Hall; nor was his German topic at all the predominant one. On the contrary, the sentences which have dwelt on my memory dropt from him now and then, in the pauses, as it were, of his main talk; for though he could not help recurring, ever and anon, to the subject, it would have been quite out of his way to make any literary matter the chief theme of his conversation, when there was a single person present who was not likely to feel much interested in its discussion.—How often have I heard him quote on such occasions Mr Vellum’s advice to the butler in Addison’s excellent play of the Drummer—“Your conjuror, John, is indeed a twofold personage—but he eats and drinks like other people!

I may, however, take this opportunity of observing, that nothing could have been more absurdly unfounded than the statement which I have seen repeated in various sketches of his Life and Manners, that he habitually abstained from conversation on literary topics. In point of fact, there were no topics on which he talked more openly or more earnestly; but he, when in society, lived and talked for the persons with whom he found himself surrounded, and if he did not always choose to enlarge upon the subjects which his companions for the time suggested, it was simply because he thought or fancied that these had selected, out of deference or flattery, subjects about which they really cared little more than they knew. I have already repeated, over and again, my
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conviction that
Scott considered literature per se, as a thing of far inferior importance to the high concerns of political or practical life; but it would be too ridiculous to question that literature nevertheless engrossed, at all times and seasons, the greater part of his own interest and reflection: nor can it be doubted, that his general preference of the society of men engaged in the active business of the world, rather than that of, so called, literary people, was grounded substantially on his feeling that literature, worthy of the name, was more likely to be fed and nourished by the converse of the former than by that of the latter class.

Before breakfast was over the post-bag arrived, and its contents were so numerous, that Lord Melville asked Scott what election was on hand—not doubting that there must be some very particular reason for such a shoal of letters. He answered that it was much the same most days, and added, “though no one has kinder friends in the franking line, and though Freeling and Croker especially are always ready to stretch the point of privilege in my favour, I am nevertheless a fair contributor to the revenue, for I think my bill for letters seldom comes under L.150 a-year; and as to coach-parcels, they are a perfect ruination.” He then told with high merriment a disaster that had lately befallen him. “One morning last spring,” he said, “I opened a huge lump of a despatch, without looking how it was addressed, never doubting that it had travelled under some omnipotent frank like the First Lord of the Admiralty’s, when, lo and behold, the contents proved to be a MS. play, by a young lady of New York, who kindly requested me to read and correct it, equip it with prologue and epilogue, procure for it a favourable reception from the manager of Drury Lane, and make Murray or Constable bleed handsomely for the copyright; and on
inspecting the cover, I found that I had been charged five pounds odd for the postage. This was bad enough—but there was no help, so I groaned and submitted. A fortnight or so after another packet, of not less formidable bulk, arrived, and I was absent enough to break its seal too without examination. Conceive my horror when out jumped the same identical tragedy of The Cherokee Lovers, with a second epistle from the authoress, stating that, as the winds had been boisterous, she feared the vessel intrusted with her former communication might have foundered, and therefore judged it prudent to forward a duplicate.”

Scott said he must retire to answer his letters, but that the sociable and the ponies would be at the door by one o’clock, when he proposed to show Melrose and Dryburgh to Lady Melville and any of the rest of the party that chose to accompany them; adding that his son Walter would lead any body who preferred a gun to the likeliest place for a black-cock, and that Charlie Purdie (Tom’s brother) would attend upon Mr Wilson and whoever else chose to try a cast of the salmon-rod. He withdrew when all this was arranged, and appeared at the time appointed, with perhaps a dozen letters sealed for the post, and a coach-parcel addressed to James Ballantyne, which he dropt at the turnpike-gate as we drove to Melrose. Seeing it picked up by a dirty urchin, and carried into a hedge pothouse, where half-adozen nondescript wayfarers were smoking and tippling, I could not but wonder that it had not been the fate of some one of those innumerable packets to fall into unscrupulous hands, and betray the grand secret. That very morning we had seen two post-chaises drawn up at his gate, and the enthusiastic travellers, seemingly decent tradesmen and their families, who must have been packed in a manner worthy of Mrs Gilpin, lounging
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about to catch a glimpse of him at his going forth. But it was impossible in those days to pass between Melrose and Abbotsford without encountering some odd figure, armed with a sketch-book, evidently bent on a peep at the Great Unknown; and it must be allowed that many of these pedestrians looked as if they might have thought it very excusable to make prize, by hook or by crook, of a MS. chapter of the
Tales of my Landlord.

Scott showed us the ruins of Melrose in detail; and as we proceeded to Dryburgh, descanted learnedly and sagaciously on the good effects which must have attended the erection of so many great monastic establishments in a district so peculiarly exposed to the inroads of the English in the days of the Border wars. “They were now and then violated,” he said, “as their aspect to this hour bears witness; but for once that they suffered, any lay property similarly situated must have been harried a dozen times. The bold Dacres, Liddells, and Howards, that could get easy absolution at York or Durham for any ordinary breach of a truce with the Scots, would have had to dree a heavy dole had they confessed plundering from the fat brothers, of the same order perhaps, whose lines had fallen to them on the wrong side of the Cheviot.” He enlarged too on the heavy penalty which the Crown of Scotland had paid for its rash acquiescence in the wholesale robbery of the church at the Reformation. “The proportion of the soil in the hands of the clergy had,” he said, “been very great—too great to be continued. If we may judge by their share in the public burdens, they must have had nearly a third of the land in their possession. But this vast wealth was now distributed among a turbulent nobility, too powerful before; and the Stuarts soon found that in the bishops and lord ab-
bots they had lost the only means of balancing their factions, so as to turn the scale in favour of law and order; and by and by the haughty barons themselves, who had scrambled for the worldly spoil of the church, found that the spiritual influence had been concentrated in hands as haughty as their own, and connected with no feelings likely to buttress their order any more than the Crown—a new and sterner monkery, under a different name, and essentially plebeian. Presently the Scotch were on the verge of republicanism, in state as well as kirk, and, I have sometimes thought, it was only the accession of
King Jamie to the throne of England that could have given monarchy a chance of prolonging its existence here.” One of his friends asked what he supposed might have been the annual revenue of the abbey of Melrose in its best day. He answered that he suspected, if all the sources of their income were now in clever hands, the produce could hardly be under L.100,000 a-year; and added, “making every allowance for modern improvements, there can be no question that the sixty brothers of Melrose divided a princely rental. The superiors were often men of very high birth, and the great majority of the rest were younger brothers of gentlemen’s families. I fancy they may have been, on the whole, pretty near akin to your Fellows of All Souls—who, according to their statute, must be bene nati, bene vestiti, et mediocriter docti. They had a good house in Edinburgh, where, no doubt, my lord abbot and his chaplains maintained a hospitable table during the sittings of Parliament.” Some one regretted that we had no lively picture of the enormous revolution in manners that must have followed the downfall of the ancient Church in Scotland. He observed that there were, he fancied, materials enough for constructing such a one, but that they were mostly scattered in records
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—“of which,” said he, “who knows any thing to the purpose except
Tom Thomson and John Riddell? It is common to laugh at such researches, but they pay the good brains that meddle with them; and had Thomson been as diligent in setting down his discoveries as he has been in making them, he might, long before this time of day, have placed himself on a level with Ducange or Camden. The change in the country-side,” he continued, “must indeed have been terrific; but it does not seem to have been felt very severely by a certain Boniface of St Andrews, for when somebody asked him, on the subsidence of the storm, what he thought of all that had occurred, ‘Why,’ answered mine host, ‘it comes to this, that the moderautor sits in my meikle chair, where the dean sat before, and in place of calling for the third stoup of Bourdeaux, bids Jenny bring ben anither bowl of toddy.’”

At Dryburgh Scott pointed out to us the sepulchral aisle of his Haliburton ancestors, and said he hoped, in God’s appointed time, to lay his bones among their dust. The spot was, even then, a sufficiently interesting and impressive one; but I shall not say more of it at present.

On returning to Abbotsford, we found Mrs Scott and her daughters doing penance under the merciless curiosity of a couple of tourists who had arrived from Selkirk soon after we set out for Melrose. They were rich specimens—tall, lanky young men, both of them rigged out in new jackets and trowsers of the Macgregor tartan; the one, as they had revealed, being a lawyer, the other a Unitarian preacher, from New England. These gentlemen, when told on their arrival that Mr Scott was not at home, had shown such signs of impatience, that the servant took it for granted they must have serious business, and asked if they would wish to speak a word
with his lady. They grasped at this, and so conducted themselves in the interview, that Mrs Scott never doubted they had brought letters of introduction to her husband, and invited them accordingly to partake of her luncheon. They had been walking about the house and grounds with her and her daughters ever since that time, and appeared at the porch, when the Sheriff and his party returned to dinner, as if they had been already fairly enrolled on his visiting list. For the moment he too was taken in—he fancied that his wife must have received and opened their credentials—and shook hands with them with courteous cordiality. But Mrs Scott, with all her overflowing good-nature, was a sharp observer; and she, before a minute had elapsed, interrupted the ecstatic compliments of the strangers, by reminding them that her husband would be glad to have the letters of the friends who had been so good as to write by them. It then turned out that there were no letters to be produced;—and Scott, signifying that his hour for dinner approached, added, that as he supposed they meant to walk to Melrose, he could not trespass further on their time. The two lion-hunters seemed quite unprepared for this abrupt escape; but there was about Scott, in perfection, when he chose to exert it, the power of civil repulsion; he bowed the overwhelmed originals to his door, and on re-entering the parlour, found Mrs Scott complaining very indignantly that they had gone so far as to pull out their note-book, and beg an exact account, not only of his age but of her own. Scott, already half relenting, laughed heartily at this misery. He observed, however, that, “if he were to take in all the world, he had better put up a sign-post at once—
‘Porter, ale, and British spirits,
Painted bright between twa trees;’
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and that no traveller of respectability could ever be at a loss for such an introduction as would ensure his best hospitality.” Still he was not quite pleased with what had happened—and as we were about to pass, half an hour afterwards, from the drawingroom to the diningroom, he said to his wife, “Hang the Yahoos, Charlotte—but we should have bid them stay dinner.”—“Devil a bit,” quoth
Captain John Ferguson, who had again come over from Huntly Burn, and had been latterly assisting the lady to amuse her Americans “Devil a bit, my dear, they were quite in a mistake I could see. The one asked Madame whether she deigned to call her new house Tullyveolan or Tillytudlem—and the other, when Maida happened to lay his nose against the window, exclaimed pro-di-gi-ous! In short, they evidently meant all their humbug not for you, but for the culprit of Waverley, and the rest of that there rubbish.” “Well, well, Skipper,” was the reply,—“for a’ that, the loons would hae been nane the waur o’ their kail.”

From this banter it may be inferred that the younger Ferguson had not as yet been told the Waverley secret—which to any of that house could never have been any mystery. Probably this, or some similar occasion soon afterwards, led to his formal initiation; for during the many subsequent years that the veil was kept on, I used to admire the tact with which, when in their topmost high-jinks humour, both “Captain John” and “The Auld Captain” eschewed any the most distant allusion to the affair.

And this reminds me that, at the period of which I am writing, none of Scott’s own family, except of course his wife, had the advantage in that matter of the Skipper. Some of them too, were apt, like him, so long as no regular confidence had been reposed in them, to avail themselves of the author’s reserve for their own sport among friends. Thus one morning, just as Scott
was opening the door of the parlour, the rest of the party being already seated at the breakfast table, the
Dominie was in the act of helping himself to an egg, marked with a peculiar hieroglyphic by Mrs Thomas Purdie, upon which Anne Scott, then a lively rattling girl of sixteen, lisped out, “That’s a mysterious looking egg, Mr Thomson—what if it should have been meant for the Great Unknown?” Ere the Dominie could reply, her father advanced to the foot of the table, and having seated himself and deposited his stick on the carpet beside him, with a sort of whispered whistle—“What’s that Lady Anne’s* saying,” quoth he; “I thought it had been well known that the keelavined egg must be a soft one for the Sherra?” And so he took his egg, and while we all smiled in silence, poor Anne said gaily, in the midst of her blushes, “Upon my word, papa, I thought Mr John Ballantyne might have been expected.” This allusion to Johnny’s glory in being considered as the accredited representative of Jedediah Cleishbotham, produced a laugh—at which the Sheriff frowned—and then laughed too.

I remember nothing particular about our second day’s dinner, except that it was then I first met my dear and honoured friend William Laidlaw. The evening passed rather more quietly than the preceding one. Instead of the dance in the new dining-room, we had a succession of old ballads sung to the harp and guitar by the young ladies of the house; and Scott, when they seemed to have done enough, found some reason for taking down

* When playing, in childhood, with the young ladies of the Buccleuch family, she had been overheard saying to her namesake Lady Anne Scott, “Well, I do wish I were Lady Anne too—it is so much prettier than Miss;” thenceforth she was commonly addressed in the family by the coveted title.

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a volume of
Crabbe, and read us one of his favourite tales
“Grave Jonas Kindred, Sybil Kindred’s sire,
Was six feet high, and looked six inches higher,” &c.
But jollity revived in full vigour when the supper-tray was introduced; and to cap all merriment,
Captain Ferguson dismissed us with the Laird of Cochpen. Lord and Lady Melville were to return to Melville Castle next morning, and Mr Wilson and I happened to mention, that we were engaged to dine and sleep at the seat of my friend and relation, Mr Pringle of Torwoodlee, on our way to Edinburgh. Scott immediately said that he would send word in the morning to the Laird, that he and Adam Ferguson meant to accompany us—such being the unceremonious style in which country neighbours in Scotland visit each other. Next day accordingly we all rode over together to Mr Pringle’s beautiful seat the “distant Torwoodlee” of the Lay of the Last Minstrel, but distant not above five or six miles from Abbotsford—coursing hares as we proceeded, but inspecting the antiquities of the Catrail to the interruption of our sport. We had another joyous evening at Torwoodlee. Scott and Ferguson returned home at night, and the morning after, as Wilson and I mounted for Edinburgh, our kind old host, his sides still sore with laughter, remarked that “the Sheriff and the Captain together were too much for any company.”

There was much talk between the Sheriff and Mr Pringle about the Selkirkshire Yeomanry Cavalry, of which the latter had been the original commandant. Young Walter Scott had been for a year or more Cornet in the corps, and his father was consulting Torwoodlee about an entertainment which he meant to give them on his son’s approaching birthday. It was then that the
new dining-room was to be first heated in good earnest; and
Scott very kindly pressed Wilson and myself, at parting, to return for the occasion—which, however, we found it impossible to do. The reader must therefore be satisfied with what is said about it in one of the following letters:—

To J. B. S. Morritt, Esq., M.P., Rokeby.
“Abbotsford 5th Nov. 1818.
“My dear Morritt,

“Many thanks for your kind letter of 29th October. The matter of the colts being as you state, I shall let it lie over until next year, and then avail myself of your being in the neighbourhood to get a good pair of four-year-olds, since it would be unnecessary to buy them a year younger, and incur all the risks of disease and accident, unless they could have been had at a proportional under value.

* * * * * * leaves us this morning after a visit of about a week. He improves on acquaintance, and especially seems so pleased with every thing, that it would be very hard to quarrel with him. Certainly, as the Frenchman said, il a un grand talent pour le silence. I take the opportunity of his servant going direct to Rokeby to charge him with this letter, and a plaid which my daughters entreat you to accept of as a token of their warm good wishes. Seriously, you will find it a good bosom friend in an easterly wind, a black frost, or when your country avocations lead you to face a dry wap of snow. I find it by far the lightest and most comfortable integument which I can use upon such occasions.

“We had a grand jollification here last week: the whole troop of Forest Yeomanry dining with us. I assure you the scene was gay and even grand, with glittering sabres, waving standards, and screaming bagpipes;
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and that it might not lack spectators of taste, who should arrive in the midst of the hurricane, but
Lord and Lady Compton, whose presence gave a great zest to the whole affair. Every thing went off very well, and as cavalry have the great advantage over infantry that their legs never get drunk, they retired in decent disorder about ten o’clock. I was glad to see Lord and Lady Compton so very comfortable, and surrounded with so fine a family, the natural bond of mutual regard and affection. She has got very jolly, but otherwise has improved on her travels. I had a long chat with her, and was happy to find her quite contented and pleased with the lot she has drawn in life. It is a brilliant one in many respects to be sure; but still I have seen the story of the poor woman, who, after all rational subjects of distress had been successively remedied, tormented herself about the screaming of a neighbour’s peacock—I say I have seen this so often realized in actual life, that I am more afraid of my friends making themselves uncomfortable, who have only imaginary evils to indulge, than I am for the peace of those who, battling magnanimously with real inconvenience and danger, find a remedy in the very force of the exertions to which their lot compels them.

“I sympathize with you for the dole which you are dreeing under the inflictions of your honest proser. Of all the boring machines ever devised, your regular and determined storyteller is the most peremptory and powerful in his operations. This is a rainy day, and my present infliction is an idle cousin, a great amateur of the pipes, who is performing incessantly in the next room for the benefit of a probationary minstrel, whose pipes scream à la distance, as the young hoarse cock-chicken imitates the gallant and triumphant screech of a veteran Sir Chanticleer. Yours affectionately,

W. Scott.”