LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
Chapter III 1828

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
[ 97 ]

With the exception of a few weeks occupied by an excursion to London, which business of various sorts had rendered necessary, the year 1828 was spent in the same assiduous labour as 1827. The commercial transaction completed at Christmas cleared the way for two undertakings, which would of themselves have been enough to supply desk-work in abundance; and Sir Walter appears to have scarcely passed a day on which something was not done for them. I allude to Cadell’s plan of a new edition of the Poetry, with biographical prefaces; and the still more extensive one of an uniform reprint of the Novels, each to be introduced by an account of the hints on which it had been founded, and illustrated throughout by historical and antiquarian annotations. On this last, commonly mentioned in the Diary as the Opus Magnum, Sir Walter bestowed pains commensurate with its importance;—and in the execution of the very delicate task which either scheme imposed, he has certainly displayed such a combination of frankness and modesty as entitles him to a high place
in the short list of graceful autobiographers. True dignity is always simple; and perhaps true genius, of the highest class at least, is always humble. These operations took up much time;—yet he laboured hard this year both as a novelist and a historian. He contributed, moreover, several articles to the
Quarterly Review and the Bannatyne Club library; and to the Journal conducted by Mr Gillies, an excellent Essay on Moliere; this last being again a free gift to the Editor.

But the first advertisement of 1828 was of a new order; and the announcement that the Author of Waverley had Sermons in the press, was received perhaps with as much incredulity in the clerical world, as could have been excited among them by that of a romance from the Archbishop of Canterbury. A thin octavo volume, entitled “Religious Discourses by a Layman,” and having “W. S.” at the foot of a short preface, did, however, issue in the course of the spring, and from the shop, that all might be in perfect keeping, of Mr Colburn, a bookseller then known almost exclusively as the standing purveyor of what is called “light reading”—novels of “fashionable life,” and the like pretty ephemera. I am afraid that the “Religious Discourses,” too, would, but for the author’s name, have had a brief existence; but the history of their composition, besides sufficiently explaining the humility of these tracts in a literary as well as a theological point of view, will, I hope, gratify most of my readers.

It may perhaps be remembered, that Sir Walter’s Cicerone over Waterloo, in August 1815, was a certain Major Pryse Gordon, then on half-pay and resident at Brussels. The acquaintance, until they met at Sir Frederick Adam’s table, had been very slight—nor was it ever carried farther; but the Major was exceedingly attentive during Scott’s stay, and afterwards took some
pains about collecting little reliques of the battle for Abbotsford. One evening the poet supped at his house, and there happened to sit next him the host’s
eldest son, then a lad of nineteen, whose appearance and situation much interested him. He had been destined for the Church of Scotland, but as he grew up a deafness, which had come on him in boyhood, became worse and worse, and at length his friends feared that it must incapacitate him for the clerical function. He had gone to spend the vacation with his father, and Sir Frederick Adam, understanding how he was situated, offered him a temporary appointment as a clerk in the Commissariat, which he hoped to convert into a permanent one, in case the war continued. At the time of Scott’s arrival that prospect was wellnigh gone, and the young man’s infirmity, this embarrassment, and other things to which his own memorandum makes no allusion, excited the visiter’s sympathy. Though there were lion-hunters of no small consequence in the party, he directed most of his talk into the poor clerk’s ear-trumpet; and at parting, begged him not to forget that he had a friend on Tweedside.

A couple of years elapsed before he heard any thing more of Mr Gordon, who then sent him his father’s little spolia of Waterloo, and accompanied them by a letter explaining his situation, and asking advice, in a style which renewed and increased Scott’s favourable impression. He had been dismissed from the Commissariat at the general reduction of our establishments, and was now hesitating whether he had better take up again his views as to the Kirk, or turn his eyes towards English orders; and in the mean-time he was anxious to find some way of lightening to his parents, by his own industry, the completion of his professional education. There ensued a copious correspondence between him and Scott, who gave him on all points of his case
most paternal advice, and accompanied his counsels with offers of pecuniary assistance, of which the young man rarely availed himself. At length he resolved on reentering the Divinity Class at Aberdeen, and in due time was licensed by the Presbytery there as a Preacher of the Gospel; but though with good connexions, for he was “sprung of Scotia’s gentler blood,” his deafness operated as a serious bar to his obtaining the incumbency of a parish. After several years had elapsed, he received a presentation; but the Provincial Synod pronounced his deafness an insuperable objection, and the case was referred to the General Assembly. That tribunal heard Mr Gordon’s cause maintained by all the skill and eloquence of
Mr Jeffrey, whose good offices had been secured by Scott’s intervention, and they overruled the decision of the Presbytery. But Gordon, in the course of the discussion, gathered the conviction, that a man almost literally stone-deaf could not discharge some of the highest duties of a parish priest in a satisfactory manner, and he with honourable firmness declined to take advantage of the judgment of the Supreme Court. Mean-time he had been employed, from the failure of John Ballantyne’s health downwards, as the transcriber of the Waverley MSS. for the press, in which capacity he displayed every quality that could endear an amanuensis to an author; and when the disasters of 1826 rendered it unnecessary for Scott to have his MS. copied, he exerted himself to procure employment for Gordon in one of the Government offices in London. Being backed by the kindness of the late Duke of Gordon, his story found favour with the then Secretary of the Treasury, Mr Lushington—and Gordon was named assistant private secretary to that gentleman. The appointment was temporary, but he so pleased his chief that there was hope of better things
by and by.—Such was his situation at Christmas 1827; but that being his first Christmas in London, it was no wonder that he then discovered himself to have somewhat miscalculated about money matters. In a word, he knew not whither to look at the moment for extrication, until he bethought him of the following little incident of his life at Abbotsford.

He was spending the autumn of 1824 there, daily copying the MS. of Redgauntlet, and working at leisure hours on the Catalogue of the Library, when the family observed him to be labouring under some extraordinary depression of mind. It was just then that he had at length obtained the prospect of a Living, and Sir Walter was surprised that this should not have exhilarated him. Gently sounding the trumpet, however, he discovered that the agitation of the question about the deafness had shaken his nerves—his scruples had been roused—his conscience was sensitive,—and he avowed that, though he thought, on the whole, he ought to go through with the business, he could not command his mind so as to prepare a couple of sermons which, unless he summarily abandoned his object, must be produced on a certain day then near at hand before his Presbytery. Sir Walter reminded him, that his exercises when on trials for the Probationership had given satisfaction; but nothing he could say was sufficient to re-brace Mr Gordon’s spirits, and he at length exclaimed, with tears, that his pen was powerless, that he had made fifty attempts, and saw nothing but failure and disgrace before him. Scott answered, “My good young friend, leave this matter to me—do you work away at the Catalogue, and I’ll write for you a couple of sermons that shall pass muster well enough at Aberdeen.” Gordon assented with a sigh; and next morning Sir Walter gave him the MS. of the “Religious Discourses.” On reflection, Mr Gordon con-
sidered it quite impossible to produce them as his own, and a letter to be quoted immediately will show, that he by and by had written others for himself in a style creditable to his talents, though, from circumstances above explained, he never delivered them at Aberdeen. But the “Two Discourses” of 1824 had remained in his hands; and it now occurred to him that, if Sir Walter would allow him to dispose of these to some bookseller, they might possibly bring a price that would float him over his little difficulties of Christmas.

Scott consented; and Gordon got more than he had ventured to expect for his MS. But since this matter has been introduced, I must indulge myself with a little retrospect, and give a few specimens of the great author’s correspondence with this amiable dependent. The series now before me consists of more than forty letters to Mr Gordon.

“Edinburgh, 5th January, 1817.

“* * * I am very sorry your malady continues to distress you; yet while one’s eyes are spared to look on the wisdom of former times, we are the less entitled to regret that we hear less of the folly of the present. The Church always presents a safe and respectable asylum, and has many mansions. But in fact, the great art of life, so far as I have been able to observe, consists in fortitude and perseverance. I have rarely seen, that a man who conscientiously devoted himself to the studies and duties of any profession, and did not omit to take fair and honourable opportunities of offering himself to notice when such presented themselves, has not at length got forward. The mischance of those who fall behind, though flung upon fortune, more frequently arises from want of skill and perseverance. Life, my young friend,
is like a game at cards—our hands are alternately good or bad, and the whole seems at first glance to depend on mere chance. But it is not so, for in the long run the skill of the player predominates over the casualties of the game. Therefore, do not be discouraged with the prospect before you, but ply your studies hard, and qualify yourself to receive fortune when she comes your way. I shall have pleasure at any time in hearing from you, and more especially in seeing you.”

“24th July, 1818.

“* * * I send you the Travels of Thiodolf* Perhaps you might do well to give a glance over Tytler’s Principles of Translation, ere you gird up your loins to the undertaking. If the gods have made you poetical, you should imitate, rather than attempt a literal translation of, the verses interspersed; and, in general, I think both the prose and verse might be improved by compression. If you find the versification a difficult or unpleasant task, I must translate for you such parts of the poetry as may be absolutely necessary for carrying on the story, which will cost an old hack like me very little trouble. I would have you, however, by all means try yourself.” * * *

“14th October, 1818.

“ * * * I am greatly at a loss what could possibly make you think you had given me the slightest offence. If that very erroneous idea arose from my silence and short letters, I must plead both business and laziness,

* A novel by the Baron de la Motte Fouqué.

which makes me an indifferent correspondent; but I thought I had explained in my last that which it was needful that you should know. * * *

“I have said nothing on the delicate confidence you have reposed in me. I have not forgotten that I have been young, and must therefore be sincerely interested in those feelings which the best men entertain with most warmth. At the same time, my experience makes me alike an enemy to premature marriage and to distant engagements. The first adds to our individual cares the responsibility for the beloved and helpless pledges of our affection, and the last are liable to the most cruel disappointments. But, my good young friend, if you have settled your affections upon a worthy object, I can only hope that your progress in life will be such as to make you look forward with prudence to a speedy union.” * * *

“12th June, 1820.

“ * * * I am very sorry for your illness, and your unpleasant and uncertain situation, for which, unfortunately, I can give no better consolation than in the worn-out and wearying-out word, patience. What you mention of your private feelings on an interesting subject, is indeed distressing; but assure yourself that scarce one person out of twenty marries his first love, and scarce one out of twenty of the remainder has cause to rejoice at having done so. What we love, in those early days is generally rather a fanciful creation of our own than a reality. We build statues of snow, and weep when they melt.” * *

“12th April, 1825.
“My dear Mr Gordon,

“I would have made some additions to your sermon with great pleasure, but it is with even more than great pleasure that I assure you it needs none. It is a most respectable discourse, with good divinity in it, which is always the marrow and bones of a Concio ad clerum, and you may pronounce it, meo periculo, without the least danger of failure or of unpleasant comparisons. I am not fond of Mr Irving’s species of eloquence, consisting of outré flourishes and extravagant metaphors. The eloquence of the pulpit should be of a chaste and dignified character; earnest, but not high-flown and ecstatic, and consisting as much in close reasoning as in elegant expression. It occurs to me as a good topic for more than one discourse, the manner in which the heresies of the earlier Christian church are treated in the Acts and the Epistles. It is remarkable, that while the arguments by which they are combated are distinct, clear, and powerful, the inspired writers have not judged it proper to go beyond general expressions, respecting the particular heresies which they combated. If you look closely, there is much reason in this. * * * In general, I would say, that on entering on the clerical profession, were it my case, I should be anxious to take much pains with my sermons, and the studies on which they must be founded. Nothing rewards itself so completely as exercise, whether of the body or mind. We sleep sound, and our waking hours are happy, because they are employed; and a little sense of toil is necessary to the enjoyment of leisure, even when earned by study and sanctioned by the discharge of duty. I think most clergymen diminish their own respectability by falling into indolent habits, and what players call
walking through their part. You, who have to beat up against an infirmity, and it may be against some unreasonable prejudices, arising from that infirmity, should determine to do the thing not only well, but better than others.” * * *

To G. Huntly Gordon, Esq. Treasury, London.
“28th December, 1827.
“Dear Gordon,

“As I have no money to spare at present, I find it necessary to make a sacrifice of my own scruples, to relieve you from serious difficulties. The enclosed will entitle you to deal with any respectable bookseller. You must tell the history in your own way as shortly as possible. All that is necessary to say is, that the discourses were written to oblige a young friend. It is understood my name is not to be put on the title-page, or blazed at full length in the preface. You may trust that to the newspapers.

“Pray, do not think of returning any thanks about this; it is enough that I know it is likely to serve your purpose. But use the funds arising from this unexpected source with prudence, for such fountains do not spring up at every place of the desert.—I am, in haste, ever yours most truly,

Walter Scott.”

The reader will, I believe, forgive this retrospect; and be pleased to know that the publication of the sermons answered the purpose intended. Mr Gordon now occupies a permanent and respectable situation in her Majesty’s Stationary Office; and he concludes his com-
munication to me with expressing his feeling that his prosperity “is all clearly traceable to the kindness of
Sir Walter Scott.”

In a letter to me about this affair of the Discourses, Sir Walter says, “Poor Gordon has got my leave to make a kirk and a mill of my Sermons—heaven save the mark! Help him, if you can, to the water of Pactolus and a swapping thirlage.” The only entries in the Diary, which relate to the business, are the following: “Dec. 28.—Huntly Gordon writes me in despair about L.180 of debt which he has incurred. He wishes to publish two sermons which I wrote for him when he was taking orders; and he would get little money for them without my name. People may exclaim against the undesired and unwelcome zeal of him who stretched his hands to help the ark over, with the best intentions, and cry sacrilege. And yet they will do me gross injustice, for I would, if called upon, die a martyr for the Christian religion, so completely is (in my poor opinion) its divine origin proved by its beneficial effects on the state of society. Were we but to name the abolition of slavery and polygamy, how much has, in these two words, been granted to mankind in the lessons of our Saviour. January 10, 1828.—Huntly Gordon has disposed of the two sermons to the bookseller, Colburn, for L.250; well sold I think, and to go forth immediately. The man is a puffing quack; but though I would rather the thing had not gone there, and far rather that it had gone nowhere, yet hang it, if it makes the poor lad easy, what needs I fret about it. After all, there would be little grace in doing a kind thing, if you did not suffer pain or inconvenience upon the score.”

The next literary entry is this:—“Mr Charles Heath, the engraver, invites me to take charge of a yearly publication called the Keepsake, of which the plates are
beyond comparison beautiful, but the letter-press indifferent enough. He proposes L.800 a-year if I would become editor, and L.400 if I would contribute from seventy to one hundred pages. I declined both, but told him I might give him some trifling thing or other. To become the stipendiary editor of a New-Year’s-Gift Book is not to be thought of, nor could I agree to work regularly, for any quantity of supply, at such a publication. Even the pecuniary view is not flattering, though Mr Heath meant it should be so. One hundred of his close printed pages, for which he offers L.400, are nearly equal to one volume of a novel. Each novel of three volumes brings L.4000, and I remain proprietor of the mine after the first ore is scooped out.” The result of this negotiation with Mr Heath was, that he received, for L.500, the liberty of printing in his Keepsake the long forgotten juvenile drama of the
House of Aspen, with My Aunt Margaret’s Mirror, and two other little tales, which had been omitted, at Ballantyne’s entreaty, from the second Chronicles of Croftangry. But Sir Walter regretted having meddled in any way with the toyshop of literature, and would never do so again, though repeatedly offered very large sums—nor even when the motive of private regard was added, upon Mr Allan Cunningham’s lending his name to one of these painted bladders.

In the same week that Mr Heath made his proposition, Sir Walter received another which he thus disposes of in his Diary:—“I have an invitation from Messrs Saunders and Ottley, booksellers, offering me from L.1500 to L.2000 annually to conduct a journal; but I am their humble servant. I am too indolent to stand to that sort of work, and I must preserve the undisturbed use of my leisure, and possess my soul in quiet. A large income is not my object; I must clear my debts; and
that is to be done by writing things of which I can retain the property. Made my excuses accordingly.”

In January, 1828, reprints both of the Grandfather’s Tales and of the Life of Napoleon were called for; and both so suddenly, that the booksellers would fain have distributed the volumes among various printers in order to catch the demand. Ballantyne heard of this with natural alarm; and Scott, in the case of the Napoleon, conceived that his own literary character was trifled with, as well as his old ally’s interests. On receiving James’s first appeal that as to the Grandfather’s Stories, he wrote thus: I need scarcely add, with the desired effect.

To Robert Cadell, Esq., Edinburgh.
“Abbotsford, 3d January, 1828.
“My dear Sir,

“I find our friend James Ballantyne is very anxious about printing the new edition of the Tales, which I hope you will allow him to do, unless extreme haste be an extreme object. I need not remind you that we three are like the shipwrecked crew of a vessel, cast upon a desolate island, and fitting up out of the remains of a gallant bark such a cock-boat as may transport us to some more hospitable shore. Therefore, we are bound by the strong tie of common misfortune to help each other, in so far as the claim of self-preservation will permit, and I am happy to think the plank is large enough to float us all.

“Besides my feelings for my own old friend and schoolfellow, with whom I have shared good and bad weather for so many years, I must also remember that, as in your own case, his friends have made great exertions to support him in the printing-office, under an implied hope and trust that these publications would take in ordinary cases their usual direction. It is true no engagement was
or could be proposed to this effect, but it was a reasonable expectation which influenced kind and generous men, and I incline to pay every respect to it in my power.

“Messrs Longman really keep matters a little too quiet for my convenience. The next thing they may tell me is, that Napoleon must go to press instantly to a dozen of printers. I must boot and saddle, off and away at a fortnight’s warning. Now this I neither can nor will do. My character as a man of letters is deeply interested in giving a complete revisal of that work, and I wish to have time to do so without being hurried. Yours very truly,

W. S.”

The following specimens of his “skirmishes,” as he used to call them, with Ballantyne, while the Fair Maid of Perth was in hand, are in keeping with this amiable picture:

“My dear James I return the proofs of Tales, and send some leaves, copy of St Valentine’s. Pray get on with this in case we should fall through again. When the press does not follow me, I get on slowly and ill, and put myself in mind of Jamie Balfour, who could run when he could not stand still. We must go on or stop altogether. Yours,” &c. &c.

“I think you are hypercritical in your commentary. I counted the hours with accuracy. In the morning the citizens went to Kinfauns and returned. This puts over the hour of noon, then the dinner-hour. Afterwards, and when the king has had his devotions in private, comes all the scene in the court-yard. The sun sets at half-past five on the 14th February; and if we suppose it to be within an hour of evening, it was surely
time for a woman who had a night to put over, to ask where she should sleep. This is the explanation, apply it as you please to the text; for you who see the doubt can best clear it. Yours truly,” &c.

“I cannot afford to be merciful to Master Oliver Proudfoot, although I am heartily glad there is any one of the personages sufficiently interesting to make you care whether he lives or dies. But it would cost my cancelling half a volume, and rather than do so, I would, like the valiant Baron of Clackmannan, kill the whole characters, the author, and the printer. Besides, entre nous, the resurrection of Athelstane was a botch. It struck me when I was reading Ivanhoe over the other day.

“I value your criticism as much as ever, but the worst is, my faults are better known to myself than to you. Tell a young beauty that she wears an unbecoming dress, or an ill-fashioned ornament, or speaks too loud, or commits any other mistake which she can correct, and she will do so, if she has sense and a good opinion of your taste. But tell a fading beauty, that her hair is getting grey, her wrinkles apparent, her gait heavy, and that she has no business in a ball-room but to be ranged against the wall as an ever-green, and you will afflict the poor old lady, without rendering her any service. She knows all that better than you. I am sure the old lady in question takes pain enough at her toilette, and gives you, her trusty suivante, enough of trouble. Yours truly,

W. S.”

These notes to the printer appear to have been written at Abbotsford during the holidays. On his
way back to Edinburgh,
Sir Walter halts for a Saturday and Sunday at Arniston, and the Diary on the second day says:—“Went to Borthwick church with the family, and heard a well-composed, well-delivered, sensible discourse, from Mr Wright.* After sermon we looked at the old castle, which made me an old man. The castle was not a bit older for the twenty-five years which had passed away, but the ruins of the visiter are very apparent. To climb up ruinous staircases, to creep through vaults and into dungeons, were not the easy labours but the positive sports of my younger years; but I thought it convenient to attempt no more than the access to the large and beautiful hall, in which, as it is somewhere described, an armed horseman might brandish his lance.† This feeling of growing inability is painful to one who boasted, in spite of infirmity, great boldness and dexterity in such feats; the boldness remains, but hand and foot, grip and accuracy of step have altogether failed me the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and so I must retreat into the invalided corps, and tell them of my former exploits, which may very likely pass for lies. We then drove to Dalhousie, where the gallant Earl, who has done so much to distinguish the British name in every quarter of the globe, is repairing the castle of his ancestors, which of yore stood a siege against John of Gaunt. I was his companion at school, where he was as much beloved by his playmates, as he has been ever respected by his companions in arms and the people over whom he has been deputed to exercise the authority of his sovereign. He was always steady, wise,

* The Rev. T. Wright, of Borthwick, is the author of various popular works,—“The Morning and Evening Sacrifice,” &c. &c.

† See Scott’s account of this Castle in his Prose Miscellanies, Vol. VII.

and generous. The old Castle of Dalhousie—seu potius Dalwolsey was mangled by a fellow called, I believe, Douglas, who destroyed, as far as in him lay, its military and baronial character, and roofed it after the fashion of a poor’s-house.
Burn* is now restoring and repairing in the old taste, and, I think, creditably to his own feeling. God bless the roof-tree!

“We returned home by the side of the South Esk, where I had the pleasure to see that Robert Dundas is laying out his woods with taste, and managing them with care. His father and uncle took notice of me when I was ‘fellow of no mark nor likelihood,’† and I am always happy in finding myself in the old oak room at Arniston, where I have drank many a merry bottle, and in the fields where I have seen many a hare killed.”

At the opening of the Session next day, he misses one of his dear old colleagues of the table, Mr Mackenzie, who had long been the official preses in ordinary of the Writers to the Signet. The Diary has a pithy entry here:—“My good friend Colin Mackenzie proposes to retire from indifferent health. A better man never lived—eager to serve every one—a safeguard over all public business which came through his hands. As Deputy-keeper of the Signet he will be much missed. He had a patience in listening to every one, which is of infinite importance in the management of a public body; for many men care less to gain their point, than they do to play the orator, and be listened to for a certain time. This done, and due quantity of personal consideration being gained, the individual orator is usually satisfied with the reasons of the civil listener, who has suffered him to enjoy his hour of consequence.”

* William Burn, Esq., architect, Edinburgh.

King Henry IV., Act III. Sc. 2.


The following passages appear (in various ways) too curious and characteristic to be omitted. He is working hard, alas! too hard—at the Fair Maid of Perth.

February 17.—hard day of work, being, I think, eight pages* before dinner. I cannot, I am sure, tell if it is worth marking down, that yesterday, at dinnertime, I was strangely haunted by what I would call the sense of pre-existence—viz. a confused idea, that nothing that passed was said for the first time, that the same topics had been discussed, and the same persons had stated the same opinions on them. It is true there might have been some ground for recollections, considering that three at least of the company were old friends, and had kept much company together; that is, Justice-Clerk, [Lord] Abercromby, and I. But the sensation was so strong as to resemble what is called a mirage in the desert, or a calenture on board of ship, when lakes are seen in the desert, and silvan landscapes in the sea. It was very distressing yesterday, and brought to my mind the fancies of Bishop Berkely about an ideal world. There was a vile sense of want of reality in all I did and said. It made me gloomy and out of spirits, though I flatter myself this was not observed. The bodily feeling which most resembles this unpleasing hallucination is the giddy state which follows profuse bleeding, when one feels as if he were walking on feather-beds and could not find a secure footing. I think the stomach has something to do with it. I drank several glasses of wine, but these only augmented the disorder. I did not find the in vino veritas of the philosophers. Something of this insane feeling remains to-day, but a trifle only.

* i. e., Forty pages of print, or very nearly.

FEBRUARY, 1828. 115

February 20.—Another day of labour, but not so hard. I worked from eight till three with little intermission, but only accomplished four pages.

“A certain Mr Mackay from Ireland called on me, an active agent, it would seem, about the reform of prisons. He exclaims, justly I doubt not, about the state of our Lock-up House. For myself I have some distrust of the fanaticism even of philanthropy. A good part of it arises in general from mere vanity and love of distinction, gilded over to others and to themselves with some show of benevolent sentiment. The philanthropy of Howard, mingled with his ill-usage of his son, seems to have risen to a pitch of insanity. Yet without such extraordinary men, who call attention to the subject by their own peculiarities, prisons would have remained the same dungeons which they were forty or fifty years ago. I do not, however, see the propriety of making them dandy places of detention. They should be places of punishment, and that can hardly be if men are lodged better, and fed better, than when they are at large. I have never seen a plan for keeping in order these resorts of guilt and misery, without presupposing a superintendence of a kind which might perhaps be exercised, could we turn out upon the watch a guard of angels. But, alas! jailers and turnkeys are rather like angels of a different livery, nor do I see how it is possible to render them otherwise. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? As to reformation, I have no great belief in it, when the ordinary classes of culprits, who are vicious from ignorance or habit, are the subjects of the experiment. ‘A shave from a broken loaf’ is thought as little of by the male set of delinquents as by the fair frail. The state of society now leads to such accumulations of humanity, that we cannot wonder if it ferment and reek like a compost dunghill.
Nature intended that population should be diffused over the soil in proportion to its extent. We have accumulated in huge cities and smothering manufactories the numbers which should be spread over the face of a country; and what wonder that they should be corrupted? We have turned healthful and pleasant brooks into morasses and pestiferous lakes,—what wonder the soil should be unhealthy? A great deal, I think, might be done by executing the punishment of death, without a chance of escape, in all cases to which it should be found properly applicable; of course these occasions being diminished to one out of twenty to which capital punishment is now assigned. Our ancestors brought the country to order by kilting thieves and banditti with strings. So did the French when at Naples, and bandits became for the time unheard of. When once men are taught that a crime of a certain character is connected inseparably with death, the moral habits of a population become altered, and you may in the next age remit the punishment which in this it has been necessary to inflict with stern severity.

February 21.—Last night after dinner I rested from my work, and read the third series of Sayings and Doings, which shows great knowledge of life in a certain sphere, and very considerable powers of wit, which somewhat damages the effect of the tragic parts. But Theodore Hook is an able writer, and so much of his work is well said, that it will carry through what is indifferent. I hope the same good fortune for other folks.

“I am watching and waiting till I hit on some quaint and clever mode of extricating, but do not see a glimpse of any one. James B., too, discourages me a good deal by his silence, waiting, I suppose, to be invited to disgorge a full allowance of his critical bile. But he will wait long enough, for I am discouraged enough. Now
MARCH, 1828.117
here is the advantage of Edinburgh. In the country, if a sense of inability once seizes me, it haunts me from morning to night; but in town the time is so occupied and frittered away by official duties and chance occupations, that you have not leisure to play Master Stephen, and be melancholy and gentlemanlike.* On the other hand, you never feel in town those spirit-stirring influences—those glances of sunshine that make amends for clouds and mist. The country is said to be the quieter life; not to me, I am sure. In town the business I have to do hardly costs me more thought than just occupies my mind, and I have as much of gossip and lady-like chat as consumes odd hours pleasantly enough. In the country I am thrown entirely on my own resources, and there is no medium betwixt happiness and the reverse.

March 9.—I set about arranging my papers, a task which I always take up with the greatest possible ill-will, and which makes me cruelly nervous. I don’t know why it should be so, for I have nothing particularly disagreeable to look at; far from it, I am better than I was at this time last year, my hopes firmer, my health stronger, my affairs bettered and bettering. Yet I feel an inexpressible nervousness in consequence of this employment. The memory, though it retains all that has passed, has closed sternly over it; and this rummaging, like a bucket dropped suddenly into a well, deranges and confuses the ideas which slumbered on the mind. I am nervous, and I am bilious, and, in a word, I am unhappy. This is wrong, very wrong; and it is reasonably to be apprehended that something of serious misfortune may be the deserved punishment of this pusillanimous lowness of spirits. Strange, that

* See Ben Jonson’sEvery Man in his Humour.’ Act i, Scene 3.

one who, in most things, may be said to have enough of the ‘care na by,’ should be subject to such vile weakness!—
Drummond Hay, the antiquary and Lyon-herald,* came in. I do not know any thing which relieves the mind so much from the sullens as trifling discussions about antiquarian old womanries. It is like knitting a stocking, diverting the mind without occupying it; or it is like, by Our Lady, a mill-dam, which leads one’s thoughts gently and imperceptibly out of the channel in which they are chafing and boiling. To be sure, it is only conducting them to turn a child’s mill: what signifies that? the diversion is a relief, though the object is of little importance. I cannot tell what we talked of.

March 12.—I was sadly worried by the black dog this morning, that vile palpitation of the heart—that tremor cordis—that hysterical passion which forces unbidden sighs and tears, and falls upon a contented life like a drop of ink on white paper, which is not the less a stain because it carries no meaning. I wrote three leaves, however, and the story goes on.

“The dissolution of the Yeomanry was the act of the last ministry. The present did not alter the measure, on account of the expense saved. I am, if not the very oldest Yeoman in Scotland, one of the oldest, and have seen the rise, progress, and now the fall of this very constitutional part of the national force. Its efficacy, on occasions of insurrection, was sufficiently proved in the Radical time. But besides, it kept up a spirit of harmony between the proprietors of land and the occupiers, and made them known to and beloved by each

* W. A. Drummond Hay, Esq. (now consul at Tangier), was at this time the deputy of his cousin the Earl of Kinnoull, hereditary Lord Lyon King at Arms.

other; and it gave to the young men a sort of military and high-spirited character, which always does honour to a country. The manufacturers are in great glee on this occasion. I wish Parliament, as they have turned the Yeomen adrift somewhat scornfully, may not have occasion to roar them in again.
‘The eldrich knight gave up his arms
With many a sorrowful sigh.’”

Sir Walter finished his novel by the end of March, and immediately set out for London, where the last budget of proof-sheets reached him. The Fair Maid was, and continues to be highly popular, and though never classed with his performances of the first file, it has undoubtedly several scenes equal to what the best of them can show, and is on the whole a work of brilliant variety and most lively interest. Though the Introduction of 1830 says a good deal on the most original character, that of Connochar, the reader may not be sorry to have one paragraph on that subject from the Diary:—“December 5, 1827.—The fellow that swam the Tay, and escaped, would be a good ludicrous character. But I have a mind to try him in the serious line of tragedy. Miss Baillie has made her Ethling a coward by temperament, and a hero when touched by filial affection. Suppose a man’s nerves, supported by feelings of honour, or say, by the spur of jealousy, sustaining him against constitutional timidity to a certain point, then suddenly giving way, I think something tragic might be produced. James Ballantyne’s criticism is too much moulded upon the general taste of novels to admit (I fear) this species of reasoning. But what can one do? I am hard up as far as imagination is concerned, yet the world calls for
novelty. Well, I’ll try my brave coward or cowardly brave man. Valeat quantum.”

The most careful critic that has handled this Tale, while he picks many holes in the plot, estimates the characters very highly. Of the glee-maiden, he well says; “Louise is a delightful sketch. Nothing can be more exquisite than the manner in which her story is partly told, and partly hinted, or than the contrast between her natural and her professional character;” and after discussing at some length Rothsay, Henbane, Ramorney, &c. &c. he comes to Connochar.

“This character “(says Mr Senior) “is perfectly tragic, neither too bad for sympathy, nor so good as to render his calamity revolting; but its great merit is the boldness with which we are called upon to sympathize with a deficiency which is generally the subject of unmitigated scorn. It is impossible not to feel the deepest commiseration for a youth cursed by nature with extreme sensibility both to shame and to fear, suddenly raised from a life of obscurity and peace, to head a confederacy of warlike savages, and forced immediately afterwards to elect, before the eyes of thousands, between a frightful death and an ignominious escape. The philosophy of courage and cowardice is one of the obscurest parts of human nature: partly because the susceptibility of fear is much affected by physical causes, by habit, and by example; and partly because it is a subject as to which men do not readily state the result of their own experience, and when they do state it, are not always implicitly believed. The subject has been further perplexed, in modern times, by the Scandinavian invention of the point of honour;—a doctrine which represents the manifestation, in most cases, of even well-founded apprehension as fatal to all nobility of character;—an opinion so little admitted by the classical world, that Homer has attributed to Hector, and Virgil to Turnus, certainly without supposing them dishonoured, precisely the same conduct of which Sir Walter makes suicide a consequence, without being an expiation. The result of all this has been that scarcely any modem writers have made the various degrees of courage a source of much variety and discrimination of character. They have given us indeed plenty of fire-eaters and plenty of poltroons; and Shakspeare has painted in Falstaff constitutional intrepidity unsupported by honour; but by far the most usual modification of
character among persons of vivid imagination, that in which a quick feeling of honour combats a quick apprehension of danger, a character which is the precise converse of Falstaff’s, has been left almost untouched for Scott.”

I alluded, in an early part of these Memoirs (vol. ii. p. 255), to a circumstance in Sir Walter’s conduct, which it was painful to mention, and added, that in advanced life he himself spoke of it with a deep feeling of contrition. Talking over this character of Connochar, just before the book appeared, he told me the unhappy fate of his brother Daniel, and how he had declined to be present at his funeral, or wear mourning for him. He added, “My secret motive, in this attempt, was to perform a sort of expiation to my poor brother’s manes. I have now learned to have more tolerance and compassion than I had in those days.” I said he put me in mind of Samuel Johnson’s standing bareheaded, in the last year of his life, on the market-place of Uttoxeter, by way of penance for a piece of juvenile irreverence towards his father. “Well, no matter” (said he), “perhaps that’s not the worst thing in the Doctor’s story.”*

* See Croker’s Boswell, octavo edition, Vol. v. p. 288.