- The Journal of Sir Walter Scott from the Original Manuscript at Abbotsford (September, 1826) by Sir Walter Scott
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The Journal of Sir Walter Scott from the Original Manuscript at Abbotsford
September, 1826

by Sir Walter Scott

September 1.—Awaked with a headache, which the reconsideration of Gibson's news did not improve. We save Bonaparte however, and that is a great thing. I will not be downcast about it, let the worst come that can; but I wish I saw that worst. It is the devil to be struggling forward, like a man in the mire, and making not an inch by your exertions, and such seems to be my fate. Well! I have much to comfort me, and I will take comfort. If there be further wrath to come, I shall be glad that I bear it alone. Poor Charlotte was too much softened by prosperity to look adverse circumstances courageously in the face. Anne is young, and has Sophia and Jane to trust to for assistance.

September 2.—Wrote this morning, but only two pages or thereabouts. At twelve o'clock set out with Anne and Walter to visit at Makerstoun, but the road between Makerstoun and Merton being very bad, we drove, I dare say, thirty miles in going and coming, by a circuitous route, and only got home at half-past seven at night. Saw Lady Brisbane Makdougall, but not Sir Thomas. [333] Thought of old Sir Henry and his older father Sir George. Received a box of Australian seeds, forwarded by Andrew Murray, now head-gardener to the Governor, whom I detected a clever boy, among my labourers in 1812, and did a little for him. It is pleasant to see men thrive and be grateful at the same time, so good luck to "Andrew Mora," as we called him.
[333]Sir Thomas Brisbane, who had formerly commanded a brigade in the Peninsula. In 1832 he succeeded Sir Walter Scott as President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Sir Thomas had married in 1819 a daughter of Sir Henry Hay Makdougall of Makerstoun, Bart. Sir Thomas died at Brisbane House, Ayrshire, in January 1860, in the eighty-seventh year of his age.
September 3.—Made up my necessary task for yesterday and to-day also, but not more, writing very heavily. Cousin Archie Swinton came to dinner. We had a dish of cousinred of course—and of auld lang syne. [334]
[334]For an account of this family see The Swintons of that Ilk and their Cadets, 4to, 1883, a privately printed volume by A.C. Swinton of Kimmerghame. In a letter to his friend Swinton in 1814, Scott says that he had been reading the family pedigree "to my exceeding refreshment."
September 4.—Archie Swinton left us this morning early. I wrote from seven to half-past two; but, partly that I had five proof-sheets to correct, partly that like old John Fraser [335] "I was not very cleever to-day." I made out but a page and a half.
[335]One of the Abbotsford labourers.
September 5.—Wrote task and half a page more. Terry arrived and brought with him a Mr. Bruce, from Persia, with an introduction, forsooth, from Mr. Blackwood. I will move a quo warranto against this species of introduction; and the good gentleman is to be here, he informs me, for two days. He is a dark, foreign-looking man, of small stature, and rather blunt manners, which may be easily accounted for by his having been in the East for thirty years. He has a considerable share of information, and made good play after dinner.

September 6.—Walter being to return to Ireland for three weeks set off to-day, and has taken Surtees and Charles with him. I fear this is but a wild plan, but the prospect seemed to make them so happy that I could not find in my heart to say "No" sufficiently peremptorily. So away they all went this morning to be as happy as they can. Youth is a fine carver and gilder. Went down to Huntly Burn, and dawdled about while waiting for the carriage to bring me back. Mr. Bruce and Colonel Ferguson pottered away about Persia and India, and I fell asleep by the fireside. Here is a fine spate of work—a day diddled away, and nothing to show for it! I must write letters now, there is nothing else for it. But—yaw—yaw—I must take a nap first. I had a letter from Jem Ballantyne, plague on him! full of remonstrance, deep and solemn, upon the carelessness of Bonaparte. The rogue is right too. But as to correcting my style to the
"Jemmy jemmy linkum feedle"
tune of what is called fine writing, I'll be d——d if I do. Drew £12 in favour of Charles for his Irish jaunt; same time exhorted him to make himself as expensive to Walter, in the way of eating and drinking, as he could. Mr. and Mrs. Impey arrived to dinner.

September 7.—Mr. Bruce, the bastinadoed, left us this morning promising wine from Shiraz and arms from India. From our joint observation he must be a half-caste, probably half an Arab. He told us of his having been taken by pirates in the Arabian Gulf, and having received two thousand bastinadoes on the soles of his feet, after which he was buried in a heap of dung by way of cure. Though the matter was certainly serious enough to the sufferer, yet it excited our suppressed, or scarce suppressed, mirth. Alas! let never traveller tell any distress which borders on the ludicrous if he desires to excite the sympathy of the audience.

Another thing he mentioned was the mode of seasoning timber for shipbuilding in the Arabian Gulf. They bury it in the sand within water-mark, and leave it exposed to the flux and reflux of the tide for six months at least, but often for twelve or eighteen. The tendency to vegetation which produces the dry-rot is thus prevented effectually, and the ships built of this wood last for twenty years.

We drove to Ashestiel in the morning, after I had written a good task, or nearly so (nay, I lie, it wanted half a page), and passed a pleasant day. Terry read Bobadil in the evening, which he has, I think, improved.

September 8.—I have rubbed up, by collation with Mr. Impey, Sir Frederick Adam's idea of the Greeks. He deeply regrets the present war as premature, undertaken before knowledge and rational education had extended themselves sufficiently. The neighbourhood of the Ionian Islands was fast producing civilisation; and as knowledge is power, it is clear that the example of Europeans, and the opportunities of education thereby afforded, must soon have given them an immense superiority over the Turk. This premature war has thrown all back into a state of barbarism. It was precipitated by the agents of Russia. Sir Frederick spoke most highly of Byron, the soundness of his views, the respect in which he was held—his just ideas of the Grecian cause and character, and the practical and rational wishes which he formed for them. Singular that a man whose conduct in his own personal affairs had been anything but practical should be thus able to stand by the helm of a sinking state! Sir Frederick thinks he might have done much for them if he had lived. The rantipole friends of liberty, who go about freeing nations with the same success which Don Quixote had in redressing wrongs, have, of course, blundered everything which they touched. The Impeys left us to-day, and Captain Hugh Scott and his lady arrived. Task is bang-up.

September 9.—I begin to fear Nap. will swell to seven volumes. I have a long letter from James B. threatening me with eight; but that is impossible. The event of his becoming Emperor is the central point of his history. Now I have just attained it, and it is the centre of the third volume. Two volumes and a half may be necessary to complete the whole. Walked with Hugh Scott up the Rhymer's Glen, and round by the lake. Mr. Bainbridge of Gattonside House dined, also Colonel Ferguson. Was bang up to my task again this day.

September 10.—Corrected proof-sheets in the morning, then immured myself to write, the more willingly that the day seemed showery; but I found myself obliged to read and study the map so much that I did not get over half a sheet written. Walked with Hugh Scott through Haxell Cleuch. Great pleasure to show the young wood to any who understands them well.

September 11.—Jane and her mother go into town this morning, and Anne with them, to look out a lodging for us during the time we must pass in town. It seems strange to have this to do, having had always my father's house or my own to go to. But—Sic transit gloria mundi.

Well, it is half-past twelve o'clock, and at length having regulated all disappointments as to post-horses, and sent three or four servants three or four miles to remedy blunders, which a little forethought might have prevented, my family and guests are separated—
"Like youthful steers let loose, east, north, and south." [336]
[336]2 Henry IV. Act IV. Sc. 2.
Miss Miln goes to Stirling; the Scotts to Lessudden; Anne and Jane to Edinburgh; and I am left alone. I must needs go up and see some operations about the spring which supplies us with water, though I calculate my presence is not very necessary. So now—to work—to work.

But I reckoned without my host, or, I should rather say, without my guest. Just as I had drawn in my chair, fitted a new "Bramah" on the stick, and was preparing to feague it away, I had a call from the son of an old friend, Mr. Waldie of Henderland. As he left me, enter young Whytbank and Mr. Auriol Hay [337] of the Lyon Office, and we had a long armorial chat together, which lasted for some time—then the library was to be looked at, etc. So, when they went away, I had little better to do than to walk up to the spring which they are digging, and to go to my solitary dinner on my return.
[337]Mr. E.W. Auriol Drummond Hay, heir-presumptive at one time of Lord Kinnoul, was then residing in Edinburgh, owing to his official duties in the Lyon Office; he took a great interest in archaeological matters, and was for two years Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries before his departure as Consul General to the Barbary States. He died at Tangier on the 1st March 1845.
September 12.—Notwithstanding what is above said, I made out my task yesterday, or nearly so, by working after dinner. After all, these interruptions are not such bad things; they make a man keen of the work which he is withheld from, and differ in that point much from the indulgence of an indisposition to labour in your own mind, which increases by indulgence. Les fâcheux seldom interrupt your purpose absolutely and entirely—you stick to it for contradiction's sake.

Well, I visited the spring in the morning, and completed my task afterwards. As I slept for a few minutes in my chair, to which I am more addicted than I could wish, I heard, as I thought, my poor wife call me by the familiar name of fondness which she gave me. My recollections on waking were melancholy enough. These be
"The airy tongues that syllable men's names." [338]
[338]Milton's Comus, v. 208.—J.G.L.
All, I believe, have some natural desire to consider these unusual impressions as bodements of good or evil to come. But alas! this is a prejudice of our own conceit. They are the empty echoes of what is past, not the foreboding voice of what is to come.

I dined at the Club to-day at Selkirk, and acted as croupier. There were eighteen dined; young men chiefly, and of course young talk. But so it has been, will be, and must be.

September 13.—Wrote my task in the morning, and thereafter had a letter from that sage Privy Councillor and booby of a Baronet,——. This unutterable idiot proposes to me that I shall propose to the Dowager Duchess of ——, and offers his own right honourable intervention to bring so beautiful a business to bear. I am struck dumb with the assurance of his folly—absolutely mute and speechless—and how to prevent him making me further a fool is not easy, for the wretch has left me no time to assure him of the absurdity of what he proposes; and if he should ever hint at such a piece of d——d impertinence, what must the lady think of my conceit or of my feelings! I will write to his present quarters, however, that he may, if possible, have warning not to continue this absurdity. [339]
[339]Lady Scott had not been quite four months dead, and the entry of the preceding day shows how extremely ill-timed was this communication from a gentleman with whom Sir Walter had never had any intimacy. This was not the only proposition of the kind that reached him during his widowhood.—J.G.L.
Dined at Major Scott, my cousin's, where was old Lord Buchan. He, too, is a prince of Bores, but age has tamed him a little, and like the giant Pope in the Pilgrim's Progress, he can only sit and grin at Pilgrims as they go past, and is not able to cast a fank [340] over them as formerly. A few quiet puns seem his most formidable infliction nowadays.
[340]A coil of rope.
September 14.—I should not have forgotten, among the memorabilia of yesterday, that Mr. Nasmyth, the dentist, and his family called, and I showed them the lions, for truly he that has rid a man of the toothache is well entitled to command a part of his time. Item, two young Frenchmen made their way to our sublime presence in guerdon of a laudatory copy of French verses sent up the evening before, by way of "Open Sesame," I suppose. I have not read them, nor shall I. No man that ever wrote a line despised the pap of praise so heartily as I do. There is nothing I scorn more, except those who think the ordinary sort of praise or censure is matter of the least consequence. People have almost always some private view of distinguishing themselves, or of gratifying their curiosity—some point, in short, to carry, with which you have no relation, when they take the trouble to praise you. In general, it is their purpose to get the person praised to puff away in return. To me their rank praises no more make amends for their bad poetry than tainted butter would pass off stale fish.

September 15.—Many proofs to correct and dates to compare. What signify dates in a true story? I was fidgety after breakfast, owing to perusing some advices from J. Gibson, poor fellow. I will not be discouraged, come of things what will. However, I could not write continuously, but went out by starts, and amused myself by cutting trees in the avenue. Thus I dawdled till Anne and Jane came home with merry faces, and raised my spirits of course. After tea I e'en took heart of grace and finished my task, as I now do this day's journal.

September 16.—Worked hard to-day, and in morning and evening made out five pages and a half, as much perhaps as one should attempt, yet I was not overworked. On the contrary, went out with Tom about one o'clock and cut trees, etc., to clear the avenue; and favour the growth of such trees as are designed for standards. I received visits too—the Laird of Bemerside, [341] who had been for nine years in Italy with his family—also the Laird of Kippielaw. Anne and Jane drove up and called at the Haining.
[341]See Life, vol. x. 95, and The Haigs of Bemersyde, 8vo, Edin. 1881, edited by J. Russell.
I expected James Ballantyne to dinner as he proposed, but the worthy typographer appeared not. He is sometimes inaccurate in keeping such appointments, which is not according to the "Academy of compliments." But in the letter which announced his intended visit, he talked of having received himself a visit from the Cholera Morbus. I shall be very sorry if so unwelcome a guest be the cause of the breach of his appointment.

September 17.—Rather surprised with a letter from Lord Melville, informing me that he and Mr. Peel had put me into the Commission for inquiring into the condition of the Colleges in Scotland. I know little on the subject, but I dare say as much as some of the official persons who are inserted of course. The want of efficient men is the reason alleged. I must of course do my best, though I have little hope of being useful, and the time it will occupy is half ruinous to me, to whom time is everything. Besides, I suppose the honour is partly meant as an act of grace for Malachi. I shall never repent of that escapade, although it offended persons for the time whose good opinion I value. J.B. continues ill at Teviot Grove, as they call it. I am a little anxious about him.

I finished my task and an extra page—hope to do another before supper. Accomplished the said diligent purpose.

September 18.—Rainy and gloomy—that small sifting rain driving on an eastern gale which intermits not. Wrote letters to Lord Melville, etc, and agreed to act under the Commission. Settled to be at Melville Castle, Saturday 24th. I fear this will interfere consumedly with business. I corrected proof-sheets, and wrote a good deal, but intend to spend the rest of the day in reading and making notes. No bricks to be made without straw.

[Jedburgh,] September 19.—Circuit. Went to poor Mr. Shortreed's, and regretted bitterly the distress of the family, though they endeavoured to bear it bravely, and to make my reception as comfortable and even cheerful as possible. My old friend R.S. gave me a ring found in a grave at the Abbey, to be kept in memory of his son. I will certainly preserve it with especial care. [342]
[342]Mr. Thomas Shortreed, a young gentleman of elegant taste and attainments, devotedly attached to Sir Walter, and much beloved in return, had recently died.—J.G.L.
Many trifles at circuit, chiefly owing to the cheap whisky, as they were almost all riots. One case of assault on a deaf and dumb woman. She was herself the chief evidence; but being totally without education, and having, from her situation, very imperfect notions of a Deity, and a future state, no oath could be administered. Mr. Kinniburgh, teacher of the deaf and dumb, was sworn interpreter, together with another person, a neighbour, who knew the accidental or conventional signs which the poor thing had invented for herself, as Mr. K. was supposed to understand the more general or natural signs common to people in such a situation. He went through the task with much address, and it was wonderful to see them make themselves intelligible to each other by mere pantomime. Still I did [not] consider such evidence as much to be trusted to in a criminal case. Several previous interviews had been necessary between the interpreter and the witness, and this is very much like getting up a story. Some of the signs, brief in themselves, of which Mr. K. gave long interpretations, put me in mind of Lord Burleigh in the Critic: "Did he mean all this by the shake of the head?" "Yes, if he shook his head as I taught him." [343] The man was found not guilty. Mr. K. told us of a pupil of his whom he restored, as it may be said, to humanity, and who told him that his ideas of another world were that some great person in the skies lighted up the sun in the morning as he saw his mother light her fire, and the stars in the evening as she kindled a lamp. He said the witness had ideas of truth and falsehood, which was, I believe, true; and that she had an idea of punishment in a future state, which I doubt. He confessed she could not give any guess at its duration, whether temporary or eternal. I should like to know if Mr. K. is in that respect much wiser than his pupils. Dined, of course, with Lord Mackenzie, the Judge.
[343]See Act III. Sc. 1.
September 20.—Waked after a restless night, in which I dreamed of poor Tom Shortreed. Breakfasted with the Rev. Dr. Somerville. [344] This venerable gentleman is one of the oldest of the literary brotherhood—I suppose about eighty-seven, and except a little deafness quite entire. Living all his life in good society as a gentleman born—and having, besides, professional calls to make among the poor—he must know, of course, much that is curious concerning the momentous changes which have passed under his eyes. He talks of them accordingly, and has written something on the subject, but has scarce the force necessary to seize on the most striking points, "palabras, neighbour Verges," [345]—gifts which God gives. The bowl that rolls easiest along the green goes furthest, and has least clay sticking to it. I have often noticed that a kindly, placid good-humour is the companion of longevity, and, I suspect, frequently the leading cause of it. Quick, keen, sharp observation, with the power of contrast and illustration, disturbs this easy current of thought. My good friend, the venerable Doctor, will not, I think, die of that disease.
[344]The Rev. Dr. Thomas Somerville, minister of Jedburgh, author of the History of Great Britain during the reign of Queen Anne, and other works, died 14th May 1830, in the ninetieth year of his age, and sixty-fourth of his ministry.—J.G.L. Autobiographical Memorials of his Life and Times, 1741-1814, 8vo, Edinburgh, were published in 1861.

[345]Much Ado about Nothing, Act III. Sc. 5.
Called at Nesbit Mill on my cousin Charles. His wife received me better than I deserved, for I have been a sad neglectful visitor. She has a very pleasant countenance.

Some of the Circuit lawyers dined here, namely R. Dundas, Borthwick, the facetious Peter Robertson, [346] Mr. R. Adam Dundas, and with them Henry Scott of Harden.
[346]Afterwards Judge in the Court of Session from 1843, author of Gleams of Thought reflected from Milton, etc. It was of this witty and humorous judge Mr. Lockhart wrote the sportive lines:—
"Here lies that peerless paper peer Lord Peter,
Who broke the laws of God and man and metre."
Lord Robertson died in 1855.
September 21.—Our party breakfasted late, and I was heavy-headed, and did not rise till eight. Had drank a little more wine than usual, but as our friend Othello says, "that's not much." [347] However, we dawdled about till near noon ere all my guests left me. Then I walked a little and cut some wood. Read afterwards. I can't get on without it. How did I get on before?—that's a secret. Mr. Thomas Tod [348] and his wife came to dine. We talked of old stories and got over a pleasant evening.
[347]Act III. Sc. 3.

[348]One of Scott's old High School mates.—Life, vol. i. p. 163.
September 22.—Still no writing. We have materials to collect. D—-n you, Mother Duty, hold your tongue! I tell you, you know nothing of the matter. Besides, I corrected five sheets. I wish you had to do with some other people, just to teach you the difference. I grant that the day being exquisite I went and thinned out the wood from the north front of the house. Read and noted a great deal.

September 23.—Wrought in the morning, but only at reading and proofs. That cursed battle of Jena is like to cost me more time than it did Bonaparte to gain it. I met Colonel Ferguson about one, to see his dogs run. It is a sport I have loved well, but now, I know not why, I find it little interesting. To be sure I used to gallop, and that I cannot now do. We had good sport, however, and killed five hares. I felt excited during the chase, but the feeling was but momentary. My mind was immediately turned to other remembrances, and to pondering upon the change which had taken place in my own feelings. The day was positively heavenly, and the wild hillside, with our little coursing party, was beautiful to look at. Yet I felt like a man come from the dead, looking with indifference on that which interested him while living. So it must be
"When once life's day is near the gloaming." [349]
[349]Burns's Epistle to J. Smith.
We dined at Huntly Burn. Kind and comfortable as usual.

September 24.—I made a rally to-day and wrote four pages, or nearly. Never stirred abroad the whole day, but was made happy after dinner by the return of Charles and Surtees full of their Irish jaunt, and happy as young men are with the change of scene. To-morrow I must go to Melville Castle. I wonder what I can do or say about these Universities. One thing occurs—the distribution of bursaries only ex meritis. That is, I would have the presentations continue in the present patrons, but exact that those presented should be qualified by success in their literary attainments and distinction acquired at school to hold these scholarships. This seems to be following out the idea of the founders, who, doubtless, intended the furthering of good literature. To give education to dull mediocrity is a flinging of the children's bread to dogs—it is sharpening a hatchet on a razor-strop, which renders the strop useless, and does no good to the hatchet. Well, something we will do.

September 25.—Morning spent in making up proofs and copy. Set out for Melville Castle with Jane, who goes on to her mother at Edinburgh.

Found Lord and Lady M. in great distress. Their son Robert is taken ill at a Russian town about 350 miles from Moscow—dangerously ill. The distance increases the extreme distress of the parents, who, however, bore it like themselves. I was glad to spend a day upon the old terms with such old friends, and believe my being with them, even in this moment of painful suspense, as it did not diminish the kindness of my reception, certainly rather seemed to divert them from the cruel subject.

Dr. Nicoll, Principal of St. Andrews, dined—a very gentlemanlike sensible man. We spoke of the visitation, of granting degrees, of public examinations, of abolishing the election of professors by the Senatus Academicus (a most pregnant source of jobs), and much beside—but all desultory—and Lord M. had either nothing particular to say to me, or was too much engrossed with his family distress to enter upon it. He proposes to be here in the end of October.

September 26.—Returned to Abbotsford after breakfast. Here is a cool thing of my friend J.W. C[roker]. The Duke of Clarence, dining at the Pavilion with the King, happened by choice or circumstance to sit lower than usual at the table, and being at that time on bad terms with the Board of Admiralty, took an opportunity to say, that were he king he would do all that away, and assume the office of Lord High Admiral. "Your R.H. may act with great prudence," said C[roker]. "The last monarch who did so was James II." Presently after H.M. asked what they were talking of. "It's only his R.H. of C," answered C[roker], "who is so condescending as to tell us what he will do when he is king."

A long letter from R.P. Gillies. I wonder how even he could ask me to announce myself as the author of Annotations on German Novels which he is to write.

September 27.—A day of honest labour—but having much to read, proofs to send off, etc., I was only able to execute my task by three o'clock P.M. Then I went to direct the cutting of wood along the road in front of the house. Dined at Chiefswood with Captain and Mrs. Hamilton, Lady Lucy Whitmore, their guest, and neighbours from Gattonside and Huntly Burn.

September 28.—Another hard brush, and finished four pages by twelve o'clock, then drove out to Cowdenknowes, for a morning visit. The house is ancient and curious, though modernised by vile improvements of a modern roof and windows. The inhabited part has over the principal door the letters S.I.H.V.I.H. The first three indicate probably Sir John Hume, but what are we to make of the rest? I will look at them more heedfully one day. There is a large room said to have been built for the reception of Queen Mary; if so, it has been much modernised. The date on the door is 1576, which would [not] bear out the tradition. The last two letters probably signify Lady Hume's name, but what are we to make of the V? Dr. Hume thinks it means Uxor, but why should that word be in Latin and the rest in Scotch?

Returned to dinner, corrected proofs, and hope still to finish another leaf, being in light working humour. Finished the same accordingly.

[Abbotsford,] September 29.—A sort of zeal of working has seized me, which I must avail myself of. No dejection of mind, and no tremor of nerves, for which God be humbly thanked. My spirits are neither low nor high—grave, I think, and quiet—a complete twilight of the mind.

Good news of John Lockhart from Lady Montagu, who most kindly wrote on that interesting topic.

I wrote five pages, nearly a double task, yet wandered for three hours, axe in hand, superintending the thinning of the home planting. That does good too. I feel it give steadiness to my mind. Women, it is said, go mad much seldomer than men. I fancy, if this be true, it is in some degree owing to the little manual works in which they are constantly employed, which regulate in some degree the current of ideas, as the pendulum regulates the motion of the timepiece. I do not know if this is sense or nonsense, but I am sensible that if I were in solitary confinement, without either the power of taking exercise or employing myself in study, six months would make me a madman or an idiot.

September 30.—Wrote four pages. Honest James Ballantyne came about five. I had been cutting wood for two hours. He brought his child, a remarkably fine boy, well-bred, quiet, and amiable. James and I had a good comfortable chat, the boys being at Gattonside House. I am glad to see him bear up against misfortune like a man. "Bread we shall eat, or white or brown," that's the moral of it, Master Muggins.

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