- The Journal of Sir Walter Scott from the Original Manuscript at Abbotsford (May, 1827) by Sir Walter Scott
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The Journal of Sir Walter Scott from the Original Manuscript at Abbotsford
May, 1827

by Sir Walter Scott

May 1.—Brought Andrew Shortreed to copy some things I want. Maxpopple came with us as far as Lessudden, and we stopped and made a pilgrimage to Fair Maiden Lilliard's Stone, which has been restored lately, to the credit of Mr. Walker of Muirhouselaw. [511] Set my young clerk to work when we came home, and did some laborious business. A letter from Sir Thomas Lawrence informed me I am chosen Professor of Antiquities to the Royal Academy—a beautiful professor to be sure!
[511]The rude inscription on the stone placed over the grave of this Border amazon, slain at Ancrum Moor, A.D. 1545, ran thus—
"Fair maiden Lilliard lies under this stane,
Little was her stature but great was her fame,
Upon the English louns she laid many thumps,
And when her legs were cuttet off she fought upon her stumps."
See New Stat. Account Scot., "Roxburgh," p. 244.
May 2.—Did nothing but proofs this morning. At ten went to Selkirk to arrange about the new measures, which, like all new things, will throw us into confusion for a little at least. The weather was so exquisitely good that I walked after tea to half-past eight, and enjoyed a sort of half-lazy, half-sulky humour—like Caliban's, "There's wood enough within." [512] Well, I may be the bear, but I must mount the ragged staff all the same. I set my myself to labour for R.P.G. [513] The Germanic Horrors are my theme, and I think something may be yet made of them.
[512]Tempest, Act I. Sc. 2.

[513]An article for the Foreign Quarterly Review, regarding which Mr. Lockhart says:—"It had then been newly started under the Editorship of Mr. R.P. Gillies. This article, it is proper to observe, was a benefaction to Mr. Gillies, whose pecuniary affairs rendered such assistance very desirable. Scott's generosity in this matter—for it was exactly giving a poor brother author £100 at the expense of considerable time and drudgery to himself—I think it necessary to mention; the date of the exertion requires it of me."—Life, vol. ix. pp. 72-3; see Misc. Prose Works, vol. xviii. p. 270.
May 3.—An early visit from Mr. Thomas Stewart, nephew of Duchess of Wellington, with a letter from his aunt. He seems a well-behaved and pleasant young man. I walked him through the Glen. Colonel Ferguson came to help us out at dinner, and then we had our wine and wassail.

May 4.—Corrected proofs in the morning. Mr. Stewart still here, which prevented work; however, I am far beforehand with everything. We walked a good deal; asked Mr. Alexander Pringle, Whytbank, to dinner. This is rather losing time, though.

May 5.—Worked away upon those wild affairs of Hoffmann for Gillies. I think I have forgot my German very much, and then the stream of criticism does not come freely at all: I cannot tell why. I gave it up in despair at half-past one, and walked out.

Had a letter from R.P.G. He seems in spirits about his work. I wish it may answer. Under good encouragement it certainly might. But—

Maxpopple came to dinner, and Mr. Laidlaw after dinner, so that broke up a day, which I can ill spare. Mr. Stewart left us this day.

May 6.—Wrought again at Hoffmann—unfructuously I fear—unwillingly I am certain; but how else can I do a little good in my generation? I will try a walk. I would fain catch myself in good-humour with my task, but that will not be easy.

May 7.—Finished Hoffmann, talis qualis. I don't like it; but then I have been often displeased with things that have proved successful. Our own labours become disgusting in our eyes, from the ideas having been turned over and over in our own minds. To others, to whom they are presented for the first time, they have a show of novelty. God grant it may prove so. I would help the poor fellow if I could, for I am poor myself.

May 8.—Corrected Hoffmann with a view to send him off, which, however, I could not accomplish. I finished a criticism on Defoe's Writings. [514] His great forte is his power of vraisemblance. This I have instanced in the story of Mrs. Veal's Ghost. Ettrick Shepherd arrived.
[514]See note 1, p. 387.
May 9.—This day we went to dinner at Mr. Scrope's, at the Pavilion, where were the Haigs of Bemerside, Isaac Haig, Mr. and Mrs. Bainbridge, etc. Warm dispute whether par are or are not salmon trout. "Fleas are not lobsters, d—n their souls."

Mr. Scrope has made a painting of Tivoli, which, when mellowed a little by time, will be a fine one. Letters from Lockhart, with news concerning the beautiful mess they are making in London. Henry Scott will be threatened in Roxburghshire. This would be bad policy, as it would drive the young Duke to take up his ground, which, unless pressed, he may be in no hurry to do. Personally, I do not like to be driven to a point, as I think Canning may do much for the country, provided he does not stand committed to his new Whig counsellors. But if the push does come, I will not quit my old friends—that I am freely resolved, and dissolutely, as Slender says. [515]
[515]Merry Wives, Act I. Sc. 1.
May 10.—We went to breakfast at Huntly Burn, and I wandered all the morning in the woods to avoid an English party who came to see the house. When I came home I found my cousin Col. Russell, and his sister, so I had no work to-day but my labour at proofs in the morning. To-day I dismiss my aide-de-camp, Shortreed—a fine lad. The Boar of the Forest left us after breakfast. Had a present of a medal forming one of a series from Chantrey's busts. But this is not for nothing: the donor wants a motto for the reverse of the King's medal. I am a bad hand to apply to.

May 11.—Hogg called this morning to converse about trying to get him on the pecuniary list of the Royal Literary Society. Certainly he deserves it, if genius and necessity could do so. But I do not belong to the society, nor do I propose to enter it as a coadjutor. I don't like your royal academies of this kind; they almost always fall into jobs, and the members are seldom those who do credit to the literature of a country. It affected, too, to comprehend those men of letters who are specially attached to the Crown, and though I love and honour my King as much as any of them can, yet I hold it best, in this free country, to preserve the exterior of independence, that my loyalty may be the more impressive, and tell more effectually. Yet I wish sincerely to help poor Hogg, and have written to Lockhart about it. It may be my own desolate feelings—it may be the apprehension of evil from this political hocus-pocus, but I have seldom felt more moody and uncomfortable than while writing these lines. I have walked, too, but without effect. W. Laidlaw, whose very ingenious mind is delighted with all novelties, talked nonsense about the new government, in which men are to resign principle, I fear, on both sides.

May 12.—Wrote Lockhart on what I think the upright and honest principle, and am resolved to vex myself no more about it. Walked with my cousin, Colonel Russell, for three hours in the woods, and enjoyed the sublime and delectable pleasure of being well,—and listened to on the subject of my favourite themes of laying out ground and plantation. Russel seems quite to follow such an excellent authority, and my spirits mounted while I found I was haranguing to a willing and patient pupil. To be sure, Ashestiel, planting the high knolls, and drawing woodland through the pasture, could be made one of the most beautiful forest things in the world. I have often dreamed of putting it in high order; and, judging from what I have been able to do here, I think I should have succeeded. At any rate, my blue devils are flown at the sense of retaining some sort of consequence. Lord, what fools we are!

May 13.—A most idle and dissipated day. I did not rise till half-past eight o'clock. Col. and Capt. Ferguson came to breakfast. I walked half-way home with them, then turned back and spent the day, which was delightful, wandering from place to place in the woods, sometimes reading the new and interesting volumes of Cyril Thornton, [516] sometimes chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy which strangely alternated in my mind, idly stirred by the succession of a thousand vague thoughts and fears, the gay thoughts strangely mingled with those of dismal melancholy; tears, which seemed ready to flow unbidden; smiles, which approached to those of insanity; all that wild variety of mood which solitude engenders. I scribbled some verses, or rather composed them in my memory. The contrast at leaving Abbotsford to former departures is of an agitating and violent description. Assorting papers and so forth. I never could help admiring the concatenation between Ahitophel's setting his house in order and hanging himself. The one seems to me to follow the other as a matter of course. I don't mind the trouble, though my head swims with it. I do not mind meeting accounts, which unpaid remind you of your distress, or paid serve to show you you have been throwing away money you would be glad to have back again. I do not mind the strange contradictory mode of papers hiding themselves that you wish to see, and others thrusting themselves into your hand to confuse and bewilder you. There is a clergyman's letter about the Scottish pronunciation, to which I had written an answer some weeks since (the person is an ass, by the by). But I had laid aside my answer, being unable to find the letter which bore his address; and, in the course of this day, both his letter with the address, and my answer which wanted the address, fell into my hands half-a-dozen times, but separately always. This was the positive malice of some hobgoblin, and I submit to it as such. But what frightens and disgusts me is those fearful letters from those who have been long dead, to those who linger on their wayfare through this valley of tears. These fine lines of Spencer came into my head—
"When midnight o'er the pathless skies." [517]
[516]The Youth and Manhood of Cyril Thornton, by Captain Thomas Hamilton, had just been published anonymously.

[517]Mr. Lockhart adds the following lines:—
"The shade of youthful hope is there,
That lingered long, and latest died;
Ambitions all dissolved to air,
With phantom honours by his side.

"What empty shadows glimmer nigh?
They once were friendship, truth, and love!
Oh, die to thought, to memory die,
Since lifeless to my heart ye prove."
(Poems by the Hon. W.R. Spencer, London, 1811, p. 68.) "The best writer of vers de société in our time, and one of the most charming of companions, was exactly Sir Walter's contemporary, and, like him, first attracted notice by a version of Bürger's Lenore. Like him, too, this remarkable man fell into pecuniary distress in the disastrous year 1825, and he was now (1826) an involuntary resident in Paris, where he died in October 1834, anno ætat. 65."—J.G.L.
Ay, and can I forget the author!—the frightful moral of his own vision. What is this world? A dream within a dream—as we grow older each step is an awakening. The youth awakes as he thinks from childhood—the full-grown man despises the pursuits of youth as visionary—the old man looks on manhood as a feverish dream. The Grave the last sleep?—no; it is the last and final awakening.

May 14.—To town per Blucher coach, well stowed and crushed, but saved cash, coming off for less than £2; posting costs nearly five, and you don't get on so fast by one-third. Arrived in my old lodgings here with a stouter heart than I expected. Dined with Mr. and Mrs. Skene, and met Lord Medwyn and lady.

May 15.—Parliament House a queer sight. Looked as if people were singing to each other the noble song of "The sky's falling—chickie diddle." Thinks I to myself, I'll keep a calm sough.
"Betwixt both sides I unconcerned stand by;
Hurt, can I laugh, and honest, need I cry?"
I wish the old Government had kept together, but their personal dislike to Canning seems to have rendered that impossible.

I dined at a great dinner given by Sir George Clerk to his electors, the freeholders of Midlothian; a great attendance of Whig and Tory, huzzaing each other's toasts. If is a good peacemaker, but quarter-day is a better. I have a guess the best gamecocks would call a truce if a handful or two of oats were scattered among them.

May 16.—Mr. John Gibson says the Trustees are to allow my expense in travelling—£300, with £50 taken in in Longman's bill. This will place me rectus in curia, and not much more, faith!

There is a fellow bawling out a ditty in the street, the burthen of which is
"There's nothing but poverty everywhere."
He shall not be a penny richer for telling me what I know but too well without him.

May 17.—Learned with great distress the death of poor Richard Lockhart, the youngest brother of my son-in-law. He had an exquisite talent for acquiring languages, and was under the patronage of my kinsman, George Swinton, who had taken him into his own family at Calcutta, and now he is drowned in a foolish bathing party.

May 18.—Heard from Abbotsford; all well. Wrought to-day but awkwardly. Tom Campbell called, warm from his Glasgow Rectorship; he is looking very well. He seemed surprised that I did not know anything about the contentions of Tories, Whigs, and Radicals, in the great commercial city. I have other eggs on the spit. He stayed but a few minutes. [518]
[518]The following note to Mr. and Mrs. Skene belongs to this day:—
My dear Friends,—I am just returned from Court dreeping like the Water Kelpy when he had finished the Laird of Morphey's Bridge, and am, like that ill-used drudge, disposed to sing— Sair back and sair banes. [D]
In fact I have the rheumatism in head and shoulders, and am obliged to deprive myself of the pleasure of waiting upon you to-day to dinner, to my great mortification.—Always yours, WALTER SCOTT.
Friday, 18th May, 1827.
Skene's Reminiscences.
Sair back and sair banes
Carrying the Lord of Morphey's stanes.
Border Minstrelsy, vol. iii. pp. 360, 365.
May 19.—Went out to-day to Sir John Dalrymple's, [519] at Oxenford, a pretty place; the lady a daughter of Lord Duncan. Will Clerk and Robert Graeme went with me. A good dinner and pleasant enough party; but ten miles going and ten miles coming make twenty, and that is something of a journey. Got a headache too by jolting about after dinner.
[519]Afterwards (in 1840) eighth Karl of Stair.
May 20.—Wrote a good deal at Appendix [to Bonaparte], or perhaps I should say tried to write. Got myself into a fever when I had finished four pages, and went out at eight o'clock at night to cool myself if possible. Walked with difficulty as far as Skene's, [520] and there sat and got out of my fidgety feeling. Learned that the Princes Street people intend to present me with the key of their gardens, which will be a great treat, as I am too tender-hoofed for the stones. We must now get to work in earnest.
[520]126 Princes Street.
May 21.—Accordingly this day I wrought tightly, and though not in my very best mood I got on in a very businesslike manner. Was at the Gas Council, where I found things getting poorly on. The Treasury have remitted us to the Exchequer. The Committee want me to make private interest with the L.C. Baron. That I won't do, but I will state their cause publicly any way they like.

May 22.—At Court—home by two, walking through the Princes Street Gardens for the first time. Called on Mrs. Jobson. Worked two hours. Must dress to dine at Mr. John Borthwick's, with the young folk, now Mr. and Mrs. Dempster. [521] Kindly and affectionately received by my good young friends, who seem to have succeeded to their parents' regard for me.
[521]George Dempster of Skibo had just married a daughter of the House of Arniston. This lady has had the singular gratification of listening to these pleasant impressions of a dinner party given in her honour sixty-two years ago, and which she never forgot, nor Sir Walter's talk as he sat next her at table, and with unfeigned kindness devoted himself to her entertainment.
May 23.—Got some books, etc., which I wanted to make up the Saint Helena affair. Set about making up the Appendix, but found I had mislaid a number of the said postliminary affair. Had Hogg's nephew here as a transcriber, a modest and well-behaved young man—clever, too, I think. [522] Being Teind Wednesday I was not obliged to go to the Court, and am now bang up, and shall soon finish Mr. Nappy. And how then? Ay, marry, sir, that's the question.
"Lord, what will all the people say,
Mr. Mayor, Mr. Mayor!"
[522]See Life, vol. ix. p. 114.
"The fires i' the lowest hell fold in the people!" [523] as Coriolanus says. I live not in their report, I hope.
[523]Coriolanus, Act III. Sc. 3.
May 24.—Mr. Gibson paid me £70 more of my London journey. A good thought came into my head: to write stories for little Johnnie Lockhart from the History of Scotland, like those taken from the History of England. I will not write mine quite so simply as Croker has done. I am persuaded both children and the lower class of readers hate books which are written down to their capacity, and love those that are more composed for their elders and betters. I will make, if possible, a book that a child will understand, yet a man will feel some temptation to peruse should he chance to take it up. It will require, however, a simplicity of style not quite my own. The grand and interesting consists in ideas, not in words. A clever thing of this kind will have a run—
"Little to say,
But wrought away,
And went out to dine with the Skenes to-day."
Rather too many dinner engagements on my list. Must be hard-hearted. I cannot say I like my solitary days the worst by any means. I dine, when I like, on soup or broth, and drink a glass of porter or ginger-beer; a single tumbler of whisky and water concludes the debauch. This agrees with me charmingly. At ten o'clock bread and cheese, a single draught of small beer, porter, or ginger-beer, and to bed.

May 26.—I went the same dull and weary round out to the Parliament House, which bothers one's brains for the day. Nevertheless, I get on. Pages vanish from under my hand, and find their way to J. Ballantyne, who is grinding away with his presses. I think I may say, now I begin to get rid of the dust raised about me by so many puzzling little facts, that it is plain sailing to the end.

Dined at Skene's with George Forbes and lady. But that was yesterday.

May 27.—I got ducked in coming home from the Court. Naboclish!—I thank thee, Pat, for teaching me the word. Made a hard day of it. Scarce stirred from one room to another, but at bed-time finished a handsome handful of copy. I have quoted Gourgaud's evidence; I suppose he will be in a rare passion, and may be addicted to vengeance, like a long-moustached son of a French bitch as he is. Naboclish! again for that.
"Frenchman, Devil, or Don,
Damn him, let him come on,
He shan't scare a son of the Island."[524]
[524]Sir Walter varies a verse of The tight little Island.—J.G.L.
May 28.—Another day of uninterrupted study; two such would finish the work with a murrain. I have several engagements next week; I wonder how I was such a fool as to take them. I think I shall be done, however, before Saturday. What shall I have to think of when I lie down at night and awake in the morning? What will be my plague and my pastime, my curse and my blessing, as ideas come and the pulse rises, or as they flag and something like a snow haze covers my whole imagination? I have my Highland Tales—and then—never mind, sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.

May 29.—Detained at the House till near three. Made a call on Mrs. Jobson and others; also went down to the printing-office. I hope James Ballantyne will do well. I think and believe he will. Wrought in the evening.

May 30.—Having but a trifle on the roll to-day, I set hard to work, and brought myself in for a holiday, or rather played truant. At two o'clock went to a Mr. Mackenzie in my old house at Castle Street, to have some touches given to Walker's print. [525] Afterwards, having young Hogg with me as an amanuensis, I took to the oar till near ten o'clock. [526]
[525]The engraving from Raeburn's picture.—See ante, p. 212.

[526]Mr. Robert Hogg relates that during these few days Sir W. and he laboured from six in the morning till the same hour in the evening, with the exception of the intervals allowed for breakfast and lunch, which were served in the room to save time. He noted a striking peculiarity in Scott's dictation, that with the greatest ease he was able to carry on two trains of thought at one time, "one of which was already arranged, and in the act of being spoken, while at the same time he was in advance considering what was afterwards to be said."—See his interesting letter to Mr. Lockhart, Life, vol. ix. pp. 115-117.
May 31.—Being a Court day I was engaged very late. Then I called at the printing-house, but got no exact calculation how we come on. Met Mr. Cadell, who bids, as the author's copy [money] 1s. profit on each book of Hugh Little-john. I thought this too little. My general calculation is on such profits, that, supposing the book to sell to the public for 7s. 6d., the price ought to go in three shares—one to the trade, one to the expense of print and paper, and one to the author and publisher between them, which of course would be 1s. 3d., not 1s. to the author. But in stating this rule I omitted to observe that books for young persons are half bound before they go out into the trade. This comes to about 9d. for two volumes. The allowance to the trade is also heavy, so that 1s. a book is very well on great numbers. There may besides be a third volume.

Dined at James Ballantyne's, and heard his brother Sandy sing and play on the violin, beautifully as usual. James himself sang the Reel of Tullochgorum, with hearty cheer and uplifted voice. When I came home I learned that we had beat the Coal Gas Company, which is a sort of triumph.

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