The Journal of Sir Walter Scott from the Original Manuscript at Abbotsford December, 1830
by Sir Walter Scott
December 20.—From September 5 to December 20 is a long gap, and I
have seen plenty of things worth recollecting, had I marked them down
when they were gliding past. But the time has gone by. When I feel
capable of taking it up, I will.
Little self will jostle out everything else, and my affairs, which in
some respects are excellent, in others, like the way of the world, are
far from being pleasant.
Of good I have the pleasure of saying I have my children well, and in
good health. The dividend of 3s. in the pound has been made to the
creditors, and the creditors have testified their sense of my labours by
surrendering my books, furniture, plate, and curiosities. I see some
friends of mine think this is not handsomely done. In my opinion it is
extremely so. There are few things so [easy] as to criticise the good
things one does, and to show that we ourselves would have done [more]
handsomely. But those who know the world and their own nature are always
better pleased with one kind action carried through and executed, than
with twenty that only glide through their minds, while perhaps they
tickle the imagination of the benevolent Barmecide who supposes both the
entertainment and the eater. These articles do not amount to less than
£10,000 at least, and, without dispensing with them entirely, might
furnish me with a fund for my younger children.  Now, suppose these
creditors had not seriously carried their purpose into execution, the
transaction might have been afterwards challenged, and the ease of mind
which it produced to me must have been uncertain in comparison. Well!
one-half of these claims are cleared off, furnished in a great measure
by one-half issue of the present edition of the Waverley Novels, which
had reached the 20th of the series.
 See Life, vol. x. pp. 10-25.
It cannot be expected that twenty more will run off so fast; the later
volumes are less favourites, and are really less interesting. Yet when I
read them over again since their composition, I own I found them
considerably better than I expected, and I think, if other circumstances
do not crush them and blight their popularity, they will make their way.
Mr. Cadell is still desirous to acquire one-half of the property of this
part of the work, which is chiefly my own. He proposes assembling all my
detached works of fiction and articles in Annuals, so that the whole,
supposing I write, as is proposed, six new volumes, will run the
collection to fifty, when it is time to close it. Between cash advanced
on this property, and a profit on the sale of the second part, Mr.
Cadell thinks, having taken a year or two years' time, to gather a
little wind into the bag, I will be able to pay, on my part, a further
sum of £30,000, or the moiety remaining of the whole debts, amounting
now to less than £60,000.
Should this happy period arrive in or about the year 1832 the heavy work
will be wellnigh finished. Tor, although £30,000 will still remain, yet
there is £20,000 actually secured upon my life, and the remaining
£10,000 is set against the sale of Waverley, which shall have been
issued; besides which there is the whole Poetry, Bonaparte, and
several other articles, equally [available] in a short time to pay up
the balance, and afford a very large reversion.
This view cannot be absolutely certain, but it is highly probable, and
is calculated in the manner in which Building Schemes [are dealt with],
and is not merely visionary. The year 1833 may probably see me again in
possession of my estate.
A circumstance of great consequence to my habits and comforts was my
being released from the Court of Session on November 1830 (18th day). My
salary, which was £1300, was reduced to £840. My friends, just then
leaving office, were desirous to patch up the deficiency with a pension.
I do not see well how they could do this without being exposed to
obloquy, which they shall not be on my account. Besides, though £500 a
year is a round sum, yet I would rather be independent than I would have
My kind friend the Lord Chief Commissioner offered to interfere to have
me named a Privy Councillor; but besides that when one is poor he ought
to avoid taking rank, I would be much happier if I thought any act of
kindness was done to help forward Charles; and, having said so much, I
made my bow, and declared my purpose of remaining satisfied with the
article of my knighthood. And here I am, for the rest of my life I
suppose, with a competent income, which I can [increase].
All this is rather pleasing, nor have I the least doubt that I could
make myself easy by literary labour. But much of it looks like winding
up my bottom for the rest of my life. But there is a worse symptom of
settling accounts, of which I have felt some signs.
Last spring, Miss Young, the daughter of Dr. Young, had occasion to call
on me on some business, in which I had hopes of serving her. As I
endeavoured to explain to her what I had to say, I had the horror to
find I could not make myself understood. I stammered, stuttered, said
one word in place of another—did all but speak; Miss Young went away
frightened enough, poor thing; and Anne and Violet Lockhart were much
alarmed. I was bled with cupping-glasses, took medicine, and lived on
panada; but in two or three days I was well again. The physicians
thought, or said at least, that the evil was from the stomach. It is
very certain that I have seemed to speak with an impediment, and I was,
or it might be fancied myself, troubled with a mispronouncing and
hesitation. I felt this particularly at the Election, and sometimes in
society. This went on till last November, when Lord ——— came out to
make me a visit. I had for a long time taken only one tumbler of whisky
and water without the slightest reinforcement. This night I took a very
little drop, not so much as a bumper glass, of whisky altogether. It
made no difference on my head that I could discover, but when I went to
the dressing-room I sank stupefied on the floor. I lay a minute or
two—was not found, luckily, gathered myself up, and got to my bed. I
was alarmed at this second warning, consulted Abercrombie and Ross, and
got a few restrictive orders as to diet. I am forced to attend to them;
for, as Mrs. Cole says, "Lack-a-day! a thimbleful oversets me."
To add to these feelings I have the constant increase of my lameness:
the thigh-joint, knee-joint, and ankle-joint.
December 21.—I walk with great pain in the whole limb, and am at
every minute, during an hour's walk, reminded of my mortality. I should
not care for all this, if I was sure of dying handsomely. Cadell's
calculations would be sufficiently firm though the author of Waverly
had pulled on his last nightcap. Nay, they might be even more
trustworthy, if Remains, and Memoirs, and such like, were to give a zest
to the posthumous. But the fear is the blow be not sufficient to destroy
life, and that I should linger on an idiot and a show. ....
"From Marlborough's eyes the streams of dotage flow,
And Swift expires a driveller and a show."
—Johnson's Vanity of Human Wishes.
We parted on good terms and hopes.  But, fall back, fall edge,
nothing shall induce me to publish what I do not think advantageous to
the community, or suppress what is.
 Mr. Cadell and Mr. Ballantyne had arrived at Abbotsford
on the 18th, bringing with them the good news from Edinburgh of the
payment of the second dividend, and of the handsome conduct of the
creditors. There had been a painful discussion between them and Sir
Walter during the early part of the winter on Count Robert of Paris,
particulars of which are given in the Life (vol. x. pp. 6, 10-17,
21-23), but they found their host much better than they had ventured to
anticipate, and he made the gift of his library the chief subject of
conversation during the evening. Next morning Mr. Ballantyne was asked
to read aloud a political essay on Reform—intended to be a Fourth
Epistle of Malachi. After careful consideration, the critical arbiters
concurred in condemning the production, but suggested a compromise. His
friends left him on the 21st, and the essay, though put in type, was
never published. Proof and MS. were finally consigned to the
flames!—Life, vol. x. pp. 21-25.
December 23.—To add for this day to the evil thereof, I am obliged to
hold a Black-fishing Court at Selkirk. This is always a very unpopular
matter in one of our counties, as the salmon never do get up to the
heads of the waters in wholesome season, and are there in numbers in
spawning-time. So that for several years during the late period, the
gentry, finding no advantage from preserving the spawning fish,
neglected the matter altogether in a kind of dudgeon, and the peasantry
laid them waste at their will. As the property is very valuable, the
proprietors down the country agreed to afford some additional passage
for fish when the river is open, providing they will protect the
spawning fish during close-time. A new Act has been passed, with heavy
penalties and summary powers of recovery. Some persons are cited under
it to-day; and a peculiar licence of poaching having distinguished the
district of late years, we shall be likely to have some disturbance.
They have been holding a meeting for reform in Selkirk, and it will be
difficult to teach them that this consists in anything else save the
privilege of obeying only such laws as please them. We shall see, but I
would have counselled the matter to have been delayed for a little
season. I shall do my duty, however. Do what is right, come what will.
Six black-fishers were tried, four were condemned. All went very quietly
till the conclusion, when one of the criminals attempted to break out. I
stopped him for the time with my own hand.  But after removing him
from the Court-house to the jail he broke from the officers, who are
poor feeble old men, the very caricature of peace officers.
 An account of this incident is given by an eye-witness,
Mr. Peter Rodger, Procurator-Fiscal, who says: "The prisoner, thinking
it a good chance of escaping, made a movement in direction of the door.
This Sir Walter detected in time to descend from the Bench and place
himself in the desperate man's path. 'Never!' said he; 'if you do, it
will be over the body of an old man.' Whereupon the other officials of
the Court came to the Sheriff's assistance and the prisoner was
secured."—Craig-Brown's Selkirkshire, vol. ii. p. 141.
December 24.—This morning my old acquaintance and good friend Miss
Bell Ferguson died after a short illness: an old friend, and a woman of
the most excellent condition. The last two or almost three years were
A bitter cold day. Anne drove me over to Huntly Burn to see the family.
I found Colonel Ferguson and Captain John, R.N., in deep affliction,
expecting Sir Adam hourly. Anne sets off to Mertoun, and I remain alone.
I wrote to Walter about the project of making my succession in movables.
J.B. sent me praises of the work I am busy with.  But I suspect a
little supercherie, though he protests not. He is going to the country
without sending me the political article. But he shall either set up or
return it, as I won't be tutored by any one in what I do or forbear.
 Count Robert of Paris.
December 25.—I have sketched a political article on a union of Tories
and an Income Tax. But I will not show my teeth if I find I cannot bite.
Arrived at Mertoun, and found with the family Sir John Pringle, Major
Pringle, and Charles Baillie. Very pleasant music by the Miss Pringles.
December 26, [Mertoun].—Prayers after breakfast, being Sunday.
Afterwards I shut myself up in Mr. Scott's room.
He has lately become purchaser of his grandfather's valuable library,
which was collected by Pope's Lord Marchmont. Part of it is a very
valuable collection of tracts during the great Civil War. I spent
several hours in turning them over, but I could not look them through
with any accuracy. I passed my time very pleasantly, and made some
extracts, however, and will resume my research another day.
Major Pringle repeated some pretty verses of his own composing.
I had never a more decided inclination to go loose, yet I know I had
better keep quiet.
December 27, [Abbotsford].—Commences snow, and extremely bitter
cold. When I returned from Mertoun, half-frozen, I took up the Magnum,
and began to notify the romance called Woodstock, in which I got some
assistance from Harden's ancient tracts. I ought rather to get on with
Robert of Paris; but I have had all my life a longing to do something
else when I am called to particular labour,—a vile contradictory humour
which I cannot get rid of. Well, I can work at something, so at the
Magnum work I. The day was indeed broken, great part having been
employed in the return from Mertoun.
December 28.—Drove down to Huntly Burn. Sir Adam very melancholy, the
death of his sister having come with a particular and shocking surprise
upon him. After half-an-hour's visit I returned and resumed the
December 29.—Attended poor Miss Bell Ferguson's funeral. I sat by the
Rev. Mr. Thomson. Though ten years younger than me, I found the barrier
between him and me much broken down. We remember it though with more or
less accuracy. We took the same old persons for subjects of
correspondence of feeling and sentiment. The difference of ten years is
little after sixty has passed. In a cold day I saw poor Bell laid in her
cold bed. Life never parted with a less effort. Letter from Cadell
offering to advance on second series French Tales. This will come in
good time, and keep me easy. He proposes views for the Magnum. I fear
politics may disappoint them.
December 30.—Meeting at Selkirk to-day about the new road to
Galashiels. It was the largest meeting I ever saw in Selkirkshire. We
gain the victory by no less than 14 to 4. I was named one of the
committee to carry the matter on, so in gaining my victory I think I
have caught a Tartar, for I have taken on trouble enough. Some
company,—Lord Napier, Scotts of Harden, Johnstone of Alva, Major
Pringle. In the evening had some private conversation with H.F.S. and
R.J., and think there is life in a mussel. More of this hereafter.
December 31.—My two young friends left this morning, but not without
renewing our conversation of last night. We carried on the little
amusements of the day, and spent our Hogmanay pleasantly enough, in
spite of very bad auguries.