The Journal of Sir Walter Scott from the Original Manuscript at Abbotsford May, 1831
by Sir Walter Scott
April 30 and May 1.—To meet Sandy Pringle to settle the day of
election on Monday. Go on with Count Robert half-a-dozen leaves per
day. I am not much pleased with my handiwork. The Chancery money seems
like to be paid. This will relieve me of poor Charles, who is at present
my chief burthen. The task of pumping my brains becomes inevitably
harder when "both chain-pumps are choked below;"  and though this
may not be the case literally, yet the apprehension is wellnigh as bad.
May 2.—The day passed as usual in dictating (too little) and riding a
good deal. I must get finished with Count Robert, who is progressing,
as the Transatlantics say, at a very slow pace indeed. By the bye, I
have a letter from Nathan T. Rossiter, Williamstown, New York City,
offering me a collection of poems by Byron, which are said to have been
found in Italy some years since by a friend of Mr. Rossiter. I don't see
I can at all be entitled to these, so shall write to decline them. If
Mr. Rossiter chooses to publish them in Italy or America he may, but,
published here, they must be the property of Lord Byron's executors.
May 3.—Sophia arrives—with all the children looking well and
beautiful, except poor Johnnie, who looks very pale. But it is no
wonder, poor thing!
May 4.—I have a letter from Lockhart, promising to be down by next
Wednesday, that is, to-day. I will consult him about Byron's Exec., and
as to these poems said to be his Lordship's. They are very probably
first copies thrown aside, or may not be genuine at all. I will be glad
to see Lockhart. My pronunciation is a good deal improved. My time
glides away ill employed, but I am afraid of the palsy. I should not
like to be pinned to my chair. But I believe even that kind of life is
more endurable than we could suppose. Your wishes are limited to your
little circle—yet the idea is terrible to a man who has been active. My
own circle in bodily matters is daily narrowing; not so in intellectual
matters, but I am perhaps a bad judge. The plough is coming to the end
of the furrow, so it is likely I shall not reach the common goal of
mortal life by a few years. I am now in my sixtieth year only, and
"Three score and ten years do sum up." 
 Scotch Metrical Version of the 90th Psalm.
May 5.—A fleece of letters, which must be answered, I suppose—all
from persons, my zealous admirers, of course, and expecting a degree of
generosity, which will put to rights all their maladies, physical and
mental; and expecting that I can put to rights whatever losses have been
their lot, raise them to a desirable rank, and [stand] their protector
and patron. I must, they take it for granted, be astonished at having an
address from a stranger; on the contrary, I would be astonished if any
of these extravagant epistles were from any one who had the least title
to enter into correspondence with me. I have all the plague of answering
these teasing people.
Mr. Burn, the architect, came in, struck by the appearance of my house
from the road. He approved my architecture greatly. He tells me the
edifice for Jeanie Deans—that is, her prototype—is nigh finished, so I
must get the inscription ready.  Mr. Burn came to meet with Pringle
of Haining; but, alas! it is two nights since this poor young man,
driving in from his own lake, where he had been fishing, an ill-broken
horse ran away with him, and, at his own stable-door, overturned the
vehicle and fractured poor Pringle's skull; he died yesterday morning. A
sad business; so young a man, the proprietor of a good estate, and a
well-disposed youth. His politics were, I think, mistaken, being the
reverse of his father's; but that is nothing at such a time. Burn went
on to Richardson's place of Kirklands, where he is to meet the
proprietor, whom I too would wish to see, but I can hardly make it out.
Here is a world of arrangements. I think we will soon hit upon
something. My son Walter takes leave of me to-day to return to
Sheffield. At his entreaty I have agreed to put in a seton, which they
seem all to recommend. My own opinion is, this addition to my tortures
will do me no good; but I cannot hold out against my son. So, when the
present blister is well over, let them try their seton as they call it.
 On the 18th October Sir Walter sent Mr. Burn the
following inscription for the monument he had commissioned, and which
now stands in the churchyard of Irongray:—
"This stone was erected by the Author of Waverley to the memory of Helen
Walker, who died in the year of God 1791. This humble individual
practised in real life the virtues with which fiction has invested the
imaginary character of Jeanie Deans; refusing the slightest departure
from veracity, even to save the life of a sister, she nevertheless
showed her kindness and fortitude, in rescuing her from the severity of
the law, at the expense of personal exertions, which the time rendered
as difficult as the motive was laudable. Respect the grave of Poverty
when combined with the love of Truth and dear affection."
It is well known that on the publication of Old Mortality many people
were offended by what was considered a caricature of the Covenanters,
and that Dr. M'Crie, the biographer of Knox, wrote a series of papers in
the Edinburgh Christian Instructor, which Scott affected to despise,
and said he would not read. He not only was obliged to read the
articles, but found it necessary to inspire or write an elaborate
defence of the truth of his own picture of the Covenanters in the Number
for January 1817 of the Quarterly Review.
In June 1818, however, he made ample amends, and won the hearts of all
classes of his countrymen by his beautiful pictures of national
character in the Heart of Midlothian.
It is worth noticing also that ten years later, viz., in December 1828,
his friend Richardson having written that in the Tales of a
Grandfather "You have paid a debt which you owed to the manes of the
Covenanters for the flattering picture which you drew of Claverhouse in
Old Mortality. His character is inconceivable to me: the atrocity of
his murder of those peasants, as undauntedly devoted to their own good
cause as himself to his, his personal (almost hangman-like)
superintendence of their executions, are wholly irreconcilable with a
chivalrous spirit, which, however scornful of the lowly, could never, in
my mind, be cruel," Scott, in reply, gave his matured opinion in the
"As to Covenanters and Malignants, they were both a set of cruel and
bloody bigots, and had, notwithstanding, those virtues with which
bigotry is sometimes allied. Their characters were of a kind much more
picturesque than beautiful; neither had the least idea either of
toleration or humanity, so that it happens that, so far as they can be
distinguished from each other, one is tempted to hate most the party
which chances to be uppermost for the time."
May 6 and 7.—Here is a precious job. I have a formal remonstrance
from these critical persons, Ballantyne and Cadell, against the last
volume of Count Robert, which is within a sheet of being finished. I
suspect their opinion will be found to coincide with that of the public;
at least it is not very different from my own. The blow is a stunning
one I suppose, for I scarcely feel it. It is singular, but it comes with
as little surprise as if I had a remedy ready. Yet God knows, I am at
sea in the dark, and the vessel leaky, I think, into the bargain. I
cannot conceive that I should have tied a knot with my tongue which my
teeth cannot untie. We will see. I am determined to write a political
pamphlet coûte que coûte; ay,—should it cost me my life.
I will right and left at these unlucky proof-sheets, and alter at least
what I cannot mend.
May 8.—I have suffered terribly, that is the truth, rather in body
than in mind, and I often wish I could lie down and sleep without
waking. But I will fight it out if I can. It would argue too great an
attachment of consequence to my literary labours to sink under. Did I
know how to begin, I would begin this very day, although I knew I should
sink at the end. After all, this is but fear and faintness of heart,
though of another kind from that which trembleth at a loaded pistol. My
bodily strength is terribly gone; perhaps my mental too?
May 9.—The weather uncommonly beautiful and I am very eager to get
on thinning woods while the peeling season lasts. We made about £200 off
wood last season, and this is a sum worth looking at.
May 10.—Some repairs on the mill-dam still keep the people employed,
and we cannot get to the thinning. Yet I have been urging them for a
month. It's a great fault of Scottish servants that they cannot be
taught to time their turns.
May 11.—By old practice I should be going into town to-day, the Court
sitting to-morrow. Am I happier that I am free from this charge? Perhaps
I am; that is certain, time begins to make my literary labour more
precious than usual. Very weak, scarce able to crawl about without the
pony—lifted on and off—and unable to walk half a mile save with great
May 12.—Resolved to lay by Robert of Paris, and take it up when I
can work. Thinking on it really makes my head swim, and that is not
safe. Miss Ferrier comes out to us. This gifted personage, besides
having great talents, has conversation the least exigeante of any
author, female at least, whom I have ever seen among the long list I
have encountered,—simple, full of humour, and exceedingly ready at
repartee; and all this without the least affectation of the blue
 See Miss Ferrier's account of this visit prefixed to Mr.
Bentley's choice edition of her works, 6 vols. cr. 8vo, London, 1881.
May 13.—Mr., or more properly Dr., Macintosh Mackay comes out to see
me, a simple learned man, and a Highlander who weighs his own nation
justly—a modest and estimable person.
I was beat up at midnight to sign a warrant against some delinquents. I
afterwards heard that the officers were pursued by a mob from
Galashiels, with purpose of deforcing them as far as St. Boswell's
Green, but the men were lodged in Jedburgh Castle.
Reports of mobs at all the elections, which, I fear, will prove too
true. They have much to answer for who in gaiety of heart have brought a
peaceful and virtuous population to such a pass.
May 14.—Rode with Lockhart and Mr. Mackay through the plantations,
and spent a pleasanter day than of late months. Story of a haunted glen
in Laggan:—A chieftain's daughter or cousin loved a man of low degree.
Her kindred discovered the intrigue and punished the lover's presumption
by binding the unhappy man, and laying him naked in one of the large
ants' nests common in a Highland forest. He died in agony of course, and
his mistress became distracted, roamed wildly in the glen till she died,
and her phantom, finding no repose, haunted it after her death to such a
degree that the people shunned the road by day as well as night. Mrs.
Grant of Laggan tells the story, with the addition, that her husband,
then minister of Laggan, fixed a religious meeting in the place, and, by
the exercise of public worship there, overcame the popular terror of the
Red Woman. Dr. Mackay seems to think that she was rather banished by a
branch of the Parliamentary road running up the glen than by the prayers
of his predecessor. Dr. Mackay, it being Sunday, favoured us with an
excellent discourse on the Socinian controversy, which I wish my friend
Mr. Laidlaw had heard.
May 15.—Dr. M. left us early this morning; and I rode and studied as
usual, working at the Tales of My Grandfather. Our good and learned
Doctor wishes to go down the Tweed to Berwick. It is a laudable
curiosity, and I hope will be agreeably satisfied.
May 16 and 17.—I wrote and rode as usual, and had the pleasure of
Miss Ferrier's company in my family hours, which was a great
satisfaction; she has certainly less affectation than any female I have
known that has stood so high—Joanna Baillie hardly excepted. By the
way, she [Mrs. Baillie] has entered on the Socinian controversy, for
which I am very sorry; she has published a number of texts on which she
conceives the controversy to rest, but it escapes her that she can only
quote them through a translation. I am sorry this gifted woman is hardly
doing herself justice, and doing what is not required at her hands. Mr.
Laidlaw of course thinks it the finest thing in the world. 
 Mr. Carruthers remarks in his Abbotsford
Notanda:—"Joanna Baillie published a thin volume of selections from
the New Testament 'regarding the nature and dignity of Jesus Christ.'
The tendency of the work was Socinian, or at least Arian, and Scott was
indignant that his friend should have meddled with such a subject. 'What
had she to do with questions of that sort?' He refused to add the book
to his library and gave it to Laidlaw."—p. 179.
May 18.—Went to Jedburgh to the election, greatly against the wishes
of my daughters. The mob were exceedingly vociferous and brutish, as
they usually are now-a-days. But the Sheriff had two troops of dragoons
at Ancrum Bridge, and all went off quietly. The populace gathered in
formidable numbers—a thousand from Hawick alone; they were sad
blackguards, and the day passed with much clamour and no mischief. Henry
Scott was re-elected—for the last time, I suppose. Troja fuit.
I left the burgh in the midst of abuse and the gentle hint of "Burke Sir
Walter." Much obliged to the brave lads of Jeddart. Upwards of forty
freeholders voted for Henry Scott, and only fourteen for the puppy that
opposed him. Even of this party he gained far the greater number by the
very awkward coalition with Sir William Scott of Ancrum. I came home at
seven at night.
May 20.—This is the Selkirk election, which I supposed would be as
tumultuous as the Jedburgh one, but the soutars of Selkirk had got a new
light, and saw in the proposed Reform Bill nothing but a mode of
disfranchising their ancient burgh. Although the crowd was great, yet
there was a sufficient body of special constables, hearty in their
useful office, and the election passed as quietly as I ever witnessed
one. I came home before dinner, very quiet. I am afraid there is
something serious in Galashiels; Jeffrey is fairly funked about it, and
has written letters to the authorities of Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire
to caution us against making the precognitions public, which looks ill.
Yet I think he would have made arrests when the soldiers were in the
country. The time at which I settled at Abbotsford, Whitsunday 1811, I
broke up a conspiracy of the weavers. It will look like sympathising
with any renewal if another takes place just now. Incendiary letters
have been sent, and the householders are in a general state of alarm.
The men at Jedburgh Castle are said to be disposed to make a clean
breast; if so, we shall soon know more of the matter. Lord William
Graham has been nearly murdered at Dumbarton. Why should he not have
brought down 50 or 100 lads with the kilts, each with a good kent 
in his hand fit to call the soul out of the body of these weavers? They
would have kept order, I warrant you.
 A long staff.
May 21.—Little more than my usual work and my usual exercise. I rode
out through the plantations and saw the woodmen getting down what was to
be felled. It seems there will be as much for sale as last year of bark:
I think about £40 worth. A very nice additional pond to the sawmill has
been executed. As for my Tales, they go on well, and are amusing to
myself at least. The History of France is very entertaining.
May 22.—I have a letter from my friend John Thomson of Duddingston. I
had transmitted him an order for the Duke of Buccleuch for his best
picture, at his best price, leaving the choice of the subject and
everything else to himself. He expresses the wish to do, at an ordinary
price, a picture of common size. The declining to put himself forward
will, I fear, be thought like shrinking from his own reputation, which
nobody has less need to do. The Duke may wish a large picture for a
large price for furnishing a large apartment, and the artist should not
shrink from it. I have written him my opinion. The feeling is no doubt
an amiable, though a false one. He is modest in proportion to his
talents. But what brother of the finer arts ever approached [excellence]
so as to please himself?
May 23, 24, and 25.—Worked and exercised regularly. I do not feel
that I care twopence about the change of diet as to taste, but I feel my
strength much decayed. On horseback my spine feels remarkably sore, and
I am tired with a few miles' ride. We expect Walter coming down for the