reading, told us youngsters with a grave face that
the great author Sir Walter Scott was dead. And I
think some lout of a boy down the bench with a big
shock of hair, and who was a better hand at marbles
than he ever was at books said, in a whisper that
two or three of us caught, "I wonder who under the
canopy he was ? "
I don't think that, for any of us, Scott was so large a
A SCOTCH MAGICIAN. 183
man, in that time, as Peter Parley, who, if I remember
rightly, was at about that date writing his little square
books of " Travels" in strange lands.
It was at a later day that we boys began to catch
the full flavor of Waverley, and the Heart of Mid-
Lothian, and of that glorious story of battles and single-
handed fights in which the gallant Saladin and the
ponderous Richard of the Lion Heart took part. We
may possibly have read at that tender age his "Tales
of a Grandfather " (which will make good reading for
young people now) ; and we may have heard our lady
kinsfolk talk admiringly of the Lady of the Lake,
and of Marmion ; but we did not measure fairly the
full depth of the school-master's grave manner, when he
told us, in 1832, that Walter Scott was dead.
For my part, when I did get into the full spirit of
Guy Mannering and of Ivanhoe, some years later, it
seemed to me a great pity that a man who could
make such books should die at all, and a great pity
that he should not go on writing them to the latest
generation of men. And I do not think that I had
wholly shaken off this feeling, when I wandered twelve
years later along the Tweed, looking sharply out in
the Scotch mist that drifted among the hollows of the
hills, for the gray ruin of Melrose Abbey.
I knew that this beautiful ruin was near to the old
homestead of Walter Scott, toward which I had set off
on a foot pilgrimage, a day before, from the old border-
town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. If you have read any
Scottish history, or if you have read Miss Porter's
great story (as we boys thought it) of "The Scottish
Chiefs," you will have heard of this old border-town.
184 ABOUT OLD STORY-TELLERS.
I had kept close along the banks of the river, seeing
men drawing nets for salmon, seeing charming fields
green with the richest June growth, seeing shepherds
at sheep-washing on Tweedside, seeing old Norham
Castle, and Coldstream Bridge, and the palace of the
Duke of Roxburgh. I had slept at Kelso, had
studied the great bit of ruin which is there, and had
caught glimpses of Teviotdale, and of the Eildon Hills ;
I had dined at a drover's inn of St. Boswell's ; I had
trudged out of my way for a good look at Smaillholme
Tower, and at the farmhouse of Sandy Knowe both
which you will find mention of, if you read (as you
should) Lockhart's Life of Scott. Dryburgh Abbey,
with its gloom, and rich tresses of ivy vines, where
the great writer lies buried, came later in the day ;
and at last, in the gloaming (which is the pretty Scotch
word for twilight), a stout oarsman ferried me across a
stream, and I toiled foot-sore into the little town of Mel-
rose. There is not much to be seen there but the
Abbey in its ghostly ruin. I slept at the George Inn,
dreaming as I dare say you would have done of
Ivanhoe, Rebecca, and border wars and Old Mortality.
Next morning, after a breakfast upon trout which had
been taken from some near stream (was it the Yarrow ?)
I strolled two miles or so down the road, and by a little
green foot-gate entered upon the grounds of Abbots-
ford which was the home that Walter Scott created,
and the home where he died.
The forest trees not over-high at that time under
which I walked were those which he had planted. I
found his favorite out-of-door seat, sheltered by a
thicket of arbor-vitse trees, from which there could
A SCOTCH MAGICIAN. 185
be caught a glimpse of the rippled surface of the
Tweed, and a glimpse of the many turrets which
crowned the house of Abbotsford.
It was all very quiet ; quiet in the walks through the
wide-stretching wood ; and quiet as you came to the
court-yard and doorway of the beautiful house. I think
there was a yelp from some young hound in an out-
building ; there was a little twitter from some birds I
did not know with my American eyes ; there was the
pleasant and unceasing murmur of the river, rustling
over its broad, pebbly bed. Beside these sounds the
silence was unbroken ; and when I rang the bell at the
entrance door, the echoes of it fairly startled me,
and they startled a little terrier too, whose quick, sharp
bark rang noisily through the outer court of the great
This seemed very dismal. Where, pray, were Tom
Purdy, and Laidlaw, and Maida, and Sibyl Gray ?
For you must remember I was, in that day, fresh from
a first reading of Lockhart's Life of Scott, in which
all these and many more appear, and give life and
stir to the surroundings of this home of Abbotsford.
You will read that book of Lockhart's some day, and
you will find in it that Tom Purdy was an old out-of-
door servant of Scott's, who looked after the plantation
and the dogs, and always accompanied the master upon
his hunting frolics and his mountain strolls. Laidlaw
did service in a more important way in-doors, reading
and writing for the master of the house. Maida was a
noble stag-hound, whom Scott loved almost as much as
any creature about him, and of whom he has left a
charming portrait in old " Bevis," whose acquaintance
186 ABOUT OLD STORY-TELLERS.
you will make whenever you come to read the tale of
"Woodstock." As for Sibyl Gray, it was the name
of the stout nag which carried Scott safely through
fords and fens.
But, as I said, there were none of them to be seen on
that morning thirty odd years ago at Abbotsford.
I could not even be sure that the terrier w r hich set up
so shrill and discordant a barking belonged to that
sharp " Mustard " family, which traces back to Dandie
Dinmont's home in Guy Mannering.
Only an old housekeeper was in charge ; who, though
she might have seen service in the family, had fallen
into that parrot-like way of telling visitors what things
were best worth seeing, that frets one terribly who goes
to such a place with the memory of old stories glow-
ing in his thought. What would you or I care,
fresh from Ivanhoe, whether a certain bit of carving
came from Jedburgh, or from Kelso ? What should we
care about the number of jets in the chandelier in the
great hall ? What should we care about the way in
which Prince Somebody wrote his name in the visit-
ors' book ?
But when we catch sight of the desk at which the mas-
ter wrote, or of the chair in- which he sat, and of his
shoes, and coat, and cane, looking as if they might
have been worn only yesterday, this seems to bring
us nearer to the man who has written so much to cheer
and charm the world. There was too, I remember, a
little box in the corridor, simple and iron-bound,
with the line written below it, " Post will close at
It was as if we had heard the master of the house say
it to a guest, " The post will close at two."
A SCOTCH MAGICIAN.
Perhaps the notice was in his own handwriting, per-
haps not ; yet somehow, more than the library, more
than the portrait bust of the dead author, more than
all the chatter of the well-meaning housekeeper, it
brought back the halting old gentleman in his shooting-
coat, and with his ivory-headed cane, hobbling with a
vigorous pace along the corridor, to post in that old
iron-bound box a chapter maybe, of Ivanhoe.
The Chair, Coat, and Cane.
But no : Ivanhoe was written before this great pile
of Abbotsford was finished. Indeed, the greater part
of his best work was done under a roof much more
homely and modest, perhaps at a farmhouse he
once occupied some miles away on the Esk, per-
haps in the humbler building which was overbuilt
and swamped in this great pile of masonry.
188 ABOUT OLD STORY-TELLERS.
It is not old, as you may think : it has a vexing
look of newness for those who love his tales of the
Covenanters. Of course it was more vexing thirty-three
years ago than now ; but even now, if you go there,
and all who go to Scotland are tempted to run down
over that thirty miles of distance which separates it
from Edinboro', you will still find none of the ven-
erable oldness, which going from our new country
we love to meet.
The walls arid halls of that house of Abbotsford are
fine ; but there are far finer ones to be seen in England
and Scotland. I do not know what mosses may have
grown over it during these thirty-three years last past,
to make it venerable ; but that number of years ago,
it wore a showy newness that was quite shocking to one
that had learned to think (from his books) that dear old
Walter Scott should have lived all his life sheltered by
a mossy roof, and by walls mellowed in their hue by the
storms, and stains, and suns of centuries.
I found no whit of this about Abbotsford. You
know, I dare say, that it had been only a little while his
home at the time of his death : only twice after its
completion had all the great rooms been thrown open,
once when his son Capt. Walter Scott, of the Royal
Hussars, was married to a Highland heiress ; and again
when Sir Walter Scott, baronet and author, lay in state
there, and the house was thronged with mourners.
Its turrets and great stretch of courts and corridors
and halls tell a mournful story of that weak ambition in
him which sought to dignify in this way a great family
pride. It was an ambition that was not gratified in his
lifetime ; and now there is not one of his lineage or
name to hold possession of it.
A SCOTCH MAGICIAN. 189
How and When He mole.
It is not so very long ago that Scott wrote his
charming stories : since Goldsmith long since
Dr. Swift since Miss Edgeworth made her fame
(though he died before she died) ; indeed, he is nearer
to our times than any I have spoken of, or shall speak
of, in this budget of "Old Story -Tellers." There are
those alive who remember well the great mystery about
the Waverley Novels ; for, while everybody was read-
ing them, nobody could say certainly who wrote them.
Scott did not place his name upon the title-page of
these books ; he did not allow it to be known for years
even among his intimate friends who wrote them.
There were those who went to his home, and staid
there day after day, joining him in his rambles over
the gray hills, listening to his dinner tales, and the
snatches of old songs he loved to recite, who said it
could never be Walter Scott, who wrote the tales at
which the world was wondering ; for what time could
such a man find for such amazing work ?
But there were keener ones who noted that the mas-
ter of the house never, or very rarely, showed himself
to his guests until after ten in the morning; and be-
tween that hour and sunrise at which time he rose
those who were most familiar with him knew that this
wonderful work was done. Never, I suppose, did any
literary man work more rapidly. Writing thus, and
aiming only at those broad effects which enchanted the
whole world of readers, he could not and did not give
that close attention to his sentences which Goldsmith
ABOUT OLD STORY-TELLERS.
and Swift both gave, and which makes their writings
far safer and better as models of style. He wrote so
swiftly, and dashed so strongly into the current of what
he had to say, that he was careless about every thing
except what went to engage the reader, and enchain his
But do you say that this is the very best aim of all
writing ? Most surely it is wise for a writer to seek to
engage attention ; and failing of this, he must fail of
any further purpose ; but if he gains this by simple
means, by directness, by clear, limpid language,
and no more words than the thought calls for. and
such rhythmic and beguiling use of them as tempts the
reader to keep all in mind, he is a safer example to fol-
low than one who, by force of genius, can bring into
large use extravagant expressions, and great redundance
Scott has in one of his stories " The Talisman "
an account of a trial of prowess between Saladin, the
Eastern monarch, and our old friend, Richard the Lion-
hearted. They are together somewhere on one of those
fairy islets of green, which are scattered over the sandy
wastes of Palestine. The subjects of both monarchs
are gathered together : there is peace between them
for the time ; they mingle in friendly games. The great
Saxon king that is, Richard wishes to astonish and
impress those light-limbed warriors of the East : so he
takes a great iron mace, or, as we might say, a solid
iron bludgeon, and lays it upon a block which he has
ordered to be brought into the presence of Saladin and
his attendant chieftains. Then he raises his great two-
handed broad-sword, not over-sharp, but immensely
A SCOTCH MAGICIAN. 19 1
heavy, and, sweeping it through the air, brings it
down with a mighty thwack upon the iron bludgeon,
which straightway falls clanging in two pieces, cleft
apart by the force of the king's blow.
The light cimeter and the light arm of Saladin can
do no such thing as this : the men of Palestine know
it; the British warriors looking on all know it,
and cannot keep down a shout of triumph.
What then does Saladin, whose turn to show his
prowess has now come ? He can cleave no iron mace :
he looks upon the cleft bludgeon with as much wonder
as any. He tests coolly the edge of his cimeter : he
knows its keenness ; he knows what swiftness and
surety he can give to its sweep. He takes a scarf of
silken gauze so fine that spiders might have woven
it, so light, it seems to float on the air, as the Saladin
tosses it from him. Then quick as lightning, he
draws his cimeter strikes at the silken gauze, and
the scarf, cleanly divided, drifts in two parcels down
Though we may admire almost evenly (as Scott
meant we should) these feats of hand, it is certain we
could never approach the doughty doing of Richard
unless we were possessed of his gigantic power of
muscle ; but skill and practice would bring one to a very
close approach to the deft accomplishment of Saladin.
Now, why have I brought in this little side-scene from
the Talisman ? You must remember that I was talk-
ing of words and style. Do you see now my intent ?
A man of genius well informed as to his subject-
matter, and full of enthusiasm may be sure of tri-
umph, through whatever cumbersome welter of words ;
ABOUT OLD STORY-TELLERS.
but a better example for you and for me to study, will
be the work of one who gained his victories by simple,
clear-cut sentences, that carry no burden of repetitions,
and strike straight and sharp to the mark.
His Life and Ways.
But how came this man to write at all ? His father,
who was a quiet old gentleman in Edinburgh, believed
The boy Walter Scott.
and hoped that this son Walter would keep on with him
in that steady office-work it was of a legal sort in
which he himself grew old. He had fears indeed, when
Walter was a boy, that he would slip from life early ;
for he had a grievous illness that left him a crippled
man always, not indeed badly crippled, but with a
A SCOTCH MAGICIAN. IQ3
slight limp in his walk, which made his cane a thing of
real service to him. He was a well-looking boy, as
you may see from this little picture of him in his child-
hood ; and much of his time was passed with his grand-
parents and relatives out by Kelso, or Sandy Knowe ;
and I think he grew into a love for that region, and
for all of Teviotdale, and Tweedside, which he never
He did put himself to work, when the time came for
it, in the office of his father ; but he did not bring a
strong love for it.
He had read ballads out at Sandy Knowe, and had
listened to old wives' tales, in those days of his ill-
ness, which stuck by him ; and the Eildon Hills, and
the blue line of the Cheviots, I dare say kept coming
into view, over his desk in Castle Street, Edinburgh.
There were young fellows too in the city friends of
his who loved the heather, and border tales, and old
lore, as well as he ; and we may be sure they had their
junketings together, and that the legal work was none
the better for it. There were certain ballads in their
times, translated from the German, so daintily done,
that they passed from hand to hand among the literary
people of Edinburgh ; and the story ran that the pretty
and musical translations were the work of Walter
Scott, a presentable young man, of some six feet in
height, with a tall forehead, and bushy eyebrows, and
a limp in his gait.
Then came a volume or two of collected Scottish
minstrelsy, much of the best work in them known to
have been done by the same Walter Scott, and pub-
lished with his name.
194 ABOUT OLD STORY-TELLERS.
It did not help the law business ; and when a jingling,
charming poem, full of the spirit of old balladry, and
called " The Lay of the Last Minstrel," appeared
under his name, it hurt the law business still more ;
and we may well believe that the old gentleman his
father shook his head despairingly.
But he received five or six hundred pounds for it,
which was better worth than two or three years of his
Still, he tells us, he hesitated: should he give up
rhyme-making, and keep close to his office ?
Well, if he had done so, we might possibly have
had the Decisions of Justice Scott r in law calf; but
should we have had " Ivanhoe " ?
His poems had a taking, jingling resonance, and a
fire, and a dash, and bold rich painting of Scotch scenery
in them, that made them the delight of all England and
Scotland. Everybody talked of the young Mr. Scott.
He married in this time a pretty Miss Carpenter, who
was the orphan daughter of a French mother, and
under the guardianship of Lord Downshire. This was
very much against the wish of the elder Scotts. They
were too old-fashioned to think well of French blood.
But I believe she made a good wife, though she never
got over her broken English, and always had over-due
respect for titles ; and never, I think, had full and deep
sympathy with the higher impulses of the great Scotch-
man, or any wise appreciation of his best work. Per-
haps I ought not to say this : certainly there was never
any lack of that affection, on both sides, which is, after
all, the thing that is most sure to make lasting domestic
A SCOTCH MAGICIAN. IQ5
Scott's poems are not yet, I think, wholly gone by.
Marmion and the Lady of the Lake are still read,
and are worth the reading, were it only for their charm-
ing glimpses of Scotch landscape ; and if you ever go
to Inversnaid and Loch Katrine, or sleep at one of the
little ivy-embowered inns among the Trosachs, or look
off from the heights of Stirling Castle, you will be
glad these old poems are still printed, and that you have
read them. And, if you never visit those places, a read-
ing of the poems will almost carry you there.
But Mr. Scott could not go on making poems forever :
he had lifted all the blinding mists from those charming
Scotch lakes ; but when he carried his eight-syllabled
music which was ringing in everybody's ears to
England and " Rokeby," there was a pause in the wel-
comes that had greeted him. Besides, Byron had begun
his chant in a new and more brilliant strain.
There was wisdom in his decision to strike a new
note in Waverley, and Guy Mannering, a note that is
ringing yet. The clash of Marmion we only catch the
hearing of here and there, at long intervals ; but it is
very hard, I think, to go where you will not meet those
who know Dominie Samson, and Meg Merrilies.
Do you ask what I would counsel you to read among
these novels of Scott ?
Well well ! Does the maple, or the ash, or the
pepperidge, or the dogwood show a richer color in
autumn ? Which of these shall we gather ? which shall
we leave ungathered ?
Whatever else you may, or may not do, in the reading
of Scott, I say by all means read Old Mortality ; read
Waverley ; read Guy Mannering ; read the Heart of
196 ABOUT OLD STORY-TELLERS,
Mid-Lothian ; read Ivanhoe ; and if you would be in
weeping mood, and sigh over distresses you cannot
help, read the Bride of Lammermoor.
I have told you that Scott was not for a long time
known as the author of these tales, save to a few of
his most intimate friends ; and the full story of it was
only noised widely, and to all the world, when his for-
tune broke down under the weight of Johnny Ballan-
tyne's recklessness, and Constables' (his publishers)
canny self-seeking, and the costs of that great pile of
Abbotsford, and of the profitless moorlands he had
with a strange ambition heaped together about his
All this brought age to him, and blight. He strug-
gled bravely indeed ; he wrote in this time of breaking
hopes that charming story of Woodstock.
But he fought at very hard odds the battle of life,
after this. Great earnings were small, compared with
the great debts that shadowed him.
Death came too, into his new and splendid home :
Charlotte, his wife, the companion of so many years,
died. The tragedy of Lammermoor will not touch you
more than the story of this grief, as he has written it
down in a few swift, crazy words, in his Diary.
After this, the wrecked fortune, the loneliness, the
bitterness, weighed on him more and more. He went
to Paris, seeking some facts about the life of Napo-
leon on which he was working. But the beauty of that
gay capital could not bring back the old cheer and life
and hopefulness to this breaking man. He went to Italy,
the Government placing a ship at his disposal for the
trip ; but Italy, with its sunny skies, and wealth of art,
A SCOTCH MAGICIAN. 197
could not bring into his veins the old tides of life
which had run brimfull along Tweedside and Teviot-
dale. He came back to Abbotsford a wreck. The
Esk and the Yarrow murmured, as he was borne along
their banks, just as sweetly as they did fifty years be-
fore ; but ear and heart and hopes were palsied.
Sometimes a gleam of the old life seemed to return,
and he asked for his pens, his ink, and the old seat at
Could he write ? No, the weak fingers could not
even grasp the pen. There was a new dog in the place
of old Maida ; he could pat him, and he did. He could
say a kind word to this and that familiar friend ; not
saying all he would say, and stammering through the
little he could say.
At last, in the sunshine on the Tweed banks, there
before his doors, he summons Lockhart, his son-in-
law, to his side.
"Will he have Anne (his daughter) called too ? "
No, she poor girl has slept none the night past:
he will not have her disturbed.
"Lockhart," he says, "be good be virtuous; noth-
ing else will bring you comfort when you come to the
It was the end for this great Scotchman. A half-
hour later, and he was wholly still.
If I had known all these things of him when our old
master said, "Walter Scott is dead," I should have
felt very differently.
Fifty Pounds Reward.
IN England, a great many years ago, when Anne
had just become queen, and when the Duke of
Marlborough was making those dashing marches on the
Continent of Europe which went before the fearful and
the famous battle of Blenheim ; and when the people of
Boston, in New England, were talking about printing
their first newspaper (but had not yet done it), there
appeared in the London Gazette a proclamation, offer-
ing a reward of fifty pounds for the arrest of a " middle-
sized, spare man, about forty years old, of a brown
complexion, and dark brown-colored hair, who wears a
wig, and has a hooked nose, a sharp chin, and a large
mole near his mouth." And the proclamation further
said that " he was for many years a hose-factor in Free-
man's yard, in Cornhill."
And what do you care about this man with a hooked
nose, for whose capture a reward was offered about the
year 1703 ?
Had he plotted to kill the queen ? No. Had he
forged a note ? No. Had he murdered anybody ? No.
Was he a Frenchman in disguise ? No.
What then ?
He had written some very sharp political pamphlets,
which the people in authority didn't at all like, and were
determined to punish him for.
But I suppose there were a great many hot political
writers who were caught up in the same way in those
old-fashioned times, and put in the pillory or in prison
for the very same sort of wrong-doing, whose names we
don't know, and don't care to know.
Why, then, have I brought up this old proclamation