James Hogg.

Domestic manners of Sir Walter Scott online

. (page 4 of 8)
Online LibraryJames HoggDomestic manners of Sir Walter Scott → online text (page 4 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the perilous fancy of leaping every drain, rivulet, and
ditch that came in our way. The consequence was, that
he was everlastingly bogging himself, while sometimes



Sir Walter Scott. 57

the rider kept his seat in spite of the animal's plunging,
and at other times he was obliged to extricate himself
the best way he could. In coming through a place
called the Milsey Bog, I said to him, " Mr. Scott, that's
the maddest de'il of a beast I ever saw. Can you no
gar him tak' a wee mair time ? he's just out o' ae lair
intil another wi' ye."

" Ay," said he, " he and I have been very often like
the Pechs (Picts) these two days past, we could stand
straight up and tie the latchets of our shoes." I did
not understand the allusion, nor do I yet, but those
were his words.

We visited the old castles of Tushielaw and Thirlstane,
dined and spent the afternoon and the night with Mr.
Brydon of Crosslee. Sir Walter was all the while in the
highest good humour, and seemed to enjoy the range of
mountain solitude, which we traversed, exceedingly.
Indeed, I never saw him otherwise in the fields. On
the rugged mountains, and even toiling in the Tweed to
the waist, I have seen his glee surpass that of all other
men. His memory, or, perhaps I should say, his
recollection, was so capacious, so minute, and sterling,
that a description of what I have witnessed regarding
it would not gain credit. When in Edinburgh, and
even Abbotsford, I was often obliged to apply to him for
references in my historical tales, that so I might relate
nothing of noblemen and gentlemen named that was
not strictly true. I never found him at fault. In that
great library, he not only went uniformly straight to the
book, but ere ever he stirred from the spot, turned up

E



58 Domestic Manners of

the page which contained the information I wanted. I
saw a pleasant instance of this retentiveness of memory
recorded lately of him, regarding Campbell's " Pleasures
of Hope," but I think I can relate a more extraordinary
one.

He, and Skene of Rubislaw, and I were out one night
about midnight, leistering kippers in Tweed,* about the
end of January, not long after the opening of the river
for fishing, which was then on the tenth, and Scott hav-
ing a great range of the river himself, we went up to
the side of the Rough Haugh of Elibank ; but when we
came to kindle our light, behold our peat was gone out.
This was a terrible disappointment, but to think of giv-
ing up our sport was out of the question, so we had no
other shift save to send Rob Fletcher all the way
through the darkness, the distance of two miles, for
another fiery peat.

The night was mild, calm, and as dark as pitch, and
while Fletcher was absent we three sat down on the
brink of the river, on a little green sward which I never
will forget, and Scott desired me to sing them my ballad
of " Gilman's-cleuch." Now, be it remembered, that
this ballad had never been printed, I had merely com-
posed it by rote, and, on finishing it three years before,
had sung it once over to Sir Walter. I began it, at his
request, but at the eighth or ninth stanza I stuck in it,
and could not get on with another verse, on which he

* Sir Walter alludes in the notes to his collected work by Cadell, to
his "fire hunting" expeditions. Hogg enables us to fill up the outline
of one of them.



Sir Walter Scott. 59

began it again and recited it every word from beginning
to end. It being a very long ballad, consisting of
eighty-eight stanzas, I testified my astonishment, know-
ing that he had never heard it but once, and even then
did not appear to be paying particular attention. He
said he had been out with a pleasure party as far as the
opening of the Firth of Forth, and, to amuse the com-
pany, he had recited both that ballad and one of
Southey's (" The Abbot of Aberbrothock)," both of which
ballads he had only heard once from their respective
authors, and he believed he recited them both without
misplacing a word.

Rob Fletcher came at last, and old Mr. Laidlaw of the
Peel with him, carrying a lantern, and into the river we
plunged in a frail bark which had suffered some deadly
damage in bringing up. We had a fine blazing light,
and the salmon began to appear in plenty, " turning up
sides like swine;"* but woe be to us, our boat began
instantly to manifest a disposition to sink, and in a few
minutes we reached Gleddie's Weal, the deepest pool in
all that part of Tweed. When Scott saw the terror
that his neighbour old Peel was in, he laughed till the
tears blinded his eyes. Always the more mischief the
better sport for him. "For God's sake, push her to
the side ! " roared Peel. " Oh, she goes fine," said
Scott.

"An' gin the boat war bottomless,
An' seven miles to row."

* Guy Mannering.



60 Domestic Manners of

A verse of an old song ; and during the very time he
was reciting these lines, down went the boat to
the bottom, plunging us all into Tweed, over head and
ears. It was no sport to me at all, for I had no change
of raiment at Ashiesteel, but that was a glorious night
for Scott, and the next day was no worse.

I remember leaving my own cottage here one morn-
ing with him, accompanied by my dear friend, William
Laidlaw, and Sir Adam Ferguson, to visit the tremen-
dous solitudes of Loch-Skene and the Grey-mare's-tail.
I conducted them through that wild region by a path,
which, if not rode by Clavers, as reported, never was
rode by another gentleman. Sir Adam rode inadver-
tently into a gulf and got a sad fright, but Sir Walter,
in the very worst paths, never dismounted, save at
Loch-Skene to take some dinner. We went to Moffat
that night, where we met with Lady Scott and Sophia,
and such a day and night of glee I never witnessed.
Our very perils were to him matter of infinite merri-
ment ; and then there was a short tempered boot-boy
at the inn, who wanted to pick a quarrel with him for
some of his sharp retorts, at which Scott laughed till
the water ran over his cheeks.

I was disappointed in never seeing some incident in
his subsequent works laid in a scene resembling the
rugged solitude around Loch-Skene, for I never saw him
survey any with so much attention. A single serious
look at a scene generally filled his mind with it, and he
seldom took another. But, here, he took the names of
all the hills, their altitudes, and relative situations with



Sir Walter Scott. 61

regard to one another, and made me repeat all these
several times. Such a scene may occur in some of his
works which I have not seen, and I think it will, for he
has rarely ever been known to interest himself either in
a scene or a character, which did not appear afterwards
in all its most striking peculiarities.

There are not above three people now living, who, I
think, knew Sir Walter better, and who understood his
character better than I did, and I once declared that if
I outlived him, I should draw a mental and familiar
portrait of him ; the likeness of which to the original
could not be disputed. In the meantime, this is only a
reminiscence, in my own homely way, of an illustrious
friend among the mountains. That revered friend is
now gone, and the following pages are all that I deem
myself at liberty to publish concerning him.

The enthusiasm with which he recited and spoke of
our ancient ballads, during that first tour through the
Forest, inspired me with a determination immediately
to begin and imitate them, which I did, and soon grew
tolerably good at it. I dedicated "The Mountain Bard,"
to him:

Bless'd be his generous heart, for aye,
He told me where the relic lay,
Pointed my way with ready will,
Afar on Ettrick's wildest hill ;
Watch'd my first notes with curious eye,
And wondered at my minstrelsy :
He little ween'd a parent's tongue
Such strains had o'er my cradle sung.



62 Domestic Manners of

The only foible I ever could discover in the character
of Sir Walter, was a too strong leaning to the old aris-
tocracy of the country. His devotion for titled rank
was prodigious, and, in such an illustrious character,
altogether out of place. It amounted almost to ador-
ation, and, not to mention the numerous nobility whom
I have met at his own house and in his company, I
shall give a few instances of that sort of feeling in him
to which I allude.

Although he, of course, acknowledged Buccleuch
as the head and chief of the whole clan of Scott, yet he
always acknowledged Harden as his immediate chieftain,
and head of that powerful and numerous sept of the
name, and Sir Walter was wont often to relate, how he,
and his father before him, and his grandfather before
that, always kept their Christmas with Harden in
acknowledgment of their vassalage. This he used to
tell with a degree of exultation, which I always
thought must have been astounding to everyone who
heard it; as if his illustrious name did not throw a
blaze of glory on the house of Harden a hundred
times more than that van of old border barbarians, how-
ever brave, could throw over him.

He was, likewise, descended from the chiefs of Hali-
burton and Rutherford, on the maternal side, and to the
circumstances of his descent from these three houses he
adverted so often, mingling the arms in his escutcheon,
that to me, alas ! who, to this day could never be
brought to discover any distinction in ranks, save what
was constituted by talents or moral worth, it appeared



Sir Walter Scott. 63

perfectly ludicrous, thinking, as no man could help
thinking, of the halo which his genius shed over those
families, while he only valued himself as a descendant
of theirs.

I may mention one other instance, at which I was
both pleased and mortified. We chanced to meet at a
great festival at Bowhill, when Duke Charles was living
and in good health. The company being very numerous,
there were two tables set in the dining-room, one along
and one across. They were nearly of the same length,
but at the one along the middle of the room all the
ladies were seated, mixed alternately with gentlemen,
and at this table all were noble, save, if I remember
aright, Sir Adam Ferguson, whose everlasting good
humour insures him a passport into every company.
But I, having had some chat with the ladies before
dinner, and always rather a flattered pet with them,
imagined they could not possibly live without me, and
placed myself among them. But I had a friend at the
cross table, at the head of the room, who saw better.
Sir Walter, who presided there, arose, and addressing
the Lord of Buccleuch, requested of him, as a particular
favour and obligation, that he would allow Mr. Hogg to
come to his table, for that, in fact, he could not do with-
out him ; and, moreover, he added,

" If ye reave the Hoggs o' Fauldshope,
Ye harry Harden's gear."

I, of course, got permission, and retired to Sir Walter's
table, when he placed me on the right hand of the



64 Domestic Manners of

gentleman on his right hand, who, of course, was Scott
of Harden. And yet, notwithstanding the broad
insinuation about the Hoggs of Fauldshope, I sat beside
that esteemed gentleman the whole night, and all the
while took him for an English clergyman ! I knew
there were some two or three clergymen of rank there,
connected with the family, and I took Harden for one
of them ; and though I was mistaken, I still say, he
ought to have been one. I was dumb-foundered next
day when the Duke told me that my divine whom I
thought so much of was Scott of Harden, for I would
have liked so well to have talked with him about old
matters, my forefathers having been vassals under that
house, on the lands of Fauldshope, for more than two
centuries, and were only obliged to change masters with
the change of proprietors. It was doubtless owing to
this connection that my father had instilled into my
youthful mind so many traditions relating to the house
of Harden, of which I have made considerable use.

But the anecdote which I intended to relate, before
my ruling passion of egotism came across me, was this:
When the dinner came to be served, Sir Walter refused
to let a dish be set on our table,* which had not been
first presented to the Duke and the nobility. " No,



* Sir Walter, practical, and with a strong grasp of real life in his
poetry, was always endeavouring to live in a world of fiction. His
Abbotsford, the dinner here narrated, and the reception of the King at
Edinburgh were continuous efforts to transplant himself into another
age not unlike children playing Crusaders, Reavers, Robinson Crusoes,
&c.



Sir Walter Scott. 65

no ! " said he. " This is literally a meeting of the Clan
and its adherents, and we shall have one dinner in the
feudal style, it may be but for once in our lives."

As soon as the Duke perceived this whim, he
admitted of it, although I believe the dishes were merely
set down and lifted again. In the meantime, the veni-
son and beef stood on the side-board, which was free to
all, so that we were all alike busy from the beginning.
At the end of our libations, and before we parted, some
time in the course of the morning, the Duke set his one
foot on the table and the other on his chair, requesting
us all to do the same, with which every man complied,
and in that position he sang, "Johnnie Cope, are ye
wauken yet?" while all joined in the chorus. Sir
Walter set his weak foot on the table and kept his
position steadily, apparently more firm than when he
stood on the floor, joining in the chorus with his
straightforward bass voice :;: with great glee, enjoying
the whole scene exceedingly, as he did every scene of
hilarity that I ever saw. But though a more social
companion never was born, he never filled himself
drunk. He took always his wine after dinner, and, at
least for upwards of twenty years, a little gin toddy after
supper, but he was uniformly moderate in eating and
drinking. He liked a good breakfast, but often con-
fessed that he never knew what a good breakfast was

* Which means, we suppose, a voice that never varied its notes ;
no

winding bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out.



66 Domestic Manners of

till he came to my cottage, but he should never want it
again, and he kept steadily to his resolution.

He was a most extraordinary being. How or when
he composed his voluminous works, no man could tell.
When in Edinburgh, he was bound to the Parliament-
house all the forenoon. He never was denied to any
living, neither lady nor gentleman, poor nor rich, and
he never seemed discomposed when intruded on, but
always good-humoured and kind. Many a time have I
been sorry for him, for I have remained in his study, in
Castle Street, in hopes to get a quiet word of him, and
witnessed the admission of ten intruders, foreby myself.
Noblemen, gentlemen, painters, poets, and players, all
crowded to Sir Walter, not to mention booksellers and
printers, who were never absent, but these spoke to him
privately. When at Abbotsford, for a number of years
his house was almost constantly filled with company,
for there was a correspondence carried on, and always as
one freight went away, another came. It was impossible
not to be sorry for the time of such a man thus
broken in upon. I felt it exceedingly, and once, when
I went down by particular invitation to stay a fortnight,
I had not the heart to stay any longer than three days,
and that space was generally the length of my visits.
But Sir Walter never was discomposed. He was ready,
as soon as breakfast was over, to accompany his guests
wherever they chose to go, to stroll in the wood, or take
a drive up to Yarrow, or down to Melrose or Dry burgh,
where his revered ashes now repose. He was never out
of humour when well, but when ill he was very cross, he



Sir Walter Scott. 67

being subject to a bilious complaint of the most dread-
ful and severe nature, accompanied by pangs the most
excruciating,* and when under the influence of that
malady it was not easy to speak to him, and I found it
always the best plan to keep a due distance. But then
his suffering had been most intense, for he told me one
day, when he was sitting as yellow as a primrose, that
roasted salt had been prescribed to lay on the pit of his
stomach, which was applied, and the next day it was
discovered that his breast was all in a blister, and the
bosom of his shirt burnt to a izel, and yet he never felt
it!

But to return to our feast at Bowhill, from which I
have strangely wandered, although the best of the fun
is yet to come. When the Duke retired to the draw-
ing-room he deputed Sir Alexander Don, who sat next
him, to his chair. We had long before been all at one
table. Sir Alexander instantly requested a bumper out
of champaigne glasses to the Duke's health, with all the
honours. It was instantly complied with, and everyone
drank it to the bottom. Don then proposed the follow-
ing of so good an example as his Grace had set us, and
accordingly we were all obliged to mount our chairs
again, and setting one foot on the table, sing Johnnie
Cope over again. Everyone at least attempted it, and

* This fact which we do not recollect to have seen noticed before,
accounts for some inequalities of temper we have heard laid to Sir
Walter's charge his uncourteous treatment of Lord Holland, &c.
Before blaming any one for such freaks, we ought always to inquire into
the state of the stomach.



68 Domestic Manners of

Sir Alexander sang the song in most capital style. The
Scotts, and the Elliotts, and some Taits, now began to
fall with terrible thuds on the floor, but Sir Walter still
kept his station as steady as a rock, and laughed
immoderately. But this was too good fun to be given
up. The Marquis of Queensberry, who was acting as
croupier, said that such a loyal and social Border Clan
could never separate without singing "God Save the
King," and that though we had drunk to his health at
the beginning, we behoved to do it again and join in
the anthem. We were obliged to mount our chairs
again, and, in the same ticklish position, sing the King's
anthem. Down we went, one after another. Nay, they
actually fell in heaps above each other. I fell off and
took a prodigious run to one corner of the room, against
which I fell, which created great merriment. There
were not above six stood the test this time, out of from
thirty to forty. Sir Walter did, and he took all the
latter bumpers off to the brim. He had a good head
more ways than one.

There was no man who e^er testified more admiration,
and even astonishment, than he did at my poetical pro-
ductions, both songs and poems, and sometimes in very
high terms before his most intimate friends. It was
somewhat different with regard to my prose works, with
which he uniformly found fault, and always with the
disagreeable adjunction, " how good they might have
been made with a little pains." When "The Three
Perils of Man " was first put to the press, he requested
to see the proof slips, Ballantyne having been telling him



Sir Walter Scott. 69

something about the work. They were sent to him on
the instant, and on reading them, he sent expressly for
me, as he wanted to see me and speak with me about
my forthcoming work. We being both at that time
residing in Edinburgh, I attended directly, and I think
I remembered every word that passed. Indeed, so
implicit was my dependence on his friendship, his good
taste, and judgment, that I never forgot a sentence nor
a word that he said to me about my own works, but
treasured them up in my heart.

" Well, Mr. Hogg, I have read over your proofs with a
great deal of pleasure, and, I confess, with some little
portion of dread. In the first place, the meeting of the
two princesses at Castle Weiry is excellent. I have
not seen any modern thing more truly dramatic. The
characters are strongly marked, old Peter Chisholme's
in particular. Ah ! man, what you might have made of
that with a little more refinement, care, and patience !
But it is always the same with you, just hurrying on
from one vagary to another, without consistency or
proper arrangement."

" Dear Mr. Scott, a man canna do the thing that he
canna do."

"Yes, but you can do it. Witness your poems,
where the arrangements are all perfect and complete ;
but in your prose works, with the exception of a few
short tales, you seem to write merely by random, with-
out once considering what you are going to write
about."

" You are not often wrong, Mr. Scott, and you were



70 Domestic Manners of

never righter in your life than you are now, for when I
write the first line of a tale or novel, I know not what
the second is to be, and it is the same way with every
sentence throughout. When my tale is traditionary,
the work is easy, as I then see my way before me,
though the tradition be ever so short, but in all my
prose works of imagination, knowing little of the world,
I sail on without star or compass."

" I am sorry to say that this is too often apparent.
But, in the next place, and it was on that account I
sent for you, do you not think there is some little
danger in making Sir Walter Scott, of Buccleuch, the
hero of this wild extravagant tale?"

" The devil a bit."

" Well, I think differently. The present chief is your
patron, your sincere friend, and your enthusiastic
admirer. Would it not then be a subject of regret, not
only to yourself and me, but to all Scotland, should you,
by any rash adventure, forfeit the countenance and
friendship of so good and so great a man ? "

" There's nae part o' that at a', Mr. Scott. The Sir
Walter of my tale is a complete hero throughout, and
is never made to do a thing, or say a thing, of which his
descendant, our present chief, winna he proud."

" I am not quite sure of that. Do you not think you
have made him a rather too selfish character ? "

" O, ay, but ye ken they were a' a little gi'en that
gate, else how could they hae gotten baud o' a' the
South o' Scotland, naebody kens how."

Sir Walter then took to himself a hearty laugh, and



Sir Walter Scott. 71

then pronounced these very words. " Well, Hogg, you
appear to me just now like a man dancing upon a rope
or wire, at a great height; if he is successful and
finishes his dance in safety, he has accomplished no
great matter ; but if he makes a slip, he gets a devil of
a fall."

"Never say another word about it, Mr. Scott, I'm
satisfied ; the designation shall be changed throughout,
before I either eat or sleep." And I kept my word.

I went, when in Edinburgh, at his particular request,
two or three days every week to breakfast with him, as
I was then always sure of an hour's conversation with
him, before he went to the Parliament-house, and I
often went for many days successively, as I soon found
it was impossible to be in his company without gaining
advantage. But there was one Sunday morning I found
him in very bad humour indeed. He was sitting at his
desk in his study at Castle Street, and when I went in
he looked up to me with a visage as stern as that of a
judge going to pronounce sentence on a malefactor, and
at the same time, he neither rose nor saluted me, which
was always his wont, and the first words that he
addressed to me were these, "Mr. Hogg, I am very
angry with you, I tell you it plainly, and I think I
have a right to be so. I demand, sir, an explanation of
a sentence in your Spy of yesterday."

Knowing perfectly well to what sentence he alluded,
my peasant blood began to boil, and I found it rushing
to my head and face most violently, as I j udged myself
by far the most aggrieved. " Then I must demand an



72 Domestic Manners of

explanation from you, Mr. Scott," said I, "Were you the
author of the article alluded to in my paper, which
places you at the head, and me at the tail, nay, as the
very dregs of all the poets of Britain?"

" What right had you, sir, to suppose that I was the
author of it ? " said he in perfect rage.

" Nay, what right had you to suppose that you were
the author of it, that you are taking it so keenly to
yourself?" said I. " The truth is, that when I wrote the
remarks, I neither knew nor cared who was the author
of the article alluded to ; but before the paper went to
press, I believed it to have been Mr. Southey, for
Johnnie Ballantyne told me so, and swore to it ; but if
the feather suits your cap, you are perfectly welcome
to it."

" Very well, Hogg," said he, " that is spoken like a
man, and like yourself ; I am satisfied. I thought it
was meant as personal to me in particular. But never
mind. We are friends again us usual. Sit down and
we will go to our breakfast together immediately,


1 2 4 6 7 8

Online LibraryJames HoggDomestic manners of Sir Walter Scott → online text (page 4 of 8)