next tried poisoning the water by emptying into the loch a quantity of
quick lime!! - Whatever harm was thus done to the trout none was
experienced by _the Beast_, which it is rumoured has been seen in the
neighbourhood as late as 1884 (p. 162). This transaction formed an
element in a case before the Crofters' Commission at Aultbea in May
 Daughter of Alexander, fourth Duke of Gordon.
 Lord Dudley, then Secretary of State for the Foreign Department,
was an early friend of Scott's. He had been partly educated in
Edinburgh, under Dugald Stewart's care.
_December_ 1. - This morning again I was idle. But I must work, and so I
will to-morrow whether the missing sheets arrive, ay or no, by goles!
After Court I went with Lord Wriothesley Russell, to Dalkeith House,
to see the pictures; Charles K. Sharpe alongst with us. We satisfied
ourselves that they have actually frames, and that, I think, was all we
could be sure of. Lord Wriothesley, who is a very pleasant young man,
well-informed, and with some turn for humour, dined with us, and Mr.
Davidoff met him. The Misses Kerr also dined and spent the evening with
us in that sort of society which I like best. Charles Sharpe came in and
we laughed over oysters and sherry,
"And a fig for your Sultan and Sophi."
_December_ 2. - Laboured to make lee-way, and finished nearly seven pages
to eke on to the end of the missing sheets when returned. I have yoked
Charles to Monsieur Surenne, an old soldier in Napoleon's Italian army,
and I think a clever little fellow, with good general ideas of
etymology. Signor Bugnie is a good Italian teacher; and for a German,
why, I must look about. It is not the least useful language of the
_December_ 3. - A day of petty business, which killed a holiday. Finished
my tale of the Mirror; went with Tom Allan to see his building at
Lauriston, where he has displayed good taste - supporting instead of
tearing down or destroying the old chateau, which once belonged to the
famous Mississippi Law. The additions are in very good taste, and will
make a most comfortable house. Mr. Burn, architect, would fain have had
the old house pulled down, which I wonder at in him, though it would
have been the practice of most of his brethren. When I came up to town I
was just in time for the Bannatyne Club, where things are going on
reasonably well. I hope we may get out some good historical documents in
the course of the winter. Dined at the Royal Society Club. At the
society had some essays upon the specific weight of the ore of
manganese, which was caviare to the President, and I think most of the
members. But it seemed extremely accurate, and I have little doubt was
intelligible to those who had the requisite key. We supped at Mr.
Russell's, where the conversation was as gay as usual. Lieut-Col.
Ferguson was my guest at the dinner.
_December_ 4. - Had the agreeable intelligence that Lord Newton had
finally issued his decree in my favour, for all the money in the bank,
amounting to £32,000. This will make a dividend of six shillings in the
pound, which is presently to be paid. A meeting of the creditors was
held to-day, at which they gave unanimous approbation of all that has
been done, and seemed struck by the exertions which had produced £22,000
within so short a space. They all separated well pleased. So far so
good. Heaven grant the talisman break not! I sent copy to Ballantyne
this morning, having got back the missing sheets from John Lockhart last
night. I feel a little puzzled about the character and style of the next
tale. The world has had so much of chivalry. Well, I will dine merrily,
and thank God, and bid care rest till to-morrow. How suddenly things are
overcast, and how suddenly the sun can break out again! On the 31st
October I was dreaming as little of such a thing as at present, when
behold there came tidings which threatened a total interruption of the
amicable settlement of my affairs, and menaced my own personal liberty.
In less than a month we are enabled to turn chase on my persecutors, who
seem in a fair way of losing their recourse upon us. _Non nobis,
_December_ 5. - I did a good deal in the way of preparing my new tale,
and resolved to make something out of the story of Harry Wynd. The North
Inch of Perth would be no bad name, and it may be possible to make a
difference betwixt the old Highlander and him of modern date. The fellow
that swam the Tay, and escaped, would be a good ludicrous character. But
I have a mind to try him in the serious line of tragedy. Miss Baillie
has made the Ethling a coward by temperament, and a hero when
touched by filial affection. Suppose a man's nerves supported by
feelings of honour, or say by the spur of jealousy supporting him
against constitutional timidity to a certain point, then suddenly giving
way, - I think something tragic might be produced. James Ballantyne's
criticism is too much moulded upon the general taste of novels to admit,
I fear, this species of reasoning. But what can one do? I am hard up as
far as imagination is concerned, yet the world calls for novelty. Well,
I'll try my brave coward or cowardly brave man. _Valeat quantum_. Being
a teind day, remained at home, adjusting my ideas on this point until
one o'clock, then walked as far as Mr. Cadell's. Finally, went to dine
at Hawkhill with Lord and Lady Binning. Party were Lord
Chief-Commissioner, Lord Chief-Baron, Solicitor, John Wilson, Lord
Corehouse. The night was so dark and stormy that I was glad when we got
upon the paved streets.
_December_ 6. - Corrected proofs and went to Court. Bad news of Ahab's
case. I hope he won't beat us after all. It would be mortifying to have
them paid in full, as they must be while better men must lie by. _Spero
I think that copy of Beard's _Judgments_ is the first book which I have
voluntarily purchased for nearly two years. So I am cured of one folly
_December_ 7. - Being a blank day in the rolls, I stayed at home and
wrote four leaves - not very freely or happily; I was not in the vein.
Plague on it! Stayed at home the whole day. There is one thing I believe
peculiar to me - I work, that is, meditate for the purpose of working,
best, when I have a _quasi_ engagement with some other book for example.
When I find myself doing ill, or like to come to a stand-still in
writing, I take up some slight book, a novel or the like, and usually
have not read far ere my difficulties are removed, and I am ready to
write again. There must be two currents of ideas going on in my mind at
the same time, or perhaps the slighter occupation serves like a
woman's wheel or stocking to ballast the mind, as it were, by preventing
the thoughts from wandering, and so give the deeper current the power to
flow undisturbed. I always laugh when I hear people say, Do one thing at
once. I have done a dozen things at once all my life. Dined with the
family. After dinner Lockhart's proofs came in and occupied me for the
evening. I wish I have not made that article too long, and Lockhart will
not snip away.
_December_ 8. - Went to Court and stayed there a good while. Made some
consultations in the Advocates' Library, not furiously to the purpose.
Court in the morning. Sent off Lockhart's proof, which I hope will do
him some good. A precatory letter from Gillies. I must do Molière for
him, I suppose; but it is wonderful that knowing the situation I am in,
the poor fellow presses so hard. Sure, I am pulling for life, and it is
hard to ask me to pull another man's oar as well as my own. Yet, if I
can give a little help,
"We'll get a blessing wi' the lave,
And never miss 't."
Went to John Murray's, where were Sir John Dalrymple and Lady, Sir John
Cayley, Mr. Hope Vere, and Lady Elizabeth Vere, a sister of the Marquis
of Tweeddale, and a pleasant sensible woman. Some turn for antiquity too
she shows - and spoke a good deal of the pictures at Yester. Henderland
was there too. Mrs. John Murray made some very agreeable music.
_December_ 9. - I set hard to work, and had a long day with my new tale.
I did about twelve leaves. Cadell came in, and we talked upon the great
project of buying in the copyrights. He is disposed to _finesse_ a
little about it, but I do not think it will do much good; all the fine
arguments will fly off and people just bid or not bid as the report of
the trade may represent the speculation as a good or bad one. I daresay
they will reach £7000; but £8000 won't stop us, and that for books
over-printed so lately and to such an extent is a pro-di-gi-ous price!
_December_ 10. - I corrected proofs and forwarded copy. Went out for an
hour to Lady J.S. Home and dozed a little, half stupefied with a cold in
my head - made up this Journal, however. Settled I would go to Abbotsford
on the 24th from Arniston. Before that time I trust the business of the
copyrights will be finally settled. If they can be had on anything like
fair terms, they will give the greatest chance I can see of extricating
my affairs. Cadell seems to be quite confident in the advantage of
making the purchase upon almost any terms, and truly I am of his
opinion. If they get out of Scotland it will not be all I can do that
will enable me to write myself a free man during the space I have to
remain in this world.
I smoked a couple of cigars for the first time since I came from the
country; and as Anne and Charles went to the play, I muddled away the
evening over my Sheriff-Court processes, and despatched a hugeous parcel
to Will Scott at Selkirk. It is always something off hand.
_December_ 11. - Wrote a little, and seemed to myself to get on. I went
also to Court. On return, had a formal communication from Ballantyne,
enclosing a letter from Cadell of an unpleasant tenor. It seems Mr.
Cadell is dissatisfied with the moderate success of the First Series of
_Chronicles;_ and disapproves of about half the volume already
written of the Second Series, obviously rueing his engagement. I have
replied that I was not fool enough to suppose that my favour with the
public could last for ever, and was neither shocked nor alarmed to find
that it had ceased now, as cease it must one day soon; it might he
inconvenient for me in some respects, but I would be quite contented to
resign the bargain rather than that more loss should be incurred. I saw,
I told them, no other receipt than lying lea for a little, while taking
a fallow-break to relieve my imagination, which may be esteemed nearly
cropped out. I can make shift for myself amid this failure of prospects;
but I think both Cadell and J.B. will be probable sufferers. However,
they are very right to speak their mind, and may be esteemed tolerably
good representatives of the popular taste. So I really think their
censure may be a good reason for laying aside this work, though I may
preserve some part of it till another day.
_December_ 12. - Reconsidered the probable downfall of my literary
reputation. I am so constitutionally indifferent to the censure or
praise of the world, that never having abandoned myself to the feelings
of self-conceit which my great success was calculated to inspire, I can
look with the most unshaken firmness upon the event as far as my own
feelings are concerned. If there be any great advantage in literary
reputation, I have had it, and I certainly do not care for losing it.
They cannot say but what I _had_ the _crown_. It is unhappily
inconvenient for my affairs to lay by my [work] just now, and that is
the only reason why I do not give up literary labour; but, at least, I
will not push the losing game of novel-writing. I will take back the
sheets now objected to, but it cannot be expected that I am to write
upon return. I cannot but think that a little thought will open some
plan of composition which may promise novelty at the least. I suppose I
shall hear from or see these gentlemen to-day; if not, I must send for
them to-morrow. How will this affect the plan of going shares with
Cadell in the novels of earlier and happier date? Very-much, I doubt,
seeing I cannot lay down the cash. But surely the trustees may find some
mode of providing this, or else with cash to secure these copyrights. At
any rate, I will gain a little time for thought and discussion.
Went to Court. At returning settled with Chief-Commissioner that I
should receive him on 26th December at Abbotsford.
After all, may there not be, in this failure to please, some reliques of
the very unfavourable matters in which I have been engaged of late, - the
threat of imprisonment, the resolution to become insolvent? I cannot
feel that there is. What I suffer by is the difficulty of not setting my
foot upon such ground as I have trod before, and thus instead of
attaining novelty I lose spirit and nature. On the other hand, who
would 'thank me for "repented sheets"? Here is a good joke enough, lost
to all who have not known the Clerk's table before the Jurisdiction Act.
My two learned Thebans are arrived, and departed after a long
consultation. They deprecated a fallow-break as ruin. I set before them
my own sense of the difficulties and risks in which I must be involved
by perseverance, and showed them I could occupy my own time as well for
six months or a twelvemonth, and let the public gather an appetite. They
replied (and therein was some risk) that the expectation would in that
case be so much augmented that it would be impossible for any mortal to
gratify it. To this is to be added what they did not touch upon - the
risk of being thrust aside altogether, which is the case with the horses
that neglect keeping the lead when once they have got it. Finally, we
resolved the present work should go on, leaving out some parts of the
Introduction which they object to. They are good specimens of the public
taste in general; and it is far best to indulge and yield to them,
unless I was very, _very_ certain that I was right and they wrong.
Besides, I am not afraid of their being hypercritical in the
circumstances, being both sensible men, and not inclined to sacrifice
chance of solid profit to the vagaries of critical taste. So the word is
"as you were."
_December_ 13. - A letter from Lockhart announcing that Murray of
Albemarle Street would willingly give me my own terms for a volume on
the subject of planting and landscape gardening. This will amuse me very
much indeed. Another proposal invites me, on the part of Colburn, to
take charge of the Garrick papers. The papers are to be edited by
Colman, and then it is proposed to me to write a life of Garrick in
quarto. Lockhart refused a thousand pounds which were offered, and
_carte blanche_ was then sent. But I will not budge. My book and
Colman's would run each other down. It is an attempt to get more from
the public out of the subject than they will endure. Besides, my name
would be only useful in the way of _puff_, for I really know nothing of
the subject. So I will refuse; that's flat.
Having turned over my thoughts with some anxiety about the important
subject of yesterday, I think we have done for the best. If I can rally
this time, as I did in the Crusaders, why, there is the old trade open
yet. If not, retirement will come gracefully after my failure. I must
get the return of the sales of the three or four last novels so as to
judge what style of composition has best answered. Add to this, giving
up just now loses £4000 to the trustees, which they would not
understand, whatever may be my nice authorial feelings. And moreover, it
ensures the purchase of the copyrights - _i.e._ almost ensures them.
_December_ 14. - Summoned to pay arrears of our unhappy Oil Gas
concern - £140 - which I performed by draft on Mr. Cadell. This will pinch
a little close, but it is a debt of honour, and must be paid. The public
will never bear a public man who shuns either to draw his purse or his
sword when there is an open and honest demand on him.
_December_ 15. - Worked in the morning on the sheets which are to be
cancelled, and on the Tale of _St. Valentine's Eve_ - a good title, by
the way. Had the usual _quantum sufficit_ of the Court, which, if it did
not dissipate one's attention so much, is rather an amusement than
otherwise. But the plague is to fix one's attention to the sticking
point, after it has been squandered about for two or three hours in such
a way. It keeps one, however, in the course and stream of actual life,
which is a great advantage to a literary man.
I missed an appointment, for which I am very sorry. It was about our
Advocates' Library, which is to be rebuilt. During all my life we have
mismanaged the large funds expended on the rooms of our library,
totally mistaking the objects for which a library is built; and instead
of taking a general and steady view of the subject, patching up
disconnected and ill-sized rooms, totally unequal to answer the
accommodation demanded, and bestowing an absurd degree of ornament and
finery upon the internal finishing. All this should be reversed: the new
library should be calculated upon a plan which ought to suffice for all
the nineteenth century at least, and for that purpose should admit of
being executed progressively; then there should be no ornament other
than that of strict architectural proportion, and the rooms should be
accessible one through another, but divided with so many partitions, as
to give ample room for shelves. These small rooms would also facilitate
the purposes of study. Something of a lounging room would not be amiss,
which might serve for meetings of Faculty occasionally. I ought to take
some interest in all this, and I do. So I will attend the next meeting
of committee. Dined at Baron Hume's, and met General Campbell of
Lochnell, and his lady.
_December_ 16. - Worked hard to-day and only took a half hour's walk with
Hector Macdonald! Colin Mackenzie unwell; his asthma seems rather to
increase, notwithstanding his foreign trip! Alas! long-seated complaints
defy Italian climate. We had a small party to dinner. Captain and Mrs.
Hamilton, Davidoff, Frank Scott, Harden, and his chum Charles Baillie,
second son of Mellerstain, who seems a clever young man. Two or
three of the party stayed to take wine and water.
_December_ 17. - Sent off the beginning of the _Chronicles_ to
Ballantyne. I hate cancels; they are a double labour.
Mr. Cowan, Trustee for Constable's creditors, called in the morning by
appointment, and we talked about the upset price of the copyrights of
Waverley, etc. I frankly told him that I was so much concerned that
they should remain more or less under my control, that I was willing,
with the advice of my trustees, to offer a larger upset than that of
£4750, which had been fixed, and that I proposed the price set up should
be £250 for the poetry, Paul's letters, etc., and £5250 for the novels,
in all £5500; but that I made this proposal under the condition, that in
case no bidding should ensue, then the copyrights should be mine so soon
as the sale was adjourned, without any one being permitted to bid after
the sale. It is to be hoped this high upset price will
"Fright the fuds
Of the pock-puds."
This speculation may be for good or for evil, but it tends incalculably
to increase the value of such copyrights as remain in my own person;
and, if a handsome and cheap edition of the whole, with notes, can be
instituted in conformity with Cadell's plan, it must prove a mine of
wealth, three-fourths of which will belong to me or my creditors. It is
possible, no doubt, that the works may lose their effect on the public
mind; but this must be risked, and I think the chances are greatly in
our favour. Death (my own I mean) would improve the property, since an
edition with a Life would sell like wildfire. Perhaps those who read
this prophecy may shake their heads and say, "Poor fellow, he little
thought how he should see the public interest in him and his
extinguished even during his natural existence." It may be so, but I
will hope better. This I know, that no literary speculation ever
succeeded with me but where my own works were concerned; and that, on
the other hand, these have rarely failed. And so - _Vogue la galère!_
Dined with the Lord Chief-Commissioner, and met Lord and Lady Binning,
Lord and Lady Abercromby, Sir Robert O'Callaghan, etc. These dinners put
off time well enough, and I write so painfully by candle-light that they
do not greatly interfere with business.
_December_ 18. - Poor Huntly Gordon writes me in despair about £180 of
debt which he has incurred. He wishes to publish two sermons which I
wrote for him when he was taking orders; but he would get little money
for them without my name, and that is at present out of the question.
People would cry out against the undesired and unwelcome zeal of him who
stretched out his hands to help the ark with the best intentions, and
cry sacrilege. And yet they would do me gross injustice, for I would, if
called upon, die a martyr for the Christian religion, so completely is
(in my poor opinion) its divine origin proved by its beneficial effects
on the state of society. Were we but to name the abolition of slavery
and of polygamy, how much has in these two words been granted to mankind
by the lessons of our Saviour!
_December_ 19. - Wrought upon an introduction to the notices which have
been recovered of George Bannatyne, author, or rather transcriber,
of the famous Repository of Scottish Poetry, generally known by the
Bannatyne MS. They are very _jejune_ these same notices - a mere record
of matters of business, putting forth and calling in of sums of money,
and such like. Yet it is a satisfaction to learn that this great
benefactor to the literature of Scotland lived a prosperous life, and
enjoyed the pleasures of domestic society, and, in a time peculiarly
perilous, lived unmolested and died in quiet.
At eleven o'clock I had an appointment with a person unknown. A youth
had written me, demanding an audience. I excused myself by alleging the
want of leisure, and my dislike to communicate with a person perfectly
unknown on unknown business. The application was renewed, and with an
ardour which left me no alternative, so I named eleven this day. I am
too much accustomed to the usual cant of the followers of the muses who
endeavour by flattery to make their bad stale butter make amends for
their stinking fish. I am pretty well acquainted with that sort of
thing. I have had madmen on my hands too, and once nearly was Kotzebued
by a lad of the name of Sharpe. All this gave me some curiosity, but it
was lost in attending to the task I was engaged in; when the door opened
and in walked a young woman of middling rank and rather good address,
but something resembling our secretary David Laing, if dressed in female
habiliments. There was the awkwardness of a moment in endeavouring to
make me understand that she was the visitor to whom I had given the
assignation. Then there were a few tears and sighs. "I fear, Madam, this
relates to some tale of great distress." "By no means, sir;" and her
countenance cleared up. Still there was a pause; at last she asked if it
were possible for her to see the king. I apprehended then that she was a
little mad, and proceeded to assure her that the king's secretary
received all such applications as were made to his Majesty, and disposed
of them. Then came the mystery. She wished to relieve herself from a
state of bondage, and to be rendered capable of maintaining herself by
acquiring knowledge. I inquired what were her immediate circumstances,
and found she resided with an uncle and aunt. Not thinking the case
without hope, I preached the old doctrine of patience and resignation, I
suppose with the usual effect.
Went to the Bannatyne Club; and on the way met Cadell out of breath,
coming to say he had bought the copyrights after a smart contention. Of
this to-morrow. There was little to do at the club.
Afterwards dined with Lord and Lady Abercromby, where I met my old and
kind friend, Major Buchanan of Cambusmore. His father was one of those
from whom I gained much information about the old Highlanders, and at
whose house I spent many merry days in my youth. The last time I saw
old Cambusmore was in - - . He sat up an hour later on the occasion,
though then eighty-five. I shall never forget him, and was delighted to
see the Major, who comes seldom to town.
_December_ 20. - Anent the copyrights - the pock-puds were not frightened
by our high price. They came on briskly, four or five bidders abreast,