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inseparable gift, and which seems to have accompanied him throughout to
the very eve of his death. The much briefer _Castle Dangerous_ (which is
connected with an affecting visit of Scott and Lockhart to the tombs of
the Douglases) is too slight to give room for very much shortcoming. Its
chief artistic fault is the happy ending - for though a romancer is in no
respect bound to follow his text exactly, and happy endings are quite
good things, yet it is rather too much to turn upside down the historic
catastrophe of the Good Lord James's fashion of warfare. Otherwise the
book is more noticeable for a deficiency of spirit, life, and light - for
the evidence of shadow and stagnation falling over the once restless and
brilliant scene - than for anything positively bad.

These two books were mainly dictated, the paralytic affection having
injured the author's power of handwriting,[43] to William Laidlaw between
the summer of 1830 and the early autumn of 1831, increasing weakness,
and the demands of the _Magnum_, preventing more speed. The last pages
of _Castle Dangerous_ contain Scott's farewell, and the announcement to
the public of that voyage to Italy which had actually begun when the
novels appeared in the month of November.

The period between the fatal seizure and the voyage to the Mediterranean
has not much diary concerning it, but has been related with inimitable
judgment and sympathy by Lockhart. It was, even putting failing health
and obscured mental powers aside, not free from 'browner shades'; for
the Reform agitation naturally grieved Sir Walter deeply, while on two
occasions he was the object of popular insult and on one of popular
violence. Both were at Jedburgh; but the blame is put upon intrusive
weavers from Hawick. The first, a meeting of Roxburghshire freeholders,
saw nothing worse than unmannerly interruption of a speech made
partially unintelligible by the speaker's failing articulation. He felt
it bitterly, and when hissing was repeated as he bowed farewell, is said
to have replied, low, but now quite distinctly, '_Moriturus vos
saluto!_' On the second, the election after the throwing out of the
first Bill, he was stoned, spat upon, and greeted with cries of 'Burke
Sir Walter.'[42] Natural indignation has often been expressed at this
behaviour towards the best neighbour and the greatest man in
Scotland - behaviour which, as we know, haunted him on his deathbed; but
it is to be presumed that the persons who thus proclaimed their cause
knew the line of conduct most worthy of it.

It does not appear with absolute certainty who first suggested the
Italian journey. It could not have been expected to produce any radical
cure; but it seems to have been hoped that change of scene would prevent
the patient from indulging in that attempt to write from which at
Abbotsford it was impossible to keep him, though it was simply slow, and
not so very slow, suicide. The wishes of his family were most kindly and
generously met by the Government of the day, among whose members he had
many personal friends, though political opponents; and the frigate
_Barham_, a cut-down seventy-four, which had the credit of being one of
the smartest vessels in the navy, was assigned to take him to Malta. He
had, before he left Abbotsford itself, an affecting interview with
Wordsworth, which occasioned _Yarrow Revisited_ and the beautiful
sonnet, 'A trouble, not of clouds or weeping rain,' and had no doubt
part in the initiation of the last really great thing that Wordsworth
ever wrote - the _Effusion_ on the deaths of Hogg, Coleridge, Crabbe,
Lamb, and Scott himself, in 1835. Some stay was made with the Lockharts
in London, and a little at Portsmouth, waiting for a wind; but the final
departure took place on October 29, 1831.

Scott was abroad for the best part of a year, the time being chiefly
made out in visits of some length to Malta, Naples, and Rome. We have a
good deal of diary for this period, and it, even more than the
subsidiary documents and Lockhart's summary of no doubt much that is
unpublished, betrays the state of the case. Every now and then - indeed,
for long passages - there is nothing very different from the matter to
which, since the first warning in 1818, we have been accustomed. Scott
is, if not the infinitely various but never mutable Scott of the earlier
years, still constant in fun and kindness, in quaint erudition and
hearty friendship, though he is all this in a slightly deadened and
sicklied degree. But there are strange breaks-down and unfamiliar
touches, now of almost querulous self-concern (the thing most foreign to
his earlier nature), as where he complains that his companions, his son
and daughter, 'are neither desirous to follow his amusements nor anxious
that he should adopt theirs'; now of still more foreign callousness, as
where he dismisses the news of the death of Hugh Littlejohn, whose
illnesses earlier had been almost his chief anxiety, and records in the
same entry that he 'went to the opera.' The passage in the Introduction
to the _Chronicles_, written not so very long before, traces with an
almost horrible exactness the changes which were now taking place in
himself. Moreover, he would resume the pen; and, first in Malta, then at
Naples, began and went far to complete two new novels, _The Siege of
Malta_ and _Il Bizarro_, which, I suppose, are still at Abbotsford, with
Lockhart's solemn curse on the person who shall publish them. He had now
(it does not seem clear on what grounds, or by what stages) confirmed
himself in the belief that he had paid off all his debts, instead of
nearly half of them.[37] And he founded divers schemes on the profits of
these works, added to the (as he thought) liberated returns of the
_Magnum_; and even revived his notions of buying Faldonside with its
thousand acres, and 'holding all Tweed-bank, from Ettrick-foot to Calla
weel.' Fêted, too, as he was, and in this condition of mind, it seems to
have been difficult for his companions to make him observe the absolute
temperance in food and drink which was as necessary to the staving off
of the end as abstinence from brain-work; and it must be regarded as a
signal proof of the extraordinary strength of his constitution that it
resisted as long as it did.

At last, and of course suddenly, came the final warning of all: the
occurrence, without notice, of an almost agonising home-sickness. The
party travelled by land, as speedily as they could, to the Channel, a
last attack of apoplectic paralysis taking place at Nimeguen; and after
crossing it and reaching London, Sir Walter was taken by sea to the
Forth, and thence home. The actual end was delayed but very little
longer, and it has been told by Lockhart in one of those capital
passages of English literature on which it is folly to attempt to
improve or even to comment, and which, a hundred times quoted, can never
be stale. Sir Walter Scott died at Abbotsford on September 21, 1832, and
was buried four days later at Dryburgh, a post-mortem examination having
disclosed considerable softening of the brain.

There remained unpaid at his death about fifty-five thousand pounds of
the Ballantyne debts, besides private encumbrances on Abbotsford, etc.,
including the ten thousand which Constable had extracted, he knowing,
from Scott unknowing, the extent of the ruin, in the hours just before
it. The falling in of assurances cleared off two-fifths of this balance,
and Cadell discharged the rest on the security of the _Magnum_, which
was equal, though not much more than equal, to the burden in the
longrun. Thus, if Scott's exertions during the last seven years of his
life had benefited his own pocket, his ambition - whether wise or
foolish, persons more confident in their judgment of human wishes than
the present writer must decide - would have been amply fulfilled, and his
son, supposing the money to have been invested with ordinary care and
luck, would have been left a baronet and squire, with at least six or
seven thousand a year. As it was, he did not succeed to much more than
the title, a costly house, and a not very profitable estate, burdened,
though not heavily, with mortgages. This burden was reduced by the good
sense of the managers of the English memorial subscription to Scott, who
devoted the six or seven thousand pounds, remaining after some
embezzlement, to clearing off the encumbrances as far as possible. The
chief result of many Scottish tributes of the same kind was the
well-known Scott Monument on the edge of Princes Street Gardens, which
has the great good luck to be one of the very few not unsatisfactory
things of the kind in the British Islands. By mishap rather than
neglect, no monument in Westminster Abbey was erected for the greater
part of the century; but one has been at last set up in May of the
present year.


[37] This is a translation, of course; but if anyone will compare
Pitcairn's Latin and Dryden's English, he will see where the poetry
comes in.

[38] He wrote on sheets of a large quarto size, in a very small and
close hand, so that his usual 'task' of six 'leaves' meant about thirty
pages of print, though not very small or close print.

[39] It was early in this year, on February 23, at a Theatrical Fund
dinner, that he made public avowal of the authorship of _Waverley_.

[40] Cadell did not like any of them much, and objected still more to
others intended to follow them. Sir Walter, therefore, kept these back,
and gave them later to Heath's _Keepsake_. They now appear with their
intended companions: the slightest, _The Tapestried Chamber_, is perhaps
the best.

[41] Compare _Diary_, 1827, Nov. 7 ('I fairly softened myself like an
old fool with recalling old stories, till I was fit for nothing but
shedding tears and repeating verses the whole night'), with the famous
couplet in 'Rose Aylmer' -

'A night of memories and of sighs
I consecrate to thee.'

[42] Scott's name for _James_ Ballantyne, as 'Rigdumfunnidos' was for

[43] See his own unqualified and almost too gushing acknowledgment of
this ten years before, in the _Familiar Letters_, ii. 84-85, _note_.

[44] It had also caused great and very painful trouble in his lame leg,
which from this time onwards had to be mechanically treated.

[45] The Burke and Hare murders were recent.

[46] The success of the _Magnum_ had allowed a second large dividend to
be paid, and the creditors had been generous enough to restore Scott's
forks, spoons, and books to him.



It is natural - indeed the feeling is not merely easy of excuse, but
entitled to respect - that 'the pity of it,' the sombre close of so
brilliant a career as Scott's, should attract somewhat disproportionate
attention. Thus readers of his life are drawn more especially either to
sorrow for his calamities, or to admiration of this stoutest of all
hearts set to nearly the stiffest of all hills, or to casuistical debate
on the 'dram of eale' that brought about his own share in causing his
misfortunes. Undoubtedly, none of these things ought to escape our
attention. But, in the strict court of literary and critical audit, they
must not have more than their share. As a matter of fact, Scott's work
was almost finished - nothing distinctly novel in kind and first-rate in
quality, except the _Tales of a Grandfather_ and the Introduction to the
_Chronicles_, remained to be added to it - when that fatal bill of
Constable's was suffered by Hurst & Robinson to be returned. And the
trials which followed, though they showed the strength, the nobleness,
the rare balance and solidity of his character, did not create these
virtues, which had been formed and established by habit long before.
_Respice finem_ is not here a wise, at least a sufficient, maxim: we
must look along the whole line to discern satisfactorily and thoroughly
what manner of man this was in life and in letters.

What manner of man he was physically is pretty well-known from his
originally numerous and almost innumerably reproduced and varied
portraits; not extremely tall, but of a goodly height, somewhat
shortened by his lameness and massive make, the head being distinguished
by a peculiar domed, or coned, cranium. This made 'Lord Peter' Robertson
give him the nickname of 'Peveril of the Peak,' which he himself after a
little adopted, and which, shortened to 'Peveril,' was commonly used by
his family. His expression, according to the intelligence of those who
saw him and the mood in which he found himself, has been variously
described as 'heavy,' 'homely,' and in more complimentary terms. But the
more appreciative describers recognise the curiously combined humour,
shrewdness, and kindliness which animated features naturally irregular
and quite devoid of what his own generation would have called 'chiselled
elegance.' He himself asserts - and it seems to be the fact - that from
the time of the disappearance of his childish maladies to the attack of
cramp, or gallstones, or whatever the evil was which came on in 1818,
and from which he never really recovered, his health was singularly
robust; and he appears as quite a young man to have put it to
considerable, though not excessive, tests.

His conversation, like his countenance, has been variously
characterised, and it is probable that the complexion of both depended,
even more than it does with most men, on his company. He is acknowledged
never to have 'talked for victory,' an evil and barbarous practice,
which the Edinburgh wits seem to have caught from their great enemy and
guest, Dr. Johnson; to have (like all good men) simply abominated
talking about his own works, or indeed bookishly at all, full as his
conversation was of literature; and, though a great tale-teller, to have
been no monopoliser of the conversation in any way. He admits having
been in youth and early middle age not disinclined to solitude, - and he
does not appear to have at any time liked miscellaneous society much,
though he prided himself, and very justly, on having, from all but his
earliest youth, frequented many kinds of it, including the best. The
perfect ease of his correspondence with all sorts and conditions of men
and women may have owed something to this; but, no doubt, it owed as
much to the happy peculiarities and composition of his nature and

The only fault or faults of which he has been accused with any
plausibility are those which attend or proceed from a somewhat too high
estimate of rank and of riches; - that is to say, a too great eagerness
to obtain these things, and at the same time a too great deference for
those who possessed them. From avarice, in any of the ordinary senses of
the word, he was, indeed, entirely free. His generosity, if not
absolutely and foolishly indiscriminate, was extraordinary, and as
unostentatious as it was lavish. He certainly had no delight in hoarding
money, and his personal tastes, except in so far as books, 'curios,' and
so forth were concerned, were of the simplest possible. Yet, as we have
seen, he was never quite content with an income which, after very early
years, was always competent, and when he launched into commercial
ventures, already, in prospect at least, considerable; while in the one
article of spending money on house and lands he was admittedly
excessive. So, too, he seems to have been really indifferent about his
title, except as an adjunct to these possessions, and as something
transmissible to, and serving to distinguish, the family he longed to
found. Yet no instance of the slightest servility on his part to
rank - much less to riches - has been produced. His address, no doubt,
both in writing and conversation, was more ceremonious than would now be
customary. But it must be remembered that this was then a point of good
manners, and that 'your Lordship' and 'my noble friend,' even between
persons intimate with each other and on the common footing of gentlemen,
were then phrases as proper and usual in private as they still are in
public life.[51] Attempts have been made to excuse his attitude, on the
plea that it was inherited from his father (_vide_ the scene between
Saunders Fairford and Herries), that it was national, that it was this,
that, and the other. For my own part, I have never read or heard of any
instance of it which seemed to me to exceed the due application to
etiquette of the rule of distributive justice, to give every man his
own. Scott, I think, would have accepted the principle, though not the
application, of the sentence of Timoléon de Cossé, Duke of Brissac - 'God
has made thee a gentleman, and the king has made thee a duke.' And he
honoured God and the king by behaving accordingly.

Of his infinite merits as a host and a guest, as a friend and as a
relation, there is a superabundance of evidence. It does not appear that
he ever lost an old friend; and though, like most men who have more
talent for friendship than for acquaintance, he did not latterly make
many new ones, the relations existing between himself and Lockhart are
sufficient proof of his faculty of playing the most difficult of all
parts, that of elder friend to younger. I have said above that, though
in no sense touchy, he was a very dangerous person to take a liberty
with; he adopted to the full the morality of his time about duelling,
though he disapproved of it;[49] he was in all respects a man of the
world, yet without guile.

It is, moreover, quite certain that Scott, though never talking much
about religion (as, indeed, he never talked much about any of the deeper
feelings of the heart), was a man very sincerely religious. He was not a
metaphysician in any way, and therefore had no special inclination
towards that face or summit of metaphysics which is called theology. And
it is pretty clear that he had towards disputed points of doctrine,
ceremony, and discipline, a not sharply or decidedly formulated
attitude. But there is no doubt whatever that he was a thoroughly and
sincerely orthodox Christian, and there are some slight escapes of
confession unawares in his private writings, which show in what thorough
conformity with his death his life had been. Few men have ever so well
observed the one-half of the apostle's doctrine as to pure religion; and
if he did not keep himself (in the matter of the secret partnership and
others) altogether unspotted from the world, the sufferings of his last
seven years may surely be taken as a more than sufficient purification.
More blameless morally, I think, few men have been; fewer still better
equipped with the positive virtues. And, above all, we must recognise in
Scott (if we have any power of such recognition) what has been already
called a certain nobleness, a certain natural inclination towards all
things high, and great, and pure, and of good report, which is rarer
still than negative blamelessness or even than positive virtue.

To speak of Scott's politics is a little difficult and perhaps a little
dangerous; yet they played so large a part in his life and work that the
subject can hardly be omitted, especially as it comes just between those
aspects of him which we have already discussed, and those to which we
are coming. It has sometimes been disputed whether his Toryism was much
more than mere sentiment; and of course there were not wanting in his
own day fellows of the baser sort who endeavoured to represent it as
mere self-interest. But no impartial person nowadays, I suppose, doubts,
however meanly he may think of Scott's political creed, that that creed
was part, not of his interests, not even of his mere crotchets and
crazes, literary and other, but of his inmost heart and soul. That
reverence for the past, that distaste for the vulgar, that sense of
continuity, of mystery, of something beyond interest and calculation,
which the worst foes of Toryism would, I suppose, allow to be its nobler
parts, were the blood of Scott's veins, the breath of his nostrils, the
marrow of his bones. My friend Mr. Lang thinks that Scott's Toryism is
dead, that no successor has arisen on its ruins, that it was, in fact,
almost a private structure, of which he was the architect, a tree fated
to fall with its planter. Perhaps; but perhaps also

'The Little Tower with no such ease
Is won';

and there are enough still to keep watch and ward of it.

But we have of course here to look even more to his mental character
than to his moral, to do with him rather as a man of genius than as a
'man of good,' though it is impossible to overlook, and difficult to
overestimate, his singular eminence as both combined. Of his actual
literary accomplishment, something like a detailed view has been given
in this little book, and of some of its separate departments estimates
have been attempted.[48] But we may, or rather must, gather all these up
here. Nor can we proceed better than by the old way of inquiry - first,
What were the peculiar characteristics of his thought? and, secondly,
What distinguished his expression of this thought?

As to the first point, it has been pretty generally admitted - though the
admissions have in some cases been carried almost too far - that we are
not to look for certain things in Scott. We are not to look for any
elaborately or at least scholastically minute faculty or practice of
analysis or of argument. But to proceed from this to a general denial of
'philosophy' to him - that is to say, to allow him a merely superficial
knowledge of human nature - is an utter mistake. I have quoted elsewhere,
but the book from which the quotation is made is so rare that I may well
quote here again, some remarkable words on this subject from M. Milsand,
Mr. Browning's friend, and the recipient of the Dedication of the
reprint of _Sordello_.[50] It is certain that this praise might be
supported with a large anthology of passages in the novels and even the
poems - passages indicating an anthropological science as intimate as it
is unpretentiously expressed. To some good folk in our days, who think
that nothing can be profound which is naturally and simply spoken, and
who demand that a human philosopher shall speak gibberish and wear his
boots on his brows, the fact may be strange, but it is a fact. And it
may be added that even if chapter and verse could not thus be produced,
a sufficient proof, the most sufficient possible, could be otherwise
provided. Scott, by the confession of all competent judges, save a very
few, has created almost more men and women, undoubtedly real and
lifelike, than any other prose novelist. Now you cannot create a man or
a woman without knowing whereof a man and a woman are made, though the
converse proposition is unfortunately by no means so universally
predicable. He was content, as a rule, to put this great science of his
into practice rather than to expound it in theory, to demonstrate it
rather than to lecture on it, but that is all.

In the second place, we are not to look to him for any great intensity
of delineation of passion, especially in the sense to which that word is
more commonly confined. He has nowhere left us (as some other men of
letters have) any hint that he abstained from doing this because the
passion would have been so tremendous that it was on the whole best for
mankind that they should not be exposed to it. The qualities of humour
and of taste which were always present with Scott would have prevented
this. But I should doubt whether he felt any temptation to unbosom
himself, or any need to do so. The slight hints given at the time of the
combined action of his misfortunes and the agitation arising from his
renewed communications with Lady Jane Stuart, are almost all the
indications that we have on the subject, and they are too slight to
found any theory upon. It is evident that this was not his vein, or
that, if the vein was there, he did not choose to work it.

To pass from negations to positives, the region in which Scott's power
of conception and expression did lie, and which he ruled with wondrous
range and rarely equalled power, was a strangely united kingdom of
common-sense fact and fanciful or traditional romance. No writer who has
had such a sense of the past, of tradition, of romantic literature, has
had such a grasp of the actual working motives and conduct of mankind;
none who has had the latter has even come near to his command of the
former. We may take Spenser and Fielding as the princes of these
separate principalities in English literature, and though each had gifts
that Scott had not, - though Scott had gifts possessed by neither, - yet
if we could conceive Spenser and Fielding blended, the blend would, I

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Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburySir Walter Scott → online text (page 10 of 12)