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The life of Sir Walter Scott online

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came in to ask for the heading of a chapter. Where-
upon Sir Walter improvised the following beautiful lines
purporting to come from a poem called The Deluge : —

"The storm increases — 'tis no sunny shower
Foster'd in the moist breast of March or April,
Or such as parched Summer cools his lips with.
Heaven's windows are flung wide ; the inmost deeps
Call in hoarse greeting one upon another ;
On comes the flood in all its foaming horrors,
And where's*the*dike_shall stop it|? "


His Journal has now frequent snatches of poetry,
especially pathetic passages from Shakespeare, always
wonderfully to the point. A typical day in this evening
of Scott's life is thus sketched by him : —

" Rose at seven, dressed before eight, wrote letters, or did any
little business till a quarter-past nine. Then breakfast. Mr.
Laidlaw comes from ten till one. Then take the pony, and
ride quantum mutatus two or three miles, John Swanston walk-
ing by my bridle-rein lest I fall off. Come home about three or
four. Then to dinner on a single plain dish and half a tumbler,
or by'r Lady three-fourths of a tumbler, of whisky and water.
Then sit till six o'clock, when enter Mr. Laidlaw again, and
work commonly till eight. After this, work usually alone till
half-past nine, then sup on porridge and milk, and so to bed."

And thus the struQfole still went on.

Early in the spring Scott was easily persuaded out of
his resolution to keep clear of politics. But the results
of his intervention were not so happy as they had been
two years before, when his support of Wellington and
Peel on the question of Catholic Emancipation had been
found so effectual that he received a cordial letter of
thanks from the latter. Then it was a question of a
coalition of Moderate Tories and Whigs against Ex-
tremists ; and Sir Walter found plenty cf backers
amongst his friends. Now, on the question of Reform,
he stood isolated, even Laidlaw being a Whig. Asked
to assist in drawing up a petition against the proposal
in the Bill to incorporate the counties of Selkirk and
Peebles, Scott spent four days upon an address which
his impartial amanuensis thought the best thing he ever


wrote, and he himself considered in his best style.
Unfortunately the country gentlemen assembled at
Selkirk did not seem to care for his fine tirade against
the Bill as a whole, and preferred a plain petition by
another hand which confined itself to the local grievance,
and by so doing, it may be noted in passing, for the
time gained their point. Scott was nettled, and showed
it next day by telling a rat-catcher who wished to do
business at Abbotsford to go to the meetings of free-
holders, where he would find rats in plenty !

A few weeks later, however, he once more plunged
into the fray, going to Jedburgh and proposing an
anti- Reform resolution, " in face of a tribune full of
Reformers," who hissed and hooted. " I said some-
thing, for I could not keep quiet," notes Sir Walter,
unaware that he was almost inaudible. A friend who
sat by, however, supplied his biographer with some
notes of what he heard, including a passage in which
the proposal to reform the Constitution was compared
to a new chain -bridge over the Seine which broke
down for want of " the great middle bolt " replaced
by "some invisible gimcrack " devised by the French
engineer. The same reporter also recorded how, an-
noyed by the riotous artisans, the speaker exclaimed :
" I regard your gabble no more than the geese on the
green," and took leave of the meeting in the words of a
doomed gladiator, "Moriturus vos saluto"! Next day
came the news that the Bill had passed the Commons


by a majority of one, whereupon Scott invokes the curse
of Cromwell on its abettors.

Count Robert and politics continued to divide Scott's
attention, but a new subject of interest now arose in the
completion of the arrangements for the illustrated poems.
In order to secure the services of " Mr. Turner, the
first draughtsman of the period," Sir Walter wrote in-
viting him to his house and offering to "transport him
to the places where he is to exercise his pencil," Skene
undertaking to supply the great man with subjects.
And then in the middle of April came " a distinct shock
of paralysis, affecting nerves and spine," which the
sufferer expected would have killed him within a week.
A singular symptom which preceded this seizure was
related by Skene's son, the great Celtic scholar and
Historiographer Royal, who was then just of age.
Scott unconsciously told thrice over, " with much
humour," a story of a pauper lunatic who fancied he was
entertaining distinguished guests with exquisite dishes,
all of which he said seemed to himself to taste of oat-
meal porridge. When his elder son arrived at the end
of the month he had rallied considerably, though for
some days he had preferred fasting to the kind of diet
which was alone allowed him.

No sooner was he at work again than he got a "formal
remonstrance " from Ballantyne and Cadell against the
last volume of Count Robert, then within a sheet of
being finished, and returned to his old notion of writing a
political pamphlet — "should it cost me my life." But in


spite of all his iron resolution he was unequal to the
effort : " My bodily strength is terribly gone ; perhaps
my mental too ? " A visit from Miss Ferrier, the
novelist, was of no little benefit to him. He thought
her conversation "the least exigeante of any author,
female at least," among the long list of those he had
known ; and Lockhart relates how, with exquisite tact,
she affected deafness in order to help his father-in-law
to gather up the threads of a story he was telling her.
On May 18th Scott was so far recovered as once
again to appear on a political platform. "Went to
Jedburgh to the election, greatly against the wishes
of my daughters. The mob were exceedingly vociferous
and brutish, as they usually are nowadays." The day
passed "with much clamour and no mischief"; the
Tory candidate was re-elected ; but Scott's carriage
was stoned as he went to the meeting, and he "left
the burg-h in the midst of abuse and the gentle hint
of 'Burke Sir Walter/" (Burke was a man hanged in
Edinburgh two years before for murdering people to
sell their bodies for dissection). Nothing daunted at
this cruel treatment, Sir Walter attended the Selkirk
election as returning officer ; but here he was in his
own county, and everything passed off quietly. This,
however, was the end of his political exploits.

He now told Lockhart that he had made up his
mind, when he had once done with "Count Robert and
a little story about the Castle Dangerous," that he would
attempt nothing more — at least not until he had finished



all the notes for the reissued novels. Both were com-
pleted by the end of the summer, and appeared together
in November. Of the first, a tale of Byzantine history,
nothing more need be said here ; but Castle Dangerous
demands a word, as marking the close of a chapter in
the author's life. It may be noted that recent events
had produced such a coolness between Scott and
Ballantyne (whose paper had now gone over to Re-
form) that the latter was simply the printer of this last
romance, being in no way consulted during its progress.
In the month of July Sir Walter and his son-in-law
set out on an expedition to that part of Lanarkshire
called Douglasdale, where the scenery of the story
was laid. The visit has the melancholy interest of
being the last of many similar ones, and bore fruit
in some descriptive touches quite worthy of the master

The familiar banks of the Tweed followed westward
and then crossed before the stream turned southward,
the travellers viewed the ruins of the Regent Morton's
proposed place of retirement, Drochel Castle, stand-
ing out on a moorland ridge between them and the
Clyde ; and Scott turned with reluctance from this
unfinished fragment of the ambitious Douglas to con-
tinue his journey towards its proper bourne. His
companion noticed that, contrary to his wont, he was
rather pleased than otherwise by the respectful curiosity
with which he was greeted by the inhabitants of the


town of Biggar ; and recalled that throughout the

journey he seemed constantly to be "setting tasks to

his memory," as if to test its continued power. The

effort was not unsuccessful ; and he made great play, in

particular, with Prior's verses. Scott having severely

rebuked a carter for ill-treating his horse, regretting

that he was not within his own jurisdiction, Lockhart

quoted : — " Was ever Tartar fierce or cruel
Upon a mess of water-gruel ? "

whereupon Sir Walter continued the application to him-
self by parodying the succeeding couplet into : —

" Yet who shall stand the Sheriff's force
If Selkirk carter beats his horse ? "

And a meeting with two old soldiers a little later
moved him to recite the more serious lines of the poet
on Mezeray, in which after praising the historian's faith-
ful record he goes on to ask : —

" Yet for the fame of all these deeds
What beggar in the Invalides,
With lameness broke, with blindness smitten,
Wished ever decently to die
To have been either Mezeray —
Or any monarch he has written ? "

and to apply to himself the concluding lines as to the

harlequin who « After the jest still loads the scene
Unwilling to retire, though weary."

After a night's rest Douglas itself was reached, with
" Castle Dangerous " and the ruined church of St. Bride,
in whose crypt the mighty barons sleep in their leaden


coffins, where, too, reposes the heart of the good Lord
James, the friend of Bruce, who whilst carrying his
master's heart to Jerusalem, fell in Spain, battling with
the Moors. His recovery of the castle from the English
is the theme of the story. The sight of Douglas's
effigy, with its legs crossed as being that of a crusader,
among the tombs sadly mutilated by the Cromwellian
soldiery, must have profoundly affected one to whom
chivalry was a thing so vividly real. As Scott went on
towards Lesmahago he relieved his wrought-up feelings
by reciting the old national metrical chronicles which
told of those early days, and Dunbar's Elegy on the
Makers, and finally his favourite ballad on the death
of the Lord James of Douglas.

The western tour was cut short in a tragic fashion,
which was repeated next year when Sir Walter came
home from Italy to die. Stopping at a house on the
Clyde, belonging to Lockhart's brother, he there met
an old acquaintance — the same whose petition against
Reform had been preferred to his own — who had recently
had a paralytic stroke. " Each saw his own case glassed
in the other," says Lockhart in one of his inimitable
passages, "and neither of their manly hearts could well
contain itself as they embraced." Next morning news
came that the other had been stricken unto death,
and Sir Walter exclaimed : " This is a sad warning ;
I must home to work while it is called day ; for the
night cometh when no man can work. I put that text,


many a year ago, on my dial stone; but it often preached

in vain.

So they returned at once to Abbotsford ; and a few
weeks afterwards it was settled that Scott should winter
abroad. On the application of Captain Basil Hall, the
Government put a war frigate at his disposal for the


BEFORE starting for the South, Scott received
at Abbotsford two distinguished visitors. The
one was a stranger, the other an old friend and
brother poet. The stranger was Joseph Mallord William
Turner, whose artistic oifts h ac ] been secured for the
illustration of the poems. The great painter was intro-
duced by the great writer, in company with Lockhart
and Skene, to Smailholm Crags, the birthplace of the
northern enchanter's genius, and to Dryburgh, soon to
be his last resting-place. One of Turner's most brilliant
sketches commemorates a visit to the romantic Peel of
Bemerside with its venerable trees and traditional motto
ascribing eternal possession to one family. Unfortu-
nately the Journal is silent as to Sir Walter's impres-
sions of this young genius ; nor does it record his
feelings when he gathered together his neighbours to
do honour to Burns's son at Abbotsford. And all it
tells about the farewell visit of Wordsworth is that he
tried to write in Miss Wordsworth's diary (a favour only
accorded to her, as he said, for her father's sake) "and
made an ill-favoured botch " of the verses.



But we know that the meeting between the old friends
was of great import to both, and had touching incidents,
such as that of the two sitting (with Anne Scott between
them) listening while Lockhart read the passage from
the life of Cervantes, which relates the raptures of a
young student on discovering that he had been riding
to Madrid in company with the creator of Don Quixote.
This was led up to by Scott's comparison of himself
with those two great pioneers of the novel, Fielding
and Smollett, who had gone abroad in search of health
and never returned. Fielding's Voyage to Lisbon, Sir
Walter took with him to read. The fruit of this fare-
well visit of Wordsworth was not only Yarrow Revisited,
but that noble sonnet in which the poet writes of the
"Spirits of power" assembled on "Eildon's triple height"
to complain " For kindred power departing from their
sight," and of Tweed saddening his usually blithe strain
at the approaching departure ; then bids the mourners
lift up their hearts, « for the might

Of the whole world's good wishes with him goes " ;

and ends with the adjuration : —

"Be true,
Ye winds of Ocean, and the Midland Sea,
Wafting your charge to swift Parthenope."

Naples was chosen as Scott's wintering-place, because
his son Charles was an attache to the British Legation
there. It was arranged that besides his daughter Anne,
and the indispensable John Nicolson, his eldest son and
his wife should also accompany him ; these last to join


him in London. The day of departure from Abbotsford
was the 23rd of September, almost exactly a year before
Scott's eyes rested upon his beloved home for the last
time. James Matthison of Hawick (still living in our
day), son of the under-gardener, and grandson of Peter
Matthison, Sir Walter's trusty coachman in his pros-
perous days and cheerful ploughman in bad times, used
to tell how the servants gathered in a body on the stair-
head to bid their master good-bye ; and how Sir Walter,
noticing the boy of nine among them, clapped him kindly
on the head and popped a half-crown piece into his
hand, telling him to be a good boy till he came back.*
His son-in-law, who escorted him as far as London,
says that Scott was as reluctant as ever to pass any
object of interest, no matter how many times he had
seen it before ; and he also tells us how the celebrated
silver ring (an angel holding the heart of Douglas)
found in the ruins of Hermitage Castle, was left behind
in an inn, but recovered, and sent as a keepsake to
Morritt of Rokeby, Sir Walter's greatest friend outside
Scotland. It is now once more at Abbotsford.

Scott found London in a state of great excitement
about the Reform Bill. He saw the broken windows
of the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Dudley, and
heavy bodies of police stationed in all the squares
" supporting each other regularly " ; and the christening
of the young Duke of Buccleuch, to which he had been

* " Last Links with Scott," by Eve Blantyre Simpson, in Chambers's
Journal, October, 1901.


invited, was put off by command of the King, who was
to have been present. The Tory baronet's reflections
upon his supposed Whig Majesty are not over-cordial.
However, he had his own affairs to think about. A
consultation of doctors was held about his state of
health in the house near Regent's Park where he stayed.
The conclave decided that there were symptoms of brain
disease, but that if the patient would submit not only
to a strict regimen but to absolute rest from work the
evil day might yet be averted. Sir Walter promised
obedience, but, as we shall see, did not long keep to his
promise. Dr. Fergusson, in taking leave of him, noted
that while his courtesy and self-command were promi-
nent as ever, one of his cheeks was slightly palsied, his
gait was very feeble, and his utterance so indistinct as
to make his meaning with difficulty intelligible. His
old friend Lady Louisa Stuart, Sir James Mackintosh,
Lord Sidmouth, and the historians Milman and Stanhope
(then Lord Mahon) were among those whom he met
during his stay in London.

The Scott party reached Portsmouth on October
the 23rd. In changing horses at Guildford, Sir Walter
narrowly escaped being run over by a stage-coach,
owing to his extreme reluctance to accept help. They
had to stop at Portsmouth for nearly a week waiting
for a favourable wind, steamers being still in their
infancy. While his family were taken round by the
friendly naval officers to see the sights, Scott him-
self was confined to his quarters, an old house called


"The Fountain," made of wood in imitation of a ship,
except for an occasional hobble upon the rampart.
However, Sir James Graham, the First Lord of the
Admiralty", came down from London to see him, and
both the naval and military commanders of the place
made the utmost exertions both to do him honour and
ensure his comfort. At length, on the 29th, the party-
were put on board the Barham, " a beautiful ship — a
74 cut down to a 50, and well deserving all the com-
mendations bestowed upon her" — by the Admiral's
barge, and that night they set sail.

Scott suffered from sea-sickness for a few days, but
after a time found himself at ease, and began to make
long descriptive entries in his Journal, especially when
off Gibraltar and Algiers, and to enjoy sustained
conversations with the officers and Dr. Liddell, the
physician. One day he went, supported on the shoulders
of a seaman, to explore a submarine volcano, known
as Graham's Island, which soon after disappeared, and
wrote a long letter to Skene describing the adventure,
with a block of lava and a sketch made by the captain's
clerk. Two days later they landed in Malta, where,
owing to the prevalence of cholera, they were kept in
strict quarantine for ten days. The friends who came
to see them in the splendid but uncomfortable fort of
Don Manuel were not allowed to approach within a
yard. Among those who attended Sir Walter's " daily
levee" here was John Hookham Frere, the brilliant wit
and friend of Canning, and a great ballad-lover. When


released from quarantine Scott removed to a hotel in
the Strada Ponente. He was twice taken to view the
church of St. John, and thought it "by far the most
magnificent place I ever saw in my life." He went
down into the vaults and visited the splendid bronze
tomb of La Valette, the Grand Master who defended
the island against the Turks in 1563, and gave his name
to its capital. Already he is inspired, by what he read
and heard of this siege, with the idea of a new romance ;
and this was actually written, though never published.

Meanwhile his own fame had followed him, for a
"mad Italian improvisatore " was one day with difficulty
prevented from imposing a crown upon his head. A
ball was given in his honour by the garrison officers,
as well as numerous dinners, from which his health had
begun to suffer when he left the island. Before his
departure Sir Walter waited on the bishop, who had
done good service against the French in the Napoleonic
day, and was gratified at Scott's suggestion that he
should publish his Journal. A shock of earthquake
gave the travellers a new experience on the night before
they sailed for Naples ; and their arrival there on
December 17th was the signal for the greatest eruption
of Vesuvius which had been seen for some time. Of
the latter event the Journal has this : "I can only say,
as the Frenchman said of the comet supposed to fore-
tell his own death, 'Ah, messieurs, la comete me fait
trop d'honneur." Sir Walter remained at Naples four
months. To such a lover of the picturesque the Bay


naturally appeared "one of the finest things I ever
saw"; but Lockhart judged from Sir William Gell's
account that he took little interest in classical an-
tiquities, though greatly attracted by any place con-
nected with events in mediaeval history.

Early in the new year he went by invitation to visit
the old Bishop of Tarentum ("who almost rivals my
fighting Bishop of Malta "), who had a superb Persian
cat. The venerable prelate gave him a Latin devotional
poem and an engraving of himself; but the interview
was something of a disappointment, since one of the
parties could speak no English and the other no French
or Latin (or very little). It has been conjectured by the
editor of Scott's Journal that the Bishop may have been
identical with the subject of one of Landseer's illustra-
tions to Rogers's Italy — a Cardinal with three cats.
Sir William Gell, who was Scott's chief cicerone whilst
in Italy, was the man whom Byron called in different
editions of his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers
"coxcomb Gell," "classic Gell," and "rapid Gell,"
according to the different stages of his acquaintance with
the archaeologist's person and achievements. He took
three days, it is said, to discover and describe the site of
Troy. The last sixteen years of his life he passed in
Italy, having for some time houses both at Rome and

Scott attended a Court Ball on the King of Napless
birthday, going " in a very decent green uniform, laced
at the cuffs, and pantaloons," as Brigadier-General of


the Archers' Guard. The King spoke to him about
five minutes, "of which I hardly understood five words.
I answered him in a speech of the same length, and I'll
be bound equally unintelligible." He also went to the
Opera, but thought more of the house than the per-
formance. But he discovered something which excited
his enthusiasm in an old manuscript of the romance of
Sir Bevis of Hampton. His court influence stood him
in such stead that he was able to have a transcript made
of this treasure, though in the course of the preliminary
proceedings he had painful experience of the leisurely
ways of Italian men of letters and officials. Another
literary find was "a dumpy fat i2 mo edition of Mother
Gooses Tales, with my old friends Puss in Boots,
Bluebeard, and almost the whole stock of this very
collection," which Mr. Lang thinks was a Neapolitan
translation of Perrault. These things suggested fresh
literary projects, and on the receipt of letters announc-
ing that the two "apoplettic books" (Count Robert and
Castle Dangerous) had sold fairly well after all, Sir
Walter enumerates "what I have on the stocks," and
on the strength of these projects, actually registers a
determination to buy land again ! He was frequently
possessed of the idea that he was already clear of debt,
and could begin again in the old way. In a letter
to his son-in-law, in which he says he is a great deal
better than he could have ventured to hope, he thus
sums up what he has in view for the future : —


" After the Siege of Malta I intend to close the [series] of
Waverley with a poem in the style of The Lady of the Lake, to
be a L! Envoy, or final postscript to these tales. The subject is
a curious tale of chivalry belonging to Rhodes."

It was a melancholy delusion. True things were in
train for extinguishing- the debt within an appreciable
period ; but Sir Walter was not himself to see the end.
And he was doing his utmost to prevent it by the
renewal of labours for which he was unfit. "The MS.
of these painful days is hardly to be deciphered by any
effort," comments Lockhart significantly upon the un-
published Siege of Malta.

Pompeii alone of the places shown him by the lion-
ising Gell seems to have really impressed Scott. This,
he viewed with a poet's eye, exclaiming frequently,
" The City of the Dead ! " Then great part of the trea-
sure of the buried city had not been removed to the
Naples Museum. Stories of the brigands of Southern

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Online LibraryGerald Le Grys NorgateThe life of Sir Walter Scott → online text (page 18 of 28)