Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume VI Part 4

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We wish much to have a plan of the great bed, that we may hang up the tester. Mr. Atkinson offered to have it altered or exchanged; but with the expense of land-carriage and risk of damage, it is not to be thought of. I enclose a letter to thank him for all his kindness. I should like to have the invoice when the things are shipped. I hope they will send them to Leith, and not to Berwick.

The plasterer has broke a pane in the armory. I enclose a sheet with the size, the black lines being traced within the lead; and I add a rough drawing of the arms, which are those of my mother.

I should like it replaced as soon as possible, for I will set the expense against the careless rascal's account.

I have got a beautiful scarlet paper, inlaid with gold (rather crimson than scarlet) in a present from India, which will hang the parlor to a T; but we shall want some articles from town to enable us to take possession of the parlor--namely, a _carpet_--you mentioned a _wainscot pattern_, which would be delightful--item, _grates_ for said parlor and armory--a plain and unexpensive pattern, resembling that in my room (which vents most admirably), and suited by half-dogs for burning wood. The sideboard and chairs you have mentioned. I see Mr. Bullock (George's brother) advertises his museum for sale. I wonder if a good set of _real tilting_ armor could be got cheap there. James Ballantyne got me one very handsome bright steel cuirassier of Queen Elizabeth's time, and two less perfect, for 20--dog cheap; they make a great figure in the armory. Hangings, curtains, etc., I believe we shall get as well in Edinburgh as in London; it is in your joiner and cabinet work that your infinite superiority lies.

Write to me if I can do aught about the play--though I fear not: much will depend on Dumbiedikes, in whom Listen will be strong.

Sophia has been chiefly my nurse, as an indisposition of little Charles called Charlotte to town. She returned yesterday with him. All beg kind compliments to you and Mrs. Terry and little Walter. I remain your very feeble but convalescent to command,

WALTER SCOTT.

P. S.--We must not forget the case for the leaves of the table while out of use; without something of the kind, I am afraid they will be liable to injury, which is a pity, as they are so very beautiful.[33]

[Footnote 30: _Anglice_--Scarecrow.]

[Footnote 31: _Anglice_--an Oak.]

[Footnote 32: _Hamlet_, Act III. Scene 2.]

[Footnote 33: The Duke of Buccleuch gave Scott some old oak-roots from Drumlanrig, out of which a very beautiful set of dinner-tables were manufactured by Messrs. Bullock.]

The accounts of Scott's condition circulated in Edinburgh in the course of this April were so alarming, that I should not have thought of accepting his invitation to revisit Abbotsford, unless John Ballantyne had given me better tidings about the end of the month.[34] He informed me that his "illustrious friend" (for so both the Ballantynes usually spoke of him) was so much recovered as to have resumed his usual literary tasks, though with this difference, that he now, for the first time in his life, found it necessary to employ the hand of another. I have now before me a letter of the 8th April, in which Scott says to Constable: "Yesterday I began to dictate, and did it easily and with comfort. This is a great point, but I must proceed by little and little; last night I had a slight return of the enemy, but baffled him;"--and he again writes to the bookseller on the 11th, "John Ballantyne is here, and returns with copy, which my increasing strength permits me to hope I may now furnish regularly."

[Footnote 34: [An extract from a letter of March 23 will show how warm a regard Scott already felt for Lockhart: "I am but just on my feet after a fourth very severe spasmodic affection, which held me from half-past six last night to half-past three this morning in a state little short of the extreme agony, during which time, to the infinite consternation of my terrified family, I waltzed with Madam Cramp to my own sad music.

I sighed and howl'd, And groaned and growl'd, A wild and wondrous sound;

incapable of lying in one posture, yet unable to find any possible means of changing it. I thought of you amid all this agony, and of the great game which with your parts and principles lies before you in Scotland, and having been for very many years the only man of letters who at least stood by, if he could not support, the banner of ancient faith and loyalty, I was mentally bequeathing to you my baton, like old Douglas:--

'Take _thou_ the vanguard of the three And bury me by the bracken bush, That grows upon yon lily lea.'

"I believe the women thought I was growing light-headed as they heard me repeat a rhyme apparently so little connected with my situation. I have much to say to you on these subjects, for which I hope we shall have a fit time; for, like old Sir Anthony Absolute, I hope still to live long and be very troublesome to you. Indeed, the surgeon could not help expressing his astonishment at the great strength of my temperament, and I think had an eye to my ribs as glorious hoops for a skeleton."--_Familiar Letters_, vol. ii. p. 38.]]

The _copy_ (as MS. for the press is technically called) which Scott was thus dictating, was that of The Bride of Lammermoor, and his amanuenses were William Laidlaw and John Ballantyne;--of whom he preferred the latter, when he could be at Abbotsford, on account of the superior rapidity of his pen; and also because John kept his pen to the paper without interruption, and, though with many an arch twinkle in his eyes, and now and then an audible smack of his lips, had resolution to work on like a well-trained clerk; whereas good Laidlaw entered with such keen zest into the interest of the story as it flowed from the author's lips, that he could not suppress exclamations of surprise and delight--"Gude keep us a'!--the like o'

that!--eh sirs! eh sirs!"--and so forth--which did not promote despatch. I have often, however, in the sequel, heard both these secretaries describe the astonishment with which they were equally affected when Scott began this experiment. The affectionate Laidlaw beseeching him to stop dictating, when his audible suffering filled every pause, "Nay, Willie," he answered, "only see that the doors are fast. I would fain keep all the cry as well as all the wool to ourselves; but as to giving over work, that can only be when I am in woollen." John Ballantyne told me, that after the first day he always took care to have a dozen of pens made before he seated himself opposite to the sofa on which Scott lay, and that though he often turned himself on his pillow with a groan of torment, he usually continued the sentence in the same breath. But when dialogue of peculiar animation was in progress, spirit seemed to triumph altogether over matter--he arose from his couch and walked up and down the room, raising and lowering his voice, and as it were acting the parts. It was in this fashion that Scott produced the far greater portion of The Bride of Lammermoor--the whole of the Legend of Montrose--and almost the whole of Ivanhoe. Yet, when his health was fairly reestablished, he disdained to avail himself of the power of dictation, which he had thus put to the sharpest test, but resumed, and for many years resolutely adhered to, the old plan of writing everything with his own hand. When I once, some time afterwards, expressed my surprise that he did not consult his ease, and spare his eyesight at all events, by occasionally dictating, he answered, "I should as soon think of getting into a sedan chair while I can use my legs."

On one of the envelopes in which a chapter of The Bride of Lammermoor reached the printer in the Canongate about this time (May 2, 1819), there is this note in the author's own handwriting:--

DEAR JAMES,--These matters will need more than your usual carefulness. Look sharp--double sharp--my trust is constant in thee:--

"Tarry woo, tarry woo, Tarry woo is ill to spin; Card it weel, card it weel, Card it weel ere ye begin.

When 'tis carded, row'd, and spun, Then the work is hafflins done; But when woven, drest, and clean, It may be cleading for a queen."

So be it,--W. S.

But to return: I rode out to Abbotsford with John Ballantyne towards the end of the spring vacation, and though he had warned me of a sad change in Scott's appearance, it was far beyond what I had been led to anticipate. He had lost a great deal of flesh--his clothes hung loose about him--his countenance was meagre, haggard, and of the deadliest yellow of the jaundice--and his hair, which a few weeks before had been but slightly sprinkled with gray, was now almost literally snow-white. His eye, however, retained its fire unquenched; indeed it seemed to have gained in brilliancy from the new languor of the other features; and he received us with all the usual cordiality, and even with little perceptible diminishment in the sprightliness of his manner. He sat at the table while we dined, but partook only of some rice pudding; and after the cloth was drawn, while sipping his toast and water, pushed round the bottles in his old style, and talked with easy cheerfulness of the stout battle he had fought, and which he now seemed to consider as won.

"One day there was," he said, "when I certainly began to have great doubts whether the mischief was not getting at my mind--and I'll tell you how I tried to reassure myself on that score. I was quite unfit for anything like original composition; but I thought if I could turn an old German ballad I had been reading into decent rhymes, I might dismiss my worst apprehensions--and you shall see what came of the experiment." He then desired his daughter Sophia to fetch the MS. of The Noble Moringer, as it had been taken down from his dictation, partly by her and partly by Mr. Laidlaw, during one long and painful day while he lay in bed. He read it to us as it stood, and seeing that both Ballantyne and I were much pleased with the verses, he said he should copy them over,--make them a little "tighter about the joints,"--and give me them to be printed in the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1816,--to consult him about which volume had partly been the object of my visit; and this promise he redeemed before I left him.

The reading of this long ballad, however (it consists of forty-three stanzas),[35] seemed to have exhausted him: he retired to his bedroom; and an hour or two after, when we were about to follow his example, his family were distressed by the well-known symptoms of another sharp recurrence of his affliction. A large dose of opium and the hot bath were immediately put in requisition. His good neighbor, Dr. Scott of Darnlee, was sent for, and soon attended; and in the course of three or four hours we learned that he was once more at ease. But I can never forget the groans which, during that space, his agony extorted from him. Well knowing the iron strength of his resolution, to find him confessing its extremity, by cries audible not only all over the house, but even to a considerable distance from it (for Ballantyne and I, after he was put into his bath, walked forth to be out of the way, and heard him distinctly at the bowling-green), it may be supposed that this was sufficiently alarming, even to my companion; how much more to me, who had never before listened to that voice, except in the gentle accents of kindness and merriment.

[Footnote 35: See Scott's _Poetical Works_ (Ed. 1834), vol. vi. p. 343 [Cambridge Ed. p. 444].]

I told Ballantyne that I saw this was no time for my visit, and that I should start for Edinburgh again at an early hour--and begged he would make my apologies--in the propriety of which he acquiesced. But as I was dressing, about seven next morning, Scott himself tapped at my door, and entered, looking better I thought than at my arrival the day before. "Don't think of going," said he; "I feel hearty this morning, and if my devil does come back again, it won't be for three days at any rate. For the present, I want nothing to set me up except a good trot in the open air, to drive away the accursed vapors of the laudanum I was obliged to swallow last night. You have never seen Yarrow, and when I have finished a little job I have with Jocund Johnny, we shall all take horse and make a day of it." When I said something about a ride of twenty miles being rather a bold experiment after such a night, he answered that he had ridden more than forty, a week before, under similar circumstances, and felt nothing the worse.

He added, that there was an election on foot, in consequence of the death of Sir John Riddell, of Riddell, Member of Parliament for the Selkirk district of Burghs, and that the bad health and absence of the Duke of Buccleuch rendered it quite necessary that he should make exertions on this occasion. "In short," said he, laughing, "I have an errand which I shall perform--and as I must pass Newark, you had better not miss the opportunity of seeing it under so excellent a cicerone as the old minstrel,

'Whose withered cheek and tresses grey Shall yet see many a better day.'"

About eleven o'clock, accordingly, he was mounted, by the help of Tom Purdie, upon a stanch, active cob, yclept Sibyl Grey,--exactly such a creature as is described in Mr. Dinmont's _Dumple_--while Ballantyne sprang into the saddle of noble _Old Mortality_, and we proceeded to the town of Selkirk, where Scott halted to do business at the Sheriff-Clerk's, and begged us to move onward at a gentle pace until he should overtake us. He came up by and by at a canter, and seemed in high glee with the tidings he had heard about the canvass. And so we rode by Philiphaugh, Carterhaugh, Bowhill, and Newark, he pouring out all the way his picturesque anecdotes of former times--more especially of the fatal field where Montrose was finally overthrown by Leslie. He described the battle as vividly as if he had witnessed it; the passing of the Ettrick at daybreak by the Covenanting General's heavy cuirassiers, many of them old soldiers of Gustavus Adolphus, and the wild confusion of the Highland host when exposed to their charge on an extensive _haugh_ as flat as a bowling-green. He drew us aside at _Slain-men's-lee_, to observe the green mound that marks the resting-place of the slaughtered royalists; and pointing to the apparently precipitous mountain, Minchmoor, over which Montrose and his few cavaliers escaped, mentioned that, rough as it seemed, his mother remembered passing it in her early days in a coach and six, on her way to a ball at Peebles--several footmen marching on either side of the carriage to prop it up, or drag it through bogs, as the case might require. He also gave us, with all the dramatic effect of one of his best chapters, the history of a worthy family who, inhabiting at the time of the battle a cottage on his own estate, had treated with particular kindness a young officer of Leslie's army quartered on them for a night or two before. When parting from them to join the troops, he took out a purse of gold, and told the good woman that he had a presentiment he should not see another sun set, and in that case would wish his money to remain in her kind hands; but, if he should survive, he had no doubt she would restore it honestly. The young man returned mortally wounded, but lingered awhile under her roof, and finally bequeathed to her and hers his purse and his blessing. "Such," he said, "was the origin of the respectable lairds of----, now my good neighbors."

The prime object of this expedition was to talk over the politics of Selkirk with one of the Duke of Buccleuch's great store-farmers, who, as the Sheriff had learned, possessed private influence with a doubtful bailie or deacon among the Souters. I forget the result, if ever I heard it. But next morning, having, as he assured us, enjoyed a good night in consequence of this ride, he invited us to accompany him on a similar errand across Bowden Moor, and up the Valley of the Ayle; and when we reached a particularly bleak and dreary point of that journey, he informed us that he perceived in the waste below a wreath of smoke, which was the appointed signal that a _wavering_ Souter of some consequence had agreed to give him a personal interview where no Whiggish eyes were likely to observe them;--and so, leaving us on the road, he proceeded to thread his way westward, across moor and bog, until we lost view of him. I think a couple of hours might have passed before he joined us again, which was, as had been arranged, not far from the village of Lilliesleaf. In that place, too, he had some negotiation of the same sort to look after; and when he had finished it, he rode with us all round the ancient woods of Riddell, but would not go near the house; I suppose lest any of the afflicted family might still be there. Many were his lamentations over the catastrophe which had just befallen them. "They are," he said, "one of the most venerable races in the south of Scotland--they were here long before these glens had ever heard the name of Soulis or of Douglas--to say nothing of Buccleuch: they can show a Pope's bull of the tenth century, authorizing the then Riddell to marry a relation within the forbidden degrees. Here they have been for a thousand years at least; and now all the inheritance is to pass away, merely because one good worthy gentleman would not be contented to enjoy his horses, his hounds, and his bottle of claret, like thirty or forty predecessors, but must needs turn scientific agriculturist, take almost all his fair estate into his own hand, superintend for himself perhaps a hundred ploughs, and try every new nostrum that has been tabled by the quackish _improvers_ of the time. And what makes the thing ten times more wonderful is, that he kept day-book and ledger, and all the rest of it, as accurately as if he had been a cheesemonger in the Grassmarket." Some of the most remarkable circumstances in Scott's own subsequent life have made me often recall this conversation--with more wonder than he expressed about the ruin of the Riddells.

I remember he told us a world of stories, some tragical, some comical, about the old lairds of this time-honored lineage; and among others, that of the seven Bibles and the seven bottles of ale, which he afterwards inserted in a note to The Bride of Lammermoor.[36] He was also full of anecdotes about a friend of his father's, a minister of Lilliesleaf, who reigned for two generations the most popular preacher in Teviotdale; but I forget the orator's name. When the original of Saunders Fairford congratulated him in his latter days on the undiminished authority he still maintained--every kirk in the neighborhood being left empty when it was known he was to mount the _tent_ at any country sacrament--the shrewd divine answered: "Indeed, Mr. Walter, I sometimes think it's vera surprising. There's aye a talk of this or that wonderfully gifted young man frae the college; but whenever I'm to be at the same _occasion_ with ony o' them, I e'en mount the white horse in the Revelations, and he dings them a'."

[Footnote 36: "It was once the universal custom to place ale, wine, or some strong liquor, in the chamber of an honored guest, to assuage his thirst should he feel any on awakening in the night, which, considering that the hospitality of that period often reached excess, was by no means unlikely. The author has met some instances of it in former days, and in old-fashioned families. It was, perhaps, no poetic fiction that records how

'My cummer and I lay down to sleep With two pint stoups at our bed feet; And aye when we waken'd we drank them dry; What think you o' my cummer and I?'

"It is a current story in Teviotdale, that in the house of an ancient family of distinction, much addicted to the Presbyterian cause, a Bible was always put into the sleeping apartment of the guests, along with a bottle of strong ale. On some occasion there was a meeting of clergymen in the vicinity of the castle, all of whom were invited to dinner by the worthy Baronet, and several abode all night. According to the fashion of the times, seven of the reverend guests were allotted to one large barrack-room, which was used on such occasions of extended hospitality. The butler took care that the divines were presented, according to custom, each with a Bible and a bottle of ale.

But after a little consultation among themselves, they are said to have recalled the domestic as he was leaving the apartment. 'My friend,' said one of the venerable guests, 'you must know, when we meet together as brethren, the youngest minister reads aloud a portion of Scripture to the rest;--only one Bible, therefore, is necessary; take away the other six, and in their place bring six more bottles of ale.'

"This synod would have suited the 'hermit sage' of Johnson, who answered a pupil who inquired for the real road to happiness with the celebrated line,

'Come, my lad, and drink some beer!'"

--See _The Bride of Lammermoor_, note to chap. xiv.]

Thus Scott amused himself and us as we jogged homewards: and it was the same the following day, when (no election matters pressing) he rode with us to the western peak of the Eildon hills, that he might show me the whole panorama of his Teviotdale, and expound the direction of the various passes by which the ancient forayers made their way into England, and tell the names and the histories of many a monastic chapel and baronial peel, now mouldering in glens and dingles that escape the eye of the traveller on the highways. Among other objects on which he descanted with particular interest, were the ruins of the earliest residence of the Kerrs of Cessford, so often opposed in arms to his own 'chieftains of Branksome, and a desolate little kirk on the adjoining moor, where the Dukes of Roxburghe are still buried in the same vault with the hero who fell at Turn-again. Turning to the northward, he showed us the crags and tower of Smailholm, and behind it the shattered fragment of Ercildoune--and repeated some pretty stanzas ascribed to the last of the real wandering minstrels of this district, by name _Burn_:--

"Sing Erceldoune, and Cowdenknowes, Where Homes had ance commanding, And Drygrange, wi' the milk-white ewes, 'Twixt Tweed and Leader standing.

The bird that flees through Redpath trees And Gledswood banks each morrow, May chaunt and sing--_sweet Leader's haughs_ And _Bonny howms of Yarrow_.

"But Minstrel Burn cannot assuage His grief while life endureth, To see the changes of this age Which fleeting time procureth; For mony a place stands in hard case, Where blythe folks kent nae sorrow, With Homes that dwelt on Leader side, And Scotts that dwelt on Yarrow."[37]

[Footnote 37: [See _ante_, vol. ii. p. 114, note.]]

That night he had again an attack of his cramp, but not so serious as the former. Next morning he was again at work with Ballantyne at an early hour; and when I parted from him after breakfast, he spoke cheerfully of being soon in Edinburgh for the usual business of his Court. I left him, however, with dark prognostications; and the circumstances of this little visit to Abbotsford have no doubt dwelt on my mind the more distinctly, from my having observed and listened to him throughout under the painful feeling that it might very probably be my last.

On the 5th of May he received the intelligence of the death of the Duke of Buccleuch, which had occurred at Lisbon on the 20th April; and next morning he wrote as follows to his Grace's brother:--

TO THE LORD MONTAGU, DITTON PARK.

ABBOTSFORD, 6th May, 1819.

MY DEAR LORD,--I heard from Lord Melville, by yesterday's post, the calamitous news which your Lordship's very kind letter this moment confirmed, had it required confirmation. For this fortnight past, my hopes have been very faint indeed, and on Wednesday, when I had occasion to go to Yarrow, and my horse turned from habit to go up the avenue at Bowhill, I felt deeply impressed that it was a road I should seldom travel for a long time at least. To your Lordship--let me add, to myself--this is an irreparable loss; for such a fund of excellent sense, high principle, and perfect honor have been rarely combined in the same individual. To the country the inestimable loss will be soon felt, even by those who were insensible to his merits, or wished to detract from them, when he was amongst us. In my opinion he never recovered from his domestic calamity. He wrote to me, a few days after that cruel event, a most affectionate and remarkable letter, explaining his own feelings, and while he begged that I would come to him, assuring me that I should find him the same he would be for the future years of his life. He kept his word; but I could see a grief of that calm and concentrated kind which claims the hours of solitude and of night for its empire, and gradually wastes the springs of life.

Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume VI Part 4

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