Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume VI Part 11

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WALTER SCOTT.

[Footnote 67: St. John's Chapel.]

[Footnote 68: Robert Rutherford, Esq., W. S., son to the Professor of Botany.]

[Footnote 69: "Our family heretofore buried in the Greyfriars'

Churchyard, close by the entrance to Heriot's Hospital, and on the southern or left-hand side as you pass from the churchyard."--_MS.

Memorandum._]

[Footnote 70: This was a ridiculously exaggerated report of that period of alarm.]

Scott's excellent mother died on the 24th December--the day after he closed the foregoing letter to his brother.

On the 18th, in the midst of these accumulated afflictions, the romance of Ivanhoe made its appearance. The date has been torn from the following letter, but it was evidently written while all these events were fresh and recent:--

TO THE LADY LOUISA STUART, DITTON PARK, WINDSOR.

DEAR LADY LOUISA,--I am favored with your letter from Ditton, and am glad you found anything to entertain you in Ivanhoe.[71]

Novelty is what this giddy-paced time demands imperiously, and I certainly studied as much as I could to get out of the old beaten track, leaving those who like to keep the road, which I have rutted pretty well. I have had a terrible time of it this year, with the loss of dear friends and near relations; it is almost fearful to count up my losses, as they make me bankrupt in society. My brother-in-law; our never-to-be-enough regretted Duke; Lord Chief Baron, my early, kind, and constant friend, who took me up when I was a young fellow of little mark or likelihood; the wife of my intimate friend William Erskine; the only son of my friend David Hume, a youth of great promise, and just entering into life, who had grown up under my eye from childhood; my excellent mother; and, within a few days, her surviving brother and sister. My mother was the only one of these whose death was the natural consequence of very advanced life.

And our sorrows are not at an end. A sister of my mother's, Mrs.

Russell of Ashestiel, long deceased, had left (besides several sons, of whom only one now survives and is in India) three daughters, who lived with her youngest sister, Miss Rutherford, and were in the closest habits of intimacy with us. The eldest of these girls, and a most excellent creature she is, was in summer so much shocked by the sudden news of the death of one of the brothers I have mentioned, that she was deprived of the use of her limbs by an affection either nervous or paralytic. She was slowly recovering from this afflicting and helpless situation, when the sudden fate of her aunts and uncle, particularly of her who had acted as a mother to the family, brought on a new shock; and though perfectly possessed of her mind, she has never since been able to utter a word. Her youngest sister, a girl of one or two and twenty, was so much shocked by this scene of accumulated distress, that she was taken very ill, and having suppressed and concealed her disorder, relief came too late, and she has been taken from us also. She died in the arms of the elder sister, helpless as I have described her; and to separate the half dead from the actual corpse was the most melancholy thing possible.

You can hardly conceive, dear Lady Louisa, the melancholy feeling of seeing the place of last repose belonging to the devoted family open four times within so short a space, and to meet the same group of sorrowing friends and relations on the same sorrowful occasion. Looking back on those whom I have lost, all well known to me excepting my brother-in-law, whom I could only judge of by the general report in his favor, I can scarce conceive a group possessing more real worth and amiable qualities, not to mention talents and accomplishments. I have never felt so truly what Johnson says so well,--

"Condemn'd to Hope's delusive mine, As on we toil from day to day, By sudden blasts, or slow decline, Our social comforts drop away."[72]

I am not sure whether it was your Ladyship, or the poor Duchess of Buccleuch, who met my mother once, and flattered me by being so much pleased with the good old lady. She had a mind peculiarly well stored with much acquired information and natural talent, and as she was very old, and had an excellent memory, she could draw without the least exaggeration or affectation the most striking pictures of the past age. If I have been able to do anything in the way of painting the past times, it is very much from the studies with which she presented me. She connected a long period of time with the present generation, for she remembered, and had often spoken with, a person who perfectly recollected the battle of Dunbar, and Oliver Cromwell's subsequent entry into Edinburgh. She preserved her faculties to the very day before her final illness; for our friends Mr. and Mrs. Scott of Harden visited her on the Sunday; and, coming to our house after, were expressing their surprise at the alertness of her mind, and the pleasure which she had in talking over both ancient and modern events. She had told them with great accuracy the real story of the Bride of Lammermuir, and pointed out wherein it differed from the novel. She had all the names of the parties, and detailed (for she was a great genealogist) their connection with existing families. On the subsequent Monday she was struck with a paralytic affection, suffered little, and that with the utmost patience; and what was God's reward, and a great one to her innocent and benevolent life, she never knew that her brother and sister, the last thirty years younger than herself, had trodden the dark path before her. She was a strict economist, which she said enabled her to be liberal; out of her little income of about 300 a year, she bestowed at least a third in well-chosen charities, and with the rest lived like a gentlewoman, and even with hospitality more general than seemed to suit her age; yet I could never prevail on her to accept of any assistance. You cannot conceive how affecting it was to me to see the little preparations of presents which she had assorted for the New Year--for she was a great observer of the old fashions of her period--and to think that the kind heart was cold which delighted in all these acts of kindly affection. I should apologize, I believe, for troubling your ladyship with these melancholy details; but you would not thank me for a letter written with constraint, and my mind is at present very full of this sad subject, though I scarce know any one to whom I would venture to say so much. I hear no good news of Lady Anne, though Lord Montagu writes cautiously. The weather is now turning milder, and may, I hope, be favorable to her complaint. After my own family, my thought most frequently turns to these orphans, whose parents I loved and respected so much.--I am always, dear Lady Louisa, your very respectful and obliged

WALTER SCOTT.

[Footnote 71: [Lady Louisa's letter was written January 16, 1820, and can be found in _Familiar Letters_, vol. ii. p. 71. In it she says:--

"Everybody in this house has been reading an odd new kind of a book called _Ivanhoe_, and nobody, as far as I have observed, has willingly laid it down again till finished. By this, I conclude that its success will be fully equal to that of its predecessors, notwithstanding it has quite abandoned their ground and ploughed up a field hitherto untouched. The interest of it, indeed, is most powerful; few things in prose or verse seize upon one's mind so strongly, or are read with such breathless eagerness, as the storming of the castle, related by Rebecca, and her trial at Templestowe. Few characters ever were so forcibly painted as hers: the Jew, too, the Templar, the courtly knight De Bracy, the wavering, inconstant wickedness of John, are all worthy of Shakespeare. I must not omit paying my tribute to Cedric, that worthy forefather of the genuine English country gentleman....

And according to what has been alleged against the author in some other instances, the hero and the heroine are the people one cares least about. But provided one does but care enough about somebody, it is all one to me; and I think the cavil is like that against Milton for making the Devil his hero."]]

[Footnote 72: _Lines on the Death of Mr. Robert Levett._]

There is in the library at Abbotsford a fine copy of Baskerville's folio Bible, two volumes, printed at Cambridge in 1763; and there appears on the blank leaf, in the trembling handwriting of Scott's mother, this inscription: "_To my dear son, Walter Scott, from his affectionate mother, Anne Rutherford,--January 1st, 1819._" Under these words her son has written as follows: "This Bible was the gift of my grandfather Dr. John Rutherford, to my mother, and presented by her to me; being, alas, the last gift which I was to receive from that excellent parent, and, as I verily believe, the thing which she most loved in the world,--not only in humble veneration of the sacred contents, but as the dearest pledge of her father's affection to her.

As such she gave it to me; and as such I bequeath it to those who may represent me--charging them carefully to preserve the same, in memory of those to whom it has belonged. 1820."

If literary success could have either filled Scott's head or hardened his heart, we should have no such letters as those of December, 1819.

Ivanhoe was received throughout England with a more clamorous delight than any of the Scotch novels had been. The volumes (three in number) were now, for the first time, of the post 8vo form, with a finer paper than hitherto, the press-work much more elegant, and the price accordingly raised from eight shillings the volume to ten; yet the copies sold in this original shape were twelve thousand.

I ought to have mentioned sooner, that the original intention was to bring out Ivanhoe as the production of a new hand, and that, to assist this impression, the work was printed in a size and manner unlike the preceding ones; but Constable, when the day of publication approached, remonstrated against this experiment, and it was accordingly abandoned.

The reader has already been told that Scott dictated the greater part of this romance. The portion of the MS. which is his own, appears, however, not only as well and firmly executed as that of any of the Tales of my Landlord, but distinguished by having still fewer erasures and interlineations, and also by being in a smaller hand. The fragment is beautiful to look at--many pages together without one alteration.[73] It is, I suppose, superfluous to add, that in no instance did Scott rewrite his prose before sending it to the press.

Whatever may have been the case with his poetry, the world uniformly received the _prima cura_ of the novelist.

[Footnote 73: Three of these MS. pages were a fair day's work in the author's estimation--equal to fifteen or sixteen of the original impression.]

As a work of art, Ivanhoe is perhaps the first of all Scott's efforts, whether in prose or in verse; nor have the strength and splendor of his imagination been displayed to higher advantage than in some of the scenes of this romance. But I believe that no reader who is capable of thoroughly comprehending the author's Scotch character and Scotch dialogue will ever place even Ivanhoe, as a work of genius, on the same level with Waverley, Guy Mannering, or The Heart of Mid-Lothian.

There is, to me, something so remarkably characteristic of Scott's mind and manner in a particular passage of the Introduction, which he penned ten years afterwards for this work, that I must be pardoned for extracting it here. He says: "The character of the fair Jewess found so much favor in the eyes of some fair readers, that the writer was censured, because, when arranging the fates of the characters of the drama, he had not assigned the hand of Wilfred to Rebecca, rather than the less interesting Rowena. But, not to mention that the prejudices of the age rendered such a union almost impossible, the author may, in passing, observe that he thinks a character of a highly virtuous and lofty stamp is degraded rather than exalted by an attempt to reward virtue with temporal prosperity. Such is not the recompense which Providence has deemed worthy of suffering merit; and it is a dangerous and fatal doctrine to teach young persons, the most common readers of romance, that rectitude of conduct and of principle are either naturally allied with, or adequately rewarded by, the gratification of our passions, or attainment of our wishes. In a word, if a virtuous and self-denied character is dismissed with temporal wealth, greatness, rank, or the indulgence of such a rashly formed or ill-assorted passion as that of Rebecca for Ivanhoe, the reader will be apt to say, verily Virtue has had its reward. But a glance on the great picture of life will show that the duties of self-denial, and the sacrifice of passion to principle, are seldom thus remunerated; and that the internal consciousness of their high-minded discharge of duty produces on their own reflections a more adequate recompense, in the form of that peace which the world cannot give or take away."

The introduction of the charming Jewess and her father originated, I find, in a conversation that Scott held with his friend Skene during the severest season of his bodily sufferings in the early part of this year. "Mr. Skene," says that gentleman's wife, "sitting by his bedside, and trying to amuse him as well as he could in the intervals of pain, happened to get on the subject of the Jews, as he had observed them when he spent some time in Germany in his youth. Their situation had naturally made a strong impression; for in those days they retained their own dress and manners entire, and were treated with considerable austerity by their Christian neighbors, being still locked up at night in their own quarter by great gates; and Mr. Skene, partly in seriousness, but partly from the mere wish to turn his mind at the moment upon something that might occupy and divert it, suggested that a group of Jews would be an interesting feature if he could contrive to bring them into his next novel." Upon the appearance of Ivanhoe, he reminded Mr. Skene of this conversation, and said, "You will find this book owes not a little to your German reminiscences."

Mrs. Skene adds: "Dining with us one day, not long before Ivanhoe was begun, something that was mentioned led him to describe the sudden death of an advocate of his acquaintance, a Mr. Elphinstone, which occurred in the _Outer-house_ soon after he was called to the Bar. It was, he said, no wonder that it had left a vivid impression on his mind, for it was the first sudden death he ever witnessed; and he now related it so as to make us all feel as if we had the scene passing before our eyes. In the death of the Templar in Ivanhoe, I recognized the very picture--I believe I may safely say the very words."[74]

[Footnote 74: See _Ivanhoe_, end of chap. xliv.]

By the way, before Ivanhoe made its appearance, I had myself been formally admitted to the author's secret; but had he favored me with no such confidence, it would have been impossible for me to doubt that I had been present some months before at the conversation which suggested, and indeed supplied all the materials of, one of its most amusing chapters. I allude to that in which our Saxon terms for animals in the field, and our Norman equivalents for them as they appear on the table, and so on, are explained and commented on. All this Scott owed to the after-dinner talk one day in Castle Street of his old friend Mr. William Clerk,--who, among other elegant pursuits, has cultivated the science of philology very deeply.[75]

[Footnote 75: [It is said that the character of Rebecca was suggested to Scott by Washington Irving's description of Rebecca Gratz of Philadelphia, a lady belonging to a Jewish family of high position in that city, with whom Irving was intimate. Miss Gratz had been a friend of his betrothed, Matilda Hoffman, and in her youth had loved devotedly a man in every way worthy of her, but the difference of religion made their union impossible. During a conversation with Scott, Irving spoke with much feeling of Rebecca Gratz, of her extraordinary beauty, of her adherence to her faith under most trying circumstances, of her nobility, distinction, and loveliness of character, and her untiring zeal in works of charity, greatly interesting his host, as the guest recalled when _Ivanhoe_ appeared.

Rebecca Gratz died in 1869 in her eighty-ninth year. A sketch of her, with a portrait after a miniature by Malbone, was published in the _Century Magazine_ for September, 1882.]]

I cannot conclude this chapter without observing that the publication of Ivanhoe marks the most brilliant epoch in Scott's history as the literary favorite of his contemporaries. With the novel which he next put forth, the immediate sale of these works began gradually to decline; and though, even when that had reached its lowest declension, it was still far above the most ambitious dreams of any other novelist, yet the publishers were afraid the announcement of anything like a falling-off might cast a damp over the spirits of the author.

He was allowed to remain, for several years, under the impression that whatever novel he threw off commanded at once the old triumphant sale of ten or twelve thousand, and was afterwards, when included in the collective edition, to be circulated in that shape also as widely as Waverley or Ivanhoe. In my opinion, it would have been very unwise in the booksellers to give Scott any unfavorable tidings upon such subjects after the commencement of the malady which proved fatal to him,--for that from the first shook his mind; but I think they took a false measure of the man when they hesitated to tell him exactly how the matter stood, throughout 1820 and the three or four following years, when his intellect was as vigorous as it ever had been, and his heart as courageous; and I regret their scruples (among other reasons), because the years now mentioned were the most costly ones in his life; and for every twelvemonth in which any man allows himself, or is encouraged by others, to proceed in a course of unwise expenditure, it becomes proportionably more difficult for him to pull up when the mistake is at length detected or recognized.

CHAPTER XLVII

The Visionary. -- The Peel of Darnick. -- Scott's Saturday Excursions to Abbotsford. -- A Sunday there in February. -- Constable. -- John Ballantyne. -- Thomas Purdie, Etc. -- Prince Gustavus Vasa. -- Proclamation of King George IV. -- Publication of the Monastery.

1820

In the course of December, 1819 and January, 1820, Scott drew up three essays, under the title of The Visionary, upon certain popular doctrines or delusions, the spread of which at this time filled with alarm, not only Tories like him, but many persons who had been distinguished through life for their adherence to political liberalism. These papers appeared successively in James Ballantyne's Edinburgh Weekly Journal, and their parentage being obvious, they excited much attention in Scotland. Scott collected them into a pamphlet, which had also a large circulation; and I remember his showing very particular satisfaction when he observed a mason reading it to his comrades, as they sat at their dinner, by a new house on Leith Walk. During January, however, his thoughts continued to be chiefly occupied with the details of the proposed corps of Foresters; of which, I believe it was at last settled, as far as depended on the other gentlemen concerned in it, that he should be the Major. He wrote and spoke on this subject with undiminished zeal, until the whole fell to the ground in consequence of the Government's ultimately declining to take on itself any part of the expense; a refusal which must have been fatal to any such project when the Duke of Buccleuch was a minor.

He felt the disappointment keenly; but, in the mean time, the hearty alacrity with which his neighbors of all classes gave in their adhesion had afforded him much pleasure, and, as regarded his own immediate dependents, served to rivet the bonds of affection and confidence, which were to the end maintained between him and them.

Darnick had been especially ardent in the cause, and he thenceforth considered its volunteers as persons whose individual fortunes closely concerned him. I could fill many a page with the letters which he wrote at subsequent periods, with the view of promoting the success of these spirited young fellows in their various departments of industry: they were proud of their patron, as may be supposed, and he was highly gratified, as well as amused, when he learned that--while the rest of the world were talking of "The Great Unknown"--his usual _sobriquet_ among these villagers was "The Duke of Darnick." Already his possessions almost encircled this picturesque and thriving hamlet; and there were few things on which he had more strongly fixed his fancy than acquiring a sort of symbol of seigniory there, by becoming the purchaser of a certain then ruinous tower that predominated, with a few coeval trees, over the farmhouses and cottages of his _ducal_ vassals. A letter, previously quoted, contains an allusion to this Peelhouse of Darnick; which is moreover exactly described in the novel which he had now in hand--The Monastery. The interest Scott seemed to take in the Peel awakened, however, the pride of its hereditary proprietor: and when that worthy person, who had made some money by trade in Edinburgh, resolved on fitting it up for the evening retreat of his own life, _his Grace of Darnick_ was too happy to waive his pretensions.

This was a winter of uncommon severity in Scotland; and the snow lay so deep and so long as to interrupt very seriously all Scott's country operations. I find, in his letters to Laidlaw, various paragraphs expressing the concern he took in the hardships which his poor neighbors must be suffering. Thus, on the 19th of January, he says:--

DEAR WILLIE,--I write by the post that you may receive the enclosed, or rather subjoined, cheque for 60, in perfect safety.

This dreadful morning will probably stop Mercer.[76] It makes me shiver in the midst of superfluous comforts to think of the distress of others. 10 of the 60 I wish you to distribute among our poorer neighbors, so as may best aid them. I mean not only the actually indigent, but those who are, in our phrase, _ill aff._ I am sure Dr. Scott[77] will assist you with his advice in this labor of love. I think part of the wood-money,[78] too, should be given among the Abbotstown folks if the storm keeps them off work, as is like. Yours truly,

WALTER SCOTT.

Deep, deep snow lying here. How do the goodwife and bairns? The little bodies will be half-buried in snow-drift.

[Footnote 76: The weekly Darnick carrier.]

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