Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume VI Part 27

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W. S.

[Footnote 141: Mr. Villiers Surtees, a schoolfellow of Charles Scott's at Lampeter, had spent the vacation of this year at Abbotsford. He is now one of the Supreme Judges at the Mauritius.]

[Footnote 142: Mr. Waugh was a retired West Indian, of very dolorous aspect, who had settled at Melrose, built a large house there, surrounded it and his garden with a huge wall, and seldom emerged from his own precincts except upon the grand occasion of the Abbotsford Hunt. The villagers called him "the Melancholy Man"--and considered him as already "dreein' his dole for doings amang the poor niggers."]

[Footnote 143: This hedger had got the title of Captain, in memory of his gallantry at some _row_.]

To return to business and Messrs. Constable.--Sir Walter concluded, before he went to town in November, another negotiation of importance with this house. They agreed to give for the remaining copyright of the four novels published between December, 1819, and January, 1821--to wit, Ivanhoe, The Monastery, The Abbot, and Kenilworth--the sum of five thousand guineas. The stipulation about not revealing the author's name, under a penalty of 2000, was repeated. By these four novels, the fruits of scarcely more than twelve months' labor, he had already cleared at least 10,000 before this bargain was completed.

They, like their predecessors, were now issued in a collective shape, under the title of "Historical Romances, by the Author of Waverley."

I cannot pretend to guess what the actual state of Scott's pecuniary affairs was at the time when John Ballantyne's death relieved them from one great source of complication and difficulty. But I have said enough to satisfy every reader, that when he began the second, and far the larger division of his building at Abbotsford, he must have contemplated the utmost sum it could cost him as a mere trifle in relation to the resources at his command. He must have reckoned on clearing 30,000 at least in the course of a couple of years by the novels written within such a period. The publisher of his Tales, who best knew how they were produced, and what they brought of gross profit, and who must have had the strongest interest in keeping the author's name untarnished by any risk or reputation of failure, would willingly, as we have seen, have given him 6000 more within a space of two years for works of a less serious sort, likely to be despatched at leisure hours, without at all interfering with the main manufacture. But alas, even this was not all. Messrs. Constable had such faith in the prospective fertility of his imagination, that they were by this time quite ready to sign bargains and grant bills for novels and romances to be produced hereafter, but of which the subjects and the names were alike unknown to them and to the man from whose pen they were to proceed.[144] A forgotten satirist well says,--

"The active principle within Works on some brains the effect of gin;"

but in his case, every external influence combined to stir the flame, and swell the intoxication of restless exuberant energy. His allies knew, indeed, what he did not, that the sale of his novels was rather less than it had been in the days of Ivanhoe; and hints had sometimes been dropped to him that it might be well to try the effect of a pause. But he always thought--and James Ballantyne had decidedly the same opinion--that his best things were those which he threw off the most easily and swiftly; and it was no wonder that his booksellers, seeing how immeasurably even his worst excelled in popularity, as in merit, any other person's best, should have shrunk from the experiment of a decisive damper. On the contrary, they might be excused for from time to time flattering themselves that if the books sold at a less rate, this might be counterpoised by still greater rapidity of production. They could not make up their minds to cast the peerless vessel adrift; and, in short, after every little whisper of prudential misgiving, echoed the unfailing burden of Ballantyne's song--to push on, hoisting more and more sail as the wind lulled.

[Footnote 144: Mr. Cadell says: "This device for raising the wind was the only real legacy left by John Ballantyne to his generous friend; it was invented to make up for the bad book stock of the Hanover Street concern, which supplied so much good money for the passing hour."--(1848.)]

He was as eager to do as they could be to suggest--and this I well knew at the time. I had, however, no notion, until all his correspondence lay before me, of the extent to which he had permitted himself thus early to build on the chances of life, health, and continued popularity. Before The Fortunes of Nigel issued from the press, Scott had exchanged instruments, and received his bookseller's bills, for no less than four "works of fiction"--not one of them otherwise described in the deeds of agreement--to be produced in unbroken succession, each of them to fill at least three volumes, but with proper saving clauses as to increase of copy-money, in case any of them should run to four. And within two years all this anticipation had been wiped off by Peveril of the Peak, Quentin Durward, St.

Ronan's Well, and Redgauntlet; and the new castle was by that time complete, and overflowing with all its splendor; but by that time the end also was approaching!

The splendid romance of The Pirate was published in the beginning of December, 1821; and the wild freshness of its atmosphere, the beautiful contrast of Minna and Brenda, and the exquisitely drawn character of Captain Cleveland, found the reception which they deserved. The work was analyzed with remarkable care in the Quarterly Review, by a critic second to few, either in the manly heartiness of his sympathy with the felicities of genius, or in the honest acuteness of his censure in cases of negligence and confusion. This was the second of a series of articles in that Journal, conceived and executed in a tone widely different from those given to Waverley, Guy Mannering, and The Antiquary. I fancy Mr. Gifford had become convinced that he had made a grievous mistake in this matter, before he acquiesced in Scott's proposal about "quartering the child" in January, 1816; and if he was fortunate in finding a contributor able and willing to treat the rest of Father Jedediah's progeny with excellent skill, and in a spirit more accordant with the just and general sentiments of the public, we must also recognize a pleasing and honorable trait of character in the frankness with which the recluse and often despotic editor now delegated the pen to Mr. Senior.

On the 13th December, Sir Walter received a copy of Cain, as yet unpublished, from Lord Byron's bookseller, who had been instructed to ask whether he had any objection to having the "Mystery" dedicated to him. He replied in these words:--

TO JOHN MURRAY, ESQ., ALBEMARLE STREET, LONDON.

EDINBURGH, 17th December, 1821.

MY DEAR SIR,--I accept with feelings of great obligation the flattering proposal of Lord Byron to prefix my name to the very grand and tremendous drama of Cain. I may be partial to it, and you will allow I have cause; but I do not know that his Muse has ever taken so lofty a flight amid her former soarings. He has certainly matched Milton on his own ground. Some part of the language is bold, and may shock one class of readers, whose tone will be adopted by others out of affectation or envy. But then they must condemn the Paradise Lost, if they have a mind to be consistent. The fiendlike reasoning and bold blasphemy of the fiend and of his pupil lead exactly to the point which was to be expected--the commission of the first murder, and the ruin and despair of the perpetrator.

I do not see how any one can accuse the author himself of Manichaeism. The devil takes the language of that sect, doubtless; because, not being able to deny the existence of the Good Principle, he endeavors to exalt himself--the Evil Principle--to a seeming equality with the Good; but such arguments, in the mouth of such a being, can only be used to deceive and to betray.

Lord Byron might have made this more evident, by placing in the mouth of Adam, or of some good and protecting spirit, the reasons which render the existence of moral evil consistent with the general benevolence of the Deity. The great key to the mystery is, perhaps, the imperfection of our own faculties, which see and feel strongly the partial evils which press upon us, but know too little of the general system of the universe, to be aware how the existence of these is to be reconciled with the benevolence of the great Creator.--Ever yours truly,

WALTER SCOTT.

In some preceding narratives of Sir Walter Scott's Life, I find the principal feature for 1821 to be an affair of which I have as yet said nothing; and which, notwithstanding the examples I have before me, I must be excused for treating on a scale commensurate with his real share and interest therein. I allude to an unfortunate newspaper, by name The Beacon, which began to be published in Edinburgh in January, 1821, and was abruptly discontinued in the August of the same year. It originated in the alarm with which the Edinburgh Tories contemplated the progress of Radical doctrines during the agitation of the Queen's business in 1820--and the want of any adequate counteraction on the part of the Ministerial newspapers in the north. James Ballantyne had on that occasion swerved from his banner--and by so doing given not a little offence to Scott. He approved, therefore, of the project of a new Weekly Journal, to be conducted by some steadier hand;[145] and when it was proposed to raise the requisite capital for the speculation by private subscription, expressed his willingness to contribute whatever sum should be named by other gentlemen of his standing. This was accepted of course; but every part of the advice with which the only man in the whole conclave that understood a jot about such things coupled his tender of alliance, was departed from in practice. No experienced and responsible editor of the sort he pointed out as indispensable was secured; the violence of disaffected spleen was encountered by a vein of satire which seemed more fierce than frolicsome; the Law Officers of the Crown, whom he had most strenuously cautioned against any participation in the concern, were rash enough to commit themselves in it; the subscribers, like true Scotchmen, in place of paying down their money, and thinking no more of that part of the matter, chose to put their names to a bond of security on which the sum-total was to be advanced by bankers; and thus, by their own over-caution as to a few pounds, laid the foundation for a long train of humiliating distresses and disgraces; and finally, when the rude drollery of the young hot bloods to whom they had entrusted the editorship of their paper, produced its natural consequences, and the ferment of Whig indignation began to boil over upon the dignified patrons of what was denounced as a systematic scheme of calumny and defamation--these seniors shrunk from the dilemma as rashly as they had plunged into it, and instead of compelling the juvenile allies to adopt a more prudent course, and gradually give the journal a tone worthy of open approbation, they, at the first blush of personal difficulty, left their instruments in the lurch, and, without even consulting Scott, ordered the Beacon to be extinguished at an hour's notice.

[Footnote 145: It has been asserted, since this work first appeared, that the editorship of the proposed journal was offered to Ballantyne, and declined by him. If so, he had no doubt found the offer accompanied with a requisition of political pledges, which he could not grant.--(1839.)]

A more pitiable mass of blunder and imbecility was never heaped together than the whole of this affair exhibited; and from a very early period Scott was so disgusted with it, that he never even saw the newspaper, of which Whigs and Radicals believed, or affected to believe, that the conduct and management were in some degree at least under his dictation. The results were lamentable: the Beacon was made the subject of Parliamentary discussion, from which the then heads of Scotch Toryism did not escape in any very consolatory plight; but above all, the Beacon bequeathed its rancor and rashness, though not its ability, to a Glasgow paper of similar form and pretensions, entitled The Sentinel. By that organ the personal quarrels of the Beacon were taken up and pursued with relentless industry; and finally, the Glasgow editors disagreeing, some moment of angry confusion betrayed a box of MSS., by which the late Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck was revealed as the writer of certain truculent enough pasquinades. A leading Edinburgh Whig, who had been pilloried in one or more of these, challenged Boswell--and the Baronet fell in as miserable a quarrel as ever cost the blood of a high-spirited gentleman.[146]

This tragedy occurred in the early part of 1822; and soon afterwards followed those debates on the whole business in the House of Commons, for which, if any reader feels curiosity about them, I refer him to the Parliamentary Histories of the time. A single extract from one of Scott's letters to a member of the then Government in London will be sufficient for my purpose; and abundantly confirm what I have said as to his personal part in the affairs of the Beacon:--

[Footnote 146: [James Stuart of Dunearn was Boswell's opponent.

Lockhart in writing to Scott of Sir Alexander's death [March 27] adds: "I hope I need not say how cordially I enter into the hope you express, that this bloody lesson may be a sufficient and lasting one.

I can never be sufficiently grateful for the advice which kept me from having any hand in all these newspaper skirmishes. Wilson also is totally free from any concern in any of them, and for this I am sure he also feels himself chiefly indebted to your counsel."--_Familiar Letters_, vol. ii. p. 137. Stuart's trial took place on June 10, and his acquittal was hailed as a triumph by the Whigs. Lord Cockburn was one of Stuart's counsel, and in his _Memorials_, pp. 392-399, will be found an account of the affair, as viewed by a distinguished member of that party.]]

TO J. W. CROKER, ESQ., ADMIRALTY.

MY DEAR CROKER,--... I had the fate of Cassandra in the Beacon matter from beginning to end. I endeavored in vain to impress on them the necessity of having an editor who was really up to the business, and could mix spirit with discretion--one of those "gentlemen of the press," who understand the exact lengths to which they can go in their vocation. Then I wished them, in place of that _Bond_, to have each thrown down his hundred pounds, and never inquired more about it--and lastly, I exclaimed against the Crown Counsel being at all concerned. In the two first remonstrances I was not listened to--in the last I thought myself successful, and it was not till long afterwards that I heard they had actually subscribed the Bond. Then the hasty renunciation of the thing, as if we had been doing something very atrocious, put me mad altogether. The younger brethren, too, allege that they are put into the front of the fight, and deserted on the first pinch; and on my word I cannot say the accusation is altogether false, though I have been doing my best to mediate betwixt the parties, and keep the peace if possible. The fact is, it is a blasted business, and will continue long to have bad consequences.--Yours in all love and kindness,

WALTER SCOTT.

Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume VI Part 27

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