Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume V Part 9

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[Footnote 34: The late Mr. Hay Donaldson, W. S.,--an intimate friend of both Thomas and Walter Scott,--and Mr. Macculloch of Ardwell, the brother of Mrs. Thomas Scott.]

A few days afterwards, he hands to Mr. Thomas Scott a formal statement of pecuniary affairs; the result of which was, that the Major had left something not much under 6000. Major Scott, from all I have heard, was {p.100} a sober, sedate bachelor, of dull mind and frugal tastes, who, after his retirement from the army, divided his time between his mother's primitive fireside, and the society of a few whist-playing brother officers, that met for an evening rubber at Fortune's tavern.

But, making every allowance for his retired and thrifty habits, I infer that the payments made to each of the three brothers out of their father's estate must have, prior to 1816, amounted to 5000.

From the letter conveying this statement (29th May), I extract a few sentences:--

DEAR TOM,--... Should the possession of this sum, and the certainty that you must, according to the course of nature, in a short space of years succeed to a similar sum of 3000 belonging to our mother, induce you to turn your thoughts to Scotland, I shall be most happy to forward your views with any influence I may possess; and I have little doubt that, sooner or later, something may be done. But, unfortunately, every avenue is now choked with applicants, whose claims are very strong; for the number of disbanded officers, and public servants dismissed in consequence of Parliament turning restive and refusing the income-tax, is great and increasing. Economy is the order of the day, and I assure you they are shaving properly close. It would, no doubt, be comparatively easy to get you a better situation where you are, but then it is bidding farewell to your country, at least for a long time, and separating your children from all knowledge of those with whom they are naturally connected. I shall anxiously expect to hear from you on your views and wishes. I think, at all events, you ought to get rid of the drudgery of the paymastership--but not without trying to exchange it for something else. I do not know how it is with you--but I do not feel myself quite so _young_ as I was when we met last, and I should like well to see my only brother return to his own country and settle, without thoughts {p.101} of leaving it, till it is exchanged for one that is dark and distant.... I left all Jack's personal trifles at my mother's disposal. There was nothing of the slightest value, excepting his gold watch, which was my sister's, and a good one. My mother says he had wished my son Walter should have it, as his male representative--which I can only accept on condition _your_ little Walter will accept a similar token of regard from his remaining uncle.--Yours affectionately,

W. S.

The letter in which Scott communicated his brother's death to Mr.

Morritt gives us his own original opinion of The Antiquary. It has also some remarks on the separation of Lord and Lady Byron--and the "domestic verses" of the noble poet.

TO J. B. S. MORRITT, ESQ., M. P., LONDON.

EDINBURGH, May 16, 1816.

MY DEAR MORRITT,--I have been occupied of late with scenes of domestic distress, my poor brother, Major John Scott, having last week closed a life which wasting disease had long rendered burthensome. His death, under all the circumstances, cannot be termed a subject of deep affliction; and though we were always on fraternal terms of mutual kindness and good-will, yet our habits of life, our taste for society and circles of friends, were so totally different, that there was less frequent intercourse between us than our connection and real liking to each other might have occasioned. Yet it is a heavy consideration to have lost the last but one who was interested in our early domestic life, our habits of boyhood, and our first friends and connections. It makes one look about and see how the scene has changed around him, and how he himself has been changed with it. My only remaining brother is in Canada, and seems to have an intention of remaining there; so that my mother, now upwards of eighty, has now only one child left to her {p.102} out of thirteen whom she has borne. She is a most excellent woman, possessed, even at her advanced age, of all the force of mind and sense of duty which have carried her through so many domestic griefs, as the successive deaths of eleven children, some of them come to men and women's estate, naturally infers. She is the principal subject of my attention at present, and is, I am glad to say, perfectly well in body and composed in mind.

Nothing can give me more pleasure than the prospect of seeing you in September, which will suit our motions perfectly well. I trust I shall have an opportunity to introduce you to some of our glens which you have not yet seen. But I hope we shall have some mild weather before that time, for we are now in the seventh month of winter, which almost leads me to suppose that we shall see no summer this season. As for spring, that is past praying for. In the month of November last, people were skating in the neighborhood of Edinburgh; and now, in the middle of May, the snow is lying white on Arthur's Seat, and on the range of the Pentlands. It is really fearful, and the sheep are perishing by scores. _Jam satis terrae nivis_, etc., may well be taken up as the song of eighteen hundred and sixteen.

So Lord Byron's romance seems to be concluded for one while--and it is surely time, after he has announced, or rather they themselves have announced, half-a-dozen blackguard newspaper editors, to have been his confidants on the occasion. Surely it is a strange thirst of public fame that seeks such a road to it. But Lord Byron, with high genius and many points of a noble and generous feeling, has Childe Harolded himself, and outlawed himself, into too great a resemblance with the pictures of his imagination. He has one excuse, however, and it is a sad one. I have been reckoned to make a good hit enough at a pirate, or an outlaw, or a smuggling bandit; but I cannot say I was ever so much enchanted with my {p.103} work as to think of carrying off a _drift_ of my neighbor's sheep, or half a dozen of his milk cows. Only I remember, in the rough times, having a scheme with the Duke of Buccleuch, that when the worst came to the worst, we should repair Hermitage Castle, and live, like Robin Hood and his merry men, at the expense of all round us. But this presupposed a grand _bouleversement_ of society. In the mean while, I think my noble friend is something like my old peacock, who chooses to bivouac apart from his lady, and sit below my bedroom window, to keep me awake with his screeching lamentation.

Only I own he is not equal in melody to Lord Byron, for _Fare-thee-well--and if for ever_, etc., is a very sweet dirge indeed. After all, _C'est genie mal loge_, and that's all that can be said about it.

I am quite reconciled to your opinions on the income-tax, and am not at all in despair at the prospect of keeping 200 a year in my pocket, since the ministers can fadge without it. But their throwing the helve after the hatchet, and giving up the malt-duty because they had lost the other, was droll enough. After all, our fat friend[35] must learn to live within compass, and fire off no more crackers in the Park, for John Bull is getting dreadfully sore on all sides when money is concerned.

[Footnote 35: Shortly after Beau Brummell (immortalized in _Don Juan_) fell into disgrace with the Prince Regent, and was dismissed from the society of Carlton House, he was riding with another gentleman in the Park, when the Prince met them. His Royal Highness stopt to speak to Brummell's companion--the Beau continued to jog on--and when the other dandy rejoined him, asked with an air of sovereign indifference, "Who is your fat friend?"

Such, at least, was the story that went the round of the newspapers at the time, and highly tickled Scott's fancy. I have heard that nobody enjoyed so much as the Prince of Wales himself an earlier specimen of the Beau's assurance. Taking offence at some part of His Royal Highness's conduct or demeanor, "Upon my word,"

observed Mr. Brummell, "if this kind of thing goes on, I shall be obliged to cut Wales, and bring the old King into fashion."]

I sent you, some time since, The Antiquary. It is not so interesting as its predecessors--the period did not {p.104} admit of so much romantic situation. But it has been more fortunate than any of them in the sale, for 6000 went off in the first six days, and it is now at press again; which is very flattering to the unknown author. Another incognito proposes immediately to resume the second volume of Triermain, which is at present in the state of the Bear and Fiddle.[36] Adieu, dear Morritt.

Ever yours,

Walter SCOTT.

[Footnote 36: See _Hudibras_.]

Speaking of his third novel in a letter of the same date to Terry, Scott says: "It wants the romance of Waverley and the adventure of Guy Mannering; and yet there is some salvation about it, for if a man will paint from nature, he will be likely to amuse those who are daily looking at it."

After a little pause of hesitation, The Antiquary attained popularity not inferior to Guy Mannering; and though the author appears for a moment to have shared the doubts which he read in the countenance of James Ballantyne, it certainly was, in the sequel, his chief favorite among all his novels. Nor is it difficult to account for this preference, without laying any stress on the fact, that, during a few short weeks, it was pretty commonly talked of as a falling off from its immediate predecessors--and that some minor critics reechoed this stupid whisper in print. In that view, there were many of its successors that had much stronger claims on the parental instinct of protection. But the truth is, that although Scott's Introduction of 1830 represents him as pleased with fancying that, in the principal personage, he had embalmed a worthy friend of his boyish days, his own antiquarian propensities, originating perhaps in the kind attentions of George Constable of Wallace-Craigie, and fostered not a little, at about as ductile a period, by those of old Clerk of Eldin, and John Ramsay of Ochtertyre, had by degrees so developed themselves, that he {p.105} could hardly, even when The Antiquary was published, have scrupled about recognizing a quaint caricature of the founder of Abbotsford Museum, in the inimitable portraiture of the Laird of Monkbarns. The Descriptive Catalogue of that collection, which he began towards the close of his life, but, alas, never finished, is entitled "Reliquiae Trottcosianae--or the Gabions of the late Jonathan Oldbuck, Esq."

But laying this, which might have been little more than a good-humored pleasantry, out of the question, there is assuredly no one of all his works on which more of his own early associations have left their image. Of those early associations, as his full-grown tastes were all the progeny, so his genius, in all its happiest efforts, was the "Recording Angel;" and when George Constable first expounded his "Gabions" to the child that was to immortalize his name, they were either wandering hand in hand over the field where the grass still grew rank upon the grave of _Balmawhapple_, or sauntering on the beach where the _Mucklebackets_ of Prestonpans dried their nets, singing,--

"Weel may the boatie row, and better may she speed, O weel may the boatie row that wins the bairns' bread"--

or telling wild stories about cliff-escapes and the funerals of shipwrecked fishermen.

Considered by itself, without reference to these sources of personal interest, this novel seems to me to possess, almost throughout, in common with its two predecessors, a kind of simple unsought charm, which the subsequent works of the series hardly reached, save in occasional snatches: like them it is, in all its humbler and softer scenes, the transcript of actual Scottish life, as observed by the man himself. And I think it must also be allowed that he has nowhere displayed his highest art, that of skilful contrast, in greater perfection. Even the tragic romance of Waverley does not set off its Macwheebles and Callum Begs better than the oddities of {p.106} Jonathan Oldbuck and his circle are relieved, on the one hand, by the stately gloom of the Glenallans, on the other, by the stern affliction of the poor fisherman, who, when discovered repairing the "auld black bitch o' a boat" in which his boy had been lost, and congratulated by his visitor on being capable of the exertion, makes answer,--"And what would you have me to do, unless I wanted to see four children starve, because one is drowned? _It's weel wi' you gentles, that can sit in the house wi' handkerchers at your een, when ye lose a friend; but the like o' us maun to our wark again, if our hearts were beating as hard as my hammer._"

It may be worth noting, that it was in correcting the proof sheets of this novel that Scott first took to equipping his chapters with mottoes of his own fabrication. On one occasion he happened to ask John Ballantyne, who was sitting by him, to hunt for a particular passage in Beaumont and Fletcher. John did as he was bid, but did not succeed in discovering the lines. "Hang it, Johnnie," cried Scott, "I believe I can make a motto sooner than you will find one." He did so accordingly; and from that hour, whenever memory failed to suggest an appropriate epigraph, he had recourse to the inexhaustible mines of "_old play_" or "_old ballad_," to which we owe some of the most exquisite verses that ever flowed from his pen.

Unlike, I believe, most men, whenever Scott neared the end of one composition, his spirits seem to have caught a new spring of buoyancy, and before the last sheet was sent from his desk, he had crowded his brain with the imagination of another fiction. The Antiquary was published, as we have seen, in May, but by the beginning of April he had already opened to the Ballantynes the plan of the first Tales of my Landlord; and--to say nothing of Harold the Dauntless, which he began shortly after The Bridal of Triermain was finished, and which he seems to have kept before him for two years {p.107} as a congenial plaything, to be taken up whenever the coach brought no proof sheets to jog him as to serious matters--he had also, before this time, undertaken to write the historical department of the Register for 1814. Mr. Southey had, for reasons upon which I do not enter, discontinued his services to that work: and it was now doubly necessary, after trying for one year a less eminent hand, that if the work were not to be dropped altogether, some strenuous exertion should be made to sustain its character. Scott had not yet collected the materials requisite for his historical sketch of a year distinguished for the importance and complexity of its events; but these, he doubted not, would soon reach him, and he felt no hesitation about pledging himself to complete, not only that sketch, but four new volumes of prose romances--and his Harold the Dauntless also, if Ballantyne could make any suitable arrangement on that score--between the April and the Christmas of 1816.

The Antiquary had been published by Constable, but I presume that, in addition to the usual stipulations, he had been again, on that occasion, solicited to relieve John Ballantyne and Co.'s stock to an extent which he did not find quite convenient; and at all events he had of late shown a considerable reluctance to employ James Ballantyne and Co. as printers. One or other of these impediments is alluded to in a note of Scott's, which, though undated, has been pasted into John Ballantyne's private letter-book among the documents of the period in question. It is in these words:--

DEAR JOHN,--I have seen the great swab, who is supple as a glove, and will do ALL, which some interpret NOTHING.

However, we shall do well enough.

W. S.

Constable had been admitted, almost from the beginning, into the _secret_ of the Novels--and for that, among {p.108} other reasons, it would have been desirable for the Novelist to have him continue the publisher without interruption; but Scott was led to suspect, that if he were called upon to conclude a bargain for a fourth novel before the third had made its appearance, his scruples as to the matter of _printing_ might at least protract the treaty; and why Scott should have been urgently desirous of seeing the transaction settled before the expiration of the half-yearly term of Whitsunday is sufficiently explained by the fact, that though so much of the old unfortunate stock of John Ballantyne and Co. still remained on hand--and with it some occasional recurrence of commercial difficulty as to floating bills was to be expected--while James Ballantyne's management of the pecuniary affairs of the printing-house had continued to be highly negligent and irregular[37]--nevertheless, the sanguine author had gone on purchasing one patch of land after another, until his estate at Abbotsford had already grown from 150 to nearly 1000 acres. The property all about his original farm had been in the hands of various small holders (Scottice _cock-lairds_;) these persons were sharp enough to understand, erelong, that their neighbor could with difficulty resist any temptation that might present itself in the shape of an offer of more acres; and thus he proceeded buying up lot after lot of unimproved ground, at extravagant prices,--his "appetite increasing by what it fed on," while the ejected yeomen set themselves down elsewhere, to fatten at their leisure upon the profits--most commonly the anticipated profits--of "The Scotch Novels."

[Footnote 37: In February, 1816, when James Ballantyne married, it is clearly proved by letters in his handwriting, that he owed to Scott more than 3000 of personal debt.--(1839.)]

He was ever and anon pulled up with a momentary misgiving,--and resolved that the latest acquisition should be the last, until he could get rid entirely of "John Ballantyne and Co." But John Ballantyne was, {p.109} from the utter lightness of his mind, his incapacity to look a day before him, and his eager impatience to enjoy the passing hour, the very last man in the world who could, under such circumstances, have been a serviceable agent. Moreover, John, too, had his professional ambition: he was naturally proud of his connection, however secondary, with the publication of these works--and this connection, though subordinate, was still very profitable; he must have suspected, that should his name disappear altogether from the list of booksellers, it would be a very difficult matter for him to retain any concern in them; and I cannot, on the whole, but consider it as certain that, the first and more serious embarrassments being overcome, he was far from continuing to hold by his patron's anxiety for the total abolition of their unhappy copartnership. He, at all events, unless when some sudden emergency arose, flattered Scott's own gay imagination, by uniformly representing everything in the most smiling colors; and though Scott, in his replies, seldom failed to introduce some passing hint of caution--such as "_Nullum numen abest si sit prudentia_"--he more and more took home to himself the agreeable cast of his _Rigdum's_ anticipations, and wrote to him in a vein as merry as his own;--_e. g._--"As for our stock,

"'T will be wearing awa', John, Like snaw-wreaths when it's thaw, John," etc., etc., etc.

I am very sorry, in a word, to confess my conviction that John Ballantyne, however volatile and light-headed, acted at this period with cunning selfishness, both by Scott and by Constable. He well knew that it was to Constable alone that his firm had more than once owed its escape from utter ruin and dishonor; and he must also have known, that had a fair straightforward effort been made for that purpose, after the triumphant career of the Waverley series had once commenced, nothing could have been more easy than to bring all the affairs of his "back-stock," etc., to a complete close, by entering {p.110} into a distinct and candid treaty on that subject, in connection with the future works of the great Novelist, either with Constable or with any other first-rate house in the trade. But John, foreseeing that, were that unhappy concern quite out of the field, he must himself subside into a mere clerk of the printing company, seems to have parried the blow by the only arts of any consequence in which he ever was an adept. He appears to have systematically disguised from Scott the extent to which the whole Ballantyne concern had been sustained by Constable--especially during his Hebridean tour of 1814, and his Continental one of 1815--and prompted and enforced the idea of trying other booksellers from time to time, instead of adhering to Constable, merely for the selfish purposes,--first, of facilitating the immediate discount of bills;--secondly, of further perplexing Scott's affairs, the entire disentanglement of which would have been, as he fancied, prejudicial to his own personal importance.

It was resolved, accordingly, to offer the risk and half profits of the first edition of another new novel--or rather collection of novels--not to Messrs. Constable, but to Mr. Murray of Albemarle Street, and Mr. Blackwood, who was then Murray's agent in Scotland; but it was at the same time resolved, partly because Scott wished to try another experiment on the public sagacity, but partly also, no question, from the wish to spare Constable's feelings, that the title-page of the Tales of my Landlord should not bear the magical words "By the Author of Waverley." The facility with which both Murray and Blackwood embraced such a proposal, as no untried novelist, being sane, could have dreamt of hazarding, shows that neither of them had any doubt as to the identity of the author. They both considered the withholding of the avowal on the forthcoming title-page as likely to check very much the first success of the book; but they were both eager to prevent Constable's acquiring {p.111} a sort of prescriptive right to publish for the unrivalled novelist, and willing to disturb his tenure at this additional, and, as they thought it, wholly unnecessary risk.

How sharply the unseen parent watched this first negotiation of his _Jedediah Cleishbotham_ will appear from one of his letters:--

TO MR. JOHN BALLANTYNE, HANOVER STREET, EDINBURGH.

ABBOTSFORD, April 29, 1816.

DEAR JOHN,--James has made one or two important mistakes in the bargain with Murray and Blackwood. Briefly as follows:--

1stly, Having only authority from me to promise 6000 copies, he proposes they shall have the copyright _forever_. I will see their noses cheese first.

2dly, He proposes I shall have twelve months' bills--I have always got six. However, I would not stand on that.

3dly, He talks of volumes being put into the publisher's hands to consider and decide on. No such thing; a bare perusal at St. John Street[38] only.

[Footnote 38: James Ballantyne's dwelling-house was then in this street, adjoining the Canongate of Edinburgh.]

Then for omissions--It is NOT stipulated that we supply the paper and print of successive editions. This must be nailed, and not left to understanding.--Secondly, I will have London bills as well as Blackwood's.

If they agree to these conditions, good and well. If they demur, Constable must be instantly tried; giving half to the Longmans, and _we_ drawing on _them_ for that moiety, or Constable lodging their bill in our hands. You will understand it is a four-volume touch--a work totally different in style and structure from the others; a new cast, in short, of the net which has hitherto made miraculous draughts. I do not limit you to terms, because I think you will make them better than I can do. {p.112} But he must do more than others, since he will not or cannot print with us. For every point but that, I would rather deal with Constable than any one; he has always shown himself spirited, judicious, and liberal. Blackwood must be brought to the point _instantly_; and _whenever_ he demurs, Constable must be treated with; for there is no use in suffering the thing to be blown on. At the same time, you need not conceal from him that there were some proposals elsewhere, but you may add, with truth, I would rather close with him. Yours truly,

W. S.

P. S.--I think Constable should jump at this affair; for I believe the work will be very popular.

Messrs. Murray and Blackwood agreed to all the author's conditions here expressed. They also relieved John Ballantyne and Co. of stock to the value of 500; and at least Mr. Murray must, moreover, have subsequently consented to anticipate the period of his payments. At all events, I find, in a letter of Scott's, dated in the subsequent August, this new echo of the old advice:--

Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume V Part 9

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