Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume VI Part 1

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Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott.

Volume 6.

by John Gibson Lockhart.

CHAPTER XLIII

Declining Health of Charles, Duke of Buccleuch. -- Letter on the Death of Queen Charlotte. -- Provincial Antiquities, Etc. -- Extensive Sale of Copyrights to Constable and Co. -- Death of Mr.

Charles Carpenter. -- Scott Accepts the Offer of a Baronetcy. -- He Declines to Renew his Application for a Seat on the Exchequer Bench. -- Letters to Morritt, Richardson, Miss Baillie, The Duke of Buccleuch, Lord Montagu, and Captain Ferguson. -- Rob Roy Played at Edinburgh. -- Letter from Jedediah Cleishbotham to Mr.

Charles Mackay.

1818-1819

I have now to introduce a melancholy subject--one of the greatest afflictions that ever Scott encountered. The health of Charles, Duke of Buccleuch was by this time beginning to give way, and Scott thought it his duty to intimate his very serious apprehensions to his noble friend's brother.

TO THE RIGHT HON. LORD MONTAGU, DITTON PARK, WINDSOR.

EDINBURGH, 12th November, 1818.

MY DEAR LORD,--I am about to write to you with feelings of the deepest anxiety. I have hesitated for two or three days whether I should communicate to your Lordship the sincere alarm which I entertain on account of the Duke's present state of health, but I have come to persuade myself, that it will be discharging a part of the duty which I owe to him, to mention my own most distressing apprehensions. I was at the cattle-show on the 6th, and executed the delegated task of toast-master, and so forth. I was told by **** that the Duke is under the influence of the muriatic bath, which occasions a good deal of uneasiness when the medicine is in possession of the system. The Duke observed the strictest diet, and remained only a short time at table, leaving me to do the honors, which I did with a sorrowful heart, endeavoring, however, to persuade myself that ****'s account, and the natural depression of spirits incidental to his finding himself unable for the time to discharge the duty to his guests, which no man could do with so much grace and kindness, were sufficient to account for the alteration of his manner and appearance. I spent Monday with him quietly and alone, and I must say that all I saw and heard was calculated to give me the greatest pain. His strength is much less, his spirits lower, and his general appearance far more unfavorable than when I left him at Drumlanrig a few weeks before. What ****, and indeed what the Duke himself, says of the medicine, may be true--but **** is very sanguine, and, like all the personal physicians attached to a person of such consequence, he is too much addicted to the _placebo_--at least I think so--too apt to fear to give offence by contradiction, or by telling that sort of truth which may controvert the wishes or habits of his patient. I feel I am communicating much pain to your Lordship, but I am sure that, excepting yourself, there is not a man in the world whose sorrow and apprehension could exceed mine in having such a task to discharge; for, as your Lordship well knows, the ties which bind me to your excellent brother are of a much stronger kind than usually connect persons so different in rank. But the alteration in voice and person, in features, and in spirits, all argue the decay of natural strength, and the increase of some internal disorder, which is gradually triumphing over the system. Much has been done in these cases by change of climate. I hinted this to the Duke at Drumlanrig, but I found his mind totally averse to it. But he made some inquiries of Harden (just returned from Italy), which seemed to imply that at least the idea of a winter in Italy or the south of France was not altogether out of his consideration. Your Lordship will consider whether he can or ought to be pressed upon this point. He is partial to Scotland, and feels the many high duties which bind him to it. But the air of this country, with its alternations of moisture and dry frost, although excellent for a healthy person, is very trying to a valetudinarian.

I should not have thought of volunteering to communicate such unpleasant news, but that the family do not seem alarmed. I am not surprised at this, because, where the decay of health is very gradual, it is more easily traced by a friend who sees the patient from interval to interval, than by the affectionate eyes which are daily beholding him.

Adieu, my dear Lord. God knows you will scarce read this letter with more pain than I feel in writing it. But it seems indispensable to me to communicate my sentiments of the Duke's present situation to his nearest relation and dearest friend. His life is invaluable to his country and to his family, and how dear it is to his friends can only be estimated by those who know the soundness of his understanding, the uprightness and truth of his judgment, and the generosity and warmth of his feelings.

I am always, my dear Lord, most truly yours,

WALTER SCOTT.

Scott's letters of this and the two following months are very much occupied with the painful subject of the Duke of Buccleuch's health; but those addressed to his Grace himself are, in general, in a more jocose strain than usual. His friend's spirits were sinking, and he exerted himself in this way, in the hope of amusing the hours of languor at Bowhill. These letters are headed "Edinburgh Gazette Extraordinary," No. 1, No. 2, and so on; but they deal so much in laughable gossip about persons still living, that I find it difficult to make any extracts from them. The following paragraphs, however, from the Gazette of November the 20th, give a little information as to his own minor literary labors:--

"The article on Gourgaud's Narrative[1] _is_ by a certain _Vieux Routier_ of your Grace's acquaintance, who would willingly have some military hints from you for the continuation of the article, if at any time you should feel disposed to amuse yourself with looking at the General's most marvellous performance. His lies are certainly like the father who begot them. Do not think that at any time the little trumpery intelligence this place affords can interrupt my labors, while it amuses your Grace. I can scribble as fast in the Court of Session as anywhere else, without the least loss of time or hindrance of business. At the same time, I cannot help laughing at the miscellaneous trash I have been putting out of my hand, and the various motives which made me undertake the jobs. An article for the Edinburgh Review[2]--this for the love of Jeffrey, the editor--the first for ten years. Do., being the article _Drama_ for the Encyclopaedia--this for the sake of Mr. Constable, the publisher. Do.

for the Blackwoodian Magazine--this for love of the cause I espoused.

Do. for the Quarterly Review[3]--this for the love of myself, I believe, or, which is the same thing, for the love of 100, which I wanted for some odd purpose. As all these folks fight like dog and cat among themselves, my situation is much like the _Suave mare magno_, and so forth....

[Footnote 1: Article on _General Gourgaud's Memoirs_ in _Blackwood's Magazine_ for November, 1818.]

[Footnote 2: Article on Maturin's _Women, or Pour et Contre_.

(_Miscellaneous Prose Works_, vol. xviii.)]

[Footnote 3: Article on _Childe Harold_, Canto IV. (_Miscellaneous Prose Works_, vol. xvii.)]

"I hope your Grace will never think of answering the Gazettes at all, or even replying to letters of business, until you find it quite convenient and easy. The Gazette will continue to appear as materials occur. Indeed I expect, in the end of next week, to look in upon Bowhill, per the Selkirk mail, about eight at night, with the hope of spending a day there, which will be more comfortable than at Abbotsford, where I should feel like a mouse below a firlot. If I find the Court can spare so important a person for one day, I shall order my pony up to meet me at Bowhill, and, supposing me to come on Friday night, I can easily return by the Blucher on Monday, dining and sleeping at Huntly Burn on the Sunday. So I shall receive all necessary reply in person."

Good Queen Charlotte died on the 17th of this month; and in writing to Mr. Morritt on the 21st, Scott thus expresses what was, I believe, the universal feeling at the moment:--

"So we have lost the old Queen. She has only had the sad prerogative of being kept alive by nursing for some painful weeks, whereas perhaps a subject might have closed the scene earlier. I fear the effect of this event on public manners--were there but a weight at the back of the drawing-room door, which would slam it in the face of w----s, its fall ought to be lamented; and I believe that poor Charlotte really adopted her rules of etiquette upon a feeling of duty. If we should suppose the Princess of Wales to have been at the head of the matronage of the land for these last ten years, what would have been the difference on public opinion! No man of experience will ever expect the breath of a court to be favorable to correct morals--_sed si non caste caute tamen_. One half of the mischief is done by the publicity of the evil, which corrupts those which are near its influence, and fills with disgust and apprehension those to whom it does not directly extend. Honest old Evelyn's account of Charles the Second's court presses on one's recollection, and prepares the mind for anxious apprehensions."

Towards the end of this month Scott received from his kind friend Lord Sidmouth, then Secretary of State for the Home Department, the formal announcement of the Prince Regent's desire (which had been privately communicated some months earlier through the Lord Chief Commissioner Adam) to confer on him the rank of Baronet. When Scott first heard of the Regent's gracious intention, he had signified considerable hesitation about the prudence of his accepting any such accession of rank; for it had not escaped his observation, that such airy sounds, however modestly people may be disposed to estimate them, are apt to entail in the upshot additional cost upon their way of living, and to affect accordingly the plastic fancies, feelings, and habits of their children. But Lord Sidmouth's letter happened to reach him a few days after he had heard of the sudden death of his wife's brother, Charles Carpenter, who had bequeathed the reversion of his fortune to his sister's family; and this circumstance disposed Scott to waive his scruples, chiefly with a view to the professional advantage of his eldest son, who had by this time fixed on the life of a soldier. As is usually the case, the estimate of Mr. Carpenter's property transmitted at the time to England proved to have been an exaggerated one; as nearly as my present information goes, the amount was doubled. But as to the only question of any interest, to wit, how Scott himself felt on all these matters at the moment, the following letter to one whom he had long leaned to as a brother, will be more satisfactory than anything else it is in my power to quote:--

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

EDINBURGH, 7th December, 1818.

MY DEAR MORRITT,--I know you are indifferent to nothing that concerns us, and therefore I take an early opportunity to acquaint you with the mixture of evil and good which has very lately befallen us. On Saturday last we had the advice of the death of my wife's brother, Charles Carpenter, commercial resident at Salem, in the Madras Establishment. This event has given her great distress. She has not, that we know of, a single blood-relation left in the world, for her uncle, the Chevalier de la Volere,[4] colonel of a Russian regiment, is believed to have been killed in the campaign of 1813. My wife has been very unwell for two days, and is only now sitting up and mixing with us. She has that sympathy which we are all bound to pay, but feels she wants that personal interest in her sorrow which could only be grounded on a personal acquaintance with the deceased.

Mr. Carpenter has, with great propriety, left his property in life-rent to his wife--the capital to my children. It seems to amount to about 40,000. Upwards of 30,000 is in the British funds; the rest, to an uncertain value, in India. I hope this prospect of independence will not make my children different from that which they have usually been--docile, dutiful, and affectionate. I trust it will not. At least, the first expression of their feelings was honorable, for it was a unanimous wish to give up all to their mother. This I explained to them was out of the question; but that, if they should be in possession at any time of this property, they ought, among them, to settle an income of 400 or 500 on their mother for her life, to supply her with a fund at her own uncontrolled disposal, for any indulgence or useful purpose that might be required. Mrs. Scott will stand in no need of this; but it is a pity to let kind affections run to waste; and if they never have it in their power to pay such a debt, their willingness to have done so will be a pleasant reflection. I am Scotchman enough to hate the breaking up of family ties, and the too close adherence to personal property. For myself, this event makes me neither richer nor poorer _directly_; but indirectly it will permit me to do something for my poor brother Tom's family, besides pleasing myself in "_plantings_, and _policies_, and _biggings_,"[5] with a safe conscience.

There is another thing I have to whisper to your faithful ear.

Our fat friend, being desirous to honor Literature in my unworthy person, has intimated to me, by his organ the Doctor,[6] that, with consent ample and unanimous of all the potential voices of all his ministers, each more happy than another of course on so joyful an occasion, he proposes to dub me Baronet. It would be easy saying a parcel of fine things about my contempt of rank, and so forth; but although I would not have gone a step out of my way to have asked, or bought, or begged or borrowed a distinction, which to me personally will rather be inconvenient than otherwise, yet, coming as it does directly from the source of feudal honors, and as an honor, I am really gratified with it;--especially as it is intimated that it is his Royal Highness's pleasure to heat the oven for me expressly, without waiting till he has some new _batch_ of Baronets ready in dough.

In plain English, I am to be gazetted _per se_. My poor friend Carpenter's bequest to my family has taken away a certain degree of _impecuniosity_, a necessity of saving cheese-parings and candle-ends, which always looks inconsistent with any little pretension to rank. But as things now stand, Advance banners in the name of God and Saint Andrew. Remember, I anticipate the jest, "I like not such grinning honor as Sir Walter hath."[7]

After all, if one must speak for himself, I have my quarters and emblazonments, free of all stain but Border theft and High Treason, which I hope are gentlemanlike crimes; and I hope Sir Walter Scott will not sound worse than Sir Humphry Davy, though my merits are as much under his, in point of utility, as can well be imagined. But a name is something, and mine is the better of the two. Set down this flourish to the account of national and provincial pride, for you must know we have more Messieurs de Sotenville[8] in our Border counties than anywhere else in the Lowlands--I cannot say for the Highlands. The Duke of Buccleuch, greatly to my joy, resolves to go to France for a season. Adam Ferguson goes with him, to glad him by the way. Charlotte and the young folks join in kind compliments.

Most truly yours, WALTER SCOTT.

[Footnote 4: I know nothing of the history or fate of this gentleman, except that he was an ardent Royalist, and emigrated from France early in the Revolution.]

[Footnote 5: I believe this is a quotation from some old Scotch chronicler on the character of King James V.]

[Footnote 6: _The Doctor_ was Mr. Canning's nickname for Lord Sidmouth, the son of an accomplished physician, the intimate friend of the great Lord Chatham. Mr. Sheridan, when the Scotch Members deserted the Addington administration upon a trying vote, had the grace to say to the Premier, across the table of the House of Commons,--"Doctor!

the Thanes fly from thee!"]

[Footnote 7: Sir Walter Blunt--_1st King Henry IV._, Act V. Scene 3.]

[Footnote 8: See Moliere's _George Dandin_.]

A few additional circumstances are given in a letter of the same week to Joanna Baillie. To her, after mentioning the testamentary provisions of Mr. Carpenter, Scott says:--

MY DEAR FRIEND,--I am going to tell you a little secret. I have changed my mind, or rather existing circumstances have led to my altering my opinions in a case of sublunary honor. I have now before me Lord Sidmouth's letter, containing the Prince's gracious and unsolicited intention to give me a Baronetcy. It will neither make me better nor worse than I feel myself--in fact it will be an incumbrance rather than otherwise; but it may be of consequence to Walter, for the title is worth something in the army, although not in a learned profession. The Duke of Buccleuch and Scott of Harden, who, as the heads of my clan and the sources of my gentry, are good judges of what I ought to do, have both given me their earnest opinion to accept of an honor directly derived from the source of honor, and neither begged nor bought, as is the usual fashion. Several of my ancestors bore the title in the seventeenth century; and were it of consequence, I have no reason to be ashamed of the decent and respectable persons who connect me with that period when they carried into the field, like Madoc--

"The crescent, at whose gleam the _Cambrian_ oft, Cursing his perilous tenure, wound his horn"--

so that, as a gentleman, I may stand on as good a footing as other new creations. Respecting the reasons peculiar to myself which have made the Prince show his respect for general literature in my person, I cannot be a good judge, and your friendly zeal will make you a partial one: the purpose is fair, honorable, and creditable to the Sovereign, even though it should number him among the monarchs who made blunders in literary patronage. You know Pope says:--

"The Hero William, and the Martyr Charles, One knighted Blackmore, and one pensioned Quarles."[9]

So let the intention sanctify the error, if there should be one on this great occasion. The time of this grand affair is uncertain: it is coupled with an invitation to London, which it would be inconvenient to me to accept, unless it should happen that I am called to come up by the affairs of poor Carpenter's estate. Indeed, the prospects of my children form the principal reason for a change of sentiments upon this flattering offer, joined to my belief that, though I may still be a scribbler from inveterate habit, I shall hardly engage again in any work of consequence.

We had a delightful visit from the Richardsons, only rather too short. He will give you a picture of Abbotsford, but not as it exists in my mind's eye, waving with all its future honors. The pinasters are thriving very well, and in a year or two more Joanna's Bower will be worthy of the name. At present it is like Sir Roger de Coverley's portrait, which hovered between its resemblance to the good knight and to a Saracen. Now the said bower has still such a resemblance to its original character of a gravel pit, that it is not fit to be shown to "bairns and fools,"

who, according to our old canny proverb, should never see half-done work; but Nature, if she works slowly, works surely, and your laurels at Abbotsford will soon flourish as fair as those you have won on Parnassus. I rather fear that a quantity of game, which was shipped awhile ago at Inverness for the Doctor, never reached him: it is rather a transitory commodity in London; there were ptarmigan, grouse, and black game. I shall be grieved if they have miscarried.--My health, thank God, continues as strong as at any period in my life; only I think of rule and diet more than I used to do, and observe as much as in me lies the advice of my friendly physician, who took such kind care of me: my best respects attend him, Mrs. Baillie, and Mrs. Agnes. Ever, my dear friend, most faithfully yours,

W. S.

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