Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume VI Part 6

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I have been delayed in answering your kind letter by Walter's departure from us to join his regiment, the 18th Dragoons. He has chosen a profession for which he is well suited, being of a calm but remarkably firm temper--fond of mathematics, engineering, and all sorts of calculation--clear-headed, and good-natured. When you add to this a good person and good manners, with great dexterity in horsemanship and all athletic exercises, and a strong constitution, one hopes you have the grounds of a good soldier. My own selfish wish would have been that he should have followed the law; but he really had no vocation that way, wanting the acuteness and liveliness of intellect indispensable to making a figure in that profession. So I am satisfied all is for the best, only I shall miss my gamekeeper and companion in my rides and walks. But so it was, is, and must be--the young must part from the nest, and learn to wing their own way against the storm.

I beg my best and kindest compliments to Lady Compton. Stooping to write hurts me, or I would have sent her a few lines. As I shall be stationary here for all this season, I shall not see her, perhaps, for long enough. Mrs. Scott and the girls join in best love, and I am ever, dear Mrs. Clephane, your faithful and most obedient servant,


[Footnote 47: [An interesting letter from Dr. Dick to Scott will be found in _Familiar Letters_ (vol. ii. p. 53), in which he speaks of their common friend, Leyden, and expresses sorrow at the tone regarding him taken by some of the Edinburgh periodicals, which ridiculed the idea of comparing him with Sir William Jones as a linguist. The writer, who knew both, shows Leyden to have been in this respect much the greater of the two. The Doctor makes light of his efficient services in Scott's case, and says: "I have only to offer my grateful thanks for your intended present, which, however, I must beg leave to decline, because I am rewarded already a thousandfold, by being allowed the honor of prescribing for you, and by being assured, under your own hand, that you are so well.... But if you will send me one volume of any kind, and write on it that it is from yourself, I shall consider it a great favor. I have the vanity to wish that my son and his descendants may have it to show as a proof that I was honored with the friendship of the author."]]

I have had some hesitation about introducing the next letter--which refers to the then recent publication of a sort of mock-tour in Scotland, entitled Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk. Nobody but a very young and a very thoughtless person could have dreamt of putting forth such a book; yet the Epistles of the imaginary Dr. Morris have been so often denounced as a mere string of libels, that I think it fair to show how much more leniently Scott judged of them at the time.

Moreover, his letter is a good specimen of the liberal courtesy with which, on all occasions, he treated the humblest aspirants in literature. Since I have alluded to Peter's Letters at all, I may as well take the opportunity of adding that they were not wholly the work of one hand.[48]

[Footnote 48: [The other hand is supposed to have been Wilson's. It is difficult for any reader of to-day to understand why these clever and interesting sketches of the men and manners of the Edinburgh of 1819 should have been so emphatically denounced in certain quarters. This is not the first occasion on which Scott sent words of praise concerning the _Letters_, which first appeared in part in _Blackwood's Magazine_. He says of the Pleaders' portraits [John Clerk, Cranstoun, and Jeffrey], they "are about the best I ever read, and will preserve these three very remarkable and original men, for all of whom, however differing in points whereon I wish we had agreed, I entertain not only deep respect, but sincere friendship and regard."--_Familiar Letters_, vol. ii. p. 39.]]


ABBOTSFORD, July 19, 1819.

MY DEAR SIR,--_Distinguendum est._ When I receive a book _ex dono_ of the author, in the general case I offer my thanks with all haste before I cut a leaf, lest peradventure I should feel more awkward in doing so afterwards, when they must not only be tendered for the well-printed volumes themselves, and the attention which sent them my way, but moreover for the supposed pleasure I have received from the contents. But with respect to the learned Dr. Morris, the case is totally different, and I formed the immediate resolution not to say a word about that gentleman's labors without having read them at least twice over--a pleasant task, which has been interrupted partly by my being obliged to go down the country, partly by an invasion of the Southron, in the persons of Sir John Shelley, famous on the turf, and his lady. I wish Dr. Morris had been of the party, chiefly for the benefit of a little Newmarket man, called Cousins, whose whole ideas, similes, illustrations, etc., were derived from the course and training stable. He was perfectly good-humored, and I have not laughed more this many a day.

I think the Doctor has got over his ground admirably;--only the general turn of the book is perhaps too favorable, both to the state of our public society, and of individual character:--

"His fools have their follies so lost in a crowd Of virtues and feelings, that folly grows proud."[49]

But it was, in every point of view, right to take this more favorable tone, and to throw a Claude Lorraine tint over our northern landscape. We cannot bear the actual bare truth, either in conversation, or that which approaches nearest to conversation, in a work like the Doctor's, published within the circle to which it refers.

For the rest, the Doctor has fully maintained his high character for force of expression, both serious and comic, and for acuteness of observation--_rem acu tetigit_--and his scalpel has not been idle, though his lenient hand has cut sharp and clean, and poured balm into the wound. What an acquisition it would have been to our general information to have had such a work written, I do not say fifty, but even five-and-twenty years ago; and how much of grave and gay might then have been preserved, as it were, in amber, which have now mouldered away. When I think that at an age not much younger than yours I knew Black, Ferguson, Robertson, Erskine, Adam Smith, John Home, etc., etc., and at least saw Burns, I can appreciate better than any one the value of a work which, like this, would have handed them down to posterity in their living colors. Dr. Morris ought, like Nourjahad, to revive every half century, to record the fleeting manners of the age, and the interesting features of those who will be only known to posterity by their works. If I am very partial to the Doctor, which I am not inclined to deny, remember I have been bribed by his kind and delicate account of his visit to Abbotsford. Like old Cumberland, or like my own gray cat, I will e'en purr and put up my back, and enjoy his kind flattery, even when I know it goes beyond my merits.

I wish you would come and spend a few days here, while this delightful weather lasts. I am now so well as quite to enjoy the society of my friends, instead of the woeful pickle in which I was in spring, when you last favored me. It was, however, _dignus vindice nodus_, for no less a deity descended to my aid than the potent Mercury himself, in the shape of calomel, which I have been obliged to take daily, though in small quantities, for these two months past. Notwithstanding the inconveniences of this remedy, I thrive upon it most marvellously, having recovered both sleep and appetite; so when you incline to come this way, you will find me looking pretty _bobbishly_. Yours very truly,


[Footnote 49: Goldsmith's _Retaliation_.]

On the same day, Scott wrote as follows to John Ballantyne, who had started for London, on his route to Paris in quest of articles for next winter's auction-room--and whose good offices he was anxious to engage on behalf of the Cornet, in case they should happen to be in the metropolis at the same time:--


ABBOTSFORD, July 19, 1819.

DEAR JOHN,--I have only to say, respecting matters here, that they are all going on quietly. The first volume is very nearly finished, and the whole will be out in the first or second week of September. It will be well if you can report yourself in Britain by that time at farthest, as something must be done on the back of this same Ivanhoe.

Walter left us on Wednesday night, and will be in town by the time this reaches you, looking, I fancy, very like a cow in a fremd loaning.[50] He will be heard of at Miss Dumergue's. Pray look after him, and help him about his purchases.

I hope you will be so successful in your foreign journey as to diddle the Edinburgh folk out of some cash this winter. But don't forget September, if you wish to partake the advantages thereof.

I wish you would see what good reprints of old books are come out this year at Triphook's, and send me a note of them.--Yours very truly,


[Footnote 50: _Anglice_--a strange pasture.]

John Ballantyne found the Cornet in London, and did for him what his father had requested.


ABBOTSFORD, July 26, 1819.

DEAR JOHN,--I have yours with the news of Walter's rattle-traps, which are abominably extravagant. But there is no help for it but submission. The things seem all such as cannot well be wanted.

How the devil they mount them to such a price, the tailors best know. They say it takes _nine_ tailors to make a man--apparently, one is sufficient to ruin him. We shall rub through here well enough, though James is rather glumpy and dumpy--chiefly, I believe, because his child is unwell. If you can make any more money for me in London, good and well. I have no spare cash till Ivanhoe comes forth. Yours truly,


P. S.--Enclosed are sundry letters of introduction for the _ci-devant_ Laird of Gilnockie.


ABBOTSFORD, July 21, 1819.

MY DEAR MISS EDGEWORTH,--When this shall happen to reach your hands, it will be accompanied by a second edition of Walter Scott, a _tall_ copy, as collectors say, and bound in Turkey leather, garnished with all sorts of fur and frippery--not quite so well _lettered_, however, as the old and vamped original edition. In other and more intelligible phrase, the tall Cornet of Hussars, whom this will introduce to you, is my eldest son, who is now just leaving me to join his regiment in Ireland. I have charged him, and he is himself sufficiently anxious, to avoid no opportunity of making your acquaintance, as to be known to the good and the wise is by far the best privilege he can derive from my connection with literature. I have always felt the value of having access to persons of talent and genius to be the best part of a literary man's prerogative, and you will not wonder, I am sure, that I should be desirous this youngster should have a share of the same benefit.

I have had dreadful bad health for many months past, and have endured more pain than I thought was consistent with life. But the thread, though frail in some respects, is tough in others; and here am I with renewed health, and a fair prospect of regaining my strength, much exhausted by such a train of suffering.

I do not know when this will reach you, my son's motions being uncertain. But, find you where or when it will, it comes, dear Miss Edgeworth, from the sincere admirer of your genius, and of the patriotic and excellent manner in which it has always been exerted. In which character I subscribe myself ever yours truly,


I believe, at the time when the foregoing letter was written, Scott and Miss Edgeworth had never met. The next was addressed to a gentleman whose acquaintance the poet had formed when collecting materials for his edition of Swift. On that occasion Mr. Hartstonge was of great service to Scott--and he appears to have paid him soon afterwards a visit at Abbotsford. Mr. Hartstonge was an amiable and kind-hearted man, and enthusiastically devoted to literature; but his own poetical talents were undoubtedly of the sort that finds little favor either with gods or columns. He seems to have written shortly before this time to inquire about his old acquaintance's health.


ABBOTSFORD, July 21, 1819.

MY DEAR SIR,--... Fortunately at present my system is pretty strong. In the mean while my family are beginning to get forwards. Walter (you remember my wading into Cauldshiels Loch to save his little frigate from wreck) is now a Cornet of six feet two inches in your Irish 18th Hussars; the regiment is now at Cork, and will probably be next removed to Dublin, so you will see your old friend with a new face; be-furred, be-feathered, and be-whiskered in the highest military _ton_. I have desired him to call upon you, should he get to Dublin on leave, or come there upon duty. I miss him here very much, for he was my companion, gamekeeper, etc., etc., and when one loses one's own health and strength, there are few things so pleasant as to see a son enjoying both in the vigor of hope and promise. Think of this, my good friend, and as you have kind affections to make some good girl happy, settle yourself in life while you are young, and lay up, by so doing, a stock of domestic happiness, against age or bodily decay. There are many good things in life, whatever satirists and misanthropes may say to the contrary; but probably the best of all, next to a conscience void of offence (without which, by the bye, they can hardly exist), are the quiet exercise and enjoyment of the social feelings, in which we are at once happy ourselves, and the cause of happiness to them who are dearest to us.

I have no news to send you from hence. The addition to my house is completed with battlement and bartisan, but the old cottage remains hidden among creepers, until I shall have leisure--_i.

e._, time and money--to build the rest of my mansion--which I will not do hastily, as the present is amply sufficient for accommodation. Adieu, my dear sir; never reckon the degree of my regard by the regularity of my correspondence, for besides the vile diseases of laziness and procrastination, which have always beset me, I have had of late both pain and languor sufficient to justify my silence. Believe me, however, always most truly yours,


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