Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume VI Part 8

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ABBOTSFORD, 4th September, 1819.

DEAR WALTER,--Your very acceptable letter of the 26th reached me to-day. I had begun to be apprehensive that the draft had fallen into the hands of the Philistines, but the very long calm must have made the packets slow in their progress, which I suppose was the occasion of the delay. Respecting the allowance, Colonel Murray informs me that from 200 to 250, in addition to the pay of a Cornet, ought to make a young man very comfortable. He adds, which I am much pleased to hear, that your officers are, many of them, men of moderate fortune, and disposed to be economical. I had thought of 200 as what would suit us both, but when I see the account which you very properly keep, I shall be better able to determine. It must be considered that any uncommon expense, as the loss of a horse or the like, may occasion an extra draft over and above the allowance. I like very much your methodical arrangement as to expenses; it is rather a tiresome thing at first to keep an accompt of pounds, shillings, and pence, but it is highly necessary, and enables one to see how the money actually goes. It is, besides, a good practical way of keeping up acquaintance with arithmetic, and you will soon find that the principles on which all military movements turn are arithmetical, and that though one may no doubt learn to do them by rote, yet to _understand_ them, you must have recourse to numbers. Your adjutant will explain this to you. By the way, as he is a foreigner, you will have an opportunity to keep up a little of your French and German. Both are highly necessary to you; the knowledge of the last, with few other qualifications, made several officers' fortunes last war.

I observe with pleasure you are making acquaintances among the gentry, which I hope you will not drop for want of calling, etc.

I trust you have delivered all your recommendations, for it is an affront to omit doing so, both to the person who writes them, and those for whom they are designed. On the other hand, one always holds their head a little better up in the world when they keep good society. Lord and Lady Melville are to give you recommendations when you go to Dublin. I was at Melville Castle for two days, and found them both well. I was also one day at Langholm Lodge to meet Lord Montagu. Possibly, among your Irish friends, you may get some shooting. I shall be glad you avail yourself of any such opportunities, and also that, when you get your own horses, you hunt in the winter, if you be within the reach of hounds. Nothing confirms a man in horsemanship so well as hunting, though I do not recommend it to beginners, who are apt to learn to ride like grooms. Besides the exercise, field-sports make a young soldier acquainted with the country, and habituate him to have a good eye for distance and for taking up the _carte de pays_ in general, which is essential to all, but especially to officers of light troops, who are expected to display both alertness and intelligence in reporting the nature of the country, being in fact the _eyes_ of the army. In every point of view, field-sports are preferable to the indoors amusement of a billiard-table, which is too often the lounging-place for idle young officers, where there is nothing to be got but a habit of throwing away time, and an acquaintance with the very worst society--I mean at public billiard-rooms--for unquestionably the game itself is a pretty one, when practised among gentlemen, and not made a constant habit of. But public billiard-tables are almost always the resort of blacklegs and sharpers, and all that numerous class whom the French call _chevaliers d'industrie_, and we, _knights of the whipping-post_.

I am glad you go to the anatomical lectures. An acquaintance with our own very extraordinary frame is a useful branch of general knowledge, and as you have some turn for drawing, it will also enable you to judge of the proper mode of disposing the limbs and muscles of your figures, should you prosecute the art so far. In fact, there is no branch of study can come much amiss to a young man, providing he does study, and very often the precise occupation of the time must be trusted to taste and opportunity.

The White Boys made a great noise when I was a boy. But Ireland (the more is the pity) has never been without White Boys, or Right Boys, or Defenders, or Peep-of-day Boys, or some wild association or another for disturbing the peace of the country.

We shall not be many degrees better if the Radical Reformers be not checked. The Manchester Yeomen behaved very well, upsetting the most immense crowd ever was seen, and notwithstanding the lies in the papers, without any unnecessary violence. Mr. Hunt pretends to have had several blows on his head with sabres, but has no wound to show for it. I am disposed to wish he had got such a one as once on a day I could have treated him to. I am apt to think his politic pate would have broached no more sedition.

Miss Rutherford and Eliza Russell are now with us. We were also favored with a visit of the Miss ----s, who are rather empty canisters, though I dare say very good girls. Anne tired of them most inhospitably. Mrs. Maclean Clephane and her two unmarried daughters are now here; being, as we say, pears of another tree.

Your sisters seem very fond of the young ladies, and I am glad of it, for they will see that a great deal of accomplishment and information may be completely reconciled with liveliness, fun, good-humor, and good-breeding.

All here send love. Dogs and cat are well. I dare say you have heard from some other correspondent that poor Lady Wallace died of an inflammation, after two days' illness. Trout[52] has returned here several times, poor fellow, and seems to look for you; but Henry Scott is very kind to him, and he is a great favorite.

As you Hussars smoke, I will give you one of my pipes, but you must let me know how I can send it safely. It is a very handsome one, though not my best. I will keep my _Meerschaum_ until I make my Continental tour, and then you shall have that also. I hope you will get leave for a few months, and go with me. Yours very affectionately,


[Footnote 52: _Lady Wallace_ was a pony; _Trout_ a favorite pointer which the Cornet had given, at leaving home, to the young Laird of Harden, now the Master of Polwarth.]

About this time, as the succeeding letters will show, Abbotsford had the honor of a short visit from Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, now King of the Belgians. Immediately afterwards Scott heard of the death of Mrs. William Erskine, and repaired to Edinburgh to condole with his afflicted friend.[53] His allusions, meanwhile, to views of buying more land on Tweedside, are numerous. These speculations are explained in a most characteristic style to the Cornet; and we see that one of them was cut short by the tragical death of a _bonnet-laird_ already introduced to the reader's notice--namely, _Lauchie Longlegs_, the admired of Geoffrey Crayon.

[Footnote 53: For Scott's Epitaph for Mrs. Erskine, see his _Poetical Works_ (Ed. 1834), vol. xi. p. 347 [Cambridge Ed. p. 447].]


ABBOTSFORD, 27th September, 1819.

MY DEAR WALTER,--Your letter of the 10th gave me the pleasant assurance that you are well and happy, and attending to your profession. We have been jogging on here in the old fashion, somewhat varied by an unexpected visit, on Friday last, from no less a person than Prince Leopold. I conclude you will have all the particulars of this important event from the other members of the family, so I shall only say that when I mentioned the number of your regiment, the Prince said he had several friends in the 18th, and should now think he had one more, which was very polite. By the way, I hear an excellent character of your officers for regularity and gentlemanlike manners. This report gives me great pleasure, for to live in bad society will deprave the best manners, and to live in good will improve the worst.

I am trying a sort of bargain with neighbor Nicol Milne at present. He is very desirous of parting with his estate of Faldonside, and if he will be contented with a reasonable price, I am equally desirous to be the purchaser. I conceive it will come to about 30,000 at least. I will not agree to give a penny more; and I think that sum is probably 2000 and more above its actual marketable value. But then it lies extremely convenient for us, and would, joined to Abbotsford, make a very gentlemanlike property, worth at least 1800 or 2000 a year. I can command about 10,000 of my own, and if I be spared life and health, I should not fear rubbing off the rest of the price, as Nicol is in no hurry for payment. As you will succeed me in my landed property, I think it right to communicate my views to you.

I am much moved by the prospect of getting at about 2000 or 3000 worth of marle, which lies on Milne's side of the loch, but which can only be drained on my side, so that he can make no use of it. This would make the lands of Abbotsford worth 40_s._ an acre over-head, excepting the sheep farm. I am sensible I might dispose of my money to more advantage, but probably to none which, in the long run, would be better for you--certainly to none which would be productive of so much pleasure to myself. The woods are thriving, and it would be easy, at a trifling expense, to restore Faldonside loch, and stock it with fish. In fact, it would require but a small dam-head. By means of a little judicious planting, added to what is already there, the estate might be rendered one of the most beautiful in this part of Scotland. Such are my present plans, my dear boy, having as much your future welfare and profit in view as the immediate gratification of my own wishes.

I am very sorry to tell you that poor Mrs. William Erskine is no more. She was sent by the medical people on a tour to the lakes of Cumberland, and was taken ill at Lowood, on Windermere.

Nature, much exhausted by her previous indisposition, sunk under four days' illness. Her husband was with her, and two of her daughters--he is much to be pitied.

Mr. Rees, the bookseller, told me he had met you in the streets of Cork, and reported well of the growth of your _Schnurr-bart_.

I hope you know what that means. Pray write often, as the post comes so slow. I keep all your letters, and am much pleased with the frankness of the style. No word of your horses yet? but it is better not to be impatient, and to wait for good ones. I have been three times on Newark, and killed six hares each time. The two young dogs are capital good.

I must not omit to tell you our old, and, I may add, our kind neighbor Lauchie, has departed, or, as Tom expresses it, has been fairly _flytten out o' the warld_. You know the old quarrel betwixt his brother and him about the wife: in an ill-fated hour Jock the brother came down to Lochbreist with a sister from Edinburgh, who was determined to have her share of the scolding-match; they attacked poor old Lauchie like mad folks, and reviled his wife in all sort of evil language. At length his passion was wrought up to a great pitch, and he answered with much emotion, that if she were the greatest ---- in Edinburgh, it was not their business, and as he uttered this speech, he fell down on his back, and lay a dead man before them. There is little doubt the violence of the agitation had broke a blood-vessel in the heart or brain. A very few days since he was running up and down calling for a coffin, and wishing to God he was in one; to which Swanston,[54] who was present, answered, he could not apply to a better hand, and he would make him one if he had a mind. He has left a will of his own making, but from some informality I think it will be set aside. His land cannot come into the market until his girl comes of age, which, by the way, makes me more able for the other bargain.... The blackcocks are very plenty. I put up fourteen cocks and hens in walking up the Clappercleuch to look at the wood. Do you not wish you had been on the outside with your gun? Tom has kept us well supplied with game; he boasts that he shot fifteen times without a miss. I shall be glad to hear that you do the same on Mr. Newenham's grounds. Mamma, the girls, and Charles, all join in love and affection. Believe me ever, dear Walter, your affectionate father,


[Footnote 54: John Swanston had then the care of the sawmill at Toftfield; he was one of Scott's most valued dependents, and in the sequel succeeded Tom Purdie as his henchman.]


ABBOTSFORD, 3d October, 1819.

MY DEAR LORD,--I am honored with your Buxton letter.... _Anent_ Prince Leopold, I only heard of his approach at eight o'clock in the morning, and he was to be at Selkirk by eleven. The magistrates sent to ask me to help them to receive him. It occurred to me he might be coming to Melrose to see the Abbey, in which case I could not avoid asking him to Abbotsford, as he must pass my very door. I mentioned this to Mrs. Scott, who was lying quietly in bed, and I wish you had heard the scream she gave on the occasion. "What have we to offer him?"--"Wine and cake," said I, thinking to make all things easy; but she ejaculated, in a tone of utter despair, "Cake!! where am I to get cake?" However, being partly consoled with the recollection that his visit was a very improbable incident, and curiosity, as usual, proving too strong for alarm, she set out with me in order not to miss a peep of the great man. James Skene and his lady were with us, and we gave our carriages such additional dignity as a pair of leaders could add, and went to meet him in full puff. The Prince very civilly told me, that, though he could not see Melrose on this occasion, he wished to come to Abbotsford for an hour. New despair on the part of Mrs. Scott, who began to institute a domiciliary search for cold meat through the whole city of Selkirk, which produced _one shoulder of cold lamb_. In the mean while, his Royal Highness received the civic honors of the BIRSE[55] very graciously. I had hinted to Bailie Lang,[56] that it ought only to be licked _symbolically_ on the present occasion; so he flourished it three times before his mouth, but without touching it with his lips, and the Prince followed his example as directed. Lang made an excellent speech--sensible, and feeling, and well delivered. The Prince seemed much surprised at this great propriety of expression and behavior in a magistrate, whose people seemed such a rabble, and whose whole band of music consisted in a drum and fife. He noticed to Bailie Anderson that Selkirk seemed very populous in proportion to its extent. "On an occasion like this it seems so," answered the Bailie,--neatly enough, I thought. I question if any magistrates in the kingdom, lord mayors and aldermen not excepted, could have behaved with more decent and quiet good-breeding. Prince Leopold repeatedly alluded to this during the time he was at Abbotsford. I do not know how Mrs. Scott ultimately managed; but with broiled salmon, and blackcock, and partridges, she gave him a very decent lunch; and I chanced to have some very fine old hock, which was mighty germane to the matter.

The Prince seems melancholy, whether naturally or from habit, I do not pretend to say; but I do not remember thinking him so at Paris, where I saw him frequently, then a much poorer man than myself; yet he showed some humor, for, alluding to the crowds that followed him everywhere, he mentioned some place where he had gone out to shoot, but was afraid to proceed for fear of "bagging a boy." He said he really thought of getting some shooting-place in Scotland, and promised me a longer visit on his return. If I had had a day's notice to have _warned the waters_, we could have met him with a very respectable number of the gentry; but there was no time for this, and probably he liked it better as it was. There was only young Clifton who could have come, and he was shy and cubbish, and would not, though requested by the Selkirk people. He was perhaps ashamed to march through Coventry with them. It hung often and sadly on my mind that _he_ was wanting who could and would have received him like a Prince indeed; and yet the meeting betwixt them, had they been fated to meet, would have been a very sad one. I think I have now given your Lordship a very full, true, and particular account of our royal visit, unmatched even by that of King Charles at the Castle of Tillietudlem. That we did not speak of it for more than a week after it happened, and that that emphatic monosyllable, _The Prince_, is not heard amongst us more than ten times a day, is, on the whole, to the credit of my family's understanding. The piper is the only one whose brain he seems to have endangered; for, as the Prince said he preferred him to any he had heard in the Highlands--(which, by the way, shows his Royal Highness knows nothing of the matter)--the fellow seems to have become incapable of his ordinary occupation as a forester, and has cut stick and stem without remorse to the tune of _Phail Phranse_, _i. e._, the Prince's Welcome.

I am just going to the head-court with Donaldson, and go a day sooner to exhume certain old monuments of the Rutherfords at Jedburgh. Edgerstone[57] is to meet me at Jedburgh for this research, and then we shall go up with him to dinner. My best respects attend Lady Montagu. I wish this letter may reach you on a more lively day than it is written in, for it requires little to add to its dulness. Tweed is coming down very fast, the first time this summer. Believe me, my dear Lord, most truly yours,


[Footnote 55: See _ante_, vol. v. p. 88.]

[Footnote 56: Scott's good friend, Mr. Andrew Lang, Sheriff-Clerk for Selkirkshire, was then chief magistrate of the county town. [He was the grandfather of the accomplished man of letters who bears his name.]]

[Footnote 57: The late John Rutherford of Edgerstone, long M. P. for Roxburghshire, was a person of high worth, and universally esteemed.

Scott used to say Edgerstone was his _beau ideal_ of the character of a country gentleman. He was, I believe, the head of the once great and powerful clan of Rutherford.]


ABBOTSFORD, 14th October, 1819.

DEAR WALTER,--I had your last letter, and am very glad you find pleasant society. Mrs. Dundas of Arniston is so good as to send you some introductions, which you will deliver as soon as possible. You will be now in some degree accustomed to meet with strangers, and to form your estimate of their character and manners. I hope, in the mean time, the French and German are attended to; please to mention in your next letter what you are reading, and in what languages. The hours of youth, my dear Walter, are too precious to be spent all in gayety. We must lay up in that period when our spirit is active, and our memory strong, the stores of information which are not only to facilitate our progress through life, but to amuse and interest us in our later stage of existence. I very often think what an unhappy person I should have been, if I had not done something more or less towards improving my understanding when I was at your age; and I never reflect, without severe self-condemnation, on the opportunities of acquiring knowledge which I either trifled with, or altogether neglected. I hope you will be wiser than I have been, and experience less of that self-reproach.

My last acquainted you with Mrs. Erskine's death, and I grieve to say we have just received intelligence that our kind neighbor and good friend Lord Somerville is at the very last gasp. His disease is a dysentery, and the symptoms, as his brother writes to Mr.

Samuel Somerville, are mortal. He is at Vevay, upon his road, I suppose, to Italy, where he had purposed spending the winter. His death, for I understand nothing else can be expected, will be another severe loss to me; for he was a kind, good friend, and at my time of day men do not readily take to new associates. I must own this has been one of the most melancholy years I ever passed.

The poor Duke, who loved me so well--Mrs. Erskine--Lord Somerville--not to mention others with whom I was less intimate, make it one year of mourning. I should not forget the Chief Baron, who, though from ill health we met of late seldom, was always my dear friend, and indeed very early benefactor. I must look forwards to seeing in your success and respectability, and in the affection and active improvement of all of you, those pleasures which are narrowed by the death of my contemporaries.

Men cannot form new intimacies at my period of life, but must be happy or otherwise according to the good fortune and good conduct of those near relatives who rise around them.

I wish much to know if you are lucky in a servant. Trust him with as little cash as possible, and keep short accounts. Many a good servant is spoiled by neglecting this simple precaution. The man is tempted to some expense of his own, gives way to it, and then has to make it up by a system of overcharge and peculation; and thus mischief begins, and the carelessness of the master makes a rogue out of an honest lad, and cheats himself into the bargain.

I have a letter from your uncle Tom, telling me his eldest daughter is to be forthwith married to a Captain Huxley of his own regiment. As he has had a full opportunity of being acquainted with the young gentleman, and approves of the match, I have to hope that it will be a happy one. I fear there is no great fortune in the case on either side, which is to be regretted.

Of domestic affairs I have little to tell you. The harvest has been excellent, the weather delightful; but this I must often have repeated. To-day I was thinning out fir-trees in the thicket, and the men were quite exhausted with the heat, and I myself, though only marking the trees, felt the exercise sufficiently warm. The wood is thriving delightfully. On the 28th we are to have a dance in honor of your birthday. I wish you could look in upon us for the day at least--only I am afraid we could not part with you when it was over, and so you would be in the guise of Cinderella, when she outstayed her time at the ball, and all her finery returned into its original base materials.

Talking of balls, the girls would tell you the Melrose hop, where mamma presided, went off well.

I expect poor Erskine and his daughter next week, or the week after. I went into town to see him--and found him bearing his great loss with his natural gentleness and patience. But he was sufficiently distressed, as he has great reason to be. I also expect Lord and Lady Melville here very soon. Sir William Rae (now Lord Advocate) and his lady came to us on Saturday. On Sunday Maida walked with us, and in jumping the paling at the Greentongue park contrived to hang himself up by the hind leg. He howled at first, but seeing us making towards him he stopped crying, and waved his tail, by way of signal, it was supposed, for assistance. He sustained no material injury, though his leg was strangely twisted into the bars, and he was nearly hanging by it. He showed great gratitude, in his way, to his deliverers.

This is a long letter, and little in it; but that is nothing extraordinary. All send best love--and I am ever, dear Walter, your affectionate father,


Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott Volume VI Part 8

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