Publication of the Ayrshire Tragedy, Letters on Demonology, Tales on the History of France, &c.---Apoplectic Seizure---Retirement from the Court of Session---Offers of a pension and of additional rank declined---Count Robert of Paris begun---Death of George IV.---Political Commotions---Fourth Epistle of Malagrowther ---Speech on Reform at Jedburgh---1830--1831.
At this time, Mr Pitcairn was editing for the Bannatyne Club that curious collection of Ancient Scotch Criminal Trials, which Scott reviewed in the Quarterly of 1831. On his arrival in Edinburgh, Mr Pitcairn sent him a new volume in proof, requesting his attention particularly to its details on the extraordinary case of Mure of Auchindraine, =A.D.= 1611. Scott was so much interested with these documents, that he resolved to found a dramatic sketch on their terrible story; and the result was a composition far superior to any of his previous attempts of that nature. Indeed, there are several passages in his _Ayrshire Tragedy_---especially that where the murdered corpse floats upright in the wake of the assassin's bark ---(an incident suggested by a lamentable chapter in Lord Nelson's history)---which may bear comparison with anything but Shakspeare. Yet I doubt whether the prose narrative of the preface be not, on the whole, more dramatic than the versified scenes. It contains, by the way, some very striking allusions to the recent murder of Weare by Thurtell and others at Gill's Hill in Hertfordshire, and the atrocities of Burke and Hare in the West Port of Edinburgh. This piece was published in a thin octavo, early in 1830.
But he was now to pay the penalty of his unparalleled toils. On the 15th of February, about two o'clock in the afternoon, he returned from the Parliament House apparently in his usual state, and found an old acquaintance, Miss Young of Hawick, waiting to shew him some MS. memoirs of her father (a dissenting minister of great worth and talents), which he had undertaken to revise and correct for the press. The old lady sat by him for half an hour while he seemed to be occupied with her papers; at length he rose, as if to dismiss her, but sunk down again ---a slight convulsion agitated his features. After a few minutes he got up and staggered to the drawing-room, where Anne Scott and my sister, Violet Lockhart, were sitting. They rushed to meet him, but he fell at all his length on the floor ere they could reach him. He remained speechless for about ten minutes, by which time a surgeon had arrived and bled him. He was cupped again in the evening, and gradually recovered possession of speech, and of all his faculties, in so far that, the occurrence being kept quiet, when he appeared abroad again after a short interval, people in general observed no serious change. He submitted to the utmost severity of regimen, tasting nothing but pulse and water for some weeks, and the alarm of his family and intimate friends subsided. By and by, he again mingled in society much as usual, and seems to have _almost_ persuaded himself that the attack had proceeded merely from the stomach, though his letters continued ever and anon to drop hints that the symptoms resembled apoplexy or paralysis. When we recollect that both his father and his elder brother died of paralysis, and consider the violences of agitation and exertion to which Sir Walter had been subjected during the four preceding years, the only wonder is that this blow (which had, I suspect, several indistinct harbingers) was deferred so long; there can be none that it was soon followed by others of the same description.
He struggled manfully, however, against his malady, and during 1830 covered almost as many sheets with his MS. as in 1829. About March I find, from his correspondence with Ballantyne, that he was working regularly at his _Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft_ for Murray's Family Library, and also on a Fourth Series of the Tales of a Grandfather, the subject being French History. Both of these books were published by the end of the year; and the former contains many passages worthy of his best day ---little snatches of picturesque narrative and the like---in fact, transcripts of his own familiar fireside stories. The shrewdness with which evidence is sifted on legal cases attests, too, that the main reasoning faculty remained unshaken. But, on the whole, these works can hardly be submitted to a strict ordeal of criticism. There is in both a cloudiness both of words and arrangement. Nor can I speak differently of the second volume of his Scottish History for Lardner, which was published in May. His very pretty reviewal of Mr Southey's Life and Edition of Bunyan was done in August---about which time his recovery seems to have reached its _acm<e'>._
In the course of the Spring Session, circumstances rendered it highly probable that Sir Walter's resignation of his place as Clerk of Session might be acceptable to the Government; and it is not surprising that he should have, on the whole, been pleased to avail himself of this opportunity. He says, in his Diary---``_May_ 27. I am agitating a proposed retirement from the Court. As they are only to have four instead of six Clerks of Session, it will be their interest to let me retire on a superannuation. Probably I shall make a bad bargain, and get only two-thirds of the salary, instead of three-fourths. This would be hard, but I could save between two or three hundred pounds by giving up town residence. At any rate, _jacta est alea._ I think the difference will be infinite in point of health and happiness. Yet I do not know. It is perhaps a violent change in the end of life to quit the walk one has trod so long, and the cursed splenetic temper which besets all men makes you value opportunities and circumstances when one enjoys them no longer.''
On the 26th of June, he heard of the death of King George IV. with the regret of a devoted and obliged subject. He had received almost immediately before, two marks of his Majesty's kind attention. Understanding that his retirement from the Court of Session was at hand, Sir William Knighton suggested that he might henceforth be more frequently in London, and that he might fitly be placed at the head of a new commission for examining and editing the MSS. collections of the exiled Princes of the House of Stuart, which had come into the King's hands on the death of the Cardinal of York. This Sir Walter gladly accepted, and contemplated with pleasure spending the ensuing winter in London. But another proposition, that of elevating him to the rank of Privy Counsellor, was unhesitatingly declined. He desired the Lord Chief-Commissioner, whom the King had desired to ascertain his feelings on the subject, to convey his grateful thanks, with his humble apology: and his reasons are thus stated in the Diary of the succeeding winter:--- ``I had also a kind communication about interfering to have me named a P. Counsellor. But---besides that when one is old and poor, one should avoid taking rank---I would be much happier if I thought any act of kindness was done to help forward Charles; and having said so much, I made my bow, and declared my purpose of remaining satisfied with my knighthood. All this is rather pleasing. Yet much of it looks like winding up my bottom for the rest of my life.''
In July came the formal intimation that he had ceased to be a Clerk of Session, and should thenceforth have, in lieu of his salary, &c. (<L>1300) an allowance of <L>800 per annum. This was accompanied by an intimation from the Home Secretary, that the Ministers were quite ready to grant him a pension covering the reduction of his income. Considering himself as the bond-slave of his creditors, he made known to them this proposition, and stated that it would be extremely painful to him to accept of it; and with the delicacy and generosity which throughout characterized their conduct towards him, they without hesitation entreated him on no account to do injury to his own feelings in such a matter as this. Few things gave him more pleasure than this handsome communication.
Just after he had taken leave of Edinburgh, as he seems to have thought for ever, he received a communication of another sort, as inopportune as any that ever reached him. His Diary for the 13th July says briefly---``I have a letter from a certain young gentleman, announcing that his sister had so far mistaken the intentions of a lame baronet nigh sixty years old, as to suppose him only prevented by modesty from stating certain wishes and hopes, &c. The party is a woman of rank, so my vanity may be satisfied. But I excused myself, with little picking upon the terms.''
During the rest of the summer and autumn his daughter and I were at Chiefswood, and saw him of course daily. Laidlaw, too, had been restored to the cottage at Kaeside; and though Tom Purdie made a dismal blank, old habits went on, and the course of life seemed little altered from what it had used to be. He looked jaded and worn before evening set in, yet very seldom departed from the strict regimen of his doctors, and often brightened up to all his former glee, though passing the bottle and sipping toast and water. His grandchildren especially saw no change. However languid, his spirits revived at the sight of them, and the greatest pleasure he had was in pacing Douce Davie through the green lanes among his woods, with them clustered about him on ponies and donkeys, while Laidlaw, the ladies, and myself, walked by, and obeyed his directions about pruning and marking trees. After the immediate alarms of the spring, it might have been even agreeable to witness this placid twilight scene, but for our knowledge that nothing could keep him from toiling many hours daily at his desk, and alas! that he was no longer sustained by the daily commendations of his printer. It was obvious, as the season advanced, that the manner in which Ballantyne communicated with him was sinking into his spirits, and Laidlaw foresaw, as well as myself, that some trying crisis of discussion could not be much longer deferred. A nervous twitching about the muscles of the mouth was always more or less discernible from the date of the attack in February; but we could easily tell, by the aggravation of that symptom, when he had received a packet from the Canongate. It was distressing, indeed, to think that he might, one of these days, sustain a second seizure, and be left still more helpless, yet with the same undiminished appetite for literary labour. And then, if he felt his printer's complaints so keenly, what was to be expected in the case of a plain and undeniable manifestation of disappointment on the part of the public, and consequently of the bookseller?
All this was for the inner circle. Country neighbours went and came, without, I believe, observing almost anything of what grieved the family. Nay, this autumn he was far more troubled with the invasions of strangers, than he had ever been since his calamities of 1826. The astonishing success of the new editions was, as usual, doubled or trebled by rumour. The notion that he had already all but cleared off his incumbrances, seems to have been widely prevalent, and no doubt his refusal of a pension tended to confirm it. Abbotsford was, for some weeks at least, besieged much as it had used to be in the golden days of 1823 and 1824; and if sometimes his guests brought animation and pleasure with them, even then the result was a legacy of redoubled lassitude. The Diary, among a very few and far-separated entries, has this:---``_September_ 5.---In spite of Resolution, I have left my Diary for some weeks,--- I cannot well tell why. We have had abundance of travelling Counts and Countesses, Yankees male and female, and a Yankee-Doodle-_Dandy_ into the bargain---a smart young Virginia-man. But we have had friends of our own also---the Miss Ardens, young Mrs Morritt and Anne Morritt, most agreeable visitors---Cadell came out here yesterday with his horn filled with good news. He calculates that in October the debt will be reduced to <L>60,000. This makes me care less about the terms I retire upon. The efforts by which we have advanced thus far are new in literature, and what is gained is secure.''
Mr Cadell's great hope, when he offered this visit, had been that the good news of the _Magnum_ might induce Sir Walter to content himself with working at notes and prefaces for its coming, volumes, without straining at more difficult tasks. He found his friend, however, by no means disposed to adopt such views; and suggested very kindly, and ingeniously too, by way of _mezzo-termine,_ that before entering upon any new novel, he should draw up a sort of _catalogue raisonn<e'>e_ of the most curious articles in his library and museum. Sir Walter grasped at this, and began next morning to dictate to Laidlaw what he designed to publish in the usual novel shape, under the title of ``Reliqui<ae> Trottcosienses, or the Gabions of Jonathan Oldbuck.'' Nothing, as it seemed to all about him, could have suited the time better; but after a few days he said he found this was not sufficient---that he should proceed in it during _hor<ae> subcesiv<ae>,_ but must bend himself to the composition of a romance, founded on a story which he had more than once told cursorily already, and for which he had been revolving the various titles of Robert of the Isle---Count Robert de L'Isle---and _Count Robert of Paris._ There was nothing to be said in reply to the decisive announcement of this purpose. The usual agreements were drawn out; and the Tale was begun.
In the ensuing month (Oct. 1830) the dethroned King of France, Charles X. was invited by the English Government to resume his old quarters at Holyrood; and among many other things that about this time mortified Scott, none gave him more pain than to hear that the popular feeling in Edinburgh had been so much exacerbated against the fallen monarch (especially by an ungenerous article in the great literary organ of the place), that his reception there was likely to be rough and insulting. Sir Walter thought that on such an occasion his voice might, perhaps, be listened to. He knew his countrymen well in their strength, as well as in their weakness, and put forth in Ballantyne's newspaper for the 20th of October, a manly appeal to their better feelings---closing in these words:--- ``The person who writes these few lines is leaving his native city, never to return as a permanent resident. He has some reason to be proud of distinctions received from his fellow-citizens; and he has not the slightest doubt that the taste and good feeling of those whom he will still term so, will dictate to them the quiet, civil, and respectful tone of feeling, which will do honour both to their heads and their hearts, which have seldom been appealed to in vain. ---The Frenchman Melinet, in mentioning the refuge afforded by Edinburgh to Henry VI. in his distress, records it as the most hospitable town in Europe. It is a testimony to be proud of, and sincerely do I hope there is little danger of forfeiting it upon the present occasion.''
The effect of this admonition was even more complete than the writer had anticipated. The royal exiles were received with perfect decorum, which their modest bearing to all classes, and unobtrusive, though magnificent benevolence to the poor, ere long converted into a feeling of deep and affectionate respectfulness. During their stay in Scotland, the King took more than one opportunity of conveying to Sir Walter his gratitude for this salutary interference on his behalf. The ladies of the royal family had a curiosity to see Abbotsford, but being aware of his reduced health and wealth, took care to visit the place when he was known to be from home. Several French noblemen of the train, however, paid him their respects personally. I remember with particular pleasure a couple of days that the Duke of Laval-Montmorency spent with him: he was also gratified with a visit from Marshal Bourmont, though unfortunately that came after his ailments had much advanced. The Marshal was accompanied by the Baron d'Haussez, one of the Polignac Ministry, whose published account of his residence in this country contains no specimen of vain imbecility more pitiable than the page he gives to Abbotsford. So far from comprehending anything of his host's character or conversation, the Baron had not even eyes to observe that he was in a sorely dilapidated condition of bodily health. The reader has already seen that he had many misgivings in contemplating his final retirement from the situation he had occupied for six-and-twenty years in the Court of Session. Such a breach in old habits is always a serious experiment; but in his case it was very particularly so, because it involved his losing during the winter months, when men most need society, the intercourse of almost all that remained to him of dear familiar friends. He had besides a love for the very stones of Edinburgh, and the thought that he was never again to sleep under a roof of his own in his native city, cost him many a pang. But he never alludes either in his Diary or in his letters (nor do I remember that he ever did so in conversation) to the circumstance which, far more than all besides, occasioned care and regret in the bosom of his family. However he might cling to the notion that his recent ailments sprung merely from a disordered stomach, they had dismissed that dream, and the heaviest of their thoughts was, that he was fixing himself in the country just when his health, perhaps his life, might depend any given hour on the immediate presence of a surgical hand. They reflected that the only practitioner resident within several miles of him might, in case of another seizure, come too late, even although the messenger should find him at home; but that his practice extended over a wide range of thinly-peopled country, and that at the hour of need he might as probably be half a day's journey off as at Melrose. We would fain have persuaded him that his library-catalogues, and other papers, had fallen into such confusion, that he ought to have some clever young student in the house during the winter to arrange them; and had he taken the suggestion in good part, a medical student would of course have been selected. But, whether or not he suspected our real motive, he would listen to no such plan; and his friendly surgeon (Mr James Clarkson) then did the best he could for us, by instructing a confidential domestic, privately, in the use of the lancet. This was John Nicolson---a name never to be mentioned by any of Scott's family without respect and gratitude. He had been in the household from his boyhood, and was about this time (poor Dalgleish retiring from weak health) advanced to the chief place in it. Early and continued kindness had made a very deep impression on this fine handsome young man's warm heart; he possessed intelligence, good sense, and a calm temper; and the courage and dexterity which Sir Walter had delighted to see him display in sports and pastimes, proved henceforth of inestimable service to the master whom he regarded, I verily believe, with the love and reverence of a son. Since I have reached the period at which human beings owe so much to ministrations of this class, I may as well name by the side of Nicolson, Miss Scott's maid, Mrs Celia Street--- a young person whose unwearied zeal, coupled with a modest tact that stamped her one of Nature's gentlewomen, contributed hardly less to the comfort of Sir Walter and his children during the brief remainder of his life.<*>
* On Sir Walter's death, Nicolson passed into the service of
* Mr Morritt at Rokeby. He died at Kelso in 1841. Mrs Street
* remained in my house till 1836, when she married Mr Griffiths,
* a respectable farmer at Ealing.
Affliction, as it happened, lay heavy at this time on the kind house of Huntley Burn also. The eldest Miss Fergusson was on her deathbed; and thus, when my wife and I were obliged to move southwards at the beginning of winter, Sir Walter was left almost entirely dependent on his daughter Anne, William Laidlaw, and the worthy domestics whom I have been naming. Laidlaw attended him as amanuensis, and often dined as well as breakfasted with him. A more delicate task never devolved upon any man's friend, than he had about this time to encounter. He could not watch Scott from hour to hour---above all, he could not write to his dictation, without gradually, slowly, most reluctantly taking home to his bosom the conviction that the mighty mind, which he had worshipped through more than thirty years of intimacy, had lost something, and was daily losing something more of its energy. The faculties were there, and each of them was every now and then displaying itself in its full vigour; but the sagacious judgment, the brilliant fancy, the unrivalled memory, were all subject to occasional eclipse---
``Amid the strings his fingers stray'd, And an uncertain warbling made.''
Ever and anon he paused and looked round him, like one half-waking from a dream, mocked with shadows. The sad bewilderment of his gaze shewed a momentary consciousness that, like Samson in the lap of the Philistine, his strength was passing from him, and he was becoming weak like unto other men.'' Then came the strong effort of aroused will---the cloud dispersed as if before an irresistible current of purer air---all was bright and serene as of old---and then it closed again in yet deeper darkness.
During the early part of this winter the situation of Cadell and Ballantyne was hardly less painful, and still more embarrassing. What doubly and trebly perplexed them was, that while the MS. sent for press seemed worse every budget, Sir Walter's letters continued as clear in thought, and almost so in expression, as formerly---full of the old shrewdness and firmness, and manly kindness, and even of the old good-humoured pleasantry. About them, except the staggering penmanship, and here and there one word put down obviously for another, there was scarcely anything to indicate decayed vigour. It is not surprising that poor Ballantyne, in particular, should have shrunk from the notion that anything was amiss,---except the choice of an unfortunate subject, and the indulgence of more than common carelessness and rapidity in composition. He seems to have done so as he would from some horrid suggestion of the Devil; and accordingly obeyed his natural sense of duty, by stating, in plain terms, that he considered the opening chapters of Count Robert as decidedly inferior to anything that had ever before come from that pen. James appears to have dwelt chiefly on the hopelessness of any Byzantine fable; and he might certainly have appealed to a long train of examples for the fatality which seems to hang over every attempt to awaken anything like a lively interest about the persons and manners of the generation in question; the childish forms and bigotries, the weak pomps and drivelling pretensions, the miserable plots and treacheries, the tame worn-out civilization of those European Chinese. The epoch on which Scott had fixed was, however, one that brought these doomed slaves of vanity and superstition into contact with the vigorous barbarism both of western Christendom and the advancing Ottoman. Sir Walter had, years before, been struck with its capabilities;<*> and who dares to say
* See his Essay on _Romance,_ 1823.
that, had he executed the work when he sketched the outline of its plan, he might not have achieved as signal a triumph over all critical prejudices, as he had done when he rescued Scottish romance from the mawkish degradation in which Waverley found it?
In himself and his own affairs there was enough to alarm and perplex him and all who watched him; but the aspect of the political horizon also pressed more heavily upon his spirit than it had ever done before. All the evils which he had apprehended from the rupture among the Tory leaders in the beginning of 1827, were now, in his opinion, about to be consummated. The high Protestant party, blinded by their resentment of the abolition of the Test Act and the Roman Catholic disabilities, seemed willing to run any risk for the purpose of driving the Duke of Wellington from the helm. The general election, occasioned by the demise of the Crown, was held while the successful revolts in France and Belgium were uppermost in every mind, and furnished the Liberal candidates with captivating topics. The result had considerably strengthened the old opposition in the House of Commons; and a single vote, in which the ultra-Tories joined the Whigs, was considered by the Ministry as so ominous, that they immediately retired from office. The succeeding cabinet of Earl Grey included names identified, in Scott's view, with the wildest race of innovation. Their first step was to announce a bill of Parliamentary Reform on a large scale, for which it was soon known they had secured the warm personal support of William IV. Great discontent prevailed, meanwhile, throughout the labouring classes of many districts, both commercial and rural. Every newspaper teemed with details of riot and incendiarism; and the selection of such an epoch of impatience and turbulence for a legislative experiment---more important than had ever before been agitated within the forms of the constitution---was perhaps regarded by most grave and retired men with feelings near akin to those of the anxious and melancholy invalid at Abbotsford. To annoy him additionally, he found many eminent persons, who had hitherto avowed politics of his own colour, renouncing all their old tenets, and joining the cry of Reform, which to him sounded Revolution, as keenly as the keenest of those who had been through life considered apostles of Republicanism. And I must also observe, that as, notwithstanding his own steady Toryism, he had never allowed political differences to affect his private feelings towards friends and companions, so it now happened that among the few with whom he had daily intercourse, there was hardly one he could look to for sympathy in his present reflections and anticipations. The affectionate Laidlaw had always been a stout Whig; he hailed the coming changes as the beginning of a political millenium. Ballantyne, influenced probably by his new ghostly counsellors, was by degrees leaning to a similar view of things. Cadell, his bookseller, and now the principal confidant and assistant from week to week in all his plans and speculations, had always, I presume, considered the Tory creed as a piece of weakness---to be pardoned, indeed, in a poet and an antiquary, but at best pitied in men of any other class.
Towards the end of November, Sir Walter had another slight touch of apoplexy. He recovered himself without assistance; but again consulted his physicians in Edinburgh, and by their advice adopted a still greater severity of regimen.
The reader will now understand what his frame and condition of health and spirits were, when he at length received from Ballantyne a decided protest against the novel on which he was struggling to fix the shattered energies of his memory and fancy. He replied thus:
``_Abbotsford,_ 8_th Dec._ 1830.
``My Dear James,---If I were like other authors, as I flatter myself I am not, I should `send you an order on my treasurer for a hundred ducats, wishing you all prosperity and a little more taste;'<*> but having never supposed that
* Archbishop of Grenada, in _Gil Blas._
any abilities I ever had were of a perpetual texture, I am glad when friends tell me what I might be long in finding out myself. Mr Cadell will shew you what I have written to him. My present idea is to go abroad for a few months, if I hold together as long. So ended the Fathers of the Novel---Fielding and Smollet---and it would be no unprofessional finish for yours---W. S.''
This note to the printer, and a letter of the same date and strain to the publisher, ``struck both,'' Mr Cadell says, ``with dismay.'' They resolved to go out to Abbotsford, but not for a few days, because a general meeting of the creditors was at hand, and there was reason to hope that its results would enable them to appear as the bearers of sundry pieces of good news. Meantime, Sir Walter himself rallied considerably, and resolved, by way of testing his powers, while the novel hung suspended, to write a fourth epistle of Malachi Malagrowther on the public affairs of the period. The announcement of a political dissertation, at such a moment of universal excitement, and from a hand already trembling under the misgivings of a fatal malady, might well have filled Cadell and Ballantyne with new ``dismay,'' even had they both been prepared to adopt, in the fullest extent, such views of the dangers of our state, and the remedies for them, as their friend was likely to dwell upon. They agreed that whatever they could safely do to avert this experiment must be done. Indeed they were both equally anxious to find, if it could be found, the means of withdrawing him from all literary labour, save only that of annotating his former novels. But they were not the only persons who had been, and then were, exerting all their art for that same purpose. His kind and skilful physicians, Doctors Abercrombie and Ross of Edinburgh, had over and over preached the same doctrine, and assured him, that if he persisted in working his brain, nothing could prevent his malady from recurring ere long in redoubled severity. He answered---``As for bidding me not work, Molly might as well put the kettle on the fire and say, _Now, don't boil._'' To myself, when I ventured to address him in a similar strain, he replied---``I understand you, and I thank you from my heart, but I must tell you at once how it is with me. I am not sure that I am quite myself in all things; but I am sure that in one point there is no change. I mean, that I foresee distinctly that if I were to be idle I should go mad. In comparison to this, death is no risk to shrink from.''
The meeting of trustees and creditors took place on the 17th---Mr George Forbes (brother to the late Sir William) in the chair. There was then announced another dividend on the Ballantyne estate of three shillings in the pound--- thus reducing the original amount of the debt to about <L>54,000. It had been not unnaturally apprehended that the convulsed state of politics might have checked the sale of the _Magnum Opus;_ but this does not seem to have been the case to any extent worth notice. The meeting was numerous---and, not contented with a renewed vote of thanks to their debtor, they passed unanimously a resolution, which was moved by Mr (now Sir James) Gibson-Craig, and seconded by Mr Thomas Allan---both, by the way, leading Whigs:---``That Sir Walter Scott be requested to accept of his furniture, plate, linens, paintings, library, and curiosities of every description, as the best means the creditors have of expressing their very high sense of his most honourable conduct, and in grateful acknowledgment for the unparalleled and most successful exertions he has made, and continues to make, for them.''
On the 18th, Cadell and Ballantyne proceeded to Abbotsford, and found Sir Walter in a placid state---having evidently been much soothed and gratified with the tidings from Mr Forbes. His whole appearance was greatly better than they had ventured to anticipate; and deferring literary questions till the morning, he made this gift from his creditors the chief subject of his conversation. He said it had taken a heavy load off his mind; he apprehended that, even if his future works should produce little money, the profits of the _Magnum,_ during a limited number of years, with the sum which had been insured on his life, would be sufficient to obliterate the remaining part of the Ballantyne debt: he considered the library and museum now conveyed to him as worth at the least <L>10,000, and this would enable him to make some provision for his younger children. He said that he designed to execute his last will without delay, and detailed to his friends all the particulars which the document ultimately embraced. He mentioned to them that he had recently received, through the Lord Chief-Commissioner Adam, a message from the new King, intimating his Majesty's disposition to keep in mind his late brother's kind intentions with regard to Charles Scott;---and altogether his talk, though grave, and on grave topics, was the reverse of melancholy.
Next morning, in Sir Walter's study, Ballantyne read aloud the political essay---which had (after the old fashion) grown to an extent far beyond what the author contemplated when he began his task. To print it in the Weekly Journal, as originally proposed, would now be hardly compatible with the limits of that paper: Sir Walter had resolved on a separate publication.
I believe no one ever saw this performance but the bookseller, the printer, and William Laidlaw; and I cannot pretend to have gathered any clear notion of its contents, except that the _panacea_ was the reimposition of the income-tax; and that after much reasoning in support of this measure, Sir Walter attacked the principle of Parliamentary Reform _in toto._ We need hardly suppose that he advanced any objections which would seem new to the students of the debates in both Houses during 1831 and 1832; his logic carried no conviction to the breast of his faithful amanuensis; but Mr Laidlaw assured me, nevertheless, that in his opinion no composition of Sir Walter's happiest day contained anything more admirable than the bursts of indignant and pathetic eloquence which here and there ``set off a halting argument.''
The critical arbiters, however, concurred in condemning the production. Cadell spoke out. He assured Sir Walter, that from not being in the habit of reading the newspapers and periodical works of the day, he had fallen behind the common rate of information on questions of practical policy; that the views he was enforcing had been already expounded by many Tories, and triumphantly answered by organs of the Liberal party; but that, be the intrinsic value and merit of these political doctrines what they might, he was quite certain that to put them forth at that season would be a measure of extreme danger for the author's personal interest; that it would throw a cloud over his general popularity, array a hundred active pens against any new work of another class that might soon follow, and perhaps even interrupt the hitherto splendid success of the Collection on which so much depended. On all these points Ballantyne, though with hesitation and diffidence, professed himself to be of Cadell's opinion. There ensued a scene of a very unpleasant sort; but by and by a kind of compromise was agreed to: the plan of a separate pamphlet, with the well-known nom de guerre of Malachi, was dropt; and Ballantyne was to stretch his columns so as to find room for the lucubration, adopting all possible means to mystify the public as to its parentage. This was the understanding when the conference broke up; but the unfortunate manuscript was soon afterwards committed to the flames. James Ballantyne accompanied the proof-sheet with many minute criticisms on the conduct as well as expression of the argument: the author's temper gave way and the commentary shared the fate of the text.
Mr Cadell opens a very brief account of this affair with expressing his opinion, that ``Sir Walter never recovered it;'' and he ends with an altogether needless apology for his own part in it. He did only what was his duty by his venerated friend; and he did it, I doubt not, as kindly in manner as in spirit. Even if the fourth epistle of Malachi had been more like its precursors than I can well suppose it to have been, nothing could have been more unfortunate for Sir Walter than to come forward at that moment as a prominent antagonist of Reform. Such an appearance might very possibly have had the consequences to which the bookseller pointed in his remonstrance but at all events it must have involved him in a maze of replies and rejoinders; and I think it too probable, that some of the fiery disputants of the periodical press, if not of St Stephen's Chapel, might have been ingenious enough to connect any real or fancied flaws in his argument with those circumstances in his personal condition which had for some time been darkening his own reflections with dim anguries of the fate of Swift and Marlborough. His reception of Ballantyne's affectionate candour may suggest what the effect of really hostile criticism would have been. The end was, that seeing how much he stood in need of some comfort, the printer and bookseller concurred in urging him not to despair of Count Robert. They assured him that he had attached too much importance to what had formerly been said about the defects of its opening chapters; and he agreed to resume the novel, which neither of them ever expected he would live to finish. ``If we did wrong,' says Cadell, ``we did it for the best; we felt that to have spoken out as fairly on this as we had on the other subject, would have been to make ourselves the bearers of a death-warrant.'' I hope there are not many men who would have acted otherwise in their painful situation.
The next entry of the Diary has these sentences:--- ``Ever since my fall in February, it is very certain that I have seemed to speak with an impediment. To add to this, I have the constant increase of my lameness---the thigh-joint, knee-joint, and ancle-joint. I move with great pain in the whole limb, and am at every minute, during an hour's walk, reminded of my mortality. I should not care for all this, if I were sure of dying handsomely; and Cadell's calculations might be sufficiently firm, though the author of Waverley had pulled on his last nightcap. Nay, they might be even more trustworthy, if remains, and memoirs, and such like, were to give a zest to the posthumous. But the fear is, lest the blow be not sufficient to destroy life, and that I should linger on, `a driveller and a show.' ''<*>
* Johnson's _Vanity of Human Wishes._
He says again---``_January_ 18, 1831. Dictated to Laidlaw till about one o'clock, during which time it was rainy. Afterwards I walked, sliding about in the mud, and very uncomfortable. In fact, there is no mistaking the Three Sufficients,<*>
* See Piozzi's Tale of _The Three Sufficient Warnings._
and Fate is now straitening its circumvallations around me.---_January_ 19.---Mr Laidlaw came down at ten, and we wrote till one. This is an important help to me, as it saves both my eyesight and nerves, which last are cruelly affected by finding those who look out of the windows grow gradually darker and darker. Rode out, or, more properly, was carried out into the woods to see the course of a new road, which may serve to carry off the thinnings of the trees, and for rides. It is very well lined, and will serve both for beauty and convenience. Mr Laidlaw engages to come back to dinner, and finish two or three more pages. Met my agreeable and lady-like neighbour, Mrs Brewster, on my pony, and I was actually ashamed to be seen by her.
`Sir Denis Brand! and on so poor a steed!'<*>
* Crabbe's _Borough,_ Letter xiii.
I believe detestable folly of this kind is the very last that leaves us. One would have thought I ought to have little vanity at this time o'day; but it is an abiding appurtenance of the old Adam, and I write for penance what, like a fool, I actually felt. I think the peep, real or imaginary, at the gates of death, should have given me firmness not to mind little afflictions.''
On the 31st of January, Miss Scott being too unwell for a journey, Sir Walter went alone to Edinburgh for the purpose of executing his last will. He (for the first time in his native town), took up his quarters at a hotel; but the noise of the street disturbed him during the night (another evidence how much his nervous system had been shattered), and next day he was persuaded to remove to his bookseller's house in Athol Crescent. In the apartment allotted to him there, he found several little pieces of furniture which some kind person had purchased for him at the sale in Castle Street, and which he presented to Mrs Cadell. ``Here,'' says his letter to Mrs Lockhart, ``I saw various things that belonged to poor No. 39. I had many sad thoughts on seeing and handling them---but they are in kind keeping, and I was glad they had not gone to strangers.''
There came on, next day, a storm of such severity that he had to remain under this friendly roof until the 9th of February. His host perceived that he was unfit for any company but the quietest, and had sometimes one old friend, Mr Thomson, Mr Clerk, or Mr Skene, to dinner---but no more. He seemed glad to see them---but they all observed him with pain. He never took the lead in conversation, and often remained altogether silent. In the mornings he wrote usually for several hours at Count Robert; and Mr Cadell remembers in particular, that on Ballantyne's reminding him that a motto was wanted for one of the chapters already finished, he looked out for a moment at the gloomy weather, and penned these lines---
``The storm increases---'tis no sunny shower, Foster'd in the moist breast of March or April, Or such as parched Summer cools his lips with. Heaven's windows are flung wide; the inmost deeps Call in hoarse greeting one upon another; On comes the flood in all its foaming horrors, And where's the dike shall stop it? _The Deluge: a Poem._''
On the 4th February, the will was signed, and attested by Nicolson, to whom Sir Walter explained the nature of the document, adding, ``I deposit it for safety in Mr Cadell's hands, and I still hope it may be long before he has occasion to produce it.'' Poor Nicolson was much agitated, but stammered out a deep _amen._
Another object of this journey was to consult, on the advice of Dr Ebenezer Clarkson, a skilful mechanist, by name _Fortune,_ about a contrivance for the support of the lame limb, which had of late given him much pain, as well as inconvenience. Mr Fortune produced a clever piece of handiwork, and Sir Walter felt at first great relief from the use of it: insomuch that his spirits rose to quite the old pitch, and his letter to me upon the occasion overflows with merry applications of sundry maxims and verses about _Fortune:_ ``_Fortes Fortuna adjuvat,_'' &c. &c.
Of this excursion the Diary says---``_Abbotsford, February_ 9. The snow became impassable, and in Edinburgh I remained immoveably fixed for ten days, never getting out of doors, save once or twice to dinner, when I went and returned in a sedan-chair. Cadell made a point of my coming to his excellent house, where I had no less excellent an apartment, and the most kind treatment; that is, no making a show of me, for which I was in but bad tune. Abercrombie and Ross had me bled with cupping-glasses, reduced me confoundedly, and restricted me of all creature comforts. But they did me good, as I am sure they sincerely meant to do; I got rid of a giddy feeling which I had been plagued with, and have certainly returned much better. I did not neglect my testamentary affairs. I executed my last will, leaving Walter burdened with <L>1000 to Sophia, <L>2000 to Anne, and the same to Charles. He is to advance them this money if they want it; if not, to pay them interest. All this is his own choice, otherwise I would have sold the books and rattletraps. I have made provisions for clearing my estate by my publications, should it be possible; and should that prove possible, from the time of such clearance being effected, to be a fund available to all my children who shall be alive or leave representatives. My bequests must, many of them, seem hypothetical.''
At the beginning of March, he was anew roused about political affairs; and bestowed four days in drawing up an address against the Reform Bill, which he designed to be adopted by the Freeholders of the Forest. They, however, preferred a shorter one from the pen of a plain practical country gentleman (the late Mr Elliot Lockhart of Borthwickbrae), who had often represented them in Parliament: and Sir Walter, it is probable, felt this disappointment more acutely than be has chosen to indicate in his Journal.
``_March_ 11.---This day we had our meeting at Selkirk. I found Borthwickbrae had sent the frame of an address. It was the reverse of mine in every respect. As I saw that it met the ideas of the meeting (six in number) better by far than mine, I instantly put that in my pocket. It gives me a right to decline future interference, and let the world wag---`Transeat cum c<ae>teris erroribus.'---I will make my opinion public at every place where I shall be called upon or expected to appear; but I will not thrust myself forward again. May the Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this vow!''
He kept it in all parts. Though urged to take up his pen against the Reform Bill, by several persons of high consequence, who of course little knew his real condition of health, he resolutely refused to make any such experiment again. But he was equally resolved to be absent from no meeting at which, as Sheriff or Deputy-Lieutenant, he might naturally be expected to appear in his place, and record his aversion to the Bill. The first of these meetings was one of the freeholders of Roxburgh, held at Jedburgh on the 21st of March, and there, to the distress and alarm of his daughter, he insisted on being present, and proposing one of the Tory resolutions,---which he did in a speech of some length, but delivered in a tone so low, and with such hesitation in utterance, that only a few detached passages were intelligible to the bulk of the audience.
``We are told'' (said he) ``on high authority, that France is the model for us,---that we and all the other nations ought to put ourselves to school there,---and endeavour to _take out our degrees at the University of Paris._<*>
* See _Edinburgh Review_ for October 1830, p. 23.
The French are a very ingenious people; they have often tried to borrow from us, and now we should repay the obligation by borrowing a leaf from them. But I fear there is an incompatibility between the tastes and habits of France and Britain, and that we may succeed as ill in copying them, as they have hitherto done in copying us. We, in this district are proud, and with reason, that the first chain-bridge was the work of a Scotchman. It still hangs where he erected it, a pretty long time ago. The French heard of our invention, and determined to introduce it, but with great improvements and embellishments. A friend of my own saw the thing tried. It was on the Seine, at Marly. The French chain-bridge looked lighter and airier than the prototype. Every Englishman present was disposed to confess that we had been beaten at our own trade. But by and by the gates were opened, and the multitude were to pass over. It began to swing rather formidably beneath the pressure of the good company and by the time the architect, who led the procession in great pomp and glory, reached the middle, the whole gave way, and he---worthy, patriotic artist---was the first that got a ducking. They had forgot the great middle bolt--- or rather, this ingenious person had conceived that to be a clumsy-looking feature, which might safely be dispensed with, while he put some invisible gimcrack of his own to supply its place.''---Here Sir Walter was interrupted by violent hissing and hooting from the populace of the town, who had flocked in and occupied the greater part of the Court-House. He stood calmly till the storm subsided, and resumed; but the friend, whose notes are before me, could not catch what he said, until his voice rose with another illustration of the old style. ``My friends,'' he said, ``I am old and failing, and you think me full of very silly prejudices; but I have seen a good deal of public men, and thought a good deal of public affairs in my day, and I can't help suspecting that the manufacturers of this new constitution are like a parcel of schoolboys taking to pieces a watch which used to go tolerably well for all practical purposes, in the conceit that they can put it together again far better than the old watchmaker. I fear they will fail when they come to the reconstruction, and I should not, I confess, be much surprised if it were to turn out that their first step had been to break the main-spring.''---Here he was again stopped by a Babel of contemptuous sounds, which seemed likely to render further attempts ineffectual. He, abruptly and unheard, proposed his Resolution, and then, turning to the riotous artisans, exclaimed---``I regard your gabble no more than the geese on the green.'' His countenance glowed with indignation, as he resumed his seat on the bench. But when, a few moments afterwards, the business being over, he rose to withdraw, every trace of passion was gone. He turned round at the door, and bowed to the assembly. Two or three, not more, renewed their hissing; he bowed again, and took leave in the words of the doomed gladiator, which I hope none who had joined in these insults understood---``=Moriturus vos saluto.=''
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