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December 1826

December 1[420].--The Court again very long in its sitting, and I obliged to remain till the last. This is the more troublesome, as in winter, with my worn-out eyes, I cannot write so well by candle-light. Naboclish! when I am quite blind, _good-night to you_, as the one-eyed fellow said when a tennis ball knocked out his remaining luminary. My short residue of time before dinner was much cut up by calls--all old friends, too, and men whom I love; but this makes the loss of time more galling, that one cannot and dare not growl at those on whom it has been bestowed. However, I made out two hours better than I expected. I am now once more at my oar, and I will row hard.

December 2.--Returned early from Court, but made some calls by the way. Dined alone with Anne, and meant to have worked, but--I don't know how--this horrid story stuck by me, so I e'en read Boutourlin's account of the Moscow campaign to eschew the foul fiend.

December 3.--Wrote five pages before dinner. Sir Thomas Brisbane and Sir William Arbuthnot called, also John A. Murray. William dined with us, all vivid with his Italian ideas, only Jane besides. Made out five pages, I think, or nearly.

December 4.--Much colded, which is no usual complaint of mine, but worked about five leaves, so I am quite up with my task-work and better. But my books from Abbotsford have not arrived. Dined with the Royal Society Club--about thirty members present--too many for company. After coffee, the Society were like _Mungo_ in _The Padlock_.[421] I listened, without understanding a single word, to two scientific papers; one about the tail of a comet, and the other about a chucky-stone; besides hearing Basil Hall describe, and seeing him exhibit, a new azimuth. I have half a mind to cut the whole concern; and yet the situation is honourable, and, as Bob Acres says, one should think of their honour. We took possession of our new rooms on the Mound, which are very handsome and gentlemanlike.

December 5.--Annoyed with the cold and its consequences all night, and wish I could shirk the Court this morning. But it must not be. Was kept late, and my cold increased. I have had a regular attack of this for many years past whenever I return to the sedentary life and heated rooms of Edinburgh, which are so different from the open air and constant exercise of the country. Odd enough that during cold weather and cold nocturnal journeys the cold never touched me, yet I am no sooner settled in comfortable quarters and warm well-aired couches, but _la voilą_. I made a shift to finish my task, however, and even a leaf more, so we are bang up. We dined and supped alone, and I went to bed early.

December 6.--A bad and disturbed night with fever, headache, and some touch of cholera morbus, which greatly disturbed my slumbers. But I fancy Nature was scouring the gun after her own fashion. I slept little till morning, and then lay abed, contrary to my wont, until half-past nine o'clock, when I came down to breakfast. Went to Court, and returned time enough to write about five leaves. Dined at Skene's, where we met Lord Elgin and Mr. Stewart, a son of Sir M. Shaw Stewart, whom I knew and liked, poor man. Talked among other things and persons of Sir J. Campbell of Ardkinglas, who is now here.[422] He is happy in escaping from his notorious title of Callander of Craigforth. In my youth he was a black-leg and swindler of the first water, and like Pistol did

    "Somewhat lean to cut-purse of quick hand."[423]
He was obliged to give up his estate to his son Colonel Callander, a gentleman of honour, and as Dad went to the Continent in the midst of the French Revolution, he is understood to have gone through many scenes. At one time, Lord Elgin assured us, he seized upon the island of Zante, as he pretended, by direct authority from the English Government, and reigned there very quietly for some months, until, to appease the jealousy of the Turks, Lord Elgin despatched a frigate to dethrone the new sovereign. Afterwards he traversed India in the dress of a fakir. He is now eighty and upwards.

I should like to see what age and adventures have done upon him. I recollect him a very handsome, plausible man. Of all good breeding, that of a swindler (of good education, be it understood) is the most perfect.

December 7.--Again a very disturbed night, scarce sleeping an hour, yet well when I rose in the morning. I did not do above a leaf to-day, because I had much to read. But I am up to one-fourth of the volume, of 400 pages, which I began on the first December current; the 31st must and shall see the end of vol. vi. We dined alone. I had a book sent me by a very clever woman, in defence of what she calls the rights of her sex. Clever, though. I hope she will publish it.

December 8.--Another restless and deplorable Knight--night I should say--faith, either spelling will suit. Returned early, but much done up with my complaint and want of sleep last night. I wrought however, but with two or three long interruptions, my drowsiness being irresistible. Went to dine with John Murray, where met his brother Henderland, Jeffrey, Harry Cockburn, Rutherfurd, and others of that file. Very pleasant--capital good cheer and excellent wine--much laugh and fun.

December 9.--I do not know why it is that when I am with a party of my Opposition friends, the day is often merrier than when with our own set. Is it because they are cleverer? Jeffrey and Harry Cockburn are, to be sure, very extraordinary men, yet it is not owing to that entirely. I believe both parties meet with the feeling of something like novelty. We have not worn out our jests in daily contact. There is also a disposition on such occasions to be courteous, and of course to be pleased. Wrought all day, but rather dawdled, being abominably drowsy. I fancy it is bile, a visitor I have not had this long time.

December 10.--An uncomfortable and sleepless night; and the lime water assigned to cure me seems far less pleasant, and about as inefficacious as lime punch would be in the circumstances. I felt main stupid the whole forenoon, and though I wrote my task, yet it was with great intervals of drowsiness and fatigue which made me, as we Scots says, dover away in my arm-chair. Walter and Jane came to dinner, also my Coz Colonel Russell, and above and attour[424] James Ballantyne, poor fellow. We had a quiet and social evening, I acting on prescription. Well, I have seen the day--but no matter.

December 11.--Slept indifferent well with a feverish halo about me, but no great return of my complaint. It paid it off this morning, however, but the difference was of such consequence that I made an ample day's work, getting over six pages, besides what I may do. On this, the 11th December, I shall have more than one-third of vol. vi. finished, which was begun on the first of this current month. Dined quiet and at home. I must take no more frisks till this fit is over.

    "When once life's day draws near the gloaming,
    Then farewell careless social roaming;
    And farewell cheerful tankards foaming,
                          And social noise;
    And farewell dear deluding woman,
                          The joy of joys!"[425]
Long life to thy fame and peace to thy soul, Rob Burns! When I want to express a sentiment which I feel strongly, I find the phrase in Shakespeare--or thee. The blockheads talk of my being like Shakespeare--not fit to tie his brogues.[426]

December 12.--Did not go to the Parliament House, but drove with Walter to Dalkeith, where we missed the Duke, and found Mr. Blakeney. One thing I saw there which pleased me much, and that was my own picture, painted twenty years ago by Raeburn for Constable, and which was to have been brought to sale among the rest of the wreck, hanging quietly up in the dining-room at Dalkeith.[427] I do not care much about these things, yet it would have been annoying to have been knocked down to the best bidder even in effigy; and I am obliged to the friendship and delicacy which placed the portrait where it now is. Dined at Archie Swinton's, with all the cousins of that honest clan, and met Lord Cringletie,[428] his wife, and others. Finished my task this day.

December 13.--Went to the Court this morning early, and remained till past three. Then attended a meeting of the Edinburgh Academy Directors on account of some discussion about flogging. I am an enemy to corporal punishment, but there are many boys who will not attend without it. It is an instant and irresistible motive, and I love boys' heads too much to spoil them at the expense of their opposite extremity. Then, when children feel an emancipation on this point, we may justly fear they will loosen the bonds of discipline altogether. The master, I fear, must be something of a despot at the risk of his becoming something like a tyrant. He governs subjects whose keen sense of the present is not easily ruled by any considerations that are not pressing and immediate. I was indifferently well beaten at school; but I am now quite certain that twice as much discipline would have been well bestowed.

Dined at home with Walter and Jane; they with Anne went out in the evening, I remained, but not I fear to work much. I feel sorely fagged. I am sadly fagged. Then I cannot get ----'s fate out of my head. I see that kind, social, beneficent face never turned to me without respect and complacence, and--I see it in the agonies of death. This is childish; I tell myself so, and I trust the feeling to no one else. But here it goes down like the murderer who could not cease painting the ideal vision of the man he had murdered, and who he supposed haunted him. A thousand fearful images and dire suggestions glance along the mind when it is moody and discontented with itself. Command them to stand and show themselves, and you presently assert the power of reason over imagination. But if by any strange alterations in one's nervous system you lost for a moment the talisman which controls these fiends, would they not terrify into obedience with their mandates, rather than we would dare longer to endure their presence?

December 14.--Annoyed with this cursed complaint, though I live like a hermit on pulse and water. Bothered, too, with the Court, which leaves me little room for proof-sheets, and none for copy. They sat to-day till past two, so before I had walked home, and called for half an hour on the Chief Commissioner, the work part of the day was gone; and then my lassitude--I say lassitude--not indolence--is so great that it costs me an hour's nap after I come home. We dined to-day with R. Dundas of Arniston--Anne and I. There was a small cabal about Cheape's election for Professor of Civil Law, which it is thought we can carry for him. He deserves support, having been very indifferently used in the affair of the _Beacon_,[429] where certain high Tories showed a great desire to leave him to the mercy of the enemy; as _Feeble_ says, "I will never bear a base mind."[430] We drank some "victorious Burgundy," contrary to all prescription.

December 15.--Egad! I think I am rather better for my good cheer! I have passed one quiet night at least, and that is something gained. A glass of good wine is a gracious creature, and reconciles poor mortality to itself, and that is what few things can do.

Our election went off very decently; no discussions or aggravating speeches. Sir John Jackass seconded the Whig's nominee. So much they will submit to to get a vote. The numbers stood--Cheape,[431] 138; Bell, 132. Majority, 6--mighty hard run. The Tory interest was weak among the old stagers, where I remember it so strong, but preferment, country residence, etc., has thinned them. Then it was strong in the younger classes. The new Dean, James Moncreiff,[432] presided with strict propriety and impartiality. Walter and Jane dined with us.

December 16.--Another bad night. I remember I used to think a slight illness was a luxurious thing. My pillow was then softened by the hand of affection, and all the little cares which were put in exercise to soothe the languor or pain were more flattering and pleasing than the consequences of the illness were disagreeable. It was a new sense to be watched and attended, and I used to think that the _Malade imaginaire_ gained something by his humour. It is different in the latter stages. The old post-chaise gets more shattered and out of order at every turn; windows will not be pulled up; doors refuse to open, or being open will not shut again--which last is rather my case. There is some new subject of complaint every moment; your sicknesses come thicker and thicker; your comforting or sympathising friends fewer and fewer; for why should they sorrow for the course of nature? The recollection of youth, health, and uninterrupted powers of activity, neither improved nor enjoyed, is a poor strain of comfort. The best is, the long halt will arrive at last, and cure all.

We had a long sitting in the Court. Came home through a cold easterly rain without a greatcoat, and was well wet. A goodly medicine for my aching bones.[433] Dined at Mr. Adam Wilson's, and had some good singing in the evening. Saw Dr. Stokoe, who attended Boney in Saint Helena, a plain, sensible sort of man.[434]

December 17.--This was a day of labour, agreeably varied by a pain which rendered it scarce possible to sit upright. My Journal is getting a vile chirurgical aspect.

I begin to be afraid of the odd consequences complaints in the _post equitem_ are said to produce. Walter and Jane dined. Mrs. Skene came in the evening.

December 18.--Almost sick with pain, and it stops everything. I shall tire of my Journal if it is to contain nothing but biles and plasters and unguents. In my better days I had stories to tell; but death has closed the long dark avenue upon loves and friendships; and I can only look at them as through the grated door of a long burial-place filled with monuments of those who were once dear to me, with no insincere wish that it may open for me at no distant period, provided such be the will of God. My pains were those of the heart, and had something flattering in their character; if in the head, it was from the blow of a bludgeon gallantly received and well paid back.

I went to the meeting of the Commissioners;[435] there was none to-day. The carriage had set me down; so I walked from the college in one of the sourest and most unsocial days which I ever felt. Why should I have liked this? I do not know; it is my dogged humour to yield little to external circumstances. Sent an excuse to the Royal Society, however.

December 19.--Went to Court. No, I lie; I had business there. Wrote a task; no more; could not. Went out to Dalkeith, and dined with the Duke. It delights me to hear this hopeful young nobleman talk with sense and firmness about his plans for improving his estate, and employing the poor. If God and the world spare him, he will be far known as a true Scots lord.[436]

December 20.--Being a Teind day, I had a little repose. We dined at Hector Macdonald's with William Clerk and some youngsters. Highland hospitality as usual. I got some work done to-day.

December 21.--In the house till two o'clock nearly. Came home, corrected proof-sheets, etc., mechanically. All well, would the machine but keep in order, but "The spinning wheel is auld and stiff."

I think I shall not live to the usual verge of human existence. I shall never see the threescore and ten, and shall be summed up at a discount. No help for it, and no matter either.

December 22.--Poor old Honour and Glory dead--once Lord Moira, more lately Lord Hastings. He was a man of very considerable talents, but had an overmastering degree of vanity of the grossest kind. It followed of course that he was gullible. In fact the propensity was like a ring in his nose into which any rogue might put a string. He had a high reputation for war, but it was after the pettifogging hostilities in America where he had done some clever things. He died, having the credit, or rather having had the credit, to leave more debt than any man since Caesar's time. £1,200,000 is said to be the least. There was a time that I knew him well, and regretted the foibles which mingled with his character, so as to make his noble qualities sometimes questionable, sometimes ridiculous. He was always kind to me. Poor Plantagenet! Young Percival went out to dine at Dalkeith with me.

December 24.--To add to my other grievances I have this day a proper fit of rheumatism in my best knee. I pushed to Abbotsford, however, after the Court rose, though compelled to howl for pain as they helped me out of the carriage.

[Abbotsford,] December 25.--By dint of abstinence and opodeldoc I passed a better night than I could have hoped for; but took up my lodging in the chapel room, as it is called, for going upstairs was impossible.

To-day I have been a mere wretch. I lay in bed till past eleven, thinking to get rid of the rheumatism; then I walked as far as Turnagain with much pain, and since that time I have just roasted myself like a potato by the fireside in my study, slumbering away my precious time, and unable to keep my eyes open or my mind intent on anything, if I would have given my life for it. I seemed to sleep tolerably, too, last night, but I suppose Nature had not her dues properly paid; neither has she for some time.

I saw the filling up of the quarry on the terrace walk, and was pleased. Anne and I dined at Mertoun, as has been my old wont and use as Christmas day comes about. We were late in setting out, and I have rarely seen so dark a night. The mist rolled like volumes of smoke on the road before us.

December 26.--Returned to Abbotsford this morning. I heard it reported that Lord B. is very ill. If that be true it affords ground for hope that Sir John ------ is not immortal. Both great bores. But the Earl has something of wild cleverness, far exceeding the ponderous stupidity of the Cavaliero Jackasso.

December 27.--Still weak with this wasting illness, but it is clearly going off. Time it should, quoth Sancho. I began my work again, which had slumbered betwixt pain and weakness. In fact I could not write or compose at all.

December 28.--Stuck to my work. Mr. Scrope came to dinner, and remained next day. We were expecting young Percival and his wife, once my favourite and beautiful Nancy M'Leod, and still a very fine woman; but they came not.

In bounced G. T[homson], alarmed by an anonymous letter, which acquainted him that thirty tents full of Catholics were coming to celebrate high mass in the Abbey church; and to consult me on such a precious document he came prancing about seven at night. I hope to get him a kirk before he makes any extraordinary explosion of simplicity.

December 29.--Mr. and Mrs. Percival came to-day. He is son of the late lamented statesman, equally distinguished by talents and integrity. The son is a clever young man, and has read a good deal; pleasant, too, in society; but tampers with phrenology, which is unworthy of his father's son. There is a certain kind of cleverish men, either half educated or cock-brained by nature, who are attached to that same turnipology. I am sorry this gentleman should take such whims--sorry even for his name's sake. Walter and Jane arrived; so our Christmas party thickens. Sir Adam and Colonel Ferguson dined.

December 30.--Wrote and wrought hard, then went out a drive with Mr. and Mrs. Percival; and went round by the lake. If my days of good fortune should ever return I will lay out some pretty rides at Abbotsford.

Last day of an eventful year; much evil and some good; but especially the courage to endure what Fortune sends without becoming a pipe for her fingers.[437]

It is _not_ the last day of the year, but to-morrow being Sunday we hold our festival of neighbours to-day instead. The Fergusons came _en masse_, and we had all the usual appliances of mirth and good cheer. Yet our party, like the chariot-wheels of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, dragged heavily.

Some of the party grow old and infirm; others thought of the absence of the hostess, whose reception of her guests was always kind. We did as well as we could, however.

    "It's useless to murmur and pout--
    There's no good in making ado;
    'Tis well the old year is out,
    And time to begin a new."
December 31.--It must be allowed that the regular recurrence of annual festivals among the same individuals has, as life advances, something in it that is melancholy. We meet on such occasions like the survivors of some perilous expedition, wounded and weakened ourselves, and looking through the diminished ranks of those who remain, while we think of those who are no more. Or they are like the feasts of the Caribs, in which they held that the pale and speechless phantoms of the deceased appeared and mingled with the living. Yet where shall we fly from vain repining? Or why should we give up the comfort of seeing our friends, because they can no longer be to us, or we to them, what we once were to each other?

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FOOTNOTES:

[420] During the winter of 1826-7 Sir Walter suffered great pain (enough to have disturbed effectually any other man's labours, whether official or literary) from successive attacks of rheumatism, which seems to have been fixed on him by the wet sheets of one of his French inns; and his Diary contains, besides, various indications that his constitution was already shaking under the fatigue to which he had subjected it. Formerly, however great the quantity of work he put through his hands, his evenings were almost all reserved for the light reading of an elbow-chair, or the enjoyment of his family and friends. Now he seemed to grudge every minute that was not spent at his desk. The little that he read of new books, or for mere amusement, was done by snatches in the course of his meals; and to walk, when he could walk at all, to the Parliament House, and back again through the Princes Street Gardens, was his only exercise and his only relaxation. Every ailment, of whatever sort, ended in aggravating his lameness; and, perhaps, the severest test his philosophy encountered was the feeling of bodily helplessness that from week to week crept upon him. The winter, to make bad worse, was a very cold and stormy one. The growing sluggishness of his blood showed itself in chilblains, not only on the feet but the fingers, and his handwriting becomes more and more cramped and confused.--_Life_, vol. ix. pp. 58-9.

[421] See Bickerstaff's Comic Opera, _The Padlock_.

[422] This gentleman published his own Memoirs (2 vols. 8vo, Lond. 1832). They read like chapters from the _Arabian Nights_. He gives a somewhat different account of his occupation of Zante, which he says was effected at Nelson's suggestion, and by Lord Keith's authority. Sir James died in 1832 at a very great age.

[423] _Henry V_. Act v. Sc. 1.

[424] For _By and attour_, i.e. over and above.

[425] Burns's lines to J. Smith.

[426] Delta's lines on Leslie's portrait of Scott may be recorded here:--

  Brother of Homer and of him
  On Avon's shore, mid twilight dim,
  Who dreamed immortal dreams, and took
  From Nature's hand her picture book;
  Time hath not seen, Time may not see,
  Till ends his reign, a third like thee.

[427] Now at Bowhill.

[428] James Wolfe Murray succeeded Lord Meadowbank on the Bench as Lord Cringletie, in November 1816, and died in 1836.

[429] A Party Newspaper started by the Tories in Edinburgh at the beginning of 1821. It was suppressed in the month of August, but during the interval contrived to give great offence to the Whig leaders by its personality. Lockhart says of it that "a more pitiable mass of blunders and imbecility was never heaped together than the whole of this affair exhibited;" and Scott, who was one of its founders, along with the Lord Advocate and other official persons, wrote to Erskine, "I am terribly malcontent about the _Beacon_. I was dragged into the bond against all reasons I could make, and now they have allowed me no vote regarding standing or flying. _Entre nous_, our friends went into the thing like fools, and came out very like cowards." The wretched libels it contained cost Sir A. Boswell his life, and for a moment endangered that of Scott.--See _Life_, vol. vi. pp. 426-429, and Cockburn's _Memorials_, p. 312.

[430] _2 Henry IV_. Act III. Sc. 2.

[431] Douglas Cheape, whose Introductory Lecture was published in 1827. Mr. Cheape died in 1861.

[432] James Moncreiff, son of the Rev. Sir Henry Wellwood. The new Dean succeeded Lord Alloway on the Scotch Bench in 1829, and died in 1851. Cockburn writes of him thus:--"During the twenty-one years he was on the civil and criminal benches, he performed all his duties admirably. Law-learning and law-reasoning, industry, honesty, and high-minded purity could do no more for any judge. After forty years of unbroken friendship, it is a pleasure to record my love of the man, and my admiration of his character."--_Journals_, vol. ii, p. 264.

[433] _Troilus and Cressida_, Act v. Sc. 2.

[434] Dr. Stokoe, who had settled at Durham, died suddenly at York in 1852. He had been surgeon in the fleet at Trafalgar, and was afterwards appointed to St. Helena.

[435] The University Commission.--See _ante_, pp. 256, 257.

[436] The long life of Walter, fifth Duke of Buccleuch, more than fulfilled the hopes and prognostics of his friend. A "true Scots lord," he carried with him to the grave in 1884 the love and respect of his countrymen.

[437] _Hamlet_, Act III. Sc. 2.--J.G.L.

Sir Walter Scott