Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

March 1827

March 1.--At Court until two--wrote letters under cover of the lawyers' long speeches, so paid up some of my correspondents, which I seldom do upon any other occasion. I sometimes let letters lie for days unopened, as if that would postpone the necessity of answering them. Here I am at home, and to work we go--not for the first time to-day, for I wrought hard before breakfast. So glides away Thursday 1st. By the by, it is the anniversary of Bosworth Field. In former days _Richard III._ was always acted at London on this day; now the custom, I fancy, is disused. Walpole's _Historic Doubts_ threw a mist about this reign. It is very odd to see how his mind dwells upon it at first as the mere sport of imagination, till at length they become such Delilahs of his imagination that he deems it far worse than infidelity to doubt his Doubts. After all, the popular tradition is so very strong and pointed concerning the character of Richard, that it is I think in vain to doubt the general truth of the outline. Shakespeare, we may be sure, wrote his drama in the tone that was to suit the popular belief, although where that did Richard wrong, his powerful scene was sure to augment the impression. There was an action and a reaction.

March 2.--Clerk walked home with me from the Court. I was scarce able to keep up with him; could once have done it well enough. Funny thing at the Theatre. Among the discourse in "High Life below Stairs,"[481] one of the ladies' ladies asks who wrote Shakespeare. One says, "Ben Jonson," another, "Finis." "No," said Will Murray, "it is Sir Walter Scott; he confessed it at a public meeting the other day." March 3.--Very severe weather, came home covered with snow. White as a frosted-plum-cake, by jingo! No matter; I am not sorry to find I can stand a brush of weather yet; I like to see Arthur's Seat and the stern old Castle with their white watch-cloaks on. But, as Byron said to Moore, "d---n it, Tom, don't be poetical." I settled to _Boney_, and wrote right long and well.

March 4.--I sat in by the chimney-neuk with no chance of interruption, and "feagued it away." Sir Adam came, and had half an hour's chat and laugh. My jaws ought to be sore, if the unwontedness of the motion could do it. But I have little to laugh at but myself, and my own bizarreries are more like to make me cry. Wrought hard, though--there's sense in that.

March 5.--Our young men of first fashion, in whom tranquillity is the prime merit, a sort of quietism of foppery, if one can use the expression, have one capital name for a fellow that _outrés_ and outroars the fashion, a sort of high-buck as they were called in my days. They hold him a vulgarian, and call him a tiger. Mr. Gibson came in, and we talked over my affairs; very little to the purpose I doubt. Dined at home with Anne as usual, and despatched half-a-dozen Selkirk processes; among others one which savours of Hamesucken.[482] I think to-day I have finished a quarter of vol. viii., and last. Shall I be happy when it is done?--Umph! I think not.

March 6.--A long seat at Court, and an early dinner, as we went to the play. John Kemble's brother acted Benedick. He is a fine-looking man, and a good actor, but not superior. He reminds you eternally that he is acting; and he had got, as the devil directed it, hold of my favourite Benedick, for which he has no power. He had not the slightest idea of the part, particularly of the manner in which Benedick should conduct himself in the quarrelling scene with the Prince and Claudio, in which his character rises almost to the dignity of tragedy. The laying aside his light and fantastic humour, and showing himself the man of feeling and honour, was finely marked of yore by old Tom King.[483] I remember particularly the high strain of grave moral feeling which he threw upon the words--"in a false quarrel there is no true valour"--which, spoken as he did, checked the very brutal levity of the Prince and Claudio. There were two farces; one I wished to see, and that being the last, was obliged to tarry for it. Perhaps the headache I contracted made me a severe critic on Cramond Brig,[484] a little piece ascribed to Lockhart. Perhaps I am unjust, but I cannot think it his;[485] there are so few good things in it, and so much prosing transferred from that mine of marrowless morality called the _Miller of Mansfield_.[486] Yet it pleases.

March 7.--We are kept working hard during the expiring days of the Session, but this being a blank day I wrote hard till dressing time, when I went to Will Clerk's to dinner. As a bachelor, and keeping a small establishment, he does not do these things often, but they are proportionally pleasant when they come round. He had trusted Sir Adam to bespeak his dinner, who did it _con amore_; so we had excellent cheer, and the wines were various and capital. As I before hinted, it is not every day that M'Nab[487] mounts on horseback, and so our landlord had a little of that solicitude that the party should go off well, which is very flattering to the guests. We had a very pleasant evening. The Chief-Commissioner was there, Admiral Adam, Jo. Murray, and Thomson, etc. etc. Sir Adam predominating at the head, and dancing what he calls his "merry andrada" in great style. In short, we really laughed, and real laughter is a thing as rare as real tears. I must say, too, there was a _heart_,--a kindly feeling prevailed over the party. Can London give such a dinner? It may, but I never saw one; they are too cold and critical to be so easily pleased. In the evening I went with some others to see the exhibition lit up for a promenade, where there were all the fashionable folks about town; the appearance of the rooms was very gay indeed.

March 8.--It snowed all night, which must render the roads impassable, and will detain me here till Monday. Hard work at Court, as Hammie is done up with the gout. We dine with Lord Corehouse--that's not true by the by, for I have mistaken the day. It's to-morrow we dine there. Wrought, but not too hard.

March 9.--An idle morning. Dalgleish being set to pack my books. Wrote notes upon a Mr. Kinloch's Collection of Scottish Ballads,[488] which I communicated to the young author in the Court this present morning. We were detained till half-past three o'clock, so when I came home I was fatigued and slept. I walk slow, heavily, and with pain; but perhaps the good weather may banish the Fiend of the joints. At any rate, impatience will do nae good at a', man. Letter from Charles for £50. Silver and gold have I none; but that which I have I will give unto him. We dined at the Cranstouns,--I beg his pardon, Lord Corehouse; Ferguson, Thomson, Will Clerk, etc., were there, also the Smiths and John Murray, so we had a pleasant evening.

March 10.--The business at the Court was not so heavy as I have seen it the last day of the Session, yet sharp enough. About three o'clock I got to a meeting of the Bannatyne Club. I hope this institution will be really useful and creditable. Thomson is superintending a capital edition of Sir James Melville's Memoirs.[489] It is brave to see how he wags his Scots tongue, and what a difference there is in the force and firmness of the language, compared to the mincing English edition in which he has hitherto been alone known. Nothing to-day but correcting proofs; Anne went to the play, I remained at home.

March 11.--All my books packed this morning, and this and to-morrow will be blank days, or nearly such; but I am far ahead of the printer, who is not done with vol. vii., while I am deep in volume viii. I hate packing; but my servants never pack books quite to please me. James Ballantyne dined with us. He kept up my heart about _Bonaparte_, which sometimes flags; and he is such a grumbler that I think I may trust him when he is favourable. There must be sad inaccuracies, some which might certainly have been prevented by care; but as the Lazaroni used to say, "Did you but know how lazy I am!"

[Abbotsford,] March 12.--Away we set, and came safely to Abbotsford amid all the dulness of a great thaw, which has set the rivers a-streaming in full tide. The wind is wintry, but for my part

    "I like this rocking of the battlements."[490]
I was received by old Tom and the dogs, with the unsophisticated feelings of goodwill. I have been trying to read a new novel which I have heard praised. It is called _Almacks_, and the author has so well succeeded in describing the cold selfish fopperies of the time, that the copy is almost as dull as the original. I think I will take up my bundle of Sheriff-Court processes instead of _Almacks_, as the more entertaining avocation of the two.

March 13.--Before breakfast, prepared and forwarded the processes to Selkirk. As I had the loan of £250 at March from Cadell I am now verging on to the £500 which he promised to allow me in advance on second series _Canongate Chronicles_. I do not like this, but unless I review or write to some other purpose, what else can I do? My own expenses are as limited as possible, but my house expenses are considerable, and every now and then starts up something of old scores which I cannot turn over to Mr. Gibson and his co-trustees. Well--time and the hour--money is the smallest consideration.

Had a pleasant walk to the thicket, though my ideas were olla-podrida-ish, curiously checkered between pleasure and melancholy. I have cause enough for both humours, God knows. I expect this will not be a day of work but of idleness, for my books are not come. Would to God I could make it light thoughtless idleness, such as I used to have when the silly smart fancies ran in my brain like the bubbles in a glass of champagne,--as brilliant to my thinking, as intoxicating as evanescent. But the wine is somewhat on the lees. Perhaps it was but indifferent cider after all. Yet I am happy in this place, where everything looks friendly, from old Tom to young Nym.[491] After all, he has little to complain of who has left so many things that like him.

March 14.--All yesterday spent in putting to rights books, and so forth. Not a word written except interlocutors. But this won't do. I have tow on the rock, and it must be spun off. Let us see our present undertakings. 1. Napoleon. 2. Review Home, Cranbourne Chase,[492] and the Mysteries. 3. Something for that poor faineant Gillies. 4. Essay on Ballad and Song. 5. Something on the modern state of France. These two last for the Prose Works. But they may

    "--do a little more,
    And produce a little ore."
Come, we must up and be doing. There is a rare scud without, which says, "Go spin, you jade, go spin." I loitered on, and might have answered,
    "My spinning-wheel is auld and stiff."
Smoked a brace of cigars after dinner as a sedative. This is the first time I have smoked these two months. I was afraid the custom would master me. Went to work in the afternoon, and reviewed for Lockhart Mackenzie's edition of Home's Works.[493] Proceeded as far as the eighth page.

March 15.--Kept still at the review till two o'clock; not that there is any hurry, but because I should lose my ideas, which are not worth preserving. Went on therefore. I drove over to Huntly Burn with Anne, then walked through the plantations, with Tom's help to pull me through the snow-wreaths. Returned in a glow of heat and spirits. Corrected proof-sheets in the evening.

March 16.--

    "A trifling day we have had here,
    Begun with trifle and ended."
But I hope no otherwise so ended than to meet the rubrick of the ballad, for it is but three o'clock. In the morning I was _l'homme qui cherche_--everything fell aside,--the very pens absconded, and crept in among a pack of letters and trumpery, where I had the devil's work finding them. Thus the time before breakfast was idled, or rather fidgeted, away. Afterwards it was rather worse. I had settled to finish the review, when, behold, as I am apt to do at a set task, I jibb'd, and my thoughts would rather have gone with Waterloo. So I dawdled, as the women say, with both, now writing a page or two of the review, now reading a few pages of the Battle of Waterloo by Captain Pringle, a manuscript which is excellently-written.[494] Well, I will find the advantage of it by and by. So now I will try to finish this accursed review, for there is nothing to prevent me, save the untractable character that hates to work on compulsion, whether of individuals or circumstances.

March 17.--I wrought away at the review and nearly finished it. Was interrupted, however, by a note from Ballantyne, demanding copy, which brought me back from Home and Mackenzie to _Boney_. I had my walk as usual, and worked nevertheless very fairly. Corrected proofs.

March 18.--Took up _Boney_ again. I am now at writing, as I used to be at riding, slow, heavy, and awkward at mounting, but when I did get fixed in my saddle, could screed away with any one. I have got six pages ready for my learned Theban[495] to-morrow morning. William Laidlaw and his brother George dined with me, but I wrote in the evening all the same.

March 19.--Set about my labours, but enter Captain John Ferguson from the Spanish Main, where he has been for three years. The honest tar sat about two hours, and I was heartily glad to see him again. I had a general sketch of his adventures, which we will hear more in detail when we can meet at kail-time. Notwithstanding this interruption I have pushed far into the seventh page. Well done for one day. Twenty days should finish me at this rate, and I read hard too. But allowance must be made for interruptions.

March 20.--To-day worked till twelve o'clock, then went with Anne on a visit of condolence to Mrs. Pringle of Yair and her family. Mr. Pringle was the friend both of my father and grandfather; the acquaintance of our families is at least a century old.

March 21.--Wrote till twelve, then out upon the heights though the day was stormy, and faced the gale bravely. Tom Purdie was not with me. He would have obliged me to keep the sheltered ground. But, I don't know--

    "Even in our ashes live our wonted fires."
There is a touch of the old spirit in me yet that bids me brave the tempest,--the spirit that, in spite of manifold infirmities, made me a roaring boy in my youth, a desperate climber, a bold rider, a deep drinker, and a stout player at single-stick, of all which valuable qualities there are now but slender remains. I worked hard when I came in, and finished five pages.

March 22.--Yesterday I wrote to James Ballantyne, acquiescing in his urgent request to extend the two last volumes to about 600 each. I believe it will be no more than necessary after all, but makes one feel like a dog in a wheel, always moving and never advancing.

March 23.--When I was a child, and indeed for some years after, my amusement was in supposing to myself a set of persons engaged in various scenes which contrasted them with each other, and I remember to this day the accuracy of my childish imagination. This might be the effect of a natural turn to fictitious narrative, or it might be the cause of it, or there might be an action and reaction, or it does not signify a pin's head how it is. But with a flash of this remaining spirit, I imagine my mother Duty to be a sort of old task-mistress, like the hag of the merchant Abudah, in the Tales of the Genii--not a hag though, by any means; on the contrary, my old woman wears a rich old-fashioned gown of black silk, with ruffles of triple blonde-lace, and a coif as rich as that of Pearling Jean;[496] a figure and countenance something like Lady D.S.'s twenty years ago; a clear blue eye, capable of great severity of expression, and conforming in that with a wrinkled brow, of which the ordinary expression is a serious approach to a frown--a cautionary and nervous shake of the head; in her withered hand an ebony staff with a crutch head,--a Tompion gold watch, which annoys all who know her by striking the quarters as regularly as if one wished to hear them. Occasionally she has a small scourge of nettles, which I feel her lay across my fingers at this moment, and so _Tace_ is Latin for a candle.[497] I have 150 pages to write yet.

March 24.--Does Duty not wear a pair of round old-fashioned silver buckles? Buckles she has, but they are square ones. All belonging to Duty is rectangular. Thus can we poor children of imagination play with the ideas we create, like children with soap-bubbles. Pity that we pay for it at other times by starting at our shadows.

    "Man but a rush against Othello's breast."
The hard work still proceeds, varied only by a short walk.

March 25.--Hard work still, but went to Huntly Burn on foot, and returned in the carriage. Walked well and stoutly--God be praised!--and prepared a whole bundle of proofs and copy for the Blucher to morrow; that damned work will certainly end some time or other. As it drips and dribbles out on the paper, I think of the old drunken Presbyterian under the spout.

March 26.--Despatched packets. Colonel and Captain Ferguson arrived to breakfast. I had previously determined to give myself a day to write letters; and, as I expect John Thomson to dinner, this day will do as well as another. I cannot keep up with the world without shying a letter now and then. It is true the greatest happiness I could think of would be to be rid of the world entirely. Excepting my own family, I have little pleasure in the world, less business in it, and am heartily careless about all its concerns. Mr. Thomson came accordingly--not John Thomson of Duddingston, whom the letter led me to expect, but John Anstruther Thomson of Charlton [Fifeshire], the son-in-law of Lord Ch.-Commissioner.

March 27.--Wrote two leaves this morning, and gave the day after breakfast to my visitor, who is a country gentleman of the best description; knows the world, having been a good deal attached both to the turf and the field; is extremely good-humoured, and a good deal of a local antiquary. I showed him the plantations, going first round the terrace, then to the lake, then came down by the Rhymer's Glen, and took carriage at Huntly Burn, almost the grand tour, only we did not walk from Huntly Burn. The Fergusons dined with us.

March 28.--Mr Thomson left us about twelve for Minto, parting a pleased guest, I hope, from a pleased landlord. When I see a "gemman as _is_ a gemman," as the blackguards say, why, I know how to be civil. After he left I set doggedly to work with _Bonaparte_, who had fallen a little into arrear. I can clear the ground better now by mashing up my old work in the Edinburgh Register with my new matter, a species of _colcannen_, where cold potatoes are mixed with hot cabbage. After all, I think Ballantyne is right, and that I have some talents for history-writing after all. That same history in the Register reads prettily enough. _Coragio_, cry Claymore. I finished five pages, but with additions from Register they will run to more than double I hope; like Puff in the Critic, be luxuriant.[498]

Here is snow back again, a nasty, comfortless, stormy sort of a day, and I will work it off at _Boney_. What shall I do when _Bonaparte_ is done? He engrosses me morning, noon, and night. Never mind; _Komt Zeit komt Rath_, as the German says. I did not work longer than twelve, however, but went out in as rough weather as I have seen, and stood out several snow blasts.

March 29, 30.--

    "He walk'd and wrought, poor soul! What then?
    Why, then he walk'd and wrought again."

March 31.--Day varied by dining with Mr. Scrope, where we found Mr. Williams and Mr. Simson,[499] both excellent artists. We had not too much of the palette, but made a very agreeable day out. I contrived to mislay the proof-sheets sent me this morning, so that I must have a revise. This frequent absence of mind becomes very exceeding troublesome. I have the distinct recollection of laying them carefully aside after I dressed to go to the Pavilion. Well, I have a head--the proverb is musty.

-

FOOTNOTES:

[481] See Townley's _Farce_.

[482] _Hamesucken_.--The crime of beating or assaulting a person in his own house. A Scotch law term.

[483] King had retired from the stage in 1801. He died four years later.

[484] _Cramond Brig_ is said to have been written by Mr. W.H. Murray, the manager of the Theatre, and is still occasionally acted in Edinburgh.

[485] Marginal Note in Original MSS. "I never saw it--not mine.--J.G.L."

[486] By Dodsley.

[487] That singular personage, the late M'Nab of _that ilk_, spent his life almost entirely in a district where a boat was the usual conveyance.--J.G.L.

[488] _Ancient Scottish Ballads, recovered from tradition, with notes_, etc., by George R. Kinloch, 8vo, London, 1827.

[489] Issued by the Club, June 4, 1827.

[490] Zanga in _The Revenge_, Act I. Sc. 1.--J.G.L.

[491] Nimrod, a staghound.--J.G.L.

[492] _Anecdotes of Cranbourne Chase_, etc., by Chafin. 8vo, London, 1818. Mr. Lockhart says, "I am sorry Sir Walter never redeemed his promise to make it the subject of an article in the _Quarterly Review_."--See _Life_, vol. vii. pp. 43-44.

[493] The article appeared in the Number for June 1827, and is now included in the _Prose Misc. Works_, vol. xix. pp. 283-367.

[494] See Captain John Pringle's remarks on the campaign of 1815 in App. to Scott's _Napoleon_, vol. ix. pp. 115-160.

[495] _Lear_, Act III. Sc. 4.

[496] "Pearling Jean," the name of the ghost of the Spanish Nun at Allanbank, Berwickshire. See Sharpe's _Letters_, vol. i. pp. 303-5, and Ingram's _Haunted Homes_, Lond. 1884, vol. i. pp. 1-4.

[497] This quaint saying, arising out of some forgotten joke, has been thought to be Scott's own, as it was a favourite with him and his intimates, and he introduces it in more than one of his works.[A] But though its origin cannot be traced, Swift uses it in that very curious collection of proverbs and saws, which he strung together under the title of _Polite Conversation_, and published about 1738.[B] Fielding also introduces it in _Amelia_,[C] 1752. See _Notes and Queries_, first series, vol. i. p. 385; ii. p. 45; iv. p. 450; x. p. 173; sixth series, vol. iii. p. 213; iv. p. 157.

[A] e.g. _Redgauntlet_, ch. xii. Pate-in-Peril at Dumfries.

[B] _Lord Smart_--"Well, Tom, can you tell me what's Latin for a candle?"

_Neverout_--"O, my Lord, I know that [answer]: Brandy is Latin for a goose! and _Tace_ is Latin for a candle."--SCOTT'S _Swift_, vol. ix. p. 457.

[C] "_Tace_, Madam," added Murphy, "is Latin for a candle."--_Amelia_, Bk. 1. cap. xi.

[498] Sheridan's Play, Act II. Sc. 1.

[499] William Simson, R.S.A., landscape painter. He died in London, 1847.

Sir Walter Scott