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January 1829

Having omitted to carry on my Diary for two or three days, I lost heart to make it up, and left it unfilled for many a month and day. During this period nothing has happened worth particular notice. The same occupations, the same amusements, the same occasional alternations of spirits, gay or depressed, the same absence of all sensible or rational cause for the one or the other. I half grieve to take up my pen, and doubt if it is worth while to record such an infinite quantity of nothing, but hang it! I hate to be beat, so here goes for better behaviour.

January 10.--I resume my task at Abbotsford. We are here alone, except Lockhart, on a flying visit. Morritt, his niece, Sir James Stuart, Skene, and an occasional friend or two, have been my guests since 31st December. I cannot say I have been happy, for the feeling of increasing weakness in my lame leg is a great affliction. I walk now with pain and difficulty at all times, and it sinks my soul to think how soon I may be altogether a disabled cripple. I am tedious to my friends, and I doubt the sense of it makes me fretful.

Everything else goes off well enough. My cash affairs are clearing, and though last year was an expensive one, I have been paying debt. Yet I have a dull contest before me which will probably outlast my life. If well maintained, however, it will be an honourable one, and if the _Magnum Opus_ succeed, it will afford me some repose.

January 11.--I did not write above a page yesterday; most weary, stale, and unprofitable have been my labours. Received a letter I suppose from Mad. T.----, proposing a string of historical subjects not proper for my purpose. People will not consider that a thing may already be so well told in history, that romance ought not in prudence to meddle with it.

The ground covered with snow, which, by slipperiness and the pain occasioned by my lameness, renders walking unpleasant.

January 12.--This is the third day I have not walked out, pain and lameness being the cause. This bodes very ill for my future life. I made a search yesterday and to-day for letters of Lord Byron to send to Tom Moore, but I could only find two. I had several others, and am shocked at missing them. The one which he sent me with a silver cup I regret particularly. It was stolen out of the cup itself by some vile inhospitable scoundrel, for a servant would not have thought such a theft worth while.

My spirits are low, yet I wot not why. I have been writing to my sons. Walter's majority was like to be reduced, but is spared for the present. Charles is going on well I trust at the Foreign Office, so I hope all is well.

Loitered out a useless day, half arranging half disarranging books and papers, and packing the things I shall want. _Der Abschiedstag ist da_.

January 13.--The day of return to Edinburgh is come. I don't know why, but I am more happy at the change than usual. I am not working hard, and it is what I ought to do, and must do. Every hour of laziness cries fie upon me. But there is a perplexing sinking of the heart which one cannot always overcome. At such times I have wished myself a clerk, quill-driving for twopence per page. You have at least application, and that is all that is necessary, whereas unless your lively faculties are awake and propitious, your application will do you as little good as if you strained your sinews to lift Arthur's Seat.

January 14, [Edinburgh].--Got home last night after a freezing journey. This morning I got back some of the last copy, and tugged as hard as ever did soutar to make ends meet. Then I will be reconciled to my task, which at present disgusts me. Visited Lady Jane, then called on Mr. Robison and instructed him to call a meeting of the Council of the Royal Society, as Mr. Knox proposes to read an essay on some dissections. A bold proposal truly from one who has had so lately the boldness of trading so deep in human flesh! I will oppose his reading in the present circumstances if I should stand alone, but I hope he will be wrought upon to withdraw his essay or postpone it at least. It is very bad taste to push himself forward just now. Lockhart dined with us, which made the evening a pleasant but an idle one. Well! I must rouse myself.

    "Awake! Arise, or be for ever fallen."[232]
January 15.--Day began with beggars as usual, and John Nicolson has not sense to keep them out. I never yield, however, to this importunity, thinking it wrong that what I can spare to meritorious poverty, of which I hear and see too much, should be diverted by impudent importunity. I was detained at the Parliament House till nearly three by the great case concerning prescription, Maule _v_. Maule.[233] This was made up to me by hearing an excellent opinion from Lord Corehouse, with a curious discussion _in apicibus juris._ I disappointed Graham[234] of a sitting for my picture.

I went to the Council of the Royal Society, which was convened at my request, to consider whether we ought to hear a paper on anatomical subjects read by Mr. Knox, whose name has of late been deeply implicated in a criminal prosecution against certain wretches, who had murdered many persons and sold their bodies to professors of the anatomical science. Some thought that our declining to receive the paper would be a declaration unfavourable to Dr. Knox. I think hearing it before Mr. Knox has made any defence (as he is stated to have in view) would be an intimation of our preference of the cause of science to those of morality and common humanity. Mr. Knox's friends undertook to deal with him about suffering the paper to be omitted for the present, while _adhuc coram judice lis est_.[235]

January 16.--Nothing on the roll to-day, so I did not go to the Parliament House, but fagged at my desk till two.

Dr. Ross called to relieve me of a corn, which, though my lameness needs no addition, had tormented me vilely. I again met the Royal Society Council. Dr. Knox consents to withdraw his paper, or rather suffers the reading to be postponed. There is some great error in the law on the subject. If it was left to itself many bodies would be imported from France and Ireland, and doubtless many would be found in our hospitals for the service of the anatomical science. But the total and severe exclusion of foreign supplies of this kind raises the price of the "subjects," as they are called technically, to such a height, that wretches are found willing to break into "the bloody house of life,"[236] merely to supply the anatomists' table. The law which, as a deeper sentence on the guilt of murder, declares that the body of the convicted criminal should be given up to anatomy, is certainly not without effect, for criminals have been known to shrink from that part of the sentence which seems to affect them more than the doom of death itself, with all its terrors here and hereafter. On the other hand, while this idea of the infamy attending the exposition of the person is thus recognised by the law, it is impossible to adopt regulations which would effectually prevent such horrid crimes as the murder of vagrant wretches who can be snatched from society without their being missed, as in the case of the late conspiracy. For instance, if it was now to be enacted, as seems reasonable, that persons dying in hospitals and almshouses, who die without their friends claiming their remains, should be given up to the men of science, this would be subjecting poverty to the penalty of these atrocious criminals whom law distinguishes by the heaviest posthumous disgrace which it can inflict. Even cultivated minds revolt from the exposure on an anatomical table, when the case is supposed to be that of one who is dear to them. I should, I am conscious, be willing that I myself should be dissected in public, if doing so could produce any advantage to society, but when I think on relations and friends being rent from the grave the case is very different, and I would fight knee-deep to prevent or punish such an exposure. So inconsistent we are all upon matters of this nature.

I dined quietly at home with the girls, and wrote after dinner.

January 17.--Nothing in the roll; corrected proofs, and went off at 12 o'clock in the Hamilton stage to William Lockhart's at Auchinrath. My companions, Mr. Livingstone, the clergyman of Camnethan, a Bailie Hamilton, the king of trumps, I am told, in the Burgh of Hamilton, and a Mr. Davie Martin _qui gaudet equis et canibus_. Got to Auchinrath by six, and met Lord Douglas,[237] his brother, Captain Douglas, E.N., John G-. Lockhart also, who had a large communication from Duke of W. upon the subject of the bullion. The Duke scouts the economist's ideas about paper credit, after the proposition that all men shall be entitled to require gold.

January 18.--We went, the two Lockharts and I, to William's new purchase of Milton. We found on his ground a cottage, where a man called Greenshields,[238] a sensible, powerful-minded person, had at twenty-eight (rather too late a week)[239] taken up the art of sculpture. He had disposed of the person of the King most admirably, according to my poor thoughts, and had attained a wonderful expression of ease and majesty at the same time. He was desirous of engaging on Burns' Jolly Beggars, which I dissuaded. Caricature is not the object of sculpture.

We went to Milton on as fine a day as could consist with snow on the ground. The situation is eminently beautiful; a fine promontory round which the Clyde makes a magnificent bend. We fixed on a situation where the sitting-room should command the upper view, and, with an ornamental garden, I think it may be made the prettiest place in Scotland.

January 19.--Posted to Edinburgh with John Lockhart. We stopped at Allanton to see a tree transplanted, which was performed with great ease. Sir Henry is a sad coxcomb, and lifted beyond the solid earth by the effect of his book's success. But the book well deserves it.[240] He is in practice particularly anxious to keep the roots of the tree near the surface, and only covers them with about a foot of earth.

Note.--Lime rubbish dug in among the roots of ivy encourages it much.

The operation delayed us three hours, so it was seven o'clock before we reached our dinner and a good fire in Shandwick Place, and we were wellnigh frozen to death. During this excursion I walked very ill--with more pain, in fact, than I ever remember to have felt--and, even leaning on John Lockhart, could hardly get on. _Baad that, vara baad_--it might be the severe weather though, and the numbing effect of the sitting in the carriage. Be it what it will, I can't help myself.

January 20.--I had little to do at the Court, and returned home soon. Honest old Mr. Ferrier is dead, at extreme old age. I confess I should not wish to live so long. He was a man with strong passions and strong prejudices, but with generous and manly sentiments at the same time. We used to call him Uncle Adam, after that character in his gifted daughter's novel of the _Heiress_ [Inheritance]. I wrote a long letter after I came home to my Lord Elgin about Greenshields, the sculptor.[241] I am afraid he is going into the burlesque line, to which sculpture is peculiarly ill adapted. So I have expressed my veto to his patron, _valeat quantum_. Also a letter to Mrs. Professor Sandford at Glasgow about reprinting Macaulay's _History of St. Kilda_,[242] advising them to insert the history of Lady Grange who was kidnapped and banished thither.

I corrected my proofs, moreover, and prepared to dine. After dinner we go to Euphemia Erskine's marriage. Mr. Dallas came in and presented me with an old pedigree of the M'Intoshes. The wedding took place with the usual April weather of smiles and tears. The bridegroom's name is Dawson. As he, as well as the bride, is very tall, they have every chance of bringing up a family of giants. The bridegroom has an excellent character. He is only a captain, but economy does wonders in the army, where there are many facilities for practising it. I sincerely wish them happiness.

January 21.--Went out to Dalkeith House to dine and stay all night. Found Marquis of Lothian and a family party. I liked the sense and spirit displayed by this young nobleman, who reminds me strongly of his parents, whom I valued so highly.

January 22.--Left Dalkeith after breakfast, and gained the Parliament House, where there was almost nothing to do, at eleven o'clock. Afterwards sat to Graham, who is making a good thing of it. Mr. Colvin Smith has made a better in one sense, having sold ten or twelve copies of the portrait to different friends.[243] The Solicitor came to dine with me--we drank a bottle of champagne, and two bottles of claret, which, in former days, I should have thought a very sober allowance, since, Lockhart included, there were three persons to drink it. But I felt I had drunk too much, and was uncomfortable. The young men stood it like young men. Skene and his wife and daughter looked in in the evening. I suppose I am turning to my second childhood, for not only am I filled drunk, or made stupid at least, with one bottle of wine, but I am disabled from writing by chilblains on my fingers--a most babyish complaint. They say that the character is indicated by the handwriting; if so, mine is crabbed enough.

January 23.--Still severe frost, annoying to sore fingers. Nothing on the roll. I sat at home and wrote letters to Wilkie, Landseer, Mrs. Hughes, Charles, etc. Went out to old Mr. Ferrier's funeral, and saw the last duty rendered to my old friend, whose age was

    "----Like a lusty winter,
    Frosty, but kindly,"[244]
I mean in a moral as well as a physical sense. I then went to Cadell's for some few minutes.

I carried out Lockhart to Dalkeith, where we dined, supped, and returned through a clinking frost, with snow on the ground. Lord Ramsay and the Miss Kerrs were at Dalkeith. The Duke shows, for so young a man, a great deal of character, and seems to have a proper feeling of the part he has to play. The evening was pleasant, but the thought that I was now the visitor and friend of the family in the third generation lay somewhat heavy on me. Every thing around me seemed to say that beauty, power, wealth, honour were but things of a day.

January 24.--Heavy fall of snow. Lockhart is off in the mail. I hope he will not be blockaded. The day bitter cold. I went to the Court, and with great difficulty returned along the slippery street. I ought to have taken the carriage, but I have a superstitious dread of giving up the habit of walking, and would willingly stick to the last by my old hardy customs.

Little but trifles to do at the Court. My hands are so covered with chilblains that I can hardly use a pen--my feet ditto.

We bowled away at six o'clock to Mr. Wardlaw Ramsay's. Found we were a week too early, and went back as if our noses had been bleeding.

January 25.--Worked seriously all morning, expecting the Fergusons to dinner. Alas! instead of that, I learn that my poor innocent friend Mary is no more. She was a person of some odd and peculiar habits, wore a singular dress, and affected wild and solitary haunts, but she was, at the same time, a woman of talent, and even genius. She used often to take long walks with me up through the glens; and I believe her sincere good wishes attended me, as I was always glad of an opportunity to show her kindness. I shall long think of her when at Abbotsford. This sad event breaks up our little party. Will Clerk came, however, and his _tête-à-tête_ was, of course, interesting and amusing in the highest degree. We drank some whisky and water, and smoked a cigar or two, till nine at night.

    "No after friendships ere can raise
    The endearments of our early days."
January 26.--I muzzed on--I can call it little better--with _Anne of Geierstein_. The materials are excellent, but the power of using them is failing. Yet I wrote out about three pages, sleeping at intervals.

January 27.--A great and general thaw, the streets afloat, the snow descending on one's head from the roofs. Went to the Court. There was little to do. Left about twelve, and took a sitting with Graham, who begs for another. Sir James Stuart stood bottle-holder on this occasion. Had rather an unfavourable account of the pictures of James Stuart of Dunearn, which are to be sold. I had promised to pick up one or two for the Duke of Buccleuch. Came home and wrote a leaf or two. I shall be soon done with the second volume of _Anne of Geierstein_. I cannot persuade myself to the obvious risk of satisfying the public, although I cannot so well satisfy myself. I am like Beaumont and Fletcher's old Merrythought who could not be persuaded that there was a chance of his wanting meat. I never came into my parlour, said he, but I found the cloth laid and dinner ready; surely it will be always thus. Use makes perfectness.[245]

My reflections are of the same kind; and if they are unlogical they are perhaps not the less comfortable. Fretting and struggling does no good. Wrote to Miss Margaret Ferguson a letter of condolence.

January 28.--Breakfasted, for a wonder, abroad with Hay Drummond, whose wife appears a pretty and agreeable little woman. We worshipped his tutelar deity, the Hercules, and saw a good model of the Hercules Bibax, or the drunken Hercules. Graham and Sir James Stuart were there. Home-baked bread and soldier's coffee were the treat. I came home; and Sir Robert Dundas having taken my duty at the Court, I wrote for some time, but not much. Burke the murderer hanged this morning. The mob, which was immense, demanded Knox and Hare, but though greedy for more victims, received with shouts the solitary wretch who found his way to the gallows out of five or six who seem not less guilty than he. But the story begins to be stale, although I believe a doggerel ballad upon it would be popular, how brutal soever the wit. This is the progress of human passions. We ejaculate, exclaim, hold up to Heaven our hand, like the rustic Phidyle[246]--next morning the mood changes, and we dance a jig to the tune which moved us to tears. Mr. Bell sends me a specimen of a historical novel, but he goes not the way to write it; he is too general, and not sufficiently minute. It is not easy to convey this to an author, with the necessary attention to his feelings; and yet, in good faith and sincerity, it must be done.

January 29.--I had a vacant day once more by the kindness of Sir Robert, unasked, but most kindly afforded. I have not employed it to much purpose. I wrote six pages to Croker,[247] who is busied with a new edition of Boswell's _Life of Johnson_, to which most entertaining book he hopes to make large additions from Mrs. Piozzi, Hawkins and other sources. I am bound by many obligations to do as much for him as I can, which can only respect the Scottish Tour. I wrote only two or three pages of _Anne_. I am

    "----- as one who in a darksome way
    Doth walk with fear and dread."
But walk I must, and walk forward too, or I shall be benighted with a vengeance. After dinner, to compromise matters with my conscience, I wrote letters to Mr. Bell, Mrs. Hughes, and so forth; thus I concluded the day with a sort of busy idleness. This will not do. By cock and pye it will not.

January 30.--Mr. Stuart breakfasted with me, a grand-nephew of Lady Louisa's, a very pleasing young gentleman. The coach surprised me by not calling. _Will_ it be for the Martyrdom? I trow it will, yet, strange to say, I cannot recollect if it is a regular holiday or not.

    "Uprouse ye then, my merry, merry men,
    And use it as ye may."
I wrote in the morning, and went at one o'clock to a meeting of country gentlemen, about bringing the direct road from London down by Jedburgh, said to be the nearest line by fifty miles. It is proposed the pleasant men of Teviotdale should pay, not only their own share,--that is, the expense of making the road through our own country, but also the expense of making the road under the Ellsdon Trust in Northumberland, where the English would positively do nothing. I stated this to the meeting as an act of Quixotry. If it be an advantage, which, unless to individuals, may be doubted, it is equally one to Northumberland as to Roxburgh, therefore I am clear that we should go "acquals."

I think I have maybe put a spoke in the wheel. The raising the statute labour of Roxburgh to an oppressive extent, to make roads in England, is, I think, jimp legal, and will be much complained of by the poorer heritors. Henry of Harden dines with me _tête-à-tête_, excepting the girls.

January 31.--I thought I had opened a vein this morning and that it came freely, but the demands of art have been more than I can bear. I corrected proofs before breakfast, went to Court after that meal; was busy till near one o'clock. Then I went to Cadell's, where they are preparing to circulate the prospectus of the magnum, which will have all the effect of surprise on most people. I sat to Mr. Graham till I was quite tired, then went to Lady Jane, who is getting better. Then here at four, but fit for nothing but to bring up this silly Diary.

The corpse of the murderer Burke is now lying in state at the College, in the anatomical class, and all the world flock to see him. Who is he that says that we are not ill to please in our objects of curiosity? The strange means by which the wretch made money are scarce more disgusting than the eager curiosity with which the public have licked up all the carrion details of this business.

I trifled with my work. I wonder how Johnson set himself doggedly to it--to a work of imagination it seems quite impossible, and one's brain is at times fairly addled. And yet I have felt times when sudden and strong exertion would throw off all this mistiness of mind, as a north wind would disperse it.

    "Blow, blow, thou northern wind."[248]
Nothing more than about two or three pages. I went to the Parliament House to-day, but had little to do. I sat to Mr. Graham the last time, Heaven be praised! If I be not known in another age, it will not be for want of pictures. We dined with Mr. Wardlaw Ramsay and Lady Anne--a fine family. There was little done in the way of work except correcting proofs. The bile affects me, and makes me vilely drowsy when I should be most awake. Met at Mr. Wardlaw's several people I did not know. Looked over Cumnor Hall by Mr. Usher Tighe of Oxford. I see from the inscription on Tony Foster's tomb that he was a skilful planter, amongst other fashionable accomplishments.

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FOOTNOTES:

[232] Milton's _Paradise Lost_, Bk. i.

[233] See Cases in Court of Session, vol. vii. S. p. 527.

[234] John Graham, who afterwards assumed the name of Gilbert; born 1794, died 1866.

He was at this time painting Sir Walter for the Royal Society of Edinburgh. When the portrait was finished it was placed in the rooms of the Society, where it still hangs. The artist retained in his own collection a duplicate, with some slight variations, which his widow presented to the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 1867.

[235] Sir Walter, in common with the majority of his contemporaries, evidently believed that Dr. Robert Knox was partly responsible for the West Port atrocities, but it is only just to the memory of the talented anatomist to say that an independent and influential committee, after a careful examination, reported on March 13th, 1829, that there was no evidence showing that he or his assistants knew that murder had been committed, but the committee thought that more care should have been exercised in the reception of the bodies at the Anatomical Class-room.

Lord Cockburn, who was one of the counsel at the trial of Burke, in writing of these events, remarks: "All our anatomists incurred a most unjust and very alarming, though not an unnatural, odium; Dr. Knox in particular, against whom not only the anger of the populace, but the condemnation of more intelligent persons, was specially directed. But, tried in reference to the invariable and the necessary practice of the profession, our anatomists were spotlessly correct, and Knox the most correct of them all."

At this date Dr. Knox was the most popular teacher in the Medical School at Edinburgh, and as his class-room could not contain more than a third of his students, he had to deliver his lectures twice or thrice daily. The odium attached to his name might have been removed in time had his personal character stood as high as his professional ability, but though he remained in Edinburgh until 1841 he never recovered his position there, and for the last twenty years of his life this once brilliant teacher subsisted as best he could in London by his pen, and as an itinerant lecturer. He died in 1862.

[236] _King John_, Act iv. So. 2.

[237] Archibald, second Lord Douglas, who died in 1844.

[238] John Greenshields, self-taught sculptor. See _Life_, vol. ix. p. 281-288. He died at the age of forty in 1835.

[239] _As You Like It_, Act II. Sc. 3.

[240] Sir Henry Seton Steuart's work on _Planting_ was reviewed by Scott in the _Quarterly_.--See _Misc. Prose Works,_ vol. xxi. Sir H. Steuart died in March 1836.

[241] See letter in _Life_, vol. ix. pp. 281-287.

[242] Originally published in London in 8vo, 1764. This contemplated edition does not appear to have been printed.

[243] _Ante_, p. 118 n.

[244] _As You Like It_, Act II. Sc. 3.

[245] See Beaumont and Fletcher, _Knight of the Burning Pestle_, Act I. Sc. 3.

[246]

Coelo supinas si tuleris manus Nascente luna, rustica Phidyle, etc.

Hor. Lib. iii _Od_. 23.--J.G.L.

[247] This letter, brimful of anecdote, is printed in Croker's _Correspondence_, vol. ii. pp. 28-34.

[248] _As You Like It_, Act II. Sc. 7.

Sir Walter Scott