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May 1830

May 23, [Abbotsford.]--About a year ago I took the pet at my Diary, chiefly because I thought it made me abominably selfish; and that by recording my gloomy fits I encouraged their recurrence, whereas out of sight, out of mind, is the best way to get rid of them; and now I hardly know why I take it up again; but here goes. I came here to attend Raeburn's funeral. I am near of his kin, my great-grandfather, Walter Scott, being the second son or first cadet of this small family. My late kinsman was also married to my aunt, a most amiable old lady. He was never kind to me, and at last utterly ungracious. Of course I never liked him, and we kept no terms. He had forgot, though, an infantine cause of quarrel, which I always remembered. When I was four or five years old I was staying at Lessudden House, an old mansion, the abode of this Raeburn. A large pigeon-house was almost destroyed with starlings, then a common bird, though now seldom seen. They were seized in their nests and put in a bag, and I think drowned, or threshed to death, or put to some such end. The servants gave one to me, which I in some degree tamed, and the brute of a laird seized and wrung its neck. I flew at his throat like a wild cat, and was torn from him with no little difficulty. Long afterwards I did him the mortal offence to recall some superiority which my father had lent to the laird to make up a qualification, which he meant to exercise by voting for Lord Minto's interest against poor Don. This made a total breach between two relations who had never been friends, and though I was afterwards of considerable service to his family, he kept his ill-humour, alleging justly enough that I did these kind actions for the sake of his wife and family, not for his benefit. I now saw him at the age of eighty-two or three deposited in the ancestral grave. Dined with my cousins, and returned to Abbotsford about eight o'clock.

May 24, [Edinburgh].--Called on my neighbour Nicol Milne of Faldonside, to settle something about the road to Selkirk. Afterwards went to Huntly Burn and made my compliments to the family. Lunched at half-past two and drove to town, calling at George Square on Gala. He proposed to give up the present road to Selkirk in favour of another on the north side of the river, to be completed by two bridges. This is an object for Abbotsford. In the evening came to town. Letter from Mr. H[aydon] soliciting £20. Wait till Lockhart comes.

May 25.--Got into the old mill this morning, and grind away. Walked in very bad day to George Square from the Parliament House, through paths once familiar, but not trod for twenty years. Met Scott of Woll and Scott of Gala, and consulted about the new road between Galashiels and Selkirk. I am in hopes to rid myself of the road to Selkirk, which goes too near me at Abbotsford. Dined at Lord Chief Commissioner's, where we met the new Chief Baron Abercromby[361] and his lady. I thought it was the first time we had met for above forty years, but he put me in mind we had dined one day at John Richardson's.

May 26.--Wrought with proofs, etc., at the _Demonology_, which is a cursed business to do neatly. I must finish it though, for I need money. I went to the Court; from that came home, and scrambled on with half writing, half reading, half idleness till evening. I have laid aside smoking much; and now, unless tempted by company, rarely take a cigar. I was frightened by a species of fit which I had in February, which took from me my power of speaking. I am told it is from the stomach. It looked woundy like palsy or apoplexy. Well, be it what it will, I can stand it.[362]

May 27.--Court as usual. I am agitating a proposed retirement from the Court. As they are only to have four instead of six Clerks of Session in Scotland, 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 and three hundred pounds by giving up town residence; and surely I could do enough with my time at reviews and other ways, so as to make myself comfortable at Abbotsford. At any rate, _jacta est aha_; Sir Robert Peel and the Advocate seem to acquiesce in the arrangement, and Sir Robert Dundas retires alongst with me. I think the difference will be infinite in point of health and happiness.

May 28.--Wrought in the morning, then the Court, then Cadell's. My affairs go on up to calculation, and the _Magnum_ keeps its ground. If this can last for five or six years longer we may clear our hands of debt; but perhaps I shall have paid that of Nature before that time come. They will have the books, and Cadell to manage them, who is a faithful pilot. The poetry which we purchased for [£7000], payable in two years, is melting off our hands; and we will feed our _Magnum_ in that way when we have sold the present stock, by which we hope to pay the purchase-money, and so go on velvet with the continuation. So my general affairs look well. I expect Lockhart and Sophia to arrive this evening in the Roads, and breakfast with us to-morrow. This is very reviving.

May 29.--The Lockharts were to appear at nine o'clock, but it is past four, and they come not. There has been easterly wind, and a swell of the sea at the mouth of the Firth, but nevertheless I wish they would come. The machinery is liable to accidents, and they may be delayed thus.

Mr. Piper, the great contractor for the mail coaches, one of the sharpest men in his line, called here to-day to give his consent to our line of road. He pays me the compliment of saying he wishes my views on the subject. That is perhaps fudge, but at least I know enough to choose the line that is most for my own advantage. I have written to make Gala acquainted that my subscription depends on their taking the Gala foot road; no other would suit me. After dinner I began to tease myself about the children and their parents, and night went down on our uncertainty.

May 30.--Our travellers appeared early in the morning, _cum tota sequela_. Right happy were we all. Poor Johnnie looks well. His deformity is confirmed, poor fellow; but he may be a clever lad for all that. An imposthume in his neck seems to be the crisis of his complaint. He is a gentle, placid creature. Walter is remarkably handsome, and so is little Whippety Stourie,[363] as I call her. After breakfast I had a chat with Lockhart about affairs in general, which, as far as our little interests are concerned, are doing very well. Lockhart is now established in his reputation and literary prospects.[364] I wrote some more in his _Demonology_, which is a scrape, I think.

May 31.--Set to work early, and did a good day's work without much puffing and blowing. Had Lockhart at dinner, and a _tête-à-tête_ over our cigar. He has got the right ideas for getting to the very head of the literary world and now stands very high as well for taste and judgment as for genius. I think there is no fear now of his letting a love of fun run away with him. At home the whole day, except a walk to Cadell's, who is enlarging his sale. As he comes upon heavy months, and is come now to the _Abbot_, the _Monastery_, and the less profitable or popular of the novels, this is a fortunate circumstance. The management seems very judicious.

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FOOTNOTES:

[361] James Abercromby, who succeeded Sir Samuel Shepherd as Chief Baron, was the third son of Sir Ralph Abercromby. He was afterwards elected member for Edinburgh in 1832, and Speaker of the House of Commons in 1835. On Mr. Abercromby's retirement in 1839, he was raised to the Peerage as Lord Dunfermline. He died at Colinton House on April 17th, 1858, aged 81.

[362] Of this illness, Sir Walter had written the following account to Mr. Lockhart, a week after its occurrence:--

"Anne would tell you of an awkward sort of fit I had on Monday last; it lasted about five minutes, during which I lost the power of articulation, or rather of speaking what I wished to say. I revived instantly, but submitted to be bled, and to keep the house for a week, except exercising walks. They seem to say it is from the stomach. It may or may not be a paralytic affection. We must do the best we can in either event. I think by hard work I will have all my affairs regulated within five or six years, and leave the means of clearing them in case of my death. I hope there will be enough for all, and provision besides for my own family. The present return of the novels to me is about £8000 a year, which moves fast on to clear off old scores.

"This awkward turn of health makes my motions very uncertain. On the one hand I want to save money and push forward work, both which motives urge me to stay at home this spring. On the other, besides my great wish to see you all, and besides my desire to look at the 'forty-five' affairs, I am also desirous to put in for my interest upon the changes at the Court.... It must be very much as health and weather shall determine, for if I see the least chance of a return of this irritation, my own house will be the only fit place for me. Do not suppose I am either low-spirited or frightened at the possibilities I calculate upon, but there is no harm in looking at what may be as what needs must be. I really believe the ugly symptoms proceed from the stomach particularly. I feel, thank God, no mental injury, which is most of all to be deprecated. Still, I am a good deal failed in body within these two or three last years, and the _singula praedantur_ come by degrees to make up a sum. They say, 'Do not work,' but my habits are such that it is not easily managed, for I would be driven mad with idleness.... Adieu. Love to all. The odds are greatly against my seeing you till you come down here, but I will have the cottage in such order for you; and as Will Laidlaw comes back at Whitsunday, I will have him to lend me an arm to Chiefswood, and I have no doubt to do gallantly.

"EDINBURGH, 22d February [1830]."

[363] His grand-daughter, Charlotte, whom he playfully named after the fairy in the old Scottish Nursery story.

[364] Mr. Lockhart had some thoughts of entering Parliament, at this time, and Sir Walter had expressed his opinion a few days before their meeting:--

"Your letter, this day received, namely Wednesday, gave me the greatest pleasure on account of the prosperous intelligence which it gives me of your own advancing prospects.... I take it for granted that you have looked to the income of future years before thinking of disposing of the profits of a successful one in a manner which cannot be supposed to produce positive Or direct advantage, but may rather argue some additional degree of expense.

"But this being _premeesed_, I cannot help highly approving of your going into Parliament, especially as a member entirely unfettered and left to act according to the weal of the public, or what you conceive such. It is the broad turnpike to importance and consequence which you, as a man of talents in the full vigour of your youth, ought naturally to be ambitious of. The present times threaten to bring in many occasions when there will and must be opportunities of a man distinguishing himself and serving his country.

"To go into the House without speaking would be useless. I will frankly tell you that when I heard you speak you seemed always sufficiently up to the occasion both in words and matter, but too indifferent in the manner in which you pressed your argument, and therefore far less likely to attract attention than if you had seemed more earnestly persuaded of the truth and importance of what you have been saying. I think you may gain advantage from taking this hint. No one is disposed to weigh any man's arguments more favourably than he himself does, and if you are not considered as gravely interested in what you say, and conscious of its importance, your audience will not be so....

"EDINBURGH, 20th May 1830."

Sir Walter Scott