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December 1830

December 20.--From September 5 to December 20 is a long gap, and I have seen plenty of things worth recollecting, had I marked them down when they were gliding past. But the time has gone by. When I feel capable of taking it up, I will.

Little self will jostle out everything else, and my affairs, which in some respects are excellent, in others, like the way of the world, are far from being pleasant.

Of good I have the pleasure of saying I have my children well, and in good health. The dividend of 3s. in the pound has been made to the creditors, and the creditors have testified their sense of my labours by surrendering my books, furniture, plate, and curiosities. I see some friends of mine think this is not handsomely done. In my opinion it is extremely so. There are few things so [easy] as to criticise the good things one does, and to show that we ourselves would have done [more] handsomely. But those who know the world and their own nature are always better pleased with one kind action carried through and executed, than with twenty that only glide through their minds, while perhaps they tickle the imagination of the benevolent Barmecide who supposes both the entertainment and the eater. These articles do not amount to less than 10,000 at least, and, without dispensing with them entirely, might furnish me with a fund for my younger children.[405] Now, suppose these creditors had not seriously carried their purpose into execution, the transaction might have been afterwards challenged, and the ease of mind which it produced to me must have been uncertain in comparison. Well! one-half of these claims are cleared off, furnished in a great measure by one-half issue of the present edition of the Waverley Novels, which had reached the 20th of the series.

It cannot be expected that twenty more will run off so fast; the later volumes are less favourites, and are really less interesting. Yet when I read them over again since their composition, I own I found them considerably better than I expected, and I think, if other circumstances do not crush them and blight their popularity, they will make their way. Mr. Cadell is still desirous to acquire one-half of the property of this part of the work, which is chiefly my own. He proposes assembling all my detached works of fiction and articles in Annuals, so that the whole, supposing I write, as is proposed, six new volumes, will run the collection to fifty, when it is time to close it. Between cash advanced on this property, and a profit on the sale of the second part, Mr. Cadell thinks, having taken a year or two years' time, to gather a little wind into the bag, I will be able to pay, on my part, a further sum of 30,000, or the moiety remaining of the whole debts, amounting now to less than 60,000.

Should this happy period arrive in or about the year 1832 the heavy work will be wellnigh finished. Tor, although 30,000 will still remain, yet there is 20,000 actually secured upon my life, and the remaining 10,000 is set against the sale of _Waverley_, which shall have been issued; besides which there is the whole Poetry, _Bonaparte_, and several other articles, equally [available] in a short time to pay up the balance, and afford a very large reversion.

This view cannot be absolutely certain, but it is highly probable, and is calculated in the manner in which Building Schemes [are dealt with], and is not merely visionary. The year 1833 may probably see me again in possession of my estate.

A circumstance of great consequence to my habits and comforts was my being released from the Court of Session on November 1830 (18th day). My salary, which was 1300, was reduced to 840. My friends, just then leaving office, were desirous to patch up the deficiency with a pension. I do not see well how they could do this without being exposed to obloquy, which they shall not be on my account. Besides, though 500 a year is a round sum, yet I would rather be independent than I would have it.

My kind friend the Lord Chief Commissioner offered to interfere to have me named a Privy Councillor; but besides that when one is poor he ought to 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 the article of my knighthood. And here I am, for the rest of my life I suppose, with a competent income, which I can [increase].

All this is rather pleasing, nor have I the least doubt that I could make myself easy by literary labour. But much of it looks like winding up my bottom for the rest of my life. But there is a worse symptom of settling accounts, of which I have felt some signs.

Last spring, Miss Young, the daughter of Dr. Young, had occasion to call on me on some business, in which I had hopes of serving her. As I endeavoured to explain to her what I had to say, I had the horror to find I could not make myself understood. I stammered, stuttered, said one word in place of another--did all but speak; Miss Young went away frightened enough, poor thing; and Anne and Violet Lockhart were much alarmed. I was bled with cupping-glasses, took medicine, and lived on panada; but in two or three days I was well again. The physicians thought, or said at least, that the evil was from the stomach. It is very certain that I have seemed to speak with an impediment, and I was, or it might be fancied myself, troubled with a mispronouncing and hesitation. I felt this particularly at the Election, and sometimes in society. This went on till last November, when Lord ------ came out to make me a visit. I had for a long time taken only one tumbler of whisky and water without the slightest reinforcement. This night I took a very little drop, not so much as a bumper glass, of whisky altogether. It made no difference on my head that I could discover, but when I went to the dressing-room I sank stupefied on the floor. I lay a minute or two--was not found, luckily, gathered myself up, and got to my bed. I was alarmed at this second warning, consulted Abercrombie and Ross, and got a few restrictive orders as to diet. I am forced to attend to them; for, as Mrs. Cole says, "Lack-a-day! a thimbleful oversets me."

To add to these feelings I have the constant increase of my lameness: the thigh-joint, knee-joint, and ankle-joint.

December 21.--I walk 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 was sure of dying handsomely. Cadell's calculations would be sufficiently firm though the author of _Waverly_ 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 the blow be not sufficient to destroy life, and that I should linger on an idiot and a show.[406]....

We parted on good terms and hopes.[407] But, fall back, fall edge, nothing shall induce me to publish what I do not think advantageous to the community, or suppress what is.

December 23.--To add for this day to the evil thereof, I am obliged to hold a Black-fishing Court at Selkirk. This is always a very unpopular matter in one of our counties, as the salmon never do get up to the heads of the waters in wholesome season, and are there in numbers in spawning-time. So that for several years during the late period, the gentry, finding no advantage from preserving the spawning fish, neglected the matter altogether in a kind of dudgeon, and the peasantry laid them waste at their will. As the property is very valuable, the proprietors down the country agreed to afford some additional passage for fish when the river is open, providing they will protect the spawning fish during close-time. A new Act has been passed, with heavy penalties and summary powers of recovery. Some persons are cited under it to-day; and a peculiar licence of poaching having distinguished the district of late years, we shall be likely to have some disturbance. They have been holding a meeting for reform in Selkirk, and it will be difficult to teach them that this consists in anything else save the privilege of obeying only such laws as please them. We shall see, but I would have counselled the matter to have been delayed for a little season. I shall do my duty, however. Do what is right, come what will.

Six black-fishers were tried, four were condemned. All went very quietly till the conclusion, when one of the criminals attempted to break out. I stopped him for the time with my own hand.[408] But after removing him from the Court-house to the jail he broke from the officers, who are poor feeble old men, the very caricature of peace officers.

December 24.--This morning my old acquaintance and good friend Miss Bell Ferguson died after a short illness: an old friend, and a woman of the most excellent condition. The last two or almost three years were very sickly.

A bitter cold day. Anne drove me over to Huntly Burn to see the family. I found Colonel Ferguson and Captain John, R.N., in deep affliction, expecting Sir Adam hourly. Anne sets off to Mertoun, and I remain alone. I wrote to Walter about the project of making my succession in movables. J.B. sent me praises of the work I am busy with.[409] But I suspect a little _supercherie_, though he protests not. He is going to the country without sending me the political article. But he shall either set up or return it, as I won't be tutored by any one in what I do or forbear.

December 25.--I have sketched a political article on a union of Tories and an Income Tax. But I will not show my teeth if I find I cannot bite. Arrived at Mertoun, and found with the family Sir John Pringle, Major Pringle, and Charles Baillie. Very pleasant music by the Miss Pringles.

December 26, [Mertoun].--Prayers after breakfast, being Sunday. Afterwards I shut myself up in Mr. Scott's room.

He has lately become purchaser of his grandfather's valuable library, which was collected by Pope's Lord Marchmont. Part of it is a very valuable collection of tracts during the great Civil War. I spent several hours in turning them over, but I could not look them through with any accuracy. I passed my time very pleasantly, and made some extracts, however, and will resume my research another day.

Major Pringle repeated some pretty verses of his own composing.

I had never a more decided inclination to go loose, yet I know I had better keep quiet.

December 27, [Abbotsford].--Commences snow, and extremely bitter cold. When I returned from Mertoun, half-frozen, I took up the _Magnum_, and began to notify the romance called _Woodstock_, in which I got some assistance from Harden's ancient tracts. I ought rather to get on with _Robert of Paris_; but I have had all my life a longing to do something else when I am called to particular labour,--a vile contradictory humour which I cannot get rid of. Well, I can work at something, so at the _Magnum_ work I. The day was indeed broken, great part having been employed in the return from Mertoun.

December 28.--Drove down to Huntly Burn. Sir Adam very melancholy, the death of his sister having come with a particular and shocking surprise upon him. After half-an-hour's visit I returned and resumed the _Magnum_.

December 29.--Attended poor Miss Bell Ferguson's funeral. I sat by the Rev. Mr. Thomson. Though ten years younger than me, I found the barrier between him and me much broken down. We remember it though with more or less accuracy. We took the same old persons for subjects of correspondence of feeling and sentiment. The difference of ten years is little after sixty has passed. In a cold day I saw poor Bell laid in her cold bed. Life never parted with a less effort. Letter from Cadell offering to advance on second series French Tales. This will come in good time, and keep me easy. He proposes views for the _Magnum_. I fear politics may disappoint them.

December 30.--Meeting at Selkirk to-day about the new road to Galashiels. It was the largest meeting I ever saw in Selkirkshire. We gain the victory by no less than 14 to 4. I was named one of the committee to carry the matter on, so in gaining my victory I think I have caught a Tartar, for I have taken on trouble enough. Some company,--Lord Napier, Scotts of Harden, Johnstone of Alva, Major Pringle. In the evening had some private conversation with H.F.S. and R.J., and think there is life in a mussel. More of this hereafter.

December 31.--My two young friends left this morning, but not without renewing our conversation of last night. We carried on the little amusements of the day, and spent our Hogmanay pleasantly enough, in spite of very bad auguries.

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FOOTNOTES:

[405] See _Life_, vol. x. pp. 10-25.

[406]

"From Marlborough's eyes the streams of dotage flow, And Swift expires a driveller and a show."--Johnson's _Vanity of Human Wishes_.

[407] Mr. Cadell and Mr. Ballantyne had arrived at Abbotsford on the 18th, bringing with them the good news from Edinburgh of the payment of the second dividend, and of the handsome conduct of the creditors. There had been a painful discussion between them and Sir Walter during the early part of the winter on _Count Robert of Paris_, particulars of which are given in _the Life_ (vol. x. pp. 6, 10-17, 21-23), but they found their host much better than they had ventured to anticipate, and he made the gift of his library the chief subject of conversation during the evening. Next morning Mr. Ballantyne was asked to read aloud a political essay on Reform--intended to be a _Fourth Epistle of Malachi_. After careful consideration, the critical arbiters concurred in condemning the production, but suggested a compromise. His friends left him on the 21st, and the essay, though put in type, was never published. Proof and MS. were finally consigned to the flames!--_Life_, vol. x. pp. 21-25.

[408] An account of this incident is given by an eye-witness, Mr. Peter Rodger, Procurator-Fiscal, who says: "The prisoner, thinking it a good chance of escaping, made a movement in direction of the door. This Sir Walter detected in time to descend from the Bench and place himself in the desperate man's path. 'Never!' said he; 'if you do, it will be over the body of an old man.' Whereupon the other officials of the Court came to the Sheriff's assistance and the prisoner was secured."--Craig-Brown's _Selkirkshire_, vol. ii. p. 141.

[409] _Count Robert of Paris_.

Sir Walter Scott