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January 1831

January 1, 1831.--I cannot say the world opens pleasantly with me this new year. I will strike the balance. There are many things for which I have reason to be thankful.

First.--Cadell's plans seem to have succeeded, and he augurs well as to the next two years, reckoning £30,000 on the stuff now on hand, and £20,000 on the insurance money, and £10,000 to be borrowed somehow. This will bring us wonderfully home.

Second.--Cadell is of opinion if I meddle in politics, and I am strongly tempted to do so, I shall break the milk-pail, and threatens me with the fate of Basil Hall, who, as he says, destroyed his reputation by writing impolitic politics. Well, it would be my risk, and if I can do some good, which I rather think I can, is it right or manly to keep myself back?

Third.--I feel myself decidedly weaker in point of health, and am now confirmed I have had a paralytic touch. I speak and read with embarrassment, and even my handwriting seems to stammer. This general failure

    "With mortal crisis doth portend,
    My days to appropinque an end."[410]
I am not solicitous about this, only if I were worthy I would pray God for a sudden death, and no interregnum between I cease to exercise reason and I cease to exist.

The Scotts of Harden, Pringles of Stitchill, and Russells of Ashestiel, are all here; I am scarce fit for company though.

January 2.--Held a great palaver with the Scotts, etc.

I find my language apt to fail me; but this is very like to be fancy, and I must be cautious of giving way to it. This cautions me against public exertion much more than Cadell's prognostications, which my blood rises against, and which are ill calculated to keep me in restraint. We dozed through a gloomy day, being the dullest of all possible thaws.

January 3.--I had a letter from the Lord Chief Commissioner, mentioning the King's intention to take care of Charles's interests and promotion in the Foreign Office, an additional reason why I should not plunge rashly into politics, yet not one which I can understand as putting a padlock on my lips neither. I may write to L.C.C. that I may be called on to express an opinion on the impending changes, that I have an opinion, and a strong one, and that I hope this fresh favour [may not be regarded] as padlocking my lips at a time when it would otherwise be proper to me to speak or write. I am shocked to find that I have not the faculty of delivering myself with facility--an embarrassment which may be fanciful, but is altogether as annoying as if real.

January 4.--A base, gloomy day, and dispiriting in proportion. I walked out with Swanston[411] for about an hour: everything gloomy as the back of the chimney when there is no fire in it. My walk was a melancholy one, feeling myself weaker at every step and not very able to speak. This surely cannot be fancy, yet it looks something like it. If I knew but the extent at which my inability was like to stop, but every day is worse than another. I have trifled much time, too much; I must try to get afloat to-morrow, perhaps getting an amanuensis might spur me on, for one-half is nerves. It is a sad business though.

January 5.--Very indifferent, with more awkward feelings than I can well bear up against. My voice sunk and my head strangely confused. When I begin to form my ideas for conversation expressions fail me, even in private conversation, yet in solitude they are sufficiently arranged. I incline to hold that these ugly symptoms are the work of imagination; but, as Dr. Adam Ferguson,[412] a firm man if ever there was one in the world, said on such an occasion, What is worse than imagination? As Anne was vexed and frightened, I allowed her to send for young Clarkson. Of course he could tell but little, save what I knew before.

January 6.--A letter from Henry Scott about the taking ground for keeping the reform in Scotland upon the Scottish principles. I will write him my private sentiments, but avoid being a _boute-feu_.

Go this day to Selkirk, where I found about 120 and more persons of that burgh and Galashiels, who were sworn in as special constables, enough to maintain the peace. What shocked me particularly was the weakness of my voice and the confusion of my head attempting to address them, which was really a poor affair. On my return I found the Rev. Mr. Milne of Quebec, a friend of my sister-in-law. Another time would have been better for company, but Captain John Ferguson and Mr. Laidlaw coming in to dinner, we got over the day well enough.

January 7.--A fine frosty day, and my spirits lighter. I have a letter of great comfort from Walter, who in a manly, handsome, and dutiful manner expressed his desire to possess the library and movables of every kind at Abbotsford, with such a valuation laid upon them as I choose to impose. This removes the only delay to making my will. Supposing the literary property to clear the debts by aid of insurances and other things, about 1835 it will come into my person, and I will appoint the whole to work off the heritable debt of £10,000. If the literary property can produce that sum, besides what it has already done, I would convey it to the three younger children.

January 8.--Spent much time in writing instructions for my last will and testament. Sent off parcel by Dr. Milne, who leaves to-day. Have up two boys for shop-lifting. Remained at Galashiels till four o'clock, and returned starved. Could work none, and was idle all evening--try to-morrow for a work-day; so loiter on.

January 10.--Went over to Galashiels, and was busied the whole time till three o'clock about a petty thieving affair, and had before me a pair of gallows'-birds, to whom I could say nothing for total want of proof, except, like the sapient Elbow, Thou shalt continue there; know thou, thou shalt continue.[413] A little gallow brood they were, and their fate will catch them. Sleepy, idle, and exhausted on this. Wrought little or none in the evening.

Wrote a long letter to Henry [Scott], who is a fine fellow, and what I call a heart of gold. He has sound parts, good sense, and is a true man. Also, I wrote to my excellent friend the Lord Chief [Commissioner]. I thought it right to say that I accepted with gratitude his Majesty's goodness, but trusted it was not to bind me to keep my fingers from pen and ink should a notion impress me that I could help the country. I walked a little, to my exceeding refreshment. I am using that family ungratefully. But I will not, for a punctilio, avoid binding, if I can, a strong party together for the King and country, and if I see I can do anything, or have a chance of it, I will not fear for the skin-cutting. It is the selfishness of this generation that drives me mad.

    "A hundred pounds?
    Ha! thou hast touched me nearly."
I will get a parcel copied to-morrow; wrote several letters at night.

January 11.--Wrote and sent off three of my own pages in the morning, then walked with Swanston. I tried to write before dinner, but, with drowsiness and pain in my head, made little way. My friend Will Laidlaw came in to dinner, and after dinner kindly offered his services as amanuensis. Too happy was I, and I immediately plunged him into the depths of _Count Robert_, so we got on three or four pages, worth perhaps double the number of print. I hope it did not take him too short, but after all to keep the press going without an amanuensis is impossible, and the publishers may well pay a sponsible person. He comes back to-morrow. It eases many of my anxieties, and I will stick to it. I really think Mr. Laidlaw is pleased with the engagement for the time. Sent off six close pages.

January 12.--I have a visit from Mr. Macdonald the sculptor, who wishes to model a head of me. He is a gentlemanlike man, and pleasant as most sculptors and artists of reputation are, yet it is an awful tax upon time. I must manage to dictate while he models, which will do well enough.

So there we sat for three hours or four, I sitting on a stool mounted on a packing-box, for the greater advantage; Macdonald modelling and plastering away, and I dictating, without interval, to good-natured Will Laidlaw, who wrought without intermission. It is natural to ask, Do I progress? but this is too feverish a question. A man carries no scales about him to ascertain his own value. I always remember the prayer of Virgil's sailor in extremity:--

    "Non jam prima peto Mnestheus, neque vincere certo;
    Quamquam O!--Sed superent quibus hoc, Neptune, dedisti!
    Extremos pudeat rediisse: hoc vincite, cives,
    Et prohibete nefas!"[414]

We must to our oar; but I think this and another are all that even success would prompt me to write; and surely those that have been my defenders

    "Have they so long held out with me untired,
    And stop they now for breath? Well, be it so."[415]
January 13.--Went to Selkirk on the business of the new high road. I perceive Whytbank and my cousin Colonel Russell of Ashestiel are disposed to peep into the expenses of next year's outlay, which must be provided by loan. This will probably breed strife. Wrote a hint of this to Charles Balfour. Agreed with Smith so far as contracting for the Bridges at £1200 each. I suspect we are something like the good manager who distressed herself with buying bargains.

January 15.--Gave the morning from ten till near two to Mr. Macdonald, who is proceeding admirably with his bust. It is bloody cold work, but he is an enthusiast and much interested; besides, I can sit and dictate owing to Mr. Laidlaw, and so get forward, while I am advancing Lorenzo di Guasco, which is his travelling name. I wrote several letters too, and got through some business. Walked, and took some exercise between one and three.

January 16.--Being Sunday, read prayers. Mr. and Mrs. James[416] go to look for a house, which they desire to take in this country. As Anne is ill, the presence of strangers, though they are pleasant, is rather annoying. Macdonald continues working to form a new bust out of my old scalp. I think it will be the last sitting which I will be enticed to. Thanks to Heaven, the work finishes to-morrow.[417]

January 17.--This morning, when I came down-stairs, I found Mr. Macdonald slabbering away at the model. He has certainly great enthusiasm about his profession, which is a _sine qua non_. It was not till twelve that a post-chaise carried off my three friends.

I had wrote two hours when Dr. Turner came in, and I had to unfold my own complaints. I was sick of these interruptions, and dismissed Mr. Laidlaw, having no hope of resuming my theme with spirit. God send me more leisure and fewer friends to peck it away by tea-spoonfuls!

Another fool sends to entreat an autograph, which he should be ashamed in civility to ask, as I am to deny it. I got notice of poor Henry Mackenzie's death. He has long maintained a niche in Scottish Literature--gayest of the gay, though most sensitive of the sentimental.

January 18.--Came down from my bedroom at eight, and took a rummage in the way of putting things to rights. Dictated to Laidlaw till about one o'clock, during which time it was rainy. Afterwards I walked, sliding about in the mud, and very uncomfortable. In fact, there is no mistaking the three sufficients,[418] and Fate is now straitening its circumvallations round me. Little likely to be better than I am. I am heart-whole as a biscuit, and may last on as now for eight or ten years; the thing is not uncommon, considering I am only in my sixtieth year. I cannot walk; but the intense cold weather may be to blame in this. My riding is but a scramble, but it may do well enough for exercise; and though it is unpleasant to find one's enjoyment of hill and vale so much abridged, yet still when I enjoy my books, and am without acute pain, I have but little to complain of, considering the life I have led so long.

              "So hap what may;
    Time and the hour run through the roughest day."[419]
Mr. Laidlaw came down at ten, and we wrought till one. This should be a good thing for an excellent man, and is an important thing to me, as it saves both my eyesight and nerves, which last are cruelly affected by finding those "who look out of the windows" grow gradually darker and darker.[420] Rode out, or more properly, was carried out, into the woods to see the course of a new road, which may serve to carry off the thinnings of the trees, and for rides. It is very well lined, and will serve both for beauty and convenience. Mr. Laidlaw engages to come back to dinner, and finish two or three more pages. Met my agreeable and lady-like neighbour, Mrs. Brewster, on my pony, and I was actually ashamed to be seen by her.
    "Sir Dennis Brand, and on so poor a steed."[421]
I believe detestable folly of this kind is the very last that leaves us. One would have thought I ought to have little vanity at this time o' day; but it is an abiding appurtenance of the old Adam, and I write for penance what, like a fool, I actually felt.

January 19.--Wrote on by Mr. Laidlaw's assistance. Things go bobbishly enough; we have a good deal finished before dinner. Henry Scott comes to dine with me _vis-à-vis_, and we have a grand dish of politics. The friends of old Scotland want but a signal. A certain great lawyer says that if Sir W.S. wrote another _Malachi_ it would set more men on fire than a dozen associations. This almost tempts me. But the canny lad says moreover that to appeal to national partiality, _i.e._ that you should call on Scotsmen to act like Scotsmen, is unfair, and he would be sorry it was known he, late and future placeman, should encourage such paw-paw doings. Yet if Sir W.S. could be got to stand forlorn hope, the legal gentleman would suggest, etc. etc. Suggest and be d--d. Sir W.S. knows when to [doff] his bonnet, and when to cock it in the face of all and sundry. Moreover, he will not be made a cat's-paw of, look you now.

January 20.--Wrought all morning; a monstrous packet of letters at mid-day. Borrow honest Laidlaw's fingers in the evening. I hope his pay will recompense him: it is better than "grieve-ing" or playing Triptolemus.[422] Should be, if I am hard-working, 100 guineas, which, with his house, cow, and free rent, would save, I believe, some painful thoughts to him and his amiable wife and children. We will see how the matter fudges. Almost finished the first volume.

January 21.--James Ballantyne in ecstasies at our plan of an amanuensis. I myself am sensible that my fingers begin to stammer--that is, to write one word instead of another very often. I impute this to fancy, the terrible agency of which is too visible in my illness, and it encourages me to hope the fatal warning is yet deferred. I feel lighter by a million ton since I made this discovery. If I can dictate freely, and without hesitation, my fear to speak at the meeting about the road was vain terror, and so _Andiamo Caracci._ Wrote some letters this afternoon.

January 22.--Mr. Laidlaw rather late of coming. One of his daughters has been ill, and he is an approved physician. Pity when one so gifted employs his skill on himself and family for all patients. We got on, however, to page 46.

January 23.--I wrought a little to-day. Walked to Chiefswood, or rather from it, as far only as Habbie's Howe. Came home, cold indeed, but hearty. Slept after dinner. I think the peep, real or imaginary, at the gates of death has given me firmness not to mind little afflictions. I have jumbled this and the preceding day strangely, when I went to Chiefswood and Huntly Burn. I thought this a week-day.

January 24.--Worked with Mr. Laidlaw, and, as the snow was on the ground, did so without intermission, which must be sinking to the spirits. Held on, however.

January 25.--Same drizzling waste, rendering my footing insecure, and leaving me no refuge but in sitting at home and working till one o'clock. Then retired upon the Sheriff Court processes. Bran,[423] poor fellow, lies yawning at my feet, and cannot think what is become of the daily scamper, which is all his master's inability affords him. This grieves me, by calling back the days of old. But I may call them as I may,

    "Youth winna return, nor the days of lang syne."
January 26.--I have Skene and Mr. M'Culloch of Ardwell, to the relief of my spirits and the diminishing of my time. Mr. Laidlaw joined us at dinner.

Bitter cold.

January 27.--So fagged with my frozen vigils that I slept till after ten. When I lose the first two hours in the morning I can seldom catch them again during the whole day.

A friendly visit from Ebenezer Clarkson of Selkirk, a medical gentleman in whose experience and ingenuity I have much confidence, as well as his personal regard for myself. He is quite sensible of the hesitation of speech of which I complain, and thinks it arises from the stomach. Recommends the wild mustard as an aperient. But the brightest ray of hope is the chance that I may get some mechanical aid made by Fortune at Broughton Street, which may enable me to mount a pony with ease, and to walk without torture. This would, indeed, be almost a restoration of my youth, at least of a green old age full of enjoyment. The shutting one out from the face of living nature is almost worse than sudden death.

January 28.--I wrote with Laidlaw. It does not work clear; I do not know why. The plot is, nevertheless, a good plot, and full of expectation.[424] But there is a cloud over me, I think, and interruptions are frequent. I creep on, however.

January 29.--Much in the same way as yesterday, rather feeling than making way. Mr. Williams and his brother came in after dinner. Welcome both; yet the day was not happy. It consumed me an afternoon, which, though well employed, and pleasantly, had the disagreeable effect of my being kept from useful work.

January 30.--Snow deep, which makes me alter my purpose of going to town to-morrow. For to-day, my friends must amuse themselves as they can.

January 31 [to February 9, Edinburgh].--Retain my purpose, however, and set out for Edinburgh alone--that is, no one but my servant. The snow became impassable, and in Edinburgh I remain immovably fixed for ten days--that is, till Wednesday--never once getting out of doors, save to dinner, when I went and returned in a sedan chair. I commenced my quarantine in Mackenzie's Hotel,[425] where I was deadly cold, and it was tolerably noisy. The second day Mr. Cadell made a point of my coming to his excellent house, where I had no less excellent an apartment and the most kind treatment--- that is, not making a show of me, for which I was in but bad tune.[426] The physical folks, Abercrombie and Ross, bled me with cupping-glasses, purged me confoundedly, and restricted me of all creature comforts. But they did me good, as I am sure they meant to do sincerely; and I got rid of a giddy feeling, which I have been plagued with, and have certainly returned much better. I did not neglect my testamentary affairs. I executed my last will, leaving Walter burdened, by his own choice, with £1000 to Sophia, and another received at her marriage, and £2000 to Anne, and the same to Charles. He is to advance them money if they want it; if not, to pay them interest, which is his own choice, otherwise I would have sold the books and rattletraps. I have made provisions for clearing my estate by my publications, should it be possible; and should that prove possible, from the time of such clearance being effected, to be a fund available to all my children who shall be alive or leave representatives. My bequests must, many of them, seem hypothetical; but the thing, being uncertain, must be so stated.

Besides, during the unexpected stay in town, I employed Mr. Fortune, an ingenious artist,[427] to make a machine to assist my lame leg,--an odd enough purchase to be made at this time of day, yet who would not purchase ease? I dined with the Lord Chief Commissioner, with the Skenes twice, with Lord Medwyn, and was as happy as anxiety about my daughter would permit me.

The appearance of the streets was most desolate: the hackney-coaches, with four horses, strolling about like ghosts, the foot-passengers few but the lowest of the people.

I wrote a good deal of _Count Robert_, yet I cannot tell why my pen stammers egregiously, and I write horridly incorrect. I long to have friend Laidlaw's assistance.

-

FOOTNOTES:

[410] _Hudibras_.

[411] John Swanston, a forester at Abbotsford, who did all he could to replace Tom Purdie.--_Life_, vol. x. p. 66.

[412] Dr. Ferguson, Sir Adam's father, died in 1816.--See _Misc. Prose Works_, vol. xix. pp. 331-33.

[413] See _Measure for Measure_, Act II. Sc. 1.

[414] _Æneid_ v. 194-7: thus rendered in English by Professor Conington:--

'Tis not the palm that Mnestheus seeks: No hope of Victory fires his cheeks: Yet, O that thought!--but conquer they To whom great Neptune wills the day: Not to be last make that your aim, And triumph by averting shame.

[415] _King Richard the Third_, Act IV. Sc. 2.

[416] Mr. G.P.R. James, author of _Richelieu_, etc. He afterwards took Maxpopple for the season.

[417] Mr. Skene tells us that when No. 39 Castle Street was "displenished" in 1826, Scott sent him the full-length portrait of himself by Raeburn, now at Abbotsford, saying that he did not hesitate to claim his protection for the picture, which was threatened to be paraded under the hammer of the auctioneer, and he felt that his interposition to turn aside that buffet might admit of being justified. "As a piece of successful art, many might fancy the acquisition, but for the sake of the original he knew no refuge where it was likely to find a truer welcome. The picture accordingly remained many years in my possession, but when his health had begun to break, and the plan of his going abroad was proposed, I thought it would be proper to return the picture, for which purpose I had a most successful copy made of it, an absolute facsimile, for when the two were placed beside each, other it was almost impossible to determine which was the original and which the copy."--_Reminiscences_. Thus forestalling the wish expressed in the affecting letter now given, which belongs to this day. See _ante_, vol. i. p. 136 _n_.

"MY DEAR SKENE,--I have had no very pleasant news to send you, as I know it will give Mrs. Skene and you pain to know that I am suffering under a hundred little ailments which have greatly encroached upon the custom of the season which I used to take. On this I could say much, but it is better to leave alone what must be said with painful feeling, and you would be vexed with reading.

"One thing I will put to rights with all others respecting my little personal affairs. I am putting [in order] this house with what it contains, and as Walter will probably be anxious to have a memorial of my better days, I intend to beg you and my dear Mrs. Skene ... to have it [the picture] copied by such an artist as you should approve of, to supply the blank which must then be made on your hospitable walls with the shadow of a shade. If the opportunity should occur of copying the picture to your mind, I will be happy to have the copy as soon as possible. You must not think that I am nervous or foolishly apprehensive that I take these precautions. They are necessary and right, and if one puts off too long, we sometimes are unfit for the task when we desire to take it up....

"When the weather becomes milder, I hope Mrs. Skene and you, and some of the children, will come out to brighten the chain of friendship with your truly faithful,

WALTER SCOTT.

"ABBOTSFORD, 16 January 1831."

[418] Sir W. alludes to Mrs. Piozzi's Tale of _The Three Warnings_.--J.G.L.

[419] _Macbeth_, Act I. Sc. 3.

[420] Eccles. xii. 3.

[421] Crabbe's _Borough_, Letter xiii.--J.G.L.

[422] See _Pirate_.

[423] The deer-hound Bran which was presented by Macpherson of Cluny; Nimrod was Glengarry's gift.--See letter to Miss Edgeworth, printed in _Life_, vol. ix. p. 345.

[424] I _Henry IV_., Act II. Sc. 3.

[425] No. 1 Castle Street.

[426] "His host perceived that he was unfit for any company but the quietest, and had sometimes one old friend, Mr. Thomson, Mr. Clerk, or Mr. Skene to dinner, but no more. He seemed glad to see them, but they all observed him with pain. He never took the lead in conversation, and often remained altogether silent. In the mornings he wrote usually for several hours at _Count Robert_; and Mr. Cadell remembers in particular, that on Ballantyne's reminding him that a motto was wanted for one of the chapters already finished, he looked out for a moment at the gloomy weather, and penned these lines--

  'The storm increases--'tis no sunny shower,
  Foster'd in the moist breast of March or April,
  Or such as parched summer cools his lips with.
  Heaven's windows are flung wide; the inmost deeps
  Call in hoarse greeting one upon another;
  On comes the flood in all its foaming horrors,
  And where's the dyke shall stop it?'"--The Deluge--a Poem.

--_Life_, vol. x. p. 37.

[427] A skilful mechanist, who, by a clever piece of handiwork, gave Sir Walter great relief, but only for a brief period.--_Life_, vol. x, p. 38.

Sir Walter Scott