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February 1831

February 9, [Abbotsford].--A heavy and most effective thaw coming on I got home about five at night, and found the haugh covered with water, dogs, pigs, cows, to say nothing of human beings, all who slept at the offices in danger of being drowned. They came up to the mansion-house about midnight, with such various clamour, that Anne thought the house was attacked by Captain Swing and all the Radicals.

February 10.--I set to work with Mr. Laidlaw, and had after that a capital ride; my pony, little used, was somewhat frisky, but I rode on to Huntly Burn. Began my diet on my new régime, and like it well, especially porridge to supper. It is wonderful how old tastes rise.

February 11.--Wrought again to-day, and John Swanston walked with me. Wrote many letters, and sent copy to Ballantyne. Rode as usual. It is well enough to ride every day, but confoundedly tiresome to write it down.

February 13.--I did not ask down Mr. Laidlaw, thinking it fair to spare his Sunday. I had a day of putting to rights, a disagreeable work which must be done. I took the occasion to tell Mr. Cadell that _Malachi_ will break forth again; but I will not make a point of it with him. I do not fear there will be as many to strike up as to strike down, and I have a strong notion we may gain the day. I have a letter from the Duchess of Wellington, asking a copy of Melville's Memoirs. She shall have it if it were my last.

February 14.--I had hardly begun my letter to Mr. Cadell than I began also to "pull in resolution."[428] I considered that I had no means of retreat; and that in all my sober moments, meaning my unpassionate ones, for the doctors have taken from me the means of producing Dutch courage, I have looked on political writing as a false step, and especially now when I have a good deal at stake. So, upon the whole, I cancelled the letter announcing the publication. If this was actually meanness it is a foible nobody knows of. Anne set off for Edinburgh after breakfast. Poor girl, she is very nervous. I wrote with Mr. L. till one--then had a walk till three--then wrote this diary till four. Must try to get something for Mr. Laidlaw, for I am afraid I am twaddling. I do not think my head is weakened, but a strange vacillation makes me suspect. Is it not thus that men begin to fail, becoming, as it were, infirm of purpose,

    "... that way madness lies; let me shun that:
    No more of that ..."[429]
Yet, why be a child about it? what must be, will be.

February 15.--I wrote and corrected through the long day till one o'clock; then rode out as far as Dr. Scott's, and called on him. Got a fresh dose of proofs at Mathieson's, and returned home. At nine o'clock at night had a card from Miss Bell [Maclachlan], wishing to speak to me about some Highland music. Wrote for answer I knew nothing of the matter, but would be happy to see Mrs. and Miss Bell to breakfast. I had a letter of introduction by Robert Chambers, which I declined, being then unwell. But as Trotter of Braid said, "The ladies maun come."

February 16.--Mrs. and Miss Bell Maclachlan of the West Highlands, mother and daughter, made their way to me to breakfast. I did not wish to see them, being strangers; but she is very pretty--that is, the daughter--and enthusiastic, and that is always flattering to an old gentleman. She wishes to have words to Celtic melodies, and I have promised her some, to the air of Crochallan, and incline to do her good, perhaps, to the extent of getting her words from Lord Francis Leveson Gower, Lockhart, and one or two others. We parted, she pleased with my willing patronage, and I with an uncommon handsome countenance she showed me.

This detained Mr. Laidlaw _re infecta_, and before I had written a page the pony came to the door; but wrote something after dinner.

February 17 and 18.--We had the usual course of food, study, and exercise in the forenoon. Was extremely sleepy in the afternoon, which made, I fear, but bad work. We progress, however. In riding met Sir Adam Ferguson, and asked him and his brother the Colonel to dinner to-morrow. Wrote in the meantime as usual.

February 19.--Plagued by the stay for leg starting a screw bolt, which is very inconvenient. Sent off, this morning, proofs as far as end of first volume, and 20 manuscript pages, equal to about a quarter of the second. Is it good or not? I cannot say. I think it better as it goes on; and so far so good. I am certain I have written worse abomination, as John Ballantyne, poor fellow, used to say.

February 20.--Wrote five pages this morning; then rode out to the hill and looked at some newly planted, rather transplanted, trees. Mr. Laidlaw gone for the day. I trust I shall have proofs to correct. In the meantime I may suck my paws and prepare some copy, or rather assemble the raw material.

February 21.--I made up parcels by mail-coach and Blucher to go to-morrow--second volume _Redgauntlet_. At one fetched a walk through wet and dry, looking at the ravages of the late flood. After I came in, till two hours after tea-time, busied with the Sheriff Court processes, which I have nearly finished. After this I will lounge over my annotating. The _Tales of the Crusades_ come next.

February 22.--Wrought with Mr. L. from ten to three, then took the pony carriage, with the purpose of going to Chiefswood, but a heavy squall came on with snow, so we put about-ship and returned. Read Lyttelton's _History of England_ to get some notes for _Crusaders_, vol. i. After dinner Mr. Laidlaw from six to eight. Sent off six pages.

February 23, 24, 25.--These three days I can hardly be said to have varied from my ordinary.

Rose at seven, dressed before eight, wrote letters, or did any little business till a quarter past nine. Then breakfast. Mr. Laidlaw comes from ten till one. Then take the pony, and ride _quantum mutatus_ two or three miles, John Swanston walking by my bridle-rein lest I fall off. Come home about three or four. Then to dinner on a single plain dish and half a tumbler, or by'r lady three-fourths of a tumbler, of whisky and water. Then sit till six o'clock, when enter Mr. Laidlaw again, and work commonly till eight. After this, work usually alone till half-past nine, then sup on porridge and milk, and so to bed. The work is half done. If any [one] asks what time I take to think on the composition, I might say, in one point of view, it was seldom five minutes out of my head the whole day. In another light, it was never the serious subject of consideration at all, for it never occupied my thoughts entirely for five minutes together, except when I was dictating to Mr. Laidlaw.

February 26.--Went through the same routine, only, being Saturday, Mr. Laidlaw does not come in the evening. I think there is truth in the well-known phrase, _Aurora musis amica_. I always have a visit of invention between six and seven--that is, if anything has been plaguing me, in the way of explanation, I find it in my head when I wake. I have need of it to-night.

February 27.--Being Saturday, no Mr. Laidlaw came yesterday evening, nor to-day, being Sunday. Truth is, I begin to fear I was working too hard, and gave myself to putting things in order, and working at the _Magnum_, and reading stupid German novels in hopes a thought will strike me when I am half occupied with other things. In fact, I am like the servant in the _Clandestine Marriage,_[430] who assures his mistress he always watches best with his eyes shut.

February 28.--Past ten, and Mr. Laidlaw, the model of a clerk in other respects, is not come yet. He has never known the value of time, so is not quite accurate in punctuality; but that, I hope, will come if I can drill him to it without hurting him. I think I hear him coming. I am like the poor wizard who is first puzzled how to raise the devil and then how to employ him. But _vogue la galère_. Worked till one, then walked with great difficulty and pain till half-past two. I think I can hardly stir without my pony, which is a sad pity. Mr. Laidlaw dines here.

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FOOTNOTES:

[428] _Macbeth_, Act V. Sc. 5.

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

[430] Colman the elder.

Sir Walter Scott