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John Gibson Lockhart:
Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.


Vol I Preface
Chapter I
Chapter II 1771-78
Chapter III 1778-83
Chapter IV 1783-86
Chapter V 1786-90
Chapter VI 1790-92
Chapter VII 1792-96
Chapter VIII 1796-97
Chapter IX 1798-99
Chapter X 1800-02
Chapter XI 1802-03
Chapter XII 1803-04
Chapter I 1804-05
Chapter II 1805
Chapter III 1806
Chapter IV 1806-08
Chapter V 1808
Chapter VI 1808-09
Chapter VII 1809-10
Chapter VIII 1810
Chapter IX 1810
Chapter X 1810-11
Chapter XI 1811
Chapter XII 1811-12
Chapter I 1812-13
Chapter II 1813
Chapter III 1814
Chapter IV 1814
Chapter V 1814
Chapter VI 1814
Chapter VII 1814
Chapter VIII 1814
Chapter IX 1814
Chapter X 1814-15
Chapter XI 1815
Chapter XII 1815
Vol III Appendix
Chapter I 1816
Chapter II 1817
Chapter III 1817
Chapter IV 1818
Chapter V 1818
Chapter VI 1818
Chapter VII 1818-19
Chapter VIII 1819
Chapter IX 1819
Chapter X 1819
Chapter XI 1820
Chapter XII 1820
Chapter I 1820
Chapter II 1820-21
Chapter III 1821
Chapter IV 1821
Chapter V 1821
Chapter VI 1821
Chapter VII 1822
Chapter VIII 1822
Chapter IX 1822-23
Chapter X 1823
Chapter XI 1823
Chapter XII 1824
Chapter XIII 1824-25
Chapter I 1825
Chapter II 1825
Chapter III 1825
Chapter IV 1825
Chapter V 1826
Chapter VI 1826
Chapter VII 1826
Chapter VIII 1826
Chapter IX 1826
Chapter X 1826
Chapter XI 1826
Vol VII Preface
Chapter I 1826-27
Chapter II 1827
Chapter III 1828
Chapter IV 1828
Chapter V 1829
Chapter VI 1830
Chapter VII 1830-31
Chapter VIII 1831
Chapter IX 1831
Chapter X 1831-32
Chapter XI 1832
Chapter XII
Vol VII Appendix

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Sir Walter Scott died in September 1832 as the leading man of letters in Europe. Yet for all his fame few particulars of his life could be gleaned from memoirs published during his lifetime. This was partly because Scott was largely successful in avoiding scandal and the attention it brought, and partly because denying his authorship of the Waverley Novels had kept biographers at bay. Driven from cover by his financial woes, Scott began relating his literary life in annotations to the collected editions published to relieve his debts. Following his death memoirs began to appear, some hostile, anticipating the official biography to be written by Scott’s son-in-law John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854)—the proceeds of which were to go towards paying off the remaining debts on the Scott estate. There would be a long wait as Lockhart sorted through the voluminous papers Scott left behind and solicited materials from Scott’s friends and correspondents. The biography was written while Lockhart was managing Scott’s literary estate, editing the Quarterly Review, and caring for a dying wife.
Lockhart was in many respects an ideal biographer: he had been intimate with Scott for a dozen years, as the editor of Scott's poetry and prose he knew the corpus thoroughly, and he was on good terms with Scott's associates from whom information and documents were to be had. He was also an experienced biographer, having early on acquired fame (and notoriety) with the character sketches in Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk (1819) and more recently having written an acclaimed biography of Robert Burns (1828). He wrote to Robert Cadell, “Perhaps I may promise a volume of my own reminiscences of our intercourse and fireside talk. I never thought of being a Boswell, but I have a fair memory, and to me he no doubt spoke more freely and fully on various affairs than to any other who now survives.” Lockhart was one of the more candid writers of his generation, though there were limits to what could then be said.
When Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott belatedly appeared in 1837-38 it was not reviewed in either the Edinburgh or Quarterly, the only criticism of consequence being Carlyle’s famous sweet-and-sour review in the Westminster. The newspapers found little of interest in it, the massive size of the seven-volume work limited its sale, and Lockhart found himself involved in a pamphlet war with the Ballantyne family that cast doubt on his veracity. Despite this inauspicious beginning, Lockhart’s work came to be regarded as a classic biography and by the end of the nineteenth century it was widely read and reprinted. Lockhart’s reputation would later suffer along with Scott’s, but his biography remained the standard life of Scott until the publication of Edgar Johnson’s Sir Walter Scott: the Great Unknown in 1970.
If superseded as a factual history, it remains a gem among lives-and-letters and an indispensable source for Scott’s life. While the usual comparisons are to Boswell’s life of Johnson (which it resembles in its attention to quiddities and vulnerabilities) Lockhart’s immediate model could only have been Thomas Moore’s Life of Byron (1830) which it resembles in both in monumental scope and hagiographic ambition. Lockhart had been a close observer of Byron’s life and writings and had written knowingly and sensitively about him in Blackwood’s Magazine and the anonymous Letter to the Right Hon. Lord Byron (1821), and he had reviewed Moore’s Life of Byron in the Quarterly. While a formal comparison of the characters of Scott and Byron would not have comported with his design for the Memoirs, Moore and Byron could not have been far from his mind as he wrote the biography.
For all their differences with respect to politics and religion, Scott and Byron admired one another’s works and formed a friendship based on deep personal affinities. Both writers had a lame foot to compensate for, both found themselves thrust into social situations for which a middling Scottish background could hardly have prepared them; both were inordinately proud of their roguish family origins, both were haunted by disappointment in their first loves, both joyed in the companionship of beasts and menials. They wrote quickly and found revision a chore. Scott and Byron were alike touchy about authorship—proud but a little ashamed of their commercial success as they sought recognition as political characters and gentlemen of independent means. Moore and Lockhart devote much of their biographies to financial matters, as well they might: the sale of Newstead and the purchase of Abbotsford were watershed events.
If the shifting panoply of events and relationships fixes readers’ attention, it is the slowly-emerging narrative arc that renders these biographies great works of literature. Moore tells a story of loss and redemption, Byron’s separation and exile marking the central crisis of his book. Lockhart inverts the pattern: a central triumph is framed by Scott’s gradual rise to fame in the first three volumes, and abrupt decline in the last three. The story of Scott’s fall is related with all the cumulative force that Moore puts behind his account of Byron’s recovery; in both instances the poet’s death is presented in ways that make the preceding life meaningful. From Moore, Lockhart learned to wind the thread of a simple and moving story through a teeming mass of letters, diaries, documents, and witnesses.
Both biographers strive to let their authors tell their own stories, as Lockhart put the matter in a letter to Will Laidlaw: “My sole object is to do him justice, or rather to let him do himself justice, by so contriving it that he shall be, as far as possible from first to last, his own historiographer, and I have therefore willingly expended the time that would have sufficed for writing a dozen books on what will be no more than the compilation of one.” While the biographer’s shaping hand is always present it is not always visible (Lockhart all but disappears for a hundred pages at a stretch). When Moore and Lockhart do expatiate on their writer’s life and character in their concluding chapters the extent of their involvement in the narrative becomes belatedly clear—though not the less persuasive following fast upon the powerful closing scenes the reader has just finished.
The fact that Scott’s life was largely bereft of incident compared with Byron’s does not prevent Lockhart from writing at even greater length than Moore; in the absence of incident he concentrates on the texture of his subject’s domestic affairs even to the exclusion of interesting matter that might otherwise have been included. In contrast to the life-and-times mode, or the author-and-his-contemporaries mode, Lockhart focuses narrowly on what mattered most to Scott: family, writing, and Abbotsford with its environs. If there are digressions into politics, art, and travel, Scott’s domestic milieu ever remains the center of attention, described in an unprecedented level of detail—in a letter to Lockhart Robert Southey described the Life as “the most complete biography that has yet appeared of a great man.” The biographer enumerates hundreds of persons Scott interacted with in his literary, professional, and social capacities, a sprawling patronage network that included many distant cousins and relations-by-marriage Scott regarded as part of his extended family.
Scott’s was not a particularly complex character, its leading points being (in marked contrast to Byron) personal loyalty and consistency of principle. Yet Lockhart finds a mainspring for his narrative in the contrast between the writer’s public persona as clerk of the Court of Session and sheriff of Selkirkshire, and his private character as the Author of Waverley—the Magician, the genius, the Great Unknown. In the first capacity, Scott was the embodiment of prudent conservatism; in the second he pursued financial risk and cultivated romantic fantasies. The two sides of his character coincided in the building of Abbotsford, at once a brick-and-mortar embodiment of public status and a fabulous expression of personal whimsy. It was barely completed when Scott’s secret speculations went awry in the financial collapse of 1825-26, exposing the concealed writer to the world and compelling Scott to write for a living instead of living to write. Like Byron at Missolonghi, Scott confronted his final tribulations with a redeeming mixture of public resolution and private sorrow.
If Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott reads like a novel, it is surely none the worse for that. Lockhart’s readers should be aware, however, that in common with other lives-and-letters, the documentary evidence presented is not altogether what it seems. Elisions in the letters and diaries are frequent and seldom indicated in the text, the biographer occasionally amplifies a passage to give it clarity, and sometimes spices two documents together. All this, he might claim, was in the subservience to a greater truth, but it is not the kind of truth expected from a modern biographer. Readers should also recall that Lockhart was writing while many of the persons he discusses were still alive. In contrast to Thomas Moore, he avoids the use of naughty asterisks, necessitating further tampering with the documents to avoid controversy.
Not that the sharp-tongued Lockhart, the “Scorpion” of Blackwood’s Magazine, was always one to avoid controversy. His lack of tact in pointing a finger of blame at the Ballantyne brothers (James and John) for Scott’s financial ruin resulted in an unseemly spat that must have damaged the reception of the biography. Lockhart seems to have been largely justified in his conclusions though the satirical zest with which he depicts the brothers living high on Scott’s beneficence was bound to give offense. In his reply Lockhart attributes this to political spleen, and the reviews in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine do manifest fierce hostility, towards Scott as well as Lockhart. To the biographer's lack of tact we might also credit the moving description of Scott’s growing physical and mental infirmities: few nineteenth-century biographers would present such things in print but Lockhart, shadowing Lear, renders it the stuff of tragic poetry. While he makes sparing use of his own voice, his considerable skills as a literary genre-painter appear at key moments in the narrative.
In exposing Scott’s private life Lockhart disappointed some of Scott’s admirers. In the 1830s the beau ideal of a poet was represented by the likes of Coleridge or Keats—Scott, with his worldly concerns with selling novels, counting votes, and purchasing land, was hardly that. He also disappointed Scott’s detractors, the party-men who had for years sought to diminish his reputation. Lockhart was inevitably, though unjustifiably, accused of flattering his subject. Scott strove mightily to maintain the character of a Christian gentleman; in that he was largely successful and that is how Lockhart represents him. Scott also strove to live according to the patriarchal principles he romanticizes in his fictions, and if he was less successful there, Lockhart knew what he was about in novelizing Scott’s domestic history. Moore performed a similar service for Byron, emphasizing the familial dimension of his poet’s troubled life. Byron and Scott struggled to carry their eighteenth-century Whig and Tory domestic attitudes into the nineteenth century—failing in that, they succeeded in leaving their biographers material for a fascinating parallel history of two timely, anachronistic, self-fashioning lives.
Lockhart’s seven-volume edition of 1837-38 was immediately pirated by American and French printers, then in 1839 reprinted in ten volumes with corrections, small changes, and some additional notes; that version was condensed in one volume in 1842 and 1845. In 1848 Lockhart issued a two-volume abridgment with additional notes and updated material entitled Narrative of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart, the copyright sold to Cadell to pay off the last of Scott”s debts. The first edition is given here to supply the text that the original readers and critics knew and responded to.
The chief editorial labor in this edition has been trying to identify all the persons mentioned in Lockhart’s text (20,000 names tagged in the XML, for over a thousand individuals). In this endeavor I was greatly assisted by W. E. K. Anderson’s edition of The Journal of Walter Scott (1972) and especially by James C. Corson’s Notes and Index to Sir Herbert Grierson’s Edition of the Letters of Sir Walter Scott (1979)—a work equally remarkable for its diligence and its accuracy. With the benefit of internet searching I have been able to add a few mites to the mass of information he assembled from paper sources.

David Hill Radcliffe