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Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
Chapter VI 1826

Vol I Preface
Vol. I Contents.
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
Vol. II Contents.
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
Vol. III Contents.
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
Vol. IV Contents.
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
Vol. V Contents.
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
Vol. VI Contents.
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 Contents.
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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I interrupt, for a moment, Sir Walter’s Diary, to introduce a few collateral illustrations of the period embraced in the foregoing chapter. When he returned to Edinburgh from Abbotsford on Monday the 16th of January, he found (as we have seen) that Hurst & Co. had dishonoured a bill of Constable’s; and then proceeded, according to engagement, to dine at Mr Skene of Rubislaw’s. Mr Skene assures me that he appeared that evening quite in his usual spirits, conversing on whatever topic was started as easily and gaily as if there had been no impending calamity; but at parting, he whispered, “Skene, I have something to speak to you about; be so good as to look in on me as you go to the Parliament-House to-morrow.” When Skene called in Castle Street, about half-past nine o’clock next morning, he found Scott writing in his study. He rose, and said, “My friend, give me a shake of your hand—mine is that of a beggar.” He then told him that Ballantyne had just been with him, and that his ruin was certain and complete; explaining, briefly, the nature of
his connexion with the three houses, whose downfall must that morning be made public. He added, “Don’t fancy I am going to stay at home to brood idly on what can’t be helped. I was at work upon
Woodstock when you came in, and I shall take up the pen the moment I get back from Court. I mean to dine with you again on Sunday, and hope then to report progress to some purpose.” When Sunday came, he reported accordingly, that, in spite of all the numberless interruptions of meetings and conferences with his partner, the Constables, and men of business—to say nothing of his distressing anxieties on account of his wife and daughter—he had written a chapter of his novel every intervening day.

The reader may be curious to see what account James Ballantyne’s memorandum gives of that dark announcement on the morning of Tuesday the 17th. It is as follows: “On the evening of the 16th, I received from Mr Cadell a distinct message putting me in possession of the truth. I called immediately in Castle Street, but found Sir Walter had gained an unconscious respite by being engaged out at dinner. It was between eight and nine next morning that I made the final communication. No doubt he was greatly stunned—but, upon the whole, he bore it with wonderful fortitude. He then asked, ‘Well, what is the actual step we must first take—I suppose we must do something?’ I reminded him that two or three thousand pounds were due that day, so that we had only to do what we must do—refuse payment—to bring the disclosure sufficiently before the world. He took leave of me with these striking words, ‘Well, James, depend upon that, I will never forsake you.’”

After the ample details of Scott’s Diary, it would be idle to quote here many of his private letters in January 1826; but I must give two of those addressed
to myself, one written at Abbotsford on the 15th, the day before he started for Edinburgh to receive the fatal intelligence—the other on the 20th. It will be seen that I had been so very unwise as to intermingle with the account of one of my painful interviews with
Constable, an expression of surprise at the nature of Sir Walter’s commercial engagements which had then for the first time been explained to me; and every reader will, I am sure, appreciate the gentleness of the reply, however unsatisfactory he may consider it as regards the main fact in question.

To J. G. Lockhart, Esq. 25, Pall-Mall, London.
“Abbotsford, January 15, 1826.
“My dear Lockhart,

“I have both your packets. I have been quite well since my attack, only for some time very downhearted with the calomel and another nasty stuff they call hyoscyamus—and to say truth, the silence of my own household, which used to be merry at this season.

“I enclose the article on Pepys. It is totally uncorrected, so I wish of course much to see it in proof if possible, as it must be dreadfully inaccurate; the opiate was busy with my brain when the beginning was written, and as James Ballantyne complains wofully, so will your printer, I doubt. The subject is like a good sirloin, which requires only to be basted with its own drippings. I had little trouble of research or reference; perhaps I have made it too long, or introduced too many extracts—if so, use the pruning-knife, hedgebill, or axe, ad libitum. You know I don’t care a curse about what I write or what becomes of it.

“To-morrow, snow permitting, we go into Edinburgh; mean-time ye can expect no news from this place. I
saw poor Chiefswood the other day. Cock-a-pistol* sends his humble remembrances. Commend me a thousand times to the magnanimous
Johnnie. I live in hopes he will not greatly miss Marion and the red cow. Don’t let him forget poor ha-papa. Farewell, my dear Lockhart: never trouble yourself about writing to me, for I suspect you have enough of that upon hand.

“Pardon my sending you such an unwashed, uncombed thing as the enclosed. I really can’t see now to read my own hand, so bad have my eyes or my fingers or both become.—Always yours affectionately,

Walter Scott.”
To the Same.
“Edinburgh, January 20, 1826.
“My dear Lockhart,

“I have your kind letter. Whenever I heard that Constable had made a cessio fori, I thought it became me to make public how far I was concerned in these matters, and to offer my fortune so far as it was prestable, and the completion of my literary engagements—(the better thing almost of the two) to make good all claims upon Ballantyne and Co.; and even supposing that neither Hurst and Co. nor Constable and Co. ever pay a penny they owe me, my old age will be far from destitute—even if my right hand should lose its cunning. This is the very worst that can befall me; but I have little doubt that, with ordinary management, the affairs of those houses will turn out favourably. It is needless to add that I will not engage myself, as Constable desires, for L.20,000 more—or L.2000—or L.200. I have

* A gardener, by name James Scott, who lived at a place called popularly Cock-a-pistol, because the battle of Melrose (A.D. 1526) began there.

advanced enough already to pay other people’s debts, and must now pay my own. If our friend C. had set out a fortnight earlier, nothing of all this would have happened; but he let the hour of distress precede the hour of provision, and he and others must pay for it. Yet don’t hint this to him, poor fellow—it is an infirmity of nature.

“I have made my matters public, and have had splendid offers of assistance, all which I have declined, for I would rather bear my own burden than subject myself to obligation. There is but one way in such cases.

“It is easy, no doubt, for any friend to blame me for entering into connexion with commercial matters at all. But, I wish to know what I could have done better; excluded from the bar, and then from all profits for six years, by my colleague’s prolonged life. Literature was not in those days what poor Constable has made it; and, with my little capital, I was too glad to make commercially the means of supporting my family. I got but L.600 for the Lay of the Last Minstrel, and it was a price that made men’s hair stand on end—L.1000 for Marmion. I have been far from suffering by James Ballantyne. I owe it to him to say, that his difficulties, as well as his advantages, are owing to me. I trusted too much to Constable’s assurances of his own and his correspondents’ stability, but yet I believe he was only sanguine. The upshot is just what Hurst and Co. and Constable may be able to pay me; if 15s. in the pound, I shall not complain of my loss, for I have gained many thousands in my day. But while I live I shall regret the downfall of Constable’s house, for never did there exist so intelligent and so liberal an establishment. They went too far when money was plenty, that is certain; yet if every author in Britain had taxed himself half a year’s income, he should have kept up the house which
first broke in upon the monopoly of the London trade, and made letters what they now are.

“I have had visits from all the monied people, offering their purses—and those who are creditors, sending their managers and treasurers to assure me of their joining in and adopting any measures I may propose. I am glad of this for their sake, and for my own—for although I shall not desire to steer, yet I am the only person that can cann, as Lieutenant Hatchway says, to any good purpose. A very odd anonymous offer I had of L.30,000,* which I rejected, as I did every other. Unless I die, I shall beat up against this foul weather. A penny I will not borrow from any one. Since my creditors are content to be patient, I have the means of righting them perfectly, and the confidence to employ them. I would have given a good deal to have avoided the coup d’ eclat; but that having taken place, I would not give sixpence for any other results. I fear you will think I am writing in the heat of excited resistance to bad fortune. My dear Lockhart, I am as calm and temperate as you ever saw me, and working at Woodstock like a very tiger. I am grieved for Lady Scott and Anne, who cannot conceive adversity can have the better of them, even for a moment. If it teaches a little of the frugality which I never had the heart to enforce when money was plenty, and it seemed cruel to interrupt the enjoyment of it in the way they liked best it will be well.

“Kindest love to Sophia, and tell her to study the song† and keep her spirits up. Tyne heart, tyne all; and it is making more of money than it is worth to grieve about it. Kiss Johnnie for me. How glad I am fortune carried you to London before these reverses happened, as they would have embittered parting, and made it

* Sir Walter never knew the name of this munificent person,

† “Up with the bonnets of Bonnie Dundee.”

resemble the boat leaving the sinking ship.—Yours, dear
Lockhart, affectionately,

Walter Scott.”

From Sir Walter’s letters of the same period, to friends out of his own family, I select the following:

To J. B. S. Morritt, Esq. &c. Marine Terrace, Brighton.
“Edinburgh, 6th February, 1826.
“My dear Morritt,

“It is very true I have been, and am in danger, of a pecuniary loss, and probably a very large one, which, in the uncertainty, I look at as to the full extent, being the manly way of calculating such matters, since one may be better, but can hardly be worse. I can’t say I feel overjoyed at losing a large sum of hard-earned money in a most unexpected manner, for all men, considered Constable’s people secure as the Bank; yet, as I have obtained an arrangement of payment convenient for every body concerned, and easy for myself, I cannot say that I care much about the matter. Some economical restrictions I will make; and it happened oddly that they were such as Lady Scott and myself had almost determined upon without this compulsion. Abbotsford will henceforth be our only establishment; and during the time I must be in town, I will take my bed at the Albyn Club. We shall also break off the rather excessive hospitality to which we were exposed, and no longer stand host and hostess to all that do pilgrimage to Melrose. Then I give up an expensive farm, which I always hated, and turn all my odds and ends into cash. I do not reckon much on my literary exertions—I mean in proportion to former success—because popular taste may fluctuate. But with a moderate degree of the favour which I have always had, my time my own, and my
mind unplagued about other things, I may boldly promise myself soon to get the better of this blow.

“In these circumstances, I should be unjust and ungrateful to ask or accept the pity of my friends. I for one, do not see there is much occasion for making moan about it. My womankind will be the greater sufferers,—yet even they look cheerily forward; and, for myself, the blowing off my hat in a stormy day has given me more uneasiness.

“I envy your Brighton party, and your fine weather. When I was at Abbotsford the mercury was down at six or seven in the morning more than once. I am hammering away at a bit of a story from the old affair of the diablerie at Woodstock in the Long Parliament times. I don’t like it much. I am obliged to hamper my fanatics greatly too much to make them effective; but I make the sacrifice on principle; so, perhaps, I shall deserve good success in other parts of the work. You will be surprised when I tell you that I have written a volume in exactly fifteen days. To be sure, I permitted no interruptions. But then I took exercise, and for ten days of the fifteen attended the Court of Session from two to four hours every day. This is nothing, however, to writing Ivanhoe when I had the actual cramp in my stomach; but I have no idea of these things preventing a man from doing what he has a mind. My love to all the party at Brighton—fireside party I had almost said, but you scorn my words—seaside party then be it. Lady Scott and Anne join in kindest love. I must close my letter, for one of the consequences of our misfortunes is, that we dine every day at half-past four o’clock; which premature hour arises, I suppose, from sorrow being hungry as well as thirsty. One most laughable part of our tragic comedy was, that every friend in the world came formally, just as they do here
when a relation dies, thinking that the eclipse of les beaux yeux de ma cassette was perhaps a loss as deserving of consolation.

“We heard an unpleasant report that your nephew was ill. I am glad to see from your letter it is only the lady, and in the right way; and I hope, Scottice loquens, she will be worse before she is better. This mistake is something like the Irish blunder in Faulkner’s Journal, “For his Grace the Duchess of Devonshire was safely delivered—read her Grace the Duke of Devonshire, &c.”—Always yours, affectionately,

Walter Scott.

“P.S. Will you do me a favour? Set fire to the Chinese stables; and if it embrace the whole of the Pavilion, it will rid me of a great eye-sore.”

To Lady Davy, 26, Park Street, London.
“6th February, 1826.
“My dear Lady Davy,

“A very few minutes since, I received your kind letter, and answer it in all frankness, and, in Iago’s words, ‘I am hurt, ma’am, but not killed’—nor even kilt. I have made so much by literature, that, even should this loss fall in its whole extent, and we now make preparations for the worst, it will not break, and has not broken my sleep. If I have good luck, I may be as rich again as ever; if not, I shall have still far more than many of the most deserving people in Britain—soldiers, sailors, statesmen, or men of literature.

“I am much obliged to you for your kindness to Sophia, who has tact, and great truth of character, I believe. She will wish to take her company, as the scandal said ladies liked their wine, little and good; and I need not say I shall be greatly obliged by your conti-
nued notice of one you have known now for a long time. I am, between ourselves, afraid of the
little boy; he is terribly delicate in constitution, and so twined about the parents’ hearts, that——But it is needless croaking; what is written on our foreheads at our birth shall be accomplished. So far I am a good Moslem.

Lockhart is, I think, in his own line, and therefore I do not regret his absence, though, in our present arrangement, as my wife and Anne propose to remain all the year round at Abbotsford, I shall be solitary enough in my lodgings. But I always loved being a bear and sucking my paws in solitude, better than being a lion and ramping for the amusement of others; and as I propose to slam the door in the face of all and sundry for these three years to come, and neither eat nor give to eat, I shall come forth bearish enough, should I live, to make another avatar. Seriously, I intend to receive nobody, old and intimate friends excepted, at Abbotsford this season, for it cost me much more in time than otherwise.

“I beg my kindest compliments to Sir Humphry, and tell him Ill Luck, that direful chemist, never put into his crucible a more indissoluble piece of stuff than your affectionate cousin and sincere well-wisher,

Walter Scott.”

I offer no cold comments on the strength of character which Sir Walter Scott exhibited in the crisis of his calamities. But for the revelations of his Diary it would never have been known to his most intimate friends, or even to his own affectionate children, what struggles it cost him to reach the lofty serenity of mind which was reflected in all his outward conduct and demeanour.

As yet, however, he had hardly prepared himself for
the extent to which
Constable’s debts exceeded his assets. The obligations of that house amounted, on a final reckoning, to L.256,000; those of Hurst and Robinson to somewhere about L.300,000. The former paid, ultimately, only 2s. 9d. in the pound; the latter about 1s. 3d.

The firm of James Ballantyne and Co. might have allowed itself to be declared bankrupt, and obtained a speedy discharge, as the bookselling concerns did, for all its obligations; but that Sir Walter Scott was a partner. Had he chosen to act in the manner commonly adopted by commercial insolvents, the matter would have been settled in a very short time. The creditors of Ballantyne and Co.—(whose claims, including sheafs of bills of all descriptions, amounted to L.117,000)—would have brought into the market whatever property, literary or otherwise, he at the hour of failure possessed; they would have had a right to his life-rent of Abbotsford, among other things—and to his reversionary interest in the estate, in case either his eldest son or his daughter-in-law should die without leaving issue, and thus void the provisions of their marriage-contract. All this being brought into the market, the result would have been a dividend very far superior to what the creditors of Constable and Hurst received; and in return, the partners in the printing firm would have been left at liberty to reap for themselves the profits of their future exertions. Things were, however, complicated in consequence of the transfer of Abbotsford in January, 1825. At first, some creditors seem to have had serious thoughts of contesting the validity of that transaction; but a little reflection and examination satisfied them that nothing could be gained by such an attempt. But, on the other hand, Sir Walter felt that he had done wrong in placing any
part of his property beyond the reach of his creditors, by entering into that marriage-contract, without a previous most deliberate examination into the state of his responsibilities. He must have felt in this manner, though I have no sort of doubt, that the result of such an examination in January 1825, if accompanied by an instant calling in of all counter-bills, would have been to leave him at perfect liberty to do all that be did upon that occasion. However that may have been, and whatever may have been his delicacy respecting this point, he regarded the embarrassment of his commercial firm, on the whole, with the feelings not of a merchant but of a gentleman. He thought that by devoting the rest of his life to the service of his creditors, he could, in the upshot, pay the last farthing he owed them. They (with one or two paltry exceptions) applauded his honourable intentions and resolutions, and partook, to a large extent, in the self-reliance of their debtor. Nor had they miscalculated as to their interest. Nor had Sir Walter calculated wrongly. He paid the penalty of health and life, but he saved his honour and his self-respect:
“The glory dies not, and the grief is past.”

As soon as Parliament met, the recent convulsion in the commercial world became the subject of some very remarkable debates in the Lower House; and the Ministers, tracing it mainly to the rash facility of bankers in yielding credit to speculators, proposed to strike at the root of the evil by taking from private banks the privilege of circulating their own notes as money, and limiting even the Bank of England to the issue of notes of L.5 value and upwards. The Government designed that this regulation should apply to Scotland as well as England; and the northern public received the announcement with almost universal reprobation. The
Scotch banks apprehended a most serious curtailment of their profits; and the merchants and traders of every class were well disposed to back them in opposing the Ministerial innovation.
Scott, ever sensitively jealous as to the interference of English statesmen with the internal affairs of his native kingdom, took the matter up with as much zeal as he could have displayed against the Union had he lived in the days of Queen Anne. His national feelings may have been somewhat stimulated, perhaps, by his deep sense of gratitude for the generous forbearance which several Edinburgh banking-houses had just been exhibiting towards himself; and I think it need not be doubted, moreover, that the splendida bilis which, as the Diary shows, his own misfortunes had engendered, demanded some escape-valve. Hence the three Letters of Malachi Malagrowther, which appeared first in the Edinburgh Weekly Journal, and were afterwards collected into a pamphlet by the late Mr Blackwood, who, on that occasion, for the first time, had justice done to his personal character by “the Black Hussar of Literature.”

These diatribes produced in Scotland a sensation not, perhaps, inferior to that of the Drapier’s letters in Ireland; a greater one, certainly, than any political tract had excited in the British public at large since the appearance of Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution. They were answered most elaborately and acutely in the London Courier (then the semi-official organ of Lord Liverpool’s Government) by Sir Walter’s friend, the Secretary of the Admiralty, Mr Croker, who, perhaps, hazarded, in the heat of his composition, a few personal allusions that might as well have been spared, and which might have tempted a less good-natured antagonist to a fiery rejoinder. Meeting, however, followed meeting, and petition on petition came up with thousands
of signatures; and the Ministers erelong found that the opposition, of which Malachi had led the van, was, in spite of all their own speeches and Mr Croker’s essays, too strong and too rapidly strengthening, to be safely encountered. The Scotch part of the measure was dropt; and Scott, having carried his practical object, was not at all disposed to persist in a controversy which, if farther pursued, could scarcely, as he foresaw, fail to interrupt the kindly feelings that Croker and he had for many years entertained for each other, and also to aggravate and prolong, unnecessarily, the resentment with which several of his friends in the Cabinet had regarded his unlooked-for appearance as a hostile agitator.

I believe, with these hints, the reader is sufficiently prepared for resuming Sir Walter’s Diary.