Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

as it takes away of splendour. As Wordsworth says of the eclipse on the lake of Lugano

'Tis sunlight sheathed and gently charmed;" and I think there is at once a lightness and a polish of versification beyond what he has elsewhere attained. If it be a miniature, it is such a one as a Cooper might have hung fearlessly beside the masterpieces of Vandyke.

The Introductions contain some of the most exquisite passages he ever produced; but their general effect has always struck me as unfortunate. No art can reconcile us to contemptuous satire of the merest frivolities of modern life-some of them already, in twenty years, grown obsolete-interlaid between such bright visions of the old world of romance, when

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Strength was gigantic, valour high,
And wisdom soared beyond the sky,
And beauty had such matchless beam

As lights not now a lover's dream.”
The fall is grievous, from the hoary minstrel of Newark, and his fe-
verish tears on Killiekrankie, to a pathetic swain, who can stoop to
denounce as objects of his jealousy-

6 The landaulet and four blood bays

The Hessian boot and pantaloon."

Before Triermain came out, Scott had taken wing for Abbotsford ; and indeed he seems to have so contrived it in his earlier period, that he should not be in Edinburgh when any unavowed work of his was published ; whereas, from the first, in the case of books that bore his name on the title-page, he walked as usual to the Parliament House, and bore all the buzz and tattle of friends and acquaintance with an air of good-humoured equanimity, or rather total apparent indifference. The following letter, which contains some curious matter of more kinds than one, was written parlly in town and partly in the country:“ To Miss Joanna Baillie, Hampstead.

Edinburgh, March 13th, 1813. “MY DEAREST FRIEND,The pipasters have arrived safe, and I can hardly regret, while I am so much flattered by, the trouble you have had in collecting them. I have got some wild larch trees from Loch Katrine, and both are to be planted next week, when, God willing, I shall be at Abbotsford to superintend the operation. I bave got a little corner of ground laid out for a nursery, where I shall rear them carefuily till they are old enough to be set forth to push their fortune on the banks of Tweed. — What I shall finally make of this villa-work I don't know, but in the mean time it is very entertaining. I shall bave to resist very flattering invitations this season; for I have received hints, from thore quarters than one, that my bow would be acceptable at Carlton House in case I should be in London, which is very flattering, especially as there were some prejudices to be got over in that quarter. I should


be in some danger of giving new offence, too; for, although I ulterly disapprove of the present rash and ill-advised course of the princess, yet, as she always was most kind and civil to me, I certainly could not, as a gentleman, decline obeying any commands she might give me to wait upon her, especially in her present adversity. So, though I do not affect to say I should be sorry to take an opportunity of peeping at the splendours of royalty, prudence and economy will keep me quietly at home lill another day. My great amusement here this some time past has been going almost nightly to see John Kemble, who certainly is a great artist. It is a pity he shows too much of his machinery. I wish he could be double-caped, as they say of watches;- but the fault of too much sludy certainly does not belong to many of his tribe. He is, I think, very great in those paris especially where character is tinged by some acquired and systematic habits, like those of the Stoic philosophy in Calo and Brutus, or of misanthropy in Penruddock; but sudden turns and natural bursts of passion are not his forte. I saw him play Sir Giles Overreach (the Richard III, of middling life) last night; but he came not within a hundred miles of Cooke, whose terrible visage, and short, abrupt, and savage utterance, gave a reality almost to that extraordinary scene in which he boasts of his own successful villany to a nobleman of worth and honour, of whose alliance he is ambitious. Cooke contrived somehow to impress upon the audience the idea of such a monster of enormity as had learned to pique himself even upon his own atrocious character. But Kemble was too handsome, too plausible, and too smooth, to admit its being probable that he should be blind to the unfavourable impression which these extraordinary vaunts are likely to make on the person whom he is so anxious to conciliate.”

“ Abbotsford, 21st March. “This letter, begun in Edinburgh, is to take wing from Abbotsford. John Winnos (now John Winnos is the sub-oracle of Abbotsford, the principal being Tom Purdie) --John Windos pronounces that the pinaster seed ought to be raised at first on a hol-bed, and then transplanted to a nursery : so to a hot-bed they have been carefully consigoed, the upper oracle not objecting, in respect his talent lies in catching a salmon, or finding a hare sitting on which occasions (being a very complete Scrub) he solemnly exchanges his working jacket for an old green one of mine, and takes the air of one of Robin Hood's followers. His more serious employments are ploughing, harrowing, and overseeing all my premises; being a complete jack-of-all-trades, from the carpenter to the shepherd, nothing comes strange to him; and being extremely honest, and somewhat of a humourist, he is quite my right hand. I cannot help singing bis praises at this moment, because I have so many odd and out-of-the-way things to do, that I believe the conscience of many of our jog-trot countrymen would revolt at being made my instrument in sacrificing good corn-land to the visions of Mr Price's theory. Mr Pinkerton, the historian, has a play coming out at Edinburgh; it is by no means bad poetry, yet I think it will not be popular; the people come and go, and speak very notable things in good blank verse, but there is no very strong interest excited : the plot also is disagreeable and liable to the objections (though in a less degree) which bave been urged against the Mysterious Mother : it is to be acted on Wednesday; ) will let you know its fate. P., wilh whom I am in good habits, showed me the MS., but I referred him, with such praise as I could conscientiously bestow, to the players and the public. I don't know why one should take the task of damning a man's play out of the hands of the proper tribunal. Adieu, iny dear friend. I have scarce room for love to Miss, Mrs and Dr B.

WALTER Scott." To this I add a letter to Lady Louisa Stuart, who had sent him a copy of these lines, found by Lady Douglas on the back of a lattered bank note

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Farewell, my note, and wheresoe'er ye wend,
Shun gaudy scenes, and be the poor man's friend.
You've left a poor one, go to one as poor,

And drive despair and hunger from his door.”
It appears that these noble friends had adopted, or feigned to adopt,
the belief that the Bridal of Triermain was a production of Mr R. P.
Gillies-who had about this time published an imitation of Lord Byron's
Romaunt, under the title of “Childe Alarique.”

[merged small][ocr errors]

To the Lady Louisa Stuart, etc. etc. etc. Bothwell Castle.

“Abbotsford, 28th April, 1813. “Dear Lady LOUISA,—Nothing can give me more pleasure than to hear from you, because it is both a mosi aeceptable favour to me, and also a sign that your own spirits are recovering their tone. Ladies are, I think, very fortunate in having a resource in work at a time when the mind rejects intellectual amusement. Men have no resource but striding up and down the room, like a bird that beats itself to pieces against the bars of its cage; whereas needle-work is a sort of sedative, too mechanical to worry the mind by distracting it from the points on which its musings turn, yet graduaily assisting it in regaining steadiness and composure; for so curiously are our bodies and minds linked together, that the regular and constant employment of the former on any process, however dull and uniform, has the effect of tranquillizing, where it cannot disarm, the feelings of the other. I am very much pleased with the lines on the guinea note, and if Lady Douglas does not object I would willingly mention the circumstance in the Edinburgh Annual Register. I think it will give the author great delight to know that his lines bad attracted attention, and had sent the paper on which they were recorded, “heavendirected, to the poor.' Of course I would mention no names.

There was, as your Ladyship may remember, some years since, a most audacious and determined murder committed on a porter belonging to the British Linen Company's Bank at Leilh, who was stabbed to the heart in broad daylight, and robbed of a large sum in notes. * If ever this crime comes to light, it will be through the circumstance of an idle young feilow having written part of a playhouse song on one of the notes, which, however, has as yet never appeared in circulation.

“I am very glad you like Rokeby, which is nearly out of fashion and memory with me. It has been wonderfully popular, about ten thousand copies having walked off aiready, in about three months, and the demand continuing faster than it can be supplied. As to my imitator, the Knight of Triermain, I will endeavour to convey to Mr Gillies (puisque Gillies il est) your Ladyship’s very just strictures on the Introduction to the second Canto. But if he takes the opinion of a hacked old author like myself, he will content himself with avoiding such bevues in future, without attempting to mend those which are already made. There is an ominous old proverb which says, confess and be hanged; and truly if an author acknowledges his own blunders, I do not know who he can expect to stand by him; whereas, let him confess nothing, and he will always find some injudicious admirers to vindicate even his faults. So that I think after publication the effect of criticism should be prospective, in which point of view I daresay Mr G. will take your friendly hint, especially as it is confirmed by that of the best judges wbo have read the poem. Here is beautiful weather for April! an absolute snow-storm mortifying me to the core by retarding the growth of all my young trees and shrubs. Charlotte begs to be most respectfully remembered to your Ladyship and Lady D. We are realizing the nursery tale of the man and his wife who lived in a vinegar bottle, for our only sitting room is just twelve feet square, and my Eve alleges that I am too big for

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

* This murder, perpetrated in November, 1806, remains a mystery in 1836.

our paradise. To make amends, I have created a tolerable garden, occupying about an English acre, which I begin to be very found of. , When one passes forty, an addition to the quiet occupations of life becomes of real value, for I do not hunt and fish with quite the relish I did ten years ago. Adieu, my dear Lady Louisa, and all good allend you.

WALTER Scott."


Affairs of John Ballantyne and Co.-Causes of their Derangement-Letters of Scott

to his Partners-Negociation for Relief with Messrs Constable-New Purchase of Land at Abbotsford-Embarrassments continued-John Ballantyne's Expresses -Drumlanrig - Penrith, &c.-Scott's Meeting with the Marquis of Abercorn at Longtown--His Application to the Duke of Buccleuch-Offer of the Poet-Laureateship_Considered--and Declined—Address of the City of Edinburgh to the Prince-Regent-Its Reception-Civic Honours conferred on Scott-Question of Taxation on Literary Income-Letters to Mr Morritt-Mr Southey-Mr Richardson-Mr Crabbe-Miss Baillie and Lord Byron-1913.,

ABOUT a month after the publication of the Bridal of Triermain, the affairs of the Messrs Ballantyne, which had never apparently been in good order since the establishment of the bookselling firm, became so embarrassed as to call for Scoli's most anxious efforts to disentangle them. Indeed, it is clear that there had existed some very serious perplexity in the course of the preceding autumn; for Scott writes to John Ballanlyne, while Rokeby was in progress (August 11, 1912) —

“I have a letter from James, very anxious about your health and state of spirits. If you suffer the present inconveniences to depress you too much, you are wrong, and if you conceal any part of them, are very unjust to us all. I am always ready to make any sacrifices to do justice to engagements, and would rather sell any thing or every thing, than be less than true men to the world.”

I have already, perhaps, said enough to account for the general want of success in this publishing adventure; but Mr James Ballantyne sums up the case so briefly in his death-bed paper, that I may here quote his words.

[ocr errors]

My brother,” he says, though an active and pushing, 'was not a cautious bookseller, and the large sums received never formed an addition to slock. In fact, they were all expended by the partners, who, being then young and sanguine men, not unwillingly adopted my brother's hasty results. By May, 1813, in a word, the absolute throwing away of our own most valuable publications, and the rash adoption of some injudicious speculations of Mr Scott, had introduced such losses and embarrassments, that after a very careful consideration, Mr Scott determined to dissolve the concern."

He adds,

“ This became a maller of less dificully, because lime had in a great measurc


worn away ihe differences between Mr Scott and Mr Constable, and Mr Hunter was now out of Constable’s concern. A peace, therefore, was speedily made up, and the old habits of intercourse were restored.”

How reluctantly Scott had made up his mind to open such a negociation with Constable, as involved a complele exposure of the mismanagement of John Ballantyne's business as a publisher, will appear from a letter dated about the Christmas of 1812, in which he says to James, who had proposed asking Constable to take a share both in Rokeby and in the Annual Register,

“You must be aware, that in stating the objections which occur to me to taking in Constable, I think they ought to give way either to absolute necessity or to very strong grounds of advantage. But I am persuaded nothing ultimately good can be expected from any connexion with that house, unless for those who have a mind to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. We will talk the matter coolly over, and in the mean while, perhaps you could see W. Erskine, and learn what impression this odd union is like to make among your friends. Erskine is soundheaded, and quite to be trusted with your whole story. I must own I can hardly think the purchase of the Register is equal to the loss of credit and character which your surrender will be conceived to infer."

At the time when he wrote this, Scott no doubt anticipated that Rokeby would have success not less decisive than the Lady of the Lake; but in this expectation—though 10,000 copies in three months would have seemed to any other author a triumphant sale—he had been disappointed. And mean while the difficulties of the firm, accumulating from week to week, had reached, by the middle of May, a point which rendered it absolutely necessary for him to conquer all his scruples.

Mr Cadell, then Constable's partner, says in his Memoranda, -

“ Prior to this time the reputation of John Ballantyne and Co. had been decidedly on the decline. It was notorious in the trade that their general speculations had been unsuccessful ; they were known to be grievously in want of money. These rumours were realized to the full by an application which Messrs B. made 10 Mr Constable in May, 1813, for pecuniary aid, accompanied by an offer of some of the books they had published since 1809, as a purchase, along with various shares in Mr Scott's own poems. Their difficulties were admitted, and the negociation was pressed urgently; so much so, that a pledge was given, that if the ierms asked were acceded 10, John Ballantyne and Co. would endeavour to wind up their concerns and cease, as soon as possible, to be publishers.”

[ocr errors]

Mr Cadell adds :

[ocr errors]

“I need hardly remind you that this was a period of very great general difficulty in the money inarket. It was the crisis of the war. The public expenditure. had reached an enormous height ; and even the most prosperous mercantile houses were often pinched to sustain their credit. It may easily, therefore, be supposed that the Messrs Ballantyne had during many months besieged every banker's door in Edinburgh, and that their agents had done the like in London."

[ocr errors]

* Mr Hunter died in March, 1812.

« AnteriorContinuar »