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The Flitting” to Abbotsford—Plantations-George Thomson-Rokeby and Trier
main in progress-Excursion to Flodden-Bishop-Auckland—and Rokeby ParkCorrespondence with Crabbe-Life of Patrick Carey,&c.-Publication of Rokeby-and of the Bridal of Triermain-1812-1813.
TOWARDS the end of May, 1812, the Sheriff finally removed from Ashestiel to Abbotsford. The day when this occurred was a sad one for many a poor neighbour-for they lost, both in him and his wife, very generous protectors. In such a place, among the few evils which counter balance so many good things in the condition of the peasantry, the most afflicting is the want of access to medical advice.
As far as their means and skill would go, they had both dono their utmost to supply this want; and Mrs Scott, in particular, had made it so much her business to visit the sick in their scattered cottages, and bestowed on them the contents of her medecine-chest as well as of the larder and cellar, with such unwearied kindness, that her name is never mentioned there to this day without some expression of tenderness. Scoll's children remember the parting scene as one of unmixed affliclion-but it had had, as we shall see, its lighter features.
Among the many amiable English friends whom he owed to his frequent visits at Rokeby Park, there was, I believe, none that had a higher place in his regard than the late Anne Lady Alvanley, the widow of the celebrated Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. He was fond of female society in general, but her ladyship was a woman after his heart; well born, and highly bred, but without the slightest tinge of the frivolities of modern fashion; soundly informed and a warm lover of literature and the arts, but holding in as great horror as himself the imbecile chatter and affected ecstasies of the bluestocking generation. Her ladyship had written to him early in May, by Miss Sarah Smith (now Mrs Bartley), whom I have already mentioned as one of his theatrical favourites ; and his answer contains, among other matters, a sketch of the “Forest Flitting,"
“ To the Right Honourable Lady Alvanley.
Ashestiel, 25th May, 1812. “I was honoured, my dear Lady Alvanley, by the kind letter which you sent me with our friend Miss Smith, whose talents are, I hope, receiving at Edinburgh the full meed of honourable applause which they so highly merit. It is very much against my will that I am forced to speak of them by report alone, for this being the term of removing, I am uņder the necessity of being at this farm to superintend the transference of my goods and chattels, a most miscellaneous collection, to a small property, about five miles down the Tweed, which I purchased last year. The neighbours have been much deligbted with the procession of my furniture, in which old swords, bows, targets, and lances, made a very conspicuous show. A family of turkeys was accommodated within the helmet of some preux chevalier of ancient Border fame; and the very cows, for aught I know, were bearing banners and muskets. I assure your ladyship that this caravan, attended by a dozen of ragged rosy peasant children, carrying fishingrods and spears, and leading poneys, greyhounds, and spaniels, would, as it crossed the Tweed, have furnished no bad subject for the pencil, and really reminded me of one of the gypsey groupes of Callot upon their march.
' Edinburgh, 28th May. “I have got here at length, and had the pleasure to hear Miss Smith speak the Ode on the Passions charmingly last night. It was ber benefit, and the house was tolerable, though not so good as she deserves, being a very good girl, as well as an excellent performer.
“I have read Lord Byron with great pleasure, though pleasure is not quite the appropriate word. I should say admiration-mixed with regret, that the author should have adopted such an unamiable misanthropical tone. — The reconciliation with Holland-bouse is extremely edifying, and may teach young authors to be in no hurry to exercise their satirical vein. I remember an honest old Presbyterian, who thought it right to speak with respect even of the devil himself, since no one knew in what corner he might one day want a friend. But Lord Byron is young, and certainly has great genius, and has both time and capacity to make amends for his errors. I wonder it be will pardon the Edinburgh reviewers, who have read their recantation of their former strictures.
“Mrs Scott begs to offer her kindest and most respectful compliments to your ladyship and the young ladies. I hope we shall get into Yorksbire this season to see Morritt : he and his lady are really delightful persons. Believe me, with great respect, dear Lady Alvanley, your much honoured and obliged
6. Walter Scott.”
A week later, in answer to a letter, mentioning the approach of the celebrated sale of books in which the Roxburghe Club originaled, Scott says to his trusty ally, Daniel Terry :
« Edinburgh, 9th June, 1812. "MY DEAR TERRY,-1 wish you joy of your success, which, although all reports state it as most highly flattering, does not exceed what I had hoped for you. I think I shall do you a sensible pleasure in requesting that you will take a walk over the fields to Hampstead one of these fine days, and deliver the enclosed to my friend Miss Baillie, with whom, 1 flatter myself, you will be much pleased, as she has all the simplicily of real genius. I mentioned to her some time ago
that I wished to make you acquainted, so that the sooner you can call upon her the compliment will be the more gracious. As I suppose you will sometimes look in at the Roxburghe sale, a memorandum respecting any remarkable articles will . be a great favour.
“Abbotsford was looking charming, when I was obliged to mount my wheel in this court, too fortunate that I have at length some share in the roast meat I am daily engaged in turning. Our flitting and removal from Ashestiel baffled all description; we had twenty-four cart-loads of the veriest trash in nature, besides dogs, pigs, poneys, poultry, cows, calves, bare-headed wenches, and barebreeched boys. In other respects we are going on in the old way, only poor Percy is dead. I intend to have an old stone set up by his grave, with 'Cy gist li preux Percie,' and I hope future antiquaries will debate which hero of the house of Northumberland has left his bones in Teviotdale.* Believe me yours very
This was one of the busiest summers of Scott's busy life. Till the 12th of July he was at his post in the Court of Session five days every week; but every Saturday evening found him at Abbotsford, to observe the progress his labourers had made within doors and without in his absence; and on Monday night he returned to Edinburgh. Even before the Summer Session commenced he appears to have made some advance in his Rokeby, for he writes to Mr Morrift, from Abbotsford, on the Ath of May—“As for the house and the poem, there are twelve masoos hammering at the one and one poor noddle at the other-so they are both in progress;” and his literary labours throughout the long vacation were continued under the same sort of disadvantage. That autumn he had, in fact, no room at all for himself. parlour which had been hammered into any thing like habitable condition, served at once for dining-room, drawing-room, school-room and study. A window looking to the river was kept sacred to his desk; an old bed-curtain was nailed up across the room close behind his chair, and there, whenever the spade, the dibble, or the chisel (for he took his full share in all the work on hand) was laid aside, he pursued his poetical tasks, apparently undisturbed and unannoyed by the surrounding confusion of masons and carpenters, to say nothing of the lady's small talk, the children's babble among themselves, or their repetition of their lessons. The truth no doubt was, that when at his desk he did little more, as far as regarded poetry, than write down the lines which he had fashioned in his mind while pursuing his vocation as a planter, upon that bank which received originally, by way of joke, the title of the thicket. “Iam now," he says to Ellis (Oct. 17), " adorning a patch of naked land with trees facturis nepotibus umbram, for I shall never live to enjoy their shade myself otherwise than in the recumbent posture of Tityrus or Menalcas.” But he did live to see the
* The epitaph of this favourite greyhound may be seen on the edge of the bank, a little way below the house of Abbotsford.
thicket deserve not only that name, but a nobler one ; and to fell with his own hand many a well-grown tree that he had planted there.
Another plantalion of the same date, by his eastern boundary, was less successful. For this he had asked and received from his early friend, the Marchioness of Stafford, a supply of acorns from Trentham, and it was named in consequence Sutherland bower; but the field-mice, in the course of the ensuing winter, contrived to root up and devour the whole of her ladyship’s goodly benefaction. A third space had been set apart, and duly enclosed, for the reception of some Spanish chestnuts offered to him by an admirer established in merchandise at Seville; but that gentleman had not been a very knowing ally as lo such malters, for when the chestnuts arrived, it turned out that they had been boiled.
Scott writes thus to Terry, in September, while the Roxburghe sale was still going on :
“I have lacked your assistance, my dear sir, for lwenly whimsicalities this autumn. Abbotsford, as you will readily conceive, has considerably changed its face since the auspices of Mother Kelford were exchanged for ours. We have got up a good garden wall, complete stables in the haugh, according to Stark's plan, and the old farm-yard being enclosed with a wall, with some little picturesque additions in front, has much relieved the stupendous height of the Doctor's barn. The new plantations have thriven amazingly well, the acorns are coming up fast, and Tom Purdie is the bappiest and most consequential person in the world. My present work is building up the well with some débris from the Abbey. O for your assistance, for I am afraid we shall make but a botched job of it, especially as our materials are of a very miscellaneous complexion. The worst of all is, that while my trees grow and my fountain fills, my purse, in an inverse ratio, sioks to zero.
This last circumstance will, I fear, make me a very poor guest at the literary entertainment your researches hold out for me. I should, however, like much to have the Treatise on Dreams, by the author of the New Jerusalem, which, as John Cuthbertson the smith said of the minister's sermon, must be neat work. The Loyal Poems by N. T. are probably by poor Nahum Tate, who associated with Brady in versifying the Psalms, and more honourably with Dryden in the second part of Absalom and Achitophel. I never saw them, however, but would give a guinea or thirty shillings for the collection. Our friend John Ballantyne has, learn, made a sudden sally to London, and doubtless you will crush a quart with him or a pottle pot; he will satisfy your bookseller for The Dreamer,' or any other little purchase you may recommend for me.
You have pleased Miss Baillie very much both in public and in society, and though not fastidious, she is not, I think, particularly lavish of applause
A most valuable person is she, and as warm-hearted as she is brilJiant.—Mrs Scott and all our little folks are well. I am relieved of the labour of hearing Walter's lesson by a gallant son of the church, who with one leg of wood, and another of oak, walks lo apd fro from Melrose every day for that purpose. Pray stick to the dramatic work,* and never suppose either that you can be intrusive, or that I can be uninterested in wbatever concerns you. Yours,
"W. S.” The tutor alluded to at the close of this letter was Mr George Thomson, son of the minister of Melrose, who, when the house afforded
An edition of the British Dramatists had, I believe, been projected by Nir Terry.
beller accommodation, was and continued for many years to be domesticated at Abbotsford. Scott had always a particular tenderness towards persons afflicted with any bodily misfortune ; and Thomson, whose leg bad been amputated in consequence of a rough casualty of his boyhood, had a special share in his favour from the high spirit with which he refused at the time to betray the name of the companion that had occasioned his mishap, and continued ever afterwards to struggle against its disadvantages. Tall, vigorous, athletic, a dauntless horseman, and expert at the singlestick, George formed a valuable as well as picturesque addition to the tail of the new laird, who often said, “ In the Dominie, like mysell, accident has spoiled a capital lifeguardsman." His many oddilies and eccentricilies in no degree intersered with the respect due to his amiable feelings, upright principles, and sound learning ; nor did Dominie Thamson at all quarrel in after times with the universal credence of the neighbourhood that he had furnished many features for the inimitable personage whose designation so nearly resembled his own; and if he has not yet “wagged his head" in a pulpit o' his ain," he well knows it has not been so for want of earnest and long-continued intercession on the part of the author of Guy Manpering.
For many years Scott bad accustomed himself to proceed in the composition of poetry along with that of prose essays of various descriptions; but it is a remarkable fact that he chose this period of perpetual noise and bustle, when he had not even a summer-house to himself, for the new experiment of carrying on two poems at the same timeand this loo without suspending the heavy labour of his edition of Swift, to say nothing of the various lesser malters in which the Ballantynes were, from day to day, calling for the assistance of his judgment and his pen. In the same letter in which William Erskine acknowledges the receipt of the first four pages of Rokeby, he adverts also to the Bridal of Triermain as being already in rapid progress. The fragments of this second poem, inserted in the Register the preceding year, had attracted considerable notice; the secret of their authorship had been well kept; and by some means, even in the shrewdest circles of Edinburgh, the belief had become prevalent that they proceeded not from Scoit but from Erskine. Scott had no sooner. completed his bargain as to the copyright of the unwritten Rokeby, than he resolved to pause from lime to time in its composition, and weave those fragments into a shorter and lighter romance, executed in a different metre, and to be published anonymously, in a small pocket volume, as nearly as possible on the same day with the avowed quarto. He expected great amusement from the comparisons which the critics would no doubt indulge themselves in drawing between himself and this humble candidate ; and Erskine good-humouredly entered into the