Friday, December 31, 2010

Charles Edward Stuart

The year ends with a remembrance of the birth of Bonnie Prince Charlie, which occurred on December 31, 1720.  With his father in exile, Prince Charlie was born in Rome, under the protection of Pope Clement XI.

Charles Stuart and the rising of 1745, which aimed to restore the Stuart's to the throne, form the backdrop for Walter Scotts' 'Waverley".  Scott depicts Stuart's personal qualities favorably, based on sources included in notes to "Waverley":

'That Charles Edward had the advantages of a graceful presence, courtesy, and an address and manner becoming his station, the author never heard disputed by any who approached his person, nor does he conceive that these qualities are overcharged in the present attempt to sketch his portrait.

The following extracts corroborative of the general opinion respecting the Prince's amiable disposition are taken from a manuscript account of his romantic expedition, by James Maxwell of Kirkconnell, of which I possess a copy, by the friendship of J. Menzies, Esq., of Pitfoddells. The author, though partial to the Prince, whom he faithfully followed, seems to have been a fair and candid man, and well acquainted with the intrigues among the adventurer's council:--

'Everybody was mightily taken with the Prince's figure and personal behaviour. There was but one voice about them. Those whom interest or prejudice made a runaway to his cause could not help  acknowledging that they wished him well in all other respects, and could hardly blame him for his present undertaking. Sundry things had concurred to raise his character to the highest pitch, besides the greatness of the enterprise and the conduct that had hitherto appeared in the execution of it....'

Thursday, December 30, 2010

George Huntly Gordon

December 30 [1825]'...Dined alone with Gordon, Lady S., and Anne. James Curle, Melrose, has handsomely lent me £600; he has done kindly. I have served him before and will again if in my power.

The Gordon referred to in this December 30 entry from Scott's Journal, was George Huntly Gordon, who served as an amanuensis for Scott.  JG Lockhart discusses Scott meeting the younger Gordon in his "Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott":

'It may perhaps be remembered, that Sir Walter's cicerone over Waterloo, in August 1815, was a certain Major. Pryse Gordon, then on half-pay and resident at Brussels. The acquaintance, until they met at Sir Frederick Adam's table, had been very slight—nor was it ever carried further; but the Major was exceedingly attentive during Scott's stay, and afterwards took some pains about collecting little reliques of the battle for Abbotsford. One evening the poet supped at his house, and there happened to sit next him the host's eldest son, then a lad of nineteen, whose appearance and situation much interested him. He had been destined for the Church of Scotland, but, as he grew up, a deafness, which had come on him in boyhood, became worse and worse, and at length his friends feared that it must incapacitate him for the clerical function. He had gone to spend the vacation with his father, and Sir Frederick Adam, understanding how he was situated, offered him a temporary appointment as a clerk in the Commissariat, which he hoped to convert into a permanent one, in case the war continued. At the time of Scott's arrival that prospect was wellnigh gone, and the young man's infirmity, his embarrassment, and other things to which his own memorandum makes no allusion, excited the visitor's sympathy. Though there were lion-hunters of no small consequence in the party, he directed most of his talk into the poor clerk's ear-trumpet; and at parting, begged him not to forget that he had a friend on Tweedside....'

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

William Ewert Gladstone

William Ewert Gladstone was a very successful public servant, serving four times as Chancellor of the Exchequer, as a member of Parliament, and as Prime Minister, retiring at the age of 84.  He was also an enthusiastic Walter Scott fan.  According to Clayton Windscheffel, in his article for The Scottish Historical Review titled Gladstone and Scott: family, identity and nation:

'Amongst the poet-novelist's nineteenth-century political admirers, William Ewart Gladstone was possibly the most ardent, genuine, and significant. Scott's poems and novels were amongst the earliest texts Gladstone read; he read no works (in English), except the Bible, so consistently or completely over such a length of time. They offered him a plethora of inspirations, ideas, and language, which he imbibed and appropriated into his public and private lives. His concept of self, his understanding of family, and his sense of home, were all forged and conducted within a Scottian frame of reference. Scott's life and works also crucially influenced Gladstone's political understanding of the Scottish nation and its people, and his conception of how he could best serve their political interests. ...'

It is the long-lived Gladstone's birth that is celebrated on December 29.  The year was 1809.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rob Roy MacGregor

'Far and near, through vale and hill,
Are laces that attest the same,
And kindle like a fire new stirr'd
At sound of Rob Roy's name.'
Most people are familiar with Rob Roy MacGregor, at least from the movie with Liam Neeson playing the lead role.  The text above comes from Walter Scott's introduction to his "Rob Roy", which according to Edinburgh University's Walter Scott site was well received, both critically and with the public.  Scott provides background to the action of his story in the intro: 'There had been a long and bloody feud betwixt the MacGregors and the Laird of Luss, head of the family of Colquhoun, a powerful race on the lower part of Loch Lomond. The MacGregors' tradition affirms that the quarrel began on a very trifling subject. Two of the MacGregors being benighted, asked shelter in a house belonging to a dependant of the Colquhouns, and were refused. They then retreated to an out-house, took a wedder from the fold, killed it, and supped off the carcass, for which (it is said) they offered payment to the proprietor. The Laird of Luss seized on the offenders, and, by the summary process which feudal barons had at their command, had them both condemned and executed. The MacGregors verify this account of the feud by appealing to a proverb current amongst them execrating the hour {Mult dhu an carbail ghiT) that the black wedder with the white tail was ever lambed. To avenge this quarrel the Laird of MacGregor assembled his clan, to the number of three or four hundred men, and marched towards Luss from the banks of Loch Long, by a pass called Raid na Gael, or the Highlandman's Pass...'
Rob Roy fought with Jacobites in the risings of 1688 and 1715, the year "Rob Roy" the novel is set in.  Rob Roy's career as a cattleman developed after this period, and it was dealings with James Graham that caused him to be imprisoned.  Rob Roy MacGregor died on December 28, 1734.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Engagement

'When this treaty (which was called the Engagement, because the Commissioners engaged to restore the King by force of arms) was presented to the Scottish Parliament, it was approved by the more moderate part of the Presbyterians, who were led by the Duke of Hamilton, together with his brother, the Earl of Lanark, the Lord Chancellor Loudon, and the Earl of Lauderdale; this last being destined to make a remarkable figure in the next reign.  But the majority of the Presbyterian clergy, headed by the more zealous of their hearers, declared that the concessions of the King were entirely insufficient to engage Scotland in a new war, as affording no adequate cause for a quarrel with England.  This party was headed by the Duke of Argyle...'

The Engagement between Charles I of England and Covenanters was agreed to on December 27, 1647 (per Rampant Scotland).  Charles was confined in Carisbrooke Castle (wikipedia image) at the time.  Under the terms of this agreement, Scotland agreed to invade England to restore Charles to his throne, while Charles conceded the right to practice Presbyterianism for three years.  Sir Walter Scott covered this history in his "Tales of a Grandfather" (text above).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Battle of Pultusk

On December 26, 1806, the Battle of Pultusk took place.  Russian troops under German general Levin Bennigsen defeated Napoleon Bonaparte's forces, which were under the command of Marshal Jean Lannes.  Sir Walter Scott covered this battle in his "The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte":

'On the 25th of November, the Russian army of Bennigsen, closely concentrated, occupied a position behind Pultusk ; their left, commanded by Count Ostreman, resting upon the town, which is situated on tha river Narew. A corps occupied the bridge, to prevent any attack from that point. The right, under Barclay de Tolly, was strongly posted in a wood, and the centre was under the orders of General Zachen. A considerable plain extended between the town of Pultusk and the wood, which formed the right of the Russian position. They had stationed a powerful advanced guard, had occupied the plain with their cavalry, and established a strong reserve in their rear. On the 26th, the Russian position was attacked by the French divisions of Lannes and Davoust, together with the French guards. After skirmishing some time in the centre, without making the desired impression, the battle appeared doubtful, when, suddenly assembling a great strength on their own left, the French made a decisive effort to overwhelm the Russians, by turning their right wing. The attack prevailed to a certain extent. The accumulated and superior weight of fire, determined Barclay de Tolly to retreat on his reserves, which he did without confusion, while the French seized upon the wood, and took several Russian guns. But Bennigsen, in spite of Kaminskoy's order to retreat, was determined to abide the brunt of battle, and to avail himself of the rugged intrepidity of the troops which he commanded. Ordering Barclay de Tolly to continue his retreat, and thus throwing back his right wing, he enticed the French, confident in victory, to pursue their success, until the Russian cavalry , which had covered the manoeuvre, suddenly withdrawing, they found themselves under a murderous and welldirected fire from one hundred and twenty guns, which, extending along the Russian front, played on the French advancing columns with the utmost success. The Russian line at the same time advanced in turn, and pushing the enemy before them, recovered the ground from which they had been driven. The approach of night ended the combat, which had been both obstinate and bloody. The French lost near eight thousand men, killed and wounded, including General Lannes and five other general officers among the latter. The Russian loss amounted to five thousand. The French retreated after nightfall with such rapidity, that on the next day the Cossacks could not find a rear-guard in the vicinity of Pultusk...'

Saturday, December 25, 2010


On Christmas Day, a poem title 'Christmas' by Sir Walter Scott (from


The glowing censers, and their rich perfume;
The splendid vestments, and the sounding choir;
The gentle sigh of soul-subduing piety;
The alms which open-hearted charity
Bestows, with kindly glance; and those
Which e'en stern avarice.
Though with unwilling hand,
Seems forced to tender; an offering sweet
To the bright throne of mercy; mark
This day a festival.

And well our Christian sires of old
Loved when the year its course had roll'd,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all its hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honour to the holy night.
On Christmas eve the bells were rung,
On Christmas-eve the mass was sung;
That only night in all the year
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donn'd her Kirtle sheen;
The hall was dress'd with holly green;
Then open'd wide the baron's hall,
To vassal -- tenant -- serf and all:
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And ceremony doff'd his pride.
All hail'd with uncontroll'd delight,
And general voice, the happy night,
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.

Friday, December 24, 2010

George Crabbe

English poet George Crabbe was born this day, December 24th, in the year 1754.  Nearly 17 years Walter Scott's senior, he died just seven months before Scott (in February1832).  In addition to his work as a poet, Crabbe served as a priest for the Duke of Rutland, living at Belvoir Castle.

Crabbe's most famous poems, The Village and The Borough, focus on village life.  Crabbe developed a friendship with Scott due to his poetry.  It was Scott who initiated contact, as related in Rene Louis Huchon's "George Crabbe and his Times, 1754 - 1832; a critical and biographical study":

'In this comparatively sedentary life, the year 1822 is marked by an event of some importance—a journey to Edinburgh. A correspondence had arisen in 1812 between Crabbe and Sir Walter Scott. The latter, hearing that the Tales in Verse were about to be Published, had bespoken a copy at Hatchard's, and had afterwards intimated his entire satisfaction with the work in a highly eulogistic letter addressed to the publisher. Hatchard hastened to send it to Crabbe, who at once expressed his deep gratitude to the writer. " I have," he says, " long entertained a hearty wish to be made known to a poet whose works are so greatly and so universally admired. I continued to hope that I might at some time find a common friend, by whose intervention I might obtain that honour; but I am confined by duties near my home and by sickness in it. . . . Excuse me then, Sir, if I gladly seize this opportunity which now occurs to express my thanks for the politeness of your expressions, as well as my desire of being known to a gentleman who has delighted and affected me, and moved all the passions and feelings in turn, I believe—envy surely excepted. ... I truly rejoice in your success, and while I am entertaining, in my way, a certain set of readers, for the most part probably of peculiar turn and habit, I can with pleasure see the effect you produce on all." Scott replied by return of post with marked cordiality. He fully snared Crabbe's wish. " It is more than twenty years ago," he added, " that I was, for great part of a very snowy winter, the inhabitant of an old house in the country, in a course of poetical study, so very like that of your admirably painted ' Young Lad,' that I could hardly help saying, ' That's me!'"' And Scott, being unable to procure the poems themselves, had learnt by heart all the extracts from them given by The Annual Register—the conclusion of the first book of The Village, and the satire on the romantic novels in The Library: " You may therefore guess my sincere delight when I saw your poems at a later period assume the rank in the public consideration which they so well deserve. It was a triumph to my own immature taste to find I had anticipated the applause of the learned and the critical."...'

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Samuel Smiles

Scottish author Samuel Smiles was born on December 23, 1812.  Smiles is best known for his work titled "Self-Help", which sold more than a quarter million copies during his lifetime.  In "Self-Help",  Smiles dispensed wisdom such as: ' The spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in the individual; and, exhibited in the lives of many, it constitutes the true source of national vigour and strength. Help from without is often enfeebling in its effects, but help from within invariably invigorates. Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.'

Smiles also authored biographies, including "The Life of George Stephenson", and more directly related to Sir Walter Scott "A Publisher and his Friends. Memoir and Correspondence of the Late John Murray".  From that work:

 'Some of the most important events in Murray's career occurred during the first year of his married life. Chief among them may perhaps be mentioned his part share in the publication of "Marmion" (in February 1808)--which brought him into intimate connection with Walter Scott--and his appointment for a time as publisher in London of the Edinburgh Review; for he was thus brought into direct personal contact with those forces which ultimately led to the chief literary enterprise of his life--the publication of the Quarterly Review.

Mr. Scott called upon Mr. Murray in London shortly after the return of the latter from his marriage in Edinburgh.

"Mr. Scott called upon me on Tuesday, and we conversed for an hour....

He appears very anxious that 'Marmion' should be published by the King's birthday....

He said he wished it to be ready by that time for very particular reasons; and yet he allows that the poem is not completed, and that he is yet undetermined if he shall make his hero happy or otherwise."...'

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Air of Bonnie Dundee

December 22, 1825 finds Sir Walter in a fine mood,.  Among other things that day, he records 'The air of "Bonnie Dundee" running in my head to-day, I [wrote] a few verses to it before dinner, taking the key-note from the story of Clavers leaving the Scottish Convention of Estates in 1688-9....'

The full poem is published in "Scott's Poetical Works".

To the Lords of Convention 'twas Clavers who spoke,
'Ere the King's crown shall fall there are crowns to be broke;
So let each Cavalier who loves honour and me,
Come follow the bonnet of Bonny Dundee.

Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can,
Come saddle your horses, and call up your men;
Come open the West Port and let me gang free,
And it's room for the bonnets of Bonny Dundee!

Dundee he is mounted, he rides up the street,
The bells are rung backward, the drums they are beat;
But the Provost, douce man, said, "Just e'en let him be,
The Gude Town is weel quit of that Deil of Dundee."...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Coventry Act

"May go to the devil for a self-conceited ass. One pleasure of this twist of intrigue is, to revenge me of that villain, who thought himself so essential, that, by Heaven! he forced himself on my privacy, and lectured me like a schoolboy. Hang the cold-blooded hypocritical vermin! If he mutters, I will have his nose slit as wide as Coventry's.[*]--Hark ye, is the Colonel come?"

"I expect him every moment, your Grace."

[*] The ill-usage of Sir John Coventry by some of the Life Guardsmen, in revenge of something said in Parliament concerning the King's theatrical amours, gave rise to what was called Coventry's Act, against cutting and maiming the person.

According to "The Book of Days", the slitting to the bone of Sir John Coventry's nose that Sir Walter Scott employs in the text of "Peveril of the Peak", occurred on December 21, 1669.  "Peveril of the Peak" is set in the Popish Plot of 1678.  The plot was entirely fictitious, and served anti-Catholic ends.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Church of Scotland

The first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was held on December 20, 1560.  Sir Walter Scott's view on religion, as expressed in his novels, has been less than expressly stated.  One perspective on his treatment of religion is contained in a note in "A Handbook of the Church of Scotland", by James Rankin.  'While Sir Walter in many passages has done the Church of Scotland injustice, and religion itself harm, by caricaturing the Covenanters, faithfulness has prevailed in such instances as the character of a moderate minister of the eighteenth century above quoted [good Mr. Morton]; and still more notably in the character of Dr. Erskine, given in "Guy Mannering", chap xxxvii, and in that of Rueben Butler, in "The Heart of Midlothian", chap li.'

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Empty Easel

JMW Turner's passing was posted last year.  Turner worked with Sir Walter Scott on Scott's "Provincial Antiquities of Scotland", and "Poetical Works".  From American philosopher Elbert Hubbard comes the following on the collaboration between the two: 'One spot in Turner's life over which I like to linger is his friendship with Sir Walter Scott. They collaborated in the production of "Provincial Antiquities," and spent many happy hours together tramping over Scottish moors and mountains. Sir Walter lived out his days in happy ignorance concerning the art of painting, and although he liked the society of Turner, he confessed that it was quite beyond his ken why people bought his pictures.

"And as for your books," said Turner, "the covers of some are certainly very pretty."

Yet these men took a satisfaction in each other's society, such as brothers might enjoy, but without either man appreciating the greatness of the other. '

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

Per Rampant Scotland, the Society of Antiquaries was formed on December 18, 1780.  From Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume 4, comes the following Walter Scott related entry:  '..." Of the same class, also, is another slab figured here, the drawing of which was made by George Scott, the friend of Mungo Park, who accompanied him to Africa, aud died there. It was forwarded to the Society of Antiquaries by Sir Walter Scott in 1828, who described the original as a rough sandstone, about six feet long hy perhaps two and a half broad, which was raised by the plough at a place called Annan Street, upon the farm of Whitehope. The drawing is designated, probably by the original draftsman,—'A Druid stone found at Annan Street, figured with thr sun and moon.' Little doubt can be entertained that it had formed the cover of a cist, though few probably will now be inclined to attempt s. solution of the '•uigmatic devices rudely traced on its surface. The spot where it was found is about half a mile from the church at Yarrow, and close by there are two large stones, about 120 yards apart, which are believed to mark the scene of the memorable struggle that has given ' The dowie houms of Yarrow' so touching a place in the beautiful legendary poetry of Scotland.'

...With this drawing the following detailed MS. account was found:—

" Memoranda received by me from Sir Walter Scott, in regard to the drawing in Indian ink upon the other side. ' Edinburgh 9th March 1828

(Signed) " E. W. A. Drummond Hay."

" The drawing was made by (? George) Scott, who accompanied Mungo Park to Africa, and died there. " The original is a rough sandstone about six feet long, by perhaps two and a half feet broad, which was raised by the plough at a place called Annan Street, upon the farm of Wheathope, belonging to his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch.

" The place is about half a mile from the church of Yarrow, and is said at some remote period to have been the site of an ecclesiastical building. There are two largo fragments of rock at the distance of about 120 yards from each other. Here the memorable duel is said to have taken place, which gave occasion to Hamilton's ballad of ' Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny, bonny bride;' and other ballads on the same subject. The common tradition is, that both the knights, whose names are reported to have been Scott, fell in the duel.

" Sir Walter Scott had the good fortune of preserving this curious relic of antiquity, which, from circumstances which he does not think worthy (of) record, he had accidentally discovered was about to be blown up with gunpowder some years ago."

This paper is marked on the back :—

"Notice by Sir Waiter Scott of an anciently Inscribed Stone found at Annan Street, of which a drawing is annexed."

These memoranda, by Mr Hay, after a conversation with Sir Walter Scott, formed the subject of a communication on the 24th March 1828, when the Indian-ink sketch was presented by him from Sir Walter Scott to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

The sketch has written on it the following descriptive title:—

" Selkirkshire,

" Druid stone found at Annan Street, figured with ye sun and moon."

This title however, instead of being in the handwriting of the original draftsman, according to Dr "Wilson's idea, is undoubtedly in the handwriting of Sir Walter Scott himself; and I may state that my friend Mr David Laing quite agrees with me on this point.

In the third volume of the second edition of the " Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," published in 1803, page 73, Sir Walter Scott, with his well-known fondness for giving to any floating tradition or song a local habitation and a name, fixes upon this locality of Annan Street, with its standing stones, as the scene of the tragedy described in the old ballad of the " Dowie Dens of Yarrow," which is supposed to have suggested to Hamilton of Bangour his much admired ballad, " Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny, bonny bride." In Sir Walter's introductory notes to this ballad he says :—

" The name of the murderer is said to have been Annan, and the place of combat is still called Annan's Treat. It is a low moor, on the banks of the Yarrow, lying to the west of Yarrow Kirk. Two tall unhewn masses of stone are erected, about eighty yards distant from each other ; and the least child that can herd a cow will tell the passenger that here lie ' the two lords who were slain in single combat.' "...'

Friday, December 17, 2010

Drake Norris Expedition

'...But war was again raging, the history of Sir Francis Drake, Captain Morgan, and other bold adventurers, an account of whose exploits he had purchased from Bryce Snailsfoot, had made much impression on his mind, and the ofl'er of Captain Cleveland to take him to sea, frequently recurred to him, although the pleasure of such a project was somewhat damped by a doubt, whether, in ihe long run, he should not find many objections to his proposed commander. Thus much he already saw, that he was opinionative, and might probably prove arbitrary; and thai, since even his kindness was mingled with an assumption of superiority, his occasional displeasure might contain a great deal more of that disagreeable ingredient than could be palatable to those who sailed under him. And yet, after counting nll risks, could his father's consent be obtained, with what pleasure, he thought, would he embark in quest of new scenes and strange adventures, in which he proposed to himself to achieve such deeds as should be the theme of many a tale to the lovely sisters of Burgh-Westra—tales at which Minna should weep, and Brenda should smile, and both should marvel!...'

Part of the history of Sir Francis Drake alluded to in Walter Scott's "The Pirate" (above) was an attempted invasion of Spain in 1589, the year after the Spanish Armada was defeated by the English.  Drake led this expedition, which had a primary aim of sinking the survivors of the Armada.  There was also to be an invasion at Lisbon led by Sir John Norreys (Norris).

In "Sir Francis Drake: A Pictorial Biography" by Hans P. Kraus, a view of the financing for this expedition is provided.  It shows funding provided by Queen Elizabeth (£16k), Drake and other "adventurers" (£10k combined).  The document, which is dated December 17, 1588, was saved by diarist John Evelyn, and is available for online viewing at the Library of Congress Rare Books Reading Room

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lord Protector

'He started at first, rousing himself with the sensation of one who awakes in a place unknown to him; but the localities instantly forced themselves on his recollection. The lamp burning dimly in the socket, the wood fire almost extinguished in its own white embers, the gloomy picture over the chimney-piece, the sealed packet on the table--all reminded him of the events of yesterday, and his deliberations of the succeeding night. "There is no help for it," he said; "it must be Cromwell or anarchy. And probably the sense that his title, as head of the Executive Government, is derived merely from popular consent, may check the too natural proneness of power to render itself arbitrary. If he govern by Parliaments, and with regard to the privileges of the subject, wherefore not Oliver as well as Charles? But I must take measures for having this conveyed safely to the hands of this future sovereign prince. It will be well to take the first word of influence with him, since there must be many who will not hesitate to recommend counsels more violent and precipitate."...'

The text above is from Walter Scott's "Woodstock", which is set in 1651; the English Civil War.  Oliver Cromwell figures prominently in this novel.  Cromwell became Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland on December 16, 1653.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Compleat Angler

Izaak Walton, the author of "The Compleat Angler", died on December 15, 1683.  Walton lived a long life; 90 years.  Fishing must have been good for Walton, whose early career was spent as an ironmonger. 

Sir Walter Scott provided an unsigned preface and notes to an edition of Walton's work published in 1821.  In a later edition, published by Wiley & Putnam in 1847, Charles Cotton's name is listed along with Walton's  This book contains a section titled "Some Account of the Life and Times of Charles Cotton", which contains the remark: 'The practical angler, though fresh from the study of Hofland, Chitty, or Ronald, will be gratified and instructed by reading Cotton after Walton, notwithstanding that Walter Scott says: "Walton's practice was entirely confined to bait-fishing...'

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Critique by William Taylor

'...Chalmers writes in great transports about Scott's versions; but weightier encouragement came from Mr. Taylor of Norwich, himself the first translator of the Lenore.

[Footnote 130: Some extracts from this venerable person's unpublished Memoirs of his own Life have been kindly sent to me by his son, the well-known physician of Chelsea College, from which it appears that the reverend doctor, and, more particularly still, his wife, a lady of remarkable talent and humor, had formed a high notion of Scott's future eminence at a very early period of his life. Dr. S. survived to a great old age, preserving his faculties quite entire, and I have spent many pleasant hours under his hospitable roof in company with Sir Walter Scott. We heard him preach an excellent circuit sermon when he was upwards of eighty-two, and at the Judges' dinner afterwards he was among the gayest of the company.]
I need not tell you, sir [he writes], with how much eagerness I opened your volume--with how much glow I followed The Chase--or with how much alarm I came to William and Helen. Of the latter I will say nothing; praise might seem hypocrisy--criticism envy. The ghost nowhere makes his appearance so well as with you, or his exit so well as with Mr. Spenser. I like very much the recurrence of

"The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,
The flashing pebbles flee;"

but of William and Helen I had resolved to say nothing. Let me return to The Chase, of which the metric stanza style pleases me entirely; yet I think a few passages written in too elevated a strain for the general spirit of the poem. This age leans too much to the Darwin style. Mr. Percy's Lenore owes its coldness to the adoption of this; and it seems peculiarly incongruous in the ballad--where habit has taught us to expect simplicity. Among the passages too stately and pompous, I should reckon--

"The mountain echoes startling wake--
And for devotion's choral swell
Exchange the rude discordant noise--
Fell Famine marks the maddening throng
With cold Despair's averted eye,"--

On December 14, 1796, William Taylor of Norwich wrote a letter to Sir Walter Scott, with the comments above.  The text was found in John Gibson Lockhart's "Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott".

Taylor was six years senior to Walter Scott, and outlived him by five years as well (lived between 1765 and 1836).  Taylor contributed to the interest in German literature that swept England and Scotland in the late 18th century.  In fact, Taylor has been referred to as "the founder of the Anglo-German school in England" (by G. Borrow).  Taylor's translation of Gottfried Burger's "Lenore" was influential to Coleridge and Wordsworth, for example.  Taylor also published a "Historic Survey of German Poetry" (1830), which provided an overview of the development from Old and Middle High German to the 19th century.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Samuel Johnson

Last year's post covered Samuel Johnson's death on December 13, 1784.  Walter Scott was an admirer of Johnson and his works.  In "Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott", author John Gibson Lockhart's discusses Scott meeting an individual whose life bridged the two: '... (May 9, 1828) This day, at the request of Sir William Knighton, I sat to Northcote, who is to introduce himself in the same piece in the act of painting me, like some pictures of the Venetian school. The artist is an old man, low in stature, and bent with years—fourscore at least. But the eye is quick and the countenance noble. A pleasant companion, familiar with recollections of Sir Joshua, Samuel Johnson, Burke, Goldsmith, etc. His account of the last confirms all that we have heard of his oddities...'

James Northcote is best known for his portraits.  The reference above describes Northcote's self portrait of himself painting Sir Walter Scott.  Northcote was among Johnson's circle of friends, and William Hazlitt's "Conversations of James Northcote, R.A." includes anecdotes in which Johnson appears:

' ...I remember once being at the Academy, when Sir Joshua wished to propose a monument to Dr. Johnson in St. Paul's, and West got up and said, that the King, he knew, was averse to anything of the kind, for he had been proposing a similar monument in Westminster Abbey for a man of the greatest genius and celebrity—one whose works were in all the cabinets of the curious throughout Europe—one whose name they would all hear with the greatest respect—and then it came out, after a long preamble, that he meant Woollett,1 who had engraved his Death of Wolfe. 

"I was provoked, and I could not help exclaiming, 'My God! what, do you put him upon a footing with such a man as Dr. Johnson—one of the greatest philosophers and moralists that ever lived? We have thousands of engravers at any time !' — and there was such a burst of laughter at this—Dance, who was a grave gentlemanly man, laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks; and Farington used afterwards to say to me, 'Why don't you speak in the Academy, and begin with "My God!" as you do sometimes 1" I said, I had seen in a certain painter something of this humour, who once very goodnaturedly showed me a Rubens he had, and observed with great nonchalance, "What a pity that this man wanted expression!" I imagined Rubens to have looked round his gallery. "Yet," he continued, "it is the consciousness of defect, too, that often stimulates the utmost exertions. If Pope had been a fine, handsome man, would he have left those masterpieces that he has 1 But he knew and felt his own deformity, and therefore was determined to leave nothing undone to extend that corner of power that he possessed. He said to himself, They shall have no fault to find there. I have often thought when very good-looking young men have come here intending to draw, 'What! are you going to bury yourselves in a garret 1' And it has generally happened that they have given up the art before long, and married or otherwise disposed of themselves."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Charles Mathews

December 12. [1825]—Dined at home, and spent the evening in writing—Anne and Lady Scott at the theatre to see Mathews; a very clever man my friend Mathews; but it is tiresome to be funny for a whole evening, so I was content and stupid at home.

Among the many people Sir Walter Scott knew was English actor Charles Mathews, whose play he missed on December 12, 1825.  Mathews was born five years later than Scott (June 28, 1776), and lived nearly an equal number of years, dying in 1835.  Like David Garrick before him, and many others, Mathews became interested in theater at an early age.  His acting career began in Dublin, in 1794.  It took until 1803 to act on the London stage, at the Haymarket.  Mathews was a comic actor, which explains Scott's comment in his journal above.  He has a couple of other literary connections, one of which is that he is thought to have inspired Dickens' character Alfred Jingle in "The Pickwick Papers".  His main legacy to the stage may have been his son, also Charles, who achieved greater fame than the father.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Louis XVI's Trial

The charge was treason.  It happened on December 11, 1792.  Sir Walter Scott covered it, including this poignant scene, in "The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte".

'It was the cruel resolution of his jailors to take the boy from his father on the very morning [December 11] when Louis was to undergo an interrogatory before the Convention. In other words, to give the deepest blow to his feelings, at the very moment when it was necessary he should combine his whole mental powers for defending his life against his subtle and powerful enemies.

This cruel measure produced in some respect the effect desired. The King testified more deep affliction than he had yet manifested. The child was playing at the game called Siam with his father, and by no effort could the dauphin get beyond the number sixteen, " That is a very unlucky number," said the child. This petty omen seemed soon accomplished by the commissioners of the Assembly, who, without deigning further explanation than that Louis must prepare to receive the Mayor of Paris, tore the child from his father, and left him to his sorrow. In about two hours, during which the trampling of many horses was heard, and a formidable body of troops with artillery were drawn up around the prison, the mayor appeared, a man called Chambon, weak and illiterate, the willing tool of the ferocious Commune in which he presided...'

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mons Meg

On December 10, 1825, Sir Walter Scott is ruminating over Wallace's Sword and the cannon Mons Meg: 'A third rogue writes to tell me—rather of the latest, if the matter was of consequence—that he approves of the first three volumes of the H[eart] of Midlothian, but totally condemns the fourth. Doubtless he thinks his opinion worth the sevenpence sterling which his letter costs. However, authors should be reasonably well pleased when three-fourths of their work are acceptable to the reader. The knave demands of me in a postscript, to get back the sword of Sir W[illiam] Wallace from England, where it was carried from Dumbarton Castle. I am not Master-General of the Ordnance, that I know. It was wrong, however, to take away that and Mons Meg. If I go to town this spring, I will renew my negotiation with the Great Duke for recovery of Mons Meg.'

Mons Meg was originally a gift from Burgundian Duke Philip the Good to James II of Scotland.  It was taken from Edinburgh Castle to Woolwich England in 1757.  Scott's efforts to secure its return were eventually successful, and Mons Meg was returned to Edinburgh Castle in 1829.  Scott included Mons Meg in "Rob Roy": 'Andrew Fairservice was far from acquiescing in these arguments of expedience, and even ventured to enter a grumbling protest, "That it was an unco change to hae Scotland's laws made in England; and that, for his share, he wadna for a' the herring-barrels in Glasgow, and a' the tobacco-casks to boot, hae gien up the riding o' the Scots Parliament, or sent awa' our crown, and our sword, and our sceptre, and Mons Meg, to be keep it by thae English pock-puddings in the Tower o' Lunnon.'

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Malcolm IV of Scotland

'In Malcolm's reign the lords of the Hebridean islands, who were in a state of independence, scarcely acknowledging even a nominal allegiance either to the crown of Scotland or that of Norway, though claimed by both countries, began to give much annoyance to the western coasts of Scotland, to which their light-armed galleys or birlins, and their habits of piracy, gave great facilities. Somerled was at this time lord of the isles, and a frequent leader in such incursions. Peace was made with this turbulent chief in 1153; but in 1164, ten years after, Somerled was again in arms, and fell, attempting a descent at Renfrew.

Malcolm IV. 's transactions with Henry of England were of greater moment. Henry (second of the name) had sworn (in 1149) that if he ever gained the English crown he would put the Scottish king in possession of Carlisle, and of all the country lying between Tweed and Tyne; but, when securely seated on the throne, instead of fulfilling his obligation, he endeavored to deprive Malcolm of such possessions in the northern counties as yet remained to him, forgetting his obligations to his great-uncle David, and his relationship to the young king his grandson. The youth and inexperience of Malcolm seem on this occasion to have been circumvented by the sagacity of Henry, who was besides, in point of power, greatly superior to the young Scots prince. Indeed, it would appear that the English sovereign had acquired a personal influence over his kinsman, of which his Scottish subjects had reason to be jealous. Malcolm yielded up to Henry all his possessions in Cumberland and Northumberland; and when it is considered that his grandfather David had not been able to retain them with any secure hold, even when England was distracted with the civil wars of Stephen and Matilda, it must be owned that his descendant, opposed to Henry II. in his plenitude of undisputed power, had little chance to make his claim good. He also did homage for Lothian, to the great scandal of Scottish historians, who, conceiving his doing so affected the question of Scottish independence, are much disposed 3

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

From "The Abbot"

"Ay, ay," replied the falconer, "Queen she was then, though you must not call her so now. Well, they may say what they will--many a true heart will be sad for Mary Stewart, e'en if all be true men say of her; for look you, Master Roland--she was the loveliest creature to look upon that I ever saw with eye, and no lady in the land liked better the fair flight of a falcon. I was at the great match on Roslin
Moor betwixt Bothwell--he was a black sight to her that Bothwell--and the Baron of Roslin, who could judge a hawk's flight as well as any man in Scotland--a butt of Rhenish and a ring of gold was the wager, and it was flown as fairly for as ever was red gold and bright wine. And to see her there on her white palfrey, that flew as if it scorned to touch more than the heather blossom; and to hear her voice, as clear and sweet as the mavis's whistle, mix among our jolly whooping and whistling; and to mark all the nobles dashing round her; happiest he who got a word or a look--tearing through moss and hagg, and venturing neck and limb to gain the praise of a bold rider, and the blink of a bonny Queen's bright eye!--she will see little hawking where she lies now--ay, ay, pomp and pleasure pass away as speedily as the wap of a falcon's wing."

Last year's post covered the birth of Mary Queen of Scots, on December 8, 1542. In the bit of text above from "The Abbot", Sir Walter Scott brings in much of her life after first husband Darnley's murder.  In particular, Earl Bothwell, who was related to the Sinclairs of Roslin is mentioned.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fuller's History of Abbeys

' ...I fell a-reading Fuller's History of Abbys, and my wife in Great Cyrus till twelve at night, and so to bed.'

On December 7, 1660, Samuel Pepys records (in his diary) reading Thomas Fuller's "The Church History of Britain", which includes (Book VI) "The History of Abbeys in England". Abbeys were an important part of Sir Walter Scott's life. Though it is not included in Fuller's work, Scott is buried at Dryburgh Abbey. According to, Dryburgh Abbey was once under the control of Walter Scott's great-grandfather, Thomas Halliburton. Halliburton's family eventually sold their right to the Abbey, but retained the right to family burial there (picture from wikipedia).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Alexander II Crowned at Scone

'Alexander II.'s reign, though active, busy, and abounding in events, yet exhibits few incidents of that deeply influential character which affect future ages. These events are rather to be considered in the gross than in particular detail, and we shall revert to them hereafter, only stating here generally that Alexander's battles chiefly took place in endeavoring to give currency to the law in those parts of his kingdom which were still Celtic.'

The blurb above, from Sir Walter Scott's "Scotland", gives a flavor of Alexander II's era.  Alexander was the son of William I, the Lion of Scotland.  The unfortunate sacking of Berwick by John of England took place under Alexander's watch.  Alexander II was crowned king on December 6, 1214.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Francis II of France

Francis II lived only 16 years, succeeding his father Henry II, dying of illness on December 5, 1560.  He is remembered mainly for being the king-consort to Mary Queen of Scots (from 1548), and her first husband.  Sir Walter Scott includes reference to Francis in the speech of Mary, in "The Abbot", which covers the time after Mary's escape from Lochleven:

"Look--look at him well," said the Queen, "thus has it been with all who loved Mary Stewart!--The royalty of Francis, the wit of Chastelar, the power and gallantry of the gay Gordon, the melody of Rizzio, the portly form and youthful grace of Darnley, the bold address and courtly manners of Bothwell--and now the deep-devoted passion of the noble Douglas--nought could save them!--they looked on the wretched Mary, and to have loved her was crime enough to deserve early death! No sooner had the victim formed a kind thought of me, than the poisoned cup, the axe and block, the dagger, the mine, were ready to punish them for casting away affection on such a wretch as I am!--Importune me not--I will fly no farther--I can die but once, and I will die here."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

William the Lion of Scotland

'William derived his cognomen of the Lion from his being the first who adopted that animal as the armorial bearing of Scotland. From this emblem the chief of the Scottish heralds is called Lion king at arms. Chivalry was fast gaining ground in Scotland at this time, as appears from the importance attached by William and his elder brother Malcolm to the dignity of knighthood, and also from the romantic exclamation of William, when he joined the unequal conflict at Alnwick, " Now shall we see the best knights."

William the Lion was a legislator, and his laws are preserved. He was a strict, almost a severe administrator of justice; but the turn of the age and the temper of his subjects required, that justice, which in a more refined period can and ought to make many distinctions in the classification of crimes, should in barbarous times seize her harvest with less selection. The blot of William's reign was his rashness at Alnwick, and the precipitation with which he bartered the independence of Scotland for his own liberty. But his dexterous negotiation with Richard I. enabled him to recover that false step, and to leave his kingdom in the same condition in which he found it. By his wife, Ermengarde de Beaumont, William had a son, Alexander, who succeeded to him. By illicit intrigues he left a numerous family.'
William I of Scotland died this day, December 4, in the year 1214.  Sir Walter Scott discusses this king in his "History of Scotland" (above).  William is remembered for leading a revolt against the England's Henry II, which culminated in his being captured at the Battle of Alnwick (1174).  With few options, William pledged his allegiance to Henry, by signing the Treaty of Falaise (Normandy) in December of that year.  It took another "lion", Henry's successor Richard the Lionheart to release William of his pledge.  Richard was in need of funds to support his crusade in the Holy Lands.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Robert Bloomfield

English poet Robert Bloomfield was born on December 3rd, 1766.  His most popular poem was 'The Farmers Boy', which was published in 1800.  It is Bloomfield's death in 1823 (August 19) that connects him to Sir Walter Scott.  Bloomfield's obituary was published in the "Edinburgh Annual Register" which Scott edited.
Mr Robert Bloomfield.

At Shefford, aged 57, Mr Robert Bloomfield, author of the Farmer's Boy, once very popular, and of other poems. He was the son of a poor tailor in Suffolk, was originally employed as a farmer's boy, and afterwards followed the employment of a shoemaker. Having, about 1800, finished his four poems on the rural employments of the seasons, he brought them to London to endeavour to get them published. His first application was to Mr Charles Dilly, who recommended him to the editor of the Monthly Magazine. He brought his poems to that office; and, though his unpolished appearance, his coarse hand-writing, and wretched orthography, afforded no prospect that his production could be printed, yet he found attention by his repeated calls, and by the humility of his expectations, which were limited to half-adozen copies of the Magazine. At length, on his name being announced when a literary gentleman, particularly conversant in rural economy, happened to be present, the poem was formally re-examined, and its general aspect excited the risibility of that gentleman in so pointed a manner, that Bloomfield was called into the room, and exhorted not to waste his time, and neglect his employment, in making vain attempts, and particularly in treading on the ground which Thomson had sanctified. His earnestness and confidence, however, led the editor to advise him to consult his countryman, Mr Capel Lofft, of Troston, to whom he gave him a letter of introduction. On his departure, the gentleman present warmly complimented the editor on the sound advice which he had given " the poor fellow ;" and, it was mutually conceived, that an industrious man was thereby likely to be saved from a ruinous infatuation. Bloomfield, however, visited Mr Lofft, and that kind-hearted and erudite man, entering sanguinely into his views, edited the work through the press, wrote a preface, and the poem appeared as a literary meteor. Its success was prodigious. The author was to divide the profits with the bookseller, and they soon shared above 1000/. a-piece. The reputation of the poem at length seemed so thoroughly established, that the bookseller offered to give Bloomfield an annuity of 200/. per annum for his half; but this he refused, in the confidence that it would produce him double. At length, however, new objects caught the public attention; the sale died away ; and, in three or four years, a small edition per annum only was required. All this was in the usual course; but Bloomfield, whose expectations had been unduly raised, keenly felt the reverse; he was obliged to seek other employment, and his health and spirits suffered in consequence. Other attempts produced but moderate recompense, and, becoming peevish, he entered into a paper-war with his patron, Mr Lofft, and lost the sympathy of many of his first friends. He was nevertheless a man of real genius; and, though the bloated popularity of his Farmer's Boy led to no permanent advantage, yet it had, and still has, admirers, some of whom never ceased to be kind to the author. His ambition, however, was disappointed; and, for some years, he was in a state of mental depression.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Battle of Austerlitz

'The Battle of Austerlitz, fought against an enemy of great valour but slender experience, was not of a very complicated character.  The Russians, we have seen, were extending their line to extend the French flank.  Marshal Davoust, with a division of infantry, and another of dragoons, was placed behind the convent of Raygern, to oppose the forces destined for this manoeuver, at the moment when they should conceive the point carried...'

The Battle of Austerlitz, covered in Sir Walter Scott's "The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte" (above), took place on December 2, 1805.  It was Napoleon's greatest victory, in which the Russians and Austrians were defeated.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kinnaird Head

Scotland's first lighthouse was officially installed on December 1, 1787.  Thomas Smith, the father-in-law of Robert Stevenson, who went on to build a family business out of lighthouses, gets credit for this installation.

Stevenson decided to destroy the lighthouse in 1824, but according to Historic Scotland, intervention on the part of Sir Walter Scott probably changed his mind

Further history on this lighthouse is available at: