Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Writing Scotland

‘November 9th, 1829

Dined to-day with Byng and met Tom Moore, who was very agreeable; he told us a great deal about his forthcoming 'Life of Byron.' He is nervous about it; he is employed in conjunction with Scott and Mackintosh to write a history of England for one of the new publications like the Family Library. Scott is to write Scotland, Mackintosh England, and Moore Ireland; and they get £1,000 apiece; but Scott could not compress his share into one volume, so he is to have £1,500. The republication of Scott's works will produce him an enormous fortune; he has already paid off £30,000 of the Constable bankruptcy debt, and he is to pay the remaining £30,000 very soon. A new class of readers is produced by the Bell and Lancaster schools, and this is the cause of the prodigious and extensive sale of cheap publications. Moore had received a letter from Madame de Guiccioli to-day; he says she is not handsome. Byron's exploits, especially at Venice, seem to have been marvellous. Moore said he wrote with extraordinary rapidity, but his corrections were frequent and laborious. When he wrote the address for the opening of Drury Lane Theatre, he corrected it repeatedly.’

An entry from diarist Charles Greville.  Scott deliberated over whether to accept the offer to complete an abridged history of Scotland from his other writings, as he recorded in his journal dated April 16, 1829.

‘…The post brought matter for a May or April morning—a letter from Sir James Mackintosh, telling me that Moore and he were engaged as contributors to Longman's Encyclopædia, and asking me to do a volume at £1000, the subject to be the History of Scotland in one volume. This would be very easy work. I have the whole stuff in my head, and could write currente calamo. The size is as I compute it about one-third larger than The Tales of my Grandfather. There is much to be said on both sides. Let me balance pros and cons after the fashion of honest Robinson Crusoe. Pro.—It is the sum I have been wishing for, sufficient to enable me to break the invisible but magic circle which petty debts of myself and others have traced round me. With common prudence I need no longer go from hand to mouth, or what is worse, anticipate my means. I may also pay off some small shop debts, etc., belonging to the Trust, clear off all Anne's embarrassment, and even make some foundation of a purse for her. N.B.—I think this whacking reason is like to prove the gallon of Cognac brandy, which a lady recommended as the foundation of a Liqueur. "Stop, dear madam, if you please," said my grandfather, Dr. Rutherford, "you can [add] nothing to that; it is flaconnadé with £1000," and a capital hit, egad. Contra.—It is terribly like a hack author to make an abridgement of what I have written so lately. Pro.—But a difference may be taken. A history may be written of the same country on a different plan, general where the other is detailed, and philosophical where it is popular. I think I can do this, and do it with unwashed hands too. For being hacked, what is it but another word for being an author? I will take care of my name doubtless, but the five letters which form it must take care of me in turn. I never knew name or fame burn brighter by over chary keeping of it. Besides, there are two gallant hacks to pull with me. Contra.—I have a monstrous deal on hand. Let me see: Life of Argyll,  and Life of Peterborough for Lockhart.  Third series Tales of my Grandfather—review for Gillies—new novel—end of Anne of Geierstein. Pro.—But I have just finished too long reviews for Lockhart. The third series is soon discussed. The review may be finished in three or four days, and the novel is within a week and less of conclusion. For the next, we must first see how this goes off. In fine, within six weeks, I am sure I can do the work and secure the independence I sigh for. Must I not make hay while the sun shines? Who can tell what leisure, health, and life may be destined to me?
Adjourned the debate till to-morrow morning.’


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