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The Life of Buddha and Its Lessons By Henry Steel Olcott Characters: 12290

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Scott's modesty was not in danger, but so far as his prudence was concerned, his success did really lift him off his feet. In 1812, still more encouraged thereto by entering upon the emoluments of the office of Clerk of Sessions, the duties of which he had performed for six years without pay, he purchased Abbotsford, an estate on the Tweed, adjoining that of the Duke of Buccleugh, his kinsman, and near the beautiful ruins of Melrose Abbey. Here he began to carry out the dream of his life, to found a territorial family which should augment the power and fame of his clan. Beginning with a modest farm house and a farm of a hundred acres, he gradually bought, planted, and built, until the farm became a manorial domain and the farm house a castle. He had not gone far in this work before he began to realize that the returns from his poetry would never suffice to meet such demands as would thus be made upon his purse. Byron's star was in the ascendant, and before its baleful magnificence Scott's milder and more genial light visibly paled. He was himself the first to declare, with characteristic generosity, that the younger poet had "bet"[3] him at his own craft. As Carlyle says, "he had held the sovereignty for some half-score of years, a comparatively long lease of it, and now the time seemed come for dethronement, for abdication. An unpleasant business; which, however, he held himself ready, as a brave man will, to transact with composure and in silence."

But, as it proved, there was no need for resignation. The reign of metrical romance, brilliant but brief, was past, or nearly so. But what of prose romance, which long ago, in picking out Don Quixote from the puzzling Spanish, he had promised himself he would one day attempt? With some such questioning of the Fates, Scott drew from his desk the sheets of a story begun seven years before, and abandoned because of the success of The Lay of the Last Minstrel. This story he now completed, and published as Waverley in the spring of 1814-an event "memorable in the annals of British literature; in the annals of British bookselling thrice and four times memorable." The popularity of the metrical romances dwindled to insignificance before the enthusiasm with which this prose romance was received. A moment before quietly resolved to give up his place in the world's eye, and to live the life of an obscure country gentleman, Scott found himself launched once more on the tide of brave fortunes. The Ballantyne publishing and printing houses ceased to totter, and settled themselves on what seemed the firmest of foundations. At Abbotsford, buying, planting, and building began on a greater scale than had ever been planned in its owner's most sanguine moments.

The history of the next eleven years in Scott's life is the history, on the one hand, of the rapidly-appearing novels, of a fame gradually spreading outward from Great Britain until it covered the civilized world-a fame increased rather than diminished by the incognito which the "author of Waverley" took great pains to preserve even after the secret had become an open one; on the other hand, of the large-hearted, hospitable life at Abbotsford, where, in spite of the importunities of curious and ill-bred tourists, bent on getting a glimpse of the "Wizard of the North," and in spite of the enormous mass of work, literary and official, which Scott took upon himself to perform, the atmosphere of country leisure and merriment was somehow miraculously preserved. This life of the hearty prosperous country laird was the one toward the realization of which all Scott's efforts were directed; it is worth while, therefore, to see as vividly as may be, what kind of life that was, that we may the better understand what kind of man he was who cared for it. The following extract from Lockhart's Life of Scott gives us at least one very characteristic aspect of the Abbotsford world:

"It was a clear, bright September morning, with a sharpness in the air that doubled the animating influence of the sunshine; and all was in readiness for a grand coursing-match on Newark Hill. The only guest who had chalked out other sport for himself was the staunchest of anglers, Mr. Rose; but he, too, was there on his shelty, armed with his salmon-rod and landing-net.... This little group of Waltonians, bound for Lord Somerville's preserve, remained lounging about, to witness the start of the main cavalcade. Sir Walter, mounted on Sibyl, was marshalling the order of procession with a huge hunting-whip; and among a dozen frolicsome youths and maidens, who seemed disposed to laugh at all discipline, appeared, each on horseback, each as eager as the youngest sportsman in the troop, Sir Humphrey Davy, Dr. Wollaston, and the patriarch of Scottish belles-lettres, Henry Mackenzie.... Laidlow (the steward of Abbotsford) on a strong-tailed wiry Highlander, yclept Hoddin Grey, which carried him nimbly and stoutly, although his feet almost touched the ground, was the adjutant. But the most picturesque figure was the illustrious inventor of the safety-lamp (Sir Humphrey Davy) ... a brown hat with flexible brim, surrounded with line upon line of catgut, and innumerable fly-hooks; jackboots worthy of a Dutch smuggler, and a fustian surtout dabbled with the blood of salmon, made a fine contrast with the smart jacket, white-cord breeches, and well-polished jockey-boots of the less distinguished cavaliers about him. Dr. Wollaston was in black; and with his noble serene dignity of countenance might have passed for a sporting archbishop. Mr. Mackenzie, at this time in the seventy-sixth year of his age, with a hat turned up with green, green spectacles, green jacket, and long brown leathern gaiters buttoned upon his nether anatomy, wore a dog-whistle round his neck.... Tom Purdie (one of Scott's servants) and his subalterns had preceded us by a few hours with all the grey-hounds that could be collected at Abbotsford, Darnick, and Melrose; but the giant Maida had remained as his master's orderly, and now gamboled about Sibyl Grey barking for mere joy like a spaniel puppy.

"The order of marc

h had all been settled, when Scott's daughter Anne broke from the line, screaming with laughter, and exclaimed, 'Papa, papa, I knew you could never think of going without your pet!' Scott looked round, and I rather think there was a blush as well as a smile upon his face, when he perceived a little black pig frisking about his pony, evidently a self-elected addition to the party of the day. He tried to look stern, and cracked his whip at the creature, but was in a moment obliged to join in the general cheers. Poor piggy soon found a strap round its neck, and was dragged into the background; Scott, watching the retreat, repeated with mock pathos, the first verse of an old pastoral song-

What will I do gin my hoggie die?

My joy, my pride, my hoggie!

My only beast, I had na mae,

And wow, but I was vogie!

-the cheers were redoubled-and the squadron moved on."

Let us supplement this with one more picture, from the same hand, showing Scott in a little more intimate light. The passage was written in 1821, after Lockhart had married Scott's eldest daughter, and gone to spend the summer at Chiefswood, a cottage on the Abbotsford estate:

"We were near enough Abbotsford to partake as often as we liked of its brilliant and constantly varying society; yet could do so without being exposed to the worry and exhaustion of spirit which the daily reception of new-comers entailed upon all the family, except Scott himself. But in truth, even he was not always proof against the annoyances connected with such a style of open house-keeping.... When sore beset at home in this way, he would every now and then discover that he had some very particular business to attend to on an outlying part of his estate, and craving the indulgence of his guests overnight, appear at the cabin in the glen before its inhabitants were astir in the morning. The clatter of Sibyl Grey's hoofs, the yelping of Mustard and Spice, and his own joyous shout of réveillée under our windows, were the signal that he had burst his toils, and meant for that day to 'take his ease in his inn.' On descending, he was found to be seated with all his dogs and ours about him, under a spreading ash that overshadowed half the bank between the cottage and the brook, pointing the edge of his woodman's axe, and listening to Tom Purdie's lecture touching the plantation that most needed thinning. After breakfast he would take possession of a dressing-room upstairs, and write a chapter of The Pirate; and then, having made up and despatched his packet for Mr. Ballantyne, away to join Purdie wherever the foresters were at work ... until it was time to rejoin his own party at Abbotsford or the quiet circle of the cottage. When his guests were few and friendly, he often made them come over and meet him at Chiefswood in a body towards evening.... He was ready with all sorts of devices to supply the wants of a narrow establishment; he used to delight particularly in sinking the wine in a well under the brae ere he went out, and hauling up the basket just before dinner was announced,-this primitive device being, he said, what he had always practised when a young housekeeper, and in his opinion far superior in its results to any application of ice; and in the same spirit, whenever the weather was sufficiently genial, he voted for dining out of doors altogether."

Few events of importance except the successive appearances of "our buiks" as Tom Purdie called his master's novels, and an occasional visit to London or the continent, intervened to break the busy monotony of this Abbotsford life. On one of these visits to London, Scott was invited to dine with the Prince Regent, and when the prince became King George IV, in 1820, almost the first act of his reign was to create Scott a baronet. Scott accepted the honor gratefully, as coming, he said, "from the original source of all honor." There can well be two opinions as to whether this least admirable of English kings constituted a very prime fountain of honor, judged by democratic standards; but to Scott's mind, such an imputation would have been next to sacrilege. The feudal bias of his mind, strong to start with, had been strengthened by his long sojourn among the visions of a feudal past; the ideals of feudalism were living realities to him; and he accepted knighthood from his king's hand in exactly the same spirit which determined his attitude of humility towards his "chief," the Duke of Buccleugh, and which impelled him to exhaust his genius in the effort to build up a great family estate.

There were already signs that the enormous burden of work under which he seemed to move so lightly, was telling on him. The Bride of Lammermoor, The Legend of Montrose, and Ivanhoe, had all of them been dictated between screams of pain, wrung from his lips by a chronic cramp of the stomach. By the time he reached Redgauntlet and St. Ronan's Well, there began to be heard faint murmurings of discontent from his public, hints that he was writing too fast, and that the noble wine he had poured them for so long was growing at last a trifle watery. To add to these causes of uneasiness, the commercial ventures in which he was interested drifted again into a precarious state. He had himself fallen into the bad habit of forestalling the gains from his novels by heavy drafts on his publishers, and the example thus set was followed faithfully by John Ballantyne. Scott's good humor and his partner's bad judgment saddled the concern with a lot of unsalable books. In 1818 the affairs of the book-selling business had to be closed up, Constable taking over the unsalable stock and assuming the outstanding liabilities in return for copyright privileges covering some of Scott's novels. This so burdened the veteran publisher that when, in 1825, a large London firm failed, it carried him down also-and with him James Ballantyne, with whom he had entered into close relations. Scott's secret connection with Ballantyne had continued; accordingly he woke up one fine day to find himself worse than beggared, being personally liable for one hundred and thirty thousand pounds.

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