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THE SICK MAN'S ROMANCES
RUEL as had been Scott's sufferings during the composition of Rob Roy, they were nothing to
what he endured while the third series of Tales of My Landlord and the greater part of Ivanhoe were being written.
His illness not only kept him for some time from his official duties, but postponed his intended journey to London, where he had been called to receive the honour of a baronetcy. He was at first reluctant to accept a dignity which his means might not adequately support ; but the death of his wife's brother, who left money to his children, happened about this time, and he considered that his elevation might be of advantage to his eldest son, now entering the Army. His real feelings in the matter were thus expressed to Lady Abercorn :
"As some witty fellow will quote Falstaff's speech on Sir Walter Blunt, 'I like not such grinning honour as Sir Walter hath,' pray remember I made this quotation first myself.”
For some months the great Scotsman lay at his house in Edinburgh at death's door—so near to it, in fact, that he actually assembled his family and took leave of them. But his powerful constitution, aided a little by medical counsel, carried him through the crisis, though his hair
turned white and he was never quite the same man afterwards. So rapid was his final recovery that a fortnight after he had been lying helpless in a hot bathhe compared himself in this condition to a salmon which is easily speared as it hides motionless among stones and rocks—he was again on horseback. Scott was mightily diverted at hearing that one day, when he had been at his worst, an eccentric old nobleman (brother to the great advocate Lord Erskine) had almost forced his way into the sick-room in order to take his leave of him and to exhibit a plan he had made for the funeral procession, which he undertook himself to conduct to Dryburgh (his own appointed place of burial), there to be graced with an éloge in the French style. This nobleman, the Earl of Buchan, with all his absurdity, was as able as he was odd. Lockhart has commemorated his “handsome old head," and Sir Walter has left on record that he gave him the first approbation he ever obtained from a stranger :
“ His caprice had led him to examine Dr. Adam's class when I, a boy twelve years old, and then in disgrace for some aggravated case of negligence, was called up from a low bench, and recited my lesson with some spirit and appearance of feeling the poetry-it was the apparition of Hector's ghost in the Æneidwhich called forth the noble Earl's applause. I was very proud of this at the time."
So it was that, when in after years he followed Lord Buchan's remains to the grave in Dryburgh Abbey, he felt something at parting with the old man, “though
but a trumpery body” and a "prince of bores,” but "I never saw him in his best days."
Lockhart visited Abbotsford during the spring vacation in the interval between one attack of illness and the next. He heard Scott read a ballad which he had translated from the German to reassure himself as to the state of his own mind, and a few hours later was shocked beyond measure at the results. The groans which the most stoical endurance were unable to suppress, were audible not only all over the house, but even to a considerable distance from it. Yet the next morning Scott would not hear of his leaving, and by eleven o'clock was ready to show him Yarrow and to do some electioneering for the Selkirkshire Tories. This twenty-mile ride he took to drive away the fumes of the laudanum he had had to swallow; and next day he rode west to show Lockhart Teviotdale and the route which the old forayers took when invading England. The visitor left Abbotsford half expecting that he had seen the last of his host, who, though able to return to Edinburgh, was soon again struck down—so that there was a prevalent impression when The Bride of Lammermoor and The Legend of Montrose appeared in June that they were destined to be the last works of the Great Unknown. These two stories were dictated by Scott, partly to Laidlaw, partly to John Ballantyne, in the intervals of his agony. When entreated by the amanuensis to stop work, he only replied with a request that the doors might be made fast: "I would fain keep
all the cry as well as the wool to ourselves; but as to giving over work, that can only be when I am in woollen.” He would even, when the dialogue grew brisk, rise from the sofa and walk about the room to give additional animation to his enunciation.
The author got the outline of his Lammermoor tragedy from no less a person than his own mother, who just lived long enough to discuss upon her deathbed the difference between her son's fiction and the facts as she knew them. The original of the Bride's mother, whose headstrong will causes the catastrophe, was Margaret, Lady Stair, wife of one of the most learned and able of Scottish judges. This lady enjoined upon her family that her coffin should not be buried, but should stand on end in Kirkliston churchyard, having the fancy that this would secure them continued prosperity. The popular belief easily magnified this whim into a compact with the devil. She was a determined and masterful woman, and her relations with her daughter Janet were possibly much like those described in the novel as subsisting between Lucy Ashton and her mother; and the scene in which Ravenswood's betrothed is compelled to renounce him was founded very closely upon an account of an interview which took place between Lord Rutherford and Lord Stair's wife and daughter. The horrible circumstances that followed the forced marriage between the bride and her mother's choice were copied by the novelist, who, however, makes the unfortunate lover perish in the Kelpie's Flow instead
of completing the tragedy with the husband's death by a horse accident some years after. By the introduction of Blind Alice and her prophecy Scott enhanced and directed the tragic bent of the story, and inspired, it can scarcely be doubted, by memories of the Weird Sisters in Macbeth, called in the aid of grotesque horror by bringing in the fearful figures of the witchlike old women Ailsie Gourlay and Annie Winnie to lay out
This is among the most powerful passages in all Scott's works.
Caleb Balderstone, the resourceful old retainer, who was ready to do anything for the honour of the family, was often talked of as a gross caricature; but Scott was able to parallel his achievement of carrying off for his master the best dish of the village cooper's christening feast by an amply authenticated story which he had heard from the old Earl of Haddington, and indeed many of his characteristics were touched off after the old Scottish serving-man as the author knew him by experience and tradition. The period of the story has been advanced from the time of Charles II. to that of Queen Anne.
As to the identification of Ravenswood's ruined castle of Wolf's Crag with Fast Castle on the Berwickshire coast, the author did not disclaim it, as the vicinity of the Lammermuir Hills and the general aspect of the seaboard lent colour to the fancied resemblance ; but he himself had never, he pointed out, seen Fast Castle except from the water. The Bride of Lammermoor, besides being the subject of an opera in