« PreviousContinue »
Ballantyne's notion that he had imitated Mrs. Radcliffe in the so-called supernatural scenes only shows how destitute was the printer of any high degree of the critical faculty; and should anyone have missed the real point of the story he may be set right by what the author says
in his Journal :“My object is not to excite fear of supernatural things in my reader, but to show the effect of such fear upon the agents in the story—one a man of sense and firmness (Col. Everard) -one a man unhinged by remorse (Harrison)-one a stupid uninspiring clown (Desborough)-one a learned and worthy, but superstitious divine (Holdenough).” To counterbalance the inseparable melancholy tinge, we have the roistering royalist Wildrake, whose single draught (the result of the new sobriety induced by his interview with Cromwell at Windsor)was limited to about a quart and a half, and who, waiting for his principal in a duel, preferred a bout with a clergyman's cane (which disarmed him) rather than lose the chance of a fencing match. There are no serious traces of declining power as yet in any direction. Edinburgh approved of Woodstock; and Edinburgh was always to Scott a harder critic than London.
“THE LIFE OF NAPOLEON": A GALLANT RALLY
700DSTOCK safely launched, and Malachi's
Letters ended, Scott's chief “task was again
the Life of Napoleon, on which for about another
year he expended an immense amount of labour. At Abbotsford he rose about seven, wrote or prepared material till breakfast, about ten ; afterwards wrote or studied again till one; then drove or walked with Tom Purdie—"sometimes chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy; sometimes attending to the humours of two curious little terriers of the Dandie Dinmont breed,” or those of Maida's successor. Then he dozed over the Journal till summoned to dinner—a simple meal of
soup and meat; then he spent half an hour with his family, and another with a cigar, whisky and water, and a novel; tea and chat preceding the final spell of work lasting till ten, after which a little bread and a glass of porter prepared the way for the night's rest.
One day he takes into his head to plant two or three acorns, “and judge by their success in growing whether I will succeed in clearing my way or not." He longs—"even at great loss”—to retire from Edinburgh altogether to his country home, where is no bile, no visits, no routine.
But a great sorrow now overshadowed his life. Lady Scott had never recovered from the shock of the preceding winter; and she died in May, 1826.
Late in April, Scott notes in his diary :
“Two melancholy things. Last night I left my pallet in my family apartment to make way for a female attendant when to return, or whether ever, God only can tell. Also my servant cut my hair, which used to be poor Charlotte's personal task. I hope she will not observe it."
Before the month closed there was an apparent rally, and Scott was able to betake himself again to his plantations. One day he is led into the woods by Tom Purdie, and strikes good strokes like the old King of Bohemia at Creçy; on another his eye is rejoiced at the sight of a hooded crow building among his new trees, thus belying the predictions of a pessimistic neighbour. But a gradual change for the worse soon took place in the condition of his “poor companion,' who did not dispel his fears by her smiles and assurances of improvement. On the both of May, when Scott left Abbotsford for Edinburgh to attend the summer sitting of the courts, his wife was sleeping, so that he said no farewell. He never saw her again.
He seemed to feel his loss more acutely afterwards than at the first shock, which left him “sometimes as firm as the Bass Rock, sometimes as weak as the wave that breaks on it.” But it was not long before he began to experience the terrible loneliness of one who was deprived of the sharer of his thoughts and counsels,
the helpmeet whose very foibles he deemed of service in giving him things to think of beyond his “weary self-reflections." His grief he suppressed in public—he looked upon a disconsolate widower as the most affected of characters—but when alone he felt it as a choking sensation. His daughter was for the time quite overcome by sorrow and nervous exhaustion. Lady Scott's funeral service was read by the future Dean Ramsay, author of the well-known Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character, a man cherished and esteemed by all who knew him.
Only very slowly did the effects of the great sorrow wear off, though hard work did much for the stoical sufferer; and despite pain and physical weakness there was much of that.
For instance, on June 12th, when the third volume of Napoleon was finished, we read in the Journal :
"I resumed it on the ist of June, the earliest period that I could bend my mind to it after my great loss (May 15). Since that time I have lived, to be sure, the life of a hermit, except attending the Court five days in the week for about three hours on an average. Except at that time I have been reading or writing on the subject of Boney,' and have finished last night, and sent to printer this morning the last sheets of fifty-two written since ist June. It is an awful screed; but grief makes me a housekeeper, and to labour is my only resource."
If we are not much concerned here with the value as history or literature of the Napoleon, we are greatly concerned with it as no small factor in the battle against the enemy, Debt. Thus we must follow rather minutely
the progress of the work. Before his bereavement Scott had done with the extended preliminary sketch of the French Revolution, and got fairly under way. On April 15th his day's task is to describe the siege of Toulon, where his hero first showed his abilities as a soldier. “Call that a task? D--n me, I'll write it as fast as Boney carried it on,” says the Journal. Ten days later he has got Bonaparte into Italy, where he has some difficulty, “with bad eyes and obscure maps," in tracing out his victorious chess-play. The day's "task” now is three pages of close writing, making twelve rather large printed ones-no light labour, to which the hope of saving from the stranger his flourishing plantations is a powerful incentive. In Edinburgh the work came harder, and the want of daily exercise (walking in town is “a sort of penance") made itself felt. After the writer has made poor Wurmser (the Austrian general) lay down his sword on the glacis of Mantua, he finds his own head and eyes, his back and breast—"and I am sure my heart": aching. And yet next day he had cleared half his day's (literary) work before breakfast! He might well remark: "These battles have been the death of many a man—I think they will be mine." However, it was consoling to find the critical Ballantyne approving.
Meanwhile, as the summer went on, Scott found some variety in continuing the first series of Chronicles of the Canongate, which he had begun when disabled by grief from toiling at the heavier task. He gazed again