Friday, July 16, 2010

Tom Purdie

July 16.—I made out my task-work and betook myself to walk about twelve. I feel the pen turn heavy after breakfast; perhaps my solemn morning meal is too much for my intellectual powers, but I won't abridge a single crumb for all that. I eat very little at dinner, and can't abide to be confined in my hearty breakfast. The work goes on as task-work must, slow, sure, and I trust not drowsy, though the author is. I sent off to Dionysius Lardner (Goodness be with us, what a name!) as far as page thirty-eight inclusive, but I will wait to add to-morrow's quota. I had a long walk with Tom. I am walking with more pleasure and comfort to myself than I have done for many a day. May Heaven continue this great mercy, which I have so much reason to be thankful for!

The Tom referred to in Scott's July 16, 1829 Journal entry is Tom Purdie, whom he met famously in perhaps his first duty as sherriff after moving into his Ashiestiel house.  Purdie was caught poaching on Scott's new property.  As related in "Abbotsford and Sir Walter Scott", by George King Matthews, Tom gave the " Sherra" such a deplorable account of his circumstances, in so simple and straightforward a manner, that Sir Walter took pity on his poverty; especially when he related that he had a wife and several bairns dependent upon him; and in his own dry humorous way he went on to state that he found work very scarce and game very plentiful, so he just "girned a-hare or twa to prevent them frae doing any mischief." And so by his quaint, humorous manner, Tom escaped the penalty of the law, and was at first taken into the employment of Sir Walter as shepherd, and by his good conduct was shortly afterwards raised to a position of more importance, in the service of Abbotsford; nor did he ever give the worthy Baronet cause to regret the trust he had placed in him, for never had master one more faithful to his interest than Tom Purdie was to Sir Walter Scott.

Matthews further describes the drawing of Purdie's character in "Red Gauntlet": It would be presumption in me to attempt a description of Tom Purdie after the great minstrel has limned him with his own hand in the pages of " Red Gauntlet," and Sir Walter's biographer has also added a few finishing touches worthy of the master himself, and both of which I must avail myself of before proceeding further with my narrative. " He was, perhaps, sixty years old," says Sir Walter, " yet his brow was not much furrowed, and his yet black hair was only grizzled, not whitened by the advance of age. All his motions spoke strength unabated; and though rather undersized, he had very broad shoulders, was square made, thin flanked, and apparently combined in his frame muscular strength and activity; the last somewhat impaired, perhaps, by years, but the first remaining in full vigour, a hard and harsh countenance; eyes far sunk under projecting eyebrows, which were grizzled like his hair; a wide mouth, furnished from ear to ear with unimpaired teeth of uncommon whiteness and size, a breadth of which might have become the jaws of an ogre, complete this delightful portrait." "Equip this figure," says Lockhart, "in Scott's cast off green jacket, white hat, and drab trousers: and imagine that years of kind treatment, comfort, and the honest consequences of a confidential greeve, had softened away much of the harshness originally impressed on the visage by anxious penury, and the sinister habits of a black fisherman, and then Tom Purdie stands before us."


  1. It was great reading this. Yes indeed Tom Purdie or Tam Purdie is an ancestor of mine. I continue to seek information on him and just how we are related, so this was outstanding to find. I do have an old newspaper clipping that was in our family bible whereby an ancestor on the occasion of her 100th birthday mentions the relationship. Thanks again!

    Jean Peacock, Edmonton Alberta Canada

    1. How are you connected with Tom Purdie? He happens to be an ancestor of mine as well.

  2. I'm glad you found something that touched you here. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck in your search.