Saturday, April 30, 2011

Blackwood Signs

On April 30, 1816, William Blackwood signed a contract with James Ballantyne, Scott's publisher, to print up to 6,000 copies of what became "The Black Dwarf".  Publisher John Murray worked with Blackwood in the London market.

The relationship between Blackwood and Murray began a few years earlier, when Murray visited Edinburgh, in the fall of 1814.  The development of their relationship is recounted in Samuel Smiles' "A Publisher and his Friends...":

'Among the friends that welcomed Mr. Murray to Edinburgh was Mr. William Blackwood, who then, and for a long time after, was closely connected with him in his business transactions. Blackwood was a native of Bradfute, booksellers, he was selected by Mundell & Company to take charge of a branch of their extensive publishing business in Glasgow. Hereturned to Edinburgh, and again entered the service of Bell et Bradfute; but after a time went to London to master the secrets of the old book trade under the well-known Mr. Cuthill. Returning to Edinburgh, he set up for himself in 1804, at the age of twenty-eight, at a shop in South Bridge Street--confining himself, for the most part, to old books. He was a man of great energy and decision of character, and his early education enabled him to conduct his correspondence with a remarkable degree of precision and accuracy. Mr. Murray seems to have done business with him as far back as June 1807, and was in the habit of calling upon Blackwood, who was about his own age, whenever he visited Edinburgh. The two became intimate, and corresponded frequently; and at last, when Murray withdrew from the Ballantynes, in August 1810 he transferred the whole of his Scottish agency to the house of William Blackwood. In return for the publishing business sent to him from London, Blackwood made Murray his agent for any new works published by him in Edinburgh. In this way Murray became the London publisher for Hogg's new poems, and Edinburgh; having served his apprenticeship with Messrs. Bell & "The Queen's Wake," which had reached its fourth edition.'

Thursday, April 28, 2011

In a Pickle

'April 28 and 29 [1831] Walter made his appearance, well and stout, and completely recovered of his stomach complaints by abstinence. He has youth on his side, and I in age must submit to be a Lazarus. The medical men persist in recommending a seton. I am no friend to these risky remedies, and will be sure of the necessity before I yield consent. The dying like an Indian under torture is no joke, and, as Commodore Trunnion says, I feel heart-whole as a biscuit. My mind turns to politics. I feel better just now, and so I am. I will wait till Lockhart comes, but that may be too late.'

Sir Walter Scott's health was failing by this time in 1831, and in his journal he turns today to Tobias Smollett.  Smollett's "The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle" was published in 1751, and Commodore Trunnion is a character in that work:

'This loquacious publican soon gave him sketches of all the characters in the county; and, among others, described that of his next neighbor Commodore Trunnion, which was altogether singular and odd. "The commodore and your worship," said he, "will in a short time be hand and glove; he has a power of money, and spends it like a prince—that is, in his own way—for to be sure he is a little humorsome, as the saying is, and swears woundily; though I'll be sworn he means no more harm than a sucking babe. Lord help us! it will do your honour's heart good to hear him tell a story, as how he lay alongside of the French, yard-arm and yard-arm, board and board, and of heaving grapplings, and stink-pots, and grapes, and round and doubleheaded partridges,' crows and carters. Lord have mercy upon us! he has been a great warrior in his time, and lost an eye and a heel in the service. Then he does not live like any other Christian land-man ; but keeps garrison in his house, as if he were in the midst of his enemies, and makes his servants turn out in the night, watch and watch as he calls it, all the year round. His habitation is defended by a ditch, over which he has laid a draw-bridge, and planted his court-yard with patereroes continually loaded with shot, under the direction of one Mr. Hatchway, who had one of his legs shot away while he acted as lieutenant on board the commodore's ship; and now, being on half-pay, lives with him as his companion. The lieutenant is a very brave man, a great joker, and, as the saying is, hath got the length of his commander's foot—though he has another favourite in the house called Tom Pipes, that was his boatswain's mate, and now keeps the servants in order. Tom is a man of few words, but an excellent hand at a song concerning the boatswain's whistle, hustle-cap, and chuck-farthing—there is not such another pipe in the county — so that the commodore lives very happy in his own manner; though he be sometimes thrown into perilous passions and quandaries, by the application of his poor kinsmen, whom he can't abide, because as how some of them were the first occasion of his going to sea. Then he sweats with agony at the sight of an attorney, just, for all the world, as some people have an antipathy to a cat: for it seems he was once at law, for striking one of his officers, and cast in a swinging sum. He is, moreover, exceedingly afflicted with goblins that disturb his rest, and keep such a racket in his house, that you would think (God bless us!) all the devils in hell had broke loose upon him. It was no longer ago than last year about this time, that he was tormented the livelong night by the mischievous spirits that got into his chamber, and played a thousand pranks about his hammock, for there is not one bed within his walls. ...'

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Scottish travel writer James Bruce died this day, April 27, 1794.  Bruce is known for discovering the source of the Blue Nile.  Bruce's "Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile" was published in 1790.  According to WEK Anderson, who edited a version of Scott's Journal in 1998, Scott owned an 1804 edition of the work.

Scott, in his journal, mentions the Kantuffa tree: 'November 4 [1827]—Put my papers in some order, and prepared for my journey. It is in the style of the Emperors of Abyssinia who proclaim—Cut down the Kantuffa in the four quarters of the world,—for I know not where I am going...'

It was Bruce who introduced this tree to westerners, going into a long discussion of its form and uses.  Scott's quote above is directly from Bruce's "Travels...", as included below:

This thorn, like many men we meet daily in society, has wrought itself into a degree of reputation and respect, from the noxious qualities and power of doing ill which it possesses, and the constant exertion of these powers. The Abyssinians, who wear coarse cotton cloths, the coarsest of which are as thick as our blankets, the finest equal to our muslin, are in the same degree annoyed with it. The soldier screens himself by a goat's, leopard's or lion's skin, thrown over his shoulders, of which it has no hold. As his head is bare, he always cuts his hair short before he goes to battle, lest his enemy should take advantage of it; but the women, wearing their hair long, and the great men, whether in the army, or travelling in peace, being always clothed, it never fails to incommode them, whatever species of raiment they wear. If their cloak is fine muslin, the least motion against it puts it all in rags; but if it is a thick soft cloth, as those are with which men of rank generally travel, it buries its thorns, great and small, so deep in it, that the wearer must either dismount and appear naked, which to principal people is a great disgrace, or else much time will be spent before he can disengage himself from its thorns. In the time when one is thus employed, it rarely fails to lay hold of you by the hair, and that, again, brings on another operation, full as laborious, but much more painful, than the other.
In the course of my history, when speaking of the king, Tecla Haimanout II., first entering Gondar after his exile into Tigre, I gave an instance that shewed how dangerous it was for the natives to leave this thorn standing; and of such consequence is the clearing of the ground thought to be, that every year when the king marches, among the necessary proclamations this is thought to be a very principal one, " Cut down the Kantuffa in the four quarters of the world, for I do not know where I am going." This proclamation, from the abrupt style of it, seems at first absurd to strangers, but when understood, is full of good sense and information. It means, do not sit gossiping with your hands before you, talking; The king is going to Damot, he certainly will go to Gojara, he will be obliged to go to Tigre. That is not your business, remove nuisances out of the way, that he may go as expeditiously as possible, or send to every place where he may have occasion.
The branches of the Kantuffa stand two and two upon the stalk ; the leaves are disposed two and two likewise, without any single one at the point, whereas the branches bearing the leaves part from the stalk: at the immediate joining of them are two thick thorns, placed perpendicular and parallel alternately; but there are also single ones distributed in all the interstices throughout the branch...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Insurrection of the Papers

'April 26.[1826] ...There is an operation called putting to rights—Scotticè, redding up—which puts me into a fever. I always leave any attempt at it half executed, and so am worse off than before, and have only embroiled the fray. Then my long back aches with stooping into the low drawers of old cabinets, and my neck is strained with staring up to their attics. Then you are sure never to get the thing you want. I am certain they creep about and hide themselves. Tom Moore gave us the insurrection of the papers. That was open war, but this is a system of privy plot and conspiracy, by which those you seek creep out of the way, and those you are not wanting perk themselves in your face again and again, until at last you throw them into some corner in a passion, and then they are the objects of research in their turn...'
We all experience these moments where there's too much clutter in our lives, as Scott's journal entry of April 26, 1826 discusses.  Perhaps a print out of Thomas Moore's poem "Insurrection of the Papers - a Dream" might help.


"It would be impossible for his Royal Highness to disengage his person from the accumulating pile of papers that encompassed it." --Lord CASTLEREAGH'S _Speech upon Colonel M Mahon's Appointment, April 14, 1812_.

Last night I tost and turned in bed,
But could not sleep--at length I said,
"I'll think of Viscount Castlereagh,
"And of his speeches--that's the way."
And so it was, for instantly
I slept as sound as sound could be.
And then I dreamt--so dread a dream!
Fuseli has no such theme;
Lewis never wrote or borrowed
Any horror half so horrid!

Methought the Prince in whiskered state
Before me at his breakfast sate;
On one side lay unread Petitions,
On t'other, Hints from five Physicians!
Here tradesmen's bills,--official papers,
Notes from my Lady, drams for vapors
There plans of Saddles, tea and toast.
Death-warrants and The Morning Post.

When lo! the Papers, one and all.
As if at some magician's call.
Began to flutter of themselves
From desk and table, floor and shelves,
And, cutting each some different capers,
Advanced, oh jacobinic papers!
As tho' they said, "Our sole design is
"To suffocate his Royal Highness!"
The Leader of this vile sedition
Was a huge Catholic Petition,
With grievances so full and heavy,
It threatened worst of all the bevy;
Then Common-Hall Addresses came
In swaggering sheets and took their aim
Right at the Regent's well-drest head,
As if determined to be read.
Next Tradesmen's bills began to fly,
And Tradesmen's bills, we know, mount high;
Nay even Death-warrants thought they'd best
Be lively too and join the rest.

But, oh the basest of defections!
His letter about "predilections"!--
His own dear letter, void of grace,
Now flew up in its parent's face!
Shocked with this breach of filial duty,
He just could murmur "et Tu Brute?"
Then sunk, subdued upon the floor
At Fox's bust, to rise no more!

I waked--and prayed, with lifted hand,
"Oh! never may this Dream prove true;
"Tho' paper overwhelms the land,
"Let it not crush the Sovereign, too!"

Monday, April 25, 2011

Feast of St. Mark

Today, April 25th, is the Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist. The author of the gospel of Mark is thought to have been killed in Alexandria, having been dragged through the street until he was dead. Mark may have been the first bishop of Alexandria. Relics of his body may be in San Marco Basilica in Venice, but the true disposition of his remains is not known with certainty. His body and remains are objects of devotion, and may educe emotional oaths from some, like Prince John in Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe".

'The figure of Rebecca might indeed have compared with the proudest beauties of England, even though it had been judged by as shrewd a connoisseur as Prince John. Her form was exquisitely symmetrical, and was shewn to advantage by a sort of Eastern dress, which she wore according to the fashion of the females of her nation. Her turban of yellow silk suited well with the darkness of her complexion. The brilliancy of her eyes, the superb arch of her eyebrows, her well-formed aquiline nose, her teeth as white as pearl, and the profusion of her sable tresses which, each arranged in its own little spiral of twisted curls, fell down upon as much of a lovely neck and bosom as a simarre of the richest Persian silk, exhibiting flowers in their natural colours embossed upon a purple ground, permitted to be visible—all these constituted a combination of loveliness, which yielded not to the most beautiful of the maidens who surrounded her. It is true that of the golden and pearl-studded clasps, which closed her vest from the throat to the waist, the three uppermost were left unfastened on account of the heat, which something enlarged the prospect to which we allude. A diamond necklace, with pendants of inestimable value, were by this means also made more conspicuous. The feather of an ostrich, fastened in her turban by an agriffe set with brilliants, was another distinction of the beautiful Jewess, scoffed and sneered at by the proud dames who sat above her, but secretly envied by those who affected to deride them.

" By the bald scalp of Abraham," said Prince John, " yonder Jewess must be the very model of that perfection, whose charms drove frantic the wisest king that ever lived ! What sayest thou, Prior Aymer ?—By the Temple of that wise king, which our wiser brother Richard proved unable to recover, she is the very Bride of the Canticles ! "

" The Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley,"— answered the Prior, in a sort of snuffling tone; " but your Grace must remember she is still but a Jewess."

" Ay," added Prince John, without heeding him, " and there is my Mammon of unrighteousness too—the Marquis of Marks, the Baron of Byzants, contesting for place with penniless dog, whose threadbare cloaks have not a single cross in their pouches to keep the devil from dancing there. By the body of St. Mark, my prince of supplies, with his lovely Jewess, shall have a place in the gallery!—'What is she, Isaac ? thy wife or thy daughter, that Eastern houri that thou lockest under thy arm as thou wouldst thy treasure-casket ? "

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Robert Ballantyne

Robert M. Ballantyne wrote 90 books of fiction. Walter Scott never read one. Ballantyne was born on April 24, 1825, and Scott died seven years later. But Scott certainly would have known of the birth to his publisher James Ballantyne.

Ballantyne's work is of the adventure kind, and his "The Coral Island" is said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson, who read the work while in his teens, to travel the Pacific. From that work:

'Roving has always been, and still is, my ruling passion, the joy of my heart, the very sunshine of my existence. In childhood, in boyhood, and in man's estate, I have been a rover; not a mere rambler among the woody glens and upon the hill-tops of my own native land, but an enthusiastic rover throughout the length and breadth of the wide wide world.

It was a wild, black night of howling storm, the night in which I was born on the foaming bosom of the broad Atlantic Ocean. My father was a sea-captain; my grandfather was a sea-captain; my great-grandfather had been a marine. Nobody could tell positively what occupation his father had followed; but my dear mother used to assert that he had been a midshipman, whose grandfather, on the mother's side, had been an admiral in the royal navy. At any rate we knew that, as far back as our family could be traced, it had been intimately connected with the great watery waste. Indeed this was the case on both sides of the house; for my mother always went to sea with my father on his long voyages, and so spent the greater part of her life upon the water.

Thus it was, I suppose, that I came to inherit a roving disposition. Soon after I was born, my father, being old, retired from a seafaring life, purchased a small cottage in a fishing village on the west coast of England, and settled down to spend the evening of his life on the shores of that sea which had for so many years been his home. It was not long after this that I began to show the roving spirit that dwelt within me. For some time past my infant legs had been gaining strength, so that I came to be dissatisfied with rubbing the skin off my chubby knees by walking on them, and made many attempts to stand up and walk like a man; all of which attempts, however, resulted in my sitting down violently and in sudden surprise. One day I took advantage of my dear mother's absence to make another effort; and, to my joy, I actually succeeded in reaching the doorstep, over which I tumbled into a pool of muddy water that lay before my father's cottage door. Ah, how vividly I remember the horror of my poor mother when she found me sweltering in the mud amongst a group of cackling ducks, and the tenderness with which she stripped off my dripping clothes and washed my dirty little body! From this time forth my rambles became more frequent, and, as I grew older, more distant, until at last I had wandered far and near on the shore and in the woods around our humble dwelling, and did not rest content until my father bound me apprentice to a coasting vessel, and let me go to sea. '

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Alexander I Dies

'Alexander I succeeded as next brother of Edgar. His reign is chiefly remarkable for the determined struggle which he made in defence of the independence of the Church of Scotland. This was maintained against the archbishops of Canterbury and York, each of whom claimed a spiritual superiority over Scotland, and a right to consecrate the archbishop of St. Andrew's, the primate of that kingdom. Notwithstanding the hostile interference of the pope, Alexander, with considerable address, contrived to play off the contradictory pretensions of the two English archbishops against each other, and thus to evade complying with either. Of Alexander's personal character we can only judge from the epithet of the fierce, which referred probably to his own temper and manners, since assuredly his reign was peaceful. He died 1124.'
The text above is from Walter Scott's "Scotland".  King Alexander I of Scotland died on April 23, 1124, at the young age of 44. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sirius Reaches New York

There is a steamship named the Sir Walter Scott, which plies Loch Katrine, the setting for Scott's "Lady of the Lake" and "Rob Roy".  Someday… 

The SS Sir Walter Scott began sailing in 1900. Sixty-two years earlier, on April 22, 1838, the SS Sirius set a milestone by becoming the first steamship to cross the Atlantic, landing in New York one day ahead of rival SS Great Western. The Sirius, at 700 tons was about 6 times larger than the Sir Walter Scott, but was still small to be crossing an ocean. It only made two voyages, then served the London to Cork route. The Sirius was built in Leith, by Robert Menzies & Sons.

An American diarist, former New York mayor Philip Hone recorded the Sirius' arrival. It is published in "The Diary of Philip Hone".

'April 23. [1838]— The British steamer "Sirius," Lieut. Richard Roberts, of the Royal Navy, commander, arrived here last evening, having sailed from Cork on the 4th. She has performed the voyage without any accident, except the slight one of grounding at Sandy Hook, from which she will have been extricated by this time. She has on board forty-six passengers.

The "Sirius" comes out as pioneer to the great steam-packet which is preparing to come to this country. She was to have sailed on the 2d inst. from Cork, and has been looked for with some anxiety the last three or four days; but the wind has been westerly during her whole voyage, and her passage has been longer than it will be hereafter. The arrival of the " Sirius '' is an event of so great an interest that the corporation of the city appointed a joint committee to receive and visit her on her arrival. This committee, of which Alderman Hoxie is chairman, have made arrangements with Mr. Buchanan for that purpose, and they will probably make a jollification on the occasion. It is stated in the morning papers that the " Sirius," since her departure from Cork, has used only fresh water in her boilers, having on board Mr. Hall's condensing apparatus.

It was an agreeable coincidence that the great steamboat of which the " Sirius" was, as I said, the pioneer, should have arrived this morning just in time to have dinner of St. George's Society, the red-cross banner floating from the windows of the " banquet hall," the Carlton House.

 The "Great Western" (for such is the rather awkward name of this noble steamer) came up from Sandy Hook about two o'clock, passed around the "Sirius," then lying at anchor oft" the Battery, and, proceeding up the East river, hauled into Pike slip. She is much larger than her avant-courrier, being the largest vessel propelled by steam which has yet made her appearance in the waters of Europe. Her registered measurement is 1,604 tons, length 234 feet, breadth from out to out of the paddle-boxes 58 feet, with her engines and machinery of 450 horse power. She is commanded by Lieutenant Hoskin, of the Royal Navy, and owned by the "Great Western Steam Navigation Company." She sailed from Bristol on the 8th inst., four days later than the departure of the " Sirius" from Cork, performing thus her voyage, under the disadvantages of new machinery and a prevalence of head-winds, in fifteen days.

The city was in a ferment during the day, from the arrival of these two interesting strangers. The Battery and adjacent streets were crowded with curious spectators, and the water covered with boats conveying obtrusive visitors on board. The committee of arrangements of the Corporation have fixed upon to-morrow, at one o'clock, for the two Houses, with their guests, to visit the " Sirius," where a collation will be prepared for them, on which occasion her commander, Lieutenant Roberts, is to receive the freedom of the city.

The passengers on board the two vessels speak in the highest terms of the convenience, steadiness, and apparent safety of the new mode of conveyance across the ocean. Everybody is so enamoured of it, that for a while it will supersede the New York packets, — the noblest vessels that ever floated in the merchant service. Our countrymen, "studious of change, and pleased with novelty," will rush forward to visit the shores of Europe instead of resorting to Virginia or Saratoga Springs; and steamers will continue to be the fashion until some more dashing adventurer of the go-ahead tribe shall demonstrate the practicability of balloon navigation, and gratify their impatience by a voyage over, and not upon, the blue waters in two days, instead of as many weeks, thereby escaping the rocks and shoals and headlands which continue yet to fright the minds of timid passengers and cautious navigators. Then they may soar above the dangers of icebergs, and look down with contempt upon the Goodwin sands or Hempstead beach. As for me, I am still skeptical on this subject. It would be presumptuous in this age of mechanical and scientific miracles to doubt the success of any startling experiment, or even to hint the possible difficulty of a contrivance by which a man might bite off his own nose; but, after the experience I have had of such ships as the " England " or the " Sylvie de Grasse," I should hesitate to trust to the powers of the air or the fire-god for my transportation and safe-conduct over this rivulet of blue water of three thousand miles in width, which separates us from the land of our fathers.'

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Virgil of the French Drama

'It was not decoration and splendour alone which the French stage owed to Louis XIV. Its principal obligation was for that patronage which called forth in its service the talents of Corneille and Racine, the Homer and Virgil of the French Drama. However constrained by pedantic rules; however withheld from using that infinite variety of materials, which national and individual character presented to them; however frequently compelled by system to adopt a pompous, solemn, and declamatory style of dialogue—these distinguished authors still remain the proudest boast of the classical age of France, and a high honour to the European republic of letters. It seems probable that Corneille. if left to the exercise of his own judgment, would have approximated more to the romantic drama. The Cid possesses many of the charms of that species of composition. In the character of Don Gourmas, he has drawn a national portrait of the Spanish nobility, for which very excellence he was subjected to the censure of the Academy, his national court of criticism. In a general point of view, he seems to have been ambitious of overawing his audience by a display of the proud, the severe, the ambitious, and the terrible. Tyrants and conquerors have never sat to a painter of greater skill; and the romantic tone of feeling which he adopts in his more perfect characters is allied to that of chivalry. But Corneille was deficient in tenderness, in dramatic art, and in the power of moving the passions. His fame, too, was injured by the multiplicity 9f his efforts to extend it. Critics of his own nation have numbered about twenty of his Dramas, which have little to recommend them; and no foreign reader is very likely to verify or refute the censure, since he must previously read them to an end.

Racine, who began to write when the classical fetters were clinched and rivetted upon the French Drama, did not make that effort of struggling with his chains, which we observe in the elder dramatists; he was strong where Corneille evinced weakness, and weak in the points where his predecessor showed vigour. Racine delineated the passion of love with truth, softness, and fidelity; and his scenes of this sort, form the strongest possible contrast with those in which he, as well as Corneille, sacrificed to the dull Cupid of metaphysical romance. In refinement and harmony of versification. Racine has hitherto been unequalled; and his Athalie is, perhaps, likely to be generally acknowledged as the most finished production of the French Drama. '

The text above is included in Sir Walter Scott's "Essay on the Drama". French dramatist Jean Racine died on April 21, 1699.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"If you give away your money before you are dead..."

A man who may have been a model for Charles Dickens' character Ebenezer Scrooge died on April 20, 1836. James (Jemmy) Wood was an early private banker, and was reputedly stingy; also exceedingly rich. He owned the Gloucester Old Bank, which had been founded by his grandfather. William Haig Miller discusses Wood in his "On the bank's Threshold...".

'The private bankers grew up under the shadow of the Bank of England, like dwarfs beside a giant. Many of them were men of penurious habits, and accumulated great wealth. We remember in our day James Wood, of Gloucester, who left upwards of two millions sterling. His will caused much litigation. To the end of his days he kept a little draper's shop next his bank, and was very particular that his banking customers should continue to buy their drapery from him when once they had begun to do so. He appears to have been of a sadly miserly spirit. We have looked over two folio volumes of printed matter, containing the pleadings in the Probate Court relative to his will, which, as we have said, was the subject of legal proceedings. They contained many proofs of his niggardliness. He was fond, we are told by one witness, of quoting, as a reason for not parting with his money during his lifetime, some verses said to be inscribed in a country church on a tombstone, which had on it the figure of a man with an axe beside him. The lines were to the following effect:—

"If you give away your money before you are dead,
Then take up this axe and chop off your head."

Miller weaves Sir Walter Scott into his work several times. Based on the following, it's possible that Scott could have developed an aversion to bankers:

'The private banking establishment of Sir William Forbes & Co. also long flourished in Edinburgh. Its first partner was the friend and biographer of Beattie, the poet, and a man so full of benevolence that it was said of him by the author of " Marmion :"

"If mortal charity dare claim
The Almighty's attributed name,
Inscribe above his mouldering clay,
'The widow's shield—the orphan's stay.'''

His son and banking successor was an attached friend of Sir Walter Scott, and also his rival in love, having carried off the hand of the young lady—the daughter of Sir John Stuart—for whom Sir Walter, then a youth, had formed a romantic passion, he having become acquainted with her by offering her the share of his umbrella as she walked home on a rainy day from Greyfriars Church. To the end of his days, Sir Walter, it may be remembered, cherished the recollection of this youthful episode; and after the lady's death, and when he was himself a widower, he poured out his sorrows in his diary in the following touching words: "I went to make a visit, and fairly softened myself with recalling old stories, till I was fit for nothing but shedding tears and repeating verses for the whole night. This is sad work. The very grave gives up its dead, and time rolls back thirty years to add to my perplexities,"...'

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Battle of Lexington and Concord

In a book titled "Great Men and Famous Deeds", Sir Walter Scott wrote of two topics that referenced the Lexington and Concord conflict.  One is found in a section on New York's Seventh Regiment:

'...After the middies, came anxious citizens from the town. Scared, all of them. Now that we were come and assured them that persons and property were to be protected, they ventured to speak of the disgusting tyranny to which they, American citizens, had been subjected. We came into contact here with utter social anarchy. No man, unless he was ready to risk assault, loss of property, exile, dared to act or talk like a freeman. "This great wrong must be righted," think the Seventh Regiment, as one man. So we tried to reassure the Annapolitans that we meant to do our duty as the nation's armed police, and mob-law was to be put down so far as we could do it.

Here, too, voices of war met us. The country was stirred up. If the rural population did not give us a bastard imitation of Lexington and Concord, as we tried to gain Washington, all Pluguglydom would treat us a la Plugugly somewhere near the junction of the Annapolis and Baltimore and Washington Railroad. The Seventh must be ready to shoot...'

The other is in the famous Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem about Paul Revere's Ride, which includes:

LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
It was twelve by the village clock,

When he cross'd the bridge into Medford town,

He heard the crowing of the cock,

And the barking of the farmer's dog,

And felt the damp of the river-fog,

That rises when the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,

When he rode into Lexington.

He saw the gilded weathercock

Swim in the moonlight as he pass'd,

And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,

Gaze at him with a spectral glare,

As if they already stood aghast

At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,

And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning-breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball. ..'

The Battle of Lexington and Concord occurred on April 19, 1775.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Breakfast with Baillie

April 18, 1828 finds Sir Walter Scott meeting several people over several different meals during the course of the day.  The day started with Scottish playwright Joanna Bailey.  Baillie apparently enjoyed hearing ghost stories as a youngster, which may explain how she came to prepare a play on witchcraft.  It wasn't until 1830 that Scott began his own "Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft".

'April 18.—Breakfasted with Joanna Baillie, and found that gifted person extremely well, and in the display of all her native knowledge of character and benevolence. She looks more aged, however. I would give as much to have a capital picture of her as for any portrait in the world. She gave me a manuscript play to read upon Witchcraft...'

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A View of Calais

'...The Vice-Admiral dined with us, and in the afternoon my Lord called me to give him the commission for him, which I did, and he gave it him himself. A very pleasant afternoon, and I upon the deck all the day, it was so clear that my Lord’s glass shewed us Calais very plain, and the cliffs were as plain to be seen as Kent, and my Lord at first made me believe that it was Kent...'

On April 17, 1660, Samuel Pepys records (in his diary) enjoying the sight of Calais through a glass.  The telescope had been around for about 50 years at this time.  As Calais lies so close to England, it has seen its share of military action, as well as sight-seeing.  Walter Scott alludes to Calais' situation as a portal as part of the setting of "Quentin Durward":

'But the excitement of the moment presently gave way to the host of political considerations, which, at that conjuncture, rendered an open breach with Burgundy so peculiarly perilous. Edward IV, a brave and victorious king, who had in his own person fought thirty battles, was now established on the throne of England, was brother to the Duchess of Burgundy, and, it might well be supposed, waited but a rupture between his near connexion and Louis, to carry into France, through the ever open gate of Calais, those arms which had been triumphant in the English civil wars, and to obliterate the recollection of internal dissentions by that most popular of all occupations amongst the English, an invasion of France. To this consideration was added the uncertain faith of the Duke of Bretagne, and other weighty, subjects of reflection. So that, after a deep pause, when Louis again spoke, although in the same tone, it was with an altered spirit. "But God forbid," he said, "that aught less than necessity should make us, the Most Christian King, give cause to the effusion of Christian blood, if anything short of dishonour may avert such a calamity. We tender our subjects' safety dearer than the ruffle which our own dignity may receive from the rude breath of a malapert ambassador, who hath perhaps exceeded the errand with which he was charged. — Admit the envoy of Burgundy to our presence."...'

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Feast of Saint Magnus the Martyr

"Bones of Saint Magnus!" said the Udaller, "I used to think I took off my can like a gentleman; but to see your men swallow, Captain, one would think their stomachs were as bottomless as the hole of Laifell in Foula, which I have sounded myself with a line of an hundred fathoms.  By my soul, the Bicker of Saint Magnus were but a sip to them!"

Saint Magnus's bones are believed to be in St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall.  Earl Magnus Erlendsson's martyrdom is remembered on April 16, with the year being 1115, or 16, or 17.  Magnus was known for his piety.  He was killed in a dispute over sovereignty of the Orkneys.  Sir Walter Scott remembered Magnus in his novel "The Pirate" (text above).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Madame de Pompadour

It's good to be the king, and it may be good to be the mistress as well.  Especially if you are the chief mistress, as Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the Madame de Pompadour, became for Louis XV of France.  Jeanne filled a void in Louis' heart after his second chief mistress died, and she enjoyed a short life of favor, dying of tuberculosis on April 15, 1764.

We find Madame de Pompadour mentioned in the introduction to Walter Scott's "Quentin Durward", which was set in France.  Here the author discusses his meeting with a character called Marquis de Hautlieu.

'...Observing this peculiarity, I backed out of the candid confession which my vanity had meditated, and engaged the Marquis [de Hautlieu] in farther remarks on the mansion of his ancestors. "There," he said, " was the theatre where my father used to procure an order for the special attendance of some of the principal actors of the Comedie Francoise, when the King and Madame Pompadour more than once visited him at this place ; — yonder, more to the centre, was the Baron's hall, where his feudal jurisdiction was exercised when criminals were to be tried by the Seigneur or his bailiff; for we had, like your old Scottish nobles, the right of pit and gallows, or fossa cum furca, as the civilians term it; — beneath that lies the Question-chamber, or apartment for torture ; and truly, I am sorry a right so liable to abuse should have been lodged in the hands of any living creature. But," he added, with a feeling of dignity derived even from the atrocities which his ancestors had committed beneath the grated windows to which he pointed, "such is the effect of superstition, that, to this day, the peasants dare not approach the dungeons, in which, it is said, the wrath of my ancestors had perpetrated, in former times, much cruelty." As we approached the window, while I expressed some curiosity to see this abode of terror, there arose from its subterranean abyss a shrill shout of laughter, which we easily detected as produced by a group of playful children, who had made the neglected vaults a theatre, for a joyous romp at Colin Maillard....'

Thursday, April 14, 2011

In a fog at Barnet

"You are wrong, Albert, you are wrong," said the King, pitilessly pursuing his jest. "You Colonels, whether you wear blue or orange sashes, are too pretty fellows to be dismissed so easily, when once you have acquired an interest. But Mistress Alice, so pretty, and who wishes the restoration of the King with such a look and accent, as if she were an angel whose prayers must needs bring it down, must not be allowed to retain any thoughts of a canting roundhead—What say you—will you give me leave to take her to task about it ?—After all, I am the party most concerned in maintaining true allegiance among my subjects; and if I gain the pretty maiden's good-will, that of the sweetheart's will soon follow. This was jolly King Edward's way—Edward the Fourth, you know. The king-making Earl of Warwick—the Cromwell of his day —dethroned him more than once; but he had the hearts of the merry dames of London, and the purses and veins of the cockneys bled freely, till they brought him home again. How say you ?—shall I shake off my northern slough, and speak with Alice in my own character, showing what education and manners have done for me, to make the best amends they can for an ugly face?"

'Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (1428-1471), called the "KingMaker" from his political and military authority during the Wars of the Roses. He fought now on one side and now on the other, and was finally killed by Edward IV. at the battle of Barnet.

Warwick the kingmaker had a short but eventful life, dying in battle at the age of 42.  The date was April 14, 1471.  Representing Lancastrian interests in the Battle of Barnet, Neville was killed while trying to leave the field, which was so foggy as to cause significant "friendly fire".  The reference to Warwick above, comes from Walter Scott's "Woodstock".

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sir Alexander Don

April 13.—On my return from my walk yesterday I learnt with great concern the death of my old friend, Sir Alexander Don. He cannot have been above six-or seven-and-forty. Without being much together, we had, considering our different habits, lived in much friendship, and I sincerely regret his death. His habits were those of a gay man, much connected with the turf; but he possessed strong natural parts, and in particular few men could speak better in public when he chose. He had tact, wit, power of sarcasm, and that indescribable something which marks the gentleman. His manners in society were extremely pleasing, and as he had a taste for literature and the fine arts, there were few more pleasant companions, besides being a highly-spirited, steady, and honourable man. His indolence prevented his turning these good parts towards acquiring the distinction he might have attained. He was among the détenus whom Bonaparte's iniquitous commands confined so long in France; and coming there into possession of a large estate in right of his mother, the heiress of the Glencairn family, he had the means of being very expensive, and probably then acquired those gay habits which rendered him averse to serious business. Being our member for Roxburghshire, his death will make a stir amongst us.

Sir Alexander Don actually died two days before Scott records hearing of his death in his Journal.  The year was 1826.  Don was the 6th Baronet of Newton.  Don seems to have been a generous soul.  His expense account benefitted others, including Sir James Campbell, as he relates in his memoirs (Memoirs of Sir James Campbell of Ardkinglas):

'My chief acquaintances among the detenus, were the late Sir Alexander Don, Mr. Hamilton, an Irish gentleman, Mr. Fitzgerald, and Lord Boyle, the son of the Earl of Glasgow. Sir Alexander Don had always obtained access to his pecuniary resources, and in consequence, the person who was sent to him by the police, had all the manners and accomplishments of a lady. With me it was otherwise, as it was known, from the simple style in which I lived, that such an inmate was not suited to my finances; the person who came to me professed to be able to discharge the duties of cookmaid in the family. She was by birth a German; and having been in England with a German family, she had the advantage of speaking the language. Her name was originally Haitage; but when she came to me, she passed by the name of Sassen. It would be difficult,—I should rather say, it would be impossible,—to reconcile an English reader to those modes of life, which in France are practised so generally, as to have ceased to be remarkable, and far less to be a subject of reproach. To me it would be matter for the deepest mortification, if it could be supposed that I should attempt to excuse, or to palliate, the immorality which seems to be sanctioned by such general usage. I claim only some degree of mitigation of the censure which the severer morals of England would impose on such an arrangement, by pleading the circumstances by which I was surrounded, and the disadvantages, approaching to necessity, in which I was placed.'

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

French theologian Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet passed on this day, April 12th, in the year 1704. The Bishop of Meaux made part of his mark on history as a homilist. He also served as tutor to Louis XIV's son Louis de France.

Like Walter Scott, Bossuet developed an interest in history at an early age. In the study "The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses", Catherine Morris Cox states that 'While at Navarre, Bossuet had been wont to attend the theater, where he was charmed by the tragedies of Corneille, and under this influence he began to write madrigals and pious poems in the precieux taste of the age. ' Bossuet also had a passion for reading; Homer being a favorite. Cox's work imputes an IQ value of between 160 - 170 for Bossuet.

Scott's estimated IQ is also quite favorable, coming in at 150 - 160. A paragraph from Cox sounds vaguely reminiscent to the one on Bossuet: 'Scott delighted in the theater; an interest which had its birth in his first visit there at the age of 4 to see "As you Like It", which ever remained a vivid picture in his mind. In spite of the efforts of his teachers, Scott was unable to master the technique of music and painting, but his interest in literature grew, and at 15, he used his earnings to learn Italian, so that he might read the literary treasures in that language...At school Scott was behind his class, and so fell into the habit of doing inferior work. His master was annoyed at this, for he recognized the boy's ability. On one occasion, Scott succeeded in winning a place at the top of the class by a ruse; and from that time, he maintained his high position, being encouraged to strive to excel by the rector's statement that others might understand the Latin better, but Scott's understanding of the meaning was seldom exceeded...'

Monday, April 11, 2011

Battle of Basque Roads

The Battle of Basque Roads took place this day, April 11, in the year 1809.  Basque Roads is a bay on the west coast of France where the British and French were facing off during the Napoleonic Wars.  The British under Admiral James Gambier and Captain Thomas Cochrane won this affair.  A precurser to the battle involved a number of French ships that Gambier chased into the Basque Roads, after they escaped from Brest.  This event was reported in The Edinburgh Annual Register (ed. Walter Scott) dated March 9, 1809.  It was Captain Cochrane that successfully led the attack on the ships once in Basque Roads.

'ESCAPE OF A SQUADRON FROM BREST, INTO BASQUE ROADS.—Intelligence has been received at the Admiralty, of a squadron of the enemy's ships having lately eluded the vigilance of our blockading force, and got out of Brest. The force which thus escaped is understood to have consisted of eight sail. Their object is said to have been to surprise our small squadron off Rochefort, and then to proceed to the West Indies. The enemy has along his coast signal stations, or telegraphs, by which intelligence is quickly communicated from north to south; and it is believed that they had been informed in this manner that our small squadron off Rochefort was in the habit of lying at anchor with its sails down. Accordingly, when our fleet was blown off Brest, they slipped out, and ran directly for Rochefort. Meanwhile the Naiad, our look-out frigate off Rochefort, descrying the enemy, made the signal to Admiral Stopford, who instantly shifted his station into another part of the bay. The enemy, as soon as they arrived off Rochefort, ran for the position in which their telegraph had taught them to expect our squadron; and not finding it there, conceived it had quitted its station. They then put into Basque Roads, between Rochefort and Rochelle. The promptitude with which our naval affairs are administered soon reinforced Admiral Stopford with three more sail of the line ; and these heroes, who came with eight sail of the line to attack four, did not venture out with eleven sail of the line, because Admiral Stopford was before Rochefort with seven. Lord Gambier had dispatched Admiral Duckworth after the enemy. His lordship is arrived at Plymouth.

Enemy's force in Basque Roads ---

One 3-decker, ten 2-deckers, one 50 gun ship, and four frigates.

At Sable D'Olonne—Three frigates.

British force with Admiral Stopford—Three sail of the line, four frigates, and one brig.

With Captain Beresford, and nearly in sight of Admiral Stopford— Four sail of the line and one frigate.

It is expected that an attempt will be made to destroy these ships in Basque Roads. All the line of battle ships in the Downs were ordered on Monday to sail with all possible expedition to Plymouth ; and an order was received at Plymouth on Saturday, for all the line of battle skips there to put to sea immediately. The Black Joke lugger, Parthian, and Weazle schooner, sailed lately from Plymouth, to warn all the vessels they might meet with of the sailing of the above squadron from, Brest. They may now return quietly into port.'

Sunday, April 10, 2011

William Hazlitt

William Hazlitt, like Lord Jeffrey, wrote for the Edinburgh Review, a publication which Walter Scott initially supported, but came to consider with disdain due to its political orientation.  While a friend to the Lambs, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, Hazlitt's literary criticism was certainly not friendly to Sir Walter Scott.  Among Hazlitt's works was a biography of Napoleon which, since Bonaparte was a hero to Hazlitt, differed sharply from Scott's biography.  Hazlitt was born this day, April 10, in 1778.

Hazlitt wrote a critique of Scott published in "The Spirit of the Age".  It mixes some favorable words but with thinly veiled venom.  It begins:

'Sir Walter Scott is undoubtedly the most popular writer of the age, the 'lord of the ascendant' for the time being. He is just half what the human intellect is capable of being: if you take the universe, and divide it into two parts, he knows all that it has been; all that it is to be is nothing to him. His is a mind brooding over antiquity -- scorning 'the present ignorant time.' He is laudator temporis acti "prophesier of things past." The old world is to him a crowded map; the new one a dull, hateful blank. He dotes on all well-authenticated superstitions; he shudders at the shadow of innovation. His retentiveness of memory, his accumulated weight of interested prejudice or romantic association have overlaid his other faculties. The cells of his memory are vast, various, full even to bursting with life and motion; his speculative understanding is empty, flaccid, poor, and dead. His mind receives and treasures up every thing brought to it by tradition or custom -- it does not project itself beyond this into the World unknown, shrinks back as from the edge of a precipice. The land of pure reason is to his apprehension like Van Diemen's Land -- barren, miserable, distant, a place of exile, the dreary abode of savages, convicts, and adventurers. Sir Walter would make a bad hand of a description of the Millennium, unless he could lay the scene in Scotland five hundred years ago, and then he would want facts and worm-eaten parchments to support his drooping style. Our historical novelist firmly thinks that nothing is but what has been, that the moral world stands still, as the material one was supposed to do of old, and that we can never get beyond the point where we actually are without utter destruction, though every thing changes and will change from what it was three hundred years ago to what it is now-from what it is now to all that the bigoted admirer of the good old times most dreads and hates!...'

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Losing One's Head

On April 9, 1747, Simon Fraser was beheaded, found guilty of treason. The Lord Lovat played both the Jacobite and anti-Jacobite sides during his career, which was consistent only in its benefit to Lovat himself. Fraser was the last person to be beheaded in Britain. Sir Walter Scott covers the end of his life in "Tales of a Grandfather".
'The conclusion of Lord Lovat's eventful and mysterious career was the next important act of this eventful tragedy. That old conspirator, after making his escape from his vassal's house of Gortuleg, had fled to the Highlands, where he was afterwards taken in one of the Western Islands, by a detachment from the garrison of Fort William, who had disembarked from on board a bomb vessel, called the Furnace. The old man was brought to the Tower of London. On this occasion, using the words of the Latin poet, he expressed himself prepared either to resort to his old stratagems, or to meet death like a man, if he should find it inevitable. Lovat's trial, which came on before the House of Lords on the 9th, and was finished on the 19th day of March, was very long and extremely curious. On the former occasions it had not been necessary to produce the evidence of Secretary Murray; but on the present, as Lovat had not been personally engaged in the insurrection, it was indispensable to prove his accession to the previous conspiracy. This was accomplished in the fullest manner; indeed he said of himself, probably with great truth, that he had been engaged in every insurrection in favour of the family of James the Seventh, since he was fifteen years old; and he might have added, he had betrayed some of them to the opposite party. His guilt, thinly covered by a long train of fraud, evasion, and deceit, was clearly manifested, though he displayed very considerable skill and legal knowledge in his defence. Being found guilty by the House of Lords, the sentence of high treason was pronounced upon the old man in the usual horrible terms. He heard it with indifference, and replied, "I bid your lordships an everlasting farewell! Sure I am, we shall never all meet again in the same place."

During the interval between the sentence and its execution, this singular personage employed himself at first in solicitations for life, expressed pretty much in the style of a fawning letter, which, when he was first taken prisoner, he had written to the Duke of Cumberland, pleading his high favour with George the First, and how he had carried his royal highness about when a child, in the parks of Kensington and Hampton-Court. Finding these meannesses were in vain, he resolved to imitate in his death the animal he most resembled in his life, and die like the Fox, without indulging his enemies by the utterance of a sigh or groan. It is remarkable, my dear boy, how the audacity of this daring man rendered him an object of wonder and awe at his death, although the whole course of his life had been spent in a manner calculated to excite very different feelings. Lovat had also, indeed, the advantage of the compassion due to extreme old age, still nourishing a dauntless spirit, even when a life beyond the usual date of humanity was about to be cut short by a public execution. Many circumstances are told of him in prison, from which we may infer that the careless spirit of levity was indulged by him to the last moment. On the evening before his execution, his warder expressed himself sorry that the morrow should be such a bad day with his Lordship. " Bad!" replied his lordship; "for what? do you think I am afraid of an axe? It is a debt we must all pay, and better in this way than by a lingering disease."

When ascending the "scaffold (in which he requested the assistance of two warders), he looked round on the multitude, and seeing so many people, said with a sneer, " God save us, why should there be such a bustle about taking off an old grey head from a man who cannot get up three steps without two assistants" On the scaffold he repeated the line of Horace—

"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

It was more in his true character, that when a scaffold fell, and he was informed that many persons had been killed and maimed, he replied in the words of the Scottish adage—" The more mischief the better sport!" He submitted to the fatal blow with unabated courage, and left a strong example of the truth of the observation, that it is easier to die well than to live well. The British Government did not escape blame, for having selected as an example of punishment, an old man on the very verge of life. Yet, of all the victims to justice, no one either deserved or received less compassion than Lovat.'

Friday, April 8, 2011

Canine Ties

'...Home by water to dinner, and with my father, wife, and Ashwell, after dinner, by water towards Woolwich, and in our way I bethought myself that we had left our poor little dog that followed us out of doors at the waterside, and God knows whether he be not lost, which did not only strike my wife into a great passion but I must confess myself also; more than was becoming me. We immediately returned, I taking another boat and with my father went to Woolwich, while they went back to find the dog. I took my father on board the King’s pleasure boat and down to Woolwich, and walked to Greenwich thence and turning into the park to show my father the steps up the hill, we found my wife, her woman, and dog attending us, which made us all merry again, and so took boats, they to Deptford and so by land to Half-way house, I into the King’s yard and overlook them there, and eat and drank with them, and saw a company of seamen play drolly at our pence, and so home by water...'

Samuel Pepys spends much of his April 8, in the year 1663, searching for a lost pet (from Pepys' Diary). Certainly, dog lover Walter Scott could relate to the Pepys family's concern. Scott employs a similar concern, though from the dog's point of view, in this scene from "Ivanhoe":

'In the present instance, the apprehension of impending evil was inspired by no less respectable a prophet than a large lean black dog, which, sitting upright, howled most piteously as the foremost riders left the gate, and presently afterwards, barking wildly, and jumping to and fro, seemed bent upon attaching itself to the party.

" I like not that music, father Cedric," said Athelstane; for by this title of respect he was accustomed to address him.
" Nor I either, uncle," said Wamba; " I greatly fear we shall have to pay the piper."

" In my mind," said Athelstane, upon whose memory the Abbot's good ale (for Burton was already famous for that genial liquor) had made a favourable impression— " in my mind we had better turn back, and abide with the Abbot until the afternoon. It is unlucky to travel where your path is crossed by a monk, a hare, or a howling dog, until you have eaten your next meal.

" Away !" said Cedric, impatiently ; " the day is already too short for our journey. For the dog, I know it to be the cur of the runaway slave Gurth, a useless fugitive like its master."

So saying, and rising at the same time in his stirrups, impatient at the interruption of his journey, he launched his javelin at poor Fang-—for Fangs it was, who, having traced his master thus far upon his stolen expedition, had here lost him, and was now, in his uncouth way, rejoicing at his reappearance. The javelin inflicted a wound upon the animal's shoulder, and narrowly missed pinning him to the earth; and Fangs fled howling from the presence of the enraged thane. Gurth's heart swelled within him for he felt this meditated slaughter of his faithful adherent in a degree much deeper than the harsh treatment he had himself received. Having in vain attempted to raise his hand to his eyes, he said to Wamba, who, seeing his master's ill humour, had prudently retreated to the rear, " I pray thee, do me the kindness to wipe my eyes with the skirt of thy mantle; the dust offends me, and these bonds will not let me help myself one way or another."...'

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dr. Hugh Blair

Hugh Blair was an important part of the Scottish Enlightenment, though he was taken in by the Ossian poem fraud.  Born on April 7, 1718, Blair rose to prominence through study of moral philosophy and literature.  Blair helped Robert Burns get established, and more directly for Walter Scott fans, recognized something in Scott when he examined him at an early age.  It is interesting to note in the following brief biography written by J.W. Lake (published in "The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott") that Scott was not considered a good student, early in life.

Walter, from the tenderness of his constitution, and the circumstance of his lameness, occasioned by a fall from his nurse's arms at two years of age, was in a great measure brought up at home, under the immediate care and instruction of this I excellent parent, to whom he was much attached through life, and whose loss he sincerely lamented. Of his early pursuits little is known, except that he evinced a genius for drawing landscapes after nature.—At a proper age he was sent to the High School at Edinburgh, then directed by Dr Alexander Adam. In this school, young Scott passed through the different forms without exhibiting any of those extraordinary powers of genius, which are seldom remembered till the person to whom they are ascribed has become, by the maturity of his talents, an object of distinction. It is said, that he was considered in his boyhood rather heavy than otherwise, and that the late Dr Hugh Blair had discernment enough to predict his future eminence, when the master of the school lamented his dulness; but this only affords another instance of the fallacy of human opinion in pronouncing upon the real capacity of the youthful understanding. (1) Barrow, the greatest scholar of his age, was discarded as a blockhead by successive teachers; and his pupil, the illustrious Newton, was declared to be fit for nothing but to drive the team, till some friends succeeded in getting him transplanted to college.

(1) The prediction of Dr Blair, here alluded to, arose out of the following circumstances. Shortly after Dr Paterson succeeded to the grammar-school, Musselburgh, where Walter Scott was a short time a pupil, Blair, accompanied by some friends, paid him a visit; in the course of which he examined several of his pupils, and paid particular attention to young Scott. Dr Paterson thought it was the youth's stupidity that engaged the doctor's notice, and said, My predecessor tells me, that boy has the thickest skull in the school. "May be so, replied Dr Blair, but through that thick skull I can discern many bright rays of future genius.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Declaration of Arbroath

The Declaration of Arbroath was signed on April 6, 1320.  This declaration was a response to Pope John XXII's excommunication of Robert Bruce, in the context of the ongoing wars with Edward I of England over sovereignty of Scotland.  John favored Edward's claim to Scotland.  According to author John Prebble, 'The Declaration of Arbroath was and has been unequalled in its eloquent plea for the liberty of man. From the darkness of medieval minds it shone a torch upon future struggles which its signatories could not have foreseen or understood.  The author of this noble Latin address is unknown, though it is assumed to have been composed by Bernard de Linton, Abbot of Arbroath and Chancellor of Scotland...'

Among these eloquent words: "For we fight not for glory nor for riches nor for honour, but only and alone for freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life".

Sir Walter Scott discusses Arbroath as well, in his "Scotland":

'The pope continued obstinate in his displeasure, and as it broke forth anew just after the retreat of King Edward and the truce he had made with Scotland (1319), there is reason to believe that the holy father resumed his severe measures in compliance with the desires of the English king, who endeavored thus to maintain a spiritual war against Bruce after having laid down his temporal weapons. Indeed, it will afterward appear that Robert alleged the machinations of Edward II at Rome as an apology for his own breach of the truce. These intrigues were, however, successful; the pope once more renewed the thunders of his excommunication against Bruce and his adherents, in a bull of great length; and the inefficacy that had hitherto attended these efforts of his spleen had offended the pope so highly that the prelates of York and London were ordered to repeat the ceremony, with bell, book, and candle, every Sunday and festival day through the year.

The parliament of Scotland now took it upon them to reply to the pope in vindication of themselves and their sovereign. At Aberbrothock or Arbroath, on the 6th of April, 1320, eight earls and thirty-one barons of Scotland, together with the great officers of the crown, and others, in the name of the whole-community of Scotland, placed their names and seals to a spirited manifesto or memorial, in which strong sense and a manly spirit of freedom are mixed with arguments suited to the ignorance of the age.

This celebrated document commences with an enumeration of proofs of the supposed antiquity of the Scottish nation, detailing its descent from Scota, daughter of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, its conversion to the Christian faith by Saint Andrew the Apostle, with the long barbarous roll of baptized and unbaptized names, which, false and true, filled up the line of the royal family. Having astounded, as they doubtless conceived, the pontiff with the nation's claim to antiquity, of which the Scots have been at all times more than sufficiently tenacious, they proceeded in a noble tone of independence. The unjust interference of Edward I. with the affairs of a free people, and the calamities which his ambition had brought upon Scotland, were forcibly described, and the subjection to which his oppression had reduced the country was painted as a second Egyptian bondage, out of which their present sovereign had conducted them victoriously by his valor and prudence, like a second Joshua or Maccabaeus. The crown they declared was Bruce's by right of blood, by the merit which deserved it, and the free consent of the people who bestowed it. But yet they added in express terms, that not even to this beloved and honored monarch would they continue their allegiance, should he show an inclination to subject his crown or his people to homage or dependence on England, but that they would in that case do their best to resist and expel him from the throne; "for," say the words of the letter, "while a hundred Scots are left to resist, they will fight for the liberty that is dearer to them than life." They required that the pope, making no distinction of persons, like that Heaven of which he was the vicegerent, would exhort the king of England to remain content with his fair dominions, which had formerly been thought large enough to supply seven kingdoms, and cease from tormenting and oppressing a poor people, his neighbors, whose only desire was to live free and unoppressed in the remote region where fate had assigned them their habitation. They reminded the pope of his duty to preserve a general pacification throughout Christendom, that all nations might join in a crusade for the recovery of Palestine, in which they and their king were eager to engage, but for the impediment of the English war. They concluded by solemnly declaring, that if his holiness should, after this explanation, favor the English in their schemes for the oppression of Scotland, at his charge must lie all the loss of mortal life and immortal happiness which might be forfeited in a war of the most exterminating character. Lastly, the Scottish prelates and barons declared their spiritual obedience to the pope, and committed the defense of their cause to the God of Truth, in the firm hope that he would endow them with strength to defend their right, and confound the devices of their enemies.'

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


A generic definition of a Pilgrim is someone who travels for a religious purpose.  The Pilgrims that left England to avoid persecution, founding the Plymouth Colony in the New World, sailed in the Mayflower, which returned for England on April 5, 1621.

Walter Scott published a poem on pilgrims titled "The Palmer", after pilgrims who carried palm leaves on their pilgrimage:

"O, open the door, some pity to show,
Keen blows the northern wind!
The glen is white with the drifted snow,
And the path is hard to find.

"No outlaw seeks your castle gate,
From chasing the King's deer,
Though even an outlaw's wretched state
Might claim compassion here.

"A weary Palmer, worn and weak,
I wander for my sin;
O, open, for our Lady's sake!
A pilgrim's blessing win!

"I'll give you pardons from the Pope,
And reliques from o'er the sea,—
Or if for these you will not ope,
Yet open for charity.

"The hare is crouching in her form,
The hard beside the hind;
An aged man, amid the storm,
No shelter can I find.
"You hear the Ettrick's sullen roar,
Dark, deep, and strong is he,
And I must ford the Ettrick o'er,
Unless you pity me.

"The iron gate is bolted hard,
At which I knock in vain;
The owner's heart is closer barr'd,
Who hears me thus complain.

"Farewell, farewell! and Mary grant,
When old and frail you be,
You never may the shelter want,
That's now denied to me."

The Ranger on his couch lay warm,
And heard him plead in vain;
But oft amid December's storm,
He'll hear that voice again:

For lo, when through the vapours dank,
Morn shone on Ettrick fair,
A corpse amid the alders rank,
The Palmer welter'd there.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Napoleon Abdicates (1st Time)

'The Chamber formed itself into a secret committee, before which the ministers laid the full extent of the disaster, and announced that the emperor had named Caulaincourt, Fouche, and Carnot, as commissioners to treat of peace with the allies. The ministers were bluntly reminded by the Republican members, and particularly by Henry Lacoste, that they had no basis for any negotiations which could be proposed in the emperor's name, since the allied powers had declared war against Napoleon, who was now in plain terms pronounced, by more than one member, the sole obstacle betwixt the nation and peace. Universal applause followed from all parts of the hall, and left Lucien no longer in doubt, that the representatives intended to separate their cause from that of his brother. He omitted no art of conciliation or entreaty, and,—more eloquent probably in prose than in poetry,—appealed to their love of glory, their generosity, their fidelity, and the oaths which they had so lately sworn. We have been faithful," replied Fayette; "we have followed your brother to the sands of Egypt— to the snows of Russia. The bones of Frenchmen, scattered in every region, attest our fidelity." All seemed to unite in one sentiment, that the abdication of Bonaparte was a measure absolutely necessary. Davoust, the minister at war, arose, and disclaimed, with protestations, any intention of acting against the freedom or independence of the Chamber. This was, in fact, to espouse their cause. A committee of five members was appointed to concert measures with ministers. Even the latter official persons, though named by the emperor, were not supposed to be warmly attached to him. Carnot and Fouche were the natural leaders of the popular party, and Caulaincourt was supposed to be on indifferent terms with Napoleon, whose ministers, therefore, seemed to adopt the interest of the Chamber in preference to his. Lucien saw that his brother's authority was ended, unless it could be maintained by violence. The Chamber of Peers might have been more friendly to the imperial cause, but their constitution gave them as little confidence in themselves as weight with the public. They adopted the three first resolutions of the Lower Chamber, and named a committee of public safety.'

On April 4, 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated from his position as Emperor. The text above from Walter Scott's "Life of Napoleon Buonaparte" gives some of the background.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Edward the Confessor Crowned

'There remained betwixt Cedric and the determination which the lovers desired to come to, only two obstacles,— his own obstinacy, and his dislike of the Norman dynasty. The former feeling gradually gave way before the endearments of his ward, and the pride which he could not help nourishing in the fame of his son. Besides, he was not insensible to the honour of allying his own line to that of Alfred, when the superior claims of the descendant of Edward the Confessor were abandoned for ever. Cedric's aversion to the Norman race of kings was also much undermined,—first, by consideration of the impossibility of ridding England of the new dynasty, a feeling which goes far to create loyalty in the subject to the king de facto; and secondly, by the personal attention of King Richard, who delighted in the blunt humour of Cedric, and, to use the language of the Wardour Manuscript, so dealt with the noble Saxon, that, ere he had been a guest at court for seven days, he had given his consent to the marriage of his ward Rowena and his son Wilfred of Ivanhoe.'

The text above is from Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe".  Edward the Confessor was crowned king of England on April 3, 1043.  Upon his death, Harold Godwinson, the last Saxon king took power.  His rule lasted just long enough to run up against William the Conqueror, who ushered in the Norman era in England that, against the Saxons, forms the clash of culture in "Ivanhoe".

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Battle of Copenhagen

'Prussia, more intent on her own immediate aggrandizement, than mindful of the welfare of Europe in general, took advantage of the universal ill-will against England, to seize upon the King's continental dominions of Hanover, with peculiar breach of public faith, as she herself had guaranteed the neutrality of that country.

The consequences, with regard to the northern powers, are well known. The promptitude of the administration sent a strong fleet to the Baltic; and the well-contested battle of Copenhagen detached Denmark from the Northern Confederacy. Sweden had joined it unwillingly; and Russia altered her course of policy in consequence of the death of Paul. That unhappy prince had surmounted the patience of his subjects, and fell a victim to one of those conspiracies, which in arbitrary monarchies, especially such as partake of the Oriental character, supply all the checks of a moderate and free constitution, where the prerogative of the crown is limited by laws. In these altered circumstances, the cause of dispute was easily removed, by the right of search being subjected to equitable regulations and modifications.

Bonaparte received the news of Paul's death with much more emotion than he was usually apt to testify. It is said, that, for the first time in his life, a passionate exclamation of "Mon Dieu!” escaped him, in a tone of sorrow and surprise. With Paul's immense power, and his disposition to place it at the disposal of France, the first consul doubtless reckoned upon the accomplishment of many important plans which his death disconcerted. It was natural, also, that Napoleon should be moved by the sudden and violent end of a prince, who had manifested so much admiration of his person and his qualities. He is said to have dwelt so long on the strangeness of the incident, that Fouche was obliged to remind him, that it was a mode of changing a chief magistrate, or a course of administration, which was common to the empire in which it took place.'

The Battle of Copenhagen was fought on April 2, 1801. Sir Walter Scott covered it in his "Life of Napoleon Buonaparte". The outcome of this battle was very favorable for the British, who fought under the command of Admiral Hyde Parker. Another British naval hero, Horatio Nelson, played a pivotal role in the battle. At roughly the same time Russian Czar Paul I was assassinated, which Scott points out altered the course of Russian policy thereafter.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Replacing Maida

'April 1.—Ex uno die disce omnes. Rose at seven or sooner, studied, and wrote till breakfast with Anne, about a quarter before ten. Lady Scott seldom able to rise till twelve or one. Then I write or study again till one. At that hour to-day I drove to Huntly Burn, and walked home by one of the hundred and one pleasing paths which I have made through the woods I have planted—now chatting with Tom Purdie, who carries my plaid, and speaks when he pleases, telling long stories of hits and misses in shooting twenty years back—sometimes chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy—and sometimes attending to the humours of two curious little terriers of the Dandie Dinmont breed, together with a noble wolf-hound puppy which Glengarry has given me to replace Maida...'

From Scott's Journal; April 1, 1826.  Losing a pet is losing a member of the family for many of us.  Maida the deerhound was named after the Battle of Maida which occurred during the Napoleonic Wars.  Maida remains aside Sir Walter Scott in the statue that John Steell sculpted for Scott's Monument.