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.'

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