Monday, October 31, 2011


‘Of writers other than poets, we have already mentioned Philemon Holland's translation of Pliny as a book which did much to perpetuate the names of plants. Eacon's celebrated essay on Gardens may well be reckoned among the treasures of garden literature. After him John Evelyn holds a high place; for though his 'Sylva' is specially devoted to trees, and so might perhaps be more fitly classed with the Herbals of the seventeenth century, yet it stands above and in many respects apart from them all, and retains its peculiar value. 'Evelyn's "Sylva,"' said Sir Walter Scott, 'is still the manual of British planters, as his life, manners, and principles, as illustrated in his Memoirs, ought to be the manual of English gentlemen.'…’

The text above is from “The Quarterly Review”, volume 183.  Walter Scott shared a good portion of John Evelyn’s enthusiasm for trees, and had ample opportunity to enjoy them at Abbotsford.  Evelyn, of course, shares one other trait with Scott, being a famous diarist, himself. The author of "Sylva"  published his memoirs, which cover much the same era as his friend Samuel Pepys.  John Evelyn was born on October 31st, 1620.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Avoiding the Paparazzi

‘October30.—Finding ourselves snugly settled in our Hotel, we determined to remain here at fifteen francs per day. We are in the midst of what can be seen, and we are very comfortably fed and lodged.
Some of our friends in London had pretended that at Paris I might stand some chance of being encountered by the same sort of tumultuary reception which I met in Ireland; but for this I see no ground. It is a point on which I am totally indifferent. As a literary man I cannot affect to despise public applause; as a private gentleman I have always been embarrassed and displeased with popular clamours, even when in my favour. I know very well the breath of which such shouts are composed, and am sensible those who applaud me to-day would be as ready to toss me to-morrow; and I would not have them think that I put such a value on their favour as would make me for an instant fear their displeasure. Now all this disclamation is sincere, and yet it sounds affected. It puts me in mind of an old woman who, when Carlisle was taken by the Highlanders in 1745, chose to be particularly apprehensive of personal violence, and shut herself up in a closet, in order that she might escape ravishment. But no one came to disturb her solitude, and she began to be sensible that poor Donald was looking out for victuals, or seeking for some small plunder, without bestowing a thought on the fair sex; by and by she popped her head out of her place of refuge with the petty question, "Good folks, can you tell when the ravishing is going to begin?" I am sure I shall neither hide myself to avoid applause, which probably no one will think of conferring, nor have the meanness to do anything which can indicate any desire of ravishment. I have seen, when the late Lord Erskine entered the Edinburgh theatre, papers distributed in the boxes to mendicate a round of applause—the natural reward of a poor player.

Celebrity has always been difficult to deal with.  Walter Scott records his feelings on the issue in his journal, from Paris; entry dated October 30, 1826.  Poor Lord Erskine, though.  Thomas Moore mentions him in his journal, from the same time frame (September 6, 1826), as well.  ‘…Talked a good deal about Lord Erskine-said how odious he thought those verses of his “The Muses & Graces will just make a jury” when he first heard them-introducing law terms into love-verses-this, rather hypocritical…’

Saturday, October 29, 2011

James Boswell Born

‘There was a variation of spirits about James Boswell which indicated some slight touch of insanity.  His melancholy, which he complained of to Johnson, was not affected, but constitutional, though doubtless he thought it a mark of high distinction to be afflicted with hypochondria like his moral patron.  But Johnson, however indulgent to his own sinking of the spirits, had little tolerance for those of his imitator.  After all, Bozzy, though submitting to Johnson in everything, had his means of indemnification.  Like the jackanapes mounted on the bear’s back, he contrived now and then to play the more powerful animal a trick by getting him into situations, like the meeting with Wilkes, merely to see how he would look.  The voyage to the Hebrides exhibited some tricks of that kind, the weather being so stormy at that late season that everyone thought they must have drowned.  Undoubtedly Bozzy wanted to see how the Doctor would look in a storm.’ 

October 29, 1740, is the day that James Boswell came into the world.  Sir Walter Scott writes of Bozzy to John Wilson Croker, who later sought Scott’s help toward gaining access to Boswell's papers, through Scott's connection with Boswell's sons, as material for his annotated version of Boswell’s “The Life of Samuel Johnson”.  Scott’s letter is dated January 30, 1829.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sir David Dalrymple

‘…Sir David Dalrymple, in his Annals, relates, that ' Hugh Gifford de Yester died in 1267; that in his castle there was a capacious cavern formed by magical art, and called in the country Bo-hall, i. e. Hobgoblin Hall.' A stair of twenty-four steps led down to this apartment, which is a large and spacious hall, with an arched roof; and though it hath stood for so many centuries, and been exposed to the external air for a period of fifty or sixty years, it is still as firm and entire as if it had only stood a few years. From the floor of this hall, another stair of thirty-six steps leads down to a pit which hath a communication with Hopes-water. A great part of the walls of this large and ancient castle arc still standing. There is a tradition, that the castle of Yester was the last fortification in this country that surrendered to General Gray, sent into Scotland by Protector Somerset." Statistical Account, Vol. XIII. I have only to add, that, in 1737, the Goblin Hall was tenanted by the Marquis of Tweedale's falconer, as I learn from a poem by Boyse, entitled "Retirement," written upon visiting Yester. It is now rendered inaccessible by the fall of the stair.

Sir David Dalrymple's authority for the anecdote is Fordun, whose words are,—" A. D. Mcclxvii, Hugo Giffard de Yester moritur; cujus castrum, vel saltem caveam, et dongionem, arte damonicd antiques relationes ferunt fabrifactas f nam ibidem habetur mirabilis specus subterraneus, opere mirifico construclus, magna terrarum spatio protelatus, qui communiter Bo Hall appellatus est." Lib. X. cap. 21.— Sir David conjectures, that Hugh de Gifford must have been either a very wise man, or a great oppressor…’

The text above is from the notes to Walter Scott’s “Marmion”.  Dalrymple, or Lord Hailes, is known for his historical writing, and for being a fair and honorable judge.  A friend to the Boswell’s, he is thought to have interceded between James Boswell and his father Alexander occasionally to reconcile them.  Unlike Alexander Boswell, who had a famous altercation with Samuel Johnson, Dalrymple enjoyed a friendship with the dictionary writer.  James Boswell mentions Dalrymple in his "The Life of Samuel Johnson":
Sir David Dalrymple, now one of the Judges of Scotland by the title of Lord Hailes, had contributed much to increase my high opinion of Johnson, on account of his writings, long before I attained to a personal acquaintance with him; I, in return, had informed Johnson of Sir David's eminent character for learning and religion; and Johnson was so much pleased, that at one of our evening meetings he gave him for his toast. I at this time kept up a very frequent correspondence with Sir David; and I read to Dr. Johnson to-night the following passage from the letter which I had last received from him:

'..."It gives me pleasure to think that you have obtained the friendship of Mr. Samuel Johnson. He is one of the best moral writers which England has produced. At the same time, I envy you the free and undisguised converse with such a man. May I beg you to present my best respects to him, and to assure him of the veneration which I entertain for the authour of the Rambler and of Rasselas? Let me recommend this last work to you; with the Rambler you certainly are acquainted. In Rasselas you will see a tender-hearted operator, who probes the wound only to heal it. Swift, on the contrary, mangles human nature. He cuts and slashes, as if he took pleasure in the operation, like the tyrant who said, Ita feri ui se sentiat emori." Johnson seemed to be much gratified by this just and well-turned compliment....'

Among Dalrymple’s written works is the “Annals of Scotland”, quoted in Scott's note above.  Lord Hailes was born on October 28, 1726.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


‘…But it is not private life alone, or that tenor of thought which has been depressed into melancholy by gloomy anticipations respecting the future, which disposes the mind to midday fantasies, or to nightly apparitions—a state of eager anxiety, or excited exertion, is equally favourable to the indulgence of such supernatural communications. The anticipation of a dubious battle, with all the doubt and uncertainty of its event, and the conviction that it must involve his own fate, and that of his country, was powerful enough to conjure up to the anxious eye of Brutus the spectre of his murdered friend Cesar, respecting whose death he perhaps thought himself less justified than at the Ides of March, since instead of having achieved the freedom of Rome, the event had only been the renewal of civil wars, and the issue might appear most likely to conclude in the total subjection of liberty. It is not miraculous, that the masculine spirit of Marcus Brutus, surrounded by darkness and solitude, distracted probably by recollection of the kindness and favour of the great individual whom he had put to death to avenge the wrongs of his country, though by the slaughter of his own friend, should at length place before his eyes in person the appearance which termed itself his evil Genius, and promised again to meet him at Philippi. Brutus's own intentions, and his knowledge of the military art, had probably long since assured him that the decision of the civil war must take place at or near that place; and, allowing that his own imagination supplied that part of his dialogue with the spectre, there is nothing else which might not be fashioned in a vivid dream or a waking revery, approaching, in absorbing and engrossing character, the usual matter of which dreams consist. That Brutus, well acquainted with the opinions of the Platonists, should be disposed to receive without doubt the idea that he had seen a real apparition, and was not likely to scrutinize very minutely the supposed vision, maybe naturally conceived; and it is also natural to think, that although no one saw the figure but himself, his contemporaries were little disposed to examine the testimony of a man so eminent, by the strict rules of cross-examination and conflicting evidence, which they might have thought applicable to another person, and a less dignified occasion….’

Marcus Brutus’ birthday is known to be in late October.  Chambers’ Book of Days applies the date of October 27th, in the year 42 B.C.  Sir Walter Scott’s insightful comments are published in his “Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft”.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

William Hogarth

'Marry, hang her, brock!' said the Counsellor, borrowing an exclamation
from Sir Toby Belch; 'just the month in which Ellangowan's distresses
became generally public. But let us hear what she has done.'

Mr. Protocol accordingly, having required silence, began to read the
settlement aloud in a slow, steady, business-like tone. The group around,
in whose eyes hope alternately awakened and faded, and who were straining
their apprehensions to get at the drift of the testator's meaning through
the mist of technical language in which the conveyance had involved it,
might have made a study for Hogarth.

William Hogarth made the pages of Walter Scott’s “Guy Mannering”.  Hogarth was a leading painter in his day, and produced a portrait of David Garrick, among others.  He was also a prolific printmaker.  William Hogarth who died on October 26th, 1764

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

James Beattie

The poet James Beattie was born on October 25th, 1735.  Perhaps the most significant connection between Beattie and Sir Walter Scott is the discovery, this past May, of Beattie’s lost  9,000 word poem “Grotesquaid” in the Abbotsford library.  Beattie’s poem “Minstrel” is his most famous. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gill's Hill Lane

The Radlett Murder, which was posted about on July 16th, occurred this day, October 24th, in 1823.  The murderer, John Thurtell, set up his victim, William Weare, by inviting him to a gambling weekend, with a well-known fellow gambler.  Thurtell owed Weare a substantial sum at this time. Along the way, Thurtell and Weare passed a lane known for murders in its day - Gill's Hill Lane.

This version of the events of that night come from the “Dictionary of National Biography”, and a comment related to Walter Scott is included.  ‘Thurtell was especially exasperated against "Weare, whom he charged with cheating him of £300, by means of false cards, at blind hookey. A reconcilation was, however, patched up, and on Friday, 24 Oct. 1823, Weare consented to accompany Thurtell to the house of a friend named Probert, near Elstree, for a few days' shooting. Picking up Weare near Tyburn, Thurtell drove rapidly in his gig along the St. Albans road towards Elstree. When close to Probert's house in Gill's Hill Lane, Radlett, Thurtell produced a pistol and shot his companion. The latter managed to jump out of the gig, but Thurtell stunned him with the butt of the pistol, and finally cut his throat. The body was taken to Probert's the same evening, but was eventually thrown into a 'green swamp' some two miles distant. Suspicion was promptly aroused by the discovery of the pistol and other evidence of a recent struggle in Gill's Hill Lane, and the murderer's associates, Probert and Hunt, turned king's evidence upon Thurtell being arrested by George Ruthven of Bow Street at the Coach and Horses, Conduit Street, on 28 Oct…

The Gill's Hill tragedy, in spite of the vulgar brutality of its details, laid a powerful hold upon the popular imagination. Thurtell was a sporting man, who was thought to have been hardly used by fortune, was for the time almost a popular hero. Hazlitt spoke of the gigantic energy with which he impressed those who heard his rhetoric at the trial. Sir Walter Scott made a 'variorum ' out of the numberless newspaper and chapbook accounts of the tragedy…’