Monday, January 23, 2012

A Walk with Skene

On January 23rd, 1826, in his journal, Walter Scott recorded walking with old friend JamesSkene, after midnight, during a particularly difficult stretch of writing.

‘…Wrote till twelve A.M., finishing half of what I call a good day's work—ten pages of print, or rather twelve. Then walked in Princes Street pleasure-grounds with good Samaritan James Skene, the only one among my numerous friends who can properly be termed amicus curarum mearum, others being too busy or too gay, and several being estranged by habit…’

Lockhart’s notes to Scott’s Journal include this item from “Mr’s Skene’s Reminiscences” of Scott:

On his return from this walk, Mr. Skene wrote out his recollections of the conversation that had taken place. Of his power to rebuild his shattered fortunes, Scott said, "'But woe's me, I much mistrust my vigour, for the best of my energies are already expended. You have seen, my dear Skene, the Roman coursers urged to their speed by a loaded spur attached to their backs to whet the rusty metal of their ager—ay! it is a leaden spur indeed, and it goads hard.'
"I added, 'But what do you think, Scott, of the bits of flaming paper that are pasted on the flanks of the poor jades? If we could but stick certain small documents on your back, and set fire to them, I think you might submit for a time to the pricking of the spur.' He laughed, and said, 'Ay! Ay!—these weary bills, if they were but as the thing that is not—come, cheer me up with an account of the Roman Carnival.' And, accordingly, with my endeavour to do so, he seemed as much interested as if nothing had happened to discompose the usual tenor of his mind, but still our conversation ever and anon dropt back into the same subject, in the course of which he said to me, 'Do you know I experience a sort of determined pleasure in confronting the very worst aspect of this sudden reverse,—in standing, as it were, in the breach that has overthrown my fortunes, and saying, Here I stand, at least an honest man. And God knows, if I have enemies, this I may at least with truth say, that I have never wittingly given cause of enmity in the whole course of my life, for even the burnings of political hate seemed to find nothing in my nature to feed the flame. I am not conscious of having borne a grudge towards any man, and at this moment of my overthrow, so help me God, I wish well and feel kindly to every one. And if I thought that any of my works contained a sentence hurtful to any one's feelings, I would burn it. I think even my novels (for he did not disown any of them) are free from that blame.'
"He had been led to make this protestation from my having remarked to him the singularly general feeling of goodwill and sympathy towards him which every one was anxious to testify upon the present occasion. The sentiments of resignation and of cheerful acquiescence in the dispensation of the Almighty which he expressed were those of a Christian thankful for the blessings left, and willing, without ostentation, to do his best. It was really beautiful to see the workings of a strong and upright mind under the first lash of adversity calmly reposing upon the consolation afforded by his own integrity and manful purposes. 'Lately,' he said, 'you saw me under the apprehension of the decay of my mental faculties, and I confess that I was under mortal fear when I found myself writing one word for another, and misspelling every word, but that wore off, and was perhaps occasioned by the effects of the medicine I had been taking, but have I not reason to be thankful that that misfortune did not assail me?—Ay! few have more reason to feel grateful to the Disposer of all events than I have.'"

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