Monday, April 16, 2012

Smiles Passes


Scottish writer Samuel Smiles’ birth has been covered.  He died on April 16th, 1904. Among other publications, Smiles was famous for his work “Self Help”.  Smiles had something to say about Walter Scott in that work.

‘Literary life affords abundant illustrations of the same power of
perseverance; and perhaps no career is more instructive, viewed in
this light, than that of Sir Walter Scott.  His admirable working
qualities were trained in a lawyer's office, where he pursued for
many years a sort of drudgery scarcely above that of a copying
clerk.  His daily dull routine made his evenings, which were his
own, all the more sweet; and he generally devoted them to reading
and study.  He himself attributed to his prosaic office discipline
that habit of steady, sober diligence, in which mere literary men
are so often found wanting.  As a copying clerk he was allowed 3d.
for every page containing a certain number of words; and he
sometimes, by extra work, was able to copy as many as 120 pages in
twenty-four hours, thus earning some 30s.; out of which he would
occasionally purchase an odd volume, otherwise beyond his means.

During his after-life Scott was wont to pride himself upon being a
man of business, and he averred, in contradiction to what he called
the cant of sonneteers, that there was no necessary connection
between genius and an aversion or contempt for the common duties of
life.  On the contrary, he was of opinion that to spend some fair
portion of every day in any matter-of-fact occupation was good for
the higher faculties themselves in the upshot.  While afterwards
acting as clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, he performed
his literary work chiefly before breakfast, attending the court
during the day, where he authenticated registered deeds and
writings of various kinds.  On the whole, says Lockhart, "it forms
one of the most remarkable features in his history, that throughout
the most active period of his literary career, he must have devoted
a large proportion of his hours, during half at least of every
year, to the conscientious discharge of professional duties."  It
was a principle of action which he laid down for himself, that he
must earn his living by business, and not by literature.  On one
occasion he said, "I determined that literature should be my staff,
not my crutch, and that the profits of my literary labour, however
convenient otherwise, should not, if I could help it, become
necessary to my ordinary expenses."

His punctuality was one of the most carefully cultivated of his
habits, otherwise it had not been possible for him to get through
so enormous an amount of literary labour.  He made it a rule to
answer every letter received by him on the same day, except where
inquiry and deliberation were requisite.  Nothing else could have
enabled him to keep abreast with the flood of communications that
poured in upon him and sometimes put his good nature to the
severest test.  It was his practice to rise by five o'clock, and
light his own fire.  He shaved and dressed with deliberation, and
was seated at his desk by six o'clock, with his papers arranged
before him in the most accurate order, his works of reference
marshalled round him on the floor, while at least one favourite dog
lay watching his eye, outside the line of books.  Thus by the time
the family assembled for breakfast, between nine and ten, he had
done enough--to use his own words--to break the neck of the day's
work.  But with all his diligent and indefatigable industry, and
his immense knowledge, the result of many years' patient labour,
Scott always spoke with the greatest diffidence of his own powers.
On one occasion he said, "Throughout every part of my career I have
felt pinched and hampered by my own ignorance."…’

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