Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Wednesday 29 February 1659/60

To my office, and drank at Will’s with Mr. Moore, who told me how my Lord is chosen General at Sea by the Council, and that it is thought that Monk will be joined with him therein. Home and dined, after dinner my wife and I by water to London, and thence to Herring’s, the merchant in Coleman Street, about 50l. which he promises I shall have on Saturday next. So to my mother’s, and then to Mrs. Turner’s, of whom I took leave, and her company, because she was to go out of town to-morrow with Mr. Pepys into Norfolk. Here my cosen Norton gave me a brave cup of metheglin, the first I ever drank. To my mother’s and supped there.

As February 29th comes so infrequently, it may serve as an excuse to imbibe, as did Samuel Pepys, who records in his journal trying metheglin for the first time.  Pepys doesn’t mention whether he enjoyed this libation (spiced mead).  Walter Scott provides Henry the smith in “The Fair Maid of Perth” with metheglin to spice up his story.

‘The smith, though reluctantly, was obliged to defer to the reasoning of his proposed father in law, and, once determined to accept the honour destined for him by the fathers of the city, he extricated himself from the crowd, and hastened home to put on his best apparel; in which he presently afterwards repaired to the council house, where the ponderous oak table seemed to bend under the massy dishes of choice Tay salmon and delicious sea fish from Dundee, being the dainties which the fasting season permitted, whilst neither wine, ale, nor metheglin were wanting to wash them down…’

Scott, by the way, recorded one February 29th entry in his journal; in 1828.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Methodist Church Chartered

‘Wesley you alone can touch; but will you not have the hive about you? When I was about twelve years old, I heard him preach more than once, standing on a chair, in Kelso churchyard. He was a most venerable figure, but his sermons were vastly too colloquial for the taste of Saunders. He told many excellent stories. One I remember, which he said had happened to him at Edinburgh. "A drunken dragoon," said Wesley, "was commencing an assertion in military fashion, G—d eternally d—n me, just as I was passing. I touched the poor man on the shoulder, and when he turned round fiercely, said calmly, you mean 'God bless you.'" In the mode of telling the story he failed not to make us sensible how much his patriarchal appearance, and mild yet bold rebuke, overawed the soldier, who touched his hat, thanked him, and, I think, came to chapel that evening.’

Walter Scott’s recollection of John Wesley are taken from a letter Scott wrote to Robert Southey on April 4, 1819.  They are conveniently located here:, along with many other interesting comments.  On February 28th, 1784, Wesley chartered the Methodist Church. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

John Steinbeck

‘Just as Steinbeck read the natural landscape around him, so did he read actual books and with the same passion and attention to detail; reading, then, was another formative influence,  His mother had been a schoolteacher, and her story-loving family helped avail the young Steinbeck of the tales of Hans Christian Anderson and Arabian Nights, as well as the chivalrous novels of Sir Walter Scott.’

The text above comes from “Bloom’s How to Write about John Steinbeck”,  by Catherine Kordich.  The author of “Of Mice and Men” was born on February 27th, 1902.   

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Escape from Elba

‘At length Mariotti, the French consul at Leghorn, and Spannoki, the Tuscan governor of that town, informed Sir Niel Campbell that it was certainly determined at Elba, that Buonaparte, with his guards, should embark for the Continent. Sir Neil was at Leghorn when he received this intelligence, and had left the Partridge sloop of war to cruise round Elba. It was naturally concluded that Italy was the object of Napoleon, to join with his brother-in-law Murat, who was at that time, fatally for himself, raising his banner.

On the 25th of February [1815], the Partridge having come to Leghorn and fetched off Sir Niel Campbell, the appearance, as the vessel approached Porto Ferrajo on her return, of the national guard on the batteries, instead of the crested grenadiers of the Imperial guard, at once apprised the British resident of what had happened. When he landed, he found the mother and sister of Buonaparte in a well-assumed agony of anxiety about the fate of their Emperor, of whom they affected . to know nothing, except that he had steered towards the coast of Barbary. They appeared extremely desirous to detain Sir Niel Campbell on shore. Resisting their entreaties, and repelling the more pressing arguments of the governor, who seemed somewhat disposed to use force to prevent him from re-embarking, the British envoy regained his vessel, and set sail in pursuit of the adventurer. But it was too late; the Partridge only obtained a distant sight of the flotilla, after Buonaparte and his forces had landed.’

From Walter Scott’s “The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte”.  Napoleon’s hundred days began February 26, 1815.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Forest of Dean

All the morning at the office. At noon with Mr. Moore to the Coffee-house, where among other things the great talk was of the effects of this late great wind; and I heard one say that he had five great trees standing together blown down; and, beginning to lop them, one of them, as soon as the lops were cut off, did, by the weight of the root, rise again and fasten. We have letters from the forest of Deane, that above 1000 Oakes and as many beeches are blown down in one walk there. And letters from my father tell me of 20l. hurt done to us at Brampton….’

It must have been a mighty wind that felled so many trees, as Samuel Pepys reports in his diary.  The forest of Dean now comprises more than 42 square miles.  Walter Scott indicates that the forest was more severely impacted by mining, that by the wind storm, which occurred more than 100 years earlier.  From “The Betrothed”:

‘The trampling and galloping of horse was soon heard, announcing the approach of the patrol left by the Constable for the protection of the mansion, and who now, collecting from their different stations, came prepared to attend the Lady Eveline on her further road to Gloucester, great part of which lay through the extensive forest of Dean, then a sylvan region of large extent, though now much denuded of trees for the service of the iron mines…’

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kircher's Musurgia Universalis

‘Monday 24 February 1667/68

Up, and to my office, where most of the morning, entering my journal for the three days past. Thence about noon with my wife to the New Exchange, by the way stopping at my bookseller’s, and there leaving my Kircher’s Musurgia to be bound, and did buy “L’illustre Bassa,” in four volumes, for my wife…’.

It’s good to learn, from his diary, that Samuel Pepys enjoyed his books.  Jesuit polymath Anathasius Kircher’s “Musurgia Universalis” was published in 1650.  Walter Scott was familiar with Kircher’s work, including his words in “The Antiquary”.

"The learned doctor is not infallible, I presume?" 

"No; but he is one of our first chemists; and this tramping philosopher of yours—this Dousterswivel—is, I have a notion, one, of those learned adventurers described by Kirchner, Artem habent sine arte, partem sine parte, quorum medium est mentiri, vita eorum mendicatum ire; that is to say, Miss Wardour"— 

"It is unnecessary to translate," said Miss Wardour—"I comprehend your general meaning; but I hope Mr. Dousterswivel will turn out a more trustworthy character."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

John Keats

Poet John Keats died on February 23rd, 1821.  He was only 25 when he died, but he certainly made his mark in the world.  Keats seems to feel more or less favorably toward Walter Scott.  Much less so of Scott’s son-in-law, John Gibson Lockhart. 

Of Scott, Keats writes, in a letter  to his brothers George and Thomas dated January 5th, 1818:

‘You ask me what degrees there are between Scott’s novels and those of Smollett. They appear to me to be quite distinct in every particular, more especially in their aims. Scott endeavours to throw so interesting and romantic a colouring into common and low characters as to give them a touch of the sublime. Smollett on the contrary pulls down and levels what with other men would continue romance. The grand parts of Scott are within the reach of more minds than the finest humours in Humphrey Clinker.’

And Lockhart is discussed in this section from “The Life of John Keats”, by Charles Armitage Brown:

‘Immediately on the appearance of his first volume "'Blackwood's Magazine'" commenced a series of attacks upon him, month after month. These attacks doubtless originated and were carried on in unprincipled party spirit. The inexperienced Keats, without a thought of the consequence, in a political point of view, had addressed his volume to his friend Leigh Hunt in a dedicatory sonnet; and, still less to be forgiven, he had written another sonnet on the day Leigh Hunt left prison, where he had been confined for two years, in expiation of what had been construed into a disloyal libel. There was no indication of criticism in "'Blackwood's Magazine'" on Keats's works; there was nothing but abuse and ridicule to prevent their sale. An author's person, however objectionable, cannot have any thing to do with a question on his literary merits. These hirelings, however, pretended to think otherwise; and, in order to hold him up to public ridicule, they dealt unreservedly in falsehood. They represented him as affected, effeminate, and sauntering about without a neckcloth, in imitation of the portrait of Spenser; every word of which was as far from the truth as their jokes on 'pimply-faced Hazlitt', one whom I never saw with a pimple on his face. Hazlitt himself remarked to me,--'Of what use would it be were I publicly to convict them of untruth in this description of me?--of none whatever. They would then persuade their readers, far more to blame than themselves, that in their misrepresentation consisted the very marrow, the excellence of the jest;--nay, that the jest would be nothing if it were true.' The power of these writers, with their unremitting ridicule was great, for they had talent. Mr Lockhart, the son in law of Sir Walter Scott, was generally known as the editor of "'Blackwood's Magazine'" at that time. At a later period indeed he denied he was the editor; but he refused to deny that he ever had been the editor.’

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sitting with Smith

February 22 [1828].—Went to Court, and remained there until one o'clock. Then to Mr. Colvin Smith's and sat to be stared at till three o'clock. This is a great bore even when you have a companion, sad when you are alone and can only disturb the painter by your chatter…

The text above comes from Scott's journal.  Colvin Smith’s portrait of Walter Scott proved immensely popular, and Scott sat with him on more than one occasion.  Smith’s work can be viewed here: