Monday, April 30, 2012


‘Gauss knew all the works of Sir Walter Scott very thoroughly and he passionately admired them.  The tragic ending in “Kenilworth” made a painful impression on him and he would have preferred not to read it.  He read Scott’s “Life of Napoleon” with great interest and felt quite satisfied, being in full agreement with the author.  One day he found a passage in Scott which set him to laughing.  It was just too much for an astronomer.  Gauss compared all the editions he could get his hands on to make sure it was not a misprint.  The words were: “The moon rises broad in the northwest”. ..’

We know Carl Gauss more as a mathematician than an astronomer.  Any student of statistics is familiar with his work.  Gauss was apparently very sensitive to sad stories, as the passage from Dunnington, Gray and Dohse’s “Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science” indicates.  Carl Gauss was born on April 30th, 1777.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Works on Napoleon

Following yesterday’s post with a little more on Walter Scott’s friend Lord Byron, Scott enjoyed more initial success with his work on Napoleon, than Byron did with his “Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte”.  On April 29th, 1814, Byron responded to letter from publisher John Murray, offering effectively to relieve Murray from having to publish further of his poetry, after the failure of this ode.  Both Murray’s and Byron’s letters are found in Samuel Smiles’ “A Publisher and his Friends”

‘[Murry to Byron]…The "Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte," which appeared in April 1814, was on
the whole a failure. It was known to be Lord Byron's, and its
publication was seized upon by the press as the occasion for many bitter
criticisms, mingled with personalities against the writer's genius and
character. He was cut to the quick by these notices, and came to the
determination to buy back the whole of the copyrights of his works, and
suppress every line he had ever written. On April 29, 1814, he wrote to
Mr. Murray:

Lord Byron to John Murray.

April 29, 1814.

I enclose a draft for the money; when paid, send the copyrights. I
release you from the thousand pounds agreed on for "The Giaour" and
"Bride," and there's an end.... For all this, it might be well to assign
some reason. I have none to give, except my own caprice, and I do not
consider the circumstance of consequence enough to require
explanation.... It will give me great pleasure to preserve your
acquaintance, and to consider you as my friend. Believe me very truly,
and for much attention,

Yours, etc.,


After further communication from Murray, Byron reconsidered.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mutiny on the Bounty

‘When Bligh in stern reproach demanded where
Was now his grateful sense of former care?
Where all his hopes to see his name aspire,
And blazon Britain’s thousand glories higher?
His feverish lips  thus broke their gloomy spell,
“ ‘Tis that! Tis that! I am in hell! In hell!” *

* Christian then said “Come Captain Bligh, your officers and men are now in the boat, and you must go with them: if you attempt to make the least resistance, you will instantly be put to death…’

The text of poetry and associated note above is from Lord Byron’s “The Island, or Christian and his Comrades”.  Byron’s poem is found in “The Poetical Works of Lord Byron”, which includes notes compiled by Sir Walter Scott.  The Mutiny on the Bounty occurred on April 18, 1789.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Battle of Carbisdale

April 27th, 1650 was a black day for the great Montrose, James Graham.  On that day,
the Royalist Montrose and a host of Orcadians, fighting in support of King Charles I,
lost the Battle of Carbisdale, to a Covenanter force led by the the Marquess of Argyll,
Archibald Campbell.  Montrose was supported by the Sinclair clan, and survived the battle,
escaping with the help of one of the Sinclairs.  Montrose surrendered shortly afterward to
Neil MacLeod, who sent him to Edinburgh to meet his end.
Another family name from the Battle of Carbisdale is that of Whitefoord.  In
“The Whitefoord Papers”, edited by W. Hewins, is found a description of Walter Whiteford.
‘…Colonel Walter Whitefoord, a stout and desperate man,  was one of the Scottish followers
of Montrose, many of whom were at the Hague in 1649. When the Commonwealth sent over
Dr. Dorislaus, the regicide, as their special envoy in April of that year, Whitefoord took part in
the scheme to murder him. On the evening of May 2, just as Dorislaus was sitting down to
supper, Whitefoord and five others burst into his room, and while some of them secured his
servants, Whitefoord, ' after slashing him over the head, passed a sword through his body.
He escaped into the Spanish Netherlands. He is next heard of with Montrose in Scotland,
in 1650. With Sir William Hay of Dalgetty, and 100 men, he was left in Dumbeath Castle,
when Montrose marched to Glenmtiick. After the battle of Carbisdale (April 27, 1650),
the garrison of Dumbeath Castle were forced to surrender, and were sent to Edinburgh…’
The Whitefoord family is one whose history Walter Scott drew on more than once in
his work.  The following comes from the introduction to “The Whitefoord Papers”. 
‘SIR WALTER SCOTT once apologized to the late Mr. Whitefoord for misspelling the family
name in the preface to the Chronicles of the Canongate. ' Dearly as I am myself particular,'
he wrote, ' in the spelling of my name to a " T," I had no right to treat your "O" as a cipher,'
and when he transferred the story of Colonel Charles Whitefoord, in which the mistake
occurred, from the Chronicles to Waverley, he took care to introduce the additional letter.
But the name is, in fact, spelt in at least twelve different ways in authentic documents.
Before the main branch of the family settled down to Whitefoord, the forms Quhitefurd,
Quhitefurde, Quhitefuird, and other variations, frequently occur. The first of the family is
said to have been a certain Walter, who, for his services against the Norwegians at the
Battle of Largs in 1263, received the lands of Whitefoord near Paisley, in the shire of
Renfrew. It is much more likely that Walter derived his name from the lands,
than that they were named after him.’

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hume Again

Scottish Enlightenment historian Nicholas Phillipson recently updated his short biography of David Hume; “David Hume The Philosopher as Historian”.  In this work, Phillipson observes, ‘…”Of Superstition and Enthusiasm” was one of a series of boadsides that Hume fired at the Christian Church and it was to have a profound influence on historians like William Robertson, Edward Gibbon, and Sir Walter Scott..’  

Later in this work, Phillipson compares Hume’s  "History of England" coverage of the hysteria surrounding the Popish Plot of 1678 to Scott’s treatment of the Porteous Riots:

‘..Hume’s discussion of the mass hysteria that gave birth to the plot is succinct, subtle and memorable and gives one a foretaste of the greatest of all such descriptions, Sir Walter Scott’s account of the Porteous Riots in “The Heart of Midlothian.”…’

David Hume was born on April 26th, 1711.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cromwell Born

‘Since it hath pleased the Almighty God, out of his infinite mercy, so to make us happy, by restoring of our native King to us, and us unto our native liberty through him, that now the good may say, magna temporum felicitas ubi sentire quoe velis, et dicere licet quoe sentias, we cannot but esteem ourselves engaged in the highest of degrees, to render unto him the highest thanks we can express. Although, surpris'd with joy, we become as lost in the performance; when gladness and admiration strikes us silent, as we look back upon the precipice of our late condition, and those miraculous deliverances beyond expression. Freed from the slavery, and those desperate perils, we dayly lived in fear of, during the tyrannical times of that detestable usurper, Oliver Cromwell; he who had raked up such judges, as would wrest the most innocent language into high treason, when he had the cruel conscience to take away our lives, upon no other ground of justice or reason, (the stones of London streets would rise to witness it, if all the citizens were silent.) And with these judges had such councilors, as could advise him unto worse, which will less want of witness…’

The text above helps set the scene for Walter Scott’s “Woodstock”. The "detestable usurper" referred to, Oliver Cromwell, was born on April 25th, 1599.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anthony Trollope

‘…Sir Walter Scott had whetted the British taste for historical fiction, and was throughout Trollope’s life one of his favorite novelists.  Scott’s successors in that genre, G.P.R. James and William Harrison Ainsworth, were in full career as Trollope turned to his third novel [La Vendee].

He had read with pleasure “the delightful Memoirs of Madame de Rochejaquelin,” translated by Sir Walter Scott in 1826, which gave him and intimate and moving account of the revolt of the people of La Vendee…’

The text above comes from Robert H. Super’s “The Chronicler of Barsetshire: A Life of Anthony Trollope”.  Novelist Anthony Trollope was born this day, April 24th, in 1815.  Despite the sound starting point (Scott's translation), Trollope’s foray into historical fiction was not received well, either by critics or the public.  Certainly he had better success with his Barsetshire and Palliser novels, which are among the most popular ever written.