Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review of Moore's "Life of Byron"

‘…When the power of the mind is growing so fast, it is of immense importance to make the feeling of literary obligation firm and strong, and to enforce it with an authority which will neither be defied nor resisted; and this can be done without difficulty, because men of taste, and poets more than others, have their intellectual being in the world’s good opinion. The poet, more than all, needs this restraint of general opinion. The historian makes a slow and patient impression on others; the force of the orator, except in subjects of unusual interest, is felt in a space hardly broader than the thunder-cloud of the storm; but the works of Byron, like those of Scott, not confined to the bounds of their language, have been read, we have no doubt, by the northern light at Tornea, and by the pine-torch under the Rocky Mountains; and in all the various regions between made the wayfaring forget their weariness, and the lonely their solitude, bearing enjoyment to a million of hearts at once, as if by supernatural power….’

The great poet Lord Byron and Walter Scott are placed in company with one another in William Peabody’s review of Moore’s “Life of Byron”, which was published in the “North American Review”.   The article appeared on July 31, 1830. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thomas Gray

Roughly two weeks before Walter Scott was born, English poet Thomas Gray died.  The date was July 30, 1771, and Gray was 54 at the time.  Reading Gray was part of Scott’s education, as the following two passages from John Gibson Lockhart’s “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott” show.

‘…I have found, however, two note-books, inscribed "Walter Scott, 1792" containing a variety of scraps and hints which may help us to fill up our notion of his private studies during that year. He appears to have used them indiscriminately. We have now an extract from the author he happened to be reading; now a memorandum of something that had struck him in conversation; a fragment of an essay; transcripts of favorite poems; remarks on curious cases in the old records of the Justiciary Court; in short, a most miscellaneous collection, in which there is whatever might have been looked for, with perhaps the single exception of original verse. One of the books opens with: "Vegtam's Kvitha, or The Descent of Odin, with the Latin of Thomas Bartholine, and the English poetical version of Mr. Gray; with some account of the death of Balder, both as narrated in the Edda, and as handed down to us by the Northern historians—Auctore Gualtero Scott." The Norse original and the two versions are then transcribed; and the historical account appended, extending to seven closely written quarto pages, was, I doubt not, read before one or other of his debating societies. Next comes a page, headed "Pecuniary Distress of Charles the First," and containing a transcript of a receipt for some plate lent to the King in 1643. He then copies Langhorne's Owen of Carron; the verses of Canute, on passing Ely; the lines to a cuckoo, given by Warton as the oldest specimen of English verse; a translation "by a gentleman in Devonshire," of the death-song of Regner Lodbrog; and the beautiful quatrain omitted in Gray's Elegy,—
"There scattered oft, the earliest of the year," etc.’

'…Next morning, before breakfast, he carried his MS. to Miss Cranstoun, who was not only delighted but astonished at it; for I have seen a letter of hers to a common friend in the country, in which she says—"Upon my word, Walter Scott is going to turn out a poet—something of a cross, I think, between Burns and Gray."...’

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Voyage in the Lighthouse Yacht to Nova Zembla

July and August are traditional vacation months, and in 1814, not long after "Waverley" was published, Walter Scott began his summer trip to the northern lights with Robert Stevenson.  Below is his diary entry for departure day, July 29th, taken from John Gibson Lockhart’s “Memoirs of the life of Sir Walter Scott”.

Voyage In The Lighthouse Yacht To Nova Zembla, And The Lord Knows Where. 

July 29th, 1814 Sailed from Leith about one o'clock on board the Lighthouse Yacht, conveying six guns, and ten men, commanded by Mr Wilson. The company — Commissioners of the Northern Lights; Robert Hamilton, Sheriff of Lanarkshire; William Erskine, Sheriff of Orkney and Zetland; Adam Duff, Sheriff of Forfarshire. Non-commissioners—Ipse Ego; Mr David Marjoribanks, son to John Marjoribanks, Provost of Edinburgh, a young gentleman; Rev. Mr Turnbull, Minister of Tingwall, in the presbytery of Shetland. But the official chief of the expedition is Mr Stevenson, the Surveyor-Viceroy over the commissioners—a most gentlemanlike and modest man, and well known by his scientific skill.

Reached the Isle of May in the evening; went ashore, and saw the light—an old tower, and much in the form of a border-keep, with a beacon-grate on the top. It is to be abolished for an oil revolving-light, the gratefire only being ignited upon the leeward side when the wind is very high. Quaere—Might not the grate revolve? The isle had once a cell or two upon it. The vestiges of the chapel are still visible. Mr Stevenson proposed demolishing the old tower, and I recommended ruining it a la picturesque—i. e. demolishing it partially. The island might be made a delightful residence for seabathers.

On board again in the evening: watched the progress of the ship round Fifeness, and the revolving motion of the now distant Bell-Rock light until the wind grew rough, and the landsmen sick. To bed at eleven, and slept sound.’

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Marshal Edouard Mortier

‘…When he entered the gates of Moscow, Buonaparte, as if unwilling to encounter the sight of the empty streets, stopt immediately on entering the first suburb 1.  His troops were quartered in the desolate city. During the first few hours after their arrival, an obscure rumour, which could not be traced, but one of those which are sometimes found to get abroad before the approach of some awful certainty, announced that the city would be endangered by fire in the course of the night. The report seemed to arise from those evident circumstances which rendered the event probable, but no one took any notice of it, until at midnight, when the soldiers were startled from their quarters by the report that the town was in flames. The memorable conflagration began amongst the coachmakers' warehouses and workshops in the Bazaar, or general market, which was the most rich district of the city. It was imputed to accident, and the progress of the flames was subdued by the exertions of the French soldiers. Napoleon, who had been roused by the tumult, hurried to the spot, and when the alarm seemed at an end, he retired, not to his former quarters in the suburbs, but to the Kremlin, the hereditary palace of the only sovereign whom he had ever treated as an equal, and over whom his successful arms had now attained such an apparently immense superiority. Yet he did not sufler himself to be dazzled by the advantage he had obtained, but availed himself of the light of the blazing Bazaar, to write to the Emperor proposals of peace with his own hand. They were despatched by a Russian officer of rank, who had been disabled by indisposition from following the army. But no answer was ever returned,

1 [ " Napoleon appointed Marshal Mortier governor of the capital. 'Above all,' said he to him, ' no pillage! For this you shall be answerable to me with your life. Defend Moscow against all, whether friend or foe.' "—Segur, t. ii. p. 38.J,,,'

Edouard Mortier was among Napoleon’s first group of marshals, and rose to become a duke (courtesy of Napoleon), and Prime Minister of France.  Mortier, who had fought in the Revolutionary Wars, served France past Napoleon’s time, dying on July 28th, 1835, during an attack on Louis-Philippe I by Giuseppe Fieschi.  Scott’s text above comes from “Life of Napoleon Buonaparte”.

Friday, July 27, 2012


‘…When I was a young lad,
My fortune was bad— 

Pshaw! This is not the tune it goes to." Here he fell fast asleep, and sooner or later all his companions in misfortune followed his example.

The benches intended for the repose of the soldiers of the guard, afforded the prisoners convenience enough to lie down, though their slumbers, it may be believed, were neither sound nor undisturbed. But when daylight was but a little while broken, the explosion of gunpowder which took place, and the subsequent fall of the turret to which the mine was applied, would have awakened the Seven Sleepers 1, or Morpheus himself. The smoke, penetrating through the windows, left them at no loss for the cause of the din.

1) Seven Christian youths who are said to have concealed themselves in a cavern near Ephesus during a persecution in the third century, and to have fallen asleep there, not awaking until two or three hundred years later, when Christianity had become the religion of the empire...'

Waking the Seven Sleepers would have been quite a task.  The seven youths of Ephesus woke in the 5th century, according to the story, two centuries after they began snoring.  July 27th is the feast day, so grab six friends, and enjoy a nap.  Scott’s text above comes from “Woodstock”.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw was born this day, July 26th, in 1856.  He lived nearly 100 years, dying in 1950.  Shaw, of course, was famous as a playwright.  Equally significant (at least), Shaw co-founded the London School of Economics. 

Shaw made one memorable statement with Walter Scott’s name involved, which was a backhand compliment to the author.

“With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cottagers of Blenburnie

The author of “The Cottagers of Glenburnie”, Elizabeth Hamilton, was born this day, July 25th, in either 1756 or 1758. She lived nearly until her 70th (or 68th) birthday, in 1816.  The 1859 Chambers edition of this work included a bio of Ms. Hamilton.  From that bio:

 ‘Mrs Elizabeth Hamilton, the accomplished authoress of the present work, was a native of Ireland, having been born in Belfast, in the year 1758. She was descended from a respectable Scottish family, which had emigrated to Ireland, in consequence of the religious persecutions in the time of Charles II. Mrs Hamilton's grandfather, however, had re-established himself in Scotland, where he had procured a civil appointment, and became the father of several children. He died at a comparatively early age in distressed circumstances, and his only son, Elizabeth's father, was left with his two sisters to struggle for themselves in the world. Fortunately, their connections were able and willing to assist them; and while the sisters were received into tho families of their friends, young Hamilton was placed in a commercial house in London, in accordance with his wish to enter into trade. Ultimately ho went over to Ireland, and engaged in business in Belfast…’

Sir Walter Scott is quoted as having said of “The Cottagers of Glenburnie”, that it is "a picture of the rural habits of Scotland, of striking and impressive fidelity."  By her later years, according to the biography already quoted, Ms. Hamilton was traveling in some of the same circle as Scott.

‘…Miss Hamilton's health had become of late years exceedingly precarious, and after the return of her sister to Ireland, she passed some time in Gloucestershire and at Bath. The illness under which she occasionally laboured, assumed now the appearance of gout in the limbs, of the use of which she was sometimes entirely deprived. This disease continued with her, more or less, for the rest of her life. It did not, however, paralyse her mental activity. In 1800, she gave to the public her work, in three volumes, termed the Modern Philosophers, which reached at once a very high degree of popularity. Being published anonymously, in order to give a stronger zest to the humour it contains, it had the honour of being successively ascribed to several of the first authors of the day. The true author, however, was not long in being discovered, and she became at once the admired of the witty, the fashionable, and the great. Among these she easily distinguished the proper objects of friendship; and perhaps no one was ever more fortunate in acquiring the love and esteem of those whose regard she sought. In the number wero Dugald Stewart, Miss Edgeworth, Bishop Watson, Hector M'Neill, Miss Elizabeth Smith, and many other individuals, noted for their virtues and their genius. The frequent excursions which were thought advisable for her health, brought her into contact with many whom she might not otherwise have known…’

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Isle of Dogs

‘Monday 24 July 1665…We set out so late that it grew dark, so as we doubted the losing of our way; and a long time it was, or seemed, before we could get to the water-side, and that about eleven at night, where, when we come, all merry (only my eye troubled me, as I said), we found no ferryboat was there, nor no oares to carry us to Deptford. However, afterwards oares was called from the other side at Greenwich; but, when it come, a frolique, being mighty merry, took us, and there we would sleep all night in the coach in the Isle of Doggs. So we did, there being now with us my Lady Scott, and with great pleasure drew up the glasses, and slept till daylight, and then some victuals and wine being brought us, we ate a bit, and so up and took boat, merry as might be; and when come to Sir G. Carteret’s, there all to bed.’

Samuel Pepys records spending a night on the Isle of Dogs, known only to this blogger as a setting used by an author with the same surname as mine (Iain Sinclair).  Apparently an interesting place for a pint or two.  The Lady Scott in Pepys' diary entry was originally Carolina Carteret, who married Sir Thomas Scott.

Walter Scott knew the Isle of Dogs.  At least well enough to mention it as part of the dialogue in “Peveril of the Peak”.

 "I crave your Grace's pardon humbly," said Sir Geoffrey, "but it is an honour I design for myself, as I apprehend no one can so utterly surrender and deliver him up to his Majesty's service as the father that begot him is entitled to do.--Julian, come forward, and kneel.-- Here he is, please your Majesty--Julian Peveril--a chip of the old block--as stout, though scarce so tall a tree, as the old trunk, when at the freshest. Take him to you, sir, for a faithful servant, /à pendre/, as the French say; if he fears fire or steel, axe or gallows, in your Majesty's service, I renounce him--he is no son of mine--I disown him, and he may go to the Isle of Man, the Isle of Dogs, or the Isle of Devils, for what I care."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Archibald Constable

Publisher Archibald Constable died on July 21st, 1827.  It took until two days later for Walter Scott to record his feelings, in his journal.  Scott was affected when Constable failed in 1826, contributing to Scott’s bankruptcy.

‘July 23 [1827]…Constable's death might have been a most important thing to me if it had happened some years ago, and I should then have lamented it much. He has
lived to do me some injury; yet, excepting the last £5000, I think most
unintentionally. He was a prince of booksellers; his views sharp,
powerful, and liberal; too sanguine, however, and, like many bold and
successful schemers, never knowing when to stand or stop, and not always
calculating his means to his objects with mercantile accuracy. He was
very vain, for which he had some reason, having raised himself to great
commercial eminence, as he might also have attained great wealth with
good management. He knew, I think, more of the business of a bookseller
in planning and executing popular works than any man of his time. In
books themselves he had much bibliographical information, but none
whatever that could be termed literary. He knew the rare volumes of his
library not only by the eye, but by the touch, when blindfolded. Thomas
Thomson saw him make this experiment, and, that it might be complete,
placed in his hand an ordinary volume instead of one of these _libri
rariores_. He said he had over-estimated his memory; he could not
recollect that volume. Constable was a violent-tempered man with those
that he dared use freedom with. He was easily overawed by people of
consequence, but, as usual, took it out of those whom poverty made
subservient to him. Yet he was generous, and far from bad-hearted. In
person good-looking, but very corpulent latterly; a large feeder, and
deep drinker, till his health became weak. He died of water in the
chest, which the natural strength of his constitution set long at
defiance. I have no great reason to regret him; yet I do. If he deceived
me, he also deceived himself.