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LIFE OF SIR WALTER SCOTT.
Winter at Abbotsford— Parliamentary Reform in
agitation — William Laidlaw—John Nicolson Mrs Street — Fit of Apoplexy in November Count Robert of Paris - A Fourth Epistle of Malagrowther written—and suppressed – Unpleasant discussions with Ballantyne and Cadell -- Novel resumed - Second Dividend to Creditors, and their gift of the Library, fc. at Abbotsford — Last Will executed in Edinburgh Fortune's Mechanism— Letter on Politics to the
Hon. H. F. Scott -Address for the County of VOL. X.
Selkirk written — and rejected by the Freeholders— County Meeting at Jedburgh— Speech on Reform - Scott insulted — Mr F. Grants Portrait.
OCT. 1830 - APRIL 1832.
The reader has already seen that Sir Walter had many misgivings in contemplating his final retirement from the situation he had occupied for sixand-twenty years in the Court of Session. Such a breach in old habits is always a serious experiment; but in his case it was very particularly so, because it involved his losing, during the winter months, when men most need society, the intercourse of almost all that remained to him of dear familiar friends. He had besides a love for the very stones of Edinburgh, and the thought that he was never again to sleep under a roof of his own in his native city, cost him many a pang. But he never alludes either in his Diary or in his letters (nor do I remember that he ever did so in conversation) to the circumstance which, far more than all besides, occasioned care and regret in the bosom of his family. However he might cling to the notion that his recent ailments sprung merely from a disordered stomach, they had dismissed that dream, and the heaviest of their thoughts was, that he was fixing himself in the country just
when his health, perhaps his life, might depend any given hour on the immediate presence of a surgical hand. They reflected that the only medical practitioner resident within three miles of him might, in case of another seizure, come too late, even although the messenger should find him at home; but that his practice extended over a wide range of thinly peopled country, and that at the hour of need he might as probably be half a day's journey off as at Melrose. We would fain have persuaded him that his library, catalogues, and other papers, had fallen into such confusion, that he ought to have some clever young student in the house during the winter to arrange them; and had he taken the suggestion in good part, a medical student would of course have been selected. But, whether or not he suspected our real motive, he would listen to no such plan ; and his friendly surgeon (Mr James Clarkson) then did the best he could for us, by instructing a confidential domestic, privately, in the use of the lancet. This was John Nicolson— a name never to be mentioned by any of Scott's family without respect and gratitude. He had been in the household from his boyhood, and was about this time (poor Dalgleish retiring from weak health) advanced to the chief place in it. Early and continued kindness had made a very deep impression on this fine handsome young man's warm heart; he possessed intelligence, good sense, and a calm tem
per; and the courage and dexterity which Sir Walter had delighted to see him display in sports and pastimes, proved henceforth of inestimable service to the master whom he regarded, I verily believe, with the love and reverence of a son. Since I have reached the period at which human beings owe so much to ministrations of this class, I may as well name by the side of Nicolson, Miss Scott's maid, Mrs Celia Street; a young person whose unwearied zeal, coupled with a modest tact that stamped her one of Nature's gentlewomen, contributed hardly less to the comfort of Sir Walter and his children during the brief remainder of his life.*
Affliction, as it happened, lay heavy at this time on the kind house of Huntly-Burn also. The eldest Miss Fergusson was on her deathbed; and thus, when my wife and I were obliged to move southwards at the beginning of winter, Sir Walter was left almost entirely dependent on his daughter Anne, William Laidlaw, and the worthy domestics whom I have been naming. Mr Laidlaw attended him occasionally as amanuensis when his fingers were chilblained, and often dined as well as breakfasted with him: and Miss Scott well knew that in all circumstances she might lean to Laidlaw with the confidence of a niece or a daughter.
* On Sir Walter's death, Nicolson passed into the service of Mr Morritt at Rokeby, where he is now butler. Mrs Street re. mained in my house till 1836, when she married Mr Griffiths, a respectable brewer at Walworth.
A more difficult and delicate task never devolved upon any man's friend, than he had about this time to encounter. He could not watch Scott from hour to hour-above all, he could not write to his dictation, without gradually, slowly, most reluctantly taking home to his bosom the conviction that the mighty mind, which he had worshipped through more than thirty years of intimacy, had lost something, and was daily losing something more, of its energy. The faculties were there, and each of them was every now and then displaying itself in its full vigour; but the sagacious judgment, the brilliant fancy, the unrivalled memory, were all subject to occasional eclipse —
“ Amid the strings his fingere stray’d,
And an uncertain warbling made.”*
Ever and anon he paused and looked round him, like one half waking from a dream, mocked with shadows.
The sad bewilderment of his gaze showed a momentary consciousness that, like Sampson in the lap of the Philistine, “ his strength was passing from him, and he was becoming weak like unto other men.” Then came the strong effort of aroused will — the cloud dispersed as if before an irresistible current of
* Introduction, Lay of the Last Minstrel,