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Scott revisits London-His Portrait by Lawrence, and Bust by Chantrey — Anecdotes by Allan Cunningham - Letters to Mrs Scott, Laidlaw, &c.— His Baronetcy gazetted — Marriage of his Daughter Sophia — Letter to “ the Baron of Galashiels” — Visit of Prince Gustavus Vasa at Abbotsford ----Tenders of Honorary Degrees from Oxford and Cambridge — Letter to Mr Thomas Scott.
At the rising of his Court on the 12th of March, Scott proceeded to London, for the purpose of receiving his baronetcy, which he had been prevented from doing in the spring of the preceding year by his own illness, and again at Christmas by accumulated family afflictions. On his arrival in town, his son the Cornet met him; and they both established themselves at Miss Dumergue's.
One of his first visiters was Sir Thomas Lawrence, who informed him that the King had resolved to adorn the great gallery, then in progress at Windsor Castle, with portraits by his hand of his Majesty's most distinguished contemporaries ; all the reigning monarchs of Europe, and their chief ministers and generals, had already sat for this purpose: on the same walls the King desired to see exhibited those of his own subjects who had attained the highest honours of literature and science — and it was his pleasure that this series should commence with Walter Scott. The portrait was of course begun immediately, and the head was finished before Scott left town. Sir Thomas has caught and fixed with admirable skill one of the loftiest expressions of Scott's countenance at the proudest period of his life: to the perfect truth of the representation, every one who ever surprised him in the act of composition at his desk, will bear witness. The expression, however, was one with which many who had seen the man often, were not familiar; and it was extremely unfortunate that Sir Thomas filled in the figure from a separate sketch after he had quitted London. When I first saw the head, I thought nothing could be better; but there was an evident change for the worse when the picture appeared in its finished state – for the rest of the person had been done on a different scale, and this neglect of proportion takes considerably from the majestic effect which the head
itself, and especially the mighty pile of forehead, had in nature. I hope one day to see a good engraving of the head alone, as I first saw it floating on a dark sea of canvass.
Lawrence told me, several years afterwards, that, in his opinion, the two greatest men he had painted were the Duke of Wellington and Sir Walter Scott; “ and it was odd,” said he, “ that they both chose usually the same hour for sitting — seven in the morning. They were both as patient sitters as I ever had. Scott, however, was, in my case at least, a very difficult subject. I had selected what struck me as his noblest look ; but when he was in the chair before me, he talked away on all sorts of subjects in his usual style, so that it cost me great pains to bring him back to solemnity, when I had to attend to anything beyond the outline of a subordinate feature. I soon found that the surest recipe was to say something that would lead him to recite a bit of poetry. I used to introduce, by hook or by crook, a few linės of Campbell or Byron - he was sure to take up the passage where I left it, or cap it by something better — and then - when he was, as Dryden says of one of his heroes
• Made up of three parts fire - so full of heaven
It sparkled at his eyes'
then was my time—and I made the best use I could of it. The hardest day's-work I had with him was once when *****t accompanied him to my painting room. ***** was in particular gay spirits, and nothing would serve him but keeping both artist and sitter in a perpetual state of merriment by anecdote upon anecdote about poor Sheridan. The anecdotes were mostly in themselves black enough, - but the style of the conteur was irresistibly quaint and comical. When Scott came next, he said he was ashamed of himself for laughing so much as he listened to them ; ' for truly,' quoth he, if the tithe was fact, ***** might have said to Sherry - as Lord Braxfield once said to an eloquent culprit at the bar — • Ye're a vera clever chiel', man, but ye wad be nane the waur o’a hanging.'”
It was also during this visit to London that Scott sat to Mr (now Sir Francis) Chantrey for that bust which alone preserves for posterity the cast of expression most fondly remembered by all who ever mingled in his domestic circle. Chantrey's request that Scott would sit to him was communicated through Mr Allan Cunningham, then (as now) employed as Clerk of the Works in our great Sculptor's establishment. Mr Cunningham, in his early days, when gaining his bread as a stone-mason in Nithsdale, made a pilgrimage on foot into Edinburgh, for the sole purpose of seeing the author of Marmion as he passed along the street. He was now in posses
† A distinguished Whig friend.
sion of a celebrity of his own, and had mentioned to his patron his purpose of calling on Scott to thank him for some kind message he had received, through a common friend, on the subject of those “ Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song,” which first made his poetical talents known to the public. Chantrey embraced this opportunity of conveying to Scott his own long-cherished ambition of modelling his head; and Scott at once assented to the flattering proposal. “ It was about nine in the morning," says Mr Cunningham, “ that I sent in my card to him at Miss Dumergue's in Piccadilly - it had not been gone a minute, when I heard a quick heavy step coming, and in he came, holding out both hands, as was his custom, and saying, as he pressed mine — Allan Cunningham, I am glad to see you. I said something," continues Mr C., " about the pleasure I felt in touching the hand that had charmed me so much. He moved his hand, and with one of his comic smiles, said, “ Ay — and a big brown hand it is. I was a little abashed at first : Scott saw it, and soon put me at my ease; he had the power—I had almost called it the art, but art it was not—of winning one's heart and restoring one's confidence beyond any man I ever met.” Then ensued a little conversation, in which Scott complimented Allan on his ballads, and urged him to try some work of more consequence, quoting Burns's words, “ for dear auld Scotland's sake;" but being engaged to breakfast in a distant