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Publication of the Abbot — The Blair-Adam Club
-Kelso, Waltonhall, &c.— Ballantyne's Novel isťs Library— Acquittal of Queen Caroline Service of the Duke of Buccleuch— Scott elected President of the Royal Society of EdinburghThe Celtic Society-Letters to Lord Montagu, Cornet Scott, Charles Scott, Allan Cunningħam, &c.— Kenilworth published..
In the September of 1820, Longman, in conjunction with Constable, published The Abbot — the continuation, to a certain extent, of The Monastery, of which I barely mentioned the appearance under the preceding March. I had nothing of any consequence to add to the information which the subsequent Introduction affords us respecting the composition and fate of the former of these novels. It was considered as a failure—the first of the series on which any
such sentence was pronounced; — nor have I much to allege in favour of the White Lady of Avenel, generally criticised as the primary blot, or of Sir Percy Shafton, who was loudly, though not quite so generally, condemned. In either case, considered separately, he seems to have erred from dwelling (in the German taste) on materials that might have done very well for a rapid sketch. The phantom with whom we have leisure to become familiar, is sure to fail —even the witch of Endor is contented with a momentary appearance and five syllables of the shade she evokes. And we may say the same of any grotesque absurdity in human manners. Scott might have considered with advantage how lightly and briefly Shakspeare introduces his Euphuismthough actually the prevalent humour of the hour when he was writing. But perhaps these errors might have attracted little notice had the novelist been successful in finding some reconciling medium capable of giving consistence and harmony to his naturally incongruous materials. “ These,” said one of his ablest critics, “ are joined — but they refuse to blend: Nothing can be more poetical in conception, and sometimes in language, than the fiction of the White Maid of Avenel; but when this ethereal personage, who rides on the cloud which for Araby is bound'— who is
• Something between heaven and hell,
-whose existence is linked by an awful and mysterious destiny to the fortunes of a decaying family; when such a being as this descends to clownish pranks, and promotes a frivolous jest about a tailor's bodkin, the course of our sympathies is rudely árrested, and we feel as if the author had put upon us the old fashioned pleasantry of selling a bargain."*
The beautiful natural scenery, and the sterling Scotch characters and manners introduced in the Monastery, are, however, sufficient to redeem even these mistakes; and, indeed, I am inclined to believe that it will ultimately occupy a securer place than some romances enjoying hitherto a far higher reputation, in which he makes no use of Scottish materials.
Sir Walter himself thought well of The Abbot when he had finished it. When he sent me a complete copy, I found on a slip of paper at the begining of volume first, these two lines from Tom Crib's Memorial to Congress
“ Up he rose in a funk, lapped a toothful of brandy,
And to it again! — any odds upon Sandy!”— and whatever ground he had been supposed to lose in the Monastery, part at least of it was regained by this tale, and especially by its most graceful and pathetic portraiture of Mary Stuart. “ The Castle of Lochleven," says the Chief-Commissioner Adam, " is seen at every turn from the northern side of Blair-Adam. This castle, renowned and attractive
* Adolphus's Letters to Heber, p. 13. VOL. VI.
above all the others in my neighbourhood, became an object of much increased attention, and a theme of constant conversation, after the author of Waverley had, by his inimitable power of delineating character - by his creative poetic fancy in representing scenes of varied interest — and by the splendour of his romantic descriptions, infused a more diversified and a deeper tone of feeling into the history of Queen Mary's captivity and escape.”
I have introduced this quotation from a little book privately printed for the amiable Judge's own family and familiar friends, because Sir Walter owned to myself at the time, that the idea of The Abbot had arisen in his mind during a visit to Blair-Adam. In the pages of the tale itself, indeed, the beautiful localities of that estate are distinctly mentioned, with an allusion to the virtues and manners that adorn its mansion, such as must have been intended to satisfy the possessor (if he could have had any doubts on the subject) as to the authorship of those novels.
The Right Honourable William Adam — (who must pardon my mentioning him here as the only man I ever knew that rivalled Sir Walter Scott in uniform graciousness of bonhommie and gentleness of humour)* — was appointed, in 1815, to the Presidency of the Court for Jury. Trial in Civil Cases, then instituted in Scotland, and he thenceforth spent a great part of his time at his paternal seat in Kin. ross-shire. Here, about Midsummer 1816, he received a visit from his near relation William Clerk, Adam Fergusson, his hereditary friend and especial favourite, and their lifelong intimate, Scott. They remained with him for two or three days, in the course of which they were all so much delighted with their host, and he with them, that it was resolved to reassemble the party, with a few additions, at the same season of every following year. This was the origin of the Blair-Adam Club, the regular , members of which were in number nine; viz. the four already named—the Chief Commissioner's son, Admiral Sir Charles Adam—his son-in-law, the late Mr Anstruther Thomson of Charleton, in Fifeshire
* See ante, Vol. V. p. 46.
- Mr Thomas Thomson, the Deputy-Register of Scotland — his brother, the Rev. John Thomson, minister of Duddingston, who, though a most diligent and affectionate parish-priest, has found leisure to make himself one of the first masters of the British School of Landscape Painting —and the Right Hon. Sir Samuel Shepherd, who, after filling with high distinction the office of Attorney-General in England, became Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer in Scotland, shortly after the third anniversary of this brotherhood, into which he was immediately welcomed with unanimous cordiality. They usually contrived to meet on a Friday; spent the Saturday in a ride to some scene of historical interest within an easy distance ; enjoyed a quiet