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“ Kind compliments to all at Ditton; you say nothing of your own rheumatism. I am here for the session, unless the wind should blow me south to see the coronation, and I think 800 miles rather a long journey to see a show.
I am always, my dear Lord,
Illness and Death of John Ballantyne — Extract from his Pocketbook - Letters from Blair-Adam
- Castle-Campbell - Sir Samuel Shepherd “ Bailie Mackay,” &c.—Coronation of George IV.- Correspondence with James Hogg and Lord Sidmouth— Letter on the Coronation Anecdotes ---Allan Cunningham's MemorandaCompletion of Chantrey's Bust.
On the 4th of June, Scott being then on one of his short Sessional visits to Abbotsford, received the painful intelligence that his friend John Ballantyne's maladies had begun to assume an aspect of serious and even immediate danger. The elder brother made the communication in these terms:
“ To Sir Walter Scott, Bart. of Abbotsford,
“Edinburgh, Sunday, 3d June 1821. “ Dear Sir,
“ I have this morning had a most heart-breaking letter from poor John, from which the following is an extract. You will judge how it has affected me, who, with all his peculiarities of temper, love him very much. He says
"A spitting of blood has commenced, and you may guess the situation into which I am plunged. We are all accustomed to consider death as certainly inevitable; but his obvious approach is assuredly the most detestable and abhorrent feeling to which human nature can be subject.'
“ This is truly doleful. There is something in it more absolutely bitter to my heart than what I have otherwise suffered. I look back to my mother's peaceful rest, and to my infant’s blessedness—if life be not the extinguishable worthless spark which I cannot think it — but here, cut off in the very middle of life, with good means and strong powers of enjoying it, and nothing but reluctance and repining at the close-I say the truth when I say that I would joyfully part with my right arm, to avert the approaching result. Pardon this, dear sir; my heart and soul are heavy within me. * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * With the deepest respect and gratitude,
At the date of this letter, the invalid was in Roxburghshire; but he came to Edinburgh a day or two afterwards, and died there on the 16th of the same month. I accompanied Sir Walter when one of their last interviews took place, and John's deathbed was a thing not to be forgotten. We sat by him for perhaps an hour, and I think half that space was occupied with his predictions of a speedy end, and details of his last will, which he had just been executing, and which lay on his coverlid; the other half being given, five minutes or so at a time, to questions and remarks, which intimated that the hope of life was still flickering before him— nay, that his interest in all its concerns remained eager. The proof-sheets of a volume of his Novelists Library lay also by his pillow; and he passed from them to his will, and then back to them, as by jerks and starts the unwonted veil of gloom closed upon his imagination, or was withdrawn again. He had, as he said, left his great friend and patron £2000 towards the completion of the new library at Abbotsford—and the spirit of the auctioneer virtuoso flashed up as he began to describe what would, he thought, be the best style and arrangement of the book-shelves. He was interrupted by an agony of asthma, which left him with hardly any signs of life; and ultimately he
did expire in a fit of the same kind. Scott was visibly and profoundly shaken by this scene and its sequel. As we stood together a few days afterwards, while they were smoothing the turf over John's remains in the Canongate Churchyard, the heavens, which had been dark and slaty, cleared up suddenly, and the midsummer sun shone forth in his strength. Scott, ever awake to the “ skiey influences,” cast his eye along the overhanging line of the Calton Hill, with its gleaming walls and towers, and then turning to the grave again, “ I feel,” he whispered in my ear, “ I feel as if there would be less sunshine for me from this day forth.”
As we walked homewards,. Scott told me, among other favourable traits of his friend, one little story which I must not omit. He remarked one day to a poor student of divinity attending his auction, that he looked as if he were in bad health. The young man assented with a sigh. “ Come,” said Ballantyne, “ I think I ken the secret of a sort of draft that would relieve you— particularly,” he added, handing him a cheque for £5 or £10—“particularly, my dear, if taken upon an empty stomach.”
John died in his elder brother's house in St John Street ; a circumstance which it gives me pleasure to record, as it confirms the impression of their affectionate feelings towards each other at this time, which the reader must have derived from James's letter to Scott last quoted. Their confidence and cordiality