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THE VISION OF A HAND.
plantations of young wood, and the fair dream of the poet's life was fast shaping itself into a grand and apparently solid reality. But this is all in anticipation of our story. The
year after his removal to Abbotsford, which took place in 1812, a letter from the Lord Chamberlain offered him the laureateship, in the name of the Prince Regent. This honour Scott declined with respectful thanks. He was meanwhile toiling hard at his Life and Works of Dean Swift.
But a power, greater than even himself was conscious of, had lain all this time sleeping in his brain. Fragments of an historical tale in prose, which was designed to give a picture of old Scottish life and manners, had been lying for years in his cabinet, when one day, as he was searching for some fishing-tackle, he came upon the almost forgotten sheets. It was then the autumn of 1813. Though engaged in finishing his edition of Swift, he set to work
the tale. The greater part of the first volume was done during the ensuing Christmas vacation, and “the evenings of three summer weeks" completed the remaining two. A gay party of young men were sitting over their wine in a house in George Street upon one of those summer evenings, when the host drew attention to a window, where a solitary hand appeared, working without stay or weariness at a desk, and tossing down page after page of manuscript upon a rising heap. “It is the same every night,” said young Menzies; “I can't stand the sight of it when I am not at my books. Still it goes on unwearied,—and so it will be till candles are brought in, and nobody knows how long after that.” It was Walter Scott's hand, writing the last volumes of “Waverley," seen as he sat in a back room of that house in North Castle Street, No. 39--which was long his Edinburgh residence. When the work was finished, the manuscript was copied by
John Ballantyne, in whose printing concern Scott had, July 7,
many years earlier, become a partner; and then Waverley, 1814
or 'Tis Sixty Years Since, was given to the world, but
without the author's name. A cruise on board the Lighthouse yacht to Shetland and Orkney and round among the Hebrides, which filled two summer months of the same year,
supplied him with materials for his fine poem, The Lord of the Isles, published in the following January.
The success of “ Waverley” was immediate and remarkable, although it appeared in what publishers call the dead season. “Who wrote the nameless book ?" became the great literary question of the day; and when, from the same hidden hand, there came a series of new novels, brilliant and enchaining as no novels had ever been before, the marvel grew greater still. Most carefully was the secret kept. One of the Ballantynes always copied the manuscript before it was sent to press. For a time Scott was not suspected, owing to the mass of other literary work he got through ; but, in Edinburgh at least, long before his own confession at the Theatrical Fund Dinner in 1827 rent a then transparent veil, the authorship of the Waverley novels was no mystery.
Elated by this success, and feeling like a man who had come suddenly upon a rich and unwrought mine of gold, Scott began to build and to plant at Abbotsford, and to buy land with all the earnestness of a most hopeful nature. His industry never relaxed; nor did his public duties ever suffer from the severe desk-toil that he went through every day. While Guy Mannering, The Antiquary, Rob Roy, The Heart of Mid-Lothian, Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, and many other works, were in progress, he sat daily during the winter and spring in the Court of Session, attended to his duties as Sheriff, gave dinners in Castle Street, or went to "refresh the machine" and entertain his friends at Abbotsford. Never had a hard-working littérateur so many hours to give to his friends. When the morning's task was over in the little back parlour in Castle Street-a neat and orderly room, with its blue morocco books in dustless regularity, and its well-used silver ink-stand shining as if newhe took his drive, or frolicked with his dogs, until it was time to show his bright and happy face in the drawing-room of some friend. And at Abbotsford there was no difference in the deskwork; but when that was done, he went with the ardour of a boy into the sports and pleasures of rural life, or walked out among his young trees with his unfailing retinue of dogs frisking about his feet. And none was happier than that hard-featured and
faithful old forester, Tom Purdie, whom Scott's kindness had changed from a poacher into a devoted servant, when he saw the green shooting-coat, white bat, and drab trousers of the jovial Sheriff appearing in the distance on the path that led to the plantations. The decoration of the interior of his mansion by the Tweed, and the collection of old armour, foreign weapons, Indian creases and idols, Highland targets, and a thousand such things, dear to his chivalrous and antiquarian tastes, occupied many of his busiest and happiest hours. Upon his armory and his woodlands, his house and grounds, his furniture and painting, he spent thousands of pounds; and to meet the expenses of such costly doings, and of the free hospitality to which his generous nature prompted him - doing the honours for all Scotland, as he
aid he coined his and fertile brain into vast sums—the prices of his magical works. Unhappily, much of this money was spent before it was earned; and the ruinous system of receiving bills from his publishers as payment for undone work, when once entered upon, grew into a wild and destructive habit. Author and publishers, alike intoxicated by success, became too giddy to look far into the future. Yet that retributive future was coming with swift and awful pace. As they neared the cataract, the smooth, deceitful current, bore them yet more swiftly on. At last the money panic of 1825 came with its perils and its crashes. Hurst and Robinson went down. Then followed Constable and Ballantyne. Scott's splendid fortune, all built of paper now utterly worthless, crumpled up like a torn
balloon; and the author of the Waverley Novels stood, 1826 at fifty-five years of age, not penniless alone, but
burdened, as a partner in the Ballantyne concern, with
a debt of £117,000. Nobly refusing to permit his creditors—or rather the creditors of the firm to which he belonged — to suffer any loss that he could help, he devoted his life and his pen to the herculean task of removing this mountain-debt. Thus opens the last, the shortest, and the saddest of the four periods into which we have marked out this great life.
Already his strong frame had been heavily shaken by severe
illness. Especially in 1819–the year after he accepted the offer of a baronetey-jaundice had turned the slightly grey hair, that fringed his conical forehead, to snowy white. The first symptoms of apoplexy had appeared in 1823. Yet the valiant soul was never shaken by the failing of the once sturdy frame. Amid the gloom of his commercial distresses—under the deeper sorrow of his wife's death, which befell him in the same sad year—he worked steadily and bravely on. Every day saw its heavy task performed; and he seldom laid aside his pen until he had filled six large pages with close writing, which he calculated as equal to thirty pages of print.
Some months before the crash, he had entered upon a new and much more laborious kind of work. He had undertaken to write a Life of Napoleon Buonaparte. Formerly, with head erect and left hand at liberty for patting his stag-hound Maida, or other canine occupant of his “den,” he had been used to write sheet after sheet of a novel with the same facile industry as on that summer evening when the young advocates in George Street saw the vision of a hand. But now he had to gather books, pamphlets; newspapers, letters, and all other kinds of historical materials round his writing-table, and painfully and slowly, note-book in hand, to wade through heavy masses of detail in search of dates and facts. Before, he had read for pleasure; the old man had now to read, often with aching head and dim eyes, for the materials of his task. Heavy work for any one; heavier for him, who had been used to pour forth the riches of his own mind without trouble and without research. Both morning and evening must now for the most part be given to literary toil.
Woodstock was the first novel he wrote after his great misfor-> tune; and its sale for £8228—it was the work of only three, months-gave strength to the hopes of the brave old man, that a few years would clear him from his gigantic debt. But the toil was killing him. The nine volumes of his “Life of Napoleon” were published in 1827. Essays, reviews, histories, letters, and tales, among the last that series called The Chronicles of the Canongate, poured from the unresting pen as fast as they had ever done in its strongest days. His delightful Tales of a Grandfather, in
THE LAST DAYS OF SCOTT.
which for the first time a picturesque colouring was given to history intended for the perusal of the young, were among the works of his declining years. Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous were the last of his published novels. What he called The Opus Magnum, a reprint of his novels with explanatory introductions and notes historical and antiquarian, may also be named as one of the chief tasks in the closing life of the novelist.
At last, in the midst of his toil, there came a day–February 15th, 1830—when he fell speechless in his drawing-room under a stroke of paralysis.
From that time he never was the same a cloudiness” in his words and arrangement shows that the shock had told upon the mind. Fits of apoplexy and paralysis occurred at intervals during that and the following
year; and, as a last hope, the worn-out workman sailed 1831 in the autumn of 1831 for Malta and Italy. He lived
at Naples and at Rome for about six months; and in
the former city he spent many of his morning hours in the composition of two novels, The Siege of Malta, and Bizarro, which were never finished, and which last feeble efforts of a mind shattered by disease his friends wisely did not judge it right to publish. On his way home down the Rhine the relentless malady struck him a mortal blow. His earnest wish was to die at Abbotsford, the loved place that had cost him so dear; and there he soon found himself with his grandchildren and his dogs playing round the chair he could not leave.
Perhaps the saddest scene of all this sad time-sadder even than the kneeling family round the dying bed—was the last effort of the author to return to his old occupation. On the 17th of July, awaking from sleep, he desired his writing materials to be prepared. When the chair, in which he lay propped up with pillows, was moved into his study and placed before the desk, his daughter put a pen into his hand; but, alas! there was no power in the fingers to close on the familiar thing. It dropped upon the paper, and the helpless old man sank back to weep in silence.
Little more than two months later, on the 21st of September