Selected poems


Sir Walter Scott,
page 12 of 17

writing in his study. He rose and said, “My friend, give me a shake of your hand-mine is that of a beggar.’ He then told him that Ballantyne had just been with him, and that his ruin was complete, and added, “Don’t fancy I am going to stay at home to brood idly on what can’t be helped. I was at work upon ‘Woodstock’ when you came in, and I shall take up the pen the moment I get back from court.”

However hard misfortune bore upon his happiness, it revealed, as only such a trial could reveal, the completeness and strength of his moral manhood. The world, indeed, has seldom seen a nobler spectacle than the attitude of Scott among his broken gods. Offers of assistance, of accommodation, liberal, sympathetic suggestions from many quarters were gratefully but firmly declined. He only pleaded for time. “Time and I,” he said, “against any two.” In the mine of his imagination, which he deemed inexhaustible, he resolved to work out his ransom. Subsequent writers have challenged the wisdom of this resolution on the part of a man who had rendered such priceless service to the moral and intellectual well-being of the world; whose name and fame were inseparably entwined with his country’s history and language. But the conscience of Scott, trained in a lofty school, ignored the plausible compromises which bridge the gulf between duty and dishonour. The gallant struggle was fatal to himself, but to mankind the value of his example has been incalculably great.

Another and darker calamity was now threatening. We have the first intimation in an entry in his diary:—

“19th March, 1826.—Lady Scott, the faithful and true companion of my fortunes, good and bad, has been prevailed upon to see Dr. Abercrombie, and his opinion is far from favourable—a new affliction where there was enough before. Things may yet be ameliorated. God grant it! for really these misfortunes come too close upon each other.”

The blow now fell upon him. Perhaps there is no better argument for immortality than the words written in his diary upon her death:—

“18th May.—Another day, and a bright one to the external world, again opens upon us; the air soft, and the flowers smiling, and the leaves glittering. They cannot refresh her to whom mild weather was a natural enjoyment. Cerements of lead and wood already hold her: cold earth must have her soon. But it is not my Charlotte; it is not the bride of my youth, the mother of my children, that will be laid among the ruins of Dryburgh, which we have often visited in gaiety and pastimes. No! no! She is sentient and conscious of my emotions somewhere — somehow; where we cannot tell, how we cannot tell, yet would I not at this moment renounce the mysterious yet certain hope that I shall see her in a better world for all that the world can give me. The necessity of this separation, that necessity which rendered it even a relief, that and patience must be my comfort. I do not experience those paroxysms of grief which others do on the same occasion. I can exert myself, and speak even cheerfully with the girls. But alone, or if anything touches me, the choking sensation. But I must not fail myself and my family, and the necessity of exertion becomes apparent.”

“26th May.—I have been to her room; there was no voice in it — no stirring. All was neat, as she loved it; but all was calm-calm as death. I remembered the last sight of her: she raised herself in bed, and said with a sort of smile, ‘You have all such melancholy faces.’ These were the last words I ever heard her utter. Oh, my God!”

“27th May.— sleepless night. It is true I should be up


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