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1808, I could have bargained to desist from it, and to silence the Edinburgh Review as an organ of party, I might have
stipulated for somewhat higher advantages than the occasional cooperation of Sir Walter Scott (for he never was a regular contributor even to the Quarterly) in a work in which I had little interest beyond that of commanding a ready vehicle for the dissemination of my own favoured opinions.
All this rests, it will be observed, not upon the terms of any particular conversation, which might of course be imperfectly remembered—but upon my own certain knowledge of the principles by which I was actuated for a long course of years; and which I cannot but think were then indicated by a sufficient number of overt acts, to make it easy to establish the mastery they exercised over me, by extrinsic evidence, if necessary. If the prevalence of these principles, however, is plainly inconsistent with the literal accuracy of the passage in question, or the fact of my having actually made such an offer as is there mentioned, I think myself entitled to conclude that the statement in that passage is inaccurate; and that a careless expression has led to an incorrect representation of the fact.
And here also I hope I may be permitted to refer to a very distinct recollection of the tenor, not of one but of many conversations with Sir Walter, in which he was directly apprised of the impossibility (even if I could have desired it) of excluding politics (which of course could mean nothing but party politics) from the Review. The undue preponderance of such articles in that journal was a frequent subject of remonstrance with him: and I perfectly remember that, when urging upon me the expediency of making Literature our great staple, and only indulging occasionally in those more exciting discussions, I have repeatedly told him that, with the political influence we had already acquired, this was not to be expectedand that by such a course the popularity and authority of the Review would be fatally impaired, even for its literary judgments: -and upon one of these occasions, I am quite certain that I made use of this expression to him—"The Review, in short, has bút two legs to stand on. Literature no doubt is one of them: But its Right leg is Politics.” Of this I have the clearest recollection.
I have dwelt too long, I fear, on this slight but somewhat painful incident of my early days. But I cannot finally take leave of it without stating my own strong conviction of what must have actually passed on the occasion so often referred to; and of the way in which I conceive my illustrious friend to have been led to the inaccuracy I have already noticed, in his report of it. I have already said, that I do not pretend to have any recollection of this particular conversation: But combining the details which are given in Sir Walter's letter, with my certain knowledge of the tenor of many previous conversations on the same subject, I have now little doubt that, after deprecating his threatened secession from our ranks, I acknowledged my regret at the needless asperity of some of our recent diatribes on politics expressed my own disapprobation of violence and personality in such discussions and engaged to do what I could to repress or avoid such excesses for the future. It is
I think, to see how this engagement,—to discourage, so far as my influence went, all violent and unfair party politics, -might be represented, in Sir Walter's brief and summary report, as an engagement to avoid party politics altogether:—the inaccuracy amounting only to the omission of a qualification,—to which he probably ascribed less importance than truly belonged to it.
Other imputations, I am aware, have been publicly made against me, far heavier than this which has tempted me into so long an explanation. But with these I do not now concern myself: And, as they never gave me a moment's anxiety at the time, so I am now contented to refer, for their refutation, to the tenor of all I have ever written, and the testimony of all to whom I have been personally known. With any thing bearing the name of Sir Walter Scott, however, the case is different: And when, from any statement of his, I feel that I may be accused, even of the venial offences of assuming a power which did not truly belong to me—or of being too ready to compromise my political opinions, from general love to literature or deference to individual genius, I think myself called upon to offer all the explanations in my power:-While I do not stoop to meet, even with a formal denial, the absurd and degrading charges with which I have been occasionally assailed, by persons of a different description.
Craigcrook, 10th November, 1843.
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