ページの画像
PDF
ePub

of it in such a cause certainly shall, and the booksellers shall be content with as little profit as can in reason be expected. I understand the trade well, and will take care of this. Indeed, I believe the honour weighs more with the booksellers here than the profit of a single play. So much for business. You are quite right in the risk I run of failure in a third poem; yet I think I understand the British public well enough to set every sail towards the popular breeze. One set of folks pique themselves upon sailing in the wind's eye-another class drive right before it ; now I would neither do one or t'other, but endeavour to go, as the sailors express it, upon a wind, and make use of it to carry me my own way, instead of going precisely in its direction; or, to speak in a dialect with which I am more familiar, I would endeavour to make my horse carry me, instead of attempting to carry my horse. I have a vain - glorious presentiment of success upon this occasion, which may very well deceive me, but which I would hardly confess to anybody but you, nor perhaps to you neither, unless I knew you would find it out whether I told it you or no,—

• You are a sharp observer, and you look
Quite through the eyes of men.'-

“I plead guilty to the charge of ill-breeding to Miss **** The despair which I used to feel on receiving poor Miss Seward's letters, whom I really liked, gave me a most unsentimental horror for sentimental letters. The crossest thing I ever did in my life was to poor dear Miss Seward; she wrote me in an evil hour (I had never seen her, mark that!) a long and most passionate epistle upon the death of a dear friend, whom I had never seen neither, concluding with a charge not to attempt answering the said letter, for she was dead to the world, &c. &c. &c. Never were commands more literally obeyed. I remained as silent as the grave, till the lady made so many enquiries after me, that I was afraid of my death being prematurely announced by a sonnet or an elegy. When I did see her, however, she interested me very much, and I am now doing penance for my ill-breeding, by submitting to edit her posthumous poetry, most of which is absolutely execrable.

This, however, is the least of my evils, for when she proposed this bequest to me, which I could not in decency refuse, she combined it with a request that I would publish her whole literary correspondence. This I declined on principle, having a particular aversion at perpetuating that sort of gossip; but what availed it? Lo! to ensure the publication, she left it to an Edinburgh bookseller; and I anticipate the horror of seeing myself advertised for a live poet like a wild beast on a painted streamer, for I understand all her friends are depicted therein in body,

mind, and manners. So much for the risks of sentimental correspondence.

“ Siddons' play was truly flat, but not unprofitable ; he contrived to get it well propped in the acting, and — though it was such a thing as if you or I had written it (supposing, that is, what in your case, and I think even in my own, is impossible) would have been damned seventy-fold, —yet it went through with applause. Such is the humour of the multitude; and they will quarrel with venison for being dressed a day sooner than fashion requires, and batten on a neck of mutton, because, on the whole, it is rather better than they expected; however, Siddons is a good lad, and deserves success, through whatever channel it comes. His mother is here just now. I was quite shocked to see her, for the two last years have made a dreadful inroad both on voice and person ; she has, however, a very bad cold. I hope she will be able to act Jane de Montfort, which we have long planned. Very truly yours,

W. S.”

CHAPTER XX.

Affair of Thomas Scott's Extractorship discussed

in the House of Lords Speeches of Lord Lauderdale, Lord Melville, &c. Lord Holland at the Friday ClubPublication of The Lady of the Lake_Correspondence concerning Versification with Ellis and Canning - The Poem criticised by Jeffrey and Mackintosh Letters to Southey and Morritt Anecdotes from James Ballantyne's Memoranda.

1810.

THERE occurred, while the latter cantos of the Lady of the Lake were advancing through the press, an affair which gave Scott so much uneasiness, that I must not pass it in silence. Each Clerk of Session had in those days the charge of a particular office or department in the Great Register House of Scotland, and the appointment of the subalterns, who therein recorded and extracted the decrees of the Supreme Court, was in his hands. Some of these situations, remunerated, according to a fixed rate of fees, by the parties concerned in the suits before the Court, were valuable, and considered not at all below the pretensions of gentlemen who had been regularly, trained for the higher branches of the law. About the time when Thomas Scott's affairs as a Writer to the Signet fell into derangement, but before they were yet hopeless, a post became vacant in his brother's office, which yielded an average income of £400, and which he would very willingly have accepted. The poet, however, considered a respectable man, who had grown grey at an inferior desk in the same department, as entitled to promotion, and exerted the right of patronage in his favour accordingly, bestowing on his brother the place which this person left. It was worth about £250 a-year, and its duties being entirely mechanical, might be in great part, and often had been in former times entirely, discharged by deputy. Mr Thomas Scott's appointment to this Extractorship took place at an early stage of the proceedings of that Commission for enquiring into the Scotch System of Judicature, which had the poet for its secretary. Thomas, very soon afterwards, was compelled to withdraw from Edinburgh, and retired, as has been mentioned, to the Isle of Man, leaving his official duties to the care

« 前へ次へ »