or Annual of Literature and the Arts
compiled by William Fraser
London: William Pickering,
pp. pp. 33-38
LETTER FROM SIR WALTER SCOTT TO SIR ADAM FERGUSON, DESCRIPTIVE OF A PICTURE PAINTED AT ABBOTSFORD BY DAVID WILKIE, ESQ. R. A., AND EXHIBITED AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY IN 1818.
MY DEAR ADAM — The picture you mention has something in it of rather a domestic character, as the personages are represented in a sort of masquerade, such being the pleasure of the accomplished painter. Nevertheless, if you, the proprietor, incline to have it engraved, I do not see that I am entitled to make any objection.
But Mr. * * * mentions besides, a desire to have anecdotes of my private and domestic life, or, as he expresses himslef, a portrait of the author in his nightgown and slippers; — and this form you, who, I dare say, could furnish some anecdotes of our younger days which might now seem ludicrous enough. Even as to my night gown and slippers, I believe the time has been when the articles of my wardrobe were as familiar to your memory as Poins's [Page 34]to Prince Henry, but that period has been for some years past, and I cannot think it would be interesting to the public to learn that I had changed my old robe-de-chambre for a handsome douillette, when I was last at Paris.
The truth is, that a man of ordinary sense cannot be supposed delighted with the species of gossip which, in the dearth of other news, recurs to such a quiet individual as myself; and though, like a well-behaved lion of twenty years standing, I am not inclined to vex myself about what I cannot help, I will not, in any case in which I can prevent it, be acessary to these follies. There is no man known at all in literature who may not have more to tell of his private life than I have: I have surmounted no difficulties either of birth or education, nor have I been favored by any particular advantages, and my life has been as void of incidents of importance, as that of the "weary knife-grinder."
"Story! God bless you! I have none to tell, Sir."
The follies of youth ought long since to have passed away; and if the prejudices and absurdities of age have come in their place, I will keep them, as Beau Tibbs did his prospect, for the amusement of my domestic friends. A mere enumeration of the persons in the sketch is all which I can possible permit to be published respecting myself and my [Page 35]family; and, as must be the lot of humanity when we look back seven or eight years, even what follows cannot be drawn up without some very painful recollections.
The idea which our inimitable Wilkie adopted ws to represent our family group in the garb of south-country peasants, supposed to be concerting a merry-making, for which some of the preparations are seen. The place is the terrace near Kayside, commanding an extensive view toward the Eildon-hills. 1. The sitting figure, in the dress of a miller, I believe, represents Sir Walter Scott, author of a few scores of volumes, and proprietor of Abbotsford, in the County of Roxburgh. 2. In front, and presenting, we may suppose, a country wag somewhat addicted to poaching, stands sir Adam Ferguson, Knight, Keeper of the Regalia of Scotland. 3. In the background is a very handsome old man, upwards of eighty-four years old at the time, painted in his own character of a shepherd. He also belonged to numerous clan of Scott. He used to claim credit for three things unusual among the southland shepherds: first, that he had never been fou in the course of his life; secondly, that he never had struck a man in anger; thirdly, that though entrusted with the the management of large sales of stock, he had never lost a penny for his master by a bad debt. He died soon aterwards at Abbotsford. 4, 5, 6. Of the three female figures [Page 36]the elder is the late regretted mother of the family represented. 5. The young person most forward in the group is Miss Sophia Charlotte Scott, now Mrs. John Gibson Lockhart; and 6, her younger sister, Miss ann Scott. Both are represented as ewe-milkers, with their leglins, or milk-pails. 7. On the left hand of the shepherd, the young man holding a fowling-piece is the eldest son of Sir Walter, now Captain in King's Hussars. 8. The boy is the youngest of the family, Charles Scott, now of Brazen Nose College, Oxford. The two dogs were distinguished favorites of the family; the large one was a stag-hound of the old Highland breed, called Maida, and one of the hansomest dogs that could be found; it was a present to me from the chief of Glengary, and was highly valued, both on account of his beauty, his fidelity, and the great rarity of the breed. The other is little Highland terrier, called Ourisk (goblin), of a particualr kind, bred in Kintail. It was a present from the honorable Mrs. Stuart Mackenzie, and is a valuable specimen of race which is now also scarce. Maida, like Bran, Lerath, and other dogs of distinction, slumbers "beneath his stone," distinguished by an epitaph, which to the honour of Scottish scholarship be it spoken, has only one false quantity in two lines.
|Maidae marmorea dormis sub imagine Maida|
|Ad januam domini sit tibi terra levis.|
Ourisk still survives, but like some other personages in the picture, with talents and temper rather the worse for wear. She has become what Dr. Rutty, the Quaker, records himself in his journal as having sometimes been — sinfully dogged and snappish.
If it should suit Mr. * * *'s purpose to adopt the above illustrations, he is heartily welcome to them, but I make it my especial bargain that nothing more is said upon such a meagre subject.
It strikes me, however, that there is a story about old Thomas Scott, the shepherd, which is characteristic, and which I will make your friend welcome to. Tom was, both as a trusted servant, and as a rich fellow in his line, a person of considerable importance among his class in the neighbourhood, and used to stickle a good deal to keep his place in public opinion. Now, he suffered, in his own idea at least, from the consequence assumed by a country neighbour, who, though neither so well reputed for wealth or sagacity as Thomas Scott, had yet an advantage over him, from having seen the late King, and used to take precedence upon all occasions when they chanced to meet. Thomas suffered under this superiority. But after this sketch was finished, and exhibited in London, the newspapers made it known that his present majesty had condescended to take some notice of it. Delighted with the circumstance, Thomas Scott set out on a most oppressively hot day, to walk five miles to Bowden, [Page 38]where his rival resided. He had no sooner entered the cottage when he called out in his broad forest dialect — "Andro', man, did ye anes sey (see) the King?" "In troth did I, Tam," answered Andro'; "sit down, and I'll tell ye a' about it: — ye sey I was at Lonon, in a place they ca' the park, that is, no like a hained hog-fence, or like the four-nooked parks in this country — " "Hout awa," said Thomas, "I have heard a' that before: I only came ower the know now to tell you, that, if you have seen the king, the king has seen mey" (me). And so he returned with a jocund heart, assuring his friends "it had done him muckle gude to settle accounts with Andro'."
Jocere haec — as the old Laird of Restalrig writes to the Earl of Gowrie — farewell my old, tried, and dear friend of forty long years. Our enjoyments must now be of a character less vivid than those we have shared together,
But still at our lot it were vain to repine, Youth cannot return, or the days of Lang Syne.Your's Affectionately,
Walter Scott.Abbotsford, 2d August, 1827.