Sir Walter Scott, by Richard Holt Hutton

Chapter 17.

The End of the Struggle.

Sir Walter certainly left his “name unstained,” unless the serious mistakes natural to a sanguine temperament such as his, are to be counted as stains upon his name; and if they are, where among the sons of men would you find many unstained names as noble as his with such a stain upon it? He was not only sensitively honourable in motive, but, when he found what evil his sanguine temper had worked, he used his gigantic powers to repair it, as Samson used his great strength to repair the mischief he had inadvertently done to Israel. But with all his exertions he had not, when death came upon him, cleared off much more than half his obligations. There was still 54,000l. to pay. But of this, 22,000l. was secured in an insurance on his life, and there were besides a thousand pounds or two in the hands of the trustees, which had not been applied to the extinction of the debt. Mr. Cadell, his publisher, accordingly advanced the remaining 30,000l. on the security of Sir Walter’s copyrights, and on the 21st February, 1833, the general creditors were paid in full, and Mr. Cadell remained the only creditor of the estate. In February, 1847, Sir Walter’s son, the second baronet, died childless; and in May, 1847, Mr. Cadell gave a discharge in full of all claims, including the bond for 10,000l. executed by Sir Walter during the struggles of Constable and Co. to prevent a failure, on the transfer to him of all the copyrights of Sir Walter, including “the results of some literary exertions of the sole surviving executor,” which I conjecture to mean the copyright of the admirable biography of Sir Walter Scott in ten volumes, to which I have made such a host of references — probably the most perfect specimen of a biography rich in great materials, which our language contains. And thus, nearly fifteen years after Sir Walter’s death, the debt which, within six years, he had more than half discharged, was at last, through the value of the copyrights he had left behind him, finally extinguished, and the small estate of Abbotsford left cleared.

Sir Walter’s effort to found a new house was even less successful than the effort to endow it. His eldest son died childless. In 1839 he went to Madras, as Lieutenant–Colonel of the 15th Hussars, and subsequently commanded that regiment. He was as much beloved by the officers of his regiment as his father had been by his own friends, and was in every sense an accomplished soldier, and one whose greatest anxiety it was to promote the welfare of the privates as well as of the officers of his regiment. He took great pains in founding a library for the soldiers of his corps, and his only legacy out of his own family was one of 100l. to this library. The cause of his death was his having exposed himself rashly to the sun in a tiger-hunt, in August, 1846; he never recovered from the fever which was the immediate consequence. Ordered home for his health, he died near the Cape of Good Hope, on the 8th of February, 1847. His brother Charles died before him. He was rising rapidly in the diplomatic service, and was taken to Persia by Sir John MacNeill, on a diplomatic mission, as attaché and private secretary. But the climate struck him down, and he died at Teheran, almost immediately on his arrival, on the 28th October, 1841. Both the sisters had died previously. Anne Scott, the younger of the two, whose health had suffered greatly during the prolonged anxiety of her father’s illness, died on the Midsummer-day of the year following her father’s death; and Sophia, Mrs. Lockhart, died on the 17th May, 1837. Sir Walter’s eldest grandchild, John Hugh Lockhart, for whom the Tales of a Grandfather were written, died before his grandfather; indeed Sir Walter heard of the child’s death at Naples. The second son, Walter Scott Lockhart Scott, a lieutenant in the army, died at Versailles, on the 10th January, 1853. Charlotte Harriet Jane Lockhart, who was married in 1847 to James Robert Hope–Scott, and succeeded to the Abbotsford estate, died at Edinburgh, on the 26th October, 1858, leaving three children, of whom only one survives. Walter Michael and Margaret Anne Hope–Scott both died in infancy. The only direct descendant, therefore, of Sir Walter Scott, is now Mary Monica Hope–Scott who was born on the 2nd October, 1852, the grandchild of Mrs. Lockhart, and the great-grandchild of the founder of Abbotsford.

There is something of irony in such a result of the Herculean labours of Scott to found and endow a new branch of the clan of Scott. When fifteen years after his death the estate was at length freed from debt, all his own children and the eldest of his grandchildren were dead; and now forty-six years have elapsed, and there only remains one girl of his descendants to borrow his name and live in the halls of which he was so proud. And yet this, and this only, was wanting to give something of the grandeur of tragedy to the end of Scott’s great enterprise. He valued his works little compared with the house and lands which they were to be the means of gaining for his descendants; yet every end for which he struggled so gallantly is all but lost, while his works have gained more of added lustre from the losing battle which he fought so long, than they could ever have gained from his success.

What there was in him of true grandeur could never have been seen, had the fifth act of his life been less tragic than it was. Generous, large-hearted, and magnanimous as Scott was, there was something in the days of his prosperity that fell short of what men need for their highest ideal of a strong man. Unbroken success, unrivalled popularity, imaginative effort flowing almost as steadily as the current of a stream — these are characteristics, which, even when enhanced as they were in his case, by the power to defy physical pain, and to live in his imaginative world when his body was writhing in torture, fail to touch the heroic point. And there was nothing in Scott, while he remained prosperous, to relieve adequately the glare of triumphant prosperity. His religious and moral feeling, though strong and sound, was purely regulative, and not always even regulative, where his inward principle was not reflected in the opinions of the society in which he lived. The finer spiritual element in Scott was relatively deficient, and so the strength of the natural man was almost too equal, complete, and glaring. Something that should “tame the glaring white” of that broad sunshine, was needed; and in the years of reverse, when one gift after another was taken away, till at length what he called even his “magic wand” was broken, and the old man struggled on to the last, without bitterness, without defiance, without murmuring, but not without such sudden flashes of subduing sweetness as melted away the anger of the teacher of his childhood — that something seemed to be supplied. Till calamity came, Scott appeared to be a nearly complete natural man, and no more. Then first was perceived in him something above nature, something which could endure though every end in life for which he had fought so boldly should be defeated — something which could endure and more than endure, which could shoot a soft transparence of its own through his years of darkness and decay. That there was nothing very elevated in Scott’s personal or moral, or political or literary ends — that he never for a moment thought of himself as one who was bound to leave the earth better than he found it — that he never seems to have so much as contemplated a social or political reform for which he ought to contend — that he lived to some extent like a child blowing soap-bubbles, the brightest and most gorgeous of which — the Abbotsford bubble — vanished before his eyes, is not a take-off from the charm of his career, but adds to it the very speciality of its fascination. For it was his entire unconsciousness of moral or spiritual efforts, the simple straightforward way in which he laboured for ends of the most ordinary kind, which made it clear how much greater the man was than his ends, how great was the mind and character which prosperity failed to display, but which became visible at once so soon as the storm came down and the night fell. Few men who battle avowedly for the right, battle for it with the calm fortitude, the cheerful equanimity, with which Scott battled to fulfil his engagements and to save his family from ruin. He stood high amongst those —

“Who ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads,”

among those who have been able to display —

“One equal temper of heroic hearts

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will,

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

And it was because the man was so much greater than the ends for which he strove, that there is a sort of grandeur in the tragic fate which denied them to him, and yet exhibited to all the world the infinite superiority of the striver himself to the toy he was thus passionately craving.

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/hutton/chapter17.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29