MINUTES OF SEDERUNT OF A GENERAL MEETING OF THE SHAREHOLDERS DESIGNING TO FORM A JOINT-STOCK COMPANY, UNITED FOR THE PURPOSE OF WRITING AND PUBLISHING THE CLASS OF WORKS CALLED THE WAVERLEY NOVELS,
HELD IN THE WATERLOO TAVERN, REGENT’S BRIDGE, EDINBURGH, 1_st June, 1825.
[The reader must have remarked, that the various editions of the proceedings at this meeting were given in the public papers with rather more than usual inaccuracy. The cause of this was no ill-timed delicacy on the part of the gentlemen of the press to assert their privilege of universal presence wherever a few are met together, and to commit to the public prints whatever may then and there pass of the most private nature. But very unusual and arbitrary methods were resorted to on the present occasion to prevent the reporters using a right which is generally conceded to them by almost all meetings, whether of a political or commercial description. Our own reporter, indeed, was bold enough to secrete himself under the Secretary’s table, and was not discovered till the meeting was well-nigh over. We are sorry to say, he suffered much in person from fists and toes, and two or three principal pages were torn out of his note-book, which occasions his report to break off abruptly. We cannot but consider this behaviour as more particularly illiberal on the part of men who are themselves a kind of gentlemen of the press; and they ought to consider themselves as fortunate that the misused reporter has sought no other vengeance than from the tone of acidity with which he has seasoned his account of their proceedings. — Edinburgh Newspaper.]
A meeting of the gentlemen and others interested in the celebrated publications called the Waverley Novels, having been called by public advertisement, the same was respectably attended by various literary characters of eminence. And it being in the first place understood that individuals were to be denominated by the names assigned to them in the publications in question, the Eidolon, or image of the author, was unanimously called to the chair, and Jonathan Oldbuck, Esq. of Monkbarns, was requested to act as Secretary.
The Preses then addressed the meeting to the following purpose:—
“Gentlemen, I need scarcely remind you, that we have a joint interest in the valuable property which has accumulated under our common labours. While the public have been idly engaged in ascribing to one individual or another the immense mass of various matter, which the labours of many had accumulated, you, gentlemen, well know, that every person in this numerous assembly has had his share in the honours and profits of our common success. It is, indeed, to me a mystery, how the sharp-sighted could suppose so huge a mass of sense and nonsense, jest and earnest, humorous and pathetic, good, bad, and indifferent, amounting to scores of volumes, could be the work of one hand, when we know the doctrine so well laid down by the immortal Adam Smith, concerning the division of labour. Were those who entertained an opinion so strange, not wise enough to know, that it requires twenty pairs of hands to make a thing so trifling as a pin — twenty couple of dogs to kill an animal so insignificant as a fox? —”
“Hout, man!” said a stout countryman, “I have a grew-bitch at home will worry the best tod in Pomoragrains, before ye could say, Dumpling.”
“Who is that person?” said the Preses, with some warmth, as it appeared to us.
“A son of Dandy Dinmont’s,” answered the unabashed rustic. “God, ye may mind him, I think! — ane o’ the best in your aught, I reckon. And, ye see, I am come into the farm, and maybe something mair, and a whoen shares in this buik-trade of yours.”
“Well, well,” replied the Preses, “peace, I pray thee, peace. Gentlemen, when thus interrupted, I was on the point of introducing the business of this meeting, being, as is known to most of you, the discussion of a proposition now on your table, which I myself had the honour to suggest at last meeting, namely, that we do apply to the Legislature for an Act of Parliament in ordinary, to associate us into a corporate body, and give us a personi standi in judicio, with full power to prosecute and bring to conviction all encroachers upon our exclusive privilege, in the manner therein to be made and provided. In a letter from the ingenious Mr. Dousterswivel which I have received ——”
Oldbuck, warmly —“I object to that fellow’s name being mentioned; he is a common swindler.”
“For shame, Mr. Oldbuck,” said the Preses, “to use such terms respecting the ingenious inventor of the great patent machine erected at Groningen, where they put in raw hemp at one end, and take out ruffled shirts at the other, without the aid of hackle or rippling-comb — loom, shuttle, or weaver — scissors, needle, or seamstress. He had just completed it, by the addition of a piece of machinery to perform the work of the laundress; but when it was exhibited before his honour the burgomaster, it had the inconvenience of heating the smoothing-irons red-hot; excepting which, the experiment was entirely satisfactory. He will become as rich as a Jew.”
“Well,” added Mr. Oldbuck, “if the scoundrel —”
“Scoundrel, Mr. Oldbuck,” said the Preses, “is a most unseemly expression, and I must call you to order. Mr. Dousterswivel is only an eccentric genius.”
“Pretty much the same in the Greek,” muttered Mr. Oldbuck; and then said aloud, “and if this eccentric genius has work enough in singeing the Dutchman’s linen, what the devil has he to do here?”
“Why, he is of opinion, that at the expense of a little mechanism, some part of the labour of composing these novels might be saved by the use of steam.” There was a murmur of disapprobation at this proposal, and the words, “Blown up,” and “Bread taken out of our mouths,” and “They might as well construct a steam parson,” were whispered. And it was not without repeated calls to order, that the Preses obtained an opportunity of resuming his address.
“Order! — Order! Pray, support the chair. Hear, hear, hear the chair!”
“Gentlemen, it is to be premised, that this mechanical operation can only apply to those parts of the narrative which are at present composed out of commonplaces, such as the love-speeches of the hero, the description of the heroine’s person, the moral observations of all sorts, and the distribution of happiness at the conclusion of the piece. Mr. Dousterswivel has sent me some drawings, which go far to show, that by placing the words and phrases technically employed on these subjects, in a sort of framework, like that of the Sage of Laputa, and changing them by such a mechanical process as that by which weavers of damask alter their patterns, many new and happy combinations cannot fail to occur, while the author, tired of pumping his own brains, may have an agreeable relaxation in the use of his fingers.”
“I speak for information, Mr. Preses,” said the Rev. Mr. Lawrence Templeton; “but I am inclined to suppose the late publication of Walladmor to have been the work of Dousterswivel, by the help of the steam-engine.” [Footnote: A Romance, by the Author of Waverley, having been expected about this time at the great commercial mart of literature, the Fair of Leipsic, an ingenious gentleman of Germany, finding that none such appeared, was so kind as to supply its place with a work, in three volumes, called Walladmor, to which he prefixed the Christian and surname at full length. The character of this work is given with tolerable fairness in the text. ]
“For shame, Mr. Templeton,” said the Preses; “there are good things in Walladmor, I assure you, had the writer known any thing about the country in which he laid the scene.”
“Or had he had the wit, like some of ourselves, to lay the scene in such a remote or distant country that nobody should be able to back-speer [Footnote: Scottish for cross-examine him.] him,” said Mr. Oldbuck.
“Why, as to that,” said the Preses, “you must consider the thing was got up for the German market, where folks are no better judges of Welsh manners than of Welsh crw.” [Footnote: The ale of the ancient British is called crw in their native language.]
“I make it my prayer that this be not found the fault of our own next venture,” said Dr. Dryasdust, pointing to some books which lay on the table. “I fear the manners expressed in that ‘Betrothed’ of ours, will scarce meet the approbation of the Cymmerodion; I could have wished that Llhuyd had been looked into — that Powel had been consulted — that Lewis’s History had been quoted, the preliminary dissertations particularly, in order to give due weight to the work.”
“Weight!” said Captain Clutterbuck; “by my soul, it is heavy enough already, Doctor.”
“Speak to the chair,” said the Preses, rather peevishly.
“To the chair, then, I say it,” said Captain Clutterbuck, “that ‘The Betrothed’ is heavy enough to break down the chair of John of Gaunt, or Cador-Edris itself. I must add, however, that, in my poor mind, ‘The Talisman’ goes more trippingly off.” [Footnote: This was an opinion universally entertained among the friends of the author.]
“It is not for me to speak,” said the worthy minister of Saint Ronan’s Well; “but yet I must say, that being so long engaged upon the Siege of Ptolemais, my work ought to have been brought out, humble though it be, before any other upon a similar subject at least.”
“Your Siege, Parson!” said Mr. Oldbuck, with great contempt; “will you speak of your paltry prose-doings in my presence, whose great Historical Poem, in twenty books, with notes in proportion, has been postponed ad Grcecas Kalendas?” The Preses, who appeared to suffer a great deal during this discussion, now spoke with dignity and determination. “Gentlemen,” he said, “this sort of discussion is highly irregular. There is a question before you, and to that, gentlemen, I must confine your attention. Priority of publication, let me remind you, gentlemen, is always referred to the Committee of Criticism, whose determination on such subjects is without appeal. I declare I will leave the chair, if any more extraneous matter be introduced. — And now, gentlemen, that we are once more in order, I would wish to have some gentleman speak upon the question, whether, as associated to carry on a joint-stock trade in fictitious narrative, in prose and verse, we ought not to be incorporated by Act of Parliament? What say you, gentlemen, to the proposal? Vis unita fortior, is an old and true adage.”
“Societas mater discordiarum, is a brocard as ancient and as veritable,” said Oldbuck, who seemed determined, on this occasion, to be pleased with no proposal that was announced by the chair.
“Come, Monkbarns,” said the Preses, in his most coaxing manner, “you have studied the monastic institutions deeply, and know there must be a union of persons and talents to do any thing respectable, and attain a due ascendance over the spirit of the age. Tres faciunt collegium — it takes three monks to make a convent.”
“And nine tailors to make a man,” replied Oldbuck, not in the least softened in his opposition; “a quotation as much to the purpose as the other.”
“Come, come,” said the Preses, “you know the Prince of Orange said to Mr. Seymour, ‘Without an association, we are a rope of sand.’”
“I know,” replied Oldbuck, “it would have been as seemly that none of the old leaven had been displayed on this occasion, though you be the author of a Jacobite novel. I know nothing of the Prince of Orange after 1688; but I have heard a good deal of the immortal William the Third.”
“And to the best of my recollection,” said Mr. Templeton, whispering to Oldbuck, “it was Seymour made the remark to the Prince, not the Princo to Seymour. But this is a specimen of our friend’s accuracy, poor gentleman: He trusts too much to his memory! of late years — failing fast, sir — breaking up.”
“And breaking down, too,” said Mr. Oldbuck. “But what can you expect of a man too fond of his own hasty and flashy compositions, to take the assistance of men of reading and of solid parts?”
“No whispering — no caballing — no private business, gentlemen,” said the unfortunate Preses, who reminded us somewhat of a Highland drover engaged in gathering and keeping in the straight road his excursive black cattle.
“I have not yet heard,” he continued, “a single reasonable objection to applying for the Act of Parliament, of which the draught lies on the table. You must be aware that the extremes of rude and of civilized society are, in these our days, on the point of approaching to each other. In the patriarchal period, a man is his own weaver, tailor, butcher, shoemaker, and so forth; and, in the age of Stock-companies, as the present may be called, an individual may be said, in one sense, to exercise the same plurality of trades. In fact, a man who has dipt largely into these speculations, may combine his own expenditure with the improvement of his own income, just like the ingenious hydraulic machine, which, by its very waste, raises its own supplies of water. Such a person buys his bread from his own Baking Company, his milk and cheese from his own Dairy Company, takes off a new coat for the benefit of his own Clothing Company, illuminates his house to advance his own Gas Establishment, and drinks an additional bottle of wine for the benefit of the General Wine Importation Company, of which he is himself a member. Every act, which would otherwise be one of mere extravagance, is, to such a person, seasoned with the odor lucri, and reconciled to prudence. Even if the price of the article consumed be extravagant, and the quality indifferent, the person, who is in a manner his own customer, is only imposed upon for his own benefit. Nay, if the Joint-stock Company of Undertakers shall unite with the Medical Faculty, as proposed by the late facetious Doctor G — under the firm of Death and the Doctor, the shareholder might contrive to secure to his heirs a handsome slice of his own death-bed and funeral expenses. In short, Stock-Companies are the fashion of the age, and an Incorporating Act will, I think, be particularly useful in bringing back the body, over whom I have the honour to preside, to a spirit of subordination, highly necessary to success in every enterprise where joint wisdom, talent, and labour, are to be employed. It is with regret that I state, that, besides several differences amongst yourselves, I have not myself for some time been treated with that deference among you which circumstances entitled me to expect.”
“Hinc illa lachryma,” muttered Mr. Oldbuck.
“But,” continued the Chairman, “I see other gentlemen impatient to deliver their opinions, and I desire to stand in no man’s way. I therefore — my place in this chair forbidding me to originate the motion — beg some gentleman may move a committee for revising the draught of the bill now upon the table, and which has been duly circulated among those having interest, and take the necessary measures to bring it before the House early next session.”
There was a short murmur in the meeting, and at length Mr. Oldbuck again rose. “It seems, sir,” he said, addressing the chair, “that no one present is willing to make the motion you point at. I am sorry no more qualified person has taken upon him to show any reasons in the contrair, and that it has fallen on me, as we Scotsmen say, to bell-the-cat with you; anent whilk phrase, Pitscottie hath a pleasant jest of the great Earl of Angus —”
Here a gentleman whispered to the speaker, “Have a care of Pitscottie” and, Mr. Oldbuck, as if taking the hint, went on.
“But that’s neither here nor there — Well, gentlemen, to be short, I think it unnecessary to enter into the general reasonings whilk have this day been delivered, as I may say, ex cathedra; nor will I charge our worthy Preses with an attempt to obtain over us, per ambages, and under colour of an Act of Parliament, a despotic authority, inconsistent with our freedom. But this I will say, that times are so much changed above stairs, that whereas last year you might have obtained an act incorporating a Stock Company for riddling ashes, you will not be able to procure one this year for gathering pearls. What signifies, then, wasting the time of the meeting, by inquiring whether or not we ought to go in at a door which we know to be bolted and barred in our face, and in the face of all the companies for fire or air, land or water, which we have of late seen blighted!”
Here there was a general clamour, seemingly of approbation, in which the words might be distinguished, “Needless to think of it”— “Money thrown away”—“Lost before the committee,” &c. &c. &c. But above the tumult, the voices of two gentlemen, in different corners of the room, answered each other clear and loud, like the blows of the two figures on Saint Dunstan’s clock; and although the Chairman, in much agitation, endeavoured to silence them, his interruption had only the effect of cutting their words up into syllables, thus —
First Voice. “The Lord Chan —”
Second Voice. “The Lord Lau —”
Chairman, (loudly.) “Scandalum magnatum!”
First Voice. “The Lord Chancel —”
Second Voice. “The Lord Lauder —”
Chairman, (louder yet.) “Breach of Privilege!”
First Voice. “The Lord Chancellor —”
Second Voice. “My Lord Lauderdale —”
Chairman, (at the highest pitch of his voice.)
“Called before the House!”
Both Voices together. “Will never consent to such a bill.”
A general assent seemed to follow this last proposition, which was propounded with as much emphasis as could be contributed by the united clappers of the whole meeting, joined to those of the voices already mentioned.
Several persons present seemed to consider the business of the meeting as ended, and were beginning to handle their hats and canes, with a view to departure, when the Chairman, who had thrown himself back in his chair, with an air of manifest mortification and displeasure, again drew himself up, and commanded attention. All stopped, though some shrugged their shoulders, as if under the predominating influence of a bore. But the tenor of his discourse soon excited anxious attention.
“I perceive, gentlemen,” he said, “that you are like the young birds, who are impatient to leave their mother’s nest — take care your own penfeathers are strong enough to support you; since, as for my part, I am tired of supporting on my wing such a set of ungrateful gulls. But it signifies nothing speaking — I will no longer avail myself of such weak ministers as you — I will discard you — I will unbeget you, as Sir Anthony Absolute says — I will leave you and your whole hacked stock in trade — your caverns and your castles — your modern antiques, and your antiquated moderns — your confusion of times, manners, and circumstances — your properties, as player-folk say of scenery and dresses — the whole of your exhausted expedients, to the fools who choose to deal with them. I will vindicate my own fame with my own right hand, without appealing to such halting assistants,
‘Whom I have used for sport, rather than need.’
— I will lay my foundations better than on quicksands — I will rear my structure of better materials than painted cards; in a word, I will write HISTORY!”
There was a tumult of surprise, amid which our reporter detected the following expressions:—“The devil you will!”—“You, my dear sir, you?”—“The old gentleman forgets that he is the greatest liar since Sir John Mandeville.”
“Not the worse historian for that,” said Oldbuck, “since history, you know, is half fiction.”
“I’ll answer for that half being forthcoming” said the former speaker; “but for the scantling of truth which is necessary after all, Lord help us! — Geoffrey of Monmouth will be Lord Clarendon to him.”
As the confusion began to abate, more than one member of the meeting was seen to touch his forehead significantly, while Captain Clutterbuck humm’d
Be by your friends advised,
Too rash, too hasty, dad,
Maugre your bolts and wise head,
The world will think you mad.
“The world, and you, gentlemen, may think what you please,” said the Chairman, elevating his voice; “but I intend to write the most wonderful book which the world ever read — a book in which every incident shall be incredible, yet strictly true — a work recalling recollections with which the ears of this generation once tingled, and which shall be read by our children with an admiration approaching to incredulity. Such shall be the LIFE OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE by the AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY.”
In the general start and exclamation which followed this annunciation, Mr. Oldbuck dropped his snuff-box; and the Scottish rappee, which dispersed itself in consequence, had effects upon the nasal organs of our reporter, ensconced as he was under the secretary’s table, which occasioned his being discovered and extruded in the illiberal and unhandsome manner we have mentioned, with threats of farther damage to his nose, ears, and other portions of his body, on the part especially of Captain Clutterbuck. Undismayed by these threats, which indeed those of his profession are accustomed to hold at defiance, our young man hovered about the door of the tavern, but could only bring us the farther intelligence, that the meeting had broken up in about a quarter of an hour after his expulsion, “in much-admired disorder.”
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