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per; and the courage and dexterity which Sir Walter had delighted to see him display in sports and pastimes, proved henceforth of inestimable service to the master whom he regarded, I verily believe, with the love and reverence of a son. Since I have reached the period at which human beings owe so much to ministrations of this class, I may as well name by the side of Nicolson, Miss Scott's maid, Mrs Celia Street; a young person whose unwearied zeal, coupled with a modest tact that stamped her one of Nature's gentlewomen, contributed hardly less to the comfort of Sir Walter and his children during the brief remainder of his life. *
Affliction, as it happened, lay heavy at this time on the kind house of Huntly-Burn also. The eldest Miss Fergusson was on her deathbed; and thus, when my wife and I were obliged to move southwards at the beginning of winter, Sir Walter was left almost entirely dependent on his daughter Anne, William Laidlaw, and the worthy domestics whom I have been naming. Mr Laidlaw attended him occasionally as amanuensis when his fingers were chilblained, and often dined as well as breakfasted with him: and Miss Scott well knew that in all circumstances she
* On Sir Walter's death, Nicolson passed into the service of Mr Morritt at Rokeby, where he is now butler. Mrs Street remained in my house till 1836, when she married Mr Griffiths, a respectable brewer at Walworth.
might lean to Laidlaw with the confidence of a niece or a daughter.
A more difficult and delicate task never devolved upon any man's friend, than he had about this time to encounter. He could not watch Scott from hour to hour — above all, he could not write to his dictation, without gradually, slowly, most reluctantly taking home to his bosom the conviction that the mighty mind, which he had worshipped through more than thirty years of intimacy, had lost something, and was daily losing something more, of its energy. The faculties were there, and each of them was every now and then displaying itself in its full vigour ; but the sagacious judgment, the brilliant fancy, the unrivalled memory, were all subject to occasional eclipse -
“ Amid the strings his fingere stray'd,
And an uncertain warbling made.'
Ever and anon he paused and looked round him, like one half waking from a dream, mocked with shadows. The sad bewilderment of his gaze showed a momentary consciousness that, like Sampson in the lap of the Philistine, “his strength was passing from him, and he was becoming weak like unto other men." Then came the strong effort of aroused will — the cloud dispersed as if before an irresistible current of
* Introduction, Lay of the Last Minstrel,
purer air — all was bright and serene as of old — and then it closed again in yet deeper darkness.
During the early part of this winter the situation of Cadell and Ballantyne was hardly less painful, and still more embarrassing. What doubly and trebly perplexed them was, that while the MS. sent for press seemed worse every budget, Sir Walter's private letters to them, more especially on points of business, continued as clear in thought, and almost so in expression, as formerly; full of the old shrewdness, and firmness, and manly kindness, and even of the old good-humoured pleasantry. About them, except the staggering penmanship, and here and there one word put down obviously for another, there was scarcely anything to indicate decayed vigour. It is not surprising that poor Ballantyne, in particular, should have shrunk from the notion that anything was amiss, -except the choice of an unfortunate subject, and the indulgence of more than common carelessness and rapidity in composition. He seems to have done so as he would from some horrid suggestion of the Devil; and accordingly obeyed his natural sense of duty, by informing Sir Walter, in plain terms, that he considered the opening chapters of Count Robert as decidedly inferior to anything that had ever before come from that
pen. to have dwelt chiefly on the hopelessness of any Byzantine fable; and he might certainly have ap
pealed to a long train of examples for the fatality which seems to hang over every attempt to awaken anything like a lively interest about the persons and manners of the generation in question; the childish forms and bigotries, the weak pomps and drivelling pretensions, the miserable plots and treacheries, the tame worn-out civilisation of those European Chi
The epoch on which Scott had fixed was, however, one that brought these doomed slaves of vanity and superstition into contact with the vigorous barbarism both of western Christendom and the advancing Ottoman. Sir Walter had, years before, been struck with its capabilities ; * and who dares to say that, had he executed the work when he sketched the outline of its plan, he might not have achieved as signal a triumph over all critical prejudices, as he had done when he rescued Scottish romance from the mawkish degradation in which Waverley found it ?
In himself and his own affairs there was enough to alarm and perplex him and all who watched him ; but the aspect of the political horizon also pressed more heavily upon his spirit than it had ever done before. All the evils which he had apprehended from the rupture among the Tory leaders in the beginning of 1827, were now, in his opinion, about to be con
* See his Essay on Romance for the Encyclopædia Britannica.
summated. The high Protestant party, blinded by their resentment of the abolition of the Test Act and the Roman Catholic disabilities, seemed willing to run any risk for the purpose of driving the Duke of Wellington from the helm. The general election, occasioned by the demise of the Crown, was held while the successful revolts in France and Belgium were fresh and uppermost in every mind, and furnished the Liberal candidates with captivating topics, of which they eagerly availed themselves. The result had considerably strengthened the old opposition in the House of Commons; and a single vote, in which the ultra-Tories joined the Whigs, was considered by the Ministry as so ominous, that they immediately retired from office. The succeeding cabinet of Earl Grey included names identified, in Scott's view, with the wildest rage of innovation. Their first step was to announce a bill of Parliamentary Reform on a large scale, for which it was soon known they had secured the warm personal support of King William IV.; a circumstance the probability of which had, as we have seen, been contemplated by Sir Walter during the last illness of the Duke of York. Great discontent prevailed, meanwhile, throughout the labouring classes of many districts, both commercial and rural. Every newspaper teemed with details of riot and incendiarism ; and the selection of such an epoch of impatience and turbulence for a legislative