« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
the bar, but there stood very like culprits, and no one seemed to know who was to speak first. Sir W. Alexander, however, accustomed of old to discourse from the bar, or charge from the bench, was beyond question the proper person—so, after a very little hesitation, he began and made a neat speech, expressing our hopes that Sir Walter would sojourn at Malta as long as possible. Sir Walter replied very simply and courteously in his natural manner, but his articulation was manifestly affected, though not I think quite so much so as his expression of face. He wore trousers of the Lowland small-checked plaid, and sitting with his hands crossed over the top of a shepherd's looking staff, he was very like the picture painted by Leslie, and engraved for one of the Annuals, — but when he spoke, the varied expression, that used quite to redeem all heaviness of features, was no longer to be seen. Our visit was short, and we left Mr Frere with him at the bar on our departure. He came daily to see his friend, and passed more of his quarantine-time with him than any one else. We were told that between Mr Frere's habitual absence of mind, and Sir Walter's natural Scotch desire to shake hands with him at every meeting, it required all the vigilance of the attendant genii of the place, to prevent Mr F. from being put into quarantine along with him.
“ Sir Walter did not accept the house provided
for him by the Governor's order, nor any of the various private houses which, to Miss Scott's great amusement, were urgently proffered for his use by their owners — but established himself, during his stay, at Beverley's Hotel, in Strada Ponente. Our house was immediately opposite to this one, divided by a very narrow street ; and I well remember, when watching his arrival on the day he took Pratique, hearing the sound of his voice as he chatted sociably to Mr Greig (the inspector of quarantine), on whose arm he leaned while walking from the carriage to the door of his hotel — it seemed to me that I had hardly heard so home-like a sound in this strange land, or one that so took me back to Edinburgh and our own North Castle Street, where, in passing him as he walked up or down with a friend, I had heard it before so often. Nobody was at hand at the moment for me to show him to but an English maid, who not having my Scotch interest in the matter, only said, when I tried to enlighten her as to the event of his arrival — Poor old gentleman, how ill he looks. It showed how sadly a little while must have changed him ; for when I had seen him last in Edinburgh, perhaps five or six years before, no one would have thought of calling him an old gentleman. At one or two dinner-parties, at which we saw him within the week of his arrival, he did not seem at all animated in conversation, and retired soon; for he seemed resolutely prudent as to keeping early hours; though he was unfortunately careless as to what he ate or drank, especially the latter — and, I fear, obstinate when his daughter attempted to regulate his diet.
“ A few days after his arrival in Malta, he accepted an invitation from the garrison to a ball — an odd kind of honour to bestow on a man of letters suffering from paralytic illness, but extremely characteristic of the taste of this place. It was, I believe, well got up, under the direction of the usual master of Malta ceremonies, Mr Walker, an officer of artillery; and everything was done that the said officer and his colleagues could do to give it a sentimental, if not a literary cast. The decorations were laboriously appropriate. Sir Walter entered (having been received at the door by a deputation of the dignitaries of the island) to the sound of Scotch music; and as it was held in the great room of the Auberge de Provence, formerly one of the festal halls of the Knights of Malta, it was not a bad scene — if such a gaiety was to be inflicted at all.
“ A day or two afterwards, we gladly accepted an invitation brought to us by Miss Scott, to dine quietly with him and two or three officers of the Barham at his hotel; and I thought the day of this dining so white a one as to mark it especially in a little notebook the same evening. I see it stands dated December the 4th, and the little book says — Dined and spent the evening of this day with Sir Walter Scott. We had only met him before at large dinnerparties. At home he was very much more happy, and more inclined to talk. Even now his conversation has many characteristics of his writings. There is the same rich felicitous quotation from favourite writers, — the same happy introduction of old traditionary stories — Scotch ones especially—in a manner as easy, and evidently quite unprepared. The coming in of a young midshipman, a cousin of his (Scott by name), to join the party, gave occasion to his telling the story of • Muckle Mouthed Meg,'* and to his describing the tragi-comical picture drawn from that story by Mr C. K. Sharpe, which I remembered to have seen at Abbotsford. At dinner he spoke a good deal of Tom Sheridan, after telling a bon mot of his in illustration of something that was said ; and seemed amused at a saying of Mr Smyth (of Cambridge), respecting that witty and volatile pupil of his, — that it was impossible to put knowledge into him, try it as you might.'—- Just,' said Sir Walter, · like a trunk that you are trying to over-pack, but it won't do -- the things start out in your face.' On joining us in the drawing-room after dinner, Sir Walter was very animated, spoke much of Mr Frere, and of his remarkable success, when quite a boy, in the translation of a Saxon ballad.* This led him to ballads in general, and he gravely lamented his friend Mr Frere's heresy in not esteeming highly enough that of · Hardyknute.' He admitted that it was not a veritable old ballad, but just old enough, and a noble imitation of the best style. In speaking of Mr Frere's translations, he repeated a pretty long passage from his version of one of the Romances of the Cid (published in the Appendix to Southey's quarto), and seemed to enjoy a spirited charge of the knights therein described, as much as he could have done in his best days, placing his walking-stick in rest like a lance, to suit the action to the word.' Miss Scott says, she has not seen him so animated, so like himself, since he came to Malta, as on this evening.
“ Sunday Morning, December 5 (as my said little note- book proceeds to record) — Sir Walter spent chiefly in St John's Church, the beautiful temple and burying-place of the knights, and there he was much pleased and interested. On Monday the 6th, he dined at the Chief-Justice, Sir John Stoddart's, when I believe he partook too freely of porter and champaign for one in his invalid state. On Tuesday
* See ante, Vol. II. p. 207.