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His worldly ambition was thus grafted on that ardent feeling for blood and kindred, which was the great redeeming element in the social life of what we call the middle ages; and though no man estimated the solid advantages of modern existence more justly than he did when, restraining his fancy, he exercised his
graver faculties on the comparison — it was the natural effect of the studies he devoted himself to and rose by, to indispose him for dwelling on the sober results of judgment and reason in all such matters. What a striking passage that is in one of his letters now printed, where he declines to write a biography of Queen Mary, “because his opinion was contrary to his feeling !" But he confesses the same of his Jacobitism; and yet how eagerly does he seem to have grasped at the shadow, however false and futile, under which he chose to see the means of reconciling his Jacobitism with loyalty to the reigning monarch who befriended him? We find him, over and over again, alluding to George IV. as acquiring a title, de jure, on the death of the poor Cardinal of York! Yet who could have known better, that whatever rights the exiled males of the Stuart line ever possessed, must have remained entire with their female descendants ?
The same resolution to give imugination her scope, and always in favour of antiquity, is the ruling principle and charm of all his best writings; and he indulged and embodied it so largely in his buildings at Abbotsford, that to have curtailed the exposition of his fond untiring enthusiasm on that score, would have been like omitting the Prince in a cast of Hamlet. So also with all the details of his hospitable existence, when he had fairly completed his “romance in stone and lime;"-every outline copied from some old baronial edifice in Scotland — every roof and window blazoned with clan bearings, or the lion rampant gules, or the heads of the ancient Stuart kings. He wished to revive the interior life of the castles he had emulated their wide open joyous reception of all comers, but especially of kinsmen, allies, and neighbours — ballads and pibrochs to enliven flowing bowls and quaighs—jolly hunting fields in which yeoman and gentleman might ride side by side and mirthful dances, where no Sir Piercy Shafton need blush to lead out the miller's daughter. In the brightest meridian of his genius and fame, this was his beau ideal. All the rest, however agreeable and flattering, was but “ leather and prunella” to this. There was much kindness surely in such ambition :--in spite of the apparent contradiction in terms, was there not really much humility about it?
To this ambition we owe the gigantic monuments of Scott's genius; and to the kindly feelings out of which his ambition grew, grew also his fatal connexion with merchandise. The Ballantynes were his old schoolfellows ;- and the reader has had means to judge whether, when once embarked in their concerns, he ever could have got out of them again, until rude calamity, at one blow, broke the meshes of his entanglement. I need not recur to that sad and complicated chapter. Nor, perhaps, need I offer any more speculations, by way of explaining, and reconciling to his previous and subsequent history and demeanour, either the mystery in which he had chosen to wrap his commercial connexions from his most intimate friends, or the portentous carelessness with which he abandoned these matters to the direction of negligent and inefficient colleagues. And yet I ought, I rather think, to have suggested to certain classes of my readers, at a much earlier stage, that no man could in former times be called either to the English or the Scottish Bar, who was known to have any direct interest in any commercial undertaking of any sort; and that the body of feelings or prejudices in which this regulation originated for though there might be sound reason for it besides, such undoubtedly was the main source)— prevailed in Scotland in Sir Walter's youth, to an extent of which the present generation may not easily form an adequate notion. In the minds of the “ northern noblesse de la robe,” as they are styled in Redgauntlet, such feelings had wide and potent authority; insomuch that I can understand perfectly how Scott, even after he ceased to practise at the bar, being still a Sheriff, and a member of the Faculty of Advocates, should have shrunk very sensitively from the idea of having his alliance with a trading firm revealed among his comrades of the gown. And, moreover, the practice of mystery is, perhaps, of all practices, the one most likely to grow into a habit; secret breeds secret; and I ascribe, after all, the long silence about Waverley to the matured influence of this habit, at least as much as to any
of the motives which the author has thought fit to assign in his late confessions.
But was there not, in fact, something that lay far deeper than a mere professional prejudice ?
Among many things in Scott's Diaries, which cast strong light upon the previous part of his history, the reluctance which he confesses himself to have always felt towards the resumption of the proper appointed task, however willing, nay eager, to labour sedulously on something else, can hardly have escaped the reader's notice. We know how gallantly he combated it in the general — but these precious Diaries themselves are not the least pregnant proofs of the extent to which it very often prevailed — for an hour or two at least, if not for the day.
I think this, if we were to go no farther, might help us somewhat in understanding the neglect about superintending the Messrs Ballantynes' ledgers and bill books; and, consequently, the rashness about buying land, building, and the like.
But to what are we to ascribe the origin of this reluctance towards accurate and minute investigation and transaction of business of various sorts, so important to himself, in a man possessing such extraordinary sagacity, and exercising it every day with such admirable regularity and precision, in the various capacities of the head of a family—the friend - the magistrate the most distinguished citizen of Edinburgh — beyond all comparison the most distinguished member of society that figured in his time in his native kingdom ?
The whole system of conceptions and aspirations, of which his early active life was the exponent, resolves itself into a romantic idealization of Scottish aristocracy. He desired to secure for his descendants (for himself he had very soon acquired something infinitely more flattering to self-love and vanity) a decent and honourable middle station in a scheme of life so constituted originally, and which his fancy pictured as capable of being so revived, as to admit of the kindliest personal contact between (almost) the peasant at the plough, and the magnate with revenues rivalling the monarch's. It was the patriarchal — the clan system, that he thought of; one that never prevailed even in Scotland, within the historical period that is to say, except in the Highlands, and in his