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a biscuit. — April 30, May 1. Go on with Count Robert half a dozen leaves per day. I am not much behind with my hand-work. The task of pumping my brains becomes inevitably harder when
. Both chain pumps are choked below;'
and though this may not be the case literally, yet the apprehension is well-nigh as bad. — May 3. Sophia arrives — with all the children looking well and beautiful, except poor Johnnie, who looks pale. But it is no wonder, poor thing !— May 4. I have a letter from Lockhart, promising to be down by next Wednesday. I shall be glad to see and consult with Lockhart. My pronunciation is a good deal improved. My time glides away ill employed, but I am afraid of the palsy. I should not like to be pinned to my chair. I believe even that kind of life is more endurable than we could suppose - yet the idea is terrible to a man who has been active. Your wishes are limited to your little circle. My own circle in bodily matters is narrowing daily ; not so in intellectual matters
- but of that I am perhaps a worse judge. The plough is nearing the end of the furrow.
May 5.— A fleece of letters, which must be answered I
suppose, all from persons my zealous admirers of course, and expecting a degree of generosity, which will put to rights all their maladies, physical and mental, and that I can make up whatever losses have been their lot, raise them to a desirable rank, and will stand their protector and patron. I must, they take it for granted, be astonished at having an address from a stranger; on the contrary, I would be astonished if any of these extravagant epistles came from any one who had the least title to enter into correspondence. — My son Walter takes leave of me to-day, to return to Sheffield. At his entreaty I have agreed to put in a seton, which they seem all to recommend. My own opinion is, this addition to my tortures will do me no good — but I cannot hold out against my son.
“ May 6, 7, 8.--Here is a precious job. I have a formal remonstrance from these critical people, Ballantyne and Cadell, against the last volume of Count Robert, which is within a sheet of being finished. I suspect their opinion will be found to coincide with that of the public; at least it is not very different from my own. The blow is a stunning one,
suppose, for I scarcely feel it. It is singular, but it comes with as little surprise as if I had a remedy ready; yet, God knows, I am at sea in the dark, and the vessel leaky, I think, into the bargain. I cannot conceive that I should have tied a knot with my tongue which my teeth cannot untie.
We shall see. I have suffered terribly, that is the truth, rather in body than in mind, and I often wish I could lie down and sleep without waking. But I will fight it out if I can. It would argue too great an attachment of
labours to sink under critical clamour. Did I know how to begin, I would begin again this very day, although I knew I should sink at the end. After all, this is but fear and faintness of heart, though of another kind from that which trembleth at a loaded pistol. My bodily strength is terribly gone ; perhaps my mental too."
On my arrival (May 10th), I found Sir Walter to have rallied considerably; yet his appearance, as I first saw him, was the most painful sight I had ever then seen. Knowing at what time I might be expected, he had been lifted on his pony, and advanced about half a mile on the Selkirk road to meet
He moved at a foot-pace, with Laidlaw at one stirrup, and his forester Swanston (a fine fellow, who did all he could to replace Tom Purdie) at the other. Abreast was old Peter Mathieson on horseback, with one of my children astride before him on a pillion. Sir Walter had had his head shaved, and wore a black silk night-cap under his blue bonnet. All his garments hung loose about him; his countenance was thin and haggard, and there was an obvious distortion in the muscles of one cheek. His look, however, was placid — his eye as bright as ever - perhaps brighter than it ever was in health ; he smiled with the same affectionate gentleness, and though at first it was not easy to understand everything he said, he spoke cheerfully and manfully.
He had resumed, and was trying to recast, his novel. All the medical men had urged him, by every argument, to abstain from any such attempts; but he smiled on them in silence, or answered with some jocular rhyme. One note has this postscript — a parody on a sweet lyric of Burns's
“ Dour, dour, and eident was he,
Dour and eident' but-and-ben -
And eident on the Bramah pen."
He told me, that in the winter he had more than once tried writing with his own hand, because he had no longer the same pith and birr” that formerly rendered dictation easy to him ; but that the experiment failed. He was now sensible he could do nothing without Laidlaw to hold “ the Bramah pen;" adding, “ Willie is a kind clerk — I see by his looks when I am pleasing him, and that pleases me." And, however the cool critic may now esti, mate Count Robert, no one who then saw the author could wonder that Laidlaw's prevalent feeling in
writing those pages should have been admiration. Under the full consciousness that he had sustained three or four strokes of apoplexy or palsy, or both combined, and tortured by various attendant ailments, cramp, rheumatism in half his joints, daily increasing lameness, and now of late gravel (which was, though last, not least), he retained all the energy of his will, struggled manfully against this sea of troubles, and might well have said seriously, as he more than once both said and wrote playfully,
so 'Tis not in mortals to command success,
But we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it." *
To assist them in amusing him in the hours which : he spent out of his study, and especially that he might be tempted to make those hours more frequent, his daughters had invited his friend the authoress of Marriage to come out to Abbotsford ; and her coming was serviceable. For she knew and loved him well, and she had seen enough of affliction akin to his, to be well skilled in dealing with it. She could not be an hour in his company without observing what filled his children with more sorrow than all the rest of the case. He would begin a story as gaily as ever, and go on, in spite of the hesitation in his speech, to tell it with highly pic