Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Scott’s Conversation
By John Gibson Lockhart (1794–1854)
From Peter’s Letters

… SO much for Roderick of Skye, for such I think is his style. His performance seemed to diffuse, or rather to heighten a charming flow of geniality over the whole of the party, but nowhere could I trace its influence so powerfully and so delightfully as in the master of the feast. The music of the hills had given a new tone to his fine spirits, and the easy playfulness with which he gave vent to their buoyancy was the most delicious of contagions. Himself temperate in the extreme (some late ill health has made it necessary he should be so), he sent round his claret more speedily than even I could have wished—you see I am determined to blunt the edge of your sarcasms—and I assure you we were all too well employed to think of measuring our bumpers. Do not suppose, however, that there is anything like display or formal leading in Mr. Scott’s conversation. On the contrary, everybody seemed to speak the more that he was there to hear—and his presence seemed to be enough to make everybody speak delightfully—as if it had been that some princely musician had tuned all the strings, and even under the sway of more vulgar fingers, they could not choose but discourse excellent music. His conversation, besides, is for the most part of such a kind, that all can take a lively part in it, although, indeed, none that I ever met with can equal himself. It does not appear as if he ever could be at a loss for a single moment for some new supply of that which constitutes its chief peculiarity, and its chief charm; the most keen perception, the most tenacious memory, and the most brilliant imagination having been at work throughout the whole of his busy life in filling his mind with a store of individual traits and anecdotes, serious and comic, individual and national, such as it is probable no man ever before possessed—and such, still more certainly, as no man of great original power ever before possessed in subservience to the purposes of inventive genius. A youth spent in wandering among the hills and valleys of his country, during which he became intensely familiar with all the lore of those gray-haired shepherds, among whom the traditions of warlike as well as of peaceful times find their securest dwelling place—or in more equal converse with the relics of that old school of Scottish cavaliers, whose faith had nerved the arms of so many of his own race and kindred—such a boyhood and such a youth laid the foundation, and established the earliest and most lasting sympathies of a mind, which was destined, in after years; to erect upon this foundation, and improve upon these sympathies in a way of which his young and thirsting spirit could have then contemplated but little. Through his manhood of active and honoured, and now for many years of glorious exertion, he has always lived in the world, and among the men of the world, partaking in all the pleasures and duties of society as fully as any of those who had nothing but such pleasures and such duties to attend to. Uniting, as never before they were united, the habits of an indefatigable student with those of an indefatigable observer—and doing all this with the easy and careless grace of one who is doing so, not to task, but to gratify his inclinations and his nature—is it to be wondered that the riches of his various acquisitions should furnish a never-failing source of admiration even to those who have known him longest, and who know him best? As for me, enthusiastic as I had always been in my worship of his genius—and well as his works had prepared me to find his conversation rich to overflowing in all the elements of instruction as well as of amusement—I confess the reality entirely surpassed all my anticipations, and I never despised the maxim Nil admirari so heartily as now.

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