Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Walter Scott and Marjorie
By Dr. John Brown (1810–1882)
 
From Horæ Subsecivæ

THE THIRD we all know. What has he not done for every one of us? Who else ever, except Shakespeare, so diverted mankind, entertained and entertains a world so liberally, so wholesomely? We are fain to say, not even Shakespeare, for his is something deeper than diversion, something higher than pleasure, and yet who would care to split this hair?
  1
  Had anyone watched him closely before and after the parting, what a change he would see! The bright, broad laugh, the shrewd, jovial word, the man of the Parliament House and of the world; and next step, moody, the light of his eye withdrawn, as if seeing things that were invisible; his shut mouth, like a child’s, so impressionable, so innocent, so sad; he was now all within, as before he was all without; hence his brooding look. As the snow blattered in his face he muttered “How it raves and drifts! On-ding o’ snaw—ay, that’s the word—on-ding—.” He was now at his own door, Castle Street, No. 39. He opened the door, and went straight to his den; that wondrous workshop, where, in one year, 1823, when he was fifty-two, he wrote Peveril of the Peak, Quentin Durward, and St. Ronan’s Well, besides much else. We once took the foremost of our novelists, the greatest, we would say, since Scott, into this room, and could not but mark the solemnising effect of sitting where the great magician sat so often and so long, and looking out upon that little shabby bit of sky, and that back green, where faithful Camp lies.  2
  He sat down in his large, green morocco elbow-chair, drew himself close to his table, and glowered and gloomed at his writing apparatus, a very handsome old box, richly carved, lined with crimson velvet, and containing ink-bottles, taper-stand, etc., in silver, the whole in such order, that it might have come from the silversmith’s window half-an-hour before. He took out his paper, then starting up angrily, said, “‘Go spin, you jade, go spin.’ No, d—— it, it won’t do—
        My spinnin’ wheel is auld and stiff,
  The rock o’t wunna stand, sir,
To keep the temper-pin in tiff
  Employs ower aft my hand, sir.
I am off the fang. I can make nothing of Waverley to-day: I’ll awa’ to Marjorie. Come wi’ me, Maida, you thief.” The great creature rose slowly, and the pair were off, Scott taking a maud (a plaid) with him. “White as a frosted plum-cake, by jingo!” said he, when he got to the street. Maida gambolled and whisked among the snow, and his master strode across to Young Street, and through it to 1 North Charlotte Street, to the house of his dear friend, Mrs. William Keith of Corstorphine Hill, niece of Mrs. Keith of Ravelston, of whom he said at her death, eight years after, “Much tradition, and that of the best, has died with this excellent old lady, one of the few persons whose spirits and cleanliness and freshness of mind and body made old age lovely and desirable.”
  3
  Sir Walter was in that house almost every day, and had a key, so in he and the hound went, shaking themselves in the lobby. “Marjorie! Marjorie!” shouted her friend, “where are ye, my bonnie wee croodlin doo?” In a moment a bright, eager child of seven was in his arms, and he was kissing her all over. Out came Mrs. Keith. “Come yer ways in, Wattie.” “No, not now. I am going to take Marjorie wi’ me, and you may come to your tea in Duncan Roy’s sedan, and bring the bairn home in your lap.” “Tak’ Marjorie, and it on-ding o’ snaw!” said Mrs. Keith. He said to himself, “On-ding—that’s odd—that is the very word.” “Hoot, awa! look here,” and he displayed the corner of his plaid, made to hold lambs—(the true shepherd’s plaid, consisting of two breadths sewed together, and uncut at one end, making a poke or cul de sac. “Tak’ yer lamb,” said she, laughing at the contrivance, and so the Pet was first well happit up, and then put, laughing silently, into the plaid-neuk, and the shepherd strode off with his lamb,—Maida gambolling through the snow, and running races in his mirth.  4
  Didn’t he face “the angry airt,” and make her bield his bosom, and into his own room with her, and lock the door, and out with the warm, rosy, little wifie, who took it all with great composure! There the two remained for three or more hours, making the house ring with their laughter; you can fancy the big man’s and Maidie’s laugh. Having made the fire cheery, he set her down in his ample chair, and standing sheepishly before her, began to say his lesson, which happened to be—“Ticcoty, diccoty, dock, the mouse ran up the clock, the clock struck wan, down the mouse ran, ziccoty, diccoty, dock.” This done repeatedly till she was pleased, she gave him his new lesson, gravely and slowly, timing it upon her small fingers, he saying it after her—
        Wonery, twoery, tickery seven;
Alibi, crackaby, ten and eleven;
Pin, pan, musky, dan;
Tweedle-um, twoodle-um,
Twenty-wan; eerie, orie, ourie,
You, are, out.
  5
  He pretended to great difficulty, and she rebuked him with most comical gravity, treating him as a child. He used to say that when he came to Alibi, crackaby, he broke down, and Pin-pan, musky-dan, Tweedle-um twoodle-um, made him roar with laughter. He said Musky Dan was beyond endurance, bringing up an Irishman and his hat, fresh from the Spice Islands and odoriferous Ind; she getting quite bitter in her displeasure at his ill-behaviour and stupidness.  6
  Then he would read ballads to her in his own glorious way, the two getting wild with excitement over Gil Morrice or the Baron of Smailholm; and he would take her on his knee, and make her repeat Constance’s speeches in King John, till he swayed to and fro sobbing his fill. Fancy the gifted little creature, like one possessed, repeating—

        For I am sick and capable of fears,
Oppressed with wrongs and therefore full of fears;
A widow, husbandless, subject to fears;
A woman, naturally born to fears.
  
If thou, that bid’st me be content, wert grim,
Ugly and slanderous to thy mother’s womb,…
Lame, foolish, crooked, swart, prodigious——.

Or, drawing herself up “to the height of her great argument,”—
        I will instruct my sorrows to be proud,
For grief is proud, and makes his owner stout….
Here I and sorrow sit.
  7
  Scott used to say he was amazed at her power over him, saying to Mrs. Keith, “She’s the most extraordinary creature I ever met with, and her repeating of Shakespeare overpowers me as nothing else does.”  8
  Thanks to the unforgetting sister of this dear child, who has much of the sensibility and fun of her who has been in her small grave these fifty and more years, we have now before us the letters and journals of Pet Marjorie—before us lies and gleams her rich brown hair, bright and sunny as if yesterday’s, with the words on the paper, “Cut out in her last illness,” and two pictures of her by her beloved Isabella, whom she worshipped; there are the faded old scraps of paper, hoarded still, over which her warm breath and her warm little heart had poured themselves; there is the old water-mark, “Lingard, 1808.” The two portraits are very like each other, but plainly done at different times; it is a chubby, healthy face, deep-set, brooding eyes, as eager to tell what is going on within, as to gather in all the glories from without; quick with the wonder and the pride of life; they are eyes that would not be soon satisfied with seeing; eyes that would devour their object, and yet childlike and fearless; and that is a mouth that will not be soon satisfied with love; it has a curious likeness to Scott’s own, which has always appeared to us his sweetest, most mobile, and speaking feature.  9
 
 
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