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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Last Days of Sir Walter Scott
By John Gibson Lockhart (1794–1854)
 
From the ‘Life of Scott’

THE LAST jotting of Sir Walter’s Diary—perhaps the last specimen of his handwriting—records his starting from Naples on the 16th of April. After the 11th of May the story can hardly be told too briefly.  1
  The irritation of impatience, which had for a moment been suspended by the aspect and society of Rome, returned the moment he found himself on the road, and seemed to increase hourly. His companions could with difficulty prevail on him to see even the Falls of Terni, or the church of Santa Croce at Florence. On the 17th, a cold and dreary day, they passed the Apennines, and dined on the top of the mountains. The snow and the pines recalled Scotland, and he expressed pleasure at the sight of them. That night they reached Bologna, and he would see none of the interesting objects therein; and next day, hurrying in like manner through Ferrara, he proceeded as far as Monselice. On the 19th he arrived at Venice, and he remained there till the 23d; but showed no curiosity about anything except the Bridge of Sighs and the adjoining dungeons,—down into which he would scramble, though the exertion was exceedingly painful to him. On the other historical features of that place—one so sure in other days to have inexhaustible attractions for him—he would not even look; and it was the same with all that he came within reach of—even with the fondly anticipated chapel at Innspruck—as they proceeded through the Tyrol, and so onwards, by Munich, Ulm, and Heidelberg, to Frankfort. Here (June 5th) he entered a bookseller’s shop; and the people seeing an English party, brought out among the first things a lithographed print of Abbotsford. He said, “I know that already, sir,” and hastened back to the inn without being recognized. Though in some parts of the journey they had very severe weather, he repeatedly wished to travel all the night as well as all the day; and the symptoms of an approaching fit were so obvious that he was more than once bled, ere they reached Mayence, by the hand of his affectionate domestic.  2
  In this town they embarked on the 8th of June in the Rhine steamboat; and while they descended the famous river through its most picturesque region, he seemed to enjoy, though he said nothing, the perhaps unrivaled scenery it presented to him. His eyes were fixed on the successive crags and castles and ruined monasteries, each of which had been celebrated in some German ballad familiar to his ear, and all of them blended in the immortal panorama of ‘Childe Harold.’ But so soon as he resumed his carriage at Cologne, and nothing but flat shores, and here and there a grove of poplars and a village spire, were offered to the vision, the weight of misery sunk down again upon him. It was near Nimeguen, on the evening of the 9th, that he sustained another serious attack of apoplexy, combined with paralysis. Nicolson’s lancet restored, after the lapse of some minutes, the signs of animation; but this was the crowning blow. Next day he insisted on resuming his journey, and on the 11th was lifted from the carriage into a steamboat at Rotterdam.  3
  He reached London about six o’clock on the evening of Wednesday, the 13th of June. Owing to the unexpected rapidity of the journey, his eldest daughter had had no notice when to expect him; and fearful of finding her either out of town, or unprepared to receive him and his attendants under her roof, Charles Scott drove to the St. James’s Hotel in Jermyn Street, and established his quarters there before he set out in quest of his sister and myself. When we reached the hotel, he recognized us with every mark of tenderness, but signified that he was totally exhausted; so no attempt was made to remove him further, and he was put to bed immediately. Dr. Ferguson saw him the same night, and next day Sir Henry Halford and Dr. Holland saw him also; and during the next three weeks the two former visited him daily, while Ferguson was scarcely absent from his pillow. The Major was soon on the spot. To his children, all assembled once more about him, he repeatedly gave his blessing in a very solemn manner, as if expecting immediate death; but he was never in a condition for conversation, and sunk either into sleep or delirious stupor upon the slightest effort.  4
  Mrs. Thomas Scott came to town as soon as she heard of his arrival, and remained to help us. She was more than once recognized and thanked. Mr. Cadell too arrived from Edinburgh to render any assistance in his power. I think Sir Walter saw no other of his friends except Mr. John Richardson, and him only once. As usual, he woke up at the sound of a familiar voice and made an attempt to put forth his hand; but it dropped powerless, and he said with a smile, “Excuse my hand.” Richardson made a struggle to suppress his emotion, and after a moment got out something about Abbotsford and the woods, which he had happened to see shortly before. The eye brightened, and he said, “How does Kirklands get on?” Mr. Richardson had lately purchased the estate so called on the Teviot, and Sir Walter had left him busied with plans of building. His friend told him that his new house was begun, and that the Marquis of Lothian had very kindly lent him one of his own, meantime, in its vicinity. “Ay, Lord Lothian is a good man,” said Sir Walter: “he is a man from whom one may receive a favor, and that’s saying a good deal for any man in these days.” The stupor then sank back upon him, and Richardson never heard his voice again. This state of things continued till the beginning of July.  5
  During these melancholy weeks great interest and sympathy were manifested. Allan Cunningham mentions that, walking home late one night, he found several workingmen standing together at the corner of Jermyn Street; and one of them asked him, as if there was but one death-bed in London, “Do you know, sir, if this is the street where he is lying?” The inquiries both at the hotel and at my house were incessant; and I think there was hardly a member of the royal family who did not send every day. The newspapers teemed with paragraphs about Sir Walter: and one of these, it appears, threw out a suggestion that his travels had exhausted his pecuniary resources; and that if he were capable of reflection at all, cares of that sort might probably harass his pillow. This paragraph came from a very ill-informed but I daresay a well-meaning quarter. It caught the attention of some members of the then Government; and inconsequence I received a private communication to the effect that if the case were as stated, Sir Walter’s family had only to say what sum would relieve him from embarrassment, and it would be immediately advanced by the Treasury. The then Paymaster of the Forces, Lord John Russell, had the delicacy to convey this message through a lady with whose friendship he knew us to be honored. We expressed our grateful sense of his politeness and of the liberality of the Government, and I now beg leave to do so once more; but his Lordship was of course informed that Sir Walter Scott was not situated as the journalist had represented….  6
  On this his last journey Sir Walter was attended by his two daughters, Mr. Cadell, and myself; and also by Dr. James Watson, who (it being impossible for Dr. Ferguson to leave town at that moment) kindly undertook to see him safe at Abbotsford. We embarked in the James Watt steamboat, the master of which (Captain John Jamieson), as well as the agent of the proprietors, made every arrangement in their power for the convenience of the invalid. The Captain gave up for Sir Walter’s use his own private cabin, which was a separate erection, a sort of cottage on the deck: and he seemed unconscious, after being laid in bed there, that any new removal had occurred. On arriving at Newhaven, late on the 9th, we found careful preparations made for his landing by the manager of the Shipping Company (Mr. Hamilton); and Sir Walter, prostrate in his carriage, was slung on shore, and conveyed from thence to Douglas’s Hotel in St. Andrew’s Square, in the same complete apparent unconsciousness. Mrs. Douglas had in former days been the Duke of Buccleuch’s housekeeper at Bowhill, and she and her husband had also made the most suitable provision. At a very early hour on the morning of Wednesday the 11th we again placed him in his carriage; and he lay in the same torpid state during the first two stages on the road to Tweedside. But as we descended the vale of the Gala he began to gaze about him, and by degrees it was obvious that he was recognizing the features of that familiar landscape. Presently he murmured a name or two: “Gala Water, surely—Buckholm—Torwoodlee.” As we rounded the hill at Ladhope, and the outline of the Eildons burst on him, he became greatly excited; and when, turning himself on the couch, his eye caught at length his own towers at the distance of a mile, he sprang up with a cry of delight. The river being in flood, we had to go round a few miles by Melrose bridge; and during the time this occupied, his woods and house being within prospect, it required occasionally both Dr. Watson’s strength and mine, in addition to Nicolson’s, to keep him in the carriage. After passing the bridge, the road for a couple of miles loses sight of Abbotsford, and he relapsed into his stupor; but on gaining the bank immediately above it, his excitement became again ungovernable.  7
  Mr. Laidlaw was waiting at the porch, and assisted us in, lifting him into the dining-room, where his bed had been prepared. He sat bewildered for a few moments, and then resting his eye on Laidlaw, said, “Ha! Willie Laidlaw! O man, how often have I thought of you!” By this time his dogs had assembled about his chair; they began to fawn upon him and lick his hands; and he alternately sobbed and smiled over them until sleep oppressed him.  8
  Dr. Watson, having consulted on all things with Mr. Clarkson and his father, resigned the patient to them and returned to London. None of them could have any hope but that of soothing irritation. Recovery was no longer to be thought of; but there might be euthanasia.  9
  And yet something like a ray of hope did break in upon us next morning. Sir Walter awoke perfectly conscious where he was, and expressed an ardent wish to be carried out into his garden. We procured a Bath-chair from Huntly-Burn; and Laidlaw and I wheeled him out before his door, and up and down for some time on the turf, and among the rose beds then in full bloom. The grandchildren admired the new vehicle, and would be helping in their way to push it about. He sat in silence, smiling placidly on them and the dogs their companions, and now and then admiring the house, the screen of the garden, and the flowers and trees. By-and-by he conversed a little, very composedly, with us: said he was happy to be at home,—that he felt better than he had ever done since he left it, and would perhaps disappoint the doctors after all.  10
  He then desired to be wheeled through his rooms, and we moved him leisurely for an hour or more up and down the hall and the great library. “I have seen much,” he kept saying, “but nothing like my ain house: give me one turn more!” He was gentle as an infant, and allowed himself to be put to bed again the moment we told him that we thought he had had enough for one day.  11
  Next morning he was still better; after again enjoying the Bath-chair for perhaps a couple of hours out of doors, he desired to be drawn into the library and placed by the central window, that he might look down upon the Tweed. Here he expressed a wish that I should read to him; and when I asked from what book, he said, “Need you ask?—there is but one.” I chose the fourteenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel; he listened with mild devotion, and said when I had done, “Well, this is a great comfort: I have followed you distinctly, and I feel as if I were yet to be myself again.” In this placid frame he was again put to bed, and had many hours of soft slumber.  12
  On the third day Mr. Laidlaw and I again wheeled him about the small piece of lawn and shrubbery in front of the house for some time; and the weather being delightful, and all the richness of summer around him, he seemed to taste fully the balmy influences of nature. The sun getting very strong, we halted the chair in a shady corner, just within the verge of his verdant arcade around the court-wall; and breathing the coolness of the spot, he said, “Read me some amusing thing; read me a bit of Crabbe.” I brought out the first volume of his own favorite that I could lay hand on, and turned to what I remembered as one of his most favorite passages in it,—the description of the arrival of the Players in the Borough. He listened with great interest, and also, as I soon perceived, with great curiosity. Every now and then he exclaimed, “Capital—excellent—very good—Crabbe has lost nothing”; and we were too well satisfied that he considered himself as hearing a new production, when, chuckling over one couplet, he said, “Better and better—but how will poor Terry endure these cuts?” I went on with the poet’s terrible sarcasms upon the theatrical life, and he listened eagerly, muttering, “Honest Dan!”—“Dan won’t like this.” At length I reached those lines
  “Sad happy race! soon raised and soon depressed,
Your days all passed in jeopardy and jest;
Poor without prudence, with afflictions vain,
Not warned by misery nor enriched by gain.”
  13
  “Shut the book,” said Sir Walter,—“I can’t stand more of this: it will touch Terry to the very quick.”  14
  On the morning of Sunday the 15th he was again taken out into the little pleasaunce, and got as far as his favorite terrace walk between the garden and the river, from which he seemed to survey the valley and the hills with much satisfaction. On re-entering the house he desired me to read to him from the New Testament: and after that he again called for a little of Crabbe; but whatever I selected from that poet seemed to be listened to as if it made part of some new volume published while he was in Italy. He attended with this sense of novelty even to the tale of ‘Phœbe Dawson,’ which not many months before he could have repeated every line of, and which I chose for one of these readings because, as is known to every one, it had formed the last solace of Mr. Fox’s death-bed. On the contrary, his recollection of whatever I read from the Bible appeared to be lively; and in the afternoon, when we made his grandson, a child of six years, repeat some of Dr. Watts’s hymns by his chair, he seemed also to remember them perfectly. That evening he heard the Church service; and when I was about to close the book, said, “Why do you omit the visitation for the sick?” which I added accordingly.  15
  On Monday he remained in bed and seemed extremely feeble; but after breakfast on Tuesday the 17th, he appeared revived somewhat, and was again wheeled about on the turf. Presently he fell asleep in his chair, and after dozing for perhaps half an hour, started awake, and shaking the plaids we had put about him from off his shoulders, said, “This is sad idleness. I shall forget what I have been thinking of, if I don’t set it down now. Take me into my own room, and fetch the keys of my desk.” He repeated this so earnestly that we could not refuse; his daughters went into his study, opened his writing-desk, and laid paper and pens in the usual order; and I then moved him through the hall and into the spot where he had always been accustomed to work. When the chair was placed at the desk, and he found himself in the old position, he smiled and thanked us, and said, “Now give me my pen, and leave me for a little to myself.” Sophia put the pen into his hand, and he endeavored to close his fingers upon it; but they refused their office—it dropped on the paper. He sank back among his pillows, silent tears rolling down his cheeks; but composing himself by-and-by, motioned to me to wheel him out of doors again. Laidlaw met us at the porch, and took his turn of the chair. Sir Walter, after a little while, again dropped into slumber. When he was awaking, Laidlaw said to me, “Sir Walter has had a little repose.” “No, Willie,” said he,—“no repose for Sir Walter but in the grave.” The tears again rushed from his eyes. “Friends,” said he, “don’t let me expose myself—get me to bed—that’s the only place.”  16
  With this scene ended our glimpse of daylight. Sir Walter never, I think, left his room afterwards, and hardly his bed, except for an hour or two in the middle of the day; and after another week he was unable even for this. During a few days he was in a state of painful irritation; and I saw realized all that he had himself prefigured in his description of the meeting between Crystal Croftangry and his paralytic friend. Dr. Ross came out from Edinburgh, bringing with him his wife, one of the dearest nieces of the Clerk’s Table. Sir Walter with some difficulty recognized the Doctor, but on hearing Mrs. Ross’s voice, exclaimed at once, “Isn’t that Kate Hume?” These kind friends remained for two or three days with us. Clarkson’s lancet was pronounced necessary; and the relief it afforded was, I am happy to say, very effectual.  17
  After this he declined daily; but still there was great strength to be wasted, and the process was long. He seemed however to suffer no bodily pain; and his mind, though hopelessly obscured, appeared, when there was any symptom of consciousness, to be dwelling with rare exceptions on serious and solemn things; the accent of the voice grave, sometimes awful, but never querulous, and very seldom indicative of any angry or resentful thoughts. Now and then he imagined himself to be administering justice as sheriff; and once or twice he seemed to be ordering Tom Purdie about trees. A few times also, I am sorry to say, we could perceive that his fancy was at Jedburgh; and “Burk Sir Walter” escaped him in a melancholy tone. But commonly whatever we could follow him in was a fragment of the Bible (especially the Prophecies of Isaiah, and the Book of Job), or some petition in the Litany, or a verse of some psalm (in the old Scotch metrical version) or of some of the magnificent hymns of the Roman ritual,—in which he had always delighted, but which probably hung on his memory now in connection with the church services he had attended while in Italy. We very often heard distinctly the cadence of the ‘Dies Iræ’: and I think the very last stanza that we could make out was the first of a still greater favorite:—
  “Stabat Mater dolorosa,
Juxta crucem lachrymosa,
  Dum pendebat Filius.”
  18
  All this time he continued to recognize his daughters, Laidlaw, and myself, whenever we spoke to him; and received every attention with a most touching thankfulness. Mr. Clarkson too was always saluted with the old courtesy, though the cloud opened but a moment for him to do so. Most truly might it be said that the gentleman survived the genius.  19
  After two or three weeks had passed in this way, I was obliged to leave Sir Walter for a single day, and go into Edinburgh to transact business, on his account, with Mr. Henry Cockburn (now Lord Cockburn), then Solicitor-General for Scotland….  20
  Perceiving, towards the close of August, that the end was near, and thinking it very likely that Abbotsford might soon undergo many changes, and myself at all events never see it again, I felt a desire to have some image preserved of the interior apartments as occupied by their founder; and invited from Edinburgh for that purpose Sir Walter’s dear friend, William Allan,—whose presence, I well knew, would even under the circumstances of that time be nowise troublesome to any of the family, but the contrary in all respects. Mr. Allan willingly complied, and executed a series of beautiful drawings, which may probably be engraved hereafter. He also shared our watchings, and witnessed all but the last moments. Sir Walter’s cousins, the ladies of Ashestiel, came down frequently for a day or two at a time; and did whatever sisterly affection could prompt, both for the sufferer and his daughters. Miss Barbara Scott (daughter of his uncle Thomas), and Mrs. Scott of Harden did the like.  21
  As I was dressing on the morning of Monday the 17th of September, Nicolson came into my room, and told me that his master had awoke in a state of composure and consciousness, and wished to see me immediately. I found him entirely himself, though in the last extreme of feebleness. His eye was clear and calm, every trace of the wild fire of delirium extinguished. “Lockhart,” he said, “I may have but a minute to speak to you. My dear, be a good man—be virtuous—be religious—be a good man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie here.”—He paused, and I said, “Shall I send for Sophia and Anne?” “No,” said he, “don’t disturb them. Poor souls! I know they were up all night—God bless you all.” With this he sunk into a very tranquil sleep, and indeed he scarcely afterwards gave any sign of consciousness, except for an instant on the arrival of his sons. They, on learning that the scene was about to close, obtained anew leave of absence from their posts, and both reached Abbotsford on the 19th. About half-past one P.M. on the 21st of September Sir Walter breathed his last, in the presence of all his children. It was a beautiful day: so warm that every window was wide open; and so perfectly still that the sound of all others most delicious to his ear, the gentle ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles, was distinctly audible as we knelt around the bed, and his eldest son kissed and closed his eyes.  22
 
 
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