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before we come to the steady stream of correspondence beginning in 1821, are more or less occupied with the setting to music of the ballads, or discussions of the songs of the people; and we may take it as likely, I think, that the foundations of the long friendship between Mrs. Hughes and Sir Walter, laid by her charity to the starving
wrote to Mr. Atwood to express my thanks for the honour he has done my Lullaby in wedding it to his music. I have enclosed the notes of the original Gaelic air, procured after much of the High-land music is so wild and irregular enquiry and some difficulty, for the character that it is, I am informed, extremely difficult to reduce it to notes. I fear it would puzzle any one except Mrs. Hughes herself to write the
After a sketch from life by Gilbert Stuart Newton SIR WALTER SCOTT
dog, were cemented in discussion over the "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," in Mrs. Hughes's rendering of Sir Walter's ballads as set to music by Mr. Atwood or others, and the like pleasant topics in which they had a common interest.
To the next letter, written from Edinburgh on June 1 of the following year, 1808, he appends the music of the Gaelic air of the song.
MY DEAR MADAM I was honoured with your letters some time ago and immediately
words and music- they do sing however, and I hope, though I fear after more trouble than either words or tune are worth, you will at length be able to find out how. This ditty should have been sent in search of you long ago, but I really thought I must have waited till the Highlanders came down to get in the harvest, which they do as the Irish with you come over to the Hay making. Should you like the air I will endeavour to find you more Gaelic music for they have a tune and a song for almost everything that they set about. Marmion is much flattered by your approbation. He has been very successful with the public, 5000 copies being already disposed of.
The critics (I mean the 'professional critics) have not I understand been so favourable as to the Lay, but with this I laid my account for many causes.
It would give me great pleasure could I hope to see Miss Hayman and you this summer but the chance which there was of this taking place seems daily more uncertain. I believe now that my autumn will be spent in Ettrick Forest. I wish you could come there and make our hills vocal with your melody. Mrs. Scott would be delighted to see you, and so should I to receive Dr. Hughes at my farm. Make my kindest compliments to him and believe me Dear Madam
Your obliged humble servant
among all judges. They were borrowed of me by a musical friend and never returned. Will you be so good as to make my best Compliments to Mr. Atwood and at once thank him for the personal attention of sending me the copies and for thinking the poetry at all worthy of his beautiful music.
Believe me my dear Madam that the first time I return to London it will give me the greatest pleasure to avail myself of your permission to visit Amen Corner and tire your goodness with my demands on your musical powers. I am with great respect and regard Your very faithful humble
After that there is a desert of silence for more than a decade, -a silence that surely must mean the loss of the letters, not the cessation of the correspondence,- with a solitary little oasis of a letter in 1813, begging Mrs. Hughes to convey the writer's thanks to Mr. Atwood for the music to some other glee of his (Sir Walter's) writing. From the tone of this letter it is evident that it was no picking up, after many years, of the dropped threads of intercourse, but was a part, the only part preserved, of a continued correspondence; and the same observation applies to the letter of 1821, which is the beginning of such part of the correspondence as is preserved for us with any continuity.
This is the letter of 1813:
MY DEAR MRS. HUGHES I am extremely sorry to hear you have been so very unwell, & that your indisposition should have interfered with your delightful musical talents is a general loss to your friends. I assure you I feel the very idea of it severely though it may be a very long time if indeed I ever again have the pleasure of hearing them exercised. A number of little personal concerns which made an occasional journey to London necessary have been last year arranged and I do not foresee any circumstance (unless my brother in law return from India) which is likely to bring me far south of the Tweed. London for itself I do not like very much and the distance & bustle & discomfort of lodgings prevents me from seeing very much of the few friends whose society is its greatest charm. So that I fear it will be long before I can profit by your kind invitation. You will be interested to learn that the author of the note on Littlecote Hall is Lord Webb Seymour, brother of the Duke of Somerset ; it is certainly an admirable description of the old mansion. Mr. Hawes is at the most perfect liberty to print any part of Rokeby which he
chuses to set to music. My publishers have had large offers from musical composers to make a monopoly of these things by granting the privilege of publication to one Composer only, but I have always set my face against such proposals as an unhandsome thing from the professors of one fine art to those of another. Of Mr. Hawes's qualifications I am no judge, but I am sure your voice and taste will make his music appear to an advantage which neither the notes or the words could have by themselves.
Mrs. Scott begs me to offer her best compliments; we should be truly happy could we flatter ourselves with a prospect of meeting by your taking a Northern trip. In the summer our country is pleasant & I need not say how happy we should be to see you.
Believe me my dear Mrs. Hughes
& much obliged humble servant
Edinb 25 January 1813.
And after this there is a blank till 1821. In the desert interval relieved by this solitary oasis, the writer had grown out of a lion strong and vigorous indeed, but still young and of more promise than performance (though of the latter there had been more than a little and of remarkable quality), into so big a lion that he had only to get up and roar himself out as the author of the "Waverley Novels" to become at once the biggest lion in all the world. There were not wanting, as is well known, those who suspected him of this authorship long before the roar was given, and among them, as is very evident from the first preserved of the connected series of these letters, was his old friend Mrs. Hughes. But before we go on to have a look at the series I will jot down a few brief notes of the literary chronology of Sir Walter Scott, in order to give an idea of the growth of the lion during these years.
There was "The Lay" in 1805, "Marmion" in 1808, "The Lady of the Lake" in 1810, "The Vision of Don Roderick" in 1811, "Rokeby" in 1812, "The Bridal of Triermain" in 1813, "Waverley" in 1814, "The Lord of the Isles" in 1815, "The Antiquary" in 1816, "Rob Roy" in 1817, "The Heart of Midlothian" in 1818, "The Bride of Lammermoor," "The Legend of Montrose," and “Ivanhoe” in 1819, "The Monastery" and "The Abbot" in 1820, "Kenilworth" and "The Pirate" in 1821; which brings us pretty well up to the date
of the beginning of the regular series of the letters to Mrs. Hughes that have been preserved.
These dates are the dates of publication of the various works. Besides these there were of course an immense number of more or less interesting publications that I have not mentioned, notably the delightful "Tales of my Landlord," in three series, and contributions to the "Edinburgh Review" and other magazines.
Among the most noteworthy incidents of occurred in this interval was his removal his life, other than literary publication, that from Ashestiel to Abbotsford in 1812; the offer of the poet-laureateship, which he declined, by the prince regent in 1813; his acceptance of a baronetcy in 1818; and his election to the presidency of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1820.
Such may be taken as the title-headings of a few of the more important chapters in his life from 1807 to 1821. He had not yet revealed his authorship of the unrivaled novels to more than a select one or two, who kept the secret with a faithfulness that is not a little remarkable. Nevertheless, the identity of the Great Unknown was very shrewdly suspected in many quarters. Mrs. Hughes, indeed, took the liberty, on which perhaps only a very intimate friend, and one of the other sex, could venture without impertinence, of asking him in so many
words whether he had in truth a hand in the authorship of the "Waverley Novels."
In 1821 had already appeared Mr. Adolphus's "Letters to Richard Heber, Esq.," being criticisms on the earlier novels of the Waverley series, with a very shrewd indictment of Sir Walter Scott as their author. Sir Walter, while slyly commending the ingenuity and criticisms of the writer, in the introduction to "The Fortunes of Nigel" (published the following year), still preserves his incognito and wishes "the wit, genius, and delicacy of the author engaged on a subject of more importance," and adds: "I shall continue to be silent on a subject which, in my opinion, is very undeserving the noise that has been made about it, and still more unworthy of the serious employment of such real ingenuity as has been displayed by the young letter-writer."
Certainly the most interesting point in the following letter is Sir Walter's distinct disavowal-denial even is not too strong a word for it-of the charge or suggestion that
he had written the "Waverley Novels." Whenever put to the question, he unblushingly denied that he had anything whatever to do with the novels.
There are many who express surprise that he should act as he did. The ethics of the case are between a man and his own conscience. More than one man has said to me: "Well, I suppose that if I wanted to keep a secret I should do as Sir Walter Scott did; but I should not have suspected him, having the transparently simple and perfectly veracious character that he had, to do it."
He probably said to himself: "It is absurd if a man may not keep his own secret. The only way I can keep this secret is to deny that I wrote the novels. Therefore I am going to deny it."
This is a position that another great literary man, of equally deep religious sentiments, equally strong natural sense, but with much more of the habit of analysis of ethical points, has asserted and upheld. Dr. Samuel Johnson's argument is that, whereas you may tell a lie to keep the secret that another has confided to you under promise that you will not reveal it, so you may lie to keep your own secret, on the ground that you have implied to your self a previous promise not to tell it. That this is a theory liable to abuse, it is not possible to deny. At the same time it is an ingenious justification of the maxim, which common sense tells us is a just one, that a man is at full liberty to keep his own secrets safe from impertinent inquiries. It is not impossible that Sir Walter may have taken for his own justification the argument of the great doctor.
Further, I do think that if Sir Walter once made up his mind to deceive the world in the matter, it was really more in accordance with his character-more honest, if the word is not out of place in the connection--to tell a straightforward, unhesitating lie than to beat about the bush with evasions that would not have served their purpose and could seem more like truth only to a feeble judgment and a conscience prone to self-deception.
Waterloo Hotel Tuesday. March 7 1821
MY DEAR MRS. HUGHES I have been so completely harassed by business and engagements since I came to this wilderness of houses
that I must have seemed very ungrateful in leaving your kind remembrances unacknowledged. You mistake when you give me any credit for being concerned with these far famed novels, but I am not the less amused with the hasty dexterity of the good folks of Cumnor and its vicinity getting all their traditionary lore into such order as to meet the taste of the public. I could have wished the author had chosen a more heroical death for his fair victim. It is some time since I received and acknowledged your young student's very spirited verses. I am truly glad that Oxford breeds such nightingales and that you have an interest in them. I sent my letter to my friend Longman and as it did not reach you can only repeat my kindest and best thanks. I would be most happy to know your son and hope you will contrive to afford me that pleasure.
With best compliments to Dr. Hughes and
Your much obliged humble servant
It is, of course, the novel of "Kenilworth to which he refers in this letter. How far he was sincere in his wish that "the author had chosen a more heroical death for his fair victim" it is not very easy to say. The death of Amy Robsart, falling through the trap-door left unfastened by the villains Foster and Varney, as she rushes out of the chamber in response to Varney's imitation of Essex's summons, is dramatic enough, if not precisely "heroical." It is a more pathetic ending to the pathetic life, more touching and more terrible, than if the heroine had met her death struggling like an Amazon with her captors. Possibly Sir Walter's critical speech is meant merely by way of maintaining his character as a member of the general public reading the work of the unknown author.
As for his note about the good people of Cumnor getting their legendary lore into order to fit the book, this is in reference to Mrs. Hughes's telling him in her previous letter that the landlord of the Red Lion in Cumnor had put up a new sign-"The Black Bear, late Giles Gosling."
In Chapter XIII of "Kenilworth" this Wayland Smith legend is most explicitly referred to. Sir Walter in his letter to Mrs. Hughes implies that the latter had spoken of a general clearing and polishing up of their old traditions by the people of Cumnor and its neighborhood, with a little dovetailing to fit the story of "Kenilworth,"
as we know that they had polished up the Wayland Smith monument.
When "Kenilworth " was "on the stocks" it had been the author's intention to send it out under the name of "Cumnor Hall," and it was only under persuasion of Constable, the publisher, that he adopted the title under which it won its favor.
MY DEAR MRS. HUGHES I heartily congratulate you on the rising reputation of your son, which has spread from Oxford to this side of the Tweed. The book you so kindly design for me will reach me safely if sent under cover to Francis Freeling Esq, Post Office, who will forward it under an official frank. I have been busied all this season in finishing a sort of a romance of a house here, built in imitation of an old Scottish manor house, and I think I have attained not unsuccessfully the scrambling stile of these venerable edifices. I beg my best respects to Dr. Hughes, and am with a great sense of your kindness in thinking of me Dear Madam
very much your obliged
Abbotsford 14th Novr. 1822
My address becomes next week Edinburgh alas! alas!
MY DEAR MRS. HUGHES Amidst much less agreeable employment I have the great pleasure of perusing my young friend's very entertaining account of his tour. It is not only written with talent but with the taste and feeling of an elegant scholar and the ideas and sentiments of a gentleman and greatly increases the personal wish I feel to take him by the hand especially in my own country. Abbotsford is now a good deal more than doubled in point of [accommodation] and will I trust by next summer be ready for the occupation of all of you when you are disposed to venture to the land of cakes. . . .
Your son should certainly visit our land of heath and mountain, with so fine an eye and talent for describing natural beauty. We cannot certainly compare to Switzerland yet I have heard people of taste say that the Scots scenery from being brought nearer to the eye was in some places fully as imposing though not in fact on the same enormous scale. But all this Mr. Hughes must explain to me when he comes to see me. In the meantime with kindest compliments to Dr. Hughes and the said tourist I am ever my dear Madam
Your truly obliged humble servant
Edinh 11 Dec
In both these letters he speaks of the well-doing at the university of Mr. John Hughes, son of his correspondent. The book referred to in the first letter is the "Itinerary of Provence and the Rhone," honorably mentioned in the preface to "Quentin Durward." His reference to his work in laying out Abbotsford, as “finishing a sort of a romance of a house," well describes it in a phrase. Of course he was continually making improvements and additions. In his next letter he refers to Abbotsford in like manner as 66 this whimsical place which I have christened Conundrum Castle."
MY DEAR MRS. HUGHES I have this moment your letter promising me the very great pleasure of seeing Dr. Hughes and you in Scotland, and write in haste to say that I hope you will come to Abbotsford for a day or two at least before 10th May when I have to go to town to attend our courts officially for two months. Remember town in Scotland means. Edinb. If you come the East road you should not go by Alnwick but by Wooler Cornhill and Kelso the last town is about fifteen miles from me-the country beautiful. I sincerely hope you will make your visit a little more early than you propose, for I should like to show you the lions of our own country myself. Had you come the west road by Carlisle you pass Selkirk which is only four miles from Abbotsford.
Should it be impossible for you to come in the beginning of May I would recommend that you postpone your journey till towards the middle of June. You will then have the best weather for the Highlands for which May is rather too early there being no leaves on the oak. We would then do the honours of Edinburgh and supposing you to return by Carlisle about 12 July we should form your first stage from Edinb as we go to Abbotsford for four months at that time. You really must see this whimsical place which I have christened Conundrum Castle.
I will sincerely be glad to see the young Oxonian when his leisure permits, but young folks travel lighter than words. I shall have hopes of showing you my eldest hope six feet two inches high and "bearded like the pard."
At worst you will be sure of us in Edinb after the 11th May but I hope in that case you will stay till we go back to Tweedside in July. With best respects to Dr. Hughes I am always Yours with most sincere regard & respect Walter Scott
13 April 1823
Lady Scott joins in kind compliments