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The beginning, the siege of the Garde Doloureuse, and the ghostly
adventure of Eveline at the Saxon manor are excellent; while, even
later, Scott has entangled the evidence against Damian and the heroine
with not a little of the skill which he had shown in compromising
Waverley. Had not James Ballantyne dashed the author's spirits with some
of his cavillings, the whole might have been as much of a piece as _The
Talisman_ is. Indeed, it must be confessed that, though Lockhart is
generous enough on this point to the man to whom he has been accused of
being unjust, we have very little evidence of any improvement in Scott's
work due to James, while we know that he did harm not once only. But, as
it stands, the book no doubt exhibits the usual faults, that languishing
of the middle action, for instance, which injures _The Bride of
Lammermoor_ and _The Monastery_, together with the much more common
huddling and improbability of the conclusion. But we know that this last
was put on hurriedly, against the grain, and after the author, disgusted
by the grumblings of others, had relinquished his work; so that we
cannot greatly wonder.

It is impossible here to depict in detail Scott's domestic life during
the years which passed since we last noticed it, and which represent the
most flourishing time of his worldly circumstances. The estate of
Abbotsford gradually grew, always at fancy prices, till the catastrophe
itself finally prevented an expenditure of 40,000 in a lump on more
land. The house grew likewise to its hundred and fifty feet of front,
its slightly confused but not disagreeable external muddle of styles,
and reproductions, and incorporated fragments, and its internal blend of
museum and seignorial hall. It was practically completed and splendidly
'house-warmed' to celebrate the marriage (3rd February 1825) of the
heir, on whom both house and estate were settled, with no very fortunate
result. Between it and Castle Street the family oscillated as usual,
when summer and winter, term and vacation, called them. At Abbotsford
open house was always kept to a Noah's ark-full of visitors, invited and
uninvited, high and low, and Castle Street saw more modest but equally
cordial and constant hospitalities, in which the Lockharts were pretty
frequent participators; while their country home at Chiefswood was a
sort of escaping place for Sir Walter when visitors made Abbotsford
unbearable. The 'Abbotsford Hunt' yearly rejoiced the neighbours; and
though, as his health grew weaker, Scott's athletic and sporting
exercises were necessarily and with insidious encroachment curtailed, he
still did all he could in this way. In 1822 there was the great visit of
George IV. to Scotland, wherein Sir Walter took a part which was only
short, if short at all, of principal; and of this Lockhart has left one
of his liveliest and most pleasantly subacid accounts. Visits to England
were not unfrequent; and at last, in the summer of 1825, Scott made a
journey, which was a kind of triumphal progress, to Ireland, with his
daughter Anne and Lockhart as companions. The party returned by way of
the Lakes, and the triumph was, as it were, formally wound up at
Windermere in a regatta, with Wilson for admiral of the lake and Canning
for joint-occupant of the triumphal boat. 'It was roses, roses all the
way,' till in the autumn of the year the rue began, according to its
custom, to take their place.

The immediate cause of the disaster was Scott's secret partnership in
the house of Ballantyne & Co., which, dragged down by the greater
concerns of Constable & Co. in Edinburgh and Hurst, Robinson, & Co. in
London, failed for the nominal amount of 117,000 at the end of January
1826.[34] Their assets were, in the first place, claims on the two other
firms, which realised a mere trifle; and, in the second place, the
property, the genius, the life, and the honour of Sir Walter Scott.

When one has to deal briefly with very complicated and much-debated
matters, there is nothing more important than to confine the dealing to
as few points as possible. We may, I think, limit the number here to
two,--the nature and amount of the indebtedness itself, and the manner
in which it was met. The former, except so far as the total figures on
the debtor side are concerned, is the question most in dispute. That the
printing business of Ballantyne & Co. (the publishing business had lost
heavily, but it had long ceased to be a drain), in the ordinary literal
sense owed 117,000--that is to say, that it had lost that sum in
business, or that the partners had overdrawn to that amount--nobody
contends. Lockhart's account, based on presumably accurate information,
not merely from his father-in-law's papers, but from Cadell, Constable's
partner, is that the losses were due partly to the absolutely
unbusinesslike conduct of the concern, and the neglect for many years to
come to a clear understanding what its profits were and what they were
not; partly to the ruinous system of eternally interchanged and renewed
bills, so that, for instance, sums which Constable nominally paid years
before were not actually liquidated at the time of the smash; but most
of all to a proceeding which seems to pass the bounds of recklessness on
one side, and to enter pretty deeply into those of fraud on the other.
This is the celebrated affair of the counter-bills, things, according to
Lockhart, representing no consideration or value received of any kind,
but executed as a sort of collateral security to Constable when he
discounted any of John Ballantyne's innumerable acceptances, and
intended for use only if the real and original bills were not met.
Still, according to Lockhart, this system was continued long after there
was any special need for it, and a mass of counter-bills, for which the
Ballantynes had never had the slightest value, and the amount of which
they had either discharged or stood accountable for already on other
documents, was in whole or part flung upon the market by Constable in
the months of struggle which preceded his fall, and ranked against
Ballantyne & Co., that is to say, Scott, when that fall came.

This account, when published in the first edition of Lockhart's _Life_,
provoked strong protests from the representatives of the Ballantynes,
and a rather acrimonious pamphlet war followed, in which Lockhart is
accused by some not merely of acrimony, but of a supercilious and
contemptuous fashion of dealing with his opponents. He made, however, no
important retractations later, and it is fair to say that not one of his
allegations has ever been disproved by documentary evidence, as
certainly ought to have been possible while all the documents were at
hand. Nor did the _Memoirs_ of Constable, published many years later,
supply what was and is missing; nor does Mr. Lang, with all his pains,
seem to have found anything decisive. The assertions opposed to
Lockhart's are that the 'counter-bill' story is not true, and that the
distresses of Ballantyne & Co., and the dangerous extent to which they
were involved in complicated bill transactions with Constable, were at
least partly due to reckless drawings by the senior partner for his land
purchases and other private expenses. Between the two it is impossible
to decide with absolute certainty.[32] All that can be said is this.
First, considering that the whole original capital of the firm was
Scott's, that he had repeatedly saved it from ruin by his own exertions
and credit, and that a very large part of the legitimate grist that came
to its mill was supplied by his introduction of work to be printed, he
was certainly entitled to the lion's share of any profit that was
actually earned. Secondly, the neglect to balance accounts, and the
reckless fashion of interweaving acceptance with drawing and drawing
with acceptance, had, as we know, been repeatedly protested against by
him. Thirdly, his private expenditure, very moderate at Castle Street,
and not recklessly lavish even at Abbotsford, must have been amply
covered by his official and private income _plus_ no great proportion of
the always large and latterly immense supplies which for nearly twenty
years he derived from his pen. It is impossible to see that, except by
his carelessness in neglecting to ascertain from time to time the exact
liabilities of the firm, he had added to the original fault of joining
it, or had in any other way deserved the blow that fell upon him. No
one can believe, certainly no one has ever proved, that his earnings,
and his salaries, and the value of his property, if capitalised, would
not have covered, and far more than covered, the cost of Abbotsford,
land and house, the settlements on his children, and the household
expenses of the whole fifteen years and more since he became a
housekeeper there. While, as for the printing business itself, it
admittedly ought to have made a handsome profit from first to last, and
certainly did make a handsome profit as soon as it fell under reasonably
business-like management afterwards.

There remains the said 'original fault' of engaging in the business at
all, and that, I think, can never be denied. The very introduction of
joint-stock companies, to which, in part, Scott owed his ruin, has made
a confusion between professional and commercial occupations which did
not then exist; but even now I think it would hardly be considered
decent for a public servant, discharging judicial functions, to carry on
actual business in a private trading concern. Moreover, the secrecy
which Scott observed--to such an extent that his family and his most
intimate friends did not know the facts--could come from nothing but a
sense of something amiss, and certainly led to the commission of not a
little that was so. Scott had to conceal the actual and very material
truth when he applied to the Duke of Buccleuch for the guarantee that
saved him a dozen years earlier. He had to conceal it from the various
persons who employed Ballantyne & Co., and were induced to do so by him.
He had to conceal it when he executed those settlements on his son's
marriage, which certainly would have been affected had it been known
that the whole of his fortune was subject to an unlimited liability.



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