Walter Scott on Writing

Tuesday, Sept. 25, 1827:

Got into town by one o’clock, the purpose being to give my deposition before Lord Newton in a case betwixt me and Constable’s crers. My oath seemd satisfactory but new reasons were alleged for additional discussion which is I trust to end this wearisome matter. I dined with Mr. Gibson and slept there. J. B. dined with us and we had thoughts how to save our copyrights by a bargain with Cadell. I hope it will turn to good as I could add notes to a future edition and give them some value.

I’m starting the research for my next chapter that will be on Walter Scott’s Bride of Lammermoor. I’m starting with my favorite part of writing the dissertation: reading the letters and journals of the authors I write about.

Scott’s journal is in one surprisingly neat, small volume, edited by W. E. K. Anderson and published by the Clarendon Press (Oxford, 1972). Scott began his journal in 1825, after he had already enjoyed considerable success with his poetry and Waverly novels. The journal coincides with the gradual decline of Scott’s health and personal wealth. For a man with such great literary talent, Scott was exceedingly bad with his money. Bad investments abound right and left, with little tallies in the margin noting the expenses of various trips and events.

The best part of the journal, though, is his meticulous recitation of the number of pages he wrote per day. A typical entry has something about the weather, what time he woke up, the number of pages he wrote that day, and an account of his bowel movements (“I had a touch of the cholera morbus today”—thanks, Sir Walter). In the epigraph above, we see his lawyering duties mixed with concerns over literary production; already Scott is thinking about the Magnum Opus edition of his works, which he hoped would raise enough funds for him to retire comfortably. Alas, not so much.

It’s comforting to see the daily toils of a novelist—sure, there are diary entries where he talks about meeting Madame d’Arblay, aka my homegirl Frances Burney (“an elderly lady with no remains of personal beauty but with a gentle manner and a pleasing expression of countenance”—Nov. 18, 1826). But most entries are really rather dull:

The day was rough and stormy—not the worse for working, and I could do it with a good conscience, all being well forward in the duty line. After tea I workd a little longer. On the whole finished four leaves and upwards, about a printed sheet, which is enough for one day. (Friday, Aug. 17, 1827)

Not very helpful for my dissertation, but an endlessly fascinating account of one of the nineteenth century’s most prolific authors.

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