Sir Walter Scott starts his journal with the words, “I have all my life regretted that I did not keep a regular Journal. I have myself lost recollection of much that was interesting, and I have deprived my family and the public of some curious information, by not carrying this resolution into effect.”
Fortunately, in November 1825, at the age of 54, Scott did start keeping a regular journal that, with only occasional breaks, he maintained until his death in 1832. The Journal was eventually published in 1890.
The Journal covers what is probably the most troublesome period of Scott’s life, including his near bankruptcy, the illness and death of his wife and then his own illness and death. Yet, through it all, his affection for his family and friends and his determination to work to clear his debts shine through, as the following entry from 1826 clearly shows:
[Abbotsford, Saturday,] June 17.—Left Edinburgh to-day after Parliament House to come [here]. My two girls met me at Torsonce, which was a pleasant surprise, and we returned in the sociable all together. Found everything right and well at Abbotsford under the new regime. I again took possession of the family bedroom and my widowed couch. This was a sore trial, but it was necessary not to blink such a resolution. Indeed, I do not like to have it thought that there is any way in which I can be beaten.
For all the doom and gloom of Scott’s circumstances, his sense of humour is often present in the entries:
Walked to Huntly Burn, where I found a certain lady on a visit—so youthy, so beautiful, so strong in voice—with sense and learning—above all, so fond of good conversation, that, in compassion to my eyes, ears, and understanding, I bolted in the middle of a tremendous shower of rain, and rather chose to be wet to the skin than to be bethumped with words at that rate. There seemed more than I of the same opinion, for Col. Ferguson chose the ducking rather than the conversation.
As a member of both the Scottish literary and legal establishments of his time, Scott’s Journal is also interesting for its references to many of the famous names of the age: Byron, Moore, the Duke of Wellington, Lockhart, Sheridan and many more.
Reading Scott’s Journal leaves you with a wonderful impression of his character, fortitude and humour and his genuine affection for the Scottish society on which he based so much of his writing. And, in the end, you cannot help but be impressed by a man who, having lost one fortune, managed to earn in the last 7 years of his life a second one sufficient to leave his estate free and clear of debts solely from his writings.
The Journal was the 6,000th book posted to Project Gutenberg by Distributed Proofreaders, back in February 2005.