On November 29, 1812, Walter Scott writes to J. B. S. Morritt of Rokeby:
Edinburgh, 29th November, 1812.My dear Morritt, -
I have been, and still am, working very hard, in hopes to face the public by Christmas, and I think I have hitherto succeeded in throwing some interest into the piece. It is, however, a darker and more gloomy interest than I intended; but involving one’s self with bad company, whether in fiction or in reality, is the way not to get out of it easily; so I have been obliged to bestow more pains and trouble upon Bertram, and one or two blackguards whom he picks up in the slate quarries, than what I originally designed. I am very desirous to have your opinion of the three first Cantos, for which purpose, so soon as I can get them collected, refuge there after forfeiting a good estate and an ancient baronetcy, in the affair of 1715. A monument to the gallant General’s memory has recently been erected near the spot of his birth.
I will send the sheets under cover to Mr Freeling, whose omnipotent frank will transmit them to Rokeby, where, I presume, you have been long since comfortably settled—
‘So York shall overlook the town of York.’
I trust you will read it with some partiality, because, if I have not been so successful as I could wish in describing your lovely and romantic glens, it has partly arisen from my great anxiety to do it well, which is often attended with the very contrary effect. There are two or three songs, and particularly one in praise of Brignal Banks, which I trust you will like—because, entre nous, I like them myself. One of them is a little dashing banditti song, called and entitled Allen-a-Dale. I think you will be able to judge for yourself in about a week. Pray, how shall I send you the entire goose, which will be too heavy to travel the same way with its giblets—for the Carlisle coach is terribly inaccurate about parcels. I fear I have made one blunder in mentioning the brooks which flow into the Tees. I have made the Balder distinct from that which comes down Thorsgill—I hope I am not mistaken. You will see the passage; and if they are the same rivulet, the leaf must be cancelled.
I trust this will find Mrs Morritt pretty well; and I am glad to find she has been better for her little tour. We were delighted with ours, except in respect of its short duration, and Sophia and Walter hold their heads very high among their untravelled companions, from the predominance acquired by their visit to England. You are not perhaps aware of the polish which is supposed to be acquired by the most transitory intercourse with your more refined side of the Tweed. There was an honest carter who once applied to me respecting a plan which he had formed of breeding his son, a great booby of twenty, to the Church. As the best way of evading the scrape, I asked him whether he thought his son’s language was quite adapted for the use of a public speaker? to which he answered, with great readiness, that he could knap English with any one, having twice driven his father’s cart to Etal coal-hill.
I have called my heroine Matilda. I don’t much like Agnes, though I can’t tell why, unless it is because it begins like Agag. Matilda is a name of unmanageable length; but, after all, is better than none, and my poor damsel was likely to go without one in my indecision.
We are all hungering and thirsting for news from Russia. If Boney’s devil does not help him, he is in a poor way. The Leith letters talk of the unanimity of the Russians as being most exemplary; and troops pour in from all quarters of their immense empire. Their commissariat is well managed under the Prince Duke of Oldenburgh. This was their weak point in former wars.
Adieu! Mrs Scott and the little people send love to Mrs Morritt and you. Ever yours,Walter Scott.