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Peter Mathieson the coachman. exalted thoughts on female
Scott heard the noise, and fearing for the person of the feeble old man, sent James Ballantyne to follow him home and inquire his purpose. He found the Earl strutting about his library in a towering passion. "I wished," he said, "to embrace Walter Scott before he died, and inform him that I had long considered it as a satisfactory circumstance that he and I were destined to rest together in the same place of sepulture. The principal thing, however, was to relieve his mind as to the arrangements of his funeral-to show him a
plan which I had prepared for the procession-and, in a word, to assure him that I took upon myself the whole conduct of the ceremony at Dryburgh. The good man's hopes were disappointed, he died before his victim, and that great eulogium in the style of the French academicians remained unspoken.
The Earl's own works-such at least as he wished to preserve for posterity-are contained in a little volume called 'Anonymous and Fugitive Essays,' published at Edinburgh in 1816. The preface is magnificently impersonal. "The Earl of Buchan, considering his advanced age, has thought proper to publish this volume, and to meditate the the publication of others, containing his anonymous writings; that no person may hereafter ascribe to him any other than are by him, in this manner, avowed, described, or enumerated."
The book begins with a series on the Art of Idleness, which contains some
education. A saying of his, "Women must be flattered grossly or not spoken to at all," is recorded by Burns, and was the subject of an indignant epigram; but here his lordship is an enthusiast for sterling qualities, and sets commonsense and housewifely virtues. far above prettiness. His manner is sensibility run mad, as witness this sketch of the young Alathea :
'Mamma,' said Alathea one day,
what is the reason that my pretty crested hen has forgotten her chickens that she was so fond of long ago, and is going along, like a fool, with the ducklings? Why, dear, I will tell you how this happens the henwife cheated her, and put the ducks' eggs into her nest, and she thought the eggs were her own and hatched them; by and by the ducks will take the water, and the hen will forsake them. A hen would not do this if
she were at home, and had learnt to shift for herself in the fields by gathering seeds and corn; but we have brought hens about the house, and by having everything done for them by the servants, they have become silly and helpless.' 'Oh, mamma, what a terrible thing is this! Will you teach me to do everything for myself? Yes, my dear, I will, with all my heart.'... Thus I initiated my Alathea in the history of nations, and in general politics, beginning with her at five years old. the loss of one of her garters; I confound one day Alathea in tears for doled with her, but told her that one of my own garters was worn through, so that I wanted one as well as heranother in its stead. I took out of self, but that I was busy making my pocket a worsted garter half wrought upon quills, and began to knit, saying it should not be long before I cured my misfortune.' 'Oh, mamma, will you teach me to make garters?'
And so on in the style of the
'Young Ladies' Companion.' it be for a band of such men to So much for the Earl as an instructor of youth.
His classical imitations, which take up a great part of the book, have a very doubtful
value. As became a liberal nobleman, he must profess an admiration for the republican bores of the early Empire, especially Helvidius Priscus, whose statue, he says, stands in his hall. We may conjecture that his lordship's scholarship was not exact. He imitates Petronius Arbiter very clumsily, and he has many long letters, purporting to be from Roman republicans criticising the new régime, which are chiefly remarkable for their ineptness. Quintus Cicero writes an amusing letter to his brother Marcus in Britain, and Seneca has a fragment on the conduct of life. But such exercises are not without their humours, and now and then, by a quaint phrase, the author is betrayed. Petronius talks of "poor but elegant provincials," and the phrase in the Earl's mouth is self-descriptive. "The Greeks," he says, "when they transgressed, sinned (as I may say) in a superior style,"-which is exactly his lordship's code of ethics. He has some curious remarks on English prose style. Gibbon, Burke, and Junius have a 66 quaint, flippant, pointed manner"; Swift, Atterbury, and Hume, on the other hand, "remain in our age possessed of the chaste propriety and dignity of those who have set up the Greek historians for their models."
glorious," he exclaims, "would
associate in Britain for chastising the meretricious innovators who are encouraged by the tasteless people of the age to enervate our language and our manners." But when we come to the Bacon imitations we find a really tolerable level of excellence. They are introduced by a circumstantial account of their finding which is in itself a pretty piece of romance. "Goodly senectude" is quite in the Baconian manner, and he has the trick of an apt display of learning. Sometimes catch the note of a very modern sensibility which is out of place: "Wherefore, my father, with a smile of amiable complacency and strict intelligence of my thoughts, did thus with great condescension apply himself to the train of my reflections." Among the "Literary Olla" he has a curious discussion of the character of a gentleman, in which he limits the application of the title to landed proprietors. He seems to have hated the young man about town with all the bitterness of a poor Scots magnate.
"They then go abroad, to take what is called the tour of Europe, with a selfish, slavish, pedantic compagnon de voyage, commonly called a leader of bears; and after having played monkey tricks at all the fashionable courts in Europe, and been plucked and fleeced by sharpers and opera girls, they come home when of age to join in recognisances with their worthy fathers; and, as a reward, are introduced into all the fashionable clubs as promising young men, tout à fait aimables et polis. Then you see them almost every night drunk in the boxes of the play-house and opera house, flirting
--or drink of
And fly from vile whiskey, that lighter of hell. If you drink of me only-good aleLong life will attend you-good spirits prevail.
Quoth the Earl of Buchan."
It is a small output for so busy a man, but literature was his hobby for a long lifetime. While Harry Erskine was winning the reputation of the greatest advocate at the Scots Bar, and Thomas was drawing nearer to the Woolsack, my lord remained peacefully in his shadowed garden, cultivating the insipid Muse.
His life was happy, if to feel confidence in one's worth and
greatness be happiness. In the curious bundle of extravagancies which made up his character, not the least is this overweening pride. A subtle quality it was, compounded of glory of race and a consciousHe felt himself ness of private pre-eminence. bearer in the van of European a standardprogress, the intellectual heir of the ages, and the equal of He had no family, so he conany great man of the past. soled himself with a reflection. "According to Bacon," he used to say, continuance,' and in the present great men have no generation there are three exPrussia, George Washington, amples of it-Frederick of and myself." He had no jealousy of his distinguished brothers. They were but reflections to show the full broken lights of himself, faint glory of the head of the house. Now and then he had a taste of plain speaking, but his armour of self-love was proof against it. Once he told the Duchess of Gordon, "We inherit all our cleverness from our mother"; to which the witty lady retorted, "Then I fear that, as is usually the case with the mother's fortune, it has all been settled on the younger children." concession for him to admit that merit did not descend in unbroken line from the Erskine stock, but it only illustrates more fully his curious pride. He was greater than his race. He was no mere scion of a great house, but something beyond it, combining the virtues long ancestry
It was a
with an alien virtue from the maxim which he could never mother's side. His brothers acknowledge. He spoke of his had won distinction by fol- ancestors' doings as his own, lowing a trade a bitter and used to amaze strangers at thought even to this Whig dinner by some such remark as, lord; but he comforted him- "I remember I remonstrated self and took a modest pleasure strongly before it took place in their success. Was he not the against the execution of Charles fons et origo of their prosperity? I." He patronised the King as Once he told a guest: "My he had never been patronised brothers Harry and Tom are before on the ground of " certainly extraordinary men, sanguinity to Your Majesty," but they owe everything to but always with a hint that me." His friend looked his the Royal house was little surprise. "Yes, it is true; better that a cadet branch of they owe everything to me. his own. George, with a huOn my father's death they mour rare in that pedestrian pressed me for a small annual nature, took it in good part, allowance. I knew that this and apparently was sincerely would have been their ruin by flattered by the emphasis laid relaxing their industry. So, on his Stuart descent. Buchan making a sacrifice of my in- showered letters of advice upon clination to gratify them, I him, and when by any chance refused to give them a farthing. the royal action met with his And they have both thriven approval, he was graciously ever since—owing everything pleased to signify his satisto me." faction.
If he was a fool, he was at least above any vulgar folly. The connection which gave him pride was with the great of past times, and it was only in the second place that he claimed kin with contemporary notables. Apparently he was remotely related to Sir Thomas Browne, and he was never tired of calling him his "Grandfather.' Washington, as we have seen, was his "illustrious and excellent cousin." He believed that he contained all his ancestry in himself, and that the house of Buchan, as Lord Campbell has put it, "was a corporation never visited by death." "Nam genus et proavos et quæ non fecimus ipsi nostra voco" was a
In all this we are repeatedly reminded of Sir Thomas Urquhart. hart. A little more genius, a little less providence, would have made Buchan a second Knight of Cromartie. The same insane pride of family which produced the Pantochronoxanon' finds its parallel in the Erskine pedigrees. But Buchan was less mythologically and scripturally inclined. His ambitions did not reach to King Arthur, Hercules, Hypermnestra, and Noah; sufficient for him a decent Scots descent. Both had their imaginations hag-ridden by historical figures
Urquhart by the Admirable Crichton, Buchan by half a score of heroes. He always
thinks of himself in a historic
setting, cutting a fine figure after some accepted pattern. Sometimes it is Helvidius Priscus or Brutus or Pliny or Lord Bacon; in his younger days it was Sir Philip Sidney. In an absurd preface to an edition of Callimachus he talks of "having endeavoured from my earliest youth (though secluded from the honours of the State, and the brilliant situations incident to my rank) to imitate the example of that rare and famous English character, in whom every compatriot of extraordinary merit found a friend without hire and a common rendezvous of worth."
indeed, was the honest gentleman's ideal, and who shall scorn it? He wished to be a kind of dashing Mæcenas, a scholarly man of the world, a polite enthusiast—and all on a scanty income and an inheritance of debt.
The result-had he been a man of sensitive nature-would have disappointed him, for he became a Prince of Bores, the walking terror of his generation. Even Scott, who hated unkindness, is betrayed into irritation. We find an entry in the Journal,' under September 13, 1826: "Dined at Major Scott, my cousin's, where was old Lord Buchan. He, too, is a Prince of Bores, but age has tamed him a little, and like the Giant Pope in the Pilgrim's Progress,' he
only sit and grin at pilgrims as they go past, and is not able to cast a fank over them as A few quiet puns formerly. seem his most formidable infliction nowadays.” And again,
under December 26: turned to Abbotsford this morning. I heard it reported that Lord B. is very ill. If that be true, it affords ground for hope that Sir John is not immortal. Both great bores. But the Earl has something of a wild cleverness, far exceeding the ponderous stupidity of the Cavaliero Jackasso." A bore is frequently a wit out of season, and when "wild cleverness " is joined with egotism beyond Sir Willoughby Patterne's, and the whole with utter tactlessness and the persistence of the horse-leech, the result is tragic for a man's friends.
Vanity will always provide for the perpetuation of its features. His busts and portraits are scattered broadcast throughout Scotland. Like Austin Dobson's gentleman of the old school
'Reynolds has painted him,-a face Filled with a fine, old-fashioned grace;"
and the picture, in Vandyke dress, still hangs in the hall of the Society of Antiquaries. Once he had himself done in crayons, and presented the portrait, with a eulogistic description written by himself, to the Faculty of Advocates; and in there is an excellent caricature Kay's Edinburgh Portraits' in Highland costume. Lockhart has described his appearance in Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk':
"I do not remember to have seen a more exquisite old head, and think it no wonder that so many portraits have been painted of him. The features are all perfect, but the