On Sunday, I was at Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott. I first visited the place a few years ago when I was on holiday in the Scottish Borders. I knew very quickly that I wanted to write a novel set partly in the area and that somehow Sir Walter had to be involved.
As part of my research, I read the journal he wrote in the last seven years of his life. When he began it in 1825, he was wealthy and famous, the most celebrated author in the world. Then, in 1826, everything went wrong. His publishers, of whom Scott was a partner, faced bankruptcy, and Scott vowed that he would clear all the debts by the efforts of his pen. Then, in May, his wife died. The journal, begun with such optimism, became a chronicle of his deteriorating health and his vastly expanding workload.
What is extraordinary is the warmth and humour and kindness that shine through the pages. Here is Scott in 1827: “Workd in the morning as usual…Some things of the black dog still hanging about me but I will shake him off. I generally affect good spirits in company of my family whether I am enjoying them or not. It is too severe to sadden the harmless mirth of others by suffering your own causeless melancholy to be seen. And this species of exertion is like virtue its own reward for the good spirits which are at first simulated become at length real.”
I defy anyone to read his journal and not fall a little in love with him.