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January 21 through May 22, 2011
Exhibitions | Online
Portrait of Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), engraved by by M.J. Dansforth after a painting by C.R. Leslie.
Final Years of a Full Life: Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832). Sir Walter Scott spent the last years of his life furiously writing himself out of debt and resisting the "cold sinkings of the heart" that periodically dogged him.
About the Diary
"I am enamourd of my Journal. I wish the zeal may last." Scott made this entry the day after opening his new blank book for the first time. "Behold I have a handsome locked volume such as might serve for a Lady's album." He took up the practice of daily personal writing in 1825, at age fifty-four, perhaps inspired by the prolific example of Samuel Pepys, whose diary had just been deciphered and published for the first time. Scott regretted having begun the journal so late in life and resolved to create a record, not only for himself, but also for "my family and the public," to capture the memory of his days. He cited Byron as the model for his style—"throwing aside all pretence to regularity and order and marking down events just as they occurd to recollection."
Cover of the diary of Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), 1825–32. Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, ca. 1900.
The famous Sir Walter seemed to know all his prominent contemporaries, from Lord Byron ("I believe that he embellished his own amours considerably") to Lord Buchan ("a person whose immense vanity bordering upon insanity obscured or rather eclipsed very considerable talents"), and he read voraciously, commenting on the works of Jane Austen ("What a pity such a gifted creature died so early") and William Wordsworth ("there is a freshness, vivacity and spring about [his] mind"). Reports of visits with literary luminaries and heads of state stand side by side in Scott's journal with accounts of the everyday country life he passionately preferred: "I wish for a sheep's head and a whiskey-toddy against all the French cookery and Champagne in the world."