Search collection catalog »
E-NEWS Facebook logo Twitter logo Google logo YouTube
TheMorgan
Introduction

See all diaries

Download audio guide

The Diary Podcast

More online exhibitions
 
The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives

January 21 through May 22, 2011

Exhibitions | Online

Image of Sir Walter Scott
Enlarge +

Portrait of Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), engraved by by M.J. Dansforth after a painting by C.R. Leslie.
« Previous Next »   9 of 11

Audio guide stop:
mp3

Diary Excerpts:

Image of excerpt
Zoom and read +


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."

Scott's zeal for the practice did, indeed, last—until the final months of his life. Over a period of six years, the journal became a crucial outlet for the feelings of despair—the "cold sinkings of the heart"—that had agonized him from the time of his youth. "Is it the body brings it on the mind or the mind inflicts it upon the body?" he wondered, concluding that the two are inseparable: "I fancy I might as well enquire whether the fiddle or the fiddlestick makes the tune." Scott found that the only effective remedy for depression was physical exertion. "Fighting with this fiend is not always the best was to conquer him," he wrote. "I have always found exercize and the open air better than reasoning." His long walks often led to dramatic emotional recovery: "The freshness of the air, the singing of the birds, the beautiful aspect of nature, the size of the venerable trees, gave me all a delightful feeling this morning. It seemd there was pleasure even in living and breathing without anything else."

Image of cover
Enlarge +

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."

Scott began his journal shortly before the country-wide financial crisis that forced him to spend his final years writing himself furiously out of debt. "I am become a sort of writing Automaton," he noted, and his daily entries indeed reveal an astonishing creative stamina. A series of strokes in the early 1830s slowly deprived him of control over his speech and handwriting but not of his awareness of his own decline. "I am not the man that I was," he admits, finally acknowledging that "The plough is coming to the end of the furrow."


 
Top of page


© The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, (212) 685-0008

Home Museum »
Visit the Museum
Exhibitions
Calendar
Public Programs
Education
Collection »
Collection highlights
Online Exhibitions
Music Manuscripts Online
Conservation
The Drawing Institute
Multimedia
CORSAIR Collection Catalog
Research »
CORSAIR Collection Catalog
Research Services
Reading Room
Research Guides
The Drawing Institute
Photography & Rights
About »
Press
History of the Morgan
The Morgan Campus
Employment
Internships
Volunteer
Support »
Membership
Make a Donation
Corporate Membership
Corporate Entertaining
Shop Contact

E-News | Site Index | Terms and Conditions


The programs of The Morgan Library & Museum are made possible with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.