Abbotsford – Great Britain And Ireland

Abbotsford, after twenty years’ interval, and having then been seen under the doubly exaggerated influence of youth and the recent influence of Scott’s poetry, in some degree disappointed me. I had imagined the house itself larger, its towers more lofty, its whole exterior more imposing. The plantations are a good deal grown, and almost bury the house from the distant view, but they still preserve all their formality of outline, as seen from the Galashiels road. Every field has a thick, black belt of fir-trees, which run about, forming on the long hillside the most fantastic figures. The house is, however, a very interesting house. At first, you come to the front next to the road, which you do by a steep descent down the plantation. You are struck, having a great castle in your imagination, with the smallness of the place. It is neither large nor lofty. Your ideal Gothic castle shrinks into a miniature. The house is quite hidden till you are at it, and then you find your-self at a small, castellated gateway, with its crosses cut into the stone pillars on each side, and the little window over it, as for the warden to look out at you.

Then comes the view of this side of the house with its portico, its bay windows with painted glass, its tall, battlemented gables, and turrets with their lantern terminations ; the armorial escutcheon over the door, and the corbels, and then another escutcheon aloft on the wall of stars and crescents. All these have a good effect; and not less so the light screen of free-stone finely worked and carved with its elliptic arches and iron lattice-work, through which the garden is seen with its espalier trees, high brick walls, and greenhouse, with a doorway at the end leading into a second garden of the same sort. The house has a dark look, being built of the native whinstone, or grau-wacke, as the Germans call it, relieved by the quoins and projections of the windows and turrets in freestone. All look classic, and not too large for the poet and antiquarian builder. The dog Maida lies in stone on the right hand of the door in the court, with the well known inscription. The house can neither be said to be Gothic nor castellated. It is a combination of the poet’s, drawn from many sources, but all united by good taste, and forming an unique style, more approaching the Elizabethan than any other.

Round the court, of which the open-work screen just mentioned is the farther boundary, runs a covered walk, that is, along the two sides. not occupied by the house and the screen; and in the wall beneath the arcade thus formed, are numerous niches, containing a medley of old figures brought from various places. There are Indian gods, old figures out of churches, and heads of Roman emperors. In the corner of the court, on the opposite side of the portico to the dog Maida, is a fountain, with some similar relics reared on the stone-work around it.

The other front gives you a much greater idea of the size. It has a more continuous range of facade. Here, at one end, is Scott’s square tower, ascended by outside steps, and a round or octagon tower at the other; you can not tell, certainly, which shape it is, as it is covered with ivy. On this the flag-staff stands. At the end next to the square tower, i. e., at the right-hand end as you face it, you pass into the outer court, which allows you to go around the end of the house from one front to the other, by the old gate-way, which once belonged to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. Along the whole of this front runs a gallery, in which the piper used to stalk to and fro while they were at dinner. This man still comes about the place, tho he has been long discharged. He is a great vagabond.

Such is the exterior of Abbotsford. The interior is far more interesting. The porch, copied from that of the old palace of Linlithgow, is finely groined, and there are stags’ horns nailed up in it. When the door opens, you find yourself in the entrance-hall, which is, in fact, a complete museum of antiquities and other matters. It is, as described in Lockhart’s Life of Scott, wainscoted with old wainscot from the kirk of Dumfermline, and the pulpit of John Knox is cut in two, and placed as chiffoniers between the windows. The whole walls are covered with suits of armor and arms, horns of moose deer, the head of a musk bull, etc. At your left hand, and close to the door, are two cuirasses, some standards, eagles, etc., collected at Waterloo.

At the opposite end of the room are two full suits of armor, one Italian, and one English of the time of Henry V., the latter holding in its hands a stupendous two-handed sword, I suppose six feet long, and said to have been found on Bosworth field. Opposite to the door is the fire-place of freestone, imitated from an arch in the cloister at Melrose, with a peculiarly graceful spandrel. In it stands the iron grate of Archbishop Sharpe, who was murdered by the Covenanters; and before it stands a most massive Roman camp-kettle. On the roof, at the center of the pointed arches, runs a row of escutcheons of Scott’s family, two or three at one end being empty, the poet not being able to trace the maternal lineage so high as the paternal. These were painted accordingly in clouds, with the motto, “Night veils the deep.” Around the door at one end are emblazoned the shields of his most intimate friends, as Erskine, Moritt, Rose, etc., and all around the cornice ran the emblazoned shields of the old chieftains of the border.

Then there is the library, a noble room, with a fine cedar ceiling, with beautiful compartments, and most lovely carved pendants, where you see bunches of grapes, human figures, leaves, etc. It is copied from Rosslyn or Melrose. There are three busts in this room; the first, one of Sir Walter, by Chantrey; one of Wordsworth; and in the great bay window, on a table, a cast of that of Shakespeare, from Stratford. There is a full-length painting of the poet’s son, the present Sir Walter, in his hussar uniform, with his horse. The work-table in the space of the bay window, and the fine carved ceiling in this part of the room, as well as’ the brass hanging lamp brought from Herculaneum, are particularly worthy of notice. There is a pair of most splendidly carved box-wood chairs, brought from Italy, and once belonging to some cardinal. The other chairs are of ebony, presented by George IV. There is a tall silver urn, standing on a prophyry table, filled with bones from the Pirteus, and inscribed as the gift of Lord Byron. The books in this room, many of which are secured from hurt by wire-work doors are said to amount to twenty thousand. Many, of course, are very valuable, having been collected with great care by Scott, for the purpose of enabling him to write his different works.

The armory is a most remarkable room; it is the collection of the author of Waverly; and to enumerate all the articles which are here assembled, would require a volume. Take a few particulars. The old wooden lock of the Tolbooth of Selkirk; Queen Mary’s offering-box, a small iron ark or coffer, with a circular lid, found in Holyrood-house. ‘Then Hofer’s rifle—a short, stout gun, given him by Sir Humphry Davy, or rather by Hofer’s widow to Sir Humphry for Sir Walter. The housekeeper said, that Sir Humphry had done some service for the widow of Hofer, and in her gratitude she offered him this precious relic, which he accepted for Sir Walter, and delighted the poor woman with the certainty that it would be preserved to posterity in such a place as Abbotsford. There is an old white hat, worn by the burgesses of Stowe when installed. Rob Roy’s purse and his gun; a very long one, with the initials It. M. C., Robert Macgregor Campbell, around the touch-hole. A rich sword in a silver sheath, presented to Sir Walter by the people of Edinburgh, for the pains he took when George IV. was there.

Lastly, and on our way back to the entrance-hall, we enter the writing-room of Sir Walter, which is surrounded by book-shelves, and a gallery, by which Scott not only could get at his books, but by which he could get to and from his bedroom; and so be at work when his visitors thought him in bed. He had only to lock his door, and he was safe. Here are his easy leathern chair and desk, at which he used to work, and, in a little closet, is the last suit that he ever wore —a bottle-green coat, plaid waistcoat, of small pattern, gray plaid trousers, and white hat. Near these hang his walking-stick, and his boots and walking-shoes. Here are, also, his tools, with which he used to prune his trees in the plantations, and his yeoman-cavalry accouterments. On the chimney-piece stands a German light-machine, where he used to get a light, and light his own fire. There is a chair made of the wood of the house at Robroyston, in which William Wallace was betrayed; having a brass plate in the back, stating that it is from this house, where “Wallace was done to death by Traitors.” The writing-room is connected with the library, and this little closet had a door issuing into the gar-den; so that Scott had all his books at immediate command, and could not only work early and late, without anybody’s knowledge, but, at will, slip away to wood and field, if he pleased, unobserved.