Sir Walter Scott
Without any disclaiming speeches, without hesitation, almost without delay, Scott began, ' Madam, there was once,' &c. &c. The story was much applauded: another was called for and followed with equal facility.
My uncle mentioned this as an extraordinary feat of self-possession and ready wit. I am certainly not inclined to doubt the extraordinary talents of Scott, but in this instance many circumstances appear to me to diminish the wonder. The trade of Scott in his character of London and Edinburgh lion was as decidedly at that period that of a teller of stories as it has since been that of a writer of novels. The tales had probably been told a hundred times, and on this occasion his friend Mrs. Hayman, I doubt not, gave him a previous hint of what would, be asked from him.*
To this I cannot help adding a story of the embarkation of poor Sir Walter Scott at Portsmouth, which I heard from Dr. Somerville last June. He was touring with his family in 1831, and learnt at his arrival at the hotel at Portsmouth, that Sir Walter was there waiting the pleasure of the wind for embarkation. They went into his room, and with an exclamation of pleasure made the usual enquiries after his health. Sir Walter rose, and in advancing to meet them tottered, and would have fallen on his face if the strong arm of Dr. Somerville had not supported and borne him back to his chair.
When he was a little recovered, he said,' After what has just passed, it is quite needless to answer your question you see how I am. It is all here,' added he, striking his forehead. ‘Take warning from me, Mr Somerville, and spare your head. I have brought this on myself by taking too much out of me.’ Sair Walter sailed October 27th, 1831.**
Scott mentions this dinner in a letter to Mr. George Ellis, describing his visit to London, dated April 7th, 1806: 'I had also the honour of dining with a fair friend of yours at Blackheath, an honour 'which I shall long remember. She is an enchanting princess, who dwells in an enchanted palace, and I cannot help thinking her prince must lie under some malignant spell when he denies himself her society.' His popularity dates from the publication of the Lay of the Last Minstrel, in 1805. At a later period and after a longer practice in being lionised, in 1809, he made extremely light of his own social accomplishments. ' All this is very flattering,' he would say Sir to Mr. Morritt, ' and very civil. If people are amused with hearing me tell a parcel of old stories, or recite a pack of ballads to lovely young girls and gaping matrons, they are easily pleased, and a man would be very ill-natured who would not give pleasure so cheaply conferred.'
** Beside other reminiscences of Sir Walter Scott by Dr Somerville, these diaries contain a complete copy of Sir William’s Gell’s; but they have all been incorporated into the Life by Lockhart.