The Final Years, 1831-1832

In 1831 he realised his days were numbered. He yielded to his doctors' entreaties and agreed to go abroad. He was much cheered by a visit from Wordsworth just before he left Abbotsford. The great English poet wrote his famous sonnet for his old friend on the last night of his stay. 'A trouble, not of clouds, or weeping rain . . . hangs o'er Eildon's triple height . . . Lift up you hearts, ye Mourners! for the might of the whole world's good wishes with him goes.'

In October 1831, he sailed from Portsmouth in the Barham provided by the Government. They sailed past places full of memories: Cape St Vincent, Trafalgar, Gibraltar. Scott rallied somewhat as he went on to Naples and Rome where he visited the monument of Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in St Peter's. Then he went north to the Tyrol, west across Germany, down the Rhine into Holland and back to England in June 1832. He was very ill in London for three weeks. Every newspaper chronicled his progress and the royal family made daily enquiries. Many prayers were offered for him; the future Cardinal Newman asked the prayers of his people for him. Scott was able to be carried home. In Tweeddale he recovered consciousness and exclaimed with delight when the well-loved Eildons came into view. Again he rallied. 'I have seen much, but nothing like my ain house', he often said. Lockhart would read to him the Gospel according to St John and the dying man would repeat the Scottish metrical psalms or the Stabat Mater, which Lockhart says was the very last stanza that could be made out:

On 17 September he awoke fully conscious and sent for Lockhart. He was very feeble and his eye was clear and calm. 'Lockhart', said the dying man, 'be a good man, be virtuous, be religious. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie here.... God bless you all.'

Lockhart goes on: 'About half past one on 21st September Sir Walter breathed his last in the presence of all his children. It was a beautiful day so warm that every window was wide open - and so perfectly still that the sound of all others most delicious to his ear, the gentle ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles, was distinctly audible as we knelt around his bed, and his eldest son kissed and closed his eyes.'

His funeral was like a king's. On the journey to his last resting place at Dryburgh Abbey his carriage horses, which were drawing the hearse, paused out of habit for thirty minutes on Bemersyde Hill. In life Sir Walter would halt his carriage there and sit motionless watching the magic play of light and shade on his well-loved Eildon Hills, 'three crests against a saffron sky'. It would seem as if his faithful horses wished their affectionate master to enjoy that view of those hills so permeated for him with life and light. Let his dear son-in-law, Lockhart, end our tribute to his revered memory: 'When the coffin was taken from the hearse, one deep sob burst from a thousand lips. Mr Archdeacon Williams read the Burial Service of the Church of England; thus in the evening of Wednesday 26th September, 1832, Sir Walter Scott was laid to rest by the side of his wife in the sepulchre of his ancestors "in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life".'



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