The Great Financial Crisis - Scott's Finest Hour, 1826-1831

Early in 1826, Scott's publishers and business associates, Ballantynes, found themselves about £130,000 in debt. The very magnitude of the disaster which had made the firm bankrupt acted on Scott's spirits as a spur, as he wrote. Offers of help bowed in from all sides. Lord Dudley said: 'Let every man to whom he had given months of delight give him a sixpence, and he will rise tomorrow richer than Rothschild.' The Ballantyne firm and Scott too could have obtained a speedy discharge. One similar firm paid one shilling and threepence (six new pence) in the pound on their debt of £300,000. Ballantyne, through Scott's magnificent exertions, paid in the end every penny. Scott saw a principle involved. No man should lose by him. Otherwise in a court of honour he would deserve to lose his spurs. There speaks the high-souled magnanimous man of integrity. 'I will be my debtors' vassal for life. I will dig in the mine of my imagination to find diamonds (or what they sell as such) to make good my indebtedness, not to enrich myself.' He soon recovered his serenity. A few days after the disaster he wrote: 'I feel like the Eildon Hills - quite firm though a little cloudy.' He even wrote a pamphlet protesting against the Government's proposal to forbid the Scottish banks to print their own notes: 'If you unscotch us, you will find us damned mischievous Englishmen.' The Government withdrew their proposal. Scottish banknotes are likely to be with us as long as English treasury notes are.

Then in May of this same tragic year, 1826, his beloved wife died at Abbotsford. It was a grievous blow after nearly thirty years of unclouded marital happiness. His wife's death put his material losses in their proper proportions. He would face the world again, as he said 'like the Bass Rock'. And there were days of joy too. For his forthcoming book on Napoleon he visited London, was received with great honour, breakfasted with KingGeorge IV and gave sittings to painters. In Paris he met King Charles X and other famous people and saw the opera based on Ivanhoe. All this uplifted Sir Walter and encouraged him to press on with his herculean task.

Next year, 1827, better days dawned. His health improved. He had a great reception at the celebrated Theatrical Fund dinned his first public dinner since the disaster. It was at this dinner that his friend Lord Meadowbank, with Scott's consent, announced that Scott was the author of the Waverley Novels. This year also saw the appearance of his Life of Napoleon in nine volumes which was highly praised by Goethe as already stated. In December of this same year, his Tales of a Grandfather appeared, the history of Scotland as told to his grandson, Hugh Littlejohn, son of his daughter Sophia and Lockhart. The Tales were more warmly received than any of his novels since Ivanhoe. The public appetite was insatiable, and so a second, third and fourth series of Tales appeared in 1828, 1829 and 1830. Likewise in 1829 and 1830 he brought out a first and second volume of his History of Scotland. These books and others were helping greatly to pay off his debt. His noble son-in-law Lockhart handed over all the profits of his eminent Life of Sir Walter Scott for this purpose also.

Little remains to be told. In 1830 the four years of incessant toil to pay off the debt had taken their toll. Scott had done wonders. In two years he had paid off nearly £40,000. Two years after Scott's death in 1832 nearly £90,000 had been paid off by income Tom his writings. The remainder was paid off by the income from his copyrights in the next fourteen years, and with the profits Lockhart had made from his biography of his wonderful father-in-law, as we saw above. This year Scotthad a fainting fit but he did not allow ill-health to affect his writing. His creditors asked him to accept the library and furnishings of Abbotsford 'as the best means they have of expressing their very high sense of his most honourable conduct.'

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