Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 6(1972)1(1-21)

[p.1] The Journey of Sir Walter Scott from Abbotsford to Malta

Donald Sultana*

‘I am very happy that I am like to see Malta,’ [1] wrote Sir Walter Scott in a farewell letter to an Edinburgh friend before leaving his home at Abbotsford to pass the winter of 1831 at Naples, where his younger son, Charles, was a member of the British legation. His elder son, Walter, an army major, and his younger daughter, Anne, were to travel with him as an invalid after a series of strokes had considerably paralysed his speech and movements and impaired his mental faculties. The latest stroke had afflicted him as he had been labouring to complete Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous as part of a long series of novels and other works written to settle a very large debt incurred on the ruin of his publishers. The debt had amounted to £120,000 and in five years he had reduced it to less than half that figure. Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous were, on his own admission, ‘apoplectic books,’ [2] markedly inferior to the earlier Waverley Novels, which were selling at a rate unprecedented in the history of English fiction in a new collected edition published by Robert Cadell of Edinburgh. Scott was then aged sixty and a widower, and had promised his doctors to abstain from literary labour except of a light nature such as the introductions and notes for the new edition and a series of articles on his great library and collection of antiquities at Abbotsford. That library and the furniture of his mansion had been presented to him as a gift by his creditors [3] in recognition of his heroic labours to pay off the debt.

The best record of those labours had been the journal that he had kept since a few months before the news of his financial ruin. After his first paralytic attack, however, there had been a falling-off in it, marked by gaps between the strokes and by a ‘cloudiness of words and [p.2] arrangement,’ [4] as subsequently observed by his son-in-law and biographer, John Gibson Lockhart. ‘My pen stammers egregiously,’ Scott had lamented, ‘and I write horridly incorrect.’ [5] In consequence Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous had been completed with the help of an amanuensis in the person of his land-manager, William Laidlaw. Scott was anxious about their forthcoming reception by the public lest they should impair the sales of the collected edition. [6] Its success was such as to promise that the debt would soon be paid off. After his latest stroke, in fact, he had begun to harbour the delusion that the debt had actually been paid. Neither Lockhart nor Cadell thought it prudent to disillusion him. Cadell took pains to set his mind at rest on that score, and advanced the sum for the journey sanctioned by the trustees of Scott’s estate. The government, out of regard for his unrivalled achievement and popularity, had placed a frigate at his disposal for the voyage to Malta, and thence to Naples on the initiative of his friend, Captain Basil Hall, [7] the author of a series of travel-books published by Cadell. Scott had been put on a diet, but he could not always abstain from champagne or port, accustomed as he had long been to good living at Abbotsford and in the houses of the great in both Scotland and England.

Before his departure for London William Wordsworth, an old friend, came to bid him goodbye and they spent a morning together by the river Yarrow, [8] celebrated by both of them in many a poem. Wordsworth later commemorated the excursion in Yarrow Revisited. Both of them were staunch Conservatives, and as such they were much preoccupied with public affairs, for the opposition party — the Liberals, popularly called the Whigs — having been returned to power amid riots throughout the country, were determined to force the Second Reform Bill through parliament after the rejection or the First by the House of Lords. ‘It has fallen easily, the Old Constitution,’ [9] Scott had written with grief in his journal after the passing of the first bill by the House of Commons. His old friend, the Duke of Wellington, formerly prime minister and leader of the Tories, was now out of office in opposition against the Reform Bill after the party had split and fallen over the issue of Roman Catholic Emancipation. Having first opposed Emancipation, Scott had come to consider it as necessary and in the end had approved its passing. [10] [p.3] It had been associated with his other old friend and prime minister, George Canning, who was now dead. So was the King, George IV, who had always received Scott with kindness in addition to conferring a baronetcy upon him. At least Canning’s old friend, John Hookham Frere, was still alive, though in retirement, in Malta. Scott had not seen him for many years. He himself felt, in an image recalling the imaginative poet in him, that ‘I am perhaps setting . . . amid mists and storms.’ [11] Like Fielding and Smollett, who, with Richardson, were ‘the fathers,’ as he called them, of the English novel, he was being driven abroad by declining health, perhaps, like them, never to return. As a stoic, however, ‘I neither regret nor fear the approach of death.’ [12] What he feared was that ‘I should linger on, “an idiot and a show,”’ [13] like the author of Gulliver’s Travels, as described by Dr Johnson in The Vanity of Human Wishes, which had been recurring to Scott’s mind since his second stroke. For his memory, though less quick than it had been, was still exceptional as a storehouse of literary and antiquarian lore.

On 23rd September 1831 he left Abbotsford after he had given Laidlaw instructions to be ‘very careful’ with his beloved dogs in his absence. [14] His attendants were Anne and Lockhart, his elder daughter, Sophia, having preceded them to prepare for his reception in her London home. Lockhart, her husband, was editor of The Quarterly Review, the great literary organ of the Tories in opposition to the Edinburgh Review of the Whigs. On that account Lockhart could not accompany him to Malta. Anne was to be his principal attendant abroad, for she had been looking after him for several years since Lady Scott’s death, but her mother’s long illness, followed by that of her father on top of his financial difficulties, had taxed her own delicate health and permanently injured her nerves. Walter had gone back to his regiment on account of the tense political situation, but he intended to rejoin them in London without being sure of the length of his leave of absence. Anne was attended by her maid, and Scott by his faithful servant, John Nicolson, who had been trained in the use of the lancet — and indeed had already applied it several times — to forestall attacks of apoplexy. Nicolson was second only in Scott’s affections to Tom Purdie, his amiable factotum, who had dropped dead at table two years previously to his master’s great grief.

On the way to London Scott insisted on having a fresh look at familiar objects of antiquity before paying a farewell call on one of his [p.4] earliest friends, John Morritt, a classical scholar. [15] Lockhart was as attentive as possible to him, and he had no pain whatever, but the weakness of his limbs, one of which had been lame since childhood, was increasing. The diet was making him feel weaker. In a moment of gloom he thought of Tom Purdie in a speculation about euthanasia, and wished ‘if it pleased God, to sleep off in such a quiet way.’ ‘But’, he added, ‘we must take what fate sends,’ for he had not ‘warm hopes of being myself again.’ [16]

On rallying under the care of the Lockharts, he asked a bookseller associated with Cadell for a travel-book for use to him in the Mediterranean. Inevitably he was recommended Patrick Brydone’s Tour through Sicily and Malta. [17] He not only had a copy of it in his library at Abbotsford but was very well acquainted with the wife of its author, a daughter of a leading Scottish historian. Scott had met Mrs Brydone as a widow at several dinner-parties at the house of her son-in-law, Lord Minto. [18] ‘This kind and hospitable family’ [19] was how he had described them in his journal after a visit with Anne before Lord and Lady Minto had been his guests at Abbotsford. It was probably from them that he had heard an anecdote about Brydone which he at once remembered in the bookshop, and, being like Brydone renowned as a raconteur, he repeated it to a relative on returning to the Lockharts.’ [20] Despite his difficulty in articulating it he promptly responded to his relative’s remark that Malta would interest him much as a writer of romances of chivalry with its Knights of St John, [21] who had fired his imagination ever since he had first read of their battles and exploits in Vertot’s History of the Knights of Malta. That book, he had said in a fragment of autobiography later incorporated into Lockhart’s Life of Scott, [22] ‘as it hovered between history and romance, was exceedingly dear to me,’ when, as a student at Edinburgh, immobilized in bed by a ruptured blood-vessel, he had kept himself occupied by re-enacting with shells, seeds and pebbles the battles in Vertot and other works. A copy of Vertot was in his luggage for the voyage to Malta. [23]

            [p.5] He then spoke to his relative ‘of as strange a tale as any traveller could imagine.’ [24] A new volcano had appeared between Malta and Sicily, as Charles had informed him from Naples. [25] He seemed anxious to see it — ‘if it will wait for me,’ [26] he added without explaining whether he had read in the newspapers or heard from the Royal Society that it was subsiding. He himself was President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and as such under a moral obligation to transmit to it any information of a scientific nature that he might come across, such as that relating to Graham Island, as the new volcano had been called. It was the sensation of the year in the Mediterranean. The most reliable accounts of it were appearing in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London in a series of papers from Malta by Dr John Davy, [27] the brother of Sir Humphry. Davy, the head of the medical corps in Malta, was married to a Miss Fletcher, the daughter of an old acquaintance and brother advocate of Scott. Although he was not personally acquainted with Dr Davy, Scott had received a letter from Mrs Davy’s mother informing him that Dr Davy proposed to write a Life of Sir Humphry, a former close friend of Scott, and asking him if he had material for her to send to Malta for the biography. In his reply Scott had regretted that he had no scientific material to give her, but, as Sir Humphry had also written poetry, he had referred her to the ‘compliment’ to his talents from the most eminent critic of the age, S.T. Coleridge. [28] Dr Davy was still writing the biography in Malta.

While Scott waited for news of the King’s ship that was to take him to Malta, he wrote in his journal that ‘the town is afloat with politics. The report is that the Lords will throw out the Reform Bill.’ [29] They did so, and he was delighted, but the populace were indignant, and they crossed his path on his drives before they reached the houses of the Tory leaders, including the Duke of Wellington, and assaulted them in their carriages. Even the King, William IV, was advised not to go to the Duke of Buccleuch — the chief of Scott’s clan — and stand godfather to his son. [30] Devoted as he was to tradition and clanship, Scott was pained that ‘the fine ceremony’ was put off, but he did not let the mobs prevent him from going to Westminster to see some church repairs, of which, [p.6] with his passion for the Gothic, he warmly approved. [31] Only a touch of vertigo made him turn back from a walk to the house of Lady Louisa Stuart, [32] a daughter of Lord Bute, the prime minister under George III, but they were soon able to meet at the small dinner-parties held for him at an early hour by Sophia to enable his friends to see him without strain for him. Anne hoped that in the Mediterranean he would continue this practice of dining quietly at home. [33] Some of his best letters had been written to Lady Stuart in reply to admirable ones from her in the best manner of the eighteenth-century letter-writers.

            Not that he had ever cultivated ‘what is (are) called literary acquaintances.’ [34] On the contrary, he had avoided them owing to their ‘imaginary consequence.’ Besides, they lacked, in his view, the good taste, extensive information and accomplishments and easy and elegant delivery that he had found in his brother-advocates and in gentlemen-scholars like Morritt and Frere. The notable exception was Tom Moore, the Irish poet and biographer of Byron. He, like Scott, had mixed in the best society but was ‘a good-humoured fellow’ seeking ‘to enjoy what is going forward’ rather than to maintain his dignity as a lion. [35] Moore’s Life of Byron had been dedicated to Scott. Moore called to see him at Sophia’s [36] together with numerous friends, all of whom were struck with the change that had taken place in the expression of his face and utterance, but, as a medical caller remarked, his power of self-command, social tact and courtesy, the habits of a life, had remained untouched by his malady. [37] The news that he would winter in Naples spread to Malta whence Frere wrote him an affectionate letter to persuade him that Malta, not Naples, ‘is the true climate for a sexagenarian.’ [38]

            It was the custom then to mix in society at breakfast (a late and long meal), and Scott had indulged this practice freely on previous visits to London, but this time he went out only sparingly after he learned from the Admiralty that the frigate appointed for Malta was H.M.S. Barham. [39] The news was confirmed by Captain Basil Hall, who met him on the same occasion as that on which he was particularly happy to see his old friend, Lord Sidmouth, [40] formerly the prime minister, Henry Addington, [p.7] soon after the French Revolution. On that account Sidmouth had figured in Scott’s Life of Bonaparte, which had sold thousands of copies before the collected edition. In that history he had related how Malta had first been captured from the Order of St. John by Bonaparte, and how in turn the French had capitulated to the English, who, after making peace with Bonaparte under a treaty signed by Addington, had gone to war again with him over Malta until finally it had been confirmed as a British possession by the Great Powers after Waterloo. [41] This was another reason why Scott was looking forward to seeing Malta.

            Walter distressed him with news that he had gone with his regiment on an unpopular service against the rioters. [42] The course of the Barham, too, it was rumoured, had been altered to the coast of Holland on account of a revolution in Belgium. [43] Walter soon cheered him, however, with a letter that all seemed quiet after the troops had intervened. [44] His leave of absence was confirmed; only it would not be long; so his wife would not go with him. [45] The Admiralty having reassured Scott about the Barham, he completed the Introductions to Count Roger of Paris and Castle Dangerous and sent them to Edinburgh for publication by Cadell in the popular series of Tales of my Landlord. [46] The Tales, he explained, would in all probability be the author’s last for reasons of health, but he expressed a hope that, thanks to the restoration that he looked for from the Mediterranean, he might turn his mind, after his return, to another branch of literature [47] such as a series of letters from Malta on the Knights of St John with ‘some account of the last great battle they fought’ [48] in allusion to the Great Siege of 1565.

            It was farewells and adieus on 2lst October after he had been advised by Captain Pigot, the commanding officer of the Barham, to prepare to go on board at Portsmouth. ‘There are friends,’ Scott remarked in a reflection on leave-taking recalling the earlier human observations that had made the journal so moving a record, ‘whom it sincerely touches one to part with. It is the cement of life giving way in a moment.’ More poignant still, ‘one is called upon to recollect those whom death or estrangement have severed as must fall, after starting merrily together on the voyage [p.8] of life.’ [49] Few had been estranged from him, for he had a genius for making friends, even as difficult in character as Byron.

            Walter came up from his regiment ready to sail, while Scott drew on the money advanced by Cadell for the payment of London bills, [50] and was left with a balance for Gibraltar and Malta. Captain Hall preceded them at Portsmouth to make their embarkation easier and to escort Sophia and their party back to London. [51] For a week they could not sail owing to contrary winds. [52] His daughters and Walter accepted the offers of the officers to show them the sights, including the dockyard, while Scott kept to his inn on account of his disabilities, politely declining even an invitation from the port-admiral to an entertainment for the First Lord of the Admiralty during a tour of the fleet before all the ships except the Barham sailed for Holland. [53] At first his spirits were low at the thought of leaving home and, even more, at realizing that, even if his mental faculties recovered, ‘my bodily strength cannot return.’ [54] The First Lord of the Admiralty called on him. [55] Captain Hall procured Fielding’s Voyage to Lisbon for him, and Scott experienced ‘the same scene of hopeless expectation’ described in that book as the wind continued unfavourable. [56] He then asked Hall to send for a history of Malta, [57] additional to the copy of Vertot in his luggage, for he had written to Cadell that he had conceived the idea of a new novel to be called ‘The Knight of Malta’ in the style of Ivanhoe. [58]

            On hobbling from his inn to a rampart on Hall’s arm, he wanted to know where a notorious incendiary had been hanged and where the ship called the Royal George — commemorated in the famous poem of William Cowper — had gone down. Captain Hall pointed out the site of the wreck, at which Scott recited a few of Cowper’s lines. [59] His spirits had by now improved, so that, in Hall’s words, ‘he looked and talked with cheerfulness, cracked his jokes and told his old stories’ with something of his former brilliance at the same time that he began to speak of the voyage with interest. [60]

            The weather having at last changed, Captain Pigot called to summon [p.9] the party on board. [61] Scott made good-humoured, playful remarks at the tardy women. Hall never remembered to have seen him more animated. [62] The admiral sent them his barge, which rowed them to the Barham, into which he was hoisted in a chair prepared for him to save him discomfort. [63] After inspecting the cabins, he went on deck for conversation with his family till it was time to leave, as the ship was getting under way. In the distance a steamer signalled them ‘bon voyage’ from the First Lord of the Admiralty’s wife. ‘I shall never forget’, wrote Hall, ‘the great man’s last look as he wished us goodbye in a tone which showed that he at least knew all hope was over.’ [64]

            The vessel glided along by the Isle of Wight, but ‘we landfolk,’ Scott remarked after a full meal, ‘feel that queerish sensation when, without being in the least sick, we are not quite well.’ [65] They were all unwell on gaining Plymouth against a contrary wind. Scott passed a sleepless night from the din of the bolts, and dreamt of ‘poor bran,’ his deer-hound at Abbotsford. [66] Anne was frightened for a night or two with ‘the terrible tossing.’ [67] Scott attended Sunday service with her and Walter and kept on deck in daylight, though it was bitter cold. As they stood for Spain, the sea-sickness began to leave them. [68] The Barham pitched a great deal in the Bay of Biscay. There was no object so far to look at. They lay — in the words of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner

                                   As idle as a painted ship
                                   Upon a painted ocean.

            Everybody was ready to assist Scott, however helpless he felt on board. [69] The sailors engaged his attention as they exercised the great guns. [70] Meanwhile the appetite of the passengers returned, and they indulged it on beef and biscuits. Anne rejoiced on her father’s account that, though Captain Pigot lived most comfortably, there was no drinking of wine and smoking of cigars. [71] The wind became decidedly favourable, and they began to feel a more pleasing temperature before they passed Portugal at night. The sword exercises of the sailors brought back [p.10] many recollections of Scott’s own training in the old days of the war with Bonaparte. [72]

            As they neared Gibraltar on one side and Tangiers on the other, he was reminded of a loud-voiced antiquarian friend, who was then at Tangiers as British consul, and was grieved at leaving him unsaluted. [73] His heart beat faster when the Barham came in sight of Capes St Vincent and Trafalgar — “all spirit-stirring sounds” [74] for their naval associations, celebrated by him in his poems and in the Life of Bonaparte. In an analysis of his symptoms he asked himself if he felt any better from the climate, ‘which is delicious,’ and although he could not reply with certainty, he thought there was some change for the better. ‘I certainly write easier.’ [75] The surgeon looking after him was Dr (later Sir John) Liddell, the head of the naval hospital in Malta. ‘I often think about my Maltese tale,’ he added in reference to the projected ‘Knight of Malta,’ to which he again referred in a letter to Cadell for posting from Gibraltar. [76] Cadell would write to him about the reception of Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous.

            The letter remained unposted owing to a strict quarantine at Gibraltar [77] against an outbreak of cholera in England at the time of their departure. Scott’s great interest in military architecture was immediately engaged by the fortifications of the Rock with special reference to the famous Siege of Gibraltar during the American War of Independence. As one of the most notable events of history in his childhood it brought out his feeling for battle-scenes. The much earlier conflicts between the Christians and the Moors — treated by him in The Vision of Don Roderick — were evoked by the old Moorish town of Algeciras beyond the caverns of Gibraltar. [78] The landscape of Andalusia struck him as very much like the Highlands of Scotland. [79]

            The current always running at Gibraltar carried the Barham to the African side in sight of the Atlas mountains, at which Scott looked in vain for cultivation, although Dr Liddell told him and Anne that the waste was probably due to the war with France, which had been going on since the landing of the French in 1830 to colonise North Africa. A French schooner, in fact, was blockading the harbour of Oran. [80] Again he [p.11] studied the fortifications of this former Spanish stronghold against the Moors before recalling the whole French operation in the daring capture of Algiers, of which, thanks to Captain Pigot’s kindness in sailing close to the shore, they had ‘a very satisfactory sight.’ The success of the French was compared to the failure of the Spaniards under the Emperor Charles V in the earlier war against the Moors after their expulsion from Spain. Scott was particularly careful to identify the famous mole built by the second Barbarossa brother after the capture of Algiers from the Spaniards. [81] The Barbarossas had made themselves with Dragut, the most famous corsairs in Mediterranean history and had a long record of actions against the Knights of St John as the allies of the Spaniards. Scott read their history in Vertot’s Knights of Malta in preparation for the new novel. [82]

            The weather continued fine as the Barham glided towards Tunis in sight of barren hills and small islands [83] of interest to Scott — a former keen hunter — for their shooting facilities and as old havens of the corsairs. But for the plague at Tunis they would have gone ashore to see the ruins of Carthage. [84] Straight ahead lay Cape Bon, below the west coast of Sicily, which they passed at night, although Scott learned from Dr Liddell that the French occupied Cape Bon as a coral fishery. [85] The sea beyond the cape was dotted with islets known by fanciful Italian names, [86] as was the practice in Scotland. Scott had a reading knowledge of Italian.

            A fair wind carried them past Pantelleria, which he described as ‘a species of Botany Bay,’ as the Sicilians used it as a state prison. Everybody watched expectantly for the new volcano called Graham Island. On sighting it, they formed the impression that it had greatly diminished since the last accounts. Scott went out in one of the ship’s boats ‘to survey this new production of the earth with great interest.’ Anne and Walter went with him together with Captain Pigot’s clerk as amanuensis to make a sketch of the island for transmission from Malta to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. [87] The volcano was still active near the bay where they landed, so much so that Anne’s shoes were burnt through with the heat, and she later wrote to Sophia that it was a ‘horrid’ place [p.12] ‘where one might expect to meet the devil.’ [88] The comment was consistent with widespread Scottish superstition, exploited by her father in his novels and in a whole book called Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. Far from associating Graham Island, however, with the devil, he conceived ‘the notion of a magician of the old romance’ [89] : in other words, of a latter-day Prospero on a magic island. Finding it impossible for his infirm feet to walk on sinking earth, he mounted on the back of a strong sailor who carried him nearly to the top of the island. [90] They found it decomposing and still throwing up steam. Scott collected blocks of lava and shells for the Royal Society before returning to the Barham, contented with enough information to fill a letter to ‘our friends at Edinburgh.’ [91]

            After an indifferent night he sighted Gozo. The stone-walls intersecting its fields reminded him of the same materal used in his own country. [92] Both Byron in Childe Harold and Patrick Brydone in Tour through Sicily and Malta had referred to Gozo as the traditional island of Calypso, while Vertot had described the sacking of Gozo by the Moors before the Siege of Malta. Scott was shown from the deck the entrance to Calypso’s reputed cave: ‘as rude a cavern as ever opened out of a granite rock.’ On that account he was inclined to disbelieve the authority for her legend. [93] At last Malta spread out before them, or rather, ‘the famous Valetta,’ as he knew the city of the Knights, rising out of the sea in brilliant sun shine. Under a chivalric impulse he called it ‘a city like no other in the world,’ guarded by Fort St Elmo, which immediately called up in his mind the heroic defence of it as described by Vertot. [94] The fort contained the grave of General Abercrombie, the father of one of his boyhood friends in Edinburgh and the hero of the battle of Alexandria in the war with Bonaparte, but Scott did not recall him, although he had paid tribute to him in The Life of Bonaparte. [95]

            Although the Governor, Sir Frederick Cavendish-Ponsonby, who was in England on a visit, had left orders that every possible attention should be paid to Scott and his party, the health regulations required a quarantine of ten days owing to the cholera epidemic. Scott was allowed the [p.13] privilege of performing quarantine not in the ordinary lazaretto but in Fort Manoel. [96] On entering Marsamuscetto, a sailor fell into the sea from the Barham’s yard-arm, and the Maltese boats backed away from him for fear of the regulations, while an English boat, which picked him up, was condemned to ten days’ quarantine. [97] Scott found Fort Manoel spacious and splendid, but not comfortable. The rooms, opening into an arcade, formed a delightful walk. [98] He took the name of the grand master who had built the fort and adapted it for one of the characters in the new novel. [99] In their rooms they found books and flowers from Lady Hotham, the wife of the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean fleet. Dr Liddell shared the quarantine with them. [100]

            His arrival having caused a sensation, he was soon visited by numerous friends and high officials, who were forbidden to approach nearer than a yard to him by the quarantine guardians. [101] The first caller was John Hookham Frere, the poet and former British Minister to Spain during the Peninsular War. In the latter capacity he had figured in Scott’s Life of Bonaparte. [102] Frere was notoriously absent-minded and Scott had the natural Scottish habit of hand-shaking, so that only the guardians’ vigilance prevented Frere from being put in quarantine with him. [103] Frere was joined at the bar by Mrs Davy, the wife of Dr Davy. She kept a diary of his visit, which was afterwards used by Lockhart in The Life of Scott as the main source for Malta. On this occasion she accompanied Colonel Bathurst, the Acting Governor in General Ponsonby’s absence. Scott rose at seeing them and Mrs Bathurst, the paralytic look being most distressing to Mrs Davy, who had last seen him in health in Edinburgh. To their formal speech that they would stay at Malta as long as possible he replied courteously in his natural manner. [104]

            After sleeping uncomfortably in their new quarters, he entered a curious note in his journal, that the Maltese never married in the month of May — exactly as in Scotland — because of the misfortunes associated with it. [105] He himself had believed so strongly in this ancient superstition that, when Sophia had married Lockhart, he had hastened from [p.14] London to Scotland to ensure that the wedding would be held in April. [106]

            Admiral Hotham had put a boat at his disposal for himself and his party to be rowed round the two harbours during their confinement. On having a closer look at Valletta from the boat, he again called it ‘a splendid town,’ [107] particularly picturesque with varied buildings in warm stone. The watch-towers on the bastions — curiously like those on the castle of Edinburgh — suggested some ideas for an ornamental screen to be added to one of the fronts of Abbotsford. The screen would not involve expense, he explained in a letter to his old friend, James Skene, the secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, to whom he enclosed the information about Graham Island, with the specimens. [108] Skene’s son was serving in Malta as a lieutenant, and he called on Scott in quarantine, but, on Scott’s forgetting that he must not shake hands with him, he ‘vanished like a guilty thing.’ [109] Scott also wrote to Skene [110] — and confirmed in separate letters to Cadell and Lockhart [111] — that he was writing The Siege of Malta, which now became the title of the new novel in place of ‘The Knight of Malta.’ His intention was to use the novel as a test to see if he had any power left as a writer. [112] He was feeling decidedly better in spirit in an enchanting climate. [113]

            After viewing ‘a formidable spectacle’ of battleships in Grand Harbour, he was rowed to the site where Dragut had died on the very day of the fall of Fort St Elmo. ‘The death of Dragut,’ he thought, ‘would be a fine subject for a poem.’ [114] Neither Anne nor Walter were ‘desirous to follow my amusements.’ [115] Walter was pressing him and Anne to leave for Naples on account of his short leave of absence, [116] while Charles wrote from Naples urging him not to delay at Malta, as the Foreign Office wanted him back in London shortly. [117] Anne was unsuccessfully trying, with Dr Liddell, to make him regulate his diet, particularly to abstain from drink, as he had done on the voyage. [118] They were all looking for letters from England: Scott to hear from Cadell about [p.15] the sales of Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous, and Anne to hear from Sophia about the cholera epidemic. [119]

            Frere took his sister, Susan, to see Scott, and she confirmed her recollection of his character as marked by simplicity and sweetness. [120] Frere continued to visit him every day until their quarantine was shortened by a day. ‘It is unpleasant,’ Scott remarked, ‘to be thought so very unclean and capable of poisoning a whole city.’ [121] On their release they were met by Lady Hotham’s carriage and taken to Beverley’s Hotel in Strada Ponente [122] opposite the house of Mrs Davy. Benjamin Disraeli had stayed in it only a few months before their visit. [123] On hearing Scott’s voice as he chatted with the Inspector of Quarantine — himself a Scot — Mrs Davy was touched with sentiment at its home-bred quality. ‘Poor old gentleman,’ her English maid remarked, ‘how ill he looks.’ [124] Nevertheless soon after he was installed in the ‘very excellent’ apartments of the hotel, he went with Anne and Walter to the Barham for ‘a most handsome dinner’ with the ward-room officers. [125] Anne wrote to Sophia that Dr Liddell had despaired of getting him to give up drink, although he was certainly better than he had been in London. Captain Pigot wanted to take him to Naples in two months’ time, which would be ‘the very thing for him.’ [126]

            Scott was in raptures on finding himself in ‘the most magnificent place I ever saw in my life.’ [127] It was St John’s Cathedral as the burial place of the Knights in rich splendour of heraldry and armour. Mrs Bathurst took him there in her carriage before driving him out to see a Maltese village, followed by dinner with herself and Colonel Bathurst. [128] The village gave him a high opinion of the craft of Maltese stone-masons. [129] St John’s drew a description in his journal — and in The Siege of Malta — charged with the ‘gothic’ imagination of a poet and antiquary. On going down into the crypt, assisted by Captain Pigot and several officers, he was delighted to find La Valette ‘most splendidly provided with a superb sepulchre of bronze ....... in the full armour of a knight of chivalrie.’ [130] This was on a second visit, when he also observed that [p.16] the Maltese as Catholic subjects of William IV ‘now pray for the King etc’ [131] since the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Bill in England.

            He was much gratified to see Frere ‘the same man I had always known him — a good Tory as ever’ [132] in contrast to many Tories of eminence who had joined the cry of Reform at the coming to power of the Whigs. Frere’s house at Pietà was under repair and he was living temporarily in the Governor’s palace at San Antonio. He first drove Scott to Pietà in his carriage. Frere’s young midshipman nephew was in the house recovering from a fever and he begged to be carried to a window that he might see Scott as he stopped. ‘If I had known in time,’ Scott remarked afterwards, ‘I would have tried to hobble upstairs to see him.’ [133] Frere drove Scott out on another occasion to see San Antonio, ‘a beautiful place with a splendid garden.’ [134]

            He had already accepted an invitation to a grand ball in his honour at the Union Club (now the National Museum) by the garrison to Anne’s alarm, as he was to appear at eight in the evening. [135] ‘An odd kind of honour,’ wrote Mrs Davy in her diary, ‘to bestow on a man of letters suffering from a paralytic illness.’ [136] But he appears to have appreciated the honour, for he noted it in his journal with evident satisfaction at the large attendance — ‘some 400 gentlemen and ladies’ — the élite, in fact, of the army, navy and civil service. ‘Of the ladies,’ he observed, ‘the island furnished a fair proportion — I mean viewed in either way.’ [137] Lady Hotham calmed Anne’s fears with an assurance that there would be no more balls for him, although Anne herself was invited to two or three, and had an opportunity of watching at one of them Maltese young ladies of her own class. [138] They had the same brown eyes that she had inherited from her French mother.

            Scott was taken out for a drive by Lady Hotham, followed by ‘a very pleasant’ dinner-party, at which he picked up some anecdotes of the blockade of the French garrison in Malta by the English. [139] The Hothams, like the Davys and Bathursts, lived in the private houses of the former dignitaries of the Order of St John. Scott had long been familiar with the sites of the property of their Scottish counterparts and of the Knights Templars near the High Street of Edinburgh, and, in fact, had [p.17] recalled ‘the uncommon height and antique appearance’ of their houses in one of the execution scenes in The Heart of Midlothian. [140] In Malta the houses of the Knights, though less high, were much more stately, so that the more he saw of them the more he was astonished, he wrote to Skene, ‘at what a gorgeous generation the Order must have been of old.’ [141]

            He also informed Skene that he had seen his son repeatedly, and on one occasion Lt Skene received a note from Scott asking him if he would accompany him on a tour of Valletta and the fortifications which he wished to see leisurely and without being ‘gazed at as a lion.’ Lt Skene’s father had himself visited Malta many years previously, so before Scott set off on his tour, he said, ‘The first place you are to take me to, is the house your father inhabited at Malta. It will do my heart good just to see it and be able to tell him so, if it should be God’s will that we meet again.’ [142] It was not to be God’s will. Lt Skene also referred to Scott’s passing a great deal of time in the library of the Knights (now the Royal Malta Library) working on The Siege of Malta, [143] of which he completed about half a volume of the three small volumes that he projected. [144] There were two libraries, he noted in his journal, the ‘modern’ Garrison Library, run by subscription and all books to be taken out, and the ‘ancient foreign’ library of the Knights, open to all without payment but without letting books out. The value of the Library of the Knights was ‘considerable, but the funds unfortunately are shamefully small’; so he hoped to do it ‘some good.’ [145]

            Frere gave him as a present a collection of prints of the Great Siege [146] after the frescoes in the grand master’s palace by Mateo Perez d’Aleccio, and they were afterwards shipped to Abbotsford, where they still lie with a copy of Abela’s Malta Illustrata. Frere recited some of his own verse to Scott, including ‘the continuation’ of the unfinished mock heroic poem widely known as ‘Whistlecraft,’ [147] which had served as model for Byron’s Beppo.

            Mrs Davy recorded all this and much else in her diary after Anne had invited her to a quiet dinner with Scott and one or two officers of the Barham. [148] At the dinner Scott was in his old manner of raconteur [p.18] and table minstrel. Anne told Mrs Davy that she had never seen him so like himself in Malta, and she wrote to Sophia that ‘he is better without champagne.’ [149] Captain Pigot wished to take them to Naples sooner than he had originally suggested, and Walter was pressing Scott to leave Malta immediately. [150] Scott was uncertain what he had best do, as he had become anxious for news from Cadell about the sales of Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous in consequence of a small overdraft on his London bankers after paying the bills of Beverley’s Hotel. Fearing that he might be ‘disgraced’ by the bankers or by the reading public, he even meditated, in one or two gloomy moments, on ‘a sad purpose,’ [151] apparently self-destruction. Similar thoughts of suicide had floated once or twice in his mind since his financial ruin and apoplexy, but he had fought them off gallantly. [152] In point of fact, all his fears were unfounded, for Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous were ‘selling capitally.’ [153]

            Frere — laconic as a correspondent compared with his sister — wrote to London that Scott ‘is much benefited by this climate and will I hope do well if we do not kill him with dining, which is the destruction of health in this climate.’ [154] He appears to have come near to that state after dining with his old friend, Sir John Stoddart, the Chief Justice of Malta, and partaking too freely of port and champagne. Anne had to call Dr Davy in out of fear of an impending stroke. Yet, on seeing Mrs Davy with her husband, Scott asked her courteously if she had recovered from an earlier indisposition, and, turning to Dr Davy, began to talk to him about the biography of his brother. [155] Dr Davy applied leeches to his head, and within twenty-four hours he felt fit for a drive in Mrs Davy’s carriage and company for an impromptu call on Frere at San Antonio. It was a beautiful day and he rose to the occasion with cheerful talk and anecdotes interspersed with literary comment. ‘This town is really quite like a dream,’ [156] he first said, on driving through the streets of Valletta. The images of the saints at the street corners led him to speak of the Irish, for whose character he expressed a high regard while regretting the ‘evil fate’ that attended them in their political relations with England. San Antonio was thick with new oranges, which he snuffed with delight. On failing to find Frere at home, they drove back without waiting, [p.19] and Scott talked about his favourite novelists, including Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth, whose tales of Irish life and character had served as models for his own Scottish tales. Good writers, he repeated to Mrs Davy, were often not very good company owing to a want of tact, but again he singled out Tom Moore as the exception. ‘He’s a charming fellow — a perfect gentleman in society; there’s no kick in his gallop.’ Mrs Davy’s carriage drove on without Scott saying anything else on account of fatigue, but she never forgot ‘the kindly good humour with which he said, in getting out of his hotel door, ‘Thank ye for your kindness — your charity, I may say — to an old lame man — farewell!’ [157]

            It was not strictly farewell for good, as they were to see each other again when Frere took Scott to Città Vecchia, and when Dr Davy accompanied him to Strada Stretta, where he had been told that the young knights had fought their duels. In quitting the street, he looked round him earnestly, and said, ‘It will be hard if I cannot make something of this,’ [158] presumably in The Siege of Malta, even though Strada Stretta did not exist during the Great Siege.

            He was delighted to meet a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars in the person of the Bishop of Malta, who had been one of the leaders of the Maltese insurgents against the French in the capture of Malta by the English. On that account ‘this fine old gentleman’ soon came to loom in Scott’s imagination as ‘my fighting Bishop of Malta.’ [159] He was Mgr Francesco Caruana. Scott was taken to him on a courtesy call by the Acting Governor. On hearing that the Bishop had a journal of the blockade of the French by the Maltese and English, he pressed him to publish it and offered his assistance ‘for the benefit of the poor of the diocese.’ [160] Scott later offered the journal to Cadell. [161] The Bishop returned his call in full state, ‘superbly dressed in costume’ [162] answering to Scott’s love of pageantry.

            This was his last formal engagement before he sailed from Malta in the Barham on 14th December [163] after Walter had persuaded him to go to Naples contrary to Anne’s wish. [164] She was on bad relations with her brother under the strain of her father’s illness. Before they left, they experienced ‘a rude shock of an earthquake,’ [165] which [p.20] alarmed them. Scott was inclined to associate it with the reported disappearance of Graham Island. It ‘has vanished altogether,’ he wrote to Skene, and rounded off the information, appropriately, with a phrase from Shakespeare’s Tempest: ‘leaving not a wrack behind.’ [166]

            The manuscript of The Siege of Malta went with him to Naples whence he transmitted it to Lockhart [167] before he died at Abbotsford after a fourth stroke in Germany on the return journey. At Naples he drew heavily on Vertot, so that the ‘original Story,’ [168] as he called the opening chapters written in Malta, with a mixture of fictitious and historical characters, gave way to an account, as found in Vertot, of the Great Siege. Lockhart judged the manuscript unfit for publication, and later in The Life of Scott expressed the hope that it would never see the light. [169] After lying at Abbotsford for over a hundred years, it was sold to Gabriel Wells, an American dealer, who allowed Fowler Wright, a novelist, to read it before he sold it in turn to the New York Public Library, where it now lies in the Berg Collection. Fowler Wright did not have access to Scott’s correspondence with Lockhart and Cadell about it, so that he wrongly assumed that Scott had not completed it for publication, and that he had intended to revise it on returning to Abbotsford. [170] Fowler Wright therefore published in 1942 a two-volume Siege of Malta, ‘founded on an unfinished romance by Sir Walter Scott.’ In it he retained the substance of Scott’s opening chapter [171] and made up the rest of the plot from Vertot and other sources.

            His information about the manuscript was incorporated into the newly published biography of Scott called The Great Unknown by Professor Edgar Johnson. [172] It does not appear that Professor Johnson read the manuscript. Nor is it at all certain that Lockhart himself read it through. He was very busy with the Quarterly Review in its campaign against the Reform Bill. ‘The worst of it all,’ he wrote, ‘is — I have received a whole sheaf of MS’ [173] from Scott just before The Siege of Malta reached him. The ‘sheaf of MS’ was much shorter than The Siege of Malta, which consisted of about 75,000 words. Both of them were written in Scott’s apoplectic hand, and Lockhart’s reluctance to read that hand was reflected in the information he inserted in the Life of Scott [174] [p.21] that ‘the manuscript of these painful days is hardly to be deciphered by any effort.’ Given a knowledge of Malta and of Vertot, however, the manuscript is decipherable, and its contents in parts are neither uninteresting nor devoid of original touches. Besides it serves to supplement Scott’s Malta letters and journal by focussing attention on the principal interests of his visit. Above all, from the moral point of view, it counterbalances the literary failure by showing him labouring to the last — in apoplexy and without an amanuensis — to discharge honourably his obligations to his creditors and publisher.


*              This is the text of a Lecture delivered at the British Council Centre in Valletta on December 14th, 1971 in commemoration of the bicentenary of the birth of Sir Walter Scott.

[1]               The Letters of Sir W. Scott, ed. Sir H. Grierson (London 1932-35) XII, 30. All succeeding references to Scott’s letters will be to this edition.

[2]               The Journal of Sir W. Scott, ed. J.G. Tait (Edinburgh & London 1950) p. 744. All succeeding references to Scott’s journal will be to this edition.

[3]               Journal 694.

[4]               Ibid 668.

[5]               Ibid 714.

[6]               Ibid 744.

[7]               B. Hall, Fragments of Voyages and Travels, 3rd Series (Edinburgh 1833) pp. 284-285. All succeeding references to this edition will be designated ‘HALL.’

[8]               Journal 744.

[9]               Ibid 725.

[10]              Ibid 540, 542, 598-599, 603-604, 618.

[11]              Ibid 743-744.

[12]              Ibid 744.

[13]              Ibid 697.

[14]              R. Carruthers, ‘Abbotsford Notanda’ in Life of Sir W. Scott by R. Chambers (London & Edinburgh 1871), p. 181.

[15]              J.G.Lockhart, Life of Sir W. Scott (Edinburgh 1839) X, 107-108. All succeeding references to this edition will be designated ‘LOCKHART.’

[16]              Journal 745.

[17]              LOCKHART X, 109.

[18]              Journal 54.

[19]              Ibid 205.

[20]              LOCKHART X 109-110.

[21]              Ibid.

[22]              Chapter 1, p. 66.

[23]              MS 921, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, f. 210. All succeeding references to the National Library of Scotland will be designated ‘NLS.’

[24]              LOCKHART X, 110.

[25]              MS 917, NLS, August 29, 1831.

[26]              LOCKHART X, 110.

[27]              ‘Some Account of a New Volcano in the Mediterranean,’ etc., in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London for 1832-1833, vol. 122, pp. 237-249, 251-252; vol. 123, pp. 143-145.

[28]              Letters XI, 441.

[29]              Journal 745.

[30]              Ibid 746, 748.

[31]              Ibid 747.

[32]              Ibid 749.

[33]              Cf. MS 1553, NLS, f. 240.

[34]              Journal 525.

[35]              Ibid 7.

[36]              T. Moore, Memoirs, Journal & Correspondence, ed. Lord J. Russell (London 1854) VI, 226.

[37]              LOCKHART X, 122.

[38]              MS 5317, NLS, f. 187.

[39]              Journal 745.

[40]              Ibid 747.

[41]              Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir W. Scott (Edinburgh 1841) II, pp. 258, 261-62, 318, 332, 341-343.

[42]              Journal 749.

[43]              Ibid.

[44]              Ibid 750.

[45]              MS 1752, NLS, f. 417.

[46]              Ibid f. 411; Journal 750.

[47]              Epilogue to Castle Dangerous (Oxford 1912) p. 219.

[48]              MS 921, NLS, f. 210.

[49]              Journal 754.

[50]              Ibid.

[51]              HALL 294.

[52]              Journal 755-758.

[53]              Ibid 755.

[54]              Ibid 756.

[55]              Ibid 755.

[56]              Ibid 758; HALL 301.

[57]              HALL 301.

[58]              MS 1752, NLS, f. 422.

[59]              HALL 313-314; Journal 758.

[60]              HALL 311.

[61]              Journal 758.

[62]              HALL 318-319.

[63]              Ibid 320; Journal 758.

[64]              HALL 321; Journal 759.

[65]              Journal 758.

[66]              Ibid 759.

[67]              Ibid; MS 1553, NLS, f. 238.

[68]              Ibid 759

[69]              Ibid 760.

[70]              Ibid 761.

[71]              MS 1553, NLS, f. 238.

[72]              Journal 760-761.

[73]              Ibid 761.

[74]              Ibid 762.

[75]              Ibid.

[76]              Ibid; MS 1752, NLS, f. 426.

[77]              Journal 763.

[78]              Ibid 762-763.

[79]              Ibid 764.

[80]              Ibid 765.

[81]              Ibid 765-766.

[82]              MS 1752, NLS, f. 431.

[83]              Journal 762-763.

[84]              MS 1752, NLS, f. 431.

[85]              Journal 768.

[86]              Ibid 769.

[87]              Ibid; J. Skene, Memories of Sir W. Scott (London 1909), pp. 196-199. All succeeding references to Memories of Sir W. Scott will be designated ‘SKENE.’

[88]              MS 1553, NLS, f. 241.

[89]              Dr J. Davy, ‘Some Remarks in reply to Dr Daubeny’s Note ... over the Site of the Recent Volcano in the Mediterranean’ in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London for 1834, vol. 124, part I, p. 552.

[90]              SKENE 198.

[91]              Journal 769.

[92]              Ibid.

[93]              Ibid 769-770.

[94]              Ibid 770.

[95]              Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir W. Scott (Edinburgh 1841) II, 330.

[96]              MS 3389, NLS, f. 437; Journal 770.

[97]              SKENE 200.

[98]              Journal 770.

[99]              Cf. S. Fowler Wright, The Siege of Malta (London 1942), p. 3.

[100]             MS 1553, NLS, f. 239.

[101]             Journal 770; MS 3389, NLS, ff. 437-438.

[102]             Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir W. Scott (Edinburgh 1841) II, 488.

[103]             MS 3389, NLS, f. 438.

[104]             Ibid.

[105]             Journal 771.

[106]             LOCKHART VI, 208-209.

[107]             Journal 771.

[108]             SKENE 192, 199, 202.

[109]             Ibid 199.

[110]             Ibid 196, 200.

[111]             MS 1752, NLS, ff. 429, 433.

[112]             Ibid 433; Journal 771.

[113]             Journal 771; MS 1752, NLS, f. 433; SKENE 200.

[114]             Journal 772.

[115]             Ibid 771.

[116]             MS 1553, NLS, f. 240.

[117]             MS 917, NLS, Nov. 24, 1831.

[118]             MS 1553, NLS, f. 239.

[119]             Ibid 238.

[120]             MS letter, Malta, Nov. 26, 1831, Frere Family Papers (Private Collection).

[121]             MS 1752, NLS, f. 431; Journal 772.

[122]             Journal 772. Scott wrote ‘Lady Frances Bathurst’ instead of ‘Lady Hotharn.’

[123]             Home Letters written by the late Earl of Beaconsfield (London 1885) p. 58.

[124]             MS 3389, NLS, f. 439.

[125]             Journal 772-773.

[126]             MS 1553, NLS, f. 240.

[127]             Journal 773.

[128]             Ibid 774.

[129]             Cf. MS 1752, NLS, f. 437.

[130]             Journal 775.

[131]             Ibid.

[132]             Ibid 774.

[133]             Works of J. H. Frere (London 1874) I, 236.

[134]             Journal 774.

[135]             MS 1553, NLS, f. 240.

[136]             MS 3389, NLS, f. 439.

[137]             Journal 774.

[138]             MS 1553, NLS, ff. 240, 246.

[139]             Journal 774.

[140]             Chapter IV, first paragraph.

[141]             SKENE 201.

[142]             Ibid 193-195.

[143]             Ibid 196.

[144]             MS 1752, NLS, ff. 429, 437, 442.

[145]             Journal 775.

[146]             Ibid.

[147]             Ibid 775, 777; MS 3389, NLS, f. 440.

[148]             MS 3389, NLS, f. 439.

[149]             MS 1553, NLS, f. 241.

[150]             Journal 776; MS 1752, NLS, f. 442; MS 1553, NLS, f. 242.

[151]             Journal 775-776.

[152]             Cf. Ibid 739.

[153]             MS 5317, NLS, f. 90.

[154]             MS letter, Malta, Dec. 11, 1831, Frere Family Papers (Private Collection).

[155]             MS 3389, NLS, f. 441.

[156]             Ibid 442.

[157]             Ibid 442-444.

[158]             Ibid 444.

[159]             Journal 776, 779.

[160]             Ibid 775-776; SKENE 204-205.

[161]             MS 1752, NLS, f. 437.

[162]             Journal 776.

[163]             Scott wrote ‘December 13’ instead of ‘December 14’ in the Journal (p. 777).

[164]             MS 1553, NLS, f. 244.

[165]             Journal 776; MS 1553, NLS, f. 246.

[166]             SKENE 201.

[167]             MS 1752, NLS, ff. 509, 518, 533.

[168]             Cf. Ibid f. 533.

[169]             LOCKHART X, 148.

[170]             S. Fowler Wright, Siege of Malta (London 1942), Foreword 1-2.

[171]             Ibid.

[172]             Vol. II, p. 1270.

[173]             MS 860, NLS, f. 40.

[174]             Shortened version of Life of Scott (Everyman Library, London 1937) p. 624.