Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Washington Irving Finds a Theme

[Washington Irving to his brother Peter Irving]

Abbotsford, Sept. 1, 1817.

My Dear Brother:

I have barely time to scrawl a line before the gossoon goes off with the letters to the neighboring post office . . . .

On Friday, in spite of sullen, gloomy weather, I mounted the top of the mail coach, and rattled off to Selkirk. It rained heavily in the course of the afternoon, and drove me inside. On Saturday morning early I took chaise for Melrose; and on the way stopped at the gate of Abbotsford, and sent in my letter of introduction, with a request to know whether it would be agreeable for Mr. Scott to receive a visit from me in the course of the day. The glorious old minstrel himself came limping to the gate, took me by the hand in a way that made me feel as if we were old friends; in a moment I was seated at his hospitable board among his charming little family, and here have I been ever since. I had intended certainly being back to Edinburgh to-day, (Monday,) but Mr. Scott wishes me to stay until Wednesday, that we may make excursions to Dryburgh Abbey, Yarrow, &c., as the weather has held up and the sun begins to shine. I cannot tell how truly I have enjoyed the hours I have passed here. They fly by too quick, yet each is loaded with story, incident, or song; and when I consider the world of ideas, images, and impressions that have been crowded upon my mind since I have been here, it seems incredible that I should only have been two days at Abbotsford. I have rambled about the hills with Scott; visited the haunts of Thomas the Rhymer, and other spots rendered classic by border tale and witching song, and have been in a kind of dream or delirium.

As to Scott, I cannot express my delight at his character and manners. He is a sterling golden-hearted old worthy, full of the joyousness of youth, with an imagination continually furnishing forth picture, and a charming simplicity of manner that puts you at ease with him in a moment. It has been a constant source of pleasure to me to remark his deportment towards his family, his neighbors, his domestics, his very dogs and cats; every thing that comes within his influence seems to catch a beam of that sunshine that plays round his heart; but I shall say more of him herafter, for he is a theme on which I love to dwell. . . .
Your affectionate brother,
W. I.

P. S. --This morning we ride to Dryburgh Abbey and see also the old Earl of Buchan--who, you know, is a queer one. . . .
-from The Friendly Craft: A Collection of American Letters edited by Elizabeth Deering Hanscom (New York: Macmillan, 1908) p. 166-68.

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