James Hepburne Scott - A Tale of Two Homes Abbotsford and Mertoun, and Two Families

On Thursday 5th April 2018 we had a talk by James Hepburne Scott. He was introduced by our Chairman, Prof. Peter Garside. (video below)

Welcome everyone to what turns to be the first meeting of the Club this year at the New Club. As many of you will know, severe weather conditions made it necessary to cancel the 109th dinner planned for 1 March: the first time in living memory that this has happened. We held off making the decision until the actual morning of the event, but with Princes Street frozen over, New Club staff unable to make it in, and speakers cut off in Kelso and Aberdeen, there seemed to no other option. Anyway, the good news is that it’s been possible to reschedule the dinner for Thursday, 3 May, and we hope that as many possible of those originally down to attend will be able to make this. And for any other members who might like to come, perhaps because this represents a more suitable date, there are four or so places still available by application to our Events Convenor Lee Simpson.

I’m especially delighted to introduce today’s speaker James Hepburne Scott, who is presently President of the Royal Scottish Forestry Society, a position which coincides fittingly with the Club’s honouring of Scott’s own lifelong interest in afforestation as part of this year’s events. He is proud to call himself a kinsman of Sir Walter Scott, his ancestor and Sir Walter being third cousins. More recently his parents were on good terms with Patricia and Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott. Through the Royal Scottish Forestry Society, he himself was an early adviser to the Abbotsford Trust on the management of the woods on the estate. His wife, Christian, also worked for two years in a voluntary capacity on the re-design and furnishing of the Hope Scott Wing at Abbotsford.

His talk today will focus on Scott’s relationship with the Scotts of Harden at Mertoun House. Much has been made by biographers of Scott’s feelings of clan loyalty to the Scotts of Buccleuch, but if anything he had a closer and more intimate sense of kinship with the family branch of Harden. He took especial delight in his lineal descent from Walter Scott, 3rd Laird of Harden (‘Auld Wat’), married to the legendary ‘Flower of Yarrow’, and renowned for his border exploits as recounted to Scott by his grandmother. Scott’s grandfather held the lease of Sandyknowe, and of course Smailholm Tower with it, from ‘his Chief and relative’ (Scott’s words) the then laird. And he was on intimate terns throughout his adult life with current laird, Hugh Scott and his Saxon wife Harriet Bruhl, daughter of a famous chess-player, and herself a supplier of German books to Scott at the onset of his literary career. In researching materials for a forthcoming edition of Scott’s Shorter Verse, we were able to locate two original Scott poems in the Scott of Harden papers now lodged in the Register House, the first swearing loyalty the Scott of Hardens’ first-born son Charles Walter who sadly died in 1806, another providing at Harriet’s request an epitaph for another son, George who died prematurely in 1830 while rector of a parish in Devonshire. An earlier Journal entry by Scott in 1827 gives a sense of how joyous the relationship between the two families, enhanced by Scott’s move to Abbotsford in 1812, could be in more favourable circumstances: ‘We arrived at Mertoun yesterday and heard with some surprize that George had gone up in an Air balloon and ascended two miles and a half above this sublunary earth. … Honest George, I certainly did not suspect him of being so flighty’. I’m sure I’m not alone in being eager to hear more of such happenings from someone so closely connected with the Hardens of Mertoun.