The grandly romantic, sort of Gothic, sort of Elizabethan home of Sir Walter Scott
Patricia Maxwell-Scott, her sister, and two friendly dogs live in the house built by her great-great-great-grandfather. Located in the Scottish Borders areas, on the banks of the lovely, wandering River Tweed, this house is by no means some wee two-room ''but-and-ben'' cottage. ''Baronial Halls'' might be the phrase to come closer to the feel of the place, which is just what its original inhabitant wanted. Sir Walter Scott had big ideas, and ''Abbotsford'' is the child of his rich, large-scale, romantic imagination.
From the outside, this mansion is exactly what you'd expect the author of ''Ivanhoe,'' the Waverley novels, and ''The Lay of the Last Minstrel'' to live in: all turrets and parapets, merlons and crenels and machicolations. It is sort of Gothic and sort of Elizabethan combined, and the one thing it emphatically is not is a rational, symmetrical 18th-century building. It would not be too difficult to visualize medieval knights jousting in the south court (screeching peacocks running hastily for cover), a scene Rubens had had enacted two centuries earlier in front of his own large country house.
Scott was the ever-affable host at Abbotsford for scores of visitors, including Prince Leopold Saxe-Coburg in 1819. (The prince had expressed a wish to see the renowned author in his own home. He expressed admiration in particular for Scott's collection of armor.) Another visitor was the successful American author Washington Irving, who had arrived with an introduction two years before.
Neither of these guests saw Abbotsford completed to Scott's plan, but Irving left a delightful picture of country-gentleman Scott at ease in his domain (he generally wrote early in the morning or into the night), rambling with his numerous dogs while his daughters bounded over the hillside picking flowers, and entertaining the company in the drawing room after dinner by reading aloud from Malory's ''Morte d'Arthur.''
The new house was ''high in its scaffolding'' at the time of Irving's visit - though it was not until 1822 that the original farmhouse into which Scott, his family, servants, and animals had moved in 1812, was finally pulled down. What replaced it was the many-windowed, many-chimneyed stone house still standing; though it, too, was enlarged some 20 years after Scott's death.
Abbotsford was designed by William Atkinson with plenty of ideas contributed by Scott and friends. The screen wall surrounding the immediate garden was based on the cloisters at nearby Melrose Abbey. (Visitors like Irving were dispatched to visit the abbey ruins while Scott attended to needful household affairs.) The entrance porch is supposed to have been an imitation of that at Linlithgow Palace.
Visiting the house today, one wonders what Scott, father of the romantics, would think of it. Inevitably it has been reorganized a little to accommodate tourists. Cars and better roads must make the place much more accessible than in his time. The outlook from one side of the house is partly spoiled by an atrocious housing estate. But his great-great-great-granddaughter is as welcoming to visitors as he must have been (though, admittedly, it costs a pound for the privilege today) - and is even happy to see them in the winter months if they phone her first (Galashiels 2043). Normally Abbotsford is open daily, March to the end of October.
Was it so neatly cared for in Scott's day? He certainly would have appreciated all the fine, mature trees now clothing the extensive grounds: He was an indefatigable tree planter (even sowing acorns with his own hands after a first batch had been nibbled by field mice). Perhaps he was reacting against the bareness of the Scottish countryside noted by Johnson and Boswell on their 18 th-century travels.
It is interesting to note that Washington Irving's comment on the countryside round Abbotsford (now thick and lush trees and comfortable green farmland) was a disappointed observation of ''a mere succession of gray waving hills'' and of the Tweed as ''a naked stream . . . without a tree or thicket on its banks.''
Scott retorted with feeling, saying how much, when he was in the garden scenery of Edinburgh, he longed to be back among his own honest gray hills. He thumped the ground with his stick and stated: ''If I did not see the heather at least once a year, I think I should die.'' And yet it was Scott himself who made a significant contribution to the treeing of the Tweed's banks. Perhaps his imagination was caught somewhere between his desire to be an aristocratic laird of an elegant country estate and his romantic love of the wild, bleak spaces of Scotland.
Mrs. Maxwell-Scott took my wife and me through the famous author's study and library, drawing room, armories, and entrance hall. Over 9,000 volumes in the library attest to her forebear's love of books and of collecting. Collecting, in fact, is evident everywhere. ''The house isn't just set out like a museum nowadays,'' she told us. ''This is just the way Scott had it.''
We walked through the arched armory, with its grotesque corbels copied from carvings at Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh (the famous 15th-century chapel also inspired the richly molded ceiling in the library). In the armory is a display of pistols and swords in crisscross patterns filling every available wall-space. Mrs. Maxwell-Scott pointed out Rob Roy's broadsword, dirk, and sporran purse; James VI's hunting bottle; Sir Walter's own blunderbuss; armor and paintings; a model of King Robert the Bruce's candlestick; and a copy of a Celtic mask.
Many of the items of antiquity and curiosity, not only here but in most of the rooms open to the public at Abbotsford, were gifts to the man who did so much to instill into his fellow countrymen a renewed sense of national pride and history. On the armory's east wall is a painting of the Regalia of Scotland. Scott was instrumental in rediscovering this ancient royal treasure - including the crown, sceptre, and sword of state -in an old chest in Edinburgh Castle, where it had been locked away for over a century.
Back in the library, Mrs. Maxwell-Scott had pointed out Prince Charlie's quaich; Napoleon I's cloak clasp of golden bees, found in his carriage after Waterloo; Helen Macgregor's brooch; Flora Macdonald's marriage contract; and even a tumbler that had belonged to poet Robert Burns and has some of his verses scratched on it. A painting shows Scott, when he was 15, meeting Burns.
''He never forgot the look the poet gave him,'' Mrs. Maxwell-Scott said. ''Scott was a very modest man, you know. When a visitor asked one of his (Scott's) children about his (Scott's) own verse, the child replied that none of them had been allowed to read it because their father said they shouldn't be subjected to bad poetry!
''You see,'' she went on, pointing, ''at the other end of the library? That was placed there by his son the day of his father's funeral. It replaced the bust of Shakespeare Scott kept there. . . . His contemporaries compared him to Shakespeare - but he said he wasn't 'fit to tie his brogues.' ''
The enormous popularity of Scott's writing in his day is a little hard to credit. Today it seems that even Scotsmen read little more than ''The Lady of the Lake'' with any enthusiasm.
But his publishers would give him advances on poems and novels he hadn't written a single word of, they were so expectant of success. When in need of money (and after a devastating financial crash, this need became dire and chronic in the last part of his career), it was in his eager, admiring readership that he trusted.
Later novelists like the Brontes, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy all praised and learned from Scott. He had a richly stocked imagination as well as a richly stocked house, and he managed to hang onto both of them virtually to the end. Abbotsford, in fact, did remain his home all his life.
His contemporaries thought him a very great man. Portraitists by the dozen painted him: One of the finest being Sir Henry Raeburn, who in 1809 seated him by a ruined wall with two of his dogs, Camp and Percy, close to him. This superb painting hangs in Abbotsford's drawing room, surrounded by green and pink hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, one of the few items of decor in which his French wife, Charlotte, seems to have had any say.
The effect of Scott's writing on the tourist industry, as it is called today, was startling. People flocked to Scotland with a new vision of its beauty, even reading aloud from his writings as they explored the hills and lochs. Today, travelers still delight in ''Scott country,'' and a visit to Abbotsford can be widened by visits to some of the other attractive and intriguing haunts loved by the ''wizard of the north.''
He used to send his visitors not only to Melrose and its abbey, but to Dryburgh Abbey (where his tomb is). This is one of the most beautiful of monastic ruins anywhere, the well-preserved eastern part of it built in the 13th century. Nowadays, time seems to stand still for these crumbling walls of clean and warm Dryburgh stone, charmingly set off by neatly mown grass and clipped edges and planted around with pretty specimen trees. Our appreciation for ruins comes to a considerable degree from such romantics as Scott himself. We preserve their fragments in aspic, rather unconscious, it seems, of the irony of protecting from neglect a beauty which was caused by neglect. But what else could we do? Dryburgh can hardly be the remote and moving experience it must have been in Scott's time, but it is still well worth finding and seeing.
Nearby is Bermyside Hill, and the Automobile Association (AA) has conveniently provided a parking place and viewing point high up it, facing west. Regardless of the weather, don't fail to park and get out of the car to look: Below is a breathtaking picture, with a sweeping curve of the Tweed running through deep, thick trees interspersed with rich meadows. Beyond are the three conical mounds of the Eildon Hills. The smooth-topped Eildons, like many of the Border Country hills, were volcanically formed. The AA has dubbed this ''Scott's View'' as a tribute to his affection for the Eildons. It is one of the friendliest scenes I know, not too grandiose, but widely and comfortably impressive. It might have been designed specifically for some 19th-century watercolorist to paint.
There is one - far wilder - piece of Scott country which a 19th-century artist of genius did depict, and that is Smailholm Tower and Sandyknowe Farm. J. M. W. Turner visited Smailholm (pronounced ''Smailem'') Tower in 1831 in company with Scott, and his sketch shows the author in an open carriage in the foreground.
In ''Marmion'' Scott had described the early 16th-century stone tower, standing sentinel over a panoramic landscape on a high, isolated rock, as ''. . . that mountain tower/ Which charm'd my fancy's waking hour.'' It was here, at the farm surrounded by outcroppings of immensely hard stone, that he had come as a young child. He had been born in Edinburgh, but the Borders were, from then onward, a profound part of him. Smailholm explains almost more than any place the open, rough landscape of his romantic dreams.
Then there is the town of Kelso, where he lived and went to school and which at least partially comes up still to his eulogy as ''the most beautiful, if not the most romantic, village in Scotland.'' And there is Selkirk, where the courtroom is in which, for a period, he presided as sheriff of the county. It contains numerous items relating to him.
Of course ''Scott's Scotland'' spreads much further than this. It really is most of the country. But the area round Abbotsford was what he most intimately knew and strongly valued. To come here is to start to know the man. The Scottish Tourist Board (23 Ravelston Terrace, Edinburgh EH4 3EU) publishes a free booklet , ''Land of Scott,'' which adds tours in Edinburgh and in the Trossachs to exploration of the Borders. It also suggests still more places connected with him and his writings.
There can't be many people through whose eyes one can see the beauties of Scotland with more pleasure - and, as if to emphasize the point, visitors to his land soon discover that those very eyes gaze at them with gentle solemnity from the banknotes issued by the Bank of Scotland (quite different from, but the same value as, English notes). The Laird of Abbotsford has remained quite a considerable national figure over the years.