TC TO DAVID LAING ; 20 August 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18480820-TC-DL-01; CL 23: 94-97
TC TO DAVID LAING
Chelsea, 20 Augt, 1848—
My dear Sir,
I have just finished the second Volume of Knox, which came to me, in the old beneficent manner, some three weeks ago; and surely I have to return you many thanks for that new Gift.1 You have done me, and all true souls that can read this Book, a real pleasure and benefit; truly it is a long while since I have had such a bit of wholesome genuine and fruitful reading! One of the truest Books evidently; and to a high degree significant of the Writer too. I never saw Knox half so clearly before. A strange vein of rough rustic geniality runs thro' the earnest prophetic man; vivid picturesque touches, shining like bits of native gold; raspings of honest pungent sarcasm, sardonic banter, a genuine sense of humour and ridicule (which is one of the things I like best in Knox);—on the whole, a most vernacular man; Scotch every fibre of him, Scotch to the marrow of the bone! And certainly a better Scotchman, of his kind, was never yet made, that I heard of.— Assure yourself you do a right good service, to this and all future times, in making such a man legible again.
I find the Edition excellently done, so far. Type and paper altogether what they should be; the printing faithfully cared for,—I hardly noticed half a dozen errors of any kind whatever, and only one (bottom of p. 158, quhilk [which] for quhill [until]) wh gave me a moment's difficulty. This is a great matter in such a Book. The Annotations, embodying such a mass of reading in the briefest compass, are as I believe models of exactitude; I found the quantity a little heavy now and then, and was sometimes forced to skip till I had finished the topic in the Text, and then revert: an inconvenience doubtless, but one very difficult to avoid. The question struck me, Whether a good deal could not be done by some kind of well-devised Index, biographical, historical, topographical, in the shape of a Dictionary, put down once for all at the beginning or in some conspicuous part of the work, ready for constant reference, if the reader required it, and not otherwise? Ask yourself with all rigour, What an ordinary reader will require to be aware of in order to understand what this Author says? and give the reader that, and scrupulously no more than that, by way of viaticum, once for all, before he start? I think such a “Dictionary” need not be of great extent; it might contain most of what now stands in those Notes (a great advantage), should have accurate reference to every page where the given name is mentioned;—and would, there is no doubt at all, be a great improvement if you found it possible. What say you? I pray think whether this is not feasible. There will be needed a much more perfect Index, at any rate, than the one we now have; far more minute, and with indication not only of the pages, but also briefly of what is said there. If you could construct such a “Dictionary,”—exact Chronology of the main historical events, and complete repertory, with necessary explanation, of all that the names that occur,—it would decidedly be worth doing; and all future Editors might learn of you!2 But I know, it is much easier to say than to do,—in this as in so many other cases!
I found the Glossary a little scanty, too (since there was to be a Glossary); but did not much object to that. I think there was no word I did not finally make out; tho' several times I turned to the Glossary for help, and found nothing. “Jefwellis” (in Vol. I) was quite mysterious to me; neither did Jamieson, when I ran to him, quite remove the difficulty: at length one day, not many months ago, in some crowded street here, the old Annandale word “jaffle” came into my head; and I asked myself If perhaps his Majesty had not meant that? Annandale “jaffle” has borrowed something, I think, from “whiffle” and “shuffle,” and other such words ending in the mute fl; but I take it to be a genuine old word; and it was copiously in use, and still is, in that quarter. To “jaffle,” to lounge and saunter (paving Hell with good resolutions!), to promise and not perform, expect and not see fulfilled; “jaffler,” “poor jaffling bodie,"—these, in that same sense, are phrases one still often hears. The people in that quarter say “snaffle,” too; but that means, I think, to “bungle with haste,” to “fidget and ineffectually try”; and, except by the fl, is not related to “jaffle.”— These sublime fractions of etymology came into my head as I say; and I decided to impart them to you, the rather as they seem to confirm what your own surmise upon the matter is.3— And so I wind up my criticisms, which I think have no merit except that of being sincere (which ought not be so rare a merit as it is); and with new thanks, and new Good-speed, bid you persevere in the name of all the world.— Somebody of some importance said to me not long since, The Wodrow Society was far ahead of all others in publishing good Books;—out of sight of all the others (who indeed linger balefully below the horizon, in the mere twilight of dilettantism &c), that is my judgement of the case.4
About a year ago you wrote to me concerning a Gentn who meant to examine some Welshiana now under my keeping at Dumfries: I straightway despatched the Introductory Note &c, as you prescribed; but did not hear whether the Gentn made use of it;—that he obtained no certainty by means of it, I infer without hearing.5 My Wife now subjoins to those surmises of mine, which she did not hear of last year, the confident recollection (liable to verification, however!) that by indication in those old Papers it appeared her Great-grandfather had actually possessed a bit of Coliston Estate, and had sold it (probably about a century ago), as her Grandfather, at a later period, did another big portion of his property on that same side of the ground.6 This, important if correct, is of course very corroborative of the hypothesis.
Adieu, my dear Sir; persist in your useful tho' heavy labours, and good fruit will come of them by and by.
Yours with thanks & regards
D. Laing Esq
I hardly ever go to the Museum; but can readily get any little question answered for you, by kind agencies I have there; to whom I sometimes still apply.— “What is Diurnal of Occurrents?”7 will be one of my next inquiries.