It was counted in days.
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It would have been quite contrary to Dr Burton's principles to boast of rapidity of composition. His greater works are monuments of industry. Dr Burton's information on economic subjects had probably been acquired during his studies and correspondence about the abolition of the Corn Laws. He was interim editor of the 'Scotsman' at an early period of the Corn-Law agitation, and during his editorship committed the journal to Anti-Corn-Law principles. He was at that time in correspondence with Mr Cobden, whom he visited in Lancashire, and who tried to induce him to remove to that part of the world for the purpose of editing an Anti-Corn-Law newspaper.
Mrs Burton was fond of society, and her husband had not then become positively averse to it. His acquaintance in Edinburgh gradually increased.
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It included Lord Jeffrey and his family, Lord Murray, who remained a fast friend during his life, and all the remaining members of the old Edinburgh circle. About the year , the writer first saw Dr Burton, accompanied by his wife, as guests at one of those late evening parties given by Mrs Jeffrey during the last years of her husband's life—a very faint reflection [l] of the earlier hospitalities of Craigcrook and Moray Place.
In Dr Burton left Scotland Street for a house in Royal Crescent, better suited for occasional reception than the other. But in the heaviest blow of his life fell on him in the loss of his wife. His five married years had been a period of perfect domestic happiness. He found himself left with three infant daughters; their guide and his gone from him.
He has described his sufferings at this time to the writer as fully realising to him the common phrase, "a broken heart. He of course shunned all society, and never again recovered any real zest for it. He sometimes thought of imitating his grandfather under like circumstances with a difference—he thought of flying, not to London, but to the backwoods of America, or some place where he should never see a white face, and becoming a "wild man," a savage—a personage of whom he always believed himself to share many of the characteristics.
Only consideration for his little girls deterred him from such a course. Although an excessively affectionate parent, Dr Burton had no pleasure in the company of children, owing to his want of any system with them. He could not, according to the common phrase, "manage" children at all—a necessary art for any one who has much of their company. He secured the services of a former governess of his wife, a Miss Wade, as care-taker of his [li] children; and, as soon as he could, removed from the house in Royal Crescent to a small one in Castle Street, and afterwards, from a wish to let his children amuse themselves with little gardens of their own, to one in Ann Street.
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He has told the writer's father, Cosmo Innes, then his most intimate friend, that the first relief to his oppressed spirits was obtained from the nearest realisation of the "wild man" life to be found within his own country. He took long walks in all weathers, sometimes walking all night as well as all day, at times with a companion, oftener with none. The late Alexander Russel, then editor of the 'Scotsman,' was his companion in some of these rambles, Joseph Robertson in others, and Cosmo Innes in others. It was Mr Russel who accompanied him in the run across Ireland, which took place about this time, and of which his printed sketch is one of the liveliest of his minor writings.
His pace was so rapid, and his powers of walking so inexhaustible, that with the lapse of years it became more and more difficult to find a companion who could keep up with him. He has described to Mr Innes one particular walk taken alone to the waterfall called the Grey Mare's Tail.
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The whole excursion was performed in pitiless rain and wind, which gave the waterfall every advantage, and it was while battling with the elements in climbing the hill to view it that Dr Burton felt the first return of his natural elasticity of spirit. He soon found also the best medicine of all in hard work. The years between the death of his first wife [lii] and his second marriage were the most active of his literary life, at least in the line of periodical literature. He contributed regularly to 'Blackwood's Magazine,' besides other periodicals.
In he published narratives from Criminal Trials in Scotland. In a 'Treatise on the Law of Bankruptcy in Scotland,' and in the same year his 'History of Scotland from the Revolution to the extinction of the last Jacobite Rebellion. On his appointment to this office he removed from Ann Street to the house then 27 Lauriston Place, the site of which is now occupied by the Simpson Memorial Hospital. In the situation was half rural. The productiveness of the garden was marred by incursions of rabbits,— not the children's pets, but wild rabbits, however incredible that may appear, now that the situation has got so entirely separated from the country by new buildings.
At that time there was no building between Lauriston Place and Morningside. Dr Burton, while a widower, had become a more and more frequent visitor at the house of Cosmo Innes in Inverleith Row. The writer does not recollect ever seeing him there along with other company—he preferred finding the family alone.
She has met him occasionally in company in other houses—memorably in that of the late Mrs Cunningham, Lord Cunningham's widow—but never, so far as she can remember, in that of her father. He was at that time considered a good talker—his company was sought for the sake of his conversation. His defect in conversation was that he was a bad listener. His own part was well sustained. His enormous store of varied information poured forth naturally and easily, and was interspersed with a wonderful stock of lively anecdotes and jokes.
But he always lacked that greatest power of the conversationalist, that subtle ready sympathy which draws forth the best powers of others. He was invaluable at a dull dinner-table, furnishing the [liv] whole frais de la conversation himself; but he never probably appeared to quite such advantage as in the family party at 15 Inverleith Row. His long walks with Mr Innes, sometimes on a Saturday, often on a Sunday, generally ended by his accepting the proffered invitation to dinner on his return.
As he was the only guest, nothing could be more suitable or delightful than his amusing the whole circle during the whole time of his stay; and he has himself stated that his attention was first drawn to a shy and particularly silent girl by her irresistible outbursts of laughter at his stories, which outbursts in their turn encouraged him to pour forth story after story of his vast repertory in that sort.
He had by that time become accustomed to combine office with literary work, and, with the extraordinary activity and adaptability of his intellect, found them helpful to each other. His mode of life at that time was to repair to the office of the Prison Board, in George Street, about eleven. He remained there till four, and made it matter of conscience neither to do any ex-official writing, nor to receive ex-official visits during these hours.
He gave his undivided attention to [lv] the duties of his office, but has often said that these made him a better historian than he could have been without them.
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He conceived it highly useful for every literary man, but especially for a historian, to get acquainted with official forms and business. He has himself expressed this opinion fully in his printed works. Returning from his office to dinner at five, he would, after dinner, and after a little family chat in the drawing-room, retire to the library for twenty minutes or half an hour's perusal of a novel as mental rest.
His taste in novels has been already described. Although he would read only those called exciting, they did not apparently excite him, for he read them as slowly as if he was learning them by heart. He would return to the drawing-room to drink a large cup of extremely strong tea, then again retire to the library to commence his day of literary work about eight in the evening.
He would read or write without cessation, and without the least appearance of fatigue or excitement, till one or two in the morning. Always an excellent sleeper, he would go to bed and to sleep till nine or ten of the same morning, seldom joining the family breakfast, but breakfasting by himself immediately before going to his office.
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In Lauriston Place three more children were born to Dr Burton, a son and two daughters. When the elder of the two little girls was hardly a year old the whole nursery sickened, first of measles, then of hooping-cough. Little Rose, the baby, being recommended change of air, the [lvi] family went to South Queensferry, and there the baby died, and was buried in Dalmeny churchyard. Some earlier associations had attached both Dr Burton and his wife to the neighbourhood; and during his latter years Dr Burton frequently alluded to this little baby, the only child he lost, being laid there,—and expressed a wish that when their time came, his wife and he should lie there also.
His wish was carried out in his own case. In July of the following year the first company of volunteers formed in Scotland exercised in the field at 27 Lauriston Place. Dr Burton sympathised strongly in the volunteer movement, and joined the Advocates' corps. Though never seriously apprehensive of an invasion of our coasts, he considered it proper that we should increase our military strength while foreign nations were so enormously augmenting theirs. He drilled regularly with the volunteers while they continued to assemble in his field, and until an accident had temporarily lamed him.
He marched past the Queen on the brilliant sunny day of the first great Volunteer Review in the Queen's Park in , his wife looking on in the company of his old friend Sir John Kincaid, then an Inspector of Prisons.
Dr Burton gave his wife a little pony-carriage, by means of which sea-bathing could be had, when desired, from Lauriston Place. During the year , the new buildings in the neighbourhood spoiled the situation of the house, so as to render it hardly habitable. The field where the volunteers had drilled was built upon almost up to the windows of the house. To escape these disagreeables, a cottage at Lochgoilhead was taken for August and September, and much enjoyed by the whole family.
A complete removal was also determined on for the following Whitsuntide.