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Sir Walter Scott, painted by Raeburn in 1822

Although Sir Walter Scott had exceptional powers of imagination, it seems that his physical sensitivities were extremely dull. He was indifferent to music, perhaps to the point of being tone-deaf. His sense of smell was, like his sense of musical tone, almost non-existent. At Abbotsford when over-hung venison was inadvertently served to his guests, Scott greeted their consternation with an expression of utter bemusement. He could not tell good wine from corked, either by taste or smell, and relatively simple discriminations­ — for instance, distinguishing Madeira from sherry — were beyond him.

Given these deficiencies in bodily equipment, it is not surprising that, although Scott was a devoted drinker, his taste in wine was narrow. "My epicurean pleasure," he would note in his journal, "is in the most simple diet. Wine I seldom taste when alone and use instead a little spirits and water. I have late diminished the quantity for fear of a weakness inductive to diabetes, a disease which broke up my father's health though one of the most temperate men who ever lived." He was certainly susceptible to feeling disordered in the morning. "My head aches slightly," he noted after one party, before adding in mild puzzlement: "Yet we were but a bottle of Champagne, one of port, one of old Sherry and two of claret among four gentlemen and three Ladies." On another occasion three years before his death Scott had dinner with two friends, and was again disappointed in his stamina the following day: "We drank a bottle of Champagne and two bottles of claret, which in former days I should have thought a very sober allowance . . . But I felt I had drunk too much and was uncomfortable." Diminishing capacity for wine seemed to him a harbinger of the end: "I suppose I am turning to my second childhood for not only am I filld drunk or made stupid at least with one bottle of wine but I am disabled from writing by chillblains on my fingers, a most babyish complaint."

Champagne and claret were Scott's customary table wines, and though he was careful himself he refused to stint his guests, allowing a pint of claret to each when the cloth was withdrawn. But even then he preferred whisky, which he would drink from a quaigh — a Highland wooden cup, inlaid with silver — with a very special provenance. It had formerly been owned by Bonnie Prince Charlie, and had been curiously adapted to the perilous situation of its former owner. Its bottom was made of glass, so that the person using it might still keep a wary eye on his companion. During his Mediterranean tour in the final year of his life Scott visited Naples, but was not impressed by the local wine: "The country on which these hills border is remarkable for its powers of vegetation and produces vast groves of vine, elm, chestnut and similar trees which grow when stuck in by cuttings and produce lacrymae christi in great quantities — not a bad wine though the stranger requires to be used to it."

Every autumn, around the birthday of his eldest son on October 28, Scott would organise the Abbotsford Hunt, in which he and his friends would course hares over the local moors before returning to Abbotsford for an extraordinary feast, described with relish by Lockhart:

a baron of beef at the foot of the table, a salted round at the head, while tureens of hare soup and hotch-potch extended down the centre, and such light articles as geese, turkeys, a sucking-pig, a singed sheep's head, and the unfailing haggis, were set forth by way of side dishes. Blackcock and moorfowl, bushels of snipe, black puddings, white puddings, and pyramids of pancakes, formed the second course.

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