Sir Walter Scott

The Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, Vol. 25 [B]: Walter Scott: Introductions and Notes from the Magnum Opus: Ivanhoe to Castle Dangerous

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pg 606Introduction to My Aunt Margaret's Mirror

Editor’s NoteThe species of publication which has come to be generally known by the title of Annual, being a miscellany of prose and verse, equipped with numerous engravings, and put forth every year about Christmas, had flourished for a long while in Germany, before it Editor’s Notewas imitated in this country by an enterprising bookseller, a German by birth, Mr Ackermann. The rapid success of his work, as is the custom of the time, gave birth to a host of rivals, and, among others, to an Annual styled The Keepsake, the first volume of which appeared in 1828, and attracted much notice, chiefly in con-sequence of the very uncommon splendour of its illustrative accom-paniments. The expenditure which the spirited proprietors lavished on this magnificent volume, is understood to have been not less than from ten to twelve thousand pounds sterling!

Editor’s NoteVarious gentlemen of such literary reputation that any one might think it an honour to be associated with them, had been announced as contributors to this Annual, before application was made to me to assist in it; and I accordingly placed with much pleasure at the Editor’s NoteEditor's disposal a few fragments, originally designed to have been worked into the Chronicles of the Canongate, besides a MS. Drama, Editor’s Notethe long-neglected performance of my youthful days—The House of Aspen.

The Keepsake for 1828 included, however, only three of these little prose tales—of which the first in order was that entitled "My Aunt Margaret's Mirror." By way of introduction to this, when now included in a general collection of my lucubrations, I have only to say, that it is a mere transcript, or at least with very little embellish-ment, of a story that I remembered being struck with in my child-Editor’s Notehood, when told at the fireside by a lady of eminent virtues, and no inconsiderable share of talent, one of the ancient and honourable house of Swinton. She was a kind relation of my own, and met her death in a manner so shocking, being killed in a fit of insanity by a female attendant who had been attached to her person for half a lifetime, that I cannot now recall her memory, child as I was when the catastrophe occurred, without a painful re-awakening of perhaps the first images of horror that the scenes of real life stamped on my mind.

This good spinster had in her composition a strong vein of the superstitious, and was pleased, among other fancies, to read alone in her chamber by a taper fixed in a candlestick which she had had pg 607formed out of a human skull. One night this strange piece of furni-ture acquired suddenly the power of locomotion, and, after perform-ing some odd circles on her chimney-piece, fairly leaped on the floor, and continued to roll about the apartment. Mrs Swinton calmly proceeded to the adjoining room for another light, and had the satisfaction to penetrate the mystery on the spot. Rats abounded in the ancient building she inhabited, and one of these had managed Editor’s Noteto ensconce itself within her favourite memento mori. Though thus endowed with a more than feminine share of nerve, she entertained largely that belief in supernaturals, which in those times was not considered as sitting ungracefully on the grave and aged of her condition; and the story of the Magic Mirror was one for which she vouched with particular confidence, alleging indeed that one of her own family had been an eye-witness of the incidents recorded in it.

  • Editor’s Note            I tell the tale as it was told to me.

Stories enow of much the same cast will present themselves to the recollection of such of my readers as have ever dabbled in a species of lore to which I certainly gave more hours, at one period of my life, than I should gain any credit by confessing.

August, 1831.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
606.2–5 The species of publication . . . in Germany German annuals date from the 1760s.
Editor’s Note
606.6–7 imitated . . . Mr Ackermann Rudolph Ackermann (1764–1834) published Forget Me Not, the first British annual, in November 1822.
Editor’s Note
606.15–16 Various gentlemen . . . associated with them The Keepsake for 1829 (published on 1 November 1828) included pieces by Coleridge, Mary and the late Percy Shelley, Southey, and Wordsworth.
Editor’s Note
606.19–20 a few fragments . . . the Chronicles of the Canongate see eewn 24, 143–51.
Editor’s Note
606.21–22 The House of Aspen published in The Keepsake for 1830, 2–66.
Editor’s Note
606.29–34 a lady of eminent virtues . . . half a lifetime Margaret Swinton, sister of Scott's maternal grandmother, Jean; she died, in the manner described, in 1780 at the age of 70.
Editor’s Note
607.8 memento mori an object intended to remind the viewer of death.
Editor’s Note
607.16 I tell the tale as it was told to me a common catch phrase used in relation to a story which is hard to believe.
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