Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Laidlaw, William

LAIDLAW, WILLIAM (1780–1845), friend of Sir Walter Scott, was born 19 Nov. 1780, at Blackhouse, Selkirkshire, where his father was a sheep-farmer. After receiving an elementary education at Peebles he assisted his father for a time. James Hogg [q. v.], the Ettrick Shepherd, whose mother was his distant cousin, was employed at Blackhouse for ten years, and formed a lasting friendship with Laidlaw. According to Hogg's ‘Autobiography’ Laidlaw was one of his first appreciative critics. In 1801 Hogg and Laidlaw helped Scott with materials for the ‘Border Minstrelsy.’ After two unsuccessful attempts at farming, in Peeblesshire and Midlothian respectively, Laidlaw in 1817 became steward to Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford. Master and man suited each other exactly, Laidlaw proving himself not only an exemplary servant but a worthy counsellor and a devoted friend. He was valued in the field, on the stream, and in the study. In 1819, when Scott was recovering from an illness, Laidlaw and Ballantyne wrote to his dictation most of the ‘Bride of Lammermoor,’ and subsequently ‘The Legend of Montrose,’ and nearly all ‘Ivanhoe.’ ‘St. Ronan's Well’ may have been due to Laidlaw's suggestion that Scott should devote a novel to ‘Melrose in July 1823’ (Lockhart, Life, v. 285, ed. 1837). When ruin fell upon Scott, he wrote to Laidlaw that it was ‘not the least painful consideration’ amid his troubles that he could no longer be useful to him (Journal, i. 97). After an interval, however, Laidlaw became his amanuensis, retaining the post till Scott's death in 1832. Subsequently he was factor to Sir Charles Lockhart Ross, Balnagowan, Ross-shire. Retiring in feeble health, he died in the house of his brother at Contin, near Dingwall, Ross-shire, 18 May 1845.

Laidlaw wrote several lyrics, but he is remembered only for his tender song, ‘Lucy's Flittin',’ published in Hogg's ‘Forest Minstrel,’ 1810. After 1817 he compiled, under Scott's management and direction, part of the ‘Edinburgh Annual Register,’ and contributed articles to the ‘Edinburgh Monthly Magazine’ (afterwards ‘Blackwood's’). He is also said to have written on the geology of Selkirkshire.

[Lockhart's Life of Scott, passim, and Scott's Journal; Rogers's Scottish Minstrel, vol. ii.; Borland's Yarrow, its Poets and Poetry; Gent. Mag. 1845, pt. ii. p. 213.]

T. B.