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Significant Scots
John Ballantyne


BALLANTYNE, JOHN. Of all the remarkable men, by whom this name, in its various orthographical appearances, has been borne, not the least worthy of notice is John Ballantyne, who died on the 16th of June, 1821, about the age of forty-five years. This gentleman was the son of a merchant at Kelso, where he was born and educated. In his youth, he displayed such an extraordinary quickness of mind, as sufficiently betokened the general ability by which he was to be distinguished in after life. While still a young man, his mind was turned to literary concerns by the establishment of a provincial newspaper, the Kelso Mail, which was begun by his elder brother James. The distinction acquired by his brother in consequence of some improvements in printing, by which there issued from a Scottish provincial press a series of books rivaling, in elegance and accurate taste, the productions of a Bensley or a Baskerville, caused the removal of both to Edinburgh about the beginning of the present century. But the active intellect of John Ballantyne was not to be confined to the dusky shades of the printing-house. He embarked largely in the bookselling trade, and subsequently in the profession of an auctioneer of works of art, libraries, &c. 

The connection which he and his brother had established at Kelso with Sir Walter Scott, whose Border Minstrelsy was printed by them, continued in this more extensive scene, and accordingly during the earlier and more interesting year of the career of the author of Waverley, John Ballantyne acted as the confidant of that mysterious writer, and managed all the business of the communication of his works to the public. Some of these works were published by John Ballantyne, who also issued two different periodical works, written chiefly by Sir Walter Scott, entitled respectively the Visionary and the Sale-room, of which the latter had a reference to one branch of Mr Ballantyne’s trade. It is also worthy of notice, that the large edition of the works of Beaumont and Fletcher, which appeared under the name of Mr Henry Weber as editor, and which, we may presume to say, reflects no inconsiderable credit upon the Scottish press, was an enterprise undertaken at the suggestion and risk of this spirited publisher. 

Mr. Ballanyne himself made one incursion into the field of letters: he was the author of a tolerably sprightly novel in two thin duodecimos, styled, "The Widow’s Lodgings," which reached a second edition, and by which, as he used to boast in a jocular manner, he made no less a sum than thirty pounds! It was not, however, as an author that Mr Ballantyne chiefly shone – his forte was story-telling. As a conteur, he was allowed to be unrivalled by any known contemporary. Possessing an infinite fund of ludicrous and characteristic anecdote, which he could set off with a humour endless in the variety of its shades and tones, he was entirely one of those beings who seem to have been designed by nature for the task, now abrogated, of enlivening the formalities and alleviating the cares of a court: he was Yorick revived. After pursing a laborious and successful business for several years, declining health obliged him to travel upon the continent, and finally to retire to a seat in the neighbourhood of Melrose. He had been married, at an early age, to Miss Parker, a beautiful young lady, a relative of Dr Rutherford, author of the View of Ancient History and other esteemed works. This union was not blessed with any children. In his Melrose rustication, he commenced the publication of a large and beautiful edition of the British Novelists, as an easy occupation to divert the languor of illness, and fill up those vacancies in time, which were apt to contrast disagreeably with the former habits of busy life. The works of the various novelists were here amassed into large volumes, to which Sir Walter Scott furnished biographical prefaces. But the trial was brief. While flattering himself with the hope that his frame was invigorated by change of air and exercise, death stepped in, and reft the world of as joyous a spirit as ever brightened its sphere. The Novelist’s Library was afterwards completed by the friendly attention of Sir Walter Scott.


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