William Carmichael

Carmichael, while having considerable posthumous claim to fame as Walter Scott's assistant, is of lower social status than most of the people in this group for whom we have a biography. Thanks to his articulate granddaughter, however, he is brought to life for us today more clearly than almost any other member of Charlotte Chapel.

4 June 1767 (he had an elder brother of the same name born 1765 who must have died) (8) - 1860
3 Register Street
Writer, Assistant Clerk of Session to Walter Scott and James Ferrier.
Thomas Carmichael (8)
Martha French (8)
William's granddaughter Charlotte Carmichael Stopes became a scholar, author and campaigner for womens' rights (6). She described her grandfather:
'At the beginning of their association Scott frequently took my grandfather's hat away instead of his own, but one day a new hat had been broht to glorify a special visit on the way home. Scott annexed unconsciously the new hat. My grandfather ran down the stairs after him with his own. There was a frank apology: "Man! I never thought I could get into any other hat than my own." Scott was always very proud of the size of his head, and was after this testimony more respectful to his assistant, frequently saying, "No wonder you can stand in my shoes when you can stand under my hat!"'.
      'He had a quick ear and a delicate taste for music; he could play the fiddle so as to make the heart ache or rejoice at his will. Scott used sometimes to slip along in the late evening from Castle Street to Maitland Street to talk about office work; but that done, he always asked for the fiddle. Sometimes it was to know what was the tune for a ballad or song, sometimes to test the fiddler's knowledge, to ask, "What is the tune for this?" reciting some verses he had just composed. To such novelties the musician would guardedly say, 'This tune would do for that." When asked why he fitted it so, he would answer, "Because the skirl comes in the right place for the feeling." Scott always submitted to his judgement on this point. Sometimes my grandfather's crony, Mr French, was there also with his fiddle, and they would combine in wonderful duets... He was tall and thin and gray, but he played his fiddle especially for me. I suppose it must have been on a morning of one of the great annual feasts, New Year's Day and the 4th of June; the latter was always honoured as "The King's Birthday," even after the death of George III. On these days a patriarchal family assembled, and there was no room for children or any one else, except Mr French, to sit down at the feast.'
      'My grandfather was very methodical, clear and exact; his eyesight and his memory were wonderful; he was an omniverous reader, and he had a great reverence for authors, but he was disturbed by no literary imaginings or ambitions of his own. He was therefore very well suited to be Scott's assistant, and gladly did at all times more than his share of the work.'
     'When inquisitive people used to ask Scott how he got through so much work, he would jokingly say that he "kept a brownie." Though it was his own tremendous energy that carried him through his various undertakings, yet that there was some truth in the joke was proved by the cordial introduction of his assistant to some of his intimates in the words, "This is my brownie!" At the time his literary work had to be kept secret ... From the beginning my grandfather was aware of the fact. Scott occasionally took refuge in a special corner of his office, to complete a chapter interrupted by breakfast, or to jot down some sketch which had struck him, and his subordinate was too acute not to know the difference between the page-consuming style of the Waverley novels and ordinary verse lines, legal reports, or friendly letters, even when only glanced at upside-down. From the first there was a tacit understanding that though each knew that the other knew, there was nothing to be said about it.'
     'My grandfather had told Scott about a habit of the Lanarkshire hand loom weavers of crooning to themselves popular tunes as they wrought with a string of comparatively musical names:
      There's Lamington and Symington,
      And Covington and Allanton;
but when a knot came, or a thread broke, the weaver dashed out fiercely, "Carmichael!" not in the modern pronuncuation like the name of the archangel, but with three short vowels and a strong gutteral.' (7)
Chapel connection
1816 (baptism)
2 November 1807 (8)
Anne Dorrat
Margaret Charlotte (1816), Ann Durward, Charlotte Scott, Helen Burke, Marion, Mary, Jane, Martha French, Adelaide, Sophia, Walter Scott, William and James Ferrier (named after his other employer).
In 1808 he was appointed Walter Scott's Assistant and Keeper of the Inner House (3), and they worked closely together for many years. Carmichael had held the sinecure of Extractor: when it was being abolished he seems to have fought for compensation for himself and Scott's lazy brother Tom, who had held the same post. (4 p.435)


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Caledonian Mercury, 4 June 1808
  4. H.J.C. Grierson, Letters of Sir Walter Scott (London, Constable and Co. 1932) vol.7
  5. Will NAS SC70/4/73/805
  6. Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, in Wikipedia, accessed 20 May 1811
  7. New York Tribune, November 02 1907 p.5 online accessed 20 May 1811.
  8. Old Parish Registers, Scottish Family History Centre

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