Sir Walter Scott, 1st
Baronet (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) was a
prolific Scottish historical novelist and poet, popular throughout Europe
during his time.
Scott was particularly associated with
Scott was the first English-language author to have a truly
international career in his lifetime, with many contemporary
readers in Europe, Australia
, and North America
. His novels and poetry are still
read, and many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature
titles include Ivanhoe
, The Lady of The Lake
, The Heart of Midlothian
The Bride of
College Wynd in the Old Town of Edinburgh in 1771, the son of a solicitor, Scott survived a childhood bout of
polio in 1773 that left him lame.
his lameness he was sent in 1773 to live in the rural Borders region at his grandparents' farm at
Sandyknowe, adjacent to the ruin of Smailholm Tower, the earlier family home.
Here he was taught
to read by his aunt Jenny, and learned from her the speech patterns
and many of the tales and legends that characterized much of his
January 1775 he returned to Edinburgh, and that summer went with
his aunt Jenny to take spa treatment at Bath in England, where they
lived at 6 South
Parade. In the winter of 1776 he went back to
Sandyknowe, with another attempt at a water cure at Prestonpans during the following summer.
Scott returned to Edinburgh for private education to prepare him
for school, and in October 1779 he began at the Royal High
School of Edinburgh.
He was now well able to walk and explore
the city and the surrounding countryside. His reading included
chivalric romances, poems, history and travel books. He was given private
tuition by James Mitchell in arithmetic and writing, and learned
from him the history of the Kirk with emphasis on the Covenanters.
After finishing school he
was sent to stay for six months with his aunt Jenny in Kelso
, attending the local Grammar School where he met
who later became
his business partner and printed his books.
Scott's meeting with Blacklock and Burns
Scott began studying classics at the University of Edinburgh
1783, at the age of only 12, a year or so younger than most of his
fellow students. In March 1786 he began an apprenticeship in his
father's office, to become a Writer
to the Signet
. While at the university Scott had become a
friend of Adam Ferguson, the son of Professor Adam Ferguson
who hosted literary salons.
Scott met the blind poet Thomas
who lent him books as well as introducing him to
cycle of poems. During the winter of 1786–87
the 15-year-old Scott saw Robert Burns
at one of these salons, for what was to be their only meeting. When
Burns noticed a print illustrating the poem "The Justice of the
Peace" and asked who had written the poem, only Scott knew that it
was by John Langhorne
, and was
thanked by Burns. When it was decided that he would become a lawyer
he returned to the university to study law, first taking classes in
Moral Philosophy and Universal History in 1789–90.
After completing his studies in law, he became a lawyer in
Edinburgh. As a lawyer's clerk he made his first visit to the
eviction. He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates
in 1792. He had an
unsuccessful love suit with Williamina Belsches of Fettercairn, who
married Sir William Forbes,
Literary career launched
At the age of 25 he began dabbling in writing, translating works
, his first publication
being rhymed versions of ballads by Bürger
in 1796. He then published a three-volume
set of collected Scottish ballads, The Minstrelsy of the
. This was the first sign of his interest
in Scottish history
from a literary
became an ardent volunteer in the yeomanry
and on one of his "raids" he met at Gilsland Spa Margaret Genevieve Charpentier (or Charpenter),
daughter of Jean Charpentier of Lyon in France, whom he
married in 1797.
They had five children. In 1799 he was
appointed Sheriff-Deputy of the
Selkirk, based in the Royal
Burgh of Selkirk.
In his early married days Scott had a decent living from his
earnings at the law, his salary as Sheriff-Deputy, his wife's
income, some revenue from his writing and his share of his father's
rather meagre estate.
After Scott had founded a printing press, his poetry, beginning
with The Lay of the Last Minstrel
in 1805, brought him
published other poems over the next ten years, including the
The Lady of the Lake, printed in 1810 and set in the
Portions of the German translation of this
work were set to music by Franz
. One of these songs, Ellens dritter Gesang
popularly labelled as "Schubert's Ave Maria
Another work from this period, Marmion
, produced some of his most
quoted (and mis-attributed) lines. Canto VI. Stanza 17 reads:
- Yet Clare's sharp questions must I shun,
- Must separate Constance from the nun
- Oh! what a tangled web we weave
- When first we practise to
- A Palmer too! No wonder why
- I felt rebuked beneath his eye;
In 1809 his sympathies led him to become a co-founder of the
, a review
journal to which he made several anonymous contributions.
In 1813 he was offered the position of Poet Laureate
declined and the position went to Robert
When the press became embroiled in pecuniary difficulties, Scott
set out in 1814 to write a cash-cow. The result was Waverley
, a novel
that did not name its author. It was a tale of the "Forty-Five" Jacobite rising in the Kingdom of
Great Britain with its English protagonist
Edward Waverley, by his Tory upbringing sympathetic to Jacobitism, becoming enmeshed in events but
eventually choosing Hanoverian
The novel met with considerable success.
There followed a succession of novels over the next five years,
each with a Scottish historical setting. Mindful of his reputation
as a poet, he maintained the anonymous habit he had begun with
, always publishing the novels under the name
Author of Waverley
or attributed as "Tales of..."
with no author. Even when it was clear that there would be no harm
in coming out into the open he maintained the façade, apparently
out of a sense of fun. During this time the nickname The
Wizard of the North
was popularly applied to the
mysterious best-selling writer. His identity as the author of the
novels was widely rumoured, and in 1815 Scott was given the honour
of dining with George, Prince
, who wanted to meet "the author of Waverley".
he broke away from writing about Scotland with Ivanhoe, a historical romance set in
too was a runaway success and he wrote several books along the same
lines. Among other things the book is noteworthy for having a very
major character, Rebecca,
considered by many critics to be the book's real heroine —
relevant to the fact that the book was published at a time when the
struggle for the Emancipation of the Jews in
was gathering momentum.
Scott wrote "The Bride of Lammermoor", a novel based on a true
story of two lovers. In the novel, Lucie Ashton and Edgar
Ravenswood exchange vows, but when Lucie's mother discovers that
her daughter wants to wed an enemy of their family, she intervenes
and forces her daughter to marry Sir Arthur Bucklaw, who has just
inherited a large sum of money on the death of his aunt. On their
wedding night, Lucie goes insane and stabs the bridegroom, and
succumbing to insanity, dies. Donizetti's opera "Lucia di
Lamermoor" was based on Scott's novel.
As his fame grew he was granted the title of baronet
, becoming Sir Walter Scott. He organized the
visit of King George
IV to Scotland
, and when the King visited Edinburgh in 1822 the
that Scott had
concocted to portray George as a rather tubby reincarnation of
Bonnie Prince Charlie
fashionable and turned them into symbols of Scottish national identity
Scott included little in the way of punctuation in his drafts,
which he left to the printers to supply.
He eventually acknowledged that he was the author of the Waverley
novels in 1827.
Beginning in 1825 he went into dire financial straits again, as his
company nearly collapsed. Rather than declare bankruptcy he placed his home, Abbotsford
House, and income into a trust belonging to his
creditors, and proceeded to write his way out of debt.
kept up his prodigious output of fiction (as well as producing a
biography of Napoléon
) until 1831. By then his health was failing, and he
died at Abbotsford in 1832. Though he died in debt his novels
continued to sell, and he made good his debts from beyond the
was buried in Dryburgh
Abbey where nearby there is a large statue of William Wallace, one of Scotland's many
romanticised historical figures.
Scott was a boy he sometimes travelled with his father from
Selkirk to Melrose in the Border
Country where some of his novels are set. At a certain spot the
old gentleman would stop the carriage and take his son to a stone
on the site of the battle of Melrose (1526).
Not far away was a little farm
called Cartleyhole, and this he eventually purchased. The farmhouse
developed into a wonderful home that has been likened to a fairy
palace. Through windows enriched with the insignia of heraldry the
sun shone on suits of armour, trophies of the chase, a library of
over 9,000 volumes, fine furniture, and still finer pictures.
Panelling of oak and cedar and carved ceilings relieved by coats of
arms in their correct colour added to the beauty of the house. More
land was purchased until Scott owned nearly 1,000 acres
(4 km²), and it is estimated that the building cost him over
£25,000. A neighbouring Roman road with a ford used in olden days
by the abbots of Melrose suggested the name of Abbotsford.
The last of his direct descendants to inhabit Abbotsford House was
his great-great-great-granddaughter Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott (8 June
1923 - 7 July 2004). She inherited it from her elder sister
Patricia in 1998. The sisters turned the house into one of
Scotland's premier tourist attractions after they had to rely on
paying visitors to afford the upkeep of the house. It had
electricity installed only in 1962. Dame Jean was at one time a
lady-in-waiting to Princess Alice, Duchess of
Gloucester; patron of the Dandie Dinmont Club, a breed of dog
named after one of Sir Walter Scott's characters; and a horse
trainer, one of whose horses, Sir Wattie, ridden by Ian Stark, won
two silver medals at the 1988
Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
Among the early critics of Scott was Mark
, who blamed Scott's "romanticization of battle" for what
he saw as the South's decision to fight the American Civil War
. Twain's ridiculing of
in A Connecticut Yankee
in King Arthur's Court
, in which the main character
repeatedly utters "great Scott" as an oath, is considered as
targeting Scott's books. Twain also targeted Scott in The Adventures of Huckleberry
, where he names a sinking boat the "Walter
From being one of the most popular novelists of the 19th century,
Scott suffered from a disastrous decline in popularity after the
First World War
. The tone was set in
's classic Aspects of the Novel
Scott was savaged as being a clumsy writer who wrote slapdash
badly-plotted novels. Scott also suffered from the rising star of
. Considered merely an
entertaining "woman's novelist" in the 19th century, in the 20th
Austen began to be seen as perhaps the major English novelist of
the first few decades of the 19th century. As Austen's star rose
Scott's sank, although, ironically, he had been one of the few male
writers of his time to recognize Austen's genius.
Scott's ponderousness and prolixity were out of step with Modernist
sensibilities. Nevertheless, he was responsible for two major
trends that carry on to this day. First, he essentially invented
the modern historical novel; an enormous number of imitators (and
imitators of imitators) appeared in the 19th century. It is a measure of
Scott's influence that Edinburgh's central railway station, opened
in 1854 by the North British
Railway, is called Waverley.
Second, his Scottish novels followed on
from James Macpherson
cycle in rehabilitating the
public perception of Highland
culture after years in the shadows following southern distrust of
hill bandits and the Jacobite rebellions
As enthusiastic chairman of the Celtic Society of Edinburgh
he contributed to the reinvention of Scottish culture. It is worth
noting, however, that Scott was a Lowland Scot
, and that his re-creations of
were more than a
little fanciful. His organisation of the visit of King George IV to
in 1822 was a pivotal event, leading Edinburgh tailors
to invent many "clan tartans
" out of whole
cloth, so to speak. After being essentially unstudied for many
decades, a small revival of interest in Scott's work began in the
1970s and 1980s. Ironically, postmodern
tastes, which favoured discontinuous narratives and the
introduction of the 'first person', were more favourable to Scott's
work than Modernist tastes. Where F.R.
had rubbished Scott, seeing him
as a thoroughly bad novelist and a thoroughly bad influence
(The Great Tradition
Marilyn Butler offered a political reading of the fiction of the
period that found a great deal of genuine interest in his work
(Romantics, Revolutionaries, and Reactionaries
Despite all the flaws, Scott is now seen as an important innovator
and a key figure in the development of Scottish and world
Plaque to Walter Scott, Rome,
Memorials and commemoration
metre tall Victorian Gothic spire
of the Scott
1844) dominates the south side of Princes Street, Edinburgh.
Portraits of him were painted by Landseer and fellow-Scots Sir
and James Eckford Lauder
Scott is commemorated in Makars' Court, outside The Writers'
Museum, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. Selections for Makars' Court are made by
The Writers' Museum; The Saltire Society; The Scottish
Appearance on banknotes
Scott has been credited with rescuing the Scottish banknote
there was outrage in Scotland at the attempt of the United
Kingdom Parliament to prevent the production of banknotes of less than
Scott wrote a series of letters to the
Edinburgh Weekly Journal
under the pseudonym "Malachi
" for retaining the right of Scottish banks to
issue their own banknotes. This provoked such a response that the
government was forced to relent and allow the Scottish banks to
continue printing pound notes. This campaign is commemorated by his
continued appearance on the front of all notes issued by the
Bank of Scotland
. The image on the
2007 series of banknotes is based on the portrait by Henry Raeburn
- Chronicles of the Canongate, 1st series (1827).
Collection of three short stories:
"The Highland Widow, "The Two Drovers" and "The Surgeon's
- The Keepsake Stories (1828). Collection of three short
"My Aunt Margaret's Mirror", "The Tapestried Chamber" and "Death Of
The Laird's Jock".
Sir Walter Scott's study at
- Introductory Essay to The Border Antiquities of England and
- The Chase (translator) (1796)
- Goetz of Berlichingen (translator) (1799)
- Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk (1816)
- Provincial Antiquities of Scotland (1819–1826)
- Lives of the Novelists (1821–1824)
- Essays on Chivalry, Romance, and Drama Supplement to
the 1815–24 edition of the Encyclopædia
- Halidon Hill (1822)
- The Letters of Malachi Malagrowther (1826)
- The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte (1827)
- Religious Discourses (1828)
- Tales of a Grandfather,
1st series (1828)
- History of Scotland, 2 vols. (1829–1830)
- Tales of a Grandfather,
2nd series (1829)
- The Doom of Devorgoil (1830)
- Wild Deception (1830)
- Essays on Ballad Poetry (1830)
- Tales of a Grandfather, 3rd series (1830)
- Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1831)
- The Bishop of Tyre
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
from The Lay of the
by Walter Scott
Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
, Canto VI. Stanza 17.
by Walter Scott
References in Other Literature
In the book The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
, there is a wrecked ship called Walter Scott.
In the book To Kill a
, the protagonist is made to read Walter Scott's
, and he refers to the author as
"Sir Walter Scout", in reference to his own sister's
In the comic strip Peanuts
the book Ivanhoe is repeatedly referenced.
A well-known self-referential anagram features Sir Walter Scott.
The letters of the sentence "A novel by a Scottish writer" can be
re-arranged to yield "Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott".
- Sir Walter Scott, John
Buchan, Coward-McCann Inc., New York, 1932
- Bautz, Annika. Reception of Jane Austen and Walter Scott: A
Comparative Longitudinal Study. Continuum, 2007. ISBN
082649546X, ISBN 978-0826495464.
- Brown, David. Walter Scott and the Historical
Imagination. Routledge, 1979. ISBN 0710003013.
- Duncan, Ian. Scott's Shadow: The Novel in Romantic
Edinburgh. Princeton UP, 2007. ISBN 978-0-691-04383-8.
- Lincoln, Andrew. Walter Scott And Modernity. Edinburgh