Sir Walter Scott

(born 15th August 1771 - died 1832) - Edinburgh

Sir Walter Scott by Raeburn

Sir Walter Scott looms large in any roll call of Scottish writers yet few people now, outside the academic arena, would claim to have read his work in its entirety. Yet, the man and his books gripped Europe in the 19th century and made him one of the best-known and influential writers of the age. (He also retains the distinction of being the only writer in Britain to have had a railway station named after one of his works: Edinburgh's Waverley station.)

He was born in Edinburgh in 1771 in the Old Town, where he lived for much of his early years. He suffered from bouts of ill health in his youth and was often sent to relatives in the Borders, an area for which he retained an enormous affection, finally settling there when he became successful. In 1786-87 when Scott was fifteen, he met Robert Burns at a literary salon in Edinburgh. The poet made a distinct impression on Scott as he recalls: 'I think his countenance was more massive than it looks in any of the portraits. I would have taken the poet, had I not known what he was, for a very sagacious country farmer of the old Scotch school; that is, none of your modern agriculturalists who keep laborers for their drudgery, but the douce guidman who held his own plough. There was a strong expression of sense and shrewdness in all his lineaments: the eye alone, I think, indicated the poetical character and temperament. It was large, and of a cast which glowed (I say literally glowed). I never saw such another eye in a human being, though I have seen the most distinguished men of my time. His conversation expressed perfect self-confidence, but without the least intrusive forwardness; and when he differed in opinion, he did not hesitate to express it firmly, yet at the same time with modesty.'

After studying law at Edinburgh University, Scott qualified as a lawyer, and became an Advocate in 1792. During his time as an Advocate he spent time in the Scottish Borders where he renewed his interest in the area and in the Border Ballads. His main literary debut came in the form of the collection, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, first published in 1802 and which included a contribution from James Hogg, the 'Ettrick Shepherd'. Scott also studied German at the time in order to read Goethe and Schiller, among others, and translated several works into English. He had begun his literary career in verse and song but soon moved on to prose. In the late 18th century, the novel was not seen as a serious literary form, (not compared to poetry in any case) so Scott's first foray into novel writing was made anonymously with the publication of Waverley in 1814. The work was literally an overnight success, selling out very rapidly in the days following publication. Thereafter, Scott's output was prodigious. Waverley was followed by eight Scottish-based novels, including the bestselling Rob Roy, a novel about the legendary Jacobite rebel.

In 1797 Scott had married Charlotte Carpenter in Carlisle and settled in Edinburgh where the first two of his children are born. In 1799, he became Sheriff Depute of Selkirkshire and made a decision to move his family from Edinburgh to the Borders. In 1818 he accepted a baronetcy and commenced the building of a new house, which he called Abbotsford a few years later. It would be a much-admired example of Scots Baronial architecture but was one that would prove very costly. In 1824 the family moved in and enjoyed the many comforts of the house, as did many distinguished visitors.

1826 was to prove one of the worst years in Scott's life, however. In May, Scott's wife died and later that year Scott's publishers and printer, Archibald Constable and James Ballantyne, upon whom Scott had drawn loans and advances to finance Abbotsford, suffered severe financial difficulties and Scott found himself in debt to the tune of £121,000. He would have been forced to sell the house had he not placed it in the name of his son, thus taking it out of reach of his creditors. Scott was thus able to remain in the house until his death in 1832. (The house, which is open to the public, is a major attraction these days.)

The fall out from the financial troubles ruined the relationship between Scott and his publishers and cast a shadow over his later years. His immense literary output did not dim however as he continued to write to pay off his debts. He is buried in Dryburgh Abbey.

There are many editions of his work, both academic editions and cheaper Classic editions. Edinburgh University Press publishes the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels.

  • Cover scan of The Bride Of Lammermoor
    The Bride Of Lammermoor - Paperback
    This is a tragedy set on the eve of the 1707 Union. The proud young Master of Ravenwood sees his estate pass to the astute Sir William Ashton, then falls in love with Ashton's daughter. This edition offers a corrected text, textual histories and notes.
  • Cover scan of Guy Mannering
    Guy Mannering - Paperback
    Guy Mannering believes in the ability of patriarchal power and social position to sort out social confusion, but has to learn the limits of authority in a society that is no longer a single hierarchy. Scott's second novel, it was first published in 1815.
  • Cover scan of The Heart Of Mid-Lothian
    The Heart Of Mid-Lothian - Paperback
    The Heart of Midlothian presents the story of Jeanie Deans, a dairymaid who journeys to London to beg for a reprieve for her sister. Set in the 1730s, the novel dramatises different kinds of justice, including lynching by an Edinburgh mob.
  • Cover scan of Ivanhoe
    Ivanhoe - Paperback
    Based on the authoritative Edinburgh text which returns to the manuscript and first edition of the novel, this book contains a critical introduction, a chronology of Walter Scott, a historical note, and notes on the text.
  • Cover scan of The Lady Of The Lake
    The Lady Of The Lake - Hardback
    In 1810 a literary phenomenon swept through Britain, Europe and beyond: the publication of Sir Walter Scott's epic poem 'The Lady of the Lake'.
  • Cover scan of Old Mortality
    Old Mortality - Paperback
    A swift-moving historical romance that places a liberal hero against the forces of fanaticism in 17th-century Scotland. Henry Morton is torn between his love for a royalist's granddaughter and his loyalty to his downtrodden countrymen.
  • Cover scan of Redgauntlet
    Redgauntlet - Paperback
    Set in the summer of 1765, 'Redgauntlet' centres around a third, fictitous Jacobite rebellion. This is the last of Scott's major Scottish novels, and perhaps his most complex statement about the relationship between history and fiction.
  • Cover scan of Rob Roy
    Rob Roy - Paperback
    Sir Walter Scott's classic novel Rob Roy is the story of two heroes, aristocratic Francis Osbaldistone and outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor. Set on the eve of the Jacobite rebellion, the story is one of intrigue, romance and suspicion.
  • Cover scan of Waverley
    Waverley - Paperback
    Set against the backdrop of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, 'Waverley' tells the story of Edward Waverley, an idealistic daydreamer whose loyalty to his regiment is threatened when they are sent to the Scottish Highlands where he is drawn to Fergus Mac-Ivor and his beautiful sister, both loyal to Charles Stuart.

Bibliography

Poetry

  • Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-3)
  • The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805)
  • Marmion (1808)
  • The Lady of the Lake - 1810
  • The Vision of Don Roderick (1811)
  • Rokeby (1813)
  • The Bridal of Triermain (1813)
  • The Lord of the Isles (1815)
  • The Field of Waterloo (1815)
  • Harold the Dauntless (1817)

Fiction

Books about Sir Walter Scott

  • Cover scan of Walter Scott And Modernity
    Walter Scott And Modernity - Andrew Lincoln - Hardback
    The author argues that, far from turning away from modernity to indulge a nostalgic vision of the past, Sir Walter Scott uses the past as means of exploring key problems in the modern world. The study includes insights into some of Scott's greatest novels.