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Tartan Ferret
Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott

15 August 1771 - 21 September 1832
 

We are grateful to Wikipedia from which we have plundered and précised the following brief biography of Walter Scott. It's claimed in that editorial that Scott made tartans and kilts fashionable and turned them intosymbols of Scottish national identity. If you've followed our story of tartan and Highland dress, you may agree with us that what Scott actually achieved was not that but was the political and social rehabilitaion of those two icons of Scottish identity.

Scott was a prolific Scottish historical novelist and poet, popular throughout Europe during his time. He 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 and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Lady of The Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.

His Scottish novels followed on from James Macpherson'sOssian cycle in rehabilitating the public perception of Highlandculture after years in the shadows following southern distrust of hillbandits and the Jacobite rebellions. As enthusiastic chairman of theCeltic Society of Edinburgh he contributed to the reinvention ofScottish culture. His organisation of the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 and the spectacular pageantry that he hadconcocted to portray George as a rather tubby reincarnation of BonniePrince Charlie, made tartans and kilts fashionable and turned them intosymbols of Scottish national identity.

Portrait of Sir Walter Scott by Raeburn

Born in 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. To cure 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 work. In January 1775 he returned to Edinburgh, and that summer went with his aunt Jenny to take spa treatment at Bath in England.

In 1778 he 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.

In November 1783 he began studying classics at the University of Edinburgh at the age of only 12 and three years later began an apprenticeship in his father's office to become a Writer to the Signet. After completing his studies in law, he became a lawyer in Edinburgh and as a lawyer's clerk made his first visit to the Scottish Highlands directing an eviction.

At the age of 25 he began dabbling in writing, translating works from German and he then published a three-volume set of collected Scottish ballads. This was the first sign of his interest in Scottish history from a literary standpoint.

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 brought him fame and he published other poems over the next ten years, including the popular The Lady of the Lake, printed in 1810 and set in the Trossachs. In 1813 he was offered the position of Poet Laureate which he declined.

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 respectability. The novel met with considerable success. There followed a succession of novels over the next five years, each with a Scottish historical setting and in 1815 Scott was given the honour of dining with George, Prince Regent, who wanted to meet "the author of Waverley".

In 1819 he broke away from writing about Scotland with Ivanhoe, a historical romance set in 12th-century England. It too was a runaway success and he wrote several books along the same lines.

As his fame grew he was granted the title of baronet, becoming Sir Walter Scott.

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. He kept up his prodigious output of fiction (as well as producing a biography of Napoléon Bonaparte) 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 grave. He was buried in Dryburgh Abbey where nearby there is a large statue of William Wallace, one of Scotland's many romanticised historical figures.

Scott 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.

Scott has been credited with rescuing the Scottish banknote. In 1826, there was outrage in Scotland at the attempt of the United Kingdom Parliament to prevent the production of banknotes of less than five pounds. Scott wrote a series of letters to the Edinburgh Weekly Journal under the pseudonym "Malachi Malagrowther" 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.

Sir Walter Scott's study at Abbotsford.


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 Last Minstrel.
 
Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
from Marmion, Canto VI. Stanza 17.

Scott Monument 
Among the early critics of Scott was Mark Twain, 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 chivalry 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 Finn, where he names a sinking boat the "Walter Scott".

A commemorative plaque of Scott in Rome.
"It is worth noting, that Scott was a Lowland Scot, and thathis re-creations of the Highlands were more than a little fanciful."

 

 

 





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