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
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
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.
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
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.