Sir Walter Scott - Raeburn

Walter Scott (1771-1832). Portrait by Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823, 1822. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet (August 15, 1771 - September 21, 1832) was an influential Scottish poet, novelist, historian, and and biographer.[1]



Scott was born 1771, educated at Edinburgh, called to the Bar 1792, sheriff of Selkirk 1799, Principal Clerk of Session 1812. Published translation of Lenore, etc., wrote ballads and made translation from German, published Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border 1802-1803, Lay of the Last Minstrel 1805, began Waverley 1805. Partner with Ballantynes 1806, published Marmion 1808, Lady of the Lake 1810, began to build Abbotsford 1812, Waverley novels began and continued 1814-1831. Health began to fail 1817, made Baronet 1820, ruined by failure of Ballantynes 1826, devotes rest of his life to clearing off debt by novels and historical works. Tales of a Grandfather, Life of Napoleon, etc., health finally gave way 1830, died 1832.[2]

Scott was among the earliest to draw upon history as source material for his fiction and is generally cited as the father of the historical novel. His novels of Scottish history, such as Waverley and Rob Roy awakened pride among Scots, while Ivanhoe was influential in renewing interest in the Middle Ages and medieval traditions of chivalry. Many of his works are classics of both English and, specifically, Scottish literature.

Youth and educationEdit

Scott was born 15 August 1771 in Edinburgh.[1] He was the son of Walter Scott, a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh, and Margaret (Rutherford), daughter of a professor of medicine in the university there. Through both parents he was connected with several old Border families; his father was a scion of the Scotts of Harden, well known in Border history.[3]

In early childhood he suffered from a severe fever, one of the effects of which was a permanent lameness, and for some time he was delicate. The native vigor of his constitution, however, soon asserted itself, and he became a man of exceptional strength. Much of his childhood was spent at his grandfather's farm at Sandyknowe, Roxburghshire, and almost from the dawn of intelligence he began to show an interest in the traditionary lore which was to have so powerful an influence on his future life, an interest which was nourished and stimulated by several of the older members of his family, especially one of his aunts. At this stage he was a quick-witted, excitable child, who required rather to be restrained than pressed forward.[3]

At the age of 7 he was strong enough to be sent to the High School of Edinburgh, where he was more remarkable for miscellaneous and out-of-the-way knowledge and his powers of story-telling than for proficiency in the ordinary course of study; and notwithstanding his lameness, he was to be found in the forefront wherever adventure or fighting were to be had.[3]

Thereafter he was for 3 sessions at the University of Edinburgh, where he bore much the same character as at school. He was, however, far from idle, and was all the time following the irresistible bent, which ultimately led to such brilliant results, in a course of insatiable reading of ballads and romances, to enlarge which he had by the time he was 15 acquired a working knowledge of French and Italian,[3] and had made the acquaintance of Dante and Ariosto in the original.[4]

Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, publihe in 1765, came into his hands in 1784, and proved one of the most formative influences of this period. At 15 he was apprenticed to his father, but preferring the higher branch of the profession, he studied for the Bar, to which he was called in 1792. He did not, however, forego his favorite studies, but ransacked the Advocates' Library for old manuscripts, in the deciphering of which he became so expert that his assistance soon came to be invoked by antiquarians of much longer standing.[4]

Literary career launched Edit

Although he worked hard at law, his ideal was not the attainment of an extensive practice, but rather of a fairly paid post which should leave him leisure for his favourite pursuits, and this he succeeded in reaching, being appointed 1st in 1799 Sheriff of Selkirk, and next in 1812 one of the principal clerks to the Court of Session, which together brought him an income of £1600. In 1797 he was married to Charlotte Margaret Charpentier, the daugheter of a French gentleman of good position,[4] and together they had 5 children.

Meanwhile in 1795 he had translated Bürger's ballad of "Lenore," and in the following year he made his 1st appearance in print by publishing it along with a translation of "The Wild Huntsman" by the same author. About the same time he made the acquaintance of "Monk" Lewis, to whose collection of Tales of Wonder he contributed the ballads of "Glenfinlas," "The Eve of St. John," and "The Grey Brother"; and he published in 1799 a translation of Goethe's Goetz von Berlichingen.[4]

The year 1802 saw the publication of Scott's earliest work of real importance, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, of which 2 volumes appeared, the 3rd following in the next year. In 1804 he went to reside at Ashestiel on the Tweed, where he edited the old romance, Sir Tristrem, and in 1805 he produced his 1st great original work, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, which was received with great favor, and decided that literature was thenceforth to be the main work of his life. In the same year the opening chapters of Waverley were written; but the unfavorable opinion of a friend led to the MS. being laid aside for nearly 10 years.[4]

In 1806 Scott began, by a secret partnership, that association with the Ballantynes which resulted so unfortunately for him 20 years later. Marmion was published in 1808: it was even more popular than the Lay, and raised his reputation proportionately.[4] Marmion, produced 1 of his most quoted (and most often misattributed) 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 practice to deceive!
A Palmer too! No wonder why
I felt rebuked beneath his eye;

1808 saw the publication of his elaborate edition of Dryden with a "Life," and was also marked by a rupture with Jeffrey, with whom he had been associated as a contributor to the Edinburgh Review, and by the establishment of the new firm of J. Ballantyne & Co., of which the first important publication was The Lady of the Lake, which appeared in 1810, The Vision of Don Roderick following in 1811.[4]

In 1812 Scott purchased land on the Tweed near Melrose, and built his famous house, Abbotsford, the adornment of which became a chief pleasure of his life, and which he made the scene of a noble and kindly hospitality. In the same year he published Rokeby, and in 1813 The Bridal of Triermain.[4]


1814 saw The Life and Works of Swift in 19 volumes, and was also made illustrious by the appearance of Waverley, the 2 coming out in the same week – the latter, like its successors, anonymously.[4] Scott included little in the way of punctuation in his drafts, which he left for the printers to supply.[5]

In 1815, The Lord of the Isles, Guy Mannering, and The Field of Waterloo appeared, and the next again, 1816, Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk, The Antiquary, The Black Dwarf,[4] and Old Mortality, while 1817 saw Harold the Dauntless and Rob Roy.[6]

Mindful of his reputation as a poet, Scott maintained the habit of publishing his novels anonymously under the name "Author of Waverley" or attributed as Tales of…. 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 rumored, and in 1815, Scott was given the honor of dining with George, the Prince Regent, who wanted to meet "the author of Waverley."

The enormous strain which Scptt had been undergoing as official, man of letters, and man of business, began at length to tell upon him, and in 1817, he had the 1st of a series of severe seizures of cramp in the stomach. However, his indomitable spirit refused to yield, and several of his next works, The Heart of Midlothian (1818), by many considered his masterpiece, The Bride of Lammermoor, The Legend of Montrose, and Ivanhoe (all of 1819), were dictated to amanuenses, while he was too ill to hold a pen.[6]

In 1820 The Monastery, in which the public began to detect a falling off in the powers of the still generally unknown author, appeared. The immediately following Abbot, however, showed a recovery. Kenilworth and The Pirate followed in 1821, The Fortunes of Nigel in 1822; Peveril of the Peak, Quentin Durward, and St. Ronan's Well in 1823; Redgauntlet in 1824, and Tales of the Crusaders ("The Betrothed" and "The Talisman") in 1825.[6]

By this time Scott had long reached a pinnacle of fame such as perhaps no British man of letters has ever attained during his lifetime. He had for a time been the most admired poet of his day, and though latterly somewhat eclipsed by Byron, he still retained great fame as a poet. He also possessed a great reputation as an antiquary, one of the chief revivers of interest in our ancient literature, and as the biographer and editor of several of our great writers; while the incognito which he maintained in regard to his novels was to many a very partial veil. The unprecedented profits of his writings had made him, as he believed, a man of wealth; his social prestige was immense; he had in 1820 been made a baronet, when that was still a real distinction, and he had been the acknowledged representative of his country when the King visited it in 1822.[6]

Financial crisisEdit

All this was now to change, and the fabric of prosperity which he had raised by his genius and labor, and which had never spoiled the simplicity and generosity of his character, was suddenly to crumble into ruin with, however, the result of revealing him as the possessor of qualities even greater and nobler than any he had shown in his happier days. The publishing and printing firms with which he had been connected fell in the commercial crisis of 1826, and Scott found himself at 55, and with failing health, involved in liabilities amounting to £130,000.[6]

Never was adversity more manfully and gallantly met. Notwithstanding the crushing magnitude of the disaster and the concurrent sorrow of his wife's illness, which soon issued in her death, he deliberately set himself to the herculean task of working off his debts, asking only that time might be given him.[6]

The secret of his authorship was now, of course, revealed, and his efforts were crowned with a marvelous measure of success. Woodstock, his 1st publication after the crash, appeared in the same year and brought £8000; by 1828 he had earned £40,000. In 1827 The Two Drovers, The Highland Widow, and The Surgeon's Daughter, forming the 1st series of Chronicles of the Canongate, appeared together with The Life of Napoleon in 9 volumes, and the 1st series of Tales of a Grandfather; in 1828 The Fair Maid of Perth and the 2nd series of Tales of a Grandfather; Anne of Geierstein, a 3rd series of the Tales, and the commencement of a complete edition of the novels in 1829; a 4th and last series of Tales, a History of Scotland, and other work in 1830.[6]

Last yearsEdit

At last the overworked brain gave way, and, in 1830,[6] he had paralytic seizures. He was sent abroad for change and rest, and a government frigate was placed at his disposal. But all was in vain; he never recovered, and though in temporary rallies he produced 2 more novels, Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous, both in 1831, which only showed that the spell was broken, he gradually sank, and died at Abbotsford on September 21, 1832.[2]


The work which Scott accomplished, whether looked at as regards its mass or its quality, is alike marvelous. In mere amount his output in each of the 4 departments of poetry, prose fiction, history and biography, and miscellaneous literature is sufficient to fill an ordinary literary life. Indeed the quantity of his acknowledged work in other departments was held to be the strongest argument against the possibility of his being the author of the novels. The achievement of such a result demanded a power of steady, methodical, and rapid work almost unparalleled in the history of literature.[2] When we turn to its quality we are struck by the range of subject and the variableness of the treatment. In general there is the same fullness of mind directed by strong practical sense and judgment, but the style is often heavy, loose, and even slipshod, and in most of his works there are "patches" in which he falls far below his best.[2]


Scott's chief fame rests, of course, upon the novels. Here also, however, there is the same inequality and irregularity, but there is a singular command over his genius in virtue of which the fusing, creating imagination responds to his call, and is at its greatest just where it is most needed. For the variety, truth, and aliveness of his characters he has probably no equal since Shakespeare, and though, of course, coming far behind, he resembles him alike in his range and in his insight. The most remarkable feature in his character is the union of an imagination of the first order with practical sagacity and manly sanity, in this also resembling his great predecessor.[2]

Scott’s novels follow the transition from 18th century classicisim to 19th century Romanticism. His novels present both the great and the ordinary caught up in historic conflicts between opposing cultures: Ivanhoe (1819) between Normans and Saxons; The Talisman (1825) between Christians and Muslims; and his Scottish history novels between old Scottish traditions and the new English order. Scott's egalitarian sensibility depicted heroism and moral elevation among men and women regardless of class, religion, politics, or ancestry. Throughout the body of Scott's work, principles of justice, honor, and integrity inform not only the values of his protagonists but play a role in historic events.

Although some critics have faulted him as a prolix, undisciplined writer, Scott's best novels wove sophisticated plots, keen social consciousness, and colorful characterization into enduring works of fiction. He achieved unrivaled popularity throughout Europe, America, and Australia during his lifetime, and despite a decline in reputation, his novels and poetry remain widely read. His widely quoted verse, "Oh! what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive," underscores his moral insight, while his amiability, generosity, and modesty all made him a respected public figure.


Scott's poetry, though as a whole belonging to the 2nd class, is full of broad and bold effects, picturesqueness, and an irresistible rush and freshness. As a lyrist, however, he stands much higher, and in such gems as "Proud Maisie" and "A weary lot is thine, Fair Maid," he takes his place among our greatest singers.[2]

Critical introductionEdit

by Goldwin Smith

Walter Scottranks in imaginative power hardly below any writer save Homer and Shakespeare. His best works are his novels; but he holds a high place as a poet in virtue of his metrical romances and of his lyrical pieces and ballads. He was the 1st great British writer of the Romantic school, and the 1st who turned the thoughts and hearts of his countrymen towards the Middle Ages.

The author of The Castle of Otranto and the builder of Strawberry Hill was his feeble precursor: Bishop Percy with his Reliques had lighted the way: Ellis with his Specimens of Early English Poems and Romances ministered to the same taste. In Germany the Romantic school prevailed at the same time over the Classical. There is in the poetry of Coleridge an element derived from that school; and Scott’s earliest works were translations from the German ballads of Bürger and of a romantic tragedy by Goethe, though the rill of foreign influence was soon lost in a river which flowed from a more abundant spring.

It is always said of Scott that he was above all things a Scotchman. The pride of Scotland he was indeed; and by the varied scenery and rich stores of romance, Lowland and Highland, Island and Border, which lie within the compass of that small realm, his creative genius was awakened and the materials for its exercise were supplied. But his culture, connections, and interests were British, and for the British public he wrote. To the Highland Celts, whose picturesqueness made them the special darlings of his patriotic fancy, he was, like other Lowlanders, really an alien.

In his poems, at least, there is little which, so far as language or sentiment is concerned, might not have been written by a native of any part of the island. Even the scenes and characters of his great poems are partly English, and only to a small extent taken from Scott’s own Lowlands. The Lowland Scotch generally were Presbyterians and Whigs: Scott was an Episcopalian and a Tory. He descended and loved to trace his descent from the wild Borderers who were not more Scotch than English.

His solidity of character, his geniality, his shrewdness, like his massive head and shaggy brows, were of Southern Scotland; but a Southern Scotchman is a Northern Englishman. On the other hand, his genius and education were in an important sense Scotch, as not being classical: he knew no Greek, and his Latin was not so much classical as mediæval. He belonged entirely either to his own day or to the feudal age. Of Italian and Spanish Romance he had a tincture, but no deep dye.

The poetry of Scott flowed from a nature in which strength, high spirit, and active energy were united with tender sensibility and with an imagination wonderfully lively and directed by historic and antiquarian surroundings and by personal associations towards the feudal past. Homer may have been a warrior debarred from battle by blindness: Scott would perhaps have been a soldier if he had not been lame. War and its pageantry were his delight. He was the ardent quarter-master of a volunteer corps, and rode 100 miles in 24 hours to muster, composing a poem by the way. It was not the only poem he composed on horseback. "Oh! man, I had many a grand gallop among those braes when I was thinking of Marmion." In boyhood, despite his lameness, he was renowned as a pugilist, both "in single fight and mixed affray," and in after-life he was a keen sportsman, though he liked the chase best when it took him to historic scenes.

"The Violet" is the memorial of an early cross in love, which perhaps left its trace on Scott’s character in a shade of pensiveness. He afterwards made a marriage of intellectual disparagement, but in his family as in his social relations he was happy. Loved by all, men and animals, he embraced in his sympathies everything that was not mean or cowardly. Though himself a keen Tory, he reconciled in his art Tory and Whig, Cavalier and Covenanter, Catholic and Puritan. He loves to depict the mutual courtesies of generous foes. Once he forgot his chivalry in attacking Fox; but in the introduction to the first canto of Marmion he made full amends.

A nature so joyous, a life so happy, so full of physical as well as of mental enjoyment, social success so great excluded all questionings about the mystery of being and all sympathy with the desire of change. There is not in Scott’s poems a particle of the philosophy which we find in Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelley, or a shade of the melancholy which we find in the last 2. He is as purely pictorial as Homer. The revolution politically was his aversion; it seemed to him merely vulgar and levelling. He wished ‘to cleave the politic pates’ of its Cobbetts as Homer revelled in the drubbing of Thersites. Intellectually it has left no more trace upon his poems than upon the waters of Loch Katrine.

Our generation has seen a strong current of religious reaction setting towards the Middle Ages. Of this there is nothing in Scott. The things which he loved in mediæval life were the chivalry, the adventure, the feudal force of character, the aristocratic sentiment, the military picturesqueness. For Dante he cared little, while he cared much for Ariosto. Roman Catholicism he contemned as a weak and effeminate superstition. Asceticism was utterly alien to him; in the "Guard-room Song" in The Lady of the Lake he is anti-ascetic to the verge of coarseness. A boon companion was in his eyes "worth the whole Bernardine brood."

In his writings the churchman appears only as the chaplain of the warrior. His priests and friars are either jolly fellows who patter a hasty mass for lords and knights impatient to be in their saddles, or wizards like Michael Scott. Ecclesiastical ruins, though he loves them as an antiquary, do not seem to move his reverence. At Kirkwall and Iona he thinks much more about the tombs of chieftains than about the monuments of religion. In Kirkwall Cathedral, the Canterbury of the Orkneys, he says: "The church is as well fitted up as could be expected; much of the old carved oak remains, but with a motley mixture of modern deal pews: all however is neat and clean, and does great honour to the Kirk Session who maintain its decency." Not so would he have spoken of a famous castle of the Middle Ages.

The poet 1st drew the breath of mental life at Sandy Knowe, the home of his grandfather. There he looked on a district "in which every field has its battle and every rivulet its song;" on the ruined tower of Smailholme, the scene of "The Eve of St. John," Mertoune and Hume Castle, Dryburgh and Melrose, the purple bosks of Eildon, the hill of Faerie, the distant mountain region of the Gala, the Ettrick and the Yarrow. Edinburgh, in which he lived while reading law, he might well call "his own romantic town." In his vacations it was his delight to ramble through the dales of the Border, above all through Teviotdale, living with the dalesmen, drinking whiskey with them — sometimes too much, for there was an element of coarse conviviality as well as of popular joviality in his character — and garnering in his eager mind their Border tales and ballads. The fruits were a collection of Border Minstrelsy (1802), with which he published some ballads of his own.

Being asked by Lady Dalkeith, wife of the heir of his "chieftain," the Duke of Buccleuch, to write her a ballad on the legend of Gilpin Horner, and finding the subject grow under his pen, he in a happy hour developed the ballad into the metrical romance and produced The Lay of the Last Minstrel. The Last Minstrel is the poet himself, who revives in a prosaic and degenerate age the heroic memories of the olden time.

Of those which followed The Lady of the Lake was the 1st revelation to the world of the lovely scenery and the poetry of clan life which lay enclasped and unknown to the cultivated world in the Highlands, into the fastnesses of which, physical and social, he had penetrated on a legal errand. This gave the poem an immense popularity.

Otherwise Marmion is the greatest of his poems, while the Lay is the freshest. Rokeby and The Lord of the Isles show exhaustion, the last in a sad degree. Two minor romances, The Bridal of Triermain and Harold the Dauntless, have not taken rank with the five: Harold the Dauntless is weak; but Triermain, in narrative skill and picturesqueness, is certainly superior to The Lord of the Isles.

The Vision of Don Roderick has been justly described by Mr. Palgrave as an unsuccessful attempt to blend the past history of Spain with the interests of the Peninsular War. The Epistles introductory to the cantos of Marmion have been deemed out of place; but they are in themselves charming pictures of Scott among his literary friends. They seem also to show that he well knew he was living in the present while he amused himself and his readers with the romantic past; although he was sometimes enough under the illusion to be taken with ravishment by the mock-feudalism of George IV’s coronation, and to play with heart and soul the cockney Highlander on the occasion of the same monarch’s farcical visit to Scotland.

Before The Lord of the Isles, Waverley appeared; Scott’s career as a novelist began as his career as a poet ended. His vein was worked out, his popularity flagged, he was being eclipsed by Byron, a part of whose talisman the high-minded and self-repressing gentleman certainly would not have condescended to borrow.

Scott has vindicated the metre of his tales as preferable to Pope’s heroic couplet: in the case of a romance which was a development of the ballad, the vindication was needless. Scott’s metre is the true English counterpart, if there be one, of Homer. In The Lady of the Lake and Rokeby it is the simple 8-syllable couplet. In the other poems variations are freely introduced with the best effect. Scott had no ear for music, but he had an ear for verse.

In each of the romances, The Lord of the Isles perhaps excepted, there is an exciting story, well told, for Scott was a thorough master of narration. In The Lay of the Last Minstrel, it is true, the diablerie sits lorn on the general plot; but it was an imposed task, not his own idea. We are always carried on, as the writer was himself when he was composing Marmion, by the elastic stride of a strong horse over green turf and in the freshest air.

Abounding power alike of invention and expression is always there; and we feel throughout the influence of Scott’s strong though genial and sympathetic character and the control of his masculine sense, which never permits bad taste or extravagance. The language however, always good and flowing, is never very choice or memorable. There is not seldom a want of finish; and under the seductive influence of the facile measure, the wonderful ease not seldom runs into diffuseness, and sometimes, in the weaker poems, into a prolixity of common-place.

‘Though wild as cloud, as stream, as gale,
Flow forth, flow unrestrained, my tale!’

Scott was a little too fond of unrestrained flow; and perhaps it rather pleased him to think that his works were carelessly thrown off, by a gentleman writing for his amusement, not laboured by a professional writer.

He was a painter of action rather than of character, at least in its higher grades. Something of insight and experience which Homer had he wanted. All the heroes of his novels are insipid except the Master of Ravenswood, who interests not by his character but by his circumstances; all the heroines except Di Vernon, who interests by her circumstances and her horsemanship. So it is with the heroes and heroines of the poems. Margaret, in the Lay of the Last Minstrel, comes on with a charming movement, but she remains merely the fairest maid of Teviotdale.

The best characters are heroic scoundrels, such as Marmion the stately forger, and Bertram Risingham the buccaneer with a vein of good in his evil nature. "The worst of all my undertakings," says Scott himself, "is that my rogue always in despite of me turns out my hero." The author of Paradise Lost met with the same misfortune. Marmion is an almost impossible mixture of majesty and felony; but he is better than a seraph of a gentleman. There is not a happier passage in the poems than that in which, as a gentle judgment on his career of criminal ambition, the peasant takes his place in the baronial tomb. It is marred by the moralizing at the end. Scott did not know when enough had been said.

"To write a modern romance of chivalry," said Jeffrey in his review of Marmion, "seems to be much such a phantasy as to build a modern abbey or an English pagoda." Restorations are forced and therefore they are weak, even when the mind of the restorer is so steeped in the lore of the past as was that of Scott. His best works, after all, are his novels of contemporary or nearly contemporary life. A revival, whether in fiction or in painting, is a masquerade. Scott knew the Middle Ages better perhaps than any other man of his time; but he did not know them as they are known now; and an antiquary would pick many holes in his costume. His baronial mansion at Abbotsford was bastard Gothic, and so are many details of his poems. The pageantry not seldom makes us think of the circus, while in the sentiment there is too often a strain of the historical melodrama. The convent scene in Marmion is injured by the melodramatic passage in the speech of Constance about the impending dissolution of the monasteries.

All that a reviver could do by love of his period Scott did. He shows his passionate desire of realising feudal life, and at the same time his circumstantial vividness of fancy, by a minuteness of detail like that which we find in Homer, who perhaps was also a Last Minstrel. He resembles Homer too in his love of local names, which to him were full of associations.

Scott has said of himself —

To me the wandering over the field of Bannockburn was the source of more exquisite pleasure than gazing upon the celebrated landscape from the battlements of Stirling Castle. I do not by any means infer that I was dead to the feeling of picturesque scenery; on the contrary, few delighted more in its general effect. But I was unable with the eye of a painter to dissect the various parts of the scene, to comprehend how the one bore on the other, to estimate the effect which various features of the view had in producing its leading and general effect.

It is true that he had not a painter’s eye any more than he had a musician’s ear; and we may be sure that the landscape charmed him most when it was the scene of some famous deed or the setting of some legendary tower. Yet he had a passionate love of the beauties of nature and communicated it to his readers. He turned the Highlands from a wilderness at the thought of which culture shuddered into a place of universal pilgrimage.

He was conscientious in his study of nature, going over the scene of Rokeby with book in hand and taking down all the plants and shrubs, though he sometimes lapsed into a closet description, as in saying of the buttresses of Melrose in the moonlight that they seem framed alternately of ebon and ivory. Many of his pictures, such as that of Coriskin, are examples of pure landscape painting without the aid of historical accessories. In a nature so warm, feeling for color was sure not to be wanting; the best judges have pronounced that Scott possessed this gift in an eminent degree; and his picture of Edinburgh and the Camp in Marmion has been given as an example. He never thought of lending a soul to Nature like the author of "Tintern Abbey," to whose genius he paid hearty homage across a wide gulf of difference. But he could give her life; and he could make her sympathise with the human drama, as in the lines at the end of the Convent Canto of Marmion and in the opening of Rokeby, which rivals the opening of Hamlet in the cold winter night on the lonely platform of Elsinore.

Of the ballads and lyrical pieces some were Scott’s earliest productions; among these is the "Eve of St. John", in which his romantic imagination is at its height. Others are scattered through the romances and novels. In the ballads, even when they are most successful as imitations of the antique, there is inevitably something modern: but so, it may be said, there is in the old ballads themselves, or they would not touch us as they do. Edmund’s song in Rokeby is an old ballad, only with a finer grace and a more tender pathos.

There is nothing in Scott’s lyrical poetry deep or spiritual. The same fresh, joyous unphilosophizing character runs through all his works: but in ‘County Guy’ he shows a true lyrical power of awakening by suggestion thoughts which would suffer by distinct expression.[7]



At the height of his fame, Walter Scott was the most popular writer in Europe. Building on the picaresque traditions of Henry Fielding and Daniel Defoe and the Gothic romances of Anne Radcliffe, Scott enlarged the novel's horizons by turning to history as direct source material. Read by nobility as well as commoners and by both men and women, the novel in Scott's hands became a respectable literary genre. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Alexander Pushkin, Honore de Balzac, and Leo Tolstoy were all influenced by Scott. Tolstoy's War and Peace, a fictional recreation of Napoleonic Europe and directly attributable by Scott, elevated the historical novel to the summit or artistry.

Recognition Edit

Recognizing Scott's achievement, King George IV made the Scottish writer a baronet in 1820.

A white marble bust of Scott, by John Hutchison, was unveiled in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, in 1897.[8]

7 of his poems ("Proud Maisie," "Brignall Banks," "Lucy Ashton's Song," "Answer," "The Rover's Adieu," "Patriotism 1. Innominatus," and "Patriotism 2. Nelson, Pitt, Fox") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[9]

From being one of the most popular novelists of the 19th century, Scott suffered a precipitous decline in reputation after World War I. Mark Twain had ridiculed Scott's romanticized notion of chivalry in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Later, in his classic work of literary criticism, Aspects of the Novel (1927), E.M. Forster savaged Scott as a clumsy writer who wrote slapdash, badly plotted novels. Scott also suffered from the growing reputation of Jane Austen. Considered merely an entertaining "woman's novelist" in the 19th century, Austen came 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 literary flaws (ponderousness, prolixity, lack of humor) were fundamentally out of step with Modernist sensibilities. After going essentially unstudied for many decades, Scott's work experienced a small revival of interest in the 1970's and 1980's. Despite Scott's flaws, he is now seen as an important innovator and a key figure in the development of Scottish and world literature.

Scott was also responsible, through a series of pseudonymous letters published in the Edinburgh Weekly News in 1826, for retaining the right of Scottish banks to issue their own banknotes, which is reflected to this day by his continued appearance on the front of all notes issued by the Bank of Scotland.

Abbotsford House Edit


When Scott was a boy, he sometimes traveled with his father from Selkirk to Melrose, in the Scottish 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 Scott eventually purchased.

In due course, the farmhouse grew 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 armor, trophies of the chase, fine furniture, and distinguished artwork. Paneling of oak and cedar and carved ceilings relieved by coats of arms in their correct color added to the beauty of the house. The house contains an impressive collection of historic relics and weapons (including Rob Roy's Gun and Montrose's Sword), and a library containing over 9,000 rare volumes. More land was purchased, until Scott owned nearly 1,000 acres. A neighboring Roman road with a ford used in olden days by the abbots of Melrose suggested the name of Abbotsford. The house was opened to the public in 1833, five months after Sir Walter's death, and has remained a popular attraction.


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  • Halidon Hall: A dramatic sketch, from Scottish history. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable / London: Hurst, Robinson, 1822.


The Waverley NovelsEdit

Tales of My LandlordEdit


  • The Abbot. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable / John Ballantyne / London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown, 1820. volume I, Volume II
  • The Monastery: A romance. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown; Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1820. one Volume.
  • The Doom of Devorgoil: A melodrama.  Edinburgh: Cadell, 1830.

Short fictionEdit



  • Readings for the Young: From the works of Sir Walter Scott. (2 volumes), Edinburgh: Cadell, 1848; Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1848. Volume I, Volume II.

Collected editionsEdit



  • Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border: Consisting of historical and romantic ballads, collected in the southern counties of Scotland, with a few of modern date, founded upon local tradition. London: T. Cadell & W. Davies, 1802; Edinburgh: Manners & Miller / London: Longman & Rees, 1803; Edinburgh: A. Constable; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, & Orme, 1806. Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV

Letters and journalsEdit

  • Letters of Sir Walter Scott: Addressed to the Rev. R. Polwhele, D. Gilbert, Francis Douce. London: J.B. Nichols, 1832.
  • The Journal of Sir Walter Scott (edited by David Douglas). Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1891; New York: Harper, 1891. Volume I, Volume II
    • (edited by W.M. Parker). Edinburgh, W.G. Tait, 1939
    • (edited by W.E.K. Anderson). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1972.
  • The Letters (edited by Herbert J. Grierson). (12 volumes), Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1931; New York: AMS Press, 1971. Volume I; Volume II: 1808-1811;, Volume III: 1811-1813; Volume IV: 1815-1817; Volume V: 1817-1819; Volume VI: 1819-1821; Volume VII: 1821-1823; Volume VIII: 1823-1825; Volume IX: 1825-1826; Volume X: 1826-1828; Volume XI: 1828-1831; Volume XII: 1831-32.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[10]

See also Edit

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott

Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott


  • Buchan, John. Sir Walter Scott. New York: Coward-McCann, 1932.
  • Hutton, Richard H. Sir Walter Scott. Echo Library, 2006. ISBN 978-1406801361.
  • Sutherland, John. The Life of Walter Scott: A Critical Biography. Blackwell Publishers, 1998. ISBN 978-0631203179.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sir Walter Scott, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web, Feb. 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 John William Cousin, "Scott, Sir Walter," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 331. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 25, 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 John William Cousin, "Scott, Sir Walter," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 328. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 25, 2018.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 John William Cousin, "Scott, Sir Walter," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 329. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 25, 2018.
  5. Stuart Kelly, The Book of Lost Books. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 John William Cousin, "Scott, Sir Walter," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 330. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 25, 2018.
  7. from Goldwin Smith, "Critical Introduction: Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Nov. 9, 2016.
  8. Walter Scott, People, History, Westminster Abbey. Web, July 12, 2016.
  9. Alphabetical list of authors: Montgomerie, Alexander to Shakespeare, William, Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 19, 2012.
  10. Search results = au:Walter Scott, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc., Web, Nov. 9, 2013.

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