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Sir Walter Scott

Updated on October 17, 2014

Emerging Scottish Icon

Scott was born on August 15, 1771, in Edinburgh, Scotland. As a young child he contracted polio, which left him lame in one leg. He was sent to his grandparent's home in the Boarders of Scotland to recuperate and found a life-long admiration for the thrilling ballads and stories he was told there, many of which were later incorporated into the exciting tales of his poetry and prose.

Besides being a gifted writer, Scott also followed his lawyer father into law, becoming a barrister and a sheriff. Since his lameness precluded service in the military, Scott became a volunteer in the 1st Lothian and Boarder Yeomanry,

Scott was proficient in several languages, was of superior intelligence and possessed incredible energy as well as stoic determination. In political persuasion, he was a committed Tory; in social arenas, he was a member of The Highland Society, and served as President of The Royal Society of Edinburgh.(1820-1832). His image has been on pound notes of the Bank of Scotland since 1995 in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Bank's founding. Scott was a true Renaissance man, and influenced and inspired many writers.

Abbotsford, Scott's Beloved Home


Scott married Charlotte Carpenter on Christmas Eve 1797, in Carlisle Cathedral. They had 5 children and lived in homes in Edinburgh and Melrose until 1925, when a banking collapse occurred and Scott became embroiled in financial distress and had to give up the home in Edinburgh. But the mansion he named Abbotsford he loved best and fought to keep. Abbotsford was, and remains so today, a country estate on the banks of the River Tweed. The home was built in stages and expanded until it looked like the photograph I took myself when I visited the estate years ago. Scott entertained many celebrated people there including James Fenimore Cooper, the American author of "The Last of the Mohicans".

Prolific Works

While a member of the legal profession, Scott began his writing career on the side when he was 25, with translations into English from the German writers, Goethe and Burger. He then published his first ballad, "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," which skyrocketed him to a super stardom that was to last far beyond his death in 1832. At first, he stuck with poetry because novelists were not considered up to par with poets. He published many poems such as "Lochinvar." "The Lady of the Lake," "Bonny Dundee," and became one of the most popular, if not the reining writer, in Scotland. He published his first historical novel, "Waverly," a tale of the Jacobite Uprising, anonymously in 1814, and kept on publishing what were called "Waverly Novels," which included "Ivanhoe" and others, until he at last began publishing under his own name. He became so internationally famous writing prose that British novelist Jane Austen complained about his not being satisfied with being a widely popular and acclaimed poet, when he began to also write novels. As in the romance of his poems, Scott poured his passionate soul into his prose and became known by such tributes as The Wizard of the North and Master Novelist among his critics and fans.

Scott's fame attracted the attention of the Prince Regent, later King George 4th, of Great Britain. The Prince Regent gave Scott permission to form a team and try to recover Crown Jewels hidden by the Protectorate of Richard Cromwell. Deep under Edinburgh Castle the jewels were found and the grateful Prince Regent bestowed a Baronetcy on Scott. A few years later, Scott was host for the new King's first visit to Scotland and the first by a British Monarch in over 400 years. Scott was credited with reintroducing the wearing of the Tartan for the event, after its being banned since the Uprising. An interesting side note is that the King, too, wore a Tartan. The celebration of the King's visit did much to bring about more understanding between the British and Scotsmen. Scott proved himself a mediator in bringing about harmony between the two previously skeptical sides.


Final Goodbye

In 1831, Scott's health began to decline. He suffered more seizures, rallying after each to go on with his writing. He determinedly kept up with his journal, as well as other efforts such as "Tales of a Grandfather," and correcting his biography of Napoleon, Aside from these, were the "Chronicles of the Canongate" and other writings that sped him on.

It was in 1831 that his 10 year-old grandson, Johnie, died. Never in robust health, Johnie was adored by Scott, who wrote several volumes of "Tales of a Grandfather," for the young boy. The writings were about the history of Scotland.

Scott took a trip with his family to several points on the Continent, in the spring of 1832. He took his writing materials with him, working on "Tales of a Traveler" and other titles during his usual morning schedule.

By May his health took a serious turn for the worse and the family turned their eyes homeward, arriving in London on June 13, Transferred from ship to carriage, Scott was unconscious as the party headed for Abbotsford. But then, apparently sensing the approach of his home, he opened his eyes and cried with joy at the sight of his beloved Eildon Hills and Abbotsford.

For over 3 months, Scott labored with illness, too sick to write and screaming outrage of frustration for long periods. He had his bed brought down to the dining room so that he could look out the windows and see his beloved Eildon Hills and hear the rippling of the River Tweed, where he had spent much time fishing. During a quiet time he told his son-in-law and biographer, John Lockhart, "Be a good man, be virtuous, be a religious man, for nothing else will comfort you when you come to lie here, as I am."

Scott died on September 21, and was interred at Dryburgh Abbey (seen below) beside his wife, Lady Charlotte Scott.

Quotes and Final Thoughts

Thomas Carlyle: "When he departed, he took a Man's life along with him. No sounder piece of British manhood was put together in that {nineteenth} century of Time...Adieu, Sir Walter, pride of all Scotchmen, take our proud and sad farewell."

John Lockhart, quoting Homer: "There lay he, mighty and mightily fallen, done with his gallantry." Then, about Scott himself, "But his spirit still haunts his native hills, hovers over all Scotland...Of all the British men of letters of the nineteenth century he is the noblest and the wisest. For those who have eyes to see and hearts to cherish, he is an inspiration and a heritage for all mankind."

Scott's death coincided with the edgier tone of the Literary world. Even Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish philosopher and essayist, came to criticize the Master Novelist he so generously remembered at his death. Realism had begun to replace romanticism in the writing world. Scott's works still sold even so, though his books came to be regarded more for school children. "Ivanhoe" was still required reading for my class in high school, that is how I came to treasure the romantic writer, Sir Walter Scott.

Sources for all texts: en.wikipedia/walterscott

Sir Walter Scott, Johnson,Edgar, V II, Macmillan, 1970

The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, Edited and Introduced by W.E.K. Anderson, Canongate Classics #7, 1998


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