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Walter Scott

For the first Premier of Saskatchewan see Thomas Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott (August 14, 1771 - September 21, 1832) was a prolific Scottish historical novelist and poet popular throughout Europe.

 of Sir Walter Scott, by
Portrait of Sir Walter Scott, by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1771, the young Walter Scott survived a childhood bout of polio that would leave him lame in his right leg for the rest of his life. He learned by heart James Macpherson's Ossian poems, which it was claimed at the time were translations dating back to the Dark Ages, but later discredited when this was found to be untrue.

After studying law at Edinburgh University, he followed in his father's footsteps and became a lawyer in his native Scotland. Beginning at age 25 he started dabbling in writing, first translating works from German then moving on to poetry. In between these two phases of his literary career, he published a three-volume set of collected Scottish ballads, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. This was the first sign of his interest in Scotland and history from a literary standpoint. In 1797 he married Charlotte Carpenter, with whom he had five children.

After Scott had founded a printing press, his poetry, beginning with The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1805, brought him fame. He published a number of other poems over the next ten years, including in 1810 the popular Lady of the Lake set in the Trossachs, portions of which (translated into German) were set to music by Franz Schubert. One of these songs, Ellens dritter Gesang, is popularly called "Schubert's Ave Maria".

Another work from this time period, Marmion , produced some of his most quoted (and most often mis-attributed) 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 practise to deceive!
A Palmer too! No wonder why
I felt rebuked beneath his eye;

When the press became embroiled in pecuniary difficulties, Scott set out, in 1814, to write a cash-cow. The result was Waverley, a novel which did not name its author. It was a tale of the last Jacobite rebellion in the United Kingdom, the "Forty-Five", and the novel met with considerable success. There followed a large set of novels in next five years, each the same general vein. Mindful of his reputation as a poet, he maintained the anonymous habit he had begun with Waverley, always publishing the novels under the name "Author of Waverley" or attributed as "Tales of..." with no author. Even when it was clear that there would be no harm in coming out into the open he maintained the fašade, apparently out of a sense of fun. 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 rumoured, and in 1815 Scott was given the honour of dining with George, Prince Regent, who wanted to meet "the author of Waverley".

In 1820 he broke away from writing about Scotland with Ivanhoe, a historical romance set in 12th-century England. It too was a runaway success and, as he did with his first novel, he unleashed a slew of books along the same lines. As his fame grew during this phase of his career, he was granted the title of baronet, becoming Sir Walter Scott. At this time he organised the visit of King George IV to Scotland, and when the King visited Edinburgh in 1822 the spectacular pageantry Scott had concocted to portray George as a rather tubby reincarnation of Bonnie Prince Charlie made tartans and kilts fashionable and turned them into symbols of national identity.

Beginning in 1825 he went into dire financial straits again, as his company nearly collapsed. That he was the author of his novels became general knowledge at this time as well. 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 non-fiction biography of Napoleon Bonaparte) until 1831. By then his health was failing, and he died at Abbotsford in 1832. Though not in the clear by then, his novels continued to sell, and he made good his debts from beyond the grave. He was buried in Dryburgh Abbey where nearby, fittingly, a large statue can be found of William Wallace—one of Scotland's most romantic historical figures.

Scott was responsible for two major trends that carry on to this day. First, he popularized the historical novel; an enormous number of imitators (and imitators of imitators) would appear in the 19th century. It is a measure of Scott's influence that Edinburgh's central railway station, opened in 1854, is called Waverley Station. Second, his Scottish novels rehabilitated Highland culture after years in the shadows following the Jacobite rebellions. It is worth noting, however, that Scott was a Lowland Scot, and that his re-creations of the Highlands were more than a little fanciful. It is known that he invented many clan tartans out of whole cloth, so to speak, for the visit by George IV to Scotland in 1822. Nevertheless, even though he is less popular in these days, the echoes of Waverley and its sequels reverberate still.

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.


  • The Chase (translator) (1796)
  • William and Helen, Two Ballads from the German (translator) (1796)
  • Goetz of Berlichingen (translator) (1799)
  • The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-1803)
  • The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805)
  • Ballads and Lyrical Pieces (1806)
  • Marmion (1808)
  • The Lady of the Lake (1810)
  • The Vision of Don Roderick (1811)
  • The Bridal of Triermain (1813)
  • Rokeby (1813)
  • The Border Antiquities of England and Scotland (1814-1817)
  • Waverley (1814)
  • The Field of Waterloo (1815)
  • Guy Mannering (1815)
  • The Lord of the Isles (1815)
  • The Antiquary (1816)
  • Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk (1816)
  • Tales of my Landlord, 1st series, The Black Dwarf and Old Mortality (1816)
  • Harold the Dauntless (1817)
  • Rob Roy (1818)
  • Tales of my Landlord, 2nd series, The Heart of Midlothian (1818)
  • Provincial Antiquities of Scotland (1819-1826)
  • Tales of my Landlord, 3rd series, The Bride of Lammermoor and A Legend of Montrose (1819)
  • Ivanhoe (1820)
  • Tales from Benedictine Sources, consisting of The Abbot and The Monastery (1820)
  • Kenilworth (1821)
  • Lives of the Novelists (1821-1824)
  • The Fortunes of Nigel (1822)
  • Halidon Hall (1822)
  • Peveril of the Peak (1822)
  • The Pirate (1822)
  • Quentin Durward (1823)
  • Redgauntlet (1824)
  • St. Ronan's Well (1824)
  • Tales of the Crusaders, consisting of The Betrothed and The Talisman (1825)
  • Woodstock (1826)
  • Chronicles of the Canongate, 1st series, The Highland Widow, The Two Drovers and The Surgeon's Daughter (1827)
  • The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte (1827)
  • Chronicles of the Canongate, 2nd series, The Fair Maid of Perth (1828)
  • Religious Discourses (1828)
  • Tales of a Grandfather, 1st series (1828)
  • Anne of Geierstein (1829)
  • History of Scotland, 2 vols. (1829-1830)
  • Tales of a Grandfather, 2nd series (1829)
  • The Doom of Devorgoil (1830)
  • Essays on Ballad Poetry (1830)
  • Tales of a Grandfather, 3rd series (1830)
  • Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1831)
  • Tales of my Landlord, 4th series, Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous (1832)
  • The Bride of Lammermoor
  • Young Lockinvar
  • The Bishop of Tyre

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Last updated: 06-01-2005 20:43:45
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