Ondertexts
Walter Scott
Search

Walter Scott

Walter Scott Walter Scott[1†]

Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832), was a Scottish historian, novelist, poet, and playwright[1†]. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland[1†] and is often considered both the inventor and the greatest practitioner of the historical novel[1†][2†]. Many of his works remain classics of European and Scottish literature, notably the novels Ivanhoe (1819), Rob Roy (1817), Waverley (1814), Old Mortality (1816), The Heart of Mid-Lothian (1818), and The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), along with the narrative poems Marmion (1808) and The Lady of the Lake (1810)[1†].

Early Years and Education

Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on August 15, 1771[2†][4†]. He was the son of a lawyer with a long family tradition in law[2†][4†]. By birth, Scott was connected with both the rising middle class of Britain and the aristocratic Scottish heritage then passing into history[2†][4†]. As a child, Scott battled polio, a disease that attacks children and impairs their development[2†][4†]. Despite the ailment, Scott enjoyed a relatively active and happy childhood[2†][4†].

From his earliest years, Scott was fond of listening to his elderly relatives’ accounts and stories of the Scottish Border, and he soon became a voracious reader of poetry, history, drama, and fairy tales and romances[2†]. He had a remarkably retentive memory and astonished visitors by his eager reciting of poetry[2†]. His explorations of the neighbouring countryside developed in him both a love of natural beauty and a deep appreciation of the historic struggles of his Scottish forebears[2†][5†].

Scott was educated at the high school at Edinburgh and also for a time at the grammar school at Kelso[2†]. He later continued his education at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1783[2†][3†][6†]. In 1786, he was apprenticed to his father as writer to the signet, a Scots equivalent of the English solicitor (attorney)[2†]. His study and practice of law were somewhat desultory, for his immense youthful energy was diverted into social activities and into miscellaneous readings in Italian, Spanish, French, German, and Latin[2†].

After a very deeply felt early disappointment in love, he married, in December 1797, Charlotte Carpenter, of a French royalist family, with whom he lived happily until her death in 1826[2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Walter Scott’s career was as diverse as it was influential. In addition to his writing, Scott held a variety of occupations during his lifetime[7†]. As an adolescent, he was apprenticed to his father as a writer to the signet, a Scottish equivalent of a solicitor[7†]. In 1799, he was appointed sheriff depute to the county of Selkirk, a post he held for the rest of his life[7†]. In 1806, he was appointed a clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh[7†]. These positions supplemented his earnings from his published work[7†].

Scott also became a partner in a printing firm owned by James and John Ballantyne, a partnership that ultimately proved to be disastrous financially[7†]. In 1813, Scott managed to save the firm from bankruptcy, but this put considerable financial strain on him, pressuring him to publish work that would make money[7†]. Due to the success of The Waverley Novels, he later entered into financial agreements with the Ballantyne brothers and his publisher, Archibald Constable, based on anticipation of future earnings[7†].

Scott’s early work consisted of poetic romances such as The Lady of the Lake (1810)[7†][8†]. He later wrote The Waverley Novels, a series of historical novels published anonymously between 1814 and 1832 that were popular in his day[7†][8†]. The earlier books are set in Scotland and demonstrate Scott’s knowledge of Scottish history and society[7†][8†]. His works enjoyed wide readership across Europe, North America, and Australia[7†][9†].

Scott was among the first to draw upon history as source material for his fiction and is generally cited as the father of the historical novel[7†][10†]. His immense contribution to literature, particularly the historical novel genre, has left an indelible mark on the literary world[7†][2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Walter Scott’s literary career is marked by a series of novels and narrative poems that have become classics of European and Scottish literature[1†][11†][12†]. Here are some of his main works:

Scott’s narrative poems also gained significant recognition. Notably, Marmion (1808) and The Lady of the Lake (1810) are celebrated for their vivid storytelling and romantic themes[1†].

These works not only established Scott as a master of historical fiction but also had a profound impact on European and American literature[1†]. His ability to weave historical events with fictional narratives set a new standard for historical novels[1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Sir Walter Scott’s literary reputation rests firmly on his monumental collection of Waverley novels[14†]. His literary life as a novelist began with the publication of Waverley in 1814, marking the end of his period of intense poetic production[14†]. However, his poetry, characterized by imaginative power and metrical romances, lyrics, and ballads, is worth studying for its own merits[14†].

Scott not only altered the course of nineteenth-century literature but also profoundly influenced Western culture[14†][15†]. He developed an image of the popular hero that became standard, and this image continues to affect both behavior and education, shaping the values of both individuals and nations[14†][15†].

In addition to his novels, Scott wrote numerous plays and nonfiction prose, including Religious Discourses by a Layman (1828), The History of Scotland (1829-1830), and Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830)[14†]. He also produced three biographies of note: The Life and Works of John Dryden (1808), The Memoirs of Jonathan Swift (1826), and The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte: Emperor of the French, with a Preliminary View of the French Revolution (1827, 9 volumes)[14†].

Scott’s works, both in prose and poetry, exhibit a distinct style that blends historical events with fictional narratives, setting a new standard for historical novels[14†]. His works are celebrated for their vivid storytelling, romantic themes, and their profound impact on European and American literature[14†].

Personal Life

Walter Scott was married to Margaret Charlotte Carpenter[16†], also known as Charlotte Charpentier[16†][3†], in 1797[16†][3†]. They had a happy marriage[16†][2†] and she bore him three sons and two daughters[16†]. Scott’s personal life was deeply intertwined with his professional life, as he often drew inspiration from his personal experiences and surroundings[16†][1†].

Scott’s personal life was also marked by his deep love for his homeland, Scotland[16†][1†]. His explorations of the neighboring countryside developed in him both a love of natural beauty and a deep appreciation of the historic struggles of his Scottish forebears[16†][2†]. This love for his homeland and its history is evident in his works, which often revolve around Scottish history and folklore[16†][1†].

Scott was also known for his social popularity[16†]. He was a prominent figure in Edinburgh’s Tory establishment and was active in the Highland Society[16†][1†]. He was also a long-time president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1820–1832), and a vice president of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1827–1829)[16†][1†].

Scott’s wife, Charlotte, passed away in 1826[16†][2†]. Scott himself died on 21 September 1832, at the age of 61[16†][2†][1†]. He died as Sir Walter Scott, having received his title and baronetcy from King George IV in the spring of 1820[16†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Sir Walter Scott’s legacy is vast and enduring. He was a key figure in developing the historical novel and is one of Scotland’s most important authors[17†]. His work was crucial in creating and shaping part of Scotland’s national identity in the 19th century, and that legacy is still felt today[17†].

Scott was admired by his contemporaries Goethe, Pushkin, and Balzac, and celebrated by Lukács as the founder of the historical novel[17†][18†]. He was born into the upper middle class, his family preserved a sense of tradition from one of the great Scottish clans, including folk heritage[17†][18†].

In his lifetime, Scott became the first literary superstar and he left a remarkable legacy[17†][19†]. His influences stretch far and wide, and his work continues to be studied and appreciated[17†][19†]. His work endures in the modern age because Scott realized you don’t have to write about the moment you’re living in to write about the issues that are relevant to your own time[17†][20†].

Scott’s “international appeal” has increased ahead of the 250th anniversary of his birth[17†][20†]. His work continues to be studied and appreciated, and courses are being designed to bring Scott to the attention of a new audience[17†][20†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Walter Scott [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Sir Walter Scott: Scottish writer [website] - link
  3. Simple Wikipedia (English) - Walter Scott [website] - link
  4. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Walter Scott Biography [website] - link
  5. Victorian Era - Sir Walter Scott: Scottish novelist, Historian, Poet and Biographer [website] - link
  6. ThoughtCo - Biography of Sir Walter Scott, Scottish Novelist and Poet [website] - link
  7. Britannica - What jobs did Sir Walter Scott have? [website] - link
  8. Britannica - What did Sir Walter Scott write? [website] - link
  9. The Famous People - Walter Scott Biography [website] - link
  10. New World Encyclopedia - Walter Scott [website] - link
  11. Edinburgh University Library - The Walter Scott Digital Archive - Index to Walter Scott's works [website] - link
  12. Wikiwand - Walter Scott - Wikiwand [website] - link
  13. MR Online - Walter Scott and the historical novel [website] - link
  14. eNotes - Sir Walter Scott Analysis [website] - link
  15. eNotes - Sir Walter Scott World Literature Analysis [website] - link
  16. CliffsNotes - Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott Biography [website] - link
  17. National Library of Scotland - Sir Walter Scott and the Historical Novel [website] - link
  18. Culture Matters - Walter Scott and the historical novel [website] - link
  19. The Scots Magazine - Scottish History In Minutes – The Life Of Sir Walter Scott [website] - link
  20. BBC News - None [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.