Childhood & Early Life
Sir Walter Scott was born on August 15, 1771, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father was a lawyer and his mother was the daughter of a physician.
When he was two, he suffered from polio which left him lame. Young Scott spent much of his growing up years in Sandyknowe with his paternal grandparents.
As a child, he was fond of listening to tales and legends of the Scottish border. He was a voracious reader, reading almost everything he laid his hands on, right from history and drama to fairy tales and romance.
In 1778, he returned to Edinburgh. Following year, he began his formal studies at the Royal High School of Edinburgh. By this time, he was able to walk but with a pronounced limp.
Finishing school, he moved to Kelso for six months, studying at the local grammar school. In 1783, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to study classics. There he befriended Adam Ferguson and Thomas Blacklock.
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In 1786, he apprenticed at his father’s office as a Writer to the Signet. Taking up a career in law, he went back to the university to gain a formal degree in the subject. Completing his studies, he became a lawyer in Edinburgh and was called to the bar in 1792.
In 1796, he began his literary career, starting off by translating the works from German. His first publication was translations of two rhymed version of ballads by Gottfried August Burger, ‘The Chase’ and ‘William and Helen’
Following his first publication, he translated the works of Goethe’s ‘Gotz von Berlichingen’ in 1799. Same year, he was appointed Sheriff-Depute of the County of Selkirk, based in the Royal Burgh of Selkirk.
In 1800, his first original work, ‘Glenfinals’ and ‘The Eve of St John’, was published. Written in a short narrative style, the poetry brought him much public attention and appreciation.
His childhood interest in border ballads finally took the form of three volume poetry collection by the name, ‘Minstrelsy Of the Scottish Border’ which was published in 1802-03. With this collection, he attempted to restore the original compositions but with a touch of romanticism. The collection also gave a glimpse of his long-standing interest in Scottish history.
In 1805, Scott came up with his earliest masterpiece, ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’ which gained much limelight and successfully established his career as a writer. Revolving around an old border country legend, the long-narrative poem vividly described the natural landscape and Scottish history with its story-telling side.
Following the success of ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’, he came up with several other poems including ‘Marmion’, ‘The Lady of the Lake’, ‘Rokeby’ and ‘The Lord of the Isles’.
In 1806, he was promoted as the clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. The appointment was welcomed as it supplemented his income from his writings.
In 1809, he persuaded his friend James Ballantyne to establish a publishing house in Edinburgh. However, by 1825, the firm was on the verge of bankruptcy. Most of earnings from his writing thereafter were directed at clearing the debts incurred.
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After gaining a celebrity status through his collection of poetry, Scott turned his attention to prose fiction. He attempted to portray the Scottish historical events in an innovative fashion. His first novel ‘Waverly’ was published anonymously in 1814. It dealt with the subject of the Scottish Rebellion of 1745.
Following the success of ‘Waverly’, he came up with a succession of novels namely, ‘Tales of My Landlord’, ‘The Bride of Lammermoor’, ‘Rob Roy’, ‘A Legend of Montrose’ and ‘Ivanhoe’. ‘Ivanhoe’ set in the 12th century England is Scott’s best known novel till date. All his prose works were anonymously published and were better known as ‘Waverly novels’ till in 1827 he revealed his identity.
Interestingly, prose fiction that was long-considered inferior to poetry enjoyed a new-found status in the society, due to Scott’s writing. Continuing with his stint at prose, in the 1820s, he came up with several more noteworthy fiction tales including ‘Kenilworth’, ‘The Fortunes Of Nigel’, ‘Peveril Of The Peak’, ‘Quentin Durward’, ‘The Talisman’, ‘Woodstock’, ‘The Surgeon's Daughter’, and ‘Anne Of Geierstein’ amongst many others.
His explorations and interpretations of Scottish history increased his popularity by manifolds. He attracted the attention of Prince Regent who gave consent to Scott to find the long-lost Crown Jewels. In 1818, with the help of a team of military personnel, he unearthed the honors from Edinburgh Castle. This gesture earned him the title of baronet, which he formally received in 1820 in London, thus becoming Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet.
Personal Life & Legacy
Scott had an unsuccessful love relationship with Williamina Belsches of Fettercairn. The early failure had a catastrophic effect on him emotionally.
In 1797, he first met Charlotte Genevieve Charpentier. After three weeks of courtship, the two married on Christmas Eve at St Mary's Church, Carlisle. The couple was blessed with five children, of which four survived. His wife passed way in 1826.
He was ordained as an elder in the Presbyterian Church of Duddington and sat in the General Assembly for a time as representative elder of the burgh of Selkirk.
By 1830s, he suffered from frail health, a condition which worsened further. After his grand tour of Europe, he returned to Scotland in 1832. Shortly thereafter, he died on September 21, 1832, at his home in Abbotsford.
For his outstanding contribution to literature, he has been commemorated in various ways. A Victorian Gothic spire of the Scott Monument almost 61.1 m long was built in Edinburgh. Others include a stone slab in Makar’s Court and Walter Scott’s Monument in the centre of George Square.
Edinburgh’s Waverley Railway Station bears its name to one of his novels. Furthermore, several of his quotes have been mentioned on the Canongate Wall of the Scottish Parliament Building.
All the bank notes issued by the Bank of Scotland bears his appearance on the front side. This was done after he retained the right of Scottish banks to issue their own notes through his series of letters in Edinburgh Weekly Journal.
The Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch initiated the annual Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2010. The prize money worth £25,000 is one of the largest prizes in British literature.