Walter Scott Publishing Company Bibliography Format

For other people named Walter Scott, see Walter Scott (disambiguation).

Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet, FRSE (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright, poet and historian. Many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.

Although primarily remembered for his extensive literary works and his political engagement, Scott was an advocate, judge and legal administrator by profession, and throughout his career combined his writing and editing work with his daily occupation as Clerk of Session and Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire.

A prominent member of the Tory establishment in Edinburgh, Scott was an active member of the Highland Society and served a long term as President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1820–32).

Life and works[edit]

Early days[edit]

Walter Scott was born on 15 August 1771. He was the ninth child of Walter Scott, a Writer to the Signet (solicitor), and Anne Rutherford. His father was a member of a cadet branch of the Scotts Clan, and his mother descended from the Haliburton family, the descent from whom granted Walter's family the hereditary right of burial in Dryburgh Abbey.[1] Via the Haliburton family, Walter (b.1771) was a cousin of the pre-eminent contemporaneous property developer James Burton, who was a Haliburton who had shortened his surname, and of his son, the architect Decimus Burton.[2] Walter subsequently became a member of the Clarence Club, of which the Burtons were also members.[3][4]

Five of Walter's siblings died in infancy, and a sixth died when he was five months of age. Walter was born in a third-floor flat on College Wynd in the Old Town of Edinburgh, a narrow alleyway leading from the Cowgate to the gates of the University of Edinburgh (Old College).[5] He survived a childhood bout of polio in 1773 that left him lame,[6] a condition that was to have a significant effect on his life and writing.[7] To cure his lameness he was sent in 1773 to live in the rural Scottish Borders at his paternal grandparents' farm at Sandyknowe, adjacent to the ruin of Smailholm Tower, the earlier family home.[8] Here he was taught to read by his aunt Jenny, and learned from her the speech patterns and many of the tales and legends that characterised much of his work. In January 1775 he returned to Edinburgh, and that summer went with his aunt Jenny to take spa treatment at Bath in England, where they lived at 6 South Parade.[9] In the winter of 1776 he went back to Sandyknowe, with another attempt at a water cure at Prestonpans during the following summer.[8]

In 1778, Scott returned to Edinburgh for private education to prepare him for school, and joined his family in their new house built as one of the first in George Square.[5] In October 1779 he began at the Royal High School of Edinburgh (in High School Yards). He was now well able to walk and explore the city and the surrounding countryside. His reading included chivalric romances, poems, history and travel books. He was given private tuition by James Mitchell in arithmetic and writing, and learned from him the history of the Church of Scotland with emphasis on the Covenanters. After finishing school he was sent to stay for six months with his aunt Jenny in Kelso, attending the local grammar school where he met James and John Ballantyne, who later became his business partners and printed his books.[10]

Meeting with Blacklock and Burns[edit]

Scott began studying classics at the University of Edinburgh in November 1783, at the age of 12, a year or so younger than most of his fellow students. In March 1786 he began an apprenticeship in his father's office to become a Writer to the Signet. While at the university Scott had become a friend of Adam Ferguson, the son of Professor Adam Ferguson who hosted literary salons. Scott met the blind poet Thomas Blacklock, who lent him books and introduced him to James Macpherson's Ossian cycle of poems. During the winter of 1786–87 the 15-year-old Scott saw Robert Burns at one of these salons, for what was to be their only meeting. When Burns noticed a print illustrating the poem "The Justice of the Peace" and asked who had written the poem, only Scott knew that it was by John Langhorne, and was thanked by Burns.[11] When it was decided that he would become a lawyer, he returned to the university to study law, first taking classes in Moral Philosophy and Universal History in 1789–90.[10]

After completing his studies in law, he became a lawyer in Edinburgh. As a lawyer's clerk he made his first visit to the Scottish Highlands directing an eviction. He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1792. He had an unsuccessful love suit with Williamina Belsches of Fettercairn, who married Scott's friend Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet.

Start of literary career, marriage and family[edit]

As a boy, youth and young man, Scott was fascinated by the oral traditions of the Scottish Borders. He was an obsessive collector of stories, and developed an innovative method of recording what he heard at the feet of local story-tellers using carvings on twigs, to avoid the disapproval of those who believed that such stories were neither for writing down nor for printing.[12] At the age of 25 he began to write professionally, translating works from German,[13] his first publication being rhymed versions of ballads by Gottfried August Bürger in 1796. He then published an idiosyncratic three-volume set of collected ballads of his adopted home region, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. This was the first sign from a literary standpoint of his interest in Scottish history.

As a result of his early polio infection, Scott had a pronounced limp. He was described in 1820 as tall, well formed (except for one ankle and foot which made him walk lamely), neither fat nor thin, with forehead very high, nose short, upper lip long and face rather fleshy, complexion fresh and clear, eyes very blue, shrewd and penetrating, with hair now silvery white.[14] Although a determined walker, on horseback he experienced greater freedom of movement. Unable to consider a military career, Scott enlisted as a volunteer in the 1st Lothian and Border yeomanry.[15]

On a trip to the Lake District with old college friends he met Charlotte Charpentier (or Carpenter), daughter of Jean Charpentier of Lyon in France, and ward of Lord Downshire in Cumberland, an Episcopalian. After three weeks of courtship, Scott proposed and they were married on Christmas Eve 1797 in St Mary's Church, Carlisle (a church set up in the now destroyed nave of Carlisle Cathedral).[16] After renting a house in George Street, they moved to nearby South Castle Street. They had five children, of whom four survived by the time of Scott's death, most baptized by an Episcopalian clergyman. In 1799 he was appointed Sheriff-Depute of the County of Selkirk, based in the Royal Burgh of Selkirk. In his early married days Scott had a decent living from his earnings at the law, his salary as Sheriff-Depute, his wife's income, some revenue from his writing, and his share of his father's rather meagre estate.

After their third son was born in 1801, they moved to a spacious three-storey house built for Scott at 39 North Castle Street. This remained Scott's base in Edinburgh until 1826, when he could no longer afford two homes. From 1798 Scott had spent the summers in a cottage at Lasswade, where he entertained guests including literary figures, and it was there that his career as an author began. There were nominal residency requirements for his position of Sheriff-Depute, and at first he stayed at a local inn during the circuit. In 1804 he ended his use of the Lasswade cottage and leased the substantial house of Ashestiel, 6 miles (9.7 km) from Selkirk. It was sited on the south bank of the River Tweed, and the building incorporated an old tower house.[5]

Scott's father, also Walter (1729–1799), was a Freemason, being a member of Lodge St David, No.36 (Edinburgh), and Scott also became a Freemason in his father's Lodge in 1801, albeit only after the death of his father.[17]


In 1796, Scott's friend James Ballantyne[18] founded a printing press in Kelso, in the Scottish Borders. Through Ballantyne, Scott was able to publish his first works, including "Glenfinlas" and "The Eve of St. John", and his poetry then began to bring him to public attention. In 1805, The Lay of the Last Minstrel captured wide public imagination, and his career as a writer was established in spectacular fashion.

The way was long, the wind was cold,
The Minstrel was infirm and old

— The Lay of the Last Minstrel (first lines)

He published many other poems over the next ten years, including the popular The Lady of the Lake, printed in 1810 and set in the Trossachs. Portions of the German translation of this work were set to music by Franz Schubert. One of these songs, "Ellens dritter Gesang", is popularly labelled as "Schubert's Ave Maria".

Beethoven's opus 108 "Twenty-Five Scottish Songs" includes 3 folk songs whose words are by Walter Scott.

Marmion, published in 1808, produced lines that have become proverbial. 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.[19]

In 1809 Scott persuaded James Ballantyne and his brother to move to Edinburgh and to establish their printing press there. He became a partner in their business. As a political conservative,[20] Scott helped to found the ToryQuarterly Review, a review journal to which he made several anonymous contributions. Scott was also a contributor to the Edinburgh Review, which espoused Whig views.

Scott 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.

When the lease of Ashestiel expired in 1811, Scott bought Cartley Hole Farm, on the south bank of the River Tweed nearer Melrose. The farm had the nickname of "Clarty Hole", and when Scott built a family cottage there in 1812 he named it "Abbotsford". He continued to expand the estate, and built Abbotsford House in a series of extensions.[5]

In 1813 Scott was offered the position of Poet Laureate. He declined, due to concerns that "such an appointment would be a poisoned chalice", as the Laureateship had fallen into disrepute, due to the decline in quality of work suffered by previous title holders, "as a succession of poetasters had churned out conventional and obsequious odes on royal occasions."[21] He sought advice from the Duke of Buccleuch, who counseled him to retain his literary independence, and the position went to Scott's friend, Robert Southey.[22]


Although Scott had attained worldwide celebrity through his poetry, he soon tried his hand at documenting his researches into the oral tradition of the Scottish Borders in prose fiction—stories and novels—at the time still considered aesthetically inferior to poetry (above all to such classical genres as the epic or poetic tragedy) as a mimetic vehicle for portraying historical events. In an innovative and astute action, he wrote and published his first novel, Waverley, anonymously in 1814. It was a tale of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Its English protagonist, Edward Waverley, like Don Quixote a great reader of romances, has been brought up by his Tory uncle, who is sympathetic to Jacobitism, although Edward's own father is a Whig. The youthful Waverley obtains a commission in the Whig army and is posted in Dundee. On leave, he meets his uncle's friend, the Jacobite Baron Bradwardine and is attracted to the Baron's daughter Rose. On a visit to the Highlands, Edward overstays his leave and is arrested and charged with desertion but is rescued by the Highland chieftain Fergus MacIvor and his mesmerizing sister Flora, whose devotion to the Stuart cause, "as it exceeded her brother's in fanaticism, excelled it also in purity". Through Flora, Waverley meets Bonnie Prince Charlie, and under her influence goes over to the Jacobite side and takes part in the Battle of Prestonpans. He escapes retribution, however, after saving the life of a Whig colonel during the battle. Waverley (whose surname reflects his divided loyalties) eventually decides to lead a peaceful life of establishment respectability under the House of Hanover rather than live as a proscribed rebel. He chooses to marry the beautiful Rose Bradwardine, rather than cast his lot with the sublime Flora MacIvor, who, after the failure of the '45 rising, retires to a French convent.

There followed a succession of novels over the next five years, each with a Scottish historical setting. Mindful of his reputation as a poet, Scott maintained the anonymity he had begun with Waverley, publishing the novels under the name "Author of Waverley" or as "Tales of..." with no author. Among those familiar with his poetry, his identity became an open secret, but Scott persisted in maintaining the façade, perhaps because he thought his old-fashioned father would disapprove of his engaging in such a trivial pursuit as novel writing. During this time Scott became known by the nickname "The Wizard of the North". In 1815 he was given the honour of dining with George, Prince Regent, who wanted to meet the "Author of Waverley".

Scott's 1819 series Tales of my Landlord is sometimes considered a subset of the Waverley novels and was intended to illustrate aspects of Scottish regional life. Among the best known is The Bride of Lammermoor, a fictionalized version of an actual incident in the history of the Dalrymple family that took place in the Lammermuir Hills in 1669. In the novel, Lucie Ashton and the nobly born but now dispossessed and impoverished Edgar Ravenswood exchange vows. But the Ravenswoods and the wealthy Ashtons, who now own the former Ravenswood lands, are enemies, and Lucie's mother forces her daughter to break her engagement to Edgar and marry the wealthy Sir Arthur Bucklaw. Lucie falls into a depression and on their wedding night stabs the bridegroom, succumbs to insanity, and dies. In 1821, French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix painted a portrait depicting himself as the melancholy, disinherited Edgar Ravenswood. The prolonged, climactic coloratura mad scene for Lucia in Donizetti's 1835 bel canto opera Lucia di Lammermoor is based on what in the novel were just a few bland sentences.

Tales of my Landlord includes the now highly regarded novel Old Mortality, set in 1679–89 against the backdrop of the ferocious anti-Covenanting campaign of the Tory Graham of Claverhouse, subsequently made Viscount Dundee (called "Bluidy Clavers" by his opponents but later dubbed "Bonnie Dundee" by Scott). The Covenanters were presbyterians who had supported the Restoration of Charles II on promises of a Presbyterian settlement, but he had instead reintroduced Episcopalian church government with draconian penalties for Presbyterian worship. This led to the destitution of around 270 ministers who had refused to take an oath of allegiance and submit themselves to bishops, and who continued to conduct worship among a remnant of their flock in caves and other remote country spots. The relentless persecution of these conventicles and attempts to break them up by military force had led to open revolt. The story is told from the point of view of Henry Morton, a moderate Presbyterian, who is unwittingly drawn into the conflict and barely escapes summary execution. In writing Old Mortality Scott drew upon the knowledge he had acquired from his researches into ballads on the subject for The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.[23] Scott's background as a lawyer also informed his perspective, for at the time of the novel, which takes place before the Act of Union of 1707, English law did not apply in Scotland, and afterwards Scotland has continued to have its own Scots law as a hybrid legal system. A recent critic, who is a legal as well as a literary scholar, argues that Old Mortality not only reflects the dispute between Stuart's absolute monarchy and the jurisdiction of the courts, but also invokes a foundational moment in British sovereignty, namely, the Habeas Corpus Act (also known as the Great Writ), passed by the English Parliament in 1679.[24] Oblique reference to the origin of Habeas corpus underlies Scott's next novel, Ivanhoe, set during the era of the creation of the Magna Carta, which political conservatives like Walter Scott and Edmund Burke regarded as rooted in immemorial British custom and precedent.

Ivanhoe (1819), set in 12th-century England, marked a move away from Scott's focus on the local history of Scotland. Based partly on Hume'sHistory of England and the ballad cycle of Robin Hood, Ivanhoe was quickly translated into many languages and inspired countless imitations and theatrical adaptations. Ivanhoe depicts the cruel tyranny of the Norman overlords (Norman Yoke) over the impoverished Saxon populace of England, with two of the main characters, Rowena and Locksley (Robin Hood), representing the dispossessed Saxon aristocracy. When the protagonists are captured and imprisoned by a Norman baron, Scott interrupts the story to exclaim:

It is grievous to think that those valiant barons, to whose stand against the crown the liberties of England were indebted for their existence, should themselves have been such dreadful oppressors, and capable of excesses contrary not only to the laws of England, but to those of nature and humanity. But, alas ...fiction itself can hardly reach the dark reality of the horrors of the period. (Chapter 24.33)

The institution of the Magna Carta, which happens outside the time frame of the story, is portrayed as a progressive (incremental) reform, but also as a step towards the recovery of a lost golden age of liberty endemic to England and the English system. Scott puts a derisive prophecy in the mouth of the jester Wamba:

Norman saw on English oak.
On English neck a Norman yoke;
Norman spoon to English dish,
And England ruled as Normans wish;
Blithe world in England never will be more,
Till England's rid of all the four. (Ivanhoe, Ch. xxvii)

Although on the surface an entertaining escapist romance, alert contemporary readers would have quickly recognised the political subtext of Ivanhoe, which appeared immediately after the English Parliament, fearful of French-style revolution in the aftermath of Waterloo, had passed the Habeas Corpus Suspension acts of 1817 and 1818 and other extremely repressive measures, and when traditional English Charter rights versus revolutionary human rights was a topic of discussion.[25]

Ivanhoe was also remarkable in its sympathetic portrayal of Jewish characters: Rebecca, considered by many critics the book's real heroine, does not in the end get to marry Ivanhoe, whom she loves, but Scott allows her to remain faithful to her own religion, rather than having her convert to Christianity. Likewise, her father, Isaac of York, a Jewish moneylender, is shown as a victim rather than a villain. In Ivanhoe, which is one of Scott's Waverley novels, religious and sectarian fanatics are the villains, while the eponymous hero is a bystander who must weigh the evidence and decide where to take a stand. Scott's positive portrayal of Judaism, which reflects his humanity and concern for religious toleration, also coincided with a contemporary movement for the Emancipation of the Jews in England.

Recovery of the Crown Jewels, baronetcy and ceremonial pageantry[edit]

Scott's fame grew as his explorations and interpretations of Scottish history and society captured popular imagination. Impressed by this, the Prince Regent (the future George IV) gave Scott permission to conduct a search for the Crown Jewels ("Honours of Scotland"). During the years of the Protectorate under Cromwell the Crown Jewels had been hidden away, but had subsequently been used to crown Charles II. They were not used to crown subsequent monarchs, but were regularly taken to sittings of Parliament, to represent the absent monarch, until the Act of Union 1707. Thereafter, the honours were stored in Edinburgh Castle, but the large locked box in which they were stored was not opened for more than 100 years, and stories circulated that they had been "lost" or removed. In 1818, Scott and a small team of military men opened the box, and "unearthed" the honours from the Crown Room in the depths of Edinburgh Castle. A grateful Prince Regent granted Scott the title of baronet,[26] and in March 1820 he received the baronetcy in London, becoming Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet.[27]

After George's accession to the throne, the city council of Edinburgh invited Scott, at the King's behest, to stage-manage the 1822 visit of King George IV to Scotland.[26] With only three weeks for planning and execution, Scott created a spectacular and comprehensive pageant, designed not only to impress the King, but also in some way to heal the rifts that had destabilised Scots society. He used the event to contribute to the drawing of a line under an old world that pitched his homeland into regular bouts of bloody strife. He, along with his "production team", mounted what in modern days could be termed a PR event, in which the King was dressed in tartan, and was greeted by his people, many of whom were also dressed in similar tartan ceremonial dress. This form of dress, proscribed after the 1745 rebellion against the English, became one of the seminal, potent and ubiquitous symbols of Scottish identity.[28]

In his novel Kenilworth, Elizabeth I is welcomed to the castle of that name by means of an elaborate pageant, the details of which Scott was well qualified to itemize.

Much of Scott's autograph work shows an almost stream-of-consciousness approach to writing. He included little in the way of punctuation in his drafts, leaving such details to the printers to supply.[29] He eventually acknowledged in 1827 that he was the author of the Waverley Novels.[28]

Financial problems and death[edit]

In 1825 a UK-wide banking crisis resulted in the collapse of the Ballantyne printing business, of which Scott was the only partner with a financial interest; the company's debts of £130,000 (equivalent to £9,800,000 in 2016) caused his very public ruin.[30] Rather than declare himself bankrupt, or to accept any kind of financial support from his many supporters and admirers (including the king himself), he placed his house and income in a trust belonging to his creditors, and determined to write his way out of debt. He kept up his prodigious output of fiction, as well as producing a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, until 1831. By then his health was failing, but he nevertheless undertook a grand tour of Europe, and was welcomed and celebrated wherever he went. He returned to Scotland and, in September 1832, during the epidemic in Scotland that year, died of typhus[31] at Abbotsford, the home he had designed and had built, near Melrose in the Scottish Borders. (His wife, Lady Scott, had died in 1826 and was buried as an Episcopalian.) Two Presbyterian ministers and one Episcopalian officiated at his funeral.[32] Scott died owing money, but his novels continued to sell, and the debts encumbering his estate were discharged shortly after his death.[30]

Personal life[edit]

Scott married Charlotte Carpenter in St Mary's Church, Carlisle Cathedral on Christmas Eve 1797.

Scott's eldest son, Lt Walter Scott, inherited his father's estate and possessions. He married Jane Jobson, only daughter of William Jobson of Lochore (died 1822) and his wife Rachel Stuart (died 1863), on 3 February 1825.[33]

Scott, Sr.'s lawyer from at least 1814 was Hay Donaldson WS (died 1822), who was also agent to the Duke of Buccleuch. Scott was Donaldson's proposer when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.[34]

Scott was raised a Presbyterian but later also adhered to the Scottish Episcopal Church. Many have suggested this demonstrates both his nationalistic and unionistic tendencies.[35] 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.[36] However, he received an Episcopal funeral at his own insistence.[37] His Christian beliefs were explained and developed upon in his Religious Discourses of 1828.[38]

His distant cousin was the poet Randall Swingler.


When Scott was a boy, he sometimes travelled with his father from Selkirk to Melrose, 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).[39]

During the summers from 1804, Scott made his home at the large house of Ashestiel, on the south bank of the River Tweed 6 miles (9.7 km) north of Selkirk. When his lease on this property expired in 1811, Scott bought Cartley Hole Farm, downstream on the Tweed nearer Melrose. The farm had the nickname of "Clarty Hole", and when Scott built a family cottage there in 1812 he named it "Abbotsford". He continued to expand the estate, and built Abbotsford House in a series of extensions.[5] The farmhouse developed into a wonderful home that has been likened to a fairy palace. Scott was a pioneer of the Scottish Baronial style of architecture, therefore Abbotsford is festooned with turrets and stepped gabling. Through windows enriched with the insignia of heraldry the sun shone on suits of armour, trophies of the chase, a library of more than 9,000 volumes, fine furniture, and still finer pictures. Panelling of oak and cedar and carved ceilings relieved by coats of arms in their correct colours added to the beauty of the house.[40][verification needed]

It is estimated that the building cost Scott more than £25,000 (equivalent to £1,900,000 in 2016). More land was purchased until Scott owned nearly 1,000 acres (4.0 km2). A Roman road with a ford near Melrose used in olden days by the abbots of Melrose suggested the name of Abbotsford. Scott was buried in Dryburgh Abbey, where his wife had earlier been interred. Nearby is a large statue of William Wallace, one of Scotland's many romanticised historical figures.[41] Abbotsford later gave its name to the Abbotsford Club, founded in 1834 in memory of Sir Walter Scott.[42]


Later assessment[edit]

Although he continued to be extremely popular and widely read, both at home and abroad,[43] Scott's critical reputation declined in the last half of the 19th century as serious writers turned from romanticism to realism, and Scott began to be regarded as an author suitable for children. This trend accelerated in the 20th century. For example, in his classic study Aspects of the Novel (1927), E. M. Forster harshly criticized Scott's clumsy and slapdash writing style, "flat" characters, and thin plots. In contrast, the novels of Scott's contemporary Jane Austen, once appreciated only by the discerning few (including, as it happened, Scott himself) rose steadily in critical esteem, though Austen, as a female writer, was still faulted for her narrow ("feminine") choice of subject matter, which, unlike Scott, avoided the grand historical themes traditionally viewed as masculine.

Nevertheless, Scott's importance as an innovator continued to be recognized. He was acclaimed as the inventor of the genre of the modern historical novel (which others trace to Jane Porter, whose work in the genre predates Scott's) and the inspiration for enormous numbers of imitators and genre writers both in Britain and on the European continent. In the cultural sphere, Scott's Waverley novels played a significant part in the movement (begun with James Macpherson's Ossian cycle) in rehabilitating the public perception of the Scottish Highlands and its culture, which had been formerly suppressed as barbaric, and viewed in the southern mind as a breeding ground of hill bandits, religious fanaticism, and Jacobite rebellions. Scott served as chairman of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and was also a member of the Royal Celtic Society. His own contribution to the reinvention of Scottish culture was enormous, even though his re-creations of the customs of the Highlands were fanciful at times, despite his extensive travels around his native country. It is a testament to Scott's contribution in creating a unified identity for Scotland that Edinburgh's central railway station, opened in 1854 by the North British Railway, is called Waverley. The fact that Scott was a LowlandPresbyterian, rather than a Gaelic-speaking Catholic Highlander, made him more acceptable to a conservative English reading public. Scott's novels were certainly influential in the making of the Victorian craze for all things Scottish among British royalty, who were anxious to claim legitimacy through their rather attenuated historical connection with the royal house of Stuart.[citation needed]

At the time Scott wrote, Scotland was poised to move away from an era of socially divisive clan warfare to a modern world of literacy and industrial capitalism. Through the medium of Scott's novels, the violent religious and political conflicts of the country's recent past could be seen as belonging to history—which Scott defined, as the subtitle of Waverley ("'Tis Sixty Years Since") indicates, as something that happened at least 60 years ago. Scott's advocacy of objectivity and moderation and his strong repudiation of political violence on either side also had a strong, though unspoken, contemporary resonance in an era when many conservative English speakers lived in mortal fear of a revolution in the French style on British soil. Scott's orchestration of King George IV's visit to Scotland, in 1822, was a pivotal event intended to inspire a view of his home country that, in his view, accentuated the positive aspects of the past while allowing the age of quasi-medieval blood-letting to be put to rest, while envisioning a more useful, peaceful future.

After Scott's work had been essentially unstudied for many decades, a revival of critical interest began from the 1960s. Postmodern tastes favoured discontinuous narratives and the introduction of the "first person", yet they were more favourable to Scott's work than Modernist tastes. While F. R. Leavis had disdained Scott, seeing him as a thoroughly bad novelist and a thoroughly bad influence (The Great Tradition [1948]), György Lukács (The Historical Novel [1937, trans. 1962]) and David Daiches (Scott's Achievement as a Novelist [1951]) offered a Marxian political reading of Scott's fiction that generated a great deal of genuine interest in his work. Scott is now seen as an important innovator and a key figure in the development of Scottish and world literature, and particularly as the principal inventor of the historical novel.[44]

Memorials and commemoration[edit]

During his lifetime, Scott's portrait was painted by Sir Edwin Landseer and fellow Scots Sir Henry Raeburn and James Eckford Lauder. In Edinburgh, the 61.1-metre-tall Victorian Gothic spire of the Scott Monument was designed by George Meikle Kemp. It was completed in 1844, 12 years after Scott's death, and dominates the south side of Princes Street. Scott is also commemorated on a stone slab in Makars' Court, outside The Writers' Museum, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, along with other prominent Scottish writers; quotes from his work are also visible on the Canongate Wall of the Scottish Parliament building in Holyrood. There is a tower dedicated to his memory on Corstorphine Hill in the west of the city and, as mentioned, Edinburgh's Waverley railway station takes its name from one of his novels.

In Glasgow, Walter Scott's Monument dominates the centre of George Square, the main public square in the city. Designed by David Rhind in 1838, the monument features a large column topped by a statue of Scott.[45] There is a statue of Scott in New York City's Central Park.[46]

Numerous Masonic Lodges have been named after him and his novels. For example: Lodge Sir Walter Scott, No. 859 (Perth, Australia) and Lodge Waverley, No. 597 (Edinburgh, Scotland).[47]

The annual Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction was created in 2010 by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, whose ancestors were closely linked to Sir Walter Scott. At £25,000, it is one of the largest prizes in British literature. The award has been presented at Scott's historic home, Abbotsford House.

Scott has been credited with rescuing the Scottish banknote. In 1826, there was outrage in Scotland at the attempt of Parliament to prevent the production of banknotes of less than five pounds. Scott wrote a series of letters to the Edinburgh Weekly Journal under the pseudonym "Malachi Malagrowther" for retaining the right of Scottish banks to issue their own banknotes. This provoked such a response that the Government was forced to relent and allow the Scottish banks to continue printing pound notes. This campaign is commemorated by his continued appearance on the front of all notes issued by the Bank of Scotland. The image on the 2007 series of banknotes is based on the portrait by Henry Raeburn.[48]

During and immediately after World War I there was a movement spearheaded by President Wilson and other eminent people to inculcate patriotism in American school children, especially immigrants, and to stress the American connection with the literature and institutions of the "mother country" of Great Britain, using selected readings in middle school textbooks.[49] Scott's Ivanhoe continued to be required reading for many American high school students until the end of the 1950s.

A bust of Scott is in the Hall of Heroes of the National Wallace Monument in Stirling.

Literature by other authors[edit]

Letitia Elizabeth Landon was a great admirer of Scott and, on his death, she wrote two tributes to him: On Walter Scott in the Literary Gazette, and Sir Walter Scott in Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1833. Towards the end of her life she began a series called The Female Picture Gallery with a series of character analyses based on the women in Scott's works.

In Charles Baudelaire's La Fanfarlo (1847), poet Samuel Cramer says of Scott:

Oh that tedious author, a dusty exhumer of chronicles! A fastidious mass of descriptions of bric-a-brac ... and castoff things of every sort, armor, tableware, furniture, gothic inns, and melodramatic castles where lifeless mannequins stalk about, dressed in leotards.

In the novella, however, Cramer proves as deluded a romantic as any hero in one of Scott's novels.[50]

In Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) the narrator, Gilbert Markham, brings an elegantly bound copy of Marmion as a present to the independent "tenant of Wildfell Hall" (Helen Graham) whom he is courting, and is mortified when she insists on paying for it.

In a speech delivered at Salem, Massachusetts, on 6 January 1860, to raise money for the families of the executed abolitionist John Brown and his followers, Ralph Waldo Emerson calls Brown an example of true chivalry, which consists not in noble birth but in helping the weak and defenseless and declares that "Walter Scott would have delighted to draw his picture and trace his adventurous career".[51]

In his 1870 memoir, Army Life in a Black Regiment, New England abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson (later editor of Emily Dickinson), described how he wrote down and preserved Negro spirituals or "shouts" while serving as a colonel in the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first authorized Union Army regiment recruited from freedmen during the Civil War (memorialized in the 1989 film Glory). He wrote that he was "a faithful student of the Scottish ballads, and had always envied Sir Walter the delight of tracing them out amid their own heather, and of writing them down piecemeal from the lips of aged crones".

According to his daughter Eleanor, Scott was "an author to whom Karl Marx again and again returned, whom he admired and knew as well as he did Balzac and Fielding".[52]

A copy of Scott's Minstrelsy in the National Museum of Scotland
"Edgar and Lucie at Mermaiden's well" by Charles Robert Leslie (1886), after Sir Walter Scott's Bride of Lammermoor. Lucie is wearing a full plaid.
Statue on the Glasgow monument

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Financial Hardship

Scott suffered two major financial crises, in 1813 and 1825-26, both sparked by the collapse of his publishers:

  1. The Fall of John Ballantyne and Co. (1813)
  2. The Fall of Archibald Constable and Co. (1825-26)

1. The Fall of John Ballantyne and Co. (1813)

In 1809, Scott had broken with Archibald Constable and helped to set up the rival publishing house of John Ballantyne and Co. (see The Ballantyne Brothers). Scott obtained a half-share in this new business, and the Ballantyne brothers, John and James acquired a quarter share each. Profits were to be divided in the same proportion, and policy to be decided jointly. In practice, however, Scott, who had loaned an additional £1,500 to increase the business's liquid assets, made all major decisions and determined which titles should be published. Like Scott's involvement with James Ballantyne's printing house, his participation in this new enterprise was a closely guarded secret.

In May 1810 John Ballantyne and Co. published Scott's The Lady of the Lake, the immense success of which led the three partners into a wildly optimistic assessment of their prospects. The profits, however, were not ploughed back into the business, and Scott selected a series of financially disastrous titles for publication where loyalty or personal esteem for the author outweighed cold commercial logic. 1810, for example, saw the publication of a posthumous three-volume edition of the poems of Anna Seward, 'the Swan of Lichfield', one of Scott's great correspondents. Seward (portrayed, right) had appointed him her literary executor with instructions to bring out her collected works, most of which Scott himself judged 'absolutely execrable' (letter to Joanna Baillie, March 18, 1810). Equally unsuccessful were Scott's friend John Jamieson's The Historical Account of the Ancient Culdees of Iona (1811) and a fourteen-volume edition of the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher (1812).

Another long-cherished Scott project, however, proved the chief drain on the firm's resources. The Edinburgh Annual Register began with encyclopedic ambitions and an impressive list of contributors. Each volume was originally to include an account of world events in the year covered, followed by surveys of developments in the spheres of literature, science, fine arts, 'useful arts', meteorology, and commerce. It suffered, however, from desultory and inconsistent editing (at the hands of Scott and James Ballantyne) and fell well short of its ambitions. It failed to print most of the advertized essays, always appeared at least two years late, and was too politically partisan for an annual publication. By 1812, it was losing £1,000 a year. Such errors of commercial judgment were to prove fatal in a war-ravaged economic climate marked by banking crises and the increasing unavailability of credit.

Click on the thumbnail for a full-scale reproduction of the title page of the first edition of the Edinburgh Annual Register. This, the volume for 1808, did not appear until 1810.

In 1811, as unsold stock gathered in dust in the warehouse , Scott paid the exorbitant price of £4,200 for Cartley Hole Farm, the property which he was soon to expand into the estate of Abbotsford. He borrowed half the sum from his brother Major John Scott, and the rest was raised by John Ballantyne on the security of Rokeby, the as yet unwritten poem on which Scott was banking to restore the fortunes of the publishing house. When, in 1813, sales of the completed poem proved disappointing, the financial standing of John Ballantyne and Co. fell so low that no bank would extend it a further loan. Worse still, the publishing house was threatening to drag James Ballantyne's printing house down with it. The Ballantyne Press, in fact, was John Ballantyne and Co.'s principal creditor, having as yet received little payment for the volumes it had printed for its sister-company. Scott resolved to wind down the publishing house, but how to do so without revealing his own role was a delicate matter. Scott's social (and quite possibly professional) position would have suffered by the revelation that he was partner in a debt-ridden business and that he had profited in three ways (publishing, printing, and copyright) from the sales of his own books.

Click on the thumbnail for a full-size engraving by William Richard of Cartley Hole Farm as it appeared when Scott bought it in 1812. This engraving appeared on the title page of Vol. V of Lockhart's Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. (Cadell, 1839)

Much to Scott's embarrassment, the publishing house was obliged to turn to Archibald Constable in the hope that he might take over its surviving assets. Constable drove a hard bargain offering £1,300 for part of John Ballantyne's unsold stock, on condition that the firm wind up immediately and Scott allow him to purchase a quarter share of the copyright of Rokeby for an extra £700. Constable also agreed to prepare a report into the financial state of both the printing and publishing houses. His conclusion, that they must raise £4,000 immediately to avoid bankruptcy, came as a shock to all three partners. Scott, though, was particularly shaken, as bankruptcy would mean not only revealing his dubious financial dealings to the world but resigning his post as Clerk to the Court of Session (see Professional Life). In desperation, he appealed to his patron and clan-chief, the Duke of Buccleuch, who generously agreed to stand guarantor behind an overdraft of £4,000.

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2. The Fall of Archibald Constable and Co. (1825-26)

By the mid-1820s, Archibald Constable (portrayed, right) was becoming increasingly nervous about the huge number of bills in circulation bearing his firm's name. These were of two kinds. Firstly, beginning with Marmion (1808), Constable had pioneered an advance system of authorial payment, whereby Scott was paid for a literary work before it was actually written. With Scott requiring ever greater funds for his work on Abbotsford and for the lavish entertaining that his public role entailed, he had taken increasing advantage of this arrangement. By 1825, Scott had outstanding contracts for nine works with Constable, for which he had received advance payment of £10,000. Although Constable himself required to invest immense sums in re-editing the Encyclopaedia Britannica, fear of losing his most bankable author lured him into dangerous levels of debt.

Secondly, there were 'accommodation bills' issued not in payment for any work done but for the purpose of raising money on credit. One company or individual would make out a credit note for an amount repayable by a certain date. In return, they required the recipient to make out a counter-bill to the same amount (in order to permit the issuing body to obtain credit for such a sum and to continue trading). These counter-bills were usually held in reserve but were sometimes cashed by the issuing body. If the issuing body could not meet its obligations and the bill proved worthless, the recipient was liable for the entire sum drawn. If, however, the issuing body had cashed or circulated the counter-bill, the recipient was again liable for the amount for which it had been granted. In other words, the recipient would be required to repay the same loan twice. This was a system that tied businesses together in a most precarious manner. Archibald Constable and Co. and James Ballantyne and Co. had each backed the others bills. If either company fell, the other was likely to collapse in its wake.

Just as Scott's financial demands were undermining the foundations of Archibald Constable and Co., they were placing the Ballantyne Press in increasing jeopardy. Between 1816 and 1822, unknown to the business world, Scott was the sole owner of the Ballantyne Press. Considered a sound concern by the banking houses, the press enabled Scott to raise bills that he would never have been granted as a private individual. He had made extensive use of these credit facilities to finance work on Abbotsford, with the result that when, in 1822, James Ballantyne was re-admitted as co-partner, the business had debts of £27,000. (Ballantyne and Constable too had acquired the dangerous habit of using accommodation bills to fund work on their own property.) Scott acknowledged to Ballantyne both the extent of these debts and his personal responsibility for them. Ballantyne believed that the lands and estate of Abbotsford proved more than adequate security for the firm's liabilities. But in 1825 Scott settled the estate upon his newly married son (though a clause permitted Scott to enjoy life-rent of the property). According to Scots Law as it then stood, Abbotsford was thus put beyond the reach of creditors. James Ballantyne was kept in ignorance of this settlement, and it would come as a rude shock to discover that Abbotsford was not a Printing Office asset (see The Ballantyne Brothers).

In 1825 the City of London was swept by a wave of speculation. This soon gave way to panic selling, tumbling prices, and a credit squeeze by the Bank of England. At the height of speculation fever, J.O. Robinson of Constable's English agents, Hurst, Robinson, & Co. had bought over £40,000 in hops in the hope of cornering the market. The market was already glutted, and he was forced to sell at rock-bottom prices. Under pressure to return the £30,000 capital Robinson had borrowed, Hurst, Robinson, & Co. were soon having the greatest difficulty in meeting their obligations. Constable & Co. had backed their bills; James Ballantyne & Co. had backed those of Constable & Co. As none of the three firms had a solid security, the collapse of one would bring all three crashing down. Hurst, Robinson & Company were able to meet their most pressing debts for a few weeks by raising short-term loans, but by December 1825 bankruptcy appeared inevitable.

Click on the thumbnail to view the full-size image
of part of a letter from Scott to Adam Ferguson arranging a meeting at Abbotsford Sent on 20 December 1826, it dates from the height of Scott's second major financial crisis. The letter forms part of Edinburgh University Library's Laing Collection of manuscripts.

In Edinburgh, frantic efforts were made to drum up credit for Archibald Constable & Co. A clause inserted in his son's marriage settlement enabled Scott to raise a £10,000 mortgage on Abbotsford. This he promptly did with the bulk of the sum going straight into Constable's coffers. On January 5, 1826 an ever more anxious Scott suffered a slight stroke. On January 14, the crisis finally materialized. A bill for £1,000 made out by Robinson in favour of Constable could not be honoured on its due date. Constable had long since cashed and spent the amount. The Bank of Scotland immediately refused any further credit, and Archibald Constable & Co. were forced to stop payment.

As a private individual and as a partner in James Ballantyne and Co., Scott found himself with debts of £121,000, largely as a result of the duplication of bills under the 'accommodation' system. Scott had four options. He could declare personal bankruptcy, apply for trade bankruptcy (for the majority of his debts had been incurred via his trade partners), apply to friends and relatives for loans, or effect a trust deed. The first would have involved the loss of his library, furniture, and life-rent of Abbotsford and would probably have meant exile. The second would have allowed him to set up in business again in a matter of months by paying his creditors as little as seven shillings in the pound. His sense of honour, however, would not permit such an escape route. Offers of financial assistance, meanwhile, were flooding in - from his son and daughter-in-law, from the Dukes of Buccleuch and Somerset, from Scott's friends, J.S. Morrit, James Skene, and Colin Mackenzie - but Scott was appalled by the thought of charity. It was the final option, the trust deed, that Scott preferred and which his creditors were happy to accept.

The creditors, then, set up a private trust into which Scott would pay his entire revenue from literary sources and thus eventually clear his debts. Scott's close friend, the Edinburgh banker Sir William Forbes (portrayed, right), was instrumental in persuading the Bank of Scotland to accept this arrangement. The Bank had initially argued that Scott's contracts with Constable should be honoured, and that the money from the works in hand should go to the publisher's estate and creditors. They had also felt that Scott's alienation of his creditors' claims on Abbotsford might be open to legal challenge. Forbes also served Scott in paying off the sole creditor who refused to accept the trust option, the London firm of Abud & Sons . The other creditors' clemency stemmed partly from a reluctance to drag down a man regarded as a national treasure, the news of whose ruin had awakened great public sympathy. There was also, however, the hard-headed calculation that should Scott continue writing best-sellers at his current rate (he had written eighteen novels in the previous ten years), they might well see their money back in the not too distant future. They nonetheless took the precaution of insisting Scott take out a life-insurance policy of £20,000 payable to the Trust in the event of his death.

Scott was permitted to continue to receive the benefits of his official salaries (see Professional Life). He voluntarily sold his house at 39 Castle Street but was able to preserve his life-rent of Abbotsford. Constable, conversely, was utterly ruined, and his relations with Scott came to an abrupt end. Scott felt that the crash was largely his publisher's responsibility and was particularly bitter about the mortgage on Abbotsford which he had fruitlessly raised to bail him out. Subsequent research, however, has suggested that Cadell was the prime mover in the mortgage episode, and most recent biographers feel that Constable was harshly judged by Scott. Be that as it may, Scott threw in his lot with Cadell, regarding his contracts with Constable as null and void (a point on which the courts eventually agreed).

He launched himself into a ferocious period of writing (Woodstock, Chronicles of the Canongate, The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte) that had already brought in £40,000 by Christmas 1827. The most lucrative project, however, would be the 'Magnum Opus', a readily affordable edition of the Waverley Novels with new introductions and copious notes. Originally floated to Constable, this would be brought out in 48 volumes by Cadell between 1829 and 1833. By the time of Scott's death on September 21, 1832 the debt had been reduced to £53,000. It would finally be paid off in 1847 by the sale of Scott's remaining copyrights.

Click on the thumbnail for a full-size image of the title page of the first volume of the 'Magnum Opus' (1829) with a vignette of David Gellatley engraved by William Raddon after a design by Edwin Henry Landseer.


For further information on Scott's financial dealings, consult the following in addition to the other works cited on the Bibliography page:

  • Grierson, H.J.C., Sir Walter Scott, Bart.: A New Life, Supplementary to and Corrective of, Lockhart's Biography (London: Constable, 1938)
  • Quayle, Eric, The Ruin of Sir Walter Scott (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1968)
  • Sutherland, J.A., The Life of Sir Walter Scott: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995)

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Last updated: 24-Oct-2003
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