Scott, Sir Walter

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Scott, Sir Walter

Sir Walter Scott, 1771–1832, Scottish novelist and poet, b. Edinburgh. He is considered the father of both the regional and the historical novel.

Early Life and Works

After an apprenticeship in his father's law office Scott was admitted (1792) to the bar. In 1799 he was made sheriff-deputy of Selkirkshire. His first published works (1796) were translations of two German ballads by Bürger, followed by a translation (1799) of Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen. Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (2 vol., 1802; enl. ed., 3 vol., 1803) was an impressive collection of old ballads with introductions and notes. The Lay of the Last Minstrel, his first major poem, appeared in 1805 and was followed by Marmion (1808) and The Lady of the Lake (1810). In 1812 Scott received a court clerkship that assured him a moderate, steady income.

Novels

His first novel, Waverley (1814), was an immediate success. There followed the "Waverley novels" —romances of Scottish life that reveal Scott's great storytelling gift and his talent for vivid characterization. They include Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquary (1816), The Black Dwarf (1816), Old Mortality (1816), Rob Roy (1818), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), and The Legend of Montrose (1819).

Ivanhoe (1820), Scott's first prose reconstruction of a time long past, is a complicated romance set in 12th-century England. His public acclaim grew, and in 1820 Scott was made a baronet. Most of his following novels were of the Ivanhoe style of reconstructed history. They include The Monastery (1820), The Abbot (1820), Kenilworth (1821), The Pirate (1822), The Fortunes of Nigel (1822), Peveril of the Peak (1822), Quentin Durward (1823), The Betrothed (1825), and The Talisman (1825). With St. Ronan's Well (1824), Scott abandoned the historical style and attempted a novel of manners, but in Redgauntlet (1824) he reverted to the background and treatment of his early novels.

Later Life and Works

In 1825 Scott was ruined financially. He had assumed responsibility for the Ballantyne printing firm in 1813 (previously, for a brief time, he had run it as a publishing house), and subsequently he had met Ballantyne's expenses out of advances from his publishers, Constable and Company. In 1825 an English depression brought ruin to both Constable and Ballantyne's. Refusing to go through bankruptcy, Scott assigned to a trust his property and income in excess of his official salary and set out to pay his debt and much of Constable's.

The next few years' work included Woodstock (1826), a life of Napoleon (1827), Chronicles of the Canongate (1827), The Fair Maid of Perth (1828), and Anne of Geierstein (1829). Scott's health began to fail in 1830. After finishing (1831) Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous, he went abroad, returning to Abbotsford, his estate, in 1832, the year of his death. The remainder of the debt he had assumed was paid from the earnings of his books.

Assessment

Scott's narrative poems introduced a form of verse tale that won great popularity; his lyrics and ballads, such as "Lochinvar" and "Proud Maisie," are masterly in feeling and technique. He was a very prolific and popular novelist. Although his fictional heroes now seem wooden and his plots mechanical, Scott excelled in recreating the spirit of great historical events and in painting realistic pictures of Scottish life.

Bibliography

See his journal, ed. by W. E. K. Anderson (1972); his letters, ed. by Sir H. J. C. Grierson (12 vol., 1932–37); biographies by his son-in-law, J. G. Lockhart (10 vol., 1902) and E. Johnson (2 vol., 1970); studies by A. O. J. Cockshut (1969), R. Mayhead (1973), J. Millgate (1984), J. Wilt (1986), J. Kerr (1989), and A. N. Wilson (1989).

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