"Teach you children poetry; it opens the mind, lends grace to wisdom and makes the heroic virtues hereditary. "

Novelist, poet, editor and critic, Sir Walter Scott was born on 15 August 1771, in Edinburgh, the ninth of twelve children. Young Walter was left lame by an early bout of infantile paralysis, though he grew up to be a man of great physical endurance. Educated at Edinburgh High School and at Edinburgh University, where he studied law, he was appointed to the Bar in 1792.

On Christmas Eve 1797, Scott married Margaret Charlotte Charpentier. They had five children. In 1796, Scott’s friend James Ballantyne started a printing and publishing business and, at the age of 25, in order to increase his income, Scott began to write professionally, translating works from German, his first publication being rhymed versions of ballads by Gottfried August Bürger in 1796. He then published a three-volume set of collected ballads of his adopted home region, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Through Ballantyne’s publishing business, Scott was able to publish his first works 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 1809, Scott persuaded James Ballantyne and his brother to move to Edinburgh and to establish their printing press there, and became a partner in their business.

In 1814, he wrote and published his first novel, Waverley, anonymously. It was a tale of the Jacobite rising of 1745. The youthful Edward Waverley obtains a commission in the Whig army and is posted to 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.

There followed a succession of novels (known as the Waverley Novels) over the next five years, Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquary (1816), Rob Roy (1817), and Ivanhoe (1819), 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. In the 1810s he published several novels anonymously or under the pseudonym, Jebediah Cleisbotham. It was not until the financial crash of 1825-6 that his anonymity was exposed to the general public as Sir Walter Scott  (Scott had been created a baronet in 1820). In 1825 and 1826, a banking crisis swept through the cities of London and Edinburgh. The Ballantyne printing business, in which he was heavily invested, crashed, resulting in his being ruined. Scott spent virtually the rest of his life paying off debts with his writings.He visited France in 1826 to collect material for his Life of Napoleon, which was published in nine volumes in 1827.

Scott’s wife died in 1826 and Scott himself suffered a stroke in 1830. He died on 21 September 1832, and was buried beside his ancestors in Dryburgh Abbey, Roxburghshire. His novels and poetry are still read, and many of his works remain classics of both English Language literature and of Scottish literature.


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