Walter Scott was born five years before John Constable, the son of a Scottish solicitor who became a successful poet, novelist and playwright.
Son of an Edinburgh solicitor, Scott contracted polio as a child which left him with a limp. After following his father into the law, he was called to the Bar in 1792. In 1797 he married the daughter of a French refugee, Charlotte Carpenter, with whom he had four children and became a pillar of the Tory establishment.
Scott was brought up listening to folk songs and the ballad poetry of the Borders, a literary tradition which was passed on by word of mouth to each generation. This early exposure led him to read a great number of historical chronicles, romances, ballads and plays which sparked his imagination and tunred his mind to writing. At the age of 25 Scott began to write professionally:
- translating works from German
- publishing an idiosyncratic three-volume set of collected ballads entitled The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
- publishing his first historical novel Waverley in 1814 that was about the Jacobite rising of 1745
- writing and publishing a series of ‘Waverley Novels’ including Rob Roy, Ivanhoe, The Bride of Lammermoor and many more.
By nature Scott was conservative and, like Jane Austen, he was more in sympathy with the previous Classical age of Dryden, Johnson and Pope than with the Romanticism of Wordsworth and Coleridge whose poetry he did not admire. Scott was an advocate of common sense and the conscious will. Human beings came first for him and he said he had no eye for the picturesque in nature. He wrote:
‘I think the parade of feeling and sentiment most disgusting’ (extract from a letter written in 1818 by Sir Walter Scott to Maria Edgeworth)
A banking crisis in 1825 resulted in Scott’s financial ruin from which date he worked tirelessly to ‘write his way out of debt’ until his (unexplained) death at the age of 61.
Click the tab marked ‘video’ above the image gallery at the top of this page find out more about the fascinating life of Sir Walter Scott and watch the first episode of the 1958 TV series Ivanhoe starring a juvenille Roger Moore!