Scottish novelist and poet. His first works were translations of German ballads and collections of Scottish ballads, which he followed with narrative poems of his own, such as The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808), and The Lady of the Lake (1810). He gained a European reputation for his historical novels such as Waverley (1814), Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), and Ivanhoe (1819), all published anonymously.
His last years were marked by frantic writing to pay off his debts, after the bankruptcy of the printing and publishing business of which he was a partner. He was created a baronet in 1820.
Scott exerted a strong influence on the imaginative life of his country. He stimulated an interest in Scottish history and materially affected the literary movement of his time: his unconventional manner of writing and his total freedom from the academic point of view were largely instrumental in arousing the French Romantic movement which produced such writers as Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset, and Théophile Gautier, and such painters as Corot and Millet. Scott was also the creator of the historical novel, combining naturalness and realism with the historical and romantic element of adventure and the marvels of superstition. His influence on Honoré de Balzac was acknowledged.
Scott was born in Edinburgh. He was crippled for life following an early attack of poliomyelitis. Educated at Edinburgh University, he became a lawyer, and in 1799 was appointed a sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire. He translated Gottfried Bürger's ballads Der wilde Jäger/The Wild Huntsman and Lenore (1797), followed by a translation of Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen (1799). His Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border appeared in 1802–03, and from then he combined writing with his legal profession. Following the success of The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, The Lady of the Lake, Rokeby (1813), and The Lord of the Isles (1815), he supplied half the capital for starting the publishing house of Ballantyne & Co, and purchased and rebuilt the house of Abbotsford on the Tweed.
By this time Byron had to some extent captured the lead with a newer style of verse romance, and Scott turned to prose fiction. Waverley gave its name to a long series of historical novels, including Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquary and Old Mortality (both 1816), Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian, and The Bride of Lammermoor and A Legend of Montrose (both 1819). Ivanhoe transferred the scene to England; The Monastery and The Abbot (both 1820), Kenilworth (1821), Peveril of the Peak and Quentin Durward (both 1823), The Betrothed and The Talisman (both 1825), Woodstock (1826), and The Fair Maid of Perth (1828) followed. For years the secret of his authorship was kept, but eventually it leaked out in 1827.
In 1820 Scott was elected president of the Royal Society of Scotland, while Abbotsford began to attract visitors. In 1826 he was involved in financial ruin through the bankruptcy of Constable, his chief publisher, with whom fell Ballantyne & Co, the firm of printers and publishers in which Scott had been for many years a partner. How far Scott was legally responsible is a matter of controversy, but he felt himself under a moral obligation to satisfy the firm's creditors, and at the age of 55 set himself the heroic task of paying off the enormous debt of £114,000. The Fair Maid of Perth, Tales of a Grandfather (1828–31) (a history of Scotland), and Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830) are among the chief products of these last painful years; his last two novels, Castle Dangerous (1832) and Count Robert of Paris (1832), are much inferior. Continuous overwork ended in a nervous breakdown and he died at Abbotsford 21 September 1832 and was buried in Dryburgh Abbey. The last outstanding liabilities were cleared after his death on the security of copyrights. His Journal 1825–1832, issued in 1890, is a moving record of his intimate thoughts under the burden of his latter years.
Bride of Lammermoor, The
Life of Scott by J G Lockhart
Selected Poetry of Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
Sir Walter Scott: Waverley
Scott, Sir Walter Ivanhoe
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