Sir Walter Scott
1771 – 1832
Sir Walter Scott was born on August 15, 1771 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Scott created and popularized historical novels in a series called the Waverley Novels. In his novels Scott arranged the plots and characters so the reader enters into the lives of both great and ordinary people caught up in violent, dramatic changes in history.
Scott’s work shows the influence of the 18th century enlightenment. He believed every human was basically decent regardless of class, religion, politics, or ancestry. Tolerance is a major theme in his historical works. The Waverley Novels express his belief in the need for social progress that does not reject the traditions of the past. He was the first novelist to portray peasant characters sympathetically and realistically, and was equally just to merchants, soldiers, and even kings.
Scott wrote frequently about the conflicts between different cultures. Ivanhoe (1791) deals with the struggle between Normans and Saxons, and the Talisman (1825) describes the conflict between Christians and Muslims. The novels dealing with Scottish history are probably Scott’s best. They deal with clashes between new commercial English culture and an older Scottish culture. Many critics rank “Old Mortality” (1816), “The Heart of Midlothian” (1819), and “St Ronan’s Well” (1824) as Scott’s best novels. Other works in the Waverley series include “Rob Roy” (1817), “A Legend of Montrose” (1819), and “Quentin Dunward” (1823).
Scott’s amiability, generosity, and modesty made him popular with his contemporaries. He was also famous for entertaining on a grand scale at his Scottish estate, Abbotsford.
1. Alexander Campbell’s “Sir Walter Scott” was first published in The Millennial Harbinger, Vol. 4, No. 1, January 1833. The electronic version of the essay has been produced from the College Press reprint (1976) of The Millennial Harbinger, ed. Alexander Campbell (Bethany, VA: A. Campbell,January 1833), pp. 26-28.
The Antiquary – Author: Sir Walter Scott
Ivanhoe, first published in 1791
J.G. Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, 7 vol. (1836-38), is a full, intimate, and fascinating biography by Scott’s son-in-law; H.J.C. Grierson, Sir Walter Scott (1932), criticizes and corrects Lockhart at various points. Edwin Muir, Scott and Scotland (1936), is a very acute analysis of Scott’s relation to Scottish literature and of his use of the English and Scots languages. Donald Davie, The Heyday of Sir Walter Scott (1961), analyzes Scott’s debt to Maria Edgeworth and others and critically analyzes some of the novels. Edgar Johnson, Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown, 2 vol. (1970), a very full and detailed biography with extensive critical commentary; David Brown, Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination (1979), a reevaluation of Scott as a historical novelist.