Sir Walter Scott Biography

Sir Walter Scott Biography

Sir Walter Scott, as one of his country’s earliest prominent writers, helped establish Scotland’s place in the literary canon. Scott was a prolific poet as well as the author of numerous historical romances and adventures. Despite his early success and the influence he exerted over nineteenth-century English literature, time had not always been kind to Scott. Later critics denounced his works on grounds of structure, tone, and content. Yet, in many ways, Scott was at the forefront of the romantic, larger-than-life style that pervaded the late nineteenth century. A renewed interest in Scott has overlooked his faults and helped cast his work in a more positive light. He remains a significant figure in both the Scottish canon and literature as a whole.

Facts and Trivia

  • When he was just two years old, Scott became afflicted with polio. Though he survived the illness, his right leg would be unusable for the rest of his life.
  • Writing was not Scott’s first career choice. He studied law, which he practiced after completing his studies. He later served as sheriff-deputy of his county.
  • In the second half of the twentieth century, Scott’s novels inspired two highly acclaimed films: Ivanhoe (based on the novel of the same name) and Rob Roy.
  • A song commonly referred to as “Schubert’s Ave Maria” is in fact a musicalization of Scott’s “The Lady in the Lake.”
  • Scott's works are often attributed with popularizing the kilt as a staple of Scottish garb.


(History of the World: The 19th Century)
ph_0111201579-Scott.jpg Sir Walter Scott Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Scott’s narrative poems about the stirring events in Scottish and medieval history were immensely popular in the nineteenth century, and in fiction he created the genre of the historical novel.

Early Life

Walter Scott counted among his ancestors many notable and colorful figures from Scottish history, and during his early years, after an attack of polio crippled his right leg, he spent hours listening to family stories and songs about their exploits. Even as a young boy, he collected these ballads and folktales, which vividly presented the past. He would later use this knowledge in the poems and novels which won great acclaim during his lifetime, and which endure to this day as classics of English literature.

After being educated at home, Scott was sent in 1778 to high school in Edinburgh. He impressed both his teachers and his peers with his intelligence, his good nature, and his ability to tell stories; he was less accomplished in his scholarship. In 1783, he entered the Old College, but his interest remained the study and pursuit of ballads. In 1786, he joined his father, who was a lawyer, as an apprentice and was called to the bar in July of 1792.

Scott made a competent though not outstanding lawyer, and his main interest continued to be literature, although he seemed to regard the writing profession as not quite suitable for a gentleman. Despite his doubts, however, he could not refrain from seeking out, collecting, and reciting the poetry of his native land. Inevitably, he tried his hand at composition.

In 1797, Scott visited the Lake Country, where he met Charlotte Mary Carpenter, daughter of a deceased French refugee. After a brief courtship, Scott’s suit was approved by Charlotte’s guardian, the Marquess of Downshire, and the couple were married on Christmas Eve, 1797. Their union, comfortable rather than passionate, produced four children.

Through exercise to overcome his infirmity, Scott developed a powerful and robust physique; he was an avid horseman and walker, and graceful, despite his lameness. Scott’s many portraits show a man of regular, rather than handsome, features, with keen, bright eyes. They also reveal the intelligence, good humor and compassion for which he was well-known. Scott’s contemporaries were universal in their admiration for him.

Life’s Work

Scott’s entry into the literary world was almost casual. After collecting the ballads of others, he began to compose some of his own. A government appointment with few duties gave him time to collect and write, and some of his earlier attempts were published in 1802 and 1803 in The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Encouraged by the favorable attentions of friends and critics, Scott next wrote the The Lay of the Last Minstrel, which was published in early 1805.

This work was immediately popular and established Scott as a major contemporary literary figure. Unfortunately, at this same time Scott entered into a long, complicated, and ultimately ruinous relationship with the printers and publishers John and James Ballantyne. Scott began loaning money to the Ballantynes in 1802; by 1805, he was a silent financial partner in the firm. This connection would eventually lead to fiscal disaster.

In the meantime, Scott continued his industrious and successful efforts. He edited a complete collection of John Dryden’s poetry, wrote for the Edinburgh Review, and started writing Waverley: Or, ’Tis Sixty Years Since (1814). Putting aside the novel, however, he turned to another narrative poem, Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, which was published in 1808 with great success. In 1810, The Lady of the Lake followed and was equally well received.

In 1809, Scott joined with the Ballantynes in a publishing firm, John Ballantyne and Company. Scott advanced half of the capital himself, and perhaps provided the Ballantynes’ portion as well. The unequal nature of this arrangement was to continue throughout the short life of the company. In 1813, the firm narrowly endured a serious crisis, surviving only through Scott’s intercession with another publisher, Archibald Constable, whom he persuaded to purchase large amounts of debt-laden Ballantyne stock. Part of the problem lay in Scott’s enthusiastic but injudicious support of other, less talented, authors, and part in the Ballantynes’ business misadventures. By 1810, all the considerable income from Scott’s writing was going to meet outstanding obligations.

Unfortunately, a threat appeared to that income. His next two books, Rokeby (1812) and The Bridal of Triermain (1813), sold reasonably well, but by no means as well as Scott’s earlier works. Scott had probably exhausted himself in this particular genre and was faced with the growing competition from younger poets, such as George Gordon, Lord Byron. Scott’s final attempts in historical narrative verse were The Lord of the Isles (1815) and Harold the Dauntless (1817). Neither poem was a major success, but by then Scott had found success in a genre of his own creation, the historical novel.

According to tradition, Scott rediscovered his manuscript of Waverley while looking for some fishing tackle and decided to finish it. It was published in July of 1814; six editions were printed the first year. Scott published this, and subsequent novels, anonymously; not until 1827 did he admit authorship, although it was widely known almost from the first.

Waverley was a new departure in British literature, a work that mingled fiction with historical fact, placing its imagined characters in the middle of real,...

(The entire section is 2365 words.)

Sir Walter Scott Biography

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

The fourth surviving son of Walter Scott and Anne Rutherford, Walter Scott was born on August 15, 1771, in a house in the College Wynd, Edinburgh. At the age of eighteen months, the infant contracted a fever while teething and, in the end, lost the use of his right leg. The circumstance became noteworthy not only for its effect on Scott’s personality and his writing, but also as the first fully authenticated case of infantile paralysis in medical history. After the failure of various attempts to remedy the malady, Scott’s father sent him to Sandy Knowe, near Kelso (Roxburgh), to live with his grandfather (Robert Scott) and his uncle (Thomas). Although the five years spent there contributed little or nothing toward curing the boy’s lameness, they provided some experiences with lasting influence: subjection to republican and Jacobite prejudices; songs and legends taught to him by his grandmother (Barbara Haliburton); a trip to the spas at Bath, with a stopover at London on the way; sea-bathing at Prestonpans, near Edinburgh (and site of one of the key engagements of the Jacobite uprising of 1745), where he learned of the German wars from an old veteran of Invernahyle, one Captain Dalgetty.

In 1778, the boy returned to his father’s house in George’s Square, Edinburgh, and later that year entered the high school at Edinburgh. From his principal tutor, a strict Presbyterian named James Mitchell, Scott gained a knowledge of Scottish church history, while his mother encouraged him to read William Shakespeare. His health, however, continued to be a problem, so again the elder Scott sent his son off, this time to Kelso to live with an aunt, Jenny Scott. During his half-year’s stay there, he met James Ballantyne and the blind poet Thomas Blacklock; there, also, he read James Macpherson’s Ossianic poems, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596), and Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). Most important, however, he began to collect ballads, a form and a tradition that would remain with him and influence his own literary and cultural directions. By November, 1783, Scott had prepared himself sufficiently to begin studies at Edinburgh University; he pursued only those disciplines, however, that aroused his interest (law, history, romantic legends, and...

(The entire section is 946 words.)

Sir Walter Scott Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on August 15, 1771, and attended Edinburgh Royal High School and Edinburgh College. In 1786, he signed indentures to become a Writer to the Signet and, in 1792, he became a Scottish Advocate. In 1797, he married Charlotte Carpenter, with whom he had four children. He became Sheriff-Deputy of Selkirkshire in 1799 and Clerk to the Scottish Court of Session in 1806. From 1805 to 1810, he published best-selling poetry. In 1812, he bought Abbotsford, his home for life. Two years later, Scott published Waverley, the first in the series of remarkably successful and influential Waverley novels. He became a baronet in 1819, and later, in 1822, he arranged and managed the visit to...

(The entire section is 174 words.)

Sir Walter Scott Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

An important factor in the vividness of the Scottish novels was the strong oral tradition to which Sir Walter Scott had access from his early childhood. After a bout with polio in his second year, he was sent away from Edinburgh to his paternal grandfather’s house at Sandyknowe in the Border country, in the hope that the climate would improve his health. It did, and though he remained lame for the rest of his life, his boyhood was an active one. In this region from which his ancestors had sprung, he heard stories of Border raids, Jacobite risings, and religious struggles from people for whom the past survived in a living tradition. Throughout his life he added to his fund of anecdotes, and his notes to the novels show how very...

(The entire section is 355 words.)

Sir Walter Scott Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Descended from long-established families in the Border country, Walter Scott was born on August 15, 1771, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the second son of a prominent Edinburgh attorney, Walter Scott, and Anne Rutherford. Although sturdy and precocious at birth, Scott contracted infantile paralysis before age two, which left him permanently lame. Reared in the Border by relatives, he fell in love with the countryside, its lore and legendry. He roamed the burns and heaths at will, by foot and by pony; the landscape imprinted itself in his imagination. He also learned to read at age four, devouring his Aunt Janet’s collection of English novels.

Although not an outstanding student at any level, Scott was an...

(The entire section is 907 words.)

Sir Walter Scott Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mark Twain hinted at times that Sir Walter Scott was so influential that he caused the Civil War. This remark has some of the exaggeration of humor, but Twain was not entirely joking. He meant that Scott’s concept of the romantic hero had so permeated society that armed resistance to perceived insult had become a common obsession. Men were conditioned to throw down the gage.

Scott undoubtedly popularized this image, if he did not invent it. He thus created the hero of popular culture. He also pioneered the modern novel and certain specific forms: the historical romance and the romantic fantasy. Further, he developed dialect as a means of character revelation and created a gallery of unforgettable characters.

(The entire section is 119 words.)

Sir Walter Scott Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In spite of physical handicaps Walter Scott lived a full, varied life and created an impressive body of writings. Stricken with infantile paralysis before he was two years old, and alternating between periods of physical vigor and serious ailments throughout his life, he loved and practiced outdoor sports for most of his sixty-one years.

Born in Edinburgh on August 15, 1771, he was a product of the eighteenth century as well as of the Romantic nineteenth. As a child he was a voracious reader and avid listener to tales and legends, particularly those of his native Scotland. His copious reading was stored in a retentive memory and used to advantage in his writings, and his interest in folklore led to his collection and...

(The entire section is 922 words.)

Sir Walter Scott Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Walter Scott was born on August 15, 1771, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of Walter Scott, an attorney, and Anne Rutherford Scott, a woman...

(The entire section is 596 words.)

Sir Walter Scott Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Born in Edinburgh in 1771, Scott was interested all his life in Scottish history, folk tales, and the supernatural, three of the major...

(The entire section is 457 words.)