Sir Walter Scott Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

ph_0111201579-Scott.jpg Sir Walter Scott Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Sir Walter Scott’s literary reputation rests firmly on his monumental collection of Waverley novels, the final revision of which was issued, in forty-eight volumes, between 1829 and 1833. The novelist produced those classics on a regular basis during the last eighteen years of his life—beginning with the three-volume Waverley: Or, ’Tis Sixty Years Since in 1814 and concluding, shortly before his death, with Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous (under the collective title Tales of My Landlord, fourth series), both in 1831. In addition to the novels, Scott wrote numerous plays, including Halidon Hill (pb. 1822), Macduff’s Cross (pb. 1823), The House of Aspen (pb. 1829), Auchindrane: Or, The Ayrshire Tragedy (pr., pb. 1830), and The Doom of Devorgoil (pb. 1830).

Scott’s nonfiction prose includes Religious Discourses by a Layman (1828), The History of Scotland (1829-1830), and Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830). He also produced three biographies of note: The Life and Works of John Dryden, first published in 1808 as part of his eighteen-volume edition of that poet’s works; The Memoirs of Jonathan Swift (1826; originally included in the nineteen-volume The Life of Jonathan Swift, 1814); and The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte: Emperor of the French, with a Preliminary View of the French Revolution (1827, 9 volumes). In addition, as editor of Ballantyne’s Novelist’s Library 1821-1824 (10 volumes), Scott wrote biographical essays on each writer in the series (including Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett, Samuel Richardson, Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith, and Fanny Burney); he published those sketches separately in 1825 (2 volumes).

Finally, Scott expended considerable energy on a long list of editorial projects carried out between 1799 and 1831: In addition to the works of John Dryden and Jonathan Swift and the Novelist’s Library, one may note Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-1803, 32 volumes), A Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts (1809-1815, 13 volumes), and Chronological Notes of Scottish Affairs from the Diary of Lord Fountainhall (1822). Various editions of The Journal of Sir Walter Scott have appeared, beginning in 1890.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Sir Walter Scott’s literary reputation rests on thirty novels. Few twentieth century readers and scholars have been interested in his poetry or have taken the time to examine the distinct stages of his literary career. With the publication of Waverley in 1814, Scott’s literary life as a novelist began and his period of intense poetic production terminated. At the outset, then, one is tempted to view the poetry only in the context of its effect on the fiction—or, from another perspective, the effect of Scott the poet on Scott the novelist.

Ample reason exists, however, for studying the poetry on its own merits, for the imaginative power to be found in Scott’s metrical romances, lyrics, and ballads. Some contemporary scholars support the claims of their Victorian predecessors, who argued that Scott, among all his “British” contemporaries, emerged as the first writer of the Romantic movement. Indeed, although literary historians correctly offer William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads (1798)—and its significant preface—as the key to understanding British Romanticism, Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel, published seven years later, reached a far wider audience (in both England and Scotland) than Wordsworth’s collection and achieved a more noticeable impact among the poet’s contemporaries than did the earlier work. In fact, no previous English poet had managed to produce a work that reaped such large financial rewards and achieved so much popular acclaim.

Interestingly enough, Scott’s poetic achievements came in a form radically different from those qualities that marked the traditional “giants” of his age—Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge,...

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Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

A giant of European Romanticism, Sir Walter Scott made important contributions to many literary forms. He wrote the Waverley novels (1814-1831), a series that virtually created the historical novel. Particularly admired are the Scottish novels, including Waverley: Or, ’Tis Sixty Years Since (1814), Old Mortality (1816), Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), and Redgauntlet (1824). Scott also wrote extremely popular poetry, including The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field (1808), and The Lady of the Lake (1810). He also collected ballads in the three-volume Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-1803), published critical editions of the works of John Dryden (1808) and Jonathan Swift (1814), and wrote histories, essays, reviews, criticism, and plays.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Sir Walter Scott’s life was a series of remarkable achievements. In literature, he was a pioneer whose works still stand on their own merits. He collected ballads for the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a milestone in the study of Scottish antiquities. From 1805 to 1810, Scott wrote the most popular poetry in Great Britain, setting unprecedented sales records. In 1813, he was offered the poet laureateship, which he refused. His greatest achievement came in the field of fiction. The Waverley novels virtually created a new genre, the historical novel, and made Scott one of the two most popular novelists of the century. He was knighted in 1819. Scott was also an accomplished writer of short fiction, and three of his six stories are generally acknowledged to be among the best in the genre. Finally, Scott wrote a series of literary prefaces, criticisms, and reviews that made him an important literary theorist.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Sir Walter Scott’s first published work was a translation of two ballads by Gottfried August Bürger, which appeared anonymously in 1796. In 1799, he published a translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1773 drama Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (Goetz of Berlichingen, with the Iron Hand). In 1802, the first two volumes of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border appeared, followed by the third volume in 1803. This was a collection of popular ballads, annotated and often emended and “improved” with a freedom no modern editor would indulge in. A fascination with his country’s past, formed in his early years and lasting all his life, led him to preserve these ballads, the products of a folk culture that was disappearing. In 1805 came The Lay of the Last Minstrel, the first of the series of long narrative poems that made Scott the most widely read poet of the day. It was followed by Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field (1808). The Lady of the Lake (1810) brought him to the height of his popularity as a poet.

The later poems were less successful, and Scott was gradually eclipsed by Lord Byron. In 1813, he completed the manuscript of a novel he had laid aside in 1805. This was Waverley, which appeared anonymously in 1814. (Scott did not publicly admit authorship of his novels until 1827.) It created a sensation and launched him on the series that remained his chief occupation until the end of his life. Other important works were his editions of John Dryden (1808) and of Jonathan Swift (1814); a series of lives of the English novelists, published in 1825; and The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte: Emperor of the French, with a Preliminary View of the French Revolution, begun in 1825 and published in nine volumes in 1827. Chronicles of the Canongate (1827) comprises three short stories: “The Highland Widow,” “The Two Drovers,” and “The Surgeon’s Daughter.”


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The central achievement of Sir Walter Scott’s busy career is the series of novels that is conventionally designated by the title of the first of them. The sheer bulk of the Waverley novels is in itself impressive, as is the range of the settings the novels present. For example, Ivanhoe is set in twelfth century England, The Talisman in the Holy Land of the Third Crusade, Quentin Durward in fifteenth century France, The Abbot in the Scotland of Queen Mary, Kenilworth in the reign of Elizabeth I, and The Fortunes of Nigel in that of James I. In spite of his wide reading, tenacious memory, and active imagination, Scott was not able to deal convincingly with so many different...

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sir Walter Scott was an extraordinarily popular novelist for many decades, but he was much less popular during much of the twentieth century. How do you account for his decline among readers?

It has been argued that Scott was in many respects not a Romantic writer at all; for example, he was distrustful of emotionalism and of revolution. Has he been miscast as a Romantic writer?

Consider why Effie Deans in The Heart of Midlothian is one of Scott’s most outstanding characters.

Scott has often been called the inventor of the historic novel. What historical novelists seem to have owed the most to Scott’s initiative?

Judge Scott’s contribution to the tradition of Scottish ballads.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Bold, Alan, ed. Sir Walter Scott: The Long-Forgotten Melody. London: Vision Press, 1983. Nine essays cover such subjects in Scott’s works as the image of Scotland, politics, and folk tradition and draw on Scott’s poetry for illustration. The essay by Iain Crichton Smith, “Poetry in Scott’s Narrative Verse,” shows appreciation for the art of the poetry. Includes endnotes and an index.

Crawford, Thomas. Scott. Rev. ed. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1982. A revision and elaboration of Crawford’s widely acclaimed study of Scott. Examines Scott’s work as a poet, balladist, and novelist.


(The entire section is 509 words.)