SCOTT, Sir Walter

(1771 - 1832)
“young Waverly drove through the sea of books like a vessel without a pilot or rudder”

Born in Edinburgh in 1771, Scott was a poet, critic, man of letters and a collector of Scottish ballads, but is best remembered for his tales of romance and chivalry.  Widely considered to have invented the genre of the historical novel, Scott’s role in the development of the novel cannot be underestimated.  “At one blow Scott had established a new literary form; and the basic principles on which Waverley and all his subsequent novels were constructed have been disregarded only at the peril of artistic failure.” Scott had been an enthusiastic reader of fiction since his school days and, wanting to try writing his own, he began work in 1805 on a prose romance entitled 'Waverley, or 'tis Fifty Years Since', inspired by tales heard from Jacobite veterans.  According to Scott, the Waverley manuscript was then mislaid during his move to Abbotsford in 1811 and was not rediscovered until 1813.   He reread it, was persuaded that it had potential, and resolved to complete it, with an updated title ‘or tis Sixty Years Since’.  Although Scott was unsure how the public would receive his new mixture of historical fact and romantic fiction, Waverley was an astonishing success, and he went on to write a long series of similar novels, which became known as The Waverley Novels as Scott did not publically acknowledge authorship until 1827. Scott was also the first British novelist to make the landscape in which his stories are set an essential element of his work.  Although a few of his tales are set elsewhere, the majority of them are based in Scotland, and his lyrical descriptions of the wild beauty and picturesque landscapes of his native land significantly influenced public perception of Scotland’s attractions, and encouraged the inclusion of Scotland in the Grand Tour, the cultural travel experience that enticed much of the wealthier gentry of the 19th century.  By the 1820s Scott was probably the most famous of living Scotsmen, yet by 1825 his financial state had deteriorated to such an extent that he placed Abbotsford into a trust and then wrote his way out of debt.  He died at Abbotsford in September 1832, but became an inspiration to many later novelists. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that Scott was “out and away the king of the romantics … a great daydreamer, a seer of fit and beautiful and humorous visions”


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