Scott, Sir Walter (17711832)

Scott, Sir Walter, the great romancer, born in Edinburgh, through both father and mother of Scottish Border blood; his father, a lawyer, a man “who passed from the cradle to the grave without making an enemy or losing a friend,” his mother a little kindly woman, full of most vivid memories, awakening an interest in him to which he owed much; was a healthy child, but from teething and other causes lost the use of his right limb when 18 months old, which determined, to a marked extent, the course of his life; spent many of the months of his childhood in the country, where he acquired that affection for all natural objects which never left him, and a kindliness of soul which all the lower animals that approached him were quick to recognise; he was from the first home-bred, and to realise the like around his own person was his fondest dream, and if he failed, as it chanced he did, his vexation was due not to the material loss it involved, but to the blight it shed on his home life and the disaster on his domestic relationships; his school training yielded results of the smallest account to his general education, and a writer of books himself, he owed less to book-knowledge than his own shrewd observation; he proceeded from the school (the High School, it was) at 15 to his father's office and classes at the University, and at both he continued to develop his own bent more than the study of law or learning; at his sixteenth year the bursting of a blood-vessel prostrated him in bed and enforced a period of perfect stillness, but during this time he was able to prosecute sundry quiet studies, and laid up in his memory great stores of knowledge, for his mind was of that healthy quality which assimilated all that was congenial to it and let all that did not concern it slip idly through, achieving thereby his greatest victory, that of becoming an altogether whole man. Professionally he was a lawyer, and a good lawyer, but the duties of his profession were not his chief interest, and though he received at length a sheriffship worth £300 a year, and a clerkship to the court worth £1500, he early turned his mind to seek promotion elsewhere, and chose a literary career. His first literary efforts were translations in verse from the German, but his first great literary success was the publication, in 1802, of “The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,” and in this he first gave evidence both of the native force and bent of his genius; it gave the keynote of all that subsequently proceeded from his pen. This was followed the same year by “Cadzow Castle,” a poem instinct with military ardour, and this by “The Lay of the Last Minstrel” in 1805; the first poem which gained him popular favour, by “Marmion” in 1808, and by “The Lord of the Isles” in 1814. Much as the rise of Scott's fame was owing to his poetical works, it is on the ground of his prose writings, as the freest and fullest exhibition of his genius, that it is now mainly founded. The period of his productivity in this line extended over 18 years in all, commencing with the year 1814. This was the year of the publication of “Waverley,” which was followed by that of “Guy Mannering,” “The Antiquary,” “Rob Roy,” “Old Mortality,” and “The Heart of Midlothian” in the year 1819, when he was smitten down by an illness, the effects of which was seen in his after-work. “The Bride of Lammermoor,” “Ivanhoe,” “The Monastery,” “The Abbot,” “Kenilworth,” and “The Pirate” belong to the years that succeeded that illness, and all more or less witness to its sorrowful effects, of which last “The Abbot” and “The Monastery” are reckoned the best, as still illustrating the “essential powers” of Scott, to which may be added “Redgauntlet” and “The Fortunes of Nigel,” characterised by Ruskin as “quite noble ones,” together with “Quentin Durward” and “Woodstock,” as “both of high value.” Sir Walter's own life was, in its inner essence, an even-flowing one, for there were in it no crises such as to require a reversal of the poles of it, and a spiritual new birth, with crucifixion of the old nature, and hence it is easily divisible, as it has been divided throughout, into the three natural periods of growth, activity, and death. His active life, which ranges from 1796 to 1826, lay in picturing things and traditions of things as in youth, a 25 years' period of continuous crescent expansiveness, he had learned to view them, and his slow death was the result, not of mere weariness in working, but of the adverse circumstances that thwarted and finally wrecked the one unworthy ambition that had fatally taken possession of his heart. Of Scott Ruskin says, “What good Scott had in him to do, I find no words full enough to express... Scott is beyond comparison the greatest intellectual force manifested in Europe since Shakespeare... All Scott's great writings were the recreations of a mind confirmed in dutiful labour, and rich with organic gathering of boundless resource” (17711832).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

Scott, Thomas * Scott, William Bell
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Scott, Thomas
Scott, Sir Walter
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Sculptured Stones


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Dryden, John
Lermont, Thomas
Sadler, Sir Ralph
Seward, Anna