Sir Walter Scott, named after his father, was born in College Wynd in the heart of Edinburgh in 1771. His mother bore nine children – only three survived. Scott contracted polio before he reached the age of two, leaving him with a lifelong limp as a result, sometimes needing a crutch for walking. Scott’s parents did all they could to improve their son’s health, including sending him to live on his grandfather’s farm and sending him to Bath in the hope that the healing waters there would offer him relief or cure. Scott attended school in Edinburgh from the age of seven; unable to join in with the usual play of children he immersed himself in books and sharpened a prodigious memory.
University and Professional Training
In Scott’s time children entered University young. He started studying at Edinburgh University aged twelve, though his studies were interrupted by illness which led to a period of convalescence in Kelso on the Scottish borders. Scott followed in his father’s footsteps professionally, becoming an apprentice solicitor at Scott’s office before he turned fifteen. The apprenticeship proved useful in helping Scott understand what he did not want – he decided to train to be an advocate, and therefore studied Scots Law and Civil Law before qualifying shortly before his twenty-first birthday.
Marriage and First Publication
Scott had studied Greek and Latin at University, and decided to learn German after he had completed his studies to improve his understanding of German writers. Scott had a love of poetry and ballads and his first translation from German was a book of Ballads by Bürger. Scott loved travel, and met his future wife, Charlotte Charpentier, whilst visiting the Lake District in England in 1797. Married within months of meeting the couple had four children – two daughters and two sons.
Poetry and Ballads
Scott’s professional life took a turn for the better in 1799 when he was appointed Sherriff-Depute of Selkirkshire. This post allowed him to spend more time on literary pursuits, and the chance to fully explore his love of Scottish Border ballads. The first volumes of Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border were published in 1802. The success of the Minstrelsy encouraged Scott to work on his own poetry, resulting in such famous poems as Marmion - a poem about the sixteenth century Battle of Flodden Field, and The Lady of the Lake. In 1806 Scott became a Clerk of the Court of Session.
Scott kept a keen eye on the public pulse, and when he felt that his attraction as a poet was starting to wane he turned his hand to prose. Waverley, his first novel, was published in 1814 and was well received. Scott was a prolific author, writing over 20 novels including the classic Ivanhoe, books about authors, reviews and essays.
Bankruptcy and Death
1826 saw Sir Walter Scott’s fortunes take a turn for the worse from which he never fully recovered. His publishing firm, in which he was an active partner, started financial difficulties with the eventual result that Scott became bankrupt. His wife died soon after they moved from their Edinburgh home which the Scotts sold in an attempt to meet some of their debts. Scott’s reaction to adversity was to focus on completing all nine books of his Life of Napoleon Buonoparte. He produced other publications before ill health took him to Malta and Italy in 1830 in search of a warmer climate to aid his recovery. Scott’s health was not to mend, and he died following paralysis brought on by a haemorrhage in 1832.
Should this article have piqued your interest about Sir Walter Scott’s work I provide a link below to The Complete Works of Sir Walter Scott (Kindle edition).