Walter Scott

Ainsley McIntosh

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Walter Scott

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Walter Scott (b. 1771–d. 1832) began his literary career as a translator and collector of ballads from the German and Scottish traditions. His first edited collection of Scottish border ballads appeared as Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802). Soon after, he achieved fame as an original poet, receiving most acclaim for the first three of his extended narrative romances: The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808), and The Lady of the Lake (1810). The success of these poems turned Scott into a literary phenomenon. Additionally, he produced verse dramas and engaged in major editorial projects, including The Works of Dryden (1808) and his nineteen-volume The Works of Jonathan Swift (1814). An important contributor to the Edinburgh Review from its inception in 1802 until differences of political opinion led to his founding of the Edinburgh Annual Register in 1808, Scott then helped launch the Quarterly Review in 1809 along with Robert Southey and other eminent Tories of the day. His contributions to each of these publications indicate his immersion in the review and print culture of the period. Scott’s reviews, revealing his critical acuity, occupy nearly five volumes of his collected prose. Of greater significance, Scott played a pivotal role in the development of the novel, in particular the rise of the historical novel in the early 19th century. Waverley (1814), his first work of fiction, was published anonymously, and for many years his novels appeared under the pseudonym Author of Waverley. A prolific writer and a prominent figure with a literary career spanning several decades, he profoundly influenced such diverse authors as Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, Aleksandr Pushkin, Herman Melville, Lev Tolstoy, and Mark Twain. In 1826, following the financial failure of his publisher, Archibald Constable, and his printer, James Ballantyne, Scott, who was financially involved in each firm, put his affairs into the hands of a trust to which he committed all his literary earnings. By the time of his death he had paid off half of the £126,000 debt for which he was liable, and the sale of his copyrights in 1833 raised enough to settle all his creditors’ claims. Scott is perhaps best remembered for orchestrating King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822, and his involvement in this event helped reinvent Scottish culture for the modern world. He also left behind Abbotsford, “a romance in stone” that stands testimony to the imaginative capacity of this remarkable man.

Article.  12758 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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