Scott, Sir Walter
Scott, Sir Walter
- David Hewitt
Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
Scott, Sir Walter (1771–1832), poet and novelist, was born in College Wynd in the Old Town of Edinburgh on 15 August 1771, the tenth child of Walter Scott (1729–1799) and Anne Rutherford (1739?–1819). His father, son of Robert Scott (1699–1775), a prosperous border sheep farmer, and of Barbara Haliburton, became a writer to the signet in 1755, and had a successful career as a solicitor in Edinburgh. His mother was the daughter of Dr John Rutherford (1695–1779), professor of physiology in the University of Edinburgh, who had studied in Edinburgh, Rheims, and Leiden (under Boerhaave), and of his first wife, Jean Swinton. Scott's parents married in 1758, and had thirteen children: besides Walter, those who survived childhood were Robert (1767–1787), John (1769–1816), Anne (1772–1801), Thomas (1774–1823), and Daniel (1776?–1806).
Early years and education
In 1932, and again in 1969 and 1970, Arthur Melville Clark argued that Scott was born in 1770, but his case was comprehensively destroyed by James C. Corson in 1970. Scott was indeed born on 15 August 1771. He seems to have been a healthy baby, but in the winter of 1772–3 he contracted what is now called poliomyelitis, and became permanently lame in his right leg. The best medical advice in Edinburgh was available; but there was, of course, neither diagnosis nor cure, and his maternal grandfather Rutherford advised that he be sent to his paternal grandfather's farm, Sandyknowe, near Smailholm in Roxburghshire, to benefit from country air. Many attempts were made to cure Scott's disability (without success), and much (successful) effort over the years was given to improving the use of the leg. Throughout his life Scott was conscious of his lameness, but it seems to have caused no psychological damage. The physical feats of later life—like climbing the Castle Rock in Edinburgh (Redgauntlet, Waverley Novels, 1993–2004, 17.2–3), the fights in which he engaged after his return to Edinburgh (Waverley Novels, 1829–33, 1.xcii), the long walks he undertook in his late teens and twenties (Scott, Memoirs, 35–6), and his activity as a volunteer cavalryman—suggest that his lameness did not restrict him, but at least some of this physical activity, or perhaps even the reporting of physical activity, was deliberate overcompensation for his disability.
Scott lived at Sandyknowe from 1773 to 1778, apart from about a year spent in Bath where he was taken by his aunt Janet (or Jenny) Scott in the middle of 1775, a spell in 1776 with his family in their new home at 25 George Square, Edinburgh, and some weeks probably in 1778 at Prestonpans, near Edinburgh, where he went for sea bathing. In Sandyknowe he was in the company of adults and received much attention from his grandmother and aunt. In his 'Memoirs' he says that the earliest sources of the historical information that characterizes his work were 'the old songs and tales which then formed the amusement of a retired country family': his grandmother used to tell him 'many a tale of Wat of Harden, Wight Willie of Aikwood, Jamie Tellfer of the fair Dodhead, and other heroes, merrymen all of the persuasion and calling of Robin Hood and Little John' (Scott, Memoirs, 13). His uncles told him stories about the Jacobite rising of 1745 and the executions in Carlisle. His aunt Jenny read popular songs to him from works such as Allan Ramsay's The Tea-Table Miscellany, and he learned long passages off by heart from her reading. He was thus an active participant in a traditional oral culture, and at the same time was taking written literature back into the oral, in a reverse movement to his own later practice when he translated traditional into written narratives. Although he learned to read at a dame school in Bath in his fifth year, he was not unduly precocious as a reader; it was the narratives he learned from oral recitation that were crucial to his intellectual and imaginative development.
In 1778 Scott rejoined his own family in Edinburgh. At home he found he had siblings, two older brothers, a sister, and two younger brothers. He said he felt the change 'very severely', and talked of 'the agony which I internally experienced' (Scott, Memoirs, 19). Further, an anecdote presented long afterwards as fiction in 'My Aunt Margaret's Mirror' has the ring of personal experience:
There is the stile at which I can recollect a cross child's-maid upbraiding me with my infirmity, as she lifted me coarsely and carelessly over the flinty steps, which my brothers traversed with shout and bound. I remember the suppressed bitterness of the moment, and, conscious of my own inferiority, the feeling of envy with which I regarded the easy movements and elastic steps of my more happily formed brethren.Waverley Novels, 1829–33, 41.298
He took refuge in literature, and talks of 'reading aloud to my mother Pope's translation of Homer, which except a few traditionary ballads and the songs in Allan Ramsay's Evergreen was the first poetry which I perused' (Scott, Memoirs, 19). He continued to imbibe stories which later emerged in his novels: he first heard the story which forms the basis of The Bride of Lammermoor from his maternal great-aunt Margaret Swinton who died in 1780, and by the age of ten he had heard many tales of the Jacobite rising of 1745 from Alexander Stewart of Invernahyle, one of his father's favourite clients.
In 1779 Scott was sent to the high school of Edinburgh. He was a pupil there from 1779 to 1783, although Scott himself says that he was three years under Luke Fraser, and two under the rector, Dr Alexander Adam (Scott, Memoirs, 22). Latin dominated the curriculum, and while Fraser taught grammar, in which Scott did not do well, Adam was able to enthuse him with a love of literature. They read Caesar, Livy, Sallust, Virgil, Horace, and Terence; they were encouraged to translate the poets into English verse, and Scott's first such attempt, the description of Etna erupting in the third book of the Aeneid, was kept by his mother. Adam recognized a boy of ability and encouraged him; Scott responded and knew that he had 'a character for learning to maintain' (ibid., 23). The high school was important in a second respect. Many of those who later came to hold positions of power in Scotland were Scott's contemporaries: in 1809 he recalled how he 'first crept swinging my satchel through George's Square with Robert Dundas' (Letters, 2.261)—the Robert Dundas who was eldest son of Pitt's most formidable minister, Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville, and himself a government minister almost continuously from 1807 to 1830. At the high school ‘networking’ began, and the connections formed there allowed Scott to benefit from the patronage system by which power was transmitted in Scotland. In addition these connections later constituted his primary audience: it was they whom he initially addressed, and it was they and their kind who bought his works.
In 1783 Scott had to leave the high school before the end of the session because of ill health, and he was sent to his Aunt Janet, who now lived in Kelso. He attended the Kelso grammar school under Lancelot Whale, where he continued his study of Latin, and also taught it to junior classes. Possibly the most notable development of his half-year in Kelso was the friendship he formed with one of his fellow pupils, James Ballantyne, later to be his printer, business partner, and literary adviser.
Although the schooling Scott received was acceptable for the period, it was limited (Latin was the only subject on the curriculum), and abbreviated by illness. Its deficiencies must have been obvious for in 1782 Scott's father employed a tutor, James Mitchell, to supplement his son's education. Scott does not report what Mitchell taught him, but their talk centred on the covenanters and seventeenth-century politics, thus beginning the generation of the knowledge deployed in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and in novels like Old Mortality. His own reading was more important than formal instruction. He read poetry, including Shakespeare and Milton. He collected chapbooks. On the advice of the blind poet Thomas Blacklock he became 'intimate with Ossian and Spenser' (Scott, Memoirs, 26). He borrowed works of history from the library in the high school. At Kelso subscription and circulating libraries allowed him to start on Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, and Mackenzie, and he even read Tasso 'through the flat medium of Mr. Hole's translation' (ibid., 27). But by far the most important discovery was Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, which Scott read with almost physical pleasure in the garden in Kelso. Scott makes much of the unsystematic nature of his reading, but by any standards it was remarkable for a twelve-year-old boy.
In November 1783 Scott entered the University of Edinburgh. He studied Latin for a year after enrolling in both the junior and senior classes at the same time. The professor of Latin was incompetent and, Scott says, 'amid the riot of his class I speedily lost much of what I had learned under Adams and Whale' (Scott, Memoirs, 29). Scott was no classicist, but he understates his own command of Latin for throughout his career he was able to quote accurately, and from memory, lines and passages from Roman authors, and to adjust them both verbally and grammatically to fit a new context. He studied Greek for two years (two years were necessary for graduation), but did so badly that he came to be known as the 'Greek Blockhead' (ibid., 30). In his second year (1784–5) he took a class in logic and metaphysics under Professor John Bruce, in which he did well and was required to read an essay before the principal, William Robertson the historian. However, he became ill in the course of his second year at university, and although he registered for a third to continue study under Bruce, he was still (or perhaps again) ill and withdrew from the university early in 1786.
On 31 March 1786 Scott was indentured to his father for five years to train as a solicitor, and so entered 'upon the dry and barren wilderness of forms and conveyances' (Scott, Memoirs, 32). His work seems to have consisted mainly in copying legal documents, and from doing this he acquired an ability to write long and fast, and a scribal habit which he never lost: every recto of a manuscript of a Scott novel is filled with writing, the only white space being a narrow margin down the left-hand side. But he had a distaste for the job and detested the office. 'Never a being from my infancy upwards hated task-work as I hate it', he wrote in his journal in 1825; 'propose to me to do one thing and it is inconceivable the desire I have to do something else' (Journal, 23). Yet he did what was required of him in his father's office, because, he says, he loved his father, and because he liked to earn a little money to spend on the theatre or books from the circulating library. He already had enough French to read romances in the original and now paid for twice-weekly Italian lessons. He relieved the boredom of legal copying by surreptitiously reading works of imaginative literature buried under weightier books. He did read novels, although he found that it required 'the art of Burney or the feeling of Mackenzie' to get his attention. It was the 'adventurous and romantic' that really held his interest, and everything 'which touched on knight errantry was particularly acceptable' (Scott, Memoirs, 32–3).
In the early months of 1787 Scott suffered a bowel haemorrhage (it is not clear what exactly was wrong), and was so seriously ill that his life was threatened. It is probable that the regime prescribed made him worse: the weather was 'raw and cold', and yet he had to sleep under a single blanket; he was 'bled and blistered' until he 'scarcely had a pulse left'; he was given only enough food to stay alive; he was not allowed to talk (Scott, Memoirs, 34). Recovery was slow; there were relapses; and he was restricted to a vegetarian diet for some months. But Scott did recover, grew strong, and enjoyed remarkably good health for the next thirty years.
With the recovery of health Scott began to spend leisure time on 'expeditions' with friends and acquaintances to such places as the field of the first battle of the Jacobite rising of 1745, 9 miles east of Edinburgh. His principal object, he said, was 'the pleasure of seeing romantic scenery', and, more importantly, 'the places which had been distinguished by remarkable historical events' (Scott, Memoirs, 37). However, in spite of what Lockhart said there is no evidence of Scott having visited the highlands in the 1780s, and Scott's own, undated, story about his going while still an apprentice to evict some highland tenants who were refusing to vacate a farm could have taken place at any point up to March 1791 when his apprenticeship terminated. He also began to renew friendships originally made in school, but which had lapsed over the period of his illnesses between 1785 and 1787, particularly that with Adam Ferguson, son of the Adam Ferguson who had written An Essay on the History of Civil Society. It was in Ferguson's house that Scott met Burns in 1787.
By 1789 Scott knew that he could not tolerate life as a solicitor, and no doubt he was stimulated to change direction by the renewal of friendship with young men who already intended to become advocates: the bar was 'the line of ambition and liberty' (Scott, Memoirs, 41). At some point he was offered a partnership by his father. Whether this was a matter of form (Scott's apprenticeship terminated in March 1791), kindness as Scott implies, or a desire to control an errant son as John Sutherland suggests, cannot be known, but in choosing the bar Scott makes out that he was acting in accordance with his father's wishes. That may be so, but Walter Scott senior was a narrow man quite out of sympathy with an imaginative son, and the way in which the independent Scott ‘took off’ in the 1790s indicates a rejection of much of what his father stood for.
In 1789 Scott returned to university, and this second period at college, unlike the first, was crucial to his intellectual development. He studied moral philosophy under Professor Dugald Stewart, found him an inspirational teacher, and absorbed Stewart's version of the philosophy of common sense. Further, Stewart ran a literary salon at which Scott was a frequent visitor both as a student and as a young advocate. In his first year he also studied universal history under Alexander Fraser Tytler. In 1790–91 he took civil law (which he did not enjoy but passed the examination set by the Faculty of Advocates) and Scots law, which he continued in the following session, 1791–2. The professor of Scots law, David Hume, nephew of the philosopher, and later (1811–22) one of Scott's colleagues as clerk to the court of session, had a formidable effect: 'I copied over his lectures twice with my own hand from notes taken in the class', Scott wrote, 'and when I have had occasion to consult them I can never sufficiently admire the penetration and clearness of conception which were necessary to the arrangement of the fabric of law' (Scott, Memoirs, 42). Hume made sense of Scots law, and Scott was enthused by the way in which law was simultaneously antiquarian and political, historical and contemporary.
In this second period at university Scott also participated in the clubs and societies which were such an important feature of the Edinburgh scene in the eighteenth century, and which formed an essential function in the preparation of young men for public life. In 1789 he co-founded the Literary Society. Over two years the society met every Friday evening in a masonic lodge in Carrubbers Close, and then, transforming into ‘The Club’, retired to an oyster bar, which was also frequented by some of Edinburgh's most distinguished thinkers—Adam Ferguson the philosopher, Joseph Black the chemist, and James Hutton the geologist. In December 1790 Scott was elected to the Speculative Society, which met weekly during the university session from November to April; he was appointed its librarian in January 1791 and its secretary–treasurer in November. Typically, the business consisted of an essay read by one of the members followed by a debate. Scott's first essay, read on 26 November 1791, was entitled 'The origin of the feudal system'. Commenting in a letter of 30 September 1790 to his uncle Robert Scott on an earlier version of the essay, Scott said that the feudal system 'proceeds upon principles common to all nations when placed in a certain situation' (Letters, 1.17). In other words, Scott had absorbed a fundamental position in Scottish Enlightenment historiography.
Scott did not take university examinations and did not formally graduate. Few men did. His aim was to qualify as an advocate, and on 6 July 1792 he passed the Scots law examination of the Faculty of Advocates and was admitted as an advocate on 11 July. His thesis, in Latin, on the prescribed topic 'De cadaveris damnatorum' ('About [the disposal of] the bodies of condemned criminals'), was dedicated to the lord justice clerk, Lord Braxfield, the senior criminal judge of Scotland.
Scott's own 'Memoirs' of his first twenty-one years constitute the principal source of information about his early life. Lockhart calls the work an 'autobiographical fragment'; it has also been called the 'Ashestiel fragment' after the house in which Scott wrote the first section. But it is not a fragment: it is a complete short work, covering the days of his youth and concluding naturally with his entry at the age of twenty-one into manhood and his profession. The 'Memoirs' were written in two stages, in 1808 and 1810–11, and they were extensively revised in 1826; when he wrote his autobiography he was already recognized as the editor of a great collection of ballads and as a famous poet, and so the narrative of his own life probably has a strong element of teleological self-construction: Scott's narrative puts particular emphasis on the stories he heard and the books he read. Yet he says remarkably little about writing. But the creative impulse began early. Pieces of school work were kept by his mother and by Alexander Adam. He told stories to other boys in the high school, and tells of his walks with John Irving in 1786 during which they invented stories 'in which the martial and the miraculous always predominated' (Scott, Memoirs, 33). Some of his poems to ‘Jessie’ in Kelso survived, and in an undated letter now thought to belong to 1792 he writes:
I have made odes to nightingales so numerous they might suffice for all that ever were hatched, and as for elegies, ballads, and sonnets and other small ware, truly I can assert their name is legion, for they are many. But besides these I have dared to attempt something of a more imposing character—an epic poem of hundreds upon hundreds of lines—a chronicle in verse of the wondrous doings of some famous Knights whose names, even, I doubt much you have ever heard.Letters, 1.3–4
Even allowing for a considerable element of self-mockery, it is clear that Scott was writing.
Scott also says nothing about the French Revolution. The omission is striking, for it is impossible to believe that it was not a red-hot topic with his friends whose arguments 'sometimes plunged deeply into politics and metaphysics' (Scott, Memoirs, 40). What was discussed is not recorded, and none of the surviving letters of the period 1789–92 raises a political issue. However, he led in a debate in the Speculative Society on 1 March 1791 about whether putting Charles I to death was justifiable, which was carried in the affirmative (the vote was reversed on 18 December 1792 during the trial of Louis XVI). He and a few friends called themselves ‘the mountain’, the name of one of the more extreme parties in revolutionary France. And given that until 1792 it was the tories under Pitt who were the reforming party in the House of Commons, it is possible that the young Walter Scott had a sympathetic view of the Revolution, like his character Jonathan Oldbuck in The Antiquary (Waverley Novels, 1993–2004, 3.277–8). Scott later opposed all forms of political reform; what he thought in 1789 is not known, and can only be deduced. In the past that has been done by projecting his later views backwards, but that may not be a satisfactory procedure.
1792–1797: the young advocate and marriage
As an advocate Scott was not a failure, nor was he a success. He lost his first case, defending a drunken minister before the general assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1793, but had ten further cases in his first year. He earned £24 3s., £57 15s., and £105 in his first three years respectively. In his first ten years he appeared before the House of Lords, the court of session, the high court of justiciary, and various sheriff courts.
Scott did not have many cases to prepare, and legal terms were short: there was much time to fill in. He lived the life of a young man: he was a hard drinker in a hard-drinking age, and there are also hints of sexual exploits. There is some sexual banter in a letter to Clark of 1792 in which he talks of his 'chère adorable' without identifying the woman. On 4 March 1828 Scott met for the first time for thirty years David Erskine of Cardross, whom he described as 'my old friend and boon-companion with whom I shared the wars of Bacchus, Venus and sometimes of Mars' (Journal, 437). George Allan, Scott's first biographer, writing in 1832, claimed to possess 'undeniable evidence that Scott was concerned … in at least one illicit amour' (Allan, 181). In fact only two women with whom Scott was involved before he met his wife can be identified. The first is Jessie; no surname is known, but she belonged to Kelso and was the daughter of a tradesman. It appears that they first met in 1787 or 1788 while Scott was at Rosebank, his uncle's house in Kelso. James C. Corson has shown that the last of Scott's letters to her cannot have been written earlier than 1792. It was thus a four- or five-year relationship. The inference can be made that they were lovers, and that it was Scott who broke off the liaison.
The second woman was Williamina Belsches, daughter of Sir John Belsches and his wife, Lady Jane Leslie-Melville, of Fettercairn in Kincardineshire (now Aberdeenshire). Scott probably first met Williamina in 1790 when she was fourteen, but it seems improbable (on the grounds of age) that there was any relationship. The earliest indication of his love for her is in 1793, if he was right in saying in 1827 that he had carved her name 'in runic characters on the turf beside the castle gate' (Journal, 315) in St Andrews thirty-four years previously. He proposed marriage in August 1795 and considered her reply 'highly flattering and favourable' in spite of her asking him to wait (Letters, 1.40). However, over the winter of 1795–6 Williamina met William Forbes, son of one of Scotland's wealthiest bankers; her letters indicate her attraction to him, and her mother favoured his suit. In April and May 1796 Scott made a three-week visit to the north-east; he extracted a reluctantly given invitation to Fettercairn House, but the visit was not a success. Williamina's engagement to Forbes was announced in October 1796. One of Scott's ‘mountain’ friends wrote: 'This is not good news. I always dreaded there was some self-deception on the part of our romantic friend, and I now shudder at the violence of his most irritable and ungovernable mind' (Lockhart, 1.242). Williamina married Forbes the following January.
In September 1797, eight months later, Scott met Margaret Charlotte Carpenter (1770–1826) at Gilsland, a spa in Cumberland; within three weeks he proposed to her; and they got married in Carlisle on 24 December. Biographers have tended to argue that Williamina was the great love of Scott's life, that he married Charlotte on the rebound, and that Charlotte was second best. Long afterwards in his Journal Scott himself said that he had been 'Broken-hearted for two years—My heart handsomely pieced again—but the crack will remain till my dying day' (Journal, 43), but this is a tribute to both Williamina and Charlotte. The Forbes marriage did not produce any kind of social dislocation, for Scott and Forbes were co-operating in February 1797 on the small committee which planned Edinburgh's volunteer cavalry regiment. And the correspondence of Walter and Charlotte in autumn 1797 is boisterous and teasing, and indicates strong physical attraction. Scott liked Charlotte's 'laughing Philosophy' (Letters, 1.79), and her responses to him verge on the racy. She was attractive, mature, and verbally sophisticated, and quite unlike Williamina.
In marrying Charlotte, Scott took considerable risks. He made no enquiries about her, and could not answer his family's questions about her background. In fact, she was French, the daughter of Jean François Charpentier of Lyons and his wife, Élie Marguerite Volère, also known as Margaret Charlotte Volère (d. 1788), and had been brought up a Catholic, although she was baptized an Anglican in 1787. Her parents had separated about 1780, possibly after her mother had had an affair with a young Welshman. When precisely mother, daughter, and son came to England has not been determined, but it is known that Charlotte's mother returned to Paris in 1786, leaving behind her children who became the wards of the earl of Hillsborough, later marquess of Downshire. As the latter married in 1786 it has been presumed that Charlotte's mother had been his mistress, but there is no known evidence to support the presumption. When Scott proposed to Charlotte, he did not know all this. He got engaged before he told his parents anything about her; he did not report that she was French (Charlotte looked foreign and throughout her life spoke English with a strong French accent); he said that she had an annuity of £500 from her brother, when, in fact, she received an irregular allowance. Scott was marrying an ‘unknown’; he was not marrying for social position; he was not marrying for property. He was marrying for love and he was marrying a woman to whom he was intensely attracted.
Scott's political views were by now firmly constitutional; after the terror began in September 1792, after Louis XVI was beheaded in January 1793, and after France declared war on Britain on 1 February 1793, he lost any sympathy he might have had. In April 1794 he got involved in a fight with some anti-royalist Irish students, and was bound over to keep the peace. In June he was one of the thousand gentlemen who volunteered their services as constables to prevent popular disturbances, and he wrote with approval of the Edinburgh volunteer regiment formed to oppose a French invasion. In September he attended the trials of Watt and Downie, who were accused of organizing a plot for a general rising and proclaiming a republican government, and in October he watched Watt's execution. He served with great enthusiasm in the Royal Edinburgh light dragoons from its formation in 1797, and acted as its secretary and quartermaster.
Scott's exploration of Scotland continued and became more adventurous. He now really did visit the highlands, or rather the fringes of the southern highlands. In 1793 he went with Adam Ferguson on a trip to Loch Katrine and the Trossachs. On another occasion he went with William Clerk to Craighall near Blairgowrie, then on to Patrick Murray's in Meigle, where they were joined by Adam Ferguson. From here they took trips to see Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven, where the Scottish regalia had been hidden during Cromwell's invasion of Scotland, and visited Glamis Castle, which in those days had not been ‘improved’, but was still a medieval fortress with a complex system of defensive ditches and walls. Such trips were productive for many of the places described in Scott's poems and novels were seen on holidays like these. But these places are not reproduced in a ‘photographic’ way: the Trossachs at large feature in The Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy, but the fictional Tully-Veolan of Waverley fuses aspects of different buildings, and brings together stories and incidents which appertain to a variety of places.
Scott's exploration of the borders was more thorough. On 26 August 1791 he wrote to William Clerk from Northumberland, reporting on what he made of the topography of Flodden and the locations of other battles; he was in Northumberland again in September 1792, talking of Hexham and of Hadrian's Wall. On his way back he visited Liddesdale, in the extreme south-west of Roxburghshire, in the company of Robert Shortreed, a Jedburgh lawyer. Seven more 'raids', as Scott called them, followed over seven years (normally in the autumn).
The Liddesdale raids reveal well the way in which Scott conducted research. He met (and drank with) a variety of farmers and from them heard many stories about characters and localities, and some songs and ballads. He visited the surgeon Dr John Elliot of Cleuchhead, who had a manuscript collection of ballads which he made available to Scott and who, having met Scott, looked for new ballads and further versions of known ballads—in 1794 he wanted Shortreed 'to refresh Dr. Elliots memory with regard to my Old Songs' (Letters, 1.33). Scott himself sought out ballad singers and mentally compared their versions with versions he already knew. He explored the historic remains of Hermitage Castle and in 1793 sent a guinea for 'carrying on our joint operations', that is for a ‘dig’ at Hermitage (ibid., 1.28). He collected historical artefacts. He later read relevant historical documents in Register House, and had friends transcribe relevant manuscripts in the British Museum. Scott's greatness as scholar and writer comes from his imaginative ability to synthesize these different kinds of historical evidence to create narratives in which detail is used to reveal the way in which people in the past construed their world and invested it with meaning. Shortreed later said that Scott was only doing it for 'the queerness and the fun', but also observed that 'He was makin' himsell a' the time' (Lockhart, 1.195–6). Scott's life in the nineties was a preparation for his life as a writer. There was certainly much merrymaking, but so deliberate was the seeking of historical materials that it is possible to infer an aim and a strategy, which culminated in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.
But Scott's self-training as cultural anthropologist did not make him a writer. The actual transformative experience seems to have been the encounter with German Romanticism. The Edinburgh interest in German literature began with Henry Mackenzie's 1788 lecture on German drama to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1792 Alexander Fraser Tytler, Scott's history professor, published his translation of Schiller's Die Räuber; Scott bought his copy in July, and even in his 'Essay on imitations of the ancient ballad', written as late as 1830, the excitement of a new literature breaks through the formal prose as he hails the discovery of a race of poets who, in the words of Lucretius, wished 'to spurn the flaming boundaries of the universe' (Poetical Works, 4.39). In the autumn of 1792 Scott and six or seven friends found themselves a teacher. As with Latin before, Scott paid less attention to grammatical precision than to meaning: he was 'in the practice of fighting his way to the knowledge of the German by his acquaintance with the Scottish and Anglo-Saxon dialects' (ibid., 4.42). In 1795 Anna Laetitia Aikin read an unpublished translation of Bürger's Leonore at one of Dugald Stewart's parties, and although Scott was not present he was stimulated to find his own copy of the German original. He met the Aberdonian James Skene of Rubislaw, who had lived in Saxony for some years and had a collection of German books. The poems in the German manner included within Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796) were a further stimulus, and in April 1796 Scott tried his hand at translating Leonore. 'He began the task … after supper, and did not retire to bed until he had finished it, having by that time worked himself into a state of excitement which set sleep at defiance' (Lockhart, 1.235). So pleased was Scott with the reaction of his friends that he proceeded to translate another Bürger poem, Der wilde Jäger, and the two were published together anonymously as The Chase and William and Helen: Two Ballads from the German of Gottfried Augustus Bürger on 1 November 1796, priced 3s. 6d.
'I was German-mad', said Scott in a letter of 13 December 1827 (Letters, 10.331). The new enthusiasm liberated Scott from the constrictions of eighteenth-century English poetry. But in the long run what was of far greater importance to Scott was the German interest in national identity, folk culture, and medieval literature. Scott's sensitivity to the nationalist precedent afforded by late eighteenth-century German writing helps distinguish his poetic world from that of his Romantic contemporaries Wordsworth and Coleridge. When combined with the different varieties of literary nationalism embodied in Burns and Macpherson, the German example helped propel Scott towards his own attempt to repossess the special territory of Scotland's past.
1798–1802 and Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
After his marriage Scott set up house with Charlotte at 50 George Street, Edinburgh. In the summer of 1798 he and Charlotte rented a cottage at Lasswade, a village a few miles south of Edinburgh, and this was their summer home until 1803. While there he developed his literary and political contacts, and made a series of new ones; he was a visitor at Melville Castle, then the home of Robert Dundas, the lord advocate (the government's chief legal officer in Scotland), and at Dalkeith Palace, home of the earl of Dalkeith, his fellow dragoon in the volunteer regiment and heir to the dukedom of Buccleuch. Here he met Lady Douglas, sister of the duke of Buccleuch, and Lady Louisa Stuart, daughter of the former prime minister the earl of Bute, two in a series of aristocratic women with whom Scott later maintained a slightly flirtatious correspondence. Lady Louisa later became one of Scott's most acute critics, and a trusted friend.
On 14 October 1798 Charlotte gave birth to their first son, but the baby died the next day. Later that autumn the Scotts moved to a second house in Edinburgh's New Town, 19 Castle Street. In April 1799 Scott's father died. On 24 October Charlotte gave birth to a daughter, Charlotte Sophia Scott, and this time the baby survived. Their son Walter was born on 26 October 1801; their fourth and fifth children, Anne and Charles, were born on 2 February 1803 and 24 December 1805. In December 1801 they purchased and moved to their permanent Edinburgh address, 39 Castle Street.
Scott's work as an advocate was expanding, but his fee income was small (he earned only £135 9s. in 1798), and so when in November 1799 the sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire died, Scott sought the position. (Despite the name the sheriff-depute was the principal judge in a Scottish county.) Scott had now made himself a wholly suitable recipient of the rewards of the patronage system by which posts were filled and political support for the government maintained in Scotland in the eighteenth century: he had the required professional qualification for a sheriff (that is, he was an advocate), he professed the right political opinions, he was making a mark for himself as a scholar–poet, and above all he had established the right connections. No doubt Scott's friendships with the earl of Dalkeith and Robert Dundas were used as part of a process in which the duke of Buccleuch took up Scott's candidature with Henry Dundas, who controlled all political patronage in Scotland. Lockhart says that Scott always remembered with gratitude 'the strong intercession' of William Dundas, nephew of Henry Dundas, and himself a member of the government (Lockhart, 1.318). On 16 December 1799 Scott became the new sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire, at a salary of £300 per annum. As he could continue to practise at the bar, the appointment was an additional responsibility, and an additional source of income.
Scott remained sheriff of Selkirkshire until his death in 1832. By modern standards the appointment did not involve much work, but it was not a sinecure. Although the sheriff court could hear civil cases, its main work involved minor criminal offences. Most of the routine cases were handled by a local sheriff-substitute (Scott appointed the Melrose solicitor Charles Erskine in 1800), with Scott sitting in person only when cases were disputed, but the greater part of the criminal process was conducted in writing. Throughout his career Scott read the written statements of the arguments and the evidence, and determined the case in writing. In addition, the sheriff acted as police officer, searching for evidence and culprits, and had a series of administrative functions. He was also required to go to each sitting of the high court in Jedburgh when it was on circuit to hear serious criminal cases.
In October 1797 Scott had sent a copy of 'The Erl-King', his translation of Goethe's Der Erlkönig, to his aunt Christian Rutherford (Letters, 1.76–7), and on 1 March 1798 it was published in a revised form in the Kelso Mail. He was invited by Matthew Lewis, the notorious author of The Monk, who passed the winter of 1798–9 in Edinburgh, to contribute to Tales of Wonder, a new two-volume collection that Lewis was planning, but although Scott submitted the three poems he had promised ('The Fire-King', 'Glenfinlas', and 'Frederick and Alice') Monk repeatedly postponed publication, and it did not appear until November 1800. In the meantime Scott published the first English translation of Goethe's Götz von Berlichingen in London on 14 March 1799 (the translator was given as ‘William Scott’ on the title-page), and he wrote The House of Aspen, an imitation rather than a translation of Die heilige Vehme by Veit Weber (pseudonym of Georg Philip Ludwig Leonhard Wächter). Scott sent it to London in the hope of having it staged; John Kemble was interested but eventually decided that there was 'too much blood' (Poetical Works, 12.366)—and it remained unpublished until 1829.
But the great project was the preparation and publication of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. As the 'Memoirs' indicate, Scott as a child had heard and probably learned ballads from his grandmother. He was also a field collector. This is a view that has repeatedly been challenged, but, although none of the ballads that he heard on his Liddesdale raids has survived in a holograph manuscript, Scott had an extraordinary memory and could recite poems after hearing a single oral recitation; it seems inconceivable that he did not use that memory when collecting ballads in the field. Scott also searched manuscript collections, the two most important being those of Herd and Glenriddell. He belonged too to a circle of ballad collectors who swapped texts with each other: for instance in August 1800 he invited Robert Jamieson, whose Popular Ballads and Songs appeared in 1806, to visit him in Lasswade where they exchanged copies of ballads derived from two separate manuscripts recording the Aberdeenshire ballad corpus of Anna Gordon, or Brown. There is abundant evidence of his seeking out particular individuals to obtain ballads they knew or copies they possessed. He also made limited use of printed sources.
The first hint of the Minstrelsy is in a letter of 17 February 1796 to the Scottish antiquary George Chalmers, to whom Scott sent a selection of his ballads, but the real impulse to publish seems to have followed Scott's meeting Richard Heber and John Leyden in the autumn of 1799. Letters of 1800 to Heber, the Oxford bibliophile, who had passed the winter of 1799–1800 in Edinburgh, imply that Heber had been urging Scott to publish, and that Leyden, a borderer, a linguistic polymath, and an enthusiast for all things Scottish, had volunteered to help. By June 1800 Scott had agreed a contract with the London publishers Cadell and Davies for a two-volume collection, to be printed by James Ballantyne of Kelso, and to be ready for publication by Christmas 1801. He wrote to the duke of Buccleuch asking for permission to dedicate the collection to him. Work on the project accelerated in the autumn of 1800: on 19 October Scott told Heber that Leyden and he 'work hard at old Ballads during the forenoon & skirmish in the Evening upon the old disputes betwixt the Cameronians & their opponents' (Letters, 12.171–2). On 16 October he wrote to Thomas Percy asking for help in finding better versions of some of his fragments, and on 18 October to James Currie in Liverpool asking about possible ballads in Burns's manuscripts. On 27 March 1801 he told another correspondent, George Ellis, that his border ballads would see the light at the beginning of the year, and in April he was back on a field trip in Liddesdale and Ettrick Forest in search of additional materials. Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border was published in two volumes on 24 February 1802, priced 18s.
Most of the materials for the first edition were gathered by Scott. Leyden contributed only two ballad texts, but they wrote the 'Essay on the fairies of popular superstition' which heads the ballad 'The Young Tamlane' together. In 1802 the collection contained fifty-two items, of which twenty-two were classed as historical, twenty-six as romantic, and four (two by Scott and two by Leyden) as imitations. Of the forty-eight traditional items twenty-six had not previously appeared in print. A second edition was published in 1803; there were now eighty-six items, including traditional material collected by or from James Hogg, William Laidlaw, and Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, none of whom had contributed to the first edition. Scott did not 'steal' the work of others, as has been suggested—the new contributors were only too pleased to participate in an already successful project, and they were acknowledged. A good deal of reconstruction took place before the next edition of 1806, but only four new items were added. By 1812 the Minstrelsy had its final complement of ninety-six items, including three imitations passed off as traditional by the antiquary Robert Surtees; of the items added between 1803 and 1812 only fifteen traditional songs had not previously appeared in print.
In the most detailed examination of Scott's editorial method Keith W. Harry has demonstrated that Scott was indeed right when on 30 July 1801 he said to Currie: 'I have made it an invariable rule to attempt no improvements upon the genuine Ballads which I have been able to recover' (Letters, 1.120). Scott's method was to fuse versions of a single ballad story in order to create more coherent ballad texts. Of the ballads published in the first edition, five have no known source, and thirteen have a single source; the remainder are derived from two or more sources. The extant materials for the Minstrelsy show that Scott gathered a very large number of fragments, from which his creative editing produced complete songs. Harry further shows that the materials used by Scott were justified by tradition or by manuscript versions, and that, although Scott may have added occasional words or phrases to resolve a crux, the frequently repeated opinion that Scott wrote lines and even whole stanzas is simply wrong.
Scott's recreative methodology may have created excellent literary texts, but could not now be regarded as an acceptable editorial procedure. However, on 3 May 1825 in a letter to William Motherwell, Scott indicated that he thought his original methodology had been wrong, and advocated a new approach which was not only adopted by Motherwell but is now regarded as standard procedure:
I think you should print it exactly as you have taken it down, and with a reference to the person by whom it is preserved so special as to enable any one to ascertain its authenticity … I think I did wrong myself in endeavouring to make the best possible set of an ancient ballad out of several copies obtained from different quarters … the singers or reciters by whom these ballads were preserved and handed down, must, in general, have had a facility … of filling up verses which they had forgotten, or altering such as they might think they could improve. Passing through this process in different parts of the country, the ballads … became, in progress of time, totally different productions, so far as the tone and spirit of each is concerned. In such cases, perhaps, it is as well to keep them separate, as giving in their original state a more accurate idea of our ancient poetry, which is the point most important in such collections.Letters, 9.100–02
In his agreement with Cadell and Davies Scott must have stipulated that his friend James Ballantyne of Kelso should print the collection. It was, and is, unusual for an author to choose the printer; in doing so Scott showed his interest not just in content but in books as artefacts which would articulate the ‘message’, and make clear the social standing of its creators. Scott was an advocate, and Ballantyne a solicitor who in 1796 founded his own newspaper, the Kelso Mail. Their co-operation began in 1798 when 'The Erl-King' appeared in Ballantyne's columns, but in his letter of 22 April 1800 Scott outlined plans of some daring: he suggested that Ballantyne might move his business to Edinburgh, edit a newspaper, found a '“Monthly Magazine” and a “Caledonian Annual Register”', print papers for the court of session, 'the best paid work which a printer undertakes', and publish literary works, 'either ancient or modern'. He also suggested that Ballantyne, with his education, could improve on prevailing standards in both design and accuracy. In other words Scott laid out a business strategy for Ballantyne and, implicitly, himself, which was to be fulfilled over the following two decades. Ballantyne did not embark immediately on Scott's ventures (it was not until 1803 that he moved to Edinburgh), but this letter marks the beginning of a literary and business partnership which lasted the rest of their lives. It also shows that Scott's imagination encompassed the whole business of literature.
In the summer of 1802 Scott was visited by Thomas Longman, head of the London publishers Longman and Rees, who bought the copyright of the Minstrelsy for £500. From this he must have learned two things: first, that he could command very considerable fees for his literary work, and second that rivalry between publishers could boost what he could make from them. Longman's purchase necessitated a quick second edition, but in fact Scott created a substantially new work by expanding each department. The imitations included the first publication of three more poems by Scott, one of which, 'Cadyow Castle', is a 'vivid trailer', as Sutherland puts it (Sutherland, 90), for The Lay of the Last Minstrel. The second edition of the Minstrelsy appeared on 25 May 1803, in three volumes, priced £1 11s. 6d.
1802–1814: Scott as editor
While working on the Minstrelsy, Scott was also preparing an edition of the version of the medieval romance Sir Tristrem to be found in the Auchinleck manuscript, owned by the Advocates' Library. About 1800 Joseph Ritson had suggested that the poem was the composition of Thomas the Rhymer, the poet and seer reputed to have belonged to Earlston, a village only 5 miles from Sandyknowe, and, motivated by their local and national patriotism, Leyden and Scott were eager to concur. Initially the work of transcription was undertaken by Leyden, and the annotation by Scott, but in 1801 Leyden withdrew (he is thought to have disapproved of the sexually explicit nature of some sections of the poem). Although the work was substantially complete by the end of 1802, it was not published until May 1804. The newly established firm of Archibald Constable & Co., Scott's leading publisher for the first time, clearly did not think it would succeed, for it printed only 150 copies and priced them at £2 2s., and it may have had moral objections. Scott himself had no qualms on this score: indeed he consistently opposed (not always successfully) the bowdlerization, or castration as he termed it, of literary works, including his own. But Sir Tristrem was not an editorial success. Scott did not have that knowledge of medieval English which would have enabled him to ascertain provenance, thus leaving him free to indulge his Scottish fantasy. He did not know enough about the cycles of Arthurian legend, and thus argued that the late version before him was the original Arthurian text. And he tried to assimilate the poem to the minstrels of the ballad tradition. However, medieval romance did offer him a model for his long narrative poems.
In a letter to George Ellis of 8 October 1808 after the publication of Marmion Scott said that editing 'may be considered as a green crop of turnips or peas, extremely useful for those whose circumstances do not admit of giving their farm a summer fallow' (Letters, 2.93). It is in this way that his editing has usually been seen, as recreation, providing both recuperation and materials for imaginative literature. Unquestionably, the works Scott edited were utilized in his long poems and novels, but they were also an extraordinary scholarly achievement in their own right. Between 1806 and 1814 works edited by Scott included: Original Memoirs, Written during the Great Civil War (1806), The Works of John Dryden (18 vols., 1808), Memoirs of Robert Cary, Earl of Monmouth … and Fragmenta Regalia (1808), A Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts (13 vols., 1809–15), The Ancient British Drama (3 vols., 1810), The Memoirs of the Duke of Sully (5 vols., 1810), The Poetical Works of Anna Seward (3 vols., 1810), The Modern British Drama (5 vols., 1811), Secret History of the Court of James I (2 vols., 1811), Sir Philip Warwick's Memoirs of the Reign of King Charles the First (1813), and The Works of Jonathan Swift (19 vols., 1814). Only three editions of significance came later: Memorie of the Somervilles (1816), Memorials of the Haliburtons (1820), and Military Memoirs of the Great Civil War (1822).
Scott edited historical documents and literary texts mainly of the seventeenth century, although his period stretches back into the late sixteenth century and forward to the death of Swift in 1745. In a sense his editing constitutes a single interlocking endeavour: he cites no fewer than nine of his editions in A Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts, and various editions were undertaken to reinforce work elsewhere. As editor Scott aimed to expand the materials then available. For instance, in Original Memoirs he included two brief lives from manuscript sources, and ten from seventeenth-century tracts. His Dryden was advertised as the first complete edition. A Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts was not the first selection from the tracts collected by Lord Somers (the title-page describes this as the second edition, and as 'revised and augmented'), but to the 882 tracts previously published he added a further 81. Secret History of the Court of James I contains five rare works, two of which he had previously cited in Memoirs of Robert Cary and described as 'scandalous'. In his Swift some 122 items (83 letters, 22 poems, and 17 pieces of prose) were added to the corpus.
Following the editorial practice of his time, Scott had no settled methods or principles for choosing or establishing a text. He used previous editions as copy texts wherever possible, and he seems to have done little to check the reliability of transcripts furnished by his correspondents. He adopted the notes of his predecessors, very often without acknowledgement. He also added introductions and notes of his own, and it is this new material that made his editions distinguished. Because he worked so much in the sub-literature of the seventeenth century he had an unrivalled knowledge and understanding of the period. He was not systematic—he added many notes to the first eight volumes of A Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts yet none to the next five—but he is always illuminating. And it may be taken that the epigraph on the title-page of that work—'The bent and genius of the age is best known in a free country, by the pamphlets and papers that come daily out, as the sense of parties, and sometimes the voice of the nation'—expresses his view of history: he is more concerned with the analysis of historical forces as evidenced in these ephemeral papers than with historical events as such. As a literary historian he was the first to relate literature to its social, political, and economic context, and in his edition and biography of Dryden, who above all poets was immersed in his times, Scott shows a powerful imaginative grasp of the interplay of the writer and his society. His edition of Swift was less successful (although he corrected some of the problems in the second edition of 1824) not because it was so dependent on the work of the previous editor, John Nichols, nor because he was less intellectually engaged in the project, but essentially because unlike Dryden Swift could not be successfully presented as a construction of his period.
Scott was the greatest editor of his age. Others were more precise, and more accurate, but they were more precise and more accurate about more limited areas. None had his ability to illuminate the past through the exercise of scholarship. None was such a perceptive critic of literature. In Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border he published the most exciting collection of ballads ever to appear. In his collections of historical documents he made more history available and related all its various materials and strands with more insight than any of his contemporaries. In The Works of John Dryden, in which his life of Dryden forms the first volume, he produced one of the great collected editions of an author's works. Finally Scott's skill and the tact in using literature as historical evidence, and recreating history as literature, has never been surpassed.
1802–1817: Scott as poet
In Scott's letters and in the autobiographical essays which he wrote for his collected works there is a repeated, irritatingly deferential, acknowledgement of the part played by Scott's friends and coadjutors in the creative process. But it can be argued that Scott was uniquely indebted to others, writers past and present as well as friends, for phrases, stories, and ideas, to which 'the modifying colours of the imagination' (to use Coleridge's phrase) gave 'the interest of novelty'. He is the great transformer of inherited materials. The Lay of the Last Minstrel has the form of a medieval romance, and its metre was learned from Coleridge. Scott inset two songs in a modified ballad stanza, another in the Spenserian stanza, and an English version of the 'Dies irae'; he localized the action by an invocation of names in the manner of the raiding ballads; he drew on a period and technical vocabulary found in his reading of historical documents. There are at least 3000 allusions to other literary texts. The whole is an intertextual tissue. This transformative use of other materials recreates a sixteenth-century past which Scott then authenticates with explanatory notes. Scott was the editor of his own fiction, turning that fiction into a historical document 'intended to illustrate the customs and manners, which anciently prevailed on the Borders of England and Scotland' (Poetical Works, 6.37).
The Lay was written over an extended period. It is possible that the 'epic poem of hundreds upon hundreds of lines' which Scott mentioned to Jessie in 1792 was a rudimentary form of the poem. It is certain that in December 1802 he thought he would include a long poem of his own in the third volume of the Minstrelsy: it 'will be a kind of Romance of Border Chivalry in a Light Horseman sort of stanza' (Letters, 12.231), he told George Ellis. He heard the tale of Gilpin Horner in late January 1803; he read portions to Ellis in May; by 21 August 1804 Ballantyne had received the manuscript for typesetting. It was published in Edinburgh on 12 January 1805, with a run of 750 copies, priced £1 5s. Thus the statement that he wrote it 'a canto per week' (Poetical Works, 6.29) is highly misleading: Scott was never truthful about the length of the gestation period, nor about the amount of effort and thought he put into his creative work.
The Lay was greatly successful; a second edition of 1500 copies priced at 10s. 6d. appeared in October 1805, and in 1806 a third of 2000 in February, a fourth of 2250 in August, and a fifth of 2000 in November. The sixth edition in 1807 was of 3000 copies. In Scott's lifetime there were twenty-one British editions of the poem (sixteen separate and five in collected editions). The reviewers were more restrained than the readers. Although all wrote with approval, they were puzzled about genre. The Lay was recognized as a development of medieval romance, the ballad, or both, and it was praised as an improvement on both, but there was little sense of the excitement which might have greeted the inauguration of a new poetic genre. Placing a narrative back in time to create a temporal exoticism was not completely new: 'The Ancient Mariner' had been published in 1798, and Scott had heard 'Christabel' recited by a mutual friend in 1802 (it was not published until 1816). But the verse form was new. It is regrettable that Coleridge did not publish the first part of 'Christabel' in 1798, nor the second in 1800, for he would then have been recognized in his own time as the ‘inventor’ of the new metrics. Scott undoubtedly learned from Coleridge, but it was not plagiarism, and overall the Lay exploits the fluidity of the verse form with extraordinary skill. As John Sutherland has said, 'Technically the Lay is, for 1805, a startlingly innovative poem' (Sutherland, 100). It was also innovative in its development of the framing narrative as a paradigm for the recovery of the past. The poem was written by Walter Scott and dedicated to the earl of Dalkeith, and in it the Minstrel in the 1690s tells Dalkeith's ancestor, the first duchess of Buccleuch, his tale of her ancestors in the mid-sixteenth century. It treats of a period when Scotland and England were still hereditary enemies, and it demonstrates how the ritualization of violence offers a means to contain and transcend it. The 'lesson' from history is unconvincing, but the poem offers unforgettable formulations of feeling:
Breathes there a man, with soul so dead,Who never to himself hath said,This is my own, my native land!
Poetical Works, 6.187, canto 6.1Such patriotism is infectiously positive, and that which can be remembered has power.
Ballads and Lyrical Pieces, a collection of eight ballads and five songs, all previously published but not readily available, appeared in September 1806. Marmion, according to Lockhart, was begun in November 1806. On 13 January the following year Scott told Anna Seward that he had begun a poem on Flodden, the battle on 9 September 1513 in which James IV, king of Scots, was killed and the Scottish army annihilated. On 31 January 1807 he accepted Constable's offer of £1100 for the new poem. He sent a proof sheet of the first canto to Lady Abercorn on 11 February. On 15 May he expected to see the poem out by Christmas, but it was September before he sent Lady Abercorn the second canto. The third canto was completed in November, and on 19 January 1808 he told Lady Louisa Stuart that 'Marmion is, at this instant, gasping upon Flodden field' (Letters, 2.3). It was published on 22 February 1808, and proved even more popular than The Lay of the Last Minstrel: 8000 copies were sold in its first year.
Marmion is the most intellectually ambitious of Scott's long poems, and until the late twentieth century the least understood. The subject has repeatedly been found to be wanting in some way: from Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review in 1808 to Sutherland in his 1995 biography, reviewers have asked why Scott built his poem round the greatest catastrophe in Scottish history. They have considered the long descriptions of buildings, feasts, and dress to be tediously antiquarian, have been puzzled about a villain as hero, and have found the epistles to Scott's various friends which introduce each of the six cantos to be 'digressive' (Letters, 1.347), to use Scott's own word. Scott himself said his plan was 'to exhibit ancient costume, diction, and manners' (ibid., 2.55), but this is another defensive statement which denies a much bolder aim. Marmion represents Flodden as the consequence of the personal moral corruption of James IV and of Lord Marmion (among others), whose hypocrisy undercuts the public virtues of the chivalric code. Neither is cleansed nor made heroic by war, and Marmion in particular remains in death a philanderer, murderer, and fraudster. In the epistles Scott tackles the problem of the relevance of his poetry. He laments the situation of Britain following the deaths of Pitt, Fox, and Nelson, and although the strongly elegiac tone suggests that change and decay are inevitable the counter-argument is that
on the ancient minstrel strainTime lays his palsied hand in vain.
Scott works his way through to a realization that art whether written in the past or the present, and whether about the past or the present, can invigorate both the private and the public spheres.
In all Scott's long poems there are passages of sheer brilliance, and there are passages which seem inept (and Marmion is no exception). But there is a sense in which Scott's work is literature only because of the need for a medium, and that it is closer to performance, a permanent negotiation between tale teller and audience, in which the excitement of the moment takes both parties through to the end. However, the six epistles in Marmion are wholly different: they are Scott's personal meditations on who he is, and on the status of his art; they explore the Romantic themes of memory, consciousness, and identity. They are Scott's finest poems, yet when they appeared they were universally criticized. In later years Scott often discussed the nature of his fictions in framing narratives, using fictitious personae. Never again did he use his own voice; never again did he attempt to explore his own mind and personality in the genre most closely associated with Coleridge, the conversation poem.
The first hint of The Lady of the Lake comes in a letter of 9 June 1806 to Lady Abercorn in which Scott talks of 'a Highland romance of Love Magic and War', but although he considers it a distant prospect he had by 6 August written a bit. However, on 13 January 1807 he told Anna Seward that he had laid the project aside and taken up Marmion instead. When he resumed The Lady of the Lake is not known, but in August 1809 he went on a holiday to Loch Lomond and showed Lady Louisa Stuart (whom he met at Buchanan House) some of what he had written. But the poem did not seem to be developing in the normal way, for in a letter to Mrs Clephane of 27 October he seems to suggest that he had been writing some of the inset poems rather than the narrative. By 31 December, however, he had made 'considerable progress' (Letters, 2.274), and proofs of the first two cantos were sent to Lady Abercorn on 14 March 1810, and the third and fourth on 14 April. It was published on 8 May 1810, and more than 20,000 copies were sold before the end of the year. The Lady of the Lake was the most phenomenal success.
In The Lady of the Lake the romance form is employed as a structure, but there is no surprise: the reader recognizes the end at the beginning, and there is neither a journey of self-discovery nor a mysterious revelation. Indeed Coleridge complained that he could not remember a narrative poem in which the sense of progress was so languid. It is more obviously Arthurian in shape than the two previous poems, and because of this Scott uses audience expectation to maintain a momentum while the actual poem acts as a framework for an elaborate pattern of inset tales, separate lyrics and ballads, and descriptive set pieces. This is a poem in which the author–narrator exhibits his command, and consciously and obviously uses romance motifs (the stag hunt, the wild wood versus the court, the outlaw versus the king, prophecy and its fulfilment, the king's confrontation with the lady of the lake) to treat a theme that became much more pronounced in his novels, the conflict between contiguous societies in different stages of development.
Scott wrote two more long poems, Rokeby (1813) and The Lord of the Isles (1815), the first set in Yorkshire during the civil war in the seventeenth century, and the second concerning Robert the Bruce and his struggle to free Scotland that culminated in the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. In spite of large sales (more than 10,000 of Rokeby and 13,750 of The Lord of the Isles) in the first year, there was disappointment about their failure to achieve distributions comparable to those of The Lady of the Lake. Scott later accounted for the loss of his overwhelming popularity to a change in public taste: the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage appeared in 1812. But neither poem was as good as The Lady of the Lake.
Scott had lost interest. He did not say as much, but his experiments in the minor poetry, The Vision of Don Roderick (1811), The Bridal of Triermain (1813), and Harold the Dauntless (1817) suggest a need for the more complex narratorial strategies of Marmion, which he exercised in his novels. Scott did not stop writing poetry after 1817; he actually wrote a great deal but it was nearly all lyrical, and nearly all set within his prose fiction. Many of these poems are superb, although habitually neglected by anthologists of Romantic literature.
1802–1814: family life
Under pressure from the lord lieutenant of Selkirkshire, who reminded him that a sheriff was required to have a residence in his shrievalty, Scott gave up his tenancy of the summer cottage in Lasswade and from 1804 rented Ashestiel, a house near Galashiels in Selkirkshire, from his cousin James Russell who was serving in India. Ashestiel was, in Scott's own words, 'a decent farm-house overhanging the Tweed, and situated in a wild pastoral country' (Letters, 1.220). It is difficult to determine exactly how much time he spent in Ashestiel, but it was considerable, and all the references in his letters imply that the Scotts were happy.
The marital relationship seems to have been close and affectionate. For instance, Scott begins his letters to Charlotte from London in 1807 with such salutations as 'My dearest love', 'My dear Charlotte', 'My dearest Mimi'; he then chats about whom he has been dining with, reports on legal and political business, asks about the children, and finishes by asking her to kiss them all, or telling her to 'seek out every way of amusing your widowhood' (Letters, 12.106). Thus his famous statement to Lady Abercorn in 1811 that their match 'was something short of love in all its forms which I suspect people only feel once in their lives' (ibid., 2.287, 12.487) must be taken as a statement about the state of feeling in 1811, not a judgement on the whole of marriage.
The letters give regular reports of his children's education. He considered Sophia to be bright: 'I am at pains with her education because you know “learning is better than house or land”' (Letters, 1.270). On returning from the visit to London of 1807 he told Lady Abercorn that he found all his 'little people in great health and spirits and beginning to talk a little French under their mother's instructions'. He continued:
I am very anxious that my sons in particular shall be masters of the modern European languages an accomplishment which although much neglected in our common mode of education may be of the utmost use to them in future life.ibid., 1.362
Charles was thought to be the cleverest of the family. In due course the two boys were sent to the high school in Edinburgh, in 1809 and 1813 respectively, while the girls had instructors at home.
Scott, Charlotte, and their children were happy, but Scott's brothers posed considerable problems. His youngest brother, Daniel, seems to have misappropriated public money when working for the Edinburgh custom house in Edinburgh. Scott probably met the shortfall, and thanks to Ellis in 1804 found him a position in the West Indies. Daniel returned in disgrace in 1806 and drank himself to death, having had a liaison with a woman. A son was born posthumously. Scott refused to attend the funeral, but a sum of money was paid to the mother, and Scott paid for his nephew's education and apprenticeship and assisted with his emigration to Canada in 1831. His younger brother Thomas (Tom) became bankrupt in 1807, and fled the jurisdiction of Scotland. It emerged that Tom, a lawyer who had inherited his father's practice and was agent for the Duddingston estate of the marquess of Abercorn, had misapplied his client's funds. Scott eventually paid off the debts and through political influence found Tom a new post with a regiment in Canada. The dedication of The Lady of the Lake to the marquess shows that the cost of saving Tom was more than monetary.
Scott's circle of friends and relationships grew with fame. Preparations for the Minstrelsy and Sir Tristrem brought him into contact with Heber, Ellis, Ritson, Douce, and many other collectors and antiquaries. The Wordsworths visited in 1803, and the Scotts reciprocated in 1805. Southey visited in 1805. Campbell dined with Scott in 1803. On his visit to London in 1806 Scott met Joanna Baillie, and was ‘taken up’ by London society, found a patron in Lady Abercorn, dined with the princess of Wales, and met Canning.
From 1800 the Scotts had a regular income of more than £1000 per annum: the sheriffdom was worth £300, fees from advocacy came to about £200 and were rising, and Charlotte had an income of about £500 (although this later fell to about £300) from her brother in India. From about 1805 Scott sought a more lucrative crown appointment, and in 1806 concluded a complicated negotiation to succeed George Home as a principal clerk to the court of session. Home was deaf and incapable of performing his duties, but as there was no pension Scott agreed to Home retaining his salary until death, from which time Scott would be paid. Scott took up his duties in May 1806, and retired from advocacy. Home lived on; Scott occasionally grumbled, but in 1811 after the passing of a superannuation act Scott began to agitate for Home to be awarded his pension. Home proved awkward, but eventually in 1812 Scott began to receive his salary, now fixed at £1300 p.a. His job was not a sinecure, involving such matters as legal research and putting the decisions of the court into proper legal form; but as the hours were 10 a.m. to 1 or 2 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday during legal terms, which lasted about twenty-two weeks per year, the remuneration was handsome, and it raised the Scotts' regular income to about £2000 a year.
There were also Scott's literary earnings. Scott earned royalties of £100 on the first edition of the Minstrelsy and £169 on the first edition of the Lay. Longmans bought the copyright of the Minstrelsy for £500 in 1802. They bought the Lay for £500 in November 1805, and at the same time they paid £167 in advance for the rights to Ballads and Lyrical Pieces. Constable paid £1100 for Marmion in 1807, and Miller £720 for Dryden. Constable then paid £1500 for Swift, £500 up front and £1000 on publication.
In addition, there was an income from Ballantyne's printing business. In 1802 Scott advanced Ballantyne £500 (possibly the money he received from Longmans for the copyright of the Minstrelsy) to help him set up business in Edinburgh. In 1804 he inherited £5600 from his uncle Robert Scott of Rosebank in Kelso, and when early in 1805 Ballantyne asked for a further loan, Scott suggested instead that he become a partner in the printing business. The £500 loan was capitalized; Scott added a further £1500. The partnership agreement was signed on 14 March 1805; a third of the profit of the company was to go to Ballantyne as salary, and the remaining two-thirds were to be split between the two partners. Scott promised to direct business in Ballantyne's direction, and in this he was supremely successful, for it was a condition in each publishing contract that his work had to be printed by James Ballantyne & Co. The business was highly profitable, but the firm was in continuous need of new capital to finance its growth, and the new capital came mainly from Walter Scott.
1806–1814: business and politics
From 1806 Scott became more directly involved with politics. To some extent this was chance: the new whig government of 1806–7 had assented to Scott's arrangement with George Home, but early in 1807 it proposed to reform the court of session in a way which would have abolished the clerkships. Scott was appointed by his fellow clerks to negotiate compensation on their behalf, but as he arrived in London in March 1807 the government resigned and he found himself talking to new tory ministers. In 1808 Scott was made secretary to the parliamentary commission to inquire into the administration of justice in Scotland, which reported in 1810.
Then in April 1808 the Edinburgh Review, owned by Archibald Constable and edited by Francis Jeffrey, published Jeffrey's hostile review of Marmion. The review properly identified many issues for critical debate, but from a man who was regarded as a friend its manner and tone were unacceptable, and when in the October issue of the Edinburgh Review Jeffrey published an article against continuing the Peninsular War Scott (like many others) cancelled his subscription. In the midst of the public row about the Edinburgh's defeatism, John Murray arrived in Edinburgh to discuss establishing a new tory periodical to advance the ministerial point of view, and Scott threw himself energetically into planning what was to become the Quarterly Review. Scott had broken with his Edinburgh publisher.
Constable was the most innovative publisher of his age. He paid large sums of money to secure best-selling authors, and he recouped his outlay by a marketing strategy which involved heavy advertising and the promotion of star names. It was he who recognized first the possibilities of a mass market for best-selling authors, and Scott's final edition had its birth in Constable's marketing ideas. Scott's break with Constable was disastrous for both parties. Indeed it can be argued that the seeds of the crash in 1826 were sown here, for Scott now established his own publishing company: on 19 July 1809 Scott, James, and John Ballantyne signed a deed of co-partnery which set up the publishing business John Ballantyne & Co.
While The Lady of the Lake and Rokeby were profitable, all other authors' works made losses. The Edinburgh Annual Register, a periodical which began publication in 1810, for all its intellectual interest (its first number included Scott's 'View of the changes proposed and adopted in the administration of justice in Scotland', his first reasoned exposition of a philosophic conservatism) lost £1000 per issue. Even worse, James Ballantyne & Co. ceased to be profitable as Constable & Co. withdrew its business.
By 1812 it had become apparent that John Ballantyne & Co. was making unsustainable losses. The national financial crisis of 1812–14 led to reduced orders for books from retailers, late payments, and the bankruptcy of many companies whose debts to John Ballantyne & Co. were either not paid or paid only in part. John Ballantyne & Co., being undercapitalized and relying too heavily on bank credit, found itself unable to meet its own bills and to repay bank loans on time, and Rokeby failed to generate enough ready money to meet obligations. Protracted negotiations with Constable in 1813 led to the purchase of Ballantyne stock on the condition that John Ballantyne & Co. ceased to be an active publisher, to the sale of a share in Rokeby, and later to the advance sale to Constable of rights for the publication of The Lord of the Isles. Scott had to ask the duke of Buccleuch to guarantee a bank loan of £4000, which he used to repurchase the copyright of The Lady of the Lake and Rokeby from John Ballantyne & Co., thus putting £4000 into the business to keep it solvent. Many friends lent small sums. All the personal loans were repaid in 1814, but it was not until Whit Sunday 1818 that the bond signed by the duke was returned to him. The business was eventually wound up profitably in 1817, but the results were less good for Archibald Constable & Co., which, to secure Scott as a Constable author by buying unsaleable stock, was effectively taking over the Ballantyne debts. But there was a reconciliation, and as part of the reconciliation Constable commissioned essays on chivalry and the drama for the supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (published 1818 and 1819 respectively).
In 1811 Scott's lease of Ashestiel expired, and, needing a new place, he opened negotiations with Dr Douglas, the minister in Galashiels, for the purchase of Newarthaugh, a farm of about 100 acres on the south bank of the Tweed near Melrose. On 20 June Scott agreed to pay £4200, to take entry on Whit Sunday (15 May) 1812, and to pay £1500 then and the rest within five years. He at once began to think of what he would build, and by the time of their flitting in 1812 had renamed the estate Abbotsford. But it is a measure of the financial desperation of 1813 that nothing was undertaken to improve what was only a five-room cottage until 1814.
1814–1831: Scott the novelist
Waverley was published on 7 July 1814 by Archibald Constable & Co. in Edinburgh, and by Longman, Rees, Orme, and Brown in London. As P. D. Garside has shown, the novel was probably begun in 1808 (the date '1st November, 1805' in the first chapter is part of the fiction), continued in 1810, and completed in 1813–14; it was first advertised in 1810, and again in January 1814. The early part (up to the beginning of chapter 5) was probably written in parallel with Scott's 'Memoirs' and with the Marmion epistles, and thus it may be seen as a third attempt in authorial self-exploration in 1808.
Although Waverley was anonymous, Scott was being identified in reviews before the end of 1814. Yet his novels were always published anonymously, and nothing he said by way of explanation—that it was an experiment (it was, and at first his friends did not like it), that a person employed in the supreme civil court of Scotland should not write novels, that Lord Byron had displaced him as the public's favourite poet—is wholly convincing. It had been a custom to publish novels anonymously, as a poet he had been gradually overcrowded with social admirers, he liked being mysterious, it was a good sales gimmick—each of these has been cited as a reason for maintaining anonymity. However, between 1814 and 1827, when he publicly acknowledged his authorship, Scott maintained the fiction that it was the author of Waverley and not Walter Scott who wrote the Waverley novels, and no title-page ever bore his name.
Between 1814 and his death in 1832 Scott published twenty-three works of fiction, four of which contain two tales: Waverley (1814); Guy Mannering (1815); The Antiquary (1816); Tales of My Landlord (1816), containing The Black Dwarf and Old Mortality; Rob Roy (1817); Tales of my Landlord, second series (1818), containing The Heart of Mid-Lothian; Tales of my Landlord, third series (1819), containing The Bride of Lammermoor and A Legend of Montrose; Ivanhoe (1819); The Monastery (1820); The Abbot (1820); Kenilworth (1821); The Pirate (1821); The Fortunes of Nigel (1822); Peveril of the Peak (1823); Quentin Durward (1823); Saint Ronan's Well (1823); Redgauntlet (1824); Tales of the Crusaders (1825), containing The Betrothed and The Talisman; Woodstock (1826); Chronicles of the Canongate (1827); The Fair Maid of Perth (1828); Anne of Geierstein (1829); and Tales of my Landlord, fourth series (1831), containing Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous.
It appears that Scott was writing a novel every nine months, but the speed of production was in fact uneven: there was a gap of fifteen months between Guy Mannering and The Antiquary, but Tales of my Landlord was published only six months later. Following the publication of the third series of Tales of my Landlord in June 1819 he completed four novels in the next eighteen months. After Woodstock in 1826 his production of fiction diminished, partly because he grew more interested in writing history. The intellectual foundations of his fiction were laid long in the past, and the gestation period for a novel was usually over a year and sometimes considerably longer. When he finished one novel an interval of about two months would normally elapse before he started on the next. The initial writing could be comparatively slow as he would reread key sources, but once into volumes 2 and 3 Scott speeded up, and with typesetting taking place just as soon as each section of copy was received, and with proofs going back to him as soon as each sheet was ready, publication followed within a few weeks of his completing the manuscript.
Scott wrote on one side of quarto sheets of paper; he made corrections as he wrote, and used the opposing versos for larger changes and expansions. The next morning he reread what he had written, correcting, adding, and developing ideas. So that his handwriting should not be seen in the printing house, thus maintaining the pretence of anonymity, Scott's original manuscripts were copied, and it was the copies which were sent to the compositors. The compositors set the text before them and also supplied punctuation, normalized spelling, and corrected minor errors. Proofs were read in-house against the copies, and were used to improve the punctuation supplied. When the initial corrections had been made, a new set of proofs was drawn and sent to James Ballantyne. He acted as Scott's 'common reader' and his editor. He sent the annotated proofs to Scott, who usually accepted his suggestions but sometimes rejected them. Scott made many more changes; he cut out redundant words, and substituted the vivid for the pedestrian; he refined the punctuation; from time to time he reworked and revised passages extensively, and in so doing made the proofs a stage in the composition of the novels. Scott's corrections and revisions were copied by Ballantyne on to a clean set of proofs, the changes were made and the next proof-reading was normally done in-house, and then the sheets were printed off: Scott received revises only occasionally. Thus the printing of sheets was going on as Scott was still writing, and Scott was using his proofs as direction markers for the development of his plots. The novels were normally published in three volumes (the 'Tales' were in four), and Scott fitted his fictions to this tripartite structure.
The title 'the Waverley novels', which was used in reviews, and which was adopted as the collective name for Scott's last edition, has tended to make readers and critics consider them as a single œuvre. However, this homogenizing effect distorts an understanding of Scott as novelist. Scott's novels (in the plural) do not attempt to show that heroic action is neither heroic nor useful, although that might be said of Waverley; they are varied in period, in subject, and in technique. Indeed, Scott could be said to be a novelist who constantly explores new problems and uses new fictional structures to do so.
Of Scott's twenty-three novels, only three (Guy Mannering, The Antiquary, and Saint Ronan's Well) are set in his own lifetime. The other twenty are set in the past, and each is set in a different period. Some critics have tried to read the novels in their historical order, but this approach does not work as there are different kinds of history in different novels. Waverley constitutes a valid interpretation of 1745–6. It is justified as historical analysis by the wealth of precise period detail and Scott's understanding of the political, economic, social, and cultural basis of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Waverley is a Bildungsroman, a novel about a young man's moral development; its originality consists in the test of his maturity being his ability to recognize the outcome of history. But Ivanhoe is not a valid interpretation of 1194: it is an eclectic work drawing on material from pre-conquest times through to the fourteenth century. Ivanhoe is essentially a moral work. It is an intense consideration of misogyny and racial oppression, in which the attempted rape of Rebecca the Jewess by the dominant figure of the Norman master race, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, is a powerful symbol of the themes of the novel. Ivanhoe may be set in a distant period, but it has a political modernity which makes it one of the most remarkable novels of the nineteenth century.
Scott was interested in periods of conflict, particularly conflict arising from the competition of societies and cultures in different stages of development, but there is no single ‘take’ on the subject. Quentin Durward, set in 1465–8, is a study of the first modern state in the process of destroying the feudal system. Old Mortality is a study of a civil war in which the two sides are divided by religion, political ideology, and class. In The Bride of Lammermoor, set in the first edition in 1703–5, two factions in the Scottish parliament fight for supremacy, and use power to enrich themselves and despoil the other side; in that conflict Edgar and Lucy, a pair of Romeo and Juliet lovers, are destroyed. In Scott's greatest and most profound novel, The Heart of Mid-Lothian, set in the main in 1736–7, the protagonist who at the beginning is ruled by her clear conception of conscience gradually finds her conscience politicized as she realizes that justice is deeply compromised by expediency and the political context. In the conscience of Jeanie Deans one can see Scott's belief that human beings were products of society, and could be described in terms of social function and class, personal and national history, and language. Guy Mannering, set in 1781–2, offers no simple opposition: the Scotland represented in the novel is at once backward and advanced, traditional and modern—it is a country in varied stages of progression in which there are many social subsets, each with its own laws and customs. And if the subject matter is varied, so too is the ‘mood’. The Antiquary is an optimistic comedy in which the action is resolved by a coming together of all classes in defence of the country; Kenilworth is a tragedy; Chronicles of the Canongate is a compendium of three tragic tales held together by the commentary of the embittered narrator.
Scott was an experimental novelist. Waverley is a third-person narrative, in which the narrator is in full control of the information given to the reader; but in Guy Mannering, the next novel, the authority of the narrator is undercut by direct speech, by inset letters, by the letters and journal entries of several characters, by the epigraphs heading each chapter which are not part of the narration but give a different perspective, by prophecies made by characters, all in all a narrative in which the social subsets mentioned above get a chance to articulate their own way of seeing things. In Old Mortality the nominal author, Peter Pattieson, uses his first chapter to describe the way in which he gathers and deploys the information on which his history of 1679–89 is based. Rob Roy is the first first-person retrospective narration in which the narrator is convincingly wiser than he was in the days of his youth. Scott's restless exploration of the possibilities of different kinds of narrative reaches its highest development in Redgauntlet. The first volume consists of a series of letters between two friends, Darsie Latimer and Alan Fairford, while volumes 2 and 3 consist of Darsie's journal and third-person narrative, interwoven with each other by an unidentified editor. All three volumes include a series of inset tales nominally recorded by Darsie and Alan. Scott's formal mélange was new in 1824, but each of the different forms is in some way characteristic of the 1760s, and appropriate to a novel much of which was purportedly written in 1765. In addition to their historical typicality, the movement between literary kinds generates shifts in perspective, and so keeps the reader aware that the perception of ‘truth’ is at least in part determined by narrative mode. Redgauntlet is a metafictional novel, repeatedly drawing attention to its language and its shifting forms, and in the process demonstrating that the past is not a donné but is created by tale-telling.
Scott is credited with inventing the historical novel. Novels about the past such as Jane Porter's The Scottish Chiefs (1810) were published before Waverley, but Scott was right to claim in a comment on his imitators in 1826: 'They may do their fooling with better grace but I like Sir Andrew Aguecheek do it more natural' (Journal, 214). Scott did not just use formal expository prose in his analysis of the past, but also a variety of dramatic languages to represent different ideologies and different class perspectives on the movements of history. He did not impose a single view of the past by representing everything in the narrator's ideolect, but allowed his characters to use a variety of geographic and social dialects to speak for themselves. In addition, his knowledge of the literature of the past in all its forms gave him an unrivalled sense of appropriate period diction, and his use of direct quotation, and of incidents and tales found in the literature of the period, allowed the past to speak in its own language.
Waverley was published on 7 July 1814 in an edition of 1000 copies. A second edition of 2000 copies appeared in August, a third of 1000 in October. In Scott's lifetime there were eight separate editions, and the novel also appeared in six collections. The initial imprint for Guy Mannering was 2000 copies; for The Antiquary 6000 copies; for Rob Roy 10,000 copies. Thereafter the number of copies in the first edition of each novel was usually about 10,000; even in 1829 8500 copies of Anne of Geierstein were printed. As the size of the initial imprint rose, the number of editions fell, and so unit manufacturing costs dropped. At the same time the price was pushed up: Waverley cost £1 1s., The Antiquary £1 4s., and Ivanhoe (which was better printed and on better paper) £1 10s., until the final price for a three-volume novel was reached with Kenilworth at £1 11s. 6d. in 1821. The publishing of Scott's novels was organized to improve their profitability.
Scott's agreement with his publishers normally licensed them to sell a stated number of copies of a novel manufactured by James Ballantyne & Co., and stipulated that the author should have a half share in the profits (the profits being the publisher's receipts, less the cost of manufacturing and marketing), and that a certain amount of old John Ballantyne stock should be purchased. Later both James and John Ballantyne were given a sixth share in the profits.
In negotiating with publishers, Scott employed John Ballantyne until his death in 1821 as his literary agent, but as John was not trusted James would sometimes substitute for him. Scott was the first writer to have an agent, and used him to play one publisher off against another. In 1817 he instructed James to negotiate a deal for Tales of my Landlord with the Edinburgh publisher William Blackwood and his London correspondent John Murray instead of the usual Constable. Scott preferred Constable to all other publishers, but by trying another publisher he created an auction for his work. What Scott achieved by such manoeuvres was not an increase in the author's profits, but more contracts for as yet unwritten works, which were paid for by promissory bills payable at stated intervals in the future. The publisher expected to be able to pay these as the cash came in from the sales of the work, while Scott usually took them to the bank and sold them for ready money at a discount on their face value. The publisher then owed the money to the bank, not the author.
The profits from the publication of Scott's fiction were enormous, and enriched all parties: from the first edition of The Antiquary Scott made about £1682, and from the imprint of 10,000 of the second series of Tales he expected to make up to £4000. But even greater sums came from the sale of his copyrights; with the exception of Murray's quarter share in Marmion which he had been unable to buy back, Scott sold all his copyrights to Constable for £12,000 in 1819. Further sales of his copyright in new novels followed in 1821 and 1823.
1802–1831: Scott as critic
Scott contributed reviews to the Edinburgh Review from 1802 to 1808, to the Quarterly from the first number in 1809, and to Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine from 1818. He returned to the Edinburgh Review in the same year, and wrote for the Foreign Quarterly Review from 1827. By modern standards reviews of the period are wordy, and involve numerous extracts which offer the reader the chance of a real sampling of the work reviewed. In spite of the expansive manner Scott has insight, and his discussion goes to the central issues in critical debate. He objects to Currie's niceness in excluding poems by Burns which might be considered morally offensive, for he considers 'The Jolly Beggars' Burns's most brilliant work and describes 'Holy Willie's Prayer' as 'exquisitely severe' (Prose Works, 17.247). He reviewed both the third and fourth cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and remarked 'Childe Harold may not be, nor do we believe he is, Lord Byron's very self, but he is Lord Byron's picture, sketched by Lord Byron himself' (ibid., 17.341); there has never been a better formulation of the relationship between Byron and his fictional character. His review of Jane Austen's Emma is simply the best piece of contemporary criticism on her work. He shows a cunning awareness of the ways in which the diarist reveals himself in his review of the first edition of Pepys, and immediately applied that awareness to himself in his Journal. He wrote on many contemporaries—Godwin, Croker, Southey, Campbell, Maturin, Mary Shelley, Galt, Hoffmann—as well as many books of contemporary scholarship on a wide variety of subjects including Ellis's Specimens of Early English Poetry, Todd's edition of Spenser, Ossian, Ritson's Annals of the Caledonians, tree planting, and Pitcairn's Trials. He also reviewed his own Tales of my Landlord in the Quarterly as a joke but showed an insight into his own fiction unequalled by any other critic.
Scott nowhere wrote a theory of literature, but in his reviews, his 'Lives of the novelists', his essays, debates such as that in the 'introductory epistle' to The Fortunes of Nigel, his introductions to his collected poetry and prose, and his remarks scattered through his letters, a comprehensive interpretation of literature can be seen. He is a Romantic in relating literature to the expression of the imagination and in emphasizing originality, but he has a sociologist's awareness of the social function of literature. In his 'Essay on romance' every major development in literary form is linked to changes in social conditions, and, conversely, he also sees literature as historical evidence which can be used to diagnose the condition of society. Scott is never as subtle in his detailed verbal commentary as Coleridge. It is argument which distinguishes his general literary discussion, and in his arguments he can be recognized as the first true theorist of fiction.
On moving to Abbotsford in 1812 Scott commissioned a plan for a new cottage from William Stark. But in 1813 Scott could only afford to prettify, Stark died, and the plan was abandoned in 1814. Scott extended the estate by purchasing Kaeside for about £3000 in November 1815, part of Abbotslee in January 1816, Dick's Cleugh (which he renamed the Rhymer's Glen to locate True Thomas's meeting with the Queen of Fairies on his own estate) in December 1816, Toftfield (which he renamed Huntlyburn) in September 1817, and Broomilees in 1820. His principal interest was not in the farms but in woodlands, and by March 1818 he estimated that he had planted a million trees.
In 1816 Scott began planning a new house, and commissioned plans from William Atkinson, a London architect. Building commenced in 1817 and continued into 1819, and resulted in what is now the dining-room, the armoury, and the breakfast parlour (initially Scott's study) of the present house. Old stones came from other buildings such as the Edinburgh Tolbooth and Lindean church, and were incorporated into the new structure. The old farmhouse was demolished in January 1822, and the second part of the new house consisting of the present entrance hall, the study, the library, and the sitting-room was built between 1822 and 1825.
Abbotsford has often been derided. Many might have spent wealth such as Scott's on another object, but Scott chose to spend his own money in creating an estate and building a house. In its day it was a modern dwelling, using up-to-date technology such as gas lighting. It was laid out in a way convenient for a scholar who needed ready access to books, but who was also obliged to do much entertaining. His library, described in the late and as yet unpublished work 'Reliquiae Trotcosienses', was for use, not display, and is distinguished for its collection of works on popular superstitions. Abbotsford remains a house full of interest and curiosity, and, taken with its contents, constitutes a material history of Scotland from the days before museums.
1812–1826: public life
Scott's friendship with the princess of Wales precluded, he thought, friendship with the prince, so in 1812 it was a surprise to learn that in a conversation with Byron the prince had talked of his delight in Scott's poetry. An offer of the poet laureateship followed in 1813, but Scott refused, as he thought the office ridiculous. In April 1815 Scott was invited to dine with the prince, found him an excellent companion, and was allowed to look at Jacobite papers in the prince's library. In January 1817 he was instructed to prepare a warrant to open the chest in Edinburgh Castle in which the Scottish crown jewels, which had not been seen since 1707, were thought to be, and on 4 February 1818 the box was broken open and the regalia were found. It seems that immediately afterwards William Adam, a recent friend of Scott but an old friend of the prince regent, suggested that Scott might be made a baronet, a suggestion which ruffled a few ministerial tempers as they wished to maintain their complete control of patronage in Scotland, but which resulted in the award being announced in December 1818.
After the war, hard times, political discontent, and a rebirth of republican sentiments such as had not been articulated in Scotland since 1792–4 regenerated the radical movement. From August 1819 numerous meetings were held in Glasgow and Lanarkshire to demand universal suffrage and annual parliaments. On 16 August the meeting of 80,000 people at St Peter's Fields in Manchester was broken up; 11 people were killed and 421 injured. Scott supported the magistrates in print. Additional troops were sent to disaffected areas, and Scott became extremely active and vociferous in re-establishing the volunteer corps which had been raised during the wars with France. In December he contributed three letters against radicalism to the Edinburgh Weekly Journal (edited by James Ballantyne); on 1 January 1820 they were published in pamphlet form as The Visionary.
To students of Scott his behaviour during the ‘radical war’ is deeply embarrassing, for his response to events was hysterical. There is no straightforward explanation. In 1817 and more seriously in the middle of 1819 Scott was ill with gallstones; in June 1819 he was thought to be dying. It is possible that the psychological effect of critical illness disturbed his judgement for a time. In turning himself into one of the landed gentry, with a title, he may have misjudged his political role and significance. It is significant too that his elder son Walter had decided on an army career, that Scott had to purchase a commission in the cavalry for £735 in June, that the uniform and kit proved extremely expensive, that his uncle, his aunt, and then his mother—three members of one family—died in December, and that his daughter Sophia became engaged to John Gibson Lockhart in January 1820, and that they married on 29 April 1820, fifteen days after the culmination of the ‘radical war’. This was a period of high stress.
Honours, with their corresponding responsibilities, were thrust on him. He was elected president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in December 1820. In July 1822 the king announced a visit to Scotland and the organization was imposed on Scott. He had two weeks to arrange festivities and ceremonials suitable to welcome the first monarch to visit Scotland since Charles II was crowned in 1651, and he had to fill in a fortnight, 14–29 August 1822. He turned it into a fancy-dress party, insisting that all gentlemen should appear in kilts. Every commentator points out that highland dress was inappropriate for lowlanders, but Scott was making Scotland different, breaking tribal identities by equipping all Scotland with visible symbols of Scottishness, and freeing Scotland from the kind of inhibitions that prevented his father from enjoying himself. This was Scotland's greatest party: there was a ceremonial landing in Leith, followed by processions through the city, balls, a grand review, a display of the honours of Scotland, dinners, a gathering of the clans, and a command performance of Daniel Terry's dramatic version of Rob Roy. The visit and the brouhaha did not please everyone, and many wrote down their cynical, detached observations, and yet in writing as they did about the absurdity of it all they testify to its success: it could not be ignored.
The king's visit exhausted Scott. His closest friend, William Erskine, died the day the king arrived. It took Scott two months to recover, and to begin work again on the second half of Peveril of the Peak. In 1823 he became involved with planning the creation of the Edinburgh Academy, and proposed that the curriculum should include English and Scottish history and literature. He purchased promotions to lieutenant (1823) and captain (1824) for his son Walter. He became chairman of the Edinburgh Oil Gas Company in 1824. He became governor of the Scottish Union, and an extraordinary director of the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company. He negotiated Walter's marriage to the heiress Jane Jobson in 1825. Scott was a public servant, a public figure, a landowner, and a man of business, as well as being the great author.
1826: the crash
On Sunday 20 November 1825 Scott began his Journal. Reviewing the first edition of Pepys's diaries just a month later, he remarked that 'in this species of self-intercourse we put many tricks upon our actual and our moral self' (Scott, Prose works, 20.97), and so even although he recognized that his journal would one day be published, he vowed not to change any entry retrospectively. Later interference with the daily record is indeed minimal. The Journal fulfils the nursery rhyme motto he put at its head:
As I walked by myselfI talkd to my selfAnd thus my self said to me.
Journal, xlviiiScott is always aware of the way in which literary form tends to fix meaning, and so he tries to ensure that the Journal is undistorted by method. He is endlessly interesting; he records what he had been doing; he comments acutely on what goes on around him; he works out intellectual positions; he analyses himself; he lays himself out on the page. The Journal is a superb work, but its greatness is ultimately due to an accident of timing. It opens with Scott at the height of his fame and prosperity. Within six months he was ruined and his wife was dead. He undertook to repay all his debts, and the Journal records how a heroic decision to do right and to act well gradually destroyed him mentally and physically.
The system under which the publishers Archibald Constable & Co., their author, and their printers did business with each other was unsophisticated. There was no limited liability; companies were governed by partnership law in which all business and personal assets are at risk. Neither business had sufficient working capital and both relied on bank borrowing to provide it. Payments were usually made by promissory bills. In addition, there were accommodation bills in which Archibald Constable & Co. and James Ballantyne & Co. effectively guaranteed each other's bank loans. It was a recognized system of trade, but it was expensive and risky. The winter of 1825–6 was a period of severe economic recession, and the funds coming into the publishers were insufficient to pay off their debts as these became due. In November and December Scott raised £15,000, but neither Hurst, Robinson (the London publishers) nor Constable were able to raise new loans, and so when Hurst, Robinson were unable to retire a bill on the due date, and the banks tried to get back the money which Constable had received from them but which Hurst, Robinson had been due to pay, there followed the insolvency of all the companies and all their partners.
The total indebtedness of Scott and Ballantyne, the partners in James Ballantyne & Co., proved to be over £126,000. Of this £20,000 was Scott's private debt. Some £15,000 consisted of bills drawn by Scott and accepted by James Ballantyne & Co.; this was effectively borrowed money put into the printing business by Scott. Scott's private indebtedness was thus £35,000. The trading debts of the company came to about £13,000; in addition it had borrowed £29,000 on bills guaranteed by Constable, making the debts of James Ballantyne & Co. £42,000. In addition Scott had provided guarantees to Constable for £9000 of Constable's borrowings, and James Ballantyne & Co. had guaranteed £30,000 of Constable's borrowings, giving a total of £39,000, which consisted of the debts of others but for which Scott and Ballantyne were legally liable. Finally, there was a mortgage on Abbotsford of £10,000 which Scott raised in December 1825 to assist Constable.
There were various ways of dealing with insolvency. Archibald Constable and his partner Robert Cadell chose sequestration: all their private assets and all the assets of the company were sold for the benefit of creditors, but in the end only 2s. 9d. in the pound was available. Scott and Ballantyne chose to sign a trust deed in favour of their creditors. The aim was to repay the debts in full, but the advantage of a trust was that the terms on which repayment was to take place were a matter of agreement. The trustees chose to sell 39 Castle Street. They were unable to sell Abbotsford as Scott, as part of young Walter's marriage settlement in January 1825, had entailed Abbotsford on Walter and his heirs male, but they allowed Scott to retain his life rent of Abbotsford, and the use of his library and furnishings. It took time to settle the ownership of literary property contracted for, but not yet delivered, but in December 1827 Lord Newton allocated ownership of Woodstock and The Life of Napoleon to Scott's trustees. However, the most important aspect of the trust was Scott's promise to allocate future literary earnings to it. Scott was the only one of those involved in the crash able to generate a large income, and he thus became responsible for paying not just his own debts, but also all those of James Ballantyne & Co. (for which James was equally liable), and some £39,000 of the debts of Constable and Cadell.
From the publication of Lockhart's Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott in 1837–8 there has been bitter controversy about responsibility for the crash of 1826, but the debate has always been naïve. Bankruptcy is not a moral issue. The recession of 1825–6 bankrupted some banks, and thousands of businesses and individuals, as well as Sir Walter Scott. Economic conditions and structural faults in the economic system were the primary causes of failure: had there been limited liability only the printing and publishing companies would have fallen. But notwithstanding the mess in 1826 Ballantyne, Constable, and Scott had developed a new industry in Edinburgh. Constable had broken London's dominance in book publishing, and whereas in 1803 Ballantyne had bought all his printing supplies in London, in 1826 much of his paper was produced in Penicuik, the types were manufactured in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the ink was home-made, and at its greatest in 1823 James Ballantyne & Co. operated twenty-three presses.
In February 1826 there may have been a degree of calculation in Scott's entering the debate on a government measure introduced to deal with the economic crisis which would have restricted the rights of the Scottish banks to issue their own notes, but Scott represented it as a nationalist issue, 'the late disposition to change every thing in Scotland to an English model' (Journal, 94). In February and March he wrote three letters to the editor of the Edinburgh Weekly Journal in which he used the currency issue as an exemplum for the larger tendency. The letters caused a sensation. Ministerial friends were very angry, but withdrew the measure. The banks were grateful; taking a lead from his old rival in love, William Forbes, they agreed to the creation of a trust for the settling of Scott's debts, and The Letters of Malachi Malagrowther, as the letters are now known, is recognized as a classic in political argument.
The first dividend of 6s. in the pound for Scott's creditors was agreed in December 1827, the second in July 1830. In recognition of what had been achieved the creditors agreed on 17 December 1830 to give Scott his library, furniture, curiosities, and household goods. In 1833 the creditors received a final dividend: in all, 18s. in the pound was paid, the other 2s. being represented by the creditors' gift to Scott. It was an extraordinary achievement. It was based primarily on Scott's own literary output. Woodstock (1826), The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte (1827), The Fair Maid of Perth (1828), Anne of Geierstein (1829), and the fourth series of Tales of my Landlord (1831) generated large sums for the trust. Scott also wrote for himself, and in so doing irritated his trustees, but he found he could not live on his official salaries while maintaining an appropriate style of life at Abbotsford and travelling to Paris in October and November 1826 to conduct research for Napoleon. So he applied to his own needs the income from Chronicles of the Canongate (1827), four series of Tales of a Grandfather (his histories of Scotland and France written for his eldest grandson), the History of Scotland (1829–30), written for Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia, and Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830). But by far the biggest project was what is familiarly known as the 'Magnum opus', Scott's own edition of his novels. The full story has been told by Jane Millgate in Scott's Last Edition (1987), but, in short, this was not just a literary undertaking but a large commercial project. The trustees had to purchase the copyrights when auctioned by Constable's trustees on 20 December 1827. Scott wrote introductions to each work, and new notes, and corrected the text in a sporadic way. Two engravings were ordered for each volume. Above all, the project required an astute manager, and for this the trustees used Robert Cadell, even although he was formally still an undischarged bankrupt. Publication began on 1 June 1829, and for four years a volume was issued monthly, priced 5s. The project was a phenomenal success, with sales reaching over 30,000 a month. By Scott's death £51,128 had been repaid. Life insurance (£22,000), the purchase of all the copyrights from Scott's heirs by Cadell for £24,500, and the undistributed income of £12,179 led to the complete payment of the debts in 1833.
1826–1832: final years
After Lady Scott's death on 14 May 1826 Scott wrote to his daughter Sophia: 'Whatever were her failings they hurt only herself and arose out of bodily illness' (Letters, 10.39). It is not clear what was wrong. From 1823 Scott's letters repeatedly mention asthma, but the term may only indicate difficulty in breathing. Oedema and a blotchy discoloration of her face noticed by some visitors suggest partial heart failure. At the end of her life she was taking digitalis. However, she was in great pain (was it cancer?), and took so much laudanum that it is probable that James Hogg was right in saying that Charlotte became addicted. Although expecting the end for two years Scott found her death difficult. He preferred to go to Edinburgh to fulfil his duty in court rather than watch her die, and his commentary in the Journal on his response to her death is the most moving section of the whole. On 11 June he wrote:
Bad dreams about poor Charlotte—woke thinking my old and inseparable friend beside me and it was only when I was fully awake that I could persuade myself that she was dark low and distant—and that my bed was widowd.Journal, 157
As a result of the crash and Charlotte's death Scott began to commit whole days to writing. It is not surprising that he complained about headaches. Nor is it surprising, given his life of unceasing labour and the death of Charlotte, that he was frequently depressed. From January 1827 he complained more frequently about his lameness, and of pain in his leg (he was probably suffering from post-polio syndrome). The Journal is full of reports of ailments.
On 15 February 1830 Scott suffered his first stroke. He retired as principal clerk to the court of session on 12 November with a pension of £864, and soon afterwards suffered a second, damaging stroke which affected his ability to write and to express himself clearly, but he again recovered. The following month he presided in the sheriff court, and began a pamphlet advocating the reintroduction of the income tax rather than reform of the House of Commons. The paper was not published, as in the ferment for reform all Scott's advisers thought it would damage sales, but the idea that social justice requires the redistribution of wealth rather more than the extension of voting rights has, over the last two centuries, had formidable intellectual and political support. In April 1831 he had a third stroke, but over the summer worked on the fourth series of Tales of my Landlord, and on a fifth series of Tales of a Grandfather (the second on the history of France), which remained unpublished until 1996. He worked too on further notes for the 'Magnum opus'. In July he reluctantly agreed to go to the Mediterranean for the sake of his health. The original idea was for an overland journey, but William IV made a royal command that Scott be given a passage on a man-of-war, and in October he embarked on HMS Barham for the Mediterranean, Malta, and Naples. He moved on to Rome, and on 11 May 1832 began the overland journey home, via Florence, Venice, Verona, the Brenner Pass, Augsburg, Mainz, and down the Rhine. In Nijmegen he had a fourth stroke. He spent three weeks in London before travelling north by steamboat to Edinburgh. He reached Abbotsford on 11 July, and died there on 21 September 1832. He was buried on 26 September beside his wife in Dryburgh Abbey, Berwickshire.
Abbotsford had been settled on Walter and his heirs male. Scott's only possessions were his library, the museum pieces, and the household goods at Abbotsford (valued at £12,000 by the trustees), and his copyrights. His will, dated 4 February 1831, left everything in Abbotsford to Walter, who was to pay Sophia £1000 (she had already received £1000 on her marriage), and £2000 to each of Anne and Charles. Scott stipulated that his literary property should be divided between all four children. It included those works which had not been assigned to the trustees, and the copyright to everything else which would revert to the family when the creditors were paid and the trust wound up.
Scott's children did not enjoy the fruits of his success. In selling the copyrights to Cadell they were cheated. The large legacy left to their mother by her brother benefited only later generations, as Charles Carpenter's widow, who had the life rent of the estate, lived until 1862. Anne Scott died in 1833, and Sophia in 1837; Charles lived until 1841, dying unmarried in Tehran, and Walter died without issue in 1847.
Scott was the most successful writer of his day. Not only did he sell more books, but he was the author most generally admired. His books sold right through the nineteenth century, and he retained his reputation until the 1890s. Of course other writers created space for themselves by distancing themselves from Scott and his achievement (such is the anxiety of influence), but for the most part they did not deny the greatness of that achievement. In the 1890s school editions of his works began to appear, and thereafter his popularity declined, reaching its nadir in the 1950s and 1960s. Scott suffered from enforced reading, but changes in critical taste and theory were also a major factor. The model of the well-wrought urn will not fit Scott. Late twentieth-century theory in its wariness of inherent meaning, and its recognition of the artificiality of literary form, worked in Scott's favour. In addition, the first critical edition of his novels, the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley novels (1993–2004), has shown an even more sophisticated use of linguistic polyphony than has ever previously been recognized.
Scott was subject to sustained twentieth-century hostility because he was a unionist and a tory, and allegedly responsible for all popular myths about Scotland, and for tartanry, tourism, and kitsch culture. But the objections are misconceived: what later generations have made of his work is not the fault of an author. Scott's creative impact on Scotland was to define Scottishness in cultural rather than political terms, and so to maintain the idea of nationhood in a country which for the following two centuries was without independent political institutions. That in itself has been a subject of attack by theorists of nationalism. Scott has no myths about national origins, founding fathers, iconic events, or an organic past. His theoretical interest in the writing of history prevented his works from ever providing a basis for a political programme.
In Europe, however, the impact was the reverse. Scott had been inspired by the German interest in national identity, folk culture, and medieval literature, but it was he more than anyone else who in his poetry and his novels created the means of dramatizing the past. Scott's life work was the propagation and preservation of the cultural difference of a national community in opposition to the hegemonic tendencies of the British state, but throughout Europe similar materials became the vehicle for political action. There has been little study of the conditions in which a desire to preserve the past is transformed into an active claim to the right of self-determination, but it is probable that Scott's images of nationhood were more powerful than even Rousseau's thinking.
Scott's impact on other arts is less contentious because so obvious. He was a radical inventor of literary forms, and he turned the novel into an expressive medium for a variety of period, class, and regional experience. All British, American, and European novelists of the nineteenth century learned from his ways of writing. He was the great inventor in opera too. The librettos of some ninety operas are based on Scott's poems and novels, including those of Rossini's La donna del lago (1819), Bellini's I puritani (1835), Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (1839), Bizet's La jolie fille de Perth (1867), and Sullivan's Ivanhoe (1891). Such composers recognized that the extraordinarily varied texture of Scott's novels, which combined narrative, dialogue, poetry, and song, in a medley of languages and dialects, could be successfully represented in music. More plays have been adapted from his works than those of any other writer. Pictures of scenes from Scott abound, and after the duke of Wellington he was the person most frequently painted, and whose image was most widely distributed in the first half of the nineteenth century. In Portraits of Sir Walter Scott (1987) Francis Russell records 233 separate representations.
Scott has always been considered collectable. His literary manuscripts were given to Archibald Constable by Scott in 1823. They were sold by Constable's trustees, re-collected by Robert Cadell, who added manuscripts from the post-1823 era, only to be dispersed once more in the 1860s. John Pierpont Morgan began collecting Scott manuscripts in the late nineteenth century, and his great collection is now found at the institution which bears his name, the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. In addition to letters and literary manuscripts, the National Library of Scotland possesses Scott's ‘interleaved set’, the interleaved, printed editions of his novels, on which he corrected the text and added notes, and in which are bound the manuscript introductions for the 'Magnum opus', Scott's own collection of the Waverley novels, published in 48 volumes from 1829 to 1833. Literary manuscripts are also widely dispersed throughout Britain and the United States.
As a man Scott was worldly. He had no religious beliefs. He was brought up in the Church of Scotland, came to hate the narrowness of the Presbyterian tradition he had experienced, and although he became an elder in Duddingston kirk he seldom attended church. The pew in his name in St John's Episcopal Church in Princes Street in Edinburgh was occupied by Charlotte. He was a most generous man, as his support of his brothers' sons and all the small gifts he made to indigent poets testify. He had a streak of the ruthlessness of the successful businessman: he found that the Revd Edward Forster had begun work on an edition of Dryden, suggested they join forces, and then pushed him out. He was selfish in the way that creative men are selfish: for all his sociability and his capacity to make other people laugh, he offered others very little intimacy. But what does this matter? Walter Scott changed the world's understanding of history.
- The letters of Sir Walter Scott, ed. H. J. C. Grierson and others, centenary edn, 12 vols. (1932–79)
- J. C. Corson, Notes and index to Sir Herbert Grierson's edition of the letters of Sir Walter Scott (1979)
- J. G. Lockhart, Memoirs of the life of Sir Walter Scott, 7 vols. (1837–8)
- W. Scott, ‘Memoirs’, Scott on himself, ed. D. Hewitt (1981)
- The journal of Sir Walter Scott, ed. W. E. K. Anderson (1972)
- W. B. Todd and A. Bowden, Sir Walter Scott: a bibliographical history (1998)
- W. Scott, Waverley novels, 48 vols. (1829–33)
- The poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, bart., ed. J. G. Lockhart, 12 vols. (1833–4)
- W. Scott, Waverley novels, ed. D. Hewitt and others, Edinburgh edition, 30 vols. (1993–2004)
- W. Scott and others, correspondence, NL Scot.
- The prose works of Sir Walter Scott, bart., 28 vols. (1834–6)
- J. Millgate, Scott's last edition (1987)
- E. Johnson, Sir Walter Scott: the great unknown, 2 vols. (1970)
- J. Sutherland, The life of Sir Walter Scott (1995)
- P. D. Garside, ‘Dating Waverley's early chapters’, The Bibliotheck, 13 (1986), 61–81
- J. C. Corson, ‘Birth of the last minstrel: vital year in debate’, Weekend Scotsman (26 Dec 1970), 1–2
- A. Melville Clark, Sir Walter Scott: the formative years (1969)
- H. Grierson, Sir Walter Scott, bart. (1938)
- K. W. Harry, ‘The sources and treatment of traditional ballad texts in Sir Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish border and Robert Jamieson's Popular ballads and songs’, PhD diss., U. Aberdeen, 1975
- F. Russell, Portraits of Sir Walter Scott (1987)
- H. P. Bolton, Scott dramatized (1992)
- J. Mitchell, More Scott operas (1996)
- T. P. MacDonald, ‘Sir Walter Scott's fee book’, Juridical Review, 62 (1950), 288–316
- D. A. Low, ‘Walter Scott and Williamina Belsches’, TLS (23 July 1971), 865–6
- P. Garside, ‘Patriotism and patronage: new light on Scott's baronetcy’, Modern Language Review, 77 (1982), 16–28
- G. Allan, The life of Sir Walter Scott, baronet (1834)
- J. Hogg, Anecdotes of Sir W. Scott, ed. D. S. Mack (1983)
- BL, corresp. with Sir T. D. Lauder, M/615 [copies]
- BL, corresp. with Sir Robert Peel, Add. MSS 40350–40399
- BL, letters to A. Seward, Add. MS 37425, fols. 97–116
- BL, letters to G. Thomson, Add. MSS 35263–35265, passim
- Bodl. Oxf., letters to Lord Byron and Lady Byron
- Bodl. Oxf., letters to Mary, Thomas, and William Somerville
- Bodl. Oxf., letters to Lady Louisa Stuart [copies]
- Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire, letters to Lady Northampton
- Cork City Library, letters to Thomas Crofton Croker
- DWL, letters to William Wordsworth
- Hornel Library, Broughton House, Kirkcudbright, letters to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe
- Hunt L., letters to John Wilson Croker and Thomas Scott
- Mitchell L., Glas., Glasgow City Archives, letters to Sir Ilay Campbell
- Morgan L., letters to Lady Abercorn, George Ellis, John Gibson, Sir William Knighton, Robert Southey, and Daniel Terry
- NA Scot., letters to third, fourth, and fifth dukes of Buccleuch
- NA Scot., letters to William Clerk and Sir George Clerk
- NA Scot., letters to General Fairfax
- NA Scot., letters to marquesses of Lothian
- NA Scot., letters to first and second Viscounts Melville
- NA Scot., letters to Lord Montagu
- NA Scot., letters to John Taylor
- NA Scot., corresp. with Hugh Scott and Harriet Scott
- New York University, letters to second and third Viscounts Melville
- NL Scot., John Murray archive, letters to Sir William Knighton
- NL Scot., letters to James Ballantyne
- NL Scot., letters to John Ballantyne
- NL Scot., letters to Blackwoods
- NL Scot., letters to Edward Blore
- NL Scot., letters to Robert Cadell
- NL Scot., letters to Archibald Constable
- NL Scot., letters to George Craig
- NL Scot., letters to John Wilson Croker
- NL Scot., letters to Thomas Crofton Croker
- NL Scot., letters to Maria Edgeworth
- NL Scot., letters to Charles Erskine
- NL Scot., letters to Adam Ferguson
- NL Scot., letters to Sir William Forbes
- NL Scot., letters to Matthew Weld Hartstonge
- NL Scot., letters to Benjamin Robert Haydon
- NL Scot., letters to Richard Heber
- NL Scot., letters to Rachel Jobson and others [copies]
- NL Scot., letters to Sir William Knighton [copies]
- NL Scot., letters to William Laidlaw
- NL Scot., corresp. with Lady Anne Lindsay
- NL Scot., corresp. with J. G. Lockhart
- NL Scot., letters to Longman & Rees
- NL Scot., corresp. with Henry Mackenzie
- NL Scot., letters to first and second Viscounts Melville
- NL Scot., letters to Lord Minto
- NL Scot., letters to J. B. S. Morritt
- NL Scot., letters, mostly to Patrick Murray [copies]
- NL Scot., letters to Charlotte Champion Pascoe, Robert Pitcairn, and others
- NL Scot., letters to Sir Robert Peel
- NL Scot., letters to John Richardson
- NL Scot., corresp. with his wife, Margaret Charlotte Scott
- NL Scot., letters to Sophia, Walter, Anne, and Charles Scott
- NL Scot., letters to William Scott
- NL Scot., letters to Anna Seward
- NL Scot., letters to Shortreed family
- NL Scot., letters, mostly to James Skene
- NL Scot., letters to Robert Southey
- NL Scot., letters to Lady Louisa Stuart
- NL Scot., letters to Robert Surtees
- NL Scot., letters to Lady Sutherland
- NL Scot., letters to Daniel Terry
- NL Scot., letters to Thomas Thomson
- NL Scot., letters to Joseph Train
- NRA, priv. coll., letters to William Adam
- NRA, priv. coll., letters to James Ballantyne
- NRA, priv. coll., letters to Buchanan and Edmonston families
- NRA, priv. coll., letters to Mrs Clephanes, Miss Clephanes, and the marchioness of Northampton
- NRA, priv. coll., letters to John Scott of Gala
- NRA, priv. coll., letters to Sir John Sinclair
- NRA, priv. coll., corresp. with Lady Louisa Stuart
- NYPL, letters to John Gibson and Sir Robert Peel
- Princeton University, New Jersey, letters to Maria Edgeworth and Robert Southey
- PRONI, letters to Lady Abercorn
- RCS Eng., corresp. with Joanna Baillie
- Royal Arch., letters to Sir William Knighton
- Signet Library, Edinburgh, letters to James Ballantyne and David Laing
- Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, letters to Lady Frances Douglas
- U. Aberdeen, letters to Thomas Crofton Croker
- U. Edin. L., letters to Maria Edgeworth and Sir Robert Peel
- U. Leeds, letters to John Wilson Croker and Sir William Knighton
- U. Leeds, letters to Maria Edgeworth, Robert Southey, and Daniel Terry
- U. Reading L., Longman Archive, corresp.
- University of Texas, Austin, letters to Robert Maturin
- Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere, Cumbria, letters to Robert Southey and William Wordsworth
- Yale U., letters to John Wilson Croker, Maria Edgeworth, John Gibson, Richard Heber, and Richard Polwhele
- J. Saxon, oils, 1805, Scot. NPG
- H. Raeburn, oils, 1808, priv. coll. [see illus.]
- H. Raeburn, oils, 1809, priv. coll.
- A. Geddes, oils, 1818, Scot. NPG
- E. Landseer, oils, 1824, NPG
Wealth at Death
£12,000—and reversion of copyrights