Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Walter Scott was the greatest romanticist of the time.

Though personally friendly to “The Lakists”, he never shared their literary tastes. His name is closely connected with the genre of the historical novel. It was he who introduced it into English Literature, because he possessed a deep sense of history. His novels struck the reader with their epic quality.

Walter Scott was born in Scotland, in Edinburgh, in 1771 and was educated at Edinburgh University. His father was a well-to-do lawyer who wanted his son to study law. But Walter Scott’s profound interest in history and passionate love for his country changed the course of his life. He was greatly interested in the folklore of Scotland, he collected legends and popular ballads of the Highlands and Border Country, and he published them under the title of “The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border” (1802-1803). In hunting for ballads he also hit upon the goblin story out of which he developed his first verse-tale of Border chivalry, “The Lay of the Last Minstrel” (1805). Walter Scott’s tales portrayed vivid images of the chivalry of feudal times, well-drawn pictures of Border and Highland scenery. The following literary ballad comes from “The Heart of Midlothian”. It is called “Maisie”. It is the deathbed song of a mad peasant woman:

Proud Maisie is in the wood,

Walking so early;

Sweet Robin sits on the bush,

Singing so rarely.

Tell me, thou bonny bird,

When shall I marry me?”

When six braw gentlemen

Kirkward shall carry ye.”

Who makes the bridal bed,

Birdie, say truly?”

The grey-headed sexton,

That delves the grave duly.”

The glow-worm o’er grave and stone

Shall light thee steady;

The owl from the steeple sing,

Welcome, proud lady”.

In 1799 Walter Scott received the office of Sheriff of Selkirlshire, and in 1806 that of a principle clerk of the Court of Session (the Supreme Civil Court of Scotland). Up to 1814 he wrote poems on legendary and historical subjects and became quite famous as a poet. In 1814 he created his first historical novel Waverley”. It was a success, and from then to the end of his life Walter Scott devoted himself only to prose. By blending historical fact with romantic fancy, Walter Scott created a new genre — a historical novel. He wrote twenty-nine novels. With his growing fame as a writer Walter Scott was made a baronet in 1820. (Walter Scott was descended from an old Scottish family). In 1825 the writer was ruined, but he heroically set to work to clear off his debts. He managed to do it, but his health broke down. Walter Scott died in 1832 of apoplexy.

The historical events that attracted his attention were those closely connected with the relations between Scotland and England, the straggle for Scottish independence. For many centuries England, which was much more economically developed than its northern neighbour, had oppressed Scotland and the freedom loving Scots. The author described the 17th – 18th centuries of the Scottish history. Among his famous novels are “Rob Roy” (1818), “The Bride of Lammermoor” (1819). He chose for his heroes the common people of Scotland.

In his novel “The Bride of Lammermoor” Sir Walter Scott told a sad love story about Lucy Ashton who lived in the Lammermuir Hills. Her family was rich, and her brother didn’t want her to marry Edgar, a poor young man. That’s why Edgar went to Italy, but he couldn’t forget his Lucy and wrote his passionate letters about his love. But Lucy didn’t receive the letters, because her brother was hiding them, from her. He told Lucy that Edgar didn’t love her and it would be better for her to marry his rich friend. Lucy believed her brother and married his friend. On the same day Edgar returned from Italy. Lucy fell ill, because she was in despair. She decided to kill her husband. Afterwards she died very soon. Edgar didn’t want to live and killed himself with a knife.

Later Walter Scott extended his background also to England. He wrote six historical novels about England; the periods he chose there, were the end of the 16th century (the Elizabethan Age) and the middle of the 17th century (The Bourgeois Revolution and the Restoration of Monarchy).

Ivanhoe” — 1819

The Monastery” — 1820

The Abbot” — 1820

Quentin Durward” —1823

England and Scotland were closely connected with each other, in their historical development. Thus in “The Abbot” Walter Scott described one of the episodes of the tragic life of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Quentin Durward” was written on a different subject. Walter Scott portrayed the King of France like one of the most cunning politicians of his time.

Among the outstanding historical novels “Ivanhoe” was one of the best.

«Ivanhoe» (1819)

Walter Scott described the epoch of the Norman Conquest. The events took place at the end of the 12th century when the Normans who had come from France and conquered England in 1066 were now fighting for absolute power in the country. There were many conflicts in England between the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons who hated the Normans desperately. Richard the Lionheart ruled the country. But Richard spent all his life and too much money fighting in the Crusades. While he was absent, his brother, prince John, ruled the kingdom. Prince John plotted against Richard the Lionheart, he tried to seize the power in England with the help of the Normans.

During those times many common Anglo-Saxons ran away to the Sherwood forest and became the outlaws. They were noble outlaws. Their leader was a noble brave man whose name was Locksley. Locksley was one of the names of Robin Hood. Locksley hated the rich and helped the poor.

The plot of the story centres around the young Anglo-Saxon knight, Ivanhoe, who had quarrelled with his father and was driven away from his house. He fought with Richard the Lionheart, and returned to England secretly, to his love, beautiful Lady Rowena…

The language of the novel is rich and colourful. The author revealed his feelings through the thoughts and dialogues of the main characters. Walter Scott was a master of dialogue; he introduced Scottish dialects into his characters’ speech.

George Gordon Byron, a great admirer of Walter Scott’s talent, said that “he (Walter Scott) was a library in himself”. Like Walter Scott, Byron had an exact feeling of the historical development. Unlike Walter Scott, Byron didn’t share the Lake poets’ disapproval of revolutionary methods. He was known as the revolutionary romanticist. He completely denied the existing social order, he shared the people’s desire for liberty and supported the liberation movements, he himself fought against feudal reaction and foreign oppression.

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