Sir Walter Scott was born in 1771 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was born into a middle-class family, and soon took sick at the age of two. To help cure what is thought to have been infantile paralysis, Scott and his family moved into the country. In the picturesque countryside of his forefathers, Scott learned Scottish legends, ballads, and stories from his grandfather. These glimpses of the past would be a tool for Scott's fiction later in life.
An avid reader, Scott loved Pope, Dryden, Swift, Johnson, Spenser, and Cervantes. He was infected by stories of knights and castles, even venturing to explore the ruins of ancient castles himself. While flexing his interest in stories of the past, Scott also studied to become a lawyer. But he would soon be a published writer, and that would occupy nearly the rest of his life.
Scott's first published work was a translation of a German poet in 1796. Three years later he made a translation of Goethe, but it was The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1805 which was his first original book of poems. The year it was published he became a secret partner in the Border Press, which would allow him to keep more of the profit from his books. And huge profits piled in with the publication of Waverly in 1814. The anonymous publication was an immediate success, and Scott decided to keep his identity as author secret, both to secure his reputation as a poet, and to delight his mysterious side. His following novels were credited to "the author of Waverly" and became known as "the Waverly novels." This included Ivanhoe, published in 1820. Scott kept mostly to Scotland for inspiration, but with Ivanhoe he shifted his focus to thirteenth-century England, and a possible conflict between the ruling and ruled classes there.
Scott's good fortune was to end in 1825, with the bankruptcy of the Border Press. Unwilling to sell off his home to help pay the debt, Scott decided instead to write. He wrote to help pay off the debt, writing thirty pages a day and spending nearly all the rest of his life in labor. By 1831, the debt was nearly all paid. Scott died on September 21, 1832.
In addition to Scott's distinction and innovation in the novel form, he also experimented and excelled in other genres. A true "man of letters," Scott was a poet, critic, historian, biographer, and editor. Incredibly prolific, Scott wrote well into his old age in an effort to help pay off the debts of his bankrupt publishing house.
His wildly successful Waverly novels secured for Scott not only a place in literary history, but also in the hearts of his countrymen. Popular and well-loved, Scott's death in 1832 was widely mourned. Known as "the father of the historical novel," Scott's contemporaries and those who followed acknowledge his influence over the scope of fiction. He "made possible serious presentation of regional characteristics and of characters from social levels below the aristocracy and the upper-middle class" (Kunitz 151). And in light of what some critics argue to be a lessened interest or staying power in Scott's works, Chesterton contends: "It is said that Scott is neglected by modern readers; if so, the matter could be more appropriately described by saying that modern readers are neglected by Providence" (British Authors 547).
Kunitz, Stanley, ed. British Authors of the Nineteenth Century. New York: The HW Wilson Company, 1936.
Lauber, John. Sir Walter Scott. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1966.
Scott, Sir Walter. Ivanhoe. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.