Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1832, died Walter Scott.

Scott was a lawyer and a poet, who also wrote romantic novels, which captured the public imagination, and created the genre of the historical novel.

Walter Scott was born on 15th August 1771, at Edinburgh, Old Town, the son of a lawyer. In his childhood, he was struck by polio, leaving him lame in his right leg. He was sent to recuperate in the Borders, where he soaked up the local atmosphere of folk law, tales of historic struggles and battles, and ancient warriors. His relatives took him on tours from Selkirk to Melrose. He visited the site of the Battle of Melrose, saw Roman roads and visited rustic farmhouses. He saw old castles with suits of armour, hunting trophies, oil paintings and ancient heraldic coats of arms.

Scott was educated at Edinburgh High School and at Kelso Grammar School. After reading law at Edinburgh University, he became a legal clerk, apprenticed to his father. Scott was more interested in Romantic poetry than in the practice of law. He translated and published several German ballads and some works of Goethe. His discovered corrupted versions of old Scottish minstrel songs, and wrote poetic versions of them which, he claimed, restored them to the original version. His work became popular and he was encouraged to create his own original poetry in the same style. He soon emerged as the foremost poet in Scotland, and became almost as popular as Wordsworth and Southy.

Scott was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1792. He volunteered for the yeomanry, and was introduced by one of his brother officers to Margaret Charpentier, of the French royal family whom he married in 1797. They had five children. In 1799 he was appointed Deputy Sheriff of Selkirk, and in 1806 became clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. He also became a partner in the publishing firm, Ballantyne’s.

By 1814, Scott’s popularity as a poet was waning, as Byron was writing prolifically and capturing the popular market. In addition, Scott had financial problems due to the failure of the publishing firm. Scott decided to write something different, in order to raise some money. He wrote a romantic novel, Waverley, set in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. The plot, as observed through the naïve eyes of a respectable English gentleman, presents the mores and traditions of a vanished Highland society. Scott published anonymously, for fear that being known as the author of a common novel would ruin his reputation as a poet and a lawyer. When the novel proved successful, Scott followed up with a series of historical novels set in Scotland. When he ran out of themes for Scottish novels, he started to publish English novels, all published anonymously.

The novels proved to be more popular than the verses and, although there was no author’s name on the volumes, it became an open secret that Scott was the author. In 1815, The Prince Regent, later George IV, asked to dine with Scott, to meet the author of Waverley. When George became king in 1820, he granted Scott a knighthood and asked him to organise his tour of Scotland of 1822. For the tour, Scott arranged solemn spectacles and pageantry, which included the wearing of kilts by the Royal party and guests.

Scott actually invented the kilt in its modern form. He took the old Highland garment, the plaid, which doubled as a blanket and an overcoat, and turned it into a garment for everyday wear. The tour made the kilt popular and it became a symbol of Scottish national identity. Scott also discovered the ‘Honours’ of Scotland, the Crown Jewels, which had been locked away since the Act of Union, and had them put on public display. He petitioned for Scottish banks to continue to be allowed to issue their own bank notes, despite widespread opposition. Scott’s features now adorn the modern Bank of Scotland notes. Scott readily accepted Scotland's union with England, and the modernization that it had delivered, but he was anxious that the old Scottish traditions should not die away, with the arrival of progress and prosperity.

Scott died on 21st September 1832, and was buried in Dryburgh Abbey. [Dryburgh Abbey, St Boswells, Melrose, TD6 0RQ.]

Previous day       Next day      

©2006 Ward’s Book of Days