Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh on August 15, 1771. His father was a strict Calvinist with a particular interest in religious history and held the position of Writer to the Signet (the Scottish equivalent of a solicitor). His mother was the daughter of a medical professor and possessed a deep interest in literature – particularly poetry. The young Walter was plagued by continual ill health, suffering a number of serious illnesses requiring lengthy periods of convalescence. Despite this Scott benefited from an excellent education, first at Edinburgh High School from 1779 – 1783 and later at Edinburgh University from 1783 –1786 at which time he was apprenticed to his fathers law office. In 1792 he was admitted to the Scottish Bar. Although Scott went on to enjoy enormous literary success, he continued to practice law throughout his life, holding positions such as Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire and Clerk of the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh - a position occupied from 1806 until a few years prior to his death.
Scott's literary fame was unprecedented and he enjoyed both critical and financial success as a writer. He was offered the Poet Laureateship in 1813, but declined recommending instead that the position be offered to Robert Southey. In 1818 he accepted a Baronetcy and in 1822 was responsible for orchestrating a tour of Scotland by King George IV. Whilst enormously successful, Scott made a number of ill-fated financial connections, including an association with the printing ventures of both James Ballantyne and Archibald Constable. Both ventures failed in the financial calamity of 1826 leaving Scott to struggle throughout the remainder of his life to settle with his creditors, a commitment that was fulfilled through the sale of his copyrights following his death in September 1832.
“…every category of reader – high-born and low-born, rich and poor, town-dweller and countryman, the literary critic and the common reader . . . everyone who could read read Scott.” (Hook, 1972). Such is the esteem in which one editor holds Scott, and indeed his influence was perhaps the most wide reaching of any author. His literary career began with his translations of popular German poems into English, some of these included; Der Wilde Jager (1796) and Goethe's Gotz von Berlichingen (1799). The first major work of his own, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border(1802), was a compilation of old Scottish folk- ballads and songs which Scott edited and annotated. He first truly original works included the poems The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), The Lady of The Lake (1810) and The Lord of the Isles (1815).
But whilst his poems were steeped in highland legends, Scottish folk law and picturesque descriptions of landscape, it is Scott's novels that secured his place as one of the best selling writers of his time as well as attaining for him a measure of literary immortality. It is Scott that is credited with the formalising of the genre of the ‘Historical Novel'. His early novels are set in Scotland and depict the everyday events of Scottish clans, peasants and Lairds. Alongside the depiction of the commonplace, Scott exercised his skill as an historian and incorporated some of the great events that changed the history of his country. His first, and perhaps greatest novel, Waverley (1814) is set during the failed Jacobite Rising of 1745. The novel's protagonist is Edward Waverley who must make the decision of where to place his loyalties in the midst of Civil War and is a character typical of Scott's Historical novels, providing a point at which the un-bendable realism of Scottish nationalism blends with the emotional and mental idealism of the Romantic Poets. Other novels which similarly offer a reflection of Scottish history and heritage include; Old Morality (1816), Rob Roy (1817) and The Heart of Midlothian (1818). Although Scott is himself intrinsically Scottish, (with a deep and abiding love of his country and a vision for reconciliation with England, as well as between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland itself), many of his novels move beyond the author's homeland; Ivanhoe (1819) whist still historical, is medieval with its setting being twelfth century England and Quentin Durward (1823) is placed in fifteenth century France.