A paralyzed foot due to spinal polio prevented young Walter Scott from playing and having fun outdoors like his peers. Due to his physical disability, he retired and studied the many editions of Robert Burns, Thomas Percy, …
A paralyzed foot due to spinal polio prevented young Walter Scott from playing and having fun outdoors like his peers. Due to his physical disability, he retired and diligently studied the many editions of Robert Burns, Thomas Percy, Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare in his parents’ library. This interest ultimately gave rise to the impetus for personal literary activity. Walter Scott, born 250 years ago on August 15, 1771, is now considered the father of the modern historical novel.
At the age of 25, he first tried his hand at the poet. Thanks to enthusiastic ballads like “The Last Traveling Singer Song”, he was soon regarded as a genius of verse form. During a stay in London in 1815, the population gave him a triumphant welcome. He was introduced to the Prince Regent and later to King George IV, who bestowed on him the title of Baronet.
When Scott was at the height of his fame as a poet, he surprisingly changed his genre. Much has been speculated as to why he now devoted himself primarily to epic. Critics suspect he feared the star of his success was fading into the shadow of rival Byron.
Anyway: The big hits from “Waverley” to “Kenilworth” gave it a huge boost in popularity. He published all these texts anonymously. In the press, he was therefore described as a “great foreigner”. It was not until 1827 that he revealed the secret of his identity. Scott’s reputation extended far beyond the limits of his hometown of Edinburgh. All over Europe he was revered as the “magician of the north”. Goethe praised: “Of course everything is great, the material, the content, the characters, the treatment. You can see what English history is and what it means when such a legacy is bestowed upon a capable poet. “
Scott, whom his colleague William Makepeace Thackeray called “awe-inspiring Sir Walter”, comes from one of the most powerful clans in the Highlands. Like his father, he studied law and became a lawyer. He held senior positions in the public service as Selkirk County Sheriff and Secretary of the Civil Court. Financially assured, he indulged in his aesthetic ambitions after his retirement.
In 1816 he began to build a mountain castle in Abbotsford, which architecturally anticipated the Victorian style. On the imposing domain, it welcomes all the intellectuals of its time. Due to his generous hospitality, however, he was repeatedly in financial difficulty. It reached its lowest point in 1826 when a printing press in which it owned shares went bankrupt. Within months, Scott lost his entire fortune as a result of this disaster and got into debt millions of dollars.
But the bankrupt did not throw the gun in the grain. With an assiduity reminiscent of that of Honoré de Balzac, he put the books on paper one after the other in order to use the fees to pay off the mountain of debts. In addition to anthologies and multi-volume prose works, he has published a seven-part biography of Napoleon and a detailed chronicle of Scotland. Mental exertion so exhausted him that he suffered a stroke in 1830. From then on, he quickly lost his health. Despite several recreational trips across southern Europe, he did not recover. In 1832 “Columbus in the field of art”, as the Russian philosopher Vissarion Grigorjewitsch Belinsky called him, died of a long illness on his property.
Scott, who worked as a Freemason at St. David Lodge No. 36 rose to the rank of master, influenced an entire generation of writers from Victor Hugo and Leo Tolstoy to Adalbert Stifter and Theodor Fontane. The composers were also inspired by its materials: François Adrien Boieldieu’s opera “La Dame Blanche” is based on the novel “Guy Mannering”, and Gaetano Donizetti’s musical drama “Lucia von Lammermoor” is based on the best- seller “The Bride of Lammermoor”. In the heyday of cinema, the classic of screen spectacle was discovered: in 1952, Richard Thorpe shot “Ivanhoe – the Dark Knight” with Liz Taylor in the lead role. Scott’s heroes, who are linked to the Forbidden Robin Hood, fascinate even today’s politicians: ex-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair recently declared the captivating creations of Romanticism to be his favorite read. Despite being entertaining, Scott was much more than an action writer. Arthur Schopenhauer already attested to his creations “a significant preponderance of interior life over exterior life”. And Thomas Mann agreed with him when he pointed out that this “humanly complete” narrator implements the “principle of internalization” more consistently than anyone in his profession.