Ivanhoe: Biography: Walter Scott
Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on August 15, 1771.
His father was a solicitor. Scott was educated at Edinburgh High School, studied law at Edinburgh University, and became a solicitor in 1792. In 1797 he married Margaret Charpentier, with whom he had five children.
While Scott was studying law, he also read widely in medieval romances, history and travel books, and absorbed copious amounts of Scottish history, legend and folk-lore. In 1802-03 he published a collection of Scottish ballads, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. He followed this with three volumes of poetic romances: The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) Marmion (1808) and The Lady in the Lake (1810). These were widely read, and for some years Scott was the most popular poet of the day. When the public began to prefer the poetry of Lord Byron, Scott turned to writing a highly successful series of historical novels, set in seventeenth and eighteenth century Scotland. These included Waverley (1814), Guy Mannering (1815), Rob Roy (1817), the Heart of Midlothian (1818), and The Bride of Lammermoor (1819).
Scott also widened the scope of his historical novels, going further back in time and locating the stories further afield than Scotland. The first of these novels was Ivanhoe (1819), which became one of his most popular novels, admired not only in England but also in continental Europe. This and the other novels that flowed regularly from Scott’s pen, including Kenilworth (1820) and The Fortunes of Nigel (1820) and Quentin Durward (1823) helped to make Scott the foremost writer of the age, as popular in America as he was in Europe.
Scott made a fortune from the sale of his novels, but he also lived lavishly. In 1826, the failure of the printing firm of James Ballantyne (of which he was a silent partner) and of his publisher, Constable, left him with enormous debts. He resolved to pay the debts off by writing, and for the next six years he wrote feverishly, producing four more novels and a nine-volume biography of Napoleon. But his habit of overworking damaged his health, and after a year of declining powers, Scott died in 1832 at the age of sixty-one. His debts were almost paid.