Romanticism pp 239-250 | Cite as

Sir Walter Scott: Dedicatory Epistle, Ivanhoe

  • John B. Halsted
Part of the The Documentary History of Western Civilization book series (DHWC)


Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) was born in Edinburgh, and studied at its university, preparing for the bar, to which he was called in 1792. But he soon turned to literary pursuits, publishing Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border in 1802–1803 and The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1805, maintaining himself by holding legal offices that demanded little labor. In the next few years he attained immense popularity as a poet, especially for Marmion and The Lady of the Lake. In 1814 came his first novel, Waverly. Again, success was instantaneous. Thereafter he published about two long novels a year, and his style of life came to match his expanding income, for he lived in a manner suitable to the re-creator of the feudal barony. His poems as well as his novels revived the past, not merely the Middle Ages, but, even more, of the Scottish border country he knew so well. And his knowledge was the product of assiduous search for remnants of the past, into which he sought to breathe life by his art—thereby outlining the new task of the historian as well as of the historical novelist. His efforts matched the influence and served the same end as the developing German historicist philosophy. G. M. Trevelyan wrote of him:

Gibbon was scarcely in the grave when a genius arose in Scotland who once and probably for ever transformed mankind’s conception of itself from the classical to the romantic, from the uniform to the variegated … to Scott each age, each profession, each country, each province had its own manners, its own dress, its own way of thinking, talking and fighting. To Scott a man is not so much a human being as a type produced by special environment whether it be a border-farmer, a mediaeval abbot, a cavalier, a covenanter, a Swiss pikeman, or an Elizabethan statesman … it was he who first perceived that the history of mankind is not simple but complex, that history never repeats itself but ever creates new forms differing according to time and place.


Legal Office Immense Popularity Literary Pursuit Medieval Romance Oratorical Prose 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1969

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  • John B. Halsted

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