Collecting Ballads and Resisting Radical Energies: Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border

  • Susan Oliver


Walter Scott conceived of his first major publication, the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, in the early 1790s. Throughout that decade and into the first 3 years of the nineteenth century, he worked with a number of collaborators at accumulating a substantial range of ballad versions and archival material. These he used in what was intended to be an authoritative and definitive print version of oral and traditional Borders ballad culture. For the remainder of his life Scott continued to write and speak with affection of his ‘Liddesdale Raids’ and ‘forays’, the ballad collecting and research trips that he made into the Borders country mainly during the years 1792–1799.1 J. G. Lockhart, his son-in-law and biographer, describes the compilation of the Minstrelsy as ‘a labour of love truly, if ever there was’, noting that the degree of devotion was such that the project formed ‘the editor’s chief occupation’ during the years 1800 and 1801.2 At the same time, Lockhart takes care to state that the ballad project did not prevent Scott from attending the Bar in Edinburgh or from fulfilling his responsibilities as Sheriff Depute of Selkirkshire, a post he was appointed to on 16 December 1799.3 An affinity between literary production and legal administration endured throughout Scott’s life, and the two are constantly interrelated within his work in ways which emphasize his belief in civic responsibility.


Border Region Oral Tradition Cultural Memory Border Country Cultural Encounter 
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© Susan Oliver 2005

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  • Susan Oliver

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