To say Sir Walter Scott was merely a writer is doing one of Scotland’s favourite sons a great disservice. His writing was indeed prolific; his debut novel Waverley paved the way for a string of historical novels, and his landmark biography of Napoleon Bonaparte consisted of more than one million words, which are spread across nine volumes. There’s no doubt Scott was one of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century, if not the greatest of the era, but it’s not just his literacy legacy that endures to this very day.
Making a Mark on Scottish Society
Jane Austen proclaimed that Sir Walter Scott ‘had no business writing novels – especially good ones’ and you would also think that he had no business influencing fashion trends either, but Scott helped to reinvent tartan as both a national symbol and a fashion statement.
His legacy continues to leave physical marks over Scotland and Britain to this very day. Edinburgh’s Waverley Station is the only station in the world named after a novel and there are 92 streets across Britain that bear the name of Scott’s seminal masterpiece. Then you have the Scott Monument in Edinburgh, which is the second largest structure dedicated to a writer anywhere in the world, and his face appears in society every day on banknotes from the Bank of Scotland, which pays tribute to his passionate defence of the Scottish banknote in 1826.
The Waverley Effect
With the publication of Waverley, the genre of historical fiction exploded in popularity. Despite the author’s decision to publish the work pseudonymously, this veil of secrecy had no impact on the novel’s success and it paved the way for several more historical narratives. These works, which include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Guy Mannering, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor, have been reinterpreted through films, television, plays and in almost 100 operas.
In more recent times, fans of the immensely popular television series can thank the father of the historical novel for influencing George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, which the television show is based on.
A Man of the Future
Whilst Scott romanticised the past in his writing, some of the things he did suggested he belonged to the future. He was experienced in tree planting and woodland management, writing a six-year journal of his work on the Abbotsford estate, and could be seen as a proto-environmentalist – a prevalent societal issue today. In his lifetime, he is estimated to have planted over a million trees and if that isn’t enough to brand Scott something of an ecowarrior, he also happened to be one of the driving forces behind the River Tweed Commission, which is responsible for sustainable fishing on the river.
In addition to his environmentalism, Scott was something of a progressive shining light in an incredibly patriarchal society as he often championed female writers and playwrights. It could be said that, in the same vein as The Royal Mint, Scott was original to his very core – whether through his captivating prose or rousing poetry, or his eccentricities that truly belonged to an era far in the future.