Today marks Sir Walter Scott‘s 240th birthday. Born in 1771 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Scott would become one of the greats of English-language literature and a national Scottish hero. Scott entered university at age 12 and began his law studies at age 18. After becoming a lawyer, he married in 1797 and had five children, four of which survived him. He began his writing career in 1796 by translating several German ballads into English. In 1802, he published a collection of English and Scottish folk ballads which he had collected and compiled from along the Scottish border. From then on, he regularly produced novels and poetry until his death in 1832. His works include Rob Roy, The Lady of The Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian, The Bride of Lammermoor, and, my personal favorite, Ivanhoe.
A number of quotations from Sir Walter Scott’s works survive today as well known sayings. For example, “oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive”, is a quote from Scott’s Marmion. And of course, most patriots and nationalists will be familiar with the opening lines of Sir Walter Scott’s This Is My Own, My Native Land:1
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.
Scott’s poem Bonnie Dundee was put to song and is still used as the “regimental march by several Scottish regiments in the British Army”.2 Additionally, it was adapted by the Confederates during the War Between the States and was quite popular with the Confederate cavalry (see below).