Sir Walter Scott


Scott head

Scott dog

Scott's literary works

This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming Guides Who Know app on Central Park.

In the early 19th century, the heart-throbs and heroes of the literary world were poets such as Robert Burns, Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley ... and Walter Scott (8/15/1771-9/21/1832). Scott became popular and quite wealthy by writing romantic poems set in his native Scotland. The Lady of the Lake, published in 1810, is a love story, a battle of kings, a battle of clans. Lay of the Last Minstrel turns on lovers from feuding families, a magician’s book, and a goblin page. Marmion, published in 1808, includes such evocative lines as

For a laggard in love and a dastard in war
Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave Lochinvar.

By 1813, at age 42, Scott was invited to be the poet laureate of Great Britain. Scott refused: he had a different career path in mind, although it was years before the public knew what it was.

In 1814, the novel Waverley was published anonymously in Edinburgh. Waverley was a romance set in the mid-1700s, at the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Scots Highlanders’ rebellion. The first edition sold out in a matter of days. About 20 more novels of love and adventure followed, all published anonymously “by the author of Waverley.”

Among them is Ivanhoe, with Robin Hood, the Black Knight, damsels in distress – plus jousts, burning castles, and a man buried alive. The tragic Bride of Lammermoor (published 6/21/1819) inspired Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, one of the world’s most popular operas. Rob Roy made a Scottish folk hero world famous. Scott’s name only began to appear on the title pages of these novels 13 years after Waverley was published.

If you enjoy historical novels, take a moment to thank Scott, who invented the genre. Scott's also credited with creating the romanticized view of Scotland that made the country a tourist destination. Novels such as  Ivanhoe and Rob Roy are still readable today - despite Ogden Nash's "Complaint to Four Angels" ("Then a page of Scott or Cooper / May induce a healthful stupor . …").

Scott in Central Park

This is one of many statues in New York erected in the late 19th century by immigrants, in honor of heroes in their native land. In 1872, on the centennial of Scott’s birth, New Yorkers showed their admiration by dedicating Scott’s statue in Central Park - a copy by the original sculptor of a marble statue of Scott in Edinburgh. Scott was the third literary figure to appear in Central Park, only a few years after Schiller and Shakespeare.

Favorite Scott quotes

From The Bride of Lammermoor:

Vacant heart, and hand, and eye,
Easy live and quiet die.

From The Heart of Midlothian:

Revenge is the sweetest morsel to the mouth, that ever was cooked in hell.

From Waverly:

Affection can (now and then) withstand very severe storms of rigour, but not a long polar frost of downright indifference.

From Chronicles of the Canongate:

There is a vulgar incredulity, which in historical matters, as well as in those of religion, finds it easier to doubt than to examine.

From The Lay of the Last Minstrel:

True love's the gift which God has given
To man alone beneath the heaven:
It is not fantasy's hot fire,
Whose wishes, soon as granted, fly;
It liveth not in fierce desire,
With dead desire it doth not die;
It is the secret sympathy,
The silver link, the silken tie,
Which heart to heart, and mind to mind
In body and in soul can bind.


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, unhonor'd, and unsung.

More Scott quotes here.