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  • Sat, 14 Jul 2012 11:21:35    Permalink
    An Appreciation of Sir Walter Scott Part II – Scott the Poet.

    Sir Walter Scott entered literature through poetry and, absorbed as he was in folklore and the supernatural, he started his literary career by anonymously publishing in 1796 and adaptation of Ballads by G A Burger and in 1802-03, put out the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, an edition of old and new ballads.

    It was in 1805 with the publication of The Lay of the Last Minstrel, based on an old border narrative, that his name became widely known. Supposedly recited by an aged minstrel to the Duchess of Buccleuch and her ladies at Newark Castle, the sequence of old Border scenes and incidents is elaborated with an admirable combination of antique lore, clan enthusiasm and vividly picturesque art. It became a huge success and made him the most popular author of the day.

    Marmion 1839

    His next poetical story, Marmion (1808), is full of heroic matter on a large scale. The culmination of the story is Flodden, and the fortunes of his faulty hero, Lord Marmion, are simply the means of approaching the great theme. The opening picture of Norham Castle in the setting sun gives the keynote, and scene after scene follows, culminating in the dramatic picture of the stress and tumult of the Flodden conflict. Some of its details are among the best known passages of Scotts poetry.

    The Lady Of The Lake 1810

    In the Lady of the lake (1810) the force is laid on incident. The poem sets before us an almost continuous succession of exciting occurrences, yet it lives chiefly by its enchanting descriptions of scenery. It made Loch Katrine part of everyones romantic geography.

    In Rokeby (1813) the force is laid on character, but the poem has never been really popular because we want Scott to write more about Loch Latrine, not about Marston Moor, though it has to be admitted that in Rokeby he included two of his most delightful songs.

    Scott’s last major poem, The Lord Of The Isles, was published in 1815.

    Although Scott had been writing verse since his years at the High School of Edinburgh, his first original verse was not published until 1799, when the Ballantyne Press brought out a private edition of the ballad ‘The Eve of St. John’.

    Scott’s true debut in the literary world, though, was marked by the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a collection of the traditional border ballads that Scott had been collecting in yearly trips to the Borders from 1792 onwards. In many cases, Scott had not hesitated to ‘improve’ upon the original, changing words, inserting new stanzas, mending rhymes and rhythms, fusing various versions, and sometimes setting old legends to verses of his own. The first two-volume edition of the Minstrelsy (1802) also contained two previously published imitation ballads, ‘Glenfinlas’ and ‘The Eve of St John’, and a concluding ‘Third Part’ to the traditional ballad ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ of Scott’s own composition. In 1803, the second edition of the Minstrelsy was published, including a third volume of modern ballads by a number of leading writers. These included four further Scott compositions: ‘Cadyow Castle’ (illustrated, right), ‘The Gray Brother’, ‘War Song of the Royal Edinburgh Light Dragoons’, and ‘Christie’s Will’. The Minstrelsy was a commercial triumph. The first edition sold out in six months, laying the foundation for James Ballantyne’s career as a printer. It was translated into German, Danish, and Swedish, and gave Scott his first taste of North American success.

    Next Week - Read Part III The first four Waverley Novels.

    An Appreciation of Sir Walter Scott in Ten Parts
    Part I Walter Scott, A Short Biography.
    Part II Scott The Poet.
    Parts III-VIII – The Waverley Novels. (Coming Soon)
    Part IX Locations Associated with Sir Walter Scott. (Coming Soon)
    Part X Short Bibliography including Editions of The Waverley Novels. (Coming Soon)

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