Overcoming debt and grief, Sir Walter Scott wrote – and wrote some more

Despite fame and great fortune, Walter Scott found himself in 1826 at a low point in his life.

The year before, a banking crisis had plunged the nation into a depression, and Scott went from being a man rich with assets to a man with 130,000 pounds of debt (the equivalent of 10 million pounds today). His publishing business has gone bankrupt, and he had many creditors. He could no longer afford to maintain two houses, one in Edinburgh and one in the country — a large house he named Abbotsford.

In 1826, Charlotte, his wife of nearly 30 years, died, and grief added to his burdens.

Scott gave up his Edinburgh house and put Abbotsford into a trust for his creditors.

To dig himself out of his grief and his debts, Scott did what he had always done. He wrote. He wrote prodigiously.

In the next six years, he produced six novels, two plays, two short stories, 11 works and nonfiction, and many other unfinished works. In addition, he kept a journal that would be published many years after his death. His nonfiction works included a life of Napoleon Bonaparte, a history of Scotland, and a book of essays on ballad poetry — something that had made him famous to begin with.

Scott’s health began to fail in 1832, and he died in September of that year, but the profits from his writing eventually retired his debts soon after his was gone.

Today Walter Scott (1771-1832) stands in the center of the pantheon of Scotland’s greatest writers — between Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. Scott’s day job was as an attorney and public official, but he seems to have spent every waking moment writing. He is given credit for developing the modern historical novel, and many of his novels and poems are still ready and studied today.

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The painting video features Scott’s poem Lochinvar that accompanies a watercolor of an ancient castle in the West Highlands: http://bit.ly/scott-lochinvar.

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Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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