Scott's Achievement

Sir Walter Scott as a writer is famous for both his poetry and his prose. Very few writers in world literature enjoy such a distinction. He possessed a poetic faculty always real, often great and sometimes quite consummate.

In his prose works Sir Walter has the high honour of creating the historical novel. He added to the list of imaginary personages more and greater figures than had been added by anyone else except possibly Shakespeare. He infused into the novel a tradition of moral and intellectual well-being, of manliness and truth, of honour, freedom and courtesy.

And such is the man, a man of moral and intellectual integrity, of truth, honour and courtesy. Very rarely in his life did he fail by being unkind. He never failed in this way towards anyone humbler than himself. In spite of his outstanding achievements and honours accorded him by high and low, Scot and others, he remained humble. He did not rank his own achievements as a writer very high. And this was a writer whose appeal to his age was immediate and universal, and to all succeeding ages a writer who has been translated into many tongues and been so continuously reprinted in so many lands.

He had his weak points too. He did not understand the Catholic religion; when he was so well received in Italy he was all the more grateful for it, as he confessed he had not always treated the Catholic religion with respect. Then in the affair of the bankruptcy of Ballantyne in which he was so involved, his aversion to setting his affairs in order seems to have contributed to the catastrophe. As Lockhart writes: 'He must pay the penalty as well as reap the glory of this lifelong abstraction of reverie' which was the inevitable corollary of his genius. But what outstanding honour and rectitude he showed in resolutely determining with his own hand to pay off every penny of debt; as he said in his famous words for all time: 'My own right hand shall pay my debt.'

Perhaps the best tribute was that paid to him by an uncle, when Scott was at the height of his popularity and fame: 'God bless you, Walter, my man! You have risen to be great. But you were always good.'




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