As a child, Walter Scott (1771–1832), disabled by polio, was sent to recuperate at his grandfather’s farm in Smailholm, where his imagination was fuelled by his relative’s tales of the old, violent troubles in the Borders. Throughout the 1790s he transcribed hundreds of old Border ballads, publishing a three-volume collection entitled Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders in 1802. An instant success, Minstrelsy was followed by Scott’s own Lay of the Last Minstrel, a narrative poem whose strong story and rose-tinted regionalism proved very popular. More poetry was to come, most successfully Marmion (1808) and The Lady of the Lake (1810).
However, despite having two paid jobs, his finances remained shaky. He had become a partner in a printing firm, which put him into debt, not helped by the enormous sums he spent on his mansion, Abbotsford. From 1813, writing to pay the bills, Scott thumped out a flood of historical novels, producing his best work within the space of ten years: Waverley (1814), The Antiquary (1816), Rob Roy and The Heart of Midlothian (both 1818), as well as two notable novels set in England, Ivanhoe (1819) and Kenilworth (1821).
In 1825 Scott’s money problems reached crisis proportions after an economic crash bankrupted his printing business. Attempting to pay his creditors in full, he found the quality of his writing deteriorating with its increased speed. His last years were plagued by illness; in 1832 he died at Abbotsford and was buried within the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey.