Five fun facts about the life and work of Scottish author Sir Walter Scott
1. The word ‘glamour’ is first found in his work. ‘Glamour’ is a Scottish corruption of ‘grammar’ (‘corruption’ is the linguistic term for when one word morphs into another), and was introduced into English literature by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Scott also coined the rather good phrase ‘book-bosomed’, denoting one who carries a book at all times.
2. Scott’s last novel, The Siege of Malta, was only first published in 2008. Although it was written in the last year of Scott’s life, 1831-32, The Siege of Malta didn’t see the light of day until over 175 years later, when the full novel was published. A general idea of the content of the book had not been made known until 1977. Like most of Scott’s fiction it’s a historical novel, centring on the events of the Great Siege of Malta by Ottoman Turks in 1565. The latter portions of the work are marred by Scott’s ill health towards the end of his life. John Sutherland, Scott’s biographer, said that the novel indicates ‘a very wonderful mind, completely buggered up by explosions in the head.’
3. Sir Walter Scott coined the phrase ‘Wars of the Roses’. The phrase ‘Wars of the Roses’ is as recent as the early nineteenth century, when Scott used it to refer to the dynastic wars of the fifteenth century between the royal houses of Lancaster and York.
4. One of his novels inspired the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe contributed to the Robin Hood myth – it was Scott who popularised the idea of the outlaw being ‘Robin of Locksley’, thus making him an exiled Saxon nobleman. (Antiquarian Roger Dodsworth had been the first to call Robin Hood ‘Robin Loxley’ in the seventeenth century.) We have debunked some common misconceptions about Robin Hood here. Scott’s Ivanhoe also gave us the name Cedric, from Scott’s misreading (whether wilful or inadvertent) of a genuine Saxon name Cerdic. Of the opening sentence of Ivanhoe, Joan Aiken said, in The Way to Write for Children: ‘Such a sentence makes you hear the sound of books slapping shut all over the library.’
5. Sir Walter Scott came up with some of his bestselling epic poem Marmion while on horseback. In 1807, Scott was training with the Light Horse Volunteers, preparing for a possible invasion from Napoleon’s French forces. (Curiously, Scott shares his birthday with Napoleon, who was born exactly two years before, in 1769.) Scott used his training time to store away ideas for the poem Marmion (1808), about the Battle of Flodden in 1513. The descriptions of armed horsemen in the poem were composed largely as a result of Scott’s own experiences on horseback. It is from this poem, incidentally, that we get Scott’s most famous lines of poetry: ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave / When first we practise to deceive!’
If you liked these Walter Scott facts, check out our surprising facts about Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Image: Portrait of Sir Walter Scott, 1890s, Wikimedia Commons.