Scott was born in Edinburgh’s Old Town of Edinburgh in 1771. His father was a successful lawyer, his mother the daughter of a Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University. He was descended from some of the oldest families of the Scottish Borders, and after suffering polio in 1773, was sent to his grandfather's farm at Sandyknowe in Roxburghshire, below the historic Borders keep of Smailholm and looking over the Eildon Hills. Living here until 1775, and listening to stories from his grandfather and others, the young Scott developed his life-long love of Border history and folklore.
On returning to Edinburgh, he attended the High School and Edinburgh University. In 1792, he became an Advocate, and was appointed Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire in 1799. This allowed him to travel across Scotland in search of history and material to use in his poetry and fiction, eventually publishing his monumental Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders in 1802.
It was in the Borders that Scott was happiest and, after initially renting a cottage at Lasswade, he and his wife Charlotte moved into a more substantial country house at Ashestiel near Selkirk in 1804. It was there that he wrote the great epic poems The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808) and Lady of the Lake (1810). With his fame, fortune and family growing, Scott turned to creating Abbotsford, which was completed in 1824.
As his great friend and rival Lord Byron’s success as a poet grew, Scott decided to concentrate on new literary ventures, blending fictional dialogue with historical fact to an extraordinarily successful degree. Scott is regarded as having created the historical novel on the publication of Waverley in 1814, which is the only book in the world to have a train station named after it. Along with Guy Mannering (1815) and The Antiquary (1816), each of Scott’s first three novels is set at a time of national crisis and are studies in the evolution of modern Scotland. The Tale of Old Mortality (1816) examines the creation of a political middle ground between opposing fanaticisms. The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) is a Romeo and Juliet tragedy with an emphasis on the political context that destroys the lovers. The Heart of Midlothian (1818) is an extended but unresolved debate on the nature of justice, while Ivanhoe (1820), the first novel to be set outside Scotland, fashions a moral tale on male power and the abuse of women and racial minorities.
Sir Walter Scott is one of the most successful authors of all time and is the second-most quoted writer in the Oxford English Dictionary after William Shakespeare. Scott’s creativity, wit and understanding of human nature remain on display in his works, but it is only through visiting Abbotsford that one can truly understand the man himself.