Sir Walter Scott is credited with popularizing the modern novel and making it a thing of respectability. Additionally, he helped form historical fiction as a genre and put Scotland on the map as a tourist destination. Here are five more interesting facts about the man who gave us the oft quoted line, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!"
1.) He had Polio as a child, which caused him to lose the use of his right leg.
He was sent to his grandfather's farm in Sandyknowe to get better, which is where his love of the legends and history of the Scottish border first began. As an older youth, he had a relapse of poor health and was sent to live with his aunt in Kelso where he continued to study the ballads and folklore of Scotland. He did eventually recover the use of his right leg, but walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
2.) As a teenager, he got to meet Robert Burns at a party in the home of Adam Ferguson.
Scott later wrote about the encounter with Burns, "I was a lad of fifteen in 1786-7, when he came first to Edinburgh, but had sense and feeling enough to be much interested in his poetry, and would have given the world to know him..."
3.) He was responsible for the rediscovery of Scotland's lost Crown Jewels, also called the Scottish Regalia or the Honours of Scotland.
Due to his extensive knowledge of Scottish history, Scott believed that he knew where the Honours were hidden in Edinburgh Castle. The prince regent, who later became King George IV, was a fan of Scott. So, when Scott petitioned to be allowed to search the castle, George IV agreed. The Honours, which include a crown, sceptre, and the Sword of State, were found locked in a strongbox in the Crown Room. After their rediscovery in 1818, the Regalia were put on display for the public in Edinburgh Castle where they can still be seen today. Sir Walter Scott was given the title 1st Baronet for his role in finding the Crown Jewels.
Before he began courting his wife, Charlotte Carpenter, whom he married on Christmas Eve of 1797, Sir Walter Scott was in love with Williamina Belsches. Williamina was the granddaughter of an Earl and the daughter of a wealthy Advocate. Her social standing by far surpassed that of Scott. She was no more than 14 years old when Scott began courting her. However, Williamina fell in love with and married another man. Scott was heartbroken. Williamina Belsches remains one of history's great literary muses as she inspired such characters as Catherine Seyton, Diana Vernan, Lilias Redgauntlet, and Lucy Ashton.
5.) He ended his life in financial ruin.
When a UK banking crisis caused the breakdown of the publishing company John Ballantyne & Co. of which Scott was the sole financial backer, he became responsible for 130,000 pounds of the company's debts. He refused to declare bankruptcy, however, and even though he had many fans, including King George IV, he refused any kind of financial help. His plan was to write himself out of debt. It was a plan that succeeded with the exception that he didn't live to see it. He placed his income and his house in a trust owned by his creditors and began to write furiously. Unfortunately, his health was failing and he died in September of 1832. Shortly after his death, his debts were paid off by the sale of his novels.