WHAT must first be acknowledged is that Sir Walter Scott was a genius.
During his lifetime and for many decades after, his novels were read across the globe. He was the first international bestseller, and sold books in numbers previously unimaginable. He was also the most influential Scottish writer there has ever been or is ever likely to be. Novelists as diverse as Pushkin, Tolstoy, Balzac, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy were happy to acknowledge their indebtedness to him. For without Scott it is debatable whether the novel as we know it would have enjoyed the success it subsequently did.
It has also been argued that he "invented" Scotland, which some regard as a legacy they could do without. That he romanticised history is hardly a crime worthy of hanging. Thanks to him, tourists flocked in their thousands to the Highlands to savour the atmosphere of his fiction. Certainly, VisitScotland would be glad of Scott's copywriting skills.
What is clear from his fiction is his love of his country, its landscape and language, its people and their lore. Scott was also a great antiquarian and archivist, and through the stories he collected, some of which are included in Tales Of A Grandfather, he inspired interest in Scotland's past. Alex Salmond is not alone in having learned at an early age through him about Bruce and his spider and the virtue of perseverance.
Does all of this make Scott a nationalist? Perhaps. He was certainly a patriot and did whatever he could through his pen to defend Scottish interests. The clearest indication of this is to be found in the Malachi Malagrowther letters, published in 1826, when a collapse in the English banking system led to the probability of punitive action being taken against Scottish banks which had done no wrong.
Interpreting this as a violation of the 1707 Treaty of Union, Scott wrote three blistering letters attacking the Westminster government, which was forced to back down in the face of public outrage. Scott had shown that, when roused, he would not be silent. Although the letters were written pseudonymously, everyone knew their author. Scott was vindicated but did not then call for the Union to be dismantled.
Four years earlier, in 1822, he had masterminded the visit to Scotland of George IV, an event which says as much about him as do the Malagrowther letters. Were he alive now he would surely be pleased that come independence the monarchy will be retained. This might have persuaded him to vote Yes. Having said that, no-one cannot be sure. The world of 2014 is very different from that of the 18th century.
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