Walter Scott

Born: 1771
Died: 1832

Occupation: Poet & Novelist

Challenges overcome: Poliomyelitis/Polio

Successes, Achievements & Awards:

Sir Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771 and is best known for his poems and novels, and being the first to ever write a historical novel.

Whilst spending time with his family at his grandfather’s farm as a child, Walter Scott learnt to read and was taught about his family’s history and the history of the Borders and its culture. After attending Edinburgh High School, Walter Scott went on to gain a Law Degree at Edinburgh University, like his father, and was called to Bar at the age of 21.

He first began writing when he was 25, translating German texts, before beginning poetry. He published a three-volume set of Scottish ballads, ‘The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders’, in 1802. He soon became the sheriff-depute of Selkirk and Principle Clerk to the Court of Session at Edinburgh whilst still writing. Aside from his writing, Walter Scott also set up a theatre and helped to found a ‘Quartley Review’ in 1809. By 1825, William Scott’s financial situation was far from ideal, but instead of declaring bankruptcy, Scott began to right his way out of debt.

Off all his works, his Waverly publications were probably the most popular. He published these anonymously and the books were big sellers across Europe and America. His first in the series, ‘Waverly: Sixty Years Since’ was the establishment of the historical novel genre.

William Scott was the most admired and successful author of his time and sold more books than others at the time. His books sold all through the 19th century, and many American, English and European novelists of the time learnt from William Scott’s writing skills.

Challenges Overcome

William Scott contracted what we now call Poliomyelitis when he was 18 months old and was sent to live on his grandfather’s farm in the hopes that the country air would do him some good. The polio left him lame in his right leg for all of his life.

Despite having the best medical advice in Edinburgh, he was left without a diagnosis or cure, but much effort was made in improving the use of his leg. William Scott was self-conscious about his leg but its thought that it didn’t cause much psychological distress. The physical feats reported in William Scott’s books is often thought to be him overcompensating for his disability.

Walter Scott died in Abbotsford, in September 1832 and was buried next to his wife, who had died 6 years previous, in Dryburgh Abbey, Berwickshire.

Disability Definitions


Poliomyelitis often called polio or infantile paralysis is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. Approximately 90% to 95% of infections cause no symptoms. Another 5 to 10% of people have minor symptoms such as: fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea, neck stiffness and pains in the arms and legs. These people are usually back to normal within one or two weeks. In about 0.5% of cases there is muscle weakness resulting in an inability to move. The weakness most often involves the legs but may less commonly involve the muscles of the head, neck and diaphragm. Years after recovery post-polio syndrome may occur, with a slow development of muscle weakness similar to what the person had during the initial infection.

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Information sources:

Please click on the information links below to find out more.

David Hewitt, ‘Scott, Sir Walter (1771–1832)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/24928, accessed 14 May 2015] Please note that you will require library subscription or a library card to access the content on this site.


Image source: Wikicommons

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