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    The Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club

    ‘I have read all Walter Scott’s novels at least fifty times’

    (Byron)

    While we are longing to go back to Scotland, our quest for the author of the Waverley novels, which began in 2000 with the visit of Abbotsford, has never ceased to go on through our readings and it has taken a new dimension when, in February 2008, we joined the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club.

    It was a good opportunity for us to pay homage to the great writer while staying tuned with ‘everything Scott’ even if, like many overseas members, we can’t easily participate to the events organized locally by the Club to celebrate Sir Walter Scott memory.

    The Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club postcard

    ‘The object of the Club is to foster the name of Sir Walter Scott

    through meetings, lectures, publications and excursions

    and to advance the education of the public concerning his life and works.

    The Club has numbered among its Presidents distinguished statesmen,

    novelists, historians and men of letters.’

    (The Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club)

    It is always with much interest and pleasure that we enter Sir Walter’s world, always eager to discover new stories, new landscapes, and new pages of history. Today, I would like to recommend three books about Sir Walter Scott:

    –    Sir Walter Scott and his World by David Daiches published in 1971,

    –     A Life of Walter Scott – The Laird of Abbotsford by A.N. Wilson published in 2002,

    –    Abbotsford and Sir Walter Scott – The Image and the Influence by Iain G. Brown published in 2003.

    The authors of these books are great admirers and recognized experts of Sir Walter Scott but what I would like to underline today, in keeping with the subject of this post, is that the three of them have been distinguished Presidents of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club: David Daiches in 1964, A.N. Wilson in 2007 and Iain G. Brown in 2009.

    David Daiches - Sir Walter Scott


    Back cover (left) Bemerside, Roxburghshire.  Front cover (right) Sir Walter Scott in 1824. Oil sketch by Sir Edwin Landseer (detail)

    Two centuries after Sir Walter Scott’s birth he is thought of principally as a novelist. Yet it was comparatively late in life that Scott, already a prominent public figure, and an admired poet and editor, published his first novel, Waverley, in 1814. Drawing on his deep interest in the Scottish people and their history, Scott presented the public with an entirely new approach to the historical novel and was rewarded with immediate success. From then on he turned more and more to the novel as a means of literary expression. Financial considerations were a driving stimulus to his writing, particularly after the failure of his business activities, when he made a desperate and almost successful bid to repay his enormous debts. Yet his enthusiasm remained unmistakably genuine and the stories of the unsettled Border country and of the Highland Jacobites, which had fired his imagination as a boy continued to fascinate him until his death. In many ways he was an enigmatic man : although well-known to the general public, and famous as the owner of Abbotsford, which became the grandiose expression of his ‘lairdly’ ambitions, Scott was slow to acknowledge the authorship of his early novels and always reticent about his business successes and failures.

    In this new biography David Daiches, Professor of English at the University of Sussex, sets Scott’s literary activities in the context of the Enlightenment and the Scottish renaissance. Illustrations covering almost every phase of his career show the people he knew and the places he visited, and include views of Abbotsford and of Edinburgh and London, as well as photographs of the original manuscripts of his novels. The book vividly reveals the extraordinary charm, and the impetuosity, both in literary and business matters, of a man who saw humanity with a shrewd and sympathetic eye and who was when writing at his best, a marvelous creator of atmosphere and a magnificent story-teller.

    After borrowing it several times at Bordeaux’s library I was very happy to find an old ex-library copy of David Daiches’s Sir Walter Scott. This very interesting book contains a lot of black and white illustrations: photos by Alan Daiches, paintings, drawings, and so on… which are quite helpful to replace the author of the Waverley novels in the context of his time…

    The Laird of Abbotsford A.N. Wilson Pimlico 2002

    A.N. Wilson’s subtle, entertaining and frequently provocative critical biography looks back through the indifference which has surrounded Walter Scott in this century, and the distortions of his Victorian idolaters, to recapture the freshness of Scott as he appeared to his contemporaries.

    Despite his staggering output as a novelist, poet, biographer, historian and anthologist – not to mention his copious letters, and the celebrated Journal – Scott only embarked on his literary career in early middle age. In the face of constant ill-health, and financial and domestic troubles, he successfully combined the life of a bestselling, much-loved and enormously influential author with that of a lawyer, landowner, Border farmer, part-time soldier and paterfamilias. A.N. Wilson makes clear that Scott’s genius, his humaneness, and his splendid qualities of stoicism and sympathy were as apparent in his life as in his work. Few writers can have been so likeable and so unpretentious, and it is hardly surprising that Scott has always been a popular subject with biographers. Yet most modern critics have tried to divorce the life from the work, or to minimize his reputation by suggesting that his talents were recognized in only a few of his works.

    By weaving together the life and the works, and discussing all Scott’s best-known books as well as many which are less familiar, A.N. Wilson has produced a lively and contagiously enthusiastic reassessment of the writer who was, he believes, ‘the greatest single imaginative genius of the nineteenth century’. Walter Scott’s influence was felt not only in the field of literature, but also in the worlds of art, architecture, opera and domestic manners, and by figures as diverse as Byron and Queen Victoria, Dickens and Donizetti, Pugin and Victor Hugo.

    In the 2007-2008 edition of the Club Bulletin I’ve found a short biography of A.N. Wilson who, in May 2007, was elected President of the Club for a year. He had already published The Laird of Abbotsford and critical introductions to Ivanhoe and Rob Roy.

    Andrew Norman Wilson is a well-known British writer. He was born in 1950 and educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford.  His book A Life of Walter Scott was published in 2002 but his interest for the Scottish author must date back to a much longer time.  Indeed, his Preface of A Life of Walter Scott is dated ‘New College, Oxford June 1979’ which suggests that he had already written essays about Walter Scott before writing his biography.

    That A.N. Wilson was a great admirer of Sir Walter can be felt from the first lines of his Preface:  ‘Scott was not only a great writer; he was also a great man. The following essay would be ten times longer if it were to begin to do justice to its subject. It is an attempt to read Scott’s life and work as complementary to one another. Between the work and the life, as between the works themselves – poems, historical novels and medieval romances – I find harmonies where other critics see only unevenness and discord; but I am grateful to all writers on the subject, contemporary and modern, to whom acknowledgment is made in the notes. So often one owes more to a critic with whom one disagrees than to a writer whose views merely reflects one’s own.”

    I’m looking forward to reading this biography.

    bbotsford and Sir Walter Scott Iain G Brown Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 2003

    Abbotsford and Sir Walter Scott - Iain G Brown - Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 2003

    The conference ‘Abbotsford and Sir Walter Scott: the Image and the Influence’ was held in the autumn of 2000. It was organized by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland as a tribute not only to Scott and his achievement at Abbotsford but also the late Clive Wainwright, whose scholarship did so much to increase our understanding of Scott’s house in the context of what Wainwright, termed ‘the Romantic interior’. The programme of lectures in Edinburgh and the visit to Abbotsford which formed the second part of the event were much enjoyed by participants.

    The present book brings together the texts of the conference papers. In every case these have been revised and expanded, sometimes substantially (…)

    The subject of Scott and Abbotsford offers a rich field for scholarly exploration and debate. As David Daiches, one of the most distinguished literary critics of modern times has said in his admirable Sir Walter Scott and his World (1971), ‘The story of Abbotsford would make a book.”

    Iain G. Brown’s book contains the ten following essays, illustrated with many black and white photos:

    –    Introduction : A Flibbertigibbet of a House to Suit an Antiquary (Iain Gordon Brown)

    –    Clive Wainwright and Abbotsford (Annette Carruthers)

    –    Scott, Literature and Abbotsford (Iain Gordon Brown)

    –    Scott, Abbotsford and the Antiquaries (John Frew)

    –    Sir Walter Scott, the Abbotsford Collection and the National Museums of Scotland  (Hugh Cheape, Trevor Cowie and Colin Wallace)

    –    Scottish Furniture at Abbotsford (David Jones)

    –    ‘A very Chowder-Headed person’; Raeburn’s Portraits of Scott (Stephen Llyod)

    –    ‘He was a Gentleman, even to his Dogs’: Portraits of Scott and his Canine Companions (Jeanne Cannizzo)

    –  Scott, Abbotsford and the Russian Gothic Revival: Influence and Coincidence (Jeremy Howard)

    –    Ruskin on Scott’s Abbotsford (Julie Lawson)

    So far, I’ve only read the Introduction and the other essay written by Iain Gordon Brown but my next choice will probably be the essay entitled ‘He was a Gentleman, even to his Dogs’ 😉

    I don’t know if A.N. Wilson, as a critical biographer, does agree with Iain G. Brown’s views about Sir Walter Scott since I have only read a few pages of their books so far, but what I’ve noticed is that both authors have chosen the same portrait of Sir Walter to illustrate the cover of their books. This painting by Sir William Allan, depicting the master of Abbotsford reading his newspaper in the very cosy atmosphere of his house, with dear Maida at his feet, is one of my favourites. We can see it in the National Portrait Gallery, in London.

    Iain G Brown’s book, which is the result of a collective work, is not a biography though it is full of biographical notes. It focuses on Abbotsford, a creation of Sir Walter Scott which was at least as important for Sir Walter as his literary work. Doctor Iain Gordon Brown, who was elected President of the Club for the year 2009-2010, is well placed to write about the subject since, as I’ve learned it in the Club Bulletin, he is Principal Curator of the Manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland where he is responsible (among other areas of the collections) for material relating to Walter Scott and his world.

    On the Club’s website I’ve found a list of the previous Presidents. It’s a long one but the Club was founded in 1894, 62 years after Sir Walter’s death, and, with the exception of the last two world war periods, a new President has been elected each year. I did not have time to examine this list in detail but, added to the three writers I’ve just mentioned, a few names are ringing a bell : John Buchan (1923), Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1926), Hugh Walpole (1932), Eric Linklater (1952),Alec Douglas-Home (1966), Harold Macmillan (1973), Magnus Magnusson (1978), Lady Antonia Fraser (1983), Allan Massie (1989), Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott (2003), The Duke of Buccleuch (2008).

    The new President is The Rt. Hon. Lord Sanderson of Bowden and the Chairman Professor David Purdie. In his time, Walter Scott did much to celebrate his country, now Scotland is doing much to celebrate his memory.

    The Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club Bulletin 2009

    The Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club has been in existence for 116 years, having celebrated its centenary in 1994. It has a membership of over 220, most of whom live in or around Edinburgh and Glasgow, but there is a considerable number from other parts of Scotland, and also from England and overseas.

    The object of the Club is to foster the name of Sir Walter Scott through meetings, lectures, publications and excursions and to advance the education of the public concerning his life and works.

    The Club is the senior and most active of its kind and has numbered among its Presidents distinguished statesmen, novelists, historians and men of letters, including Stanley Baldwin, John Buchan, James Bridie, Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Macmillan, David Daiches, and more recently, Allan Massie, Edwin Morgan, Dorothy Dunnett, Paul Scott, Magnus Magnusson, Tom Fleming and James Robertson. In its centenary year we were honoured to have as President of the Club the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Our current President is Dr. Iain Gordon Brown, FRSE, FSA. The current Chairman is Professor David Purdie.

    In May 1893, Dr. Charles A. Cooper (editor of the Scotsman) dined by chance with James Smail and Dr. James Kerr at Holyrood. Over the course of their conversation there arose the idea of forming a Club to honour the life and work of Sir Walter Scott. Dr. Cooper encouraged them to write a letter to the Scotsman and within a year the club was in existence.

    The constitution of the Club was framed in June 1894 at a meeting held in Dowell’s Rooms, Edinburgh and approved at its first AGM & Dinner in the Waterloo Rooms in November of that year – 161 of the 468 original members being present.

    Dr Charles A. Cooper was elected President. He said, “Two duties this Club must perform;  one is to honour the memory of Scott, the other is to lead those who as yet have not known him, to the flower-strewn fields that he has prepared for them.”

    Annual Membership cost just 5s. with Life Membership at 2 Guineas – all applications having to be approved by the then 18 members of Council! Today to the club has almost 250 members.

    The objectives of the Club are to preserve the literary reputation of Sir Walter Scott through meetings, lectures, publications and excursions – and to advance the education of the public concerning his life and works. The Club no-longer collects relics of Scott, but is still one of the most active literary associations in Edinburgh.

    Within the Club’s first year an Essay Prize was established to encourage young scholars to study the works of Scott.  Sir Eric Anderson, recently retired as Provost of Eton, admitted at one of the Club’s meetings that he would never have gone on to edit Scott’s Journal had he not won an Essay Prize as an Edinburgh schoolboy at George Watson’s.

    Among its Presidents appear distinguished statesmen, historians and men of letters, including Stanley Baldwin, John Buchan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and The Earl of Stockton (Harold Macmillan). More recently the Presidency has been graced by Allan Massie, Paul Scott and the late Magnus Magnusson.

    A lady President whose memory the Club particularly treasures was Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott, chatelaine of Abbotsford and gt.gt.gt grand-daughter of Sir Walter.  Dame Jean delighted in the creation of the Sir Walter Scott Way, a 92-mile walkway across Border country from Moffat to Cockburnspath, which connected various places which inspired his poems and novels – and which she formally opened in 2003. Dame Jean was also lady-in-waiting to Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, herself a daughter of the 7th Duke of Buccleuch.

    The Club is greatly indebted to its recently retired Hon. Secretary, Fraser Elgin. Since the 1980s he has tirelessly invigorated the Club and has overseen its continued presence in the City both as a literary institution and as a vehicle for the continued study and appreciation of the man who remains our greatest novelist.  http://www.eswsc.com/WalterScottClub/History.htm

    We’re eager to learn more about the work of these distinguished readers of Sir Walter Scott and also to bring our little contribution to the Club, as Scott’s readers from Québec and France ! So, let’s go back to our reading!

    A bientôt. Mairiuna

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    1 comment to The Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club

    • A lady President whose memory the Club particularly treasures was Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott, chatelaine of Abbotsford and gt.gt.gt grand-daughter of Sir Walter. Dame Jean delighted in the creation of the Sir Walter Scott Way, a 92-mile walkway across Border country from Moffat to Cockburnspath, which connected various places which inspired his poems and novels – and which she formally opened in 2003. Dame Jean was also lady-in-waiting to Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, herself a daughter of the 7th Duke of Buccleuch.

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