Travels to a Different Country #34
By Graham Bell
I’m a Glaswegian. As a child I have no recollection of ever visiting Edinburgh – it was, after all, a different country. In fact, I was 15 when a pal and I decided to be brave and venture east for a day, in the February mid-term holiday. It was a crisp winter day, but also crystal clear, and we were looking for adventure. So there was a big tower-thing facing us when we came out of the station, and we decided that would be our exercise.
‘To the timid and hesitating everything is impossible because it seems so.’
Sir Walter Scott
I would like to tell you that this moment was an epiphany – when I became a dedicated follower of Sir Walter Scott. After all, this was his monument. But I am afraid it passed over me, and other than a fleeting encounter with Scott’s writings in my last year of school I seldom thought of him and his influence in Scotland. And even though another statue of him dominates George Square in Glasgow that too eluded a mind too caught up in Biggles, Bunter and Just William.
I am sure most of us have ideas about what we will do ‘once we have the time’. And, of course, we never seem to find the time. Like anything that matters we have to make the time for the important things. But over the past year I decided it was time I learned a bit more about Scott, and planned to visit his home at Abbotsford. So, on a misty and dreich autumn morning I finally arrived.
Scott was instrumental in the design and construction of Abbotsford and he retained a strong affinity for it throughout his life, finally dying there in 1832. His words are etched in the verandah of the new visitor centre; ‘My heart clings to the place I have created’.
Much of Scott’s legacy has been tarnished by his opposition to electoral reform in his later years. By this point he was battling to repay huge debts – which would only be cleared after he died, from the continuing sale of his novels. The more you read and understand Scott’s earlier work the more puzzling his attitudes to political reform appear. We might see him as a motivational speaker today.
‘For success, attitude is equally important as ability.'
Scott worked hard his entire life, arguably too much work killed him as he battled to repay money to creditors, adamant that he would.
But his achievements are significant. Scottish novelist, poet, historian, and biographer he is often considered both the inventor and the greatest practitioner of the historical novel. Many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality and Waverley. He was a legal administrator and advocate, worked as a clerk in the Court of Session and was Sheriff Deputy of Selkirkshire.
‘Success or failure in business is caused more by the mental attitude even than by mental capacities.’
Scott’s portrayal of a romanticized Scotland has proved to be of inestimable value to our wee country. In many ways he was a colossus of his age. His work will endure and the restoration of Abbotsford is a fitting tribute. And a final thought - how much we take for granted in our history.
‘Discretion is the perfection of reason, and a guide to us in all the duties of life.’
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