The National Library of Scotland holds the pre-eminent collection of the literary manuscripts, papers and correspondence of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Indeed this collection is arguably the largest and finest such accumulation of material devoted to a single author held in any library. The origin of the present vast assemblage may be traced to one event: the donation, in 1850, to the Advocates' Library of the principal surviving portion of the autograph manuscript of Waverley, the historical romance (published 1814) which catapulted Scott – previously known and celebrated mainly as a writer of long narrative poems – to unparalleled fame and fortune as the world's most popular novelist.
Before its transfer to the nation in 1925 to form the National Library of Scotland, the historic Library of the Faculty of Advocates (of which Scott himself had once served as a curator) had already begun to build on the foundation of the Waverley donation. This nascent collection was vastly increased soon after the establishment of the new national institution. More than three-quarters of a century on, the great Scott collection is still growing and it continues to be actively developed.
The poetry which first made Scott both famous and rich is represented by the manuscripts of two of his finest poems, Marmion and The Lord of the Isles. In The Heart of Mid-Lothian and Redgauntlet the Library possesses the manuscripts of two of Scott's greatest Scottish novels, and these are complemented by those of The Betrothed, The Fair Maid of Perth and the fine short tales published as Chronicles of the Canongate, as well as by Quentin Durward, the novel set in France that enormously enhanced Scott's European reputation as a writer of fiction. The vast manuscript of his nine-volume Life of Napoleon is held by the library, as are those of many shorter poems, songs, dramas, translations, historical works, essays, reviews, encyclopaedia articles, and even sermons. Scott's celebrated fragmentary autobiography, known as the Ashestiel Manuscript was bought on the eve of the 1971 bicentenary celebrations, on the occasion of which the Library mounted an important exhibition of Scott manuscripts and printed books.
While many Scott literary manuscripts had been gathered in by American collectors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – most notably those now held by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York – the Library was able, in 1986, to repatriate from the United States a remarkable literary survival which is undoubtedly one of the greatest treasures of the Scott collection. This is the so-called 'Magnum Opus', or more correctly the Interleaved Set of the Waverley Novels used by Scott in the preparation of what was to be the final and definitive edition of his lifetime. Of fundamental importance in the history of the transmission of Scott's novel texts, and highly instructive in illustrating his working methods and his characteristic role as his own editor, it is also one of the great 'association copies' in world literature and a relic of tremendous emotional power. It remains the supreme tangible evidence of Scott's heroism in adversity, as, after his financial ruin in 1825-1826, he wrote himself out of debt but into the grave.
The Library has long collected Scott proofs, those vital pieces of evidence which tell us so much of how his novels and other works evolved at what seems an alarmingly late stage in a book's passage to the bookseller's shop; and the collection includes authorial corrected galley- and page-proofs for many works of fiction and non-fiction, notably for the late novels Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous, and for The History of Scotland.
Scott's personal papers of every kind, ranging from accounts and wine-bills to formal legal processes and records of his brief military career as a volunteer when French invasion threatened, have been accumulated in huge quantities over the years, notably through sales from Abbotsford in the early 1930s. With these may be mentioned the papers of his family, friends and members of his very wide literary circle, including those of his son-in-law and first biographer, John Gibson Lockhart.
The Library also possesses large quantities of papers and diaries of Scott's major publishers John Ballantyne, Archibald Constable and Robert Cadell, and of the printing house of James Ballantyne & Co in which he was a partner. And Scott or Scott-related material can also be found in the Library's notable collections of the archives of other Edinburgh publishing houses, including those of William Blackwood & Son, Oliver & Boyd, W & R Chambers and Adam & Charles Black. Material documenting Scott's relations with the London firms of John Murray and Longman has also entered the publishing and printing collections of the Library. The subject of book illustration has not been ignored, and there are records of the interpretation by contemporary and later artists of Scott's work in poetry and prose. In addition the Library's collections include manuscript material relating to the adaptation of Scott for the stage in drama and in opera; and there are examples of musical settings of his poems and songs.
Last, but by no means least, is the Library's vast collection of Scott's correspondence. This collection began with a donation in 1870, and its accumulation and expansion by presentation, purchase and long-term deposit has been unremittingly pursued ever since. The National Library of Scotland currently holds some 3,500 letters of Scott and some 6,400 letters addressed to him these categories together forming some 10,000 entries in the Millgate Union Catalogue. Scott was a tireless writer of letters (many of them remarkable examples of epistolary art) and he and his friends discussed every conceivable subject. The entire correspondence is one of the great sources of literary, historical and social information on the age. High points in the history of the acquisition of these superb documents were marked by the presentation in the 1920s of Sir Alfred Law's collection of Scott's letters to his family; the purchase in the 1930s of a highly important assemblage formed by Scott's publisher Robert Cadell of Scott letters to Constable, Ballantyne and Cadell (an additional volume of this series being acquired only in 1970); the acquisition, also in the 1930s, of the wonderful hoard of family letters from Abbotsford; and, finally, the magnificent bequest of Sir Hugh Walpole's collection of forty-six volumes of Scott's incoming letters which came to the Library in 1941. These were truly great moments in the growth of the Scott collection, and the last was one of the most splendid donations ever received by the Library.
Our Scott Collection has helped to place Edinburgh at the centre of Scott scholarship and research, but the Library's holdings do not stand in isolation: they are complemented by other Edinburgh collections, including the important Scott manuscripts and books in the Edinburgh University Library (recently enhanced by the very diverse Corson Collection), the collection of Scott and Ballantyne-related correspondence and the manuscript of The Bride of Lammermoor in the Signet Library, the Scott memorabilia in the Writers' Museum, the antiquarian objects formerly owned by Scott now in the Museum of Scotland, as well as by important groups of Scott letters deposited at General Register House (the National Archives of Scotland) among the papers of various eminent Scottish figures and families. Edinburgh University Press is publisher of the ongoing Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, a major project that draws directly on the Library's manuscript and publishing-history holdings; this edition has its editorial centre at the University of Aberdeen, whose own Scott holdings have recently been enriched by the acquisition of the important Lloyd Collection of Scott's published works.
For further information on the history and development of the Library's Scott collection, see Iain Gordon Brown, ed., Scott's Interleaved Waverley Novels. An Introduction and Commentary (Aberdeen 1987), and Iain Gordon Brown, 'Collecting Scott for Scotland: 1850-2000', The Book Collector, 49 (2000), pp.502-34.