Walter Scott's 'Waverley'

Voices from the archives

Discover the story behind Walter Scott's first novel — a global bestseller — published 200 years ago. From 10 September to 16 November.

 

The original manuscript of Walter Scott's ground-breaking novel 'Waverley' is at the heart of the National Library's autumn 'treasures' display.

'Waverley' was first published in 1814. It began a series of 28 novels from the acclaimed Scottish author who revolutionised fiction and invented the modern historical novel.

Scott and his contemporaries tell us, through books, letters and reviews, what lay behind the novel, how it was published and received — and why the author initially chose to remain anonymous.

 

Highlights on display

Alongside the 'Waverley' manuscript, we have drawn from the national collections some key documents that shed light on the birth of the novel, such as:

  • A letter written by Scott in 1806 where he recalls the tales of 1745 he heard in his childhood and considers how best to 'preserve these stories' for future generations
  • A letter from Scott's printer and friend James Ballantyne commenting on the draft of the first few chapters of 'Waverley' Scott had sent him in 1810
  • Scott's invitation to another friend, William Erskine, to visit him and talk about the novel in 1810.

Books, letters and newspapers help reveal the novel's journey into print, including:

  • The three volumes of the first edition, in the binding known as 'publisher's boards', from 1814
  • A letter written in 1814 predicting the novel's success
  • Adverts intimating the publication of 'Waverley' in newspapers and magazines.

Published works were some of the sources and inspirations behind the novel, such as: 

  • Novels by female authors whose genius Scott described as 'highly creditable to their country' — among them Elizabeth Hamilton and Anne Grant of Laggan
  • Edward's Burt's 'Letters from a gentleman in the north of the country to his friend in London' (1754)
  • Donald Macintosh's collection of Gaelic proverbs, which Scott kept in the library at Abbotsford, his home in the Scottish Borders.

The author of Waverley caused a stir by choosing to remain anonymous for 13 years, although speculation that the novel was from Scott's pen is evident in letters and reviews from this period. For instance:

  • A review in 'The British Critic' in August 1814 which is sceptical about Scott's formal denial of authorship
  • A letter from Sir John Newbolt in India in May 1815 mentioning a discussion 'about a new Scotch novel called Waverley, which report says is written by Walter Scott'
  • A book published in 1821 by the scholar John Leycester Adolphus, who analysed Scott's poetry and prose and produced 'circumstantial evidence' that Scott wrote 'Waverley'.

 

Walter Scott at NLS

The National Library of Scotland has one of the best collections of Scott material in the world. We hold many of Scott's own manuscripts and letters, his publishers' archives, and all kinds of editions and translations of his books.

 


Opening hours

The display in our George IV Bridge Building is open daily:

Monday to Friday: 10.00-20.00
Saturday: 10.00-17.00
Sunday: 14.00-17.00

Admission free.

 

Exhibitions main page

 




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