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Sandyknowe and Early Childhood
1773 the infant Scott was sent to Sandyknowe Farm in the hope that
fresh air and exercise would mend his delicate health. Located 30
miles southeast of Edinburgh in Roxburghshire, Sandyknowe belonged
to Walter Scott's grandparents Robert and Barbara Scott. Scott's
constant companion was his Aunt Janet (Jenny) who would read to
him on days when he was unable to venture outside due to his illness.
A particular favourite was Allan Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany,
and Scott's lifelong love of ballads had its origins in his Aunt's
recitations from this collection. His grandmother too would entertain
him with tales of Border warfare between the Scots and the English
and stories of his own family's struggles during the civil and religious
turmoil of 17th- and 18th-century Scotland.
|Those featured in his grandmother's stories included
Scott's great-great-great grandfather William who had been knighted
by James I and VI only to be later fined by Cromwell for his
loyalty to Charles I. Other family legends concerned Scott's
great-grandfather, Walter, or 'Beardie', who was so loyal to
the Stuart dynasty that after the Glorious Revolution of 1688
he vowed never to cut his beard until a Stuart king was once
again on the throne. His participation in the 1715 uprising
cost him his fortune and very nearly his life.
Aunt Jenny not only told Scott stories but also taught him how
to read. Although he was at first reluctant, his Aunt's persistence
paid off, and Scott soon became a very competent and enthusiastic
reader. In January 1775 his grandfather died, and Scott returned
to Edinburgh. His stay in the Borders had improved his health, and
he was now able to walk with the aid of a small staff.
||Nonetheless, in the summer of 1775 he was sent,
accompanied by Aunt Jenny, to Bath, where it was hoped that
the waters might aid his lameness. It was here that an unknown
artist painted a watercolour profile of the young Scott,
commonly known as the 'Bath
Miniature' (see left for an engraving
by John Horsburgh). He spent a year in the spa town, returning
to Edinburgh the following summer with a marked English accent.
Although Scott had continued to grow stronger in
Bath, there had been no improvement in his leg. In winter 1776,
then, he was again consigned to Sandyknowe, where his grandmother
was now running the farm with the help of her son Thomas. Scott
spent the long winter months reading the books he found on the farm,
growing particularly fond of Josephus's Wars of the Jews.
A further unsuccessful water cure was attempted at Prestonpans in
summer 1777 until, after a final winter at Sandyknowe, his father
was persuaded that Scott's lameness was irremediable but his health
sufficiently strong to permit him to begin school
in Edinburgh. In addition to building his strength, Scott's residence
at Sandyknowe had provided him with a firm grounding in storytelling
and ancient oral Border traditions, which he would later employ
in his fiction.
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Last updated: 24-Oct-2003
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