Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is now accepted as an outstanding figure in English literature. Yet, in the early stages of his life, he was in such financial straits that he appeared to be doomed to failure. It was this very financial stringency which drove him ultimately to success.
Until reaching middle age, he was regarded as being a man of very ordinary capabilities – a third rate poet, in fact. By this stage of his life he was overburdened with debts from which his rather uninspired poetry could obviously not rescue him. But the desperation to which his circumstances had reduced him, far from crushing him, unleashed new and unsuspected forces from within him.
These hitherto unrevealed capacities were to find their outlets in what was, for him, a new field; that of the historical romance in novel form. The pressure of his debts spurred him on to tremendous literary efforts over the next few years, and, because of his desperate need to sell his books rapidly and at high prices, he devoted himself to writing the kind of stories which were sure to arrest the attention of his readers.
Such extraordinary diligence became the guarantee of his novels’ popularity. They sold like hot cakes, and he paid off his debts. He was a great literary success. Later in life he was knighted in recognition of his contributions to English literature; but if he had not originally had the stimulus of his debts, he might never have composed works of such high literary merit. He would never have been so prolific and would certainly not have become Sir Walter Scott.
It was his determined tackling of a serious situation which led to his being awarded one of the highest places in English literature. It is the challenges in life that either make men or break them.