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Scholars in Quest to Reveal the True Sir Walter Scott

Scholars in Quest to Reveal the True Sir Walter Scott

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Published by: KAW on Jul 10, 2007
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Scholars in quest to reveal the true Scott

Project finds thousands of errors in printed works
BRIAN DONNELLY The Herald; Sep 4, 2003

IT has lain in a Russian museum for almost a century, holding its secrets deep within its pages. Now experts hope that an original manuscript will act as a talisman for them and unlock the “real” writings of Sir Walter Scott. The mistakes made by printers as they rushed Scott’s books to sale in the early nineteenth century have hindered the understanding of Scott’s original writings. Often the confusion was caused by Scott’s own abysmal handwriting and lack of punctuation combining with the tight printing deadlines. This meant that under-pressure, printers had to improvise, often simply making up what they thought Scott meant. This led to thousands of mistakes appearing in his books during the transition to print. Experts are now painstakingly studying Scott’s original manuscript of The Talisman, on loan to the National Library of Scotland from the Russian State Museum in Moscow, in an effort to rewrite the book in the way the author initially intended. James Ballantyne and Company of Edinburgh, the printers in which Scott owned a 50% stake, often ignored detailed instructions by the author as they strove to get the books to sale. Many of the later editions from his lifetime are also far removed from the original because Scott himself regularly edited and re-edited his books. Despite the printers’ efforts and the books selling well, the firm went bankrupt during a financial crisis that swamped Scotland in 1825, and while Scott paid off the debt and lived well, he never fully recovered from the loss and died penniless. Led by Edinburgh University, underpinned by the Scott resources at the National Library and connecting expert editors across the world, the project

is part of a wider plan to bring all of Scott’s “lost” works into print for the first time. Professor David Hewitt of Aberdeen University, editor-in-chief of the project, said the Talisman manuscript, which is being edited by John Ellis, a retired Edinburgh University lecturer, marked a significant step forward. He said: “Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of mistakes were made: misreadings, misunderstandings of period or specialised terms. Our aim now is to recover the lost Scott, the Scott which was misunderstood as the printers struggled to set and print the novels at high speed and often in difficult circumstances.” Professor Jane Miligate of Toronto University, who is one of the leading world authorities on Scott and president of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club, said the reinterpretation offered not only academics and Scott aficionados the opportunity to read his books as he originally penned them, but also the wider public. Ms Millgate, who has catalogued 14,000 of Scott’s letters, said: “By establishing an accurate text and stripping the novels of their accretion of later introductions and annotations, David Hewitt and his team have enabled readers in the twenty-first century to enjoy these wonderful books in a wholly fresh way and to see what made them the first best-sellers in the history of the novel.” The extent of Scott’s own editing may have been as damaging to the overall work as the printers’ errors, according to Dr lain Brown, principal curator of manuscripts at the National Library. He said: “The project is an attempt to give us a Scott text that we’ve never seen before, and the purpose of it is to make Scott once again enjoyable and accessible and fresh. “The task of editing came more naturally to Scott than the task of writing, and the irony was that Scott made himself unreadable to a later generation by the huge amount of editorial apparatus with which he surrounded his texts. He cocooned the text in these vast numbers of notes. “In a way, the brilliance and originality of the novels has almost been lost under the weight of all this later interference, from which our own paperbacks have descended.”

The Talisman is to be published alongside 17 other works, such as Ivanhoe and Heart of Midlothian, in the Edinburgh edition of the Waverley novels. The manuscript was gifted by Scott to a friend in 1831. Count OrloffDavidoff, who as an Edinburgh University medical student knew Scott, bought it at auction in 1868. It was added to the Russian national collection after the October revolution in 1917 when the family was dispersed, some disappearing without trace. Scott (1771-1832) was arguably the first modern author and certainly the first to be publicised in a modern sense, with Archibald Constable, his publisher, credited with inventing the process of literary hype. Academics say that, more importantly, Scott is credited with creating the historical novel, and it has been argued that it was he who first wove together all the elements of Scottish literary romanticism as a genre. The Talisman is set in the army that was led to the Crusades by Richard I of England. It chronicles the adventures of a poor but valiant Scottish knight, Sir Kenneth, who is caught up in the intrigues between Richard, the King of France, the Duke of Austria and the Knights Templar. However, Sir Kenneth is eventually discovered to be Prince David of Scotland.

Discovered differences
Manuscript - Perhaps it is better to submit to the assumption of England a little longer. Edition I - Perhaps it is better to submit to the usurpation of England a little longer. The change from assumption to usurpation is probably a misunderstanding. Scott uses the word in an older sense meaning haughtiness or pride. Manuscript - Our cousin Edith must learn how this vaunted night hath conducted himself.

Edition I - Our cousin Edith must first learn how this vaunted wight hath conducted himself. The printers ought to have changed night into knight Manuscript - Several of the superior leaders had now come up. Edition I - Several of the Syrian leaders had now come up. A hurried copyist has misread similar letters and created nonsense since the leaders are from the crusading nations. Manuscript - He swoond as he uttered these words. Edition I -He revived as he uttered these words. Being too literal makes a nonsense of the context: the character has just been knocked off his horse.

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