We are grateful to Kirsty Archer-Thompson for her lecture on the theme of 250 Years of Sir Walter Scott: Past, Present and Future.
Our speaker is Collections and Interpretations Manager at Abbotsford House, Sir Walter’s magnificent baronial mansion in the Border country, which now functions as a museum to the great man. She is responsible both for the Scott collection, a vast and varied collection of artefacts and esoterica from all over the world, and the buildings. She is currently leading a major project to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth in 1771, managing an enormous cataloguing project on the Scott family archive, as well as leading a series of online courses entitled Scott: the Man Behind the Monument, so we are grateful indeed to Kirsty for finding time in such a busy schedule to speak to us.
Sir Walter was a gigantic figure in Scotland’s cultural history, who arguably re-shaped the way our nation has been seen in modern times. He was the principal architect of George IV’s ground-breaking visit to Edinburgh in 1822, in which capacity he arranged the very significant involvement of two Hays in these events: the 18th Earl of Erroll as Lord High Constable, and the 11th Earl of Kinnoull as Lord Lyon King of Arms. During her talk, Kirsty explored Sir Walter’s reputation as a literary giant and how the view of him has changed over time, concluding that his work is even more relevant in the 21st century than at any time in the past.
She showed how the key themes of Scott’s approach to his work are reflected in much of what is important to us today. His interest in ‘living history’, of encouraging young and old alike to develop an interest and appreciation of our past through artefacts and places, and of how enthusiastic he was to welcome visitors to his home and to show them his collection, in an era long before landowners eventually, out of necessity, allowed visitors into their grand houses. She told us of his appreciation of nature and the environment in our wellbeing, and of Scott’s willingness to speak and write of his own mental health, a subject that has only recently escaped taboo status. He appreciated the role of wilderness and landscape as well as that of ballad and story in achieving balance in our lives, and also of its importance in creativity. She concludes that Scott’s legacy extends to modern day tourism, biodiversity, architecture (he almost single handedly invented the Scots Baronial style), literature, the arts and folklore, but more than that, insofar as Scott’s legacy to Scotland is even greater than the sum of its parts, in that it was he more than any other who put Scotland’ landscape and its people on the map. Kirsty finally encouraged us to use the occasion of this anniversary to re-evaluate Sir Walter’s place in our national story, by looking at how he impacts on everyday Scotland, and not by putting him on an inaccessible pedestal, as that was not how he lived his life, either privately or publicly.
We are grateful to Kirsty for a stimulating and thought-provoking evening.