Favourite quotes: from Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley

Finally, the third in my funny little Favourite Quotes series which I resurrected earlier this year.

Waverley book coverIn August I posted a review (of sorts) of the first volume of Sir Walter Scott’s first novel, Waverley, and I included a quote describing his hero’s unstructured, undisciplined reading encouraged by a theory of education that sounds a bit like Mary Poppins’ “spoonful of sugar”. The longer quote is as follows:

With a desire of amusement therefore, which better discipline might soon have converted into a thirst for knowledge, young Waverley drove through the sea of books, like a vessel without a pilot or a rudder. Nothing perhaps increases by indulgence more than a desultory habit of reading, especially under such opportunities of gratifying it. I believe one reason why such numerous instances of erudition occur among the lower ranks is, that, with the same powers of mind, the poor student is limited to a narrow circle for indulging his passion for books, and must necessarily make himself master of the few he possesses ere he can acquire more. Edward, on the contrary, like the epicure who only deigned to take a single morsel from the sunny side of a peach, read no volume a moment after it ceased to excite his curiosity or interest; and it necessarily happened, that the habit of seeking only this sort of gratification rendered it daily more difficult of attainment, till the passion for reading, like other strong appetites, produced by indulgence a sort of satiety.

I like Scott’s reference to the fact that poorer people have no option but to read deeply (and are therefore more erudite!) because they have such little access to books. How many memoirs have we read about poor children reading and rereading the few books available to them – and how much luckier many of us are today to have access to free public libraries?! Let’s hope those libraries last.

As I said in my last Favourite Quotes post, my aim is to share some interesting ideas, rather than become too bogged down in explication. But, I’d love some explication from you should you be so inspired!

20 thoughts on “Favourite quotes: from Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley

  1. In the mid-19th century a first cousin and exact contemporary of my Scottish grand-mother’s maternal Murray grand-father was forced to leave school at age 14 – there was no money to enable further studies. That didn’t stop him though – he was already able to read Latin and French – would read aloud from books translating from the page to his parents/younger siblings. Nihil est melior quam vita diligentissima” his motto (forgive my Latin if I have written it incorrectly “Nothing is better than a most diligent life”) was a co-founder of the local Archaeological Institute in Hawick aged about 18 – and went onwards and upwards to edit the New English Dictionary – a dictionary based on historical principles which because it was published by the Clarendon Press came to be known and then was renamed The OED. As I have read – Sir Walter Scott had dealings across the Scottish Borders and to some folk in the village where my grand-mother was born – Newcastleton. Informants to his search for the minstrelsy and song of that region. I visited the baronial mansion he built – “Abbotsford” with friends from Japan – 20 years ago. And with other friends from Japan – places associated with Robert Burns – of course.

  2. I wonder if maybe the wealth of books available to us now, together with FOMO (fear of missing out) makes people more likely to skim through things and not read them properly?

  3. “With a desire of amusement therefore, which better discipline might soon have converted into a thirst for knowledge, young Waverley drove through the sea of books” is a statement that, were its desire and its thirst swapped about and its subject swapped for you, ST, would be spot-on ! 😀

  4. I have not read Scott. I like that quotation. I should read him. You make a good point about how lucky most of us are to have access to so many books. In many ways, it is a good way to be alive.

  5. Gums, stop assaulting us with Scott. I absolutely refuse to read him. He is old fashioned, out of date, and long winded. I’d much rather read modern rubbish, thank you…

  6. His patronising tone is at odds with our modern world, where these days the ‘lower ranks’ (or all/any of us?) happily eschew erudition and tap away on their apps and social media, communicating nevertheless, in this world of fake news and ignorant bravado.
    I remember a family skiing holiday when I was about twelve, when all we had to read for four long weeks was ‘The little world of Don Camillo’ ! How I loved that book but it did pall after the nth reading.

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