Publisher accused of 'grave robbing' for printing last two novels marred by Sir Walter Scott's ill-health

Share this article

THEY are the Scott monuments that looked set to be kept under wraps forever.

But now Sir Walter Scott's "lost" works have controversially been published, almost two hundred years after his death.

His final two tomes, The Siege Of Malta and the incomplete Bizarro, were never printed in full as his family and close associates felt their poor content would sully the reputation of one of the greatest writers that Scotland has ever produced.

And the decision of Edinburgh University Press to publish both works – corrected, and in a combined volume – led last night to a claim of "literary grave robbing".

Scott penned his final novels in 1831 and 1832 after suffering three strokes which had taken a considerable toll on his formidable linguistic abilities. The marked deterioration of his health is highlighted in the manuscripts which are riddled with errors and spelling mistakes.

The late John Buchan read both works while researching a biography of Scott in 1932 and remarked: "It may be hoped that no literary resurrectionist will ever be guilty of the crime of giving them to the world."

A century earlier, Scott's publisher Robert Cadell and the author's son-in-law JG Lockhart had concluded that his final works were so fundamentally flawed, they should never see the light of day.

Paul Scott, who published a book based on Scott's journals, was surprised to learn their wishes had been overturned.

He felt it would be unfair to judge the writer of classics such as Ivanhoe and The Heart Of Midlothian on work that was penned while he was considerably incapacitated.

The author said: "Scott's health deteriorated quite markedly and you can see that from his journal. It starts off as a very intelligent, very well written and interesting piece of work, but as it gets towards the end of his life, it begins to fall apart.

"There was no doubt that his mind weakened and his writing suffered as a result of this."

Scott said that his namesake continued writing to the last in a bid to pay off debts.

"With his decaying powers and this compulsion to keep writing he produced these two final work. There is absolutely no doubt that they are way below the standards of his best work."

Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday's literary editor, described the volume as a "very, very sad" coda.

He said: "It is the ghost of genius wandering once its soul has left. You can almost imagine what Scott might have done had he been at the height of his powers."

The Siege Of Malta, of which only a few extracts have been previously released, is part novel, part historical account, of the defence of the island by the Order of St John of Jerusalem against a much larger Moorish force. Bizarro is a fictionalised account of an Italian brigand and Rob Roy figure and is billed as a tale of passion, murder and revenge.

The volume has been edited for EUP by JH Alexander of Aberdeen University and Judy King and Graham Tulloch of Flinders University in Australia.

Permission to publish the manuscripts was given by the executors of the late Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott as well as by the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, where the original works are stored.

The editors conceded that they had make several amendments to the original writings.

An explanatory chapter in the book states: "For all that Scott repeats himself, uses the wrong word and sometimes loses control of the shape of his sentences, there is no mistaking the onward drive of his story.

"Omission of a word, substitution of another word, reshaping the grammar of a sentence will usually resolve the problems."

Scott's stuttering pen originally produced words such as "vararious" and "assossociations", while in some cases he has used "sound" where "seemed" would be more appropriate, while on one occasion he used the word "cream" for "crime". Scans of the original manuscripts are included with the volume in a CD-Rom.

The editors defend the decision to publish the two works stating: "Nearly 200 years after they were first written, today's readers finally have the chance to read Scott's very last pieces of fiction. In whatever form they are encountered, these are unique and moving texts by a master of resonant storytelling."

The Siege Of Malta is described as "an epic tale of endurance", while the unfinished Bizarro is given as evidence that Scott "had not lost his power to tell a good story".

The decision to publish the works was warmly welcomed by former Labour MP Tam Dalyell, a past president of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club.

He said: "I think the publication of these two final books will provide a fascinating insight. It will be great for scholars. I am very much of the view that great authors should be published warts and all."

Staff at Abbotsford, Scott's former home in Melrose, hoped it would inspire more people to rediscover his works. Manager Jacqui Wright said: "Scott is held in high regard all over the world and this will spark international interest. We will definitely be getting hold of some copies of the new book and I'm sure they will be very popular with visitors."

Scott wrote the books after trips to the Mediterranean which he hoped would help to improve his health.

The Siege Of Malta and Bizarro are published by EUP for 40