A Few Famous Scots

  • Robert Burns (1759-96): Scotland's ploughman poet, known in many languages and countries
  • Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955): Nobel Prize winner who discovered penicillin
  • David Hume (1711-76): Laid the foundation for intellectual and philosophical pursuits using the concept of secular morality
  • David Livingstone (1813-73): Medical missionary and African explorer who named Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River
  • Flora Macdonald (1725-90): Key person in rescuing Bonnie Prince Charlie from British troops after his defeat at Culloden
  • John Muir (1834-1914): Pioneering conservationist who discovered California's Yosemite Valley and founded the Sierra Club
  • Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832): Romantic novelist and poet who occupies a position of preeminence in English literature
  • Adam Smith (1723-90): Author of the book The Wealth of Nations, which underpins the modern science of economics
  • Muriel Spark (1910-2006): Author whose classic tale, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, puts her among the elite of 20th-century novelists

The Father of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde


Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) was a restless character. Born in Edinburgh, he found the place unsuitable for his frail constitution. This, combined with his wanderlust, meant that he spent much of his life traveling and living outside his native Scotland. The author has been alternately hailed as Scotland's greatest writer and dismissed as nothing more than the creator of tall tales for children, though surely the former is more accurate.

He was the son of Margaret and Thomas Stevenson, born into a family famed for its civil engineering projects, especially lighthouses. R.L.S. was a sickly toddler and something of a disappointment to his father as a youth. After he was allowed to bow out of engineering and the lucrative family business, Robert attended law school. Thomas vowed that "the devious and barren paths of literature" were not suitable for his heir. R.L.S., undaunted, became a writer and a bit of a rogue. One of his favorite bars still stands today: Rutherford's on Drummond Street near South Bridge.

Determined to roam ("I shall be a nomad") and write, he went to France where he met and later married an American, Fanny Osborne, with whom he traveled to California. Following the success of The Sea-Cook (1881), which became the ever-popular Treasure Island, Stevenson produced The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, an instant best-seller. That was quickly followed by the classic Kidnapped (1886), recounting the troubled political times in Scotland after the failed 1745 rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The book's 16-year-old hero is snatched and finds himself on an adventure across the Western Highlands and Islands.


Eventually R.L.S. and Fanny settled in Samoa, hoping to find a climate that would suit his scarred lungs. While here, Stevenson worked on the unfinished classic, Weir of Hermiston (published posthumously in 1896). On December 3, 1894, at only 43 years old, he collapsed and died.

Sir Walter Scott: Inventor of Historical Novels

It may be hard to imagine the fame that Walter Scott, novelist and poet, enjoyed as the best-selling author of his day. His works are no longer so widely read, but Scott (1771-1832) was thought to be a master storyteller and he is now regarded as one of the inventors of the historical novel. Before his Waverley series was published in 1814, no modern English author had spun such tales from actual events, examining the lives of individuals who played roles - large and small. He created lively characters and realistic pictures of Scottish life in works such as The Heart of Midlothian.


Born on August 14, 1771 into a Borders family that later settled in Edinburgh, Scott was permanently lame due to polio, which he contracted as a child. All his life he was troubled by ill health and later by ailing finances as well. He spent his latter years writing to clear enormous debts incurred when his publishing house and printers collapsed in bankruptcy.

Scott made Scotland and its scenery fashionable with the English, and he played a key role in bringing Hanoverian King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. It had been decades since a British monarch had set foot in Scotland.

In 1831, heavily in debt and suffering from the effects of several strokes, Scott set out on a Mediterranean cruise to recuperate. He returned the following year to Abbotsford, where he died on September 21, 1832. Scott is buried at Dryburgh Abbey, sited in a loop of the Tweed River.


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