James Ballantyne

Printer | Number 3

According to Wilmot Harrison in ‘Memorable Edinburgh Houses’, James Ballantyne, Sir Walter Scott’s printer, was living at No 3 Heriot Row in 1823.  He had moved there from St John Street and moved on to 18 Albany Street from about 1830.

James Ballantyne had a close and complex relationship with Walter Scott throughout the writer's prolific writing career.  James and Walter met as schoolboys in Kelso, and both studied law in Edinburgh. Returning to Kelso, James edited and printed a newspaper, the Kelso Mail. In 1799, he printed two literary pamphlets for Walter. For the next 30 years - basing himself in Edinburgh - he printed the author's novels, poetry, ballads and translations. The quality of printing was exceptional and the printing press was soon busy with other work, including Court of Session papers which Walter, as Session Clerk, was able to push his way.

James was much more than a printer. He was in effect personal agent and partner. Walter asked his views on literary value and selling prospects as he wrote. James edited and amended the works and was trusted by Walter to make changes right through the production process.

Their finances were also intertwined and at times precarious, with money crises in 1813 and again in 1826. Walter was secretly part owner of Ballantyne Press but could not let that be revealed  and went to painful lengths to pay off the debts by constant writing rather than let them be exposed through bankruptcy. At the same time, his building work at Abbotsford was partly funded through the company at a time when its debts were mounting, and that left James dangerously exposed.

James had his own literary reputation in Edinburgh.  He was theatre critic for the Edinburgh Evening Courant and regularly met literary and theatre friends.  In 1817 he and his brother-in-law bought the Edinburgh Weekly Journal and he became its editor.

Towards the end of their lives - Walter died in 1832 and James in 1833 - their relationship seems to have cooled. In April 1829, Scott wrote in his diary, ‘I had news of James Ballantyne, hypochondriac, I am afraid, and religiously distressed in mind’. James had become a Whig, while Walter retained his Tory affiliations.

James' younger brother John was also involved in Walter and James' enterprises and was for a time Walter's publisher.

James' nephew was RM Ballantyne, who became a highly popular children's author in Victorian times.

Ballantyne's Edinburgh printing works finally closed its doors in 1916.

James Ballantyne had a close and complex relationship with Walter Scott throughout the writer's prolific writing career.