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Title: Edinburgh Picturesque Notes
Author: Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1903 Seeley & Co. Ltd. edition by David Price, email


                           _Picturesque Notes_
                          Robert Louis Stevenson

                                * * * * *

                           _People’s Edition_.

                                * * * * *

                SEELEY & CO. LTD., 38 GREAT RUSSELL STREET


The ancient and famous metropolis of the North sits overlooking a windy
estuary from the slope and summit of three hills.  No situation could be
more commanding for the head city of a kingdom; none better chosen for
noble prospects.  From her tall precipice and terraced gardens she looks
far and wide on the sea and broad champaigns.  To the east you may catch
at sunset the spark of the May lighthouse, where the Firth expands into
the German Ocean; and away to the west, over all the carse of Stirling,
you can see the first snows upon Ben Ledi.

But Edinburgh pays cruelly for her high seat in one of the vilest
climates under heaven.  She is liable to be beaten upon by all the winds
that blow, to be drenched with rain, to be buried in cold sea fogs out of
the east, and powdered with the snow as it comes flying southward from
the Highland hills.  The weather is raw and boisterous in winter, shifty
and ungenial in summer, and a downright meteorological purgatory in the
spring.  The delicate die early, and I, as a survivor, among bleak winds
and plumping rain, have been sometimes tempted to envy them their fate.
For all who love shelter and the blessings of the sun, who hate dark
weather and perpetual tilting against squalls, there could scarcely be
found a more unhomely and harassing place of residence.  Many such aspire
angrily after that Somewhere-else of the imagination, where all troubles
are supposed to end.  They lean over the great bridge which joins the New
Town with the Old—that windiest spot, or high altar, in this northern
temple of the winds—and watch the trains smoking out from under them and
vanishing into the tunnel on a voyage to brighter skies.  Happy the
passengers who shake off the dust of Edinburgh, and have heard for the
last time the cry of the east wind among her chimney-tops!  And yet the
place establishes an interest in people’s hearts; go where they will,
they find no city of the same distinction; go where they will, they take
a pride in their old home.

[Picture: Gate of Holyrood] Venice, it has been said, differs from
another cities in the sentiment which she inspires.  The rest may have
admirers; she only, a famous fair one, counts lovers in her train.  And,
indeed, even by her kindest friends, Edinburgh is not considered in a
similar sense.  These like her for many reasons, not any one of which is
satisfactory in itself.  They like her whimsically, if you will, and
somewhat as a virtuoso dotes upon his cabinet.  Her attraction is
romantic in the narrowest meaning of the term.  Beautiful as she is, she
is not so much beautiful as interesting.  She is pre-eminently Gothic,
and all the more so since she has set herself off with some Greek airs,
and erected classic temples on her crags.  In a word, and above all, she
is a curiosity.  The Palace of Holyrood has been left aside in the growth
of Edinburgh, and stands grey and silent in a workman’s quarter and among
breweries and gas works.  It is a house of many memories.  Great people
of yore, kings and queens, buffoons and grave ambassadors, played their
stately farce for centuries in Holyrood.  Wars have been plotted, dancing
has lasted deep into the night,—murder has been done in its chambers.
There Prince Charlie held his phantom levees, and in a very gallant
manner represented a fallen dynasty for some hours.  Now, all these
things of clay are mingled with the dust, the king’s crown itself is
shown for sixpence to the vulgar; but the stone palace has outlived these
charges.  For fifty weeks together, it is no more than a show for
tourists and a museum of old furniture; but on the fifty-first, behold
the palace reawakened and mimicking its past.  The Lord Commissioner, a
kind of stage sovereign, sits among stage courtiers; a coach and six and
clattering escort come and go before the gate; at night, the windows are
lighted up, and its near neighbours, the workmen, may dance in their own
houses to the palace music.  And in this the palace is typical.  There is
a spark among the embers; from time to time the old volcano smokes.
Edinburgh has but partly abdicated, and still wears, in parody, her
metropolitan trappings.  Half a capital and half a country town, the
whole city leads a double existence; it has long trances of the one and
flashes of the other; like the king of the Black Isles, it is half alive
and half a monumental marble.  There are armed men and cannon in the
citadel overhead; you may see the troops marshalled on the high parade;
and at night after the early winter even-fall, and in the morning before
the laggard winter dawn, the wind carries abroad over Edinburgh the sound
of drums and bugles.  Grave judges sit bewigged in what was once the
scene of imperial deliberations.  Close by in the High Street perhaps the
trumpets may sound about the stroke of noon; and you see a troop of
citizens in tawdry masquerade; tabard above, heather-mixture trowser
below, and the men themselves trudging in the mud among unsympathetic
by-standers.  The grooms of a well-appointed circus tread the streets
with a better presence.  And yet these are the Heralds and Pursuivants of
Scotland, who are about to proclaim a new law of the United Kingdom
before two-score boys, and thieves, and hackney-coachmen.  Meanwhile
every hour the bell of the University rings out over the hum of the
streets, and every hour a double tide of students, coming and going,
fills the deep archways.  And lastly, one night in the springtime—or say
one morning rather, at the peep of day—late folk may hear voices of many
men singing a psalm in unison from a church on one side of the old High
Street; and a little after, or perhaps a little before, the sound of many
men singing a psalm in unison from another church on the opposite side of
the way.  There will be something in the words above the dew of Hermon,
and how goodly it is to see brethren dwelling together in unity.  And the
late folk will tell themselves that all this singing denotes the
conclusion of two yearly ecclesiastical parliaments—the parliaments of
Churches which are brothers in many admirable virtues, but not specially
like brothers in this particular of a tolerant and peaceful life.

Again, meditative people will find a charm in a certain consonancy
between the aspect of the city and its odd and stirring history.  Few
places, if any, offer a more barbaric display of contrasts to the eye.
In the very midst stands one of the most satisfactory crags in nature—a
Bass Rock upon dry land, rooted in a garden shaken by passing trains,
carrying a crown of battlements and turrets, and describing its war-like
shadow over the liveliest and brightest thoroughfare of the new town.
From their smoky beehives, ten stories high, the unwashed look down upon
the open squares and gardens of the wealthy; and gay people sunning
themselves along Princes Street, with its mile of commercial palaces all
beflagged upon some great occasion, see, across a gardened valley set
with statues, where the washings of the Old Town flutter in the breeze at
its high windows.  And then, upon all sides, what a clashing of
architecture!  In this one valley, where the life of the town goes most
busily forward, there may be seen, shown one above and behind another by
the accidents of the ground, buildings in almost every style upon the
globe.  Egyptian and Greek temples, Venetian palaces and Gothic spires,
are huddled one over another in a most admired disorder; while, above
all, the brute mass of the Castle and the summit of Arthur’s Seat look
down upon these imitations with a becoming dignity, as the works of
Nature may look down the monuments of Art.  But Nature is a more
indiscriminate patroness than we imagine, and in no way frightened of a
strong effect.  The birds roost as willingly among the Corinthian
capitals as in the crannies of the crag; the same atmosphere and daylight
clothe the eternal rock and yesterday’s imitation portico; and as the
soft northern sunshine throws out everything into a glorified
distinctness—or easterly mists, coming up with the blue evening, fuse all
these incongruous features into one, and the lamps begin to glitter along
the street, and faint lights to burn in the high windows across the
valley—the feeling grows upon you that this also is a piece of nature in
the most intimate sense; that this profusion of eccentricities, this
dream in masonry and living rock, is not a drop-scene in a theatre, but a
city in the world of every-day reality, connected by railway and
telegraph-wire with all the capitals of Europe, and inhabited by citizens
of the familiar type, who keep ledgers, and attend church, and have sold
their immortal portion to a daily paper.  By all the canons of romance,
the place demands to be half deserted and leaning towards decay; birds we
might admit in profusion, the play of the sun and winds, and a few
gipsies encamped in the chief thoroughfare; but these citizens with their
cabs and tramways, their trains and posters, are altogether out of key.
Chartered tourists, they make free with historic localities, and rear
their young among the most picturesque sites with a grand human
indifference.  To see them thronging by, in their neat clothes and
conscious moral rectitude, and with a little air of possession that
verges on the absurd, is not the least striking feature of the place.

And the story of the town is as eccentric as its appearance.  For
centuries it was a capital thatched with heather, and more than once, in
the evil days of English invasion, it has gone up in flame to heaven, a
beacon to ships at sea.  It was the jousting-ground of jealous nobles,
not only on Greenside, or by the King’s Stables, where set tournaments
were fought to the sound of trumpets and under the authority of the royal
presence, but in every alley where there was room to cross swords, and in
the main street, where popular tumult under the Blue Blanket alternated
with the brawls of outlandish clansmen and retainers.  Down in the palace
John Knox reproved his queen in the accents of modern democracy.  In the
town, in one of those little shops plastered like so many swallows’ nests
among the buttresses of the old Cathedral, that familiar autocrat, James
VI., would gladly share a bottle of wine with George Heriot the
goldsmith.  Up on the Pentland Hills, that so quietly look down on the
Castle with the city lying in waves around it, those mad and dismal
fanatics, the Sweet Singers, haggard from long exposure on the moors, sat
day and night with ‘tearful psalmns’ to see Edinburgh consumed with fire
from heaven, like another Sodom or Gomorrah.  There, in the Grass-market,
stiff-necked, covenanting heroes, offered up the often unnecessary, but
not less honourable, sacrifice of their lives, and bade eloquent farewell
to sun, moon, and stars, and earthly friendships, or died silent to the
roll of drums.  Down by yon outlet rode Grahame of Claverhouse and his
thirty dragoons, with the town beating to arms behind their horses’
tails—a sorry handful thus riding for their lives, but with a man at the
head who was to return in a different temper, make a dash that staggered
Scotland to the heart, and die happily in the thick of fight.  There
Aikenhead was hanged for a piece of boyish incredulity; there, a few
years afterwards, David Hume ruined Philosophy and Faith, an undisturbed
and well-reputed citizen; and thither, in yet a few years more, Burns
came from the plough-tail, as to an academy of gilt unbelief and
artificial letters.  There, when the great exodus was made across the
valley, and the New Town began to spread abroad its draughty
parallelograms, and rear its long frontage on the opposing hill, there
was such a flitting, such a change of domicile and dweller, as was never
excelled in the history of cities: the cobbler succeeded the earl; the
beggar ensconced himself by the judge’s chimney; what had been a palace
was used as a pauper refuge; and great mansions were so parcelled out
among the least and lowest in society, that the hearthstone of the old
proprietor was thought large enough to be partitioned off into a bedroom
by the new.


The Old Town, it is pretended, is the chief characteristic, and, from a
picturesque point of view, the liver-wing of Edinburgh.  It is one of the
most common forms of depreciation to throw cold water on the whole by
adroit over-commendation of a part, since everything worth judging,
whether it be a man, a work of art, or only a fine city, must be judged
upon its merits as a whole.  The Old Town depends for much of its effect
on the new quarters that lie around it, on the sufficiency of its
situation, and on the hills that back it up.  If you were to set it
somewhere else by itself, it would look remarkably like Stirling in a
bolder and loftier edition.  The point is to see this embellished
Stirling planted in the midst of a large, active, and fantastic modern
city; for there the two re-act in a picturesque sense, and the one is the
making of the other.

The Old Town occupies a sloping ridge or tail of diluvial matter,
protected, in some subsidence of the waters, by the Castle cliffs which
fortify it to the west.  On the one side of it and the other the new
towns of the south and of the north occupy their lower, broader, and more
gentle hill-tops.  Thus, the quarter of the Castle over-tops the whole
city and keeps an open view to sea and land.  It dominates for miles on
every side; and people on the decks of ships, or ploughing in quiet
country places over in Fife, can see the banner on the Castle
battlements, and the smoke of the Old Town blowing abroad over the
subjacent country.  A city that is set upon a hill.  It was, I suppose,
from this distant aspect that she got her nickname of _Auld Reekie_.
Perhaps it was given her by people who had never crossed her doors: day
after day, from their various rustic Pisgahs, they had seen the pile of
building on the hill-top, and the long plume of smoke over the plain; so
it appeared to them; so it had appeared to their fathers tilling the same
field; and as that was all they knew of the place, it could be all
expressed in these two words.

              [Picture: Cowfeeder Row and Head of West Port]

Indeed, even on a nearer view, the Old Town is properly smoked; and
though it is well washed with rain all the year round, it has a grim and
sooty aspect among its younger suburbs.  It grew, under the law that
regulates the growth of walled cities in precarious situations, not in
extent, but in height and density.  Public buildings were forced,
wherever there was room for them, into the midst of thoroughfares;
thorough—fares were diminished into lanes; houses sprang up story after
story, neighbour mounting upon neighbour’s shoulder, as in some Black
Hole of Calcutta, until the population slept fourteen or fifteen deep in
a vertical direction.  The tallest of these _lands_, as they are locally
termed, have long since been burnt out; but to this day it is not
uncommon to see eight or ten windows at a flight; and the cliff of
building which hangs imminent over Waverley Bridge would still put many
natural precipices to shame.  The cellars are already high above the
gazer’s head, planted on the steep hill-side; as for the garret, all the
furniture may be in the pawn-shop, but it commands a famous prospect to
the Highland hills.  The poor man may roost up there in the centre of
Edinburgh, and yet have a peep of the green country from his window; he
shall see the quarters of the well-to-do fathoms underneath, with their
broad squares and gardens; he shall have nothing overhead but a few
spires, the stone top-gallants of the city; and perhaps the wind may
reach him with a rustic pureness, and bring a smack of the sea or of
flowering lilacs in the spring.

It is almost the correct literary sentiment to deplore the revolutionary
improvements of Mr. Chambers and his following.  It is easy to be a
conservator of the discomforts of others; indeed, it is only our good
qualities we find it irksome to conserve.  Assuredly, in driving streets
through the black labyrinth, a few curious old corners have been swept
away, and some associations turned out of house and home.  But what
slices of sunlight, what breaths of clean air, have been let in!  And
what a picturesque world remains untouched!  You go under dark arches,
and down dark stairs and alleys.  The way is so narrow that you can lay a
hand on either wall; so steep that, in greasy winter weather, the
pavement is almost as treacherous as ice.  Washing dangles above washing
from the windows; the houses bulge outwards upon flimsy brackets; you see
a bit of sculpture in a dark corner; at the top of all, a gable and a few
crowsteps are printed on the sky.  Here, you come into a court where the
children are at play and the grown people sit upon their doorsteps, and
perhaps a church spire shows itself above the roofs.  Here, in the
narrowest of the entry, you find a great old mansion still erect, with
some insignia of its former state—some scutcheon, some holy or courageous
motto, on the lintel.  The local antiquary points out where famous and
well-born people had their lodging; and as you look up, out pops the head
of a slatternly woman from the countess’s window.  The Bedouins camp
within Pharaoh’s palace walls, and the old war-ship is given over to the
rats.  We are already a far way from the days when powdered heads were
plentiful in these alleys, with jolly, port-wine faces underneath.  Even
in the chief thoroughfares Irish washings flutter at the windows, and the
pavements are encumbered with loiterers.

              [Picture: Old Bow-Head, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh]

These loiterers are a true character of the scene.  Some shrewd Scotch
workmen may have paused on their way to a job, debating Church affairs
and politics with their tools upon their arm.  But the most part are of a
different order—skulking jail-birds; unkempt, bare-foot children;
big-mouthed, robust women, in a sort of uniform of striped flannel
petticoat and short tartan shawl; among these, a few surpervising
constables and a dismal sprinkling of mutineers and broken men from
higher ranks in society, with some mark of better days upon them, like a
brand.  In a place no larger than Edinburgh, and where the traffic is
mostly centred in five or six chief streets, the same face comes often
under the notice of an idle stroller.  In fact, from this point of view,
Edinburgh is not so much a small city as the largest of small towns.  It
is scarce possible to avoid observing your neighbours; and I never yet
heard of any one who tried.  It has been my fortune, in this anonymous
accidental way, to watch more than one of these downward travellers for
some stages on the road to ruin.  One man must have been upwards of sixty
before I first observed him, and he made then a decent, personable figure
in broad-cloth of the best.  For three years he kept falling—grease
coming and buttons going from the square-skirted coat, the face puffing
and pimpling, the shoulders growing bowed, the hair falling scant and
grey upon his head; and the last that ever I saw of him, he was standing
at the mouth of an entry with several men in moleskin, three parts drunk,
and his old black raiment daubed with mud.  I fancy that I still can hear
him laugh.  There was something heart-breaking in this gradual declension
at so advanced an age; you would have thought a man of sixty out of the
reach of these calamities; you would have thought that he was niched by
that time into a safe place in life, whence he could pass quietly and
honourably into the grave.

One of the earliest marks of these _dégringolades_ is, that the victim
begins to disappear from the New Town thoroughfares, and takes to the
High Street, like a wounded animal to the woods.  And such an one is the
type of the quarter.  It also has fallen socially.  A scutcheon over the
door somewhat jars in sentiment where there is a washing at every window.
The old man, when I saw him last, wore the coat in which he had played
the gentleman three years before; and that was just what gave him so
pre-eminent an air of wretchedness.

[Picture: High Street] It is true that the over-population was at least
as dense in the epoch of lords and ladies, and that now-a-days some
customs which made Edinburgh notorious of yore have been fortunately
pretermitted.  But an aggregation of comfort is not distasteful like an
aggregation of the reverse.  Nobody cares how many lords and ladies, and
divines and lawyers, may have been crowded into these houses in the
past—perhaps the more the merrier.  The glasses clink around the china
punch-bowl, some one touches the virginals, there are peacocks’ feathers
on the chimney, and the tapers burn clear and pale in the red firelight.
That is not an ugly picture in itself, nor will it become ugly upon
repetition.  All the better if the like were going on in every second
room; the _land_ would only look the more inviting.  Times are changed.
In one house, perhaps, two-score families herd together; and, perhaps,
not one of them is wholly out of the reach of want.  The great hotel is
given over to discomfort from the foundation to the chimney-tops;
everywhere a pinching, narrow habit, scanty meals, and an air of
sluttishness and dirt.  In the first room there is a birth, in another a
death, in a third a sordid drinking-bout, and the detective and the
Bible-reader cross upon the stairs.  High words are audible from dwelling
to dwelling, and children have a strange experience from the first; only
a robust soul, you would think, could grow up in such conditions without
hurt.  And even if God tempers His dispensations to the young, and all
the ill does not arise that our apprehensions may forecast, the sight of
such a way of living is disquieting to people who are more happily
circumstanced.  Social inequality is nowhere more ostentatious than at
Edinburgh.  I have mentioned already how, to the stroller along Princes
Street, the High Street callously exhibits its back garrets.  It is true,
there is a garden between.  And although nothing could be more glaring by
way of contrast, sometimes the opposition is more immediate; sometimes
the thing lies in a nutshell, and there is not so much as a blade of
grass between the rich and poor.  To look over the South Bridge and see
the Cowgate below full of crying hawkers, is to view one rank of society
from another in the twinkling of an eye.

One night I went along the Cowgate after every one was a-bed but the
policeman, and stopped by hazard before a tall _land_.  The moon touched
upon its chimneys, and shone blankly on the upper windows; there was no
light anywhere in the great bulk of building; but as I stood there it
seemed to me that I could hear quite a body of quiet sounds from the
interior; doubtless there were many clocks ticking, and people snoring on
their backs.  And thus, as I fancied, the dense life within made itself
faintly audible in my ears, family after family contributing its quota to
the general hum, and the whole pile beating in tune to its timepieces,
like a great disordered heart.  Perhaps it was little more than a fancy
altogether, but it was strangely impressive at the time, and gave me an
imaginative measure of the disproportion between the quantity of living
flesh and the trifling walls that separated and contained it.

There was nothing fanciful, at least, but every circumstance of terror
and reality, in the fall of the _land_ in the High Street.  The building
had grown rotten to the core; the entry underneath had suddenly closed up
so that the scavenger’s barrow could not pass; cracks and reverberations
sounded through the house at night; the inhabitants of the huge old human
bee-hive discussed their peril when they encountered on the stair; some
had even left their dwellings in a panic of fear, and returned to them
again in a fit of economy or self-respect; when, in the black hours of a
Sunday morning, the whole structure ran together with a hideous uproar
and tumbled story upon story to the ground.  The physical shock was felt
far and near; and the moral shock travelled with the morning milkmaid
into all the suburbs.  The church-bells never sounded more dismally over
Edinburgh than that grey forenoon.  Death had made a brave harvest, and,
like Samson, by pulling down one roof, destroyed many a home.  None who
saw it can have forgotten the aspect of the gable; here it was plastered,
there papered, according to the rooms; here the kettle still stood on the
hob, high overhead; and there a cheap picture of the Queen was pasted
over the chimney.  So, by this disaster, you had a glimpse into the life
of thirty families, all suddenly cut off from the revolving years.  The
_land_ had fallen; and with the _land_ how much!  Far in the country,
people saw a gap in the city ranks, and the sun looked through between
the chimneys in an unwonted place.  And all over the world, in London, in
Canada, in New Zealand, fancy what a multitude of people could exclaim
with truth: ‘The house that I was born in fell last night!’


Time has wrought its changes most notably around the precincts of St.
Giles’s Church.  The church itself, if it were not for the spire, would
be unrecognisable; the _Krames_ are all gone, not a shop is left to
shelter in its buttresses; and zealous magistrates and a misguided
architect have shorn the design of manhood, and left it poor, naked, and
pitifully pretentious.  As St. Giles’s must have had in former days a
rich and quaint appearance now forgotten, so the neighbourhood was
bustling, sunless, and romantic.  It was here that the town was most
overbuilt; but the overbuilding has been all rooted out, and not only a
free fair-way left along the High Street with an open space on either
side of the church, but a great porthole, knocked in the main line of the
_lands_, gives an outlook to the north and the New Town.

[Picture: The Spire of St. Giles’s] There is a silly story of a
subterranean passage between the Castle and Holyrood, and a bold Highland
piper who volunteered to explore its windings.  He made his entrance by
the upper end, playing a strathspey; the curious footed it after him down
the street, following his descent by the sound of the chanter from below;
until all of a sudden, about the level of St. Giles’s, the music came
abruptly to an end, and the people in the street stood at fault with
hands uplifted.  Whether he was choked with gases, or perished in a quag,
or was removed bodily by the Evil One, remains a point of doubt; but the
piper has never again been seen or heard of from that day to this.
Perhaps he wandered down into the land of Thomas the Rhymer, and some
day, when it is least expected, may take a thought to revisit the sunlit
upper world.  That will be a strange moment for the cabmen on the stance
besides St. Giles’s, when they hear the drone of his pipes reascending
from the bowels of the earth below their horses’ feet.

But it is not only pipers who have vanished, many a solid bulk of masonry
has been likewise spirited into the air.  Here, for example, is the shape
of a heart let into the causeway.  This was the site of the Tolbooth, the
Heart of Midlothian, a place old in story and namefather to a noble book.
The walls are now down in the dust; there is no more _squalor carceris_
for merry debtors, no more cage for the old, acknowledged prison-breaker;
but the sun and the wind play freely over the foundations of the jail.
Nor is this the only memorial that the pavement keeps of former days.
The ancient burying-ground of Edinburgh lay behind St. Giles’s Church,
running downhill to the Cowgate and covering the site of the present
Parliament House.  It has disappeared as utterly as the prison or the
Luckenbooths; and for those ignorant of its history, I know only one
token that remains.  In the Parliament Close, trodden daily underfoot by
advocates, two letters and a date mark the resting-place of the man who
made Scotland over again in his own image, the indefatigable,
undissuadable John Knox.  He sleeps within call of the church that so
often echoed to his preaching.

Hard by the reformer, a bandy-legged and garlanded Charles Second, made
of lead, bestrides a tun-bellied charger.  The King has his backed
turned, and, as you look, seems to be trotting clumsily away from such a
dangerous neighbour.  Often, for hours together, these two will be alone
in the Close, for it lies out of the way of all but legal traffic.  On
one side the south wall of the church, on the other the arcades of the
Parliament House, enclose this irregular bight of causeway and describe
their shadows on it in the sun.  At either end, from round St. Giles’s
buttresses, you command a look into the High Street with its motley
passengers; but the stream goes by, east and west, and leaves the
Parliament Close to Charles the Second and the birds.  Once in a while, a
patient crowd may be seen loitering there all day, some eating fruit,
some reading a newspaper; and to judge by their quiet demeanour, you
would think they were waiting for a distribution of soup-tickets.  The
fact is far otherwise; within in the Justiciary Court a man is upon trial
for his life, and these are some of the curious for whom the gallery was
found too narrow.  Towards afternoon, if the prisoner is unpopular, there
will be a round of hisses when he is brought forth.  Once in a while,
too, an advocate in wig and gown, hand upon mouth, full of pregnant nods,
sweeps to and fro in the arcade listening to an agent; and at certain
regular hours a whole tide of lawyers hurries across the space.

The Parliament Close has been the scene of marking incidents in Scottish
history.  Thus, when the Bishops were ejected from the Convention in
1688, ‘all fourteen of them gathered together with pale faces and stood
in a cloud in the Parliament Close:’ poor episcopal personages who were
done with fair weather for life!  Some of the west-country Societarians
standing by, who would have ‘rejoiced more than in great sums’ to be at
their hanging, hustled them so rudely that they knocked their heads
together.  It was not magnanimous behaviour to dethroned enemies; but
one, at least, of the Societarians had groaned in the _boots_, and they
had all seen their dear friends upon the scaffold.  Again, at the ‘woeful
Union,’ it was here that people crowded to escort their favourite from
the last of Scottish parliaments: people flushed with nationality, as
Boswell would have said, ready for riotous acts, and fresh from throwing
stones at the author of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as he looked out of window.

             [Picture: John Knox’s House in the High Street]

One of the pious in the seventeenth century, going to pass his _trials_
(examinations as we now say) for the Scottish Bar, beheld the Parliament
Close open and had a vision of the mouth of Hell.  This, and small
wonder, was the means of his conversion.  Nor was the vision unsuitable
to the locality; for after an hospital, what uglier piece is there in
civilisation than a court of law?  Hither come envy, malice, and all
uncharitableness to wrestle it out in public tourney; crimes, broken
fortunes, severed households, the knave and his victim, gravitate to this
low building with the arcade.  To how many has not St. Giles’s bell told
the first hour after ruin?  I think I see them pause to count the
strokes, and wander on again into the moving High Street, stunned and
sick at heart.

A pair of swing doors gives admittance to a hall with a carved roof, hung
with legal portraits, adorned with legal statuary, lighted by windows of
painted glass, and warmed by three vast fires.  This is the _Salle des
pas perdus_ of the Scottish Bar.  Here, by a ferocious custom, idle
youths must promenade from ten till two.  From end to end, singly or in
pairs or trios, the gowns and wigs go back and forward.  Through a hum of
talk and footfalls, the piping tones of a Macer announce a fresh cause
and call upon the names of those concerned.  Intelligent men have been
walking here daily for ten or twenty years without a rag of business or a
shilling of reward.  In process of time, they may perhaps be made the
Sheriff-Substitute and Fountain of Justice at Lerwick or Tobermory.
There is nothing required, you would say, but a little patience and a
taste for exercise and bad air.  To breathe dust and bombazine, to feed
the mind on cackling gossip, to hear three parts of a case and drink a
glass of sherry, to long with indescribable longings for the hour when a
man may slip out of his travesty and devote himself to golf for the rest
of the afternoon, and to do this day by day and year after year, may seem
so small a thing to the inexperienced!  But those who have made the
experiment are of a different way of thinking, and count it the most
arduous form of idleness.

More swing doors open into pigeon-holes where judges of the First Appeal
sit singly, and halls of audience where the supreme Lords sit by three or
four.  Here, you may see Scott’s place within the bar, where he wrote
many a page of Waverley novels to the drone of judicial proceeding.  You
will hear a good deal of shrewdness, and, as their Lordships do not
altogether disdain pleasantry, a fair proportion of dry fun.  The
broadest of broad Scotch is now banished from the bench; but the courts
still retain a certain national flavour.  We have a solemn enjoyable way
of lingering on a case.  We treat law as a fine art, and relish and
digest a good distinction.  There is no hurry: point after point must be
rightly examined and reduced to principle; judge after judge must utter
forth his _obiter dicta_ to delighted brethren.

Besides the courts, there are installed under the same roof no less than
three libraries: two of no mean order; confused and semi-subterranean,
full of stairs and galleries; where you may see the most studious-looking
wigs fishing out novels by lanthorn light, in the very place where the
old Privy Council tortured Covenanters.  As the Parliament House is built
upon a slope, although it presents only one story to the north, it
measures half-a-dozen at least upon the south; and range after range of
vaults extend below the libraries.  Few places are more characteristic of
this hilly capital.  You descend one stone stair after another, and
wander, by the flicker of a match, in a labyrinth of stone cellars.  Now,
you pass below the Outer Hall and hear overhead, brisk but ghostly, the
interminable pattering of legal feet.  Now, you come upon a strong door
with a wicket: on the other side are the cells of the police office and
the trap-stair that gives admittance to the dock in the Justiciary Court.
Many a foot that has gone up there lightly enough, has been dead-heavy in
the descent.  Many a man’s life has been argued away from him during long
hours in the court above.  But just now that tragic stage is empty and
silent like a church on a week-day, with the bench all sheeted up and
nothing moving but the sunbeams on the wall.  A little farther and you
strike upon a room, not empty like the rest, but crowded with
_productions_ from bygone criminal cases: a grim lumber: lethal weapons,
poisoned organs in a jar, a door with a shot-hole through the panel,
behind which a man fell dead.  I cannot fancy why they should preserve
them unless it were against the Judgment Day.  At length, as you continue
to descend, you see a peep of yellow gaslight and hear a jostling,
whispering noise ahead; next moment you turn a corner, and there, in a
whitewashed passage, is a machinery belt industriously turning on its
wheels.  You would think the engine had grown there of its own accord,
like a cellar fungus, and would soon spin itself out and fill the vaults
from end to end with its mysterious labours.  In truth, it is only some
gear of the steam ventilator; and you will find the engineers at hand,
and may step out of their door into the sunlight.  For all this while,
you have not been descending towards the earth’s centre, but only to the
bottom of the hill and the foundations of the Parliament House; low down,
to be sure, but still under the open heaven and in a field of grass.  The
daylight shines garishly on the back windows of the Irish quarter; on
broken shutters, wry gables, old palsied houses on the brink of ruin, a
crumbling human pig-sty fit for human pigs.  There are few signs of life,
besides a scanty washing or a face at a window: the dwellers are abroad,
but they will return at night and stagger to their pallets.


The character of a place is often most perfectly expressed in its
associations.  An event strikes root and grows into a legend, when it has
happened amongst congenial surroundings.  Ugly actions, above all in ugly
places, have the true romantic quality, and become an undying property of
their scene.  To a man like Scott, the different appearances of nature
seemed each to contain its own legend ready made, which it was his to
call forth: in such or such a place, only such or such events ought with
propriety to happen; and in this spirit he made the _Lady of the Lake_
for Ben Venue, the _Heart of Midlothian_ for Edinburgh, and the _Pirate_,
so indifferently written but so romantically conceived, for the desolate
islands and roaring tideways of the North.  The common run of mankind
have, from generation to generation, an instinct almost as delicate as
that of Scott; but where he created new things, they only forget what is
unsuitable among the old; and by survival of the fittest, a body of
tradition becomes a work of art.  So, in the low dens and high-flying
garrets of Edinburgh, people may go back upon dark passages in the town’s
adventures, and chill their marrow with winter’s tales about the fire:
tales that are singularly apposite and characteristic, not only of the
old life, but of the very constitution of built nature in that part, and
singularly well qualified to add horror to horror, when the wind pipes
around the tall _lands_, and hoots adown arched passages, and the
far-spread wilderness of city lamps keeps quavering and flaring in the

[Picture: The Canongate] Here, it is the tale of Begbie the bank-porter,
stricken to the heart at a blow and left in his blood within a step or
two of the crowded High Street.  There, people hush their voices over
Burke and Hare; over drugs and violated graves, and the resurrection-men
smothering their victims with their knees.  Here, again, the fame of
Deacon Brodie is kept piously fresh.  A great man in his day was the
Deacon; well seen in good society, crafty with his hands as a
cabinet-maker, and one who could sing a song with taste.  Many a citizen
was proud to welcome the Deacon to supper, and dismissed him with regret
at a timeous hour, who would have been vastly disconcerted had he known
how soon, and in what guise, his visitor returned.  Many stories are told
of this redoubtable Edinburgh burglar, but the one I have in my mind most
vividly gives the key of all the rest.  A friend of Brodie’s, nested some
way towards heaven in one of these great _lands_, had told him of a
projected visit to the country, and afterwards, detained by some affairs,
put it off and stayed the night in town.  The good man had lain some time
awake; it was far on in the small hours by the Tron bell; when suddenly
there came a creak, a jar, a faint light.  Softly he clambered out of bed
and up to a false window which looked upon another room, and there, by
the glimmer of a thieves’ lantern, was his good friend the Deacon in a
mask.  It is characteristic of the town and the town’s manners that this
little episode should have been quietly tided over, and quite a good time
elapsed before a great robbery, an escape, a Bow Street runner, a
cock-fight, an apprehension in a cupboard in Amsterdam, and a last step
into the air off his own greatly-improved gallows drop, brought the
career of Deacon William Brodie to an end.  But still, by the mind’s eye,
he may be seen, a man harassed below a mountain of duplicity, slinking
from a magistrate’s supper-room to a thieves’ ken, and pickeering among
the closes by the flicker of a dark lamp.

                 [Picture: Planestones Close, Canongate]

Or where the Deacon is out of favour, perhaps some memory lingers of the
great plagues, and of fatal houses still unsafe to enter within the
memory of man.  For in time of pestilence the discipline had been sharp
and sudden, and what we now call ‘stamping out contagion’ was carried on
with deadly rigour.  The officials, in their gowns of grey, with a white
St. Andrew’s cross on back and breast, and a white cloth carried before
them on a staff, perambulated the city, adding the terror of man’s
justice to the fear of God’s visitation.  The dead they buried on the
Borough Muir; the living who had concealed the sickness were drowned, if
they were women, in the Quarry Holes, and if they were men, were hanged
and gibbeted at their own doors; and wherever the evil had passed,
furniture was destroyed and houses closed.  And the most bogeyish part of
the story is about such houses.  Two generations back they still stood
dark and empty; people avoided them as they passed by; the boldest
schoolboy only shouted through the keyhole and made off; for within, it
was supposed, the plague lay ambushed like a basilisk, ready to flow
forth and spread blain and pustule through the city.  What a terrible
next-door neighbour for superstitious citizens!  A rat scampering within
would send a shudder through the stoutest heart.  Here, if you like, was
a sanitary parable, addressed by our uncleanly forefathers to their own

And then we have Major Weir; for although even his house is now
demolished, old Edinburgh cannot clear herself of his unholy memory.  He
and his sister lived together in an odour of sour piety.  She was a
marvellous spinster; he had a rare gift of supplication, and was known
among devout admirers by the name of Angelical Thomas.  ‘He was a tall,
black man, and ordinarily looked down to the ground; a grim countenance,
and a big nose.  His garb was still a cloak, and somewhat dark, and he
never went without his staff.’  How it came about that Angelical Thomas
was burned in company with his staff, and his sister in gentler manner
hanged, and whether these two were simply religious maniacs of the more
furious order, or had real as well as imaginary sins upon their old-world
shoulders, are points happily beyond the reach of our intention.  At
least, it is suitable enough that out of this superstitious city some
such example should have been put forth: the outcome and fine flower of
dark and vehement religion.  And at least the facts struck the public
fancy and brought forth a remarkable family of myths.  It would appear
that the Major’s staff went upon his errands, and even ran before him
with a lantern on dark nights.  Gigantic females, ‘stentoriously laughing
and gaping with tehees of laughter’ at unseasonable hours of night and
morning, haunted the purlieus of his abode.  His house fell under such a
load of infamy that no one dared to sleep in it, until municipal
improvement levelled the structure to the ground.  And my father has
often been told in the nursery how the devil’s coach, drawn by six
coal-black horses with fiery eyes, would drive at night into the West
Bow, and belated people might see the dead Major through the glasses.

Another legend is that of the two maiden sisters.  A legend I am afraid
it may be, in the most discreditable meaning of the term; or perhaps
something worse—a mere yesterday’s fiction.  But it is a story of some
vitality, and is worthy of a place in the Edinburgh kalendar.  This pair
inhabited a single room; from the facts, it must have been double-bedded;
and it may have been of some dimensions: but when all is said, it was a
single room.  Here our two spinsters fell out—on some point of
controversial divinity belike: but fell out so bitterly that there was
never a word spoken between them, black or white, from that day forward.
You would have thought they would separate: but no; whether from lack of
means, or the Scottish fear of scandal, they continued to keep house
together where they were.  A chalk line drawn upon the floor separated
their two domains; it bisected the doorway and the fireplace, so that
each could go out and in, and do her cooking, without violating the
territory of the other.  So, for years, they coexisted in a hateful
silence; their meals, their ablutions, their friendly visitors, exposed
to an unfriendly scrutiny; and at night, in the dark watches, each could
hear the breathing of her enemy.  Never did four walls look down upon an
uglier spectacle than these sisters rivalling in unsisterliness.  Here is
a canvas for Hawthorne to have turned into a cabinet picture—he had a
Puritanic vein, which would have fitted him to treat this Puritanic
horror; he could have shown them to us in their sicknesses and at their
hideous twin devotions, thumbing a pair of great Bibles, or praying aloud
for each other’s penitence with marrowy emphasis; now each, with kilted
petticoat, at her own corner of the fire on some tempestuous evening; now
sitting each at her window, looking out upon the summer landscape sloping
far below them towards the firth, and the field-paths where they had
wandered hand in hand; or, as age and infirmity grew upon them and
prolonged their toilettes, and their hands began to tremble and their
heads to nod involuntarily, growing only the more steeled in enmity with
years; until one fine day, at a word, a look, a visit, or the approach of
death, their hearts would melt and the chalk boundary be overstepped for

Alas! to those who know the ecclesiastical history of the race—the most
perverse and melancholy in man’s annals—this will seem only a figure of
much that is typical of Scotland and her high-seated capital above the
Forth—a figure so grimly realistic that it may pass with strangers for a
caricature.  We are wonderful patient haters for conscience sake up here
in the North.  I spoke, in the first of these papers, of the Parliaments
of the Established and Free Churches, and how they can hear each other
singing psalms across the street.  There is but a street between them in
space, but a shadow between them in principle; and yet there they sit,
enchanted, and in damnatory accents pray for each other’s growth in
grace.  It would be well if there were no more than two; but the sects in
Scotland form a large family of sisters, and the chalk lines are thickly
drawn, and run through the midst of many private homes.  Edinburgh is a
city of churches, as though it were a place of pilgrimage.  You will see
four within a stone-cast at the head of the West Bow.  Some are crowded
to the doors; some are empty like monuments; and yet you will ever find
new ones in the building.  Hence that surprising clamour of church bells
that suddenly breaks out upon the Sabbath morning from Trinity and the
sea-skirts to Morningside on the borders of the hills.  I have heard the
chimes of Oxford playing their symphony in a golden autumn morning, and
beautiful it was to hear.  But in Edinburgh all manner of loud bells
join, or rather disjoin, in one swelling, brutal babblement of noise.
Now one overtakes another, and now lags behind it; now five or six all
strike on the pained tympanum at the same punctual instant of time, and
make together a dismal chord of discord; and now for a second all seem to
have conspired to hold their peace.  Indeed, there are not many uproars
in this world more dismal than that of the Sabbath bells in Edinburgh: a
harsh ecclesiastical tocsin; the outcry of incongruous orthodoxies,
calling on every separate conventicler to put up a protest, each in his
own synagogue, against ‘right-hand extremes and left-hand defections.’
And surely there are few worse extremes than this extremity of zeal; and
few more deplorable defections than this disloyalty to Christian love.
Shakespeare wrote a comedy of ‘Much Ado about Nothing.’  The Scottish
nation made a fantastic tragedy on the same subject.  And it is for the
success of this remarkable piece that these bells are sounded every
Sabbath morning on the hills above the Forth.  How many of them might
rest silent in the steeple, how many of these ugly churches might be
demolished and turned once more into useful building material, if people
who think almost exactly the same thoughts about religion would
condescend to worship God under the same roof!  But there are the chalk
lines.  And which is to pocket pride, and speak the foremost word?


It was Queen Mary who threw open the gardens of the Grey Friars: a new
and semi-rural cemetery in those days, although it has grown an antiquity
in its turn and been superseded by half-a-dozen others.  The Friars must
have had a pleasant time on summer evenings; for their gardens were
situated to a wish, with the tall castle and the tallest of the castle
crags in front.  Even now, it is one of our famous Edinburgh points of
view; and strangers are led thither to see, by yet another instance, how
strangely the city lies upon her hills.  The enclosure is of an irregular
shape; the double church of Old and New Greyfriars stands on the level at
the top; a few thorns are dotted here and there, and the ground falls by
terrace and steep slope towards the north.  The open shows many slabs and
table tombstones; and all round the margin, the place is girt by an array
of aristocratic mausoleums appallingly adorned.

Setting aside the tombs of Roubiliac, which belong to the heroic order of
graveyard art, we Scotch stand, to my fancy, highest among nations in the
matter of grimly illustrating death.  We seem to love for their own sake
the emblems of time and the great change; and even around country
churches you will find a wonderful exhibition of skulls, and crossbones,
and noseless angels, and trumpets pealing for the Judgment Day.  Every
mason was a pedestrian Holbein: he had a deep consciousness of death, and
loved to put its terrors pithily before the churchyard loiterer; he was
brimful of rough hints upon mortality, and any dead farmer was seized
upon to be a text.  The classical examples of this art are in Greyfriars.
In their time, these were doubtless costly monuments, and reckoned of a
very elegant proportion by contemporaries; and now, when the elegance is
not so apparent, the significance remains.  You may perhaps look with a
smile on the profusion of Latin mottoes—some crawling endwise up the
shaft of a pillar, some issuing on a scroll from angels’ trumpets—on the
emblematic horrors, the figures rising headless from the grave, and all
the traditional ingenuities in which it pleased our fathers to set forth
their sorrow for the dead and their sense of earthly mutability.  But it
is not a hearty sort of mirth.  Each ornament may have been executed by
the merriest apprentice, whistling as he plied the mallet; but the
original meaning of each, and the combined effect of so many of them in
this quiet enclosure, is serious to the point of melancholy.

Round a great part of the circuit, houses of a low class present their
backs to the churchyard.  Only a few inches separate the living from the
dead.  Here, a window is partly blocked up by the pediment of a tomb;
there, where the street falls far below the level of the graves, a
chimney has been trained up the back of a monument, and a red pot looks
vulgarly over from behind.  A damp smell of the graveyard finds its way
into houses where workmen sit at meat.  Domestic life on a small scale
goes forward visibly at the windows.  The very solitude and stillness of
the enclosure, which lies apart from the town’s traffic, serves to
accentuate the contrast.  As you walk upon the graves, you see children
scattering crumbs to feed the sparrows; you hear people singing or
washing dishes, or the sound of tears and castigation; the linen on a
clothes-pole flaps against funereal sculpture; or perhaps the cat slips
over the lintel and descends on a memorial urn.  And as there is nothing
else astir, these incongruous sights and noises take hold on the
attention and exaggerate the sadness of the place.

                          [Picture: Greyfriars]

Greyfriars is continually overrun by cats.  I have seen one afternoon, as
many as thirteen of them seated on the grass beside old Milne, the Master
Builder, all sleek and fat, and complacently blinking, as if they had fed
upon strange meats.  Old Milne was chaunting with the saints, as we may
hope, and cared little for the company about his grave; but I confess the
spectacle had an ugly side for me; and I was glad to step forward and
raise my eyes to where the Castle and the roofs of the Old Town, and the
spire of the Assembly Hall, stood deployed against the sky with the
colourless precision of engraving.  An open outlook is to be desired from
a churchyard, and a sight of the sky and some of the world’s beauty
relieves a mind from morbid thoughts.

I shall never forget one visit.  It was a grey, dropping day; the grass
was strung with rain-drops; and the people in the houses kept hanging out
their shirts and petticoats and angrily taking them in again, as the
weather turned from wet to fair and back again.  A grave-digger, and a
friend of his, a gardener from the country, accompanied me into one after
another of the cells and little courtyards in which it gratified the
wealthy of old days to enclose their old bones from neighbourhood.  In
one, under a sort of shrine, we found a forlorn human effigy, very
realistically executed down to the detail of his ribbed stockings, and
holding in his hand a ticket with the date of his demise.  He looked most
pitiful and ridiculous, shut up by himself in his aristocratic precinct,
like a bad old boy or an inferior forgotten deity under a new
dispensation; the burdocks grew familiarly about his feet, the rain
dripped all round him; and the world maintained the most entire
indifference as to who he was or whither he had gone.  In another, a
vaulted tomb, handsome externally but horrible inside with damp and
cobwebs, there were three mounds of black earth and an uncovered thigh
bone.  This was the place of interment, it appeared, of a family with
whom the gardener had been long in service.  He was among old
acquaintances.  ‘This’ll be Miss Marg’et’s,’ said he, giving the bone a
friendly kick.  ‘The auld ---!’  I have always an uncomfortable feeling
in a graveyard, at sight of so many tombs to perpetuate memories best
forgotten; but I never had the impression so strongly as that day.
People had been at some expense in both these cases: to provoke a
melancholy feeling of derision in the one, and an insulting epithet in
the other.  The proper inscription for the most part of mankind, I began
to think, is the cynical jeer, _cras tibi_.  That, if anything, will stop
the mouth of a carper; since it both admits the worst and carries the war
triumphantly into the enemy’s camp.

Greyfriars is a place of many associations.  There was one window in a
house at the lower end, now demolished, which was pointed out to me by
the gravedigger as a spot of legendary interest.  Burke, the resurrection
man, infamous for so many murders at five shillings a-head, used to sit
thereat, with pipe and nightcap, to watch burials going forward on the
green.  In a tomb higher up, which must then have been but newly
finished, John Knox, according to the same informant, had taken refuge in
a turmoil of the Reformation.  Behind the church is the haunted mausoleum
of Sir George Mackenzie: Bloody Mackenzie, Lord Advocate in the
Covenanting troubles and author of some pleasing sentiments on
toleration.  Here, in the last century, an old Heriot’s Hospital boy once
harboured from the pursuit of the police.  The Hospital is next door to
Greyfriars—a courtly building among lawns, where, on Founder’s Day, you
may see a multitude of children playing Kiss-in-the-Ring and Round the
Mulberry-bush.  Thus, when the fugitive had managed to conceal himself in
the tomb, his old schoolmates had a hundred opportunities to bring him
food; and there he lay in safety till a ship was found to smuggle him
abroad.  But his must have been indeed a heart of brass, to lie all day
and night alone with the dead persecutor; and other lads were far from
emulating him in courage.  When a man’s soul is certainly in hell, his
body will scarce lie quiet in a tomb however costly; some time or other
the door must open, and the reprobate come forth in the abhorred garments
of the grave.  It was thought a high piece of prowess to knock at the
Lord Advocate’s mausoleum and challenge him to appear.  ‘Bluidy
Mackingie, come oot if ye dar’!’ sang the fool-hardy urchins.  But Sir
George had other affairs on hand; and the author of an essay on
toleration continues to sleep peacefully among the many whom he so
intolerantly helped to slay.

[Picture: The Grassmarket] For this _infelix campus_, as it is dubbed in
one of its own inscriptions—an inscription over which Dr. Johnson passed
a critical eye—is in many ways sacred to the memory of the men whom
Mackenzie persecuted.  It was here, on the flat tombstones, that the
Covenant was signed by an enthusiastic people.  In the long arm of the
church-yard that extends to Lauriston, the prisoners from Bothwell
Bridge—fed on bread and water and guarded, life for life, by vigilant
marksmen—lay five months looking for the scaffold or the plantations.
And while the good work was going forward in the Grassmarket, idlers in
Greyfriars might have heard the throb of the military drums that drowned
the voices of the martyrs.  Nor is this all: for down in the corner
farthest from Sir George, there stands a monument dedicated, in uncouth
Covenanting verse, to all who lost their lives in that contention.  There
is no moorsman shot in a snow shower beside Irongray or Co’monell; there
is not one of the two hundred who were drowned off the Orkneys; nor so
much as a poor, over-driven, Covenanting slave in the American
plantations; but can lay claim to a share in that memorial, and, if such
things interest just men among the shades, can boast he has a monument on
earth as well as Julius Cæsar or the Pharaohs.  Where they may all lie, I
know not.  Far-scattered bones, indeed!  But if the reader cares to learn
how some of them—or some part of some of them—found their way at length
to such honourable sepulture, let him listen to the words of one who was
their comrade in life and their apologist when they were dead.  Some of
the insane controversial matter I omit, as well as some digressions, but
leave the rest in Patrick Walker’s language and orthography:—

    ‘The never to be forgotten Mr. _James Renwick_ told me, that he was
    Witness to their Public Murder at the _Gallowlee_, between _Leith_
    and _Edinburgh_, when he saw the Hangman hash and hagg off all their
    Five Heads, with _Patrick Foreman’s_ Right Hand: Their Bodies were
    all buried at the Gallows Foot; their Heads, with _Patrick’s_ Hand,
    were brought and put upon five Pikes on the _Pleasaunce-Port_. . . .
    Mr. _Renwick_ told me also that it was the first public Action that
    his Hand was at, to conveen Friends, and lift their murthered Bodies,
    and carried them to the West Churchyard of _Edinburgh_,’—not
    Greyfriars, this time,—‘and buried them there.  Then they came about
    the City . . . . and took down these Five Heads and that Hand; and
    Day being come, they went quickly up the _Pleasaunce_; and when they
    came to _Lauristoun_ Yards, upon the South-side of the City, they
    durst not venture, being so light, to go and bury their Heads with
    their Bodies, which they designed; it being present Death, if any of
    them had been found.  _Alexander Tweedie_, a Friend, being with them,
    who at that Time was Gardner in these Yards, concluded to bury them
    in his Yard, being in a Box (wrapped in Linen), where they lay 45
    Years except 3 Days, being executed upon the 10th of _October_ 1681,
    and found the 7th Day of October 1726.  That Piece of Ground lay for
    some Years unlaboured; and trenching it, the Gardner found them,
    which affrighted him the Box was consumed.  Mr. _Schaw_, the Owner of
    these Yards, caused lift them, and lay them upon a Table in his
    Summer-house: Mr. _Schaw’s_ mother was so kind, as to cut out a
    Linen-cloth, and cover them.  They lay Twelve Days there, where all
    had Access to see them.  _Alexander Tweedie_, the foresaid Gardner,
    said, when dying, There was a Treasure hid in his Yard, but neither
    Gold nor Silver.  _Daniel Tweedie_, his Son, came along with me to
    that Yard, and told me that his Father planted a white Rose-bush
    above them, and farther down the Yard a red Rose-bush, which were
    more fruitful than any other Bush in the Yard. . . . Many came’—to
    see the heads—‘out of Curiosity; yet I rejoiced to see so many
    concerned grave Men and Women favouring the Dust of our Martyrs.
    There were Six of us concluded to bury them upon the Nineteenth Day
    of _October_ 1726, and every One of us to acquaint Friends of the Day
    and Hour, being _Wednesday_, the Day of the Week on which most of
    them were executed, and at 4 of the Clock at Night, being the Hour
    that most of them went to their resting Graves.  We caused make a
    compleat Coffin for them in Black, with four Yards of fine Linen, the
    way that our Martyrs Corps were managed. . . . Accordingly we kept
    the aforesaid Day and Hour, and doubled the Linen, and laid the Half
    of it below them, their nether jaws being parted from their Heads;
    but being young Men, their Teeth remained.  All were Witness to the
    Holes in each of their Heads, which the Hangman broke with his
    Hammer; and according to the Bigness of their Sculls, we laid the
    Jaws to them, and drew the other Half of the Linen above them, and
    stufft the Coffin with Shavings.  Some prest hard to go thorow the
    chief Parts of the City as was done at the Revolution; but this we
    refused, considering that it looked airy and frothy, to make such
    Show of them, and inconsistent with the solid serious Observing of
    such an affecting, surprizing unheard-of Dispensation: But took the
    ordinary Way of other Burials from that Place, to wit, we went east
    the Back of the Wall, and in at _Bristo-Port_, and down the Way to
    the Head of the _Cowgate_, and turned up to the Church-yard, where
    they were interred closs to the Martyrs Tomb, with the greatest
    Multitude of People Old and Young, Men and Women, Ministers and
    others, that ever I saw together.’

And so there they were at last, in ‘their resting graves.’  So long as
men do their duty, even if it be greatly in a misapprehension, they will
be leading pattern lives; and whether or not they come to lie beside a
martyrs’ monument, we may be sure they will find a safe haven somewhere
in the providence of God.  It is not well to think of death, unless we
temper the thought with that of heroes who despised it.  Upon what
ground, is of small account; if it be only the bishop who was burned for
his faith in the antipodes, his memory lightens the heart and makes us
walk undisturbed among graves.  And so the martyrs’ monument is a
wholesome, heartsome spot in the field of the dead; and as we look upon
it, a brave influence comes to us from the land of those who have won
their discharge and, in another phrase of Patrick Walker’s, got ‘cleanly
off the stage.’


It is as much a matter of course to decry the New Town as to exalt the
Old; and the most celebrated authorities have picked out this quarter as
the very emblem of what is condemnable in architecture.  Much may be
said, much indeed has been said, upon the text; but to the
unsophisticated, who call anything pleasing if it only pleases them, the
New Town of Edinburgh seems, in itself, not only gay and airy, but highly
picturesque.  An old skipper, invincibly ignorant of all theories of the
sublime and beautiful, once propounded as his most radiant notion for
Paradise: ‘The new town of Edinburgh, with the wind a matter of a point
free.’  He has now gone to that sphere where all good tars are promised
pleasant weather in the song, and perhaps his thoughts fly somewhat
higher.  But there are bright and temperate days—with soft air coming
from the inland hills, military music sounding bravely from the hollow of
the gardens, the flags all waving on the palaces of Princes Street—when I
have seen the town through a sort of glory, and shaken hands in sentiment
with the old sailor.  And indeed, for a man who has been much tumbled
round Orcadian skerries, what scene could be more agreeable to witness?
On such a day, the valley wears a surprising air of festival.  It seems
(I do not know how else to put my meaning) as if it were a trifle too
good to be true.  It is what Paris ought to be.  It has the scenic
quality that would best set off a life of unthinking, open-air diversion.
It was meant by nature for the realisation of the society of comic
operas.  And you can imagine, if the climate were but towardly, how all
the world and his wife would flock into these gardens in the cool of the
evening, to hear cheerful music, to sip pleasant drinks, to see the moon
rise from behind Arthur’s Seat and shine upon the spires and monuments
and the green tree-tops in the valley.  Alas! and the next morning the
rain is splashing on the windows, and the passengers flee along Princes
Street before the galloping squalls.

                     [Picture: The Royal Institution]

It cannot be denied that the original design was faulty and
short-sighted, and did not fully profit by the capabilities of the
situation.  The architect was essentially a town bird, and he laid out
the modern city with a view to street scenery, and to street scenery
alone.  The country did not enter into his plan; he had never lifted his
eyes to the hills.  If he had so chosen, every street upon the northern
slope might have been a noble terrace and commanded an extensive and
beautiful view.  But the space has been too closely built; many of the
houses front the wrong way, intent, like the Man with the Muck-Rake, on
what is not worth observation, and standing discourteously back-foremost
in the ranks; and, in a word, it is too often only from attic-windows, or
here and there at a crossing, that you can get a look beyond the city
upon its diversified surroundings.  But perhaps it is all the more
surprising, to come suddenly on a corner, and see a perspective of a mile
or more of falling street, and beyond that woods and villas, and a blue
arm of sea, and the hills upon the farther side.

Fergusson, our Edinburgh poet, Burns’s model, once saw a butterfly at the
Town Cross; and the sight inspired him with a worthless little ode.  This
painted country man, the dandy of the rose garden, looked far abroad in
such a humming neighbourhood; and you can fancy what moral considerations
a youthful poet would supply.  But the incident, in a fanciful sort of
way, is characteristic of the place.  Into no other city does the sight
of the country enter so far; if you do not meet a butterfly, you shall
certainly catch a glimpse of far-away trees upon your walk; and the place
is full of theatre tricks in the way of scenery.  You peep under an arch,
you descend stairs that look as if they would land you in a cellar, you
turn to the back-window of a grimy tenement in a lane:—and behold! you
are face-to-face with distant and bright prospects.  You turn a corner,
and there is the sun going down into the Highland hills.  You look down
an alley, and see ships tacking for the Baltic.

For the country people to see Edinburgh on her hill-tops, is one thing;
it is another for the citizen, from the thick of his affairs, to overlook
the country.  It should be a genial and ameliorating influence in life;
it should prompt good thoughts and remind him of Nature’s unconcern: that
he can watch from day to day, as he trots officeward, how the Spring
green brightens in the wood or the field grows black under a moving
ploughshare.  I have been tempted, in this connexion, to deplore the
slender faculties of the human race, with its penny-whistle of a voice,
its dull cars, and its narrow range of sight.  If you could see as people
are to see in heaven, if you had eyes such as you can fancy for a
superior race, if you could take clear note of the objects of vision, not
only a few yards, but a few miles from where you stand:—think how
agreeably your sight would be entertained, how pleasantly your thoughts
would be diversified, as you walked the Edinburgh streets!  For you might
pause, in some business perplexity, in the midst of the city traffic, and
perhaps catch the eye of a shepherd as he sat down to breathe upon a
heathery shoulder of the Pentlands; or perhaps some urchin, clambering in
a country elm, would put aside the leaves and show you his flushed and
rustic visage; or a fisher racing seawards, with the tiller under his
elbow, and the sail sounding in the wind, would fling you a salutation
from between Anst’er and the May.

To be old is not the same thing as to be picturesque; nor because the Old
Town bears a strange physiognomy, does it at all follow that the New Town
shall look commonplace.  Indeed, apart from antique houses, it is curious
how much description would apply commonly to either.  The same sudden
accidents of ground, a similar dominating site above the plain, and the
same superposition of one rank of society over another, are to be
observed in both.  Thus, the broad and comely approach to Princes Street
from the east, lined with hotels and public offices, makes a leap over
the gorge of the Low Calton; if you cast a glance over the parapet, you
look direct into that sunless and disreputable confluent of Leith Street;
and the same tall houses open upon both thoroughfares.  This is only the
New Town passing overhead above its own cellars; walking, so to speak,
over its own children, as is the way of cities and the human race.  But
at the Dean Bridge, you may behold a spectacle of a more novel order.
The river runs at the bottom of a deep valley, among rocks and between
gardens; the crest of either bank is occupied by some of the most
commodious streets and crescents in the modern city; and a handsome
bridge unites the two summits.  Over this, every afternoon, private
carriages go spinning by, and ladies with card-cases pass to and fro
about the duties of society.  And yet down below, you may still see, with
its mills and foaming weir, the little rural village of Dean.  Modern
improvement has gone overhead on its high-level viaduct; and the extended
city has cleanly overleapt, and left unaltered, what was once the summer
retreat of its comfortable citizens.  Every town embraces hamlets in its
growth; Edinburgh herself has embraced a good few; but it is strange to
see one still surviving—and to see it some hundreds of feet below your
path.  Is it Torre del Greco that is built above buried Herculaneum?
Herculaneum was dead at least; but the sun still shines upon the roofs of
Dean; the smoke still rises thriftily from its chimneys; the dusty miller
comes to his door, looks at the gurgling water, hearkens to the turning
wheel and the birds about the shed, and perhaps whistles an air of his
own to enrich the symphony—for all the world as if Edinburgh were still
the old Edinburgh on the Castle Hill, and Dean were still the quietest of
hamlets buried a mile or so in the green country.

                    [Picture: In the Village of Dean]

It is not so long ago since magisterial David Hume lent the authority of
his example to the exodus from the Old Town, and took up his new abode in
a street which is still (so oddly may a jest become perpetuated) known as
Saint David Street.  Nor is the town so large but a holiday schoolboy may
harry a bird’s nest within half a mile of his own door.  There are places
that still smell of the plough in memory’s nostrils.  Here, one had heard
a blackbird on a hawthorn; there, another was taken on summer evenings to
eat strawberries and cream; and you have seen a waving wheatfield on the
site of your present residence.  The memories of an Edinburgh boy are but
partly memories of the town.  I look back with delight on many an
escalade of garden walls; many a ramble among lilacs full of piping
birds; many an exploration in obscure quarters that were neither town nor
country; and I think that both for my companions and myself, there was a
special interest, a point of romance, and a sentiment as of foreign
travel, when we hit in our excursions on the butt-end of some former
hamlet, and found a few rustic cottages embedded among streets and
squares.  The tunnel to the Scotland Street Station, the sight of the
trains shooting out of its dark maw with the two guards upon the brake,
the thought of its length and the many ponderous edifices and open
thoroughfares above, were certainly things of paramount impressiveness to
a young mind.  It was a subterranean passage, although of a larger bore
than we were accustomed to in Ainsworth’s novels; and these two words,
‘subterreanean passage,’ were in themselves an irresistible attraction,
and seemed to bring us nearer in spirit to the heroes we loved and the
black rascals we secretly aspired to imitate.  To scale the Castle Rock
from West Princes Street Gardens, and lay a triumphal hand against the
rampart itself, was to taste a high order of romantic pleasure.  And
there are other sights and exploits which crowd back upon my mind under a
very strong illumination of remembered pleasure.  But the effect of not
one of them all will compare with the discoverer’s joy, and the sense of
old Time and his slow changes on the face of this earth, with which I
explored such corners as Cannonmills or Water Lane, or the nugget of
cottages at Broughton Market.  They were more rural than the open
country, and gave a greater impression of antiquity than the oldest
_land_ upon the High Street.  They too, like Fergusson’s butterfly, had a
quaint air of having wandered far from their own place; they looked
abashed and homely, with their gables and their creeping plants, their
outside stairs and running mill-streams; there were corners that smelt
like the end of the country garden where I spent my Aprils; and the
people stood to gossip at their doors, as they might have done in
Colinton or Cramond.

In a great measure we may, and shall, eradicate this haunting flavour of
the country.  The last elm is dead in Elm Row; and the villas and the
workmen’s quarters spread apace on all the borders of the city.  We can
cut down the trees; we can bury the grass under dead paving-stones; we
can drive brisk streets through all our sleepy quarters; and we may
forget the stories and the playgrounds of our boyhood.  But we have some
possessions that not even the infuriate zeal of builders can utterly
abolish and destroy.  Nothing can abolish the hills, unless it be a
cataclysm of nature which shall subvert Edinburgh Castle itself and lay
all her florid structures in the dust.  And as long as we have the hills
and the Firth, we have a famous heritage to leave our children.  Our
windows, at no expense to us, are most artfully stained to represent a
landscape.  And when the Spring comes round, and the hawthorns begin to
flower, and the meadows to smell of young grass, even in the thickest of
our streets, the country hilltops find out a young man’s eyes, and set
his heart beating for travel and pure air.


Mr. Ruskin’s denunciation of the New Town of Edinburgh includes, as I
have heard it repeated, nearly all the stone and lime we have to show.
Many however find a grand air and something settled and imposing in the
better parts; and upon many, as I have said, the confusion of styles
induces an agreeable stimulation of the mind.  But upon the subject of
our recent villa architecture, I am frankly ready to mingle my tears with
Mr. Ruskin’s, and it is a subject which makes one envious of his large
declamatory and controversial eloquence.

Day by day, one new villa, one new object of offence, is added to
another; all around Newington and Morningside, the dismallest structures
keep springing up like mushrooms; the pleasant hills are loaded with
them, each impudently squatted in its garden, each roofed and carrying
chimneys like a house.  And yet a glance of an eye discovers their true
character.  They are not houses; for they were not designed with a view
to human habitation, and the internal arrangements are, as they tell me,
fantastically unsuited to the needs of man.  They are not buildings; for
you can scarcely say a thing is built where every measurement is in
clamant disproportion with its neighbour.  They belong to no style of
art, only to a form of business much to be regretted.

Why should it be cheaper to erect a structure where the size of the
windows bears no rational relation to the size of the front?  Is there
any profit in a misplaced chimney-stalk?  Does a hard-working, greedy
builder gain more on a monstrosity than on a decent cottage of equal
plainness?  Frankly, we should say, No.  Bricks may be omitted, and green
timber employed, in the construction of even a very elegant design; and
there is no reason why a chimney should be made to vent, because it is so
situated as to look comely from without.  On the other hand, there is a
noble way of being ugly: a high-aspiring fiasco like the fall of Lucifer.
There are daring and gaudy buildings that manage to be offensive, without
being contemptible; and we know that ‘fools rush in where angels fear to
tread.’  But to aim at making a common-place villa, and to make it
insufferably ugly in each particular; to attempt the homeliest
achievement, and to attain the bottom of derided failure; not to have any
theory but profit and yet, at an equal expense, to outstrip all
competitors in the art of conceiving and rendering permanent deformity;
and to do all this in what is, by nature, one of the most agreeable
neighbourhoods in Britain:—what are we to say, but that this also is a
distinction, hard to earn although not greatly worshipful?

Indifferent buildings give pain to the sensitive; but these things offend
the plainest taste.  It is a danger which threatens the amenity of the
town; and as this eruption keeps spreading on our borders, we have ever
the farther to walk among unpleasant sights, before we gain the country
air.  If the population of Edinburgh were a living, autonomous body, it
would arise like one man and make night hideous with arson; the builders
and their accomplices would be driven to work, like the Jews of yore,
with the trowel in one hand and the defensive cutlass in the other; and
as soon as one of these masonic wonders had been consummated,
right-minded iconoclasts should fall thereon and make an end of it at

Possibly these words may meet the eye of a builder or two.  It is no use
asking them to employ an architect; for that would be to touch them in a
delicate quarter, and its use would largely depend on what architect they
were minded to call in.  But let them get any architect in the world to
point out any reasonably well-proportioned villa, not his own design; and
let them reproduce that model to satiety.


The east of new Edinburgh is guarded by a craggy hill, of no great
elevation, which the town embraces.  The old London road runs on one side
of it; while the New Approach, leaving it on the other hand, completes
the circuit.  You mount by stairs in a cutting of the rock to find
yourself in a field of monuments.  Dugald Stewart has the honours of
situation and architecture; Burns is memorialised lower down upon a spur;
Lord Nelson, as befits a sailor, gives his name to the top-gallant of the
Calton Hill.  This latter erection has been differently and yet, in both
cases, aptly compared to a telescope and a butter-churn; comparisons
apart, it ranks among the vilest of men’s handiworks.  But the chief
feature is an unfinished range of columns, ‘the Modern Ruin’ as it has
been called, an imposing object from far and near, and giving Edinburgh,
even from the sea, that false air; of a Modern Athens which has earned
for her so many slighting speeches.  It was meant to be a National
Monument; and its present state is a very suitable monument to certain
national characteristics.  The old Observatory—a quaint brown building on
the edge of the steep—and the new Observatory—a classical edifice with a
dome—occupy the central portion of the summit.  All these are scattered
on a green turf, browsed over by some sheep.

                        [Picture: The Calton Hill]

The scene suggests reflections on fame and on man’s injustice to the
dead.  You see Dugald Stewart rather more handsomely commemorated than
Burns.  Immediately below, in the Canongate churchyard, lies Robert
Fergusson, Burns’s master in his art, who died insane while yet a
stripling; and if Dugald Stewart has been somewhat too boisterously
acclaimed, the Edinburgh poet, on the other hand, is most unrighteously
forgotten.  The votaries of Burns, a crew too common in all ranks in
Scotland and more remarkable for number than discretion, eagerly suppress
all mention of the lad who handed to him the poetic impulse and, up to
the time when he grew famous, continued to influence him in his manner
and the choice of subjects.  Burns himself not only acknowledged his debt
in a fragment of autobiography, but erected a tomb over the grave in
Canongate churchyard.  This was worthy of an artist, but it was done in
vain; and although I think I have read nearly all the biographies of
Burns, I cannot remember one in which the modesty of nature was not
violated, or where Fergusson was not sacrificed to the credit of his
follower’s originality.  There is a kind of gaping admiration that would
fain roll Shakespeare and Bacon into one, to have a bigger thing to gape
at; and a class of men who cannot edit one author without disparaging all
others.  They are indeed mistaken if they think to please the great
originals; and whoever puts Fergusson right with fame, cannot do better
than dedicate his labours to the memory of Burns, who will be the best
delighted of the dead.

                       [Picture: Queen Mary’s Bath]

Of all places for a view, this Calton Hill is perhaps the best; since you
can see the Castle, which you lose from the Castle, and Arthur’s Seat,
which you cannot see from Arthur’s Seat.  It is the place to stroll on
one of those days of sunshine and east wind which are so common in our
more than temperate summer.  The breeze comes off the sea, with a little
of the freshness, and that touch of chill, peculiar to the quarter, which
is delightful to certain very ruddy organizations and greatly the reverse
to the majority of mankind.  It brings with it a faint, floating haze, a
cunning decolourizer, although not thick enough to obscure outlines near
at hand.  But the haze lies more thickly to windward at the far end of
Musselburgh Bay; and over the Links of Aberlady and Berwick Law and the
hump of the Bass Rock it assumes the aspect of a bank of thin sea fog.

[Picture: Arthur’s Seat] Immediately underneath upon the south, you
command the yards of the High School, and the towers and courts of the
new Jail—a large place, castellated to the extent of folly, standing by
itself on the edge of a steep cliff, and often joyfully hailed by
tourists as the Castle.  In the one, you may perhaps see female prisoners
taking exercise like a string of nuns; in the other, schoolboys running
at play and their shadows keeping step with them.  From the bottom of the
valley, a gigantic chimney rises almost to the level of the eye, a taller
and a shapelier edifice than Nelson’s Monument.  Look a little farther,
and there is Holyrood Palace, with its Gothic frontal and ruined abbey,
and the red sentry pacing smartly too and fro before the door like a
mechanical figure in a panorama.  By way of an outpost, you can single
out the little peak-roofed lodge, over which Rizzio’s murderers made
their escape and where Queen Mary herself, according to gossip, bathed in
white wine to entertain her loveliness.  Behind and overhead, lie the
Queen’s Park, from Muschat’s Cairn to Dumbiedykes, St. Margaret’s Loch,
and the long wall of Salisbury Crags: and thence, by knoll and rocky
bulwark and precipitous slope, the eye rises to the top of Arthur’s Seat,
a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.  This upon
your left.  Upon the right, the roofs and spires of the Old Town climb
one above another to where the citadel prints its broad bulk and jagged
crown of bastions on the western sky.—Perhaps it is now one in the
afternoon; and at the same instant of time, a ball rises to the summit of
Nelson’s flagstaff close at hand, and, far away, a puff of smoke followed
by a report bursts from the half-moon battery at the Castle.  This is the
time-gun by which people set their watches, as far as the sea coast or in
hill farms upon the Pentlands.—To complete the view, the eye enfilades
Princes Street, black with traffic, and has a broad look over the valley
between the Old Town and the New: here, full of railway trains and
stepped over by the high North Bridge upon its many columns, and there,
green with trees and gardens.

                       [Picture: Back of Greenside]

On the north, the Calton Hill is neither so abrupt in itself nor has it
so exceptional an outlook; and yet even here it commands a striking
prospect.  A gully separates it from the New Town.  This is Greenside,
where witches were burned and tournaments held in former days.  Down that
almost precipitous bank, Bothwell launched his horse, and so first, as
they say, attracted the bright eyes of Mary.  It is now tesselated with
sheets and blankets out to dry, and the sound of people beating carpets
is rarely absent.  Beyond all this, the suburbs run out to Leith; Leith
camps on the seaside with her forest of masts; Leith roads are full of
ships at anchor; the sun picks out the white pharos upon Inchkeith
Island; the Firth extends on either hand from the Ferry to the May; the
towns of Fifeshire sit, each in its bank of blowing smoke, along the
opposite coast; and the hills enclose the view, except to the farthest
east, where the haze of the horizon rests upon the open sea.  There lies
the road to Norway: a dear road for Sir Patrick Spens and his Scots
Lords; and yonder smoke on the hither side of Largo Law is Aberdour, from
whence they sailed to seek a queen for Scotland.

    ‘O lang, lang, may the ladies sit,
       Wi’ their fans into their hand,
    Or ere they see Sir Patrick Spens
       Come sailing to the land!’

The sight of the sea, even from a city, will bring thoughts of storm and
sea disaster.  The sailors’ wives of Leith and the fisherwomen of
Cockenzie, not sitting languorously with fans, but crowding to the tail
of the harbour with a shawl about their ears, may still look vainly for
brave Scotsmen who will return no more, or boats that have gone on their
last fishing.  Since Sir Patrick sailed from Aberdour, what a multitude
have gone down in the North Sea!  Yonder is Auldhame, where the London
smack went ashore and wreckers cut the rings from ladies’ fingers; and a
few miles round Fife Ness is the fatal Inchcape, now a star of guidance;
and the lee shore to the east of the Inchcape, is that Forfarshire coast
where Mucklebackit sorrowed for his son.

These are the main features of the scene roughly sketched.  How they are
all tilted by the inclination of the ground, how each stands out in
delicate relief against the rest, what manifold detail, and play of sun
and shadow, animate and accentuate the picture, is a matter for a person
on the spot, and turning swiftly on his heels, to grasp and bind together
in one comprehensive look.  It is the character of such a prospect, to be
full of change and of things moving.  The multiplicity embarrasses the
eye; and the mind, among so much, suffers itself to grow absorbed with
single points.  You remark a tree in a hedgerow, or follow a cart along a
country road.  You turn to the city, and see children, dwarfed by
distance into pigmies, at play about suburban doorsteps; you have a
glimpse upon a thoroughfare where people are densely moving; you note
ridge after ridge of chimney-stacks running downhill one behind another,
and church spires rising bravely from the sea of roofs.  At one of the
innumerable windows, you watch a figure moving; on one of the multitude
of roofs, you watch clambering chimney-sweeps.  The wind takes a run and
scatters the smoke; bells are heard, far and near, faint and loud, to
tell the hour; or perhaps a bird goes dipping evenly over the housetops,
like a gull across the waves.  And here you are in the meantime, on this
pastoral hillside, among nibbling sheep and looked upon by monumental

Return thither on some clear, dark, moonless night, with a ring of frost
in the air, and only a star or two set sparsedly in the vault of heaven;
and you will find a sight as stimulating as the hoariest summit of the
Alps.  The solitude seems perfect; the patient astronomer, flat on his
back under the Observatory dome and spying heaven’s secrets, is your only
neighbour; and yet from all round you there come up the dull hum of the
city, the tramp of countless people marching out of time, the rattle of
carriages and the continuous keen jingle of the tramway bells.  An hour
or so before, the gas was turned on; lamplighters scoured the city; in
every house, from kitchen to attic, the windows kindled and gleamed forth
into the dusk.  And so now, although the town lies blue and darkling on
her hills, innumerable spots of the bright element shine far and near
along the pavements and upon the high facades.  Moving lights of the
railway pass and repass below the stationary lights upon the bridge.
Lights burn in the jail.  Lights burn high up in the tall _lands_ and on
the Castle turrets, they burn low down in Greenside or along the Park.
They run out one beyond the other into the dark country.  They walk in a
procession down to Leith, and shine singly far along Leith Pier.  Thus,
the plan of the city and her suburbs is mapped out upon the ground of
blackness, as when a child pricks a drawing full of pinholes and exposes
it before a candle; not the darkest night of winter can conceal her high
station and fanciful design; every evening in the year she proceeds to
illuminate herself in honour of her own beauty; and as if to complete the
scheme—or rather as if some prodigal Pharaoh were beginning to extend to
the adjacent sea and country—half-way over to Fife, there is an outpost
of light upon Inchkeith, and far to seaward, yet another on the May.

And while you are looking, across upon the Castle Hill, the drums and
bugles begin to recall the scattered garrison; the air thrills with the
sound; the bugles sing aloud; and the last rising flourish mounts and
melts into the darkness like a star: a martial swan-song, fitly rounding
in the labours of the day.


The Scotch dialect is singularly rich in terms of reproach against the
winter wind.  _Snell_, _blae_, _nirly_, and _scowthering_, are four of
these significant vocables; they are all words that carry a shiver with
them; and for my part, as I see them aligned before me on the page, I am
persuaded that a big wind comes tearing over the Firth from Burntisland
and the northern hills; I think I can hear it howl in the chimney, and as
I set my face northwards, feel its smarting kisses on my cheek.  Even in
the names of places there is often a desolate, inhospitable sound; and I
remember two from the near neighbourhood of Edinburgh, Cauldhame and
Blaw-weary, that would promise but starving comfort to their inhabitants.
The inclemency of heaven, which has thus endowed the language of Scotland
with words, has also largely modified the spirit of its poetry.  Both
poverty and a northern climate teach men the love of the hearth and the
sentiment of the family; and the latter, in its own right, inclines a
poet to the praise of strong waters.  In Scotland, all our singers have a
stave or two for blazing fires and stout potations:—to get indoors out of
the wind and to swallow something hot to the stomach, are benefits so
easily appreciated where they dwelt!

And this is not only so in country districts where the shepherd must wade
in the snow all day after his flock, but in Edinburgh itself, and nowhere
more apparently stated than in the works of our Edinburgh poet,
Fergusson.  He was a delicate youth, I take it, and willingly slunk from
the robustious winter to an inn fire-side.  Love was absent from his
life, or only present, if you prefer, in such a form that even the least
serious of Burns’s amourettes was ennobling by comparison; and so there
is nothing to temper the sentiment of indoor revelry which pervades the
poor boy’s verses.  Although it is characteristic of his native town, and
the manners of its youth to the present day, this spirit has perhaps done
something to restrict his popularity.  He recalls a supper-party
pleasantry with something akin to tenderness; and sounds the praises of
the act of drinking as if it were virtuous, or at least witty, in itself.
The kindly jar, the warm atmosphere of tavern parlours, and the revelry
of lawyers’ clerks, do not offer by themselves the materials of a rich
existence.  It was not choice, so much as an external fate, that kept
Fergusson in this round of sordid pleasures.  A Scot of poetic
temperament, and without religious exaltation, drops as if by nature into
the public-house.  The picture may not be pleasing; but what else is a
man to do in this dog’s weather?

To none but those who have themselves suffered the thing in the body, can
the gloom and depression of our Edinburgh winter be brought home.  For
some constitutions there is something almost physically disgusting in the
bleak ugliness of easterly weather; the wind wearies, the sickly sky
depresses them; and they turn back from their walk to avoid the aspect of
the unrefulgent sun going down among perturbed and pallid mists.  The
days are so short that a man does much of his business, and certainly all
his pleasure, by the haggard glare of gas lamps.  The roads are as heavy
as a fallow.  People go by, so drenched and draggle-tailed that I have
often wondered how they found the heart to undress.  And meantime the
wind whistles through the town as if it were an open meadow; and if you
lie awake all night, you hear it shrieking and raving overhead with a
noise of shipwrecks and of falling houses.  In a word, life is so
unsightly that there are times when the heart turns sick in a man’s
inside; and the look of a tavern, or the thought of the warm, fire-lit
study, is like the touch of land to one who has been long struggling with
the seas.

As the weather hardens towards frost, the world begins to improve for
Edinburgh people.  We enjoy superb, sub-arctic sunsets, with the profile
of the city stamped in indigo upon a sky of luminous green.  The wind may
still be cold, but there is a briskness in the air that stirs good blood.
People do not all look equally sour and downcast.  They fall into two
divisions: one, the knight of the blue face and hollow paunch, whom
Winter has gotten by the vitals; the other well lined with New-year’s
fare, conscious of the touch of cold on his periphery, but stepping
through it by the glow of his internal fires.  Such an one I remember,
triply cased in grease, whom no extremity of temperature could vanquish.
‘Well,’ would be his jovial salutation, ‘here’s a sneezer!’  And the look
of these warm fellows is tonic, and upholds their drooping
fellow-townsmen.  There is yet another class who do not depend on
corporal advantages, but support the winter in virtue of a brave and
merry heart.  One shivering evening, cold enough for frost but with too
high a wind, and a little past sundown, when the lamps were beginning to
enlarge their circles in the growing dusk, a brace of barefoot lassies
were seen coming eastward in the teeth of the wind.  If the one was as
much as nine, the other was certainly not more than seven.  They were
miserably clad; and the pavement was so cold, you would have thought no
one could lay a naked foot on it unflinching.  Yet they came along
waltzing, if you please, while the elder sang a tune to give them music.
The person who saw this, and whose heart was full of bitterness at the
moment, pocketed a reproof which has been of use to him ever since, and
which he now hands on, with his good wishes, to the reader.

At length, Edinburgh, with her satellite hills and all the sloping
country, are sheeted up in white.  If it has happened in the dark hours,
nurses pluck their children out of bed and run with them to some
commanding window, whence they may see the change that has been worked
upon earth’s face.  ‘A’ the hills are covered wi’ snaw,’ they sing, ‘and
Winter’s noo come fairly!’  And the children, marvelling at the silence
and the white landscape, find a spell appropriate to the season in the
words.  The reverberation of the snow increases the pale daylight, and
brings all objects nearer the eye.  The Pentlands are smooth and
glittering, with here and there the black ribbon of a dry-stone dyke, and
here and there, if there be wind, a cloud of blowing snow upon a
shoulder.  The Firth seems a leaden creek, that a man might almost jump
across, between well-powdered Lothian and well-powdered Fife.  And the
effect is not, as in other cities, a thing of half a day; the streets are
soon trodden black, but the country keeps its virgin white; and you have
only to lift your eyes and look over miles of country snow.  An
indescribable cheerfulness breathes about the city; and the well-fed
heart sits lightly and beats gaily in the—bosom.  It is New-year’s

New-year’s Day, the great national festival, is a time of family
expansions and of deep carousal.  Sometimes, by a sore stoke of fate for
this Calvinistic people, the year’s anniversary fails upon a Sunday, when
the public-houses are inexorably closed, when singing and even whistling
is banished from our homes and highways, and the oldest toper feels
called upon to go to church.  Thus pulled about, as if between two
loyalties, the Scotch have to decide many nice cases of conscience, and
ride the marches narrowly between the weekly and the annual observance.
A party of convivial musicians, next door to a friend of mine, hung
suspended in this manner on the brink of their diversions.  From ten
o’clock on Sunday night, my friend heard them tuning their instruments:
and as the hour of liberty drew near, each must have had his music open,
his bow in readiness across the fiddle, his foot already raised to mark
the time, and his nerves braced for execution; for hardly had the twelfth
stroke sounded from the earliest steeple, before they had launced forth
into a secular bravura.

Currant-loaf is now popular eating in all house-holds.  For weeks before
the great morning, confectioners display stacks of Scotch bun—a dense,
black substance, inimical to life—and full moons of shortbread adorned
with mottoes of peel or sugar-plum, in honour of the season and the
family affections.  ‘Frae Auld Reekie,’ ‘A guid New Year to ye a’,’ ‘For
the Auld Folk at Hame,’ are among the most favoured of these devices.
Can you not see the carrier, after half-a-day’s journey on pinching
hill-roads, draw up before a cottage in Teviotdale, or perhaps in Manor
Glen among the rowans, and the old people receiving the parcel with moist
eyes and a prayer for Jock or Jean in the city?  For at this season, on
the threshold of another year of calamity and stubborn conflict, men feel
a need to draw closer the links that unite them; they reckon the number
of their friends, like allies before a war; and the prayers grow longer
in the morning as the absent are recommended by name into God’s keeping.

On the day itself, the shops are all shut as on a Sunday; only taverns,
toyshops, and other holiday magazines, keep open doors.  Every one looks
for his handsel.  The postman and the lamplighters have left, at every
house in their districts, a copy of vernacular verses, asking and
thanking in a breath; and it is characteristic of Scotland that these
verses may have sometimes a touch of reality in detail or sentiment and a
measure of strength in the handling.  All over the town, you may see
comforter’d schoolboys hasting to squander their half-crowns.  There are
an infinity of visits to be paid; all the world is in the street, except
the daintier classes; the sacramental greeting is heard upon all sides;
Auld Lang Syne is much in people’s mouths; and whisky and shortbread are
staple articles of consumption.  From an early hour a stranger will be
impressed by the number of drunken men; and by afternoon drunkenness has
spread to the women.  With some classes of society, it is as much a
matter of duty to drink hard on New-year’s Day as to go to church on
Sunday.  Some have been saving their wages for perhaps a month to do the
season honour.  Many carry a whisky-bottle in their pocket, which they
will press with embarrassing effusion on a perfect stranger.  It is
inexpedient to risk one’s body in a cab, or not, at least, until after a
prolonged study of the driver.  The streets, which are thronged from end
to end, become a place for delicate pilotage.  Singly or arm-in-arm, some
speechless, others noisy and quarrelsome, the votaries of the New Year go
meandering in and out and cannoning one against another; and now and
again, one falls and lies as he has fallen.  Before night, so many have
gone to bed or the police office, that the streets seem almost clearer.
And as _guisards_ and _first-footers_ are now not much seen except in
country places, when once the New Year has been rung in and proclaimed at
the Tron railings, the festivities begin to find their way indoors and
something like quiet returns upon the town.  But think, in these piled
_lands_, of all the senseless snorers, all the broken heads and empty

Of old, Edinburgh University was the scene of heroic snowballing; and one
riot obtained the epic honours of military intervention.  But the great
generation, I am afraid, is at an end; and even during my own college
days, the spirit appreciably declined.  Skating and sliding, on the other
hand, are honoured more and more; and curling, being a creature of the
national genius, is little likely to be disregarded.  The patriotism that
leads a man to eat Scotch bun will scarce desert him at the curling-pond.
Edinburgh, with its long, steep pavements, is the proper home of sliders;
many a happy urchin can slide the whole way to school; and the profession
of errand-boy is transformed into a holiday amusement.  As for skating,
there is scarce any city so handsomely provided.  Duddingstone Loch lies
under the abrupt southern side of Arthur’s Seat; in summer a shield of
blue, with swans sailing from the reeds; in winter, a field of ringing
ice.  The village church sits above it on a green promontory; and the
village smoke rises from among goodly trees.  At the church gates, is the
historical _joug_; a place of penance for the neck of detected sinners,
and the historical _louping-on stane_, from which Dutch-built lairds and
farmers climbed into the saddle.  Here Prince Charlie slept before the
battle of Prestonpans; and here Deacon Brodie, or one of his gang, stole
a plough coulter before the burglary in Chessel’s Court.  On the opposite
side of the loch, the ground rises to Craigmillar Castle, a place
friendly to Stuart Mariolaters.  It is worth a climb, even in summer, to
look down upon the loch from Arthur’s Seat; but it is tenfold more so on
a day of skating.  The surface is thick with people moving easily and
swiftly and leaning over at a thousand graceful inclinations; the crowd
opens and closes, and keeps moving through itself like water; and the ice
rings to half a mile away, with the flying steel.  As night draws on, the
single figures melt into the dusk, until only an obscure stir, and coming
and going of black clusters, is visible upon the loch.  A little longer,
and the first torch is kindled and begins to flit rapidly across the ice
in a ring of yellow reflection, and this is followed by another and
another, until the whole field is full of skimming lights.


On three sides of Edinburgh, the country slopes downward from the city,
here to the sea, there to the fat farms of Haddington, there to the
mineral fields of Linlithgow.  On the south alone, it keeps rising until
it not only out-tops the Castle but looks down on Arthur’s Seat.  The
character of the neighbourhood is pretty strongly marked by a scarcity of
hedges; by many stone walls of varying height; by a fair amount of
timber, some of it well grown, but apt to be of a bushy, northern profile
and poor in foliage; by here and there a little river, Esk or Leith or
Almond, busily journeying in the bottom of its glen; and from almost
every point, by a peep of the sea or the hills.  There is no lack of
variety, and yet most of the elements are common to all parts; and the
southern district is alone distinguished by considerable summits and a
wide view.

From Boroughmuirhead, where the Scottish army encamped before Flodden,
the road descends a long hill, at the bottom of which and just as it is
preparing to mount upon the other side, it passes a toll-bar and issues
at once into the open country.  Even as I write these words, they are
being antiquated in the progress of events, and the chisels are tinkling
on a new row of houses.  The builders have at length adventured beyond
the toll which held them in respect so long, and proceed to career in
these fresh pastures like a herd of colts turned loose.  As Lord
Beaconsfield proposed to hang an architect by way of stimulation, a man,
looking on these doomed meads, imagines a similar example to deter the
builders; for it seems as if it must come to an open fight at last to
preserve a corner of green country unbedevilled.  And here, appropriately
enough, there stood in old days a crow-haunted gibbet, with two bodies
hanged in chains.  I used to be shown, when a child, a flat stone in the
roadway to which the gibbet had been fixed.  People of a willing fancy
were persuaded, and sought to persuade others, that this stone was never
dry.  And no wonder, they would add, for the two men had only stolen
fourpence between them.

For about two miles the road climbs upwards, a long hot walk in summer
time.  You reach the summit at a place where four ways meet, beside the
toll of Fairmilehead.  The spot is breezy and agreeable both in name and
aspect.  The hills are close by across a valley: Kirk Yetton, with its
long, upright scars visible as far as Fife, and Allermuir the tallest on
this side with wood and tilled field running high upon their borders, and
haunches all moulded into innumerable glens and shelvings and variegated
with heather and fern.  The air comes briskly and sweetly off the hills,
pure from the elevation and rustically scented by the upland plants; and
even at the toll, you may hear the curlew calling on its mate.  At
certain seasons, when the gulls desert their surfy forelands, the birds
of sea and mountain hunt and scream together in the same field by
Fairmilehead.  The winged, wild things intermix their wheelings, the
sea-birds skim the tree-tops and fish among the furrows of the plough.
These little craft of air are at home in all the world, so long as they
cruise in their own element; and, like sailors, ask but food and water
from the shores they coast.

Below, over a stream, the road passes Bow Bridge, now a dairy-farm, but
once a distillery of whisky.  It chanced, some time in the past century,
that the distiller was on terms of good-fellowship with the visiting
officer of excise.  The latter was of an easy, friendly disposition, and
a master of convivial arts.  Now and again, he had to walk out of
Edinburgh to measure the distiller’s stock; and although it was agreeable
to find his business lead him in a friend’s direction, it was unfortunate
that the friend should be a loser by his visits.  Accordingly, when he
got about the level of Fairmilehead, the gauger would take his flute,
without which he never travelled, from his pocket, fit it together, and
set manfully to playing, as if for his own delectation and inspired by
the beauty of the scene.  His favourite air, it seems, was ‘Over the
hills and far away.’  At the first note, the distiller pricked his ears.
A flute at Fairmilehead? and playing ‘Over the hills and far away?’  This
must be his friendly enemy, the gauger.  Instantly horses were harnessed,
and sundry barrels of whisky were got upon a cart, driven at a gallop
round Hill End, and buried in the mossy glen behind Kirk Yetton.  In the
same breath, you may be sure, a fat fowl was put to the fire, and the
whitest napery prepared for the back parlour.  A little after, the
gauger, having had his fill of music for the moment, came strolling down
with the most innocent air imaginable, and found the good people at Bow
Bridge taken entirely unawares by his arrival, but none the less glad to
see him.  The distiller’s liquor and the gauger’s flute would combine to
speed the moments of digestion; and when both were somewhat mellow, they
would wind up the evening with ‘Over the hills and far away’ to an
accompaniment of knowing glances.  And at least, there is a smuggling
story, with original and half-idyllic features.

A little further, the road to the right passes an upright stone in a
field.  The country people call it General Kay’s monument.  According to
them, an officer of that name had perished there in battle at some
indistinct period before the beginning of history.  The date is
reassuring; for I think cautious writers are silent on the General’s
exploits.  But the stone is connected with one of those remarkable
tenures of land which linger on into the modern world from Feudalism.
Whenever the reigning sovereign passes by, a certain landed proprietor is
held bound to climb on to the top, trumpet in hand, and sound a flourish
according to the measure of his knowledge in that art.  Happily for a
respectable family, crowned heads have no great business in the Pentland
Hills.  But the story lends a character of comicality to the stone; and
the passer-by will sometimes chuckle to himself.

The district is dear to the superstitious.  Hard by, at the back-gate of
Comiston, a belated carter beheld a lady in white, ‘with the most
beautiful, clear shoes upon her feet,’ who looked upon him in a very
ghastly manner and then vanished; and just in front is the Hunters’
Tryst, once a roadside inn, and not so long ago haunted by the devil in
person.  Satan led the inhabitants a pitiful existence.  He shook the
four corners of the building with lamentable outcries, beat at the doors
and windows, overthrew crockery in the dead hours of the morning, and
danced unholy dances on the roof.  Every kind of spiritual disinfectant
was put in requisition; chosen ministers were summoned out of Edinburgh
and prayed by the hour; pious neighbours sat up all night making a noise
of psalmody; but Satan minded them no more than the wind about the
hill-tops; and it was only after years of persecution, that he left the
Hunters’ Tryst in peace to occupy himself with the remainder of mankind.
What with General Kay, and the white lady, and this singular visitation,
the neighbourhood offers great facilities to the makers of sun-myths; and
without exactly casting in one’s lot with that disenchanting school of
writers, one cannot help hearing a good deal of the winter wind in the
last story.  ‘That nicht,’ says Burns, in one of his happiest moments,—

    ‘_That nicht a child might understand_
    _The deil had business on his hand_.’

And if people sit up all night in lone places on the hills, with Bibles
and tremulous psalms, they will be apt to hear some of the most fiendish
noises in the world; the wind will beat on doors and dance upon roofs for
them, and make the hills howl around their cottage with a clamour like
the judgment-day.

The road goes down through another valley, and then finally begins to
scale the main slope of the Pentlands.  A bouquet of old trees stands
round a white farmhouse; and from a neighbouring dell, you can see smoke
rising and leaves ruffling in the breeze.  Straight above, the hills
climb a thousand feet into the air.  The neighbourhood, about the time of
lambs, is clamorous with the bleating of flocks; and you will be
awakened, in the grey of early summer mornings, by the barking of a dog
or the voice of a shepherd shouting to the echoes.  This, with the hamlet
lying behind unseen, is Swanston.

The place in the dell is immediately connected with the city.  Long ago,
this sheltered field was purchased by the Edinburgh magistrates for the
sake of the springs that rise or gather there.  After they had built
their water-house and laid their pipes, it occurred to them that the
place was suitable for junketing.  Once entertained, with jovial
magistrates and public funds, the idea led speedily to accomplishment;
and Edinburgh could soon boast of a municipal Pleasure House.  The dell
was turned into a garden; and on the knoll that shelters it from the
plain and the sea winds, they built a cottage looking to the hills.  They
brought crockets and gargoyles from old St. Giles’s which they were then
restoring, and disposed them on the gables and over the door and about
the garden; and the quarry which had supplied them with building
material, they draped with clematis and carpeted with beds of roses.  So
much for the pleasure of the eye; for creature comfort, they made a
capacious cellar in the hillside and fitted it with bins of the hewn
stone.  In process of time, the trees grew higher and gave shade to the
cottage, and the evergreens sprang up and turned the dell into a thicket.
There, purple magistrates relaxed themselves from the pursuit of
municipal ambition; cocked hats paraded soberly about the garden and in
and out among the hollies; authoritative canes drew ciphering upon the
path; and at night, from high upon the hills, a shepherd saw lighted
windows through the foliage and heard the voice of city dignitaries
raised in song.

The farm is older.  It was first a grange of Whitekirk Abbey, tilled and
inhabited by rosy friars.  Thence, after the Reformation, it passed into
the hands of a true-blue Protestant family.  During the covenanting
troubles, when a night conventicle was held upon the Pentlands, the farm
doors stood hospitably open till the morning; the dresser was laden with
cheese and bannocks, milk and brandy; and the worshippers kept slipping
down from the hill between two exercises, as couples visit the
supper-room between two dances of a modern ball.  In the Forty-Five, some
foraging Highlanders from Prince Charlie’s army fell upon Swanston in the
dawn.  The great-grandfather of the late farmer was then a little child;
him they awakened by plucking the blankets from his bed, and he
remembered, when he was an old man, their truculent looks and uncouth
speech.  The churn stood full of cream in the dairy, and with this they
made their brose in high delight.  ‘It was braw brose,’ said one of them.
At last they made off, laden like camels with their booty; and Swanston
Farm has lain out of the way of history from that time forward.  I do not
know what may be yet in store for it.  On dark days, when the mist runs
low upon the hill, the house has a gloomy air as if suitable for private
tragedy.  But in hot July, you can fancy nothing more perfect than the
garden, laid out in alleys and arbours and bright, old-fashioned
flower-plots, and ending in a miniature ravine, all trellis-work and moss
and tinkling waterfall, and housed from the sun under fathoms of broad

The hamlet behind is one of the least considerable of hamlets, and
consists of a few cottages on a green beside a burn.  Some of them (a
strange thing in Scotland) are models of internal neatness; the beds
adorned with patchwork, the shelves arrayed with willow-pattern plates,
the floors and tables bright with scrubbing or pipe-clay, and the very
kettle polished like silver.  It is the sign of a contented old age in
country places, where there is little matter for gossip and no street
sights.  Housework becomes an art; and at evening, when the cottage
interior shines and twinkles in the glow of the fire, the housewife folds
her hands and contemplates her finished picture; the snow and the wind
may do their worst, she has made herself a pleasant corner in the world.
The city might be a thousand miles away, and yet it was from close by
that Mr. Bough painted the distant view of Edinburgh which has been
engraved for this collection; and you have only to look at the etching,
{118} to see how near it is at hand.  But hills and hill people are not
easily sophisticated; and if you walk out here on a summer Sunday, it is
as like as not the shepherd may set his dogs upon you.  But keep an
unmoved countenance; they look formidable at the charge, but their hearts
are in the right place, and they will only bark and sprawl about you on
the grass, unmindful of their master’s excitations.

Kirk Yetton forms the north-eastern angle of the range; thence, the
Pentlands trend off to south and west.  From the summit you look over a
great expanse of champaign sloping to the sea, and behold a large variety
of distant hills.  There are the hills of Fife, the hills of Peebles, the
Lammermoors and the Ochils, more or less mountainous in outline, more or
less blue with distance.  Of the Pentlands themselves, you see a field of
wild heathery peaks with a pond gleaming in the midst; and to that side
the view is as desolate as if you were looking into Galloway or
Applecross.  To turn to the other is like a piece of travel.  Far out in
the lowlands Edinburgh shows herself, making a great smoke on clear days
and spreading her suburbs about her for miles; the Castle rises darkly in
the midst, and close by, Arthur’s Seat makes a bold figure in the
landscape.  All around, cultivated fields, and woods, and smoking
villages, and white country roads, diversify the uneven surface of the
land.  Trains crawl slowly abroad upon the railway lines; little ships
are tacking in the Firth; the shadow of a mountainous cloud, as large as
a parish, travels before the wind; the wind itself ruffles the wood and
standing corn, and sends pulses of varying colour across the landscape.
So you sit, like Jupiter upon Olympus, and look down from afar upon men’s
life.  The city is as silent as a city of the dead: from all its humming
thoroughfares, not a voice, not a footfall, reaches you upon the hill.
The sea-surf, the cries of ploughmen, the streams and the mill-wheels,
the birds and the wind, keep up an animated concert through the plain;
from farm to farm, dogs and crowing cocks contend together in defiance;
and yet from this Olympian station, except for the whispering rumour of a
train, the world has fallen into a dead silence, and the business of town
and country grown voiceless in your ears.  A crying hill-bird, the bleat
of a sheep, a wind singing in the dry grass, seem not so much to
interrupt, as to accompany, the stillness; but to the spiritual ear, the
whole scene makes a music at once human and rural, and discourses
pleasant reflections on the destiny of man.  The spiry habitable city,
ships, the divided fields, and browsing herds, and the straight highways,
tell visibly of man’s active and comfortable ways; and you may be never
so laggard and never so unimpressionable, but there is something in the
view that spirits up your blood and puts you in the vein for cheerful

Immediately below is Fairmilehead, a spot of roof and a smoking chimney,
where two roads, no thicker than packthread, intersect beside a hanging
wood.  If you are fanciful, you will be reminded of the gauger in the
story.  And the thought of this old exciseman, who once lipped and
fingered on his pipe and uttered clear notes from it in the mountain air,
and the words of the song he affected, carry your mind ‘Over the hills
and far away’ to distant countries; and you have a vision of Edinburgh
not, as you see her, in the midst of a little neighbourhood, but as a
boss upon the round world with all Europe and the deep sea for her
surroundings.  For every place is a centre to the earth, whence highways
radiate or ships set sail for foreign ports; the limit of a parish is not
more imaginary than the frontier of an empire; and as a man sitting at
home in his cabinet and swiftly writing books, so a city sends abroad an
influence and a portrait of herself.  There is no Edinburgh emigrant, far
or near, from China to Peru, but he or she carries some lively pictures
of the mind, some sunset behind the Castle cliffs, some snow scene, some
maze of city lamps, indelible in the memory and delightful to study in
the intervals of toil.  For any such, if this book fall in their way,
here are a few more home pictures.  It would be pleasant, if they should
recognise a house where they had dwelt, or a walk that they had taken.

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

    Printed by STRANGEWAYS and Sons, Tower St.  Cambridge Circus, W.C.


{10}  These sentences have, I hear, given offence in my native town, and
a proportionable pleasure to our rivals of Glasgow.  I confess the news
caused me both pain and merriment.  May I remark, as a balm for wounded
fellow-townsmen, that there is nothing deadly in my accusations?  Small
blame to them if they keep ledgers: ’tis an excellent business habit.
Churchgoing is not, that ever I heard, a subject of reproach; decency of
linen is a mark of prosperous affairs, and conscious moral rectitude one
of the tokens of good living.  It is not their fault it the city calls
for something more specious by way of inhabitants.  A man in a frock-coat
looks out of place upon an Alp or Pyramid, although he has the virtues of
a Peabody and the talents of a Bentham.  And let them console
themselves—they do as well as anybody else; the population of (let us
say) Chicago would cut quite as rueful a figure on the same romantic
stage.  To the Glasgow people I would say only one word, but that is of
gold; _I have not yet written a book about Glasgow_.

{118}  One of the illustrations of the First Edition.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Edinburgh Picturesque Notes" ***

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