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Full text of "Edinburgh : picturesque notes"

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EDINBURGH. 



EDINBURGH 



picturesque J^otes 

BY 

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 

AUTHOR OF 'AN INLAND VOYAGE.' 



WITH ETCHINGS BY A. BRUNET-DEBAINES 

FROM DRAWINGS BY S. BOUGH, R.S.A.. AND W. E. LOCKHART. R.S.A. 

And Vignettes by Hector Chalmers and R. Kent Thomas. 



■j. 'V. 

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SEELEY, JACKSON, AND HALLIDAY, 54 FLEET STREET 
LONDON. MDCCCLXXIX. 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

National Library of Scotland 



http://archive.org/details/edinburghpicturOOstev 



CONTENTS. 



CHAP. p AGE 

I I 

II. OLD TOWN— THE LANDS . 5 

III. THE PARLIAMENT CLOSE 10 

IV. LEGENDS 14 

V. GREYFRIARS ......... 18 

VI. NEW TOWN— TOWN AND COUNTRY . ... 23 

VII. THE VILLA QUARTERS 27 

VIII. THE CALTON HILL 2S 

IX. WINTER AND THE NEW YEAR 32 

X. TO THE PENTLAND HILLS 36 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 



ETCHINGS BY A. BRUNET-DEBAINES. 

THE QUEEN'S ENTRY INTO EDINBURGH IN 1876. 
By W. E. Lockhart, R.S.A. 



PAGE 

Frontispiece. 



ADVOCATES' CLOSE. By W. E. Lockhart, R.S.A. . .6 

GREYFRIARS, EDINBURGH. By W. E. Lockhart, R.S.A. . . .18 

PRINCE'S STREET GARDENS, EDINBURGH. By W. E. Lockhart, R.S.A. 24 
VIEW FROM C ALTON HILL. By W. E. Lockhart, R.S.A. . 28 

DISTANT VIEW OF EDINBURGH. By S. Bough, R.S.A. . . . 36 



VIGNETTES. 

The Old City from Salisbury Crags 
The Castle ..... 
cowfeeder row and head of west port 
Old Bow-head, Lawnmarket 
John Knox's House, High Street 
Planestones Close, Canongate 
Tombs in Greyfriars . 
Tombs in Greyfriars . 
In the Village of Dean 
Queen Mary's Bath . 
Back of Greenside 
Duddingstone . 



1 
3 

5 

7 

1 1 

15 
19 
20 

25 
29 

30 

34 



PICTURESQUE NOTES ON EDINBURGH. 



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 




THE OLD CITY FROM SALISBURY CRAGS. 



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 



2 Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 

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. 

Venice, it has been said, differs from all other 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 
gray 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 changes. 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 evenfall, 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 bystanders. 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 spring- 
time — or say one morning rather, at the peep of day — late folk may hear the 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 about 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 



Introductory. 3 

Bass Rock upon dry land, rooted in a garden, shaken by passing trains, carrying a crown of 
battlements and turrets, and describing its warlike 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 them- 
selves 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 




THE CASTLE. 



of Arthur's Seat look down upon these imitations with a becoming dignity, as the works of Nature 
may look down upon 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 



4 Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 

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 Grahameof 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. 

* 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 if 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 : / have not yet written a book about Glasgow. 



II. 



OLD TOWN— THE LANDS. 

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 







COWFEEDER ROW AND HEAD OF WEST PORT. 



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 overtops the whole city and 

C 



6 Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 

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. 

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 ; thoroughfares 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. 

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 



Old Town — The Lands. 7 

children ; big-mouthed, robust women, in a sort of uniform of striped flannel petticoat and short 
tartan shawl : among these, a few supervising 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 centered 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 




— *VG£t r^cTLJc 






OLD BOW-HEAD, LAWNMARKET, EDINBURGH. 



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 broadcloth 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 



S Putmrsque Notes on Edinburgh. 

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 dcgringolades 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. 

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 fire-light. 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, 
twoscore 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 



Old Tozon — The Lands. 9 

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 niqiit !' 



IO 



III. 



THE PARLIAMENT CLOSE. 



Time has wrought its changes most notably around the precinct of St. Giles's Church- 
The church itself, if it were not for the spire, would be unrecognisable ; the K mines are all 
gone, not a shop is left to shelter in its buttressess ; 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 fairway 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. 

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 
beside 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 cause- 
way. 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 back 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, 
inclose 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 



The Parliament CIo 



1 1 



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. 




JOHN KNOXS HOUSE, HIGH STREET, EDINBURGH. 

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 



1 2 Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 

acts, and fresh from throwing stones at the author of ' Robinson Crusoe ' as he looked out of 
window. 

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, 



The Parliament Close. 1 3 

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 white-washed 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. 



H 



IV. 

LEGENDS. 

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 sur- 
roundings. 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 gusts. 

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. 

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 



Legends. 



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 




PLANESTONES CLOSE, CANONGATE. 



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 neglect. 

And then we have Major Weir ; for although even his house is now demolished, old Edin- 
burgh 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 



1 6 Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 

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 with 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 ever. 

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 



Legends. 1 7 

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 ? 



i8 



V. 

GREYFRIARS. 

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 Roubilliac, which belong to the heroic order of graveyard 
art, we Scotch stand, to my fancy, highest among nations in the matter of grimly illus- 
trating 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 church- 
yard. 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 clothespole 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. 

Greyfriars is continually overrun by cats. I have seen, one winter afternoon, as many as 



Grcyfriars. 



•19 



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 
raindrops ; 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 
gravedigger, 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 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 



20 



Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 



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, eras 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 refuse 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 foolhardy 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. 

For this infelix campus, as it is dubbed in one of its own inscriptions — an inscription over 



Greyfriars. 2 1 

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 churchyard 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 Grass Market, 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 planta- 
tions ; 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 Caesar 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 Gallmcke, between Leith and Edinburgh, when he saw the Hangman hash and hag 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. ScAaw'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 foresaid 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.' 

G 



(• V LlHRAliV •') 



22 Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 

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.' 



VI. 

NEW TOWN— TOWN AND COUNTRY. 

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 the 
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 Prince's 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 window, and the passengers flee along Prince's Street before the 
galloping squalls. 

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- 



24 Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 

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 ears, 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 Prince's 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. 

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 



New Town — Town and Country. 



25 



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 




IN' THE VILLAGE OF DEAN. 



was a subterranean passage, although of a larger bore than we were accustomed to in Ainsworth's 
novels ; and these two words, 'subterranean 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 Prince's 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 
Rroughton 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 

II 



26 Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 

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 hawthorn begins 
to flower, and the meadows to smell of young grass, even in the thickest of our streets, the 
country hill-tops find out a young man's eyes, and set his heart beating for travel and pure air. 



27 



VII. 

THE VILLA QUARTERS. 

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 measure- 
ment 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 once. 

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. 



28 

VIII. 

THE CALTON HILL. 

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 topgallant of the Calton Hill. This latter 
erection has been differently and yet, in both cases, aptly compared to a telescope and a 
butterchurn ; 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. 

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 on 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. 

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 sea 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. 

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, 



The Calton Hill. 



29 



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 to 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 




k S.lB 



<"■<!- VtV> 



queen mary's bath. 



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 Prince's 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. 

On the north, the Calton Hill is neither so abrupt in itself nor has it so exceptional 

I 



$o Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 

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 



ftfey 




BACK OF GREElNSIDE. 



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 inclose 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 !' 



TJie Calton Hill. 3 1 

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 buildings. 

Return thither on some clear, dark, moonless night, with a ring of frost in the air, and 
only a star or two set sparsely 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 ; lamp- 
lighters 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 re-pass 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 it 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. 



3 2 



IX. 

WINTER AND NEW YEAR. 

The Scotch dialect is singularly rich in terms of reproach against the winter wind. Sue//, 
b/ae, 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, Cauld- 
hame 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 fireside. 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 un- 
dress. 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 



Winter and New Year. 33 

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 weather. 

New-year's Day, the great national festival, is a time of family expansions and of deep 
carousal. Sometimes, by a sore stroke of fate for this Calvinistic people, the year's anniversary 
falls 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 launched forth into a 
secular bravura. 

Currant-loaf is now popular eating in all households. For weeks before the great 

K 



34 Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 

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 postmen 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 




?^^SDSf«^^^- 



DUDDIN'GSTONE. 



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 pockets ! 



Winter and Nciv Yea >-. 3 5 

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 
jong, a place of penance for the neck of detected sinners, and the historical louping-on static, 
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. 



36 



X. 

TO THE PENTLAND HILLS. 

Ox 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 seabirds 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 whiskey. 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 



To the Pent land Hills. 3 7 

his visits. Accordingly, when he got about the level of Fairmilehead, the gaugcr 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 whiskey 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 accom- 
paniment 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 Hunter's 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 farm-house ; and from 
a neighbouring dell, you can see smoke rising and leaves ruffling in the breeze. Straight 

I. 



o 



S Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh. 



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 wakened, 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 waterhouse 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 walk ; 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 foliage. 

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 pipeclay, 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 contem- 
plates 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 etched 
for this collection : and you have only to look at the plate, to see how near it is at hand. But 



To the Pent land Hills. 39 

hills and hill people arc 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 PZdinburgh 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 labour. 

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.