The Heart of Midlothian and Parliament House: Literary Walk 30th September


If you’re interested in a poetic visit to Arthur’s Seat tomorrow, Saturday 5th October, skip to the end of this post.

In my list of reading for our first walk on 23rd September, I forgot to mention two readings – a short story and a novel -both connected with Greyfriars:

Stevenson, RL, The Body Snatcher, 1881, in various editions, (eg Complete Short Stories, in 2 volumes, edited by Ian Bell, 1993)  is an extremely vivid evocation of the time of the serial killers, Burke and Hare.  In his Picturesque Notes, RLS describes how, according to an old grave digger,  Burke used sit at one of the windows overlooking the kirkyard “with pipe and nightcap” as he watched burials taking place beneath.  The Body Snatcher is described through the eyes of an elderly doctor, Fettes, who plied the resurrectionists’ trade as a young medical student.

Mackenzie, Henry, A Man of Feeling, 1771, various editions, including Worlds Classics, is an eighteenth century sentimental novel.  Mackenzie’s span (1745-1831) and his wide acquaintanceship are of interest.  He was a friend of the bookseller, William Creech, and a champion of the young Robert Burns.  Mackenzie is buried at Greyfriars.  His gravestone is in the very centre of the long north facing terrace in the centre of the graveyard.

Second Walk:

Our second walk took us from St Giles Catherdal to Lady Stair’s Close, Parliament Square and the central section of the Royal Mile.

The Writers’ Musuem – in Lady Stair’s Close – principally celebrates the lives of  Burns, Scott and Stevenson.  There are also portraits of a number of distinguished 20th century Scots poets upstairs.  The Stevenson collection includes a wardrobe designed by the infamous Deacon Brodie (formerly at 17 Heriot Row),  RLS’s childhood theatre and numerous photographs of the Stevenson family sojourn in Samoa.Image

St Giles:

RLS, Picturesque Notes:  Good description at the beginning of Chapter 3:  Heart of Midlothian, the Luckenbooths and “a bandy legged and garlanded Charles Second”

Scott, Sir Walter, Heart of Midlothian:  at the beginning of chapter 6 there is wonderfully evocative description of the Luckenbooths and the Krames.

Parliament House:

Cockburn, Henry Lord, Memorials of his Time, 1856.  Cockburn , Solicitor General for Scotland at the time of the Great Reform Act, was a younger contemporary of Scott.   From a 19th century perspective,Cockburn recalls the Edinburgh of his childhood and his early years at the Bar. His description of the terrifying Lord Braxfield was later to inspire Stevenson’s masterful description of Lord Hermiston.  RLS asked for a copy of the book to be sent to the South Pacific. Cockburn paints a brilliantly vivid description of the fires which ravaged the south side of the High Street in 1824.  The Memorials, which finish with Cockburn’s appointment as Solicitor General, were published posthumously.

Stevenson, RLS, Picturesque Notes:  For the proper effect, RLS’s description of the Salle des pas perdus should be declaimed, discreetly, in Parliament Hall .  Times they don’t change, but they change us – have a look at Chapter 3 again.

Boswell, James, Journal of a tour to the Hebrides. Boswell is good on his and Dr Johnson’s visit to Parliament Hall.  Dr Johnson observed of Forbes’ statue in PH  “that if others were admitted, there were dangers lest they become too common”.  Lord President Forbes of Culloden has a role in the young John Buchan’s account of the 1745 Jacobite revolt, A Lost Lady of Old Years, an historical romance very much in the tradition of RLS and Scott.


Background to Literary Edinburgh:

Before our walk, Gillian showed me an interesting companion to Literary Edinburgh which she had recently purchased. There were chapters on the War Poets, and WE Henley, poet and playwright, who collaborated with RLS in a stage version based on the life of Deacon Brodie:

Carroll, David, Edinburgh: Literary Lives & Landscapes, 2011 (Paperback).

Here are some other literary guides and anthologies:

Daiches, David, A Traveller’s Companion to Edinburgh, London 1986

Royle, Trevor, Story of Edinburgh, Precipitous City, Mainstream 1982 (excellent)

Lownie, Ralph, Auld Reekie, Am Edinburgh Anthology, London 2004

Lownie, Andrew, The Edinburgh Literary Guide, Edinburgh 1992 – has been republished since.

Massie, Alan, Ed Edinburgh and the Borders In Verse, London, 1983

Saturday 5th OctoberImage

We’ll be visiting the Scottish Poetry Library this coming Monday but in the meantime, you may be interested in Lugs Tae Arthur’s Seat, a poetic walk up Arthur’s Seat led by poet and actor Alan Sclater.  The walk starts at 10 am, costs £ 7/£ 6 and includes breakfast. Have a look at

See you on Monday!


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