Our sixth literary walk linked the Regent Road, Edinburgh’s early19th century eastern approach road, with Holyrood and the Canongate . An image of afternoon light on New Calton Cemetery, much as we experienced, turned the thoughts of Robert Louis Stevenson, in far off Samoa, to home:
Hard by the house of kings, repose the dead,
My dead, the ready and the strong of word,
The sea bombards their founded towers; the night
Thrills pierced with their strong lamps. The artificers,
One after one, here in this grated cell,
Where the rain erases and the rust consumes,
Fell upon lasting silence..
Suggested Reading: Regent Road to Abbey Hill:
- Stevenson, RLS: “Edinburgh Picturesque Notes”: RLS writes of the view southwards from the top of Calton Hill, from where he could pick out former city jail and the High School yards: 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..
Henry, Lord Cockburn: Writing in “Memorials of His Time” Cockburn observes how by 1816 quarrying activities on the edge Salisbury Crags had considerably widened the footpath running along the bottom of the crags, since his first youthful scrabble up there in 1788.
WE Henley: “From A Window in Princes Street”: Above the Crags that fade and gloom/Starts the bare knee of Arthur’s Seat…
John Whitworth: “The Big School”: It grows from one of Edinburgh’s seven hills/ This pagan temple on its jutty shelf/ Extends its railway blackened-vertical? Severe and chaste as Pallas is herself…
Wordsworth, Dorothy: “Recollection of a Tour Made in Scotland 1803″, contains a description of a climb up Arthur’s Seat: …We sate down on a stone not far from (St Anthony’s) chapel overlooking pastoral hollow as wild and solitary as any in the Heart of the Highland Mountains…
Knox, Williiam: Knox is buried close to the Stevenson mausoleum. His poem “Morality” was a favourite of Abraham Lincoln (whose memorial can be seen in the nearby Calton Old Cemetery:
O why should the spirit of mortal be proud!
Like a fast flitting meteor, a fast flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave –
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.
The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around and together be laid;
As the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.
More details on the life of Know and the full text of Mortality may be found on the Scottish Poetry Library website.
For further details of the quotations of the Canongate Wall, part of the new Parliament Building visit:
Edwin Morgan’s “Open Doors” specially commissioned poem for the opening of the parliament can be found on the Scottish Poetry Library’s online collection:
- Scott, Sir Walter: Waverley – how Jacobite Soldiers enjoyed the tavern in White Horse Close
- Smollet, Tobias: Expedition of Humphry Clinker, 1771, many editions and Kindle download: an entertaining fictitious account of a visit to Edinburgh in the 1770s. Smollet’s sister lived in St John’s Street where Burns also attended the Masonic Lodge.
- Johnson, Samuel: Journal to the Western Isles – Dr J, whilst staying at Boyd’s Inn (just off what is now St Mary’s Street), was not at all happy, when a waiter “with greasy fingers” put a lump of sugar in his lemonade. We are told that “the Doctor with indignation threw it out the window”
See also blog for 7th October for more on Robert Fergusson and 18th Century Edinburgh theatre.