Tag Archives: Samuel Johnson

An Edinburgh Alphabet, H–M

H is for Holyrood

Holyrood Abbey and Palace Holyrood Palace RLS 1 Holyrood Palace
The Palace of Holyroodhouse sits at the foot of the Canongate, below Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. The abbey, built long before the palace, has long been a ruin. Here are three (prose) views of Holyrood: Boswell’s private ceremony as he leaves the city for London; Dorothy Wordsworth’s disappointment at the state both of the ruined abbey and the unruined palace; and Robert Louis Stevenson’s portrait of this corner of the city.

Boswell: I made the chaise stop at the foot of the Canongate… walked to the Abbey of Holyroodhouse, went round the Piazzas, bowed thrice: once to the Palace itself, once to the crown of Scotland above the gate in front, and once to the venerable old Chapel. I next stood in the court before the Palace, and bowed thrice to Arthur Seat, that lofty romantic mountain on which I have so often strayed in my days of youth, indulged meditation and felt the raptures of a soul filled with ideas of the magnificence of GOD and his creation. Having thus gratified my agreeable whim and superstitious humour, I felt a warm glow of satisfaction. (Journal, 15 November 1762)

Wordsworth: Though the rain was very heavy we remained upon the hill for some time, then returned by the same road by which we had come, through green flat fields, formerly the pleasure-grounds of Holyrood House, on the edge of which stands the old roofless chapel, of venerable architecture. It is a pity that it should be suffered to fall down, for the walls appear to be yet entire. Very near to the chapel is Holyrood House, which we could not but lament has nothing ancient in its appearance, being sash-windowed and not an irregular pile. It is very like a building for some national establishment, – a hospital for soldiers or sailors. (Journal, 16 September 1803)

Stevenson: The Palace of Holyrood has been left aside in the growth of Edinburgh, and stands grey and silent in a workman’s quarter and among breweries and gas works. It is a house of many memories. Great people of yore, kings and queens, buffoons and grave ambassadors, played their stately farce for centuries in Holyrood. Wars have been plotted, dancing has lasted deep into the night, – murder has been done in its chambers. There Prince Charlie held his phantom levees, and in a very gallant manner represented a fallen dynasty for some hours. Now, all these things of clay are mingled with the dust, the king’s crown itself is shown for sixpence to the vulgar; but the stone palace has outlived these charges. (from Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes, 1878)

I is for Inscriptions

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Inscription_Parliament_Brooksbank Inscription_Parliament_Hopkins Inscription_Parliament_Jackson Inscription_Parliament_MacCaig

Poems are written into the fabric of Edinburgh. Here are a few examples from Makars Court, between the Lawnmarket and the Mound, outside the Writers Museum (Brown, Hay and Spark); and from the Canongate Wall of the Scottish Parliament (Brooksbank, Hopkins, Jackson and MacCaig).

J is for Johnson

Johnson_BoydsEntry Johnson_withBoswell_HighStreet

‘Boyd’s Inn, at which Dr Samuel Johnson arrived in Edinburgh, 14th August, 1773 on his memorable tour of the Hebrides.’

Johnson had come to Scotland to meet his friend (and future biographer) James Boswell. After a few days in Edinburgh they set out north; when they returned to Edinburgh in November they had seen the islands of Skye, Raasay, Coll, Mull, Ulva, Inchkenneth and Iona. Both men wrote accounts of their journey; Boswell’s The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides begins with Johnson’s arrival in Edinburgh. (On the last leg of his journey north, Johnson’s travelling companion has been a Mr Scott.)

‘Late in the evening, I received a note from him, that he was arrived at Boyd’s inn, at the head of the Canongate. I went to him directly. He embraced me cordially; and I exulted in the thought, that I now had him actually in Caledonia. Mr Scott’s amiable manners, and attachment to our Socrates, at once united me to him. He told me that, before I came in, the Doctor had unluckily had a bad specimen of Scottish cleanliness. He then drank no fermented liquor. He asked to have his lemonade made sweeter; upon which the waiter, with his greasy fingers, lifted a lump of sugar, and put it into it. The Doctor, in indignation, threw it out of the window. Scott said, he was afraid he would have knocked the waiter down. (…) Mr Johnson and I walked arm-in-arm up the High Street, to my house in James’s court: it was a dusky night: I could not prevent his being assailed by the evening effluvia of Edinburgh… A zealous Scotsman would have wished Mr Johnson to be without one of his five senses upon this occasion. As we marched slowly along, he grumbled in my ear, ‘I smell you in the dark!’ But he acknowledged that the breadth of the street, and the loftiness of the buildings on each side, made a noble appearance.’

K is for Knox

Knox_gravestone Knox_gravestone2 Knox_gravestone3 Knox_LincolnStatue

Not John but William, though his gravestone in the New Calton Burying Ground it’s written that he was ‘a branch of the stock of the great reformer John Knox’. The poet William Knox died in 1825 aged only 36; of him it was written that his early death was caused by ‘the undue gratification of his social propensities’. Throwing off his ancestor’s disapproval of fun, by the sound of it. His poetry is largely forgotten, but it was popular in his lifetime, and for some time afterwards. His poem ‘Mortality’ is, again according to his gravestone, ‘engraved in letters of gold on the walls of the Imperial Palace, St Peterburg’; not only that, ‘it was the favourite poem of Abraham Lincoln’. Its first and last verses are inscribed on his stone; the fact the stone’s surface has become so worn fits well Knox’s theme of the transience of earthly matters. (There is, incidentally, a statue of Lincoln not far from Knox’s grave, in the Old Calton Burial Ground, on a memorial to Scots who fought on the Union side in the American Civil War.)

Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeting 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.

‘Tis the wink of an eye – ’tis the draught of a breath –
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud –
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

L is for Lorimer

Lorimer_Parliament_1_ Corinthians_13

Outside Queensberry House, the 17th-century building integrated into the Scottish Parliament building, a text is inscribed on the ground: ‘Gin I speak wi the tungs o men an angels, but hae nae luve i my hairt, I am no nane better nor dunnerin bress or a rínging cymbal’. It’s taken from the translation into Scots of the New Testament made by William Lorimer (1885-1967). Lorimer taught Ancient Greek at various universities, and when he retired was Professor of Greek at the University of St Andrews. He was also a long-term contributor to the Scottish National Dictionary, and he spent his retirement translating the New Testament from Greek into Scots. The work was unfinished when he died, but it was completed by his son Robin and published to acclaim in 1983. (Canongate Books published a new edition recently.) The text outside the Parliament is from 1 Corinthians 13; here is a longer extract, and the equivalent passage in the King James Version.

Gin I speak wi the tungs o men an angels, but hae nae luve i my hairt, I am no nane better nor dunnerin bress or a rínging cymbal. Gin I hae the gift o prophecíe an am acquent wi the saicret mind o God, an ken aathing ither at man may ken, an gin I hae siccan faith as can flit the hills frae their larachs – gin I hae aa that, but hae nae luve i my hairt, I am nocht. Gin I skail aa my guids an graith in awmous, an gin I gíe up my bodie tae be brunt in aiss – gin I een dae that, but hae nae luve i my hairt, I am nane the better o it.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

M is for Makar

Makar_ChristineDeLuca

Makar: ‘the author of a literary work; a poet’ (Scottish National Dictionary). Since 2002 Edinburgh has had its own makar, appointed by representatives of the city council and several literary organisations. The current makar is Christine De Luca; she followed Ron Butlin, Valerie Gillies and Stewart Conn. Over the summer Christine has organised a series of poetry readings at the City Art Centre, and the Museum of Edinburgh; she’s pictured in the courtyard of the latter. With Ingrid Murray she wrote ‘A Month Down the Mile’, a poem in 31 verses describing people and places past and present of the Royal Mile, from the castle to palace.
 Her blog can be read here.

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Ye Jacobites by Name

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Bonnie Prince Charlie, ‘The Young Pretender’, and his father James, ‘The Old Pretender’, were the subjects of songs, poems and stories praising and reviling them during their lifetimes, and pretty much ever since.

I’ve been researching a new poetry walk, linked to the exhibition Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites at the National Museum of Scotland. The walks run 13–16 July 2017 – for tickets click here.

The walks begin at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and end at the Museum on Chambers Street, taking in various sites associated with Jacobites on the way.

Charles, or the Chevalier as he was sometimes known, entered Edinburgh via Holyrood in September 1745, and he stayed at the palace until the Jacobite army moved south at the end of October. Walter Scott, in Waverley (1814), imagines his titular hero arriving at the palace, his fate in the Prince’s hands.

A long, low, and ill-proportioned gallery, hung with pictures, affirmed to be the portraits of kings, who, if they ever flourished at all, lived several hundred years before the invention of painting in oil colours, served as a sort of guard chamber or vestibule to the apartments which the adventurous Charles Edward now occupied in the palace of his ancestors. Officers, both in the Highland and Lowland garb, passed and repassed in haste, or loitered in the hall as if waiting for orders. Secretaries were engaged in making out passes, musters, and returns. All seemed busy, and earnestly intent upou something of importance ; but Waverley was suffered to remain seated in the recess of a window, unnoticed by any one, in anxious reflection upon the crisis of his fate, which seemed now rapidly approaching.

Panmure House, off the Canongate, is named for the Jacobite Earl of Panmure. He fought in the 1715 rebellion, and was later name-checked by Burns in ‘The Battle Of Sherramuir’:

They’ve lost some gallant gentlemen,
Amang the Highland clans, man!
I fear my Lord Panmure is slain,
Or fallen in Whiggish hands, man…

He survived the battle, was captured but escaped, and went into exile.

A Jacobite who fought at the Battle of Falkirk, John, Lord Macleod, was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard. One soldier on the government side that day was Duncan Ban MacIntyre, one of the great Gaelic poets of the 18th century, who described how his side were routed:

We, the total force the Whigs possessed,
were one day in the Scottish Lowlands
when the rebels fell in with us—
and cheerless to us was the company
when they compelled us to retreat
and chased us with intent to slay us—
unless we used our legs to good purpose:
we fired never a shot with our muskets.

(Translation: Angus Macleod)

Tobias Smollett is remembered for his novels, but his first published work was a poem, ‘The Tears of Scotland’, bemoaning the Duke of Cumberland’s brutality after the Battle of Culloden.

Thy hospitable roofs no more
Invite the stranger to the door:
In smoky ruins sunk they lie,
The monuments of cruelty.

On 14th August 1773, Samuel Johnson arrived in Edinburgh from London, ready to embark for the Hebrides with his friend James Boswell. They made a point of visiting Flora Macdonald on Skye, who had helped the Prince or, as Boswell called him, The Wanderer, to escape. Charles disguised himself as Flora’s maid,  an incident which Boswell describes in his journal with relish:

He was very awkward in his female dress. His size was so large, and his strides so great, that some women whom they met reported that they had seen a very big woman, who looked like a man in woman’s clothes, and that perhaps it was (as they expressed themselves) the PRINCE, after whom so much search was making.

Robert Burns was capable of writing pro- and anti-Jacobite songs. Just weeks before the Chevalier’s death, he wrote and recited to a pro-Jacobite gathering in Edinburgh a ‘Birthday Ode For 31st December, 1787’:

Beasts of the forest have their savage homes,
But He, who should imperial purple wear,
Owns not the lap of earth where rests his royal head…

But he was capable of direct criticism too:

Ye Jacobites by name, give an ear, give an ear,
Ye Jacobites by name, give an ear,
Ye Jacobites by name,
Your fautes I will proclaim,
Your doctrines I maun blame, you shall hear.

George IV Bridge recalls the king who visited Edinburgh in 1822 amid much pageantry, the first reigning monarch to do so for nearly 200 years. By then Jacobitism was no longer a political threat, and three years earlier James Hogg, a friend of Walter Scott, had published The Jacobite Relics of Scotland. His ‘Dedication’ includes these lines:

These Songs I consign, as memorials that tell
Of the poets that sung, and the heroes that fell,
Whom interest ne’er moved their true king to betray,
Whom threat’ning ne’er daunted, nor power could dismay.

Later poets were able to take a longer and sometimes more critical view of Charlie and the consequences of his ambition. Iain Crichton Smith, who is remembered in Makars Court, wrote

The silly Prince
hits the wall of fact, the steel fence

of Culloden flashing fire, and discipline
clicking clearly its rehearsed routine.

Drunken sot, I hope you endlessly suffer

for the sufferings your boyish game caused…

And yet the Prince, the Pretender, the Chevalier, the Wanderer, continues to fascinate.

Words on the Street

Canongate Stars & Stories is an illuminated walking trail for Edinburgh’s Old Town, organised by Edinburgh City of Literature Trust. There are 20 lightboxes featuring quotations on the lower High Street, Canongate and surrounding streets and closes. Best seen after dark, they’ll be in situ till, I believe, the end of March. Below are photos of some of the light boxes, and notes about the quotations.

Fountain Close: Blessed be the sempill lyfe, Robert Henryson (c.1420–c.1490), from the fable ‘The Twa’ Mice’ (c.1480s), printed by Thomas Bassandyne (d.1577) who lived in Fountain Close.

Blissed be sempill lyfe withoutin dreid;
Blissed be sober feist in quietie;
Quha hes aneuch, of na mair hes he neid,
Thocht it be littill into quantatie.
Grit aboundance and blind prosperitie
Oftymes makis ane evill conclusioun:
The sweitest lyfe thairfoir, in this cuntrie,
Is sickernes with small possessioun.

The White Horse Inn, Canongate: Every writer has his use, by Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), from Rambler, no.145 (6 August, 1751). Established in 1742, The White Horse is the oldest pub on the Royal Mile and on 14 August 1773 received Johnson, who had arrived in Edinburgh to meet his friend and biographer James Boswell (1740 –1795) before their tour of the Hebrides. Around the corner off St Mary’s Street, a plaque at Boyd’s Entry (named for the proprietor of the White Horse, James Boyd) commemorates the event.
As every writer has his use, every writer ought to have his patrons; and since no man, however high he may now stand, can be certain that he shall not be soon thrown down from his elevation by criticism or caprice, the common interest of learning requires that her sons should cease from intestine hostilities, and, instead of sacrificing each other to malice and contempt, endeavour to avert persecution from the meanest of their fraternity.

Our Dynamic Earth: Nothing but time, by James Hutton (1726 –1797), from Theory of the Earth (1788 / 1795). Edinburgh born and educated, James Hutton is often referred to as the ‘Father of Modern Geology.’ His research into local rock formations, particularly Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh, led him to formulate a new theory of the origins of the earth – an earth much older than previously thought, made of layers or rock with a molten core. He first presented his Theory of the Earth to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1785, but his ideas only gained wide circulation and influence after his death.
From the top of those decaying pyramids to the sea, we have a chain of facts which clearly demonstrate this proposition, That the materials of the wasted mountains have travelled through the rivers; for, in every step of this progress, we may see the effect, and thus acknowledge the proper cause. We may often even be witness to the action; but it is only a small part of the whole progress that we may thus perceive, nevertheless it is equally satisfactory as if we saw the whole; for, throughout the whole of this long course, we may see some part of the mountain moving some part of the way. What more can we require? Nothing but time. It is not any part of the process that will be disputed; but, after allowing all the parts, the whole will be denied; and, For what?—only because we are not disposed to allow that quantity of time which the ablution of so much wasted mountain might require.

St John’s Pend: Edinburgh is a hot-bed of genius, by Tobias Smollett (1721 – 1771), from The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771). Smollett occasionally lodged with his sister at St John’s Pend, just off the Canongate. Along with his famous 1755 translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Smollett was a popular author of ‘picaresque’ novels. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, a epistolary novel, follows Mathew Bramble, his family, and his servants as they travel through England and Scotland.
Edinburgh is a hot-bed of genius. — I have had the good fortune to be made acquainted with many authors of the first distinction; such as the two Humes, Robertson, Smith, Wallace, Blair, Ferguson, Wilkie, &c. and I have found them all as agreeable in conversation as they are instructive and entertaining in their writings. These acquaintances I owe to the friendship of Dr Carlyle, who wants nothing but inclination to figure with the rest upon paper.

Canongate Kirkyard: Ill-fated genius! by Robert Burns (1759–1796), from ‘Lines On Fergusson, The Poet’ (1787). Robert Fergusson (1750 –1774) was a brilliant Edinburgh-born poet who died tragically young, and in such poverty that he was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in the Canongate Kirkyard. Dismayed by this injustice, Robert Burns arranged for him to have a proper gravestone.

Ill-fated genius! Heaven-taught Fergusson!
What heart that feels and will not yield a tear,
To think Life’s sun did set e’er well begun
To shed its influence on thy bright career.

O why should truest Worth and Genius pine
Beneath the iron grasp of Want and Woe,
While titled knaves and idiot-Greatness shine
In all the splendour Fortune can bestow?

Jeffrey Street: the happier productions of female genius, by Francis Jeffrey (1773–1850), from a review of a book of poetry by Felicia Hemans (1793–1835) in Edinburgh Review (1828). Francis Jeffrey, after whom Jeffrey Street is named, began his Edinburgh Review in 1802 in order to guide contemporary readers toward works of high acclaim; the magazine was published quarterly until 1929.
No Man, we will venture to say, could have written the Letters of Madame de Sevigné, or the Novels of Miss Austin, or the Hymns and Early Lessons of Mrs. Barbauld, or the Conversations of Mrs. Marcet. These performances, too, are not only essentially and intensely feminine, but they are, in our judgement, decidedly more perfect than any masculine productions with which they can be brought into comparison. (…) We think the poetry of Mrs Hemans a fine exemplification of Female Poetry – and we think it has much of the perfection which we have ventured to ascribe to the happier productions of female genius.

Chessel’s Court: Man is not truly one, but truly two, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894), from The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). Chessel’s Court was scene of an infamous crime that inspired Stevenson. Deacon Brodie (1741 – 1788), city councillor and master cabinet-maker, used his position to steal from the wealthy who sought his services. A botched robbery of the Customs Office in Chessel’s Court led eventually to his arrest and execution, and revealed to the public his double life. As a child Stevenson slept with one of Brodie’s cabinets in his bedroom (it is now displayed in the Writers’ Museum in the Lawnmarket).
With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two. (…) It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date, even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest the most naked possibility of such a miracle, I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved day-dream, on the thought of the separation of these elements.

Dunbar’s Close: A city is a drama in time, by Patrick Geddes (1854–1932) from Civics: as Applied Sociology (1904). Geddes renovated buildings and developed green spaces, including the garden at Dunbar’s Close, in Edinburgh’s delapidated Old Town at the end of the 19th century. Geddes is renowned for his innovative ideas on social reform, environmentalism, and town planning, and his phrase ‘by leaves we live’ lives on in the Scottish Poetry Library’s Twitter handle.
But a city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time. Though the claim of geography be fundamental out interest in the history of the city is supremely greater; it is obviously no mere geographic circumstances which developed one hill-fort in Judea, and another in Attica, into world centres, to this day more deeply influential than are the vastest modern capitals. […] Again the answer comes through geography, though no longer in mere map or relief, but now in vertical section – in order of strata ascending form past to present, whether we study rock-formations with the geologist, excavate more recent accumulations with the archaeologist, or interpret ruins or monuments with the historian. Though the primitive conditions we have above noted with the physiographer remain apparent, indeed usually permanent, cities have none the less their characteristic phases of historic development decipherable superposed. […] In a word, not only does the main series of active cities display traces of all the past phases of evolution, but beside this lie fossils, or linger survivals, of almost every preceding phase.

The World’s End: For ever and aye till the World’s End, by Sydney Goodsir Smith (1915 – 1975), from Kynd Kittock’s Land (1965). The World’s End pub stands at the top of World’s End Close, on what was once the edge of Edinburgh by the former city walls. Smith’s words conclude his poem based on a character in a medieval poem, an innkeeper who, admitted to heaven after her death, leaves again ‘for to get hir ane fresche drink, the aill of hevin wes sour’.

Here I be and here I drink,
This is myne, Kynd Kittock’s Land,
For ever and aye while stane shall stand—
For ever and aye till the World’s End.