EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
EDINBURGH EXPERT WALKING TOURS - BLOG
Of the hundreds of statuesque figures which are dotted around Edinburgh - almost one statue for every street corner! - there are a handful of works produced by the same contemporary artist, Alexander Stoddart.
Stoddart was born in Edinburgh in 1959, and studied fine art and History of Art in Glasgow. He was appointed Queen's sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland in 2008, a member of the royal household in Scotland - the first such post holder was fellow Edinburger Sir John Steell, appointed by Queen Victoria in the 1830s.
Stoddart is responsible for some of the most prominent memorials in Edinburgh - look out for these familiar faces as you explore the city!
JAMES CLERK MAXWELL
Sitting at the eastern end of George Street in the New Town is James Clerk Maxwell, one of the most important and influential physicists of the nineteenth century. Maxwell shaped scientific development and thought in a variety of fields, influencing figures such as Albert Einstein, who mounted a portrait of Maxwell in his office.
Maxwell demonstrated that every colour of light operates on a different wavelength, and associated with this it was Maxwell who produced the world's first colour photograph, in Edinburgh in 1861. He also used pure maths to demonstrate that the rings of Saturn could only be made up of small pieces of dust and rock, a theory only proven with imagery in the 1970s.
David Hume was a major figure during the Scottish Enlightenment period, and is considered by many to be the greatest philosopher who ever wrote in the English language.
Born on the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh's Old Town, Hume studied at the University of Edinburgh in his early teens, before travelling through Europe and returning to the city to publish books on a variety of subjects, from human nature and religion to British history. He was later appointed librarian at the Advocate's Library, attached to the former parliament buildings on the Royal Mile.
Widely considered to be an atheist - and having written lengthy rebuttals to theist beliefs and positions - Hume also wrote about the nature of causality, that the human condition presupposes us to see links between events that cannot be proven, and that it's impossible to demonstrate that doing one thing causes another to happen. It is therefore ironic that Stoddart's statue of Hume - on the Lawnmarket, and across the road from the advocate's library - has his foot overhanging the pedestal, which visitors can rub for 'good luck'...
Another major figure of the Enlightenment - and a friend of David Hume's - was Adam Smith, another writer and philosopher who lived on the Canongate in the Old Town, and wrote what is considered the first textbook on international trade agreements, The Wealth of Nations.
Smith is deemed to be the father of modern economics for his work in the field, laying down principles of production and trade which continue to influence the world over 200 years after his death.
Smith had also travelled widely, and had plans to write 23 volumes of work detailing a variety of aspects of human nature, as well as describing the universe in which we live. Two volume in the series were published during his life - The Wealth of Nations and his Theory of Moral Sentiments - and on his death he left instruction that all unpublished work should be burned.
Smith is buried in the Canongate Kirkyard, where visitors pay tribute by dropping small coins - literally the wealth of nations - on his tombstone.
WILLIAM HENRY PLAYFAIR
William Playfair was one of the architects who created the visual imagery that we find in the city today. Just as Robert Adam had created the distinctive New Town style of buildings which pervaded in the latter half of the eighteenth century, Playfair shaped the new improved city of Edinburgh as it moved through the nineteenth century, designing buildings and monuments across the city - buildings such as the National Galleries of Scotland on the Mound, the Old College buildings of the University of Edinburgh (co-designed with Robert Adam), and a number of churches.
Perhaps most iconically was Playfair's design for the National Monument war memorial on the top of Calton Hill, intended as a recreation of the Parthenon in Athens. This neo-classical Grecian style of building - with columns and decorations - became Playfair's trademark style, and Edinburgh garnered the nickname 'the Athens of the North' partly through its proliferation of Grecian architecture.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
Another son of the city is celebrated in a memorial a short way from the city centre. The statue commemorating Robert Louis Stevenson doesn't depict the author, but instead two figures from his book Kidnapped, sited on the side of Corstorphine Hill, a location for the characters' final meeting in the book.
Alan Breck and David Balfour are shown in Jacobite period dress at the side of the road - Balfour is the protagonist of Kidnapped, while Alan Breck is based on an historical figure of the period who was the main suspect in a notorious murder in the aftermath of the Jacobite Uprisings of 1745-6.
Explore more of Edinburgh's famous (and infamous) figures with my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh since 1998...