As the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, Edinburgh is renowned for its literary influences and connections. Chief among the figures frequently celebrated is Robert Louis Stevenson, who was born in the city on 13 November 1850.
Stevenson is still widely read with works such as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and one story that has a particular connection to Edinburgh itself, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
To mark 170 years of Stevenson's influence and legacy in Edinburgh, here are eight locations in the city associated with this literary giant.
17 Heriot Row
The Stevensons moved to this grand address in Edinburgh's New Town when Robert Louis Stevenson was six years old, and he spent the bulk of his childhood at this address.
As a child he was prone to illness, especially problems with his lungs and his breathing, and so was rarely allowed to go out into the damp Scottish climate to play with the other children of the neighbourhood.
Directly across the road from the house is Queen Street Gardens, a private garden space, where Stevenson would watch the other children playing, from the safety of the drawing room on the first floor of the house.
In these gardens is a pond, with a small island in the centre of it. Literary historians have speculated that it was from watching the children playing around this pond and its island that Stevenson came up with the ideas of what became Treasure Island.
During the summers of the late 1870s, Stevenson spent much of his time in this picturesque village on the side of the Pentland Hills, to the south of Edinburgh.
His father had rented one of the properties, and Stevenson used the village as the inspiration for his unfinished novel St Ives, which he wrote in parallel with The Weir of Hermiston, which he did manage to complete.
Today the village of Swanston is still a rural retreat from the city of Edinburgh itself, with access to the hills, and remains popular with dog walkers and ramblers.
Another local setting which Stevenson borrowed for his writing was one of the many hills which make up Edinburgh's landscape. Corstorphine is to the west of the city, towards Edinburgh airport, and features in Kidnapped, Stevenson's adventure story set in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising.
The book ends with the two main characters form the story - David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart - going their separate ways on Corstorphine Hill. Today a statue of the figures by the artist Alexander Stoddart can be found on Corstorphine Road, near the location where the scene from the book is set.
Princes Street Gardens
Stevenson spent the latter years of his life on an island in Samoa, in the Pacific Ocean. He integrated into the community there, who named him 'Tusitala', meaning 'Teller of tales', and on his death in 1894 he was buried in a spot overlooking the ocean, a reminder of his time as a traveller, journeying in the way many of his characters did in their respective stories.
So he has no formal grave in Edinburgh, his hometown. Instead, in Princes Street Gardens, surrounded by a glade of birch trees, is a simple commemorative headstone bearing his initials, RLS.
The Writers' Museum
One place where Stevenson is celebrated fully is in Edinburgh's Writers' Museum, a small building celebrating the life and work of three of Scotland's greatest literary figures - Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, along with Robert Louis Stevenson.
The museum can be found on Lady Stair's Close, off the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile. It's a free entry museum and is worth exploring for anyone interested in the lives of the writers featured.
Stevenson was known for living the lifestyle of a nineteenth-century writer, which meant (broadly) significant amounts of drink, drugs, and a fondness for prostitutes... One of the bars in which he drank still survives, and is today an Italian restaurant in the Old Town.
The Hispaniola was a bar popular with writers, poets and figures associated with the University of Edinburgh, and Stevenson is known to have spent time here with figures like William Henley, a writer and poet who had a large red beard and only one leg, the other having been amputated after a childhood illness...
The Hispaniola bar helped give Stevenson the name for the ship in Treasure Island, and surely a one-legged bearded man must have inspired that story's notorious pirate, Long John Silver?
Another suburb of the city where Stevenson spent time was Colinton, a small village near to Swanston where he spent time during his childhood. Stevenson's grandfather was minister of the church in Colinton, and the area provided young Robert with plenty of space to roam and explore and develop his interest in the natural world.
Today Colinton remains a peaceful residential suburb of Edinburgh, with the Water of Leith running through the area, and visitors can find a small statue of a boy playing with his dog, near to a heritage and nature trail. The boy in the statue is Robert Louis Stevenson, and his dog is Coolin, Stevenson's own childhood pet.
My final Edinburgh location which has a Stevenson connection is Chessel's Court in the Old Town, just off the Canongate section of the Royal Mile.
It was here in 1787 that a robbery took place, masterminded by Deacon William Brodie, the man whose life would help to inspire Stevenson's most enduring (and influential) character study - that of the duality of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde...
Explore more of Edinburgh's literary associations with my private city walking tours!
Born across the Firth of Forth in Fife, a county to the north of Edinburgh, Adam Smith is one of the best-known and most important figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the eighteenth century.
His work on economics in particular remains a text for our time, and it was this book - entitled An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations - that garnered Smith his reputation as the father of modern economics (or modern capitalism, depending on your perspective!).
Smith himself never knew his own father (also called Adam Smith), who died a couple of months before his son was born. Few details of Smith's childhood are known - even his exact date of birth in 1723 isn't certain - until he started studying at the University of Glasgow at the age of 14. Here his academic prowess proved to be a great gift, and he later undertook post-graduate studied at Oxford University - although this seemed not to be a happy experience, and it is believed that he ended his studies there prematurely after experiencing the effects of a nervous breakdown.
Whilst giving lectures at the University of Edinburgh, Smith became acquainted with the philosopher David Hume, whose work he had read during his time at Oxford, and they established a firm friendship (despite Hume being 10 years senior to Smith).
In character Smith was perhaps considered a bit absent-minded, prone to distractions and known to frequently talk aloud to himself. Although he was known as a great writer and intellectual, in conversation he could be lifeless and un-engaging - some speculated that he dulled his conversation so as not to distract from sales of his books, in which he was more loquacious - and although he gave frequent public lectures he was an uncomfortable public speaker, the result of a speech impediment. There are few portraits of him from life because he disliked his appearance - he once remarked that "I am a beau in nothing but my books".
In 1759 Adam Smith published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a study outlining Man's moral nature and his capacity to make decisions based on conscience and the impact on the social relationships with others. Smith intended this to be the first volume in an eventual series of 23 works which would consider in great detail every aspect of human experience... Although The Wealth of Nations would prove to be his more influential book, Smith considered Moral Sentiments to be the better work, and continued revising and editing the volume for subsequent publications right up to his death.
At the time he wrote and published The Wealth of Nations, in 1776, Smith was living in Kirkcaldy, the town in which he'd been born.
The house Smith wrote in was owned by his mother, with whom he maintained a close relationship until her death, just six years before his own.
Later Smith would return to Edinburgh to live in Panmure House, just off the Canongate on the Royal Mile - the building still stands, and today is a venue for economics forums.
One of the key ideas often cited from The Wealth of Nations is Smith's notion of an 'invisible hand', the unseen but active forces influencing and shaping a society's economic process, but the phrasing of 'invisible hand' occurs just three times in all of Smith's writing - once in The Wealth of Nations, once in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and once in A History of Astronomy, which was published posthumously in 1795.
A modern statue of Smith, produced by Alexander Stoddart, pictured above, features a rather playful allusion to this idea of an invisible hand, with Smith standing with a hand atop a sheaf of corn - and the cuff of his jacket conceals his hand rendering it 'invisible'...
Smith died at Panmure House on 17 July 1790, and left instruction to his executors - themselves major figures of the Enlightenment period, physicist Joseph Black and the geologist James Hutton - that all of his unfinished, unpublished work should be destroyed.
Smith didn't want any of his writing being published without his explicit editorial oversight. And so, of the 23 major volumes of work that he had planned and (it is believed) started writing, just Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations survive.
But these two works by themselves have been enough to secure Smith's place in the pantheon of great thinkers of the world, whose vision and ideas continue to influence society today, centuries after their deaths. Yet on his deathbed Smith regretted that he hadn't achieved more.
Adam Smith was buried just a stone's throw from his room at Panmure House, in the Canongate Kirkyard, where his grave today has become a small site of pilgrimage for economics students and others from all around the world, who commemorate Smith in a way that I think is rather fitting - by throwing small coins of their national currency on his grave, literally celebrating him with the wealth of nations.
Explore more of Edinburgh's historical figures on my private city walking tours!
In 2005, UNESCO named Edinburgh as the world's first City of Literature, thanks to the number and variety of bookish influences that can be found here. From familiar names like Robert Louis Stevenson and Walter Scott to contemporary figures like JK Rowling and Ian Rankin, Edinburgh's streets have influenced novels, plays, poems and works of non-fiction right through history.
So soaked in verbiage is Edinburgh that you can find many examples of poetry and literature inscribed literally in the stone of the city! Here are just a few examples of the words on the streets of Edinburgh...
A good place to start looking for street poetry is on Makar's Court.
In Scots a 'makar' is a poet (a bit like a 'bard' in ye olde English) and to celebrate a whole host of Scottish poets, one of the lanes of the Old Town has been given a distinctly poetic feel.
Lady Stair's Close is also home to the Writers' Museum, but if you cast your eyes downwards on your way to the museum you'll find all kinds of short quotes from a variety of Scottish writers in the paving stones at your feet.
Many of these quotes relate specifically to Scotland, or in the case of the quote above, to Edinburgh itself. A bit like this one:
This quote, from local author Alexander McCall Smith, is one of my favourite descriptions of Edinburgh, and you'll find it on the wall of one of the new buildings on Morrison Street, built to house the expanded Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
The golden coloured sandstone is typical of Edinburgh's stone, and the quote stretches a good distance along the street, hence the slightly strange waves in the picture - it's hard to get the whole thing in frame even with a panoramic feature!
This short poem is one I only discovered quite recently, despite walking miles through the city every year... It's in the pavement at the front of the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood, and it's a little hard to read because of the colour of the stone in which it's inscribed. It reads:
Look. What can you see?
I see beauty in the lochs
I see majesty in the mountains
I see legend in the rocks
And it is ours.
The poet is Robert Adam - not the celebrated architect who gave Edinburgh its classical style, but a 14-year old school boy who won a competition to have his poem featured in the parliament complex. I think it's rather lovely.
At another entrance into the parliament building - not one used by the public, alas - is another piece of text that has a poetic quality.
It's a passage from the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:1, if you want chapter and verse!) translated into Scots that was deemed to have a particular resonance for the new Scottish parliament when it was being established in the late 1990s.
The original text reads: "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."
There's also a rather interesting poem in the ground outside the University of Edinburgh's main library building on George Square... It is the world's only circular mesostic poem! (No, me neither...)
Have a look at it - start reading from the word 'our' and go clockwise:
A mesostic poem is a bit like an acrostic, where a text is constructed around the letters of a word or phrase that the poem also describes. This example is by the artist Alec Findlay and was commissioned by the University of Edinburgh in 2009, with the letters indicated with dots spelling the phrase 'thair to reman' ("there to remain"), which was taken from the will of the first benefactor of the library itself.
Not all the text that you'll find in the city is poetry or art. Some of it just helpful, like this panel in the Grassmarket which describes the geological activity and interaction between volcanic rock and movement of glaciers which created the city's landscape itself, known as a 'crag and tail' formation:
Most of the text you'll find in the city are quotations on lintels of doorways - 'Blest be God for all his giftis' [sic] occurs fairly frequently - and dates of construction. These indicators are always worth looking out for, as they give a real sense of the city's history, and are a direct connection to the people who built and shaped the city over the years.
And some of the text you'll find is pure graffiti, which can often be amusing and insightful, so long as it isn't actively damaging the fabric of the city or detracting from the historic features.
This example continues to make me smile every time I walk past it! (Shoes: model's own.)
Book one of my private Edinburgh walking tours to find more examples of poetry (and graffiti) in this historic city!
Things may be looking up, but in Edinburgh you need to look down once in a while too! Not just to avoid tripping on the cobbles and the steps, but to seek out some of the smaller hidden gems and details that are set into the pavements and roadways around the city.
Here are a handful of things to look out - and down - for...
In Scots a makar is a poet, and on Lady Stair's Close in the Old Town you'll find numerous paving stones carved with text from a variety of Scottish writers. Appropriately it's the same lane where you'll find the Writers' Museum, celebrating the lives and works of Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
But take your time passing through the street itself, and check out the inspirational quotes at your feet, including this one from Stevenson himself: "There are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps".
Keep your eyes peeled for Edinburgh's trams, running into the city centre from the airport. The new tram service opened just a few years ago, but Edinburgh had horse drawn trams from the nineteenth century, and electric ones in the twentieth century.
The original tram service was finally abandoned in the 1950s, and all the original tracks were ripped up and removed. All except one short section, left as a reminder (or possibly a warning!) to future generations... Look into the roadway at the end of Waterloo Place, near the Balmoral Hotel, for the sad reminder of the city's long-lost tram service.
The Holyrood Abbey provided sanctuary to those in debt, who would otherwise be at the mercy of Edinburgh's draconian legal system, which imposed heavily punishments for being unable to repay money that was owed. At one time the sanctuary had over 2,000 people in its care, and they were so well treated they were known as 'abbey lairds', or abbey lords...
The sanctuary itself wasn't a specific building but an entire area, within which the debtors had to stay if they wanted to remain protected from arrest, The boundary ran up to the summit or Arthur's Seat, and across the Royal Mile at Abbey Strand are a series of brass letters S's, marking a part of this original boundary line.
SCOTLAND IN A NUTSHELL
This one is a bit hard to read, both in the photo and in real life!
Look. What can you see?
I see beauty in the lochs.
I see majesty in mountains.
I see legend in rocks.
And it is ours.
These words are in front of the modern Scottish Parliament building, near the exit where visitors to the parliament make their way out, in a single granite paving stone. They are the words of Robert Adam - but not the classical architect who gave Edinburgh its classical style in the eighteenth century, but a 14-year-old school boy who won a competition to mark the official opening of the new parliament in 2005.
History is yet to demonstrate whether Adam becomes a great poet later in his life, but I rather love his short, simple, beautiful poem which seems to capture Scotland in a nutshell!
PHYSICS MADE PHYSICAL
On George Street in the New Town sits a statue of James Clerk Maxwell, a giant of physics whose pioneering investigations into the world around us yielded all kinds of results which continue to have importance today. Maxwell demonstrated that different colours of light travel at different frequencies, and paved the way for Einstein's general theory of relativity...
In the ground in front of his statue are the four equations which he said defined the physical universe. I can tell you nothing more than that - they're just numbers and squiggles to me! - although one group I had told me that in recent times Maxwell's four equations have been combined into one single statement which (apparently) comes pretty close to being a single unifying theory of the universe...
THE NEXT BIG THING
Walk across Bristo Square in the university district and you may not even notice the Old Town's largest piece of public art, commissioned by the university a few years ago.
The piece is called The Next Big Thing... is a Series of Little Things, and it's 1,600 brass dots set into the paving stones of the square, running across from the west to the east side, looking a little as though someone has dripped metallic paint across the space. The artist is Susan Collis, and her intention was that an piece of art which is almost invisible initially will become more visible with the passage of time, as people walking through the square unknowingly buff the brass dots to make them shiny... So if you don't see it now, come back in a few years when it should be more visible!
Look down to see more details of the city with a private Edinburgh walking tour!
Standing on the corner of Princes Street and the Mound in the New Town, a rather dapper looking figure stands looking down on the shoppers and passersby. This is Allan Ramsay, an Edinburgh man notable for establishing the world's first circulating library, and today remembered for his former home in the buildings which bear his name adjacent to Edinburgh Castle itself, Ramsay Garden.
Ramsay had been born in Lanarkshire in 1686, and by 1701 had settled in Edinburgh as an apprentice wig-maker. At the turn of the eighteenth century wigs were worn by men as a form of status symbol, elaborate constructions of human, goat or horse hair that often fell in ringlets below a man's shoulders, or were elevated to a significant height as a means of increasing their wearer's sense of physical stature. They were expensive products and were created by skilled craftsmen whose reputations rested on their ability to create ever newer and greater objects for their customers to display in public.
By 1712 Ramsay had become a well-known wig-maker of excellent reputation with premises on the High Street (today's Royal Mile) for the richest and most high status customers to buy.
His love of reading and literature saw Ramsay join the Easy Club, a cultural group established to celebrate traditional Scots writing just after the union with England in 1707, when many features of Scots culture were threatened with extinction. From this association Ramsay began writing, and by 1718 was a successful enough poet to turn his wig shop into a bookshop. Some people have credited Ramsay's early writing with being a major influence on the careers of Robert Fergusson, and later Robert Burns.
In time Ramsay's bookshop mutated into the world's first organised circulating library, a cultural hub for readers to borrow books, magazines and periodicals and take them away in order to peruse them at leisure, and then return them for other readers to enjoy.
The modern notion of a library providing such access free of charge is quite different from the original circulating library system, where members where charged an annual subscription fee in order to have access to the collections of materials available. The early function of such organisations was not primarily an educational one, as might be expected, but a capitalist one - to profit from those who had money to spend on such memberships.
In Edinburgh, the rise of the Enlightenment ideals and the city's relative affluence made Ramsay's library a roaring success, and he was able to spend time focusing on his own writing, penning not just poems but also dramas, his 1725 pastoral play The Gentle Shepherd being performed and celebrated as a work of theatre in his own lifetime.
Ramsay opened a theatre on Carubbers Close, off the High Street, which was opposed by the religious fervour of the Calvinists, and later forced to close. Ramsay railed against the dour principles of the Presbyterian church in some of his poems of this time.
In 1740 Ramsay retired to the house he had built for himself, still seen on the land immediately east of Edinburgh Castle - the cream and orange coloured building at the top of the Royal Mile is called Ramsay Garden, and the central structure - Ramsay's original home - was popularly known during his own lifetime as 'Goose Pie House' because of its octagonal shape.
Ramsay died in 1743 and in buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, where a memorial on the side of the church building celebrates his life. The statue of Ramsay on Princes Street was carved by John Steell, and ensures that Ramsay is still visibly commemorated in the city where he made most impact during his lifetime.
Explore more of Edinburgh's literary influences with my private city walking tours!
Next week the King's Theatre in Edinburgh hosts a new touring production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, based on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novella of man's divided personality.
First published in 1886, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (to give it its full title) fast became a popular staple of Gothic melodrama, and has since been adapted countless times into film, stage, comic book and TV versions, and has influenced many more.
Stevenson's story concerns the visionary scientist Dr Henry Jekyll, who discovers a potion that allows him to change into an alternative personality, the evil Mr Edward Hyde. It is believed the first draft of the book was written in the space of just a few days, after Stevenson dreamed the whole basis for the plot during a terrible (and possibly drug-induced) nightmare he experienced whilst living in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England.
The story is set in the dark and atmospheric streets of Victorian London, but it was Edinburgh who helped inspire Stevenson's writing, with one figure from the city's history who is alleged to have been the basis for the whole split personality concept.
Edinburgh's Deacon William Brodie was a member of the church, member of the city council, and a successful businessman, with his own cabinet making and locksmith business in the Old Town. However, he harboured a secret life wherein he masterminded robberies of wealthy families in the city, using his privileged position as a locksmith to gain their trust (as well as access to their homes).
After a bungled robbery on the city's customs house on Chessel's Court, Brodie fled Edinburgh to escape capture, only to be arrested in Amsterdam and brought back to Edinburgh to face trial.
He was found guilty in a sensational trial in the city, and sentenced to be hanged for his crimes. Legend has it that Brodie himself had helped to design the mechanism for a new gallows, featuring a trap door mechanism to ensure a faster, less painful death for those being hanged. It is considered a rare feat of poetic justice that Brodie was hanged on an gallows of his own construction...
Stevenson had certainly heard the story of William Brodie - he owned a writing desk and a cabinet made by the man himself - and must have utilised the notion of one man embodying two very different characters in his creation of Jekyll and Hyde. It is often said that Edinburgh itself inspired something of that split nature, being one city with two very different sides - a medieval, dark, dangerous Old Town, and a clean, bright, comfortable New Town. This 'split personality' of Edinburgh's city centre is still in evidence today.
'Jekyll and Hyde' became a classic shorthand for describing the duality of man's nature, the competing elements of good and evil within our psychologies, and the split personality trope is still a common feature in many horror stories. Even the name Brodie lives on - those who have watched the early series of TV drama Homeland may recognise that the central character's name is Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (spelled differently, but with the same split nature to his character).
We have Robert Louis Stevenson - and, by extension, Edinburgh - to thank for all that!
Explore more of the city's literary history with my private Edinburgh walking tours!
On February 1 1918 Muriel Camberg was born here in Edinburgh. Coming into the world in the final year of the worst international conflict the world had yet seen, the future may not have looked especially good for young Muriel.
But Muriel Spark, as she became, is today rightly hailed as one of the UK's greatest literary icons, with her own place in the pantheon of great writers and artists who made Edinburgh their home.
Spark lived in the Bruntsfield area of the city as a child, and today this popular and bustling suburb is still a favourite for locals looking to escape the city centre. She was at school at James Gillespie's, still an active school with its buildings facing almost directly onto the open expanse of Bruntsfield Links. It was here she would meet one of her great inspirations, who would later lead to the creation of one of the most iconic figures in British literature. Gillespie's School, and a teacher named Christina Kay, would later find themselves represented in what is probably Spark's best known and most loved novella, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Muriel married Sidney Spark, and they moved to Zimbabwe. By 1944, at the height of the conflict, Spark was back in London without Sidney, and spent the rest of the war working for the British government in intelligence.
After the war Spark's writing career developed, with her first novel published in 1957. She would become one of the foremost literary voices of her generation, with stories that defy easy categorisation. Spark's wit and humour shines through stories laden with political interest and social commentary, with a cast of characters that remain vivid today.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was first published in 1961. Set at a girls' school in Edinburgh, the story follows a collection of schoolgirls under the tutelage of their waspish teacher, Jean Brodie. Seeking to give her girls the widest possible education, to encourage them to broaden their minds and their horizons, her fascism-favouring influence takes a dangerous edge as the girls get to grips with love and politics.
The story is set in and around Edinburgh, and the film of the story, released in 1969, with Maggie Smith winning an Oscar for her performance as the eponymous Miss Brodie, features Edinburgh in many of its location scenes. Bruntsfield, the Meadows, the Vennel, and Cramond all featuring in the film, along with Edinburgh Academy, which stood in for the Marcia Blaine School for Girls.
Spark went on to live in New York and then Rome for a time, and from the 1970s until her death lived in Tuscany. She died in 2006.
Over the course of her career, Spark garnered many awards and much recognition for her work. She was twice nominated for the Booker Prize, was given eight honorary doctorate degrees (including from her alma mater, Edinburgh's Heriot Watt University), was made a dame of the British Empire in 1993, and a Golden PEN award for Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature.
On the centenary of her birth, Spark's work remains vivid and startling for its combination of wit and social commentary, and she remains one of the most celebrated British authors of all time.
Explore the world of Muriel Spark and Miss Jean Brodie with my Edinburgh walking tours!
In these trying times of 'alternative facts' and 'fake news', works of non-fiction might be considered an increasingly precious and valuable resource, and so to celebrate World Book Day 2017 here are a few of fiction's less familiar cousins, all with origins in the city of Edinburgh...
In December 1768 the first instalment of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published in Edinburgh, costing sixpence, and followed at weekly intervals with subsequent instalments until the full volume was completed in 1771. Divided into three hardback collections of letters A-B, C-L and M-Z, the encyclopaedia gathered essays on associated subjects, arranged by type rather than alphabetically.
The publication had been the project of two Edinburgh men, Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell, who worked as booksellers, printers and engravers in the city, inspired by the boom in new ideas, discoveries and thinking taking place in Edinburgh at the time. This period, now known as the 'Scottish Enlightenment', gave the world many of its major philosophical and intellectual figures, including David Hume, Adam Smith and James Hutton.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica changed shape, format and style overs its lifetime, until ceasing to be published in a physical form in 2012 - by the twenty-first century the collected edition had expanded to around 40 million words, over 18,251 pages, a huge increase on the 2,391 of the original edition!
Prior to giving the world the King James Bible, James VI of Scotland also gave the world another popular book, itself with dubious claims to being 'non-fiction'. First printed in 1597, his Daemonologie became a standard text on the classification of demons, the signs and symbols of witchcraft, the techniques for tracking and identifying witches, and the legal bases on which they should be tried and executed.
James had been a keen believer in the evils of black magic, and had been heavily involved in several witch hunts and trials around the Edinburgh area, particularly the infamous Berwick witch trials of 1590. His book became a reliable compendium by which men, women, children and animals could be brought to account for their nefarious practices, and is thought to have been one of the primary sources drawn on by Shakespeare in writing Macbeth in 1606.
THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
A textbook of international trade, Adam Smith's vision of global capitalism, was first printed in 1776 and has the status of being the first work detailing principles of modern economics.
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, to give it its full title, had been intended by Smith as just one volume in a series of 23 works detailing the moral and scientific basis for a wider range of disciplines, including the sciences, law, astronomy and the arts. The writer himself considered his earlier volume, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a superior work, but it is The Wealth of Nations which remains one of the most influential works of non-fiction around the world today.
Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, in Fife, to the north of Edinburgh, but lived and worked in Panmure House on the Canongate, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. He is buried in the Canongate Kirkyard, and his grave has accumulated coins from many countries around the world, thrown there by visitors in tribute to Smith's global impact.
CHAMBERS ENGLISH DICTIONARY
Published in 1872, the Chambers's English Dictionary, as it was originally called, was the work of two brothers, William and Robert Chambers. William Chambers had been lord provost, or mayor, of Edinburgh, and was responsible for much of the redevelopment of the city during the 1860s and 1870s, under what were known as the 'improvements' of Edinburgh. The Chambers dictionary remains a standard version of the English dictionary, and for a long time was the official dictionary recognised globally by the organisation who promoted and distributed the word game Scrabble.
The volume became a must-have for lexicographers, crossword addicts and puzzlers due to its keen inclusion of archaic, less familiar and unusual words and phrases. Its definitions were also traditionally more characteristic than other dictionaries - the entry for éclair, for example, read: "a cake, long in shape but short in duration"!
William Chambers is commemorated in Edinburgh with a statue on the street named for him, Chambers Street in the Old Town.
Find out more about Edinburgh's literary influences with my private walking tours!
Take a stroll through the Canongate Kirkyard, on the Royal Mile, and you'll find any number of literary associations with those buried there.
Robert Fergusson, the young poet who inspired Robert Burns, is memorialised not just with a statue at the entrance to the churchyard, but has his grave here too. Agnes Maclehose, who gave her pseudonym to the nearby Clarinda's Tearoom, was also associated with Burns - she was his muse, for whom he wrote Ae Fond Kiss, and other poems. Figures associated with the writer Walter Scott are buried here, as well - but their stories are all for another day.
At this time of year, the story that seems most appropriate is also one of the least expected ones, and the one I most enjoy telling!
In 1822, when George IV visited Edinburgh as part of his grand tour of Scotland (under the organisational care of Walter Scott, no less) he attended a large party at the Assembly Rooms, on George Street in the New Town. Here he danced and ate until he was satiated, with food produced by a local caterer and grain merchant, Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie.
When Scroggie died, in 1836, he was buried with a rather grand tomb in the Canongate Kirkyard, which described him, not inaccurately, as a 'meal man' - one who worked with corn and grain and other 'meal' products.
Barely five years later, the writer Charles Dickens was visiting Edinburgh, and took a short walk through the graveyard at the Canongate Kirk (as, indeed, visitors still do!). There, perhaps in the evening gloom, he misread the grave stone of Ebenezer Scroggie, and thought it described the person buried under it as a 'mean man'...
Curious as to what life such a mean man might have lived in order to get such a grand grave, Dickens borrowed the man's name and made him Ebenezer Scrooge, in his Christmas story A Christmas Carol.
As well as gifting the world the phrase 'Bah humbug!' for those disinclined to festivities, and, of course, the synonymous figure of Scrooge himself, Dickens also almost overnight made the name Ebenezer unfashionable - what had once been a reatively popular Scottish children's name became less common. No more would mothers stand at their open doors calling down the treet, 'Ebenezer, come awa' hame, yer tea's ready!'
Perhaps most intriguingly, it may have been Dickens who helped to cement one othe most enduring stereotypes of Scottish character and identity - the trait of financial frugality! To those original readers of the book, Scrooge would have been self-evidently a tight-fisted Scotsman, working over Christmas Day - as most Scots did, even up until the 1960s; while the English were celebrating Christmas Day and Boxing Day, our midwinter holiday was Hogmanay, to celebrate the new year.
Unfortunately the grave of Scroggie/Scrooge was one of the casualties of efforts to clean up and improve the city's graveyards in the mid-twentieth century, so although you can no longer visit the grave of Scrooge himself, it's no less satisfying to know that he's buried here!
Explore Edinburgh's many other historical and literary associations with my private walking tours of the city.
It was the cry which symbolised changing times, as Scottish culture and identity began to grow and take its place alongside that of England in the recently united United Kingdom.
On 14 December 1756, audiences witnessed the first performance of a play which established Scotland's character and language as a thing of value and importance - Douglas was a verse tragedy which had been rejected by English theatre companies in London before receiving its staging at Edinburgh's first public theatre.
Edinburgh's original Playhouse was located just off the Royal Mile in the Canongate, on the lane which today is marked as Old Playhouse Close. It was here that a capacity crowd had gathered for what turned out to be a landmark production from Rev. John Home, a church minister-turned-playwright who had been inspired by the traditional romantic ballad Child Maurice, about a doomed relationship between a mother and the child she gave up for dead many years previously.
It had taken Home five years to finish the play, and upon its completion he took it to London hoping to interest audiences in England with this tale of Scots passion and tragedy. The play was turned down by a number of theatrical producers, and it was only upon showing the text to friends in Edinburgh did Home receive any degree of support for the work.
At this time, theatres were considered to be dubious dens of licentiousness and disrepute, and so it was more than a little controversial that Edinburgh's theatre should be staging a play written by a man of the church!
Home received much criticism for his association with the play, especially after it was later presented successfully in Covent Garden in London, a year after its Edinburgh premiere. Fearing that the work had made his position as a parish minister untenable, Home resigned his post at his church in East Lothian. In 1786, pressure from the Church of Scotland led to the Edinburgh playhouse being closed altogether.
Home would later enjoy a revival in his status, as private tutor to the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), and did write a number of theatrical pieces which never enjoyed the success of Douglas itself.
Critical acclaim for Douglas helped to make it something of a canonical text in both Scotland and England, and it continued to feature as a set text on the English Literature syllabus in Scotland until the Second World War. The philosopher David Hume, a close friend of John Home's, considered Douglas to be on a par with some of the works of Shakespeare, and in Edinburgh others also considered the play to exceed that of the writings of the Bard of Avon, when the infamous cry went up from the audience - "Whaur's yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?!"
In the interests of balance, Samuel Johnson, compiler of the first English dictionary and occasional (reluctant) visitor to Scotland described Home's work as having "not ten good lines in the whole play".
But such was the overall success of this stirring and inspirational production that Home hoped to establish a national theatre for Scotland to champion its plays, writers, themes and characters in a climate which still considered Scottish culture of inherently lesser value and interest than the English tradition.
Home remained in Edinburgh until his death in 1808. He is buried in the graveyard at the South Leith Parish Church, and is commemorated with a bust among his cultural and historical compatriots on the Scott Monument on Princes Street.
Explore Edinburgh's cultural history in more detail with my private walking tours of the city!
At the eastern end of the New Town, at the junction where the Omni Centre stands today, you'll find a statue of the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.
The statue commemorates the birthplace of Holmes's creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, born in a house previously on this site (but since demolished) in 1859.
As one of the city's greatest literary figures, it is fitting that the monument should be in the form of the creation rather than the creator - with his trademark deerstalker hat and bulbous pipe in hand, the figure will be instantly recognisable to people from all around the world.
Holmes holds the world record for being the most portrayed character on film, and as is often the case, it is likely he is better known from these dramatised versions of the stories than from Doyle's original books.
Doyle studied at the medical school in Edinburgh from 1876 to 1881, and it was there that he came under the influence of a lecturer, Dr Joseph Bell, who would later be credited with being the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, the likeness was considered so accurate that after the first Holmes story was published, another of Bell's former students, the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote to Doyle to congratulate him on such a successful character study!
Doyle is often referred to as Conan Doyle, as though his surname was double-barrelled. In fact, Conan was one of Arthur Doyle's middle names, and in many literary and library classifications his works are listed under D for Doyle, rather than C for Conan.
The statue of Holmes was sculpted by Gerald Ogilvie Laing and unveiled in 1991. It subtly references another (unrelated) artist: around the rim of the pipe that Holmes is holding are inscribed the words 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' ('This is not a pipe') from Rene Magritte's iconic surrealist painting The Treachery of Images.
A nearby pub across the road from the statue also commemorates Doyle's birthplace, and features on its sign an image of the author himself, with the shadow of his famous creation behind him. Doyle's own feeling was that Holmes overshadowed much of his other writing, leading to his famous attempt to kill off the character, being having to bring him back from the dead due to public appeal.
Explore more of Edinburgh's literary heritage with my private walking tours of the city!
On the centenary of the start of the Battle of Somme, the largest Western Front conflict of World War One, it's a fitting time to reflect on the role that Edinburgh's Craiglockhart Hospital played in the rehabilitation of soldiers, and the extraordinary poetic legacy left by two of the hospital's most famous patients.
The building at Craiglockhart, perched above the city of Edinburgh to the south west, had been used as a hydropathic centre, treating illnesses through the therapeutic use of water. During World War One it was taken over by the British Government for use as a military psychiatric hospital, and became known for its sympathetic (and effective) treatment of soldiers suffering shellshock, caused by the pervasive trauma of fighting in the trenches of France.
Two years after the Somme Offensive, which lasted from July to September 1916, two soldiers struck up a friendship on the wards of Craiglockhart, having been invalided here. Together Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon became known as two of the most iconic poets from that period, conveying through their writing the horrors of the ongoing conflict.
Owen came from Oswestry, a small town on the English-Welsh border (which is also my hometown), and his writing acquired an added poignancy after Owen was killed in conflict, having been sent back to the Front, just days before the end of the war. Sassoon lived until 1963, after returning to the Front in 1918, and almost immediately becoming a victim of friendly fire and spending the rest of the war in Britain.
Today the building at Craiglockhart is owned by Edinburgh's Napier University, and is maintained as one of their campuses. The War Poets are commemorated by an inscription at the building's entrance, and by a carved stone tablet in the grounds of the old hospital. Along with the work of Owen and Sassoon, these reminders of past conflicts stand as a testament to the brutal realities of armed conflict, and the horrors experienced by those involved.
A century after the Somme, the words of Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth, written during his time at Craiglockhart, and with revisions from Sassoon, remains a stirring evocation of the futile human sacrifice made by men at war:
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Another of Owen's famous poems - Dulce Et Decorum Est - concludes with his ultimate condemnation of armed conflict:
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
The story of Owen and Sassoon in Edinburgh was fictionalised by the novelist Pat Barker in the novel Regeneration, and today their legacy is enshrined in the War Poets Collection, an archive of materials held at the building at Craiglockhart. The building may have acquired some modern additions in recent years, but the spirits of the war poets live on.
Explore more of Edinburgh's history with my private city walking tours!
In a city so packed with literary figures, influences and associations that it became the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, one of Edinburgh's most famous authors remains almost as famous now as during his own lifetime - thanks to the intervention of film and television, possibly more so.
Arthur Conan Doyle was born in the city on 22 May, 1859. The building where he was born was on Picardy Place at the east end of Queen Street in the New town. Although the row of houses were demolished during the 1960s, the approximate location is marked by a statue of Doyle's greatest creation, Sherlock Holmes.
Scotland plays little part in the Holmes stories, most which were set in London, or rural locations in England, and so it is no surprise that comparatively few readers associate Doyle with Edinburgh. Growing up here as a young man, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh's medical school, where he fell under the influence of the man who would inspire fiction's most famous detective.
Dr Joseph Bell was a tutor at the school, famed for his adherence to principles of observation and logical deduction for making his medical diagnoses. After the first Sherlock Holmes story - A Study in Scarlet - appeared in 1886, the similarity between Holmes and Bell was so clear that Robert Louis Stevenson, who had also studied under Bell, wrote to Doyle from his home in Samoa: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... can this be my old friend Joe Bell?"
Since his creation, Holmes has acquired the Guinness World Record for being the most portrayed movie character in cinematic history.
Curiously, although he is often referred to as Conan Doyle, on his baptismal record from St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, which still stands near the site of his birth on Picardy Place, Conan is recorded as one of the boy's two middle names (the other being Ignatius...). In many library and reference indexes he is listed correctly by his surname alone; Doyle, A.C.
Among his non-literary interests, Doyle was also a keen sportsman, playing cricket alongside fellow authors JM Barrie and AA Milne, as well as for the Marylebone Cricket Club.
One of Doyle's most famous associations was with the world of mystics and the supernatural, where - in contrast with his most famous literary creation - he proved surprisingly gullible.
Doyle was famously taken in by the Cottingley Fairies affair of 1917, when two young girls were pictured in photographs with a collection of dancing fairies, which were later proven to be a hoax. A short association with American magician Harry Houdini saw Doyle attempt to demonstration proof of an afterlife, and associated beliefs, while Houdini vociferously campaigned to defraud mystics and mediums.
Doyle died at his home in Sussex, England, in 1930. The statue of Sherlock Holmes was unveiled in the 1990s, and visitors can still enjoy a drink or a meal at the Conan Doyle pub, near the site of his birth - having a drinking hole named after you is one of the greatest forms of tribute Scotland can offer its famous sons and daughters.
Explore Doyle's Edinburgh in more detail with my private walking tours of the city!
As the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, it's unsurprising that Edinburgh has a variety of literary and poetic associations. But one spot in the city in particular has links to three of Scottish poetry's most important figures.
Located on the Canongate section of the Royal Mile, the Canongate Kirk is a fascinating and historic attraction in itself, and well worth the time to visit. But for poetry lovers in particular, this is an especially important place.
Firstly, visitors will find a statue of a jaunty looking fellow striding away from the kirkyard as they approach the gates. This is a memorial to Robert Fergusson, a poet who is largely credited with inspiring the budding writer Robert Burns in his work, and without whom Burns may never has persisted with the art which has led him to be treasured as Scotland's Bard.
Born in Edinburgh and educated in St Andrews, Fergusson became well known for his verses in the Scots tongue, something which especially inspired Burns. Unfortunately, all was not well in Fergusson's life, and it is thought he suffered from what in modern parlance would be termed depression. Having sustained a head injury falling down stairs in the city's Old Town, he was admitted to the asylum, where he died just a short time later. He was only 24 years old.
Fergusson was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard, where later Robert Burns appended a verse to his tomb, commemorating his friend and inspiration:
No sculptur'd marble here, nor pompous lay,
‘No story'd urn nor animated bust;’
This simple stone directs pale Scotia's way
To pour her sorrows o'er her Poet's dust.
Burns himself is the second poetic association with Canongate Kirkyard, and indeed its link to the third. For another of Burns' inspirations ended up interred in the graveyard here - Agnes Maclehose was known as Nancy to her friends, and to Burns himself as Clarina. She was his muse, as well as an unrequited lover of his, and it is to her that Burns wrote poems like Ae Fond Kiss, probably one of his most famous (and best loved) poems.
As with Fergusson, there is a sense of tragedy over the circumstances of Maclehose's claim to fame. She and Burns had been writing to each other for a number of years, she using the pen-name Clarinda, and he Sylvander. The aliases were necessary as Agnes was married at the time, to an apparently cruel and uncaring husband. Through her otherwise platonic correspondence with Burns she was able to experience something of the affection and love she was unable to enjoy with her estranged husband.
In 1791, Agnes sailed from Edinburgh to Jamaica to attempt a reconciliation with her husband, and Burns captured the sense of lost love her experienced at her departure in Ae Fond Kiss:
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy;
Naething could resist my Nancy;
For to see her was to love her,
Love but her, and love for ever.
Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met—or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.
Agnes/Nancy/Clarinda later returned to Edinburgh, where she died in 1841, being buried in the Canongate Kirkyard.
And so it is Scotland's Bard himself who links two other significant figures from Scots poetry. Memorials to both Fergusson and Clarinda can be found in the churchyard, where the melancholy sense of a life and love affair cut short can still be felt when the wind blows between the gravestones....
Explore Canongate Kirkyard on a private walking tour of the city! Contact me for more information.
To mark World Book Day 2016, rather than focusing on the many, many writers who have lived in or had associations with Edinburgh over the centuries, I'm profiling the Edinburgh Central Lending Library instead.
The library opened in 1890, and was the first public library in the city. It was founded as part of the philanthropic legacy of Andrew Carnegie, at one time the richest man in America. Carnegie had been born a few miles away from Edinburgh in Dunfermline, and among the many philanthropic projects he established to make good with his fortune was the establishment of 3,000 libraries around the world. Carnegie understood the importance of knowledge and learning, encapsulated by the motto above the library's entrance: 'Let there be light'.
Carnegie had originally offered £25,000 to establish the library, but a degree of opposition to the building led him to end up doubling his endowment. With £50,000 from Carnegie, Edinburgh became the last of Scotland's cities to establish a public library - something somewhat surprising, given the city's reputation as a literary homeland, and since 2005 the world's first UNESCO City of Literature!
The building's foundation stone was laid in 1887, and the building grew alongside the arches of George IV Bridge, a structure which had been instrumental in opening up the city less than fifty years previously. The library was opened in 1890, and remains an integral part of the city's social education system today.
The upper levels of the library have been renovated in recent years, but a trip downstairs in the building takes you into some of the original stairways built at the end of the nineteenth century. The decorative tiling may not be to everyone's tastes, but is at least an authentic connection with the library as it was over 100 years ago.
The building today is run by Edinburgh Council, and as such is under threat from persistent budget cuts which seek to limit the operations and services offered by the library.
Aside from the importance of libraries as a social resource, it is vital that this historic building continues to operate and not just survive but thrive. At the opening of the library building in 1890, Andrew Carnegie sent a telegram which set out his hopes and intentions for the library:
"We trust that this Library is to grow in usefulness year after year, and prove one of the most potent agencies for the good of the people for all time to come."
More than a century after it opened, Edinburgh's Central Library is still issuing around 500,000 books to the city's population every year. And, as an aforementioned UNESCO City of Literature, it is to be sincerely hoped that the work of the library (and the 27 other public libraries operated throughout the city) does indeed continue, as Carnegie wished, for all time to come.
Explore more of Edinburgh's literary history with a private walking tour...
Between the designer label stores and boutique fashion shops on Edinburgh's George Street, you may notice a small building which still retains a low-key residential-looking frontage. The only obvious indication that the property is more than an original New Town townhouse is the functioning model of a lighthouse above the front door. A brass plate confirms that this is the headquarters of the Commissioners of Northern Lights, or less romantically/more formally the Northern Lighthouse Board.
From this building all the lighthouses around the coast of Scotland are managed and maintained remotely, ensuring the safety of naval vessels in the waters around the country.
Recently I had the pleasure of spending a week in a former lighthouse keeper's cottage, at the Covesea Skerries Lighthouse, near Lossiemouth on the Moray firth. The cottages are now managed by the National Trust for Scotland as holiday cottages, and the lighthouse makes for an attractive and unusual location for a short Highlands holiday.
The Covesea lighthouse, like many of the lighthouses around Scotland, was designed and built by one of the most significant engineering families of the nineteenth century, the Stevensons, whose family home was in Edinburgh.
The Covesea lighthouse was constructed slightly against the better judgement of the Northern Board of Lighthouses, who felt an installation on the Moray coast wasn't necessary, despite 16 vessels being lost to storms in the month of November 1826 alone. Public opinion weighed on the side of the sailors, and the site at Covesea was chosen for the lighthouse, which opened in 1846.
Alan Stevenson, the designer and engineer who was responsible for the construction of Covesea, as well 12 other lighthouses, was the uncle of novelist Robert Louis Stevenson. Robert chose not to follow the family line into engineering, instead pursuing a career in law before becoming famous for his literary works.
The Covesea lighthouse was finally decommissioned in 2012 after over 160 years service. Alan Stevenson is buried alongside other members of the Stevenson lighthouse family in Edinburgh's New Calton burial ground.
Robert Louis Stevenson (notably) rests in peace 10,000 miles away on a Samoan island in the Pacific Ocean, having continued his family's connection with the high seas on a more landward basis...
Take a customised walking tour of Edinburgh to find out more about Robert Louis Stevenson.
Being International Women’s Day, this would be a worthy time to introduce you to Catherine Sinclair, notable for being (I believe) one of only two women commemorated with a monument or statue in Edinburgh’s city centre. We have plenty of busts of men - and quite a few dogs and animals - but only Sinclair and Queen Victoria have Edinburgh monuments in their honour.
Located off Charlotte Square (named for another woman, Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III) in the New Town, the monument at the bottom of North Charlotte Street at the junction with St Colme Street, is modelled in a similar style to that of the Scott Monument on Princes Street.
Sinclair was, like Scott, a writer, as well as being a social philanthropist. Working in the 1830s and 40s, Sinclair produced a number of popular books for children, as well as range of titles for adults, with inspiring titles such as The Journey of Life and Anecdotes of the Caesars.
Her association with Walter Scott is well-known, and it is believed that it was Sinclair who discovered that Scott was the author of the Waverley novels, which had originally been published anonymously. Recognising their quality and value, Sinclair urged Scott to go public as their author, and in doing so helped secure his reputation as one of Scotland’s great literary heroes.
Her kindness was well-known, as well as her charitable spirit of support and care for animals and those less well-off in society. She introduced public benches into Edinburgh’s busy streets, to help provide respite to pedestrians, as well as introducing public water fountains, to provide clean drinking water to the public.
Today she may seem a minor figure in the pantheon of great Edinburgh citizens past, but the monument to her is a significant indicator of her standing and reputation, and a valuable reminder that great cities like Edinburgh were not (and are not) only shaped by the men who live and work in them.
For more information about other significant figures from the city’s past, why not book a customised walking tour of the city?
Edinburgh was named UNESCO’s first City of Literature in 2004, thanks to its rich and varied literary history. To mark World Book Day, here’s a rundown of some of the city’s most important writerly figures and influences…
Sir Walter Scott
Commemorated by the world’s tallest monument to a writer, standing adjacent to Waverley station (the world’s only railway station named after a literary work) on Princes Street, Scott was not only born and raised in the city but was also responsible for shaping Edinburgh’s profile as a destination for tourists.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Born locally and living for a time at 17 Heriot Row in the New Town, Stevenson wrote classic adventure titles like Treasure Island and Kidnapped, as well as the short novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a template for gothic horror, as well as the book which best characterises the dual nature of Edinburgh itself.
Creator of the iconic Edinburgh girls’ teacher Jean Brodie, immortalised in the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – played on screen by Maggie Smith, who won an Oscar for the role. Showcasing locations from across the city, this book superbly represents the world of genteel Edinburgh society, as well as being a treatise on the nature of education and childhood.
The famed author of the Harry Potter books was an unemployed single parent when she first drafted the books which would go on to make her one of the world’s richest women. Various locations across the city are said to have inspired her, including Fettes College and George Heriot’s School as influences on the spectacularly gothic Hogwarts Academy.
Trainspotting raised the profile of modern Edinburgh in a way that no other recent novel could. Set in the seedy world of drug addicts and violent criminals of the Edinburgh underworld, the 1994 film, directed by Danny Boyle, also helped launch the careers of Ewan McGregor and a host of other Scottish acting talent.
These represent just a handful of the literary heritage that can be found across Edinburgh – find out more with a customised walking tour of the city.
Every year in Scotland, events are held on and around the 25th January, to commemorate the life of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, born in Ayrshire in 1759.
Famed as the author of songs and poems including Ae Fond Kiss, Tam O'Shanter and To A Mouse, Burns also provided the lyric for what is sometimes considered Scotland's alternative national anthem, Auld Lang Syne:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and days of auld lang syne?
'Burns Suppers', as these annual commemorative events are often called, feature recitals of some of Burns's most famous and popular works, including the ceremonial presentation of a haggis to dinner guests (served with 'neeps and tatties' - mashed turnips and/or swede and potatoes), as well as music and dancing.
The first Burns Supper was hosted in Edinburgh 1816, when "one hundred gentlemen dined as part of the first public celebration of the birthday of the poet Robert Burns". (An earlier celebration, in Greenock in 1802, had been held on the 29th January, wrongly believed to be Burns's date of birth before the true date was discovered the following year.)
One attendee at the celebration in Edinburgh that night in 1816 was Walter Scott, who proposed that a similar celebration should be held every three years - in fact Burns is now commemorated annually at events right across Scotland (and the world!).
Visitors to Edinburgh can explore Burns, his work and his history, at a variety of sites across the city:
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.
For more information about Robert Burns, visit the Writers' Museum, in Lady Stair's Close off the Lawnmarket on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. This free museum is a fascinating resource for those interested in Burns and any of Scotland's other great literary figures, Robert Louis Stevenson and Walter Scott.
Explore more of Burns's Edinburgh with a private walking tour of the city!
Scotland and Edinburgh were not always regarded as such attractive places to visit as they are today. Samuel Johnson was a particular critic, once asking: "What enemy would invade Scotland, where there is nothing to be got?"
Happily we have enjoyed the favours of many people who have championed the country, and Edinburgh in particular, and foremost among them was Sir Walter Scott.
Scott may be best regarded today as one of Scotland's foremost romantic novelists for books such as Rob Roy and Ivanhoe, but he was also a judge and a lawyer, as well as being Edinburgh's great cultural ambassador. For were it not for Scott's efforts in the nineteenth century the tourist industry in Scotland may have taken rather longer to become established.
In 1818 Scott led a group of men who sought out the Scottish crown jewels, which had been hidden away in Edinburgh Castle after the union with England in 1707. By the turn of the nineteenth century the Honours of Scotland (as they would become known) were known only through fables and national legends - no one knew for sure whether they still existed, never mind where they might be.
The jewels were discovered by Scott and his men in the bowels of Edinburgh Castle, having been locked inside a sturdy chest for over a hundred years. After their rediscovery, the jewels were put on display in Edinburgh Castle, and quickly became a popular attraction for locals and those visitors to the city, who would pay handsomely to view them (entry to the castle itself being free at this point!).
Perhaps capitalising on this newfound attraction, and conscious that Edinburgh hadn't received a royal visit from a reigning monarch since 1650, Scott invited King George IV to visit the city. This event took place with a great deal of pomp and circumstance, with a grand ball at the Assembly Rooms on George Street.
It was reputedly Scott also who suggested the king might like to wear a kilt, made of Scottish plaid or tartan material - prior to this few people still wore the kilt, considering it old-fashioned and outmoded, and also having been illegal to wear - punishable by six months in prison - after the union with England.
Being modelled (albeit badly, according to contemporary accounts) on King George IV helped to reintroduce the kilt to popular fashion, and indeed to the tourist trade. Everyone visiting Scotland wanted to be seen wearing the striking apparel that the king himself had championed! And so the kilt became a staple feature of 'Scottishness', thanks in large part to Walter Scott.
Scott died in 1832, and in 1844 the monument dedicated to him was opened in Edinburgh's by-then thriving New Town.
Sited in Princes Street gardens, directly across the road from Jenners department store, you cannot miss seeing the Scott Monument on any visit to the city. It is the world's tallest monument to a writer, standing at 200ft and 6 inches high. The monument was designed by George Meikle Kemp, and bears a larger-than-life-size portrait of Scott sculpted by Sir John Steell, as well as likenesses of around 60 characters from Scott's novels cast in the sandstone columns around the monument. On a clear day, you can climb the monument's 287 internal steps to enjoy panoramic views across the city.
Further tribute to Scott is found in the naming of Edinburgh's main railway station, named Waverley after the historical novel written by Scott (but published anonymously at first) in 1814.
Waverley station stands today as the only railway station in the world named after a book, and those emerging from the station are greeted not only by Scott's imposing monument, but the world-class city that he helped to popularise.
Explore more of Edinburgh with my private city walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
Search the blog archive...
About Your Tour Guide
Edinburgh Expert Blog
Frequently Asked Questions
Telephone: +44 (0) 131 235 2351
© COPYRIGHT GARETH DAVIES 2014-22