I’m on my way up to the greatly beautiful and greatly underrated state of Idaho, and thought the car time would be a great opportunity to catch up on the blogging from my last week in Edinburgh, especially before I need to blog about Idaho and seeing The Battle of the Five Armies last night. So here it is:
There is a small gem in one of the closes off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh: this writer’s museum.
Inside there are little exhibits and artefacts from the lives of Edinburgh’s three most famous (I’d say) writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Robert Burns was a farm boy from the Scottish Borders area. He was an early reader, and though raised to become a farmer, no one could keep him away from the written word.
Robert Burns is celebrated throughout Scotland because his poetry changed the landscape for Scottish poetry, and poetry in general I think.
Burns wrote in the Romantic Era of literature, and in my British Romanticism class is where I first met him. The thing about Burns is that he wrote in Scots, so as a blase American reader, I actually struggled quite a bit with his poetry back then. After so much exposure to Scots living in Scotland (really, I was surprised at how prevalent it was), I appreciate his poetry so much more.
Burns’ poetry is not only remarkable because it got so famous despite being written in dialect, but it also addresses mundane subjects such as mice and lice. This was in an age when most poetry in the world was about love or philosophy and people were pretty stiff about it; Burns wrote about real life. That’s what makes him a Romantic really, but that’s also what makes him a Scottish hero. He’s the champion of the hard working man (or woman), as I know Scots to be. So he not only thrust the Scots dialect into the limelight to be recognized as a legitimate language, but also glorified the everyday life of the Scotsman. Plus he owned this sweet sword stick.
Sir Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott is one reason I wanted to come to Edinburgh in the first place. The story goes like this:
When I was ~15-years-old, I was reading Ivanhoe, and I got so into the story, I hyperventilated and passed out when Ivanhoe falls off his horse in the jousting battle. Any writing that had that kind of power 250+ years after it’s been written deserves respect, and since that moment Sir Walter Scott has been one of my heroes. Also noteworthy that not Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, nor The Lord of the Rings has ever made me pass out (scream, cry, laugh hysterically, throw books across the room, yes. But not pass out).
In addition to writing extremely exciting novels, Scott drew so much attention to Scotland by setting these extremely exciting novels in Scotland’s glorious wilderness that they call him the father of Scottish tourism. Which is a priceless contribution to the whole globe really, because traveling to Scotland is like a philosophical pilgrimage in which you come out a different person on the other side.
An Edinburgh native, Scott had polio as a child and difficulty walking for the rest of his life. I think this was one of the reasons he published a lot of his work anonymously at first, because he wasn’t sure how he’d be received. Fortunately, people loved him.
Scott also greatly contributed to the publishing industry of Scotland, encouraging a childhood friend to open a publishing house in Edinburgh and using it for his own novels until it grew into a successful business. It’s nice to see how far reaching a writer’s influence can go. Scott changed Scotland forever just by expressing his love for his homeland in his extremely exciting novels. I guess it’s true what they say about writing about what you know.
Also, check out this crazy awesome pipe of his:
Robert Louis Stevenson
So…I’ll admit that I didn’t realize Robert Louis Stevenson was Scottish. I read The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde for a class at uni and thoroughly enjoyed it, but it takes place in London so understandably I assumed he was English.
Learning about Stevenson in the museum, I realized that he’s a kindred spirit. This I realized when I read this quote from him:
To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive; and the true success is to labour.
How I love a man who loves a journey. And Stevenson loved to travel. He also said “we all belong to many countries,” which is one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard. He traveled a lot around Europe during his life, but he always had his Edinburgh home in mind when he wrote. Even in Jekyll and Hyde the twisted streets and dark places of Hyde’s villainy resemble the lower streets of Edinburgh’s old town despite the London setting.
Eventually Stevenson made it all the way to the South Pacific, where he remained for the rest of his life. Interestingly, he wrote Treasure Island long before he got to that island rich part of the world, but he didn’t stop telling stories when he got there. Here is a tortoise shell ring with his Samoan name meaning story writer engraved on it (which you can read from the placard):
In short, I’m honored to have shared writing space and inspiration with these great men who have changed so much and Scotland and literature. I hope something I write at some point in my life can honour their great city and legends they left in it.
(Burns, Scott, and Stevenson from left to right).