Good afternoon, my dearest readers! How are you today? How was your weekend? Well, here it is! The last post about my literary trip through Edinburgh.
You may notice that Sir Walter Scott is in today’s title. Scott is probably the most renowned author in all of Scotland, but before we talk about his legacy and influence, let me introduce you to the Writer’s Museum.
The Writers’ Museum
Address: Lady Stair’s House, Lady Stair’s Close, Lawnmarket.
This small and charming museum -which is more a house than an actual museum- is dedicated to Robert Burns (the most famous poet in the Sottish language), Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, etc.) and Sir Walter Scott (Waverley, Ivanhoe, etc.).
The house was built in 1622 for Sir Walter Gray and his wife Geida; the original name was Lady Gray’s House. In 1719, Lady Elizabeth Dundas, Countess of Stair, bought the building and that’s how it got its actual name, Lady Stair’s House. In 1907, the owner was an Earl, who donated the house so it could be used as a museum.
Makar’s Court is the very special courtyard next to the house. It is an ever evolving literary monument, thanks to the many quotes on the pave stones. Each quotation is by an important Scottish author, and you can find them in Latin, English, Scot and Gaelic.
The word “makar” means both ‘maker’ and ‘poet’, and some people translate it as ‘skilled in the art of writing’. Nowadays, the City of Edinburgh chooses a Makar and the person becomes the main poet; the position lasts three years.
The current Makar of Edinburgh is the wonderful Christine De Luca. We were lucky enough to meet her when she gave a lecture for our group; there she read some of her poems and told us a bit of her life.
And speaking of writers, it’s time to talk about one of the most famous and important writers in Scotland. A national pride, and the Scottish novelist par excellence.
Sir Walter Scott was born the 15th of August 1771 in College Wynd, Edinburgh. He was a historical novelist, playwright, editor, lawyer, sheriff and clerk, and his novels were -and still are- extremely popular not only in the UK, but also all around the world.
In 1773, he caught poliomyelitis and was left lame. Because of his illness, he had to move to the Scottish Borders, where he spent a couple of years. This is the reason why monuments and paintings of Scott depict him sitting.
In 1778, Scott moved with his family to George Square, just a few steps from the house where Arthur Conan Doyle would live a hundred years later, and just across the square where, 237 years later, I would sit on a chair for two weeks.
Fun fact: the Walter Scott Monument, located at E. Princes St. Gardens and built in 1840, is the largest monument to a writer in the world. The style is victorian gothic, and the tower is 61.11m (200 feet 6 inches) high, and there’s a marble Walter sitting in its centre.
The monument makes the citizens quite proud, and it’s a place where every lover of literature can admire Sir Walter… everyone except Mark Twain, who got angry every time he walked past it.
Do you remember I told you that Mark Twain wandered around Edinburgh for a while? Do you remember that I said that he wasn’t friends with everyone? Well, I said it because dear Mark Twain absolutely hated Walter Scott. Twain blamed Scott for the American Civil War, stating that his ideas influenced and practically caused it:
“Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society.”Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)
In fact, Mark Twain hated the Scottish author so much, that in his book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the sailboat that wrecks is called Walter Scott.
I wonder what he thought about the main railway station in Edinburgh, called Waverley in honor of Sir Walter’s novel of the same name, and located right in the heart of the city.
It was there that my literary trip both started and ended.