One of Edinburgh’s many assets is its link to some of the literary greats, both past and present. Edinburgh has definitely seen its fair share of academic achievement with schools, statues and monuments recognising those of the highest worth. In this final look at Scotland’s capital city, we take a look at some of the writers to grace the Royal Mile.
Sir Walter Scott – The largest tribute in Edinburgh and in the world for a writer was created for Sir Walter Scott. A multi-talented writer, Scott had interests in history, poetry play and novel writing with many of his books still thought of as classic works of literature. Scott was also a respected man of the law holding down various positions throughout his career. Due to his growing popularity, Scott was granted the privilege of conducting searches for the missing crown jewels after the reign of Charles II. These were discovered in a buried box at Edinburgh castle, earning Scott the title of Baronet. The Gothic Scott monument can be found by Waverley bridge in Princes street.
Writer’s Museum – The nearby Writer’s museum can be found in Lady Stair’s close on The Royal Mile. The museum focuses on the lives of three of Edinburgh’s finest writers, Sir Walter Scott, Robert burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. Visitors can find personal items as well as impressive collections of manuscripts and books included in the displays.
John Knox – The leader of the Scottish reformers, John Knox, a Scottish minister earned himself exile to England for his part in the movement. Knox rose to become the King’s chaplain allowing him influence on the reform of religious works as well as time to write sermons, pamphlets and letters of importance.
From the stories echoing through the city today, Knox was not remembered for being the most pleasant soul. When the sound of children drifted through the window, he is quoted as saying he could not stand the sound of his own children crying after he beat them. Charming. Nevertheless, the house where Knox is thought to have spent his final days, now open as John Knox’s house, is one of the attractions found on The Royal Mile and one of the oldest house in Edinburgh.
Robert Louis Stevenson – Robert Louis Stevenson grew up in Edinburgh. He spent much of his childhood in the city, before travelling extensively in spite of the ill health that followed him. Stevenson’s playground was the extensive private gardens in Queen street. Was it here that Robert found the inspiration for his stories of Treasure Island? Another famous work, the Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde may have been the result of a real-life case study of one of Stevenson’s friends. Stevenson lived a short but full life, He dying young at the age of 44 years and outlived by both his father and grandfather. Visit the Stevenson’s childhood home at 17 Heriot Row.
James Young Simpson – A couple of streets from Heriot Row lived another significant writer and scientist. Simpson was the first to discover the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic and wrote books and papers on various scientific fields. Simpson taught at the University of Edinburgh as Professor of Medicine & Midwifery. His interest in the field of obstetrics saw improvements made to the design of forceps that we use in childbirth to this day, known as Simpson’s forceps. You can find Simpson’s house at 52 Queen Street.
Robert Burns – Up on Calton Hill, overlooking the city is the memorial dedicated to Robert Burns. Known by many names, Robert Burns is most commonly celebrated as the national poet of Scotland. A writer of songs and poems with a knack for creating melodies of romantic words, Burn’s lyrics can be found in compositions such as A Red,Red Rose, Ae Fond Kiss and the Hogmanay anthem, Auld Lang Syne. In the years following Burn’s young death, he has been commemorated in statues and memorials around the world. He posthumously received the Freedom of the city of Dumfries and Burns Night is celebrated on 25th January each year, the date of Burn’s birth.
Of course there are many more authors we mustn’t forget – JK Rowling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Rankin to name just a few, have all contributed to Edinburgh’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature. The capital provides the grounds for the international book festival held here every year and the variety of bookshops will please book lovers of every genre.
This sadly brings us to the end of our four part Edinburgh series. I hope you have enjoyed the different viewpoints and add the city to your bucket lists! It is a unique location with so much to see. Trust me, there is plenty we haven’t talked about in our guides to uncover for yourselves. Enjoy!
Find out more about Edinburgh book festival here
Read the other Edinburgh guides in this series, by clicking the links below: