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ART. III. ROYAL EDINBURGH.
Royal Edinburgh: her Saints, Kings, Prophets, and Poets. By Mrs. OLIPHANT, Author of Makers of Florence, Makers of Venice, &c. With Illustrations by George Reid, R.S.A. (London and New York, 1890.)
EDINBURGH is one of those cities which have a rare attraction alike for the poet and the prose writer. The grey metropolis of the north shares this distinction with a few even more famous and beautiful towns-with the City of the Seven Hills and the City of the Violet Crown, with Rome and Athens, with Venice and Florence. This is partly owing, no doubt, to the natural beauty of her situation, partly to the romance which belongs to her history, but even more to the enthusiastic devotion of her sons. In all ages this strong and deeplyrooted attachment to the 'auld countree' has been a marked feature of the Scottish character, and is the more noteworthy from the spirit of adventure and enterprise and the commercial shrewdness with which it is combined. There is not a Scottish traveller in the far North-West, not a colonist in New Zealand or South Africa, who is not justly proud of the old capital, who does not in his heart of hearts think no other city in the world can compare with her, just as to him the national songs and strathspeys of Scotland are sweeter than any other music that has ever sounded in his ears. Through all his wanderings in primæval forests and on foreign shores, in all his toil and money-getting, his heart still turns to the old town on the windy heights with a love which time and distance can never alter
'True to the kindred points of heaven and home.'
'There is no Edinburgh emigrant far or near, from China to Peru,' writes one of the most eloquent of living Scotchmen,' 'but he or she carries some lively pictures of the mind-some sunset behind the Castle cliffs, some snow scene, some maze of city lamps-indelible in the memory and delightful to study in the intervals of toil.'
Certainly no city has been more often described in prose and verse. The charms of her high seat and the great memories which have made her even more interesting than beautiful have been celebrated by the foremost of dead and
1 Mr. R. L. Stevenson.
living writers. The famous passage in Marmion where Scott paints the Empress of the North seated on her hilly throne
'Her palaces, imperial bowers;
Her castle, proof to hostile powers;
Her stately halls and holy towers '
rises at once to our minds, together with those still more graceful prose pictures scattered up and down the novels in which he describes the grandeur and gloom of the Castle, wrapt in wreaths of smoke, or the glimmering of the lights in the irregular lines of tall houses, rising ever higher and higher till they seem to twinkle in the middle sky. Burns has invoked the city which received him so hospitably in his wellknown ode to
'Edina! Scotia's darling seat!'
Aytoun has written his stirring lays of high Dunedin in her maiden strength. Mr. Ruskin has by turns expatiated on the beauties of the old and denounced the ugliness of the new town with the same fervour. Ten or twelve years ago Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson gave us a volume of picturesque notes on Edinburgh, slight indeed, but admirably vivid and forcible; and now Mrs. Oliphant, the veteran novelist, after telling us her tale of the makers of Florence and the wonders of Venice, devotes her pen to the same theme and records the glorious past of her own romantic town.' It would be hard to find a writer better qualified for the task. Mrs. Oliphant possesses in an exceptional manner the very qualities which are the most needed for the historian of Edinburgh. In the first place she is Scotch herself, bred and born on Scottish soil; and the lights and shadows of Scottish life, the interiors of old Scottish families, are, as she has shown us in one of her latest novels, more familiar to her than to any other living writer. And then too she combines in a rare degree the painstaking industry, the accuracy and impartiality which are necessary for the historian with the practised novelist's keen appreciation of the pathetic element, a quality which enables her to render full justice to the romance which is so remarkable a feature in the ancient history of Scotland. The most thrilling scenes of Scottish story, the glory and the tragedy which meet us by turns in the lives of the Stuart kings, have never been more vividly set forth than in these pages.
Mrs. Oliphant has been fortunate in obtaining the help of so good and so essentially a Scottish artist as Mr. George
Reid. His illustrations include not only the chief points of note in Edinburgh itself-the Castle under its different aspects, the streets and monuments, the old houses, churches, and gateways in both quarters of the town-but many places, both in the immediate neighbourhood of the capital and in other parts of Scotland, which have been at one time or another connected with the history of her kings. Thus Mr. Reid gives us striking views of the ancient Abbey of Dunfermline, of Stirling Castle and Linlithgow Palace, of Holyrood and the ruins of St. Andrews. All of them are faithful representations, and several are remarkably picturesque in effect, such, for instance, as the view of Edinburgh at night from the Castle rock, with the lights twinkling in the windows of the lofty houses and the crescent moon hanging over the distant spires of the Calton Hill. But it is to be regretted that the artist has made a rule of executing his work under such gloomy conditions. The constant presence of snow and rain in his pictures is, to say the least, depressing, and seems to bear out the traditional reply of the Scotsman who, when asked by an anxious enquirer whether it always rained north of the Tweed, replied, ' Na; sometimes it snaws.' That the climate of Edinburgh leaves much to be desired we are quite prepared to admit, but even Mr. Stevenson, who calls it one of the vilest upon earth, owns that there are bright and temperate days, when the sun does shine and the soft airs blow pleasantly from the hills. Either these days have not smiled on Mr. Reid or else he has a natural preference for dark skies and stormy evenings. There is a certain fitness in seeing the Bass Rock set in the midst of the raging elements, and the towers of Holyrood, we confess, look picturesque when they are capped with snow; but are George Street and Princes Street, we are inclined to ask, invariably a sea of mud, and do St. Giles's crown and St. Mary's Bath always rise out of flooded streets, where luckless foot passengers pick their way in fear and trembling, or battle with umbrellas against the wind? It may be necessary to supply the monuments on the Calton Hill with an effective background of storm and cloud, but Stirling Castle does not need a sky of inky blackness or torrents of falling rain to set off its grandeur, and St. Margaret's Loch has been sometimes seen in happier circumstances than a blinding snowstorm, Even Linlithgow, the joyous home of dance and song, is seen at the dusky close of a stormy day, and hardly bears out the idea Sir Walter Scott has given us of the fair palace where the merry linnet sings in June and all is 'so blythe and glad '—
'The saddest heart might pleasure take
To see all nature gay.'
Royal Edinburgh, as the title implies, deals in a record of the royal personages whose names have been connected with the city from the earliest ages. And first of all we have the story of good Queen Margaret, whose name figures among the oldest saints of Scotland, and whose gentle presence and beneficent rule did more, perhaps, to soften the rude manners of the King and Court, and to civilize the realm, than any other influence. Mrs. Oliphant's assertion that before Margaret's time the history of Scotland was 'little but fable' may strike us as not strictly accurate, when we call to mind the researches made in recent times by certain eminent antiquaries; but setting this aside, her picture of the fair Saxon queen, whose memory lived so fondly in the hearts of her subjects, is one of the most charming chapters in the book. No prettier legend was ever chronicled than that of the coming of Margaret to the Scottish shores.
The daughter of Edward the Outlaw and sister of Edgar Atheling, the rightful heir to the crown of England, Margaret had been brought up with the rest of her family at the Court of her maternal grandfather, the King of Hungary, one of the richest and most splendid princes in Christendom. Seeing the Norman Conqueror firmly seated on the throne of England, Edgar had given up all hope of asserting his claims, and had embarked with his mother and sisters and a few noble Saxons to return to Hungary; but the ship in which the royal family sailed was driven by wind and storm to take shelter in the Firth of Forth, under a headland known as St. Margaret's Hope. Here the natives crowded to look on the distinguished strangers who were so unlike themselves, and who bore with them such rich stores of gold, and jewels, and rare and precious things. Among them came the King of Scotland himself, Malcolm Canmore, the son of the murdered Duncan, whose own youth had been spent in Siward's house in Northumberland, and who having learnt the Latin and English tongues there, although we are told he could not read, could at least hold converse with the foreign princes. The old chronicler goes on to tell how the beauty of the English princess, and the 'pleasantness of her jocund speech,' won the rude king's heart, and how in the same year, 1070, Margaret was brought with great rejoicing to the royal palace of Dunfermline, in the heart of the forests of Fife, and there wedded to King Malcolm. The transformation which the young Queen effected in the primitive Court and people
among whom her lot was cast during the twenty-three years of her married life has been described by Theodoric, the monk of Durham, who was himself for a considerable period her confessor and spiritual adviser. Under her influence the great cathedral arose close by the royal palace, and while the builders were at work on those glorious arches which still stand, worn and battered by age, in the nave of Dunfermline Abbey, Margaret was devising golden ornaments for the altars of the new church, and the Court ladies sat at work in her rooms, embroidering tapestries and costly hangings under her direction. The artistic tastes and love of splendour which the stranger queen had brought with her were as beneficial to her lord's rude subjects as her goodness. She adorned the palace with the beautiful things she had brought with her, provided fine clothes for her retainers and dishes of gold and silver for the royal table, and used all her influence to induce her husband to give up his barbarous manners and 'live honestly and civilly.' Theodoric draws a touching picture of the rude middle-aged warrior gazing with adoring wonder at the fair young Queen as she knelt in prayer at the altar or bent over the pages of the sacred book which he could not read himself, but which he liked to hold in his hands and kiss for her sake. On one occasion, it is said, he sent for a goldsmith and had the manuscript which Margaret had been reading encased in gold and ornamented with jewels.
The good Queen's charities were boundless, and the monkish chronicler remarks naïvely that the poor followed her about in crowds wherever she went, and the weak and suffering looked upon her as their mother. The English captives whom the King brought back from the raids which he made over the Border, and who led miserable lives as the bondmen of their conquerors, were the especial objects of Margaret's solicitude. She sent her servants to visit them from house to house, and alleviate as far as possible the horrors of their condition. The pilgrims who came from all parts of the kingdom to the great religious centre at St. Andrews also excited her interest, and at her bidding houses of shelter were built along the stormy waters of the Firth, on the very shores where she had first landed, and boats were supplied for the passage across the sea. With Edinburgh itself Margaret is especially connected. There it was, within the precincts of the rude fortress which already crowned the top of the impregnable rock, that she raised the little Norman chapel which still bears her name. Nothing in Edinburgh is so deeply interesting as that little chapel,