Edinburgh Bookshelf

Edinburgh Past and Present


2 EDINBURGH PAST ANI) PRESENT. by giving a series of dissolving views of various parts and points of prospect that we can hope, in the faintest approximation, to describe the Modern Athens. I t were superfluous to quote Scott’s magnificent lines in the fourth canto of Marnuon, closing with the words- ‘ Where’s the coward that would not dare To fight for such a land ! ’- words to which O’Connelrs recitation, heard by 30,000 on the Calton Hill, in the September of 1835, seemed to give a new force and meaning, as though a ray of autumnal gold had been shed down upon them, and transfigured them in your sight. Less known than these, but hardly less beautiful, are those in the Introduction to the 5th canto of the Poem, contrasting the Edinburgh of the past with that of the present day :- ‘. . . Caledonia’s Queen is changed, Since on her dusky summit ranged, Within its steepy limits pent, By bulwark, line, and battlcment, And flanking towers, and Iaky flood, Guardcd and garrisoned she stood, Denying entrance or resort, Save at each tall embattled port. . . . Stern then, and steel-girt, was thy brow, Dun-Edin ! 0, how altered now, When safe amid thy mountain court Thou sitst like Empress at her sport, And liberal, unconfined, and free, For thy dark cloud, with umbered lower That hung o’er cliff, and lake, and tower, Thou gleam’st against the western ray Tcn thousand lines of brighter day.’ FLINGINTGH Y WHITE ARMS TO THE SEA, In the 5th canto we have a gleam of Edinburgh by night :- ‘ You might have heard a pebble fall, A beetle hum, a cricket sing, An owlet flap his boding wing, On Giles’s steeple tall. The antique buildings, climbing high, Whose Gothic frontlets sought the sky Were here wrapt deep in shade ;
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- GENERAL DESCRIPTION. 3 There on their brows the moonbeam broke, Through the faint wreaths of silvery smoke, And on the casements played, And other light was none to see, Save torches gliding far.' We need here but allude to his prose touches of description-rapid and decisive-of the view of the Firth of Forth and the northem part of Edinburgh, in Guy Mannerhg, and of the city as seen in the morning froin Salisbury Crags, in the Heart of Mik'Zuthian. Yet, with the exception of the first-mentioned splendid burst in Ma?-mion, it is curious that Sir Walter Scott has painted no scene in or about or near Edinburgh with half such a powerful pencil as he has, in Rob Roy, the Cathedral and its environments in the ancient city of St. Mungo-a passage we have always considered as among the most sublime and suggestive pictures Scott ever drew, and as ranking among the first masterpieces of descriptive composition in the world. Scott, indeed, as a native of Edinburgh, could never have looked at it with the same fresh and new enthusiasm with which it has been beheld by many strangers seeing it for the first time. Haydon's exclamation when he saw it first was, "Tis a giant's dream ! ' And such is the feeling of many who never dared to use the words. It seemed as if it had been built to some unearthly music, or after a model suspended in the clouds, and formed by the hands of Air and Sunshine. Stone and Rock seemed here moulded into the express image of Genius, and Nature and Art were apparently reconciled. Religion, too, had hung up toward the glowing west the dome of St. George's, as if challenging the whole proud city as her own. And the marriage of man's perfect work and of God's ideal of beauty and grandeur had for witnesses the everlasting hills- Arthur's Seat and the rest-seeming guardians, too, over a dream city, and fixing what otherwise, like dreams, seemed ready to vanish away. We believe that in these words and images we have not exaggerated the feelings wherewith young imaginative minds were filled to ecstatic confusion on their first visit to Edinburgh. There was at first all the delight and delirium of a dream; nor did the disenchantment come soon, even after the bewildering whole had been resolved into its component parts. The fragments, like those of a cloud, were as aerial as the cloud itself. From Arthur's Seat Edinburgh rather dwindles and is drowned in the midst of its environments-the blue shores and indented hills of Fife; the ocean stretching eastwards to enfold the Bass Rock and North Berwick Law; the garden-land toward Berwick, dotted with little hills and half encircled by
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