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Edinburgh Quotations

Throned on crags, Edinburgh takes every eye; and not
content with supremacy in beauty, she claims an
intellectual supremacy also. She is a patrician amongst
British cities, ‘A penniless lass wi’ a lang pedigree.’ She
has wit if she lacks wealth: she counts great men against
millionaires. The success of the actor is insecure until
thereunto Edinburgh has set her seal. The poet trembles
before the Edinburgh critics. The singer respects the
delicacy of the Edinburgh ear. Coarse London may roar
with applause: fastidious Edinburgh sniffs disdain, and
sneers reputation away. London is the stomach of the
empire - Edinburgh the quick, subtle, far-darting brain.
Alexander Smith

York was, London is, but Edinburgh shall be
The greatest of the three.

Thomas the Rhymer
(13th century)

"Hard by, in the fields called the Leith Links, the citizens of Edinburgh divert themselves at a game called golf, in which they use a curious kind of bat, tipt with horn, and small elastic balls of leather, stuffed with feathers, rather less than tennis balls, but of a much harder consistence. This they strike with such force and dexterity from one hole to another, that they will fly to an incredible distance. Of this diversion the Scots are so fond, that when the weather will permit, you may see a multitude of all ranks, from the senator of justice to the lowest tradesman, mingled together in their shirts, and following the balls with the utmost eagerness."
Tobias Smollet, writing in 1771

I was about in the afternoon with Baxter; and we had a
good deal of fun, first rhyming on the names of all the
shops we passed, and afterwards buying needles and
quack drugs from open-air vendors, and taking much
pleasure in their inexhaustible eloquence. Every now and
then as we went, Arthur’s Seat showed its head at the end of a street. Now, today the blue sky and the sunshine were both entirely wintry; and there was about the hill, in these glimpses, a sort of thin, unreal, crystalline distinctness that I have not often seen excelled. As the sun began to go down over the valley between the new town and the old, the evening grew resplendent; all the gardens and low-lying buildings sank back and became almost invisible in a mist of wonderful sun, and the Castle stood up against the sky, as thin and sharp in outline as a castle cut out of paper. Baxter made a good remark about Princes Street, that it was the most elastic street for length that he knew; sometimes it looks, as it looked tonight, interminable, a way leading right into the heart of the red sundown; sometimes again, it shrinks together, as if for warmth, on one of the withering, clear east-windy days, until it seems to lie underneath your feet.
Robert Louis Stevenson

The Castle looks down upon the City as if out of another
world; stern with all its peacefulness, its garniture of trees, its slopes of grass. . . From George Street, which crowns the ridge, the eye is led down sweeping streets of stately architecture to the villas and woods that fill the lower ground, and fringe the shore; to the bright azure belt of the Forth with its smoking steamer or its creeping sail; beyond, to the shores of Fife, soft blue, and flecked with fleeting shadows in the keen clear light of spring, dark purple in the summer heat, tarnished gold in the autumn haze; and farther away still, just distinguishable on the paler sky, the crest of some distant peak, carrying the imagination into the illimitable world. Residence in Edinburgh is an education in itself. Its beauty refines one like being in love. It is perennial, like a play of Shakespeare’s. Nothing can stale its infinite variety.
Alexander Smith

Edinburgh pays cruelly for her high seat in one of the
vilest climates under heaven. She is liable to be beaten
upon by all the winds that blow, to be drenched with rain, to be buried in cold sea fogs out of the east, and powdered with the snow as it comes flying southward from the Highland hills. The weather is raw and boisterous in winter, shifty and ungenial in summer, and a downright
meteorological purgatory in the spring. The delicate die
early, and I, as a survivor, among bleak winds and
plumping rain, have been sometimes tempted to envy
them their fate. For all who love shelter and the blessings
of the sun, who hate dark weather and perpetual tilting
against squalls, there could scarcely be found a more
unhomely and harassing place of residence.
Robert Louis Stevenson

The chief scene where these winds exert their influence, is the New Bridge, the North Bridge, which, by being
thrown over a long valley that is open at both ends, and
particularly from being ballustraded on each side, admits
the wind in the most charming manner imaginable; and
you receive it with the same force you would do, were it
conveyed to you through a pair of bellows. It is far from
unentertaining for a man to pass over this bridge on a
tempestuous day. In walking over it this morning I had
the pleasure of adjusting a lady’s petticoats which had
blown almost entirely over her head, and which prevented her disengaging herself from the situation she was in: but in charity to her distresses, I concealed her charms from public view. One poor gentleman, who was rather too much engaged with the novelty of the objects before him, unfortunately forgot his own hat and wig, which were lifted up by an unpremeditated puff, and carried entirely away.
Edward Topham

The ladies of Edinburgh possess a more graceful
deportment than those of London; they are at once
slenderer and more fragile. Up to the present time I have
found among them fewer laughing Hebes than haughty
ijunos and stately-walking Dianas. To grace of figure
the young ladies of Edinburgh add, for the most part, the
charm of some agreeable talents. There are few of them
who are not musicians, and who are deficient in
extraordinary skill in the labours of the needle; there are
few of them also unacquainted with French.
Amédée Pichol [1822]

Last night it blew a fearful gale; I was kept awake
about a couple of hours, and could not get to sleep for the horror of the wind’s noise; the whole house shook; and, mind you, our house is a house, a great castle of jointed stone that would weigh up a street of English houses; so that when it quakes, as it did last night, it means something. But the quaking was not what put me about; it was the horrible howl of the wind round the corner; the audible haunting of an incarnate anger about the house; the evil spirit that was abroad; and, above all, the shuddering silent pauses when the storm’s heart stands dreadfully still for a moment. 0 how I hate a storm at night! They have been a great influence in my life, I am sure; for I can remember them so far back, long before I was six at least, for we left the house in which I remember listening to them times without number when I was six. And in those days the storm had for me a perfect impersonation, as durable and unvarying as any heathen deity. I always heard it, as a horseman riding past with his cloak about his head, and somehow always carried away, and riding past again, and being baffled once more, ad infinitum, all night long. I think I wanted him to get past, but I am not sure; I know only that I had some interest either for or against in the matter; and I used to lie and hold my breath, not quite frightened, but in a state of miserable exaltation.
Robert Louis Stevenson

Being a stranger, I was invited to sup at a tavern. The
cook was too filthy an object to be described; only another English gentleman whispered to me and said, he believed, if the fellow was to be thrown against the wall, he would stick to it. Twisting round and round his hand a greasy towel, he stood waiting to know what we would have for supper, and mentioned several things himself; among the rest, a duke, afool, or a meer-fool. This was nearly according to his pronounciation; but he meant a duck, a fowl, or a moorfowl, or grouse. We supped very plentifully, and drank good French claret, and were very merry till the clock struck ten, the hour when everybody is at liberty, by bent of the city drum, to throw their filth out at the windows. Then the company began to light pieces of paper, and throw them upon the table to smoke the room, and, as I thought, to mix one bad smell with another. Being in my retreat to pass through a long narrow wynde or alley, to go to my new lodgings, a guide was assigned to me, who went before me to prevent my
disgrace, crying out all the way, with a loud voice, ‘Hud
your haunde’. The throwing up of a sash, or otherwise
opening a window, made me tremble, while behind and
before me, at some little distance, fell the terrible shower. Well, I escaped all the danger, and arrived, not only safe and sound, but sweet and clean, at my new quarters; but when I was in bed I was forced to hide my head between the sheets; for the smell of the filth, thrown out by the neighbours on the back side of the house, came pouring into the room to such a degree I was almost poisoned with the stench.
Edward Burt

"And though I would rather die elsewhere, yet in my heart of hearts I long to be buried among good Scots clods. I will say it fairly, it grows on me with every year: there are no stars as lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps. When I forget thee, Auld Reekie, may my right hand forget its cunning!"
Robert Louis Stevenson

Still on the spot Lord Marmion stayed,
For fairer scene he ne’er surveyed,
When, sated with the martial show
That peopled all the plain below,
The wandering eye could o’er it go,
And mark the distant city glow
With gloomy splendour red;
For on the smoke-wreaths, huge and slow,
That round her sable turrets flow,
The morning beams were shed,
And tinged them with a lustre proud,
Like that which streaks a thunder-cloud.
Such dusky grandeur clothed the height,
Where the huge castle holds its state,
And all the steep slope down,
Whose ridgy back heaves to the sky,
Piled deep and massy, close and high,
Mine own romantic town!
But northward far, with purer blaze,
On Ochil mountains fell the rays,
And as each heathy top they kissed,
It gleamed a purple amethyst.
Yonder the shores of Fife you saw;
Here Preston-Bay, and Berwick-Law;
And broad between them rolled,
The gallant Firth the eye might note,
Whose islands on its bosom float,
Like emeralds chased in gold.

Sir Walter Scott.

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