Edinburgh has made its mark upon the world and its place among the great centres of the world’s civilization. On the whole, no city in Great Britain, or in Christendom, has ever attained to such well-developed, I will not say angular, but salient individuality. This is deep-featured and ineffaceable. It is, not was. Edinburgh has reared great men prolifically and supplied the world with them, and kept always a good number back for itself to give a shaping to others the world needed. Its prestige is great in the production of such intellects. But it keeps up with the times. It is faithful to its antecedents, and appreciates them at their full value and obligation. It does not lie a-bed until noon because it has got its name up for educating brilliant minds. Its grand old University holds its own among the wranglers of learning. Its High School is proportionately as high as ever, notwithstanding the rapid growth of others of the same purpose. Its pulpit boasts of its old mind-power and moral stature. Its Theology stands iron-cabled, grand and solid as an iceberg in the sea of modern speculation, unsoftened under the patter of the heterodox sentimentalities of human philanthropy. It is growing more and more a City of Palaces. And the palaces are all built for housing the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak and the vilest of the vile. These hospitals are the Holyroods of Edinburgh II. They honor it with a renown better than the royal palace of the latter name ever won.
I said Edinburgh the Second. That is correct. There are two towns, the Old and the New; the last about half a century’s age. But the oldest will be the youngest fifty years hence. The hand of a “higher civilization,” with its spirit-level, pick, plane and trowel, is upon it with the grip of a Samson. That hand will tone down its great distinctive individualities and give it the modern uniformity of design, face and feature. All these tall houses, built skyward layer upon layer or flat upon flat, until they show half a dozen stories on one street, and twice that number on the other, are doomed, and they will be done for, one by one in its turn. They probably came in with Queen Mary, and they will go out under the blue-eyed Alexandra. They will be supplanted by the most improved architecture of modern taste and utilitarianism. Edinburgh will be Anglicised and put in the fashionable costume of a progressive age; in the same swallow-tailed coat, figured vest and stovepipe hat worn by London, Liverpool and Manchester. It will not be allowed to wear tweed pantaloons except for one circumstance;— that it is now building its best houses of stone instead of brick.
But there are physical features that will always distinguish Edinburgh from all other cities of the world and which no architectural changes can ever obliterate or deface. There are Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags, the Calton Hill, and the Castle Height, and there they will stand forever—the grandest surroundings and garniture of Nature ever given to any capital or centre of the earth’s populations.