Edinburgh Picturesque Notes eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 76 pages of information about Edinburgh Picturesque Notes.
a man’s life has been argued away from him during long hours in the court above.  But just now that tragic stage is empty and silent like a church on a week-day, with the bench all sheeted up and nothing moving but the sunbeams on the wall.  A little farther and you strike upon a room, not empty like the rest, but crowded with productions from bygone criminal cases:  a grim lumber:  lethal weapons, poisoned organs in a jar, a door with a shot-hole through the panel, behind which a man fell dead.  I cannot fancy why they should preserve them unless it were against the Judgment Day.  At length, as you continue to descend, you see a peep of yellow gaslight and hear a jostling, whispering noise ahead; next moment you turn a corner, and there, in a whitewashed passage, is a machinery belt industriously turning on its wheels.  You would think the engine had grown there of its own accord, like a cellar fungus, and would soon spin itself out and fill the vaults from end to end with its mysterious labours.  In truth, it is only some gear of the steam ventilator; and you will find the engineers at hand, and may step out of their door into the sunlight.  For all this while, you have not been descending towards the earth’s centre, but only to the bottom of the hill and the foundations of the Parliament House; low down, to be sure, but still under the open heaven and in a field of grass.  The daylight shines garishly on the back windows of the Irish quarter; on broken shutters, wry gables, old palsied houses on the brink of ruin, a crumbling human pig-sty fit for human pigs.  There are few signs of life, besides a scanty washing or a face at a window:  the dwellers are abroad, but they will return at night and stagger to their pallets.


The character of a place is often most perfectly expressed in its associations.  An event strikes root and grows into a legend, when it has happened amongst congenial surroundings.  Ugly actions, above all in ugly places, have the true romantic quality, and become an undying property of their scene.  To a man like Scott, the different appearances of nature seemed each to contain its own legend ready made, which it was his to call forth:  in such or such a place, only such or such events ought with propriety to happen; and in this spirit he made the lady of the Lake for Ben Venue, the heart of Midlothian for Edinburgh, and the pirate, so indifferently written but so romantically conceived, for the desolate islands and roaring tideways of the North.  The common run of mankind have, from generation to generation, an instinct almost as delicate as that of Scott; but where he created new things, they only forget what is unsuitable among the old; and by survival of the fittest, a body of tradition becomes a work of art.  So, in the low dens and high-flying garrets

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Edinburgh Picturesque Notes from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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