and a sentiment as of foreign travel, when we hit
in our excursions on the butt-end of some former
hamlet, and found a few rustic cottages embedded
among streets and squares. The tunnel to the
Scotland Street Station, the sight of the trains
shooting out of its dark maw with the two guards
upon the brake, the thought of its length and the many
ponderous edifices and open thoroughfares above,
were certainly things of paramount impressiveness
to a young mind. It was a subterranean passage,
although of a larger bore than we were accustomed
to in Ainsworth’s novels; and these two words,
‘subterreanean passage,’ were in themselves
an irresistible attraction, and seemed to bring us
nearer in spirit to the heroes we loved and the black
rascals we secretly aspired to imitate. To
scale the Castle Rock from West Princes Street Gardens,
and lay a triumphal hand against the rampart itself,
was to taste a high order of romantic pleasure.
And there are other sights and exploits which crowd
back upon my mind under a very strong illumination
of remembered pleasure. But the effect of not
one of them all will compare with the discoverer’s
joy, and the sense of old Time and his slow changes
on the face of this earth, with which I explored
such corners as Cannonmills or Water Lane, or the
nugget of cottages at Broughton Market. They
were more rural than the open country, and gave a
greater impression of antiquity than the oldest land
upon the High Street. They too, like Fergusson’s
butterfly, had a quaint air of having wandered far
from their own place; they looked abashed and homely,
with their gables and their creeping plants, their
outside stairs and running mill-streams; there were
corners that smelt like the end of the country garden
where I spent my Aprils; and the people stood to
gossip at their doors, as they might have done in
Colinton or Cramond.
In a great measure we may, and shall, eradicate this
haunting flavour of the country. The last elm
is dead in Elm Row; and the villas and the workmen’s
quarters spread apace on all the borders of the city.
We can cut down the trees; we can bury the grass
under dead paving-stones; we can drive brisk streets
through all our sleepy quarters; and we may forget
the stories and the playgrounds of our boyhood.
But we have some possessions that not even the infuriate
zeal of builders can utterly abolish and destroy.
Nothing can abolish the hills, unless it be a cataclysm
of nature which shall subvert Edinburgh Castle itself
and lay all her florid structures in the dust.
And as long as we have the hills and the Firth,
we have a famous heritage to leave our children.
Our windows, at no expense to us, are most artfully
stained to represent a landscape. And when
the Spring comes round, and the hawthorns begin to
flower, and the meadows to smell of young grass,
even in the thickest of our streets, the country
hilltops find out a young man’s eyes, and set
his heart beating for travel and pure air.