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    Chapter 1

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    Chapter 1

    THE ancient and famous metropolis of the North sits
    overlooking a windy estuary from the slope and summit of
    three hills. No situation could be more commanding for
    the head city of a kingdom; none better chosen for noble
    prospects. From her tall precipice and terraced gardens
    she looks far and wide on the sea and broad champaigns.
    To the east you may catch at sunset the spark of the May
    lighthouse, where the Firth expands into the German
    Ocean; and away to the west, over all the carse of
    Stirling, you can see the first snows upon Ben Ledi.

    But 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. Many
    such aspire angrily after that Somewhere-else of the
    imagination, where all troubles are supposed to end.
    They lean over the great bridge which joins the New Town
    with the Old - that windiest spot, or high altar, in this
    northern temple of the winds - and watch the trains
    smoking out from under them and vanishing into the tunnel
    on a voyage to brighter skies. Happy the passengers who
    shake off the dust of Edinburgh, and have heard for the
    last time the cry of the east wind among her chimney-
    tops! And yet the place establishes an interest in
    people's hearts; go where they will, they find no city of
    the same distinction; go where they will, they take a
    pride in their old home.

    Venice, it has been said, differs from another
    cities in the sentiment which she inspires. The rest may
    have admirers; she only, a famous fair one, counts lovers
    in her train. And, indeed, even by her kindest friends,
    Edinburgh is not considered in a similar sense. These
    like her for many reasons, not any one of which is
    satisfactory in itself. They like her whimsically, if
    you will, and somewhat as a virtuoso dotes upon his
    cabinet. Her attraction is romantic in the narrowest
    meaning of the term. Beautiful as she is, she is not so
    much beautiful as interesting. She is pre-eminently
    Gothic, and all the more so since she has set herself off
    with some Greek airs, and erected classic temples on her
    crags. In a word, and above all, she is a curiosity.
    The Palace of Holyrood has been left aside in the growth
    of Edinburgh, and stands grey and silent in a workman's
    quarter and among breweries and gas works. It is a house
    of many memories. Great people of yore, kings and
    queens, buffoons and grave ambassadors, played their
    stately farce for centuries in Holyrood. Wars have been
    plotted, dancing has lasted deep into the night, - murder
    has been done in its chambers. There Prince Charlie held
    his phantom levees, and in a very gallant manner
    represented a fallen dynasty for some hours. Now, all
    these things of clay are mingled with the dust, the
    king's crown itself is shown for sixpence to the vulgar;
    but the stone palace has outlived these charges. For
    fifty weeks together, it is no more than a show for
    tourists and a museum of old furniture; but on the fifty-
    first, behold the palace reawakened and mimicking its
    past. The Lord Commissioner, a kind of stage sovereign,
    sits among stage courtiers; a coach and six and
    clattering escort come and go before the gate; at night,
    the windows are lighted up, and its near neighbours, the
    workmen, may dance in their own houses to the palace
    music. And in this the palace is typical. There is a
    spark among the embers; from time to time the old volcano
    smokes. Edinburgh has but partly abdicated, and still
    wears, in parody, her metropolitan trappings. Half a
    capital and half a country town, the whole city leads a
    double existence; it has long trances of the one and
    flashes of the other; like the king of the Black Isles,
    it is half alive and half a monumental marble. There are
    armed men and cannon in the citadel overhead; you may see
    the troops marshalled on the high parade; and at night
    after the early winter even-fall, and in the morning
    before the laggard winter dawn, the wind carries abroad
    over Edinburgh the sound of drums and bugles. Grave
    judges sit bewigged in what was once the scene of
    imperial deliberations. Close by in the High Street
    perhaps the trumpets may sound about the stroke of noon;
    and you see a troop of citizens in tawdry masquerade;
    tabard above, heather-mixture trowser below, and the men
    themselves trudging in the mud among unsympathetic by-
    standers. The grooms of a well-appointed circus tread
    the streets with a better presence. And yet these are
    the Heralds and Pursuivants of Scotland, who are about to
    proclaim a new law of the United Kingdom before two-score
    boys, and thieves, and hackney-coachmen. Meanwhile every
    hour the bell of the University rings out over the hum of
    the streets, and every hour a double tide of students,
    coming and going, fills the deep archways. And lastly,
    one night in the springtime - or say one morning rather,
    at the peep of day - late folk may hear voices of many
    men singing a psalm in unison from a church on one side
    of the old High Street; and a little after, or perhaps a
    little before, the sound of many men singing a psalm in
    unison from another church on the opposite side of the
    way. There will be something in the words above the dew
    of Hermon, and how goodly it is to see brethren dwelling
    together in unity. And the late folk will tell
    themselves that all this singing denotes the conclusion
    of two yearly ecclesiastical parliaments - the
    parliaments of Churches which are brothers in many
    admirable virtues, but not specially like brothers in
    this particular of a tolerant and peaceful life.

    Again, meditative people will find a charm in a
    certain consonancy between the aspect of the city and its
    odd and stirring history. Few places, if any, offer a
    more barbaric display of contrasts to the eye. In the
    very midst stands one of the most satisfactory crags in
    nature - a Bass Rock upon dry land, rooted in a garden
    shaken by passing trains, carrying a crown of battlements
    and turrets, and describing its war-like shadow over the
    liveliest and brightest thoroughfare of the new town.
    From their smoky beehives, ten stories high, the unwashed
    look down upon the open squares and gardens of the
    wealthy; and gay people sunning themselves along Princes
    Street, with its mile of commercial palaces all beflagged
    upon some great occasion, see, across a gardened valley
    set with statues, where the washings of the Old Town
    flutter in the breeze at its high windows. And then,
    upon all sides, what a clashing of architecture! In this
    one valley, where the life of the town goes most busily
    forward, there may be seen, shown one above and behind
    another by the accidents of the ground, buildings in
    almost every style upon the globe. Egyptian and Greek
    temples, Venetian palaces and Gothic spires, are huddled
    one over another in a most admired disorder; while, above
    all, the brute mass of the Castle and the summit of
    Arthur's Seat look down upon these imitations with a
    becoming dignity, as the works of Nature may look down
    the monuments of Art. But Nature is a more
    indiscriminate patroness than we imagine, and in no way
    frightened of a strong effect. The birds roost as
    willingly among the Corinthian capitals as in the
    crannies of the crag; the same atmosphere and daylight
    clothe the eternal rock and yesterday's imitation
    portico; and as the soft northern sunshine throws out
    everything into a glorified distinctness - or easterly
    mists, coming up with the blue evening, fuse all these
    incongruous features into one, and the lamps begin to
    glitter along the street, and faint lights to burn in the
    high windows across the valley - the feeling grows upon
    you that this also is a piece of nature in the most
    intimate sense; that this profusion of eccentricities,
    this dream in masonry and living rock, is not a drop-
    scene in a theatre, but a city in the world of every-day
    reality, connected by railway and telegraph-wire with all
    the capitals of Europe, and inhabited by citizens of the
    familiar type, who keep ledgers, and attend church, and
    have sold their immortal portion to a daily paper. By
    all the canons of romance, the place demands to be half
    deserted and leaning towards decay; birds we might admit
    in profusion, the play of the sun and winds, and a few
    gipsies encamped in the chief thoroughfare; but these
    citizens with their cabs and tramways, their trains and
    posters, are altogether out of key. Chartered tourists,
    they make free with historic localities, and rear their
    young among the most picturesque sites with a grand human
    indifference. To see them thronging by, in their neat
    clothes and conscious moral rectitude, and with a little
    air of possession that verges on the absurd, is not the
    least striking feature of the place. *

    * These sentences have, I hear, given offence in my
    native town, and a proportionable pleasure to our rivals
    of Glasgow. I confess the news caused me both pain and
    merriment. May I remark, as a balm for wounded fellow-
    townsmen, that there is nothing deadly in my accusations?
    Small blame to them if they keep ledgers: 'tis an
    excellent business habit. Churchgoing is not, that ever
    I heard, a subject of reproach; decency of linen is a
    mark of prosperous affairs, and conscious moral rectitude
    one of the tokens of good living. It is not their fault
    it the city calls for something more specious by way of
    inhabitants. A man in a frock-coat looks out of place
    upon an Alp or Pyramid, although he has the virtues of a
    Peabody and the talents of a Bentham. And let them
    console themselves - they do as well as anybody else; the
    population of (let us say) Chicago would cut quite as
    rueful a figure on the same romantic stage. To the
    Glasgow people I would say only one word, but that is of

    And the story of the town is as eccentric as its
    appearance. For centuries it was a capital thatched with
    heather, and more than once, in the evil days of English
    invasion, it has gone up in flame to heaven, a beacon to
    ships at sea. It was the jousting-ground of jealous
    nobles, not only on Greenside, or by the King's Stables,
    where set tournaments were fought to the sound of
    trumpets and under the authority of the royal presence,
    but in every alley where there was room to cross swords,
    and in the main street, where popular tumult under the
    Blue Blanket alternated with the brawls of outlandish
    clansmen and retainers. Down in the palace John Knox
    reproved his queen in the accents of modern democracy.
    In the town, in one of those little shops plastered like
    so many swallows' nests among the buttresses of the old
    Cathedral, that familiar autocrat, James VI., would
    gladly share a bottle of wine with George Heriot the
    goldsmith. Up on the Pentland Hills, that so quietly
    look down on the Castle with the city lying in waves
    around it, those mad and dismal fanatics, the Sweet
    Singers, haggard from long exposure on the moors, sat day
    and night with 'tearful psalmns' to see Edinburgh
    consumed with fire from heaven, like another Sodom or
    Gomorrah. There, in the Grass-market, stiff-necked,
    covenanting heroes, offered up the often unnecessary, but
    not less honourable, sacrifice of their lives, and bade
    eloquent farewell to sun, moon, and stars, and earthly
    friendships, or died silent to the roll of drums. Down
    by yon outlet rode Grahame of Claverhouse and his thirty
    dragoons, with the town beating to arms behind their
    horses' tails - a sorry handful thus riding for their
    lives, but with a man at the head who was to return in a
    different temper, make a dash that staggered Scotland to
    the heart, and die happily in the thick of fight. There
    Aikenhead was hanged for a piece of boyish incredulity;
    there, a few years afterwards, David Hume ruined
    Philosophy and Faith, an undisturbed and well-reputed
    citizen; and thither, in yet a few years more, Burns came
    from the plough-tail, as to an academy of gilt unbelief
    and artificial letters. There, when the great exodus was
    made across the valley, and the New Town began to spread
    abroad its draughty parallelograms, and rear its long
    frontage on the opposing hill, there was such a flitting,
    such a change of domicile and dweller, as was never
    excelled in the history of cities: the cobbler succeeded
    the earl; the beggar ensconced himself by the judge's
    chimney; what had been a palace was used as a pauper
    refuge; and great mansions were so parcelled out among
    the least and lowest in society, that the hearthstone of
    the old proprietor was thought large enough to be
    partitioned off into a bedroom by the new.
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