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    Chapter 8

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    Chapter 8
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    THE CALTON HILL.

    THE east of new Edinburgh is guarded by a craggy
    hill, of no great elevation, which the town embraces.
    The old London road runs on one side of it; while the New
    Approach, leaving it on the other hand, completes the
    circuit. You mount by stairs in a cutting of the rock to
    find yourself in a field of monuments. Dugald Stewart
    has the honours of situation and architecture; Burns is
    memorialised lower down upon a spur; Lord Nelson, as
    befits a sailor, gives his name to the top-gallant of the
    Calton Hill. This latter erection has been differently
    and yet, in both cases, aptly compared to a telescope and
    a butter-churn; comparisons apart, it ranks among the
    vilest of men's handiworks. But the chief feature is an
    unfinished range of columns, 'the Modern Ruin' as it has
    been called, an imposing object from far and near, and
    giving Edinburgh, even from the sea, that false air; of a
    Modern Athens which has earned for her so many slighting
    speeches. It was meant to be a National Monument; and
    its present state is a very suitable monument to certain
    national characteristics. The old Observatory - a quaint
    brown building on the edge of the steep - and the new
    Observatory - a classical edifice with a dome - occupy
    the central portion of the summit. All these are
    scattered on a green turf, browsed over by some sheep.

    The scene suggests reflections on fame and on man's
    injustice to the dead. You see Dugald Stewart rather
    more handsomely commemorated than Burns. Immediately
    below, in the Canongate churchyard, lies Robert
    Fergusson, Burns's master in his art, who died insane
    while yet a stripling; and if Dugald Stewart has been
    somewhat too boisterously acclaimed, the Edinburgh poet,
    on the other hand, is most unrighteously forgotten. The
    votaries of Burns, a crew too common in all ranks in
    Scotland and more remarkable for number than discretion,
    eagerly suppress all mention of the lad who handed to him
    the poetic impulse and, up to the time when he grew
    famous, continued to influence him in his manner and the
    choice of subjects. Burns himself not only acknowledged
    his debt in a fragment of autobiography, but erected a
    tomb over the grave in Canongate churchyard. This was
    worthy of an artist, but it was done in vain; and
    although I think I have read nearly all the biographies
    of Burns, I cannot remember one in which the modesty of
    nature was not violated, or where Fergusson was not
    sacrificed to the credit of his follower's originality.
    There is a kind of gaping admiration that would fain roll
    Shakespeare and Bacon into one, to have a bigger thing to
    gape at; and a class of men who cannot edit one author
    without disparaging all others. They are indeed mistaken
    if they think to please the great originals; and whoever
    puts Fergusson right with fame, cannot do better than
    dedicate his labours to the memory of Burns, who will be
    the best delighted of the dead.

    Of all places for a view, this Calton Hill is
    perhaps the best; since you can see the Castle, which you
    lose from the Castle, and Arthur's Seat, which you cannot
    see from Arthur's Seat. It is the place to stroll on one
    of those days of sunshine and east wind which are so
    common in our more than temperate summer. The breeze
    comes off the sea, with a little of the freshness, and
    that touch of chill, peculiar to the quarter, which is
    delightful to certain very ruddy organizations and
    greatly the reverse to the majority of mankind. It
    brings with it a faint, floating haze, a cunning
    decolourizer, although not thick enough to obscure
    outlines near at hand. But the haze lies more thickly to
    windward at the far end of Musselburgh Bay; and over the
    Links of Aberlady and Berwick Law and the hump of the
    Bass Rock it assumes the aspect of a bank of thin sea
    fog.

    Immediately underneath upon the south, you command
    the yards of the High School, and the towers and courts
    of the new Jail - a large place, castellated to the
    extent of folly, standing by itself on the edge of a
    steep cliff, and often joyfully hailed by tourists as the
    Castle. In the one, you may perhaps see female prisoners
    taking exercise like a string of nuns; in the other,
    schoolboys running at play and their shadows keeping step
    with them. From the bottom of the valley, a gigantic
    chimney rises almost to the level of the eye, a taller
    and a shapelier edifice than Nelson's Monument. Look a
    little farther, and there is Holyrood Palace, with its
    Gothic frontal and ruined abbey, and the red sentry
    pacing smartly too and fro before the door like a
    mechanical figure in a panorama. By way of an outpost,
    you can single out the little peak-roofed lodge, over
    which Rizzio's murderers made their escape and where
    Queen Mary herself, according to gossip, bathed in white
    wine to entertain her loveliness. Behind and overhead,
    lie the Queen's Park, from Muschat's Cairn to
    Dumbiedykes, St. Margaret's Loch, and the long wall of
    Salisbury Crags: and thence, by knoll and rocky bulwark
    and precipitous slope, the eye rises to the top of
    Arthur's Seat, a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue
    of its bold design. This upon your left. Upon the
    right, the roofs and spires of the Old Town climb one
    above another to where the citadel prints its broad bulk
    and jagged crown of bastions on the western sky. -
    Perhaps it is now one in the afternoon; and at the same
    instant of time, a ball rises to the summit of Nelson's
    flagstaff close at hand, and, far away, a puff of smoke
    followed by a report bursts from the half-moon battery at
    the Castle. This is the time-gun by which people set
    their watches, as far as the sea coast or in hill farms
    upon the Pentlands. - To complete the view, the eye
    enfilades Princes Street, black with traffic, and has a
    broad look over the valley between the Old Town and the
    New: here, full of railway trains and stepped over by the
    high North Bridge upon its many columns, and there, green
    with trees and gardens.

    On the north, the Calton Hill is neither so abrupt
    in itself nor has it so exceptional an outlook; and yet
    even here it commands a striking prospect. A gully
    separates it from the New Town. This is Greenside, where
    witches were burned and tournaments held in former days.
    Down that almost precipitous bank, Bothwell launched his
    horse, and so first, as they say, attracted the bright
    eyes of Mary. It is now tesselated with sheets and
    blankets out to dry, and the sound of people beating
    carpets is rarely absent. Beyond all this, the suburbs
    run out to Leith; Leith camps on the seaside with her
    forest of masts; Leith roads are full of ships at anchor;
    the sun picks out the white pharos upon Inchkeith Island;
    the Firth extends on either hand from the Ferry to the
    May; the towns of Fifeshire sit, each in its bank of
    blowing smoke, along the opposite coast; and the hills
    enclose the view, except to the farthest east, where the
    haze of the horizon rests upon the open sea. There lies
    the road to Norway: a dear road for Sir Patrick Spens and
    his Scots Lords; and yonder smoke on the hither side of
    Largo Law is Aberdour, from whence they sailed to seek a
    queen for Scotland.

    'O lang, lang, may the ladies sit,
    Wi' their fans into their hand,
    Or ere they see Sir Patrick Spens
    Come sailing to the land!'

    The sight of the sea, even from a city, will bring
    thoughts of storm and sea disaster. The sailors' wives
    of Leith and the fisherwomen of Cockenzie, not sitting
    languorously with fans, but crowding to the tail of the
    harbour with a shawl about their ears, may still look
    vainly for brave Scotsmen who will return no more, or
    boats that have gone on their last fishing. Since Sir
    Patrick sailed from Aberdour, what a multitude have gone
    down in the North Sea! Yonder is Auldhame, where the
    London smack went ashore and wreckers cut the rings from
    ladies' fingers; and a few miles round Fife Ness is the
    fatal Inchcape, now a star of guidance; and the lee shore
    to the east of the Inchcape, is that Forfarshire coast
    where Mucklebackit sorrowed for his son.

    These are the main features of the scene roughly
    sketched. How they are all tilted by the inclination of
    the ground, how each stands out in delicate relief
    against the rest, what manifold detail, and play of sun
    and shadow, animate and accentuate the picture, is a
    matter for a person on the spot, and turning swiftly on
    his heels, to grasp and bind together in one
    comprehensive look. It is the character of such a
    prospect, to be full of change and of things moving. The
    multiplicity embarrasses the eye; and the mind, among so
    much, suffers itself to grow absorbed with single points.
    You remark a tree in a hedgerow, or follow a cart along a
    country road. You turn to the city, and see children,
    dwarfed by distance into pigmies, at play about suburban
    doorsteps; you have a glimpse upon a thoroughfare where
    people are densely moving; you note ridge after ridge of
    chimney-stacks running downhill one behind another, and
    church spires rising bravely from the sea of roofs. At
    one of the innumerable windows, you watch a figure
    moving; on one of the multitude of roofs, you watch
    clambering chimney-sweeps. The wind takes a run and
    scatters the smoke; bells are heard, far and near, faint
    and loud, to tell the hour; or perhaps a bird goes
    dipping evenly over the housetops, like a gull across the
    waves. And here you are in the meantime, on this
    pastoral hillside, among nibbling sheep and looked upon
    by monumental buildings.

    Return thither on some clear, dark, moonless night,
    with a ring of frost in the air, and only a star or two
    set sparsedly in the vault of heaven; and you will find a
    sight as stimulating as the hoariest summit of the Alps.
    The solitude seems perfect; the patient astronomer, flat
    on his back under the Observatory dome and spying
    heaven's secrets, is your only neighbour; and yet from
    all round you there come up the dull hum of the city, the
    tramp of countless people marching out of time, the
    rattle of carriages and the continuous keen jingle of the
    tramway bells. An hour or so before, the gas was turned
    on; lamplighters scoured the city; in every house, from
    kitchen to attic, the windows kindled and gleamed forth
    into the dusk. And so now, although the town lies blue
    and darkling on her hills, innumerable spots of the
    bright element shine far and near along the pavements and
    upon the high facades. Moving lights of the railway pass
    and repass below the stationary lights upon the bridge.
    Lights burn in the jail. Lights burn high up in the tall
    LANDS and on the Castle turrets, they burn low down in
    Greenside or along the Park. They run out one beyond the
    other into the dark country. They walk in a procession
    down to Leith, and shine singly far along Leith Pier.
    Thus, the plan of the city and her suburbs is mapped out
    upon the ground of blackness, as when a child pricks a
    drawing full of pinholes and exposes it before a candle;
    not the darkest night of winter can conceal her high
    station and fanciful design; every evening in the year
    she proceeds to illuminate herself in honour of her own
    beauty; and as if to complete the scheme - or rather as
    if some prodigal Pharaoh were beginning to extend to the
    adjacent sea and country - half-way over to Fife, there
    is an outpost of light upon Inchkeith, and far to
    seaward, yet another on the May.

    And while you are looking, across upon the Castle
    Hill, the drums and bugles begin to recall the scattered
    garrison; the air thrills with the sound; the bugles sing
    aloud; and the last rising flourish mounts and melts into
    the darkness like a star: a martial swan-song, fitly
    rounding in the labours of the day.
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