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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Scotland, Capital of

Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, grew up along the rocky spine which was originally a path between the Castle on the summit and the Abbey of Holyrood at the foot. Fortifications of some sort have been sited on the Castle rock since the earliest times and the present Castle must have been preceded by other, less durable fortresses. The oldest surviving part of Edinburgh Castle is St Margaret's Chapel, built for the wife of Malcolm Ceannmor, the first sovereign to rule a more or less unified Scotland. Queen Margaret heard mass in this tiny chapel on 16th November 1093, the day before her death. Apart from David 11's tower, begun in 1357, Most of the Castle as it stands today dates from the sixteenth century.

The Abbey of Holyrood is traditionally supposed to have been founded by David I, in thankfulness for a 'holy rude' or shining cross which miraculously saved him from a vicious stag while he was out hunting near Salisbury Crags on Rude- Day.

The Canons of Holrood for long enjoyed the privilege of having their own burgh, granted to them by their founder. Thus, the Canon's Gait, or Canongate as the lower part of the Royal Mile is called came into being. The splendid palace of Holyrood House is a creation of the later

Stuart monarchs, the earliest tower being built by James IV. Prince Charles Edward Stuart held court in Holyrood House before he marched south in 1745.

The first stone houses between the Castle and Holyrood went up about the middle of the sixteenth century. For more than two hundred years, although it became more crowded, Edinburgh remained confined within its medieval bounds.

The Edinburgh into which Burns thus temporarily settled in 1786, was a bewildering panorama of ancient vernacular colour and smelling squalor. A few pigs still roamed the streets, nosing amongst the litter in the gutters. At ten o'clock every night, the windows of the 'lands' were still wont to open for servants to pour the day's household slops (including the contents of the chamber-stools) and rubbish into the streets, to be collected by halfhearted and inefficient scavengers with wheel-barrows at seven o'clock the next morning. The French cry 'Cardez Peau', Scotified by the servants of the rich into 'Gardy loo', was shouted with a similar disregard of probable consequences resulting from any neglect of their warning. As a golfer's vain cry of 'Fore' after the ball has been struck! True, by 1769, seventeen years before Burns arrived in the capital, English journalist Thomas Pennant had noted that while:

'...in the closes or alleys the inhabitants are very apt to fling out their filth, etc., without regarding who passes... the sufferer may call every inhabitant of the house it came from to account, and make them prove the delinquent, who is always punished with a heavy fine.'

Yet when Boswell brought Dr Samuel Johnson to Edinburgh in 1773. he records that he could not prevent his distinguished visitor from:

'...being assailed by the evening effluvia of Edinburgh. I heard a late baronet, of some distinction in the political world in the beginning of the present reign, observe that "walking in the streets of Edinburgh at night was pretty perilous, and a good deal odoriferous". The peril is much abated, by the care which the magistrates have taken to enforce the city laws against throwing foul water from the windows; but, from the structure of the houses in the Old Town, which consist of many stories, in each of which a different family fives, and there being no covered sewers, the odour still continues. A zealous Scotsman would have wished Mr Johnson to be without one of his five senses upon this occasion. As we marched slowly along, he grumbled in my ear, "I can smell you in the dark". But he acknowledged that the breadth of the street and the loftiness of the buildings on each side, made a noble appearance.'

The loftiness of the buildings - some of the 'lands' had as many as fourteen storeys - made necessary by the cramping of the eighteenth-century city into more or less its medieval bounds, resulted in a shortage of water. Along the High Street would be seen the tribe of Water Caddies, bent under the weight of the casks on their backs as they carried water from the public wells which, Lord Cockburn tells us, were then pretty thickly planted in the principal street'. Up the narrow turnpike stairs to the six-roomed apartments of people of quality, or the two- or three-roomed flats of the lower gentility, these Caddies bore their kegs.

Because of the 'evening eflluvia' referred to locally as 'the flowers of Edinburgh'-the 'best' people chose to live in the middle flats of the lands. Poorly-paid clerical workers, runners and scavengers occupied the lower flats: aristocrats, professional men and ladies of independent means had their houses in the middle floors; above them might be the shopkeepers, the merchants, and the dancing and music-masters: on top of them all, in the garrets and attics, were to be found the artisans and labourers. Inevitably, all social classes met from time to time - if nowhere else, on the winding stairs, which could not carry two-way traffic, and must have been something of a trial to a behooped countess - and although social distinctions were rigidly observed on public occasions, there developed a feeling of communal friendliness among the occupants of this squeezed-up town. Everyone knew what everyone else was doing. So robberies were less frequent than they became in the 1780's when the wealthier people had started to depart, and the tone of the old Town had taken its first downward turn.

Edinburgh's later reputation for the cold aloofness of its middle and upper classes was a product of the social revolution which occurred when the Old Town at last spilled over its banks, and moneyed folk began to abandon their cosy, darty, ancestrel lands' for the spacious graces and formalities of the New Town. The first move in this direction had been made as early as 1765, when speculative builders constructed George Square and Brown Squire. These squares were at first considered to be hopelessly out of the way, and the real overspill did not begin until 1772, when the first bridge leapt its arch over the gulf between the hump-backed ridge of the Old Town and the gentler ridge of the New, between which lay a swampy marsh called the Nor' Loch. In Burns's day, Princes Street, George Street and Queen Street were already developing westwards. Sedan chairs, carried by Highland characters noted for the volubility of their Gaelic execrations whenever their swift passage was hindered, began to give place to still swifter hackney carriages. The Town Guard, that band of aged and infirm ex-soldiers who did duty as policemen when almost the only crime to be dealt with in quantity was drunkenness, and whom Robert Fergusson ridiculed so mercilessly, were becoming unable to cope with their enlarging responsibilities. The seven-year-long criminal career of the notorious Deacon Brodie - highly respected merchant by day, key-forger and thief by night - was drawing towards its climax, which resulted in his flight to Holland, his arrest and trial, and his execution on the drop gallows, himself the first victim of this new manner of death-dealing, which he had invented as being more humane than the old method of turning off a criminal from a ladder. There was much talk, too, about balloon ascents, and a so called 'Learned Pig' which was being exhibited in the Grassmarket.

Burns spent a total of almost sixty weeks in the capital. These were made up of seven stays. From 28th November 1786, to 5th May 1787, he stayed with John Richmond in Baxter's Close, behind the Lawnmarket, in a 'land' demolished at the construction of Bank Street in 1798. The poet left Baxter's Close to make his Border Tour with Ainslie. From 7th to 25th August 1787, Burns stayed with William Nicol in Buccleugh Street above the Buccleugh Pend. This property was demolished in 1949. Burns and Nicol set out from Buccleugh Street on the Highland Tour. From 16th September to 4th October 1787, Burns again stayed with Nicol. He left with Dr Adair to visit Harvieston and the Ochtertyres. From 20th October 1787, Burns stayed with Nicol's teaching colleague at the High School, William Cruikshank at number 2 (later 30) St James Square. Burns occupied the attic. From 11th to 22nd March 1788, Burns again stayed at Buccleugh Street. From 16th to 28th February 1789, Burns was back at St James Square. On his final visit to Edinburgh from 9th November to 6th December 1791, Burns lived at 'Mr Mackay's White Hart Inn , Grassmarket', then one of the most celebrated inns in Edinburgh.

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