by ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
...A ROMANCE OF THE LAND...
WHAT IS THE ORIGIN of a city? Search your mind, and you might find in there images of archaeological sites: mud and stone dwellings that rose from the ground, formed by the hands of the dwellers.
Then picture Edinburgh... let us say it is one clouded day in August. What can you see? The stones, the grey stones of each building forming a canvas of middle-tones. These stones are not unlike to those that they perch on. Each city has its origins in the earth, from whence it came.
Edinburgh is rooted to the earth, and protrudes from it. Situated on a precipitous rock, the most conspicuous landmass for miles around, the rock provided protection to the first peoples of the area, being difficult to approach as the forest below was wild and tangled with dark pools and treacherous morasses. It was only in the time of King David that the area below the rock was turned into a garden.
The rock itself was once a power house - a volcano during the Carboniferous period. It is formed of a hard basalt. Only the eastern slope is accessible, being of an easier gradient to climb, and it was here that the town began to form.
The castle and the town seem not like an intrusion on the scene, but an extension of it.
THE ROMANTICS DEPICTED in their art various scenes of aesthetic beauty. They disdained the movements of the scientific revolution and urbanisation, believing instead that there was more to life than rational thinking and mechanised living. So they painted not the town but the village; not the new but the old. They loved to evoke the haunting beauty of a decrepit site, maybe a tower ruin with tumbled stones, where nature has taken her course. Each poem, each painting was meant to capture the mysteries of the world, to create an emotion in the audience, and to spark the imagination.
Castles have long been favoured by romantics as sites on which to drape their visions. Or, in fact, our visions, as the common perception of castles has been molded by romantic notions. Take, for instance, Edinburgh castle... Legends abound, of beautiful dames and surly knights, all performing great deeds at the castle. There is St Margaret, the pious queen who kissed the feet of the faithful, and her husband Malcolm, who, although he loved the clash of shield and spear, and although he could not read, would carry the gifts she gave him - small books of devotion - and would clasp them close to his breast. He built for her a tiny chapel, still standing in the courtyard of the castle today. Other legends tell us of showmanship, bouts of jousting, and tales of intrigue and scandal - nights that brought death to whole families, murdered at the dinner table; or great escapes of prisoners down the side of the rock face. These tales would not be out of place in a story book, The Princess Bride perhaps.
And, in fact, Edinburgh castle has found its way into the story books too... The Gododdin, an ancient Welsh text, and one of the earliest references to King Arthur, linked his personage to the city of Edinburgh. The craggy hill facing the castle is supposedly one place where Arthur sat, to watch his army march through the lands below, and there are whisperings that the castle itself was that Castle of Maidens so often mentioned in Arthurian legend. The naming of the castle as 'Castellum Puellarum' (Castle of Women) by the local monks would be one piece of evidence for this theory.
But, we must admit that Edinburgh is not a scene of classical romanticism. As Robert Louis Stevenson so aptly notes, the scene is not one of ruin, devoid of the trappings of present-day men, but is instead a living organism complete with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And yet, is there not something romantic in all of that? Is it not beautiful, to be able to find emotion and meaning in the everyday goings on of this incredible city?
AN EVERYDAY ROMANCE
I remember coming to the castle grounds many times, feeling drawn to the rock that was visible for miles around. Maybe this is how people felt when they first laid eyes upon it: as if they must absolutely climb to the tippy-top.
I would go to the castle esplanade for a moment alone, to just be with my thoughts. Among all the tourists clicking their cameras, I could blend in. Diffuse myself if you will, and focus instead on the view.
I went there on the night of Guy Fawkes, when the city was fervent with activity. I was alone, and I missed my family terribly that night, as we would always share Guy Fawkes together, my dad lighting off the fireworks that he had refused to throw out the previous year, and my mother being beside herself with worry that he would blow us all up. But that year it was just me, and I remember looking out at all the fireworks that signified a gathering of people in the streets below, and I thought of my mother, my father, brother and sister.
The castle was a constant in my everyday life when I lived in Edinburgh. I miss it now, with that same aching feeling I felt on Guy Fawkes.