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Scotland's Literary Landmarks


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A mere casual survey reveals the fact that practically all Scotland's greatest literary names are associated with the southern section of the country. Beyond Perthshire and the Grampians comparatively few outstanding names occur. These are mostly centred in the Lowlands, with Edinburgh as an attracting-point. Of the few, only, which can be considered here, all occupy a premier place on Time's immortal bede-roll.

Allan Ramsay's advent on the field of authorship gave a new turn and imparted a fresh lease to Scottish literary endeavour, and paved the way for its later triumphal progress. Of "Honest Allan," important facts have just come to light and may be-recorded here for the first time. All Ramsay's biographers err as to the year of his birth and the name of his father. Allan was born, as is clear from an authoritative manuscript Memoir (Laing Collection, Edinburgh University Library), not in 1686, but in 1685, and his father's name was John, not Robert. He was a posthumous child, but his biographers state that the father died when Allan -was an infant. An entry among the Lanarkshire Testaments shows that John Ramsay was already dead in May, 1685, while his son's birth-month was in the October following.

The Allan Ramsay landmarks belong to Leadhills and to Edinburgh. Leadhills boasts the highest situation of any village in Scotland. The name is derived from its extensive lead mines, once a flourishing concern, now a shadow of its past. Here Allan Ramsay spent his boyhood, learned Latin, and "read Horace faintly in the original." His after work is a reflection of the things he saw and the intimate life which surrounded him daily.in the romantic solitudes of the towering Lowther Hills. At "about fifteen," as his biographers say, but really in 1704 (Edinburgh Burgess Register), Ramsay left Leadhills for Edinburgh to be apprenticed to the wig-making trade.

In 1710 he started business for himself. A Jacobite institution, the Easy Club, gave him his cue as a versifier. He forsook wig-making for book-selling, in a timber-fronted house, opposite Niddry's Wynd, in the High Street. This building, which was demolished, has now been reconstructed and still bears the name of "Allan Ramsay's house." There he wrote plays, lyrics and printed broad-sheets, by and by removing to a larger shop at Creech's Land in the Lucken-booths (extinct), adjoining St. Giles' Cathedral, where he established the first circulating library in the country. A playhouse projected in Carrubber's Close was banned by the magistrates. By that time he had made a competency, and merely smiled at the stupid old bailies. On the Castle Hill- he built a comfortable villa, waggishly styled the "goose-pie," a quaint octagonal house now part of the premises of the Outlook Tower, facing down upon his white statue in the gardens at the foot of the Mound. He died in 1758 and was buried in Grey friars Churchyard.

Gentle Allan lives in literature by his rehabilitation of the "makars" and their work, but he is better known for his own masterpiece, "The Gentle Shepherd," the best drama of its type in the language. In it the recollection of his early days, the unaffected simplicity of rural customs and comicalities, have been limned with perfect naturalness and realism by one who had moved amongst the people in country places and shared the joys and sorrows of the poor.

Robert Burns gives to Allan Ramsay an altogether unnecessary laudation as compared with his own infinitely finer efforts. He tells how he longed "for a spark of Allan's glee." Ramsay, to be sure, inspired Burns, not to the extent that Robert Fergusson did, but words, phrases, metres, images in Burns carry unmistakably the mark of the Leadhills rhymester. The work of Burns became possible because of the work of Allan.

Burns's life was spent in the southern shires. While thus emphatically a Lowlander, semi-Highland (Celtiberian is the term) blood ran in his veins through good Kincar-dineshire stock from Glenbervie, where the ancestral graves are guarded with jealous care. About 1752 his father, William Burness (so he spelt the name), a journeyman mason, migrated to Ayrshire, settling within sound of the Boon, in the little clachan of Alloway, where he built the neat, clay-walled, thatch-rigged, small-windowed cottage - a "but-and-ben" (with barn and byre adjoining) destined to become one of the great shrines of the world. In 1757 he married Agnes Brown (she was buried at Bolton, Haddingtonshire), and in 1759 "a blast of Jan'uar win' blew hansel in on Robin."

Twenty-seven years Burns spent on his native heath, the remaining ten in Dumfriesshire. The Ayrshire landmarks are salient and potent. Within a radius of a dozen miles from the town of Ayr their story may be fairly circumscribed. Modern Alloway is not the Alloway of Burns' day. So, near Ayr, the emerging years, with their tale of progress and extension, have transformed this once retired spot into a suburbia for the county capital, linked thereto by electric car-lines and the whirl of west country traffic. In its pertinent essentials Burns's birth-house remains much the same, remodelled and renovated to appear as it was, an antique, mean enough relic, sole vestige of the hamlet of 1759. The entire neighbourhood, indeed, has immensely altered - all but Alloway's auld haunted kirk "where ghaists and houlets nightly cry," the auld Brig o' Doon, the stream itself, its "banks and braes" as "bonnie" as rver they were, with the shapely Brown Carrick Hill, which Burns scarcely ever mentions.

At Mount Oliphant (two miles off) Burns lived from his seventh to his seventeenth year, and at Lochlea until his twenty-fifth. He was probably happier at the latter place than anywhere else in his life, a first-rate ploughman, an adept at the flail, initiated into the companionship of books, a keen brother Mason, and an Apollo-like lover all the time. In 1784 Robert and his brother Gilbert became tenants of Mossgiel, near Mauchline. This farm is one rich memory of Burns. Here he penned many of his noblest pieces, among them "The Cottar's Saturday Night." Here is the field where his plough-share turned down the daisy and demolished the mouse's nest. It was in the Mossgiel years that the Kil-marnock edition came from the press to flutter the dovecotes of men, the price three shillings, a copy in the Alloway Museum eventually costing the Trustees 1,000 pounds in 1903.

Mauchline has more Burns associations than any other place in Kyle. There Jean Armour crossed his path. At Mauchline Castle he was married. Its kirkyard was the scene of the "Holy Fair." Burns left Ayrshire for Nithsdale in 1788. For three years he tenanted Ellisland, a small farm in Dunscore, vainly cultivating its one hundred and seventy acres of wild and unimproved gravelly soil, the very riddlings of creation.

In spite of worries and difficulties, the Ellisland life was a fruitful one for humanity, if not for the poet, since here he wrote "To Mary in Heaven," crooning it out in the stackyard beneath the silent stars, and "Tarn o' Shanter," dashing it off in a furore of triumphal glee. By 1791 he moved into Dumfries, taking up his abode in the middle flat of an ugly three-storey tenement in the Wee Vennel, now Bank Street. Later he occupied a small self-contained house in the Mill-hole Brae (now Burns Street), a short, mean street, where the "mild gate of Death" opened to him in the hot summer of 1706. From Burns' house it is but a step to his resting-place under the shadow of St. Michael's Church.

One may search in vain for the house in which Walter Scott was born in the College Wynd of Edinburgh'. It has long since disappeared, the street altered and renamed Guthrie Street, running down from Chambers Street to the Cowgate. Shortly alter his birth his parents removed to 25 George Square, a new and fashionable quarter near the Meadows, still open and airy. They did not take young Walter with them. Before that he had been sent to the country for the sake of his health. Thus it came about that Scott spent his childhood and early boyhood at Sandyknowe, in Roxburghshire, of which his grandfather was tenant farmer. A new house occupies the site. Smailholm Tower, tall and grim, which rose within a stone-cast of his abode, was the "open sesame" to the world of wonder and romance that lay all about him, and almost the first proof of his mettle was his ballad of "The Eve of St. John," of which it is the scene.

Portions of Scott's boyhood he passed at Kelso, where the Tweed, the Abbey, and many places around bound him still closer to the Border and its story. He returned to Edinburgh to the new family home, attended the High School (during which period he had his only meeting with Burns at Professor Ferguson's house in the Sciennes), the University, and was enrolled an advocate. In 1797 he married and settled down at 39 Castle Street (his residence until 1826, where many of the Waverley novels were written), with a country cottage at Lasswade, on the Esk, six miles from the city. At Lasswade he compiled the "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," after repeated excursions to Liddesdale, and wrote his own early ballads. Appointed Sheriff of Selkirkshire, he took a lease of Ashestiel, a beautiful domain by the Tweed between Elibank and Yair, and began the more serious business of a poet. Here he wrote his great verse romances - "The Lay," "Marmion," "The Lady of the Lake," and commenced "Waverley," laying it aside for a time, to recover it in 1814 when he was building Abbotsford, transformed from the decaying farm-house of Cartleyhole, beside the Tweed, a little below the influx of the Ettrick.

Abbotsford, of course, is the chief landmark of Scott. The historic associations of the locality were all in Scott's favour for settling there. Its parish was Melrose. Dryburgh was not far away. The Eildons dominated the landscape, and he was familiar with every spot of interest in a district which teems with song and story. By 1825 Abbotsford, his romance in stone and lime, with its well-stocked Library, its amazing Armoury, its spacious fields, Cauldshiels Loch, and the little neighbouring properties bought in here and there, became all he could make of it, not without desire for more, as "yerd-hunger" spurred him on. Then came 1826, to find Scott bankrupt, ruined, but not in despair. His calamity (not wholly his fault) reacted on the greater man within, and all succeeding generations have profited by his heroic fight and conquest over the disabilities of fate. The house has been altered considerably by one of his successors, but the original rooms remain as they were, the Study almost as Scott left it. Tweed sang requiem at his death in 1832, and it sings it forever where he sleeps under the old groined arches of Dryburgh's ruined and historic abbey.

The landmarks of James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, lie within his native Selkirkshire - the valleys of Ettrick and Yarrow, St. Mary's Loch and its twin sister, the Loch of the Lowes. There Hogg's active life was passed. He never wandered far afield. A term at Mitchelslacks, in Annandale, and an Edinburgh sojourn were almost the sole occasions in which he was from home. Ettrickhall, under the shadow of Thomas Boston's hillside kirk, was his birthplace. Nothing remains of the farmhouse but the fragment of a fireside jamb on which, as a boy, Hogg scratched his initials - an invaluable homestead relic happily incorporated within the massive obelisk which was erected on the old site in 1898 by lovers of this remarkable author-shepherd.

Edinburgh claimed him for a time, but his journalistic ventures were failures, and he was sorely hit by bankrupt publishers. In 1815 his "Queen's Wake" made its appearance, which brought some grist to his mill and placed him in his niche of fame. Then he settled at Altrive, in Yarrow, and entered on a lease of Mountbenger, with the inevitable end. He was too slack and easy to make a good farmer, and he had no funds to tide him over when seasons were bad and sheep rotting on the hill. He died at Aitrive in 1835. His grave is at Ettrick, within a stone-cast of his birthplace. A fine statue of him looks out on "lone St. Mary's," and his portrait is in scores of Border shepherds' cottages. Next to Scott no name is better known in the Scottish Borderland. Next to Burns, Hogg is the most notable singer sprung from the ranks of the people. Lockhart calls him the most remarkable man who ever wore the maud of a shepherd.

The "Auld Hoose" of Gask on the banks of the Earn, in Perthshire, is the one central landmark in the life of Carolina Oliphant, better known as Lady Nairne. Her family, the Oliphants, had been long prominent in Scottish annals. In the Jacobite period they were heart and sonl for the Stuarts, suffering greatly for the cause, losing lands and freedom and life. Carolina was named after Prince Charles, "the King," as her father always styled him. Hence the whole spirit of her verse reflects the memory of that forlorn, mistaken struggle to regain a crown and re-establish a kingdom well quit of an uncertain, impetuous, tyrannical race. Had her songs been written in the "Fifteen" or the "Forty-five" they would have contributed to the inspiration of the moment and given courage to those who followed the flag. But it was well that Carolina was born twenty years after Culloden, when every hope had been shattered.

Gask House stands high above the Earn, not far from Dunning and Auchterarder, in the most picturesque part of the Central Highlands. Around lie many of the scenes of her verse. Of the "Auld Hoose" nothing remains but the southern wall, with the date 1626. She died in the new house of Gask in 1845. Her grave is in a chapel built upon the site of the old kirk of the parish, within hearing of the "bonnie Earn's clear winding stream," and looking out on the green rampart of the Ochils. On a granite cross are the words, "Carmina morte carent" - "her songs lack death." In Scottish lyrical literature she is best remembered for her incomparable "Land o' the Leal," a song often wrongly ascribed to Burns.

Ecclefechan, in Mid-Annandale, the "Entepfuhl" of his "Sartor Resartus," was the birthplace of Thomas Carlyle. It used to be told how strangers, admirers of the sage, had difficulty in getting the Ecclefechaners to discriminate between Thomas and another member of the clan, a pig-breeder, whose name and fame locally overtopped that of his great relative. Carlyle's birth-house is the most kenspeckle building in the plain, old-fashioned street. A distinctive feature is its wide, open pend, or archway, which led to the mason's yard at the back, where Carlyle's "honest, noble-minded father" dumped his stones and lime. The space is built over, but the Arch House, as it is called, remains the same. A little brattling burn immediately in front, running still open here - "Sartor's" "little Kuhbach gushing kindly by" - cleansed by generous rains and floods from the hills behind, was open from end to end of the village in Carlyle's day, but is now covered in for a considerable distance. In it the boy Carlyle would often wade, knifing lazy loach or hunting elusive eels. The tiny upstairs room in which he was born has become a repository for numerous mementoes, brought mostly from Cheyne Row, none of which attract so much attention as two of the familiar broad-brimmed hats be-pegged on the wall, his well-handled tobacco jar, a tobacco cutter, and coffee-pot.

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Pictures for Scotland's Literary Landmarks

THE GRECIAN MONUMENT TO ROBERT BURNS ABOVE THE BANKS O' DOON AT ALLOWAY
THE GRECIAN MONUMENT TO ROBERT BURNS ABOVE THE BANKS O' DOON AT ALLOWAY >>>>
ALLAN RAMSAY'S BOOK SHOP, NOW RECONSTRUCTED
ALLAN RAMSAY'S BOOK SHOP, NOW RECONSTRUCTED >>>>
THATCHED COTTAGE WHERE BURNS WAS BORN, AND OTHER SHRINES FOR LOVERS OF THE POET AT ALLOWAY AND DUMFRIES
THATCHED COTTAGE WHERE BURNS WAS BORN, AND OTHER SHRINES FOR LOVERS OF THE POET AT ALLOWAY AND DUMFRIES >>>>
KILMARNOCK'S MONUMENT TO BURNS
KILMARNOCK'S MONUMENT TO BURNS >>>>
GRAVE OF BURNS' FATHER AT ALLOWAY
GRAVE OF BURNS' FATHER AT ALLOWAY >>>>
THE BRIDGES AT DOON AND AYR WHICH BURNS KNEW AND LOVED
THE BRIDGES AT DOON AND AYR WHICH BURNS KNEW AND LOVED >>>>
SIR WALTER SCOTT'S STUDY, WHICH REMAINS ALMOST AS HE LEFT IT, IN HIS HOME AT ABBOTSFORD
SIR WALTER SCOTT'S STUDY, WHICH REMAINS ALMOST AS HE LEFT IT, IN HIS HOME AT ABBOTSFORD >>>>
EDINBURGH'S GREAT SCOTT MONUMENT
EDINBURGH'S GREAT SCOTT MONUMENT >>>>
WHERE SIR WALTER SCOTT SLEEPS IN THE NORTH TRANSEPT OF DRYBURGH
WHERE SIR WALTER SCOTT SLEEPS IN THE NORTH TRANSEPT OF DRYBURGH >>>>
ABBOTSFORD, WHICH SCOTT FOUND A COTTAGE AND LEFT A GREAT MANSION
ABBOTSFORD, WHICH SCOTT FOUND A COTTAGE AND LEFT A GREAT MANSION >>>>
JAMES HOGG'S MONUMENT, ETTRICK
JAMES HOGG'S MONUMENT, ETTRICK >>>>
THE 'ETTRICK SHEPHERD' AT YARROW
THE 'ETTRICK SHEPHERD' AT YARROW >>>>
LADY NAIRNE'S HIGHLAND HOME AND HAWTHORNDEN, WHERE BEN JONSON STAYED WITH DRUMMOND
LADY NAIRNE'S HIGHLAND HOME AND HAWTHORNDEN, WHERE BEN JONSON STAYED WITH DRUMMOND >>>>
BARBIE'S BIRTHPLACE AND 'THE WINDOW IN THRUMS': MEMORIES OF STEVENSON AT HOWARD PLACE AND SWANSTON
BARBIE'S BIRTHPLACE AND 'THE WINDOW IN THRUMS': MEMORIES OF STEVENSON AT HOWARD PLACE AND SWANSTON >>>>
CARLYLE'S BIRTHPLACE AT ECCLEFECHAN AND HIS HOME AT CRAIGENPUTTOCK
CARLYLE'S BIRTHPLACE AT ECCLEFECHAN AND HIS HOME AT CRAIGENPUTTOCK >>>>

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