Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Writers' Museum

The writers’ museum on Lawnmarket houses an inspiring little exhibition focussing on Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. Sir Walter Scott is the author of Ivanhoe, one of only two books I have ever started and not finished – the other one was The Hobbit – but we won’t hold that against him.

I admire the small rooms with their oak and mahogany doors and panelling, red or green or purple walls (they’re colour-themed), the artefacts, portraits, oil paintings, lithographs and the authors’ desks themselves! 

Up the spiral staircase in Lady Stair’s House (the uneven steps are deliberately so to betray an intruder who might stumble on an unfamiliar pattern) is a copy of the Ballantyne press (built in 1790) – one of the presses on which Scott’s Waverley novels were printed. The boxes of wooden letters neatly filed in trays are a wonder to behold, like some highly precocious and privileged child’s educational toys.

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was born into a struggling family and was acutely aware of social distinctions. As a farmer he began writing poetry as ‘some kind of counterpoise’ to his circumstances.

He admits, ‘For my own part I never had the least thought or inclination of turning poet till I got heartily in love and then Rhyme and Song were in a manner, the spontaneous language of my heart.’

He wrote Ae Fond Kiss for Clarinda as well as many patriotic poems to Scotland, and sniffed somewhat caustically, ‘Those who think that composing a Scotch song is a trifling business, let them try.’

Robert Louis Stevenson, on the other hand, wrote that ‘to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.’ He obviously had more romantic methods of voyaging than being cramped in a metal tube for 36hours. He circumnavigated the world gathering experiences for later novels.

‘I travel not to go anywhere but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move: to fell the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this featherbed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.’

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