Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Quick Trip to Scotland, Part II

Edinburgh is known as the Athens of the North, partly for its monumental architecture and partly for its centrality to the Scottish Enlightenment. So, to see Edinburgh from this angle, we signed on for a walking tour focused specifically on the Scottish Enlightenment, through Mercat Tours. It was very good.

The High Kirk of Edinburgh, more commonly known as St. Giles' Cathedral and sometimes called the Mother Church of Presbyterianism, was never a cathedral at all except for a very brief bit in the seventeenth century; in the Middle Ages, the bishop's seat was in St. Andrews. It nonetheless had importance as the most important church of one of Scotland's most important cities. It is very recognizable due to its crown steeple.


Outside of St. Giles' we find the Mercat Cross of Edinburgh:


'Mercat' is just a variation of 'market', and a mercat cross indicating the town market was one of the requirements that Edinburgh had to meet in order to be a royal burgh. Across from the Mercat Cross is a statue of Alexander and Bucephalus, by Sir John Steell, the same person who did the sculpture for the Scott Monument. I didn't get a good picture of it, but here is a picture from Wikimedia Commons:

Alexander & Bucephalus by John Steell

St. Giles' was a thriving Catholic cathedral into the sixteenth century. And then on July 7, 1559, the Town Council of Edinburgh picked a new preacher famous for his fiery sermons. His name was John Knox, and with him the Reformation came to Scotland in fierce earnest. The bell and the candlesticks were scrapped to make guns and the lectern for scrapmetal; the metal accoutrements of the relic of St. Giles, along with the relic itself, were sold to goldsmiths; the interior was converted to multiple preaching halls.

Near the church are a number of notable statues. There is Adam Smith:


And, a bit farther on, there is David Hume. looking a little on the gaunt side and very improbably dressed like Cicero:


If you look a little closer, you can see that his big toe is polished from people rubbing it:


Apparently people rub his toe so that his intelligence will rub off on them, a most remarkable irony that I'm sure Hume would attribute to his principles of association. I'm reminded of a comment by Hume himself: "Superstitious people are fond of the relicts of saints and holy men, for the same reason that they seek after types and images, in order to inliven their devotion, and give them a more intimate and strong conception of those exemplary lives, which they desire to imitate" (T 1.3.8.6; SBN 100). Hume thought that superstition tended to be favorable to the domination of a 'priestly power'; one wonders what priestly power would be supported here.

Both the Adam Smith and the David Hume statues were done by Alexander Stoddart, who did the James Clerk Maxwell statue. I think the Hume statue ends up being a significant failure in comparison to the Smith and Maxwell statues, both of which are well done. Hume would certainly like the comparison with Cicero, but it's very much more a sculpture of an affectation than of Hume himself. Besides, it doesn't really look like him. The Smith statue, however, is hard to get a good picture of; I have several from different times, and the light never quite strikes it right.

From the area around the Kirk we walked briefly to the University of Edinburgh -- which was closed at the time, so there wasn't really anything to see -- and then up to Calton Hill and the Old Calton Cemetery. The big attractions of the cemetery stand out and are easy to find:


David Hume wanted a monument that would have just his name and years of birth and death, and so that is what Robert Adam, the architect, designed for him.


However, it was a family mausoleum, and Hume's niece was also buried there, with the additional irony that above Hume's name was later placed a very Christian sentiment, to mark her interment there: " "Behold, I come quickly, thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."


There's a street (right by the Scott Monument) called St. David's. It's often thought to be named after Hume rather than any actual St. David, because one of Hume's occasional nicknames when he was alive was "St. David". It seems Hume can hardly be commemorated without some irony attaching to the commemoration.

Next to the Hume Mausoleum is the American Civil War Memorial, often popularly known as the Scottish-American Soldiers Monument. It was funded by Americans, and is the only memorial for the American Civil War outside the United States; it commemorates Scottish American soldiers who fought for the Union. Six soldiers are interred there.

Nearby is the memorial stone for David Allan. Allan was an important painter and illustrator (he illustrated the works of Robert Burns). He was originally buried in an unmarked grave, but because of his importance the stone was put up about eighty years after his death.


Again nearby is the Political Martyrs' Monument.


It commemorates Thomas Muir, Thomas Fyshe Palmer, William Skirving, Maurice Margarot, and Joseph Gerrald, who were advocates for universal suffrage and got sent to a penal colony for their advocacy. The monument itself was planned by Joseph Hume, an associate of James Mill and Jeremy Bentham.

The grave of John Playfair is also found in Old Calton Burial Ground.


Playfair was actually buried in an unmarked grave; the plaque was put up in 2011.

From Old Calton Cemetery you can see the monuments on Calton Hill, which is where we went next.


The most prominent monument on Calton Hill is the Dugald Stewart Monument; Dugald Stewart, of course, was a philosopher teaching at the University of Edinburgh. He was very influential at the time, although much less widely read today. He serves as a good reference point for the late Scottish Enlightenment.


Also on Calton Hill is the John Playfair Monument, which was undergoing some renovation. Both the Dugald Stewart Monument and the John Playfair Monument were designed by William Henry Playfair, who was John Playfair's nephew.


Always easily visible on the hill is the Nelson Monument, which commemorates the victory at Trafalgar. It's an upside-down telescope.


Nearby is the Scottish National Monument. Designed by Charles Robert Cockerell and William Henry Playfair, it was intended to be a new Pantheon dedicated to Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic War, a culminating crown of Edinburgh's status as the Athens of the North. Enough money was pulled together to start building the monument in 1826; fundraising became increasingly difficult, and they ran out of money in 1829 and it was never completed. For this reason, it gained the nicknames of Scotland's Disgrace and Edinburgh's Folly. One of our guides on a later trip told us that Glasgow offered to help pay for the monument on condition that the Glasgow coat of arms be put on the monument, and Edinburgh indignantly refused. In any case, Calton Hill serves as a sort of gravestone for the Scottish Enlightenment, with the Dugald Stewart Monument commemorating Edingburgh's last great Enlightenment philosopher and the National Monument showing the petering out of Edinburgh's ability to fulfill its self-proclaimed Neo-Athenian role.


Calton Hill is great for views of the city.


After the Enlightenment tour ended, we went to Edinburgh Castle, which I will save for the next part.

to be continued

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