Posted: Aug 2015
My countdown to Scotland is getting shorter and shorter every day. 69 days to go!
I went on an adventure today to find some inspiring travel books about Scotland at Powell's Books and stumbled upon two old books based on Edinburgh. The first, "The Perambulator in Edinburgh" by James Bone (Illustrated by E.S. Lumsden, Published by Borzoi Books, Alfred A. Knopf, NY in 1926).
I am an absolute sucker for older books. My favorite and first thing to do when I hold an aged book is to smell - take in the scent - the scent of woody, aging paper bound by bookbinders glue, stained by age itself - the scent of time. When I was a teenager, one of the first jobs I had was a bookbinder's apprentice. It was an unusual and untypical opportunity for a modern, suburban teenage girl to experience. The owner used traditional timeless methods and natural materials to build, repair and preserve books of many ages, origins and conditions. One of the most impressive and nerve-wracking books I assisted to repair was a Gutenberg bible with painted illustrations and stamp details. We also cleaned, repaired and restored old photographs and paintings. I digress...
to walk or travel through or around a place or area, especially for pleasure and in a leisurely way.
"he grew weary of perambulating over rough countryside in bad weather"
What is so interesting about "The Perambulator in Edinburgh" is that it is written in the perspective of the author, James Bone (b. 1872, d. 1962), of the Edinburgh of "today", of course in his time of early 1900s (originally published in 1911 in London in the title of "Edinburgh Revisited"). His perspective is of one where he compares and contrasts the old world to the new. His sense of 'modern and progressive' can be perceived as a time of a bygone era today. This book is giving me the opportunity to time travel and see Edinburgh through the eyes of someone in 1911 - someone who reminisces of the lost ages and watches as the world around him continues to grow into the dichotomy of what Edinburgh still remains to be today - an intersection of modern industrialism which sits on top of thousands of years of rich history and stories never to be forgotten.
I can only do his writing justice by providing an excerpt below in his simple comparison of the old and of the new...
"An Edinburgh gentleman visiting London at the beginning of the nineteenth century objected to apartments on the ground floor and insisted staying on the top storey, saying he know very well what gentility was, and when we had lived upon the ground. This tale has long been thought a good joke in England, but a modern New Yorker who knows, like the old Edinburgh man, the advantages of living well up in his high buildings, will see only sound sense in it. For Old Edinburgh was the fire-runner of new New York in its skyscrapers. At the end of the eighteenth century Edinburgh astonished the world with its 'apartment' lands of twelve and fourteen storeys, with kailwives and porters at the bottom and linkmen and caddies at the top, and lords of sessions and county gentry on the middle storeys. There were no elevators then.
Edinburgh was built like New York, on a rock and confined to its rock by defensive walls, and, on the one side, by a lake. It had to grow upwards. Its citizens still look down on the Forth estuary as the New Yorkers look down on the Hudson and the East River.
In this book the author attempts to give a picture of the Edinburgh of to-day with the chiaroscuro of its past. The romance of the ancient town did not vanish with its swords, nor even with the passing of the tall hat; glamour descends still upon its ridges every night. By good guidance the author's perambulations extended to the interiors of these seventeenth and eighteenth century skyscrapers and mansions of the Old Town, once the homes of the Edinburgh gentry, and now tenanted by the very poor; and he was able to see what relics of elegance and harmony remain in them; and what was the attitude of the tenants towards these relics. An attempt has also been made to express and analyze the beauty of the New Town of the Adams, Playfair and Hamilton, which, after a season of neglect, is now becoming the study and delight of the younger generation of architects. Greatly daring, he has also ventured to limn and explain that most responsible of all God's creatures, the Edinburgh man; and to connect his characteristics with the past of his city and the peculiarities of life in the Old Town.
Under the title 'Edinburgh Revisited' the main part of this book with illustrations by another artist, was published in 1911 in London." - James Bone
The second book I purchase is simply titled "Edinburgh" by George Scott-Moncrieff. It is a 1st edition copy published in 1947 by Batsford Books. It is a brief book about the history of the capital city of Edinburgh, accompanied by beautiful photographs, paintings and engravings. Here is a sample of his introduction...
"While I was writing the ensuing pages there came the news of the atomic bomb, making curious inroads into one's consideration of one's own ploys. I thought how very academic my book could become. There was, suddenly, a chance that copied of it might survive its subject, which had naturally seemed inevitably more permanent than any comment I might make upon it. Even accounts of what has happened to some of the German towns suggests that a city of long-standing, rich in history and fine buildings, may by modern methods be immediately reduced to mute rubble. It is a disconcerting thought; cities like Edinburgh seem so permanent that we grow fiercely indignant over the pointless destruction of a few fine buildings at the hands of old-fashioned philistines.
However, I hope that this will not become an academic study, but serve, like one of the caddies of the old days, to introduce my native city to the interested visitor.
Even within the limits of my own knowledge there are many deserving incidents, places and personalities that have received inadequate comment or sometimes no comment at all. I have found it difficult to leave out so much that I have enjoyed and wanted to discourse upon. As it is, there are considerable digressions that would ill-become a formal guide-book. I hope, however, that these lend perspective to the views of Edinburgh that I have selected; and that the total effect gains more than it loses through being observed from an individual viewpoint."
- George Scott-Moncrieff. Hebrides, January 1947.