Matt. Bramble to Dr. Lewis (Edinburgh, 8 August)
I should be very ungrateful, dear Lewis, if I did not find myself disposed to think and speak favourably of this people, among whom I have met with more kindness, hospitality, and rational entertainment, in a few weeks, than ever I received in any other country during the whole course of my life.—Perhaps, the gratitude excited by these benefits may interfere with the impartiality of my remarks; for a man is as apt to be prepossessed by particular favours as to be prejudiced by private motives of disgust. If I am partial, there is, at least, some merit in my conversion from illiberal prejudices which had grown up with my constitution.
The first impressions which an Englishman receives in this country, will not contribute to the removal of his prejudices; because he refers every thing he sees to a comparison with the same articles in his own country; and this comparison is unfavourable to Scotland in all its exteriors, such as the face of the country in respect to cultivation, the appearance of the bulk of the people, and the language of conversation in general.—I am not so far convinced by Mr Lismahago’s arguments, but that I think the Scots would do well, for their own sakes, to adopt the English idioms and pronunciation; those of them especially, who are resolved to push their fortunes in South-Britain—I know, by experience, how easily an Englishman is influenced by the ear, and how apt he is to laugh, when he hears his own language spoken with a foreign or provincial accent—I have known a member of the house of commons speak with great energy and precision, without being able to engage attention, because his observations were made in the Scotch dialect, which (no offence to lieutenant Lismahago) certainly gives a clownish air even to sentiments of the greatest dignity and decorum.—I have declared my opinion on this head to some of the most sensible men of this country, observing, at the same time, that if they would employ a few natives of England to teach the pronunciation of our vernacular tongue, in twenty years there would be no difference, in point of dialect, between the youth of Edinburgh and of London.
The civil regulations of this kingdom and metropolis are taken from very different models from those of England, except in a few particular establishments, the necessary consequences of the union.—Their college of justice is a bench of great dignity, filled with judges of character and ability.—I have heard some causes tried before this venerable tribunal; and was very much pleased with the pleadings of their advocates, who are by no means deficient either in argument or elocution. The Scottish legislation is founded, in a great measure, on the civil law; consequently, their proceedings vary from those of the English tribunals; but, I think, they have the advantage of us in their method of examining witnesses apart, and in the constitution of their jury, by which they certainly avoid the evil which I mentioned in my last from Lismahago’s observation.
The university of Edinburgh is supplied with excellent professors in all the sciences; and the medical school, in particular, is famous all over Europe.—The students of this art have the best opportunity of learning it to perfection, in all its branches, as there are different courses for the theory of medicine and the practice of medicine; for anatomy, chemistry, botany, and the materia medica, over and above those of mathematics and experimental philosophy; and all these are given by men of distinguished talents. What renders this part of education still more complete, is the advantage of attending the infirmary, which is the best instituted charitable foundation that I ever knew. Now we are talking of charities, here are several hospitals, exceedingly well endowed, and maintained under admirable regulations; and these are not only useful, but ornamental to the city. Among these, I shall only mention the general work-house, in which all the poor, not otherwise provided for, are employed, according to their different abilities, with such judgment and effect, that they nearly maintain themselves by their labour, and there is not a beggar to be seen within the precincts of this metropolis. It was Glasgow that set the example of this establishment, about thirty years ago.—Even the kirk of Scotland, so long reproached with fanaticism and canting, abounds at present with ministers celebrated for their learning, and respectable for their moderation.—I have heard their sermons with equal astonishment and pleasure.—The good people of Edinburgh no longer think dirt and cobwebs essential to the house of God.—Some of their churches have admitted such ornaments as would have excited sedition, even in England, a little more than a century ago; and Psalmody is here practised and taught by a professor from the cathedral of Durham:—I should not be surprised, in a few years, to hear it accompanied with an organ.
Edinburgh is a hot-bed of genius.—I have had the good fortune to be made acquainted with many authors of the first distinction; such as the two Humes, Robertson, Smith, Wallace, Blair, Ferguson, Wilkie, &c. and I have found them all as agreeable in conversation as they are instructive and entertaining in their writings. These acquaintances I owe to the friendship of Dr Carlyle, who wants nothing but inclination to figure with the rest upon paper. The magistracy of Edinburgh is changed every year by election, and seems to be very well adapted both for state and authority.—The lord provost is equal in dignity to the lord mayor of London; and the four bailies are equivalent to the rank of aldermen.—There is a dean of guild, who takes cognizance of mercantile affairs; a treasurer; a town-clerk; and the council is composed of deacons, one of whom is returned every year, in rotation, as representative of every company of artificers or handicraftsmen. Though this city, from the nature of its situation, can never be made either very convenient or very cleanly, it has, nevertheless, an air of magnificence that commands respect.—The castle is an instance of the sublime in scite and architecture.—Its fortifications are kept in good order, and there is always in it a garrison of regular soldiers, which is relieved every year; but it is incapable of sustaining a siege carried on according to the modern operations of war.—The castle hill, which extends from the outward gate to the upper end of the high street, is used as a public walk for the citizens, and commands a prospect, equally extensive and delightful, over the county of Fife, on the other side of the Frith, and all along the sea-coast, which is covered with a succession of towns that would seem to indicate a considerable share of commerce; but, if the truth must be told, these towns have been falling to decay ever since the union, by which the Scots were in a great measure deprived of their trade with France.—The palace of Holyrood-house is a jewel in architecture, thrust into a hollow where it cannot be seen; a situation which was certainly not chosen by the ingenious architect, who must have been confined to the site of the old palace, which was a convent. Edinburgh is considerably extended on the south side, where there are divers little elegant squares built in the English manner; and the citizens have planned some improvements on the north, which, when put in execution, will add greatly to the beauty and convenience of this capital.
The sea-port is Leith, a flourishing town, about a mile from the city, in the harbour of which I have seen above one hundred ships lying all together. You must know, I had the curiosity to cross the Frith in a passage boat, and stayed two days in Fife, which is remarkably fruitful in corn, and exhibits a surprising number of fine seats, elegantly built, and magnificently furnished. There is an incredible number of noble houses in every part of Scotland that I have seen.—Dalkeith, Pinkie, Yester, and lord Hopton’s [Hopetoun’s], all of them within four or five miles of Edinburgh, are princely palaces, in every one of which a sovereign might reside at his case.—I suppose the Scots affect these monuments of grandeur.—If I may be allowed to mingle censure with my remarks upon a people I revere, I must observe, that their weak side seems to be vanity.—I am afraid that even their hospitality is not quite free of ostentation. I think I have discovered among them uncommon pains taken to display their fine linen, of which, indeed, they have great plenty, their furniture, plate, housekeeping, and variety of wines, in which article, it must be owned, they are profuse, if not prodigal—A burgher of Edinburgh, not content to vie with a citizen of London, who has ten times his fortune, must excel him in the expence as well as elegance of his entertainments.
Though the villas of the Scotch nobility and gentry have generally an air of grandeur and state, I think their gardens and parks are not comparable to those of England; a circumstance the more remarkable, as I was told by the ingenious Mr Phillip Miller of Chelsea, that almost all the gardeners of South-Britain were natives of Scotland. The verdure of this country is not equal to that of England.—The pleasure-grounds are, in my opinion, not so well laid out according to the genius loci; nor are the lawns, and walks, and hedges kept in such delicate order.—The trees are planted in prudish rows, which have not such an agreeable natural effect, as when they are thrown into irregular groupes, with intervening glades; and firs, which they generally raise around their houses, look dull and funereal in the summer season.—I must confess, indeed, that they yield serviceable timber, and good shelter against the northern blasts; that they grow and thrive in the most barren soil, and continually perspire a fine balsam of turpentine, which must render the air very salutary and sanative to lungs of a tender texture.
Tabby and I have been both frightened in our return by sea from the coast of Fife—She was afraid of drowning, and I of catching cold, in consequence of being drenched with sea-water; but my fears as well as hers, have been happily disappointed. She is now in perfect health; I wish I could say the same of Liddy—Something uncommon is the matter with that poor girl; her colour fades, her appetite fails, and her spirits flag—She is become moping and melancholy, and is often found in tears—Her brother suspects internal uneasiness on account of Wilson, and denounces vengeance against that adventurer.—She was, it seems, strongly affected at the ball by the sudden appearance of one Mr Gordon, who strongly resembles the said Wilson; but I am rather suspicious that she caught cold by being overheated with dancing.—I have consulted Dr Gregory, an eminent physician of an amiable character, who advises the highland air, and the use of goat-milk whey, which, surely, cannot have a bad effect upon a patient who was born and bred among the mountains of Wales—The doctors opinion is the more agreeable, as we shall find those remedies in the very place which I proposed as the utmost extent of our expedition—I mean the borders of Argyle.
Mr Smollett, one of the judges of the commissary court, which is now sitting, has very kindly insisted upon our lodging at his country-house, on the banks of Lough-Lomond, about fourteen miles beyond Glasgow. For this last city we shall set out in two days, and take Stirling in our way, well provided with recommendations from our friends at Edinburgh, whom, I protest, I shall leave with much regret. I am so far from thinking it any hardship to live in this country, that, if I was obliged to lead a town life, Edinburgh would certainly be the headquarters of
EDIN., August 8.
Tobias George Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. By the Author of Roderick Random. In two volumes. Printed for A. Leathley, J. Exshaw, H. Saunders, W. Sleater, D. Chamberlain, J. Potts, J. Hoey, Jun. J. Mitchell, J. Williams, W. Colles, J. A. Husband, T. Walker, R. Moncrieffe, W. Wilson, and D. Hay (Dublin), 1771, vol. 3, p. 1-11. Full text of 1836 edition with illustrattions by George Cruikshank by HATHITRUST.
Image: Parliament Close and Public Characters of Edinburgh 50 years Since, attributed to John Kay (1742-1826)