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A History of the Four Georges, Volume I

Edinburgh was still a walled city


than a century and a half since

her descendant raised the standard of rebellion against the Elector of Hanover, Edinburgh Old Town retains more of its antique characteristics than either of the capitals of the sister kingdoms. It is true that the Northern Athens has followed the example of its Greek original in shifting the scene of its social life. The Attic Athens of to-day occupies a different site from that of the city of Pericles. New Edinburgh {85} has reared itself on the other bank of that chasm where once the North River flowed, and where now the trains run. Edinburgh, however, more fortunate than the city of Cecrops, while founding a new town has not lost the old. But at the time of the Hanoverian accession, and for generations later, not a house of the new town had been built. Edinburgh was still a walled city, with many gates or "ports," occupying the same ground that she had covered in the reign of James the Third, along the ridge between the gray Castle on the height at the west and haunted Holyrood in the plain at the east. All along this ridge rose the huge buildings, "lands," as they were called, stretching from peak to peak like a mountain-range--five, six, sometimes ten stories high--pierced with innumerable windows, crowned with jagged, fantastic roofs and gables, and as crowded with life as the "Insulae" of Imperial Rome. Over all rose the graceful pinnacle of St. Giles's Church, around whose base the booths of goldsmiths and other craftsmen clustered. The great main street of this
old town was, and is, the Canongate, with its hundred or so of narrow closes or wynds running off from it at right angles. The houses in these closes were as tall as the rest, though the space across the street was often not more than four or five feet wide. The Canongate was Edinburgh in the early days of the last century far more than St. James's Street was London. Its high houses, with their wooden panellings, with the old armorial devices on their doors, and their common stair climbing from story to story outside, have seen the whole panorama of Scottish history pass by.

Life cannot have been very comfortable in Edinburgh. There were no open spaces or squares in the royalty, with the exception of the Parliamentary close. The houses were so well and strongly built that the city was seldom troubled by fire, but they were poor inside, with low, dark rooms. We find, in consequence, that houses inhabited by the gentry in the early part of the eighteenth century were considered almost too bad for very humble {86} folk at its close, and the success of the new town was assured from the day when its first foundation-stone was laid. But if not very comfortable, life was quiet and simple. People generally dined at one or two o'clock in Edinburgh when George the First was king. Shopkeepers closed their shops when they dined, and opened them again for business when the meal was over. There was very little luxury; wine was seldom seen on the tables of the middle classes, and few people kept carriages. There were not many amusements; friends met at each other's houses to take tea at five o'clock, and perhaps to listen to a little music; for the Edinburghers were fond of music, and an annual concert which was established early in the century lingered on till within three years of its close. But this simplicity was not immortal, and we hear sad complaints as the century grows old concerning the decadence of manners made manifest in the luxurious practice of dining as late as four or five, the freer use of wine, and other signs of over-civilization.


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