Being under house arrest is no fun for anyone (at least with a small home)… However, I have been reading on Twitter that independent bookshops have received a massive boost in online sales during the lockdown. So perhaps there are one or two silver linings, in among the horror.
The other bonus is that I have been rediscovering the local area. I have to walk a couple of miles every day, and “staying in” for a few days, as recommended, has given me one or two non-CV19 health issues. The weather has been generally beautiful, and I have tended to go for quieter places. That means no Water of Leith, no Union Canal (at least from Wester Hailes down), and even staying off St John’s Road most of the time. Instead, I have been to Cammo (which is a bit too busy, but has quiet spots), Gogarbank (which is very quiet), Lennie (which is also quiet), Ratho and so on. All of these have their little secrets. It has also been delightful to explore some of the places near the airport without the constant thunder of planes…
However, I regret to say my personal reading has gone to pot. I am getting back into it, but I have been finding it hard to read, and to write too, because I have to spend a lot of my time walking to compensate for my health trouble. Nothing has gone to plan. (In case you’re wondering, the next book on my reading list is Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke.)
I certainly won’t be reading anything related to the Covid lockdown. This is despite being recommended the likes of the Andromeda Strain and Contagion by Amazon. No Love in the Time of Cholera or Death in Venice either.
Joking aside, CV19 has brought out the best and worst in people. Some folk act as if nothing is happening, and don’t seem to be aware one can transmit it without having little or no symptoms yourself. I have been particularly disturbed by the notion that the disease doesn’t exist. I can assure you it does. A friend of mine in the US has just spent two weeks in hospital with this supposedly imaginary virus, and is spending another week in quarantine at a hotel. He is physically tough for his age, thank God, and is recovering, but CV19 was all too real for him and his family. I don’t doubt that authoritarians would love to use the lockdown as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties after this is over – more phone tracking, making it easier for folk to be locked up without trial etc… and all the latent Fascists and Stalinists have been creeping out of the woodwork, but notion that this horrible disease doesn’t exist is just plain wrong.
Anyway, I hope all of you are staying safe and well. Remember this is a good time to catch up on those doorstoppers you’ve put aside for a rainy day, or even to take up a new hobby. Lockdown is horrible, but we can at least make it bearable.
Today, LitCors looks at yet another neglected female writer with local connections.
Rosie ?Bell left a pleasant comment on my last post about Nan Shepherd, letting me know about Alice “Trix” Fleming (1868 – 1948), who lived at 6, West Coates for a number of years. Trix was the sister of Rudyard Kipling, and like him spent some of her life in colonial India. The two of them appear to have collaborated on some early work, so it is fair to assume some level of mutual influence. Trix also had a number of her own pieces published in both India and the UK. The Kiplings seem to have been a very talented family – both Trix’s mother and her father were also notable in their own right.
The Scottish Connection
Alice Beatrice MacDonald Kipling was named after her mother Alice Kipling, née MacDonald. Like her children, Alice Sr. was a keen poet. She also had a Scottish family background, which was perhaps influential in bringing Trix to Edinburgh. At 21, Trix married Colonel John Fleming – I suspect from his surname he may have had a Scottish background too, but I would have to look this up.
Trix and her husband tried to move to Edinburgh in 1910, but the visit was brief. Her mother had died back in India, and her father died three months later. The stress brought on by the bereavement appears to have affected Trix quite severely.
She came back to Edinburgh in 1932, and lived here for the rest of her life. She was visited Edinburgh Zoo regularly, and spoke to the elephants there in Hindustani (the Indian lingua franca, before it divided into Hindi and Urdu). Rather like Arthur Conan Doyle, Trix took an interest in psychic phenomena and was said to have the second sight. Back in those days, this was a far more mainstream viewpoint.
As well as being a poet, Trix also produced several novels and short stories. These include:
The Heart of a Maid (1890)
A Pinchbeck Goddess (1897)
Her Brother’s Keeper (1901)
Trix in fiction
Mary Hamer has written a novel about Trix and you can read a piece she wrote about the novel here.
Apparently some of the later scenes take place in Edinburgh including the zoo.
I’ve only skimmed over a few pages on the internet to write this post, but there appear to be at least two major works which discuss Trix’s life and work a bit more fully.
One of them is Trix: Kipling’s Forgotten Sister, which includes a number of her pieces, plus some biographical notes.
The other is Judith Flanders’ A Circle of Sisters, which also discusses Trix’s mother and her three aunts, the MacDonald Sisters.
Nan Shepherd has achieved some posthumous celebrity in Scotland in the last few years thanks to her appearance on a five pound note. Into the Mountain probably exists partly because of this new found fame and indeed bears the self-same striking image on the cover. Whatever the reason, Charlotte Peacock’s new biography is welcome, and gives a detailed account of her life and writings.
I am not very familiar with her fiction or poetry to be honest and am not even aware if it is currently in print. Like many people I mainly know her for the Living Mountain, a beautiful work which ranks alongside John Muir’s as a classic of Scottish nature writing.
Shepherd, like Helen Cruickshank was a product of the north east and indeed the two knew each other. Shepherd often visited Cruickshank at her home at Dinnieduff in Corstorphine. Into the Mountain contains copious references to Cruickshank, and thus has a lot of local interest as well.
If I may make one criticism of the book, it is that Peacock often conflates Shepherd’s fiction with autobiography. While it is true that Shepherd left little in the way of memoirs, and there appears to be a flavour of roman à clef about The Quarrie Wood (which I’ve not read) it is dangerous to rely on such works. As a would be fiction writer myself, I occasionally draw on my own life but often change many significant details – someone else would be hard pressed to guess which parts I had changed. I suspect Nan Shepherd did the same.
I’m delighted to see Clerwood now has its own free library. If you want to find it, follow the 26 bus to the Clerwood View bus stop. There is a path leading west from the bus stop between the houses and the library is there.If you can find it, it’s worth a visit. It’s not far from the walled garden on Corstorphine Hill.
I’ve gone up a couple of times. It’s a bit out of the way for me, but I’m glad there is at least one on this side of town.
The content on my last visit included several football books (ghost-written “autobiographies”), chicklit and a range of children’s books as well as some classic novels, and a copy of the “Holy Blood and Holy Grail” (I wonder if they know about Templeland Road at the bottom of Drumbrae?). This one has an unusual shelving pattern, but I don’t want to go full anorak mode in discussing it!
The first was in a sorry state and book-free. It can be found next to the allotments on one of the greens in Clovenstone in Wester Hailes. The last time I visited, the doors were left wide open, and there was not a book in sight. Sadly, there is a lot of vandalism in Clovenstone in general. One or two of the buildings have been done up and there are now allotments, but the area could be improved a lot for the people who live there. Free libraries are a sign of people taking back an area. Vandalism is usually a sign of the opposite (although I’ll make an exception for certain graffiti – none of which I’ve seen in Clovenstone)
The second is a more positive story. The Shandon one is in a better state and has a lot of books in it every time I pass. There’s an obvious class issue here in comparison to the one in Clovenstone. Shandon is a “sought after” area as you can pick up from the accents of some of the residents. Clerwood too is a middle class area, but is not so well known to people originating south of the border.
Last but not least, the free library at Haymarket has reappeared. It used to be in a piece of furniture, but now there’s one hidden in the hedge. It can be quite hard to spot until you’re right on top of it, but that’s probably protected it against vandalism. That doesn’t stop vans parking in front of it, but you can’t have everything.
Agnes Campbell, Lady Roseburn (1637 — 1716) was one of the pioneers of publishing in Scotland. Most of the online information about Campbell seems to be on this Wikipedia article. From it, we learn that her husband became King’s Printer in Scotland, and that when he died, she took up the business at the age of 38. She remarried, but amazingly for the time, she was allowed to keep her business independent of her new husband.
In 1709, she established a paper mill at Penicuik, and became official printer to the Church of Scotland.
As for her personal connection to Roseburn, I’d be delighted to know more from any of my readers.
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) is best remembered today as the author of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). Defoe had another life, as John Clerk of Penicuik remarked:
“He was… a spy among us, but not known to be such, otherways the Mob of Edin[burgh] had pull him to pieces”
Defoe was sent up to Scotland to try and stoke up support for union with England, and to gauge the lie of the land. He was largely successful.
That Defoe was a Presbyterian was probably one of the reasons that he was sent up from England to spy on Scotland. It was also one of the things that Campbell and Defoe would have had in common, and indeed Campbell was one of his publishers. Was Campbell an informant for Defoe’s Memoirs of the Church of Scotland (1717) and The History of the Union of Great Britain (1709)? She certainly had regular contact with the highest levels of the Kirk, and Edinburgh society.
One of the few published sources on Campbell appears to be John A. Fairley’s Agnes Campbell, Lady Roseburn, Relict of Andrew Anderson, the King’s Printer A Contribution to the History of Printing in Scotland, published in 1925. This ought to be available at the National Library, although it is long out of print. “Relict” is an old Scots word for a widow.
I have been writing a lot recently on the issue of plaques and commemoration of local figures in Edinburgh. I have added a substantial number of plaques to the Open Plaque database, some of which are more worthy than others.
I make a number of suggestions for potential new ones here. See what you think. If you’re not the literary type, then check out my sport-related suggestions later on. I’ve gone for a spread – not just the one.
The book of Literary Corstorphine maps a number of sites of local interest in Corstorphine and all the surrounding suburbs e.g. Clermiston, South Gyle, Saughton, Murrayfield & Roseburn etc. In many cases, I have been able to narrow down locations to an actual house, street, park etc. If you haven’t bought it already, then please do – it not only gives me some pocket money, but it helps to promote some of the more neglected heritage of this area. Pretty much everyone who has read it has told me that they’ve learnt something new from it.
The main problem with plaques etc is that one has to get permission off the owner of any property to have one installed. Some may be favourable to this, and some less so. With public or corporate buildings this can be a bit easier. But it is worth pointing out any such owner that it will increases the value of a property.
Who is commemorated already in this area? Helen Cruickshank, Wilfred Owen, Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson that I can think of.
Murrayfield Road: Sculptor and poet James_Pittendrigh_Macgillivray who lived in Murrayfield. Many of his sculptures can still be seen round Edinburgh. His daughter Ina was also a writer, but little or none of her work appears to have been published. I intend to try and get a look at her papers some time.
Traquair Park West: Photographer Colin Jarvie who died a few years ago. I wrote about him in the previous post.
South Gyle Road: The very underrated poet William Neill who lived on South Gyle Road.
Roull Road?: The poet Roull of Corstorphine whom I wrote about here and here
Ormidale Terrace, Roseburn Park etc: John Lennon – I have written about this here
Saughton Mains area & Tyler’s Acre Avenue: Novelist Elizabeth Gaskell – I have written about her connections here and here.
Kaimes Road: The writers Rebecca West (and Madge Elder), who I have written about here.
Roseburn: Agnes Campbell – a notable printer of the 17th century – more on her in another article.
And there are others, I mention in the book. Maybe some of them too.
Spare a thought too for the lost buildings of our area – Corstorphine Castle, Corstorphine Railway Station, the old cinema on Manse Road, the mansion by Dunsmuir Court etc, maybe all of these could do with some markers too.
Local sporting heroes
There are several sporting heroes that have some kind of local connections too, although all but one of them are living, which means some organisations won’t memorialise them:
Cyclist Chris Hoy, with connections to Corstorphine and Murrayfield. His achievements are well known.
Footballer Graeme Souness, who grew up in Saughton Mains. There are many other players from round here, but Sounness is a stand-out example.
Rugby player Donna Kennedy who played for Corstorphine RFC: “the world’s most-capped women’s player from 2004 to 2016 and the first Scottish player — woman or man — to reach 100 international caps. As of November 2017, she remains the most-capped player in Scotland with 115 caps.” She is in the Scottish Rugby’s Hall of Fame.
Tennis player and coach Judy Murray who used to be an active Corstorphine Tennis Club, when she was known as Judy Erskine. Her sons, Andy and Jamie have become more successful than her, but this is largely down to her efforts. I believe Judy Murray has done more to encourage tennis in Scotland than anyone else… or indeed any organisation.
Rugby internationalist and cricketer Henry Stevenson (1867 – 1945) who was from Corstorphine.
Analysing commemoration in Edinburgh
In my view, there are definite biases in who and what is commemorated. One can do this purely by breaking down the numbers, which I don’t intend to do here. Here are a few conclusions I draw:
The vast majority in Edinburgh city centre. There are several reasons for this. In the case of Historic Environment Scotland, their rules state that a subject must have been born at least a century ago, and been dead for at least twenty – this means that many of them lived in the city before the suburbs started to sprawl. It’s one of the reasons that Edinburgh’s substantial rock ‘n’ roll and folk revival movements are practically invisible.
Plaques to women and girls are far less common. There has been a movement to redress this balance, but there are still many more who deserve recognition, and not just in some form of tokenism.
Aristocrats and rich people are also well remembered. Notable working class people less so with some exceptions unless they were military. There is also a clear bias towards establishment figures, rather than rebels and reformers. I remarked in a previous post that Sarah Elizabeth Siddons Mair may be an example of a “safe feminist.”
Edinburgh has a thing about commemorating animals – Greyfriars Bobby, Bum the dog (what a name!), Wojtek the Bear, Dolly the Sheep, giraffes, Brigadier Nils Olav (a penguin) etc. In fact the city seems to prefer remembering them to women as as I wrote in this post..
There are surprisingly few sporting plaques in Edinburgh. Not even for football. I think I have seen some for golf and one for a swimmer. The first ever rugby international is completely ignored.
There are many plaques connected to buildings or places. Personally I have no issue with this at all, and we could probably do with a few more… outside the city centre!
The British military is well commemorated, with a memorial of some sort in every community. “Lest we forget” is a common motto on such memorials, and there is no danger of that in the near future. Certain individuals and wars are probably more celebrated than others – for example, there don’t seem to be any prominent memorials which specifically celebrate Scottish service personnel in the Falklands Conflict, Korea, Malaya etc. In my experience they tend to feature on other monuments, but I may be wrong. There is a Spanish Civil War Memorial in central Edinburgh, but to be perfectly honest, you’d never notice it unless you were right on top of it.
And before anyone tries to one-up me in the Internet’s current favourite blood sport – no, minorities don’t feature much in these commemorations either: ethnic, religious, LGBT+, linguistic etc, you name it. Edinburgh’s Gaels have secured one or two, but even they are under-exposed.
Here are a few suggestions for literary memorials outside western Edinburgh:
Numerous places: Muriel Spark – as Kevin Williamson once remarked to me, probably one of the women of this city most deserving of a statue. Thankfully she’s been getting some due attention this year. I’ve written on her here and here.
Leamington Terrace: poet Norman MacCaig.
Milnes Bar – probably requires some kind of permanent external feature, before the pub clears out even more of the literary paraphenalia. There are other worthy candidates such as Sandy Bells, and some of the other bars on Rose Street.
Duddingston – Lady Carolina Nairne. Her work can be sentimental, but given that her songs remain popular, I’m amazed there are no plaques to her.
There is an extremely strong argument to suggest that women are still woefully under-commemorated in Edinburgh. Some redress has been made in this direction, but not enough. You’ll notice that I have suggested quite a few above.
Scientific organisations are particularly bad in this area – look at this list of plaques erected by the Royal Society of Chemistry – it covers the entire UK, and the only woman on it is Dorothy Hodgkin! Now I know that the sciences are traditionally male-dominated, but they aren’t exclusively male. There are many notable female British chemists – probably the most famous is Margaret Thatcher, although perhaps not for her scientific work! Does Edinburgh have any notable female chemists? Well yes – Lesley Yellowlees, although again, she is still living so unlikely to get a plaque.
The same thing can be said about those put up by physicists. Women in medicine are at least getting a showing now, thanks to Edinburgh University,. but still!
A few other notable Edinburgh women (apologies if some are already commem’d – blame my memory):
I have tried hard to steer clear of party politics on this blog, but it greatly saddens me to see our MSP Alex Cole Hamilton try and use Scottish Gaelic as a soft target for campaigning. He seems to think if you are interested in Gaelic, you can’t be interested in other languages, despite all the research saying otherwise. Children in Gaelic Medium Education consistently outperform the other schools when it comes to learning French, German, Spanish etc. Frankly, ACH’s tweet reeks of the “many of my best friends are […], but” mentality.
I am glad to say this attitude has not been shared by all of his party. Christine Jardine MP has said that she is supportive of Gaelic, and both Donald Gorrie and Margaret Smith have been positive about it too. The late Iain Farquhar Munro (Iain Fearchar Rothach) was a native speaker and a champion of Gaelic in the Lib Dems, and will probably be turning in his grave at these comments.
Well, I happen to be one of Alex Cole Hamilton’s constituents. I vote in pretty much every election. I think I have only missed one in twenty plus years. I have my own views, but I am not currently a member of any political party. I have voted for several different parties in the past, and yes, one of them happened to be the Lib Dems. Comments like this don’t endear me to them.
Literary Corstorphine will always back the Gaelic language. Many languages can be seen and heard in this constituency of course, and it is wrong to pitch them against each other, to say Polish is better than Cantonese or Urdu is superior to Broad Scots. Yet that is precisely what has happened here, and it seems to be becoming more and more common in British politics.
Our local Gaelic heritage
Does Corstorphine have a Gaelic heritage? Yes, more than you might think. Names like Drumbrae (Druim Bràighe), Cammo (Camach), Lennie (Lèanaidh), Carrick Knowe (Carraig) and Balgreen (Baile Grèine) all originate from it. Go up to Edinburgh Park and you can find busts of poets such as Iain Crichton Smith and Sorley MacLean, while more recently Gaelic writers such as William Neill and Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir have lived locally.
I write about Corstorphine’s Gaelic links in my book.
Literary Corstorphine has talked a lot about writing, but not very much on how to write. In this post, I’ll talk about just that, with a bit of a hand from several published authors.
“If you get a bit stuck, kill someone.” – Wendy H. Jones
Who could say this but a crime writer and get away with it?
On Wednesday, 30th May, the Hub on St John’s Road, Edinburgh hosted Corstorphine Festival’s Writers’ Night. Hosted by Corstorphine’s own Cecilia Peartree, the line up included Wendy H. Jones down from Dundee, Jane Riddell, Ann Stenhouse, and Kate Blackadder. As well as crime, these ladies have published in genres as varied as science fiction, YA (Young Adult), children’s, family relationship, historical romance and literary fiction.
I include some potted biographies of the other writers below, but some of the discussion may be of interest. These are taken from my own, somewhat chaotic notes.
Yours truly opened the discussion, and pointed out that I was something of a “rank amateur” compared to the rest of the line-up. I was the only one discussing non-fiction (or is it fiction? Let’s not go all meta!) Anyway, I hope to gear this blog post more towards other people’s opinions!
Talking of murder…
My own question: There being a lot of murder writers around these days, I asked the obvious… how do they research certain subject matter without causing too much alarm to the authorities? Looking up firearms and body decomposition online will probably land you on a watch list!
Me: I jokingly suggested no Google as an answer to this quandary. They store everything.
Wendy H. Jones fielded this question. She had worked in medicine, including a stint in an eye hospital in east Jerusalem where she would frequently encounter members of the public who had severe injury or trauma to other parts of their bodies. This meant that she is already au fait with a number of medical details.
She cultivated a friend in the police in Dundee and discussed. They will be able to provide you with a lot of up-to-date information.
Crime has been changed. Bodies can be fingerprinted and processed through the database in five minutes for example.
MITs (mobile incident teams) are also deployed across Scotland, since the merger of the forces.
Wendy admits “you have to play a little fast and loose” when it comes to such matters.
Audience question: “How do you put yourself into the mindset of historical characters?”
Anne Stenhouse: She is adamant that she writes historical romance, and not historical fiction. Some research is necessary, but not so much as to bog the project down.
Anne points out that the position of women in the Regency Period was extremely different. Girls did not speak to adults in the same fashion that they do now. Women were effectively property until/unless they came to be widows – if that happened, then they gained a certain level of rights which were otherwise delegated to their fathers or husbands.
Wendy H. Jones: Two of her young adult novels are set in historic cultures: The Warriors in China and another is set in ancient Egypt. Wendy says that research is important as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the book.
Cecilia Peartree: Setting some of her work in 1950s Berlin provided a number of challenges, particularly as the city has been constantly changing over the past sixty years or so.
And now onto the bane of writers (and film producers)… consistency. The way to deal with this problem is to go over your work thoroughly, and making charts & notes to keep track of it. And before publication, it is wise to have a number of people go over it, to try and find what you have missed. The ladies were extremely open about some of the issues that they had encountered in their own work.
Jane Riddell: Jane found out that one of her character was pregnant for 18 months.
Cecilia Peartree: Among her writing issues were a dog which had three different names in a single novel, and a baby which changed gender.
Wendy H. Jones: She recommends keeping tight control of what your characters look like – be consistent with things like eye/hair colour etc. All of this can be achieved through keeping notes separate to the story itself.
The writers also pointed out some miscellaneous problems encountered by today’s writers:
Kate Blackadder: Kate points out that there has been a sharp decline in magazine outlets, partly due to the internet.
Jane Riddell: Jane discussed the difficulty of finding a readership within cyberspace. She also says people often have to see something seven times for it to stick in their mind. Advertisers know this, which is why they are so persistent in repeating images.
Cecilia Peartree: There is a danger of real life intruding too much into novels. Cecilia does a lot of work in committees and there is the concern that if this features in her work too much that people will assume it is based on her real life and Corstorphine in general.
Chewing Gum on the Mantelpiece
Wendy H. Jones: Chewing gum on the mantelpiece is a metaphor for something mentioned early in a novel. It has to be relevant later in the plot, because a crime reader will assume it is a clue in the plot, and will be disappointed if it is left unresolved.
She has to do a lot of plotting “to keep track of the bodies and to control the police” within the story.
Characters that bully you
Wendy H. Jones: Sometimes she says “characters start to bully you”, i.e. they start to take on their own identity and dictate to you their likes & dislikes. This can sometimes be little planned. One character, for example, she felt would be a whisky drinker as she was writing the story.
My own trumpet
I talked about Corstorphine’s links to Elizabeth Gaskell, Dickens etc, the sculptures of writers in South Gyle and read out the Rival Bellmen by the local writer Robert Cuddie.
On a very different note, the audience learnt about Daphne du Maurier’s uncle. He was a one-time editor of the Daily Mail, who held some unusual notions about Edinburgh. Were Corstorphine Hill and Gogar featured in the Bible? Probably not, but he thought so.
Jane writes novels and short stories about exotic locales and often uses photographs for inspiration. She works within contemporary fiction, and the family relationship genre. She has also written a series of books featuring a cat… the Bakhtin Chronicles, based on the Russian philosopher of the same name.
Her non-fiction work – Words’Worth: a fiction writer’s guide to serious editing – speaks for itself.
Anne writes historical romance, which is often set in Regency London. She sometimes uses Edinburgh’s New Town for inspiration. Her other works include a novel about Travellers set in Midlothian & a new novel set in the world of community theatre.
Kate writes novels, short stories & serials, many of which are set in Scotland e.g. Melrose, Edinburgh and the Highlands. She says it is easier to set short stories in various locations than novels, as they require less grounding.
Her stories have been published in a number of places, but she has put them into three collections, which are available on Kindle.
Her breakthrough came after winning a competition in The People’s Friend.
Wendy H. Jones
Wendy writes about crime in Dundee, which is apparently the murder capital of Scotland. It is also, as she told us, the last resting place of one of the prime suspects in the Jack the Ripper case – William Henry Bury, who was executed at the Bell Street Police Station.
She has had two series of crime novels published and a third on the way. Many of these start with the word “Killer” e.g. Killer’s Crypt, Killer’s Craft etc. Her protagonist is D.I. Shona McKenzie, a native of Dundee, who was raised in Oxford and thus brings something of an outsider’s eye to the city.
Wendy has also written YA novels – the Fergus & Flora series, and a children’s book, called Bertie the Buffalo.
Thousands drive past Gogar Kirk every week, but few ever notice it, hidden as it is behind the Royal Bank of Scotland’s ostentatious bridge, and a belt of trees.
But the kirkyard contains a number of interesting graves, including those of the sculptor and writer Pittendreigh MacGillivray, and his playwright daughter Ina.
But today, I want to look at another character – Sir Robert Liston (1742-1846). Liston was quite the diplomat – he was an ambassador to the Ottoman court at Constantinople twice, and he was also de facto ambassador to the USA for some years. I say “de facto“, because the UK wouldn’t have a so called ambassador to the USA until decades later – however, his position, and his role were pretty much the same as one.
Liston was the son of a farmer from Torbanehill near Kirkliston, the very area his family appear to derive their surname from. Among his school friends was Andrew Dalzell (1742-1806), the noted classicist, and like many of Liston’s other contacts, they kept up a long term correspondence.
Robert proved to be a very able scholar, and had the gift of languages, becoming fluent in at least ten of them. He went to Edinburgh University, and was there exposed to the nascent Scottish Enlightenment.
In 1796 he married Henrietta Marchant. Henrietta was an avid keeper of journals, and it is from her that we learn much about Sir Robert’s career. She appears to have been much more wealthy than him. Like many rich people of the time, there is an unpleasant aspect to her wealth – her family came from the West Indies, and were slave owners there.
Friend of the Founding Fathers
As British emissary to the USA, Liston was popular with many of the American founding fathers. He often visited George Washington, and John Adams, and was friendly enough with Thomas Jefferson for the two to lend books to each other.
Liston’s success in the States was probably partly down to the fact that unlike many other British diplomats of the time, he was not an aristocrat. As a scion of the middle class, and a self-made man, he had far more in common with the American revolutionaries than any of them would have done.
Mon cher Bob
When visiting France, Liston was introduced to the French novelist Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni (née de la Boras). Marie Jeanne was 29 years Liston’s elder and died in Paris in 1792. She wrote over 70 letters to Robert Liston, which still survived and she referred to him as “mon cher Bob”.
Riccoboni herself was the ex-wife of Italian playwright Antoine François Riccoboni, author of more than fifty comedies. She would later die in poverty; she had been awarded a state pension by the French government, but the revolution ended that.
It is suspected that Marie Jeanne was introduced to Sir Robert by the noted philosopher David Hume, a mutual friend.
Among the Turks
Turkey’s westernisation is commonly attributed to Atatürk in the twentieth century, however, the Sultans Mahmud II and his successor Selim III had begun the process long before. Sir Robert dealt with Selim III’s government. Selim was a keen patron of the arts, and encouraged a more liberal atmosphere in the empire. Sir Robert’s time in Constantinople (Istanbul) seems to have been more to do with maintaining British influence against that of France.
Visiting Gogar Kirkyard
Gogar Kirk is a delightful little former church. In recent times, it has become a cabinet works, and the church itself is frequently a part of Doors Open Day – check the brochure for details.
The site is an interesting one. The area seems to have been very marshy in historic times, and that probably explains why it is raised above the surrounding ground a little. This could also suggest that it is a very old holy site, and probably pre-Christian. (If you want to hear some of the wilder ideas some people have come up with about Gogar, please read my book!) The placename itself appears to be Welsh and there is some debate about its origins – is it the red (goch) place like nearby Redheughs or the place of the cuckoo (gog/cog)?
Gogar Kirk, funnily enough, is one of the few places in Edinburgh which it is easier to get to by tram. Get off at the Gogarburn stop (just after the Gyle Centre and Edinburgh Gateway), and you’re practically on top of it. There is very little parking.
The bus service is not very good either. However, it may be possible to get a bus to the RBS HQ nearby and walk over. Again, check with Lothian buses for details.