Walk down Lady Stair’s Close, one of the many small closes off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and find ground paved with words; this is Makar’s Court, offering wisdom from Scots writers from the fourteenth century to the present. When I visited Edinburgh’s Writers’ Museum I found myself stopping to read and reflect on many of the paving stones leading to the museum inscribed with words of Scottish authors.
The primary focus of The Writers’ Museum is three famous Scottish writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson; words from each of the three are celebrated in Makar’s Court.
Sir Walter Scott’s This is my own, my native land! comes from The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Robert Louis Stevenson’s words use both modern and ageless imagery to evoke his homeland, and the city of his birth - there are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps.
The last lines of Robert Burns’ Is There For Honest Poverty, echoing some of the sentiments expressed in Auld Lang Syne, grace another stone:
Man to man the world o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.
The Writers’ Museum is housed in Lady Stair’s House - an old building hosting a tower reaching for the sky with ancient stairs and hidden treasures. In the first half of the twentieth century the building was firstly Edinburgh’s chief museum, and later the Museum of Childhood, which eventually moved to The Royal Mile where it stands today.
Look up as you approach the door of the museum. Carved in the stone above your head you will find the words Feare the lord & depart from evil. You will also see the initials of the building’s founders Sir William Gray and his wife Geida Smith, together with the date 1622 – the likely year of the building’s completion. The building was inherited by Lady Gray’s son-in-law Alexander Inglis. Lady Stair, who gave her name to both the house and the close, bought the house in 1719.
The Writers Museum collections have come from a variety of sources, largely donations, gifts and bequests. The Robert Louis Stevenson collection was originally the property of Stevenson’s contemporary Lord Guthrie; the collection came to Lady Stair’s House in 1962.
The Museum includes exhibits large and small. View the first printing press used to produce Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels; see the writing desk used by Robert Burns in Dumfries; look at a first edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s much loved work A Child’s Garden of Verses. There are paintings, manuscripts and books; objects and clothing which belonged to the authors, even a bust of Robert Burns’ skull. The Writers’ Museum is a national monument to Scottish writing and some of the greatest Scots authors of all time.
Should you be you interested in exploring more of the work of these classic Scottish writers I have put links below to the delightful A Child's Garden of Verses and The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns.