25 July, 2007

Edinburgh Writer's Museum

As you take a walk around the entrance to Edinburgh Writer's Museum you will see quotes from Scottish authors paved into the cement squares leading up to the door. One quote that I liked in particular was from Neil Munro (1863-1930): "And yet - and yet, this New Road will some day be the Old Road, too." The museum itself is housed in a 1622 building called Lady Stair's House. It was renovated in 1907 to be used as a museum, but many of the original architectural details still exist and are beautiful to look at. The different floors of the museum are connected by spiraling, stone steps. I noticed that a sign on one of the stairways urging people to watch their step explained that centuries ago steps were made uneven on purpose so that anyone unfamiliar with the property would fall and make their presence known to the owner.

The museum's collections focus on the lives and works of three famous Scottish writers: Robert Burns (1759-1796), Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). As you walk in the first floor you are immediately surrounded by old black and white family photos that once belonged to Robert Louis Stevenson. Some of his personal items are in glass cases, including his riding boots, spurs, crop, and hat that he used while he spent time in Samoa. I learned that his Samoan name was Tusitala, which means Writer of Tales. A quote that he wrote in one of his books jumped out at me as we are all preparing to depart for our mini-breaks; "to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor."

Another room in the museum contained Sir Walter Scott's writing desk, a first edition of his book Waverly, and a lock of his hair. An interactive audio display reenacted a conversation between Scott and his publisher discussing how it amused him to remain anonymous as he published his works. The back of the museum contained items dedicated to the life of Robert Burns. A writing desk used by Burns until his death in 1796 is on display. It was interesting to see that right next to his death announcement in the London Herald from July 27th, 1796, they also have on display a plaster cast of his skull. That is definitely not an object that you would typically expect to find in a writer's museum among the books and manuscripts!

Visiting this museum has renewed my interest in Burns, Scott, and Stevenson, and I am looking forward to reading some of their works when I return home (and finish my papers and blog).