We’re projecting Lady Cockburn’s words at this site: ‘There is nothing so pleasant and wholesome to the human heart as to love and be loved.’
Rose Street, the narrow but charming lane between Princes Street and George Street was always intended to be different from the rest of the New Town. It was the home of craftsmen, shop keepers and servants that the richer residents of nearby George Street or Charlotte Square would need to maintain their lifestyles.
The street’s name also reflects the political circumstances of the period. Built during the reign of the Hanoverian King George III, Rose Street and Thistle Street on the adjacent block are a celebration of the Union of the Crowns. The rose is the emblem of England, and the thistle that of Scotland.
Rose Street has certainly drawn very diverse personalities over the years. Margaret Burns arrived in 1789, her looks and fashionable dress quickly attracted attention, but not everyone approved. Her neighbours complained that she “kept a very irregular and disorderly house, into which they admit and entertain licentious and profligate persons of both sexes”. The city magistrates threatened her with a term in the ‘House of Correction’ and the case was a sensation. Robert Burns even dedicated a poem to her: ‘Written Under the Picture of the Celebrated Miss Burns’.
There was also Lady Cockburn, otherwise known as Alison Rutherford, who was a poet and focal point of Enlightenment literary circles in the New Town. Her parties and talent for conversation were legendary and she was a friend of David Hume. Sir Walter Scott said of her: ‘She maintained the rank in the society of Edinburgh which Frenchwomen of talents usually do in that of Paris.’
This convivial atmosphere no doubt informed her opinion that:
‘There is nothing so pleasant and wholesome to the human heart as to love and be loved.’
Rose Street is still very much a centre for socialising and carousing today, with a colourful history that the guided literary tours of the city help bring alive.
Perched on the edge of Charlotte Square and Rose Street is the Roxburghe Hotel, where many authors stay en-route to an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Milne’s Bar and The Abbotsford towards the east end of Rose Street were central to the Scottish literary Renaissance of the early 20th century, bringing together the poets Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, Hamish Henderson, Norman MacCaig, Sidney Goodsir Smith and Robert Garioch.
The Abbotsford Bar dates from 1902, and was originally owned by Jenners Department Store. Its interior has not changed much since Edwardian times, with a fantastic carved mahogany ‘island bar’.
It is named after Sir Walter Scott’s mansion in the Scottish Borders. However, the poets of the Scottish Renaissance had very different literary intentions from Scott. MacDiarmid sought to transform Scottish poetry from a nostalgic, romantic medium into a means of politicised self-expression.
Sidney Goodsir Smith’s interest in capturing the linguistic and imaginative complexity of those on the margins of society harks all the way back to Robert Fergusson and Allan Ramsay. Hamish Henderson preserved Scottish traditions by recording Scottish folk singers and Sorley MacLean instigated the Gaelic Revival by writing in his native tongue.
It is on the shoulders of these giants that today’s authors and poets stand and nurture our title as a City of Literature.