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Writers in the three literary languages of Scotland–Scots, English, and Gaelic–have created an amazing body of literature. Their literature expresses Scotland’s place in the mainstream of Europe. It also speaks to the cultural and natural diversity of the country. The turbulence in Scotland’s past, and its new vigor, has created joy, struggle and heroes. It’s all the stuff of fine story telling.

Robert Burns

Burns was the son of a self-educated tenant farmer. When he was 7, they moved to Alloway, Scotland. Burns grew up in hardship and poverty. The harsh, manual labor of the farm left its mark in the form of a premature stoop and a rather young death. For all that, Burns left behind an amazing body of work from satirical poetry to love songs.  His status as Scotland’s National Poet is unchallenged. (The official Burns Heritage Trail leads visitors around sights that pertain to his life in southwest Scotland.) In Dumfries, the Robert Burns Center covers his years spent in that town. The Burns House, where he lived from 1793 – 1796, contains his memorabilia.  He is buried nearby at St. Michael’s’ Churchyard. At his Ellisland Farm there are more displays with some family possessions. (The Burns House and Museum is at Mauchline, 11 miles east of Ayr.) The real center of the Burns Trail is Alloway, just south of Ayr. The “Tan O’Shanter Experience” is a contemporary film and video center based on his poem about witches. Burns Cottage, his birthplace, has a collection of his manuscripts.

Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott was the first English-language author to have an international career during his lifetime. Born in Old Town Edinburgh in 1771, he was prolific, popular, a poet and a novelist. (And, he also trained as a lawyer.)  His work was widely read in Europe, Australia, and North America. Many of his most famous works are still classics and include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake, Waverly, The Heart of Midlothian, and The Bride of Lammermoor.Scott had polio when he was two years old, and it left him permanently lame. To cure his legs, he was sent to live in the rural Borders region at his grandparents’ farm next to the ruins of Smailholm Tower, their earlier family home. He was taught to read by his aunt Jenny. He learned to speak from her, and those Highland speech patterns, and many of their tales and legends, were the heart of his work. Scott’s writing created images of a heroic wilderness and was filled with the romance of clans. That image spread to England. He reinvigorated Highland culture and helped establish tartan as the national dress of Scotland. Scott served as Clerk of the Court in Edinburgh’s Parliament House for 30 years.  He was the Sheriff of Selkirk. He also loved Southern and Central Scotland, which would eventually lead to the Trossachs being named as Scotland’s first national park.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Born in Edinburgh in 1850, Stevenson was a novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. He has been admired by many writers, including Jorge Luis Borges, Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, Vladimir Nabokov, and J. M. Barrie.  G. K. Chesterton said that Stevenson, “…seemed to pick the right word up on the point of his pen, like a man playing spillikins.” With a new wife and her son, he travelled north of San Francisco to Napa Valley and spent a summer honeymooning at an abandoned mining camp on Mount Saint Helena. He wrote about his experience in The Silverado Squatters. There he met Charles Warren Stoddard, co-editor of the Overland Monthly and author of South Sea Idylls.  Stoddard urged Stevenson onward to the south Pacific, an idea which returned to him years later. A bronze memorial to Stevenson, designed by an American sculptor, is mounted in the Moray Aisle of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Another memorial in Edinburgh stands in West Princes Street Gardens below Edinburgh Castle–it is a simple upright stone inscribed with “RLS – A Man of Letters 1850 -1894.” To mark the 100th Anniversary of Stevenson’s death, the Royal Bank of Scotland issued a series of commemorative £1 notes.  They featured a quill pen, Stevenson’s signature on one side, and Stevenson’s face on the other. He was well-loved and respected—a man who was a true original.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In 1859 Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, one of ten children.  Doyle was a physician and a writer.  We remember him as the man who created Sherlock Holmes and as an innovator in crime fiction, but he also wrote sci-fi, historical novels, plays, romances and non-fiction.   The man simply could not stop writing!
Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh.  During that time, he began writing short stories, and the first was published before he was 20 years old.  The statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place, Edinburgh, is close to the house where Conan Doyle was born and is definitely worth a visit.

Visiting Scotland: Everything You Need to Know:

 

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