[Domett, a poet who emigrated to New Zealand and became the original of Waring in Browning's “What became of Waring?”, returned to England in the 1870s, recording his visits with Browning, Tennyson, and leading sculptors in his diary. In the following passage from his entry for May 3, 1883, he provides his impressions of a first visit to Edinburgh.]

Edinburgh Castle and View from princes Street [Click on these thumbnails and those below for larger images.]

At Edinburgh for my first time! A wonderful place witn all that a town should have, in compactness and completeness unmatched — a perfect ideal of a city! Romantic site of hill and vale — fine buildings and monuments mediaeval and modern; palace and castle; antiquated gloomy wynds and closes and lofty houses towering up like cliffs, dotted with windows like loopholes; all teeming with associations, historical, poetical, scientific — national and individual — heroic, tragic, comic, quaint, terrible or humorous; all in their appropriate places, disposed like a scene in a theatre — all as it were within a space to be seen almost at a glance!

Some of the sculpture Domett admired: Walter Scott, Allan Ramsay (both by John Steell) and Thomas Campbell's Sir John Hope, fourth Earl of Hopetoun.

A magnificent row of houses, shops and hotels, with a broad esplanade in front of them and a balustrade with monuments and statues of famous men at intervals along its edge, overlooking a green public-garden-valley just below; and on the opposite side of the valley, exactly facing the whole length of the promenade, as if placed there purposely to be seen from it, a long hill, sinking down to a palace at one end on the left, and rising gradually at the other end to a high fortified castle. First your fine esplanade — below it the garden-valley bridged across with a long colonnaded Greek-looking building; beyond that in front of you the long house-clustered and castellated hill; behind that again, the Middle Ages in narrow lanes and tall houses from ground to sky, almost dangerous-looking and wierd and mysterious as some of Gustave Doré's city-imaginings; while, at your back, behind the esplanade, stands a modern beautiful stone-built array of broad streets and spacious squares. And all this within the compass of an easy walk! Everywhere thronging around you, recollections of Burns and Allan Ramsay and Walter Scott with all his crowd of creations; of John Knox and Queen Mary and Darnley, Argyle and Montrose; of David Hume and Dugald Stewart and the hard-headed family of metaphysicians; and of how many other lords of intellect! A City all spiritualized; seen through a halo of the minds and thoughts of great men: as indeed is all the South of Scotland, at least to us Englishmen and strangers to its everyday busy more commonplace aspect.

And from every height the sea visible so near! with a seaport and crowds of masts and wharves and long jetties and piers stretching into it; and beyond it undulating hills with a prominent height or two, famous in story, overtopping them, on one side, and grey mountains on the other; and around the coast, fishing villages with their picturesque fishwives — and green links for golfers; all at due intervals and convenient distances, nothing crowded or confused.

The momuments on Calton Hill.

Only one object that strikes one as objectionable; that Calton Hilll with its hideous 'Nelson Monument' (so called) like an apothecary's physic-phial stuck into a disproportioned gallipot; useful perhaps as a lighthouse or land-mark, but ugly even for that. And that sham ruin or unfinished mock-Parthenon! nothing so imbecile and contemptible as any sham ruin; because the only circumstance that makes a real ruin interesting is the length of time it has stood, and the variety of generations or events it has actually witnessed or been connected with; and this cannot be imitated. And the actual columns look too small for the hill itself and unworthy of the site; if they preserve the real dimensions of the original, rather lowering one's idea of that than otherwise. The Scotch with their good sense will surely do away with, or alter, or disguise or somehow improve these disfiguring objects some day or other. The noble hill should be surmounted with something as noble in Art. [251-52]

Last modified 6 December 2010