EDINBURGH — Nowadays, it is hard to imagine a world where a writer is lauded and praised, and treated of as one would treat a rock or movie star today. Yet, Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish novelist who wrote “Ivanhoe” and “Rob Roy,” was so beloved that an enormous monument to his memory sits in Princes Street Gardens in the middle of Edinburgh.
Enormous is no hyperbole. The Victorian gothic structure is the largest monument to a writer in the world, measuring 197 feet high. The highest platform is accessible by 288 steps. The tower, tarnished by smoke, is blackish in color, which contrasts with the white marble statue of Scott that sits within.
Following Scott’s death in 1832, a competition was held to design a monument. One entrant went under the pseudonym “John Morvo”, the name of the medieval architect of Melrose Abbey. He was George Meikle Kemp, a 45-year-old joiner, draftsman and self-taught architect. Kemp feared his lack of qualifications and reputation would disqualify him, but his design was popular and in 1838 he was awarded the contract.
John Steell was commissioned to design the Carrara marble statue which shows Scott seated, resting from writing one of his works with a quill pen and his dog Maida by his side.
The monument features 64 figures of characters from Scott’s novels by a variety of Scots sculptors including Alexander Handyside Ritchie, John Rhind, William Birnie Rhind, William Brodie, William Grant Stevenson, David Watson Stevenson, John Hutchison, George Anderson Lawson, Thomas Stuart Burnett, William Shirreffs, Andrew Currie, George Clark Stanton, Peter Slater, and two female representatives, Amelia Robertson Hill (who also made the statue of explorer David Livingstone in the gardens east of the monument), and the unknown Katherine Anne Fraser Tytler.
Four figures are placed above the final viewing gallery and eight kneeling Druid figures support the final viewing gallery. There are 32 unfilled niches at higher level.
Sixteen heads of Scottish poets and writers appear on the lower faces, representing James Hogg, Robert Burns, Robert Fergusson, Allan Ramsay, George Buchanan, Sir David Lindsay, Robert Tannahill, Lord Byron, Tobias Smollett, James Beattie, James Thomson, John Home, Mary, Queen of Scots, King James I of Scotland, King James V of Scotland and William Drummond of Hawthornden. All told there are 93 people, two dogs and a pig.
If it wasn’t enough that he was a significant enough poet, playwright and novelist to warrant a huge monument in his country’s capital, Scott was also a judge, advocate and legal administrator. He died in 1832, aged 61.
Scott’s legacy spreads across many literary works, and the last lines of The Police’s classic “Synchronicity II” is lifted directly from Scott: “Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door of a cottage on the Shore of a dark Scottish lake.”
For all his celebrity, I doubt Sting will get a monument half the size of Scott’s.
For more, visit the Scott Monument website.