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old town edinburgh

Robert Louis Stevenson's Edinburgh

The author of Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde left his mark
on Edinburgh -- and Edinburgh certainly left its mark on him.

BY KEITH AITKEN

In the mental libraries that most of us carry around in our heads, the works of Robert Louis Stevenson have been a fixture in the "Classics" section for so long that it can come as a real surprise to realize how relatively recently the wan dreamer behind Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde walked among us.

The stories that poured from that restless imagination conjure up a remote age when blades clattered, mainbraces were spliced, and swashes buckled. Yet those who come to Edinburgh to seek his traces are often struck by how little has changed since Lou, as his family called him, explored the grand crescents and dank closes of the raddled old city that was his literary life force. The houses he lived in are still lived-in houses. Schools he sporadically attended between bouts of illness are still schools. Pubs where he sought relief from the tedium of his studies are still pubs, still peopled with much the same cast of grotesques that stagger and swagger across his pages. The vistas of street and crag are as dramatic today as when Louis marvelled at their ever-changing chiaroscuro. The green hills that morphed in his head into exotic far-off lands still reward the walker with peace and mystery and fabulous views to a distant Kingdom of Fife. Edinburgh has grown since Stevenson's day, but changed remarkably little.

It means that the Stevenson trail repays the literary pilgrim much more richly than do many such quests and is best customized to the individual's own whims and tastes.

The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2012 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos © Michael Roper