Henry Cockburn, in his “Memorials of his Time” provides a glimpse of Edinburgh around 1815, and of one of its characters, Dr. Andrew Duncan, who ascended Arthur’s Seat on May 1st of each year.
‘The extension of the city gave rise in 1815 to the New Town Dispensary. Any such institution seems at least harmless; yet this one was assailed with a degree of
bitterness which is curious now. It was a civic war.
Two of its principles were, that medicines and medical advice, including obstetrical aid,
were to be administered to patients at their own homes…The Lying-in Hospital was eloquent
on the danger and the vice of delivering poor women at their own houses.
The Old Town Dispensary, which did not then go to such patients as could not come
to it, demonstrated the beauty of the sick poor being obliged to swallow their doses
at a public office. Subscribers choose managers ! Impracticable,and dangerously popular !...
The most conspicuous opponent of this charity was Dr. Andrew Duncan, senior,
one of our professors and physicians, and the great patron of the Old Dispensary;
one of the curious old Edinburgh characters. He was a kind-hearted and excellent man;
but one of a class which seems to live and be happy, and get liked, by its mere
absurdities. He was the promoter and the president of more innocent and foolish
clubs and societies than perhaps any man in the world, and the author of
pamphlets, jokes, poems, and epitaphs, sufficient to stock the nation; all amiable,
all dull, and most of them very foolish. But they made the author happy;
and he was so benevolent and so simple, that even those who were suffering
under his interminable projects checked their impatience and submitted.
Scientific ambition, charitable restlessness, and social cheerfulness made him
thrust himself into every thing throughout a long life. Yet, though his patronage
was generally dangerous, and his talk always wearisome, nobody could
ever cease to esteem him. He was even the president of a bathing club;
and once at least every year did this grave medical professor conduct as many
of the members as he could collect to Leith, where the rule was, that their respect
for their chief was to be shown by always letting him plunge first from the machine into the
water. He continued, till he was past eighty, a practice of mounting to the summit
of Arthur's Seat on the first of May, and celebrating the feat by what he called a poem.’
Arthur’s Seat was obviously a prominent part of Sir Walter Scott’s life as well. Scott begins Chapter 7 of “The Heart of Mid-Lothian” there.
Arthur's Seat shall be my bed,
The sheets shall ne'er be pressed by me,
St. Anton's well shall be my drink,
Sin' my true-love's forsaken me.
* A beautiful and solid pathway has, within a few years, been formed around these romantic rocks; and the Author has the pleasure to think, that the passage in the text gave rise to the undertaking.