I spent yesterday morning at the Writers' Museum. It's a small-scale operation, almost entirely devoted to just three writers: Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. But I stop in whenever I'm in Edinburgh and I find something different of interest each time.
My first visit was in the summer of 1996 when I was only in Edinburgh overnight. I was staying on the west coast that trip, based in Troon, but wandering all over Ayrshire. Robert Burns is a son of Ayrshire and it was the 200th anniversary of his death. Everywhere I went there was an exhibit devoted to some aspect of his life, or at the very least a plaque commemorating his connection with the place. I reacquainted myself with his poems and followed in his footsteps all around Ayrshire. At the Writers' Museum, I focused on the Burns memorabilia.
The next visit was in April of 2003. I was doing some research for a children's novel in which Sir Walter Scott makes a cameo appearance. (A project which is, alas, still at the rough notes stage -- see my earlier post about unfinished work!) At the Writers' Museum, I lingered over the Scott exhibits. I carefully examined his chess set, having read just that morning in a biography that he hated playing chess.
Needless to say, this year's visit to the museum was all about Robert Louis Stevenson. Items that I'd passed by before with hardly a glance seemed suddenly very interesting. For example, there's a cabinet on display there which was made by Deacon Brodie (upstanding citizen by day, robber by night -- the original model for Jekyll/Hyde) and which stood in Stevenson's bedroom when he was a child. There's a moody portrait of him painted by Nerli which his mother, nurse, and wife all hated. They wished that he had painted Louis rather than "insist[ing] on painting the author of Jekyll and Hyde." Another item that I was particularly struck by was a letter written by RLS just a month before his death in Samoa. It was addressed to one Mr. Johnson, an Edinburgh bookseller, to whom he placed an order for six books to be sent by return post. His handwriting is difficult to decipher and I couldn't make out the titles of the books. But I was very touched all the same by the idea of him so far from home ordering a few good books, especially knowing that there's no way those books could have arrived in time for him to have read them.