The History of Leith

October 25, 2011

Portobello sands,Scott and the ” Lay of the Last Minstrel,”

With other corps of cavalry, here the Edinburgh Light Horse in those days were wont to drill on the noble extent of sandy beach, which has an average breadth of half a mile, with a slow and almost insensible gradient.
When Scott was in the corps mentioned, Skene of Rubislaw tells us that, in 1802, ” in the intervals of drilling, Scott used to delight in walking his powerful black horse up and down by himself on
Portobello sands, within the beating of the surge; and now and then you would see him plunge in his spurs and go off as if at the charge, with the spray dashing about him. As we rode back to Musselburgh he often came and placed himself beside me to repeat the verses he had been composing during those pauses in our exercise.”
These verses were probably portions of the ” Lay of the Last Minstrel,” for we are told that when the corps was on permanent duty at Musselburgh, Scott, the quartermaster, during a charge on Portobello sands, received a kick from a horse, which confined him for three days to his lodgings, where Skene always found him busy with his pen; and before three days were passed he produced the first canto of ” The Lay,” very nearly in the state in which it was ultimately published ; and that the whole poem was sketched and filled in with extraordinary rapidity there can be no difficulty in believing, for Scott’s really warlike spirit was warmed up by the daily, blare of the trumpet, the flashing of steel, and the tramp of hoofs.

source-Old ad New Edinburgh

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