Lord Eskgrove’s Indecent Nose

Rosalind Mitchison

  • Lord Cockburn: A Bicentenary Commemoration edited by Alan Bell
    Scottish Academic Press, 204 pp, £6.00, December 1980, ISBN 0 7073 0245 5

Henry Cockburn’s writings make him a vital historical source for the study of Scotland in what he called ‘the last purely Scotch age’. They cover the spread of the new industrial world and Georgian architecture, assaults on woodland and ancient monuments, the adaptation of refined society in Edinburgh to Evangelicalism, the threat of radical revolt, closer connections with England. It was a world of new styles in politics and architecture: the First he held with, the second deplored. As Alan Bell remarks, Cockburn’s ‘experience was almost exclusively Scottish’, yet one journey abroad, a Classical education and the experience of Scotland in its greatest days of self-esteem, when it could be believed that the answers to the social and moral problems of the new world of steam power and voting power might well be found there – all these enabled him not so much to transcend his geographical limitations as to use them as a basis for a general culture. The Scottish legal system enabled him to earn a comfortable income by working hard at the law for half the year, leaving the other half for the cultivation of friendship, politics, writing and the countryside. He has left writings that are as much a part of Edinburgh life as the buildings he tried to protect – both have suffered heavy loss from vandals who should have known better. Essential for an understanding of the Scottish scene, he is little known elsewhere, which is both the loss and the limitation of those out with Scotland.

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