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From The Bookman: “Old Edinburgh and the Evergreen”

EDINBURGH, according to Mr. Ruskin, shares with
Rome the honour of being the dirtiest city in
Europe. Relying on the accuracy of Mr. Ruskin’s observa-
tion, one may say that the slums of the Edinburgh Lawn-
market (now rapidly disappearing) have achieved the
highest distinction in their own line of business. And
yet it is out of these slums that the Evergreen has come
forth. It has grown up on the soil of these whilom
filth wells. The inscription on its title-page,“Published
in the Lawnmarket of Edinburgh by Patrick Geddes and
Colleagues,” is not a fanciful legend, but a sober fact. Pro-
fessor Geddes himself, it is true, has outgrown his residence
in James Court, and moved his abode westward up the
Castlehill to the site inhabited by Allan Ramsay — the
eponymous hero of the Evergreen. But those of the
“colleagues” who have most to do with the publication of
the Evergreen still live and do most of their business in
that branch of University Hall located in the Lawnmarket
close dignified by the name of Riddle’s Court, and until re-
cently inhabited too much by prostitutes and thieves — actual
and incipient. Now the point on which critics of the Evergreen
are most nearly agreed is that, whatever it is, in external
form it is a book of beauty. A fine art production from what
was one of the filthiest and most degraded slums of Europe!
Another illustration that the Scotch are a humorous people.

And yet the reviewers have, most of them, assumed that
the Evergreen is either one more illustrated magazine of the
usual type, or is merely a Scottish version of an existing
English quarterly, in green instead of yellow. Truth to
tell, the new Scottish quarterly is not primarily an organ of
art and literature at all. It is primarily the beginning of an
effort to give periodic expression in print to a movement
that is mainly architectural, educational, scientific. Thus it
is a bye-product of social life rather than a literary and
artistic main-product. Though doubtless an endeavor has
been made to impart to it such added graces of diction
and decoration as were available.

Its decorations are the visible link that connect the
Evergreen with the builder’s craft. These decorations have
found no favour in the eyes of literary critics. As a fact,
there is little or nothing of the literary style of picture about
them. They are to a considerable extent simple transcrip-
tions into black and white of detached parts from the series
of mural decorations which the artists, temporarily turned
craftsmen, have painted on various walls of University Hall.

The “house beautiful” is, of course, a single step towards
the chief end of architecture — the city beautiful. But to
talk of the rebuilding of cities is to plunge into controversial
economics, which is no part of the purpose of the Evergreen.
Its policy is with reclamation rather than with declamation,
with house rather than with householders. But there is,
too, a side of the movement which is directly educational.
The endeavor is to organise a system of education based,
not on use and wont, but on the organization of know-
ledge, and in immediate relation to the realities of con-
temporary life, thought, and action. This involves, of
course, a co-ordination of all the forces at the disposal of
science and industry, of literature and art, of morals and
religion, and their harmonious concentration on the training
of the student. Here, again, theory and practice have pro-
ceeded hand in hand. And such experimental results as
have been already achieved are likely to prove valuable in
proportion as they are used as the seed-plots of further
experiment. For these particular experiments those
interested in the Educational Revolution should be referred,
however, not so much to the Evergreen as to a little book
by Professor Geddes, announced to be in the press, entitled
“A Northern College—Experimental Studies in Higher

That the Evergreen is also to be deemed a scientific publica-
tion may be inferred from the trouble which Nature has taken
to demolish its scientific pretensions. The gist of a review
running into three columns is summarized in the extract:
“Bad from cover to cover, and even the covers are bad.”
It is one of the purposes of the Evergreen to present a
biological reading of the drama of the Seasons. The science
of living nature, as found in White of Selborne and
Richard Jefferies, is known to many who spend their lives
in the country. The science of living nature, as taught in
the schools and universities, is known to some who spend
their lives in cities. That view which endeavours to
combine both sets of truths ought to approach nearer to the
realities of things. It is at a presentment of this latter that
the Evergreen aims in recording and interpreting the
biology of the Seasons. And in its advocacy of the study
of life as Living Nature in its Seasons, instead of the mere
anatomy and analysis of things dead, the Evergreen of
course runs right in the teeth of orthodox scientific educa-
tion and the journal which the Evergreen writers would
call (Inorganic) Nature.

The old astronomical religions (and indeed Christianity in
the early centuries of its State-establishment) recognised the
part played by the seasonal rhythm in the evolution of the
living world. But since Europe, a century or so ago, revived
its interest in the doctrine of evolution, man has lived in a city
life which approximates to perpetual winter. How then could
it be otherwise than that, in the first flush of scientific analysis,
the accepted theory of the universe should contain more
than a touch of frost? But nowadays something of spring
life and summer warmth returns. We are passing from the
analytic to the synthetic stage in all things. And again,
as in the old astronomical religions, the separate sciences
are uniting into one common doctrine, one single account
of the development of nature, man, and society. It is
inevitable that this wider, all-embracing view should involve
some departure from the orthodox Darwinian theory of the
universe, which grew up in the days of disparate specialism,
when Faraday found it necessary to “keep his science in
one pocket and his religion in the other.” If the general
reader asked for the exact spot where the naturalistic and
humanistic streams united in modern times (a foolish ques-
tion), most would point to Professor Drummond’s “Ascent
of Man.” On its naturalistic side this book popularizes that
view of evolution which is set forth by Professor Geddes
and Mr. Arthur Thomson in their book on “The Evolu-
tion of Sex,” and in their articles on evolution, etc., etc., in
Chambers’ Enclycopedia. Evolution thus regarded takes
place “not primarily through struggle at the margin of sub-
sistence, through cumulative patentings and undersellings, but
primarily through Sex with its consequences of family and
wider co-operation.”

Such is the scientific standpoint of the Evergreen. Dar-
winism, it has been said, derives its philosophical parentage
from the economic writings of Adam Smith. If that be so,
the shade of Adam Smith (which doubtless still haunts the
Edinburgh Lawnmarket) will be rejoiced to think that
“The Wealth of Nations” was supplemented by a later
treatise on “The Moral Sentiments.”

The Darwinian view of evolution is to this new-old one
as a telescope is to a binocular; the one tube of the binocular
gives the naturalistic and the other the humanistic view,
the two together a harmonious whole. The analogy
may be extended to the two smaller limbs of the binocular
that telescope in the larger. On the side of the naturalistic
view, human life, though a part of Nature, is a special part
which is drawn out for a more detailed study. And on the
side of the humanistic or social view of the binocular, the
student draws out from the general world (i.e., the main and
united tube) and receives for special investigation that local
section of general society to which he himself happens to
belong. This binocular arrangement is adopted in the
Evergreen (for the sake of system and lucidity). Hence the
fourfold division of the contents of the magazine regarded
as a Northern “Seasonal.”

I. The Season in Nature.

II. The Season in Life.

III. The Season in the World.

IV. The Season in the North.

The last section — the Seasons in the North (i.e. Scotland)
— is an expression of that local association and personal
comradeship in which every new school and movement
begins. The book has taken form among a group of
younger Scottish writers and painters, students and men of
science, whom historic sympathies and common aims are
bringing back to old Edinburgh. If in this section of the
Evergreen the literary note is dominant, it is literature as a
means rather than an end. In 1724 Allan Ramsay
published his Evergreen, desiring thereby to stimulate the
return to local and national tradition and living nature.
Those who inherit Ramsay’s old home are ambitious “to
follow in his steps as workers and writers, publishers and

Amongst the “local and national” traditions which
patriotic Scotsmen are to-day trying to revive and keep
alive, the present Evergreen specially concerns itself with
those connected with Scottish nationalism, Celtic literature
and art, and the old Continental sympathies of Scotland,
more particularly the “ancient league with France.”). The
Evergreen of Spring and Autumn gave some evidence
that the Continental connexion is still a living and fruitful
one. The Franco-Scottish Society now being organized in
Paris and Edinburgh is a formal academic recognition of
the lately revived custom of interchange between French
and Scottish students. In the incipient Celtic Renascence,
Ireland has played a much more conscious part than
Scotland. But the writings of Fiona Macleod are
gradually disclosing to the British public quite another
Scotland than that with which lowland writers have
familiarized them. And it is generally overlooked, too, that
in Art the Glasgow School, in consideration of its local
origin and its emphasis on colour and decorative treatment
of subject, may be counted congenitally part of the Celtic
Renascence. To many, the most hopeless quest will seem
the endeavour to restore Edinburgh to its position as a culture
capital, and to make Scotland again a power (of culture)
in Europe, as it was in recent, in medieval, and most of all
ancient times. Yet who knows?     V. BRANFORD.

MLA citation:

Branford, Victor. “OLD EDINBURGH AND THE EVERGREEN.” Review of The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 2, Autumn 1895, The Bookman, Dec. 1895, pp. 88-90. Yellow Nineties 2.0,edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.