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History, Local History
Publication Date
06 November 2014
Available for Sale
Birlinn Limited
16pp b/w plates


The Golden Age

‘Splendid...The long-awaited biography of Edina’s age of wonder’ – Old Edinburgh Club

’What a wonderful City Edinburgh is! - What alternation of Height and Depth! So enormously stretched-up are the Houses! . . . I cannot express what I felt - such a section of a wasp’s nest, striking you with a sort of bastard Sublimity from the enormity and infinity of its littleness - the infinity swelling out the mind, the enormity striking it with wonder . . .’ – Dorothy Wordsworth

Edinburgh:The Golden Age is a major contribution to the literature on the Scottish Enlightenment and an extraordinarily lucid insight into Edinburgh during the most exciting and stimulating period of its history. Based on an astonishingly wide range of sources – local newspapers and journals, published accounts of travels to Scotland, diaries, letters, reminiscences etc., as well as more modern texts – it covers the social and literary history of the city from around 1760 until 1832, the year in which Sir Walter Scott died.

The development of Edinburgh into one of the great intellectual centres of Europe is paralleled in the story of the growth of the city, as architects such as James Craig and Robert Adam reflected the confidence of a new age in the wide and imposing throroughfares of the New Town, a far cry from the dank and overcrowded closes of medieval Edinburgh.

Mary Cosh’s use of contemporary material, both well-known and obscure, presents an enormously valuable picture of how Edinburgh and its inhabitants were seen at the time by visitors, and also shows how notable local figures saw their own city. The opinions of people such as William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Robert Southey, Thomas Carlyle, Francis Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, Thomas de Quincey, Walter Scott, Percy Bysshe Shelley and visiting Americans are all represented. No part of Edinburgh’s rich social and cultural life is ignored; from education, the Church, literature, music, art and the theatre to details of the lifestyles of both the rich and the poor – their diet, dress, pastimes and pleasures, manners and etiquette.