Walking up the High St in Edinburgh last night I suddenly saw this . I have blipped the “words on the street” project before but had not noticed this particular one.
It is in exactly the right place and I was talking about the quote on it just the other day so I can best give the story by including here the first few paragraphs of a paper on “Commemorating Burns and Shakespeare” which I gave at a conference in January 2016.
“In a close off the High St of Edinburgh just three years before Robert Burns was born ,the first performance of John Home’s “Douglas” was received with rapture. Hume’s relative, the philosopher David Hume, claimed that the work possessed “ the true theatric genius of Shakespeare and Otway, refined from the unhappy barbarism of the one and licentiousness of the other” . Such was the hype around the play that some asserted that at last Scotland had given birth to a national theatre to rival that of its southern neighbour. Within a few months the play’s premier in London had resulted in that definitive shout of Scots triumphal insecurity from the stalls; “Whaurs yer Willie Shakespeare noo…?”
But John Home, a would be soldier become minister of the national kirk , was no Willie Shakespeare. Persecuted at home for his pursuit of the drama (which was regarded as blasphemous for those who preached the Lord’s word) he stayed on in London, became the secretary to the Prime Minister, the Earl of Bute and continued to write dramas for another twenty years until lack of success and a fall from a horse forced his retirement back to his native land and obscurity. None of his works have stood the test of time though a complete edition was edited by Henry MacKenzie, the author of the “Man of Feeling” and he is certainly a forerunner of the Ossianic tradition which helped to foster a view of the importance of “bards” as narrators and carriers of national characteristics and culture.
Yet those shouted words from the stalls expressed more than hubris. They revealed a cultural insecurity that was a hangover not just of the Union but of a century and a half of political decline that had entered the national psyche. Scotland wanted a literary figure to rival those revered elsewhere..”