The Old Calton Burial Ground is located on Waterloo Place
The Old Calton Burial Ground was opened in 1718, and is the resting place of several notable Edinburgh people.
Several of the graves and mausoleums have stunning and sometimes macabre architecture. These include the graves of David Hume, one of the famous European philosophers and the German knight Julius von Yellin. There is also a monument to the Political Martyrs who were inspired by the French Revolution.
Tomb of David Hume
Imposing yet simple tomb of David Hume. He was born in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh in 1711, entered Edinburgh University in 1721 at the age of 10 to study philosophy and in 1736 he also studied with the Jesuits of La Fleche in Anjou, France. While he was in France, in 1739 he published his world-famous “A Treatise on Human Nature” which has been described as the “founding document of cognitive science”. He has also been described as the hugely influential “Father of the Scottish Enlightenment” influencing prominent European philosophers such as Immanuel Kant (Kant said Hume had awakened him from a “dogmatic slumber”) and Voltaire who was referring primarily to David Hume and Adam Smith when he famously said “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation”.
Others influenced included Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith and Darwin although he fell out with Rousseau. Albert Einstein, the German theologian Johann Joachim Spalding and the Danish theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard also acknowledged Hume’s influence on them.
Nor was Hume a mere theoretician. Actively engaged in politics he campaigned to end the near-continuous state of war which had consumed Britain and France for the previous century including a series of diplomatic missions in the 1740s following the end of the War of the Spanish Succession and a stint as Secretary of the Embassy in Paris 1763/65 where he worked to produce a better understanding between the two countries.
Hume’s thinking remains deeply relevant today though his views on race are unacceptable:
In his essay “Of Natural Characters” Hume wrote a long footnote in which he declared his belief that all other races, especially Africans, are inferior to white people. At this time the British economy was built on the foundation of chattel slavery which provided the wealth later invested in the industrial revolution.
Political Martyrs’ Monument
This monument is dedicated to radicals who agitated to extend suffrage and were inspired by the French Revolution. They were stitched up by a corrupt establishment at the time and were transported to Australia in the late 18th century. Their leader, Thomas Muir, an outstanding advocate, was a champion of the underdog in Scotland and constitutionalist who, despite his political views, defended French King Louis in court from being sentenced to death. While he didn’t succeed, he earned the respect of the revolutionary government. Muir escaped from Australia and “hitch-hiked” his way via Spanish South America, running a blockade by the British Navy to land badly wounded in Spain whence he travelled overland to Paris being made a French citizen but sadly dying not long after.
Visit Thomas Muir’s birthplace on our West of Scotland EuroTour!
Gravestone of the German knight Julius von Yelin
Julius von Yelin was a German knight and scholar (died 1826) who came to Scotland to meet Sir Walter Scott. Von Yelin never actually met Scott because Scott was ill at the time and von Yelin died before Scott recovered. When Scott was well again, he attended the funeral of von Yelin and commented “..he dead and I am ruined. This is what you call a meeting.” (Scott was bankrupt at the time). The present gravestone of von Yelin was created a century after his death.
Continue walking up Waterloo Place for about 150 metres until you come to some stairs on your left hand side of the road. Climb up these stairs for about 300 metres until reach the top of Calton Hill.
Picture credits: Stuart Baillie Strong/Edinburgh4Europe, CC BY-SA 2.0