Sunday, October 19, 2008


Late in the afternoon of trekking up and down Edinburgh's Royal Mile, Joan, Patty and I stopped into Clarinda's, a tearoom close by the Canongate Kirk, for "cream tea". Clarinda's is a cozy, wee place with lace tablecloths, antiquey pictures on the wall, and the sort of ladies serving our tea that one could imagine in the back kitchen baking up scones and brewing tea. I supposed Clarinda owned the place, maybe even she was serving us.

I like Joan's picture better. She has a way of getting the whole story in one picture.

Cream tea is not the milk in your tea British drink, but rather tea with scones spread with clotted cream - not butter mind you, and strawberry - not raspberry - jam. By the time we sat down they were out of scones and I settled for a rock bun which was verra tasty.

Back home reading some Edinburgh history, I came across the real Clarinda. She was Agnes MacLehose, a genteel young married woman from Glasgow and daughter of a physician, whose violent husband went off to Jamaica and abandoned her, or perhaps she decided she didn't want to hang with the guy anymore. She went to live in Edinburgh where she met young Robert Burns, an up and coming poet by this time, and they fell in love. Well, let's say they had an amorous affair. He was a handsome guy who strolled beneath her window in his buckskins and riding whip, hoping she would look out and see him. Shortly, though, he was laid up in Edinburgh for six weeks after his coach overturned. (This story would make a good movie.) While recuperating from his leg injury he and Clarinda began to write passionate letters to each other. To disguise their letters, he took the name of Sylvander and she became Clarinda. Cad that he was, Robert returned to his farm and married his girlfriend who, coincidentally, had borne his twins two years earlier; her maid had also had a child by Robert!

Let me not digress from the Robert and Clarinda tale however...over the next four years, both married (he likely still womanizing), they continued letter writing, and she was the Clarinda in his poetry.

"Clarinda, mistres of my soul,
The measur'd time is run!
The wretch beneath the dreary pole
So marks his latest sun.

To what dark cave of frozen night
Shall poor Sylvander hie;
Depriv'd of thee, his life and light,
The sun of all his joy?

We part-but by these precious drops,
That fill thy lovely eyes,
No other light shall guide my steps,
Till thy bright beams arise!

She, the fair sun of all her sex,
Has blest my glorious day;
And shall a glimmering planet fix
My worship to its ray?"

Sigh! No wonder Bob Dylan names Burns as his biggest inspiration.


Pat said...

Who knew Rabbie Burns was such a heel?!!!?!

Katharine said...

Aye, but we forgive him because of his beautiful words and because he liked women. How many men there are out there who womanize but don't really like women.

Kappa no He said...

This is fascinating!

Sandi said...

I found your post while searching for lace tablecloths.
Well, now we know who Clarinda really was! Thanks for sharing.

Katharine said...

Unbelievable you found us through lace tablecloths! I think that tops Patty finding the the poet Hugh McDiarmid by searching "unseizable in Leith" from the Room with a View blog.