Good Deacon, bad Deacon

by Robert Louis Stevenson

In some cities you can feel the history pouring out of its walls. Be it with top-ten lists on the web, famous writers tours, or documentaries about a known wizard’s successful mother, you can’t help but feel immersed in its torrent of lives lived, and let yourself be amazed by the continuous flow of stories formed there. I’m thinking of Edinburgh, of course, a place where I’ve been twice with my cousin. Every now and then I fall back on my experiences there when I write for my blogs. Our trip informed a lot of my future reads. I’m still behind on that Ivan Hoe my cousin lent me, though (sorry Jaime!).

Craig Ferguson, my all-time favorite talk-show host (I still love you, Conan) made a week of the Late Late Show in Scotland, interviewing his best friend guests in Scottish places of his choosing, one of which Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. In a table by the window upstairs, he told his guest Mila Kunis the incredible story of William Brodie, Deacon of Wrights & Masons of Edinburgh, the son of a cabinet maker.

A deacon (which implied he was a reputable figure), Brodie was a respected citizen by day. By night, however, he was a different person entirely, with a streak of burglaries, gambling, mistresses and a team with whom he conducted his illicit activities. In 1788, he was caught and hanged in the city’s new gallows (ironically, of his own design). 20 years later, Deacon Brodie’s Tavern was established. Some 200 years after that, on my cousin’s birthday, we went there for a commemorative Haggis.

My cousin was to hop on a plane in the afternoon. I had a pint of lager, he went for a Thistly Cross cider. While people called him and sent birthday messages, busses crossed the window down on the stony, wet street, and we both marveled by the decoration: the Scottish tartan rug, the brown leather menus on wooden tables, Christmas decorations on a deep green wall, and, among advertisements of their fish and chip specialties, there stood a large portrait of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

Edinburgh native, he was the author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which was directly inspired by Deacon Brodie. Turns out Stevenson’s father had some furniture by the Deacon Brodie himself. There’s a bit of trivia for you.

Later, when I read the book, I felt the retroactive nostalgia for all the references I had of this tragic tale. Dr. Jekyll devised a potion, a terrible concoction, that made him transform into a hideous, murderous, evil creature — the infamous Mr. Hyde. Told in epistolary fashion, by letters and reports written by Mr. Utterson, a friend of Dr. Jekyll’s, and other witnesses of the doctor’s tragic fate, the book, very much like the Tavern, withstood the test of time, the very names of the characters becoming a symbol of the duality of good and evil.

And then, of course, it brought about a myriad of films, plays, radio programs, books, television shows, comic books, you name it. The Jekyll/Hyde duo even had the privilege of being portrayed by the Gladiator himself.

Very well then. We raised a glass to Robert Louis Stevenson. And went back to our touristy ways.

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