Ian Hamilton Finlay died less than 10 years ago but he is already a legend. A visit to Little Sparta - open 3 afternoons a week during the summer - will leave you fretting over the puzzle of the man. Dip into his letters to Stephan Bann to complete the sense of discombobulation. In 1964 readers of his new magazine: ” Poor. Old. Tired. Horse” were meant to receive a lollipop sellotaped to its cover. And then there is his fight over language with his former best friend Hugh MacDairmid, high priest of scottish prose. Hamilton quarreled with him over his use of “synthetic scottish” and published a series of beast poems in demotic Glaswegian. It was a deliberate attempt to confront.
A querulous fellow and prone to breakdowns, he retreated to his garden at Stonypath in the Pentland Hills and renamed it Little Sparta - a verbal gauntlet thrown down to Establishment Edinburgh, known as the Athens of the North. “A garden is not a retreat but an attack” was one of his bon mots and when the local council despatched an officer to collect rates arrears he encountered mock French revolutionary armed resistance. Finlay Hamiltonâ€™s argument was that as a pagan temple, Little Sparta was exempt.