Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


?? Letters,? that the Countess of Stair was subject to hysterical fits-the result perhaps of all she had undergone as a wife. After being long the queen of society in Edinburgh, she died in November, 1759, twelve years after the death of the Marshal. She was the first person in the city, of her time, who had a black domestic servant. Another dowager, the Lady Clestram, succeeded her in the old house in the close. It was advertised for sale, at the upset price of A250, in the Edinburgh Advertiser of 1789; and is described as ?that large dwelling-house, sometime belonging to the Dowager Countess of Stair, situated at the entry to the Earthen Mound. The sunk storey consists of a good kitchen, servants? rooms, closets, cellars, &c. j the second of a dining and bed rooms ; the third storey of a dining and five bed rooms.? It has long since been the abode of the humblest artisans. The parents of Miss Fetrier, the well-known novelist, according to a writer in T?jZe Bar for November, 1878, occupied a flat in Lady Stair?s Close after their .marriage. Mrs. Femer ( d e Coutts) was the daughter of a farmer at Gourdon, near Montrose, and was a woman of remarkable beauty, as her portrait by Sir George Chalmers, Bart. (a native of Edinburgh) in 1765 attests. At the time of her mamage, in 1767, she had resided in Holyrood with her aunt, the Hon. Mrs. Maitland, widow of a younger son of Lord Lauderdale; and the flat the young mamed couple took in the old close had just been vacated by Sir James Pulteney and his wife Lady Bath. When Sir Richard Steele, of the Spectator, visited Edinburgh, in 1717, on the business of the Forfeited Estates Commission, we know not whether he resided in Lady Stair?s Close, but it is recorded that he gave, in a tavern there, a whimsical supper, to all the eccentric-looking mendicants in the city, giving them the enjoyment of an abundant feast, that he might witness their various oddities. Richard Sheils mentions this circumstance, and adds that Steele confessed afterwards that he had ?drunk enough of native drollery to compose a comedy.? Upper Baxter?s Close, the adjoining alley, is associated with the name of Robert Burns. There the latter, in 1786, saved from a heartless and hopeless exile by the generosity of the blind poet, Dr. Blacklock, came direct from the plough and the banks of his native Ayr, to share the humble room and bed of his friend Richmond, a lawyer?s clerk, in the house of Mrs. Carfrae. But a few weeks before poor Bums had made arrangements to go to Jamaica as joint overseer on an estate; but the publication of his poems was deemed such a jUCCeSS, that he altered his plans, and came to Edinburgh in the November of that year. In one Jf the numbers of the Lounger appeared a review 3f the first (or Kilmarnock) edition of his poems, written by Henry Mackenzie, who was thus the means, together with Dr. Blacklock, of kindly bringing Burns before the learned and fashionable circles of Edinburgh. His merited fame had come before him, and he was now caressed by all ranks. His brilliant conversational powers seem to have impressed all who came in contact with him as much as admiration of his poetry. Under the patronage of Principal Robertson, Professor Dugald Stewart, Henry Mackenzie, author of the ? Man of Feeling,?? and Sir John Whiteford of that ilk, but more than all of James Earl of Glencaim, and other eminent persons, a new edition of his poems was published in April, 1787 ; but amid all the adulation he received he ever maintained his native simplicity and sturdy Scottish independence of character. By the Earl of Glencaim he was introduced to the members of the Caledonian Hunt, and he dedicated to them the second edition of his poems In verse he touchingly records his gratitude to the earl :- ?( The bridegroom may forget the bride The monarch may forget the crown The mother may forget the child But I?ll remember thee, Glencairn, Was made ?his wedded wife yestreen ; That on his head an hour has been ; That smiles sae sweetly on her knee ; And all that thou hast done for me!? Bums felt acutely the death of this amiable and accomplished noble, which occurred in 1791. The room occupied by Bums in Baxter?s Close, and from which he was wont to sally firth to dine and sup with the magnates of the city, is still pointed out, with its single window which opens into Lady Stair?s Close. There, as Allan Cunningham records, he had but ?his share of a deal table,a sanded floor, and a chaff bed, at eighteenpence a week.? According to the same biographer, the impression which Burns made at first on the fair, the titled, and the learned, of Edinburgh, ?though lessened by intimacy on the part of the men, remained unimpaired on that of the softer sex till his dying day. His company, during the season of balls and festivities, continued to be courted by all who desired to be reckoned gay or polite. Cards of invitation fell thick. on him; he was not more welcomed to the plumed and jewelled groups whom her fascinating Grace of Gordon gathered about her, than he was to the grave divines and polished scholars who assembled
Volume 1 Page 106
  Shrink Shrink   Print Print