Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


The Luckenbooths James VI., but no memories of him now remain, save the alley called Byres? Close, and his tomb in the west mall of the Greyfriars? churchyard, the inscription on which, though nearly obliterated, tells us that he was treasurer, bailie, and dean of guild of Edinburgh, and died in 1629, in his sixtieth year The fourth floor of the tall Byres? Lodging was occupied in succession by the Lords Coupar and Lindores, by Sir James Johnston of Westerhall, and finally by Lord Coalstoun, father of Christian Brown, Countess of the Earl of Dalhousie, a general who distinguished himself at Waterloo and elsewhere. Before removing to a more spacious mansion on the Castle Hill, Lord Coalstoun lived here in I 757, and during that time an amusing accident occurred to him, which has been the origin of more than one excellent caricature. ?It was at that time the custom,? says the gossipy author of ? Traditions of Edinburgh,? U for advocates, and no less than judges, to dress themselves in gown, wig, and cravat, at their own houses, and to walk in a sort of state, with their cocked hats in their hands, to the Parliament House. They usually breakfasted early, and when dressed would occasionally lean over their parlour windows for a few minutes, before St. Giles?s bell sounded a quarter to nine, enjoying the morning air, and perhaps discussing the news of the day, or the convivialities of the preceding evening, with a neighbouring advocate on the opposite side of the alley. It so happened that one morning, while Lord Coalstoun was preparing to enjoy his matutinal treat, two girls who lived on the second floor above were amusing themselves with a kitten, which they had swung over the window by a cord tied round its middle, and hoisted for some time up and down, till the creature was getting desperate with its exertions. In this crisis his lordship popped his head out of the window, directly below that from which the kitten swung, little suspecting, good easy man, what a danger impended, wlien down came the exasperated animal in full career upon his senatorial wig. No sooner did the girls perceive what sort of landing-place their kitten had found, than in theix terror and surprise, they began to draw it up ; but this measure was now too late, for along with the animal up also came the judge?s wig, fixed full in its determined claws ! His lordship?s surprise on finding his wig lifted off his head was much increased when, an looking up, he perceived it dangling its way upwards, without any means v i d k to him, by which its motions might be accounted for. The astonishment, the dread, the !we of the senator below-the half mirth, half error of the girls above, together with the fierce elentless energy on the part of puss between, ormed altogether a scene to which language could lot easily do justice. It was a joke soon explained md pardoned, but the perpetrators did afterwards ;et many injunctions from their parents, never again .o fish over the window, with such a bait, for ionest men?s wigs.? At the east end of the Luckenbooths, and facing :he line of the High Street, commanding not only t view of that stately and stirring thoroughfare, xit also the picturesque vista of the Canongate md far beyond it, Aberlady Bay, Gosford House, md the hills of East Lothian, towered ? Creech?s Land ?-as the tenement was named, according to :he old Scottish custom-long the peculiar haunt 3f the Ziferati during the last century. In the first Rat had been the shop of Allan Ramsay, where in 17 25 he established the first circulating library ever known in Scotland; and for the Mercury?s Head, which had been the sign of his first shop opposite Niddry?s Wynd, he now substituted the heads of Drummond of Hawthornden and Ben Jonson. Of this establishment Wodrow writes :-? Profaneness is come to a great height ! all the villainous, profane, and obscene books of plays printed at London by Curle and others, are got down from London by Allan Ramsay, and let out for an easy price to young boys, servant women of the better sort, and gentlemen, and rice and obscenity dreadfully propagated.? It was the library thus stigmatised by sour old Wodrow, that, according to his own statement, Sir Walter Scott read with such avidity in his younger years. The collection latterly contained upwards of 30,000 volumes, as is stated by a note in ? Kay?s Portraits.? In 1748, says Kincaid, a very remarkable and lawless attempt was made by the united London booksellers and stationers to curb the increase of literature in Edinburgh ! They had conceived an idea, which they wished passed into law : ?That authors or their assignees had a perpetual exclusive right to their works; and if these could not be known, the right was in the person who first published the book, whatever manner of way they became possessed of it.? The first step was taken in 1748-twenty-three years after Ramsay started his library-when an action appeared before the Court of Session against certain booksellers in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which was decreed against the plaintiffs.* Ten Falconer?s ?Decisions,? voL i
Volume 1 Page 154
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