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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


178 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Parliament Close. their money brought on horseback to the Parliament Close, where r the company?s business was thenceforward wholly restricted for a time to lending money, and all transactions to be in Edinburgh. In the fire we have mentioned as occumng in 1700 the bank perished. Assisted by the Earl of Leven, Governor of the Castle and also of the bank, with a party of soldiers, and by David Lord Futhven, a director, who stood in the turnpike stair all night, keeping the passage free, the cash, bank-notes, books, and papers, were saved. Thus, though every other kind of property perished, the struggling bank was able to open an office higher up in the city. In that fire the Scottish Treasury Room perished, with the Exchequer and Exchange, and the Parliament Square was afterwards rebuilt (in the picturesqae style, the destruction of which was so much regretted), in conformity with an Act passed in 1698, regulating the mode of building in Edinburgh with regard to height, Convenience, strength, and security from fire. The altitude of the houses was greatly reduced. Previous to the event of 1700, the tenements on the south side of the Parliament Close, as viewed from the Rirkheugh, were fifteen storeys in height, and till the erection of the new town were deemed the most splendid of which the city could boast. Occurring after ? King William?s seven years of famine,? which the Jacobites believed to be a curse sent from heaven upon Scotland, this calamity was felt with double force; and in 1702 the Town Council passed an Act for ?? suppressing immoralities,? in which, among the tokens of God?s wrath, ?the great fire of the 3d February? is specially referred to. Notwithstanding the local depression, we find in 1700 none of the heartless inertia that charac. terised the city for sixty years after the Union. Not an hour was lost in coinmencing the work of restoration, and many of the sites were bought by Robert Mylne, the king?s master-mason. The new Royal Exchange, which had its name and the date 1700 cut boldly above its doorway, rose tc the height of twelve storeys on the south-deemed a moderate altitude in those days. On its eastern side was an open arcade, with Doric pilasters and entablature, as a covered walk for pedestrians, and the effect of the whole was stately and im. posing. Many aristocratic families who had been burned out, came flocking back to the vast tene ments of the Parliament Close, among others tht Countess of Wemyss, who was resident there in 2 fashionablz flat at the time of the Porteous mob (?Hist: of Bank of Scot.,? 1728.) . and whose footman was accused of being one of the rioters, and who very nearly had a terrible tragedy acted in her own house, the outcome of the great one in the Grassmarket. It is related that the close connection into which the noble family of Wemyss were thus brought to the Porteous mob, as well as their near vicinity to the chief line of action, naturallj produced a strong impression on the younger members of the family. They had probably been aroused from bed by the shouts of the rioters assembling beneath their windows, and the din of their sledge-hammers thundering on the old Tolbooth door. Thus, not long after the Earl of Wemyss-the Hon. Francis Charteris was born in 1723, and was then a boy-proceeded, along with his sisters, to get up a game, or representation of the Porteous mob, and having duly forced his prison, and dragged forth the supposed culprit, ?the romps got so thoroughly into the spirit of their dramatic sports that they actually hung up their brother above a door, and had weli nigh finished their play in real tragedy.,? The first coffee-house opened in Edinburgh was John Row?s, in Robertson?s Land, a tall tenement near the Parliament House. This was in 1673. It was shut up in 1677, in consequence of a brawl, reported to the Privy Council by the Town Major, who had authority to see into such matters. The north-east corner of the Parliament Close was occupied by John?s coffee-house. There, as Defoe, the historian of the Union, tells us, the opponents of this measure met daily, to discuss the proceedings that were going on in the Parliament House close by, and to form schemes of opposition thereto; and there, no doubt, were sung fiercely and emphatically the doggerel rhymes known as ?? Belhaven?s Vision,? of which the only copies extant are those printed at Edinburgh in 1729, at the Glasgow Arms, opposite the Corn Market; and that other old song, which was todched by the master-hand of Burns :- ?I What force or guile could not subdue, Through many warlike ages, Is now wrought by a coward few For hireling traitor?s wages ; The Englishsteel we could disdain, Secure in valour?s station ; But England?s gold has been our bane- Such a parcel of rogues in a nation ! ? John?s coffee-house was also the resort of the judges and lawyers of the eighteenth century for consultations, and for their ?? meridian,? or twelve o?clock dram ; for in those days every citizen had
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Parlient Close.] JOHN OSW.4LD. I79 his peculiar hze& or place of resort by day or night, where merchants, traders, and men of every station, met for consultation, or good-fellowship, and to hear the items of news that came by the mail or stage from distant parts; and Wilson, writing in 1847, says, ? Currie?s Tavern, in Craig?s Close, ?once the scene of meeting of various clubs, and a favourite resort of merchants, still retains .a reputation among certain antiquarian bibbers for an old-fashioned luxury, known by the name of jaj-in, a strange compound of small-beer and whiskey, curried, as the phrase is, with a little aatmeal.? Gossiping Wodrow tells us in his ?I Analecta,? that, on the 10th of June, 1712, ?The birthday of the Pretender, I hear there has been great outrages .at Edinburgh by his friends. His health was drunk early in the morning in the Parliament Close j and at night, when the magistrates were going through the streets to keep th: peace, several were taken up in disguise, and the King?s health (ie., James VIII.) was drunk out of several windows, and the glasses thrown over the windows when the magistrates passed by, and many windows were illuminated. At Leith there was a standard :set upon the pier, with a thistle and Nemo me imjune Zaessit, and J ?R. VI11 ; and beneath, Noe Abjuration. This stood a great part of the -day.? Had the old historian lived till the close .of the century or the beginning of the present, he might have seen, as Chambers tells us, ?Singing Jamie Balfour ?-a noted convivialist, of whom a portrait used to hang in the Leith Golf-housewith other topers in the Parliament Close, all bareheaded, on their knees, and hand-in-hand, around .the statute of Charles II., chorusing vigorously, ?T. King s h d enjoy his own again.? Jamie Balfour was well known to Sir Walter Scott. About the year 1760 John?s coffee-house was kept by a man named Oswald, whose son John, born there, and better known under his assumed name of Sylvester Otway, was one of the most extraordinary characters of that century as a poet .and politician. He served an apprenticeship to a jeweller in the Close, till a relation left him a legacy, with which he purchased a commission in the Black Watch, and in 1780 he was the third lieutenant in seniority in the 2nd battalion when serving in India. Already master of Latin and Greek, he then taught himself Arabic, and, quitting the army in 1783, became a violent Radical, and published in London a pamphlet on the British Constitution, setting forth his views (crude as they were) and principles. His amatory poems received she dpprobation of Bums; and, after publishing various farces, effusions, and fiery political papers, he joined the French Revolutionists in 1792, when his pamphlets obtained for him admission into the Jacobite Club, and his experiences in the qznd procured him command of a regiment composed of the masses of Paris, with which he marched against the royalists in La Vendie, on which occasion his men mutinied, and shot him, together with his two sons-whom, in the spirit of quality, he had made drummers-and an English Zentleman, who had the misfortune to be serving in the same battalion. John third Earl, of Bute, a statesman and a patron of literature, who procured a pension for Dr. Johnson, and who became so unpopular as a minister through the attacks of Wilkes, was born in the Parliament Close on the 25th of May, 1713. Near to John?s coffee-house, and on the south side ,of the Parliament Close, was the banking-house of Sir William Forbes, Bart., who was born at Edinburgh in 1739. He was favourably known as the author of the ?Life of Beattie,? and other works, and as being one of the most benevolent and highspirited of citizens. The bank was in reality established by the father of Thomas Coutts, the eminent London banker, and young Forbes, in October, 1753, was introduced to the former as an apprentice for a term of seven years. He became a copartner in 1761, and on the death of one of the Messrs. Coutts, and retirement of another on account of ill-health, while two others were settled in London, a new company was formed, comprising Sir William Forbes, Sir James Hunter Blair, and Sir Robert Hemes, who, at first, carried on business in the name of the old firm. In 1773, however, Sir Robert formed a separate establishment in London, when the name was changed to Forbes, Hunter, and Co., of which firm Sir William continued to be the head till his death, in 1806. Kin&id tells us that, when their first bankinghouse was building, great quantities of human bones-relics of St. Giles?s Churchyard-were dug up, which were again buried at the south-east corner, between the wall of the edifice and the Parliament Stairs that led to the Cowgate; and that, ? not many years ago, numbers were also dug up in the Parliament Close, which were carefully put in casks, and buried in the Greyfriars? Churchyard? In accordance with a longcherished desire of restoring his family-which had been attainted for loyalty to the house of StuartLSir William Forbes embraced a favourable opportunity for purchasing
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