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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


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
Volume 1 Page 179
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