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Edinburgh Past and Present


LEITH. 95 calling, and for which, in consequence, it would be very unfair to hold them responsible. ' Never give a fishwife the half of what she asks ' is a common saying, and indicative of the exorbitant prices they are in the habit of demanding in their commercial capacity. Oldbuck in his day seems to have acted on this principle. There are few more amusing or laughable scenes in the Antiquary than that of this formal, inquisitive, but genial old man bating down Mrs. Mucklebackit, and getting the fish for less than half the price she first asked, That indeed would appear to be a feature common to the whole fisher population of every place and of all time; certainly it is yet true of the fisherwomen of Newhaven, and very amusing are the scenes in this way which yet go on between the Maggie Mucklebackits of this locality and the Misses Grizel of our Trinity villas and Claremont Crescents. It would be an impropriety no doubt to say, in the words of this caustic, but after all somewhat soft-hearted misogynist, that ' they may sometimes be heard wrangling for an hour together' over a little affair of that kind, before the door or under the parlour window, 'like sea-gulls screaming and spluttering in a gale of wind ;' but that there is a good deal of ' tongue and wind,' the besetting sin of the age according to Carlyle, expended in the process there can be no question. LEITH Is a town of great impo'rtance, with a population of upwards of 50,000, and a seaport with a trade and dock accommodation the third in the kingdom. Originally, and for a long period after its existence, it remained quite apart, having no connection whatever with any of the neighbouring districts. Now, however, it may naturally be regarded as a suburb of Edinburgh, as pfiysicaZ& they meet at many points, and mlmia2aZZy are in certain things interdependent, Still, although thus closely connected with the city, and having many interests in common, it yet preserves its own integrity as a town, having its own peculiar manners, usages, independent feelings, and municipal institutions, At first, as appears, it was called Inverleith, the reason of which is obvious enough from the fact of its being situated at the mouth of the river Leith. Its history opens in or about the fourteenth century-at least nothing with certainty is known of it until 1329, when we find it but a mere village, dominated by Edinburgh, and oppressively treated by the magistracy there, whose cupidity and lust of power led them to lay a greedy and repressive hand upon its revenues and independence. Robert I. was then upon the
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96 QUEENSFERRY TO MUSSELBURGH. throne, but weak, worn-out, and dyhg. His terrible struggles,-those great, patriotic efforts he made to wrest our land from the hand of the oppressor and secure its independence,-had done their sad work upon his naturally vigorous and powerful frame, and.now at the premature age, comparatively, of fifty-four years, the strong man had laid him down to die. At this time, when he could not be troubled with the consideration of such matters, and had not strength sufficient to inquire into the justice or policy of them, the Town-Council of Edinburgh, actuated by the meanest and most selfish motives, applied for, and obtained from, him ‘a grant of the harbour and mills of Leith, with their appurtenances, for payment of fifty-two merks yearly,’ Nor was their cupidity content with that. They at the same time seized upon all the waste or unreclaimed ground adjacent to the harbour and on the banks of the river, which, however, upon the baron superior, Logan of Restalrig, contesting, they were ultimately compelled to disgorge, or at least to pay for, which comes much to the same thing. This Logan, the baronial proprietor of Leith, appears to have been rather a heartless old fellow, treating the poor Leithers with as high a hand and as oppressive a greed as the city Town-Council itself. He would do anything for money. Give him a good price, only bid high enough, and he would go to any lengths : no considerations, either moral or Christian, giving him the least concernment. A man of this type was just the man for the Edinburgh Town-Councillors ; and they hesitated not to avail themselves of his avaricious unscrupulousness to effect their own selfish ends. Strange to say, they approached this man with the extraordin& proposal that ‘ he, for a large consideration, should grant them a bond by which he should pledge himself to prevent the inhabitants of Leith, not only from carrying on any sort of trade, but from keeping shops, or inns, or houses, of public entertainment for strangers,’ and which proposal was entertained. Nor that only. Some time subsequently, in the year 1485, this same jealous and oppressive spirit was manifested in a still more illiberal and impolitic way : it was then ‘ ordained that no merchant of Edinburgh should take into partnership with him any inhabitant of Leith under the penalty of forty shillings, and deprivation of the freedom of the city for a year ; that none bf the revenues of the city should be farmed to an individual belonging to Leith, and that none of the farmers of the city should take any of them as a partner with him in such contracts ; that no staple goods should be stored in warehouses in Leith, or even disposed of, and in the event of such cruel and oppressive enactments being evaded or violated, the offender should be visited with swift and condign
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