Edinburgh Bookshelf

Edinburgh Past and Present


~~~ ~~~ ~ LEITH. 97 punishment.' It is with the greatest astonishment that we read of such doings of the generations that are gone ; they appear so ungenerous, cruel and short-sighted. The poor Leithers were sorely tried, and had great need of patience. 'A curse upon your whinstane hearts, ye Edinburgh gentry !' is an imprecation that naturally rises to the wrathful lips of every lea1 son of Scotia, as he thinks upon the unkind and heartless way in which they latterly treated the gifted and manly Bums. The same curse, for a similar reason, although in a different connection, would have suited equally well, and come with as fierce an earnestness from the indignant lips of the oppressed and downtrodden dwellers of that rising little seaport by the shingly shores of the Forth. It has often been asked, Why does Leith owe Edinburgh such a grudge 0 why is she so jealous of her bigger sister, and take every opportunity that offers of humbling her, and asserting her own independence 1 The few facts just related, and many more of an equally arbitrary and high-handed kind might be adduced, will perhaps let in some light upon the question, and clear up, in a measure, what to many is a strange and unaccountable thing. Towns, like individuals and families, do not soon forget the harshness or injustice with which they have been treated; the memory of it goes down circulating through the years and the centuries, and is ever ready to flash out anew into fierce resentment and fiery wrath, when the time-oiled waters are again stirred. It grew and flourished in spite of all the hard measures and burdensome enactments under which it groaned. Indignant occasionally at the merciless way in which the city brought its heavy hand to bear upon it, and emitting now and again a loud, angry, lionlike growl of defiant rage, it for the most part went quietly-on, minding its own work, and building up its own fortunes, patiently biding the time when it would have courage enough to face, and strength sufficient to grapple with the foe, and 'throw him in the tulzie.' A stout-hearted people were the Leithers. They could take up their cross and bear it with fortitude. Opposition did not frighten them ; injustice did not unman them. With a considerable amount of good, hard, gnarled knee-timber in their constitution, they could confront the evils and brave the storms of life, calmly and hopefully waiting for the coming in of better times and more propitious circumstances. ' Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, Is our destined end or way ; But to act that each to-morrow Finds us farther than to-day.' Leith, however, would not be crushed. N
Volume 11 Page 150
  Enlarge Enlarge  
98 QUEENSFERRY TO MUSSELBURGH. Meanwhile, an event of great national importance took place, and as it stands very closely connected with Leith, deserves to be noticed. James IV., who was now upon the throne, was a king of great sagacity and energy. Availing himself of the peace and prosperity which then prevailed in the country, he turned his attention to the development of its internal resources ; he repaired and embellished his palaces and castles, improved and facilitated the administration of justice, enforced a general respect for the law throughout the remotest districts, and encouraged the extension of trade and commerce with other nations. He was anxiously solicitous to make it at once numerous and powerful ; and hence, in addition to the ships he already had, he caused other three vessels of very large dimensions for that age, to be constructed ; one of them, the largest, and named the Greaf Michael, in magnitude, equipment, and cost, greatly exceeding any ship of war then known in the world, was built at Leith. Pitscotlie tells us that ‘all the oak forests in Fife, with the exception of that of Falkland, was exhausted in her construction, besides a large quantity of timber brought from Norway, and that upwards of a year was spent by the Scottish and foreign carpenters in completing her.’ James was justly proud of the achievement; and while she lay in ‘the roads,’ as great a marvel then as the Warriar or Impregnable would be now, the King frequently visited her in company with his lords, ‘ taking great pleasure in showing them her order and munition’ She was commanded by Sir Andrew Wood, a native of the town, an able sailor and a brave commander, who had distinguished himself in many a sea-fight, the Abercromby of his day, bringing glory alike to his country and his name. Thus Leith had the honour of making the first important advance, and typing the first momentous change in the great science of naval architecture. As with families, so with towns, however, it is not always summer-time with them. Seldom or never in the case of anything earthly does the sun of prosperity shine down a continuous and unbroken flood of golden light. Unmixed good is a blessing not of this world; empires, kingdoms, cities, towns, families, and individuals, all have their rainy days. And Leith is no exception. In the year 1544 the Earl of Hertford paid it a hostile visit, and did it incredible damage. With an army of 10,000 men he marched eastwards from Granton, where he had disembarked, and entering the town about noon, without the least opposition, at once took possession of it. He next proceeded against Edinburgh, which, after having plundered-ravishing and laying waste at the same time the neighbouring districts-he set on fire ; His navy, however, was especially his care.
Volume 11 Page 151
  Enlarge Enlarge