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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


The West Bow.] A BITTER personal quarrel had existed for some years between James Johnstone of Westerhall and Hugh (from his bulk generally known as Braid Hugh) Somerville of the Writes, and they had often fought with their swords and parted on equal temis. Somerville, in the year 1596, chancing to be in Edinburgh on private business, was one day loitering about the head of the Bow, when, by chance, Westerhall was seen ascending the steep and winding street, and at that moment some officious person said, ? There is Braid Hugh Somerville of the Writes.? THE OLD ASSEMBLIES. 3?5 Westerhall, conceiving that his enemy was lingering there either in defiance, or to await him, drew his sword, and crying, ?Turn, villain!? gave Somerville a gash behind the head, the most severe. wound he had ever inflicted, and which, according to the ? Memoirs of the Somervilles,? was ? much regrated eftirwards by himselt? Writes, streaming with blood, instantly drew his sword, and ere Westerhall could repeat the stroke, put him sharply on his defence, and being the taller and stronger man of the two, together with the advantage given by the slope, he pressed him could retire for refreshments, or to rosin their bows. Here then did the fair dames of Queen Anne?s time, in their formal stomachers, long gloves, ruffles and lappets, meet in the merry country dance, or the stately minuef de la (our, the beaux of the time, with their squarecut velvet coats and long-flapped waistcoats, with sword, ruffles, and toupee in tresses, when the news was all about the battle of Almanza, the storming of Barcelona, or the sinking of the Spanish galleons by Benbow in the West Indies, or it might be-in whispers-of the unfurling of the standard on the Braes of Mar. The regular assembly, according to Arnot, was . first held in the year 17 10, and it continued entirely hnder private management till 1746, but though the Scots as a nation are passionately fond of dancing, the strait-laced part of the community bitterly inveighed against this infant institution. In the Library of the Faculty of Advocates there is a curious little pamphlet, entitled, a ?Letter from a Gentleman iti the Country to his Friend in the City, with an Answer thereto concerning the New Assembly,? which affords a remarkable glimpse of the bigotry of the time :- ?I am informed that there is lately a society erected in your town, which I think is called an Assembly. The speculations concerning this meeting have of late exhausted the most part of the public conversation in this countryside :. some are pleased to say that ?tis only designed to cultivate polite conversation, and genteel behaviouramong the better sort of folks, and to give young people an opportunity of accomplishing themselves in both ; while others are of opinion that it will have quite a different effect, and tends to vitiate and deprave the: minds and inclinations of the younger sort.? The author, who might have been Davie Deans himself, and who writes in 1723, adds that he had been much stirred on this matter by the approaching solemnity of the Lord?s Supper, and that he had been ?informed that the design of this (weekly) meeting was to afford some ladies an opportunity to alter the station that they had long fretfully continued in, and to set off others as they should prove ripe for the market.? The old Presbyterian abhorrence of ?? promiscuous dancing? was only held in check by the less strait-laced spirit of the Jacobite gentry; but so great was the opposition to the Edinburgh Assembly, as Jackson tells us in his ?History of the Stage,? that a furious rabble once attacked the rooms, and perforated the closed doors with red-hot spits. Arnot says that the lady-directress sat at the head of the room, wearing the badge of heroffice, a gold medal with a motto and device, emblematic of charity and parental tenderness. After several years of cessation, under the effect. of local mal-influence, when the Assembly was re-constituted in 1746, among the regulations hung up in the hall, were tko worth quoting :- ?No lady to be admitted in a nz$f-gowr (negl&i?), and no gentleman in boots.? ?? No misses in skirts and jackets, robe-coats, nor. staybodied-gowns, to be allowed to dance in country dances, but in a set by themselves.?
Volume 2 Page 315
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