Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


Volume 2 Page 206
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High Street.] THOMAS BASSANDYNE, PRINTER. 207 in an investment in favour of John Preston, Commissary, dated 1581, is described as ?that tenement of lands lying in the said burgh on the south side of the High Street, and on the entry of the wynd of the Preaching Friars, formerly waste, having been burnt by the English.? Thus it would appear to have been built between 1544 and 158I-probably near the former date, as the situation being central it was unlikely to remain long waste. In 1572 it suffered greatly during the siege of the Castle, in common with the Earl of Mar?s mansion in the Cowgate, and Baxter?s house in Dalgleish?s Close. Its proprietor, John Preston, in 1581, though the son of a baker, was an eminent lawyer in the time of James VI., who was raised to the Bench in March, 1594, as Lord Fentonbarns (in succession to James first Lord Balmerino) and died President of the Court in 1616. His mode of election was curious. ?The King,? says Lord Hailes, ?named Mr. Peter Rollock, Bishop of Dunkeld, Mr. David MacGill of Cranstoun-Riddel, and Mr. Preston of Fentonbarns, requesting the Lords to choose the fittest of the three to be an Ordinary Lord of Session. The Lords were solemnly sworn to choose according to their knowledge and conscience. In consequence of this, coigecfi in $ileum ;zominibus [by ballot], the Lords elected Mr. John Preston.? Before his death he attained to great wealth and dignity; he was knighted by King James, and his daughter Margaret wzs married in this old house to Robert Nairn of? Mackersie, and became mother of the first Lord ?Nairn, who was placed in the Tower of London by Cromwell in 1650, with many others, and not released till the Restoration, ten years after. The senator?s son, Sir Michael Preston, succeeded him in possession of the mansion in 1610. Preston, together with Craig and Stirling, is mentioned in a satirical production of Alexander Montgomery, author of ?The Cherrie and the Slae,? and before whom he had become involved in a tedious suit before the Court of Session, and was at one time threatened with quarters in the Tolbooth. He wrote of Fentonbarns as- ? A baxter?s bird, a bluitter beggar born? The old house narrowly escaped total destruction by a fire in 1795, thus nearly anticipating that ,of later years. It was the last survivor of the long and unbroken range of quaint and stately edifices on the south side of the street, between St. Giles?s and the Nether Bow. An outside stair gave access to the first floor, the stone turnpike stair of which bore the abbreviated legend in Gothic characters- DEO. HONOR . ET. GLIA. A little lower down the street, and nearly opposite the house of John b o x , dwelt Thomas Bassandyne, in that tall old mansion we have already referred to in an early chapter as having had built into its front the fine sculptured heads of the Emperor Septinius Severus and his Empress Julia, and having between them a tablet inscribed, ? In sudorc vuh fui vecmir pane tz~o,? which Wilson shrewdly suspects to have been a fragment of the adjacent convent of St May, or some other old monastic establishment in Edinburgh. Here it was that Thomas Bassandyne, a famous old Scottish typographer, in conjunction with Alexander Arbuthnot, undertook in 1574 the then arduous task of issuing his beautiful folio Bible, with George Young, a servant (clerk) of the Abbot of Dunfermline, as a corrector of the press ; the ?? printing irons,? or types were of cast-metal. The work of printing the Bible proved a heavier task than they expected, as it had met with many impediments ; and before the Privy Council, which was giving them monetary aid, they pleaded for nine months to complete the work, or return the money contributed towards it by various Scottish parishes. In this we see the first attempt to publish by subscription. Here, too, Thomas Bassandyne printed his rare quarto edition of Sir David Lindesay?s Poems in 1574. His will is preserved in the Banizatyne MisceZZany, and from it it appears, that his mother was life-rented in that part of the house which formed the printer?s dwelling, the annual rent of which was eight pounds ; while the remainder that belonged to himself, was occupied by his brother Michael. At all events, he leaves in his will ?his thrid, the ane half thairof to his wyf, and the vthir half to his mother, and Michael and his bairnes,? in which says the memorialist of Edinburgh, we presume, to have been included the house, which we find both he and his bairns afterwards possessing, and for which no rent would appear to have been exacted during the lifetime of the generous old printer. His house is repeatedly referred to in the evidence of the accomplices of the Earl of Bothwell in the murder of Darnley, an event which took place during the life of Bassandyne, beneath whose house was one occupied by a sword slipper, with whom it is said lodged the Black John of Ormiston, one of the conspirators, for whom the rest called on the night of the murder.
Volume 2 Page 207
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