Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. III


OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Princes Street 121 famous china emporium-has had many and various occupants. In I 783, and before that period, it was Poole?s Coffee-house, and till the days of Waterloo was long known as a rendezvous for the many military idlers who were then in Edinburgh-the veterans of Egypt, Walcheren, the Peninsula, and India-and for the officers of the strong garrison . maintained there till the general peace. In July, 1783, by an advertisement, ?Mathew Poole returns his most grateful acknowledgments to the nobility and gentry for their past favours, and begs leave respectfully to inform them that he has taken the whole of the apartments above his coffee-house, which he has fitted up in the neatest and most genteel manner as a hotel. The airiness of the situation and the convenience of the lodgings, which are perfectly detached from each other, render it very proper for families, and the advantage of the coffee-house and tavern adjoining must make it both convenient and agreeable for single gen tlemen.? In the Post Ofice Directory for 181 5, Nos. 3 and 14 appear as the hotels of Walker and Poole ; the latter is now, and has been for many years, a portion of the great establishment of Messrs. William Renton and Co. When, in the summer of 1822, Mr. Archibald Constable, the eminent publisher, returned from London to Edinburgh, he removed his establkhment from the Old Town to the more commodious and splendid premises, No. 10, Princes Street, which he had acquired by purchase from the connections of his second marriage, and in that yeat he was included among the justices of the peace for the city. ?Though with a strong dash of the sanguine,? says Lockhart-? without which, indeed, there can be no great projector in any ryalk of life- Archibald Constable was one of the most sagacious persons that ever followed his profession. . - . Indeed, his fair and handsome physiognomy carried a bland astuteness of expression not to be inistaken by any one who could read the plainest of nature?s handwriting. He made no pretensions to literature, though he was, in fact, a tolerable judge of it generally, and particularly well skilled in the department of Scotch antiquities. He distrusted himself, however, in such matters, being conscious that his early education had been very imperfect ; and, moreover, he wisely considered the business of a critic quite as much out of his proper line as authorship itself. But of that ?proper line,? and his own qualifications for it, his estimation was ample; and as often as I may have smiled at the lofty serenity of his self-complacence, I confess that I now doubt whether he rated himself too highly as a master in the true science of the bookseller. He was as bold as far-sighted, and his disposition was as liberal as his views were wide.? In January, 1826, the public was astonished by the bankruptcy at No. 10, Princes Street, when Constable?s liabilities were understood to exceed ~250,000-a failure which led to the insolvency of Ballantyne and Co., and of Sir Walter Scott, who was connected with them both j and when it became known that by bill transactions, &c., the great novelist had rendered himself responsible for debts to the amount of &IZO,OOO, of which not above a half were actually incurred by himself. Constable?s failure was the result of that of Messrs. Hunt, Robinson, and Co., of London, who had suspended payment of their engagements early in the January of the same fatal year. At the time of his bankruptcy Constable was meditating a series of publications, which afterwards were issued under the title of ?Constable?s Mis cellany,? the precursor of that now almost universal system of cheap publishing which renders the present era one as much of reprint as of original publication ; but soon after its commencement he was attacked by a former disease, dropsy, and died on the zIst of July, 1827, in the fifty-third year of his age. His portrait by Raeburn is one of the most successful likenesses of him. No. 16, farther westward, was, in 1794, occupied as Weir?s Museum, deemed in its time a wonderful collection ?? of quadrupeds, birds, fishes, insects, shells, fossils, minerals, petrifaction, and anatomical preparations . . , . . . One cannot help,? says Kincaid, ? admiring t.he birds from Port Jackson, New South M7ales, for the extreme beauty of their plumage j their appearance otherwise eb hibits them as not deprived of life.? It is of this collection that Lord Gardenstone wrote, in his ?Travelling Memoranda? :-?I cannot omit to observe that in the whole course of my travels I have nowhere seen the preservation of quadrupeds, birds, fishes, and insects executed with such art and taste as by Mr. Alexander Weir of Edinburgh. He is a most ingenious man, and certainly has not hitherto been so much encouraged by the public as his merit deserves.? No. 27, a corner house, was in 1789 the abode of the Honourable Henry Erskine, who figures prominently in the remarkable collection of Kay ; and in the same year No. 47 was occupied by Lady Gordon of Lesmore, in the county of Aberdeen, an old family, created baronets in 1625. It.now forms a portion of the great premises of Kennington and Jenner, the latter of whom is
Volume 3 Page 122
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