Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. III


George Street.] THE BLACKWOODS. I39 CHAP,TER XIX. GEORGE STREET. Major Andrew Faser-The Father of Miss Femer-Grant of Kilgraston-William Blackwoad and his Magazine-The Mother of Sir Waltn Scott-Sir John Hay, Banker-Colquhoun of Killermont-Mrs. Murray of Henderland-The Houses of Sir J. W. Gomon, Sir Jam- Hall. and Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster-St. Andrew's Church-Scene of the Disruption-Physicians' Hall-Glance at the Histcry of thecollege of Physicians-Sold and Removed-The Commercial Bank-Its Constitution-Assembly Rooms-Rules of 17+Banquet to Black Watch-" The Author of Waverley"-The Music Hall-The New Union Bank-Its Formation, &c.-The Mlasonic Hall-Watsoa'E Pictureof Bums-Statues of George IV., Pitt, and Chalmers. . PREVIOUS to the brilliant streets and squares erected in the northern and western portions of new Edinburgh, George Street was said to have no rival in the world ; and even yet, after having undergone many changes, for combined length, space, uniformity, and magnificence of vista, whether viewed from the east or west, it may well be pronounced unparalleled. Straight as an arrow flies, it is like its sister streets, but is 1x5 feet broad. Here a great fossil tree was found in 1852. A portion of the street on the south side, near the west end, long bore the name of the Tontine, and owing to some legal dispute, which left the houses there mfinished, they were occupied as infantry barracks during the war with France. Nos. 3 and 5 (the latter once the residence of Major Andrew Fraser and cf William Creech the eminent bookseller) forni the office of the Standard Life Assurance Company, in the tympanum of which, over four fine Corinthian pilasters, is a sculptured group from the chisel of Sir John Steel, representing the parable of the Ten Virgins. In George Street are about thirty different insurance offices, or their branches, all more or less ornate in architecture, and several banks. In No. 19, on the same side, is the Caledonian, the oldest Scottish insurance company (having been founded in June, 1805). Previously the office had been in Bank Street. A royal charter was granted to the company in May, 1810, and twenty-three years afterwards the business of life assurance was added to that of fire insurance. No. 25 George Street was the residence (from 1784 till his death, in 18zg), of Mr. James Ferrier, Principal Clerk of Session, and father of Miss Susan Ferrier, the authoress of " Marriage," &c. He was a keen whist player, and every night of his life had a rubber, which occasionally included Lady Augusta Clavering, daughter of his friend and client John, fifth Duke of Argyll, and old Dr. Hamilton, usually designated " Cocked Hat " Hamilton, from the fact of his being one of the last in Edinburgh who bore that head-piece. When victorious, he wcdd snap his fingers and caper about the room, to tbe manifest indignation of Mr. Ferrier, who would express it to his partner in the words, "Lady Augusta, did you ever see such rediculous leevity in an auld man 7 " Robert Burns used also to be a guest at No. 25, and was prescnt on one occasion when some magnificent Gobelins tapestry arrived there for the Duke of Argyll on its way to Inverary Castle. Mrs. Piozzi also, when in Edinburgh, dined there. Next door lived the Misses Edmonstone, of the Duntreath family, and with them pitched battles at whist were of frequent nightly occurrence. These old ladies figure in " Marriage " as Aunts Jacky, Grizzy, and Nicky; they were grandnieces of the fourth Duke of Argyll. The eldest Miss Ferrier was one of the Edinburgh beauties in her day ; and Bums once happening to meet her, while turning the corner of George Street, felt suddenly inspired, and wrote the lines to her enclosed in an elegy on the death of Sir D. H. Hair. Miss Ferrier and Miss Penelope, Macdonald of Clanronald, were rival belles ; the former married General Graham ot Stirling Castle, the latter Lord Belhaven. In No. 32 dwelt Francis Grant of Kilgraston, father of Sir Francis Grant, President of the Royal Academy, born in 1803 ; and No. 35, now a shop, was the town house of the Hairs of Balthayock, in Perthshire. No. 45 has long been famous as the establishment of Messrs. Blackwood, the eminent publishers. William Blackwood, the founder of the magazine which stills bears his name, and on the model of which so many high-class periodicals have been started in the sister kingdom, was born at Edinburgh in 1776, and after being apprenticed to the ancient bookselling firni of Bell and Bradfute, and engaging in various connections with other bibliopoles, in 1804 he commenced as a dealer in old books on the South Bridge, in No. 64, but soon after became agent for several London publishing houses. In 1S16 he disposed of his vast stock of classical and antiquarian books, I 5,000 volumes in number, and removing to No. 17 Princes Street, thenceforward devoted his energies to the business of a-general publisher, and No. 17 is to this day a bookseller's shop.
Volume 3 Page 139
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