Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. III


186 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Picardy Place. It would appear that so early as 1730 the Governors of Heriot?s Hospital, as superiors of the barony of Broughton, had sold five acres of land at the head of Broughton Loan to the city, for the behoof of refugees or their descendants who had come from France, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. A colony of these emigrants, principally silk weavers, had been for some time attempting to cultivate mulberry trees on the slope of Moultree?s Hill, but without success, owing to the variable nature of the climate. The position of the houses forming the village of Picardie, as these poor people named it, after their native province, is distinctly shown in the map of 1787, occupying nearly the site of? the north side of the present Picardy Place, which after the Scottish Board of Manufacturers acquired the ground, was built in 1809. More than twenty years before that period the magistrates seem to have contemplated having a square here, as in 1783 they advertised, ?to be feued, the several acres, for building, lying on the west side of the new road to Leith, immediately adjoining to Picardy Gardens. The ground is laid out in the form of a square. The situation is remarkably pleasant. . . . According to the plan, the buildings will have plots of background for the purpose of gardens and offices ; and the possessors of these will have the privilege of the area within the Square, &c. Further particulars may be had on applying to James Jollie, writer, the proprietor, Royal Bank Close, who will show the plan of the ground.? (Edin. Advert., 1783.) This plm would seem to have been abandoned, aAd a street, with York Place, in direct communication with Queen Street, substituted. Among the earliest occupants of a house in Picardy Place was John Clerk, Lord Eldin, who took up his abode in No. 16, when an advocate at the bar. The grandson of Sir John Clerk 01 Penicuick, and son of John Clerk, author of a celebrated work on naval tactics, Lord Eldin was born in 1757, and in 1785 was called to the bar, and so great were his intellectual qualities-at a time when the Scottish bar was really distinguished for intellect-that, it is said, that at one period he had nearly half of all the court business in his hands; but his elevation to the bench did not occur until 1823, when he was well advanced in life. In ?Peter?s Letters? he is described as the Coryphzus of the bar. ? He is the plainest, the shrewdest, and the most sarcastic of men; his sceptre owes the whole of its power to its weightnothing to glitter. It is impossible to imagine a physiognomy more expressive of the character of a great lawyer and barrister. The features are in themselves good, at least a painter would call them so, and the upper part of the profile has as fine lines as could be wished. But then, how the habits of the mind have stamped their traces on every part of the face ! What sharpness, razor-like sharpness, has indented itself about the wrinkles of his eyelids; the eyes themselves, so quick, so grey, such bafflers of scrutiny, such exquisite scrutinisers, how they change in expression-it seems almost how they change their colour-shifting from contracted, concentrated blackness, through every shade of brown, blue, green, and hazel, back into their own gleaming grey again. How they glisten into a smile of disdain! . . . He seems to be affected with the most delightful and balmy feelings, by the contemplation of some soft-headed, prosing driveller, racking his poor brain, or bellowing his lungs out, all about something which he, the smiler, sees so thoroughly, so distinctly.? Lord Eldin, on the bench as when at the bar, pertinaciously adhered to the old Doric Scottish of his boyhood, and in this there was no affectation; but it was the pure old dialect and idiom of the eighteenth century. He was a man of refined tastes, and a great connoisseur in pictures He was a capital artist; and it is said, that had he given himself entirely to art, he would have been one of the greatest masters Scotland has ever produced. He was plain in appearance, and had a halt in his gait. Passing down the High Street one day, he once heard a girl say to her companion, ? That is Johnnie Clerk, the lame lawyer.? ?? No, madam,? said he ; ?I may be a lame man, but not a lame lawyer..? - He died a bachelor in his house in Picardy Place, where, old-maid-like, he had contracted such an attachment to cats, that his domestic establishment could almost boast of at least half a dozen of them; and when consulted by a client he was generally to be found seated in his study with a favourite Tom elevated on his shoulder or purring about his ears. His death occurred on the 30th May, 1832, after which his extensive collection of paintings, sketches, and rare prints was brought to sale in 16 Picardy Place, where, on the 16th of March, 1833, a very serious accident ensued. The fame of his collection had attracted a great crowd of men and women of taste and letters, and when the auctioneer was in the act of disposing of a famous Teniers, which had been a special favourite of Lord Eldin, the floor of the drawing-room gave way. ?The scene which was produced may be
Volume 3 Page 186
  Enlarge Enlarge  
York Place.] DR. ABERCROMBIE. 187 imagined, but can scarcely be described,? says the CaZedonian Mercury of the 18th March. ?? From eighty to a hundred persons, ladies as well as gentlemen, were precipitated in one mass into an apartment below, filled with china and articles of vertu. The cries and shrieks, intermingled with exclamations? and ejaculations of distress, were heartrending ; but what added to the unutterable agony of that awful moment, the density of the cloud of dust, impervious to the rays of light, produced total darkness, diffusing a choking atmosphere, which nearly stifled the terrified multitude, and in this state of suspense they remained several minutes.? Among the mass of people who went down with the floor were Lord Moncrieff, Sir James Riddell of Ardnam~rchan, and Sir Archi- . bald Campbell of Succoth. Many persons were most severely injured, and Mr. Smith, banker, of Moray Place, on whom the hearth-stone fell, was killed. . York Place, the continuation of this thoroughfare to Queen Street, is nearly all unchanged since it was built, and is broad and stately, with spacious and lofty houses, which were inhabited by Sir Henry Raeburn, Francis Homer, Dr. John Abercrombie, Dr. John Coldstream, Alexander Geddes, A.R.A., and other distinguished men. No. 10 was the abode of Lord Craig, the successor on the bench of Lord Hailes in 1792, and whose well-known attainments, and especially his connection with the Mirror and bunger, gave his name an honourable place among local notorieties. He was the cousin-german of the celebrated Mrs. McLehose, the Clarinda of Robert Burns, and to her he bequeathed an annuity, at his death, which occurred in 1813. His house was afterwards occupied by the gallant Admiral Sir David Milne, who, when a lieutenant,. took possession of the P i p e frigate, after her surrender to the Blanche, in the West Indies ; captured L z Seine,, in I 798, and Lu Vengeance, of 38 guns, in I 800, and who commanded the hprepable, in the attack on Algiers, when he was Rear-Admiral, and had 150 of his crew killed and wounded, as Brenton records in his ?Naval History.? He died a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, and left a son, Sir Alexander Milne, also K.C.B., and Admiral, more than once commander of fleets, and who first went to sea with his father in the flag-ship hander, in 1817. Sir David died on board of a Granton steamer, when returning home, in 1845, and was buried at Inveresk. Doctor John Abercrombie, Physician to Her Majesty, lived in No. 19, and died there in 1844, aged 64. He was a distinguished consulting physician, and moral writer, born at Aberdeen, in 1781; F,RC.S. in 1823; and was author of ? Inquiries concerning the Intellectual Powers,? which has gone through many editions, ?The Philosophy of the Moral Feelings,? &c. His bust is in the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. Concerning his death, the following curious story has found its way into print. A Mrs. M., a native of the West Indies, was at Blair Logie at the time of the demise of Dr. Abercrombie, with whom she had been very intimate. He died suddenly, without any previous indisposition, just as he was about to enter his carriage in York Place, at eleven o?clock on a Thursday morning. On the night between Thursday and Friday Mrs. M. dreamt that she saw the whole family of Dr. Abercrombie dressed entirely in white,dancing a solemn hneral dance, upon which she awoke, wondering that she should have dreamt anything so absurd, as it?was contrary to their custom to dance on any occasion. Immediately afterwards her maid came to tell her that she had seen Dr. Abercrombie reclining against a wall ?with his jaw fallen, and a livid countenance, mournfully shaking his head as he looked at her.? She passed the day in great uneasiness, and wrote to inquire for the Doctor, relating what had h i p pened, and expressing her conviction that he was dead, and her letter was seen by several persons in Edinburgh on the day of its amval. No. 22 was the house of Lord Newton, known as the wearer of ? Covington?s gown,? in memory of the patriotism and humanity displayed by the latter in defending the ?Jacobite prisoners on their trial at Carlisle in 1747. His judicial talents and social eccentricities formed the subject of many anecdotes. He participated largely in the bacchanalian propensities so prevalent among the legal men of his time, and was frequently known to put ?? three lang craigs ? (i.e. long-necked bottles of claret) ? under his belt ? after dinner, and thereafter dictate to his clerk a paper of more than skty pages. The MS. would then be sent to press, and the proofs be corrected next morning at the bar of the Inner House. He would often spend the whole night in con, vivial indulgence at the Crochallan Club, perhaps be driven home to York Place about seven in the morning, sleep for two hours, and be seated on the bench at the usual hour. The French traveller Simond relates his surprise ?on stepping one morning into the Parliament House to find in the dignified capacity and exhibiting all the dignified bearing of a judge, the very gentleman with whom he had just spent a night of debauch and parted from only one hour before, when both were excessively intoxicated.? .
Volume 3 Page 187
  Enlarge Enlarge