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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
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