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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


?? Letters,? that the Countess of Stair was subject to hysterical fits-the result perhaps of all she had undergone as a wife. After being long the queen of society in Edinburgh, she died in November, 1759, twelve years after the death of the Marshal. She was the first person in the city, of her time, who had a black domestic servant. Another dowager, the Lady Clestram, succeeded her in the old house in the close. It was advertised for sale, at the upset price of A250, in the Edinburgh Advertiser of 1789; and is described as ?that large dwelling-house, sometime belonging to the Dowager Countess of Stair, situated at the entry to the Earthen Mound. The sunk storey consists of a good kitchen, servants? rooms, closets, cellars, &c. j the second of a dining and bed rooms ; the third storey of a dining and five bed rooms.? It has long since been the abode of the humblest artisans. The parents of Miss Fetrier, the well-known novelist, according to a writer in T?jZe Bar for November, 1878, occupied a flat in Lady Stair?s Close after their .marriage. Mrs. Femer ( d e Coutts) was the daughter of a farmer at Gourdon, near Montrose, and was a woman of remarkable beauty, as her portrait by Sir George Chalmers, Bart. (a native of Edinburgh) in 1765 attests. At the time of her mamage, in 1767, she had resided in Holyrood with her aunt, the Hon. Mrs. Maitland, widow of a younger son of Lord Lauderdale; and the flat the young mamed couple took in the old close had just been vacated by Sir James Pulteney and his wife Lady Bath. When Sir Richard Steele, of the Spectator, visited Edinburgh, in 1717, on the business of the Forfeited Estates Commission, we know not whether he resided in Lady Stair?s Close, but it is recorded that he gave, in a tavern there, a whimsical supper, to all the eccentric-looking mendicants in the city, giving them the enjoyment of an abundant feast, that he might witness their various oddities. Richard Sheils mentions this circumstance, and adds that Steele confessed afterwards that he had ?drunk enough of native drollery to compose a comedy.? Upper Baxter?s Close, the adjoining alley, is associated with the name of Robert Burns. There the latter, in 1786, saved from a heartless and hopeless exile by the generosity of the blind poet, Dr. Blacklock, came direct from the plough and the banks of his native Ayr, to share the humble room and bed of his friend Richmond, a lawyer?s clerk, in the house of Mrs. Carfrae. But a few weeks before poor Bums had made arrangements to go to Jamaica as joint overseer on an estate; but the publication of his poems was deemed such a jUCCeSS, that he altered his plans, and came to Edinburgh in the November of that year. In one Jf the numbers of the Lounger appeared a review 3f the first (or Kilmarnock) edition of his poems, written by Henry Mackenzie, who was thus the means, together with Dr. Blacklock, of kindly bringing Burns before the learned and fashionable circles of Edinburgh. His merited fame had come before him, and he was now caressed by all ranks. His brilliant conversational powers seem to have impressed all who came in contact with him as much as admiration of his poetry. Under the patronage of Principal Robertson, Professor Dugald Stewart, Henry Mackenzie, author of the ? Man of Feeling,?? and Sir John Whiteford of that ilk, but more than all of James Earl of Glencaim, and other eminent persons, a new edition of his poems was published in April, 1787 ; but amid all the adulation he received he ever maintained his native simplicity and sturdy Scottish independence of character. By the Earl of Glencaim he was introduced to the members of the Caledonian Hunt, and he dedicated to them the second edition of his poems In verse he touchingly records his gratitude to the earl :- ?( The bridegroom may forget the bride The monarch may forget the crown The mother may forget the child But I?ll remember thee, Glencairn, Was made ?his wedded wife yestreen ; That on his head an hour has been ; That smiles sae sweetly on her knee ; And all that thou hast done for me!? Bums felt acutely the death of this amiable and accomplished noble, which occurred in 1791. The room occupied by Bums in Baxter?s Close, and from which he was wont to sally firth to dine and sup with the magnates of the city, is still pointed out, with its single window which opens into Lady Stair?s Close. There, as Allan Cunningham records, he had but ?his share of a deal table,a sanded floor, and a chaff bed, at eighteenpence a week.? According to the same biographer, the impression which Burns made at first on the fair, the titled, and the learned, of Edinburgh, ?though lessened by intimacy on the part of the men, remained unimpaired on that of the softer sex till his dying day. His company, during the season of balls and festivities, continued to be courted by all who desired to be reckoned gay or polite. Cards of invitation fell thick. on him; he was not more welcomed to the plumed and jewelled groups whom her fascinating Grace of Gordon gathered about her, than he was to the grave divines and polished scholars who assembled
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ROBERT BURNS, 107 in the rooms of Stewart, Blair, or Robertson. . , . But Edinburgh offered tables and entertainers of a less staid character, when the glass circulated with greater rapidity, when wit flowed more freely, and when there were neither high-bred ladies to charm conversation within the bounds of modesty, nor serious philosophers nor grave divines to set a limit to the licence of speech or the hours of enjoyment. To those companions, who were all of the better classes, the levities of the rustic poet?s wit and humour were as welcome as were the tenderest of his narratives to the accomplished Duchess of Gordon or the beautiful Miss Burnet of Monboddo ; theyraised a social roar not at all classic, and demanded and provoked his sallies of wild humour, or indecorous mirth, with as much delight as he had witnessed among the lads of Kyle, when, at mill or forge, his humorous sallies abounded as the ale flowed.? While in Edinburgh Bums was the frequent and welcome guest ot John Campbell, Precentor of the Canongate Church, a famous amateur vocalist in his time, though forgotten now ; and to him Bums applied for an introduction to Bailie Gentle, After a stay of six months in Edinburgh, Burns ? set out on a tour to the south of Scotland, accompanied by Robert Ainslie, W.S. ; but elsewhere we shall meet him again. Opposite the house in which he dwelt is one with a very ancient legend, BZissit. be. th. bra. in, aZZ. His .gz)Xs. nm. and. euir. In 1746 this was the inheritance of Martha White, only child of a wealthy burgess who became a banker in London. She? became the wife of to the end that he might accord his tribute to the memory of the poet, poor Robert Fergusson, whose grave lay in the adjacent churchyard, without a stone to mark it. Bailie Gentle expressed his entire concurrence with the wish of Bums, but said that ?he had no power to grant permission without the consent of the managers of the Kirk funds.? ?Tell them,? said Burns, ?it is the Ayrshire ploughman who makes the request.? The authority was obtained, and a promise given, which we believe has been sacredly kept, that the grave should remain inviolate. 2s CLOSE* Charles niIlth Earl of Kincardine, and afterwards Earl of Elgin, ?? undoubted heir male and chief of d l the Bruces in Scotland,? as Douglas records. The countess, who died in 1810, filled, with honour to herself, the office of governess to the unfortunate Princess Charlotte of Wales. One of the early breaches made in the vicinity of the central thoroughfare of the city was Bank Street, on tlie north (the site of Lower Baxter?s Close), wherein was the shop of two eminent cloth merchants, David Bridges and Son, which became the usual resort of the whole Ziteraii of the city in its day. David Bridges junior had a strongly developed bias towards literary studies, and, according to the memoirs of Professor WiE son, was dubbed by the Blackwood nits, (? Director- General of the Fine Arts.? His love for these and the drama was not to be controlled by his connection with mercantile business ; and while the sefiior partner devoted himself to the avocations of trade in one part of their well-known premises, the younger was employed in adorning a sort of sanctum, where one might daily meet Sir Walter Scott and his friend Sir Adam Ferguson (who, as a boy, had often sat on the knee of David Hume), Professor Tradition points to the window on the immediate right (marked *) as that of the mom occupied by Burns.
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