Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. I


The Luckenbooths James VI., but no memories of him now remain, save the alley called Byres? Close, and his tomb in the west mall of the Greyfriars? churchyard, the inscription on which, though nearly obliterated, tells us that he was treasurer, bailie, and dean of guild of Edinburgh, and died in 1629, in his sixtieth year The fourth floor of the tall Byres? Lodging was occupied in succession by the Lords Coupar and Lindores, by Sir James Johnston of Westerhall, and finally by Lord Coalstoun, father of Christian Brown, Countess of the Earl of Dalhousie, a general who distinguished himself at Waterloo and elsewhere. Before removing to a more spacious mansion on the Castle Hill, Lord Coalstoun lived here in I 757, and during that time an amusing accident occurred to him, which has been the origin of more than one excellent caricature. ?It was at that time the custom,? says the gossipy author of ? Traditions of Edinburgh,? U for advocates, and no less than judges, to dress themselves in gown, wig, and cravat, at their own houses, and to walk in a sort of state, with their cocked hats in their hands, to the Parliament House. They usually breakfasted early, and when dressed would occasionally lean over their parlour windows for a few minutes, before St. Giles?s bell sounded a quarter to nine, enjoying the morning air, and perhaps discussing the news of the day, or the convivialities of the preceding evening, with a neighbouring advocate on the opposite side of the alley. It so happened that one morning, while Lord Coalstoun was preparing to enjoy his matutinal treat, two girls who lived on the second floor above were amusing themselves with a kitten, which they had swung over the window by a cord tied round its middle, and hoisted for some time up and down, till the creature was getting desperate with its exertions. In this crisis his lordship popped his head out of the window, directly below that from which the kitten swung, little suspecting, good easy man, what a danger impended, wlien down came the exasperated animal in full career upon his senatorial wig. No sooner did the girls perceive what sort of landing-place their kitten had found, than in theix terror and surprise, they began to draw it up ; but this measure was now too late, for along with the animal up also came the judge?s wig, fixed full in its determined claws ! His lordship?s surprise on finding his wig lifted off his head was much increased when, an looking up, he perceived it dangling its way upwards, without any means v i d k to him, by which its motions might be accounted for. The astonishment, the dread, the !we of the senator below-the half mirth, half error of the girls above, together with the fierce elentless energy on the part of puss between, ormed altogether a scene to which language could lot easily do justice. It was a joke soon explained md pardoned, but the perpetrators did afterwards ;et many injunctions from their parents, never again .o fish over the window, with such a bait, for ionest men?s wigs.? At the east end of the Luckenbooths, and facing :he line of the High Street, commanding not only t view of that stately and stirring thoroughfare, xit also the picturesque vista of the Canongate md far beyond it, Aberlady Bay, Gosford House, md the hills of East Lothian, towered ? Creech?s Land ?-as the tenement was named, according to :he old Scottish custom-long the peculiar haunt 3f the Ziferati during the last century. In the first Rat had been the shop of Allan Ramsay, where in 17 25 he established the first circulating library ever known in Scotland; and for the Mercury?s Head, which had been the sign of his first shop opposite Niddry?s Wynd, he now substituted the heads of Drummond of Hawthornden and Ben Jonson. Of this establishment Wodrow writes :-? Profaneness is come to a great height ! all the villainous, profane, and obscene books of plays printed at London by Curle and others, are got down from London by Allan Ramsay, and let out for an easy price to young boys, servant women of the better sort, and gentlemen, and rice and obscenity dreadfully propagated.? It was the library thus stigmatised by sour old Wodrow, that, according to his own statement, Sir Walter Scott read with such avidity in his younger years. The collection latterly contained upwards of 30,000 volumes, as is stated by a note in ? Kay?s Portraits.? In 1748, says Kincaid, a very remarkable and lawless attempt was made by the united London booksellers and stationers to curb the increase of literature in Edinburgh ! They had conceived an idea, which they wished passed into law : ?That authors or their assignees had a perpetual exclusive right to their works; and if these could not be known, the right was in the person who first published the book, whatever manner of way they became possessed of it.? The first step was taken in 1748-twenty-three years after Ramsay started his library-when an action appeared before the Court of Session against certain booksellers in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which was decreed against the plaintiffs.* Ten Falconer?s ?Decisions,? voL i
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ALLAN RAMSAY?S SHOP. ?5 5 The Luckenbcoths.] years after, a second plan was concerted in England, by a cozenage trial, which might be adduced as a precedent. The court thought proper to take the opinion of the twelve judges in England, who permitted the matter to drop without giving any j but a third attempt was made to restrain a certain Scdtsman from trading as a bookseller ih London, For twelve years this man was harassed by successive injunctions in Chancery, for printing books which were not protected by the 8th of Queen Anne, cap. 19, and the Court of Queen?s Bench decided against the Scotsman (Miller v. Taylor), and then the London trade applied once more to the Court of Session to have it made law in Scotland. This prosecution was brought by Hinton, a bookseller, against the well-known Alexander Donaldson, then in London, to restrain him from publishing ?Stackhouse?s History of the Bible.? He was subjected to great annoyance, yet he supported himself against nearly the entire trade in London, and obtained a decree which was of the greatest importance to the booksellers in Scotland. Ramsay?s shop became the rendezvous of. all the wits of the day. Gay, the poet, who was quite installed in the household of the Duchess of Queensberry-the witty daughter of the Earl of Clarendon and Rochester-accompanied his fair patroness to Edinburgh,. and resided for some time in Queensberry House in the Canongate. He was a frequent lounger at the shop of Ramsay, and is said to have derived great amusement from the anecdotes the latter gave of the leading citizens, as they assembled at the cross, where from his windows they could be seen daily with powdered wigs, ruffles, and rapiers. The late William Tytler, of Woodhouselee, who had frequently seen Gay there, described him as ? a pleasant little man in a tye-wig ;? and, according to the Scofs? Magazine for 1802, he recollected overhearing him request Ramsay to explain many Scottish words and national customs, that he might relate them to Pope, who was already a great admirer of ? The Gentle Shepherd.? How picturesque is the grouping in the following paragraph, by one who has passed away, of the crowd then visible from the shop of Allan Ramsay ;-? Gentlemen and ladies paraded along in the stately attire of the period; tradesmen chatted in groups, often bareheaded, at their shop doors ; caddies whisked about bearing messages or attending to the affairs of strangers ; children filled the kennel with their noisy sports. Add to this the corduroyed men from Gilmerton bawling coals or yellow sand, and spending as much breath in a minute as would have served poor asthmatic Hugo Arnot for a month ; fishwomen crying their caller haddies from Newhaven ; whimsicals and idiots, each with his or her crowd of tormentors ; sootymen with their bags ; Town Guardsmen with their antique Lochaber axes ; barbers with their hairdressing materials, and so forth.? Added to these might be the blue-bonneted shepherd in his grey plaid; the wandering piper; the kilted drover, armed to the teeth, as was then the fashion ; and the passing sedan, with liveried bearers. Johnson, in his ? Lives,? makes no reference to the Scottish visit of Gay, who died in 1732, but merely says that for his monetary hardships he received a recompense ? in the affectionate attention of the Duke and Duchess of Queensbeny, into whose house he was taken, and with whom he passed the remaining part of his life.? Ramsay gave up his shop and library in 1752, transferring them to his successor, who opened an establishment below with an entrance direct from the street. This was Mr. James MacEwan, from whom the business passed into the hands of Mr. Alexander Kincaid, an eminent publisher in his. time, who took a great lead in civic affairs, and died in office as Lord Provost of Edinburgh on the zIst of January, 1777. Escorted by the trained bands, and every community in the city, and preceded by ? the City Guard in funeral order, the officers? scarfs covered with crape, the drums with black cloth, beating a dead march,? his funeral, as it issued into the High Street, was one of the finest pageants witnessed in Edinburgh since the Union. During his time the old bookseller?s shop acquired an additional interest from being the daily lounge of Smollett, who was residing with his sister in the Canongate in 1776. Thus it is that he tells us, in ? Humphry Clinker,? that the people of business in Edinburgh, and even the genteel company, may be seen standing in crowds every day, from one to two in the afternoon, in the open street, at a place where formerly stood a market cross, a curious piece of Gothic architecture, still to be seen in Lord Somerville?s garden in this neighbourhood.? The attractions of the old shop increased when it passed with the business into the hands of the celebrated William Creech, son of the minister of Newbattle. Educated at the grammar school of Dalkeith and the University of Edinburgh, he had many mental endowments, an inexhaustible fund of amusing anecdote, and great conversational powers, which through life caused him to be courted by the most eminent men of the time; and his smiling face, his well-powdered head, accurate black suit, with satin breeches, were long
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