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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


THE WEST BOW AND SUBURBS. 345 the builder’s initials, a large ornamental shield bears the device of a pot full of lilies, one of the most common emblems of the Virgin Mary. John Lowrie’s initials are repeated in ornamental characters on the eastern crow-step, separated by what appears to be designed for a baker’s peel, and probably indicating that its owner belonged to the ancient fraternity of baxters. The burgh of Easter Portsburgh, which is associated with its western neighbour under the same baron bailie, comprehends the Potterrow and adjoining district of Bristo, and includes several buildings of considerable interest, though not of great antiquity. One edifice, however, which appears in our view of the Potterrow, was a singular specimen of the ancient t i m b lands, and differed in character from any example of that style of building that now remains. It bore the distinctive title of the Mahogany Land, an epithet popularly applied to the most ornamental timber erections in different parts of the town, and had undoubtedly existed at the time when the Collegiate Church of St Mary stood in the neighbouring fields. Directly opposite to its site is a lofty building, erected, as appears from its title-deeds, in 1715, and which, we are informed by its proprietor, formed the lodging of the Earl of Morton. It has evidently been a mansion of some importance. A broad and handsome archway leads into an enclosed court behind, where there is cut, in unusually large letters, the inscription-BLIsET . BE. GOD . FOR. AL . HIS . GIFTIS .-and a monogram, now undecipherable. Robert, twelfth Earl of Morton, succeeded to the title the same year in which the house was built, and was again succeeded by his brother George, appointed Vice-Admiral of Scotland in 1733. He died at Edinburgh in 1738, and was buried in the Greyfriars’ Churchyard. Other associations, however, far surpassing those of mere rank and ancient lineage, will make this locality long be regarded as a peculiarly interesting nook of the Scottish metropolis. Nearly at the point of junction of the Potterrow with Bristo Street-once one of the two great thoroughfares from the south-there is a little, irregular, and desolate-looking court of antique buildings, bearing the name of General‘s Entry. The south and east sides of this little quadrangle are formed by a highly-decorated range of buildings. The crow-stepped gable at the south-east angle is surmounted by a curious old sun-dial, bearing the quaint punning moral, We shall die all; aud beyond this a series of sculptured dormer windows appear, in the highly-decorated style of the seventeenth century. On one of the sculptured pediments is a shield, bearing the unusual heraldic device of a monkey, with three stars in chief. It is surrounded by a border of rich Elizabethan scroll work in high relief; and beyond this, the initials J. D. The adjoining window bears, as its principal ornament, an ingenious monogram, formed of large ornamental Roman characters. The tradition is one of old standing, which assigns this mansion as the residence of General Monk, during his command in Scotland under Oliver Cromwell. This is usually referred to as the origin of the present name of the locality ; nor is the tradition altogether without some appearance of probability in support of it. The house, we believe, was erected by Sir James Dalrymple, afterwards Viscount Stair, justly regarded as the most eminent judge who ever presided on the Scottish Bench. He ia well known to have been a special favourite of General Monk, who frequently consulted him on matters of state, ahd recommended him to Cromwell in 1657 as the fittest person to be appointed a judge. Under these circumstances, it may be inferred, with little hesitation, that Monk was a frequent visitor, if not a constant guest, at General’s Entry, when he came into the capital from his head- * 2x
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346 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH. quarters at Dalkeith Palace. The old mansion continued to be the town residence of the noble family of Stair, until, like the rest of the Scottish peers, they deserted their native capital soon after the abolition of our national Parliament by the Act of Union. It is not unlikely that the present name of the old court is derived from the more recent residence there of John, second Earl of Stair, who served during the protracted campaigns of the Duke of Narlborough, and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General soon after the bloody victory of Malplaquet. He shared in the fall of the great Duke, and retired from Court until the accession of Geoge I., during which interval it is probable that the family mansion in the Potterrow formed the frequent abode of the disgraced favourite. Degradation and decay had long settled down on the old aristocratic haunt, when Clarinda wrote from the same place in 1788, in anticipation of a visit from the poet Burns, " I hope you '11 come a-foot, even though you take a chair home. A chair is so uncommon a thing in our neighbourhood, it is apt to raise speculation-but they are all asleep by ten."' The first interview between Mrs M'Lehose, the romantic Clarinda, and her Sylvander, took place at the house of Miss Nimmo, a mutual friend, who resided in Alison Square, Potterrow; an equally humble locality, and within a few paces of General's Entry, but which derives a still deeper interest from having been the place where the youthful poet Thomas Campbell lived during his stay in Edinburgh, while engaged in the composition of his Pleasures of Hope. To appreciate the later associations of these scenes of poetic inspiration and intellectual pleasures, the reader should rise from the perusal of the ardent and romautic correspondence of Clarinda and Sylvander, and proceed to visit the dusky little parlour on the first floor of the crazy tenement in the Potterrow, where the poet was welcomed by the enthusiastic Clarinda. It is on the north side of General's Entry, and approached by a narrow turnpike stair, where the whole accommodations of Mrs M'Lehose consisted of a kitchen, bedroom, and the straitened parlour wherein she received the visits of the poet. Here this young and beautiful woman resided with her infant children, and struggled against the pinching cares of poverty, and the worse sorrows created by an acutely sensitive mind. The emigration, however, of the gentry of the Old Town to the more fashionable dwellings beyond the North Loch had been very partially effected in 1788 ; and the contrast between the little parlour in General's Entry, and the drawing-rooms of the poet's wealthier hosts, was by no means so marked and striking as it afterwards became. Such are the strangely mingled associations of rank, historic fame, and genius, with lowly worth and squalid poverty, which still linger around so many old nooks of the Scottish capital, and give so peculiar an interest to its scenes. Beyond this lies the more modern district that preceded the New Town, and included in its various districts accommodation designed for very different ranks of society. Nicolson Street, which now forms a portion of the principal southern avenue to the city, was constructed towards the close of last century on an extensive unoccupied space of ground lying between the Pleasance and Potterrow. It belonged to Lady Nicolson, whose house stood nearly at the junction of South College Street with Nicolson Street, and on the knee. Correspondence between Burns and Clarinda, p. 152. The poet was at thi period lame, from an injury in his
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