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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


THE WEST BOW AND SUBURBS. 347 completion of the latter street, she erected a monument to her husband at the north end, consisting of a Corinthian column, measuring above twenty-five feet high. Upon the base an inscription was cut in Latin and English, setting forth that Lady Nicolson had made the adjacent ground, left to her by her husband, be planned out for building, under the name of Nicolson Street, and had erected the monument there out of regard to his memory. On the extension of the thoroughfare and the completion of the South Bridge, this pious memorial was thrown aside into the yard of the public riding-school, then occupying the site where the College of Surgeons now stands, and it has no doubt long since been broken up for building materials. Though the monument of Lady Nicolson might not possess any great value in general estimation, it would have been no unbecoming act for the projectors of these extensive improvements to have found a site for it in the neighbouring square. The building in Nicolson Street, at the corner of Hill Street, now occupied as the Blind Asylum, acquires peculiar interest from having long formed the residence of the celebrated chemist, Dr Black, whose reputation contributed so largely to the fame of the University to which he belonged. Further south, on the same side of the street, a small and mean-looking court, surrounded by humble tenements, and crowded . with a dense population, bears the name of Simon Square, It has nothing in its appearance to attract either the artist or the antiquary, yet its associations are intimately connected with the Fine Arts ; for here, in a narrow lane, called Paul Street, which leads thence into the Pleasance, David Wilkie took up his abode on his arrival in Edinburgh in 1799. Wilkie was then a raw country lad, only fourteen years of age, and so little was thought of the productions of his pencil that it required the powerful interest of the Earl of Leven to overcome the prejudices of the Secretary of the Academy established in Edinburgh by the Board of Trustees, and obtain his admission as a student. The humble lodging, where the enthusiastic young aspirant for fame first began his career as an artist, cannot but be viewed with lively interest. It is a little back room, measuring barely ten feet square, at the top of a common stair, on the south side of the street near the Pleasance. From thence he removed to a better lodging in East Richmond Street, and thereafter to a comfortable attic in Palmer’s Land, West Nicolson Street. This latter abode of the great Scottish artist possesses peculiar associations with our national arts, his eminent predecessor, Alexander Runciman, having occupied the same apartment till 1784, the year before his death,’ and having there probably entertained the Poet Ferguson, while with ominous fitnest3 he sat as his model for the Prodigal Son. Near to this is the aristocratic quarter that sprung up during the tedious delays which preceded the commencement of the New Town, and threatened by its success to compel the projectors of that long-cherished scheme of improvement to abandon their ‘design. Here is George Square, once the abode of rank, and far more worthy of note, as the scene where Scott spent his youth under the paternal roof; that bright period of his existence, of which so many beautiful details are preserved, full of sweet glimpses of the happy circle that gathered round his father’s hearth. The house which Scott’s father occupied ‘ The following entry ia extracted from the old family Bible which belonged to the artist’s father, and is now in the Nov. 7, Kilwinning, Died Oct. H a t , 1785 posseasion of a gentleman in Edinburgh :-“ Jam= Ruociman and Mary Smith, married 1735. Alexander, born 15th Aug. 1736. Baptized by John Walker, minister, Canongata dinb burgh]. at 12 at night in Chapel Street”
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348 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGN. is on the west side of the square, No. 25, and there the lively and curious boy grew up to manhood under the kindly surveillance of the good old pair. The little back room still remains, ‘( That early den,” with the young antiquary’s beginnings of the future Abbotsford collection, described so piquantly in Lockhart’s life of him, by the pen of a female friend ; and where Lord Jeffrey found him on his first visit, long years ago, “ surrounded with dingy books.’’ Though shorn of all the strange relics that young Walter Scott gathered there, it possesses one valuable memento of the boy. On one of the window panes his name is still seen, inscribed with.a diamond in a school-boy hand; and other panes of glass, which contained juvenile verses traced in the same durable manner, have been removed to augment the treasures of modern collectors. On the east side of George Square lies Windmill Street, the name of which preserves the record of an earlier period when a windmill occupied its site, and raised the water from the Borough Loch to supply the brewers of the Society. The Incorporation of Brewers has long been dissolved, and the Borough Loch now forms the rich pasturage and the shady walks of the Meadows ; while along its once marshy margin has since been built Buccleuch Place, where the exclusive faRhionable5 of the southern district long maintained their own ball-room and assemblies. The impossibility of converting this pendicle of the Borough Nuir to any useful purpose as private property, while it continued in its original state as a Loch, fortunately prevented its alienation, while nearly every other portion of the valuable tract of land that once belonged to the borough passed into private hands. At the western extremity of the Borough Muir, the venerable tower of Merchiston still stands entire, the birth-place of John Napier, the inventor of the Logarithms, to whom, according to Hume, the title of a great man is more justly due than to any other whom his country ever produced. The ancestors of the great Scottish philosopher were intimately connected with Edinburgh. The three first Napiers of Nerchiston successively filled the office of provost in the reigns of James 11. and III., and other connections of the family rose to the same civic dignity. Their illustrious descendant was born at Merchiston Castle in the year 1550, on the eve of memorable changes whereof even the reserved and modest student had to bear his share. The old fortalice of Merchiston, reared at an easy distance from the Scottish capital, lay in the very field of strife. Round its walls the Douglas wars raged for years, and the most striking incidents of the philosopher’s early life intermingle with the carnage of that merciless feud. On the 2d of April 1572, he was betrothed to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Stirling of Keir, and on the 5th of the following month, “ The cumpany of Edinburgh pad furth and seigit Merchingstoun ; quha wan all the pairtis thairof except the dungeoun, in the quhilk wes certane suddartis in Leith; the hail1 houssis wes spoulzeit and brunt, to haue amokit the men of the dungeoun out ; but the cuntrie seand the fyre, raise with the pover of Leith and put the men of Edinburgh thairfra without slauchter, bot syndrie hurt.” The keep of Merchiston formed, indeed, the key of the south approach to the capital, so that whoever triumphed it became the butt of their opponents’ enmity. It lay near enough to be bombarded from the Castle walls by Sir William Kirkaldy, though a cousin of its owner, because ~omoef the king’s men held it for a time, and intercepted the provisions coming to the town. Again and again were the 1 Diurnal of Occurrents, p. 295.
Volume 10 Page 381
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