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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time


THE WEST BOW AND SUBURBS. 349 grey towers of Merchiston beleagured by the furious Queen’8 men, and battered with their cannon till they “maid geit slappis in the wall;” but a truce was at length effected betwixt the contending factions, and the donjon keep became once more the ahode of the student, and its battlements the observatory and watch-tower of the astrologer. Napier was regarded by his contemporaries as possessed of mysterious supernatural powers; and the marvels attributed to him, with the aid of a familiar spirit that attended him in the shape of a Jet Black Cock, have been preserved among the traditions of the neighbourhood almost to our own day.’ The philosopher indeed would seem to have indulged his shrewd humour occasionally in gieng countenance to such popular conceits. A field in front of Merchiston still bears the name of tAe Doo Park as the scene of one of his necromantic exploits. The pigeons of a neighbouring laird having annoyed him by frequent inroads on his grain, he threatened at length to arrest them red-hand, and was laughingly dared to “catch them if he could.” The depredators made their appearance as usual on the morrow, and partook so heartily of the grain, which had been previously saturated with alcohol by the reclaiming owner, that he easily made the bewitched pigeons captives, to the no small astonishment and awe of his neighbours. It is curious to find a popular nursery tale originating in the grave pranks of the illustrious inventor of the Logarithms, yet many juvenile readers will recognise the following adventure of the Warlock of Merchiston and his Jet Black Cock as a familiar story. Napier apparently impressed his domestics with a full belief in his magical powers, as the readiest means of turning their credulity to account. Having on one occasion missed some property, which he suspected had been taken by one of his servants, they were ordered one by one into a dark room where the black cock was confined, and each of them wm required to stroke its back, after being warned that it would crow at the touch of the guilty hand. The cock maintained unbroken silence throughout the mysterious ordeal ; but the hand of the culprit was the only one found entirely free from the soot with which its feathers had been previously anointed1 The philosopher, however, was an adept in astrology, and appears himself to have entertained perfect faith in t.he possession of unusual powers, particularly in that of discovering hidden treasure. A very singular contract between him and Logan of Restalrig-one of the Gowrie conspirators-was found among the Merchiston papers, wherein it is agreed, that, forsamekle as ther is dywerss ald reportis, motiffis, and appirancis, that thair suld he within the said Robertis dwellinge place of Fascastell a Bourn of monie and poiss, heid and hurdit up secritlie, quilk as yit is onfund be ony man. The said Jhone sal1 do his utter and exact diligens to serche and sik out, and be a1 craft and ingyne that he dow, to tempt, trye, and find out the sam, and be the grace of God, other sal1 find the sam, or than mak it suir that na sik thing hes been thair; so far as his utter trawell, diligens, and ingyne, may reach.’” This singular contract acquires a peculiar interest, when we remember the reported discovery of hidden treasure with which the preliminary steps of the Gowrie Conspiracy were effected. Within a little distance of the ancient tower of Merchiston, and directly between it and the town, another old mansion of the Napiers attracted the eye of the curious. 1 Mark Napier’a Memoirs of Napier of Jlerchiston, 4t0, p. 214. * Napier’a Napier of Merchiaton, p. 221.
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3 50 MEMORlALS OF EDINBURGH. This was the picturesque half-castellated edifice of Wrychtishousis, unfortunately acquired by the trustees of Mr Gillespie, a wealthy and benevolent tobacconist who bequeathed his whole fortune to found an hospital for the aged poor. By them it was entirely demolished in the year 1800, and the tasteless modern erection built which now occupies its site. The nucleus of this singularly picturesque group of irregular masonry appeared to have been an ancient keep, or Peel Tower, evidently of very early date, around which were clustered, in various styles of architecture, intricate ranges of buildings and irregular turrets, which had been added by successive owners to increase the accommodation afforded by the primitive tower. The general effect of this antique pile was greatly enhanced on approaching it by the numerous heraldic devices and inscriptions which adorned every window, doorway, and ornamental pinnacle ; the whole walls being crowded with armorial bearings, designed to perpetuate the memory of the noble alliances by which the family succession of the Napiers of Wrychtishousis had been continued from early times. The earliest records of this ancient family which have been discovered, show that William Napier, the owner of the old mansion in 1390, was then Constable of Edinburgh Castle, and maintained that important stronghold at the beginning of the following century, with the aid of Archibald, Earl of Douglas, and the unfortunate Duke of Rothesay, against Henry IT., at the head of the whole military force of England. To this brave resistance, which baffled all the efforts of the English monarch, and redeemed Scotland from total subjection, the ingenious genealogist of the Napiers conceives that the peculiar tenure of the Wrychtishousis may be referred. From old charters, preserved in the Register House, it appears that that property was held by payment to the king of a silver penny upon the Castle Hill of Edinburgh. “ Fourteen yeara’ services as Constable, iucluding so memorable a siege, may perhaps account for the silver link between the Wrychtishousis and the Castle Hill.” The singular edifice thus intimately amociated with a historical event of such memorable importance, formed by far the most striking example of an ancient baronial mansion that existed in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. Minutely examined, it exhibited the picturesque blending of the rude feudal stronghold with the ornate additions of more peaceful times, combining altogether to produce a pleasing effect rarely equalled by more regular designs. The effect of this irregular group of the various styles of Scottish architecture is described, by those who still remember it with regret, as singularly striking, especially when viewed from the Borough Muir towards sunset, rearing its towers and pinnacles against the evening sky. Had it remained till now, it is probable that the prevalence of a better taste would have induced the trustees of Gillespie’s foundation to adapt it to the purposes of their charitable institution, instead of levelling it with the ground. Its demolition, however, was not effected even then without a spirited, though ineffectual remonstrance, by a correspondent of the Edinburgh Magazine for July 1800, who writes under the name of Cadmon, and urges, among other arguments, the venerable antiquity of the building, one of the dates on which was 1376. “Above one window,” he remarks, “was the inscription, SICUT OLIVA FRUCTIFERA, 1376; and above another, IN DOMINCO o m o , 1400. There were several Iater dates:marking the periods, probably of additions, embellishments, or repairs, or the succession of different proprietors. The arms Partition of the Lennox, p. 181.
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