Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


226 OLD AKD NEW EDINBURGH. [High Street, Europe or America as a handy yet comprehensive book of ready reference, and of which the learned and ingenious Dr. Andrew Findlater acted as editor. In 1849 William purchased the estate of Glenormiston, and ten years after made a valuable gift to his native town, in the form of a suite of buildings, including a public reading-room, a good library, lecture-hall, museum, and art gallery, designated the ?Chambers Institution ;? and in 1864 he issued his ?History of Peeblesshire,? an able example of local annals. In 1865 he was elected Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and inaugurated the great architectural improvements set afoot in the more ancient parts of the city ; and in 1872 the University conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. I In 1860-1 the brothers projected that important work which gave Robert Chambers his death-blow -? The Book of Days : a Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in connection with the Calendar, including Anecdote, Biography, History, Curiosities of Literature, &c., SLc.,? a large work, in two volumes of 840 pages each. Disappointed in promised literary aid, Robert wqs compelled to perform the @eater part of this work alone, and during the winter of 186r-2 ?he might be seen every day in the British Museum, working hard at this fatal book; The mental strain broke him down; domestic bereavements aggravated the effects of ill-health, and with it, though he lived to finish his ?Life of Smollett,? his literary career closed. He died at St. Andrews in the beginning of the year 1870.? Still hale and healthy, and as full of intellectual vigour as when he handled the old printing press in his little shop in Leith Walk, William?s pen was yet busy, and produced, in 1860, ?The Youth?s Companion and Counsellor;? in 1862, ?? Something of Italy: in 1870, ?Wintering at Mentone p in 1871, ?? France, its History and Revolutions f and, in 1872, an affectionate ?Memoir? of his brother Robert, and ?Ailie Gilroy,? a simple and pathetic little story. ? In reviewing the life of this eminent publisher,? says a writer in the Nafiond Forfraif GaZlery, <? one may say that he has so lived as to teach the world how the good old-fashioned commonplace virtues can be exalted into the loftiest range of moral heroism ; that he has left on record a grand and manly example of self-help which time can never obliterate from the admiring memory of succeeding generations. Life has to him been a sacred trust, to be used for helping on the advancement of humanity, and for aiding the diffusion of knowledge. The moral to be drawn from his biography is that, with macly self-trust, with high and noble aims, with fair education, and with diligence, a man may, no matter how poor he be at the outset of his career, struggle upwards and onwards to fill a high social position, and enjoy no ordinary share of earthly honours and possessions.? At the establishment of the Messrs. Chambers fully two hundred hands are constantly employed, and their premises in Warriston Close (which have also an entrance from the High Street) form one of the interesting sights in the city. Lower down the-Close stood a large and handsome house, having a Gothic niche at its entrance, which was covered with armorial bearings and many sorely obliterated inscriptions, of which onlythe fragment of one was traceable-Gracia Dei Thomas 1: This was the town residence of Sir Thomas Craig of Riccarton, a man of eminent learning and great nobility of character, and who practised as a lawyer for fully forty years, during the stormy reigns of Mary and James VI. In 1564 he was made Justice Depute, and found time to give to the world some very able poems-one on the birth of James, and another on his departure for England, are preserved in the DeZifiG Poefamm Scofurwi. He steadily refused the honour of knighthood, yet was always called Sir Thomas Craig, in conforniity to a royal edict on the subject. He wrote a treatise on the independent sovereignty of Scotland, which was rendered into wretched English by Ridpath, and published in 1675. He was Advocate for the Church, when he died at Edinburgh, on the 26th of February, r608, and was succeeded in the old house, as well as his estate, by his eldest son, Sir Lewis Craig, born in 1569, and called to the bench in 1604, as Lord Wrightslands, while his father was still a pleader at the bar. After his time his house had as occupiers, first Sir George Urquhart of Cromarty, and next Sir Robert Baird, Bart., of Saughton Hall, who died in 1714. But by far the most celebrated residenter in this venerable alley was he who gave it the name it bears, Sir Archibald Johnston Lord Warriston, whose estate, still so named, lies eastward of Inverleith Row. The son of Johnston of Beirholm (once a merchant in Edinburgh), by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Craig (above mentioned), this celebrated lawyer, subtle statesman, and somewhat juggling politician, was called to the bar in 1633, and would appear to have purchased from his cousin, Sir Lewis Craig, a house in the close, adjoining his own. In 1637 he began to take a prominent part in the bitter disputes of the period, and Bishop Bur
Volume 2 Page 226
  Enlarge Enlarge  
High Street.] MARY KINGS CLOSE 227 net tells us that he was a man of such unflagging zeal that he barely allowed himself three hours? sleep out of the twenty-four. On the renewal of the Covenant, in 1638, he and the celebrated Alexander Henderson were appointed to revise and adapt that national document to the circumstances of the times; and at the memorable assembly which met at Glasgow Johnston was unanimously elected clerk, and was constituted Procurator for the Church. ? He took a prominent share in resisting the unjust interference of Charles I: in Scottish affairs, and in 1638, on the royal edict being proclaimed from the Cross of Edinburgh, which set at defiance the popular opposition to Episcopacy, he boldly appeared on the scaffold erected near it, and read aloud the famous protest drawn up in the name of the Tables, while the mob compelled the six royal heralds to remain while this counterdefiance in the name of Scotland was being read In 1641, when Charles visited Edinburgh for the second time, Johnston was knighted and made a Lord of Session, and after sitting in the Parliament of Scotland in 1644, he attended, as one of the Commissioners, the assembly of divines at Westminster. In the following year he was Lord Advocate; and in 1649 he performed one of his last official duties, proclaiming Charles 11. King of Scotland, on the 5th of February, 1650. After the battle of Dunbar he was weak enough to accept ofice under the Protectorate, as Clerk Registrar; and after the death of Cromwell he acted as one of the Committee of Public Safety, when the feeble and timid Richard Cromwell withdrew from public life ; and this last portion of his career, together with the mode in which he had prosecuted and persecuted the fallen Cavaliers, and refused to concur in the treaty of Breda, sealed his doom when the Restoration came. He was forfeited in exile and condemned to death on the 15th of May, 1651. An emissary of the Scottish ministry discovered his retreat at Rouen, and, with the aid of the French authorities, he was sent to the Tower, and from thence to Edinburgh, where, with every mark of indignity, he was publicly executed on the same spot where, five-and-twenty years before, he had defied the proclamation of Charles I. This was on the n2nd of July, 1663, and he died with the utmost constancy and Christian fortitude. And now the busy establishment of one of the most enterprising of Scottish publishing firms occupies the site of the old mansion, in which he must many a time have entertained such men as Alexander Henderson, the Marquises Argyle, Rothes, and Callander, the gallant Sir Alexander Leslie, the somewhat double-dealing Monk, perhaps Cromwell too. CHAPTER XXVI. HIGH STREET (continued). Mary King?s Close-Who was Mary ?-Scourged by the Plague of 1645-Its Mystery-Drummond?s Epigram-Prof. Sinclair?s ?I Satan?s Invisible World Discovered?--Mr. and Mrs. Coltheart?s Ghostly Visitors-The Clox finally abandoned to Goblins-Craig?s Close-Andro Hart, Bookseller and Printer-Andro?s Spear-A Menagerie in Craig?s CIosc-The Isle of Man Arms--The Cape Club-Its Mysteries and O f f i c a ~ --Installation of a Knight-ProvinciaI Cape Clubs-The Poker Club-How it Originated-Members-Office-bearers-Old Stamp Office Court-Fortune?s Tavern-The beautiful Countess of EgIinton-Her Patronage of Lettters-Her Family-Interview with Dr. Johnson- Murderous Riot in the Close-Removal of the Stamp Office. MARY KING?S Close was long a place of terror to the superstitious, as one of the last retreats of the desolating plague of 1645. ?Who Mary King was is now unknown, but though the alley is roofless and ruined,? says one, writing of it in 1845, ?with weeds, wall-flowers, grass, and even little trees, flourishing luxuriantly among the falling walls, her name may still be seen painted on the street corner.? For some generations after the plague-in which most of itsinhabitants perished-its houses remained closed, and gradually it became a place of mystery and horror, the abode of a thousand spectres and nameless terrors, for superstition peopled it with inhabitants, whom all feared and none cared to succeed. ?Those who had been foolhardy enough to peep through the windows after nightfall saw the spectres of the long-departed denizens engaged in their wonted occupations ; headless forms danced through the moonlit apartments ; on one occasion a godly minister and two pious elders were scared out of their senses by the terrible vision of a raw head and blood-dripping arm, which protruded from the wall in this terrible street, and flourished a sword above their heads ; and many other terrors, which are duly chronicled in ?Satan?s Invisible World;?? yet it was down this place that the wild young Master of Gray dragged the fair Mistress Carnegie, whom, sword in hand, he had abducted from her father?s house at the head of twelve men-at
Volume 2 Page 227
  Enlarge Enlarge