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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


230 OLD AND NEW EDINBUXGH. [High Street. ?; two such animals in the whole island of Great Britain.? Between the back and front tenements occupied of old by Andro Hart is a house, once a famous tavern, which formed the meeting-place of the Cape Club, one of the most noted of those wherein the leading men of ? Auld Reekie? were wont to seek relaxation-one celebrated in Fergusson?s poem on the city, and where a system of ? high jinks ? was kept up with an ardour that never abated. In this tavern, then, the IsZe of Man Arms, kept by James Mann, in Craig?s Close, the ? Cape Club? was nightly inaugurated, each member receiving on his election some grotesque name and character, which he was expected to retain and maintain for the future. From its minutes, which are preserved in the Antiquarian Museum, the club appears to have been formally constituted in 1764, though it had existed long before. Its insignia were a cape, or crown, worn by the Soverezgn of the Cape on State occasions, when certain other members wore badges, or jewels of office, and two maces in the form of huge steel pokers, engraven with mottoes, and still preserved in Edinburgh, formed the sword and sceptre of the King in Cape Hall, when the jovial fraternity met for high jinks, and Tom Lancashire the comedian, Robert Fergusson the poet, David Herd, Alexander Runciman, Jacob More, Walter Ross the antiquary, Gavin Wilson the poetical shoemaker, the Laird of Cardrona a ban zivani of the last century, Sir Henry Raeburn, and, strange to say, the notorious Deacon Brodie, met round the ?flowing bowl.? Tom Lancashire-on whom Fergusson wrote a witty epitaph-was the first sovereign of the club after 1764, as Sir Cape, while the title of Sir Poker belonged to its oldest member, James Aitken. David Herd, the ingenious collector of Scottish ballad poetry, succeeded Lancashire (who was a celebrated comedian in his day), under the sobriquet of Sir Scrape, having as secretary Jacob More, who attained fame as a landscape painter in Rome ; and doubtless his pencil and that of Runciman, produced many of the illustrations and caricatures with which the old MS. books of the club abound. When a knight of the Cape was inaugurated he was led forward by his sponsors, and kneeling before the sovereign, had to grasp the poker, and take an oath of fidelity, the knights standing by uncovered :- . ? I devoutly swear by this light. With all my might, Both day and night, To be a tme and faithful knight, So help me Poker !? The knights presented his Majesty with a contribution of IOO guineas to assist in raising troops in 1778. The entrance-fee to this amusing club was originally half-a-crown, and eventually it rose to a guinea ; but so economical were the mevbers, that among the last entries in their minutes was one to the effect that the suppers should be at ?the old price ? of 44d. a head. Lancashire the comedian, leaving the stage, seems to have eked out a meagre subsistence by opening in the Canongate a tavern, where he was kindly patronised by the knights of the Cape, and they subsequently paid him visits at ? Comedy Hut, New Edinburgh,? a place of entertainment which he opened somewhere beyond the bank of the North Loch ; and soon after this convivial club-one of the many wherein grave citizens and learned counsellors cast aside their powdered wigs, and betook them to what may now seem madcap revelry in very contrast to the rigid decorum of everyday life-passed completely away j but a foot-note to Wilson?s ? Memorials ? informs us that ? Provincial Cape Clubs, deriving their authority and diplomas from the parent body, were successively formed in Glasgow, Manchester, and London, and in Charleston, South Carolina, each of which was formally established in virtue of a royal commission granted by the Sovereign of the Cape. The American off-shoot of this old Edinburgh fra ternity is said to be still flourishing in the Southern States.? In the ?Life of Lord Kames,? by Lord Woodhouselee, we have an account of the Poker Club, which held its meetings near this spot, at ?? our old landlord of the Diversorium, Tom Nicholson?s, near the cross. The dinner was on the table at two o?clock ; we drank the best claret and sherry ; and the reckoning was punctually called at six o?clock. After the first fifteen, who were chosen by nomination, the members were elected by ballot, and two black balls excluded a candidate.? A political question-on the expediency of establishing a Scottish militia (while Charles Edward and Cardinal York were living in Rome)-divided the Scottish public mind greatly between 1760 and 1762, and gave rise to the club in the latter yean and it subsisted in vigour and celebrity till 1784, and continued its weekly meetings with great replarity, long after the object of its institution had ceased to engage attention; and it can scarcely be doubted that its influence was considerable in fostering talent and promoting elegant literature in Edinburgh, though the few publications of a literary nature that had been published under the auspices of the club were, like most of that nature, ephemeral, and are now utterly forgotten.
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High Street.] THE POKER CLUB. a31 The only publication of sterling merit which enlivened the occasion that called it forth was ?? The History in the Proceedings of Margaret, commonly called Peg,? written in imitation of Dr. Arbuthnot?s ?History of John Bull.? In the memoirs of Dr. Carlyle of Inveresk an amusing account is given of the Poker Club, of which he was a zealous and constant attender. About the third or fourth meeting of the club, after 1/62, he mentions that members were at a loss for a name for it, and wished one that should be of uncertain meaning, and not so directly offensive as that of Militia Club, whereupon Adam Fergusson, the eminent historian and moral philosopher, suggested the name of Poker, which the members understood, and which would ?be an enigma to the public.? It comprehended all the Ziterati of Edinburgh and its neighbourhood, most of whom-like Robertson, Hair, and Hume-had been members of the select society (those only excepted who were enemies to the Scottish militia scheme), together with a great many country gentlemen whose national and Jacobite proclivities led them to resent the invidious line drawn between Scotland and England. Sir William Pulteney Johnston was secretary of the Poker Club, with two members, whom he was to consult anent its publications in a laughing hour. ?? Andrew Crosbie, advocate, was appointed assassin to the club, in case any service of that sort should be needed ; but David Hume was named for his assistant, so that between the plus and minus there was no hazard of much bloodshed.? After a time the club removed its meetings to Fortune?s Tavern, at the Cross K$, in the Stamp Office Close, where the dinners became so showy and expensive that attendance began to decrease, and new members came in ?who had no title to be there, and were not congenial? (the common fate of all clubs generally) ?and so by death and desertion the Poker began to dwindle away, though a bold attempt was made to revive it in 1787 by some young men of talent and spirit.? When Cap. tain James Edgar, one of the original Pokers, was in Paris in 1773, during the flourishing time of the club, he was asked by D?Alembert to go with him to their club of literati, to which he replied with something of bluntness, I? that the company 01 literati was no novelty to him, for he had a club at Edinburgh composed, he believed, of the ablest men in Europe. This? (adds Dr. Carlyle, whose original MS. Lord Kames quoted) ?was no singular opinion ; for the most enlightened foreigners had formed the same estimate of the literary society of Edinburgh at that time. The Princess Dashkoff, disputing with me one day at Buxton about the superiority of Edinburgh as a residence to most of the cities of Europe, when I had alleged various particulars, in which I thought we excelled, ? No,? said she, ?but I know one article you have not mentioned in which I must give you clearly the precedence, which is, that of all the societies of nieii of talent I have met with in n;y travels, yours is the first in point of abilities.? ? A few steps farther down the street bring us to the entrance of the Old Stamp Office Close, wherein was the tavern just referred to, Fortune?s, one in the greatest vogue between 1760 and 1770. ?The gay men of the city,?? we are told, the scholarly and the philosophical, with the common citizens, all flocked hither; and here the Royal Commissioner for the General Assembly held his leve?es, and hence proceeded to church with his co~tt!gz, then- additionally splendid fiom having ladies walking in it in their court dresses, as well as gentlemen.? Thz house occupied by this famous tavern had been in former times the residence of Alexander ninth Earl of Eglinton, and his Countess Susanna Kennedy of the house of Colzean, reputed the most beautiful woman of her time. From the magnificent but privately printed Memorials of the hfontgomeries,? we learn many interesting particulars of this noble couple, who dwelt in the Old Stamp Office Close. Whether their abode there was the same as that stated, of which we have an inventory, in the time of ? Hugh third Earl of Eglinton, ?at his house in Edinburgh, 3rd March, 1563,? given in the ? Memorials,? we have no means of determining. . Earl Alexander was one of those patriarchal old Scottish lords who lived to a great age. He was thrice married, and left a progeny whose names are interspersed throughout the pages of the Douglas peerage. His last Countess, Susanna, was the daughter of Sir Archibald Kennedy, a sturdy old cavalier, who made himself conspicuous in the wars of Dundee. She was one of the co-heiresses of David Leslie Lord Newark, the Covenanting general whom Cromwell defeated at Dunbar. She was six feet in height, extremely handsome, with a brilliantly fair complexion, and a face of ? the most bewitching loveliness.? She had many admirers, Sir John Clerk of Penicuick among others; but her friends had always hoped she would marry the Earl of Eglinton, though he was more than old enough to have been her father, and when a stray hawk, with his iordship?s name on its bells, alighted on her shoulder as she was one day walking in her father?s garden at Colzean. it was deemed an infallible omen of her future.
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