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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


242 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [High Street. CHAPTER XXVIII. THE HIGH STREET-(continued). ?The Salamander Land ?-The Old Fishmarket Close-Heriot?s Mansion-The Deemster?s Hocse-Borthwick?s Close-Lord Durie?s House- Old Assembly Rooms-Edinburgh As.emblies, 17zc-53-Mes Nicky Blurray-Formalities of the Balls-Ladies? Fashions-Assemblies Removed to Hell?s Wpd-Hair Srreet and Hunter?s Square-Kennedy?s Close-George Buchanan?s Death-Niddry?r Wynd- Nicol Edwards? House-A Case of Homicide in 1597-A Quack Doctor -Livingstone?s Liberty. IN describing the closes and wynds which diverge from the great central street of the old city on the south we must resume at the point where the great fire of 1824 ceased, a conflagration witnessed by Sir Walter Scott, who says of it :- ?? I can conceive no sight more grand or terrible than to see those lofty buildings on fire from top to bottom, vomiting out flames like a volcano from every aperture, and finally crashing down one after another into a* abyss of fire, which resembled nothing but hell ; for there were vaults of wine and spirits, which sent up huge jets of flames wherever they were called into activity by the fall of these massive fragments.? ?( The Salamander Land,? an enormous black tenement, so named from its having survived or escaped the fires that raged eastward and westward of it, and named also from that curious propensiv, which is so peculiarly Scottish, for inventive and appropriate sobriquets, was removed to make way for the Police Chambers and the Cournnt office, in the latter of which James Hannay, the author of ?Satire and Satirists? and several other works, and Joseph Robertson, the wellknown Scottish antiquary, conducted the editorial duties of that paper, the first editor of which was Daniel Defoe. ?We have been told,? says Wilson, writing of the old tenement in question, ?that this land was said to have been the residence of Daniel Defoe while in Edinburgh ; the tradition, however, is entirely unsupported by other testimony.? Descending the street on the south, as we have done on the north, we shall peep into each of the picturesque alleys that remain, and recall those .which are no more, with all the notables who once .dwelt therein, and summon back the years, the men, and the events that have passed away. Through ?? the Salamander Land ? a spacious archway led into the Old Fishmarket Close, where, qrevious to the great fire, an enormous pile of buildings reared their colossal front, with that majestic effect produced now by the back of the Royal Exchange and of James?s Court, and where now the lofty tenements of the new police office stand. To this alley, wherein the cannon shot of Kirkaldy fell with such dire effect during the great siege of 1573, Moyse tells us the plague was brought, on the 7th of May, 1588, by a servant woman from St. Johnston. Within the Fishmarket Close was the mansion of George Heriot, the royal goldsmith, wherein more recently resided President Dundas, ?? father of Lord, Melville, a thorough bon vivant of the old claretdrinking school of lawyers.? Here, too, dwelt, we learn from Chambers?s ? Traditions,? the Deemster, a finisher of the law?s last sentence, a grim official, who annually drew his fee from the adjacent Royal Bank; and one of the last of whom, when not officiating at the west end of the Tolbooth or the east end of the Grassmarket, eked out his subsistence by cobbling shoes, Borthwick?s Close takes its name from the noble and baronial hmily of Borthwick of that ilk, whose castle, a few miles south from the city, is one of the largest and grandest examples of the square tower in Scotland. In the division 6f the city in October, 1514, the third quarter is to be-according to the Burgh records-? frae the Lopelie Stane with the Cowgaitt, till Lord Borthwick?s Close,? assigned to ?? Bailie Bansun,? with his sergeant Thomas Amott, and his quartermaster Thomas Fowler. The property on the middle of the east side of the close belonged to one of the Lords Napier of Merchiston, but to which there is no record to show; and it is n9t referred to in the minute will of the inventor of logarithms, who died in 1617. A new school belonging to Heriot?s Hospital occupies the ground that intervenes between this alley and the old Assembly Close. On that site stood the town mansion of Lord Dune, President of the Court of Session in 1642, the hero of the ballad of ? Christie?s Will,? and according thereto the alleged victim of the Earl of Traquair, as given in a very patched ballad of the Border Minstrelsy, beginning :- ? Traquair he has ridden up Chapelhope, And sae has he doon by the Greymare?s Tail ; Till he spiered for Christie?s Will? But he never stinted his light gallop, And hence for a time the alley bore the name of Lord Dune?s Close. On the site of his mansion, till its destruction by the fire of 1824, stood the Old Assembly Rooms
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High Street.] MISS NICKY MURRAY. 243 in the charter room of the burgh, dated 1723, is described as being ?that big hall, or great room, now known by the name of the Assembly House, twice upon it in one night, and often the most beautiful girls in the city passed it, as inere spectators, which threw serious duties on the gentlemen There it was that the Honourable Miss Nicky Murray reigned supreme as lady-directress and goddess of fashion, for many years during the middle of the eighteenth century. She was a sister of the Earl of Mansfield, and was a woman possessed of much good sense, firmness, knowledge of the world, and of the characters of those by whom she was surrounded. With her sisters she lived long in one of the tenements at the head of Bailie Fyfe?s Close, where she annually received whole broods of fair country cousins, who came to town to receive the finishing touches of a girl?s education, and be introduced to society-the starched and stately society of old Edinburgh. The Assembly Room was in the close to which it gave its name. It had a spacious lobby, lighted by sconces, where the gilded sedans set down their powdered, hooped, and wigged occupants, while links flared, liveried valets jostled, and swords were sometimes drawn; and where a reduced gentleman- a claimant to the ancient peerage of Kirkcudbnght- sold gloves, for which he was rather ungenerously sneered at by Oliver Goldsmith. From this lobby the dancing-hall opened at once, and up-stairs was a tea-room. The former had in its centre a railed space,-within which were the dancers ; while the spectators, we are told, sat on the outside, and no communication was permitted between the different sides of this sacred pale. Here it was that in 1753 Goldsmith first saw, with some astonishment, the formalities of the old Scottish balls. He relates that on entering the dancing-room he saw one end of it taken up by the ladies, who ?sat dismally in a group by themselves. ?On the other end stand their pensive partners that are to be, but no more intercourse between the sexes than between two countries at war. The ladies, indeed, may ogle, and the gentlemen sigh, but an embargo is laid on any closer commerce.? The lady directress occupied a high chair, or species of throne, upon a dais at one end, and thereon sat Miss Nicky Murray in state. Her immediate predecessors there had been Mrs. Browne of Colstoun, and Lady Minto, daughter of Sir Robert Stuart of Allanbank. The whole arrangements were ofa rigid character, iartner for the whole year! The arrangements were generally made at some preliminary ball or Ither gathering, when a gentleman?s cocked hat was unflapped and the ladies? fans were placed ;herein, and, as in a species of ballot, the beaux hew forth the latter, and to whomsoever the fan 3elonged he was to be the partner for the season, I system often productive of absurd combinations md many a petty awkwardness. ? Then,? as Sir Alexander Boswell wrote- ? The Assembly Clbse received the fair- Order and elegance presided there- Each gay Right Honourable had her place, To walk a minuet with becoming grace. No racing to the dance, with rival hurry- Such was thy sway, 0 famed Miss Nicky Murray ! Each lady?s fan a chosen Damon bore, With care selected many a day before ; For, unprovided with a favourite beau, The nymph, chagrined, the ball must needs forego, But previous matters to her taste arranged, Certes, the constant couple never changed ; Through a long night, to watch fair Delia?s will, The same dull swain was at her elbow still.?? With sword at side, and often hat in hand, the gallants of those days escorted the chairs of their partners home to many a close and wynd now the ibode of squalor and sordid poverty; for much Df stately and genuine old-fashioned gallantry prevailed, as if it were part of the costume, referred to by the poet :- ? Shades of my fathers ! in your pasteboard skirts, Your broidered waistcoats and your plaited shirts, Your formal bag-wigs, wide extended cuffs, Your five-inch chitterlings and nine-inch ruffs. Gods! how ye strut at times in all your state, Amid the visions of my thoughtful pate ! ? Those who attended the assemblies belonged exclusively to the upper circle of society that then, existed in Edinburgh ; and Miss Murray, on hearing a young lady?s name mentioned to her for approval, was wont to ask, ?? Miss-of what? ? and, if no territorial or family name followed, she might dismiss the matter by a wave of her fan, for, according to her views, it was necessary to be ??a lady 0? that ilk;? and it is well known, that ?upon one occasion, seeing at an assembly a wan who had been raised to wealth in some
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