Edinburgh Bookshelf

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.
Volume 2 Page 230
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