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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. IV


270 OLD AND *NEW EDINBURGH. [Brown Square. Till about 1780 the inhabitants of these districts formed a distinct class of themselves, and had their own places of amusement, independent of all the rest of the city. Nor was it until the New Town was rather far advanced that the sowfh side lost its attractions; and we are told that, singular as it may appear, there was one instance, if not more, of a gentleman living and dying in this southern district without having once visited, or even seen, the New Town, although at the time of his death it had extended westward to Castle Street. (Scott?s ?? Provincial Antiquities.?) In the notes to ? Redgauntlet,? the same author tells us, that in its time Brown Square was hailed ?as an extremely elegant improvement ? on Edmburgh residences, even witli its meagre plot of grass and shabby iron railings. It is here he places the house of Saunders Fairford, where Man is described as first beholding the mysterious Lady GreenmanfZe, and as being so bewildered with her appearance, that he stood as if he had been senseless. ? The door was opened, out she went, walked along the pavement, turned down the close (at the north-east end of the square leading into the Cowgate), and put the sun, I believe, into her pocket when she disappeared, so suddenly did dulness and darkness sink down on the square when she was no longer visible.? To show how much this new locality was thought of, we will here quote a letter in the Edinburgh Adverfiser of 6th March, 1764 (Vol. I.) :- ?Su,-\Vith pleasure I have observed of late the improvements we are making in this metropolis, and there is nothing which pleases me yore than the taste for elegant buildings, than which nothing can be a greater ornament to a city, or give a stranger a greater impression of the improvement of the inhabitants in polite and liberal arts. ? That very elegant square, called Brown Square, which, in my opinion, is a very great beauty to the town, is now almost finished, and last day the green pasture was railed in. Now, I think, to complete the whole, an elegant statue in the middle would be well worth the expense; and I dare say the gentlemen who possess houses there would not grudge a small sum to have that part adorned with an equestrian statue of his present Majesty George the Thud, and which I should think, would be contributed to by public subscriptions, set a-foot for that purpose. Whie we are thus making such improvements, I am surprised nobody has ever mentioned an improvement on our College [the old one was then extant] which, as it now is, gives strangers but an unfavourable idea of our University, which, however, is at present so flourishing. . . . , To have a handsome building for that purpose is surely the desire of every good citizen. This could be easily accomplished by various means. Suppose a lottery should be proposed, every student I dare say would take a ticket, and I would venture to ensure the success of it.? But George 111. was fated not to have a statue either in Brown Square or Great King Street, according to a suggestion some sixty years afterwards ; yet as a proof that the square was deemed alike fashionable and elegant, we may enumerate some of those who resided there. . Among them were the Dowager Lady Elphinstone (daughter of John sixth Earl of Wigton) who had a house here in 1784; Henry Pundas (afterwards Viscount Melville), when a member of the Faculty of Advocates; Sir Islay Campbell, Bart., of Succoth, in the days when it was the custom of the senators to walk to court in the morning, with nicely powdered wigs, and a small cocked hat in the hand-a practice retained nearly to the last by Lord Glenlee: he was afterwards Lord President. He bought Lord Melville?s house in Brown Square, and after a time removed to York Place. His successor in the same residence, No. 15,- was John Anstruther of that ilk, Advocate, with whom resided the family of Charles Earl of Traquair, whose mother was a daughter of Sir Philip Anstruther of Anstrutherfield. Other residents were Lord Henderland and the future Lord President Blair of Avontoun, both when at the bar, and William Craig, afterwards a Lord of Justiciary in 1792; Sir John Forbes-Drummond, when a captain of the Royal Navy, and before he became Baronet of Hawthornden ; Henry Mackenzie, the ubiquitous ? Man of Feeling ; ? Lord Woodhouselee, and the Lord President Miller, whose residence was the large house (No. 17) with the painted front, on the north side, the interior of which, with its frescoes and panelings, is now one of the finest specimens remaining of a fashionable Edinburgh mansion of the eighteenth century; and therein lived and died his son Lord Glenlee, who (uZtimus Scoforum 2) resisted the attraction of three successive New Towns, to which all his brethren had long before fled. He retained, until within a few years of his death, the practice referred to, of walking daily to Court, hat in hand, with a powdered wig, through Brown Square, down Crombie?s Close, across the Cowgate, xnd up the Back Stairs to the Parliament Houser ittended by his valet, and always scrupulously kessed in black. In 1838, when nearly eighty years of age, this grand lord of the old school,
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B- Sq-I MISS JEANNIE ELLIOT. =7* -was compelled to have recourse to a sedan chair by which he was wont to be carried to Court by .George IV. Bridge. He died in No. 17, in 1846, lsurviving for thirty-one years the death of his favourite and lamented son, Colonel William Miller of the 1st Foot Guards, who fell mortally wounded -at Quatre Bras. No. 3 was the residence, in IS! I, of James Haig, -of Beimerside and that ilk, who is mentioned in the ? Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,? with reference -to the old prophecy said to have been made by ?Thomas the Rhymer, that, ?? Tide tide, whatever betide, There ?U aye be a Haig in Beimerside? ?The family have possessed the estate for many .centuries. ?The grandfather of the present proprietor of Beimerside,? wrote Scott in 1802, ?had twelve daughters before his lady brought him a male heir. The common people trembled ?for their favourite soothsayer. The late Mr, Haig was at length born, and their belief in the prophecy confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt.? No. 14 was the residence of stout and portly ?Sir John Leslie, Bart., K.H., Professor of Natural History in the University, the celebrated mathematician, the successor of playfair, who died in 1832 ; and though mentioned last, not least, this now nearly defunct square held the residence of Miss Jeannie Elliot, authoress, about the middle of -the last century, of the song ?The Flowers of -the Forest,? who is said to have composed it in consequence of a wager with her brother that she .could not write a ballad on the subject of Flodden .as they were driving homeward one evening in the .carriage. ?? Yielding,? says the biographer of the ? Songstresses of Scotland,? ? to the influence of the moment, Jean accepted the challenge. Leaning back in her corner with all the most mournful .stories of the country-side for her inspiration, and two lines of an old ballad which had often rung in her ears and trembled on her lips for a foundation, she planned and constructed the rude framework .of her ?Flowers of the Forest,? in imitation of the older song to the same air.? Miss Elliot of Minto dwelt on the first floor .of a house beside the archway or pend which gave -access to Brown Square from the Candlemaker Row, in the south-west corner, opposite the Greyfriars? Gate. She spent the latter part of her life .chiefly in Edinburgh, where she mingled a good deal in the better sort of society. ?? I have been -told,? says Chambers in his ?? Scottish Songs,? ?? by one who was admitted in youth to the privileges of her conversation, that she was a remarkably agreeable old lady, with a prodigious fund of Scottish anecdote, but did not appear to have been handsome.? Miss Tytler describes her, when advanced in years, to have been a little delicate old woman, in a close cap, ruffle, and ample snowwhite neckerchief; her eyebrows well arched, but having a nose and mouth that belonged to an expressive, rather than a handsome face. She generally went abroad in a sedan. Eastward of this quarter lay Argyle Square (now swept away to make room for Chambers Street), an open area of 150 feet long, by the Same in breadth, including the front gardens of, the houses on the north side. The houses were all massive, convenient, and not inelegant, and in some instances, three storeys in height. The exact date of its being built seems doubtful, tradition takes it back nearly to 1730, and it is said to have been named from the following circumstances :-A tailor named Campbell having got into the graces of his chief, the great John Duke of Argyle and Greenwich, was promised the first favour that peeis acquaintance or interest might throw in his way. Accordingly, on the death of George I., the Duke having early intelligence of the event, let his clans man, the tailor, instantly know it, and the latter, before his brethren in the trade were aware, bought up all the black cloth in the city, and forthwith drove such a trade in supplying the zealous Whigs with mourning suits at his own prices, that he shortly realised a little fortune, wherewith he laid the foundation of a greater. He began to build the first houses of this square, and named it Argyle in hbnour of his patron, and much of it appears to have been finished when Edgar drew his first plan of the city in 11/42. In the plan of 1765 the whole of the south side was still called Campbell?s New Buildings. But prior to any edifice being erected here, a retired bookseller of the Parliament Close, who had once been Lord Provost, built himself a mansion in what he deemed a very rustic and suburban quarter, at the head of Scott?s Close, latterly used as a ministers? hall. Prior to that, and after the Provost?s death, it had been the family mansion of Sir Andrew Agnew of Lochnaw. Lord Cullen dwelt here in a flat above what was in 1824 a grocery store; and in the central house, on the north side, lived Dr. Hugh Blau, the eminent divine and sermon writer, one of the greatest ornaments of the Scottish Church and of his native capital ; and in that house (when he was Professor of Rhetoric) died his wife, on the 9th February, 1795 ; she was his cousin Catharine, daughter of the Rev. James Bannatyne, a city minister.
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