Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 1


B T 0 G R A P HI CA L S I< ET C HE S. 245 their private library. By singular regularity in the arrangement of his time, and strict frugality, Mr. Paton not only discharged his duties in the Custom- House with fidelity, but found leisure to acquire a degree of antiquarian lore, and was enabled to increase his curious collections to an extent seldom attained by a single individual. He was well known to almost all the literary characters of his own country, and to many English antiquaries and men of letters. Apparently unambitious of figuring in the world as an author himself, Mr. Paton was by no means chary of assisting others. His services-his knowledge-his time-as well as his library,’ were at the command of all his friends. These ultimately became a sort of common, where our antiquarian writers of last century were wont to luxuriate, and whence they would return, like bees, each to his own peculiar locality, laden with the spoil obtained from the stores of this singularly obliging and single-hearted individual. Mr. Paton was thus led into a very extended circle of literary acquaintance, with whom he maintained a constant and very voluminous correspondence, Amongst others, we may instance Lord Hailes, Dr. Robertson, Gough? Percy, Ritson, Pennant, George Chalmers (author of Caledonia), Captain Grose, Callander of Craigforth, Riddle of Glenriddle, Law (author of the “Fauna Orcadensis ”), Herd (the Collector of Scotfish Ballads), etc. Of the “ Paton Correspondence,” preserved in the Advocates’ Library, two small volumes have been published; the one in 1829, the other in 1830. The former is entitled “Letters from Joseph Ritson, Esq., to George Paton;” the latter, “ Letters from Thomas Percy, D.D. (afterwards Bishop of Dromore), John Callander of Craigforth, David Herd, and others, to George Paton.” These volumes, not generally known, from the limited impression thrown off, are enriched by many interesting editorial notes, and are highly entertaining and curious, They also bear unquestionable testimony to the status in which Mr. Paton was held as a literary antiquary, and to the alacrity with which he laboured to supply the desiderata of his friends. It is a curious fact, hawever, that, with the exception of Gough, few or none of those who were so materially indebted to him for information and assistance had the candour to acknowledge the source from whence they were aided ; and many of them afterwards seemed desirous of suppressing all knowledge of the fact. The correspondence between Gough and Paton at once shows the extent and importance of the information furnished by the latter ; and, indeed, this is acknowledged in handsome terms by Gough, in the preface to his new edition of the British Topography. Alluding to the article upon Scottish topography, he says-“ by the indefatigable attention of his very ingenious and communicative friend, Mr. George Paton, of the Custom House, Edinburgh,” It is said the late Archibald Constable derived much of his knowledge of the rarity of books Two large volumes of Mr. Paton’a letters to Gough, full of important literary and topographical from his acquaintance with Mr. Paton. information, are in the library of the Faculty of Advocates.
Volume 8 Page 343
  Enlarge Enlarge  
2 46 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. he had been enabled nearly to double the space which the article occupied in the first volume. In the collection and arrangement of his ancient ‘‘ Scottish Ballads,” David Herd received material assistance from Mr. Paton ; and there are even strong reasons for believing that he “partly, if not wholly, edited the first edition.” Mr. Paton remained all his life a bachelor ; but, although naturally of a retiring disposition-solitary in his domestic habits-and by no means voluble in general conversation, he was neither selfish in his disposition, nor unsocial in the circle of those friends with whom kindred pursuits and sentiments brought him into association. The best proof of this is the fact of his having regularly frequented “ Johnie Dowie’s tavern ”-the well-known rendezvous of the Scottish literati during the latter part of the last century. In a humorous description of this “ howff,” ascribed to the muse of Mr. Hunter of Blackness, the subject of this sketch is alluded to in one of the verses :- “ 0, Geordie Robertson, dreigh loun, And antiquarian Paton son’, Wi’ mony ithers i’ the tom, What will come o’er ye, Gif Johnie Dowie should stap down To the grave before ye 1” A farther illustration of the social habits, as well as a glimpse of the peculiar domestic eoonomy of “ antiquarian Paton,” is given in a pleasant editorial note affixed to one of David Herd’s Letters to Mr. Paton, which letter is dated “ Johnie Dowie’s, Tuesday evening,” 23d December 1788.--“ For many years of his life our friend (the antiquary) invariably adjourned to take his bottle of ale and gude ‘ buff’d herring,’ or ‘ roasted skate and ingans,’ to this far-famed tavern, which was divided into cells, each sufficient, with good packing, to hold six persons ; and there, with Herd, Cumming of the Lyon Office, and other friends of the same kidney, the evenings pleasantly passed away. These meetings were not unfrequently enlivened by the presence, at one period, of Fergusson the poet, and more recently of Burns. Let it not be supposed that honest George indulged in habits of intemperance. Such was not his custom ; one bottle of ale would suffice for him, certainly not more ; and when his usual privation is considered, it is surprising how moderate his desires were. He rose early in the morning, and went to the Custom-House without tasting anything. Between four and five (afternoon) he uniformly called at the shop of a well-known bibliopolist of those times (Bailie Creech), from whom he was in the habit of picking up rarities, and refreshed himself with a drink of cold water. He would then say, ‘ Well, I’ll go home and take breakfast.’ This breakfast consisted of one cup of coffee and a slice of bread. Between seven and eight he adjourned to the place of meeting ; and some of the dainties enumerated in the poem (already alluded to), and a bottle of “strong ale,” formed the remaining refreshmeht of the day. The moment eleven “ chapped ” on St. Giles, he rose and retreated to his domicile in Lady Stair’s Close. His signal for admittance was the sound of his cane upon the pavement as he descended. In this way this primitive and
Volume 8 Page 344
  Enlarge Enlarge