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Kay's Originals Vol. 2


186 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. service of these civic warriors was limited to the guardianship of the city, and the preservation of public order. They were in reality a body of armed police, whose duty it was to attend the Magistrates in their official capacity-to be present on all public occasions-and, while the capital continued to maintain the character of a walled city, so many of their number were nightly placed as sentinels at the gates.‘ Only a limited portion, however, of the three companies was kept regularly on duty. The remainder were allowed to work at their trades, subject, however, to be called out at a moment’s notice. The Guard was mostly composed of discharged soldiers ; men who, although they might have seen a good deal of service, were still able to shoulder a musket, or wield a Lochaber axe, and possessed sufficient spirit to render them formidable in a street brawl. The officers were at times old military men, who had influence enough with the Town Council to procure their appointment ; and not a few of them had spent their youth in the service of the Dutch, as soldiers in the Scots brigade. From the nature of their duties, the City Guard was repeatedly brought into contact with the people during periods of excitement. The most notable affair of this kind was the well-known “ Porteous mob ;” and it is probable that much of the odium which subsequently attached to the corps arose from associating this unpopular individual with it. Prior to his appointment, almost no notice whatever occurs of the City Guard in the local history or traditions of the times. During the greater part of last century, however, a sort of hereditary feud seems to have existed betwixt the lower order of citizens and the “ Town Eats,” as they were called ; and no opportunity of annoying them was allowed to escape. Fergusson, the poet, repeatedly alludes to these rencontres with the “black squad,” whose ‘‘ tender mercies ’’ he had probably too often experienced in the course of his Bacchanalian irregularities :- “ An’ thou, great god 0’ quavitae f Wha sway’st the empire 0’ this city ; Whan fu’, we’re sometimes capernoity ; Be thou prepar’d To hedge us frae that black banditti- The City Guard.” “In fact,” says the Author of Waverley, ‘‘ the soldiers of the City Guard, being, as we have said, in general discharged veterans, who had strength enough remaining for their municipal duty, and being, moreover, in general, Highlanders, 1 The city of Edinburgh, by the extended walls, built immediately after the battle of Flodden, in 1513, had five principal ports or outlets-namely, the West Port, so named from its being the western boundary of the city, situated at the foot of the Grassmarket ; Bristo Port, head of the Candlemaker Row ; Pottemow Port, which originally bore the name of KiTk-of-FieZd Port, head of Horse Wynd ; Cowgate Port, foot of St. Mary’s Wynd ; and the Nether Bow Port, at the head of the Canongate. This Port, running across the High Street, formed the principal entrance to the city, and was a handsome building, two stories high, with a spire and battlements. The gate was in the centre, and a wicket for foot passengera in the southern tower. This ancient structure was taken down, by order of the Town-Cauucil, on the 31st August 1764 ; the narrow passage which it afforded having been found exceedingly incommodious.
Volume 9 Page 250
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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. IS7 were, neither by birth, education, nor former habits, trained to endure with much patience the insulta of the rabble, or the provoking petulance of truantboys and idle debauchees of all descriptions, with whom their occupation brought them into contact. On the contrary, the tempers of the poor old fellows were soured by the indignities with which the mob distinguished them on many occasions, and frequently might have required the soothing strains of the poet just quoted :- “ 0 soldiers ! for your ain dear sakes, For Scotland’s love-the land 0’ cakes, Gie not her bairns sic deadly paiks, Wi’ firelock or Lochaber axe, Nor be sae rude, As spill their blude.” “ On all occasions-when holiday licenses some riot or irregularity-a skirmish with these veterans was a favourite recreation with the rabble of Edinburgh.” The recollection of many of our readers will enable them to appreciate the truth of this quotation from the Heart of Mid-Luthian. The “ Town Rats,” when annually mustered in front of the Parliament House- “ Wi’ powdered POW an’ shaven beard,” to do honour to the birth of his Majesty, by a feu de joie-were subject to a species of torture, peculiarly harassing-dead cats, and every species of “ clarty unction,” being unsparingly hurled at their devoted heads : “ ’Mang them fell mony a gawsey snout, Has gusht in birth-day wars, Wi‘ blude that day.” The last vestige of the Town Guard disappeared about the year 1817-a period particularly fatal to many of the most ancient characteristics of the Old Town. “ Of late,”) continues the Author of Waverley, “ the gradual diminution of these civic soldiers reminds one of the abatement of King Lear’s hundred knights. The edicts of each set of succeeding Magistrates have, like those of Gonerill and Regan, diminished this venerable band with the similar question- & What need we five-and-twenty ?-ten 1-r five 9’ And it is now nearly come to-‘ What need we one 1’ A spectre may indeed here and there still be seen of an old grey-headed and grey-bearded Highlander, with war-worn features, but bent double by age : dressed. in an old-fashioned cocked hat, bound with white tape instead of silver lace ; and in coat, waistcoat, and breeches, of a muddycoloured red, bearing in his withered hand an ancient weapon, called a Lochaber axe, namely, a long pole with an axe at the extremity, and a hook at the back of the hatchet. Such a phantom of former days still creeps, I have been informed, round the statue of Charles the Second, in the Parliament Square, as if the image of a Stuart were the last refuge for any memorial of our ancient The “Heart of Mid-Lothian” was published in 1817.
Volume 9 Page 251
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