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Kay's Originals Vol. 2


188 EIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. manners ; and one or two others are supposed to glide around the door of the Guard-House, assigned to them at the Luckenbooths, when their ancient refuge in the High Street was laid low. But the faith of manuscripts bequeathed to friends and executors is so uncertain, that the narrative containing these frail memorials of the Old Town Guard of Edinburgh, who, with their grim and valiant corporal, John Dhu (the fiercest looking fellow I ever saw), were in my boyhood, the alternate terror and derision of the petulant brood of the High School, may perhaps only come to light when all memory of the institution has faded away, and then serve as an illustration of Kay’s Cakztures, who has preserved the features of some of their heroes.” Towards the close of last century several reductions had taken place in the number of the Guard; and, in 1805, when the New Police Bill for Edinburgh came into operation, the corps was entirely broken up. At the same time, however, partly from reluctance to do away all at once with so venerable a municipal force, and by way of employing, instead of pensioning off, some of the old hands, a new corps, consisting of two sergeants, two corporals, two drummers, and thirty privates, was formed from the wreck of the former. Of this new City Guard, as it was called, the subject of our sketch, Mr. James Burnet-the senior Captain-was appointed to the command, and was the last who held the situation. CAPTAINB URNETw as a native of East-Lothian. He was one of the Captains of the Guard who had not previously been in the army ; and if we except his experience as a member of the First Regiment of Edinburgh Volunteers, may be supposed to have been a novice in military matters. Previous to his appointment, he kept a grocer’s shop at the head of the Fleshmarket Close. The personal appearance of Mr. Burnet is well delineated in the Portrait. He was a man of great bulk ; and when in his best days, weighed upwards of nineteen stone. He was, nevertheless, a person of considerable activity, and of much spirit, as will appear from the following instance. Along with one or two gentlemen, he was one summer day cooling himself with a meridian draught in a well-known tavern, when the late Mr. James Laing, Deputy City Clerk, who was one of the party, took a bet with the Captain that he would not walk to the top of Arthur’s Seat, from the base of the hill, within a quarter of an hour, Mr. Eurnet at once agreed to the wager ; and Mr. Smellie, who happened to be the lightest and most active of the company, was appointed to proceed with the pedestrian in the capacity of umpire. The task, it must be admitted by all who know anything of the locality, was an amazing one for a person of nineteen stone on a hot summer day! The Captain courageously set about his arduous undertaking, steering his way by St. Anthony’s Well, up the ravine. But to describe his progress, as he literally melted and broiled under the rays of the pitiless sun, would require the graphic pen of a Pindar. Never did “ fodgel wight or rosy priest ” perform such a penance. When he reached the most difficult part of his jonrney, the Captain looked as if about to give up
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EIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 189 the ghost; but hlr. Smellie, still keeping ahead with a timepiece in his hand, so coaxed and encouraged his portly friend, that he continued his exertions, and actually gained the top of the hill within half-a-minute of the prescribed period. The moment he achieved the victory, he threw himself, or rather fell down, and lay for some time like an expiring porpoise-neither able to stir nor speak a single word. While thus extended at full length, a young cockney student, who had been amusing himself on the hill, came forward, and holding up his hands, exclaimed, as he gazed in amazement at the Captain-“ Good heavens ! what an immense fellow to climb such a hill ! ” When Mr. Burnet had sufficiently recovered, Mr. Smellie and he returned victorious to their friends ; and it need not be doubted, potations deep were drunk in honour of the feat. Few men of his time enjoyed their bottle with greater zest than Captain Burnet ; and at the civic feasts, with which these palmy times abounded, no one did greater execution with the knife and fork. He seldom retired with less than two bottles under his belt, and that too without at all deranging the order of his “ upper story.” “ Two-and-a-half here,” was a frequent exclamation, as he clapped his hand on his portly paunch, if he chanced to meet a quondam ban vivant, on his way home from the festive board. The Captain was altogether a jolly, free sort of fellow, and much fonder of a stroll to the country on a summer Sunday, than of being pent up in a crowded church. In a clever retrospective article in Chai,ibers’ Journal, he is alluded to as one of the “ Turners,” so called from their habit of taking a turn (a walk) on the Sabbath afternoon. “ About one o’clock,’’ says the paper alluded to, “ Mr. J[ohn] L[ittle] might be seen cooling it through Straiton,’ in the midst of a slow procession of bellied men-his hat and wig perhaps borne aloft on the end of his stick, and a myriad of flies buzzing and humming in the shape of a pennon from behind his shining POW. Perhaps Captain B[urnet], of the City Guard, is of the set. He has a brother a farmer about Woodhouselee,’ and they intend to call there and be treated to a check of lamb, or something of that kind, with a glass of spirits and water ; for really the day is very warm. The talk is of Sir Ralph Abercromby, and General Brune, and the Duke of York, and the Texal : or a more interesting subject still, the last week’s proceedings of the Edinburgh Volunteers in the Links.” Captai6 Burnet was also one of the well-known Lawnmarket Club, described in the Traditions as a dram-drinking, newsmongering, facetious set of citizens, who met every morning about seven o’clock ; and after proceeding to the Post Office to ascertain the news, generally adjourned to a public-house, and refreshed themselves with a libation of brandy.” In the parish of Liberton, about four miles south of Edinburgh, on the road to Penicuik, Straiton, possessed by Mr. Jamieson, waa the property of James Johnstone, Esq., M.P. for the Stirling district of burghs. The writer of this haa been under a mistake. Although this may have been the practice of the Club, it is proper to atate that Mr. Burnet He was, however, a keen Mr. Burnet’s brother waa a farmer at Seton. was au exception. politician, and much interested in’ the news of the day. He waa not known to indulge in morning drama.
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