Lady Stair’s Close – Gray of Pittendrum – “Aunt Margaret’s Mirror” – The Marshal Earl and Countess of Stair – Miss Ferrier – Sir Richard Steele – Martha Countess of Kincardine – Burns’s Room in Baxter’s Close – The Bridge’s Shop in Bank Street – Bailie MacMorran’s Story – Sir Francis Grant of Cullen.
PRIOR to the opening of Bank Street, Lady Stair’s Close, the first below Gladstone’s Land, was the chief thoroughfare for foot passengers, taking advantage of the half-formed Earthen Mound to reach the New Town. It takes its name from Elizabeth Countess Dowager of Stair, who was long looked up to as a leader of fashion in Edinburgh, admission to her select circle being one of the highest objects of ambition among the lesser gentry of her day, when the distinctions of rank and family were guarded with an angry jealousy of which we have but little conception now. Lady Stair’s Close is narrow and dark, for the houses are of great height; the house she occupied still remains on the west side thereof, and was the scene of some romantic events and traditions, of which Scott made able use in his “Aunt Margaret’s Mirror,” ere it became the abode of the widow of the Marshal Earl of Stair, who, when a little boy, had the misfortune to kill his elder brother, the Master, by the accidental discharge of a pistol; after which, it is said, that his mother could never abide him, and sent him in his extreme youth to serve in Flanders as a volunteer in the Cameronian Regiment, under the Earl of Angus. The house occupied by Lady Stair has over its door the pious legend –
“Feare the Lord and depart from evill,”
With the date 1622, and the initials of its founder and of his wife – Sir William Gray of Pittendrum, and Egidia Smith, daughter of Sir John Smith, of Grothall, near Craigleith, Provost of Edinburgh in 1643. Sir William was a man of great influence in the time of Charles I.; and though the ancient title of Lord Gray reverted to his family, he devoted himself to commerce, and became one of the wealthiest Scottish merchants of that age. But troubles came upon him; he was fined 100,000 merks for corresponding with Montrose, and was imprisoned, first in the Castle and then in the Tolbooth till the mitigated penalty of 35,000 merks was paid. Other exorbitant extractions followed, and these hastened his death, which took place in 1648. Three years before that event, his daughter died, in the old house, of the plague. His widow survived him, and the street was named Lady Gray’s Close till the advent of Lady Stair, in whose time the house had a terraced garden that descended towards the North Loch.
Lady Eleanor Campbell, widow of the great marshal and diplomatist, John Earl of Stair, was by paternal descent related to one of the most celebrated historical figures of the seventeenth century, being the grand-daughter of the Lord High Chancellor Loudon, whose talents and influence on the Covenanting side procured him the enmity of Charles I.
In her girlhood she had the misfortune to be united to James Viscount Primrose, of Castlefield, who died in 1706, a man of dissipated habits and intolerable temper, who treated her so barbarously that there were times when she had every reason to feel that her life was in peril. One morning she was dressing herself before her mirror, near an open window, when she saw the viscount suddenly appear in the room behind her with a drawn rapier in his hand. He had softly opened the door, and in the mirror she could see that his face, set white and savage, indicated that he had nothing less than murder in his mind. She threw herself out of the window into the street, and half-dressed as she was, fled, with great good sense, to Lord Primrose’s mother, who had been Mary Scott of Thirlstane, and received protection; but no attempt was made to bring about a reconciliation, and, though they had four children, she never lived with him again, and soon after he went abroad.
During his absence there came to Edinburgh a certain foreign conjuror, who, among other occult powers, professed to be able to inform those present of the movements of the absent, however far they might be apart; and the young viscountess was prompted by curiosity to go with a lady friend to the abode of the wise man in the Canongate, wearing over their heads, by way of disguise, the tartan plaid then worn by women of the lower classes. After describing the individual in whose movements she was interested, and expressing a desire to know what he was then about, the conjuror led her before a large mirror, in which a number of colours and forms rapidly assumed the appearance of a church with a marriage party before the altar; and in the shadowy bridegroom she instantly recognised her absent husband! She gazed upon the delineation as if turned to stone, while the ceremonial of the marriage seemed to proceed, and the clergyman to be on the point of bidding the bride and bridegroom join hands, when suddenly a gentleman in whose face she recognised a brother of her own, came forward, and paused. His face assumed an expression of wrath; drawing his sword he rushed upon the bridegroom, who also drew to defend himself; the whole phantasmagoria then became tumultuous and indistinct, and faded completely away. When the viscountess reached home she wrote a minute narrative of the event, noting the day and hour. This narrative she sealed up in presence of a witness and deposited it in a cabinet. Soon after this her brother returned from his travels abroad – which brother we are not told, and she had three: Hugh the Master of Loudon, Colonel John Campbell of Shankeston, and James, who was Colonel of the Scots Greys, and was killed at Fontenoy. She asked him if he heard aught of the viscount in his wanderings. He answered, furiously, “I wish I may never again hear the name of that detestable personage mentioned!” On being questioned he confessed to “having met his lordship under very strange circumstances.” While spending some time at Rotterdam he made the acquaintance of a wealthy merchant who had a very beautiful daughter, an only child, who, he informed him, was on the eve of her marriage with a Scottish gentleman, and he was invited to the wedding as a countryman of the bridegroom. He went accordingly, and though a little too late for the commencement of the ceremony, was yet in time to save an innocent girl from becoming the victim of his own brother-in-law, Viscount Primrose!
Though the deserted wife had proved her willingness to believe in the magic mirror, by having committed to writing what she had seen, yet she was so astonished by her brother’s tidings, that she nearly fainted; but something more was to be learned still. She asked her brother on what day the circumstance took place, and having been informed, she gave him her key, and desired him to bring to her the sealed paper. On its being opened, it was then found, that at the very moment when she had seen the roughly-interrupted nuptial ceremony it had actually been in progress.
Primrose died, as we have said, in the year before the Union. His widow was still young and beautiful, but made a resolution never again, after her past experience, to become a wife; but the great Earl Stair, who had been now resident some twenty years in Edinburgh, and whose public and private character was irreproachable, earnestly sued for her hand, yet she firmly announced her intention of remaining unwedded; and in his love and desperation the Earl bethought him of an expedient indicative of the roughness and indelicacy of the age. By dint of powerfully bribing her household he got himself introduced over-night into a small room where she was wont to say her prayers – such private oratories being common in most of the Edinburgh houses of the time – and the window of which overlooked the High Street. Thereat he showed himself, en déshabillé, to the people passing, an exhibition which so seriously affected the reputation of the young widow, that she saw the necessity of accepting him as her husband.
Lady Eleanor was happier as Countess of Stair than she had ever been as Viscountess Primrose; but the Earl had one failing – a common one enough among gentlemen in those days – a disposition to indulge in the bottle, and then his temper was by no means improved; thus, on coming home he more than once treated the Countess with violence. Once – we regret to record it of so heroic a soldier – when transported beyond the bounds of reason, he gave her a blow on the face with such severity as to draw blood; and then, all unconscious of what he had done, fell asleep. Poor Lady Stair, overwhelmed by such an insult, and recalling perhaps much that she had endured with Lord Primrose, made no attempt to bind up the wound, but threw herself on the sofa, and wept and bled till morning dawned. When the Earl awoke, her bloody and dishevelled aspect filled him with horror and dismay. “What has happened? How came you to be thus?” He exclaimed. She told him of his conduct over-night, which filled him with shame – such shame and compunction, that he made a vow never again to take any species of drink, unless it had first passed through her hands; and this vow he kept religiously till the day of his death, which took place on the 9th April, 1747, at Queensberry House in the Canongate, when he was in his seventy-fifth year. He was General of the Marines, Governor of Minorca, Colonel of the Greys, and Knight of the Thistle. He was buried in the family vault at Kirkliston, and his funeral is thus detailed in the Scots Magazine for 1747:-
“1. Six bâton men, two and two. 2. A mourning coach with four gentlemen ushers and the Earl’s crest. 3. Another mourning coach with three gentlemen ushers, and a friend carrying the coronet on a velvet cushion. 4. Six ushers on foot, with bâtons and gilt streamers. 5. The corpse, under a dressed canopy, drawn by six dressed horses, with the Earl’s achievement, within the Order of the Thistle. 6. Chief mourners in a coach and six. 7. Nine mourning coaches, each drawn by six horses. 8. The Earl’s body coach empty. 9. Carriages of nobility and gentry, in order of rank.”
A sky-rocket was thrown up in the Canongate when the procession began, as a signal to the garrison in the Castle, when the flag was half hoisted, and minute guns fired, till the funeral was clear of the city.
With much that was irreproachable in her character, Lady Stair was capable of ebullitions of temper, and of using terms that modern taste would deem objectionable. The Earl of Dundonald had stated to the Duke of Douglas that Lady Stair had expressed her doubts concerning the birth of his nephew – a much-vexed question, at this time before the House of Lords and Court of Session. In support of what he stated, Dundonald, in a letter to the Lord Justice Clerk, gave the world leave to deem him “a damned villain” if he spoke not the truth. Involved thus unpleasantly with the ducal house of Douglas, Lady Stair went straight to Holyrood Palace, and there, before the Duke, the Duchess, and their attendants, she said that she “had lived to a good age, and never, until now, got entangled in any scandal.” She then struck the floor thrice with her cane, each time calling the Earl of Dundonald “a damned villain,” after which she withdrew, swelling with rage; but Lady Mary Wortley Montagu mentions in her “Letters,” that the Countess of Stair was subject to hysterical fits – the result perhaps of all she had undergone as a wife. After being long the queen of society in Edinburgh, she died in November, 1759, twelve years after the death of the Marshal. She was the first person in the city, of her time, who had a black domestic servant. Another dowager, the Lady Clestram, succeeded her in the old house in the close. It was advertised for sale, at the upset price of £250, in the Edinburgh Advertiser of 1789; and is described as “that large dwelling-house, sometime belonging to the Dowager Countess of Stair, situated at the entry to the Earthen Mound. The sunk storey consists of a good kitchen, servants’ rooms, closets, cellars, &c.; the second of a dining and bed rooms; the third storey of a dining and five bed rooms.” It has long since been the abode of the humblest artisans.
The parents of Miss Ferrier, the well-known novelist, according to a writer in Temple Bar for November, 1878, occupied a flat in Lady Stair’s Close after their marriage. Mrs. Ferrier (née Coutts) was the daughter of a farmer at Gourdon, near Montrose, and was a woman of remarkable beauty, as her portrait by Sir George Chalmers, Bart. (a native of Edinburgh) in 1765 attests. At the time of her marriage, in 1767, she had resided in Holyrood with her aunt, the Hon. Mrs. Maitland, widow of a younger son of Lord Lauderdale; and the flat the young married couple took in the old close had just been vacated by Sir James Pulteney and his wife Lady Bath.
When Sir Richard Steele, of the Spectator, visited Edinburgh, in 1717, on the business of the Forfeited Estates Commission, we know not whether he resided in Lady Stair’s Close, but it is recorded that he gave, in a tavern there, a whimsical supper, to all the eccentric-looking mendicants in the city, giving them the enjoyment of an abundant feast, that he might witness their various oddities. Richard Sheils mentions this circumstance, and adds that Steele confessed afterwards that he had “drunk enough of native drollery to compose a comedy.”
Upper Baxter’s Close, the adjoining alley, is associated with the name of Robert Burns. There the latter, in 1786, saved from a heartless and hopeless exile by the generosity of the blind poet, Dr. Blacklock, came direct from the plough and the banks of his native Ayr, to share the humble room and bed of his friend Richmond, a lawyer’s clerk, in the house of Mrs. Carfrae. But a few weeks before poor Burns had made arrangements to go to Jamaica as joint overseer on an estate; but the publication of his poems was deemed such a success, that he altered his plans, and came to Edinburgh in the November of that year. In one of the numbers of the Lounger appeared a review of the first (or Kilmarnock) edition of his poems, written by Henry Mackenzie, who was thus the means, together with Dr. Blacklock, of kindly bringing Burns before the learned and fashionable circles of Edinburgh. His merited fame had come before him, and he was now caressed by all ranks. His brilliant conversational powers seem to have impressed all who came in contact with him as much as admiration of his poetry. Under the patronage of Principal Robertson, Professor Dugald Stewart, Henry Mackenzie, author of the “Man of Feeling,” and Sir John Whiteford of that ilk, but more than all of James Earl of Glencairn, and other eminent persons, a new edition of his poems was published in April, 1787; but amid all the adulation he received he ever maintained his native simplicity and sturdy Scottish independence of character. By the Earl of Glencairn he was introduced to the members of the Caledonian Hunt, and he dedicated to them the second edition of his poems. In verse he touchingly records his gratitude to the earl:-
“The bridegroom may forget the bride
Was made his wedded wife yestreen;
The monarch may forget the crown
That on his head an hour has been;
The mother may forget the child
That smiles sae sweetly on her knee;
But I’ll remember thee, Glencairn,
And all that thou hast done for me!”
Burns felt acutely the death of this amiable and accomplished noble, which occurred in 1791.
The room occupied by Burns in Baxter’s Close, and from which he was wont to sally forth to dine and sup with the magnates of the city, is still pointed out, with its single window which opens into Lady Stair’s Close. There, as Allan Cunningham records, he had but “his share of a deal table, a sanded floor, and a chaff bed, at eighteenpence a week.” According to the same biographer, the impression which Burns made at first on the fair, the titled, and the learned, of Edinburgh, “though lessened by intimacy on the part of the men, remained unimpaired on that of the softer sex till his dying day. His company, during the season of balls and festivities, continued to be courted by all who desired to be reckoned gay or polite. Cards of invitation fell thick on him; he was not more welcomed to the plumed and jewelled groups whom her fascinating Grace of Gordon gathered about her, than he was to the grave divines and polished scholars who assembled in the rooms of Stewart, Blair, or Robertson… But Edinburgh offered tables and entertainers of a less staid character, when the glass circulated with greater rapidity, when wit flowed more freely, and when there were neither high-bred ladies to charm conversation within the bounds of modesty, nor serious philosophers nor grave divines to set a limit to the licence of speech or the hours of enjoyment. To those companions, who were all of the better classes, the levities of the rustic poet’s wit and humour were as welcome as were the tenderest of his narratives to the accomplished Duchess of Gordon or the beautiful Miss Burnet of Monboddo; they raised a social roar not at all classic, and demanded and provoked his sallies of wild humour, or indecorous mirth, with as much delight as he had witnessed among the lads of Kyle, when, at mill or forge, his humorous sallies abounded as the ale flowed.”
While in Edinburgh Burns was the frequent and welcome guest of John Campbell, Precentor of the Canongate Church, a famous amateur vocalist in his time, though forgotten now; and to him Burns applied for an introduction to Bailie Gentle, to the end that he might accord his tribute to the memory of the poet, poor Robert Fergusson, whose grave lay in the adjacent churchyard, without a stone to mark it. Bailie Gentle expressed his entire concurrence with the wish of Burns, but said that “he had no power to grant permission without the consent of the managers of the Kirk funds.”
“Tell them,” said Burns, “it is the Ayrshire ploughman who makes the request.” The authority was obtained, and a promise given, which we believe has been sacredly kept, that the grave should remain inviolate.
After a stay of six months in Edinburgh, Burns set out on a tour to the south of Scotland, accompanied by Robert Ainslie, W.S.; but elsewhere we shall meet him again. Opposite the house in which he dwelt is one with a very ancient legend, Blissit . be . the . Lord . in . all . His . giftis . nov . and . evir. In 1746 this was the inheritance of Martha White, only child of a wealthy burgess who became a banker in London. She became the wife of Charles ninth Earl of Kincardine, and afterwards Earl of Elgin, “undoubted heir male and chief of all the Bruces in Scotland,” as Douglas records. The countess, who died in 1810, filled, with honour to herself, the office of governess to the unfortunate Princess Charlotte of Wales.
One of the early breaches made in the vicinity of the central thoroughfare of the city was Bank Street, on the north (the site of Lower Baxter’s Close), wherein was the shop of two eminent cloth merchants, David Bridges and Son, which became the usual resort of the whole literati of the city in its day. David Bridges junior had a strongly developed bias towards literary studies, and, according to the memoirs of Professor Wilson, was dubbed by the Blackwood wits, “Director-General of the Fine Arts.” His love for these and the drama was not to be controlled by his connection with mercantile business; and while the senior partner devoted himself to the avocations of trade in one part of their well-known premises, the younger was employed in adorning a sort of sanctum, where one might daily meet Sir Walter Scott and his friend Sir Adam Fergusson (who, as a boy, had often sat on the knee of David Hume), Professor Wilson, J. G. Lockhart, Sir David Wilkie, and other eminent men of the day. His writings, spread over the periodical literature of his time – particularly the Edinburgh Magazine and Annual Register – are very numerous, and he was the first among modern Scotsmen who made art the subject of systematic criticism; and from the purity and clearness of his style, his perfect knowledge of the subject, and the graceful talent he possessed of mingling illustration with argument, he imparted an interest to a subject, which, to many, might appear otherwise unattractive. And when it is considered that it was to the acting of the great Mrs. Siddons, John Kemble, Kean, and Miss O’Neil, that he had to apply those rules which his taste and study had suggested, it is not to be wondered at that in exercises of this sort he took particular delight and obtained great excellence. He was secretary of the Dilettanti Society of Edinburgh.
The establishment of the Bridges is thus referred to in Peter’s “Letters to his Kinsfolk”:-
“Wastle immediately conducted me to this dilettanti lounge, saying, that here was the only place where I might be furnished with every means of satisfying my curiosity. On entering, one finds a very neat and tasteful-looking shop, well-stocked with all the tempting diversities of broad-cloth and bombaseens, silk stockings and spotted handkerchiefs. A few sedate-looking old-fashioned cits are probably engaged in conning over the Edinburgh newspapers of the day, and perhaps discussing mordicus the great question of Burgh Reform… After waiting for a few minutes, the younger partner tips a sly wink across his counter, and beckons you to follow him through a narrow cut in its mahogany surface, into the unseen recesses of the establishment. A few steps downward, and in the dark, land you in a sort of cellar, below the shop proper, and here by the dim religious light, which enters through one or two well-grated peeping holes, your eyes soon discover enough of the furniture of the place to satisfy you that you have reached at last the sanctum sanctorum of the fine arts. Plaster of Paris casts of the head of the famous Hercules, the Dancing Fawn, the Laocoon, and the hermaphrodite, occupy conspicuous stations on the counters, one large table is entirely covered with a book of Canova’s designs, Turner’s ‘Liber Studiorum,’ and such like manuals; and in the corners where the little light there is streams brightest, are placed, upon huge piles of corduroy and kerseymere, various wooden boxes, black, brown, and blue, wherein are locked up from all eyes, save those of privileged and initiated frequenters of the scene, various pictures and sketches, chiefly by living artists, and presents to the proprietor. Mr. Bridges, when I asked him on my first visit what might be the contents of these mysterious receptacles, made answer in a true technico-Caledonian strain – ‘Oo, Doctor Morris, they are just a wheen bits, and (added he, with a most knowing compression of his lips) let me tell you what, Doctor Morris, there’s some no that ill bits among them.’ One proved to be an exquisitely finished sketch by Sir William Allan, ‘Two Tartar robbers dividing their spoil.’ This led to a proposal to visit the artist’s atelier, and we had no great distance to walk, for Mr. Allan lives in the Parliament Close, not a gun-shot from where we were.”
Mr. Bridges married Flora Macdonald of Scalpa (sister of the heroic Sir John Macdonald, whose powerful hand, with a few of the Scots Guards, closed the gates of Hougomont), and died in November, 1840.
One of the finest specimens of the wooden-fronted houses of 1540 was on the south side of the Lawnmarket, and was standing all unchanged, after the lapse of more than 338 years, till its demolition in 1878-9 (see the engraving after Ewbank’s view of it). “As may be observed, its north front, each storey of which advances a little over that below, is not deficient in elegance, there being Doric pilasters of timber interspersed with the windows of one floor, and some decorations on the gable presented to the street. The west front is plainer, in consequence apparently of repairs; but we there see the covered space in front of the place for merchandise on the ground floor.”
A little east of the building, in the first or smaller part of Riddell’s Close, which, like all others on the south side, ran down towards the Cowgate, a lofty tenement towers upward, with a turret stair, dated 1726. This was the first residence of David Hume, and there it was he wrote the first pages of his History. In 1751 he came hither from his paternal place Ninwells, near Dunse, and soon after he wrote to Adam Smith:- “Direct to me in Riddell’s Land, Lawnmarket… I have now at last, being turned forty, to my own honour, to that of learning, and to that of the present age, arrived at the dignity of being a householder! About seven months ago I got a house of my own, and completed a regular family, consisting of a head – myself – and two inferior members, a maid and a cat. My sister has just joined me, and keeps me company. With frugality, I can reach, I find, cleanliness, warmth, light, plenty, and contentment.”
In the following year he succeeded Ruddiman as Librarian to the Faculty of Advocates.
On the opposite side of this small dark court is a more ancient house, having a curious wainscoted room, the ceiling, walls, and every panel of which are elaborately decorated in Norrie’s style of art; and therein abode Sir John Smith of Grothall (already mentioned), Provost of Edinburgh, and whose name was long borne by the alley. He was one of the commissioners chosen, in 1650, to convey the loyal assurances of the realm to Charles II. and Breda, and to have the Covenant duly subscribed by him.
In the inner part of Riddell’s Close stands the house of Bailie John Macmorran, whose tragic death made a great stir at its time, threw the city into painful excitement, and tarnished the reputation of the famous old High School. The conduct of the scholars there had been bad and turbulent for some years, but it reached a climax on the 15th of September, 1595. On a week’s holiday being refused, the boys were so exasperated, being chiefly “gentilmane’s bairnes,” that they formed a compact for vengeance in the true spirit of the age; and, armed with swords and pistols, took possession at midnight of the ancient school in the Blackfriars Gardens, and declining to admit the masters or any one else, made preparation to stand a siege, setting all authority at defiance.
The doors were not only shut but barricaded and strongly guarded within; all attempts to storm the boy-garrison proved impracticable, and all efforts at reconciliation were unavailing. The Town Council lost patience, and sent Bailie John Macmorran, one of the wealthiest merchants in the city (though he had begun life as a servant to the regent Morton), with a posse of city officers, to enforce the peace. On their appearance in the school-yard the boys became simply outrageous, and mocked them as “buttery carles,” daring any one to approach at his peril. “To the point likely to be first attacked,” says Steven, in his history of the school, “they were observed to throng in a highly excited state, and each seemed to vie with his fellow in threatening instant death to the man who should forcibly attempt to displace them.
William Sinclair, son of the Chancellor of Caithness, had taken a conspicuous share in this barring out, and he now appeared foremost, encouraging his confederates,” and stood at a window overlooking one of the entrances which the Bailie ordered the officers to force, by using a long beam as a battering ram, and he had nearly accomplished his perilous purpose, when a ball in the forehead from Sinclair’s pistol slew him on the spot, and he fell on his back.
Panic-stricken, the boys surrendered. Some effected their escape, and others, including Sinclair and the sons of Murray of Springiedale, and Pringle of Whitebank, were thrown into prison. Macmorran’s family were too rich to be bribed, and clamoured that they would have blood for blood. On the other hand, “friends threatened death to all the people of Edinburgh if they did the child any harm, saying they were not wise who meddled with scholars, especially gentlemen’s sons,” and Lord Sinclair, as chief of the family to which the young culprit belonged, moved boldly in his behalf, and procured the intercession of King James with the magistrates, and in the end all the accused got free, including the slayer of the Bailie, who lived to become Sir William Sinclair of Mey, in 1631, and the husband of Catharine Ross, of Balnagowan, and from them the present Earls of Caithness are descended.
When the brother of the Queen Consort, the Duke of Holstein, visited Edinburgh in March, 1593, and as Moyse tells us, “was received and welcomed very gladly by Her Majesty, and used every way like a prince,” after sundry entertainments at Holyrood, Ravensheugh, and elsewhere, a grand banquet was given him in the house of the late Bailie Macmorran by the city of Edinburgh. The King and Queen were present, “with great solemnity and merriness,” according to Birrel. On the 3rd of June the Duke embarked at Leith, under a salute of sixty pieces of cannon from the bulwarks, and departed with his gifts, to wit – 1,000 five-pound pieces and 1,000 crowns, a hat and string valued at 12,000 pounds (Scots?), and many rich chains and jewels.
The Bailie’s initials, I. M., are on the pediments that ornament his house, which after passing through several generations of his surname, became the residence of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik. “By him,” says Wilson, “it was sold to Sir Roderick Mackenzie, of Preston Hall, appointed a senator of the College of Justice in 1702, who resided in the upper part of the house at the same time that Sir John Mackenzie Lord Royston, third son of the celebrated Earl of Cromarty, one of the wittiest and most gifted men of his time, occupied the low flat. Here, in all probability, his witty and eccentric daughter Anne was born and brought up. This lady, who married Sir William Dick of Prestonfield, carried her humorous pranks to an excess scarcely conceivable in our decorous days; sallying out occasionally in search of adventures, like some of the maids of honour of Charles II.’s Court, dressed in male attire, with her maid for a squire. She seems to have possessed more wit than discretion.” Riddell’s Close was of old an eminently aristocratic quarter.
Lower down the street Fisher’s Close adjoined it, and therein stood, till 1835, the residence of the ducal house of Buccleuch, which was demolished in that year to make way for Victoria Terrace. On the east side of an open court, beyond the Roman Eagle Hall – a beautiful specimen of an ancient saloon – stood the mansion of William Little of Craigmillar (bearing the date 1570), whose brother Clement was the founder of the university library, for in 1580, when commissary of the city, he bequeathed “to Edinburgh and the Kirk of God,” all his books, 300 volumes in number. These were chiefly theological works, and were transferred by the town council to the university. Clement Little was not without having a share in the troubles of those days, and on the 28th of April, 1572, with others, he was proclaimed at the market cross, and deprived of his office, for rebellion against Queen Mary; but the proclamation failed to be put in force. His son was Provost of the city in 1591. Clement and William Little were buried in the Greyfriars’ churchyard, where a great-grandson of the latter erected a tomb to their memory in 1683.2 Little’s Close appears as Lord Cullen’s in Edgar’s map of 1742, so there had also resided that famous lawyer and judge, Sir Frances Grant of Cullen, who joined the Revolution party in 1688, who distinguished himself in the Convention of 1689 by his speech in favour of conferring the crown of Scotland on William and Mary of Orange,, and thus swayed the destinies of the nation. He was raised to the bench in 1709. His friend Wodrow has recorded the closing scene of his active life in this old alley, on the 16th of March, 1726. “Brother,” said the old revolutionist, to one who informed him that his illness was mortal, “you have brought me the best news ever I heard!” “And,” adds old Robert Wodrow, “that day when he died was without a cloud.”