Probable Extinction of the Court of Session – Memorabilia of the Parliament Close and Square – Goldsmiths of the Olden Time – George Heriot – His Workshop – His Interview with James VI. – Peter Williamson’s Tavern – Royal Exchange – Statue of Charles II. – Bank of Scotland – The Fire of 1700 – The Work of Restoration – John Row’s Coffee-house – Sylvester Otway – Sir W. Forbes’s Bank – Sir Walter Scott’s Eulogy on Sir William Forbes – John Kay’s Print-shop – The Parliament Stairs – James Sibbald – A Libel Case – Fire in June, 1824 – Dr. Archibald Pitcairn – The “Greping Office” – Painting of King Charles’s Statue White – Seal of Arnauld Lammius.
A CHANGE has come over the scene of their labours and the system of the law which these old lords could never have conceived possible – we mean the system that is gradually extending in Scotland, of decentralising the legal business of the country – a system which stands out in strong contrast to the mode of judicial centralisation now prevailing in England. The Scottish county courts have a jurisdiction almost co-extensive with that of the Supreme Court, while those of England have a jurisdiction (without consent of parties) to questions only of £50 value. This gives them an overwhelming amount of business, while the supreme courts of Scotland are starved by the inferior competing with them in every kind of litigation. Thus the Court of Session is gradually swindling away, by the active competition of the provincial courts, and the legal school becomes every day more defective for lack of legal practice. The ultimate purpose, or end, of this system will, undoubtedly, lead to the disappearance of the Court of Session, or its amalgamation with the supreme courts in London will become an object of easy accomplishment; and then the school from whence the Scottish advocates and judges come, being non-existent, the assimilation of the Scottish county courts to those of England, and the sweeping away of the whole legal business of the country to London, must eventually follow, with, perhaps, the entire subjection of Scotland to the English courts of law.
A description of the Parliament Close is given in the second volume of “Peter’s Letters his Kinsfolk,” before the great fire of 1824:-
“The courts of justice with which all these eminent men are so closely connected are placed in and about the same range of buildings which in former times were set apart for the accommodation of the Parliament of Scotland. The main approach to these buildings lies through a small oblong square, which from this circumstance takes the name of the Parliament Close. On two sides this close is surrounded by houses of the same gigantic kind of elevation, and in these, of old, were lodged a great proportion of the dignitaries and principal practitioners of the adjacent Courts. At present, however (1819), they are dedicated, like most of the houses in the same quarter of the city, to the accommodation of tradespeople and inferior persons attached to the courts of law… The southern side of the square and a small portion of the eastern are filled with venerable Gothic buildings, which for many generations have been dedicated to the accommodation of the courts of law, but which are now shut out from the eye of the public by a very ill-conceived and tasteless front-work, of modern device, including a sufficient allowance of staring square windows, Ionic pillars, and pilasters. What beauty the front of the structure may have possessed in its original state I have no means of ascertaining; but Mr. Wastle (J. G. Lockhart) sighs every time we pass through the close, as pathetically as could be wished, ‘over the glory that hath departed.’ “
The old Parliament House, the front of which has been destroyed and concealed by the arcaded and pillared façade referred to, we have already described. The old Goldsmiths’ Hall, on the west side, formed no inconsiderable feature in the close, where, about 1673, the first coffee-house established in the city was opened.
The Edinburgh goldsmiths of the olden time were deemed a superior class of tradesmen, and were wont to appear in public with cocked hats, scarlet cloaks, and gold-mounted canes, as men of undoubted consideration. The father of John Law of Lauriston, the famous financial projector, was the son of a goldsmith in Edinburgh, where he was born in April, 1671; but by far the most famous of all the craft in the old Parliament Close was George Heriot.
Down to the year 1780, says a historian, perhaps there was not a goldsmith in Edinburgh who did not condescend to manual labour. In their shops every one of them might have been found busy with some light work, and generally in a very plain dress, yet ever ready to serve a customer, politely and readily. The whole plate shops of the city being collected in or near the Parliament Close, thither it was that, till the close of the eighteenth century, country couples resorted – the bride to get her bed and table napery and trousseau; there, too, were got the nuptial ring, and “the silver spoons,” and, as the goldsmiths of the city then kept scarcely and goods on hand in their shops, everything had to be ordered long before it was required; and it was always unusual for the goldsmith and his customer to adjourn together to the Baijen Hole, an ancient baker’s shop, the name of which has proved a puzzle to local antiquarians, or to John’s Coffee House, to adjust the order and payment, through the medium of a dram or a stoup of mellow ale. But, as time passed on, and the goldsmiths of Edinburgh became more extensive in their views, capital, and ambition, the old booths in the Parliament Close were in quick succession abandoned for ever.
The workshop of George Heriot existed in this neighbourhood till the demolition of Beth’s Wynd and the adjacent buildings. There were three contiguous small shops, with projecting wooden super-structures above them, that extended in a line, between the door of the old Tolbooth and that of the Laigh Council-house. They stood upon the site of the entrance-hall of the present Signet Library, and the central of these three shops was the booth of the immortal George Heriot, the founder of the great hospital, the goldsmith of King James VI. – the good-humoured, honest, and generous “Jingling Geordie” of the “Fortunes of Nigel.”
It measured only seven feet square! The back windows looked into Beth’s Wynd; and, to show the value of local tradition, it long appeared that this booth belonged to George Heriot, and it became a confirmed fact when, on the demolition of the latter place, his name was found carved above the door, on the stone lintel. His forge and bellows, as well as a stone crucible and lid, were also found on clearing away the ruins, and are now carefully preserved in the museum of the hospital, to which they were presented by the late Mr. Robertson, of the Commercial Bank, a grateful “Auld Herioter.”
Humble though this booth, after the execution of “the bonnie Earl of Gowrie,” when the extravagance of Anne of Denmark – a devoted patron of George Heriot – rendered the king’s private exchequer somewhat impaired, he was not above paying visits to some of the wealthier citizens in the Lawnmarket or Parliament Square, and, among others, to the royal goldsmith. The latter being bred to his father’s business, to which in that age was usually added the occupation of a banker, was admitted a member of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths on the 28th May, 1588. In 1597 he was appointed goldsmith to Queen Anne, and soon after to the king. Several of the accounts for jewels furnished by him to the queen are inserted in Constable’s “Life of Heriot,” published in 1822.
It is related that one day he had been sent for by the king, whom he found seated in one of the rooms at Holyrood, before a fire composed of cedar, or some other perfumed wood, which cast a pleasant fragrance around, and the king mentioned incidentally that it was quite as costly as it was agreeable. “If your majesty will visit me at my booth in the Parliament Close,” quoth Heriot, “I will show you a fire more costly than that.” “Say you so!” said the king; “then I will.”
On doing so, he was surprised to find that Heriot had only a coal fire of the usual kind.
“Wait, your highness, till I get my fuel,” replied Heriot, who from an old cabinet or almrie took a bond for £2,000 which he had lent to James, and, laying it on the fire, he asked, laughingly, “Now, whether is your majesty’s fire in Holyrood or mine the most costly?”
“Certainly yours, Master Heriot!” Replied the king.
One of the shops next to the jeweller’s was, about the middle of last century, a tavern, kept by the famous Peter Williamson, the returned Palatine (as the boys abducted from Aberdeen were called) who designated himself on his signboard as “from the other world.” Here the magistrates partook of the Deid-chack – a dinner at the expense of the city – after having attended an execution, a practice abolished by Lord Provost Creech.
In 1685 an Exchange was erected in the Parliament Close. It had a range of piazzas for the accommodation of merchants transacting business; but by old use and wont, attached as they were to the more ancient place of meeting, the Cross, this convenience was scarcely ever used by them.
In 1685 the equestrian statue of Charles II., a well-executed work in lead, was erected in the Parliament Close, not far from its present site, where one intended for Cromwell was to have been placed; but the Restoration changed the political face of Edinburgh. In the accounts of George Drummond, City Treasurer, 1684-5, it appears that the king’s statue was erected by the provost, magistrates, and council, at the cost of £2,580 Scots, the bill for which seems to have come from Rotterdam. On the last destruction of the old Parliament Close, by a fire yet to be recorded, the statue was conveyed for safety to the yard of the Calton Gaol, where it lay for some years, till the pedestal was erected, in which are inserted two marble tablets, which had been preserved among some lumber under the Parliament House, and, form the somewhat fulsome inscriptions thereon, seem to have belonged to the first pedestal. Among the more homely associations of the Parliament Close, the festivities of the royal birthday are worthy of remembrance, as being perhaps amongst the most long-cherished customs of the people ere –
“The times were changed, old manners gone,
And a stranger filled the Stuart’s throne.”
It was usual on this annual festival to have a public breakfast in the great hall, when tables, at the expense of the city, were covered with wines and confections, and the sovereign’s health was drunk with acclaim, the volleys of the Town Guard made the tall mansions re-echo, and the statue of King Charles was decorated with laurel leaves by the Auld Callants, as the boys of Heriot’s Hospital were named, and who claimed this duty as a prescriptive right.
The Bank of Scotland, incorporated by royal charter in 1695, first opened for business in a flat, or floor, of the Parliament Close, with a moderate staff of clerks, and a paid-up capital of only ten thousand pounds sterling. The smallest share which any person could hold in this bank was £1,000 Scots, and the largest £20,000 of the same money. To lend money on heritable bonds and other securities was the chief business of the infant bank. The giving of bills of exchange – the great business of private bankers – was, after much deliberation, tried by the “adventurers,” with a view to the extension of business as far as possible. In pursuance of this object, and to circulate their notes through the realm, branch offices were opened at Glasgow, Dundee, Montrose, and Aberdeen, to receive and pay out money, in the form of inland exchange, by notes and bills. But eventually the directors “found that the exchange trade was not proper for a banking company,” which they conceived to be more properly intended “as a common repository of the nation’s cash – a ready fund for affording credit and loans, and for making receipts and payments of money easy by the company’s notes.” But, as dealing in exchange interfered with private trade, the new Bank of Scotland deemed it troublesome and improper. “There was much to be done in that business without doors, by day and night, without such variety of circumstances and conditions as are inconsistent with the precise hours of a public office and the rules and regulations of a well-governed company; and no company like the Bank can be managed without fixing stated office-hours for business, and establishing rules and regulations, which will never answer the management of the exchange trade.”
Ere long the bank, we are told (in “Domestic Annals of Scotland”), found it impossible to support the four provincial branches, as they did not contribute to the ends in view; “for the money that was once lodged in any of these places by the cashiers issuing bills payable at Edinburgh, could not be re-drawn thence by bills from Edinburgh;” of course, because of there being so little owing then to persons resident in the provinces. So, after considerable outlay in trying the branch offices, the directors ordered them to be closed, and their money brought on horseback to the Parliament Close, where the company’s business was thenceforward wholly restricted for a time to lending money, and all transactions to be in Edinburgh.
In the fire we have mentioned as occurring in 1700 the bank perished. Assisted by the Earl of Leven, Governor of the Castle and also of the bank, with a party of soldiers, and by David Lord Ruthven, a director, who stood in the turnpike stair all night, keeping the passage free, the cash, bank-notes, books, and papers, were saved. Thus, though every other kind of property perished, the struggling bank was able to open an office higher up in the city. (“Hist. Of Bank of Scot.,” 1728.)
In that fire the Scottish Treasury Room perished, with the Exchequer and Exchange, and the Parliament Square was afterwards rebuilt (in the picturesque style, the destruction of which was so much regretted), in conformity with an Act passed in 1698, regulating the mode of building in Edinburgh with regard to height, convenience, strength, and security from fire. The altitude of the houses was greatly reduced. Previous to the event of 1700, the tenements on the south side of the Parliament Close, as viewed from the Kirkheugh, were fifteen storeys in height, and till the erection of the new town were deemed the most splendid of which the city could boast.
Occurring after “King William’s seven years of famine,” which the Jacobites believed to be a curse sent from heaven upon Scotland, this calamity was felt with double force; and in 1702 the Town Council passed an Act for “suppressing immoralities,” in which, among the tokens of God’s wrath, “the great fire of the 3d February” is specially referred to.
Notwithstanding the local depression, we find in 1700 none of the heartless inertia that characterised the city for sixty years after the Union. Not an hour was lost in commencing the work of restoration, and many of the sites were bought by Robert Mylne, the king’s master-mason. The new Royal Exchange, which had its name and the date 1700 cut boldly above its doorway, rose to the height of twelve storeys on the south – deemed a moderate altitude in those days. On its eastern side was an open arcade, with Doric pilasters and entablature, as a covered walk for pedestrians, and the effect of the whole was stately and imposing. Many aristocratic families who had been burned out, came flocking back to the vast tenements of the Parliament Close, among others the Countess of Wemyss, who was resident there in a fashionable flat at the time of the Porteous mob, and whose footman was accused of being one of the rioters, and who very nearly had a terrible tragedy acted in her own house, the outcome of the great one in the Grassmarket.
It is related that the close connection into which the noble family of Wemyss were thus brought to the Porteous mob, as well as their near vicinity to the chief line of action, naturally produced a strong impression on the younger members of the family. They had probably been aroused from bed by the shouts of the rioters assembling beneath their windows, and the din of their sledge-hammers thundering on the old Tolbooth door. Thus, not long after the Earl of Wemyss – the Hon. Francis Charteris was born in 1723, and was then a boy – proceeded, along with his sisters, to get up a game, or representation of the Porteous mob, and having duly forced his prison, and dragged forth the supposed culprit, “the romps got so thoroughly into the spirit of their dramatic sports that they actually hung up their brother above a door, and had well nigh finished their play in real tragedy.”
The first coffee-house opened in Edinburgh was John Row’s, in Robertson’s Land, a tall tenement near the Parliament House. This was in 1673. It was shut up in 1677, in consequence of a brawl, reported to the Privy Council by the Town Major, who had authority to see into such matters.
The north-east corner of the Parliament Close was occupied by John’s coffee-house. There, as Defoe, the historian of the Union, tells us, the opponents of this measure met daily, to discuss the proceedings that were going on in the Parliament House close by, and to form schemes of opposition thereto; and there, no doubt, were sung fiercely and emphatically the doggerel rhymes known as “Belhaven’s Vision,” of which the only copies extant are those printed at Edinburgh in 1729, at the Glasgow Arms, opposite the Corn Market; and that other old song, which was touched by the master-hand of Burns:-
“What force or guile could not subdue,
Through many warlike ages,
Is now wrought by a coward few
For hireling traitor’s wages;
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But England’s gold has been our bane –
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!”
John’s coffee-house was also the resort of the judges and lawyers of the eighteenth century for consultations, and for their “meridian,” or twelve o’clock dram; for in those days every citizen had his peculiar howff, or place of resort by day or night, where merchants, traders, and men of every station, met for consultation, or good-fellowship, and to hear the items of news that came by the mail or stage from distant parts; and Wilson, writing in 1847, says, “Currie’s Tavern, in Craig’s Close, once the scene of meeting of various clubs, and a favourite resort of merchants, still retains a reputation among certain antiquarian bibbers for an old-fashioned luxury, known by the name of pap-in, a strange compound of small-beer and whiskey, curried, as the phrase is, with a little oatmeal.”
Gossiping Wodrow tells us in his “Analecta,” that, on the 10th of June, 1712, “The birthday of the Pretender, I hear there has been great outrages at Edinburgh by his friends. His health was drunk early in the morning in the Parliament Close; and at night, when the magistrates were going through the streets to keep the peace, several were taken up in disguise, and the King’s health (i.e., James VIII.) was drunk out of several windows, and the glasses thrown over the windows when the magistrates passed by, and many windows were illuminated. At Leith there was a standard set upon the pier, with a thistle and Nemo me impune lacessit, and J. R. VIII.; and beneath, Noe Abjuration. This stood a great part of the day.” Had the old historian lived till the close of the century or the beginning of the present, he might have seen, as Chambers tells us, “Singing Jamie Balfour” – a noted convivialist, of whom a portrait used to hang in the Leith Golf-house – with other topers in the Parliament Close, all bare-headed, on their knees, and hand-in-hand, around the statue of Charles II., chorusing vigorously, “The King shall enjoy his own again.” Jamie Balfour was well known to Sir Walter Scott.
About the year 1760 John’s coffee-house was kept by a man named Oswald, whose son John, born there, and better known under his assumed name of Sylvester Otway, was one of the most extraordinary characters of that century as a poet and politician. He served an apprenticeship to a jeweller in the Close, till a relation left him a legacy, with which he purchased a commission in the Black Watch, and in 1780 he was the third lieutenant in seniority in the 2nd battalion when serving in India. Already master of Latin and Greek, he then taught himself Arabic, and, quitting the army in 1783. Became a violent Radical, and published in London a pamphlet on the British Constitution, setting forth his views (crude as they were) and principles. His amatory poems received the approbation of Burns; and, after publishing various farces, effusions, and fiery political papers, he joined the French Revolution in 1792, when his pamphlets obtained for him admission into the Jacobite Club, and his experiences in the 42nd procured him command of a regiment composed of the masses of Paris, with which he marched against the royalists in La Vendée, on which occasion his men mutinied, and shot him, together with his two sons – whom, in the spirit of equality, he had made drummers – and an English gentleman, who had the misfortune to be serving in the same battalion.
John third Earl of Bute, a statesman and a patron of literature, who procured a pension for Dr. Johnson, and who became so unpopular as a minister through the attacks of Wilkes, was born in the Parliament Close on the 25th of May, 1713.
Near to John’s coffee-house, and on the south side of the Parliament Close, was the banking-house of Sir William Forbes, Bart., who was born at Edinburgh in 1739. He was favourably known as the author of the “Life of Beattie,” and other works, and as being one of the most benevolent and high-spirited of citizens. The bank was in reality established by the father of Thomas Coutts, the eminent London banker, and young Forbes, in October, 1753, was introduced to the former as an apprentice for a term of seven years. He became a co-partner in 1761, and on the death of one of the Messrs. Coutts, and retirement of another on account of ill-health, while two others were settled in London, a new company was formed, comprising Sir William Forbes, Sir James Hunter Blair, and Sir Robert Herries, who, at first, carried on business in the name of the old firm.
In 1773, however, Sir Robert formed a separate establishment in London, when the name was changed to Forbes, Hunter, and Co., of which firm Sir William continued to be the head till his death, in 1806.
Kincaid tells us that, when their first banking-house was building, great quantities of human bones – relics of St. Giles’s Churchyard – were dug up, which were again buried at the south-east corner, between the wall of the edifice and the Parliament Stairs that led to the Cowgate; and that, “not many years ago, numbers were also dug up in the Parliament Close, which were carefully put in casks, and buried in the Greyfriars’ Churchyard.”
In accordance with a long-cherished desire of restoring his family – which had been attainted for loyalty to the house of Stuart – Sir William Forbes embraced a favourable opportunity for purchasing a great portion of the upper barony of Pitsligo, including the roofless and ruined old mansion-house of the Lords Pitsligo. He bestowed charity daily upon a number of pensioner’s, who were in the habit of waiting on him as he entered or left the bank, or as he passed through the Parliament Close, where for years, as we are told in “The Hermit in Edinburgh, 1824,” might be seen the figure of “that pillar of worth, Sir William Forbes, in the costume of the last century, with a profusion of grey locks tied in a club, and a cloud of hair-powder flying about him in a windy day; his tall, upright form is missed in the circles of moral life; the poor miss him also.”
His friend Scott wrote of him, in the fourth canto of “Marmion,” thus affectionately and forcibly:-
“Far may we search before we find
A heart so manly and so kind!
But not around his honoured urn,
Shall friends alone and kindred mourn,
The thousand eyes his care had dried
Pour at his name a bitter tide;
And frequent falls the grateful dew,
For benefits the world ne’er knew.
If mortal charity dare claim
The Almighty’s attributed name,
Inscribe above his mouldering clay,
The widow’s shield, the orphan’s stay!”
Near his banking-house, and adjoining the Parliament (or old back) Stairs, was long a shop occupied by John Kay, the well-known engraver and caricaturist, whose “Portraits” of old Edinburgh characters certainly form, with their biographies, perhaps the most unique collection in Europe. During his whole career he occupied the same small print-shop; the solitary window was filled with his own etchings, which amounted to nearly 900 in number. He had originally been a barber, but after 1785 devoted himself solely to the art of etching and miniature painting. He died in 1830, at No. 227, High Street, in his eighty-fourth year. “In his latter days,” says his biographer, “he was a slender but straight old man, of middle size, and usually dressed in a garb of antique cut; of simple habits and unassuming manners.”
The stairs just referred to – a great and massive flight that ascended from the Cowgate to Parliament Close, immediately under the south window of the great hall – have long since given place to the buildings of the modern square; and no doubt they occupied the site of some old passage between the Cowgate and the churchyard, and for this they had been substituted about the year 1636. At their base was an ancient public well. The Edinburgh Weekly Journal for 1821 mentions that a man fell over “the stairs which lead from the Kirkheugh to the Parliament stairs;” and the same Journal for 1828 states that “workmen are engaged in taking down the large double tenement in the Cowgate, at the back of the Parliament House, called Henderson’s Stairs, part of which, it will be remembered, fell last summer, and which had been condemned sixty years ago,” in 1768.
In 1781 James Sibbald, an eminent bookseller and literary antiquarian, the son of a Roxburgh farmer, who came to Edinburgh with £100 in his pocket, after being employed in the shop of Elliot the publisher, purchased the old circulating library that had belonged to Allan Ramsay, and commenced business in the Parliament Close, where, in 1783, he started a new monthly miscellany, named The Edinburgh Magazine, illustrated with engravings, the principal papers in which were articles on Scottish antiquities, the production of his own pen. He was also the projector of the Edinburgh Herald, which, however, was soon discontinued. Relinquishing his establishment in the Close about 1792, he devoted himself to a literary life in London; but, after a somewhat chequered career, returned to Edinburgh, where he died in a lodging in Leith Walk in 1803.
In 1816 the Parliament Close, or Square as it was then becoming more generally named, was the scene of an unseemly literary fracas, arising from political hatred and circumstances, by which one life was ultimately lost, and which might have imperilled even that of Sir Walter Scott. A weekly paper, called the Beacon, was established in Edinburgh, the avowed object of which was the support of the then Government, but which devoted its columns to the defamation of private characters, particularly those of the leading Whig nobles and gentlemen of Scotland. This system of personal abuse gave rise to several actions at law, and on the 15th of August a recontre took place between James Stuart of Dunearn, who conceived his honour and character impugned in an article which he traced to Duncan Stevenson, the printer of the paper, in the Parliament Square. Stuart, with a horsewhip, lashed the latter, who was not slow in retaliating with a stout cane. “The parties were speedily separated,” says the Scots Magazine for 1816, “and Mr. Stevenson, in the course of the day, demanded from Mr. Stuart the satisfaction customary in such cases. This was refused by Mr. Stuart, on the ground that, ‘as the servile instrument of a partnership of slander,’ he was unworthy of receiving the satisfaction of a gentleman. Mr. Stevenson replied on the following day that he should forthwith post Mr. Stuart as ‘a coward and scoundrel,’ and he put his threat in execution accordingly. Next day both parties were bound over by the sheriff to keep the peace for twelve months.”
But the matter did not end here. Mr. Stuart discovered that the Lord Advocate, Sir Walter Scott, and other Conservatives, had signed a bond for a considerable amount, binding themselves to support the Beacon, against which such strong proceedings were instituted that the print was withdrawn from the public entirely by the 22nd of September. “But the discovery of the bond,” continues the magazine just quoted, “was nearly leading to more serious consequences, for, if report be true, Mr. James Gibson, W.S., one of those who had been grossly calumniated in the Beacon, had thought proper to make such a demand upon Sir Walter Scott as he could only be prevented from answering in a similar hostile spirit by the interference of a common friend, Lord Lauderdale.”
All these quarrels culminated in Mr. Stuart of Dunearn, not long after, shooting Sir Alexander Boswell, as author of a satirical paper in the Glasgow Sentinel, which had taken up the rôle of the Beacon.
We have said the great fire of 1700, in the Parliament Close, was attributed by the magistrates to the justice of Heaven; but it seems scarcely credible, though such was the fact, that the still more calamitous fire of 1824, in the same place, was “attributed by the lower orders in and near Edinburgh also to be the judgment of Heaven, specially commissioned to punish the city for tolerating such a dreadful enormity as – the Musical Festival!”
Early on the morning of the 24th of June, 1824, a fire broke out in a spirit-vault, or low drinking-shop, at the head of the Royal Bank Close, and it made great progress before the engines arrived, and nearly all the old edifices being panelled or wainscoted, the supply of water proved ineffectual to check the flames, and early in the afternoon the eastern half of the Parliament Square was a heap of blackened ruins. To the surprise of all who witnessed this calamity, and observed the hardihood and temerity displayed by several persons to save property, or to arrest the progress of the flames, the only individual who fell a sacrifice was a city officer named Chalmers, who was so dreadfully scorched that he died in the infirmary a few days after.
In one of the houses consumed on this occasion was a cellar or crypt in which Dr. Archibald Pitcairn, the celebrated wit, poet, and physician, who was born at Edinburgh in 1652, was wont to pass many a jovial evening about 120 years before the conflagration. The entrance to this gloomy place was opposite the eastern window of St. Giles, and it descended from under a piazza. A more extraordinary scene for the indulgence of mirth and of festivity than this subterranean crypt or den – facetiously named the Greping Office – certainly could not well be conceived, nor could wit, poetry, and physic well have chosen a darker scene; yet it was the favourite of one whose writings were distinguished for their brilliancy and elegant Latinity. He died in 1713, and was buried in the Greyfriars’ Churchyard.
In the fourth floor of the land overlooking the aforesaid cellar, there dwelt, about 1775, Lord Auchinleck, one of the Senators of the College of Justice, the father of James Boswell, the friend and biographer of Samuel Johnson.
In the year 1767 the magistrates of Edinburgh had the bad taste to paint the equestrian statue of King Charles white, on which occasion the following witty rhymes appeared in a print of the day. The Allan Ramsay referred to is the son of the poet, who had just painted the portrait of George III.:-
“Well done, my lord! With noble taste,
You’ve made Charles gay as five-and-twenty,
We may be scarce of gold and corn,
But sure there’s lead and oil in plenty;
Yet, for a public work like this,
You might have had some famous artist;
Though I had made each merk a pound,
I would have had the very smartest.
“Why not bring Allan Ramsay down,
From sketching coronet and cushion?
For he can paint a living king,
And knows – the English Constitution.
The milk-white steed is well enough;
But why thus daub the man all over,
And to the swarthy STUART give
The cream complexion of HANOVER?”
In 1832, when a drain was being dug in the Parliament Square, close by St. Giles’s Church, there was found the bronze seal of a Knight of St. John of Jerusalem. It is now preserved in the Museum of Antiquities, and bears the legend, “S. AERNAULD LAMMIUS.”