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Chapter 19 – George Street., pp.139-151.

[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]

Major Andrew Fraser – The Father of Miss Ferrier – Grant of Kilgraston – William Blackwood and his Magazine – The Mother of Sir Walter Scott – Sir John Hay. Banker – Colquhoun of Killermont – Mrs. Murray of Henderland – The Houses of Sir J. W. Gordon, Sir James Hall, and Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster – St. Andrew’s Church – Scene of the Disruption – Physicians’ Hall – Glance at the History of the College of Physicians – Sold and Removed – The Commercial Bank – Its Constitution – Assembly Rooms – Rules of 1789 – Banquet to Black Watch – “The Author of Waverley” – The Music Hall – The New Union Bank – Its Formation, &c. – The Masonic Hall – Watson’s Picture of Burns – Statues of George IV., Pitt, and Chalmers. 

   PREVIOUS to the brilliant streets and squares erected in the northern and western portions of new Edinburgh, George Street was said to have no rival in the world; and even yet, after having undergone many changes, for combined length, space, uniformity, and magnificence of vista, whether viewed from the east or west, it may well be pronounced unparalleled. Straight as an arrow flies, it is like its sister streets, but is 115 feet broad. Here a great fossil tree was found in 1852. 

   A portion of the street on the south side, near the west end, long bore the name of the Tontine, and owing to some legal dispute, which left the houses there unfinished, they were occupied as infantry barracks during the war with France. 

   Nos. 3 and 5 (the latter once the residence of Major Andrew Fraser and of William Creech the eminent bookseller) form the office of the Standard Life Assurance Company, in the tympanum of which, over four fine Corinthian pilasters, is a sculptured group from the chisel of Sir John Steel, representing the parable of the Ten Virgins. In George Street are about thirty different insurance offices, or their branches, all more or less ornate in architecture, and several banks. 

   In No. 19, on the same side, is the Caledonian, the oldest Scottish insurance company (having been founded in June, 1805). Previously the office had been in Bank Street. A royal charter was granted to the company in May, 1810, and twenty-three years afterwards the business of life assurance was added to that of fire insurance. 

   No. 25 George Street was the residence (from 1784 till his death, in 1829), of Mr. James Ferrier, Principal Clerk of Session, and father of Miss Susan Ferrier, the authoress of “Marriage,” &c. He was a keen whist player, and every night of his life had a rubber, which occasionally included Lady Augusta Clavering, daughter of his friend and client John, fifth Duke of Argyll, and old Dr. Hamilton, usually designated “Cocked Hat” Hamilton, from the fact of his being one of the last in Edinburgh who bore that head-piece. When victorious, he would snap his fingers and caper about the room, to the manifest indignation of Mr. Ferrier, who would express it to his partner in the words, “Lady Augusta, did you ever see such rediculous leevity in an auld man?” Robert Burns used also to be a guest at No. 25, and was present on one occasion when some magnificent Gobelins tapestry arrived there for the Duke of Argyll on its way to Inverary Castle. Mrs. Piozzi also, when in Edinburgh, dined there. Next door lived the Misses Edmonstone, of the Duntreath family, and with them pitched battles at whist were of frequent nightly occurrence. These old ladies figure in “Marriage” as Aunts Jacky, Grizzy, and Nicky; they were grand-nieces of the fourth Duke of Argyll. The eldest Miss Ferrier was one of the Edinburgh beauties in her day; and Burns once happening to meet her, while turning the corner of George Street, felt suddenly inspired, and wrote the lines to her enclosed in an elegy on the death of Sir D. H. Blair. Miss Ferrier and Miss Penelope Macdonald of Clanronald, were rival belles; the former married General Graham of Stirling Castle, the latter Lord Belhaven. 

   In No. 32 dwelt Francis Grant of Kilgraston, father of Sir Francis Grant, President of the Royal Academy, born in 1803; and No. 35, now a shop, was the town house of the Blairs of Balthayock, in Perthshire. 

   No. 45 has long been famous as the establishment of Messrs. Blackwood, the eminent publishers. William Blackwood, the founder of the magazine which stills bears his name, and on the model of which so many high-class periodicals have been started in the sister kingdom, was born at Edinburgh in 1776, and after being apprenticed to the ancient bookselling firm of Bell and Bradfute, and engaging in various connections with other bibliopoles, in 1804 he commenced as a dealer in old books on the South Bridge, in No. 64, but soon after became agent for several London publishing houses. In 1816 he disposed of his vast stock of classical and antiquarian books, 15,000 volumes in number, and removing to No. 17 Princes Street, thenceforward devoted his energies to the business of a general publisher, and No. 17 is to this day a bookseller’s shop. 

   In October, 1817, he brought out the first number of that celebrated magazine which has enrolled among its contributors the names of Wilson, Scott, Henry Mackenzie, J. McCrie, Brewster, De Quincey, Hamilton (the author of “Cyril Thornton”), Aytoun, Alison, Lockhart, Bulwer, Warren, James Hogg, Dr. Moir, and a host of others. This periodical had a predecessor, The Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, projected in April, 1817, and edited by Thomas Pringle, a highly-esteemed poet and miscellaneous writer, the son of a fanner in Teviotdale, and this falling into the hands of new proprietors, became the famous Blackwood’s Magazine

   This was consequently No. VII. of the series, though the first of Blackwood. “In the previous six numbers there had been nothing allowed to creep in that could possibly offend the most zealous partisan of the blue and yellow,” says Mrs. Gordon, in her “Life of Professor Wilson.” In the first Number the Edinburgh Review had been praised for its moderation, ability, and delicate taste, and politics were rather eschewed; but Number seven “spoke a different language, and proclaimed a new and sterner creed,” and among able and interesting papers, contained three calculated to create curiosity, offence, and excitement. The first was a fierce assault on Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, which was stigmatised as a “most execrable” performance, and its author “a miserable compound of egotism and malignity.” The second was a still more bitter attack on Leigh Hunt, who was denounced as a “profligate creature,” one “without reverence for either God or man.” The third was the famous “Chaldee Manuscript,” the effect of which upon the then circle of Edinburgh society can hardly be realised now; but this pungent jeu d’esprit, of which it is scarcely necessary to give any account here, is still preserved in Volume IV. of the works of Professor Wilson. 

   The sensation excited by the new magazine was kept up by all the successive numbers, though for some months no one was attacked; but the subjects discussed were handled in a masterly manner, and exhibited a variety of talent that could not fail to influence and command the respect of all; and it has been said that the early defects of the magazine are nowhere better analysed than by the hands of those who did the work – the authors of “Peter’s Letters,” &c. At what precise period Professor Wilson came into personal communication with old William Blackwood is not quite known, but he had been for some time an anonymous contributor, under the initial N. His last papers, Nos. 9 and 10 of “Dies Boreales,” were written, we believe, in the autumn of 1852. William Blackwood himself never wrote more than two or three articles for the earlier numbers, but the whole management and arrangement devolved upon him at No. 17 Princes Street, and he executed the editorial duties with unusual skill, tact, and vigour. He was still there in 1823, when Leigh Hunt threatened legal proceedings against the magazine – “a cockney crow,” as Lockhart called it in one of his letters to Wilson; adding, “Who the devil cares for all cockneydom?” 

   His establishment in 45 George Street is very like what we find it described as having been in “Peter’s Letters” (Vol. II.):- “The length of vista presented to one on entering the shop has a very imposing effect, for it is carried back, room after room, through various gradations of light and shadow, till the eye cannot distinctly trace the outline of any object in the farthest distance. First there is, as usual, a spacious place set apart for retail business, and a numerous detachment of young clerks and apprentices, to whose management that important department of the concern is entrusted. Then you have an elegant oval saloon, lighted from the roof, where various groups of loungers and literary dilettanti are engaged at, or criticising amongst themselves, the publications just arrived by that day’s coach from London. In such critical colloquies the voice of the bookseller himself may ever and anon be heard mingling the broad and unadulterated notes of its Auld Reekie music; for, unless occupied in the recesses of the premises with some other business, it is here he has his usual station. He is a nimble, active-looking man, of middle age, and moves about from one corner to another with great alacrity, and apparently under the influence of high animal spirits. His complexion is very sanguineous, but nothing can be more intelligent, keen, and sagacious than the expression of the whole physiognomy; above all, the grey eyes and eyebrows, as full of locomotion as those of Catalani. The remarks he makes are. in general, extremely acute – much more so, indeed, than those of any other member of the trade I ever heard speak on such topics. The shrewdness and decision of the man can, however, stand in need of no testimony beyond what his own conduct has afforded – above all, in the establishment of his magazine (the conception of which, I am assured, was entirely his own), and the subsequent energy with which he has supported it through every variety of good and evil fortune.” 

   Like other highly successful periodicals, Blackwood’s Magazine has paid the penalty of its greatness, for many serial publications have been projected upon its plan and scope, without its inherent originality and vigour. 

   William Blackwood published the principal works of Wilson, Lockhart, Hogg, Gait, Moir, and other distinguished contributors to the magazine, as well as several productions of Sir Walter Scott. He was twice a magistrate of his native city, and in that capacity took a prominent part in its affairs. He died on the 16th of September, 1834, in his fifty-eighth year. 

   “Four months of suffering, in part intense,” says the Magazine for October, 1837, “exhausted by slow degrees all his physical energies, but left his temper calm and unruffled, and his intellect entire and vigorous to the last. He had thus what no good man will consider as a slight privilege: that of contemplating the approach of death with the clearness and full strength of his mind and faculties, and of instructing those around him by the solemn precept and memorable example, by what means humanity alone, conscious of its own frailty, can sustain that prospect with humble serenity.” 

   This is evidently from the pen of John Wilson, in whose relations with the magazine this death made no change. 

   William Blackwood left a widow, seven sons, and two daughters; the former carried on – and their grandsons still carry on – the business in the old establishment in George Street, which, since Constable passed away, has been the great literary centre of Edinburgh. 

   No. 49, the house of Wilkie of Foulden, is now a great music saloon; and No. 75, now the County Fire and other public offices, has a peculiar interest, as there lived and died the mother of Sir Walter Scott – Anne Rutherford, daughter of Dr. John Rutherford, a woman who, the biographer of her illustrious son tells us, was possessed of superior natural talents, with a good taste for music and poetry and great conversational powers. In her youth she is said to have been acquainted with Allan Ramsay, Beattie, Blacklock, and many other Scottish men of letters in the last century; and independently of the influence which her own talents and acquirements may have given her in training the opening mind of the future novelist, it is obvious that he must have been much indebted to her in early life for the select and intellectual literary society of which her near relations were the ornaments – for she was the daughter of a professor and the sister of a professor, both of the University of Edinburgh. 

   Her demise, on the 24th of December, 1819, is simply recorded thus in the obituary:- “At her house in George Street, Edinburgh, Mrs. Anne Rutherford, widow of the late Walter Scott, Writer to the Signet.” 

   “She seemed to take a very affectionate farewell of me, which was the day before yesterday,” says Scott, in a letter to his brother, in the 70th regiment, dated 22nd December; “and, as she was much agitated Dr. Keith advised I should not see her again, unless she seemed to desire it, which she has not hitherto done. She sleeps constantly, and will probably be so removed. Our family sends love to yours. 

“Yours most affectionately, 

                                           “WALTER SCOTT.” 

   No. 78 was, in 1811, the house of Sir John Hay of Smithfield and Hayston, Baronet, banker, who married Mary, daughter of James, sixteenth Lord Forbes. He had succeeded to the title in the preceding year, on the death of his father, Sir James, and is thus referred to in the scarce “Memoirs of a Banking House,” by Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, Bart.:- 

   “Three years afterwards we made a further change in the administration by the admission of my brother-in-law, Mr. John Hay, as a partner. In the year 1774, at my request, Sir Robert Herries had agreed that he should go to Spain, and serve an apprenticeship in his house at Barcelona, where he continued till spring, 1776, when he returned to London, and was received by Sir Robert into his house in the City – from which, by that time, our separation had taken place – and where, as well as in the banking house in St. James’s Street, he acted as a clerk till summer, 1778, when he came to Edinburgh, and entered our country house also, on the footing of a confidential clerk, during three years. Having thus had an ample experience of his abilities and merit as a man of business, on whom we might repose the most implicit confidence, a new contract of co-partnery was formed, to commence from the 1st of January, 1782, in which Mr. Hay was assumed as a partner, and the shares stood as follow: Sir William Forbes, nineteen, Mr. Hunter Blair, nineteen, Mr. Bartlett, six, Mr. Hay, four – in all, forty-eight shares.” From that time he grew in wealth and fame with the establishment, which is now merged in the Joint-stock Union Bank of Scotland. Sir John Hay died in 1830, in his seventy-fifth year. 

   No. 86 was the house of his nephew, Sir William Forbes, Bart., who succeeded to the title on the death of the eminent banker in 1806, and who married the sole daughter and heiress of Sir John Stuart of Fettercairn, whose arms were thus quartered with his own. 

   In May, 1810, Lord Jeffrey – then at the bar as a practising advocate – took up his dwelling in No. 92, and it was while there resident that, in consequence of some generous and friendly criticism in the Edinburgh Review, pleasant relations were established between him and Professor Wilson, which, says the daughter of the latter, “led to a still closer intimacy, and which, though unhappily interrupted by subsequent events, was renewed in after years, when the bitterness of old controversies had yielded to the hallowing influences of time.” Lord Jeffrey resided here for seventeen years. 

   In the second storey of No. 108 Sir Walter Scott dwelt in 1797, when actively engaged in his German translations and forming the Edinburgh Volunteer Light Horse, of which he was in that year, to his great gratification, made quartermaster. Two doors farther on was the house of the Countess of Balcarres, the venerable dowager of Earl Alexander, who died in 1768. She was Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Dalrymple of Castleton. 

   No. 116, now formed into shops, was long the residence of Archibald Colquhoun of Killermont, Lord Advocate of Scotland in 1807. He was Archibald Campbell of Clathick, but assumed the name of Colquhoun on succeeding to the estate of Killermont. He came to the bar in the same year, 1768, or about the same time as his friends Lord Craig and the Hon. Henry Erskine. He succeeded Lord Frederick Campbell as Lord Clerk Register in 1816. His mind and talents were said to have been of a very superior order; he was a sound lawyer, an eloquent pleader, and his independent fortune and proud reserve induced him to avoid general business, while in his Parliamentary duties as member for Dumbarton he was unremitting and efficient. He died in 1820. 

   The Edinburgh Association of Science and Arts now occupies the former residence of the Butters of Pitlochry, No. 117. It is an institution formed in 1869, and its title is sufficiently explanatory of its objects. 

   An interesting lady of the old school abode long in No. 122 – Mrs. Murray of Henderland. She was resident there from the early part of the present century. The late Dr. Robert Chambers tells us he was introduced to her by Dr. Chalmers, and found her memories of the past went back to the first years of the reign of George III. Her husband, Alexander Murray, had been, he states, Lord North’s Solicitor-General for Scotland. His name appears in 1775 on the list, between those of Henry Dundas and Islay Campbell of Succoth. “I found the venerable lady seated at a window of her drawing-room in George Street, with her daughter, Miss Murray, taking the care of her which her extreme age required, and with some help from this lady we had a conversation of about an hour.” She was born before the Porteous Mob, and well remembering the ‘45, was now close on her hundredth year. 

   She spoke with affection and reverence of her mother’s brother, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield; “and when I adverted,” says Chambers, “to the long pamphlet written against him by Athenian Stuart, at the conclusion of the Douglas cause, she said that, to her knowledge, he never read it, such being his practice in respect to all attacks made upon him, lest they should disturb his equanimity in judgment. As the old lady was on intimate terms with Boswell, and had seen Johnson on his visit to Edinburgh – as she was the sister-in-law of Allan Ramsay, the painter, and had lived in the most cultivated society of Scotland all her life – there were ample materials for conversation with her; but her small strength made this shorter and slower than I could have wished. When we came upon the poet Ramsay, she seemed to have caught new vigour from the subject; she spoke with animation of the child-parties she had attended in his house on the Castle Hill during a course of ten years before his death – an event which happened in 1757. He was ‘charming,’ she said; he entered so heartily into the plays of the children. He, in particular, gained their hearts by making houses for their dolls. How pleasant it was to learn that our great pastoral poet was a man who, in his private capacity, loved to sweeten the daily life of his fellow-creatures, and particularly of the young! At a warning from Miss Murray I had to tear myself away from this delightful and never-to-be-forgotten interview.” 

   From this we may suppose that the worthy publisher never saw the venerable occupant of No. 122 again. 

   No. 123, on the opposite side, was the residence of the well-known Sir John Watson Gordon, President of the Royal Scottish Academy, who died June 1st, 1863, and to whom reference has already been made in the account of that institution, of which he was the distinguished head. Opposite is a new building occupied as shops and chambers; and the vast Elizabethan edifice near it is the auction rooms of Dowell and Co., built in 1880. 

   The Mercantile Bank of India, London, and China occupies No. 128, formerly the mansion of Sir James Hall of Dunglass, Bart., a man in his time eminent for his high attainments in geological and chemical science, and author of popular but peculiar works on Gothic architecture. By his wife, Lady Helena Douglas, daughter of Dunbar, Earl of Selkirk, he had three sons and three daughters – his second son being the well-known Captain Basil Hall, R.N. While retaining his house in George Street, Sir James, between 1808 and 1812, represented the Cornish borough of St. Michael’s in Parliament. He died at Edinburgh, after a long illness, on the 23rd of June, 1832. 

   Collaterally with him, another distinguished baronet, Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, was long the occupant of No. 133, to the print of whom Kay appends the simple title of “The Scottish Patriot,” and never was it more appropriately applied. To attempt even an outline of his long, active, and most useful life, would go far beyond our limits; suffice it to say, that his “Code of Agriculture” alone has been translated into nearly every European language. He was born at Thurso in 1754, and so active had been his mind, so vast the number of his scientific pursuits and objects, that by 1797 he began to suffer seriously from the effects of his over-exertions, and being thus led to consider the subject of health generally, he published, in 1803, a quarto pamphlet, entitled “Hints on Longevity” – afterwards, in 1807, extended to four volumes 8vo. In 1810 he was made a Privy Councillor, and in the following year, under the administration of the unfortunate Mr. Perceval, was appointed Cashier of Excise for Scotland. On retiring from Parliament, he was succeeded as member for Caithness by his son. He resided in Edinburgh for the last twenty years of his life, and died at his house in George Street in December, 1835, in his eighty-first year, and was interred in the Chapel Royal at Holyrood. 

   Sir John was twice married. By his first wife he had two children; by the second, Diana, daughter of Lord Macdonald, he had thirteen, one of whom, Julia, became Countess of Glasgow. All these attained a stature like his own, so great – being nearly all above six feet – that he was wont playfully to designate the pavement before No. 133 as “The Giants’ Causeway.” 

   St. Andrew’s church stands 200 feet westward of St. Andrew’s Square; it is a plain building of oval form, with a handsome portico, having four great Corinthian pillars, and built, says Kincaid, from a design of Major Fraser, of the Engineers, whose residence was close by it. It was erected in 1785. 

   It was at first proposed to have a spire of some design, now unknown, between the portico and the body of the church, and for a model of this a young man of the city, named McLeish, received a premium of sixty guineas from the magistrates, with the freedom of the city; but on consideration, his design “was too great in proportion to the space left for its base.” So the present spire, which is 168 feet in height, and for its sky-line is one of the most beautiful in the city, was designed by Major Andrew Fraser, who declined to accept any premium, suggesting that it should be awarded to Mr. Robert Kay, whose designs for a square church on the spot were most meritorious. 

   The last stone of the spire was placed thereon on the 23rd of November, 1787. A chime of bells was placed in it, 3rd June, 1789, “to be rung in the English manner.” 

   The dimensions of this church, as given by Kincaid, are, within the walls from east to west eighty-seven feet, and from north to south sixty- four feet. “The front, consisting of a staircase and portico, measures forty-one feet, and projects twenty-six and a half feet.” The entrance is nine feet in height by seven feet in breadth. 

   This parish was separated from St. Cuthbert’s in 1785, and since that date parts of it have been assigned to other parishes of more recent erection as the population increased. 

   The church cost £7,000, and is seated for about 1,053. The charge was collegiate, and is chiefly remarkable for the General Assembly’s meeting in 1843, at which occurred the great Disruption, or exodus of the Free Church – one of the most important events in the modern history of Scotland or of the United Kingdom. 

   It originated in a zealous movement of the Presbyterian Church, mainly promoted by the great Chalmers, to put an end to the connection between Church and State. In 1834 the Church had passed a law of its own, ordaining that thenceforth no presentee to a parish should be admitted if opposed by the majority of the male communicants – a law which struck at the system of patronage restored after the Union – a system involving important civil rights. 

   When the Annual Assembly met in St. Andrew’s Church, in May, 1843, it was generally understood that a great schism would take place; but calm onlookers believed that a mere few would relinquish their comfortable stipends, their pleasant manses, and present advantages of position. Under its moderator, Dr. Welsh, and in presence of the Queen’s High Commissioner and a brilliant assemblage of spectators, the Assembly met, while a vast multitude thronged the broad area of George Street, breathlessly awaiting the result, and “prepared to see the miserable show of eight or ten men voluntarily sacrificing themselves to what was thought a fantastic principle.” 

   When the time came for making up the roll of members, Dr. Welsh rose, and said that “he must protest against further procedure, in consequence of the proceedings affecting the rights of the Church which had been sanctioned by Her Majesty’s Government and by the Legislature.” After reading a formal protest, signed by 120 ministers and seventy-two elders, he left his place, followed first by Dr. Chalmers and other prominent men, till the number amounted to four hundred and seventy, who poured forth along the streets, where general astonishment, not unmingled with sorrow, admiration, and alarm, prevailed. 

   When Lord Jeffrey was told of it, an hour after, he exclaimed, “Thank God for Scotland! there is not another country on earth, where such a deed could be done.” On leaving the church, the protestors proceeded to Tanfield Hall, Canonmills, where they formed themselves into “The General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland,” and chose Thomas Chalmers, D.D., as their moderator; so “the bush burned, but was not consumed.” 

   It was a remarkable instance of the emphatic assertion of religious principle in an age of material things of which St. Andrew’s church was the scene on the 18th of May. It was no sacrifice of blood or life or limb that was exacted, or rendered, as in the days of “a broken covenant;” but it was one well calculated to excite the keenest emotions of the people – for all these clergymen, with their families, cast their bread upon the waters, and those who witnessed the dark procession that descended the long steep street towards Tanfield Hall never forgot it. 

   Opposite this church there was built the old Physicians’ Hall – the successor of the still more ancient one near the Cowgate Port. The members of that college feued from the city a large area, extending between the south side of George Street and Rose Street, on which they erected a very handsome hall, with rooms and offices, from a design by Mr. Craig, the architect of the new city itself. 

   The foundation stone was laid by Professor Cullen, long a distinguished ornament of the Edinburgh University, on the 27th November, 1775, after a long discussion concerning two other sites offered by the city, one in George Square, the other where now the Scott monument stands. In the stone was placed a parchment containing the names of the then fellows, several coins of 1771, and a large silver medal. There was also another silver medal, with the arms of the city, and an inscription bearing that it had been presented by the city to Mr. Craig, in compliment to his professional talents in 1767, as follows:- 










   This building, now numbered among the things that were, had a frontage of eighty-four feet, and had a portico of four very fine Corinthian columns, standing six feet from the wall upon a flight of steps seven feet above the pavement. The sunk floor, which was all vaulted, contained rooms for the librarian and other officials; the entrance floor consisted of four great apartments opening from a noble vestibule, with a centre of thirty-five feet: one was for the ordinary meetings of the college, and another was an ante-chamber; but the principal apartment was the library – a room upwards of fifty feet long by thirty broad, lighted by two rows of windows, five in each row, facing Rose Street, and having a gilded gallery on three sides. On this edifice £4,800 was spent. 

   In 1781, the library, which had been stored up in the Royal Infirmary, was removed to the hall, when the collection, which now greatly exceeds 6,000 volumes, was still comparatively in its infancy. Dr. Archibald Stevenson was the first librarian, and was appointed in 1683; in 1696 a law was enacted that every entrant should contribute at least one book to the library, which was increased in 1705 “by the purchase of the books of the deceased Laird of Livingstone for about 300 merks Scots;” and the records show how year by year the collection has gone on increasing in extent, and in literary and scientific value. 

   The two oldest names on the list of Fellows admitted are Peter Kello, date December 11th, 1682, and John Abernethy, whose diploma is dated June 9th, 1683, granted at Orange, and admitted December 4th, 1684, and a wonderful roll follows of names renowned in the annals of medicine. The attempt to incorporate the practitioners of medicine in Scotland, for the purpose of raising alike the standard of their character and acquirements, originated in 1617, when James VI. issued an order in Parliament for the establishment of a College of Physicians in Edinburgh – an order which recites the evils suffered by the community from the intrusion of unqualified practitioners. He further suggested that three members of the proposed college should yearly visit the apothecaries’ shops, and destroy all bad or insufficient drugs found therein; but the year 1630 came, and found only a renewal of the proposal for a college, referred to the Privy Council by Charles I. But the civil war followed, and nothing more was done till 1656, when Cromwell issued a patent, still extant, initiating a college of physicians in Scotland, with the powers proposed by James VI. 

   Years passed on, and by the opposition principally of the College of Surgeons, the universities, the municipality, and even the clergy, the charter of incorporation was not obtained until 1681, when the great seal of Scotland was appended to it on St. Andrew’s day. Among other clauses therein was one to enforce penalties on the unqualified who practised medicine; another for the punishment of all licentiates who might violate the laws of the college, which had entire control over the drugs of apothecaries and chemists. It further protected Fellows from sitting on juries. 

   Under this charter the college continued to discharge its functions for many years, although it eventually abandoned in practice the exclusive rights conferred on it, and ceased to exercise any inspection over the shops of apothecaries as the changes of social position and necessity caused many of the provisions to fall into abeyance. Having become sensible of the advantages that would accrue to it from a new charter, to the end that it might be free from the obligation of admitting to its license all Scottish University graduates without examination, to get rid of the clause prohibiting its connection with a medical school, and further, that it might have the power of expelling unworthy members, a new charter was prepared in 1843, but, after a great many delays and readjustments, was not obtained until the 16th of August, 1861. 

   The first president of the institution was Dr. Archibald Stevenson, who was elected on the 8th of December, 1681, and held the chair till 1684; his successor was Sir Robert Sibbald (of the house of Balgonie), an eminent physician, naturalist, and antiquary, who graduated in medicine at Leyden in 1661; but from the time of his election there is a hiatus in the records till the 30th of November, 1693, when we again find in the chair Dr. Archibald Stevenson, with the then considerable honour of knighthood. 

   It was when Sir Thomas Burnet, author of “Thesaurus Medicinæ Practicæ,” London, 1673, was president, in 1696-8, that we find it recorded that certain ruinous buildings bordering on the Cowgate were converted by the college “into a pavilion-shaped cold bath, which was open to the inhabitants generally, at a charge for each ablution of twelve shillings Scots, and one penny to the servant; but those who subscribed one guinea annually might resort to it as often as they pleased.” 

   Under the presidency of Dr. John Drummond, in 1722, a new hall was erected in the gardens at Fountain Close; but proving insufficient, the college was compelled to relinquish certain plans for an edifice, offered by Adam the architect, and to find a temporary asylum in the Royal Infirmary. In 1770 the premises at Fountain Close were sold for £800; more money was raised by mortgage and other means, and the hall we have described was erected in George Street, only to be relinquished in time, after about seventy years’ occupancy. “The same poverty,” says the “Historical Sketch,” “which had prevented the college from availing itself of the plans of Adam, and which had caused it to desire to part with its new hall in George Street, even before its occupation, still pressed heavily upon it. Having at that time no funded capital, it was entirely dependent on the entrance-fees paid by Fellows, a fluctuating and inadequate source of income. Besides, beautiful as the George Street hall was in its outward proportions, its internal arrangements were not so convenient as might have been desired, and it is therefore not to be wondered at that when the college found their site was coveted by a wealthy banking corporation their poverty and not their will consented; and in 1843 the George Street hall was sold to the Commercial Bank for £20,000 – a sum which it was hoped would suffice to build a more comfortable if less imposing, hall, and leave a surplus to secure a certain, though possibly a small, annual income. Although the transaction was obviously an advantageous one for the college, it was not without some difficulty that many of the Fellows made up their minds to part with a building of which they were justly proud.” 

   The beautiful hall was accordingly demolished to the foundation stone, in which were found the silver medals and other relics now in possession of the college, which rented for its use No. 121, George Street till the completion of its new hall, whither we shall shortly follow it. 

   On its site was built, in 1847, the Commercial Bank, an imposing structure of mingled Greek and Roman character, designed by David Rhind, an architect of high reputation. The magnificent portico is hexastyle. There are ninety-five feet in length of façade, the columns are thirty-five feet in height, with an entablature of nine feet; the pediment is fifteen feet six inches in height, and holds in its tympanum a beautiful group of emblematic sculpture from the chisel of A. Handyside Ritchie, which figures on the notes of the bank. It has a spacious and elegant telling-room, surrounded by tall Corinthian pillars, with a vaulted roof, measuring ninety feet by fifty. The Commercial Bank of Scotland and the National Bank of Scotland have been incorporated by royal charter; but as there is no doubt about their being unlimited, they are considered, with the Scottish joint stock banks, of recent creation. 

   The deed of partnership of the Commercial Bank is dated 31st October, 1810, but subsequent alterations have taken place, none of which, however, in any way affect the principle named and confirmed in the charter. The capital of the bank was declared at £3,000,000; but only a third of that sum has been called. It is expressly provided by the charter of the bank, granted 5th August, 1831, “that nothing contained in these presents shall be construed as intended to limit the responsibility and liability of the individual partners of the said Corporation for the debts and engagements lawfully contracted by the said Corporation, which responsibility and liability is to remain as valid and effectual as if these presents had not been granted, any law or practice to the contrary notwithstanding.” 

   The branch of the Clydesdale Bank, a little farther westward on the other side, is a handsome building; but the next chief edifice – which, with its arcade of three rustic arches and portico, was long deemed by those obstinately wedded to use and wont both an eyesore and encroachment on the old monotonous amenity of George Street, when first erected – is the Assembly Rooms. 

   The principal dancing-hall here is ninety-two feet long by forty-two feet wide, and forty feet high, adorned with magnificent crystal lustres. “The New Assembly Rooms, for which the ground is staked out in the new town,” says the Edinburgh Advertiser for April, 1783, “will be among the most elegant of any in Britain.” In addition to the ball-room, “there is to be a tea-room, fifty feet by thirty-six, which will also serve as a ball-room on ordinary occasions; also a grand saloon, thirty-eight feet by forty-four feet, besides other and smaller rooms. The whole expense will be 6,000 guineas, and the building is to be begun immediately. Another Assembly Room, on a smaller scale, is to be built immediately by the inhabitants on the south side of the town, in George Square.” Eventually this room was placed in Buccleuch Place. “Since the peace,” continues the paper, “a great deal of ground has been feued for houses in the new town, and the buildings there are going on with astonishing rapidity.” 

   To the assemblies of 1783, the letters of Theophrastus inform us that gentlemen were in the habit of reeling “from the tavern, flustered with wine, to an assembly of as elegant and beautiful women as any in Europe;” also that minuets had gone out of fashion, and country dances were chiefly in vogue, and that in 1787 a master of the ceremonies was appointed. The weekly assemblies here in the Edinburgh season are now among the most brilliant and best conducted in Europe; but the regulations as issued for them a century ago may amuse their frequenters in the present day, and we copy them verbatim. 



   “THE proprietors finding that the mode they proposed for subscribing to the assemblies this winter has not met with general approbation, did, at a general meeting, held 12th January, come to the following resolutions as to the mode of admission in future:- 

   “I. That the ladies’ subscription shall be one guinea. 

   “II. That subscriptions for gentlemen who are proprietors of the rooms shall be one guinea. 

   “III. That the subscription for gentlemen who are not proprietors of the rooms shall be two guineas. 

   “IV. That each subscriber shall have twenty-four admission tickets. 

   “V. Subscribers when absent to have the power of granting two of these tickets for each assembly, either to a lady or gentleman, and no more; when present, only one; and no ticket will procure admittance unless dated and signed by the granter; and the tickets thus granted are not transferable. 

   “VI. Each non-subscriber to pay 3s. at the door on presenting his ticket. 

   “VII. Each director is allowed two additional tickets extraordinary for each assembly, which he may transfer, adding the word Director to his signature. 

   “VIII. No admission without a ticket on any account whatever

   “Subscription books are open at the house of the Master of the Ceremonies, William Graham, Esq., No. 66, Princes Street, and Mr. William Sanderson, merchant, in the Luckenbooths, to either of whom the nobility and gentry intending to subscribe are requested to send their names and subscription money, when they will receive their tickets. The first assembly (of the season) to be on Thursday, the 29th January, 1789.” 

   Prior to the erection of the adjoining music hall many great banquets and public meetings took place in the great ball-room. One of the most interesting of these was the second ovation bestowed on the famous Black Watch in 1816. 

   There had been a grand reception of the regiment in 1802, on its return from Egypt, when a new set of colours, decorated with the Sphinx, after a prayer by Principal Baird, were bestowed upon the war-worn Highland battalion on the Castle Hill by General Vyse, amid a vast concourse of enthusiastic spectators; but a still greater ovation and a banquet awaited the regiment on its return to Edinburgh Castle in the year after Waterloo. 

   It entered the city in two divisions on the 19th and 20th March, 1816. Colonel Dick of Tullybole, who afterwards fell in India, rode at the head of the first, accompanied by Major-General Hope and that famous old literary officer General Stewart of Garth, who had been wounded under its colours in Egypt; and nothing could surpass the grand, even tearful, enthusiasm with which the veterans had been welcomed “in every town and village through which their route from England lay. Early on the 19th,” says the Scots Magazine, “vast crowds were collected on the streets, in expectation of their arrival. The road as far as Musselburgh was crowded with people; and as they approached the city, so much was their progress impeded by the multitude that their march from Piershill to the castle – less than two miles – occupied two hours. House-tops and windows were crowded with spectators, and as they passed along the streets, amid the ringing of bells, waving of flags, and the acclamation of thousands, their red and black plumes, tattered colours – emblems of their well-earned fame in fight – and glittering bayonets, were all that could be seen of these heroes, except by the few who were fortunate in obtaining elevated situations. The scene, viewed from the windows and house-tops, was the most extraordinary ever witnessed in this city. The crowds were wedged together across the whole breadth of the street, and extended in length as far as the eye could reach, and this motley throng appeared to move like a solid body, till the gallant Highlanders were safely lodged in the castle.” 

   To the whole of the non-commissioned officers and privates a grand banquet by public subscription, under the superintendence of Sir Walter Scott, was given in the Assembly Room, and every man was presented with a free ticket to the Theatre Royal. A similar banquet and ovation was bestowed on the 78th or Ross-shire Buffs, who marched in a few days after. 

   It was in the Assembly Rooms that Sir Walter Scott, on the 23rd February, 1827, at the annual dinner of the Edinburgh Theatrical Fund Association, avowed himself to be “the Great Unknown,” acknowledging the authorship of the Waverley Novels – scarcely a secret then, as the recent exposure of Constable’s affairs had made the circumstance pretty well known, particularly in literary circles. 

   In June 1841 a great public banquet was given to Charles Dickens in the Assembly Rooms, at which Professor Wilson presided, and which the novelist subsequently referred to as having been a source of sincere gratification to him. 

   The rooms underwent considerable improvements in 1871; but two shops have always been in the basement storey, and the western of these is now occupied by the Edinburgh branch of the Imperial Fire and Life Assurance Company. 

   In immediate connection with the Assembly Rooms is the great music hall, built in 1843, at the cost of more than £10,000. It is a magnificent apartment, with a vast domed and panelled roof, 108 feet long by 91 feet broad, with orchestral accommodation for several hundred performers, and a powerful and splendid organ, by Hill of London. 

   It is the most celebrated place in the city for public meetings. There, in 1853, was inaugurated by Lord Eglinton and others, the great Scottish Rights Association, the ultimate influence of which procured so many necessary grants of money for Scottish purposes; in 1859 the first Burns Centenary, and in 1871 the first Scott Centenary, were celebrated in this hall. There, too, has the freedom of the city been bestowed upon many great statesmen, soldiers, and others. There has Charles Dickens often read his “Christmas Carols” to delighted thousands; and there it was that, in 1856, the great novelist and humourist, Thackeray, was publicly hissed down (to the marked discredit of his audience, be it said) in one of his readings, for making disparaging remarks on Mary Queen of Scots. 

   The new Union Bank of Scotland is on the south side of the street. Commenced in 1874, it was finished in 1878, from designs by David Bryce, R.S.A. It is in the Tuscan style, with a frontage of more than 100 feet, and extends southwards to Rose Street Lane. It exhibits three storeys rising from a sunk basement, with their entrances, each furnished with a portico of Ionic columns. The first floor windows are flanked by pilasters, and furnished with entablatures and pediments; the second floors have architraves, and moulded sills, while the wall-head is terminated by a bold cornice, supporting a balustrade. The telling-room is magnificent – fully eighty feet long by fifty feet broad, and arranged in a manner alike commodious and elegant. In the sunk basement is a library, with due provision of safes for various bank purposes, and thither removed, in 1879, the famous old banking house to which we have more than once had occasion to refer, from its old quarters in the Parliament Square, which were then announced as for sale, with its fireproof interior “of polished stone, with groined arches on the various floors; its record rooms, book and bullion safes of dressed stone, alike thief and fire proof.” 

   Here we may briefly note that the Union Bank was incorporated in 1862, and its paid-up capital is £1,000,000; but this bank is in reality of a much older date, and was originally known as the Glasgow Union Bank Company, which dates from 1830; in 1843 the name was changed to the Union Bank of Scotland. As was stated by Mr. Gairdner to the Committee of the House of Commons on “Banks of Issue” (1874), several private and public banks were incorporated from time to time in the Union: notably, the Thistle Bank of Glasgow in 1836, the Paisley Union Bank in 1838, the Ayr Bank, the Glasgow Arms and Ship Bank in 1843, Sir William Forbes and J. Hunter and Co. in the same year. The Aberdeen Bank was also absorbed in the Union system in 1849, and the Perth Banking Company in 1857. The special general meeting for “considering whether or not this bank should be registered under the Companies Act, 1862,” was called on the 10th December, 1862, but the bank had in fact been so registered on the 3rd November of the same year. At the meeting, Sir John Stuart Forbes, Bart., was in the chair, and it was unanimously agreed “that it is expedient that the bank register itself as an unlimited company under the Companies Act, 1862, and that the meeting do now assent to the bank being so registered, and authorise the directors to take all necessary steps for carrying the motion into effect.” 

   Opposite the Northern Club – a mere plain dwelling-house – is the Masonic Hall and offices of the grand lodge of Scotland, No. 98, George Street. The foundation stone was laid on the 24th of June, 1858, with due masonic honours, by the Grand Master, the Duke of Athole, whose henchman, a bearded Celt of vast proportions, in Drummond tartan, armed with shield and claymore, attracted great attention. The streets were lined by the 17th Lancers and the Staffordshire Militia. The building was finished in the following year, and, among many objects of great masonic interest, contains the large picture of the “Inauguration of Robert Burns as Poet Laureate of the Grand Lodge of Scotland,” by William Stewart Watson, a deceased artist, nephew of George Watson, first president: of the Scottish Academy, and cousin of the late Sir John Watson-Gordon. He was an ardent Freemason, and for twenty years was secretary to the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge. 

   His picture is a very valuable one, as containing excellent portraits of many eminent men who took part in that ceremony. He was the same artist who designed the embellishments of the library at Abbotsford, at the special request of Sir Walter Scott, to whom he was nearly related. 

   In this office are the rooms and records of the Grand Secretary, and there the whole general business of the entire masonic body in Scotland is transacted.  

   Three fine bronze pedestrian statues decorate this long and stately street. 

   The first of these statues, at the intersection of George Street and Hanover Street, to the memory of George IV., is by Chantrey, and was erected in November, 1831. It is twelve feet in height, on a granite pedestal of eighteen feet, executed by Mr. Wallace. The largest of the blocks weighed fifteen tons, and all were placed by means of some of the cranes used in the erection of the National Monument. 

   The second, at the intersection of Frederick Street, is also by Chantrey, to the memory of William Pitt, and was erected in 1833. 

   The third, at the intersection of Castle Street, on a red granite pedestal, was erected in 1878 to the memory of Dr. Chalmers, and is by the hand of Sir John Steel. 

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