Chapter 20 – Queen Street., pp.151-158.

[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]

The Philosophical Institution – House of Baron Orde – New Physicians’ Hall – Sir James Y. Simpson, M.D. – The House of Professor Wilson – Sir John Leslie – Lord Rockville – Sir James Grant of Grant – The Hopetoun Rooms – Edinburgh Educational Institution for Ladies. 

   QUEEN STREET was a facsimile of Princes Street, but its grouping and surroundings are altogether different. 

   Like Princes Street, it is a noble terrace, but not overlooked at a short distance by the magnificent castle and the Dunedin of the Middle Ages. It looks northward over its whole length on beautiful gardens laid out in shrubs and flowers, beyond which lie fair white terraces and streets that far excel itself – the assembled beauties of another new town spreading away to the wide blue waters of the Firth of Forth. How true are the lines of Scott! –  

“Caledonia’s queen is changed, 

Since on her dusky summit ranged, 

Within its steepy limits pent 

By bulwark, line, and battlement, 

And flanking towers and laky flood, 

Guarded and garrisoned, she stood, 

Denying entrance or resort, 

Save at each tall embattled port; 

Above whose arch suspended hung 

Portcullis, spiked with iron prong, 

That long is gone; but not so long, 

Since early closed, and opening late, 

Jealous revolved the studded gate. 

Whose task from eve to morning tide 

A wicket churlishly supplied. 

Stern then and steel-girt was thy brow, 

Dun-Edin! Oh, how altered now! 

When safe amid thy mountain court 

Thou sitt’st like empress at her sport, 

And liberal, unconfined, and free, 

Flinging thy white arms to the sea!” 

   Near the east end of Queen Street is the Philosophical Institution, the late president of which was Thomas Carlyle. It was founded in 1848. Here lectures are delivered on all manner of scientific and literary subjects. The programme of these for a session averages about thirty subjects. There are a library, reading-room, news-room, and ladies reading-room in this institution. The library contains above 24,000 volumes of standard works in every department of literature and science; and there is one of reference, kept in a separate department, consisting of a valuable collection of encyclopaedias, geographical, biographical, and scientific dictionaries, atlases, statistical tables, &c, which are at all times available to the numerous members on application. 

   Classes for Latin, French, German, drawing of all kinds, mathematics, shorthand, writing, arithmetic, fencing, and gymnastics, are open on very moderate terms; and the members of the Edinburgh Chess Club, who must also be members of the Philosophical Institution, meet in one of the apartments, which is open for their use from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

   Adjoining this edifice were the offices of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. 

   No. 8 Queen Street was built and occupied by Chief Baron Orde of the Scottish Exchequer, and in size considerably exceeds and excels the other houses in its vicinity. Baron Orde, whose daughter Elizabeth became the second wife of Lord Braxfield, died in 1777, and was succeeded in office by Sir James Montgomery of Stanhope. Early in the next century the house was the residence of Sir William Cunningham, Bart., and in more recent years had as an occupant the gallant Sir Neil Douglas, Commander of the Forces in Scotland and Governor of Edinburgh Castle, who commanded the Cameron Highlanders in the war with France, and was contused by a ball at Quatre Bras. It is now occupied by the Edinburgh Institution for Education, the head of which is Dr. Fergusson, F.R.S.E. 

   Nos. 9 and 10 were removed in 1844 to make way for the present hall of the Royal College of Physicians, on the demolition of the former one in George Street. The foundation stone was laid on the 8th of August, 1844, by the then president, Dr. Renton, in presence of the Fellows of the college and others. In it were deposited a copy of the first edition of the “Edinburgh Pharmacopœia,” containing a list of the Fellows of the college; a work concerning its private affairs, printed several years before; an Edinburgh Almanac for the current year; several British coins, and a silver plate with a suitable Latin inscription. 

   It was designed by Thomas Hamilton, and is adorned in front with an Attic Corinthian tetrastyle, surmounted by a common Corinthian distyle, and is handsomely adorned by colossal statues of Æsculapius, Hippocrates, and Hygeia; but it was barely completed when, ample though its accommodation appeared to be, the rapid additions to its library and the great increase in the number of Fellows, consequent on a reduction of the money entry, and other changes, seemed to render an extension necessary. 

   In No. 11 are the offices of the Edinburgh Gazette, the representative of the paper started by Captain Donaldson in 1699, and re-issued by the same person in March, 1707. 

   Sir Henry Wellwood Moncriff, Bart., D.D., a distinguished divine, who for half a century was one of the brightest ornaments of the Scottish Church, resided in No. 13 during the first years of the present century. He died in August, 1827, and his second son, James, a senator, under the title of Lord Moncrieff, succeeded to the baronetcy, which is one of the oldest in Scotland, having been conferred by Charles I. in 1626. 

   It was afterwards occupied by the Scottish Heritable Security Company. 

   The next house westward was the residence, at the same time, of William Honeyman of Graemsay, who was elevated to the bench as Lord Armadale, and created a baronet in 1804. He had been previously Sheriff of the county of Lanarkshire. He married a daughter of Lord Braxfield, and died in 1825, leaving behind him a reputation for considerable talent and sound judgment, both as a barrister and judge. He had two sons in the army – Patrick, who served in the old 28th Light Dragoons, and Robert, who died in Jamaica in 1809, Lieutenant-Colonel of the 18th Royal Irish. 

   His house is now occupied by the site of the Caledonian United Service Club, erected in 1853. 

   In 1811 No. 27 was the residence of General Graham Stirling, an old and distinguished officer, whose family still occupy it. In the same year Alexander Keith of Ravelston, Hereditary Knight Marshal of Scotland, occupied No. 43. Behind the house line stands St. Luke’s Free Church, which has a fictitious street front in the Tudor style, with two richly crocketed finials. 

   No. 38 was the house of George Paton, Advocate, and afterwards Lord Justice Clerk, whose suicide made much sensation in Edinburgh a few years ago. 

   In No. 52 lived and died one of the most illustrious citizens of Edinburgh – Professor Sir James Young Simpson, Bart., who came to Edinburgh a poor and nearly friendless student, yet in time attained, as Professor of Midwifery in the University and as the discoverer of extended uses of chloroform, a colossal fame, not only in Europe, but wherever the English language is spoken. He obtained the chair of midwifery in 1840, and seven years after made his great discovery. In 1849 he was elected President of the Edinburgh College of Physicians; in 1852 President of the Medico-Chirurgical Society; and in the following year, under circumstances of the greatest éclat, Foreign Associate of the French Academy of Medicine. In 1856 the French Academy of Sciences awarded him the “Monthyon Prize” of 2,000 francs for the benefits he conferred on humanity by the introduction of anæsthesia by chloroform into the practice of surgery and midwifery. 

   A few weeks earlier, for the same noble cause, he won the royal order of St. Olaf, from Oscar, King of Sweden, and in 1866 was created a baronet of Great Britain. His professional writings are too numerous to be recorded here, suffice it to say that they have been translated into every European language. 

   No man ever attracted so many visitors to Edinburgh as Sir James Simpson, for many came to see him who were not invalids. His house in Queen Street was the centre of attraction for men of letters and science from all parts of the world – physicians, naturalists, antiquarians, and literati of all kinds were daily to be met at his table. His hospitality was princely, his charity and his philanthropy to the poor were boundless; and amid the crowds of patients and visitors – many of them of the highest rank in Europe – with whom his house overflowed, the grand professor moved with unaffected ease and gaiety, and talking of everything, from some world-wide discovery in the most severe of the severer sciences, to the last new novel. He had a word or a jest for all. 

   How he carried on his gigantic practice – how he achieved his splendid and apparently unaccountable scientific investigations – how he found time for his antiquarian and literary labours, and yet was able to take a prominent part in every public, and still more in every philanthropic, movement, was ever a mystery to all who knew him. 

   But during the long and weary watches of the night, beside the ailing or the dying, when watching perilous cases with which he alone could grapple, he sat by the patient’s side with book or pen in hand, for not a moment of his priceless time was ever wasted. 

   “Many of my most brilliant papers,” he once said to his students, “were composed at the bedside of my patients.” Yet he never neglected them, even the most poor and needy – and they had his preference even to the peers and princes of the land. As a physician he had fewer failures and made fewer mistakes than most men, and he saved the lives of thousands. Simpson was not a specialist – his mind was too broad and great for that; and no one ever excelled him in the ingenuity, simplicity, and originality of his treatment. 

   When other men shrank from the issues of life and death, he was swift to do, to dare, and to save; and it is a curious fact that on the night Simpson was born in his father’s humble abode in the village of Bathgate, the village doctor has marked in his case-book that on that occasion he “arrived too late!” 

   By the introduction of chloroform into his practice, the labour of 2,000 years of investigation culminated. A new era was inaugurated for woman, though the clergy rose in wrath, and denounced it as an interference with the laws of Providence. 

   It was on the 28th of November, 1847, that he became satisfied of the safety of using chloroform by experimenting on himself and two other medical men. “Drs. Simpson, Keith, and Duncan,” we are told, “sat each with a tumbler in hand, and in the tumbler a napkin. Chloroform was poured upon each napkin, and inhaled. Simpson, after a while, drowsy as he was, was roused by Dr. Duncan snoring, and by Dr. Keith kicking about in a far from graceful way. He saw at once that he must have been sent to sleep by the chloroform. He saw his friends still under its effects. In a word, he saw that the great discovery had been made, and that his long labours had come to a successful end.” 

   Since then how much bodily anguish has vanished under its silent influence! In Britain there are now many manufactories of chloroform; and in Edinburgh alone there is one which makes about three millions of doses yearly – evidence, as Simpson said, of “the great extent to which the practice is now carried of wrapping men, women, and children in a painless sleep during some of the most trying moments and hours of human existence, and especially when our frail brother man is laid upon the operating-table and subjected to the torture of the surgeons’ knives and scalpels, his saws and his cauteries.” 

   As to his invention of acupressure in lieu of the ligature, though its adoption has not become general throughout the surgical world, the introduction of this simple method of restraining hemorrhage would of itself have entitled Simpson to enrol his name among the greatest surgeons of Europe. 

   The last great movement with which he was connected was hospital reform. He argued that while only one in 180 patients who had even an arm amputated died in the country or in their homes, one in thirty died in hospitals. His idea was that the unit of a hospital was not the ward, but the bed, and the ideal hospital should have every patient absolutely shut off from every other, so that the unhealthy should not pollute or injure the healthy. 

   As an antiquarian and archæologist he held the highest rank, and for some years was president of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries. 

   His religious addresses were remarkable for their sweetness, freshness, and fervour; and one which he gave at the last of some special religious services held in the Queen Street Hall during the winter of 1861-2 made a great impression on all who heard him. 

   He was member of a host of learned societies, the mere enumeration of which would tire the reader. “These were his earthly honours; but their splendour pales when we think that on whatever spot on earth a human being suffers, and is released from anguish by the application of those discoveries his mighty genius has revealed to mankind, his name is remembered with gratitude, and associated with the noblest and greatest of those who, in all ages of the world, have devoted their lives and their genius to enlightening and brightening the lot of humanity.” 

   He died of disease of the heart at 52, Queen Street, on the 6th May, 1870, and never was man more lamented by all ranks and classes of society; and nothing in life so became him, as the calmness and courage with which he left it. 

   His own great skill had taught him that from the first his recovery was doubtful, and in speaking of a possibly fatal issue, his principal reason for desiring life was that he hoped, if it were God’s will, that he might have been spared to do a little more service in the cause of hospital reform; all his plans and prospects were limited by this reference to the Divine will. 

   “If God takes me to-night,” said he to a friend, “I feel that I am resting on Christ with the simple faith of a child.” And in this faith he passed away. 

   His funeral was a great and solemn ovation indeed; and never since Thomas Chalmers was laid in his grave had Edinburgh witnessed such a scene as that exhibited in Queen Street on the 13th May. 

   From the most distant shires, even of the Highlands and the northern counties of England, and from London, people came to pay their last tribute to him whom one of the London dailies emphatically styled “the grand old Scottish doctor.” 

   St. Luke’s Free Church, near his house, was made the meeting place of the general public. In front of the funeral car were the Senatus Academicus, headed by the principal, Sir Alexander Grant of Dalvey, and the Royal College of Physicians, all in academic costume; the magistrates, with all their official robes and insignia: all the literary, scientific, legal, and commercial bodies in the city sent their quota of representatives, which, together with the High Constables and students, made altogether 1,700 men in deep mourning. 

   The day was warm and bright, and vast crowds thronged every street from his house to the grave on the southern slope of Warriston cemetery, and on every side were heard ever and anon the lamentations of the poor, while most of the shops were closed, and the bells of the churches tolled. The spectators were estimated at 100,000, and the most intense decorum prevailed. An idea of the length of the procession may be gathered from the fact that, although it consisted of men marching in sections of fours, it took upwards of thirty-three minutes to pass a certain point. 

   A grave was offered in Westminster, but declined by his family, who wished to have him buried among themselves. A white marble bust of him by Brodie was, however, placed there in 1879. 

   No. 53 Queen Street, the house adjoining that of Sir James, was the residence of Mrs. Wilson, mother of Professor John Wilson, widow of a wealthy gauze manufacturer. Her maiden name was Margaret Sym, and her brother Robert figures in the Noctes Ambrosianæ, under the cognomen of “Timothy Tickler.” “Wilson’s Memoirs” contain many of his own letters, dated from there, after 1806 till his removal to Anne Street. There he wrote his “Isle of Palms,” prior to his marriage with Miss Jane Penny in May, 1811, and there, with his young wife and her sisters, he was resident with the old lady at the subsequent Christmas. His father left him an unencumbered fortune of £50,000, which had enabled him to cut a good figure at Oxford. 

   “A little glimpse of the life at 53 Queen Street, and the pleasant footing subsisting between the relatives gathered there, is afforded in a note of young Mrs. Wilson about this time to a sister,” says Mrs. Gordon. “She thanks ‘Peg’ for her note, which, she says, ‘was sacred to myself. It is not my custom, you may tell her, to show my letters to John.’ She goes on to speak of Edinburgh society, dinners, and evening parties, and whom she most likes. The Rev. Mr. Morehead is ‘a great favourite;’ Mr. Jeffrey is ‘a horrid little man,’ but ‘held in as high estimation here as the Bible.’ Mrs. Wilson senior gives a ball, and 150 people are invited. ‘The girls are looking forward to it with great delight. Mrs. Wilson is very nice with them, and lets them ask anybody they like. There is not the least restraint put upon them. John’s poems will be sent from here next week. The large size is a guinea, and the small one twelve shillings.’ ” 

   Elsewhere we are told that John Wilson’s “home was in Edinburgh. His mother received him into her house, where he resided till 1819.” 

   She was a lady whose domestic management was the wonder and admiration of all zealous housekeepers. Under one roof, in 53 Queen Street, she contrived to accommodate three distinct families; and there, besides the generosity exercised towards her own, she was hospitable to all, and her charity to the poor was unbounded; and when she died, “it was, as it were, the extinction of a bright particular star, nor can any one who ever saw her altogether forget the effect of her presence. She belonged to that old school of Scottish ladies whose refinement and intellect never interfered with duties the most humble.” 

   In those days in Edinburgh the system of a household neither sought nor suggested a number of servants; thus many domestic duties devolved upon the lady herself: for example, the china – usually a rare set – after breakfast and tea, was always washed and carefully put away by her own delicate hands, and thus breakage was evaded. Marketing was then done in the early morning; and many a time was the stately figure of old Mrs. Wilson, “in her elegantly-fitting black satin dress, seen to pass to and fro from the old market place of Edinburgh, followed by some favourite caddie (or street porter), bearing the well-chosen meats and vegetables that no skill but her own was permitted to select.” 

   She was a high Tory of the old school; and it is told of her that on hearing it said that her son was contributing to the Edinburgh Review, she exclaimed, “John, if you turn Whig this house is no longer big enough for us both!” 

   In No. 53 she had under her roof for several years two married sons, with their wives, children, and servants, together with her own immediate household, including two unmarried daughters; yet peace and harmony reigned supreme, and there are now not a few of her grandchildren who remember this fine old Scottish matron with affection and gratitude. 

   In 1815 John Wilson had been called to the bar at the same time with his firm friend Patrick Robertson, Sir William Hamilton, Andrew Rutherford, Archibald Alison, and others; and in 1819, he, with his wife and children, then five in number, removed from his mother’s house in Queen Street to No. 20 Anne Street, Stockbridge. It was in No. 53, however, that the famous “Chaldee Manuscript” was written, amid such shouts of laughter, says Mrs. Gordon, “that the ladies in the room above, sent to inquire in wonder what the gentlemen below were about. I am informed that among those who were met together on that memorable occasion was Sir William Hamilton, who also exercised his wit in writing a verse, and was so amused by his own performance that he tumbled off his chair in a fit of laughter.” 

   No. 62 Queen Street was inhabited by Lord Jeffrey from 1802 till 1810. In the following year it became the residence of Sir John Leslie, K.H., Professor of Mathematics in the University of Edinburgh, who in 1800 invented the differential thermometer, one of the most beautiful and delicate instruments that inductive genius ever contrived as a help to experimental research; and the results of his inquiries concerning the nature and laws of heat, in which he was so much aided by this exquisite instrument, were published in 1804, in his celebrated “Essay on the Nature and Propagation of Heat.” Sir John Leslie was one of those many self-made men who are peculiarly the glory of Scotland, for he was the son of a poor joiner in Largo, yet he attained to the highest honours a university can bestow. In 1832, along with Herschel, Brewster, Harris, Nichols, and others, on the recommendation of Lord Brougham, he was created a Knight of the Guelphic Order, but died in the November of that year from an attack of erysipelas. 

   No. 64 was, and is still, the town residence of the Earls of Wemyss, but has had many other tenants. Among others here resided “Lang Sandy Gordon,” as he was named in those days of simple and unassuming familiarity, the son of William, second Earl of Aberdeen, who was admitted an advocate in 1759, and became Stewart-depute of Kirkcudbright in 1764. Twenty years afterwards he was raised to the bench as Lord Rockville, and resided long in the close which bore that name on the Castle Hill, and afterwards in Queen Street. 

   He was remarkable for his manly beauty and handsome figure. He was a member of the Crochallan Club, and a great convivialist. Walking down the High Street one day, when the pavement was unsafe by ice, he fell, and broke his arm. He was conveyed to Provost Elder’s shop, opposite the Tron church, where surgical aid was procured and his arm dressed; but, unfortunately, when his friends were conveying him to his new home at No. 64, one of the chairmen fell and overturned the sedan in the street, which unsettled the splinting of his lordship’s arm, and ultimately brought on a fever, of which he died on the 13th of March, 1792. 

   No. 64 was afterwards occupied by Sir James Grant, Bart., of Grant, usually known as “the good Sir James.” His town house, with extensive stable-offices, had previously been at the foot of the Canongate, where it was advertised for sale in 1797, as “presently possessed by Professor Stewart.” At a period when the extensive Highland proprietors were driving whole colonies of people from the abodes of their forefathers, and compelling them to seek on distant shores that shelter which was denied them on their own, and “when absenteeism and the vices of courtly intrigue and fashionable dissipation had sapped the morality of too many of our landholders, Sir James Grant escaped the contagion, and during a long life was distinguished for the possession of those virtues which are the surest bulwarks of the peace, happiness, and strength of a country. Possessed of extensive estates, and surrounded by a numerous tenantry, his exertions seemed to be equally devoted to the progressive improvement of the one and the present comfort and enjoyment of the other.” 

   Among his clan he raised two regiments of Highland Fencibles within a few months of each other. One was numbered as the 97th, or Strathspey Regiment, 1,800 strong, and a portion of it joined the 42nd for service in the West Indies. Sir James died at Castle Grant in 1811. 

   No. 66, now offices, was occupied by Stewart of Castle Stewart; and in No. 68 lived George Joseph Bell, Advocate, Professor of Law, and author of “Principles of the Law of Scotland.” No. 71, in 1811, was the residence of Francis, Lord Napier, who served in the American war under General Burgoyne, but left the army in 1789. He took a leading part in many local affairs, was Grand Master Mason of Scotland, Colonel of the Hopetoun Fencibles in 1793, Commissioner to the General Assembly in 1802, and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Scottish Manufactures and Fisheries. 

   His prominently aquiline face and figure were long remarkable in Edinburgh; though, at a time when gentlemen usually wore gaudy colours – frequently a crimson or purple coat, a green plush vest, black breeches, and white stockings – when not in uniform, he always dressed plainly, and with the nicest attention to propriety. An anecdote of his finical taste is thus given in Lockhart’s “Life of Scott”:- 

   “Lord and Lady Napier arrived at Castlemilk (in Lanarkshire), with the intention of staying a week, but next morning it was announced that a circumstance had occurred which rendered it indispensable for them to return without delay to their own seat in Selkirkshire. It was impossible for Lady Stewart to extract any further explanation at the moment, but it afterwards turned out that Lord Napier’s valet had committed the grievous mistake of packing up a set of neckcloths which did not correspond in point of date with the shirts they accompanied.” Lord Napier died in 1823. 

   His house, together with Nos. 70 and 72 (in the early part of the century the abode of John Mill, Esq., of Noranside), became afterwards one large private hotel, attached to the Hopetoun Rooms. In the former the late Duchess of Kent and others of note frequently put up, and in the latter many important meetings and banquets have been held. Among these notably was the one given to Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton in 1854, on the occasion of his inauguration as President of the Associated Societies of the University. Sir William Stirling of Keir, M.P., occupied the chair, and the croupiers were Sir James Y. Simpson and Professor Blackie. When the army and navy were proposed, Professor Aytoun facetiously responded for the latter as “Admiral of Orkney,” being sheriff of those isles, and in reply to an eloquent address of Bulwer’s, which he closed by coupling the health of Sir Archibald Alison with the literature of Scotland, the latter replied, and introduced some political and anti-national remarks that caused disapprobation. 

   The whole street front of the three houses is now occupied by the Edinburgh Educational Institution, or Ladies’ College, where above 1,000 pupils (under the care of the Merchant Company) receive a course of study embracing English, French, German, Latin, and all the usual branches of literature, to which are added calisthenics, dancing, needlework, and cookery. The edifice was opened in October, 1876, and has as life governor the Earl of Mar and Kellie. 

   After the formation of Queen Street, the now beautiful gardens that lie between it and Heriot Row and Abercrombie Place were long a neglected waste. It was not until 1823 that they were enclosed by parapet walls and iron railings, and were laid out in pleasure-walks and shrubberies for the inhabitants of these localities. 

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