Picardy Place – Lords Eldin and Craig – Sir David Milne – John Abercrombie – Lord Newton – Commissioner Osborne – St. Paul’s Church – St. George’s Chapel – William Douglas, Artist – Professor Playfair – General Scott of Bellevue – Drummond Place – C.K. Sharpe of Hoddam – Lord Robertson – Abercrombie Place and Heriot Row – Miss Ferrier – House in which H. McKenzie died – Rev. A. Alison – Great King Street – Sir R. Christison – Sir William Hamilton – Sir William Allan – Lord Colonsay, &c.
THE northern New Town, of which we now propose to relate the progress and history, is separated from the southern by the undulating and extensive range of Queen Street Gardens, which occupy a portion of the slope that shelves down towards the valley of the Water of Leith.
It is also in a parallelogram extending, from the quarter we have just been describing, westward to the Queensferry Road, and northward to the line of Fettes Row. It has crescental curves in some of its main lines, with squares, and is constructed in a much grander style of architecture than the original New Town of 1767. Generally, it was begun about 1802, and nearly completed by 1822. In the eastern part of this parallelogram are Picardy Place, York Place, Forth and Albany Streets.
It would appear that so early as 1730 the Governors of Heriot’s Hospital, as superiors of the barony of Broughton, had sold five acres of land at the head of Broughton Loan to the city, for the behoof of refugees or their descendants who had come from France, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. A colony of these emigrants, principally silk weavers, had been for some time attempting to cultivate mulberry trees on the slope of Moultree’s Hill, but without success, owing to the variable nature of the climate.
The position of the houses forming the village of Picardie, as these poor people named it, after their native province, is distinctly shown in the map of 1787, occupying nearly the site of the north side of the present Picardy Place, which after the Scottish Board of Manufacturers acquired the ground, was built in 1809.
More than twenty years before that period the magistrates seem to have contemplated having a square here, as in 1783 they advertised, “to be feued, the several acres, for building, lying on the west side of the new road to Leith, immediately adjoining to Picardy Gardens. The ground is laid out in the form of a square. The situation is remarkably pleasant… According to the plan, the buildings will have plots of background for the purpose of gardens and offices; and the possessors of these will have the privilege of the area within the Square, &c. Further particulars may be had on applying to James Jollie, writer, the proprietor, Royal Bank Close, who will show the plan of the ground.” (Edin. Advert., 1783.)
This plan would seem to have been abandoned, and a street, with York Place, in direct communication with Queen Street, substituted.
Among the earliest occupants of a house in Picardy Place was John Clerk, Lord Eldin, who took up his abode in No. 16, when an advocate at the bar. The grandson of Sir John Clerk of Penicuick, and son of John Clerk, author of a celebrated work on naval tactics, Lord Eldin was born in 1757, and in 1785 was called to the bar, and so great were his intellectual qualities – at a time when the Scottish bar was really distinguished for intellect – that, it is said, that at one period he had nearly half of all the court business in his hands; but his elevation to the bench did not occur until 1823, when he was well advanced in life.
In “Peter’s Letters” he is described as the Coryphæus of the bar. “He is the plainest, the shrewdest, and the most sarcastic of men; his sceptre owes the whole of its power to its weight – nothing to glitter. It is impossible to imagine a physiognomy more expressive of the character of a great lawyer and barrister. The features are in themselves good, at least a painter would call them so, and the upper part of the profile has as fine lines as could be wished. But then, how the habits of the mind have stamped their traces on every part of the face! What sharpness, razor-like sharpness, has indented itself about the wrinkles of his eyelids; the eyes themselves, so quick, so grey, such bafflers of scrutiny, such exquisite scrutinisers, how they change in expression – it seems almost how they change their colour – shifting from contracted, concentrated blackness, through every shade of brown, blue, green, and hazel, back into their own gleaming grey again. How they glisten into a smile of disdain!… He seems to be affected with the most delightful and balmy feelings, by the contemplation of some soft-headed, prosing driveller, racking his poor brain, or bellowing his lungs out, all about something which he, the smiler, sees so thoroughly, so distinctly.”
Lord Eldin, on the bench as when at the bar, pertinaciously adhered to the old Doric Scottish of his boyhood, and in this there was no affectation; but it was the pure old dialect and idiom of the eighteenth century. He was a man of refined tastes, and a great connoisseur in pictures. He was a capital artist; and it is said, that had he given himself entirely to art, he would have been one of the greatest masters Scotland has ever produced. He was plain in appearance, and had a halt in his gait. Passing down the High Street one day, he once heard a girl say to her companion, “That is Johnnie Clerk, the lame lawyer.” “No, madam,” said he; “I may be a lame man, but not a lame lawyer.”
He died a bachelor in his house in Picardy Place, where, old-maid-like, he had contracted such an attachment to cats, that his domestic establishment could almost boast of at least half a dozen of them; and when consulted by a client he was generally to be found seated in his study with a favourite Tom elevated on his shoulder or purring about his ears.
His death occurred on the 30th May, 1832, after which his extensive collection of paintings, sketches, and rare prints was brought to sale in 16 Picardy Place, where, on the 16th of March, 1833, a very serious accident ensued.
The fame of his collection had attracted a great crowd of men and women of taste and letters, and when the auctioneer was in the act of disposing of a famous Teniers, which had been a special favourite of Lord Eldin, the floor of the drawing-room gave way. “The scene which was produced may be imagined, but can scarcely be described,” says the Caledonian Mercury of the 18th March. “From eighty to a hundred persons, ladies as well as gentlemen, were precipitated in one mass into an apartment below, filled with china and articles of vertu. The cries and shrieks, intermingled with exclamations and ejaculations of distress, were heartrending; but what added to the unutterable agony of that awful moment, the density of the cloud of dust, impervious to the rays of light, produced total darkness, diffusing a choking atmosphere, which nearly stifled the terrified multitude, and in this state of suspense they remained several minutes.” Among the mass of people who went down with the floor were Lord Moncrieff, Sir James Riddell of Ardnamurchan, and Sir Archibald Campbell of Succoth. Many persons were most severely injured, and Mr. Smith, banker, of Moray Place, on whom the hearth-stone fell, was killed.
York Place, the continuation of this thorough-fare to Queen Street, is nearly all unchanged since it was built, and is broad and stately, with spacious and lofty houses, which were inhabited by Sir Henry Raeburn, Francis Horner, Dr. John Abercrombie, Dr. John Coldstream, Alexander Geddes, A.R.A., and other distinguished men.
No. 10 was the abode of Lord Craig, the successor on the bench of Lord Hailes in 1792, and whose well-known attainments, and especially his connection with the Mirror and Lounger, gave his name an honourable place among local notorieties. He was the cousin-german of the celebrated Mrs. McLehose, the Clarinda of Robert Burns, and to her he bequeathed an annuity, at his death, which occurred in 1813. His house was afterwards occupied by the gallant Admiral Sir David Milne, who, when a lieutenant, took possession of the Pique frigate, after her surrender to the Blanche, in the West Indies; captured La Seine, in 1798, and La Vengeance, of 38 guns, in 1800, and who commanded the Impregnable, in the attack on Algiers, when he was Rear-Admiral, and had 150 of his crew killed and wounded, as Brenton records in his “Naval History.” He died a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, and left a son, Sir Alexander Milne, also K.C.B., and Admiral, more than once commander of fleets, and who first went to sea with his father in the flag-ship Leander, in 1817. Sir David died on board of a Granton steamer, when returning home, in 1845, and was buried at Inveresk.
Doctor John Abercrombie, Physician to Her Majesty, lived in No. 19, and died there in 1844, aged 64. He was a distinguished consulting physician, and moral writer, born at Aberdeen, in 1781; F.R.C.S. in 1823; and was author of “Inquiries concerning the Intellectual Powers,” which has gone through many editions, “The Philosophy of the Moral Feelings,” &c. His bust is in the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons.
Concerning his death, the following curious story has found its way into print. A Mrs. M., a native of the West Indies, was at Blair Logie at the time of the demise of Dr. Abercrombie, with whom she had been very intimate. He died suddenly, without any previous indisposition, just as he was about to enter his carriage in York Place, at eleven o’clock on a Thursday morning. On the night between Thursday and Friday Mrs. M. dreamt that she saw the whole family of Dr. Abercrombie dressed entirely in white, dancing a solemn funeral dance, upon which she awoke, wondering that she should have dreamt anything so absurd, as it was contrary to their custom to dance on any occasion. Immediately afterwards her maid came to tell her that she had seen Dr. Abercrombie reclining against a wall “with his jaw fallen, and a livid countenance, mournfully shaking his head as he looked at her.” She passed the day in great uneasiness, and wrote to inquire for the Doctor, relating what had happened, and expressing her conviction that he was dead, and her letter was seen by several persons in Edinburgh on the day of its arrival.
No. 22 was the house of Lord Newton, known as the wearer of “Covington’s gown,” in memory of the patriotism and humanity displayed by the latter in defending the Jacobite prisoners on their trial at Carlisle in 1747. His judicial talents and social eccentricities formed the subject of many anecdotes. He participated largely in the bacchanalian propensities so prevalent among the legal men of his time, and was frequently known to put “three lang craigs” (i.e. long-necked bottles of claret) “under his belt” after dinner, and thereafter dictate to his clerk a paper of more than sixty pages. The MS. would then be sent to press, and the proofs be corrected next morning at the bar of the Inner House.
He would often spend the whole night in convivial indulgence at the Crochallan Club, perhaps be driven home to York Place about seven in the morning, sleep for two hours, and be seated on the bench at the usual hour. The French traveller Simond relates his surprise “on stepping one morning into the Parliament House to find in the dignified capacity and exhibiting all the dignified bearing of a judge, the very gentleman with whom he had just spent a night of debauch and parted from only one hour before, when both were excessively intoxicated.”
His lordship was so fond of card-playing that he was wont to say, laughingly, “Cards are my profession – the law my amusement.” He died at Powrie, in Forfarshire, on the 19th of October, 1811.
In 1795 Sir Henry Raeburn built the large house No. 32, the upper part of which had been lighted from the roof and fitted up as a gallery for exhibiting pictures, while the lower was divided into convenient painting rooms, but his residence was then at Stockbridge.
Mr. Alexander Osborne, a commissioner of the Board of Customs, resided in No. 40 for many years, and died there. He was of great stature, and was the right-hand man of the Grenadiers of the First Regiment of Royal Edinburgh Volunteers, proverbially a battalion of tall men, and his personal appearance was long familiar in the streets of the city. In bulk he was remarkable as well as in stature, his legs in particular being nearly as large in circumference as the body of an ordinary person. The editor of Kay mentions that shortly after the volunteers had been embodied, Lord Melville presented his gigantic countryman to George III., who on witnessing such a herculean specimen of his loyal defenders in Scotland, was somewhat excited and curious. “Are all the Edinburgh volunteers like you?” he asked. Osborne mistaking the jocular construction of the question, and supposing it referred to their status in society, replied, “They are so, please your Majesty.” “Astonishing!” exclaimed the King, lifting up his hands in wonder.
In his youth he is said to have had a prodigious appetite, being able to consume nine pounds of steak at a meal. His father, who died at Aberdeen, comptroller of the Customs in 1785, is said to have been a man of even more colossal proportions.
Mr. Osborne lived long in Richmond Street prior to removing to York Place, where he died in his 74th year.
During the early years of this century Lady Sinclair of Murkle occupied No. 61, and at the same time No. 47 was the residence of Alexander Nasmyth, landscape painter, father of Peter, who won himself the name of “the English Hobbima,” and who, in fact, was the father of the Scottish school of landscape painting. In his youth, the pupil of Allan Ramsay, and afterwards of the best artists in Rome and England, he returned to his native city, Edinburgh, where he had been born in 1758; and to his friendship with Burns the world is indebted for the only authentic portrait which exists of our national poet. His compositions were chaste and elegant, and his industry unceasing; thus he numbered among his early employers the chief of the Scottish noblesse. Most of the living landscape painters of Scotland, and many of the dead ones, have sprung from the school of Nasmyth, who, in his extreme age, became an honorary member of the then new Scottish Academy.
The firmness of his intellect, and the freshness of his fancy continued uninterrupted to the end of his labours; his last work was the touching little picture called “Going Home;” and he died soon after at Edinburgh in the eighty-third year of his age, in 1840. He married a daughter of Sir James Foulis, Bart., of Colinton and that ilk, by whom he had a large family, all more or less inheriting the genius of their father, particularly his son Peter, who pre-deceased him at London in 1831, aged forty-five years.
On the north side of York Place is St. Paul’s Episcopal church, built in that style of Gothic which prevailed in the time of Henry VI. of England, and of which the best specimen may be seen in King’s College, Cambridge. The building consists of a nave with four octagon towers at the angles, with north and south aisles. The pulpit is at the east end, and immediately before the communion-table. The organ is at the west end, and above the main entrance, which faces York Lane – a remnant of Broughton Loan. In the north-west angle of the edifice is the vestry. The length of the church is about 123 feet by 73 feet, external measurement. The nave is 109 feet 9 inches in length by 26 feet broad, and 46 feet in height; and the aisles are 79 feet long by 29 feet in height. The ceiling of the nave is a flat Gothic arch, covered with ornamental tracery, as are also the ceilings of the aisles. The great eastern window is beautifully filled in with stained glass by Egginton of Birmingham. This handsome church – in its time the best example of Gothic erected in Edinburgh since the Reformation – was built from a design by Archibald Elliot, and does considerable credit to the taste and genius of that eminent architect. It was begun in February, 1816, and finished in June, 1818, for the use of the congregation which had previously occupied the great church in the Cowgate, and who contributed £12,000 for its erection. The well-known Archibald Alison, author of “Essays on Taste,” and father of the historian of Europe, long officiated here. He was the son of a magistrate of the city of Edinburgh, where he was born in 1757, but graduated at Oxford; and on the invitation of Sir William Forbes and others, in 1800, became senior incumbent of the Cowgate chapel. After the removal of the congregation to York Place he officiated there, until a severe illness in 1831 compelled him to relinquish all public duties. In “Peter’s Letters” we are told that he possessed all the qualifications of a popular orator.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in the first year of its formation, and was the intimate friend of many of its most distinguished members, as he was of most of the men of j genius and learning of his time in Scotland. His “Essays on Taste” appeared first in 1790, since when it has passed through several editions, and has been translated into French. His theory of taste has met the approval of men of the highest genius in poetry, criticism, and art. He died, universally respected, on the 17th of May, 1839.
St. George’s Episcopal chapel, built in 1794. stands on the south side of York Place. It was designed by Robert Adam, and is of no known style of architecture, and is every way hideous in conception and in detail. This dingy edifice cost £3,000.
North of the two streets we have described, and erected coeval with them, are Forth and Albany Streets.
In No. 10 of the former street lived for years, and died on the 27th of August, 1837, in his seventy-first year, George Watson, first president and founder of the Royal Scottish Academy, of whom an account has already been given in connection with that institution, as one of the most eminent artists of his time. In the same house also lived and died his third son, Smellie George Watson, R.S.A., a distinguished portrait painter, named from the family of his mother, who was Rebecca, eldest daughter of William Smellie, the learned and ingenious painter and natural philosopher.
In the little and obscure thoroughfare named Hart Street lived long one who enjoyed considerable reputation in his day, though well-nigh forgotten now: William Douglas, an eminent miniature painter, and the lineal descendant of the ancient line of Glenbervie. “He received a useful education,” says his biographer, “and was well acquainted with the dead and living languages. From his infancy he displayed a taste for the fine arts. While yet a mere child he would leave his playfellows to their sports, to watch the effects of light and shade, and, creeping along the furrows of the fields, study the perspective of the ridges. This enabled him to excel as a landscape painter, and gave great beauty to his miniatures.”
As a miniature painter he was liberally patronised by the upper ranks in Scotland and England, and his works are to be found in some of the finest collections of both countries. In particular he was employed by the family of Buccleuch, and in 1817 was appointed Miniature Painter for Scotland to the Princess Charlotte, and Prince Leopold afterwards King of the Belgians.
Prior to his removal to Hart Street he lived in. No. 17 St. James’s Square, a common stair. He possessed genius, fancy, taste, and delicacy, with a true enthusiasm for his art; and his social worth, and private virtues were acknowledged by all who had the pleasure of knowing him. He had a vast fund of anecdote, and in his domestic relations was an affectionate husband, good father, and faithful friend. His constant engagements precluded his- contributing to the exhibitions in Edinburgh, but his works frequently graced the walls of the Royal Academy at Somerset House. In a note attached to David Malloch’s “Immortality of the Soul,” he says:- “The author would take this opportunity of stating that if he has been at all successful in depicting any of the bolder features of Nature, this he in a great measure owes to the conversation of his respected friend, William Douglas, Esq., Edinburgh, who was no less a true poet than an eminent artist.”
He died at his house in Hart Street on the 20th of January, 1832, leaving a daughter, Miss Ramsay Douglas, also an artist, and the inheritor of his peculiar grace and delicacy of touch.
York Place being called from the king’s second son by his English title, Albany Street, by a natural sequence, was named from the title of the second son of the king of Scotland. Albany Row it was called in the feuing advertisements in 1800, and for some twenty years after. In No. 2, which is now broken up and subdivided, lived. John Playfair, Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University, a man of whom it has been said that he was cast in nature’s happiest mould, acute, clear, comprehensive, and having all the higher qualities of intellect combined and regulated by the most perfect good taste, being not less perfect in his moral than in his intellectual nature. He was a man every way distinguished, respected, and beloved.
When only eighteen years old he became a candidate in 1766 for the chair of mathematics in the Marischal College, Aberdeen, where, after a lengthened and very strict examination, only two out of six rival competitors were judged to have excelled him – these were, Dr. Traill, who was appointed to the chair, and Dr. Hamilton, who subsequently succeeded to it. He was the son of the Rev. James Playfair, minister of Liff and Benvie, and upon the representation of Lord Gray was ordained his successor to that charge in 1773, but he resigned it ten years afterwards. In 1785 he was appointed joint Professor of Mathematics in the University of Edinburgh with the celebrated Adam Ferguson, LL.D., and discharged the duties of that chair till the death of his friend Professor Robinson, in 1805, when he was appointed his successor. Among his works are “Elements of Geometry” published in 1796; “Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth” in 1804; “Outlines of Natural Philosophy;” besides many papers to the scientific department of the Edinburgh Review and to various other periodicals.
He died at No. 2, Albany Street, in his seventieth year, on the 20th of July, 1819. An unfinished “Memoir of John Clerk of Eldin,” the inventor of naval tactics, left by him in manuscript, was published after his death in the ninth volume of the “Edinburgh Transactions.” An interesting account of the character and merits of this illustrious mathematician, from the pen of Lord Jeffrey, was inserted in the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” and in the memoir prefixed to his works by his nephew, and a noble monument to his memory is erected on the Calton Hill.
Northwards of the old village of Broughton, in the beginning of the present century, the land was partly covered with trees; a road led from it to Canonmills by Bellevue to Newhaven, while .another road, by the water of Leith, led westward. In the centre of what are now the Drummond Place Gardens stood a country house belonging to the Lord Provost Drummond, and long inhabited by him; he feued seven acres from the Governors of Heriot’s Hospital. The approach to this house was by an avenue, now covered by West London Street, and which entered from the north road to Canonmills.
On the site of that house General Scott of Balcomie subsequently built the large square three-storeyed mansion of Bellevue, afterwards converted into the Excise Office, and removed when the Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee Railway Company constructed the now disused tunnel from Princes Street to the foot of Scotland Street.
In 1802 the lands of Bellevue were advertised to be sold “by roup within the Justiciary Court Room,” for feuing purposes, but years elapsed before anything was done in the way of building. In 1823 the papers announce that “preparations are making for levelling Bellevue Gardens and filling up the sand-pits in that neighbourhood, with a view to finishing Bellevue Crescent, which will connect the New Town with Canonmills on one side, as it is already connected with Stockbridge on the other.”
By that year Drummond Place was nearly completed, and the south half of Bellevue Crescent was finished and occupied; St. Mary’s parish church was founded and finished in 1824, from designs by Mr. Thomas Brown, at the cost of £13,000 for 1,800 hearers. It has a spire of considerable elegance, 168 feet in height.
General Scott, the proprietor of Bellevue, was one of the most noted gamblers of his time. It is related of him that being one night at Stapleton’s, when a messenger brought him tidings that Mrs. Scott had been delivered of a daughter, he turned laughingly to the company, and said, “You see, gentlemen, I must be under the necessity of doubling my stakes, in order to make a fortune for this little girl.” He accordingly played rather deeper than usual, in consequence of which, after a few hours’ play, he found himself a loser by £8,000. This gave occasion for some of the company to rally him on his “daughter’s fortune,” but the general had an equanimity of temper that nothing could ruffle, and a judgment in play superior to most gamesters. He replied that he had still a perfect dependence on the luck of the night, and to make his words good he played steadily on, and about seven in the morning, besides clearing his £8,000, he brought home £15,000. His eldest daughter, Henrietta, became Duchess of Portland.
Drummond Place was named after the eminent George Drummond, son of the Laird of Newton, a branch of the Perth family, who was no less than six times Lord Provost of the city, and who died in 1776, in the eightieth year of his age.
The two most remarkable denizens of this quarter were Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe of Hoddam (previously of 93, Princes Street) and Lord Robertson.
Among the attractions of Edinburgh during the bygone half of the present century, and accessible only to a privileged few, were the residence and society of the former gentleman. Born of an ancient Scottish family, and connected in many ways with the historical associations of his country, by his reputation as a literary man no less than by his high Cavalier and Jacobite tenets, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe was long looked up to as one of the chief authorities on all questions connected with Scottish antiquities.
No. 93, Princes Street, the house of Mrs. Sharpe of Hoddam, was the home of her son till the time of her death, and there he was visited by Scott, Thomas Thomson, and those of the next generation, such as David Laing, Robert Chambers, and Cosmo Innes. In his “Diary” Scott writes of him as “a very remarkable man. He has infinite wit and a great turn for antiquarian lore. His drawings are the most fanciful and droll imaginable – a mixture between Hogarth and some of those foreign masters who painted ‘Temptations of St. Anthony’ and such grotesque subjects. My idea is that Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, with his oddities, tastes, satire, and high aristocratic feelings, resembles Horace Walpole.”
The resemblance in their abodes was more strictly true. The house of Sharpe, No. 28 Drummond Place, was one of the sights of Edinburgh to the select few who found admittance there, with its antique furniture, tapestries, paintings, and carvings – its exquisite enamels, weapons, armour, bronzes, bijouterie, ivories, old china, old books, and cabinets – the mighty collection of a long life, and the sale of which, at his death, occupied six long days at the auction rooms in South Hanover Street.
Robert Chambers describes a visit he paid him in Princes Street. “His servant conducted me to the first floor, and showed me into what is called amongst us the back drawing-room, which I found carpeted with green cloth and full of old family portraits, some on the walls, but many more on the floor. A small room leading out of this one was the place where Mr. Sharpe gave audiences. Its diminutive space was stuffed full of old curiosities, cases with family bijouterie, &c. One petty object was strongly indicative of character, a calling card of Lady Charlotte Campbell, the once adored beauty, stuck into the frame of a picture. He must have kept it, at that time, about thirty years.”
This lady, one of the celebrated Edinburgh beauties, was the second daughter of John, Duke of Argyle, who died in 1806, and the visit referred to took place about 1824.
To Mr. Sharpe Sir Walter owed many of the most graphic incidents which gave such inimitable life to the productions of his pen; and a writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine justly remarked that “his collection of antiquities is among the richest which any private gentleman has ever accumulated in the north. In Scottish literature he will be always remembered as the editor of ‘Law’s Memorials’ and of ‘Kirkton’s History of the Kirk of Scotland.’ His taste in music was no less cultivated than peculiar, and the curious variety of singular and obsolete musical instruments which enriched his collection, showed how well the antiquarian taste consorted with the musical skill and critical sagacity of the editor of the ‘Minuets and Songs, by Thomas, sixth Earl of Kellie.’ ”
At his death, in 1851, a desire was felt by many of his friends that his collection of antiquities should, like that of his friend Scott, be preserved as a memorial of him, but from circumstances over which his family had no control this was found to be impossible, so the vast assemblage of rare and curious objects which crowded every room in No. 28 was dispersed. The very catalogue of them, filling upwards of fifty pages, was in some of its features strongly indicative of the character of the man.
Among them we find – “A small box made from a leg of the table at which King James VIII. sat on his first lauding here;” “fragment of Queen Mary’s bed-curtains;” “hair of that true saint and martyr Charles I., taken from his coffin at Windsor, and given to me by the Hon. Peter Drammond Burrel at Edinburgh, December, 1813;” “piece of the shroud of King Robert the Bruce;” “piece of a plaid worn by Prince Charles in Scotland;” “silk sash worn by the prince;” “pair of gloves belonging to Mary Queen of Scots;” “cap worn by her when escaping from Lochleven;” &c. He had a vast collection of coins, some of which were said to be discovered in consequence of a dream. “The child of a Mr. Christison, in whose house his father was lodging in 1781, dreamt that a treasure was hid in the cellar. Her father had no faith in the dream, but Mr. Sharpe had the place dug up, and a copper pot full of coins was found.”
One of the chief features of his drawing-room in Drummond Place was a quaint monstrosity in bronze, now preserved in the British Museum. It was a ewer fashioned in the shape of a tailless lion, surmounted by an indescribable animal, half hound and half fish, found in a vault of his paternal castle of Hoddam, in Dumfries-shire. Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe was laid amid his forefathers in the family burial-place in Annandale. “May the earth lie light on him,” writes one of his friends, “and no plebeian dust invade the last resting-place of a thorough gentleman of the antique type, now wholly gone with other good things of the olden time!”
Patrick Robertson, known as Lord Robertson by his judicial title, was long locally famous as “Peter,” one of the most brilliant wits and humorists about Parliament House, and a great friend of “Christopher North.” They were called to the bar in the same year, 1815. Robertson was born in 1793. In 1842 he was Dean of Faculty, and was raised to the bench in the following year. He was famous for his mock heroic speeches on “the general question,” and his face, full of grotesque humour, and his rotund figure, of Johnson-like amplitude and cut, were long familiar to all habitue’s of the law courts. Of his speeches Lockhart gives a description in his account of a Burns dinner in 1818:- “The last of these presidents (Mr. Patrick Robertson), a young counsellor of very rising reputation and most pleasant manner, made his approach to the chair amid such a thunder of acclamation as seems to issue from the cheeks of the Bacchantes when Silenus gets astride his ass, in the famous picture of Rubens. Once in the chair, there was no fear of his quitting it while any remained to pay homage to his authority. He made speeches, one chief merit of which consisted (unlike epic poems) in their having neither beginning, middle, nor end. He sang songs in which music was not. He proposed toasts in which meaning was not. But over everything that he said there was flung such a radiance of sheer mother wit, that there was no difficulty in seeing that the want of meaning was no involuntary want. By the perpetual dazzle of his wit, by the cordial flow of his good-humour, but, above all, by the cheering influence of his broad, happy face, seen through its halo of purest steam (for even the chair had by this time got enough of the juice of the grape), he contrived to diffuse over us all, for a long time, one genial atmosphere of unmingled mirth.”
The wit and humour of Robertson were proverbial, and hundreds of anecdotes used to be cur- rent of his peculiar and invincible power of closing all controversy, by the broadest form of reductio ad absurdum. At a dinner party a learned and pedantic Oxonian was becoming very tiresome with his Greek erudition, which he insisted on pouring forth on a variety of topics more or less recondite. At length, at a stage of the discussion on some historical point, Lord Robertson turned round, and, fixing his large grey eyes upon the Englishman, said, with a solemn and judicial air, “I rather think, sir, Dionysius of Halicarnassus is against you there.” “I beg your pardon,” said the other, quickly; “Dionysius did not flourish for ninety years after that period!” “Oh!” rejoined Robertson, with an expression of face that must be imagined, “I made a mistake – I meant Thaddeus of Warsaw.” After that the discussion flowed no longer in the Greek channel.1
He was author of a large quarto volume of singularly weak poems, which were noticed by Lockhart in the Quarterly Review, and to the paper he appended in one copy, which was sent to the senate, the following distich, by way of epitaph:-
“Here lies the peerless paper lord, Lord Peter,
Who broke the laws of God and man and metre.”
The joke chiefly lay in Robertson being led to suppose that the lines were in the entire edition, much to his annoyance and indignation; but Lockhart penned elsewhere the following good wishes concerning him:-
“Oh! Petrus, Pedro, Peter, which you will,
Long, long thy radiant destiny fulfil.
Bright be thy wit, and bright the golden ore
Paid down in fees for thy deep legal lore;
Bright be that claret, brisk be thy champagne,
Thy whisky-punch, a vast exhaustless main,
With thee disporting on its joyous shore,
Of that glad spirit quaffing ever more;
Keen be thy stomach, potent thy digestion,
And long thy lectures on ‘the general question;’
While young and old swell out the general strain,
We ne’er shall look upon his like again.”
Lockhart wrote many rhyming epitaphs upon him, and is reported to have written, “Peter Robertson is ‘a man,’ to use his own favourite quotation, ‘’cast in Nature’s amplest mould.’ He is admitted to be the greatest corporation lawyer at the Scotch bar, and he is a vast poet as well as a great lawyer.”
Lord Robertson, who lived in No. 32 Drummond Place, died in 1855, in his sixty-second year.
No. 38 was for years the abode of Adam Black, more than once referred to elsewhere as publisher, M.P., and Lord Provost of the city, who died on the 24th January, 1874.
Forming a species of terrace facing the Queen Street Gardens from the north, are Abercrombie Place and Heriot Row – the first named from the hero of the Egyptian campaign, and the latter from the founder of the famous hospital on ground belonging to which it is erected. The western portion of the Row, after it was built, was long disfigured by the obstinacy of Lord Wemyss, who declined to remove a high stone wall which enclosed on the north and east the garden that lay before his house in Queen Street.
Sir John Connel, Advocate and Procurator for the Church, author of a “Treatise on Parochial Law and Tithes,” and who figures among Kay’s Portraits as one of the “Twelve Advocates,” James Pillans, LL.D., Professor of Humanity in the University 1820-63, and Sir James Riddel, Bart., of Ardnamurchan and Sunart, lived respectively in Nos. 16, 22, and 30, Abercrombie Place; while on the west side of Nelson Street, which opens off it to the north, resided, after 1829, Miss Susan Edmondston Ferrier, authoress of “Marriage,” “Inheritance,” and “Destiny,” one who may with truth be called the last of the literary galaxy which adorned Edinburgh when Scott wrote, Jeffrey criticised, and the wit of Wilson flowed into the Nodes. She was the friend and confidant of Scott. She survived him more than twenty years, as she died in 1854.
In the house numbered as 6 Heriot Row, Henry Mackenzie, the author of the “Man of Feeling,” spent the last years of his long life, surviving all the intimates of his youth, including Robertson, Hume, Fergusson, and Adam Smith; and there he died on the 14th of January, in the year 1831, after having been confined to his room for a considerable period by the general decay attending old age. He was then in his eighty-sixth year.
No. 44 in the same Row is remarkable as having been for some years the residence of the Rev. Archibald Alison, to whom we have already referred; in the same house with him lived his sons, Professor Alison, and Archibald the future historian of Europe and first baronet of the name. The latter was born in the year 1792, at the parsonage house of Kenley, in Shropshire. The Rev. Archibald Alison (who was a cadet of the Alisons, of New Hall, in Angus) before becoming incumbent of the Cowgate Chapel, in 1800, had been a prebendary of Sarum, rector of Roddington. and vicar of High Ercal; and his wife was Dorothea Gregory, grand-daughter of the fourteenth Lord Forbes of that ilk, a lady whose family for two centuries has been eminent in mathematics and the exact sciences.
His sermons were published by Constable in 1817, twenty-seven years subsequent to his work, on “Taste,” and, according to the Literary Magazine for that year and other critical periodicals, since the first publication of Blair’s discourses there were no sermons so popular in Scotland as those of Mr. Alison. He enforced virtue and piety upon the sanction of the Gospels, without entering into those peculiar grounds and conditions, of salvation which constitute the sectarian theories of religion, regarding his hearers or readers as having already arrived at that state of knowledge and understanding when, “having the principles of the doctrine of Christ, they should go on unto- perfection.”
Great King Street, a broad and stately thoroughfare that extends from Drummond Place to the Royal Circus, was built in 1820, and in the following year it was proposed to erect at the west end of it an equestrian statue to the memory of George III., for which subscription lists had been opened, but the project was never carried out.
In Great King Street have resided, respectively in Nos. 3, 16, and 72, three men who are of mark .and fame – Sir Robert Christison, Sir William Hamilton, and Sir William Allan.
When the future baronet occupied No. 3, he was Doctor Christison, and Professor of medical jurisprudence. Born in June, 1797, and son of the late Alexander Christison, Professor of Humanity in the University of Edinburgh, he became a student there in 1811, and passed with brilliance through the literary and medical curriculum, and after graduating in 1819, he proceeded to London and Paris, where, under the celebrated M. Orfila, he applied himself to the study of toxicology, the department of medical science in which he became 50 deservedly famous.
Soon after his return home to Scotland he commenced practice in his native capital, and in 1822 was appointed Professor of Medical Jurisprudence in the University, and was promoted in 1832 to the chair of materia medica. He contributed various articles to medical journals on professional subjects, and wrote several books, among others an exhaustive “Treatise on Poisons,” still recognised as a standard work on that subject, and of more than European reputation.
At the famous trial of Palmer, in 1856, Dr. Christison went to London, and gave such valuable evidence that Lord Campbell complimented him on the occasion, and the ability he displayed was universally recognised and applauded. He was twice President of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh – the first time being in 1846 – and was appointed Ordinary Physician to the Queen for Scotland. He received the degree of D.C.L. from Oxford in 1866, was created a baronet in 1871, and was made LL.D. of Edinburgh University in 1872. He resigned his chair in 1877, and died in 1882.
In No. 16 lived and died Sir William Hamilton, Bart., of Preston and Fingalton, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics in the University of Edinburgh from 1836 to 1856, and Fellow of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries. He had previously resided in Manor Place. He was called to the Scottish bar in 1815, at the same time with Duncan McNeill, the future Sir Archibald Alison, John Wilson, and others, and in 1816 assumed the baronetcy as twenty-fourth male representative of Sir John Fitz-Gilbert de Hamilton, who was the second son of Sir Gilbert, who came into Scotland in the time of Alexander III., and from whom the whole family of Hamilton are descended. The baronetcy is in remainder to heirs male general, but was not assumed from the death of the second baronet in 1701 till 1806. It was a creation of 1673. With his brother Thomas he became one of the earliest contributors to the columns of Blackwood’s Magazine.
Besides “Cyril Thornton,” one of the best military novels in the language, Thomas Hamilton was author of “Annals of the Peninsular Campaign” and of “Men and Manners in America.” In “Peter’s Letters” he is described as “a fine-looking young officer, whom the peace has left at liberty to amuse himself in a more pleasant way than he was accustomed to, so long as Lord Wellington kept the field. He has a noble, grand, Spaniard-looking head, and a tall graceful person, which he swings about in a style of knowingness that might pass muster even in the eye of old Potts. The expression of his features is so very sombre that I should never have guessed him to be a playful writer (indeed, how could I have guessed such a person to be a writer at all?). Yet such is the case. Unless I am totally misinformed, he is the author of a thousand beautiful jeux d’esprit both in prose and verse, which I shall point out to you more particularly when we meet.” He had served in the 29th Regiment of Foot during the long war with France, and died in his fifty-third year, in 1842.
In April, 1820, when the chair of moral philosophy in the University of Edinburgh fell vacant by the death of Dr. Thomas Browne, the successor of Dugald Stewart, Sir William Hamilton became a candidate together with John Wilson. Others were mentioned as possible competitors, among them Sir James Macintosh and Mr. Malthus, but it soon became apparent that the struggle – one which had few parallels even in the past history of that University – lay between the two first-named. “Sir William was a Whig; Wilson was a Tory of the most unpardonable description,” says Mrs. Gordon in her “Memoir,” and the Whig side was strenuously supported in the columns of the Scotsman – “and privately,” she adds, “in every circle where the name of Blackwood was a name of abomination and of fear.” But eventually, in the year of Dr. Browne’s death, Wilson was appointed to the vacant chair, and among the first to come to hear, and applaud to the echo, his earliest lectures, was Sir William Hamilton.
In 1829 the latter married his cousin, Miss Marshall, daughter of Mr. Hubert Marshall, and in July, 1836, was appointed to the chair of logic and metaphysics, in succession to Professor David Ritchie. In the interval between his appointment and the commencement of the college session, in the November of the same year, he was assiduously occupied in preparing to discharge the duties of the chair, which (according to the practice of the University) consist in the delivery of a course of lectures on the subjects assigned to it.
On his appointment at first, Sir William Hamilton would seem to have experienced considerable difficulty in deciding on the character of the course of lectures on Philosophy, which, while doing justice to the subject, would at the same time meet the requirements of his auditors, usually comparatively young students in the second year of their University curriculum. His first course of lectures fell to be written during the currency of the session 1836-7. He was in the habit of delivering three in each week; and each lecture was usually written on the day, or more probably on the evening and night, before its delivery. His “Course of Metaphysics” was the result of this nightly toil.
His lectures on Logic were not composed until the following session, 1837-8. A commonplace book which he left among his papers, exhibits in a very remarkable degree Sir William’s power of appreciating and making use of every available hint scattered through the obscurer regions of thought, through which his extensive reading conducted him, says the editor of his collected works, and no part of his writings more completely verifies the remark of his American critic, Mr. Tyler:- “There seems to be not even a random thought of any value which has been dropped along any, even obscure, path of mental activity, in any age or country, that his diligence has not recovered, his sagacity appreciated, and his judgment husbanded in the stores of his knowledge.”
The lectures of Sir William Hamilton, apart from their very great intrinsic merit, possess a high academical and historic interest. From 1836 to 1856 – twenty consecutive years – his courses of Logic and Metaphysics were the means by which this great, good, and amiable man sought to imbue with his philosophical opinions the young men who assembled in considerable numbers from his native country, from England, and elsewhere; “and while by these prelections,” says his editor in 1870, “the author supplemented, developed, and moulded the National Philosophy – leaving thereon the ineffaceable impress of his genius and learning – he at the same time and by the same means exercised over the intellects and feelings of his pupils an influence which for depth, intensity, and elevation, was certainly never surpassed by that of any philosophical instructor. Among his pupils are not a few who, having lived for a season under the constraining power of his intellect, and been led to reflect on those great questions regarding the character, origin, and bounds of human knowledge which his teaching stirred and quickened, bear the memory of their beloved and revered instructor inseparably blended with what is highest in their present intellectual life, as well as in their practical aims and aspirations.”
At the time of his death, in 1856, he resided, as has been stated, in No. 16 Great King Street, and he was succeeded by his eldest son, William, an officer of the Royal Artillery. Since his death a memoir of him has appeared from the pen of Professor Veitch, of the University of Glasgow.
In No. 72 of the same street lived and died another great Scotsman, Sir William Allan, R.A., whose fame and reputation as an artist extended over many years, and whose works are still his monument. We have already referred to his latter years in our account of the Royal Academy and the atelier of his earlier days in the Parliament Close, where, after his wanderings in foreign lands, and in the first years of the century, he was wont to figure “by way of robe-de-chambre, in a dark Circassian vest, the breast of which was loaded with innumerable quilted lurking-places, originally, no doubt, intended for weapons of warfare, but now occupied with the harmless shafts of hair pencils, while he held in his hand the smooth cherry-wood stalk of a Turkish tobacco-pipe, apparently converted very happily into a palette guard. A swarthy complexion and profusion of black hair, tufted in a wild but not ungraceful manner, together with a pair of large sparkling eyes looking out from under strong shaggy brows full of vivacious and ardent expressiveness, were scarcely less speaking witnesses of the life of romantic and roaming adventure I was told this fine artist had led.” In spite of his bad health, which (to quote “Peter’s Letters”) “was indeed but too evident, his manners seemed to be full of a light and playful sportiveness, which is by no means common among the people of our nation, and still less among the people of Scotland; and this again was every now and then exchanged for a depth of enthusiastic earnestness still more evidently derived from a sojourn among men whose blood flows through their veins with a heat and rapidity to which the North is a stranger.” His pictures, the “Sale of Circassian Captives to a Turkish Bashaw,” purchased by the Earl of Wemyss and March, and the “Jewish Family in Poland making merry before a Wedding,” were among the first of his works that laid the foundation of his future fame. His “Murder of Archbishop Sharp,” and other works are too well-known to be referred to here; but the “Battle of Bannockburn,” the unfinished work of his old age, has never been engraved, nor is it likely to be so. Full of years and honour, he died on the 23rd of February, 1850, aged sixty-nine, attended and soothed to the last by the tenderness and affection of an orphan niece.
The house opposite, No. 73, was for some fifty years the residence of Duncan McNeill, advocate, and latterly a peer under the title of Baron Colonsay. The son of John McNeill of Colonsay (one of the Hebrides, at the extremity of Islay), by the eldest daughter of Duncan McNeill of Dunmore, Argyleshire, he was born in the bleak and lonely isle of Colonsay in 1793, and after being educated at the Universities of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, he was called to the Scottish Bar in 1816, and very soon distinguished himself as a sound and able lawyer and brilliant pleader. After being junior counsel for the Crown, he was Sheriff of Perth for ten years after 1824, and twice Solicitor-General for Scotland before 1842. From 1842 to 1846 he was Lord Advocate. He was chosen Dean of Faculty in November, 1843, and annually thereafter, till raised to the bench as a Lord of Session and Justiciary in 1851, by the territorial title of Lord Colonsay. In the following year he was appointed Lord Justice-General and President of the Court, and was created a peer of Britain on retiring in 1867. He was a Deputy-Lieutenant of Edinburgh in 1854, and of Argyleshire in 1848, and was a member of the Lower House from 1843 to 1851. He died in February, 1874, when the title became extinct.
In the same street, in Nos. 24 and 25 respectively, lived two other legal men of local note: Lord Kinloch, a senator, whose name was William Penny, called to the bar in 1824 and to the bench in 1858; and W. B. D. D. Turnbull, advocate, and latterly of Lincoln’s Inn, barrister-at-law. He was called to the Bar in 1832, together with Henry Glassford Bell and Thomas Mackenzie, after wards Solicitor-General.
A noted antiquary, he was Correspondant du Comité Impérial des Travaux Historiques, et des Sociétés Savants de France, &c. He was well known in Edinburgh for his somewhat coarse wit, and as a collector of rare books, whose library in Great King Street was reported to be the most valuable private one in the city, where he was called – but more especially among legal men – “Alphabet Turnbull,” from the number of his initials. He removed to London about 1853, and became seriously embroiled with the authorities concerning certain historical documents in the State Paper Office, when he had his chambers in 3 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
He died at London on the 22nd of April, 1863, in his fifty-second year; and a story went abroad that a box of MS. papers was mysteriously buried with him.
1 Wilson’s “Memoirs,” vol. ii.