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Historical and Traditional Sketches of Highland Families and of the Highlands
George MacKenzie of Rosehaugh


Many, no doubt, have read in the pages of history of the celebrated Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, one of the most talented members of the Scottish bar, who, in the reign of Charles II. was Lord Advocate of Scotland, and whose Institutes are still considered as standing authority by the legal profession. Of him the author says, that on one occasion while at Rosehaugh, a poor widow from a neighbouring estate called to consult him regarding her being repeatedly warned to remove from a small croft which she held under a lease of several years; but as some had yet to run before its expiry, and she being threatened with summary ejection from the croft, she went to solicit his advice. Having examined the tenor of the lease, Sir George informed her that it contained a flaw, which, in case of opposition, would render her success extremely doubtful; and although it was certainly an oppressive act to be deprived of her croft, he thought her best plan was to succumb. However, seeing the distressed state of mind in which the poor woman was, on hearing his opinion, he desired her to call upon him the following day, when he would consider her case more carefully. His clerk, who always slept in the same room with his Lordship, was not a little surprised, about midnight, to discover him rise from his bed fast asleep, light a candle which stood on his table, then draw in his chair, and commence writing very busily, as if he had been all the time wide awake. The clerk saw how he was employed, "but ne’er a word he spak’," and, when he had finished, saw him place what he had written in his private desk, then lock it, extinguish the candle, and retire to bed. Next morning, at breakfast, Sir George remarked that he had had a very strange dream about the poor widow’s affair, which, if he now could remember, he had no doubt of making out a clear case in her favour. His clerk rose from table, and requested from him the key of his desk, brought therefrom a good many pages of manuscript, and as he handed them to Sir George, inquired, "Is that like your dream?" On looking over it for a few seconds, Sir George said, "Dear me, this is singular; this is my very dream!" He was no less surprised when his clerk informed him of the manner in which he had acted, and sending for the widow, he told her what steps to adopt to frustrate the efforts of her oppressors. Acting on the counsel thus given, the poor widow was successful, and, with her young family, was allowed to remain in possession of her "wee bit croftie" without molestation.

Sir George principally resided in Edinburgh, and previous to dining invariably walked for half an hour. The place he selected for this was Leith Walk, then almost a solitary place. One day, in taking his accustomed exercise, he was met by a venerable looking, grey-headed gentleman, who accosted him without either introduction or apology—"There is a very important case to come on in London fourteen days hence, at which your presence will be required. It is a case of heirship to a very extensive estate in the neighbourhood of London, and a pretended claimant is doing his utmost to disinherit the real heir, on the ground of his inability to produce proper titles thereto. It is necessary that you be there on the day mentioned; and in one of the attics of the mansion-house on the estate, there is an old oak chest with two bottoms; between these you will find the necessary titles, written on parchment." With this he disappeared, leaving Sir George quite bewildered; but, resuming his walk, he soon recovered his former equanimity, and thought nothing further of the matter. While taking his walk the second day, he was again met in the same place by the old gentleman, who earnestly urged him not to delay another day in repairing to London, and assured him that he would be handsomely compensated for his trouble; but to this Sir George paid no great attention. The third day he was again met by the same hoary-headed gentleman, who energetically pleaded with him not to lose a day in setting out, otherwise the case would be lost. The singular deportment of the gentleman, and his anxiety that Sir George should be present at the discussion of the case, in which the old man seemed so deeply interested, induced him to consent to his importunities, and accordingly started the following morning on horseback, and arrived in London on the morning preceding that on which the case was to come on. A few hours saw him in front of the mansion-house described by the old gentleman at Leith Walk, where he met two gentlemen engaged in earnest conversation—one of the claimants to the property and a celebrated London barrister—to whom he immediately introduced himself as the principal law officer of the Crown for Scotland. The barrister, no doubt supposing that Sir George was come to take the "bread out of his mouth," spoke to him somewhat surly and disrespectfully of his country; to which the latter answered, "that, lame and ignorant as his ‘learned friend’ took the Scotch to be, yet in law, as well as in other respects, they would effect what would defy him and all his London clique." This disagreeable dialogue was put an end to by the other gentleman taking Sir George into the house. After sitting and conversing for a few minutes, Sir George expressed a wish to be shown over the house. The drawing-room was hung all round with beautiful paintings and drawings, which Sir George greatly admired; but there was one, however, which attracted his attention; and after examining it very minutely, he, with a surprised countenance, inquired of his conductor whose picture that was? when he was told, "It is my great-great-grandfather’s." "My goodness," exclaimed Sir George, "the very man who spoke to me three times in Leith Walk, and at whose urgent request I came here!" Sir George, at his own request, was then conducted to the attics, in one of which there was a large mass of old papers, which they turned up without discovering any thing to assist them in prosecuting the claim for the heirship. However, as they were about giving up their search in that attic, Sir George noticed an old trunk lying in a corner, but was told that for many years it was placed there as lumber, and contained nothing. The Leith Walk gentleman’s information recurring to Sir George’s memory, he went and gave the old moth eaten trunk as hearty a kick as he would wish to have been felt by his "learned friend," the barrister. The kick sent the bottom out of the trunk, also a quantity of chaff, among which the original titles to the property were discovered. Next day Sir George entered the Court just as the case was about to come on, and addressed the pretended claimant’s counsel with "Well, Sir, what will I give you to abandon this action?" "No sum, or any consideration whatever, would induce me to give it up," was the answer. "Well, Sir," said Sir George, at the same time drawing out his snuff-horn and taking a pinch, "I will not even hazard a pinch on it." The case having been called, Sir George, in answer to the pretended claimant’s counsel, in an eloquent speech, addressed the bench, exposing most clearly the means adopted to deprive his client of his birthright, and concluded by producing the titles mentioned, which all at once decided the case in favour of his client. The decision being announced, Sir George took the young heir’s arm, and, bowing to his "learned friend" the barrister, remarked, "You see now what a Scotchman has done, and I must tell you that I wish a countryman anything but a London barrister." Sir George immediately returned to Edinburgh, well paid for his trouble; but he never again, in his favourite walk, encountered the old grey-headed gentleman.


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