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Book of Scottish Story
The Last of the Jacobites


BY ROBERT CHAMBERS, LL. D.

I had occasion to mention, at the conclusion of my " History of the Insurrection of 1745,” that after that period the spirit of jacobitism became a very different thing from what it had formerly been; that, acquiring no fresh adherents among the young subsequent to that disastrous year, it grew old, and decayed with the individuals who had witnessed its better days; and that, in the end, it became altogether dependent upon the existence of a few aged enthusiasts, more generally of the female than the male sex.

These relics of the party—for they could be called nothing else—soon became isolated in the midst of general society ; and latterly were looked upon, by modern politicians, with a feeling similar to that with which the antediluvian patriarchs must have been regarded in the new world, after they had survived several generations of their short-lived descendants. As their glory lay in all the past, they took an especial pride in retaining every description of manners and dress which could be considered old-fashioned, much upon the principle which induced Will Honeycomb to continue wearing the wig in which he had gained a young lady’s heart. Their manners wer entirely of that stately and formal sort which obtained at the commencement of the eighteenth century, and which is so inseparably associated in the mind of a modern with ideas of full-bottomed perukes, long-backed coats, gold-buckled shoes, and tall walking canes. Mr Pitt’s tax, which had so strong an effect upon the heads of the British public, did not perhaps unsettle one grain of truly Jacobite powder ; nor is it hypothetical to suppose that the general abandonment of snuff-taking by the ladies, which happened rather before that period, wrenched a single box from the fingers of any ancient dame, whose mind had been made up on politics, as her taste had been upon black rappee, before the year of grace 1745.

In proportion as the world at large ceased to regard the claims of the house of Stuart, and as old age advanced upon those who still cherished them, the spirit of Jacobitism, once so lofty and so chivalrous, assimilated more and more with the mere imbecility of dotage. What it thus lost, however, in extensive application, it gained in virulence; and it perhaps never burned in any bosoms with so much fervour as in those few which last retained it. True, the generosity which characterised it in earlier and better times had now degenerated into a sort of acrid humour, like good wine turned into vinegar. Yet, if an example were wanting of the true inveterate Jacobite, it could not be found anywhere in such perfection as amongst the few who survived till recent times, and who had carried the spirit unscathed and unquenched through three-quarters of a century of every other kind of political sentiment.

As no general description can present a very vivid portraiture to the mind, it may be proper here to condescend upon the features of the party, by giving a sketch of an individual Jacobite who was characterised in the manner alluded to, and who might be considered a fair specimen of his brethren. The person meant to be described, might be styled the LAST OF THE JACOBITES; for, at the period of his death in 1825, there was not known to exist, at least in Edinburgh, any person, besides himself, who refused to acknowledge the reigning family. His name was Alexander Halket. He had been, in early life, a merchant in the remote town of Fraserburgh, on the Moray Firth; but had retired for many years before his death, to live upon a small annuity in Edinburgh. The propensity which characterised him, in common with all the rest of his party, to regard the antiquities of his native land with reverence, joined with the narrowness of his fortune in inducing him to take up his abode in the Old Town.

He lodged in one of those old stately hotels near the palace of Holyroodhouse, which had formerly been occupied by the noblernen attendant upon the Scottish court, but which have latterly become so completely overrun by the lower class of citizens. Let it not be supposed that he possessed the whole of one of these magnificent hotels. He only occupied two rooms in one of the floors or "flats" into which all such buildings in Edinburgh are divided ; and these he possessed only in the character of a lodger, not as tenant at first hand. He was, nevertheless, as comfortably domiciled as most old gentlemen who happen to have survived the period of rnatrimony. His room--for one of them was so styled ‘par excellence--was cased round with white-painted panelling, and hung with a number of portraits representing the latter members of the house of Stuart, among whom the Old and Young Chevaliers were not forgotten.* His windows had a prospect on the one hand of the quiet and cloistered precincts of Chessels’ Court, and on the other to the gilded spires and gray, time-honoured turrets of Holyroodhouse. Twice a year, when he held a card party, with three candles on the table, and the old joke about the number which adorn that of the laird of Grant, was he duly gratified with compliments upon the comfortable nature of his " room," by the ancient Jacobite spinsters and dowagers, who, in silk mantles and pattens, came from Abbeyhill and New Street to honour him with their venerable company.

Halket was an old man of dignified appearance, and generally wore a dress of the antique fashion above alluded to. On Sundays and holidays he always exhibited a sort of court-dress, and walked with a cane of more than ordinary stateliness. He also assumed this dignilied attire on occasions of peculiar ceremony. It was his custom, for instance, on a particular day every year, to pay a visit to the deserted court of Holyrood in this dress, which he considered alone suitable to an affair of so much importance.

* Some rascally picture—dealer had imposed upon him a nondescript daub of the female face divine as a likeness of the beautiful Queen Mary. How he accomplished this it is not easy to say; probably he was acquainted with Mr Halket’s ardent devotion to the cause of the house of Stuart, at every period of its history, and availed himself of this knowledge to palm the wretched portrait upon the old gentleman’s unsuspecting enthusiasm. Certain it is that the said portrait was hung in the place of honour—over the mantelpiece—in Mr Halket’s apartment, and was, on state occasions exhibited to his guests with no small complacency. Many ofhis friends were, like himself, too blindly attached to everything that carried a show of antiquity to suspect the cheat ; and others were too good-natured to disturb a harmless delusion, from the indulgence of which he derived so much satisfaction. One of them, however, actuated by an unhappy spirit of connoisseurship, was guilty of the cruelty of undeceiving him, and not only persuaded him that the, picture was not a likeness of the goddess of his idolatry,—Queen Mary,—but possessed him with the belief that it represented the vinegar aspect of the hated Elizabeth. Mr Halket, however, was too proud to acknowledge his mortification by causing the picture to be removed, or perhaps it might not have been convenient for him to supply its place ; and he did not want wit to devise a pretext for allowing it to remain, without compromising his hostility to the English queen one whit. "Very well,” said he, "I am glad you have told me it is Elizabeth; for I shall have the pleasure of showing my contempt of her every day by turning my back upon her when I sit down to table.” *

On the morning of the particular day which he was thus wont to keep holy, he always dressed himself with extreme care, got his hair put into order bya professional hand, and, after breakfast, walked out of doors with deliberate steps and a solemn mind. His march down the Canongate was performed with all the decorum which might have attended one of the state processions of a former day. He did not walk upon the pavement by the side of the way. That would have brought him into contact with the modern existing world, the rude touch of which might have brushed from his coat the dust and sanctitude of years. He assumed the centre of the street, where, in the desolation which had overtaken the place, he ran no risk of being jostled by either carriage or foot-passenger, and where the play of his thoughts and the play of his cane-arm alike got ample scope. There, wrapped up in his own pensive reflections, perhaps imagining himself one in a court-pageant, he walked along, under the lofty shadows of the Canongate,—a wreck of yesterday floating down the stream of to-day, and almost in himself a procession.

On entering the porch of the palace he took off his hat ; then, pacing along the quadrangle, he ascended the staircase of the Hamilton apartments, and entered Queen Mary’s chambers. Had the beauteous queen still kept court there, and still been sitting upon her throne to receive the homage of mankind, Mr Halket could not have entered with more awe-struck solemnity of deportment, or a mind more alive to the nature of the scene. When he had gone over the whole of the various rooms, and also traversed in mind the whole of the recollections which they are calculated to excite, he retired to the picture-gallery, and there endeavoured to recall, in the same manner, the more recent glories of the court of Prince Charles. To have seen the amiable old enthusiast sitting in that long and lofty hall, gazing alternately upon vacant space and the portraits which hang upon the walls, and to all appearance absorbed beyond recall in the contemplation of the scene, one would have supposed him to be fascinated to the spot, and that he conceived it possible, by devout wishes, long and fixedly entertained, to annul the interval of time, and reproduce upon that floor the glories which once pervaded it, but which had so long passed away. After a day of pure and most ideal enjoyment, he used to retire to his own house, in a state of mind approaching, as near as may be possible on this earth, to perfect beatitude.*

Mr Halket belonged, as a matter of course, to the primitive apostolical church, whose history has been so intimately and so fatally associated with that of the house of Stuart. He used to attend an obscure chapel in the Old Town ; one of those unostentatious places of worship to which the Episcopalian clergy had retired, when dispossessed of their legitimate fanes at the Revolution, and where they have since performed the duties of religion, rather, it may be said, to a family, or at most a circle of acquaintances, than to a congregation. He was one of the old-fashioned sort of Episcopalians, who always used to pronounce the responses aloud; and, during the whole of the Liturgy, he held up one of his hands in an attitude of devotion. One portion alone of that formula did he abstain from assenting to—the prayer for the Royal Family. At that place, he always blew his nose, as a token of contempt.

* He paid a visit, in full dress, with a sword by his side, to the Crown Room, in Edinburgh Castle, immediately after the old regalia of the kingdom had been there discovered in 1818. On this occasion a friend of the author saw him, and endeavoured to engage him in conversation, as he was marching up the Castle Hill; but he was too deeply absorbed in reflection upon the sacred objects which he had to see, to be able to speak. He just gazed on the person accosting him, and walked on.*

In order that even his eye might not be offended by the names of the Hanoverian family, as he called them, he used a prayer-book which had been printed before the Revolution, and which still prayed for King Charles, the Duke of York, and the Princess Anne. He was excessively accurate in all the forms of the Episcopalian mode of worship; and indeed acted as a sort of fugleman to the chapel; the rise or fall of his person being in some measure a signal to guide the corresponding motions of all the rest of the congregation.

Such was Alexander Halket—at least in his more poetical and gentlemanly aspect. His character and history, however, were not without their disagreeable points. For instance, although but humbly born himself, he was perpetually affecting the airs of an aristocrat, was always talking of "good old families, who had seen better days," and declaimed incessantly against the upstart pride and consequence of people who had originally been nothing. This peculiarity, which was, perhaps, after all, not inconsistent with his Jacobite craze, he had exhibited even when a shopkeeper in Fraserburgh. If a person came in, for instance, and asked to have a hat, Halket would take down one of a quality suitable, as he thought, to the rank or wealth of the customer, and if any objection was made to it, or a wish expressed for one of a better sort, he would say, "That hat, sir, is quite good enough for a man in your rank of life. I will give you no other.”

He was also very finical in the decoration of his person, and very much of a hypochondriac in regard to little incidental maladies. Somebody, to quiz him on this last score, once circulated a report that he had caught cold one night, going home from a party, in consequence of having left off wearing a particular gold ring. And it really was not impossible for him to have believed such a thing, extravagant as it may appear.


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