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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Isaac M'Gregor, Carter, and the College Boilings


ISAAC M’GREGOR was a simple-minded rustic of a most obliging disposition, with a vein of sarcastic humour, which he could work with very decided effect when occasion required. He rented a small patch of ground that fringed the Muir of Kippen, part of the estate of Stirling of Carden. Isaac had never seen much of the great world. With a couple of horses, which he owned, he contrived to keep the thatch over his head and the wheels of life in working condition by carrying whisky for the far-famed Kepp distillery, the proprietor of which, the late Mr. Cassils, was distantly related to him.

Isaac had an inveterate prejudice against the medical profession, and only in cases of the last extremity would he permit them to be called in. The prejudice arose from a belief that when subjects could not be procured by means of exhumation, the living were drafted on for the necessary supplies, and artful stratagems employed to inveigle and secure their victims. Any person appearing to be a stranger on the street was marked, and in some quiet place, whither the victim was followed, a plaster was stuck over the aperture for breath; or perhaps he was induced on some plausible pretext to adjourn to a tavern and partake of some refreshments, when the liquids offered were sure to be drugged.

Or, if the person were so regardless as to venture with his seducers within the precincts of the college, he was led into a small apartment which was hung round with attractive pictures, the whole floor of which was one trap-door or hatchway so contrived that, on touching a secret spring, the unsuspecting victim was in a moment precipitated into a boiling cauldron in the vaults beneath.

Possessed with a strong belief in these practices, Isaac kept a sharp look-out in passing the college, which he was obliged to do every night when he was in Glasgow, as his quarters lay in that direction. On one occasion, as he passed the gateway of the college rather late, he affirmed that,— "He heard the clinking of a chain come skelping ower the lintel o’ the college entry, and that the cleeks verra nearly grippit him by his haunch buttons."

At another time Isaac had to visit a friend in Castlepen’s Close, a little above Blackfriar’s Wynd, now part of College Station, about the hour of dismissal of one of the medical classes, and some of his friends, who knew his misgivings, said:

"There’s a boiling this nicht !" at which Isaac cocked his ears, well knowing its import.

"Just step east the wynd there, Isaac," said one of the youngsters, "and satisfy yoursel’; just hand your lug close to the wa’ o’ the college garden, and come back and tell us what sort o’ sound ye heard frae the inside." Isaac was down the stair in a moment, and made his way to the spot, his imagination heated, and quite prepared to hear what he believed to he going on within the wall. When he returned he looked aghast, exclaiming:

"Preserve us a’! gi’e me a bed wi’ you this nicht—I canna gang up the street, for there’s the black man (servant to one of the college professors) awa’ up to the boiling; it’s very becomin’, I maun say, to ha’e a blackamoor in that den. Gi’e me a licht to my bed, lads, I wish I may boo (close) an e’e the nicht."

The young wags, bent on practical mischief, put into the bedroom a black image, set carefully on the head of a clothes-press in such a position that it was sure to catch Isaac’s eye on the dawn of the morning. Just as the day began to break they heard Isaac muttering in horror:

"Ye black-looking savage, your maister can get naebody in this kintra wi’ a white skin on his face to do his wark, but maun send to the West Indies for the like o’ you—ane o’ the generation o’ worrie-cows, wi’ the coom o’ your kintra on your face. Come doon and I’ll fecht ye; but fling away your plaisters." The object remained fixed without sign or motion of consent or otherwise, and so Isaac, in a half-dreaming state, cried out:

"Weel, weel, it’s needless for me to strike ye, for ane that could come through a key-hole, as ye’ve done, could cast ane o’ your brimstone scones on my mouth afore I could say Jack Robinson, or come within arm’s length o’ ye; but if I’m to be chokit, whan ye’re done wi’ my body, gi’e my banes to my brither Jock to be buried at Kippen."

With reference to the Boilings, it may be explained that a belief prevailed that human bodies served for medicinal as well as surgical purposes.


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