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Memoirs of a Highland Lady
Chapter XVII. 1818-1819


THE first summer we were in Picardy Place, 1818, we girls remained there protected by Miss Elphick during the whole of it. When the fine weather came on in spring we had resumed our excursions to Craigcrook, and it was then we got so intimate with Basil Hall. We could not have been acquainted with him while we lived in George Street, because he only returned from his Loo Choo cruise late in the autumn of 1817. During the following winter we saw a good deal of him both before he went to London, and after they had tried to spoil him there, for he was made such a wonder of there, it was a miracle his head kept steady; but it was at Craigcrook that we became such friends. Cruel Lord Jeffrey limited his two young favourites to friendship; he forbid any warmer feelings, closeting Jane in his pretty cabinet, and under the shades of the wood on Corstorphine Hill, to explain all the family particulars. And then Basil went off to sea.

The Jeffreys generally went out on Friday evenings, or, at any rate, on Saturdays, to a late dinner at Craigcrook, and came back to town on Monday morning, till the 12th of July released him from law labours. Jane and I frequently went with them, sometimes for only one day, returning in the evening. We never met any lady there but Mrs George Russell occasionally; a clever woman, not to my mind agreeable. The men were John Murray, now and then his elder brother, Tommy Thomson, Robert Graeme, Mr Fullerton till he married, William Clerk very seldom, Mr Cockburn always, John Jeffrey, the Moreheads now and then, chance celebrities, and a London friend at intervals. It was not a big-wig set at all. My father, Lord Gillies, and such-like dignitaries would have been quite out of place in this rather riotous crew; indeed, the prevailing free-and-easy tone did not altogether suit me. Individually, almost all of our party were agreeable, cleverly amusing. Collectively, there was far too much boisterous mirth for my taste. I preferred being with Mrs Jeffrey, that naturally charming woman, not then by any means sufficiently appreciated by those so much her inferiors. She and I spent our time gardening—she was a perfect florist—playing with little Charlotte, to whom all my old nursery tales and songs were new, preparing for the company, and chattering to each other. My gentlemen friends were William Murray of Henderland, and Robert Graeme of Lynedoch; they used to find Mrs Jeffrey and me out when we were weeding our borders, and often carry us off up the hill, Jane remaining queen of the bowling- green. How much she was admired by all those clever heads!

The dinners were delightful, so little form, so much fun, real wit sometimes, and always cheerfulness; the windows open to the garden, the sight and the scent of the flowers heightening the flavour of repasts unequalled for excellence; wines, all our set were famous for having of the best and in startling variety— it was a mania; their cellars and their books divided the attention of the husband; the wife, alas! was more easily satisfied with the cookery. Except in a real old-fashioned Scotch house, where no dish was attempted that was not national, the various abominations served up as corner dishes under French names were merely libels upon housekeeping. Mrs Jeffrey presented nothing upon her table but what her cook could dress; her home-fed fowl and home-made bread, and fine cream and sweet butter, and juicy vegetables, all so good, served so well, the hot things hot, the fruits cream, and butter so cold, gave such a feeling of comfort every one got good-humoured, even cranky William Clerk. They were bright days, those happy summer days at Craigcrook.

Another country house we were very much in was one the Gibsons had a lease of, Woodside. It was six miles from town, a good ride. We went out early, stayed all day, and came back in the cool of the summer evening. They were kind people, the father and mother very little in our way, the sons not much, the seven daughters of all ages our great friends. Mrs Kaye and Jane drew most together, Cecilia and I; the little ones were pets, and very pretty ones.

In August my father and mother and William went to the Highlands. Johnnie accompanied M. L'Espinasse to France. The little monkey had a turn for languages, was making good progress in French, so as a reward this pleasant trip was arranged for him. We three young ladies were left to amuse ourselves and Miss Elphick. We were so quiet, so orderly, so very correct in our whole conduct during the absence of the heads of the family, that on their return my father was addressed in the Parliament House by our opposite neighbour, a writer who lived on a flat, a second storey, high enough for good observation, and assured by him of the perfect propriety of our behaviour.

In the early part of the Edinburgh summers a good many very pleasant, quiet parties went on among such of us as had to remain in town till the Courts rose in July. I remember several agreeable dinners at this season at the Arbuthnots, foreigners generally bringing their introductions about this time of year. At the Brewsters they had foreigners sent to them too, and they entertained them now, not in the flat where we first found them, but in their own house in Athole Crescent newly built out of the profits of the Kaleidoscope, a toy that was ridiculously the rage from its humble beginning in the tin tube with a perforated card in the end, to the fine brass instrument set on a stand, that was quite an ornament to the drawing-room. Had Sir David managed matters well, this would have turned out quite a fortune to him; he missed the moment and only made a few thousand pounds; still they gave him ease, and that was a blessing. The little dinners at his house were always pleasant. She was charming, and they selected their guests so well and were so particularly agreeable themselves, I don't remember anywhere passing more thoroughly enjoyable evenings than at their house. He was then, and is still, not only among the first of scientific men, but in manners and conversation utterly delightful; no such favourite anywhere as Sir David Brewster, except at home or with any one engaged with him in business; nobody ever had dealings with him and escaped a quarrel. Whether he were ill, the brain over-worked and the body thus over-weighted, or whether his wife did not understand him, or did not know and exert herself, there is no saying.

I think it was about the May or June of this year that old Mrs Siddons returned to the stage for twelve nights to act for the benefit of her grandchildren. Henry Siddons was dead, leaving his affairs in much perplexity. He had purchased the theatre and never made it a paying concern, although his wife acted perseveringly, and all the Kemble family came regularly and drew good houses. His ordinary company was not good; he was a stick himself, and he would keep the best parts for himself, and in every way managed badly. She did better after his death; her clever brother William Murray conducting affairs much more wisely for her, and certainly for himself in the end, slow as she was in perceiving this. Some pressing debts, however, required to be met, and Mrs Siddons came forward. We were all great play-goers, often attending our own poor third-rates, Mrs Harry redeeming all else in our eyes, and never missing the stars, John and Charles Kemble, Young, Liston, Mathews, Miss Stephens, etc. But to see the great queen again we had never dreamed of She had taken leave of the stage before we left London. She was little changed, not at all in appearance, neither had her voice suffered; the limbs were just hardly stiffer, more slowly moved rather, therefore in the older characters she was the finest, most natural; they suited her age. Queen Katherine she took leave in. To my dying hour I shall never forget the trial scene; the silver tone of her severely cold "My Lord Cardinal," and then on the wrong one starting up, the scorn of her attitude, and the outraged dignity of the voice in which she uttered "To You I speak." We were breathless. Her sick-room was very fine too. Then her Lady Macbeth, Volumnia, Constance—ah! no such acting since, for she was nature, on stilts in her private life. "Bring me some beer, boy, and another plate," is a true anecdote, blank verse and a tragic tone being her daily wear.

Once when Liston was down I longed to see him in Lubin Log; for some reason I could not manage it, and Mrs Harry let me go to her private box. He had been Tony Lumpkin in the play, and we were talking him over, waiting for his appearance in the farce. "I have heard," said I, "of his giving a look with that queer face of his, not uttering a word, yet sending people into convulsions of laughter not to be checked whilst he remained in sight." "Hush," said Mrs Harry, "here he comes." Lubin from the coach with all his
parcels. Between his first two inquiries for his "numbrella" and his "'at," he threw up at our hidden box, at me, the look—perfectly over-setting; there never could be such another grotesque expression of fun since the days of fauns and satyrs, and when composure in a degree returned, a sly twinkle of one squinting eye, or the buck tooth interrupting a smile, or some indescribable secret sign of intelligence, would reach us and set us off again. We were ill with laughing. He played that whole farce to us, to Mrs Harry and me, and every one agreed he had surpassed himself.

The early part of the next summer, 1819, passed much in the same way as the one before; sociable small parties among our friends in town, and visits to those in the country; messages to the Abbey of course, and we were always the messengers. My mother was very careful of the servants; Johnnie declared that one extremely rainy day when it was proper the Newcastle Chronicle should be returned to Mrs General Maxwell, my mother called out to him, "Johnnie, my dear, I wish you would run to George Street with this; it's such a dreadful day I don't like sending out poor Richard "—a colossus of a footman, weighing heavier every day from having nothing to do. Poor Johnnie! this very spring he maybe thought with regret of even Mrs Maxwell's newspaper, for my father took him up to town and sent him to Eton. They first paid a visit to the electors of Tavistock, and on their way spent a day with Dugald Stewart, who lived then near the Duke of Bedford's cottage at Endsleigh. The old philosopher predicted the boy's future eminence, although we at home had not seen through his reserve. He was idle, slow, quiet, passing as almost stupid beside his brilliant brother. "Take care of that boy, Grant," said Dugald Stewart at their parting; "he will make a great name for himself, or I am much mistaken." And has he not? Quiet he has remained, indolent too, and eccentric, but in his own field of action who is his parallel? My mother and I thought of no honourable future when our pet left us. We watched him from the window, stepping into the travelling chariot after my father in the new greatcoat that had been made for him, the little tearful face not daring to venture a last glance back to us. He was small of his age, and from being the youngest he was childish. We did not see him for sixteen months. He came back to us an Eton boy; how much those three small words imply! My poor mother, I can understand now the sob with which she threw herself back upon the sofa, exclaiming, "I have lost my Johnnie!" His cousin John Frere went to Eton at the same time, and our John spent all short holidays at Hampstead, only coming home to the Highlands once a year in the summer. The two cousins remained attached friends ever, and though widely separated, never lost sight of one another till poor John Frere died.

General N- had returned home very soon after his marriage to our dear Annie. They had settled amidst his rich relations near Nottingham, who had all received her most kindly. We heard from her constantly and were always planning to meet, yet never managed it. My father had seen her with her two nice little boys, and found her perfectly happy; her general no genius, but an excellent man.

I cannot recollect much else that is worthy of note before our little tour upon the Continent. We set out in August, and were two months and a half away. My father was not inclined for such a movement at all, it was probably very inconvenient to the treasury, but my mother had so set her heart upon it, he, as usual, good-naturedly gave way. Johnnie was to spend his holidays with the Freres. Miss Elphick went to the Kirkman Finlays; her parting was quite a dreadful scene, screams, convulsions, sobs, hysterics. The poor woman was attached to some of us, and had of late been much more agreeable to the rest; but she was a plague in the house, did a deal of mischief, and was no guide, no help. She had been seven years with us, so there was a chain of habit to loosen at any rate.


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