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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Eight


"In the great roll of Letters these still stand pre-eminent,
And these again
 In science and in art have lasting fame"
- Anon.

1845 - 55

OF men of consequence in Edinburgh, who went to their rest while I was a boy, I can recall the stalwart form of Wilson, better known in the literary world as Christopher North. Well do I remember h n as he strode in vigorous pace along Princes Street, a man whose presence attracted the attention even of those to whom his personality and his work were unknown, he statue erected to his memory recalls him faithfully. I fear the generation of to-day have in the great majority never heard his name, or read a word of what came from his pen. I have no doubt f they heard the Noctes Ambrosiance spoken of, many would suppose some ancient Roman in a toga had written them. But he will ever have a place in the literary history of his time.

Lord Jeffrey I remember. He needs no panegyric, for his colleague and friend has told of his worth as a public man, his brilliancy as a wncer, and his charm as a social companion, in terms of appreciation plainly coming from the heart. My father pointed him out to me one Sunday afternoon as he passed our house in Heriot Row. A boy's impression at the moment was, that there was a man who looked as if he was in measure borne down. A very few days later he was gone from this life. The impression he made upon me when I saw him became strongly fixed by my hearing of his death, and his appearance to this day remains in my recollection.

The keen political struggles of the early part of the last century brought into being two great magazines—Blackwood's Maga and the Edinburgh Review. The latter was originated by the active polticans of the twenties of last century, who worked hard for the political changes which culminated is the Reform Act of 1832. Lord Cockburn has told so fully of the early history of the "Edinburgh' under Jeffrey's guiding hand that it calls for no further notice here, except to say that the vigour and power of his advocacy of the cause its promoters had at heart, did much to further its success. Maga was the brilliant representative n Scottish literature of the Conservative side of politics, while at the same time it devoted many of its pages to historical and literary articles, and gave of its space to fiction. There's no monthly magazine which has since its inauguration in 1817 so maintained its high reputation, never having been forced to truckle to the somewhat lowered taste of the reading public. The only magazine of its class that has kept to a price which represents contributors of high repute, it has held its own against to-day's less refined and cheap productions, an ever- increasing fleet, which would have run down and sunk any literary craft not of the staunchest timbers and piloted by masters of skill and daring. None of its pilots have themselves been writers, but, what was better, they were men of iudgment in the


MOUND, SOUTH-WEST CORNER (in the early "Forties")

choice of their contributors, drawing to themselves the highest party talent, and the cream of the writers on general subjects. Although it is nearly a hundred years since the first number of Maga appeared, Its conduct has always been in the family; and it has not merely been "Blackwood's" in name, but from the first to this day it has always had a Blackwood at the editorial desk, and never has there been the slightest eclipse in its career across the liter heavens. Originating as it did in the same year as the Edinburgh Scotsman, it is an illustration of wonders which may happen, that these two prints, which for three-quarters of a century were politically on opposite sides of the arena, are now fighting shoulder to shoulder. T'his is mentioned as a fact of history merely. The late William Blackwood was a class fellow of my own, and I enjoyed his intimate friendship, being Bill and Jack to one another, and under him the traditions of Maga were well maintained. As an occasional contributor, both on political and general subjects, for a good many years, I had opportunity to know with what judgment he could at a the reject what his friend sent in to him, and at other times suggest improving modification.

It is interesting to note that these two most distinguished press productions in Edinburgh, in the magazine and the newspaper departments of literature, came into existence a the same year, 1817. How many ventures of the printing press have lived and died in the century—all but two years—during which these prints have flourished and weathered through a period of great political and social changes.

Lord Cockburn, the lifelong friend of Jeffrey, was much associated with the Edinburgh Review. He is best remembered for his struggles by voice and pen for his dearly loved Edinburgh, the maltreatment of which he inveighed against and deplored.

Prinipal Lee, the reverend doctor who presided over the University, was one who earned the respect and love of all who knew him. Combined with an essentially sober and discreet mind, he had the saving element of a sense of humour, a most valuable possession to him whose lot it s to preside over a Senatus Academicus of learned men of very varied type—as they must be, seeing that each is a specialist—and also to handle a couple of thousand students, of whom t will always be true that:

"Schnell fertig ist die Jugend mit dem Wort."

He was succeeded by one of the greatest scientists of the last century,, Sir David Brewster, to whom we young folks owed the charm of the kaleidoscope, one of those inventions whose greatest claim to commendation sits simplicity. Later he gave us the stereoscope, that wonderful instrument, in using which we look with each eye at a separate picture, and seem to see not two pictures but, as it were, a solid reproduction of what the pictures represent.

Another citizen, also a scientist, deserves mention, Bain, who was the inventor of the chemical electric telegraph, which in various forms was much in use, particularly in giving a record where, only weak currents could be. employed. I wonder whether there are any left but myself who in their childhood saw the first electric clock which Bain erected on a great bracket in the upper floor of a house in South Hanover Street? his dials were very large, and in addition to the novelty of the system, it was illuminated from within. We used to wonder how it was all done, and I fear ninety- nine out of every hundred who saw it were content to wonder, and never sought to know. When a boy like myself appealed to those of hoary head to relieve my inquiring mind, an injunction not to be "troublesome, dear," acted as a douche of cold water. Poor Bain could not get the help he needed  and died a disappointed man. He ;s worthy to be remembered with honour. When his clock, which gave excellent information of time, was taken down, we young folks missed it. Bain's memory is vindicated by the many electric clocks of to-day, in which the main principle of the movement is obtained exactly as was the case in his lnvention. Others have entered into his labours with profit to themselves. It has been the same with many inventors, particularly in the electrical department of science.

Edinburgh being celebrated for its medical school, I have endeavoured to recall the names of any great medical men or surgeons who were at their zenith in the Forties, but only a few come up to me. Gregory was the medical name most firmly fixed on little people's minds, and no wonder. But be had passed away before this time, only his concoction remained to cause many a child to conceal its little troubles rather than face that awful glass of red horror, to which parents pinned their faith as the panacea for all evil. I suppose it survives as indispensable to this day. It is too nasty to be given up. The only two after him that come up to memory were Abercromby and Davidson. But there were many budding celebnties, who will call for notice when a later period is reached.

In art, there were few at that time who shone conspicuously, but the President of the Royal Scottish Academy, Sir John Watson Gordon, is worthy to be remembered. London was already carrying off our rising men, who were soon to take place of distinction there, but to Edinburgh's loss.


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