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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Twelve


"Heaven gives us friends to bless the present scene ;
Removes them, to prepare us for the next."
Young {Night Thoughts).

OF those who were at the Academy when I first went there, and whom I knew, there are few left. Probably the two most distinguished men in physical science were Clerk Maxwell and Peter Guthrie Tait. I can recall at that time hearing it said, in my father's house, that some work that Clerk Maxwell had done astonished by ;its power the savants of the day. He certainly proved himself later to be among the first—if not the first— of the men of science of the time. He was for many years the most quoted as an authority in what I read of physical science as an amateur. Peter Tait I knew well. When I was introduced to him many years after my schooldays, and when he had become Professor of Natural Philosophy in Edinburgh University, I said to him. "I have desired to meet you for a long time, that I might apologise to you for giving you a black eye." He stared and laughed, and I told him the story. When he was in the sixth class and I was in the second, on an occasion when there was snow in the yards, we little fellows took advantage of the big sixth—who had to go into class before our time—to set upon them, and to make believe we had driven them off the field. They took our onslaught good-naturedly. I, like an imp as I was, ran forward to deliver my last snowball on the retreating foe.Just as I aimed at Tait's back, he turned round, and my ball, which was slushy, and which I had pressed as tight as I could, caught him straight in the eye, shot from a distance of a few feet. I was proud of myself, and he was certainly hurt pretty severely. He and I became good friends, and ;in the late Seventies I have played golf with him at St. Andrews at six in the morning, a time when no other player would turn out, and when no caddy thought it worth his while to get up so early to earn the fee of a round, so we had to carry our own clubs,, His talk as we trod the green was quite interesting and most instructive. : he good-natured way in which he tried to make things clear to the amateur was characteristic of the man. How proud he was of his son Freddy as a golfer. I cannot doubt that his sad death in the Boer war did much to bring Tait to his end.

Henry Smith, who became the head of the City of London Police, Colonel Cadell, V.C., Sir Colin Scott-Moncrieff, and Sir John Batty Tuke, who was Member for the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews, were a class-fellows of mine. Scott- Moncriefil is one of the few men for whom prayer has been made in all the mosques of a district in Egypt. By his skilful and daring engineering work, he brought the blessing of irrigalion water to a large tract of country, desolate before, and although he belonged to the hated race of "Christian dogs,' gratitude overflowed in prayer to Allah in many a mosque for his welfare —a most praiseworthy inconsistency of the Moslem. Of lawyers, I was a fellow-scholar with John Blair Balfour, William Mackintosh, and Robert Finlay. The Academy of that time produced its full share of distinguished men in most walks of life, of which we Academicals are proud— it is to be hoped not inordinately. One whose sad fate it was to be drowned at Oxford was Luke, one of the most distinguished scholars of his time.

As regards the Academy of to-day, it is a joy to an old Academical to be able to say, from intimate knowledge as a Director, that it has never been in a more flourishing—indeed has never been in such a flourishing condition as it is to-day, the number of scholars being about 200 greater than it was when I first joined the Board, and staff, and equipment, and system being now at a highly efficient standard, while munificent gifts of buildings will cause the names of Messrs. Grabble and Gilmour and Ford to be ever remembered as benefactors.

Before concluding references to school life, I suppose it is a duty in speaking of one's school years to be frank. There is one advantage in having 1little to say that is good of oneself, that there is no need to consider questions of modesty.

"Of their own merits, modest men are dumb,"

but he who has to confess does well to be outspoken. I therefore say at once that I was not a good, far less a model scholar. If I was not so far down as to be classed with the "rubbishing tail", it was a surprise if I found myself more than halfway up in the class, and I can believe that when this happened my teacher was at least as surprised as myself. I had left school before I learned what it was to work. My prizes, which were few, were for English. At the close of the session a senior class was brought to the English room to hear us recite and read, and by the votes of the upper boys of that class went the prizes. I had a tough tussle with my friend Tuke—alas, lately taken from us—and we read time after time, and at last the Archdeacon announced that the votes were eequal, and that each of us should have a prize. I can well remember the frightful row that followed, and saw next day what had caused it. My brother, who was in the senior class, was seated on a high book press, and when I was announced as a prize-winner his heels beat a terrific tattoo on the press door. Many a time did I look at the deep dints upon that door afterwards, a testimony of brotherly love. Once again I took this prize, the dangerous Tuke being out of the way. Later I indulged hope of taking a prize for Biblical knowledge, but will never forget my disappointment. I literally slaved at preparation, sitting up late when I was supposed to be in bed. Having heard of the extraordinary questions sometimes put by examiners, I was prepared if called on to give the whole genealogy in the first chapter of Matthew from memory, and could answer every question in the primer we were supplied with. But, alas! the night before examination day my overwork brought me to nervous breakdown. All through the dark hours a continuous jumble passed through my little head. Patriarchs and kings, prophets true and false, widows of Samaria, Ahab, Jeroboam, and all the rest, coursed through my consciousness, vivid but confused, and when day-light came, all around me looked greeny as I fought with the horrors of a bilious attack, such as I have never endured since. Oh, how keenly I felt it, the one great effort of my school days doomed to end in bitter disappointment. Among the many doings that "gang agley in life", I have never encountered one which was a trial more poignant.

One other prize I fought for, but only got a place, the Recitation prize. I was at that time but a poor creature physically, and gave my aid to the medical profession pretty freely, being threatened with lung trouble, causing me to be taken from school for a year. I fancy that to a certain extent this was a handicap for a reciter. Marcellus' speech to the Mob was one of the recitations prescribed which tested our powers, and my poor physical state made a speech like that, with its varying emotional stages, to be beyond me. It was one of the few keen disappointments of my boy-life that I could not rise to the place required for recitation. But these contests recall an incident which was most amusing to those who witnessed it. Outside the class-room there had been a paraphrasing of Marcellus' utterance, and with mock solemnity a comical rhyming version had been shouted in unison by laughing groups during play interval on wet days. When the reciting competition was taking place, a chum of my own had got well through the opening and the pause over Caisar's coffin, but coming to the climax, down came from the shelf of memory and out came at the lips the paraphrased version;

"Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
And pray to the gods
for bread and cheese"

The reciter corrected himself in vain, for such a shout went up from rector, masters, and pupils that "to interdict the plagues'* reached no one's ear, and my poor friend crept back to his seat with the crimson of shame, which he had been invoking from his supposed Romans, upon his own cheeks.

When it is necessary to speak on self-depreciation, there is some comfort in being able with emphasis to declare that one has to do so in such good company as Lord Cockburn. It is something to be able to say that you can apply his account of himself as if his words were your own, and speaking of yourself. He tells of himself: "I never got a single prize *—neither did I in classics; and he adds: "I once sat booby at the annual examination." So did I. Probably his case was like mine. The desire to evade sitting at the bottom led first one and then another to absent himself, and we were in reality only nearly boobies, though having to fill the place. If there was no other good quality, I think he could claim, and I could claim, an award for pluck. I fear he got no recognition. 1 did, and it forms a rather funny incident. When the class met in the following session the master called me up, and commenting on the injustice inflicted by the desertion of many —so far as I can remember it was more than the first double figure—said I had been awarded a prize, which was handed to me, the first time a booby prize had ever been delivered as a real reward. The inside label was not filled up, and I went to the writing- master, Mr. Hamilton, told him the circumstances, and left him to write in what seemed to him good. He did so, and I still possess my volume, on which is stamped in gold: "Hoc ingenii feliciter exculti Pr(emium donav-erunt Academic? Edinensis Curatores" and which bears the label, "Extra Prize for Scholarship." This must, I think, be unique.

While at the Academy a tutor was provided for me in the evening to assist in preparing the lessons for the next day, and one of these tutors was a student, Alexander Nicolson, who afterwards became a well-known man in Edinburgh, and who went by the soubriquet of "The Celt", he hailing from Skye, from whence my father came.

He was a Celt from head to toe, with a good share of pawky humour, and a considerable power of versification, both serious and comic. He was engaged in the Advocates' Library on catalogue work, and somewhat later in life than is usual he became an advocate. I refer to this, because I think our relations at the Bar were unique. I had several times the honour of being his leader in Court proceedings. Such a thing as the pupil being senior at the Bar to his former tutor has not, I suppose, ever occurred before, and is not likely to occur again. Our friendship was cordial, and only ceased when he was carried off a good many years ago. Those who can remember him are now but few. He was a very capable man, and might have shone in literature, but his easy-going temperament militated against his attaining a marked success. He had not an enemy, and he had many friends.


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