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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Fourteen


1849

I MENTIONED, when speaking of my earliest recollections of life, that there is good reason to think that much is stored up in the brain of past events, which no direct effort will bring to consciousness.

A personal experience of my life when I was about twelve or thirteen years of age, illustrating this, occurred on an occasion when I was bathing in the river Whitadder, which ran close to my summer home. I was teaching myself to swim, and had reached the stage when I could do so fairly well. But I had never been out of my depth, as where I bathed the water was only about four feet deep. Whether it was that the river had become a few inches deeper, orthat there was a hole in which I had not sought bottom before, I suddenly, on trying to stand, found myself out of my depth. I sprang off the bottom, and endeavoured to shout to my brother, who was undressing on the shore, but before sound could come my mouth was full of water. Many times I jumped up, but fa-led to get a cry to pass my hps. At last, from the stream carrying me down a few feet, I got past the hole and found bottom, with my head above water. My brother caused an ant--climax by shouting loudly, "Well done!" He knew nothing of my agony; his note on being that I was trying how often I could bob down below the surface and come up again without stopping. During the seconds of my struggle I experienced what many have done, the drowning memory of lightning speed, A crowd of incidents of childhood rushed up from the brain deposits of the past—the nursery, the nurse, the little adventures of childhood, scenes of life of many a sort, which no effort of intention could have brought up before me. I have often wondered in what number of seconds all the swift-running panorama went by. he time must have been very short, for as I was swallowing a quantity of water at every momentary dip, and yet had no load of water in me when I found a shallow resting-place, I do not believe I could have made more than ten or a dozen plunges, and certainly each could not have occupied more than two or three seconds of time. It was a wonderful experience, for as I never approached to a state of insensibility, this whirl of memories could not be attributed to anything like dreaming. An officer has described exactly the same experience, when first under very hot fire in the trenches.

This incident reminds me of a story in comic contrast, told of a visitor to a swimming-bath in Brighton, who when ready for the water was asked by the attendant whether he could swim. Me replied that he could not, and inquired what was the depth of the water at that end of the bath. On being told it was six feet, he, as he jumped in, called out, 'All right, I'm six one and a half, ' He did not realise that as his mouth was not on the top of his head, his inch and a half would not save him, and so he had to be ignomintously fished out with a life-saving hook. It is strange how even sensible people do not think on such matters. When I was qm>;e small, and my brother was still a boy of about four feet nine or ten, the ornamental piece of water called Dunsappie on the east side of Arthur Seat was formed, and at its deepest part ;t was from five to six feet in depth. Up to that time my brother and I had been allowed to go to Duddingston Loch to skate, when there had been such frost as ensured absolute safety. But when Dunsappie Loch was made, we were told sententiously and firmly that in feature Duddingston was barred, and we must always do our skating on the smaller sheet of water, as it was not so deep, and therefore much safer. Accordingly, we skated on Dunsappie, which was quite deep enough to drown boys of our height, and as regards chance of rescue, the Humane Society's service and appliances at Duddingston were amply sufficient, whereas at Junsappie there were none. I suppose the Society thought, as did those who guided my life, chat it was not necessary to pro vide appliances for a place so comparatively shallow as six feet of depth, although it was deep enough to drown anyone not six feet four in height. The; reasoning, or the want of it, may be compared to the argument of the Irish soldier who came home from the wars, bringing his shako, through which a bullet had passed. "Arrah, bhoys,' said he to his fellow-villagers, "ye can see now whaat a thing is to a soldier to weer a taal hat; shure now, if me hat hadn't been so h'gh the bullet would have gone bang through me h'd."

Is it not a duty of parents to see that their boys —aye, and girls too—learn to swim? Not only do they run risks of terrible grief by failing to do so, but in countless cases they cause the sacrifice of brave people, who lose their own Jives n trying to rescue those who cannot save themselves.

Our old copybook heading: "Self-praise is no recommendation/ is a saying containing a warning to a man who recalls anything for which he may claim to be modest in not speaking of it. Rut I would ask leave to refer to a personal quality involving no real merit, although people sometimes praise its possessor. My purpose is to illustrate how disciplinary action in early days, though for a time apparently having little effect, may later bring forth good fruit. Punctuality is not, I tl ink, a natural gift, "hat time should be of consequence is an acquired feeling little known to those of the East or to the Celt. And that it is a matter of training s very plain, by what happens in home life. How well we know that the breakfast hour implies only that the trained servant will have the breakfast food on the table at the hour fixed. But how is it in so many cases with those who are to partake? Fix any hour you please, and it may be that at the hour one or two may appear. But as regards the others, the observant person will be able to testify that day after day they w? II come down in succession at varying intervals that are about the same for each as counted from the hour fixed. If paterfamilias succeeds in enforcing punctuality, he must either be a very persuasive or a very determined man. Mine was a determined man. To him unpunctualityr was a crime, or at least a serious moral fault. It will give an idea of the dread one had of not being at the table immediately after the summons to a meal, to say that on one occasion in the country I rode my pony six miles in five-and-twenty minutes that I might not be absent when luncheon—which was my dinner—was served. To me the words "save your bacon" had an almost tragic significance. The consequences of being two minutes late were a thing to be remembered. Many a time I arrived flushed and panting. That a clock by which I had guided myself had been wrong was no excuse. I groaned under this iron discipline, and as often happens when the child grows into the man, freedom was taken and unpunctuality reigned, not withstanding silent frowns. But later in life the habit engrained by discipline, and which is for the time rebelled against, sometimes returns. In my case, punctuality is one of the few characteristics of which I fairly think it may be said that it is without a flaw. Not to be at the place of an appointment at the time fixed is a cause of real distress. Lord Cross, when Home Secretary, kindly said to me, "My dear Lord-Advocate, you are the most punctual man of all who come here." If I appear to brag, it s because I would fain convince my young friends that punctually is a valuable asset to a man. I would ask them to believe that it is worthy to be striven after. It will not come without strenuous endeavour. Once acquired, it is acquired for ever. It is said to be "the courtesy of kings." It is courtesy, and failure in t !s discourtesy, and should be struggled against. We do not know how often it is the discipline of the domestic controllers of a Sovereign that brings about the punctuality of Royal doings.

Edinburgh was far in advance of London, and of English towns generally, in the practical adoption of gas as an illuminant. Even in the time of my earliest recollection no such thing as a candle was seen in ordinary use, except as a convenience for fire lighting, or for visiting outhouses or cellars. When in my early childhood I was taken to London, it was quite a surprise to find the house I lived in without any gas in it. It was only by slow degrees that the practice of Scotland was copied in England. Long after the use of gas had become universal <n Edinburgh, painful cases occurred of visitors, who knew nothing of gas in houses, blowing out the gas flame on going to bed, and being found dead in the morning. Such a death occurred not a quarter of a century ago in Edinburgh. But while gas came rapidly into use in Edinburgh, it did not seem to occur to those who took charge of applying gas to our street lighting, that the new illuminant suggested the possibility of something better than the "darkness visible of the old oil lamp period. The burners of the street lamps were what is called "rat's-tail," allowing one solitary streak of light to mark the line of the way, but practically giving no illumination over road or pavement. It seemed a mockery to erect handsome standards for this paltry display. Yet such was the lighting during many years. The batswing burner was not seen in the streets for a quarter of a century after the date when a gas service was provided.

There was a very marked difference between England and Scotland in this matter. As already mentioned, the English were slow to adopt this invention of Murdoch the Scotsman. Some of their best scientific men, including Sir Humphry Davy, spoke in gross exaggeration of its dangers. And when they adopt it, they did so only in the public rooms of the house, every one going to a bedroom having to light and carry a candle. In Scotland the whole of the house was fitted for gas, but the case was converse to that of England. Some Scots people were luxurious enough to use wax candles ;n the public rooms, and only to use gas below stairs and irf the bedrooms.

London, although it is the great City of the Empire, is often not progressive, the Englishman, and particularly the Cockney, is slow to believe that anything coming to London can be better than "the old thing he has been accustom ed to have. There are many things that for years were in common and satisfactory use elsewhere, that did not penetrate into London for a long per od of years. To mention only one: when I was in London as a child in petticoats, and later as a boy at the Exhibition year, 1851, the access to the top of an omnibus was by an upright iron ladder, much like what is used to climb out of the hold of a ship. And this continued for many years after that time. It was an impossible ascent for a lady, and next to  impossible for any man older than sixty. On the top was the "knifeboard, on which the passengers sat back to back. In Edinburgh so far back as the early Fifties the sloped stair, exactly as it is used now, was applied to all omnibuses. But the thousands from England, who must have seen this, learned nothing, and only after a great many years had passed the use of the comfortable and safe mode of ascent was adopted. Doubtless when the Cockney comes to Edinburgh he s surprised to see that such an advance in civilisation has reached to such a benighted country as Scotland, and probably considers that we have learned it from London, much in the same way n which the English lady expressed surprise to find that golf had penetrated so far north as Scotland, stating she was credibly informed that a great deal of golf—"gollf" she called it—was now played at a place called St. Andrews! I cannot refrain here from telling a story which occurred 'n my own experience, illustrative of how narrow and ignorant is (or at least was) the Englishman of what is outside bis own country and range of business. A gentleman of high intelligence and great repute n the implement making world was in Newcastle n the early Sixties at an agricultural show, and a friend, when the show was about to close, asked him if he didn't think of taking a trip to Scotland. "Not I," was the reply; "what would I go there for? ' "Well," said the friend, "just you take a run up to Edinburgh, and if you think afterwards that I sent you on a fool's errand, you may call me all the names you please." le gentleman came to Edinburgh, and a lady who was a friend of h s took him round the city. I met them in Princes Street, and she stopped and introduced me. One sometimes is in difficulty what to say to a perfect stranger, and I put the gauche question: "I hope you are pleased with our city?" The reply was—I give it verbatumi—"Well, sir, I am surprised; I didn't know as how there was anything north of Berwick. He evidently supposed that whenever you crossed the Tweed you were up to your knees in heather, with nothing to eat but porridge, and nothing to drink but whisky. The reader may be inclined to think that such a state of mind was individual and not typical. Of course it was an extreme case, but I have known many others not very different, as when my sister, having gone to a school in London, was asked whether she knew "the Smiths in Scotland'; and on another occasion a friend read me the following from a letter received from an Englishman who was paying his first visit to the North: "I have enjoyed my visit to Scotland as far as it has gone, and I am glad to say that I find the language of the natives is much more easily understood than I had expected"!

The funerals of my boyhood time were imposing spectacles. The Scot who repudiated all ceremony and symbolism in his worship was ceremonious, even to the verge of pompous absurdity, in his burying of the dead. Although his church services were marked by a baldness that was extreme, when it came to a burial, display was rampant and expense was lavish. I feel certain that the costs of a marriage could not compare with those of a funeral. 1 he joyful spent little on trappings, the mourners poured out money like water. Two mutes, culled in Scotland "saulies"—perhaps this was a nickname—were posted, one at each side of the house door, with broad bands on their hats, and hanging down almost to their waists. Each had a long pole, which was hung with black, looped up like a window-curtain. When the cortege was to move the "saulies" marched in ront, and then, if the family thought much of themselves, the baton men followed two and two, to the number of six or eight, on each side, with black velvet jockey caps, and carrying great batons, thicker than a rolling-pin, black, and capped at both ends with several niches of gilding. Then followed the hearse with us four horses, each carrying a great black plume on its head, and loaded with state harness covered with silver plating, and as the hearse moved off, the horses' plumes, and the five enormous plumes above it, nodded and waved, 'he hearse itself was a grim black box, covered with plaited black cloth. On reaching the place of burial the. sextons stood waiting with a great black velvet sheet, called a mortcloth, and this was spread over the coffin and those who bore t to the grave, the sextons havmg a privilege to draw fees for this ceremonial veiling. From first to last the occasion of a death was made one of ostentatious display, often in the case of persons of moderate means, involving as great a loss to the deceased s estate as follows now from the State demand for death-duties. As regards the mourners, those of the family wore bands of crape up to within an inch of the top of the hat, with great bows hanging down behind. All wore evening dress coats with white neckcloths, and white weepers at the wrists.

All these elaborate death honours were jealously upheld, and have only by degrees been broken down. When my stepmother died I took charge to relieve my father, who was not strong, and I had a tough fight with the undertaker over the "baton men." He made it plain to me that it would be a meanness that would lead to remark if I did not have them. "Oh, sir, ye should hev the baton men; till not be worthy of the occasion if ye don't," was the kind of plea he urged, and I had to cut him short w' th an emphatic "no."

Another piece of display n connection with deaths was still observed in my boy days. It was the custom of those who thought that their position called for it, to put up a hatchment on the dwelling-house, and keep it therefor some months after the death. It was a large square, hung diamond fashion, with the arms of the deceased painted upon it. Such a thing has not been seen in Edinburgh for nearly half a century.


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