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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Fifteen


1847

Discussion of politics is to be avoided, but that need not exclude a good story now and again, which does not touch any political question, though relating to public life. As a boy I saw the unopposed election of the present Duke of Buccleuch when he stood for Midlothian. Of course it was before the days of the ballot; the first step in an election taking place by show of hands at the open meeting on the hustings. There being no opposition there was no excitement, and as it appeared to me, the Earl, who was not heard much beyond the reporters' table, spoke into his hat, if indeed he was not speaking out of his hat. But the election of the old days which I remember best was the contested election in 1847, when Thomas Babington Macaulay was candidate for the city. In those days, as the numbers were posted on the booths throughout the day at intervals, it was soon seen who was heading the poll. When a candidate's name and figures attached indicated failure, in half an hour a poster would be out: "There is time yet, rush to the poll and vote for Holdfast, the supporter of Church and State." And when it was seen that a candidate had. no chance, the votes which would have gone to him were transferred to a candidate who was less unacceptable than the man who was for the time looking dangerous. The glorious uncertainty until 11 P.M., or even till next day, of the ballot vote was not then part of the excitements of an election.

Mr. Macaulay, whose eloquence was well known, made, I doubt not, an impressed, he probably was not so successful. My father told of him that he received a deputation of postal employees, who probably had some cause for pressing their views, as the penny postage system developed, and threw extra work yearly upon the staff. He evidently gave them little satisfaction. The day following the address by the deputation, our letter-carrier was asked by the maid who took in the letters in the morning how they had been received. "A' weel" he said, "he was pulie; oh, he talkit fine, an' constant. Bit we had nae chance: he talkit and talk*t, an he booed us in an he booed us oot"; and then, in bitter tone: "He's a tonguey cratur, but, eh, he's haaley ' (hollow).

How well this letter-carrier tersely and incisively described his parliamentary member may be gauged by quoting Lord Cockburn's opinion, expressed at length in his journal:

"The truth is that Macaulay, with all his admitted knowledge, talent, eloquence, and worth, is not popular. He cares more for his history than for the jobs of his constituents, and answers letters irregularly, and with a brevity deemed contemptuous; and above all other defects, he suffers severely from the vice of over-talking, and consequently under-listening. A deputation goes to London to enlighten their representative. They are full of their own matter, and their chairman has a statement, bottled and ripe, which he s anxious to draw and decant, but instead of being listened to, they no sooner enter the audience-chamber than they find themselves all superseded by the restless ability of their eloquent member, who besides mistaking speaking for hearing has the indelicate candour not even to profess being struck by the importance of the affair."

The most exciting event in Edinburgh in my school-days was the development of the Chartist riots in 1848. Of course I was not permuted to go near the scene of the conflicts, but the combatants when in want of ammunition came down to the streets below, which were still macadamised. The house I lived in then was in Heriot Row, and men were seen running down from Princes Street, filling their pockets full of stones, and rushing up the hill to expend their relay ammunition. I had seen the Yeomanry being paraded in the Riding School in Lothian Road to be at the command of the Magistrates, should they be required—and they were required—as well as the cavalry regiment from PiershJl. I heard at the fine of the Lord Provost and Magistrates being timid, and wishing to put the responsibi1;;ty upon the officer n command. He declined, saying, "Whatever you order me to do, I will do, and will undertake to clear the street at once." At last the authority was given. The moment it was seen that the cavalry were advancing the gallant rioters fled incontinently, and in five minutes not a soul was left in Princes Street. There was only one trilling casualty, and it is almost needless to say that only the flat sides of the sabres were used.

Speaking of the Yeomanry induces me to tell a story which relates to a day before I was born, but which I heard from my father, who was a sergeant: in the Edinburgh squadron. In the Radical Riots of an earlier date, the corps was sent to Glasgow, and on a certain morning they were assembling from their respective stables at a certain rendezvous. One of the privates was Mr. Hugh Bruce, an advocate, whom I knew well by sight when I was a lad. He had a strange look, from one eye bulging out, and from his not seeing equally with both eyes, I suppose, he held his head curiously to one side, which led to his being spoken of in a comic poem thus:

"And Hugo Bruce,
Like to a goose
Into a bottle keeking,"

which describes well his sidelong stare. Add to this that he was very round in the shoulders, and it can be understood what a queer figure he was in a gay Yeomanry uniform. On the morning in question he was riding down a Glasgow street leading to George Square to fall in with his squadron, when the sound of a trumpet was heard from afar. His horse being an old cavalry charger knew the call well, and knew h s duty, and began endeavouring to hurry in the direction of the trumpet-sound, Hugh with difficulty restraining him from bolting. On reaching the Square, the old horse saw a squadron of cavalry nearly formed, and in spite of all his rider could do forced his way sideways up to the ranks, and pushed so determinedly, that the troopers drew back one after the other, and he routed the squadron from end to end; Bruce all the time, jogging and pulling at the bridle in vain, with his head well down over the withers, while the crowd looking on shouted with glee, crying, "Bravo! weel din, soor dook!' Those who remember him—few, I fear —will realise how ludicrous the scene was. My father could never recall it without a hearty laugh.


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