Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Thirty-Four


IN 1883 the celebration of the tercentenary of the University of Edinburgh took place, and brought together a great crowd of learned people from all parts of the world. One of the most striking sights I can recall was the gathering in the Parliament House, when the delegates assembled to attend the opening service n St. Giles'. Such a variety of dresses, and especially of head dresses, had never been seen before in that ancient seat of the Scottish Parliament.

At the Synod Hall—at that time the only place of sufficient size for such a celebration—there was a capping of a great number of honorary graduates, of whom I was honoured to be one, and there were orations by selected professors and other men of distinctin. Some of these were of course in other tongues, and t was amusing to notice that when the few who understood the language spoken applauded, the applause increased and spread over the hall, there being an evident anxiety to indicate acquaintance with the language, whether it existed or not. Some of the speeches were—well, they were not brief—and one foreign gentleman, when called on, evidently ashamed of the prolixity of its confreres, began thus: "I eentent to be short, so I vill speak in Eenglish. Monsieur de Lesseps, who was capped, spoke long in French, and, scarcely apropos to the occasion, informed us that he was not an engineer, but was a diplomatist. To show that I am not alone in considering that some speeches might have been less drawn out and less egoistical, I quote from a University Magazine which was sent to me by a Swiss delegate:

"Monsieur de Lesseps parla beaucoup du Canal de Suez et de Monsieur de I'esseps."

here were, of course, varied entertainments, culminating in a great banquet in the Queen's Brigade Drill Hall, the largest room in the country for such a gathering. Here, again, the lack of common sense, which is too usual as a feature of after-dinner eloquence, was woefully manifest. The fatal idea seems too often to be, that the association of a name with a toast is not properly responded to by the owner of the name unless he prepares a long speech, and delivers it either with the dryness of a professorial lecture, or the perfervid declamation of one delivering a great oration. I do not, of course, speak of what is called "the toast of the evening," On a great historical or political occasion, but of the general programme of toasts. I have had to attend many public dinners, at which the more honoured guests are at a disadvantage, as they cannot j^o away when they have had enough of eloquence and prosy speech, and I therefore speak feelingly. I ask leave to relate a few instances from my experience. Of all the dreary evenings I have ever endured, the worst was at the Literary Fund Dinner in London. I shall refer to only one speech which began at twenty-five minutes to eleven o'clock, and did not conclude before the clock struck that hour. Its burden was ancient hieroglyphics, cuneiform inscription, &c.! On another occasion, at the dinner of the Royal Scottish Academy, a fri end who sat beside me rose at the same hour—twenty-five minutes to eleven—and proposing "The Interests of Art, spoke drearily for about the same time. On sitting down, he turned to me and said with a grave face: "Do you think I gave them enough, Mac?" 1 replied, with equal gravity: "Oh, well, my dear--, I think so. Yes, on the whole, yes." As a contrast to this, at the centenary dinner of the Speculative Society, where there were seventeen toasts upon the list ('), Professor Blackie, whose sentiment of "Scottish Philosophy" was kept back by the length of previous speeches till near midnight, after pulling out his watch and announcing the hour, shouted: "I have a splendid speech for you; I have it all here, in my brain" (and those who knew him can see him, in their mind's eye, slapping his forehead as he roared, "but ye shan't have it, not a word of it. I will only say ,'Long live Scottish philosophy, long live common sense, and long Blackie, who doesn't make long speeches,"' and he sat down amid thunders of applause.

But I have wandered from the Tercentenary. Lord Goschen—chen Mr. Goschen—was the Lord Rector at that time, and presided over a symposium of students in the Drill Hall on the night following the banquet. It was, as may be believed, a very lively evening. To make speeches heard was impossible, but anyone who could convince the lads that he had a good story to tell, got a hearing, and many a racy story was told, Mr. Goschen good-humouredly leading off. As to keeping order, it was hopeless, but there was no disorder, except the disorder of high spills and good-fellowship.

There were not many amusing incidents connected with tb<s celebration, but Professor K«rkpatrick, who was secretary to the Senatus Academicus, received an apology from Salamanca, containing a good specimen of "English as she is spoke." It returned thanks for "the hopeful invitation that from its name has conducted it to his Chancellor, Rector and principal to assist its Tercentenary of Foundation feeling of wholy (sic) heart not to can accede to the same honorable invitation, sending a representative of cloister; and offers from my conduit to the illustrious members of so famous university its more distinguished consideration."

It was matter for regret that the principal parts of the programme had to be fulfilled in not very suitable buildings, the University at that time having no great hall of its own in which to conduct ceremonials w1':h becoming dignity. It was probably a realisation of this want that led to the munificent gift of Mr. M'Ewan—the great University Hall, in which the architect, &c Rowand Anderson, has shown the power and skill of genius, so that now all great ceremonials can be conducted in noble surroundings.

At the time of the Tercentenary, Sir Alexander Grant was the Principal of the Edinburgh University. He was the most indefatigable promoter of its interests. Shortly before, the work of erecting a suitable building for the medical and surgical departments had been undertaken, and was carried out according to the designs of Sir Rowand Anderson, and these were completed by the time of the occurrence of the Tercentenary, and were universally admired, both for their architectural features and the efficient character of the buildings for their purpose. I have reason to know myself how indefatigably the Principal worked at this time. He was the most "sturdy beggar" I ever encountered, not contenting himself with lithographed circulars, but writing with his own hand appeals for ald, which were for that reason the more effectual. His unpretentious enthusiasm was boundless, and he brought a great work to fruition.

I came to know h_ r\ very well. He had nothing of the learned pedant about him. He enjoyed a joke with infinite relish. I can recall his delight at a shot I fired at hi m on an occasion when he had engaged himself to me as a partner for a foursome of golf at Musselburgh. He did not arrive at the station platform until the last seconds were running, and I was anxiously looking out for him. At last he appeared, hasten'ng in a very unacademic manner, and as he came up, he gasped: "So sorry, I have barely done it." "Yes," I replied, "I was just saying to myself as the seconds flew by, 'Shall I not have barely my Principal." He staggered into the train and laughed with most unprofessonal glee.

The year 1885 witnessed a restoration to Edinburgh, most welcome to all lovers of the old city. In the rage for what was called improvement, in the eighteenth century—improvement proceeding upon the postulate, that what was venerable was rubbish —the city cross, a relic which silently told of many a sad and joyful incident of Scottish history, was in 1756 ruthlessly thrown down, the column falling and being smashed in the operation. Fortunately, Lord Somerville secured the despised fragments and set the column of the cross up at his family estate, and so the relic was saved. 1 his vandalism of the city authorities was denounced by Walter Scott, who makes the minstrel say:

"Dear Edin's Cross, a pillar'd stone
Rose on a turret octagon;
But is razed that monument
Whence royal edict rang,
And voice of Scotland's law was sent
In glorious trumpet clang.
O, be his tomb as lead to lead,
Upon its dull destroyer's head!—
A minstrel's malison is said."

A successful effort was made by some citizens of patriotic zeal and sound good taste to have the cross restored to the city, and this was accomplished in 1866. The Corporation, on receiving the cross, not yet awakened to a spirit of veneration, could think of no better place to erect it than in the filth-bespattered space behind the railings of St. Giles' Church, which has been pictured elsewhere, and so it stood for many years surrounded with the unsavoury garbage and foul rubbish which I have detailed as lying there, thus deprived of all the d;gn:tyof position to which its historical association gave if unanswerable claim. It was a happy and kind thought of Mr. Gladstone, the member for the County of Midlothian, descended as he was in direct line from an ancient Edinburgh burgess of 1631, to place the city cross in a more worthy position. With the aid of a skilful architect, Mr. Sidney Mitchell, he in 1885 placed it where it now stands, as near as possible to its or gi ial position, and m a setting appropriate to its. claim for honour.

When the lamented death of Queen Victoria took place, the proclamation of King Edward's accession was made, for the first time for 150 years, from the city cross, and the dignified building on which it had been re-erected enabled the Lyon King of Arms and the Scottish heralds in their gorgeous tabards to make the proclamation in a much more honourable way than had been possible formerly. The Royal Archers, King's Bodyguard, acted as guard for the, occasion, and the judges of the Supreme Court and many public bodies attended along with the Lord Provost, Magistrates, and Counc:5. he same ceremonial took place on the accession of King George.

As I am speaking of restorations to Edinburgh, I would mention another winch has historical interest. All know the story of the worthy lady who was brave enough to carry the regalia of Scotland concealed on her person, with the sceptre wrapped up as a distaff, from Dunottar Castle-when it was besieged. As a reward, the highly ornamented belt of the State sword was presented to her, to be handed down as an heirloom to her family, in honour of her brave exploit. A few years ago, her descendant generously gave it up, and I had the honour of attending in the Castle when the sword and its belt were brought together again, thus completing once more the Regalia of Scotland.


Return to our Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast