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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Jamie Duff, an Idiot


Jamie Duff was long conspicuous upon the streets of Edinburgh as a person of weak intellects, and of many grotesque peculiarities. He was the child of a poor widow who dwelt in the Cowgate, and was chiefly indebted for subsistence to the charity of those who were amused by his odd but harmless manners. This poor creature had a passion for attending funerals, and no solemnity of that kind could take place in the city without being graced by his presence. He usually took his place in front of the saulies or ushers, or, if they were wanting, at the head of the ordinary company; thus forming a kind of practical burlesque upon the whole ceremony, the toleration of which it is now difficult to account for. To Jamie himself, it must be allowed, it was as serious a matter as to any of the parties more immediately concerned. He was most scrupulous both as to costume and countenance, never appearing without crape, cravat, and weepers, and a look of downcast woe in the highest degree edifying. It is true the weepers were but of paper, and the cravat, as well as the general attire, in no very fair condition. He had all the merit, nevertheless, of good intention, which he displayed more particularly on the occurrence of funerals of unusual dignity, by going previously to a most respectable hatter, and getting his hat newly tinctured with the dye of sorrow, and the crape arranged so as to hang a little lower down his back.

By keeping a sharp look-out after prospective funerals, Jamie succeeded in securing nearly all the enjoyment which the mortality of the city was capable of affording. It nevertheless chanced that one of some consequence escaped his vigilance. He was standing at the well drawing water, when lo ! a funeral procession, and a very stately one, appeared. What was to be done? He was wholly unprepared: he had neither crape nor weepers, and there was now no time to assume them; and moreover, and worse than all this, he was encumbered with a pair of "stotvps!" It was a trying case; but Jamie's enthusiasm in the good cause overcame all difficulties. He stepped out, took his usual place in advance of the company, stoups and all, and, with one of these graceful appendages in each hand, moved on as chief usher of the procession. The funeral party did not proceed in the direction of any of the usual places of interment. It left the town : this was odd! It held on its way: odder still! Mile after mile passed away, and still there was no appearance of a consummation. On and on the procession went, but Jamie, however surprised he might be at the unusual circumstance, manfully kept his post, and with indefatigable perseverance continued to lead on. In short, the procession never baited till it reached the seaside at Queensferry, a distance of about nine miles, where the party composing it embarked, coffin and all, leaving the poor fool on the shore, gazing after them with a most ludicrous stare of disappointment and amazement. Such a thing had never occurred to him before in the whole course of his experience.

Jamie's attendance at funerals, however, though unquestionably proceeding from a pure and disinterested passion for such ceremonies, was also a source of considerable emolument to him, as his spontaneous services were as regularly paid for as those of the hired officials; a douceur of a shilling, or half-a-crown being generally given on such occasions.

We come now to view the subject of our memoir as a civic dignitary —as Bailie Duff—a title which was given him by his contemporaries, and which posterity has recognized. The history of his elevation is short and simple. Jamie was smitten with the ambition of becoming a magistrate ; and at once, to realise his own notions on this subject, and to establish his claims to the envied dignity in the eyes of others, he procured and wore a brass medal and chain, in imitation of the gold insignia worn by the city magistrates, and completed his equipment by mounting a wig and cocked hat. Jamie now became a vert-table bailie; and his claims to the high honour—it gives us pleasure to record the fact—were cheerfully acknowledged.

At one period of the Bailie's magisterial career, however, bis pretensions certainly were disputed by one individual; and by whom does the reader imagine ? Why, by a genuine dignitary of corresponding rank—a member of the Town Council! This person was dreadfully shocked at this profanation of things sacred, and he ordered his brother magistrate, Duff, to be deprived of his insignia, which was accordingly done. City politics running high at this time, this odd, and it may be added absurd, exercise of power, was unmercifully satirized by the local poets and painters of the day.

It may not be without interest to know that this poor innocent manifested much filial affection. To his mother he was ever kind and attentive, and so anxious for her comfort, that he would consume none of the edibles he collected till he had carried them home, and allowed her an opportunity of partaking of them. So rigid was he in his adherence to this laudable rule, that he made no distinction between solids and fluids, but insisted on having all deposited in his pocket.

The Bailie at one period conceived a great aversion to silver money, from a fear of being enlisted ; and in order to make sure of escaping this danger, having no thirst whatever for military glory, he steadily refused all silver coin; when his mother, discovering that his excessive caution in this matter had a serious effect on her casual income, got bis nephew, a boy, to accompany him in the character of receiver-general and purse-bearer; and by the institution of this officer, the difficulty was got over, and the Bailie relieved from all apprehension of enlistment.

He was tall and robust, with a shrinking, shambling gait, and usually wore his stockings hanging loose about his heels, as will be shown by a full-length portrait of him done by Kay at an after period. He never could speak distinctly, though, it was remarked, that, when irritated, he could make a shift to swear. He died in 1788.


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