Portraits James Edgar, Esq., Commissioner of Customs
Commissioner Edgar was an old bachelor. His rumoured
parsimony induced Kay to give the stem expression of countenance with
which he is pourtrayed in the etching. This charge was probably greatly
exaggerated, as the erection of a spire to the church of Lasswade,
entirely from his own funds, was certainly no indication of miserly
feeling; yet he was at no pains to discountenance the general opinion.
Indeed, he rather seemed to delight in keeping up the impression; and,
as if more thoroughly to manifest his unsociable disposition to all the
world, he had a carriage built with only one seat, in which he used to
drive to and from the city. This vehicle he was pleased to denominate
his " sulky."
Mr. Edgar had been in his youth a captain in the
army, and had seen much of foreign countries. Prior to his appointment
as a Commissioner, he held the situation of Collector of Customs at
Leith. Before he met the accident by which he was rendered lame, though
rather hard-featured, he was decidedly handsome. He walked erect,
without stiffness, and with considerable rapidity. His enunciation was
remarkably distinct, and his phraseology correct. He was an excellent
classical scholar; and, in fine, a thorough gentleman of the old school.
Although quite a man of the world, he possessed a
degree of practical philosophy which enabled him not only to relish the
varied enjoyments of life, but to bear its ills with tranquillity.
"Where regret was unavailing, he frequently made jest of the most
serious disasters. One of his limbs was shorter than the other, in
consequence of having had his thigh-bone broken at Leith races, by an
accident arising from the carelessness of the postillion. "--------- the
fellow!" said the Captain, "he has spoiled one of the handsomest legs in
Christendom." On his way home, after the occurrence, perceiving he had
to pass a friend on the road, he moved himself slightly forward in the
carriage, at the same time staring and making strange contortions, as if
in the last extremity. "Ah, poor Edgar!" said his friend to every
acquaintance he met, "we shall never see him more—he was just expiring
as I got a peep into the carriage!"
Mr. Edgar's house was in Tiviot Row, adjoining the
Meadows. He spent a gay life while in town ; associating with the best
company, and frequenting the public places, particularly the concerts in
St. Cecilia's Hall, in the Cowgate. Before dinner he usually took a few
rounds at golf in the Links, always playing by himself; and, on fine
evenings, he might be seen seated, in full dress, in the most crowded
part of the Meadows, then a fashionable promenade.
In the summer months he preferred the retirement of
Pendreich Cottage at Lasswade. Here his amusements were singularly
characteristic; and all his domestic arrangements were admirably in
keeping with his peculiarities. His invariable practice in the morning,
on getting out of bed, was to walk down, encumbered with little save a
towel, to bathe in the river; after which he returned to his toilette,
and then sat down with a keen appetite to breakfast. Prior to his
lameness, Mr. Edgar was a devoted lover of field sports; and with the
gun few sportsmen could bag as many birds. As it was, he still kept a
few dogs; and, in one of his fields, had a target erected, that he might
enjoy an occasional shot without the fatigue of pursuing game. He had an
eagle too, which he tamed, and took much pleasure in feeding.
Another favourite amusement was the school-boy
practice of flying a kite. By some, who naturally conceived such a
pastime to be childish, he was called the "Bait Captain;" while others,
affecting greater knowledge, supposed him, like Franklin, to be engaged
in making experiments on electricity—a sad mistake, for, although he had
a taste for literature, he had no fancy whatever for scientific
Among other odd contrivances about Pendreich Cottage
was a barrel surnmer-seat, erected in the garden, and which moved on a
pivot. Here Mr. Edgar used to sit frequently for hours together,
perusing the pages of some favourite author, and calmly enjoying the
rural sweets of a summer evening. While thus employed, some of the
neighbouring colliers, thinking to make game of the Captain, on one
occasion came unperceived behind, and began to whirl him rapidly round
and round, in expectation that he would sally forth, and hobble after
them; but in this they were disappointed; the Captain sat still in
perfect good humour, till they were completely tired, when they went
away, very much chagrined at the Commissioner's philosophical patience.
In gastronomy the Captain's knowledge was undoubted.
His fame in this particular is thus noticed by the late Lord Dreghorn,
iu a short poetical effusion—
"O thou, whatever title please thine ear,
Captain, Collector, or the beau Dinneur."
No inconsiderable portion of the Commissioner's time
was devoted to the pleasures of the table; and he always kept an
experienced " man cook," who had been with him while abroad, in order
that his viands might be dressed on the most approved principles. There
was no scarcity of the good things of life at Pendreich Cottage—the very
trees in front of the house occasionally groaned under the weight of
accumulated legs of mutton, undergoing a process of curing peculiar to
the establishment. As his fences were much destroyed by nocturnal
depredators, in their anxiety to participate in this new production of
Pomona, the Commissioner caused the following notice to be put up:—"All
thieves are in future to enter by the gate, which will be left open
every night for the purpose"
While the well-stocked kitchen of the Commissioner
was by no means inaccessible to the poor of the neighbourhood, and
especially to his friends the colliers, he seldom entertained any
company at the cottage. On one occasion, Mr. Dundas, afterwards Lord
Melville, accompanied by Commissioner Eeid, met the Captain on his walk
before dinner, and asked him to take pot-luck with them at
Melville Castle; but the Captain was not to be prevailed on, and
continued his walk. The two gentlemen, strongly suspecting that
something attractive was to be found at Pendreich Cottage, called there
in his absence, and learned from the housekeeper that the Commissioner
proposed regaling on stewed pigeons—a very favourite dish, and
one which he could not think of relinquishing for Melville Castle. The
two visitors found ways and means to pounce upon and carry off the
savoury viands, leaving the astonished cook to apologise as he best
could to his master on his return. The Commissioner could relish a
joke—and was in the habit both to take and give—but in no case was his
philosophy so likely to break down, as on such an occurrence as this.
Presuming on a slight acquaintance, two or three
farmers of the neighbourhood called one day, just in the nick of time to
sit down to dinner, in expectation of receiving a familiar welcome. The
Commissioner was not to be done. He received them in such a high-bred
style of formality that his unwelcome visitors felt completely
nonplussed, and were glad to escape from his presence. Having thus bowed
his intruders, first out of countenance, then out of doors, he sat down
solus to enjoy his refection.
At a very advanced period of life, and after enduring
much pain, he submitted to the operation of lithotomy, which he bore
with his wonted fortitude. This was performed by the well-known Sandy
Wood, who, with the kindest anxiety, remained in the house many
hours afterwards, swearing he would shoot the servants through the head
if they made the smallest noise, or even approached the patient's room.
His great fear was that the Captain might fever, which, happily, he did
not. Soon afterwards, Mr. Eeid called; and the Captain, though extremely
weak, drew out the stone from his pillow, and holding it up in
triumph—"Here!" said he, "here is the scoundrel that has been
torturing me for years."
Mr. Edgar recovered his health, and lived to enjoy
his harmless recreations for several years afterwards. He died in 1799,
much regretted, especially about Lasswade, where his singularities were
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