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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
The Right Hon. Francis, Lord Napier, of Merchiston


The Eight Honourable Francis, seventh Lord Napier, of Merchiston— whose lineal ancestor, John Napier of Merchiston, was the celebrated inventor of logarithms—was born at Ipswich in 1758, and succeeded his father in 1785.

At sixteen years of age, his lordship entered the Army as an ensign in the 31st Regiment, and served in America during the War of Independence. under General Burgoyne. He was one of those who piled arms on the heights of Saratoga in 1777, and was detained a prisoner of war upwards of six months. He was then allowed to return to Britain on parole not to serve in America until regularly exchanged, which was effected in 1780. Lord Napier subsequently held commissions in several corps, and had attained the majority of the 4th Regiment, when, in 1789, in consequence of the peace, he sold out and retired from the army.

On the 16th September of the same year, Lord Napier, as Grand Master Mason of Scotland, had the honour of laying the foundation-stone of the College of Edinburgh. The following was the order of the procession:—"The Lord Provost, Magistrates, and Council, in their robes, with the City Regalia carried before them; the Principal and Professors of the University, in their gowns, with the mace carried before them; the Students, with green laurel in their hats; a Band of Singers, conducted by Mr. Schekey; the different Lodges of Free and Accepted Masons, with their proper insignia, etc.; a Band of Instrumental Music."

The procession, in which there were many of the nobility and gentry of Scotland, proceeded from the Parliament House, down the High Street, and along the South Bridge. The streets were lined by a party of the 35th Regiment and the City Guard. The procession began to move at half-past twelve, and reached the site of the College at one o'clock.

The Grand Master, standing on the east, with his Substitute on his right hand, and the Grand Wardens on the west, having applied the square and level to the stone, and, after three knocks with the mallet, invoked the blessing of the "Great Architect of the Universe" on the foundation-stone, three cheers were given by the brethren.

The cornucopia and two silver vessels were then brought from the table and delivered—the cornucopia to the Substitute, and the two vessels to the Wardens—and were successively presented to the Grand Master, who, according to an ancient ceremony, poured the corn, the wine, and the oil which they contained on the stone, saying—"May the all-bounteous Author of Nature bless this city with abundance of corn, wine, and oil, and with all the necessaries, conveniences, and comforts of life; and may the same Almighty Power preserve this city from ruin and decay to the latest posterity."

On this the brethren gave three cheers, and the Grand Master addressed himself to the Lord Provost and Magistrates, and to the Principal, as representing the University, in very eloquent speeches, to which the Lord Provost and the Reverend Principal made suitable replies.

Two crystal bottles, cast on purpose at the Glass-House of Leith, were deposited in the foundation-stone. In one of these were put different coins of the present reign, previously enveloped in crystal. In the other bottle were deposited seven rolls of vellum, containing a short account of the original foundation and present state of the University. The bottles, being carefully sealed up, were covered with a plate of copper wrapt in block-tin; and upon the underside of the copper were engraven the arms of the city of Edinburgh, of the University, and of the Eight Hon. Lord Napier, Grand Master Mason of Scotland. Upon the upper side was a Latin inscription, of which the following is a translation:—

"By the blessing of Almighty God, in the Reign of the Most Munificent Prince, George III., the buildings of the University of Edinburgh, being originally very mean, and now, after two centuries, almost a ruin, the Eight Honourable Francis, Lord Napier, Grand Master of the Fraternity of Free-Masons in Scotland, amidst the acclamations of a prodigious concourse of all ranks of people, laid the Foundation-Stone of this new fabric, in which a union of elegance with convenience, suitable to the dignity of such a celebrated seat of learning, has been studied: on the 16th day of November, in the year of our Lord 1789, and of the era of Masonry 5789, Thomas Elder being the Lord Provost of the City; William Robertson, the Principal of the University; and Robert Adam, the Architect. May the undertaking prosper, and be crowned with success!"

On the ceremony being finished, three cheers were given, when the procession marched back in reverse order. The number of spectators, it is stated, could not be less than 80,000; and, notwithstanding such a vast concourse, the utmost order was observed.

In the evening a sumptuous dinner was given, in the Assembly Rooms, by the Lord Provost and Magistrates, at which upwards of three hundred noblemen and gentlemen were present.

Almost immediately after this auspicious event, Lord Napier was presented with the freedom of the city by the Magistrates; and had the degree of Doctor of Laws conferred upon him, along with the Right Hon. Henry Dundas, then Treasurer of the Navy, by the University.

Among the subscriptions towards the fund for rebuilding the College, that of a farmer was the most singular. His letter to the Lord Provost accompanying the donation we shall quote as somewhat curious:—

"My Lord,—In my humble retreat I have heard, and with pleasure, of the various improvements which have been made in our metropolis, and are still going forward; that which claims a preference to all others has been reserved for your administration; and I congratulate you on the appearance that your well-directed exertions promise to obtain a support equal to the approbation they merit.

"I cannot pretend to emulate the opulent who so liberally have subscribed to rebuild the University; but I am willing to bestow a little of what I can spare, to testify my approbation of a work so commendable; and hope that the form in which it is offered may not prove offensive, because it is singular—rather hope that a well-meant example may lead others of my fraternity to an imitation of it.

"I have heard that the nation generally esteemed the most polished in Europe, has stript itself of all objects of vanity and luxury, and made offer of them for the service of the State. May I, then, in imitation of an example so patriotic, presume, without offence, to present my mite for promoting your noble undertaking, in the shape of Two Stots.

"In a neighbouring county, not long ago, the carcase of a bullock was sold at 1s. 1d. per lb., every person being desirous to have a slice of an animal accounted of an extraordinary size. Those I now take the liberty to offer are not possessed of the same merit, but I believe they have that of being uncommonly good. As such, I beg to recommend them to lovers of science, and in a special manner to the adepts in the fashionable science of eating at the approaching season of festivity.

"Wishing all sorts of success and encouragement to your undertaking, prosperity to the great city over which you preside, and happiness to yourself, I take the liberty to subscribe myself, my lord, your lordship's most obedient and most humble servant, A Farmer.

"P.S.—The person who will hand you this letter will inform your lordship where the two animals are to be found, which will be delivered to your order."

The stots were disposed of in the Fleshmarket by Deacon Andrew "Wilson. They were soon sold off—a great part of them at 1s. 1d. per lb.; such was the demand by the lovers of science for the classic beef. The whole produce amounted to .£34 12s. 6d.

In 1793, when the Hopetoun Fencibles were embodied, Lord Napier was appointed Lieut.-Colonel of the corps, and continued to hold the commission until the regiment was disbanded in 1799. At the general election in 1796, he was chosen one of the representative Peers of Scotland ; and, on subsequent occasions, was again repeatedly returned. His lordship was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of the county of Selkirk in 1797; and, in 1802, was nominated Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly. This office he continued annually to hold for nearly twenty years. On the 10th Nov., 1803, Lord Napier was elected a member of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge; and, on the 3rd January, 1805, he was unanimously chosen President of that Society, in the room of the Earl of Leven and Melville, whose time for being in office had expired. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Scottish Manufactures and the Fisheries.

Lord Napier was not distinguished in Parliament as an orator or statesman ; but there are yet many who remember the uncompromising integrity, and dignity, with which he supported the representative character of his order. The following correspondence, between the Secretary of State for the Home Department and his lordship, immediately prior to the general election in 180G, affords the most honourable testimony to the independence of his conduct:—

"Private.

"Whitehall, 18th October, 1806.

"My Dear Lord,—Though it is not improbable that the reports of a dissolution of Parliament may have reached your lordship before this letter, I thought it might not be uninteresting to you to learn the truth of them from a more authentic source than the newspapers; and I therefore trouble you with this, to inform you that Parliament will certainly be dissolved in the course of a few days. I hope I am not taking too great a liberty if at the same time I express my earnest wishes that your lordship may be found among the supporters of the friends of Government, on the occasion of the election of representative Peers for Scotland.—I have the honour to be, with great truth and regard, your lordship's very obedient humble servant, Spencer.

"Lord Napier, &c. &c. &c."

"Edinburgh, 21st October, 1806.

"My Dear Lord,—I have this day had the honour of receiving your lordship's letter of the 18th instant; and am very sensible of your attention, and the trouble you have had the goodness to take in giving me information of the certainty of an immediate dissolution of Parliament. Having on several occasions experienced the good will of the Peers of Scotland, I feel it my duty again to offer myself to their notice. In forming my list for voting at the general election, I consider myself bound, in honour and gratitude, to give my support to those lords who have uniformly befriended me, in preference to new candidates who may now come forward, and from whom I have hitherto received no countenance. Should the arrangement I may ultimately make for the disposal of my votes not accord with your lordship's wishes, I trust you will do me the justice to believe that I am not actuated by factious motives, nor by any want of respect for your lordship.—I have the honour to be, my dear Lord, your lordship's most obedient humble servant, Napier.

"The Eight Hon. Earl Spencer, &c. &c. &c."

"Whitehall, 27th October, 1806.

"My Dear Lord,—I have had the honour of your letter of the 21st instant, and am much concerned at the contents of it, as I am very apprehensive that the new candidates who intend to offer themselves for the Representation of the Scottish Peerage, and are supporters of Government, will not be disposed to give their support unless they can expect support in return.—I have the honour to be, my dear Lord, your lordship's very obedient humble servant, Spencer.

"Lord Napier."

"Edinburgh, 30th October, 1806.

"My Dear Lord,—I have this moment had the honour of receiving your lordship's letter of the 27th inst. I certainly cannot expect the votes of candidates from whom I may withhold my support; but I trust that such as I may be ready to change votes with will be equally inclined to do so with me.—I have the honour to be, my dear Lord, your lordship's most obedient humble servant, Napier.

"The Right Hon. Earl Spencer, &c. &c. &c."

Lord Napier was not undersized, though he appears rather diminutive between his gigantic companions in the Print; and a certain air of nobility set off a figure of goodly proportions. He was remarkable for an eagle-eye; and, we must add, an eagle-nose, which Kay has rendered perhaps rather prominent, by placing the other features too much in abeyance; yet the characteristic expression of the portrait is so marked as not to be mistaken. His lordship is represented in his uniform as Colonel of the Hopetoun Fencibles. "When not in regimentals, he generally dressed plainly, but with the nicest attention to propriety, although in his day the garb of gentlemen was of the most gaudy description—consisting very frequently of a crimson or purple coat, green plush vest, black breeches, and white stockings.

The following anecdote related in Lockhart's Life of Scott, as illustrative of Lord Napier's finical taste, is altogether apocryphal:— "Lord and Lady Napier had arrived at Castlemilk (in Lanarkshire), with the intention of staying a week; but next morning it was announced that a circumstance had occurred which rendered it indispensable for them to return without delay to their own seat in Selkirkshire. It was impossible for Lady Stewart to extract any further explanation at the moment, but it turned out afterwards that Lord Napier's valet had committed the grievous mistake of packing up a set of neckcloths which did not correspond, in point of date, with the shirts they accompanied !" No one who knew his lordship could believe him guilty of such an absurdity; for, with all his preciseness in matters of duty, and his sensitive notions of etiquette, he entertained a much greater dread of rendering himself unbecomingly conspicuous, than of any ridicule that could possibly arise from au oversight in the punctilio of dress.

[That the above ridiculous story was current, as a jest, in some circles, is true, but it had no foundation in fact. Our informant, whose authority is not to be doubted, is "perfectly positive Lord and Lady Napier never were at Castlemilk in their lives, and almost as positive they were not acquainted with Lady Stewart."

The circumstance alluded to, but not fully explained, by Mr. Lock-hart, of Lord Napier having been the person who induced Sir Walter Scott to reside for some period of the year within the bounds of his Sheriffdom of Selkirkshire, was alike honourable to the Lord-Lieutenant, and to the illustrious Sheriff himself, who, as his biographer frankly admits, feeling that Lord Napier was clearly in the right, cheerfully adopted the suggestion, and planted his immortal staff where it became the prcesidium at once, and the dulce decus of the Forest; and Lord Napier may be pardoned for having been, in those times of threatened invasion, as enthusiastic in his duties of Lord-Lieutenant as was the Sheriff in those of a volunteer cavalry officer.]

In company his lordship was far from reserved. He was particularly kind and attentive to such young persons as appeared bashful; and, that they might feel more at ease, lost no opportunity of engaging them in conversation.

Lord Napier married Maria Margaret, eldest daughter of Lieut.-General Sir William Clavering, K.B. By this marriage his lordship had nine children. He died in 1823, and was succeeded by his eldest son, "William-John, eighth Lord Napier, a spirited and benevolent nobleman, long eminent in the south of Scotland as an improver in store-farming, and as a benefactor of the forest. (Capt. Charles Napier, R.N., who lately distinguished himself in the service of the Queen of Portugal, and the late Lord Napier were cousins.) Lord Napier died in his forty-eighth year, at Macao, in China, October 11, 1834, of a lingering fever, brought on by anxiety in the performance of a high official duty, as Chief Superintendent of British Trade in that empire, and which was increased by the harsh treatment he received from the Chinese Government.


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