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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Alexander M'Kellar, the Cock o the Green


Alexander M'Kellar, the "Cock o' the Green"—whom Kay's print represents as about to strike the ball—was probably one of the most enthusiastic golf-players that ever handled a club. When the weather would at all permit, he generally spent the whole day on Burntsfield Links; and he was frequently to be found engaged at the " short hole" by lamp-light. Even in winter, if the snow was sufficiently frozen, he might be seen enjoying his favourite exercise alone, or with any one he could persuade to join him in the pastime. (When snow happens to be on the ground a red ball is used.) M'Kellar thus became well known in the neighbourhood of the green ; and his almost insane devotion to golf was a matter of much amusement to his acquaintances. So thoroughly did he enter into the spirit of the game, that every other consideration seemed obliterated for the time. "By the la' Harry," or " By gracious, this won't go for nothing! " he would exclaim, involuntarily, as he endeavoured to ply his club with scientific skill; and, when victory chanced to crown his exertions, he used to give way to his joy for a second or two by dancing round the golf-hole. M'Kellar, however, was not a member of any of the Clubs; and, notwithstanding his incessant practice, he was by no means considered a dexterous player. This is accounted for by the circumstance of his having been far advanced in years before he had an opportunity of gaining knowledge of the game. The greater part of his life had been passed as a butler, but in what family is unknown ; nor indeed does it matter much. He had contrived to save a little money; and his wife, on their coming to Edinburgh, opened a small tavern in the New Town. M'Kellar had thus ample leisure for the indulgence of his fancy, without greatly abridging his income, and golf may be said to have virtually become his occiqyation; yet no perseverance could entirely compensate for the want of practice in his younger years.

His all-absorbing predilection for golf was a source of much vexation to his managing partner in life, on whom devolved the whole duty of attending to the affairs of the tavern. It was not because she regretted his want of attention to business—for probably he would have been allowed to appropriate a very small portion of authority in matters which she could attend to much better herself; but she felt scandalised at the notoriety he had acquired, and was not altogether satisfied with the occasional outlay to which he was subjected, though he never speculated to any great amount.

No sooner was breakfast over than M'Kellar daily set off to the green; and ten to one he did not find his way home until dusk; and not even then, if the sport chanced to be good. As a practical jest on the folly of his procedure, it occurred to his "better half" that she would one day put him to the blush, by carrying his dinner, along with his night-cap, to the links. At the moment of her arrival, M'Kellar happened to be hotly engaged; and, apparently without feeling the weight of the satire, he good-naturedly observed, that she might wait, if she chose, till the game was decided, for at present he had no time for dinner!

So provoked at length was the good dame, that she abhorred the very name of golf, as well as all who practised it; and to her customers, it they were her husband's associates on the green, even a regard for her own interest could scarcely induce her to extend to them the common civilities of the tavern.

What betwixt respect for his wife, and his fondness of golf, M'Kellar must have been placed in a rather delicate situation; but great as the struggle might be, all opposition was eventually overcome, and he determined to enjoy his game and be happy in spite of frowns, lectures, or entreaties. One thing alone annoyed him, and that was the little countenance he was enabled to give his friends when they happened to visit him. At length an opportunity occurred, apparently highly favourable for an honourable amende to his long neglected acquaintances. Having resolved on a trip to the kingdom of Fife, where she calculated on remaining for at least one night, his " worthy rib " took her departure, leaving him for once, after many cautions, with the magement of affairs in her absence. Now was the time, thought M'Kellar. A select party of friends were invited to his house in the evening: the hour had arrived, and the company were assembled in the best parlour—golf the theme, and deep the libations—when (alas! what short-sighted mortals are we!), who should appear to mar the mirth of the revellers, but the golf-hating Mrs. M'Kellar herself! Both winds and waves had conspired to interrupt the festivity; the ferry had been found impassable, and the hostess was compelled to return. What ensued may be imagined. The contemplated journey was postponed sine die; and M'Kellar internally resolved to make sure, before giving a second invitation, that his spouse had actually crossed the ferry !

Happening to be at Leith one day, where his fame as a golfer was not unknown, M'Kellar got into conversation, in the club-maker's shop, with a number of glass-blowers, who were uloiving very much about their science in the game of golf. After bantering him for some time to engage in a trial of skill, a young man from Burntsfield Links opportunely made his appearance. "By gracious, gentlemen!" exclaimed M'Kellar, whose spirit was roused; "here's a boy and I will play you for a guinea!" No sooner said than a match of three games was begun, in all of which the glass-blowers were defeated. The "Cock o'the Green" was triumphant; and, not waiting till the bet had been forthcoming, he ran to the shop of the club-maker, announcing the joyful intelligence—"By gracious, gentlemen, the old man and the boy have beat them off the green!"

By way of occupying his time profitably on the seventh—the only day in the week he could think of employing otherwise than in his favourite amusement—M'Kellar was in the habit of acting as door-keeper to an Episcopalian Chapel. On entering one day, old Mr. Douglas Gourlay, club and ball-maker at Burntsfield, jocularly placed a golf ball in the plate, in lieu of his usual donation of coppers. As anticipated, the prize was instantaneously secured by M'Kellar, who was not more astonished than gratified by the novelty of the deposit.

It was at the suggestion of the late Mr. M'Ewan and Mr. Gourlay that Kay produced the Etching of the "Cock o' the Green." Going out purposely to the Links, the artist found him engaged at his usual pastime, and succeeded in taking an accurate and characteristic likeness. When informed what Kay had been doing, M'Kellar seemed highly pleased. "What a pity," said he; "By gracious, had I known, I would have shown him some of my capers!"

The Print was executed in 1803. Although then pretty far advanced in life, M'Kellar continued to maintain his title of the "Cock o' the Green" for a considerable time. He died about the year 1813.


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