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Mr. James Cooper, Jeweller


The history of Mr. Cooper, jeweller, South Bridge, like that of many worthy merchants of last century—whose descendants now rank among the high and wealthy—affords an honourable instance of industry and enterprise surmounting the most formidable difficulties. The eldest of two sons, he was born at Douglas, in Lanarkshire, where his father, who died at an early age, possessed a small estate, and exercised the profession of a land-surveyor. His mother unfortunately espousing another husband—a reckless spendthrift—the property was dissipated; and, driven by the violence of their stepfather, the two boys were ultimately compelled to leave a home where they could no longer find shelter.

With a few pence, all they possessed betwixt them, laid out in the purchase of a small stock of light wares, the young adventurers commenced the game of life. For some time they travelled in company; but their stock increasing, it occurred to them that business might be done to more advantage singly. England being at this time an attractive field for Scots pedlars, the brothers journeyed as far as Newcastle; and here the plan of a division of stock was put in practice. They parted : and from that moment never met again.

After a lapse of some years, and having become master of capital to a small amount, Mr. Cooper settled in Edinburgh as a hardware merchant and jeweller in that shop, the corner one, now occupied as a coach-office, No. 2 North Bridge Street. Successful beyond expectation, he shortly afterwards added to his good fortune by an alliance with a daughter of Mr. James Fergusson, coppersmith, one of the "well-to-do" lairds of the West Bow. When the son and successor of this gentleman died he left about eighteen thousand pounds to distant relatives; which sum would have fallen to Mrs. Cooper's son had he survived his uncle. She lived only to be the mother of one son.

Grieved as he might be at this event, Mr. Cooper did not long remain a widower. He was then a handsome man, and found little difficulty in gaining the affections of Miss Marion Scott, one of three sisters who were left, with considerable fortunes, under guardians so scrupulous in the selection of suitors, that the ladies were fain to consult their own judgment by eloping with the objects of their choice. The eldest sister was married to a Mr. Miller, gunsmith, with whom originated, we believe, the idea of employing mounted artillerymen in the management of field ordnance. His suggestions were first tendered (through the medium of a friend) to the British Government, but being treated with contempt, they were next communicated to the French Executive, by whom the plan was at once appreciated, and instantly carried into effect. After witnessing the success of the scheme in the hands of their enemies, the British army was not allowed to remain long without the advantage of a well disciplined corps of "flying artillery." Miller did not live to see the triumph of his project. The friend to whom he had entrusted his various plans and models, failing to interest the Government in the matter, passed over to France, where he appropriated the credit, and, no doubt, the profit of the design to himself. He never returned to this country; and rumour asserts that he was guillotined.

Shortly after his second marriage, Mr. Cooper took two brothers of the name of Bruce into partnership. This arrangement, as frequently happens in similar cases, gave rise to much annoyance. The young men had formed an intimacy with Deacon Brodie, who, though then moving in a respectable sphere, was known to be a person of irregular habits; and entertaining an aversion towards him, for which he could not well account, Mr. Cooper was resolved not to tolerate his frequent visits to the shop. An opportunity was not long sought for to lecture his young friends on their want of attention, and the impropriety of their intercourse with Brodie. This brought matters to a crisis: the Braces were not to be dictated to, and equally resolute, Mr. Cooper avowed his determination that the copartnery should cease.

According to the terms of contract, the stock, which was extensive and valuable, was put up to the highest bidder, who was to find "caution," or surety for the price to be paid—the purchaser to retain possession of the shop. On the morning of sale Mr. Cooper found himself deserted by his proposed cautioner—the whole fell into the hands of the Messrs. Bruce—and thus he was compelled reluctantly* to abandon an establishment of which he had been the originator. Fatally for themselves, the Bruces continued their intimacy with the Deacon, who, it is said, taking impressions of their keys, effected their ruin by the midnight plunder of their premises. Although it may have been projected by Brodie, the robbery was committed by his accomplice, Smith, alone, the former having refused to go at the time appointed, as he was busily engaged at play. There was no evidence of this robbery except the voluntary declaration of Smith.

Though his friend had proved slippery at the critical moment, Mr. Cooper was not without funds. He built the first property erected on the South Bridge, the house (No. 1) forming the corner building at the junction with the High Street. Here he opened with an entire new stock of goods, and continued to prosecute business with his usual success.

Strictly attentive in the management of his affairs, Mr. Cooper was by no means insensible to the relaxations and pleasures of social life. With a few friends he was in the habit of unbending occasionally, even beyond the rules of strict decorum, though quite in keeping with the indulgences of the times. One of his principal companions was the late Mr. Henderson, Russia-merchant, also a native of the west country. Their favourite evening walk was to Inglis Green, where, with Mr. M'Whirter of the Bleachfield, they formed a social party sometimes rather tedious in their sittings. On one occasion they tarried so long and so effectually at the bowl, that it was found necessary to convey the friends to town in the Bleachfield cart. At that time Archie Campbell, afterwards city-officer, acted as porter to Mr. Cooper, and was luckily in attendance when the load arrived. Archie could not imagine what "the Bleachfield cart could be wanting at that time o' nicht;" and the driver, no less puzzled how he would get quit of his charge, stood irresolute. Archie, at last comprehending the nature of the dilemma, suggested what "she'll do." Unyoking the horse, ho poised the cart so as gently to upset the insensible was-sailers on the pavement, and shouldering his master, carried him up stairs to his bedroom. The other two were picked up by their attendant porters, and disposed of in a similar manner. There was another crony in particular, Mr. Weddell, confectioner, with whom he was on

terms of more than common intimacy. Both originally from Lanarkshire, their "calf-country" afforded them many interesting reminiscences. Weddell in some measure owed his advance in life to the kind offices of his friend the jeweller; the latter having recommended him to Mrs. Finch, the widow of an extensive confectioner in Edinburgh, as a person well qualified to wind up her husband's affairs. (Finch was at one time in partnership with Steele, whose widow, as already mentioned, married Mr. Innes. The former, a native of London, accompanied the latter to Edinburgh, and commencing business as confectioners, their house may be said to have been the origin of all the confectionery establishments now in the city.) In this task he acquitted himself so much to the satisfaction of his employer, that she speedily doffed the symbols of her widowhood and became Mrs. Weddell.

Among other methods of enjoying themselves, Cooper and Weddell made frequent country excursions, rising early and breakfasting at some known resort in the suburbs. Occasionally they devoted a summer afternoon to their walks, seldom failing to regale themselves plentifully by the way. A well-known story, usually attributed to an Englishman, originated, we believe, with Mr. Cooper on one of these occasions. The butter happening to be by no means to their liking, by way of quizzing the good dame, they said to the girl, "Go tell your mistress that wo want to have the butter on one plate and the hairs on another!" Not comprehending exactly the bent of their humour, the girl did as desired. Immediately the hostess, flushed with the insult, entered the room, and clutching the two friends in her "wally nieves," knocked their heads together, exclaiming as she repeated the violence, "An' ye want the butter on ae plate an' the hairs on anither!—tak' that for your impudence." Many a time Mr. Cooper used to laugh at the remembrance of this incident. It at length occurred to the friends that they might lighten the toil, and add to the pleasure of their rambles, by keeping a riding-horse betwixt them. One to each would have greatly exceeded their ideas of economy. A thorough blood,—a "good once-had-been"—was accordingly procured ; and as they could not think of enjoying themselves separately, they had recourse to the contrivance of "ride-and-tie." In this way, alternately riding and walking, they frequently went ten or twelve miles into the country of a morning.

Neither of the two friends were good horsemen; and the sorry appearance of the old hack, with the awkwardness of the riders, exposed them sometimes to the ridicule of the neighbouring villagers. One day, Sunday too it happened to be, they were proceeding down hill to Lasswade, where they calculated on arriving fur dinner before sermon should be finished. Contrary to their usual custom, both were mounted at once, and Rosenante was jogging on very stiffly under the unusual burden, amid the jeers of a few idlers, who were attracted by the oddness of the spectacle. Perceiving that the parish church was about to pour forth its assembled worshippers, and anxious, if they could not get out of sight, at least to cut as smart a figure as possible, they had just spurred their veteran charger into something like a canter; when lo! an unlucky stone came in contact with his foot, and away he rolled head foremost down the hill! Overwhelmed with confusion, and stunned by the fall, the worthy equestrians were glad to effect a speedy retreat, and to drown all remembrance of the accident in an extra libation.

Though fond of good fellowship, and possessing a keen relish for the ludicrous, Mr. Cooper displayed, both in appearance and in manner, a high degree of dignity, and well knew how to exact the respect he was invariably prepared to yield to others. He was naturally of a proud and impetuous temper, but generous and warm-hearted. The unknown fate of his brother, with whom he had parted at Newcastle, often recurred painfully to his recollection. He could scarcely hope, still there was a probability that sooner or later some intelligence of him might transpire. One day, when absent in the country, a person called at the shop, apparently very anxious to see Mr. Cooper, but he would neither explain his business nor leave his address. At a late hour he repeated his visit for the third time, and was informed that, though still absent, he would be certain to find him by ten o'clock next morning. All this appeared mysterious enough to Mr. Cooper when apprised of the circumstance. He inquired minutely as to the personal appearance of the stranger—he became thoughtful—and was heard to utter involuntarily, " If he be the person I suspect, to-morrow will be the happiest day of my existence." In this frame of mind he retired to a sleepless pillow, having first given directions that the stranger should be instantly admitted the moment he arrived. To-morrow came—the person called at the hour appointed—was shown into the parlour—and Mr. Cooper, in a state not easly to be described, hastened down stairs to meet—whom?------an impertinent tax-collector! demanding arrears that had been long ago settled, and for which the receipts were in his possession. The pleasing dream thus rudely dissipated—rage gave way to every other feeling; and, on rushing down at the terrible noise that ensued, Mr. Cooper's family, found him in a paroxysm of passion, kicking the astonished official of the tax-office out of doors!

Mr. Cooper, who, on the death of his second wife, married a third time, had in all a family of seventeen children. He died in December 1818. He resided in the upper flats of the corner land, looking into the High Street and North Bridge. This property was built by Mr. Cooper jointly with his friend Mr. Weddell, whose shop was on the ground floor.


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