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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Louis Cauvin, Founder of the Cauvin Hospital


The late Louis Cauvin, founder of the Hospital which bears his name, near Duddingstone, was born in the parish of South Leith, in that house (opposite the Jock's Lodge toll-bar) which occupies the angle formed by the Portobello and Kestalrig roads. His parents were Louis Cauvin and Margaret Edgar. It is not correctly ascertained in what year, or on what account, the father was induced to leave his native country of France, and settle in the metropolis of Scotland. According to some accounts, he was forced to expatriate himself in consequence of the fatal issue of a duel in which he was implicated. According to others, he was brought over to Edinburgh as a witness in the "Douglas Cause," having served in the capacity of a footman in the family of Lady Jane Douglas for a considerable time during her residence in Paris. A portrait of him, in his youth, in a military garb, is still preserved. After a residence of a few years in Edinburgh, he betook himself for support to giving lessons in his own language in public classes. Not many years subsequently, he became tenant of a small farm at Jock's Lodge ; and, until within a short time of his death, in 1778, he carried on simultaneously the occupations of teaching and farming. He died from the consequences of an injury which he had received inadvertently in the right thumb at dinner. He left a family of three sons and three daughters. Of the former, Loins became the Founder of the Hospital; Joseph was a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh, and eminent in his profession ; and Alexander died in his youth. Of the latter, Jean assisted her brother for several years in hearing the lessons of the female pupils; Minny was his housekeeper; whilst Margaret was married to a Mr. Morrison at Milnathort. They are now all dead.

The subject of this memoir at a very early age made choice of his father's profession. He was educated at the High School and College of Edinburgh; and, for some time before his father's death, had been in the habit of acting as his assistant. When that event took place, he decided upon continuing the school for the benefit of the family. Shortly afterwards he went to France, to complete his knowledge of the language and its pronunciation, and prosecuted his studies for two years in the University of Paris, during which time Mr. Moffat taught his classes in Edinburgh. Thus qualified for his task, he commanded, for a series of years, better filled classes than has fallen to the lot of any teacher of French in Edinburgh. Without attempting any delineation of his peculiar mode of imparting instruction, suffice it to say that he possessed such an extraordinary energy of mind and vigour of body, that first-rate teachers of the present day, who have studied under him, acknowledge that, within a similar period of time, no one in their experience ever taught so much, or so well. The history of his labours in private and public teaching, and of the early difficulties he had to struggle with, contains much that would be both interesting and instructive; but it may be enough to state, that his whole time was devoted to his profession—that he laboured in it with the greatest assiduity and industry for the greater part of his lifetime, from eight o'clock in the morning till nine at night, except on Saturdays, the afternoons of which were devoted to relaxation and hospitality—and that he retired from business in 1817 or 1818, after having realised, by his own exertions, a handsome fortune. For nearly twenty years before relinquishing his scholastic labours, he, in imitation of his father, rented a large farm in the parish of Duddingstone, which he managed with great skill, and where he resided during summer. In the winter months he resided in town, and regularly visited his farm on the Saturday ; but during the rest of the year lie personally directed the operations, morning and evening, rising regularly at four o'clock in the morning. The farm-house, now termed Woodlands, in the immediate vicinity of the Hospital, has been greatly enlarged since he left it, aud is at present occupied by Alexander Smith, Esq., W.S. During Mr. Cauvin's occupation of the farm, he erected the house of Louisfield, which now forms the centre part of the Hospital.

He had his school-rooms for many years in a wooden land on the north side of the High Street, immediately in front of where the old Town Guard-House stood. In those days pupils were considerably more advanced in years than at the present time, and indulged in pranks altogether unknown now. In passing from his school-room, through an ill-lighted passage, to an anteroom which served for accommodation to those pupils who were waiting the exit of a class, he was not unfrequently tripped by means of a rope wickedly laid across; while the "Vile assassins! waylaying in the dark," as he used to mutter, with considerable bitterness, on such occasions, secretly enjoyed the triumph of his fall, and the burst of unavailing passion which the accident never failed to excite. Happily a material improvement has now taken place in the demeanour of teacher and pupil towards each other; and the narration of scenes enacted in schools some half-century ago, is now listened to with incredulity. He exacted, with the utmost rigour, punctuality of attendance at the hour, and not unfrequently refused admission to pupils, if late a few minutes, dismissing them with a recommendation to decline "dormir " (i.e. to sleep) as they returned home.

Though irritable in his temper and eccentric in his habits, he was very kind and charitable to the necessitous—having generally two or three orphans in his employment—and manifested deep displeasure at any marks of injustice, dishonesty, or oppression. He usually rode at a canter, and invariably carried a large whip. As he was riding, on a certain occasion, at his usual rapid rate, he overtook an old infirm villager of Wester Duddingstone, who recognised and informed him that a stranger had, but a few minutes before, stript him of a burden of willows. Mr. Cauvin in a short time came up with the culprit; and receiving of course an unsatisfactory account of the manner in which he had procured the burden, made him aware of his knowledge of the foul transaction. The scoundrel instantly doffed his ill-gotten load, imagining that scores would be thus quietly settled. Not so thought Mr. Cauvin, who plied his whip in his best style, and did not quit the miscreant till he saw him deposit the willows in safety within the door of the poor man's house.

In the prime of life, Mr. Cauvin was a fine looking man, though in his latter days somewhat corpulent, and more rubicund in his visage, than was suited to the notion of a "beau garcon." He was always dressed well, being more like a nobleman of the "ancienne regime," than a Scotch teacher. His attainments were not very varied ; but he possessed a retentive memory, and the faculty of a quick and accurate discernment of character. His hospitality was widely known, and for many years much taxed; but during the latter years of his life it was confined to a few select friends.

It is worthy of being mentioned that the Poet Burns was an intimate friend, and (which, is not generally known) was also a pupil of his. He applied to him, stating his anxiety to learn the French language, but the only hour at which Mr. Cauvin could receive him was at nine o'clock in the evening, when his ordinary labours ceased for the day; and this, it may be supposed, was not very agreeable or convenient for either of them. However, Mr. Cauvin agreed to receive him at that hour, three times a week, and Burns gladly availed himself of the offer ; and, for three months, whatever happened to be his engagements, and however agreeably he might be occupied, he regularly attended at the hour appointed; and so diligently and so successfully did he apply himself, that, as Mr. Cauvin has often stated, he made more progress in the acquisition of the language in these three months than any of his ordinary pupils could have done in as many years.

In passing from the "Windy Gowl" to Wester Duddingstone, the eye is caught by a square building overtopping the adjoining houses, which might be regarded as the village prison. The history of "The Tower," for it is so ycleped in the village, is somewhat remarkable. Having purchased some feu-ground, lying betwixt the mansion house of the late Colonel Graham and the main street of the village, Mr. Cauvin proceeded to build upon it, having beforehand declined, as might have been expected, to accept of an offer from the Colonel of the exact purchase rnoney. As the windows of the new house overlooked the Colonel's grounds, he raised his garden wall so as to overtop the gable. To countervail such procedure, Mr. Cauvin had the roof taken down and two stories added, whilst the Colonel on his part raised the garden wall in proportion; and it is uncertain how long such unseemly contention might have been kept up, as it was only terminated by the death of Mr. Cauvin. The not inappropriate name of "Cauvin's Folly" is frequently given to "The Tower." Colonel Graham survived him five years, i.e., till June, 1830. The property of Mr. Cauvin, on which "The Tower" is built, was purchased by H. Graham, Esq., son of the Colonel.

In the year 1824, Mr. Cauvin was seized with a disease which terminated in mortification of the toes of the right foot; and it was only after repeated remonstrances that he was induced to call in medical aid. From the vigour of his constitution, however, the disease was checked; but being attacked by dropsy, it proved fatal to him; and he was cut off in December of the following year, after a lingering confinement, during which he displayed remarkable fortitude under great suffering. In pursuance of the directions contained in his will, his remains were interred iu Restalrig burying-ground, where his father and the rest of the family had been buried. The site of the tomb is on the right hand, immediately before the entrance to the chapel. The following is the inscription, which was placed there by his trustees:

To the Memory of
Louis Cauvin, Esquire,
for many years an eminent Teacher
of French in Edinburgh,
who bequeathed a fortune,
acquired by his own
skill and industry,
to Endow the Hospital
in the parish of Duddingstone,
which bears his name.
He died, 19th December, 1S25,
aged seventy-one.

In Mr. Cauvin's will the following directions occur as to the place of his sepulture: "My corpse is to be deposited in Restalridge Churchyard, and watched for a proper time. The door of the tomb must be taken off, and the space built up strongly with ashler stones. The tomb must be shut up for ever, never to be opened. There is a piece of marble on the tomb door, which I put up in memory of my father: all I wish is, that there may be put below it an inscription mentioning the time of my death. I beg and expect that my Trustees will order-all that is written above to be put in execution." Codicil, dated Duddingstone Farm, 28th April, 1823.

Mr. Cauvin was for many years treasurer to the Friendly Society of Restalrig, whose funds he carefully managed, and in whose concerns he took a benevolent and most anxious interest. When the ancient chapel was restored after his death, there was inserted in the wall of the interior an urn of white marble on a black slab to his memory, with a short inscription.

The Hospital, for the erection and endowment of which Mr. Cauvin bequeathed the greater part of his fortune, was opened on the 80th of November, 1833. Its management is vested in certain individuals nominated by the Founder, and in the Lord Provost of the city, the Principal of the University of Edinburgh, the Rector of the High School of Edinburgh, the Ministers of Duddingstone, Libberton, and Newton, the Proprietor of the Lands of Niddry, and the Factor of the Marquis of Abercorn. The Trustees afterwards assumed Mr. Pillans, the Professor of Humanity in the University, to act along with them. The recipients of the charity are required, upon admission, to be of the age of six, and under that of eight years, and are maintained for six years. It is enjoined that they shall chiefly be the sons of persons of the two classes with which the Founder himself was so long connected, namely, Teachers and Farmers. His words are—"An Hospital for the relief, maintenance, and education of the sons of respectable but poor teachers; the sons of poor but honest farmers; whom failing, the sons of respectable master-printers or booksellers ; and the sons of respectable servants in the agricultural line." Accordingly, seventeen sons of teachers, and three sons of farmers are at present enjoying the benefits of the foundation. They are instructed in the ordinary branches of education, and also in Latin, Greek, French, Mathematics, etc.

It is apparent from the following declaration made by the Governors in the Piegulations which have been framed, by the testator's directions, for the management of the Institution, that they have availed themselves of the discretionary power with which they are invested, for advancing the cause of education in this country by raising the profession of teachers to greater usefulness:—"And, first of all, We, the said Governors, taking into consideration that the Founder was for the greater part of his life a public teacher, and that he has shown especial good-will to the profession he belonged to, by preferring to the benefits of this charity the children of teachers, do hereby declare generally, That we regard it as a leading object of the Cauvin Institution, to lay the foundation of a professional education for schoolmasters, so that as many of the boys as circumstances shall permit be prepared to become skilful and accomplished teachers." The training of a few, therefore, for the profession of public teachers, may be regarded as a distinguishing feature in this Seminary; and in this manner, from time to time, many young men may go forth from its walls qualified for entering upon the duties of public tuition with decided advantage.


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