Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Saint Cecilia's Hall in the Niddry Wynd
Chapter VII The Audience


The period at which St. Cecilia concerts would be in the zenith of their success was just about the time that Robert Burns paid his first visit to Edinburgh upon the invitation of that genial man of letters, the blind Dr. Blacklock, whose kindly letter to Burns on the eve of his sailing for Jamaica was not only the first streak of light upon poor Burns’s horizon, but, all unconscious as it was to Blacklock, the means also of preserving from premature extinction the brightest light that ever glowed in the Temple of the Scottish Muses.

It was in the year 1786, upon November the 28th, in the evening, that ‘that bright particular star’ housed itself in Mrs. Carfrae’s lodgings in Baxter’s Close on the north side of the Lawnmarket, on the ground-floor of a house whose windows looked into Lady Stair’s Close. We like to be precise in such matters, for it was from this particular spot on the earth’s surface that that light—fired by the splendid enthusiasm iki of the warmth of unsophisticated nature—went nightly forth to carry its healthy brilliance into the more artificially illuminated circle of a society which was one of the most cultured, critical, and philosophical to be found at that time in any European capital.

From the Anchor Close and ‘Creech’s Land’ went forth much of the best in literature and a very large proportion of all British publication, while the Old Edinburgh drawing-rooms, filled with cultured beauties, echoed to learned repartee and elegant wit.

Literary and academic as she was, Edinburgh was yet to experience the honour of being made as famous in the wider world of letters as ever Athens, Alexandria, or Paris had been; for was she not maturing Scott— that little lame boy of fourteen or fifteen, who was to meet Burns, that famous once, at Professor Ferguson’s in Old Sciennes House, and to receive from those wonderful eyes that smile of thanks to be cherished for evermore?

From Mr. Martin Hardie’s picture, ‘Burns reciting his Poem, “A Winter’s Night,” at the Duchess of Gordon’s,’ we get an excellent idea of one of these literary gatherings of which we are speaking. The artist has represented the scene as taking place in the beautiful wall-painted drawing-room of Lord Glenlee’s town house (then 17 Brown Square, now 31 Chambers Street), although the probability is it occurred in the

Gordon mansion on the Castle Hill. The group is quite typical, for there are present:—

Jane, fourth Duchess of Gordon (the hostess).

The Dowager-Countess of Glencairn, and her son the Earl of Glencairn.

Lord Monboddo (James Burnet)and Miss Elizabeth Burnet, his second daughter.

Miss Margaret Chalmers (‘Peggy’).

The Rev. Dr. Blacklock.

Henry Mackenzie (‘The Man of Feeling’).

The Rev. Dr. Hugh Blair, F.R.S.E.

Professor Dugald Stewart (Moral Philosophy).

The lion. Henry Erskine (third son of the tenth Earl of Buchan)—‘ Harry Erskine.’

Old Professor Adam Ferguson.

William Tytler, William Creech (Provost and publisher), and Alexander Nasmyth the painter.

About most of them Burns had something characteristic to say.

The owner of the house, 17 Brown Square, was made Lord President in 1788, and in 1789, the year of his death, was created a baronet, Sir Thomas Miller of Glenlee. His wife, formerly Miss Chalmers of Pittencrief, was one of the Edinburgh beauties to be seen at the St. Cecilia concerts.

We shall begin with Miss Burnet of Monboddo, who must have been one of the most lovely girls of her own or any other time, Burns, shortly after his arrival in the city, and writing in that dark old Lawnmarket house, recognises her as one of the features of Edina itself, for he says in the ‘Address to Edinburgh —

‘Thy daughters bright thy walks adorn,
Gay as the gilded summer sky,
Sweet as the dewy milk-white thom,
Dear as the raptured thrill of joy!
Fair Burnet strikes th’ adoring eye,
Heaven’s beauties on my fancy shine;
I see the Sire of Love on high,
And own his work indeed divine ’

No small honour to have been ranked by Scotland’s greatest poet as one of the features of beauty in a scene where all is beauty.

We make no apology whatever for considering that we shall best describe the St. Cecilia audience by describing only its ladies, or rather allowing Burns, so sympathetic an authority, to do so, seeing that they it is who constitute ‘society,' the gentlemen being merely —from an aesthetic point of view—the background to show up the tones and outlines of the picture.

The position of the gentlemen reminds us of a bridegroom on his wedding-day—a person so completely lost sight of that he might be not unjustly defined as the indispensable but unimportant condition without which the ceremony could not be legalised, or, if you will, a mere ‘accessory before the fact.’

It is not that Burns has nothing to say upon the gentlemen: he has. There are tw o poems on Glen-cairn, an address to William Tytler of Woodhouselee, an exquisite piece of satire on Creech, and there are lines on Harry Erskine; but we shall rather hear him on a theme—‘The Ladies’—a theme the celebration of which cost him much ink and too often a sacrifice of his normal degree of both physical and mental equilibrium.

It being understood that most of the men of f light and leading’ of their day patronised these concerts, we shall let Burns continue his praise of 1 the heavenly Miss Burnet,’ to whom ‘there has not been anything nearly like ... in all the combinations of beauty, grace, and goodness (which) the Great Creator has formed since Milton’s Eve on the first day of her existence.’ On hearing of her death, June 17th, 1790, Burns wrote one of the tenderest and intensest of ail his elegies: it is all beautiful; we can quote but one stanza:—

‘We saw thee shine in youth and beauty’s pride,
And virtue's light, that beams beyond the spheres;
But like the sun eclipsed at morning-tide,
Thou eft’st us darkling in a world of tears.’

This beautiful creature did not long grace Edina’s streets, for Old Scotland’s wind proving, in her case, much more unkind than man, she went out for milder air to the Braid Farm on the southern uplands of that name, and died there of the fell ‘ consumption ’ at the early age of twenty-two years.

Old Mrs. Cockburn, herself a poetess, of ‘The Flowers of the Forest’ fame, thus wrote of Burns’s visit:—‘He has seen (the) Duchess of Gordon and all the gay world. His favourite for looks and manners is Bess Burnet—no bad judge indeed.’ This was the same old lady who had been a friend of David Hume, and the same who was read to by young Walter Scott, aged seven years—a little boy in his father’s house at 25 George Square. It is curious that she and Dr. Blacklock lie buried within a few yards of each other in the almost totally forgotten little bury-ing-ground of the chapel-of-easc of St. Cuthbert’s in Buccleuch Street.

The Duchess of Gordon was born Jane Maxwell, second daughter of Sir James and Lady Maxwell of Monreith, Wigtonshire, and she and her younger sister Eglantine (or Eglintoune, for her name was later on changed to Eglintoune owing to her resemblance to the handsome Susannah, Countess of Eglinton) were at this time two of the most beautiful girls in all Scotland.

The family resided in Hyndford’s Close (on the south side of the High Street), and the ease of the girls’ manners is graphically described by Robert Chambers in his Traditions of Edinburgh, in which occurs the probably not apocryphal story of her future Grace of Gordon riding on a sow’s back in the manner, we are to understand, that is advocated by Lady Florence Dixie. This sow is as integral a part of Old Edinburgh legend as is Balaam’s ass in its own place. Jane became Duchess of Gordon in 1767; her elder sister, Catherine, Mrs. Fordyce of Aytoun; while the youngest, Eglantine, ere long found herself Lady Wallace of Craigie, whose repartee, grace, abandon, bonne camaraderie, have almost passed into a proverb in Edinburgh annals. These three Graces when in Edinburgh for ‘ the season ’ were fervent in their patronage of the St. Cecilia concerts.

This Duchess of Gordon, there can be no doubt whatever, was one of the most brilliant, versatile, and socially charming women in the gay throng over which she reigned. The late Professor Blackie in his short Life of Bur ns^ thus speaks of her:—‘The Duchess of Gordon, who figures ... as an avowed patroness of the poet, seems to have been a person peculiarly fitted for performing that function; . . . with her good sense and her light heart she was ready to take the lead in all the gaieties of the season.’

Burns has not indeed left a poem dedicated to this lady, but he has given us three very pretty stanzas in praise of her Grace’s northern home, ‘Castle Gordon.’ In bis ‘Journal,’ under date September 7th, 1787, we find the following:—‘. . . The Duke makes me happier than ever great man did—noble, princely, yet mild, condescending and affable gay and kind; the Duchess charming, witty, and sensible,—God bless them.’ It was meet that a ‘gay Gordon’ should marry a still gayer Maxwell.

Before passing on to allow Burns to describe the ladies in the audience of St. Cecilia’s, we must nute his tribute to a nobleman to whom he was probably more indebted than to any other person for his kind reception in Edinburgh—James Cunningham, fourteenth Earl of Glencairn, himself also an Ayrshire man. Burns has two poems—one, ‘ Verses intended to be written below a noble Earl’s Picture,’ which opens with ‘Whose is that noble, dauntless brow’; the other a peculiarly sad ‘Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn,’ which closes with the well known lines :—

‘The mother may forget the child
That smiles sac sweetly on her knee,
But I’ll remembei thee, Glencairn,
And a’ that, thou hast done for me.’

The noble patron was repaid in noble verse. Lord Glencairn died on 27th January 1791, and Burns attended his funeral at Kilmaurs. He came of a race long ennobled and famous in Scottish history, and was succeeded by his only brother, the Rev. and Hon. John Cunningham, as fifteenth Earl, with whom the title became extinct in 1796, the year Burns died.

Another beauty who attended these old concerts was Margaret Chalmers (‘Peggy’) who became Mrs. Lewis Hay, a cousin of Charlotte Hamilton (afterwards Mrs. Adair), a sister of Gavin Hamilton of Mauchline, a very early friend of Burns. While at Harvieston in Clackmannan, Burns met both these girls, and in praise of Charlotte wrote the song, ‘ The Banks of the Devon,’ while Peggy Chalmers was the subject of two poems, one of which ends with the intense couplet:—

‘But tearing Peggy from my soul
Must be a stronger death’;

the other opening with :—

‘My Peggy’s face, my Peggy’s form,
The frost of hermit age might warm;
My Peggy’s worth, my Peggy’s mind,
Might charm the first of human kind.’

It is interesting to know that, as a matter of fact, the last poem he wrote (dated ‘12th July 1796’—he died on the 21 st) was to the Fairest Maid on Devon Banks and although there were two ‘Maids’ who might lay claim to the superlative, there is indirect evidence to show that it was to the lively Peggy rather than to the stately Charlotte that the poet’s painfully sensitive soul was turning in its last hours on earth.

As a widow, Mrs. Hay is reported to have told the poet Campbell during his Edinburgh visit that Burns made her a serious proposal of marriage. Those best versed in the extensive subject of Burns’s amourology believe that, although he admired the ‘divine Burnet,’ praised the beautiful Charlotte Hamilton, it was Peggy Chalmers whom he really loved.

In a poem of sixteen lines we have the pronoun of appropriation used six times, thus:—

'Face Form Worth Mind
My Peggy's Angel air, Heart

and the description closes with ‘immortal charms.’ We are thus justified in believing that Margaret Chalmers had a very narrow escape from being Mrs. Burns.

Another well-known lady of the St. Cecilia concerts was Euphemia Murray of Lintrose, known as the ‘ Flower of Strathmore,’ who married David Smythe of Methven —a Lord of Session, Lord Methven.1 Of her Burns says that she was—

‘Blythe by the banks of Earn,
And blythe in Glenturrit glen,’

which is quite possible, seeing that she was a cousin of Sir William Murray of Ochtertyre—a lovely place 1 Both buried in the Canongate Churchyard.

covered with exquisite woods, lying between the River Earn and Loch Turrit. Burns further declares that—

‘Phemie was a bonnier lass
Than Braes o’ Yarrow ever saw.
Her looks were like a flower in May,
Her smile was like a simmer morn,
She tripped by the banks o' Earn
As light’s a bird upon a thorn.’

Mrs. Smythe, when an old lady, told a friend of hers that she remembered ‘Burns reciting the poem “Upon scaring Wild-fowl" one evening after supper, and that he pronounced the concluding lines with great energy.’ In the Thomson letter (No. xviii.), dated October 19th, 1794, Burns says of the song, ‘Andrew and his cutty gun’:—‘The song to which this is set in the Museum is mine, and was composed on Miss Euphemia Murray of Lintrose, commonly and deservedly called “The Flower of Strathmore.” ’

Another lady almost certainly present at the concerts in the Niddry Wynd was Mrs. Riddell of Woodley Park, Dumfries. To her Burns writes the ‘Compl; mentary Epigram on Maria Riddell ’ which has these lines:—

‘But thee, whom all my soul adores,
E’en flattery cannot flatter;
Maria, all my thought and dream,
Inspires my voral shell:
The more I praise my lovely theme,
The more the truth I tell.’

During Mr. Riddell’s absence in the West Indies in 1794, Burns and Mrs. Riddell saw a good deal of each other; but the friendship came to a sudden and violent end in consequence of a drunken practical ioke perpetrated upon the ladies of the party at Woodley Park after a dinner given on Mr. Riddell’s return to the head of his house and the foot of his table. The men, who were all more or less intoxicated, seem to have agreed to invade the drawing-room in a body, and re-enact, on a small scale, the classic scene of the ‘Rape of the Sabines.’ Uurns, on entering the drawing-room, staggered up to his hostess and kissed her with all the sonorous energy of a bucolic lover—a piece of realism which was too much for Mr. Riddell’s philistinism, and far too public a rehearsal of what might conceivably have been privately permitted a year previously. It is almost certainly to Mrs. Riddell that Burns writes the ‘Remorseful Apology’ which concludes:—

‘Mine was th’ insensate frenzied part,
Ah! why should I such scenes outlive?
Scenes so abhorrent to my heart!
’Tis thine to pity and forgive’—-

which, but only after a considerable time, she did.

Still another lady is known to have been at the St. Ceciiia concerts—another of that fair band of whom old George Thomson wrote: ‘ w hose lovely faces at the concerts gave us the sweetest zest for music,’—Mrs. Richard A. Oswald of Auchencruive in Ayrshire, born Lucy Johnston of Hilton, East Lothian. It is said that Burns wrote in her honour the song whose chorus is—

‘O, wat ye wha's in yon town,
Ye see the e’enin sun upon?
The dearest maid’s in yon town
That e’enin sun is shining on’;
but ‘thereby hangs a tale.’

Since 1792 Burns had been in correspondence with the now famous George Thomson, then the head clerk in the office of the Board of Manufactures in Edinburgh, who was devoting all his leisure to a life-work, the collecting, editing, and publishing of as complete a set as possible of the songs of Scotland set to music.

On 7th February 1795, Burns wrote to him from Ecclefechan thus:—‘Do you know an air—I am sure you must know it—“ We ’11 gang nae mair to yon toun ” ? I think in slowish time it would make an excellent song. I am highly delighted with it. and if you should think it worthy of your attention, I have a fair dame in my eye to whom I would consecrate it.

‘Try it with this doggrel, till I give you a better:—

“‘O sweet to me yon spreading tree,
Where Jeanie wanders aft her lane,
The hawthorn flower that shades her bower,
O when shall I behold again!”’

Burns, a little later, wrote a more elaborate version under the title, ‘O, wat ye wha’s in yon town,’ in which ‘Jeanie’ again figures freely. This ‘Jeanie’ was probably Jean Lorimer, a farmer’s daughter and the Chloris ’and‘ Lassie wi’ the lint-white locks ’ of other songs. Desiring to compliment Mrs. Oswald of Auchencruive at the time she was residing at Dumfries, Burns merely changed the ‘Jeanie’ of this song to 1 Lucy,’ and, hey presto !; ’twas done. If the ‘Wandering Minstrel’ in the Mikado had ‘ patriotic,’ so with equa' truth had Burns complimentary, ‘ballads cut and dried.’ C. K. Sharpe attributes the music of the song, ‘O Mary! dear departed shade,’ to Miss Johnston of Hilton, and adds that she gave double charms to a minuet and dignified a country dance. To this same lady was dedicated a collection of no less than sixty-eight new reels and strathspeys compiled and composed by Robert M'Intosh (1793).

We have very little doubt that another famous—we had almost said notorious—beauty of this time, Miss Burns (alias Matthews), would, during the course of the winter, put in an appearance at the concerts, for one of the few things we can gather about her is that ‘she was always dressed in the latest fashion.’ This lady, who had come to Edinburgh from Durham, caused quite a sensation about the time the poet Burns was in Edinburgh, ‘her youth1 and beautit'ul figure’ attracting notice wherever she went.

Now it happened that the windows of her rooms in Rose Street were overlooked by those of Lord Swinton’s house, and in course of time her jealous neighbours ‘began to talk,’ and before many days were past Miss Burns found herself in the presence of no less a man than the well-known publisher, William Creech, at that time one of the magistrates of Edinburgh.

Creech, as the stern censor of his city’s morals, sentenced the young lady to be banished furth of the city under penalty, if she returned, of six months’ residence in the ‘ House of Correction.’ Miss Burns’s thoughts did not, however, naturally tend towards ‘ correction,’ whether in the form of a house or other wise, and so she entered an appeal in the Court of Session against this sentence, and not without effect, for—‘tell it not in Gath’—the great Creech’s judgment was overturned. Creech was literally furious: Edinburgh had not had for long so delightful a bit of scandal.

The newspapers now made fun freely at Creech’s expense, publishing bogus announcements of marriage between the ‘literary celebrity of Edinburgh’ and ‘Miss Burns of Rose Street in that City.’ Miss Burns, in short, became the most talked-about person of the 1 Twenty years.-hour. It is this Miss Burns who is the subject of Robert Burns’s lines, ‘Written underneath the picture of the celebrated Miss Burns’:—

'Cease, ye prudes, your envious railing,
Lovely Burns has charms—confess;
True it is, she had one failing,
Had a woman ever less?’

The poor girl appears to have been attacked not long after by that fatal malady euphemistically called ‘the decline,’ for she died in 1792 in the little village of Rosslyn, where she had gone for ‘purer air’: if all tales be true, she needed more than purer air to cure her. A stone in the churchyard of the little Pentland hamlet marks the spot where death claimed what was his of her who, after all, was only too human.

Continuing our list of patronesses of these famous old concerts, we may be safe in including Caroline Oliphant, the Baroness Nairne, for she was born in 1766 and died in 1845. About the heyday of these concerts, and at the time of Burns’s visit, she would be just twenty-one ; but it is in the highest degree probable that this gifted, poetical, aristocratic lady would, while in Edinburgh for the winter, attend one or two of the concerts in the Niddry Wynd—the only place at that time in the metropolis where the Scottish songs couid be heard sung by the best professional voices of the day. It is inconceivable that the future authoress of ‘The Auld Iloose,’ ‘The Rowan Tree,’ ‘Caller Herrin’,’ ‘The Hundred Pipers,’ ‘The Laird o’ Cockpen,’ ‘Will ye no come back again,’ and ‘The Land o’ the Leal,’ would not hear, if she possibly could, the finest renderings of the older songs of her native land, to whose already rich stores she was to add such treasures.

It amounts to a moral certainty that she who penned that exquisite mixture of humour, pathos, and satire in rattling rhyme, ‘Caller Herrin’, must have listened below the venerable cupola of St. Cecilia’s to the pathetic Scottish songs of the earlier epoch, for in Caroline Oliphant burned an intense love for Scotland, its scenery, its history, its dynasty—that same love which burned so brightly in Allan Ramsay, her father, not indeed according to the flesh, but after the inward law of the spirit of poetry.

We are not yet done with the belles who graced the Temple of the Muses in Niddry’s Wynd, for there is still to be mentioned Miss Ferrier, a noted Edinburgh beauty. She was the eldest of the nine daughters of James Ferrier, W.S. (one of Scott’s brethren at the table of the Clerks of Session), who lived for many years at 25 George Street, a few doors west of St. Andrew’s Church. Susan Edmonston Ferrier, the authoress of Marriage, Destiny, and Inheritance, was a younger sister of the Miss Ferrier to whom Burns wrote the verses beginning—

‘Nae heathen name shall I prefix
Frae Pindus or Parnassus;
Auld Reekie dings them a' to sticks,
For rhyme-inspiring lasses.’

Burns had been, he tells us in the poem, going moodily along George Street in a sea-fog or ‘haar,’ when suddenly, on turning a corner, he nearly ran into Miss Ferrier, the fair sight of whom amid such gloom, both outside and inside, inspired him to write the verses commencing as above quoted, which conclude thus:—

‘Ye turned a neuk—I saw your e’e—
She took the wing like fire!’

(alluding to his own melancholy). Miss Ferrier became the wife of General Graham of Stirling.

Continuing our list, we note another lady, a friend of Burns, a Miss Anne Stewart (daughter of John Stewart, Esq. of East Craig), who became the wife of an Edinburgh surgeon, Forrest Dewar. She is the Anna of two poems, in one of which occurs the verse :—

‘Sweet Anna hath an air—a grace
Divine, majestic, touching;

She talks, she charms, but who can trace The process of bewitching?’

That Mrs. MacLehose—Burns’s Clarinda11—attended these concerts we have no direct evidence; but it is not at all 'unlikely that the vivacious and sentimental young widow—widow in effect, for her worthless husband had deserted her—would once or twice during the winter have procured a ticket for the concert, and taken a chair from the Potterrow, down the College Wynd, and along the Cowgate to the old hall, to bathe, as Holmes would put it, her poetical soul in the sea of sweet sounds created for her in that temple dedicated to St. Cecilia.

The afore-mentioned Miss Ferrier had a rival known as Miss Penzie M'Donald, whose baptismal name was Penelope, and whose father was Ronald M‘I)onald of Clanronald. Except in Miss Ferrier’s eyes, this lady was acknowledged to be ‘celebrated for the handsomeness of her figure and for her many accomplishments.’ William Hamilton of Wishaw concurred so heartily in the prevailing opinion, that in March 1789 Miss Penzie became Mrs. Hamilton, and, ten years later, Lady Belhaven and Stenton, when the House of Lords had admitted her husband’s claim to that then lapsed peerage.

Miss Isabella Macleod, of the famous family of Macleod of Raasay, must have been another patroness of the only concert in Edinburgh at the time Burns wrote the poem, ‘On the Death of John Macleod, Esq., brother to a young lady a particular friend of the author.’ Alluding to her bereavement and to the scenes ‘beyond the tomb,’ whither brother John had departed, Burns says:—

‘Virtue’s blossoms there shall blow
And fear no withering blast;
There Isabella’s spotless worth
Shall happy be at last.’

This lady was doomed to know much family sorrow. Her elder sister Flora, married only in 1779 to Col. Mure-Campbell of Rowallan, died in 1780 at the birth of her daughter. Miss Macleod’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Loudon, shot himself; her father died at the comparatively early age of sixty-nine; and thus Burns, remembering all these her recent griefs, composed the song, ‘Raving winds around her blowing’—a true lament in words set to a true lament in music.

The list of ladies may close with Miss Betsy Home, married to Captain Brown; Miss Cleghorn ; Miss Jessie Chalmers, who became Mrs. Pringle of Ilaining, wife of Lord Haining; Miss Hay of Hayston, later Lady Forbes of Pitsligo; Miss Jardine, later Mrs. Home-Drummond of Blairdrummond; Miss Kinloch of Gil-merton, who married Sir Foster Cunlifife of Acton, Bart.; and Miss Halket of Pitferran, who became the wife of. Count Lally-Tolendal.

We must depart from ouv intention to make almost no mention of the male section of the audience in favour of two visitors, Sir Walter Scott and the Due de Berri, whose fame and rank respectively may warrant their being admitted into the charmed circle of the ‘dearer’ sex.

We refuse for one moment to doubt that Walter Scott, as a young man in Edinburgh, attended during the winter season some of the concerts in St. Cecilia’s Hall. Apart altogether from his own interest in music —as evinced by his having taken singing-lessons from Alexander Campbell of the Canongate, by his having been one of the directors of the Festival of 1815, and by his liking nothing better at Abbotsford than to listen to his daughters’ playing—young Walter Scott moved in the best Edinburgh society, and the best Edinburgh society moved, one may say, in a body once a week to St. Cecilia’s. In 1795 Walter Scott had already been acquainted with Miss Stuart of Belches for five years; and as all readers of Lockhart’s Life of Scott will recollect, they both attended the Edinburgh assemblies.

Now we know for a certainty that the same ‘set’ that attended the assemblies attended the St. Cecilia concerts, for there are frequent announcements in the Courant that the hour of such-and-such a concert would be so-and-so, in order to allow ‘ladies and gentlemen to attend the assembly afterwards.’ What more likely than that young Scott would have ample opportunities for seeing, if not speaking to, Miss Stuart during those intervals in the concert when the audience were walking about in the area kept clear for that purpose?

Lord Balcarres. Walter Scott of Harden, a relative, and Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, father of Scott’s life-long friend, were all members of the Musical Society from 1790 onwards: as the guest of any of these families young Scott could have been in St. Cecilia’s even had there been no lady-love as an additional attraction there at all. But possibly the strongest consideration of all to support this most interesting suggestion is the fact that Scott’s father, Walter Scott, W.S., as his son himself tells us in that charming autobiography, actually played in the orchestra in St. Cecilia’s. Scott says:—

‘Robert was the only one of our family who could sing, though my father was musical, and a performer on the violoncello at the gentlemen’s concerts’ (r826). The italics are Scott’s own. Can we dare to doubt that, even had young Walter no musical taste at all, he would, either from curiosity or because other members of the family were going to the concert, be certain to hear and to see his father in the role of ’celloist ? But Alexander Campbell, his singing-master, never would allow that Walter Scott had a bad ear for music* and contended that if he did not understand music it was only because he did not choose to learn it. Once more, amongst the various friends of whom Scott in the autobiography gives us a list, there occurs one name with considerable musical interest attaching to it—‘the Honourable Thomas Douglas, now Earl of Selkirk.’ Scott is writing in 1808: it was the father, therefore, of Scott’s friend— the Earl of Selkirk who entertained Burns—at whose house Urbani was a constant visitor, and used to get up little concerts with the daughters of the house.

The Earl of Selkirk who entertained Burns and Urbani was a member of the Musical Society, as may be seen by turning to Appendix III.

It is highly probable that his son, Scott’s friend, on succeeding to the title would be elected to fill his father’s place; at all events, one of Scott’s most intimate acquaintances was a member of a musical family the head of which was a subscriber to the St. Cecilia concerts.

We have alluded to the fact that distinguished strangers were always welcomed at the concerts of the Musical Society.

Mr. Vogel must ha\e been a proud man when he could send the following to the Edinburgh Evening Courant of March 29th, 1798 :—

‘Under Lhe patronage-of His Royal. Highness the Due de Berri, who has given authority to say that he will honour the concert with his presence. Mr. Vogel takes the liberty of informing the nobility and others that his concert is fixed for Tuesday the 10th April in St. Cecilia’s Hall.’

The Due de Berri, bom 1778, died 1820, was the younger son of Charles X. of France, at this time an exile at Holyrood as the Comte d’Artois. In 1831 Charles X. returned to his old apartments at Holyrood, being accompanied by the Duchesse de Berri and her son Henri, Due de Bordeaux.


Return to Book Index Page

Search