Memoir of Cosmo Innes
The following brief and imperfect
Memoir of the late Mr. Cosmo Innes is attempted more in the hope of pleasing his
many friends of all classes than of satisfying the literary world, or his own
immediate circle, domestic or social. Some who have studied under him, either
professionally or non-professionally, may be glad to know a few particulars of a
life not uninteresting, though its interest is of a calm and unexciting sort.
Dean Milman on a similar occasion said of Lord Macaulay that the life of a
literary man is best seen in his works. Probably in most instances this is
eminently true, but Cosmo Innes, to those who knew him, was by no means the mere
literary man; his life was one of action quite as much as of study or
reflection; indeed, his sanguine temperament and admirably balanced mind induced
in him a perhaps excessive contempt of the mere “bookworm,” as he was wont to
style those who allowed study to absorb their physical or social powers, and a
favourite subject of expatiation, even to young people, who do not generally
need exhortation not to “mind their book,” was on how much more was to be
learned outside of books (from nature, society, and the circumstances of life)
than within their boards. His opinions on this subject are beautifully stated in
several of his works. It was one he delighted to trace out and illustrate from
the Greek philosophers downwards.
And even in so far as his was a literary life, his subjects were so entirely
impersonal, and he so extraordinarily devoid of egotism, that hardly a trace of
himself is to be found throughout his writings.
Only in the last of them, the Biography of Dean Ramsay, prefixed to the
twenty-second edition of his Scottish Life and Character, does he for the first
and last time say a few words about himself— words (to those who know the
circumstances to which they allude) as beautiful in their noble, cheerful
calmness, as any last words, real or imaginary, of any hero or martyr. The
circumstances presently to be detailed will explain our meaning.
To the Editors of the Scotsman, the Courant, the Glasgow Herald, the Athenceum,
and the Pall Mall Gazette, the writer’s best acknowledgments are due for their
admirable obituary notices—some of the materials of which are here reproduced
September 1, 1874.
BIRTH AND PARENTAGE.
Cosmo Innes was bom on 9th
September 1798 at the old manor-house of Durris (pronounced Doors), on Deeside,
where his father, a scion of the house of Innes of Innes, and formerly the laird
of Leuchars, in Morayshire, resided for many years, and from which he was
ejected by a decree of the Supreme Court on a question of Entail law. Mr. Innes
himself, in the before-mentioned memoir of Dean Ramsay written this year of his
death, says as much on the subject of the ejectment as he thought it becoming
for him to say.
In describing the old manor-house of Durris he writes: “It is a place of some
interest to lawyers, for haying given rise to one of the leading cases on the
law of entail, which settled points that had formerly been doubtful, all in
favour of the strict entail. The victim in that case, ejected by the heir of
entail, was John Innes, who had sold his property in Moray to invest the produce
in the great barony of Durris. The new tenant, believing himself almost
proprietor, built a comfortable house under the walls of the old castle, and in
that house waa born the writer of these notes.
“I do not feel myself severed by any disgusts from the country of my youth,
where I spent my best years, or at least the years of most enjoyment. It was
then a wild moor, with some natural beauty, a picturesque den leading from the
house to the noble river, wooded with native birch and scrubby oak, with some
tall larches and magnificent horse-chestnuts, and even a few immemorial Spanish
chestnuts, planted by the old Peterboroughs, now all gone. Along that river-bank
were some of the broadest haughs with which I am acquainted, and some of the
best salmon streams, up to Caimmoneam and Kirloach, giving the best
grouse-shooting in the country. It is, in truth, a charming water-side, even in
the eyes of a critical old man, or of a tourist in search of the picturesque;
but for a boy who lived there, shot and fished there, while all the houses round
were the dwellings of cousins and friends, while game was not yet let for hire,
it was a place to win that boy’s heart, and I loved it very heartily.”
We shall not here defeat Mr. Innes’s dignified reticence by entering into the
legal merits of the case. It is one well known to lawyers occupied with property
law, and is to be found detailed in its proper place. We refer to it only to
remind our readers of the significance of its effects on the minds of the large
young family growing up in that old manor-house, over whose heads hung year
after year, for the whole period of Cosmo’s youth, the alternative of wealth in
a much loved country home or—ruin. Ruin came, and, for Cosmo, at the age when of
all others perhaps the mind is most affected by outward circumstances. All the
detail of that time is too painful to be exposed to the eyes of strangers; but
the heroic efforts to conquer fate, and the dignified attitude under misfortune
of the whole family, must not remain unmentioned, nor the self-devotion of one,
in, particular, to whom through life Cosmo Innes delighted to acknowledge the
depth of his obligation, to ascribe the merit of every success of his life. We
speak of his mother, beautiful Euphemia Russell. She too, like her namesake the
lady of Blackhall, might be described as a woman of many sorrows.
Her gallant, hearty, sanguine-tempered husband, though tenderly loving, nay
adoring, her, could hardly share any of her burdens. On her devolved all the
anxiety of bearing and rearing sixteen children, amidst the constant, wearing
suspense of the great lawsuit in the first place, in extreme poverty in the
second. Of her sixteen babes she saw the larger number droop and die in
childhood. Few of them reached adult years; none, except Cosmo, accomplished
anything like the full span of human life—the threescore and ten. Cosmo was the
youngest of the sixteen, except one sister, Elizabeth. Next to himself, she was
also the longest survivor. She died at South Queensferry in September 1854 or
Cosmo was in childhood extremely delicate, and his excellent mother valued
learning far beyond house or land, or even health.
During his childhood his family spent the winters in a house in George Square
(Edinburgh), and he was early sent to the High School, where he pursued his
studies under the excellent Rector, Pillans, with such success as his frequent
illnesses (even then he was subject to torturing headache) would permit. He was
frequently restored to his mother’s arms as a nurseling when, despite her tender
love for him, her strong desire for his advancement made her wish him at school.
Notwithstanding these drawbacks, his recollections of his school life were
entirely agreeable; but to such hindrances it was probably owing that, although
showing very early strong literary tastes and an aptitude for classics, he took
no distinguished place at the High School.
It must have been at a late period of school life when the family misfortunes,
then imminent, though not accomplished, led them to reside for a time at
Stonehaven (Stone/ave in popular, and always in Mr. Innes’s, pronunciation),
that he for a time attended the parish school there. The master of that one, of
those never-too-much-to-be-praised institutions, Scotch parish schools, was wont
to instruct his pupils in an unsystematic way, by experiment or familiar
example, in the elements of natural science, the only instruction in this
subject it is believed which Mr. Innes ever received.
He was at College at Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Oxford successively. While attending
the College classes at Aberdeen he and a brother similarly employed boarded with
the Episcopalian clergyman of the town. The family residence was still chiefly
at Durris, little more than twenty miles from Aberdeen, whence the two lads
walked up the river-bank homewards for all holidays, and returned in the same
manner after them to their studies, with many a digression, we may be sure, in
pursuit, at first, chiefly of nuts, in which the river-banks are rich. One
memorable walk furnished a laughable little incident of bachelor life, often
related in after years. The two boys, bearing the whole of their slender
wardrobe about their persons or in their hands, fell from the nut-bushes into
the river, or voluntarily went into it, perhaps, in hope of guddling trout, or
for who knows what boyish reason. To our tale it suffices that they reached
Aberdeen entirely saturated with wet, insomuch that their kind host and his
servant lass had to bestir themselves to find them dry garments. All were
forthcoming, except the inexpressibles worn next the skin. These could not be
furnished, because they were at the moment being used for a culinary purpose.
An expert but not remarkably strong swimmer, Mr. Innes thrice in his life just
escaped losing it in the waters of his beloved Dee, or its adjacent streams. The
first occasion was in so early life that he himself knew of it by tradition
rather than recollection. Some of his early ill-health was considered
attributable to an immersion under ice, concealed by the elder children, who
were responsible for it, till the delicate infant was thoroughly chilled. The
second was in early manhood, while Durris was still his home, and took place at
no great distance from the house, while endeavouring to swim the river while in
speat, accompanied by his brother next in age, Thomas. His experience then, as
also in his other similar mischance, completely bears out the opinion of the
entire painlessness of death by drowning. In both instances consciousness was
completely gone before he was rescued, and the only physical discomfort
connected with the experience was the gradual restoration to life. Before
consciousness departed, he described his mind as remaining entirely calm and
alive to his position; probably thought was carried on with unnatural rapidity,
for with his perfect knowledge of the locality of his accident, he described
himself as aware, after he had sunk to the bottom of the river, that he was
rolling shoulder over shoulder against it in a place in which he perfectly knew
that, in the then state of the stream, there must be twenty feet of water above
him. Having no hope whatever of his life being saved, his thoughts travelled on
to the spot at which he felt sure “ the body” would be found. He imagined what
men, from what house, would find it, and how on a litter of branches they would
convey it home. His last thought was, “ I would not like to be them when they
meet my mother.” His next sensible impression was of an extreme coldness, and of
the loud shouts for aid of his brother Thomas, who, a much stronger swimmer than
himself, had dived after him, and succeeded in raising him to the surface of a
then submerged rock almost in the middle of a deep rapid channel of the river.
The shouts for aid at last reached human ears, and with the help of ropes both
brothers were drawn from their perilous position.
Scotland in those days was a widely different place from what it now is, and it
has changed in some respects which are not always remembered. While the
improvement of roads and formation of railways and steamboats has done much to
abridge distance, it has in some instances greatly lengthened it. As for
instance, in two neighbouring rudely parallel valleys, one may now have to
travel to the mouth of the one and ascend the whole length of the other to reach
a house which would formerly have been sought by some wild mountain-road now
disused and forgotten. Speyside and Deeside then counted each other near
neighbours ; now few enter either except by the circuitous route of Aberdeen and
the northern railway. The map will show the little valley of the Nairn as
divided from Deeside by the highest and wildest country in Scotland, yet through
that country it was possible for an active man on foot to achieve within the
twenty-four hours that which would now form two days of railway travelling.
Dangers from rock, stream, and morass were not then, as now, encountered merely
when in pursuit of amusement, but were inevitable incidents of travel. Riding
was then, for men at least, but for women also, almost the only mode of
travelling, except walking. It is well known that a good walker can get over
more ground in a given time than a horse burdened with his weight, and few
horses indeed could have served Cosmo Innes in his best days as did his own
legs. He was, however, excessively fond of riding and of horses, independently
of any use from them. From his earliest years of manhood he had a strong
attraction in the valley of the Naim, in the lady who afterwards became his
wife. Many a perilous journey did he undertake and accomplish across the rocky
mountain-chains which separated their respective homes, encountering once at
least that greatest of all mountain dangers* fog, whilst still high amongst the
mountains traversing a huge bog. On this occasion he was mounted, but a horse is
of all companions in a bog the worst, the creature’s excessive terror increasing
the risk and fatigue to his rider. Mr. Innes’s became so thoroughly jaded that
he performed the latter part of his journey on foot, urging the tired animal on
before him. It was not till far on in the night that the grey towers of the
hospitable old castle of Kilravock rose to view, occasioning him then, as ever,
a peculiar joy, enhanced by the dreary •wilderness from which he was emerging,
so strong and deep that he could hardly restrain screams of delight.
It may be supposed that so much open-air life, so keenly enjoyed, was
unfavourable to study. Mr. Innes’s opinion was strongly to the contrary. As
already stated, he valued the lessons learned on mountain and moor much more
than those drawn from books; but in his case, as in that of many others of our
young countrymen, both sorts of education went on side by side, and Mr. Innes
never through life appeared to think that if he had loved the moors, his horses,
his dogs, and his gun less, he should have loved his books more. His progress at
Glasgow and at Oxford, though satisfactory to his instructors, was not attended
by any particular distinction—not from any idleness or lack of regularity on his
part, but to that degree of originality of mind which ever seems to prevent a
man who is anything else, from being a distinguished “ academic man.” Such a man
pursues knowledge by courses of his own finding, complying with laid-down rules
of study only so far as is required. Life at Oxford he found extremely
delightful, and through life he retained the almost passionate love for his Alma
Mater which is so generally entertained by her sons. At Oxford he made one
friend who remainedhis Mend till death—the Rev. Richard Butler, Dean of
Clonmacnoise, and Vicar of Trim (Ireland). This gentleman, a few years Mr.
Innes’s senior, and a first-class student, became his tutor while he was at
College, and remained his close friend, adviser, and sympathizer, present or
absent, through life. Mr. Butler married Miss Harriet Edgeworth—younger sister
of Maria Edgeworth the authoress, who, since her husband’s, death, has printed a
memoir of him, consisting chiefly of his letters to Mr. Innes.
One vacation Mr. Butler accompanied Mr. Innes home to Durris, another was spent
at Mr. Butler’s vicarage at Trim (then a bachelor establishment), where, among
other delightful varieties of Irish life, the gentlemen found themselves obliged
in rainy weather to hoist their umbrellas over their heads whilst they lay in
bed, to prevent the rain which came through the roof from dropping on their
faces. This, although Mr. Butler was never a poor man. Mr. Butler was far more a
man of books than was Mr. Innes, and in his visits to Durris, as well as in some
of his intercourse with Mr. Innes at Oxford, he felt the severance between them
caused by Mr. Innes’s love of sport of all sorts, in early life and indeed
through his whole life almost a passion. But, because he himself did not share
these tastes, Mr. Butler never withheld from others his sympathy in their
pleasure in them. Even more than Mr. Innes did he deplore in any one (not
excepting himself) an exclusive predilection for books. Mx. Innes’s love of
sport, like that of Scotchmen of his date, was something entirely different from
the feeble and effeminate thing which has taken the place of it among the
luxurious young aristocrats who now rent Scotch shootings, who sit slippered by
the fireside till the day is half gone, then saunter out with an attendant to
perform every office except the final coup-de-grace to the object of pursuit. So
pursued, sport strikes one as a cruel and brutal amusement. Very different was
the young Scotchman’s hard day’s work—to fill the family larder in the first
place, and secondarily to strengthen and invigorate his own frame, and fill his
mind with the indelible impressions of the scenes of his native land, never so
favourably seen as by the sportsman. Mr. Innes’s idea of a day’s sport was to
rise and be at his shooting-ground before daybreak, with any companion or
assistant who might offer, or with none, and to pursue his game despite all
impediments of wind, weather, etc., till daylight failed in the evening. He was
idolized by the often humble companions of his sport. His manner, indeed, to all
classes of his social inferiors was peculiarly happy, but many of the most
experienced of those persons whom it is now the fashion to style gillies, used
to find it almost impossible to keep up with this studious gentleman, so eager
was he in his favourite pursuit. No sort of sport came wrong to him; he had
fox-hunted in England, and stalked deer in Mar forest, as he would no doubt have
tiger-hunted had he been in Bengal; but grouse-shooting was of all sports his
favourite. His love for it made all around him love it too. Mr. Innes’s good
spirits—and his spirits never were so good as during a day’s
grouse-shooting—never had anything overbearing in them. He always sought to
extend his happiness even to the meanest of his followers.
Having perhaps wearied our readers with these recollections of our boyhood, we
next turn to that epoch which in real life, as in romance, would be of all the
most interesting could it be treated with unreserve. But lest we should offend
the feelings of one still living, we must dwell but slightly on the beautiful
tale of a good man’s love for a beautiful girl, who never to the end of that
man’s life lost one grain of that inestimable treasure.
BEGINNING OF PROFESSIONAL LIFE, MARRIAGE, AND DOMESTIC LIFE AT RAMSAY LODGE.
After the usual curriculum Mr.
Lines passed as an advocate at the Scottish bar in the year 1822, and in 1826
married Miss Rose of Kilravock. His practice was never large, but very early in
his career his abilities in one particular line of his profession were
discovered. In cases in which deep research into ancient documents, and the
study of that to most people tiresome subject of genealogy, were required, he
was frequently employed. His first case of this description was that of the
Forbes Peerage, about the years 1830, 1831, or 1832.
All-important, however, as this important brief must have appeared to the all
but briefless barrister, an acquaintance made about this time was of more
importance both to Cosmo Innes himself and to his future services to the law and
literature of his country. We allude to that of the late Mr. Thomas Thomson, who
found in Mr. Innes an invaluable assistant in his labours among the confused
mass of ancient documents then lying without order or arrangement in the
Register House. Mr. Innes for but small remuneration gladly assisted him, and so
commenced that extra-professional part of his labours which he continued with
ever-increasing zeal to his dying day. The remuneration, small as it was, was
acceptable. It began just as Mr. Innes had resolved on a marriage dictated by
love alone, nothing in his position being less prudent than an early marriage
with a portionless though well-born young lady. In his doubt about this
important step, Mr. Innes consulted his constant adviser Mr. Butler as to the
prudence of his espousing, on his very uncertain means, a young lady of somewhat
superior social position to his own, and accustomed to many luxuries to which he
was not—only nineteen years of age, the eldest of a large and impoverished
family. Mr. Butler was a man far too truly wise not to know that apparent
imprudence is often the really most sensible course. He knew his former pupil
too well to dissuade him from a step on which he knew his heart was set with all
the strength of his peculiarly strong affections. The advice of this calm,
considerate, somewhat timid-natured man, was to “marry the wife and cherish the
family,”—counsel of course as readily obeyed as is any advice which entirely
coincides with a predetermination. It should be added, however, that the first
clause of the counsel was not the only one followed. Mrs. Innes’s fourteen
younger brothers and sisters, two of whom were younger than her eldest child,
were ever welcome inmates of the already pretty full and not too rich menage of
the young couple, as soon as they had any manage which they could call their
Immediately on her marriage, Mrs. Innes was with beautiful hospitality, no less
beautifully accepted, affectionately received into the poor little home in the
bleak little fishing town of Stonehive (the supposed Fairport of Sir Walter
Scott’s Antiquary). When she accompanied her husband to resume his professional
labours in Edinburgh, it was into a small house in a common stair, which, until
Cosmo’s marriage, had been shared between him and his brother Thomas. Neither of
these habitations was long occupied by the young couple. A house in Stafford
Street was the birthplace of their two eldest children. After that the strong
family affection which characterized Mr. Innes, as well as all the other members
of his family, led all to desire the reunion of its remaining members. Euphemia
Russell (Mrs. Innes, senior) was now a widow, living with two unmarried
daughters. Thomas, two years Cosmo’s senior, and getting into a good business as
a Writer to the Signet, was also unmarried, and heroically resolved to devote
himself to his family by remaining so—a resolution which he of course did not
fail duly to break, but at first the large heterogeneous family assembled at
Ramsay Lodge owned him as its male head. Of Mr. Thomas Innes a few words may
properly here be said. He was at the time of taking Ramsay Lodge the second
surviving son of his parents. The eldest, James, much older than either Thomas
or Cosmo, who had been bred to no profession, and on the breakdown of the family
fortunes manfully resolved to make money and redeem them, was in China, trading
in tea and opium, gaining large sums and losing them again. He died without
accomplishing the object of his life, about the year 1840 or 1841, long after
the time of which we are now writing, which was some time about the year
Thomas, as well as Cosmo, was a remarkable man. His natural abilities were at
least equal to those of his brother. His mental nature, like his physical, was
perhaps more massive and less refined. He was as handsome as his brother, with
the difference just indicated; but that which in Cosmo was a weakness, no doubt
painfully felt by himself through life, but after extreme youth controlled so as
to be imperceptible to others, was in Thomas an overwhelming and unconquerable
idiosyncrasy—shyness. Only those who knew Cosmo well ever discovered that a
certain volubility in opening a conversation arose from a painful mauvaise honte,
which led him to resolutely talk down his fear of the sound of his own voice. In
Thomas no one could doubt the cause of the fine voice which could speak so well
being so often inappropriately silent. With his own family Thomas was more frank
than was Cosmo, who carried an odd and unconquerable phase of his bashfulness or
diffidence (shyness, in fact), into his intercourse even with his nearest
relations. Thomas had much humour. Never himself laughing, he could keep a whole
party, or what is much more remarkable, a family circle, in roars of laughter.
Like all the rest of the family, he was excessively affectionate,
gentle-tempered, and an amiable, agreeable, member of the circle. He married
about a year after his vow of celibacy, and his widow Still survives.
Shortly after his marriage, the symptoms of the mysterious malady of which,
after about a dozen years of varying illness, he died, began to show themselves.
Cosmo suffered deeply in every change for the worse in his condition, rejoiced
still more in each alteration for the better, and finally mourned, as only he
could mourn, on Thomas’s death, while still in the prime of a successful life.
In him Cosmo was wont to say he had lost the last of those to whom he could
naturally look up. Thomas did in many respects indeed fill to him a sort of
parental relation, the want of which formed an irreparable blank in the
remainder of the life of the younger brother.
Besides the members of his own family already mentioned—mother, brother, and two
sisters—the roomy old house at Ramsay Lodge was the home on occasion of all Mrs.
Innes’s young brothers and sisters, whenever circumstances, educational or
other, made it desirable that they should reside in Edinburgh. Here were born in
rapid succession four other children of the nine which Mr. Innes’s family
ultimately numbered. The old house which sheltered this large and happy family
was as suitable to their tastes as any which could be found within a town. It
still stands, and internally is probably but little changed. It derives its name
from Allan Ramsay the poet, who built it, at least in part. Many of its rooms
were pretty, and the number of them was highly convenient. The outward aspect of
the house is greatly changed since the year 1830, and entirely for the worse, by
the progress of improvement in the city. In the year 1830 neither the Royal
Institution nor the Free Church College was built; much of what is now a smooth
green bank lying between these establishments was then a piece of natural rough
ground, chiefly covered with immense hawthom-trees, which in summer bloomed like
a shower of snow. One acre of this ground was the Ramsay Lodge domain. Its own
private gates opened into the Princes Street Gardens. There Mr. Innes’s young
children could disport themselves at pleasure, imitating some of their father’s
early performances, to which they delighted to listen, by climbing the Castle
rock when they had exhausted the delightful risks of their own hawthom-trees.
The door of the old house, opening into a spacious lobby, stood always open,
like the door of a house in the country, and the children knew not what it was
to be debarred free egress to the open air, green grass, and shady trees.
Mrs. Innes, senior, beginning to decline, and often an invalid, was never, to
within two days of her death, unable to reach the nearest of the seats in the
Princes Street Garden, where she was wont to sit and enjoy the unrivalled
prospect across the New Town and over the Firth to the coast of Fife.
At Ramsay Lodge it was that Mr. Innes first welcomed Richard Butler under a roof
of his own. Mr. Butler married some years later than his younger friend. His
first desire after his marriage was to introduce his bride to the family at
Ramsay Lodge. She was heartily welcomed by them, and specially valued by Mrs.
Innes, senior, at first for her husband’s sake, afterwards for her own.
Mr. Innes was naturally sociable, his wife was at least as much so, and at all
times of his life, often in spite of his resolutions to the contrary, congenial
companions sought and found him. His preferences, however, could hardly be said
to confine themselves to persons sharing any of his tastes. His sympathies were
utterly catholic; no one having in him what he called “speculation” of any sort,
i.e. any mind at all, was to him unacceptable. Being himself a gentleman,
thoroughly, naturally, unconsciously, involuntarily, not merely the conventional
“gentleman” of society, he could not actually live, could not share his domestic
privacy, or sit at table with, those who were not gentlemen. This was his only
limitation in the choice of his associates. At Ramsay Lodge a select few used to
meet one evening in the week to read Greek plays.
Mr. Innes was wont to speak modestly of his own attainments in Greek, but such
as they were they excelled those usual in Scotchmen of his date, were probably
superior to those of any one then in Edinburgh, as was testified by his being
offered a judgeship in Corfu, for which a Greek scholar always has to be
selected—a good knowledge of ancient Greek soon enabling a man to speak and
understand modem Greek. Mr. Innes declined the appointment after anxious
consideration, from the conviction that a fifteen years’ residence on the
Mediterranean would not be favourable to the health or interests of his family.
Other assemblages of persons, now grey-headed senators, then young men of
overflowing vivacity and talent, were held for the purpose of acting charades,
in which the dialogue was of a quality so very much higher than is usual in such
entertainments, and so often took a political turn, that it was understood Mr.
Innes received a hint from a high quarter that his future prospects were likely
to suffer from the sentiments thus playfully expressed under his roof.
The frequent visits of Mrs. Innes’s young sisters brought society of another
sort; and a warning, this time, not from an official of high rank, but from a
practical mason, assured Mr. Innes that the foundations of the old house would
not stand the frequent dances which shook its walls, and that if they were
continued it might be expected some day to subside into the Nor’ Loch (the
familiar appellation of the Princes Street Gardens, in which there still at that
time remained a central swamp, the trace of the time that it was an actual
lake). The warning was not heeded; many were the merry dances which' the old
house still weathered through.
A deep gloom was thrown over a part of the time spent at Kamsay Lodge by the
illness and death of Mrs. Innes, senior, which occurred about the year 1833 or
1834. The grief of her family was profound and enduring. Cosmo, then the father
of four tenderly-loved children, declared he would rather have lost them all
than his mother. His Advocate-deputeship, bestowed on him by the Whig ministry
on their coming into power on the passing of the Reform Bill, highly esteemed
both for its honour and profit, revived the deep heart-grief. “Oh that my mother
had lived to know this!” was his first expression of feeling on the occasion.
Ramsay Lodge, when first taken; was supposed so completely to combine the
advantages of town and country that no annual change to the country would be
found necessary. This did not prove to be the case. For Mr. Innes, continued
residence in a town, under any conditions, was impossible. As summer advanced he
fretted amongst stone walls, and on the approach of the glorious “Twelfth”
panted to be after the grouse as a war-horse for the battle. Aberdour or some
other of the pretty villages of the Fife coast were sought for country air, but
so near a resting-place seldom sufficed; part of the family generally remained
in the sea-side lodging, while Mr. Innes, either alone or with Mrs. Innes or
some part of his family, accepted some of his always numerous invitations to
country houses in the Highlands.
At Ramsay Lodge no flowers grew well, or almost at all, the steep bank on which
it is situated facing north, and being consequently sunless, besides receiving a
considerable part of the smoke of the town. This want was a severe privation to
the flower-loving family. A more serious inconvenience was the, at that time,
excessively bad access to the house. Just in bad weather no wheel-carriage could
reach it either from above or below, and it happened more than once that gay
parties of ladies had to alight from their vehicles and struggle in satin
slippers up a snow-covered hill. This difficulty of access, besides the distance
of the place from the more fashionable parts of the town, was supposed even to
prevent the increase of practice, and about the year 1835 or 1836 the old house
was left for a modem one, No. 6 Forres Street, close to Moray Place.
The professional and non-professional employments mentioned in the beginning of
this chapter were by no means the only serious occupations of the years between
1822, the one in which Mr. .Innes passed Advocate, and 1833, which was about the
time he became an Advocate-depute.
Within those years were formed most of the literary connexions which furnished
outlet for Mr. Innes’s lighter productions.
A complete list of his contributions to the Quarterly Review, while still under
the editorship of Mr. Lockhart, would be difficult now to obtain. To that, as
well as to the North British, he was a frequent contributor. Before he had left
Ramsay Lodge he had also begun to edit Cartularies for both the Bannatyne and
Maitland Clubs. The amount of work achieved, while also generally joining in the
society and amusements of his family, seems almost incredible. It is partly to
be accounted for by Mr. Innes being a constitutionally bad sleeper. He seldom
slept more than a few hours any night, and never took any siesta during the day.
He frequently rose, and of course set to work with that energy which he threw
into all his pursuits, as early as four or five in the morning, though he never
retired to rest till past midnight, and often much later. There was no system or
predetermination in this, and his hour of rising, though always early, was not
always the same.
When unable to sleep he rose, and without complaint or remark continued his
labours where he had left them off at night. Want of sleep did not appear to
exhaust him or hurt his health. His health at this period of his life, and
indeed during his whole life after childhood, was strong in a certain sense,—in
the sense of enduring much exertion and any amount of exposure to weather; it
was never perfectly regular or unvarying, as is the health of some less strong
Few years passed without his family having several serious alarms from somewhat
sudden illness of different sorts in him, sometimes violent headache, at others
feelings of faintness, giddiness, or other dyspeptic symptoms.
The later years were less subject to these disagreeable interruptions than were
those of middle life.
ADVOCATE-DEPUTESHIP AND LIFE AT SOUTH QUEENSFERRY.
The new house, No. 6 Forres
Street, which Mr. Innes purchased, was the only entirely town residence ever
inhabited by him and his family. In many respects the change from Ramsay Lodge
was felt to be a privation. The compensations were found in the close
neighbourhood of Lord Jeffrey’s hospitable house, No. 24 Moray Place, at which,
as at the charming villa of Craigcrook, Mr. Innes and his family were more and
more frequent visitors. Lord Jeffrey’s house, and the houses of his friends
Lords Murray, Cockbum, Rutherfurd, and a few more, were the brilliant remains of
the old Edinburgh society, the society adorned by Sir Walter Scott, Mr. and Mrs.
Dugald Stewart, etc., and which charmed and attracted within its circle Sydney
Smith, the Homers, More-heads, and many other Southrons, who found in Edinburgh
an assemblage of talent unrivalled then in any town in Europe. As a light
flickers brightly before it expires, so did the small group of brilliant talents
still remaining in Edinburgh shine with no diminished ray just before their
setting, and the centre of the group was unquestionably Jeffrey and Craigcrook.
As his talented contemporary Lord Cockbum has painted, as only he could, the
charm of the society and conversational life of that house, we will here allude
merely to what the house and its inhabitants were to Mr. Innes and his family.
The ladies of the family, Mrs. and Miss Jeffrey, were no less charming in
society than was the great critic himself, and all three, besides the charm of
high intellect, possessed in the utmost perfection the far more endearing charms
of constant prompt kindness, cheering sympathy, ever ready friendship. At the
town house, close to Mr. Innes’s own, as at Craigcrook, there was for him and
his an ever open door, an unfailing hearty welcome.
For years the families met daily—Mr. Innes’s, as being the younger and less
wealthy, being the recipients of that pleasant overflow of small good offices
which it is so pleasant to rich people with kind hearts to bestow, and so sweet
to those who love them to accept. Craigcrook was the receptacle for Mr. Innes’s
sick children, obnoxious dogs, unthriving plants (even under the most
unfavourable circumstances Mr. Innes’s household never abandoned attempts at
floriculture); while from Craigcrook came on all birthdays, all occasions of
special festivity or decoration, such flowers from Mrs. Jeffrey’s greenhouse,
such toys, such sweetmeats, as only Mrs. Jeffrey could think of, and always
think of at the right time.
During Mr. Innes’s stay in 6 Forres Street he had a dangerous attack of typhus
fever. As soon as he could be moved, Mrs. Innes and. he joined the charming
circle at Craigcrook till he had completely regained strength.
An unfortunate consequence of this fever was a deafness, at first slight, but
which, resisting all remedies, went on increasing through life. It never reached
such a height as to cause the use of a trumpet, or to be any very serious
drawback in Isle-d-isle or business intercourse, but in society it, most
unhappily to himself, increased Mr. Innes’s natural shyness to such a point
latterly, that the nervous volubility which once had only characterized the
beginning of a conversation frequently extended over the whole of it. He became
in great measure unable to perform that most essential part in conversation,
that of the listener. He would not ask his friends to repeat themselves,
according to the tyrannical custom of some deaf people. Consequently
conversation with him sometimes went on at cross purposes, while at the foot of
his own hospitable table he during his latter years systematically adopted the
habit of discoursing almost without interruption. No doubt what he said was
always well worth hearing, yet no one more fully than he was aware that such a
continuous stream of eloquence was out of place, and but a poor substitute for
real conversation. He gave it as the best he had to give. Those who could
remember what had been, felt the difference painfully.
In Forres Street were born to him his three youngest children, and there
occurred the first break in the family, in the death of one of those whom he had
brought with him from Ramsay Lodge. His second daughter, a pretty little girl of
seven, christened by Edward Ramsay (as were all his children) by the name of
Euphemia, after his beloved mother, sank under an attack of scarlet fever.
The most important incident of Mr. Innes’s Advocate-deputeship was the great
Stirling case, in which as Crown Advocate he was employed in collecting evidence
against the prisoner, the self-styled Earl of Stirling, Mr. Humphrey. Mr.
Humphrey was an accomplished gentleman, of unblemished moral character, whom an
actual connexion with some members of the Stirling family led to assert—possibly
to imagine—himself the lawful heir to immense territories in Canada and a good
estate in Scotland.
There was a missing link in his pedigree, and Mr. Humphrey, pressed by temporary
impecuniosity, forged, or caused to be forged, documents to supply the blank.
No one at all behind the Scenes in that most curious case can doubt that such
was the real truth, but the evidence for the Crown failed to obtain a full
The jury brought in a verdict of Not proven on the charge of forgery against the
prisoner. The documents they considered to have been proved forged, but the
prisoner not proved to have forged them, or been accessory to their forgery. It
can do no harm now to mention that this great issue arose out of so small a
circumstance as an appropriation by a waiting-maid of a trifling article of
dress belonging to a lodging-mistress. This principal witness in the case, the
confidential maid of the great Parisian sorceress (fortune-teller) Mademoiselle
Le Norm and, in whose house the forgeries were proved to have been perpetrated,
and whose maid was prepared to swear to the constant frequentation of that house
by the prisoner, and who had seen him there constantly manipulating documents,
was at the last moment withdrawn by the Crown counsel, because in this slight
but flagrant and well-known instance the maid’s character had shown itself of
Mr. and Mrs. Innes had both gone to Paris to collect evidence in this important
case. Mrs. Innes having been educated in France, possessed a knowledge of
colloquial French in which Mr. Innes was deficient. He read both French and
Italian fluently, and was well versed in the literature (the ancient especially)
of both languages, but a defective ear prevented his ever acquiring a correct
pronunciation, in French at least. He would speak it when in company with
Frenchmen quite unacquainted with English, but the mutual difficulties of
comprehension rendered such conversations more an opportunity of good-humoured
merriment than an occasion for the acquirement of information.
The witnesses in the Stirling trial, who had to be found in Paris and brought to
Edinburgh in the depth of a winter of unusual severity, and when a journey to
Paris was something entirely different and infinitely more formidable than it is
now, were all of the lower class, except one, the amiable and accomplished
archivist Teulet. With him the acquaintance beginning in this trial, ended only
with his death in 1860. Years after the trial, Mr. Innes visited M. Teulet in
Paris, and M. and Madame Teulet returned the visit to their friend in Edinburgh.
A regular correspondence on subjects of historical interest regarding the
formerly close connexion between France and Scotland was kept up between them.
M. Teulet knew no English, but Mr. Innes’s written French was quite
intelligible; when he desired that it should be elegant, he had to accept Mrs.
Three years after the removal to No. 6 Forres Street, on the Whig ministry going
out of office, Mr. Innes ceased to be a Depute Advocate. This change rendering
economy desirable, as well as the constant longing for country scenes,
determined Mr. and Mrs. Innes on retaining a small house, in which they
accidentally found themselves as country quarters, for their permanent abode,
and letting their own house furnished. Its situation caused it to. bring a high
The little place in which, to the unmixed delight of their family, they
remained, was beautifully situated, near South Queensferry.
Too far, alas! for Mr. Innes’s necessary attendance in the Parliament House for
him to make it his constant abode. His brother Thomas’s house in Castle Street
had to be his home during the business days of the week.
The end of each week found him joyfully walking the beautiful ten miles (the way
through Dalmeny Park was generally preferred), to spend Saturday and Sunday with
his family, among the lovely woods and bays which Lord Rosebery’s kindness left
open to him and his at all times. As often as not, he was accompanied on these
occasions by one or two pleasant friends. His own mansion at Queensferry was but
small, but as if to defeat all hopes of his ever escaping from society, it
adjoined an inn—the “Hawes Inn ” of Jonathan Oldbuck (Antiquary)—where any
number of friends could quarter themselves for the sake of enjoying the company
of the family next door. Many did so quarter themselves. Many valued friends,
and some less valued, who having found a way of intruding which could hardly be
defeated, seemed never likely to find their way off again.
Mrs. Innes sometimes accompanied her husband (she also, for the most part, on
foot) to the town on his return journey, to take advantage of some particularly
agreeable invitation, generally an invitation from the Jeffreys, with whom,
during the years at Queensferry, some of the family spent part of each winter.
Many were the delightful picnics originating in the weekly walks from Edinburgh
to Queensferry; many were the goodly hampers carried by relays of happy children
the long three miles from Queensferry to Barnbougle, to the top of the “Castle
Craig,” to the “Shell Beds,” or some other lovely spot within the Dalmeny
woods,—hampers packed with all sorts of simple dainties; just one bottle, or if
the party were to be unusually large two, of claret, filling as many of its
comers. During these years Mr. and Mrs. Innes received into their family a
little girl from India, the child of a deceased sister of Mrs. Innes.
The little girl becoming soon after entirely an orphan by the death of her
father, Mr. Grant, she remained in Mr. Innes’s family till her marriage to Mr.
Francis Rose of Holme (Holme being the estate marching with Mrs. Innes’s
paternal home, Kilravock). For this young lady’s advantage a governess was twice
added to the family circle; and any picture of Mr. Innes’s home would be
incomplete which did not include the dear old nurse of his children, Anne
This Highland woman was a beautiful relic of the old feudal retainer. To call
her a servant seems sacrilege, yet she herself showed the real superiority of
her character by never for one moment forgetting that such was her position.
This it was which allowed of her being constantly taken out of her place without
offence to the most fastidious refinement.
She was the niece of a woman still more remarkable than herself, who,
housekeeper at Kilravock at the time of the decease of Mrs. Innes’s mother,
assumed and filled with success a mother’s part to her little ones, as well as
that of a careful house-manager.
This aunt, Janet Dallas, introduced her little niece, at the age of ten, then
unable to speak a word of English, to the Kilravock nursery as assistant nurse
and playfellow to the children. The little maid shared the instructions of tutor
and governess, dancing and other masters, who at Kilravock were always resident
while employed. Little Annie might have made a conventional “lady” of herself if
she had chosen, as nature had made her a real one. But pretty, graceful, full of
natural refinement and excellent sense, she was devoid of ambition or of special
talent. She loved the nursery and its innocent pastimes more than the
school-room, with its rules and lessons. She learned to read her Bible, and know
and love it with the most fervent, though always tolerant, Presbyterian piety;
she also read with her young charges much miscellaneous romantic literature
bearing on the history of her much-loved Highland home. This she never forgot,
and it was the nursery mental food of Mr. Innes’s young family.
She remained from the time of Mrs. Innes’s marriage in Mr. Innes’s house, and
died there a few years before himself, loved and cherished by her former
nurslings, male as well as female, with a not less than filial love. She was the
constant companion of Mr. Innes’s boys and girls long after she was unnecessary
to them as a nurse, and was consequently frequently included in all the more
simple parties of pleasure. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Innes, Mr. Cosmo Innes’s hosts
for the time, were naturally frequently included in the Dalmeny picnics. While
the claret cooled in a limpid stream, and the youngest of the bearers rested by
the hampers, many were the merry walks and talks of their elders along these
beautiful shores—many were the verses, half-sentimental, half-j ocular, there
composed, sure of the ready applause of the large young party.
At Queensferry flowers grew well, and were of course sedulously cultivated.
SHERIFFSHIP AND LIFE IN MORAYSHIRE.
It was under the old walls of
Bambougle, in 1840, that Mr. Innes communicated to his delighted family the news
of his appointment to the Sheriffship of Moray. While his appointment was
uncertain the keenest anxiety was felt by them regarding it, and one of his
children has told the present writer how on the eventful day which was to decide
the question, and bring their father to their arms, successful or unsuccessful,
at Bambougle, they all watched his tall figure as it slowly traversed the turf,
and argued certain unsuccess from the unusual slowness of his pace. His first
words joyfully ended the suspense. The next moment showed the cause of his
slowness of movement. From the pockets of his coat he drew two infant rabbits
which he had caught for his children on his path; to avoid injuring them he had
slackened his usually rapid pace.
The appointment to the Sheriffship of Morayshire was the one of all his
appointments which caused Mr. Innes most pleasure.
Though not his own native county, Morayshire was the home of his race, while the
adjoining little county of Naim, which was included in his shrievalty, contained
the fine old ancestral castle of Kilravock, the home of his wife’s family, now
inhabited by her brother.
The county contained many relations and friends of Mr. Innes, and such of the
resident gentry as were not his friends when he became Sheriff soon became so,
irrespective of political differences in many instances.
The reality of their esteem for him was testified by his being in several
instances selected as guardian or trustee to the families of deceased Morayshire
lairds, a selection which from first to last cost him much disagreeable trouble.
His shrieval duties required that he should visit Morayshire at least twice each
year, once in spring, and once in autumn. The earlier of these two visits was
generally paid alone, the young family being at that season of the year busy at
school in Edinburgh;
the autumn migration was frequently a large one, including the greater number of
the young people. Their headquarters were always Knockomie, the hospitable house
of an ever kind cousin of Mr. Innes’s —Miss Mary Smyth. About twenty years Mr.
Innes’s senior, she lived till within a short time of his death. Her feeling for
him through life was that of an almost maternal affection, and he and his were
ever welcome inmates of her house. Mr. Innes’s acquaintance gradually extended
beyond the limits of his shrievalty, and even across the Moray Firth. His first
visit to the late Duke of Sutherland at Dunrobin was paid for some reason of
business, but a friendship grew out of it which brought each year a pressing
invitation to renew his visit, which was several times complied with. Here, at
Taymouth (Lord Breadalbane’s), Floors, the residence of Mr. Innes’s family chief
the Duke of Roxburghe, where also he was on terms of friendship, and at other
noble mansions, Mr. Innes formed a pretty extensive acquaintance among the
aristocracy, a circumstance which of course caused envy in some quarters, and
gave occasion to the accusation of Mr. Innes’s being fond of great acquaintance,
a courtier, etc. None ever dared to apply to him the name of “ sycophant,” or to
insinuate that he ever sought the favour of persons of rank by unworthy arts. Of
these he was obviously and manifestly incapable.
Against the accusation of a taste for high society Mr. Innes never cared to
defend himself. It appeared to him right, and as it ought to be, to love the
highest degree of refinement, and by no means wrong to admire and enjoy
magnificence. He could do so without the slightest degree of that wicked envy
which, for many men, makes association with social superiors unwholesome.
He valued no man for his rank alone, neither would he refuse to recognise merit
of any sort although united with high rank.
No one among his numerous acquaintance was preferred before another on account
of his social degree. A request for information or other real service from the
poorest, obscurest student, was complied with as readily as a similar
application from the Queen, who was a frequent correspondent.
With superiors, equals, and distinct inferiors (his own dependants, servants,
and so forth), Mr. Innes’s manner was equally happy, and the latter idolized
him. There was an intermediate class with whom it was not so, especially in
later life, and when Mr. Innes’s intercourse with all, except those really
intimate with him, was (as has been described) much marred by his nervous
deafness. With such persons as were “gentlemen” or “ladies” by courtesy only,
Mr. Innes always found intercourse extremely difficult, and the consciousness
that when most bent on kindness towards them he not unfrequently gave offence,
led him to avoid them even more than for his own sake he would have done. This
defect was in great measure supplied by Mrs. Innes’s superior tact, possibly
inborn, but also probably a part of her early education as daughter of a
Highland laird, a personage who sixty years ago was still not only territorial
superior, but also hereditary chieftain of the larger number of the persons with
whom he associated.
Sydney Smith talks of a Russian autocrat and a Highland laird as being the two
sorts of persons who, from the cradle to the grave, probably never encounter any
one who ventures to contradict them. Sarcasm apart, there still is, and there
undoubtedly was much more sixty years since, something very like the atmosphere
of a Court about such mansions. The children brought up in them must perforce
have learned not only the general duty of courtesy to all their parents’ guests,
but also how to divide and apportion that courtesy to the claims and tastes of
the countless visitors of almost all classes who constantly crowded the
hospitable halls of such a house as Kilravock. Visitors of the nondescript class
were very generally handed over by Mr. Innes to his wife—sometimes, it must be
confessed, to have the wounds bound up caused by the somewhat overpowering
condescension of the really kind-hearted Sheriff.
During Mr. Innes’s sheriffship occurred in Morayshire the only emeute—riot,
rebellion against the law, in fact—which has for almost a century disturbed the
peace of our contented country.
This was an indirect effect of the Irish famine. In the first year of the
potato-disease in Ireland, the harvest having been unusually good in the ever
fertile “ laigh” (low) country of Moray, and rumours of the famine having
reached the peasantry at the same time that they saw an unusually large export
of produce from their ports, they suddenly became possessed by the idea that
famine might visit their shores next, and that it was their duty, or at least
their interest, to prevent food from leaving them. Of course on the first
intelligence of the manifestation of this lawless spirit, the Sheriff, as in
duty bound, hastened to his county. It was in the depth of winter.. Here, as in
every instance in which a Scotch mob have had to be encountered, the affair
proved much more serious than it at first appeared.
The people, in no instance needlessly violent, were strong in their dogged
In a at one of the small shipping ports of the county, the Sheriff succeeded,
with the sole assistance of the constabulary, in taking prisoner, and committing
to the old Elgin jail, the only person of at all the better class who had had
the folly to mix himself in this ignorant outbreak.
The alarm of the better class of people in the county towns was considerable,
far greater than Mr. Innes considered at all justified by any circumstance which
had yet taken place. They knew their neighbours of the sea-port and fishing
villages better than did the good Sheriff. Solely for the reassurance of the
jailer and his family, Mr. Innes and his Sheriff-substitute, Mr. Cameron,
arranged to spend the night after the arrest within the precincts of the jail.
They sat up together till past midnight, and soon after that time, when they
were contemplating going to bed, convinced that nothing would occur to disturb
their slumbers, the little town appearing if possible quieter even than usual, a
loud (not violent) knock was heard at the jail-door.
Sure the visitor was an unwelcome one, the Sheriffs took an observation before
they even parleyed with him.
The little central square of the town, and all its avenues, were densely crowded
with men, who had assembled in entire silence, and of course by prearrangement,
acting on a concerted plan. Asked what they wanted, they replied in well-set
terms, by the mouth of one of their number, that they demanded the liberation of
the prisoner that day arrested by the Sheriff’s orders, and that his liberation
they would procure, by any means which might be necessary thereto, sorry as they
were, usually peaceful subjects, to find themselves acting in opposition in this
instance to the law, and still more sorry as they should be to injure the
persons of any of its officers. Any one can perceive the extreme difficulty of
Mr. Innes’s position. He was a man incapable of unmanly fear, even had there
been reason for it, and on him devolved the duty of maintaining the majesty of
the law, if possible. But the old jail (since replaced by a new one, greatly in
consequence of this incident) was no place of strength.
It had not even an outer wall. A few well-applied blows would have driven in the
door, and then the overwhelming force outside would have been masters of the
In the few instants which he had for reflection, Mr. Innes’s dispassionate mind
clearly saw the necessity of temporary compliance. He reasoned with the people,
assured them of the certainty of their ultimate defeat, and dwelt on the
severity of punishment sure one day to fall on a set of insignificant persons
arraying themselves against the whole force of their country. His words were
vain, and the scene ended by the Sheriffs giving up their prisoner to this truly
Scotch mob. How to quickly turn the tables on them was not quite so clear as it
would be now. There were then no telegraphs, no railways, the coastiiig steamers
did not ply in winter, snow was on the ground, and even the mails uncertain. A
mounted official riding day and night had to make his way to Edinburgh, actually
the nearest military station, before the assistance of the soldiery could be
obtained. Many days had to intervene before they could arrive, during which time
the people preserved their attitude of sullen defiance, and the little trading
vessels waited in vain for their freight. And even yet the strength of the
resolute people had been under-estimated.
The first detachment of soldiers were ordered to escort the farmers’ grain-carts
to the place of shipment. Still, without unnecessary force, but with all the
strength necessary, the fishermen, and the fisherwives, opposed their stout
persons in overwhelming numbers to the arms of the soldiery. The unwillingness
of men to strike, in resisting women, is well known, and the stout amazons of
the Moray Firth lifted the soldiers, actually lifted the men out of their
husbands’ way (the testimony of one stout fellow who had been so lifted was, “I
was no better than a baby in her arms ”), while these last took the places of
the country cartel’s, turned their horses’ heads inland, and again succeeded in
preventing their valued meal from leaving their country. Additional military
force had to be sent for, and to arrive, before these real rebels were subdued.
Mr. Innes preferred waiting, sure of ultimate victory,—would have preferred that
or any expedient to the desperate one of ordering to fire on his beloved people.
To his calm courage and patience alone we owe it that the annals of our country
were not stained by such a blot on this occasion.
The subsequent trials in the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh of the
ringleaders of these Moray meal-mobs were a subject of most painful interest to
the tender-hearted Sheriff.
As soon as ever the spirit of resistance was subdued, the Sheriff felt towards
those ignorant subjects of his like a tender father, as he was, to a penitent
child. He visited them in prison, supplied their families with money, became
name-father to their children, and many must still remember his passionate,
uncontrollable grief, his tears and sobs in open Court, on their being sentenced
to what seemed to him cruelly severe punishments.
The most interesting part of Mr. Innes’s shrieval duties consisted in his
so-called Highland circuits. While the northern (seaboard) part of Morayshire is
flat and fertile, partaking more of the English character of scenery and of
climate than any other part of Scotland, and is an entirely English-speaking
district, its southern extremity, extending up both banks of the Spey, runs into
the very highest part of Badenoch, one of the wildest, though not the most
beautiful, parts of Scotland. Its character of almost undiversified moorland has
preserved it more than any other part of the Highlands from the inroads of
tourists, and it remains one of the greatest strongholds of the Gaelic speech.
Mr. Innes was entirely ignorant of Gaelic, and not at all partial to
In the administration of justice in these very remote parts a Sheriff has to be
his own clerk, procurator, agent, and advocate for both sides,—in short, to
perform himself alone the whole legal business of the Court, held in some
mud-floored hut. Neither this circumstance, nor the extreme smallness of the
interests involved, in the least diminished Mr. Innes’s desire that actual
justice should be done in each case; nay, the feeling that the whole interests
of both parties lay in his own individual hands increased his anxiety to fully
understand all the bearings of each case before he gave a decision on it. But,
alas! Mr. Innes’s ignorance of the vernacular necessitated the employment of an
interpreter, and the feats of this functionary often caused him the most
poignant distress. While the Sheriff himself was with laudable patience
endeavouring to make up his mind which party was to blame in a question of
perhaps the trespasses of a cow or the errors of a sheep, the countenances and
gestures of those around him would suddenly reveal to him that his interpreter
had made up his mind on the merits of the case. In all probability he had done
so before he ever came into Court, being necessarily a neighbour of the parties
concerned, and during the Sheriff’s cogitations had assumed to himself the
position of judge, and was administering, entirely unsuggested, a hearty
scolding (as from the Bench) to one party or the other. Notwithstanding these
drawbacks, Highland circuits were in many respects very pleasant.
Mr. Innes either walked, rode, or, if accompanied by any of his family, drove
himself in a one-horsed vehicle from the house of one of the resident
proprietors to another. Inns there were none, or Mr. Innes did not need to seek
them. Sometimes his ignorance of Gaelic, which prevented his acquiring
information as to his way as he went along, caused his losing it, and it not
infrequently happened that these rude Courts had to wait a considerable time for
the arrival of their wandering Sheriff.
The really Highland, the Celtic, part of Morayshire is more wild than beautiful;
but that part of the county which lies irregularly between its mountain an<i its
very lovely English-looking plain is of singular beauty, unsurpassed in any part
of Scotland. s'The height of that beauty is reached in the valley of the
Fmdhoaai and its tributaries. Damaway, Altyre, Logie, Ramphlet Dumphail, Relugas,
Coulmony, Og Bridge of Dulcie—each of these names brings to the mind’s eye its
own scene of surpassing beauty, of a splendid river flowing between precipitous
finely-wooded banks, of roaring torrents and black salmon-pools. All these
scenes knew their Sheriff well, and he loved them passionately. If indeed he
loved his native Dee more, it is unknown to the present writer. Possibly he did.
His powers of loving were unusually great, and his love for Deeside may have
lain too deep for speech. In the circumstances of his severance from it, it is
even likely that it was not from a defect, but an excess of feeling, that he
seldom mentioned it. Its degree of actual beauty is far inferior to that of the
PROFESSORSHIP AND CLERKSHIP
Soon after he became Sheriff of
Morayshire, Mr. Innes and his family resumed occupation of their own house in
Forres Street as their town residence. The house at the Hawes, South Queensferry,
always an interesting and picturesque one, had gradually gained in beauty and in
the interest of its inhabitants during their three years’ occupancy. It was
retained as her home by Miss Elizabeth Innes, who up to that time had been an
inmate of her brother’s house. It remained one of the many open doors among
rural scenes of which Mr. Innes and his family were often glad to avail
themselves. Mr. Innes often returned to the old quarters as his sister’s guest,
to enjoy a few days of quiet, either for the purpose of entire relaxation, or
more frequently for the accomplishment of some piece of literary work. The old
house was often and long the resting-place of Mr. Thomas Innes during his long
decline. Both brothers interested themselves in their sister’s garden, which
before her death contained a really valuable collection of roses, she attaching
herself in particular to the culture of that queen of flowers, and preferring
the hybrid perpetual varieties to any other. Exactly in the middle of his period
of Sheriffship (in 1846) Mr. Innes accepted the Chair of History in the
University of Edinburgh. The Chair, as a lectureship, had for some time been in
a state of iabeyance. The compulsory classes connected with the three
professional curriculums had become so numerous, and students intended for any
other than a professional life so few, that their attendance on any
non-compulsory class was hardly possible. Mr. Innes was one of a series of
distinguished and disinterested men who took the Chair, hoping to create an
interest in their subject. They felt that it was utterly disgraceful to an
ancient seat of learning, such as Edinburgh, that the great subject of History
should have no place among her list of studies, that her students should have
become so entirely utilitarian that they would learn nothing which did not
directly lead to earning money.
The Chair of History had no salary attached to it, while its Professor had
annually to pay certain College dues amounting in all to between £30 and £40.
This sacrifice was a trifle compared to the anxious and conscientious labour
which Mr. Innes bestowed on the writing of his lectures, striving with all his
powers to render them attractive and if possible popular, and at the same time
no merely popular course—strictly accurate, and a suitable guide for students in
pursuing the subjects further for themselves. His first courses of lectures were
delivered gratis, no fee whatever was charged, and Mr. Innes was gratified by a
large attendance. At what appeared to him the proper time, when he hoped that
some taste for his subject had been aroused, and he could imagine without vanity
that his fame as a lecturer had to some extent spread itself abroad, he, with
the advice of those interested in the success of his teaching, began to demand
the usual fee. His class instantly, ludicrously, dwindled down to a mere
handful. He lowered the fee ; it was no use—no one came ; he again demanded
nothing, and again his benches filled well. He acquired the experience that
Scotch people are shrewd enough to know a good thing although offered them
wdthout any price affixed, and will accept it on these conditions under certain
circumstances, w'hereas in the richer sister country articles offered gratis are
at once assumed to be worthless, and declired. Mr. Innes’s listeners to his
gratis courses were such as any lecturer might have been proud of, but they were
not bond fide students ; of these a small number of irregulars only frequented
him. He never could but prepare his lectures with the most elaborate care, and.
after persevering for a number of years, he followed the example of his
predecessors. He found the odds against him too strong, the degree of energy
expended by him quite disproportionate to any results to others.
He allowed his name, for the credit of the University, to remain on the Calendar
as Professor of History, but he gave up lecturing till the class was
transformed, and rendered compulsory. Then, under the name of Constitutional
Law, he again resumed his courses of lectures.
Regularly as he always prepared himself before meeting his students, his was, as
maybe supposed, the very opposite case from that of one who has to read up a
subject at the same time that he endeavours to teach it. Before the year 1846,
in which he entered on his professorial duties, he had got thoroughly steeped in
historical lore, drawn from the fountain-head, from the earliest existent
documents, illegible to almost all others than himself. To know or enumerate all
he read, or even all he wrote, on these subjects is obviously impossible. From
first to last he edited almost all the valuable Cartularies of the old religious
houses, with some academical and municipal records of much importance. To the
Maitland Club he had, in 1832, contributed the Registrum Monasterii de Passelet,
for the Bannatyne Club he had, in 1837, edited the Liber Sancte Marie de Metros,
2 vols.,—a contribution appropriately presented by the Duke of Buccleuch,—the
Registrum Episcopatus Moraviensis, also in 1837. For the Maitland series the
Registrum Episcopatus Glasguensis, 2 vols., in 1843 ; for the same series, and
in the same year, also the Libet Ecclesie de Scon, in 1845 the Registrum
Episcopatus Aberdonensis, and in 1846 the Liber S. Marie de Calchou. This, at
that time, in one sense, new line of study, of course led Mr. Innes to a more
intimate knowledge of the ecclesiastical history of his country than was
possessed by any one else. He looked with great admiration on the strong old
system which, by peaceful means, had done so much for the civilisation of every
country in Europe, but for none more than for Scotland. He loved to realize what
must have been the bodily presence and daily life of the old monks whose hands,
long mouldered to dust, had traced the characters he had learned to decipher,
and had rendered readable to others.
To him this was no field for the play of the imagination alone. He knew these
men by their works, by the lands they had drained, the trees they had planted,
the gardens they had cultivated, the serfe they had liberated, the books they
had written. His admiration was stimulated by that vulgar abuse of the Old
Church which formed then so large a part of the talk and the writing of those
who knew nothing about it. Historically, like M. Guizot, he was a Roman
Catholic. Like him also, he never thought of giving his own personal allegiance
to the system. Perfectly seeing that the Roman Catholics had the logic of
Christianity on their side, he also, like Guizot, preferred being illogical with
all the world;—this, although not logic alone but also many of his tastes and
feelings leant towards Ecclesiasticism. His writings were so entirely on the
Catholic side that distinguished Catholics, among others M. de Montalembert,
sought him, and as both a friend and an historical authority valued him highly.
A considerable amount of prejudice in the then state of furious anti-Catholic
feeling arose against him as a Catholic in disguise. He would never introduce
any set of young men to the study of the history of their country without
warning them that they must as their first step put from them much which they
had sucked in almost with their mother’s milk as utterly and wildly false, and
become willing to learn of the old monks whom they had hitherto regarded as a
sort of demons, not because they were perhaps personally angels, but because
they were for their time the only persons who had anything to teach, the only
people who had learning and literature enough about them to send their records
down to our own day. Mr. Innes did not like the reputation of being a Roman
Catholic, not (as some of his friends for him) from fear of the injury which his
worldly interests might suffer from it, but rather from an opposite feeling,
from disliking to accept sympathy or interest to which he felt he had no claim.
To show that he could see both sides of the question, he wrote and published his
“Scotland before the Reformation ” in the North British Review.
At the time it was written, it was perhaps the most popular of his Review
articles, but has since been less noticed or remembered than any of them. Mr.
Innes was a member of the Episcopal Church. As little inclined to quarrel with
any one for his religious opinions as for his political ones, his sympathies (as
may be gathered from what has been said) lay with the high side of the Broad
Church. For the opinions of Evangelicals or Presbyterians he had no sympathy,
though for individuals among them he felt much esteem.
About 1850 the diminution in the numbers of Mr. Innes’s family, through his sons
leaving him to seek their own fortunes, and also the constant longing for even a
little of the air and verdure of the country, led him to resell his house in
Forres Street and take one in No. 15 Inverleith Row. Here he began the culture
of roses for the first time in a garden quite his own. It was but the “ back
green ” of an Inverleith Row house, but the situation is well suited to the
growth of flowers, and the garden was very successful
While in Inverleith Row Mr. Innes had the misfortune to lose his eldest sister
Mary, Mrs. Smyth. She was the wife of a successful merchant in Glasgow, brother
to the ever kind cousin, Miss Smyth of Knockomie. She with her family had come
to spend Christmas with her brother Cosmo and his. She died of cholera after
only one day’s illness.
In 1852 the death of his valued friend and early patron, Mr. Thomas Thomson,
opened to Mr. Innes the office of Principal Clerk of Session, for which he
exchanged his much-loved Sheriffship. It was with much regret that he closed his
official connexion with his county. For a time he entertained the hope that he
might be allowed to retain both offices. There had been one example of such
favour, in the case of Sir Walter Scott, who retained the Sheriffship of Ettrick
Forest (Selkirkshire) while also holding the office of Principal Clerk of
Session. In Mr. Innes’s case the precedent was not followed. He did not of
course entirely cease to visit Morayshire on his legal duties there ceasing.
In 15 Inverleith Kow he received the melancholy tidings of the death of his
eldest son, a talented young man of twenty-four, beginning to distinguish
himself in the Indian army. From thence also his eldest daughter left him to
become the wife of Mr. John Hill Burton.
About the year 1861 or 1862 the desire for more extensive garden ground led Mr.
Innes to remove from No. 15 Inverleith Row to the large house crowning the
little pine-covered hill immediately behind it, from whence, when windows were
open in No. 15, the cooing of the wood-pigeons could be heard, and where a stray
partridge or pheasant occasionally took shelter. The house is surrounded by many
acres of undulating wood and meadow, and possessed, even when Mr. Innes went, a
very beautiful flower-garden, commanding a fine view of the town and its
surrounding hills. Needless to say that Mr. limes greatly improved the garden,
which remained his greatest pleasure till his dying day. He increased the size
of the greenhouse, and made a good kitchen-garden.
INVERLEITH HOUSE—CLERKSHIP—PROFESSORSHIP—AND “LAST SCENES OF ALL.”
Two other deaths of promising
sons darkened several of the years at Inverleith House.
Mr. Innes’s fourth son, Francis Jeffrey, died in circumstances exactly similar
to those of his eldest brother John, also in India. Hugh, the second son, lived
to come home from China an invalid from rheumatism, and to die, after a
lingering and agonizing illness, in his parents’ arms. Nothing could surpass Mr.
Innes’s tenderness towards sick members of his family. From the very excess of
his tenderness he was rather unwilling, in the first instance, to allow the fact
of the existence of illness. He would always in slight illness, or the
beginnings of illness, try to persuade both the sufferer and himself to
disregard them, to amuse them away, and so forth; but when an illness became
serious and unquestionable, he would watch and tend the invalid like a woman. He
shrank from none of the sick-room offices of love, often in the infancy of his
children personally nursing them in their childish illnesses, watching nights by
them, though his days were filled with so many weighty matters.
From Inverleith House Mr. Innes's second surviving daughter, Margaret Isabella,
married, becoming the wife of Captain Forbes Mackay, of Carskey and Black
His youngest son, Cosmo, after many regretful objections on the part of his
father, and many efforts to procure him employment as an engineer in this
country, left him to take service under the Indian Government, for the
construction of railways in India.
About the same time he was gratified by a visit from his now eldest surviving
son, James, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Borneo.
In the latter years of his life Mr. Innes’s home was brightened by only one
remaining daughter, Mary, his youngest child. Very shortly before his death she
promised to become the wife of Mr. Robert Bannatyne Finlay, barrister-at-law, in
Lonely as her departure would have left him, Mr. Innes’s high opinion of Mr.
Finlay made him earnestly approve the marriage, and his last expressed wish,
within two days of his death, but while he was in perfect health, was that
“should anything happen to him (horrible, significant, in his case prophetic,
phrase), he begged that Mary’s marriage might not be deferred.” It had been
fixed for the 26th of August, and on that day it took place.
After some years’ stay at Inverleith House a considerable accession of fortune
to Mr. Innes took place, in consequence of the terms of Mrs. Innes’s mother’s
marriage settlement. Many unexpected and deeply-lamented deaths left a large
estate to be divided amongst heirs-female. Thus Mr. Innes’s romantic marriage
proved, even in the most worldly sense, the wisest step he could have taken. It
was owing to it that his latter years were relieved from all pecuniary anxiety
either for himself or those whom he left behind him. Pecuniary anxiety was a
burden Mr. Innes was particularly ill-fitted to bear. His mind was not naturally
a very practical one, and he shrank from the consideration of small details with
insuperable aversion. There was something in him thoroughly large, and he
disliked the contemplation of anything on, a small or strictly regulated scale.
The last years of Mr. Innes’s life were the busiest of the whole. The duties of
the Clerkship being in great measure merely routine, and entirely performed in
Court between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on five days of the week for six
months of the year, there were large margins of time left which Mr. Innes did
not fail thoroughly to utilize. For some years he lectured six days each week
during the whole session at 9 A.M., immediately before his six hours of Court
work. That the remaining time was fully occupied, a list, undoubtedly
incomplete, of the work accomplished during these and the preceding years, will
Continuing his archaeological labours as though the work of the Professorship
had in no degree infringed on his leisure, we find that he edited in 1847 the
Liber Insuke Missarum, in 1849 the Registrum S. Marie de Newbotle, between 1850
and 1854 the two first parts of the Origines Parochiales Scotice, in 1855 The
Black Book of Taymouth, from the Breadalbane charter-room, and the Liber S.
Thomoe de Aberbrothoc, 1856, as well as an octavo memoir of his friend, Thomas
Thomson, the joint gift of Mr. Innes and J. T. Gibson-Craig to the Bannatyne
Club. In conjunction with Mr. Robertson he edited the Monumenta Alme
Uni-versitatis (3 vols.), in 1854; in the same year also the Fasti Aberdonenses,
in 1856 The Brus of Barbour, with many new readings, and in 1859 The Book of the
Thanes of Cawdor.
As the retirement of one friend led to Mr. Innes completing the Acts of the
Parliament of Scotland, so the death of another led to his name appearing as
sponsor for the Collection of National Manuscripts, originated by Mr. Robertson,
in conjunction with the present Lord Clerk-Register, and issued in a style
greatly superior to the English publication of the same kind.
For the last few years his principal occupation was the editing and preparing
for the press the Rescinded Acts, and indexing the folio edition of the Acts of
the Scots Parliament. No outsider has any idea of the immense difficulties
involved in constructing a satisfactory index to the whole series of Acts
(Thomson's folio edition) from 1124-1707. This work is now within a few months
of completion. The task was begun in July 1865, and the first part of it, which
has been completed some time ago, though not yet given to the public, comprises
between 2000 and 3000 pages, printed from the original records of Parliament,
supposed at the time when Mr. Thomson’s series was published to have been
destroyed, but since discovered in the State Paper Office in London, whither
they had been conveyed by Cromwell. To the last of these volumes is added an
appendix illustrative of the government of Scotland during the Commonwealth,
embracing “The Acts and Ordinances of the Government, Letters and Papers of
State,” and other documents collected by Mr. Innes from the British Museum,
Journals of the House of Commons, and Record Office. The second and most
laborious part of the undertaking—the preparation of the index —has progressed
alongside of the first, and is now far advanced. When it is remembered that the
index to the Rolls of the Parliaments of England, covering half the period
included in that of the Scots Acts, took twenty-two years in completion, it will
not be thought that the latter has progressed with halting footsteps. All this
severe labour did not at all preclude the accomplishment of many lighter tasks.
Mr. Innes was a working member of the Edinburgh Antiquarian Society, and his
fugitive papers throughout the Transactions are numerous, varied, and generally
interesting. Honourably excelling in Record study himself, Mr. Innes sought to
promote the spread of all those local associations through which such knowledge
could be spread and encouraged, delivering some years since, our readers may
recollect, an address to the Glasgow Archaeological Society, suggestive of many
lines of inquiry worthy the attention of members. The Society also honoured
itself by making the Professor an honorary member. As a member of the Municipal
Corporation (Scotland) Commission of 1845, Mr. Innes visited many of the burghs,
and prepared some of the most elaborate reports included in the Blue-books
submitted to Parliament. The General Report, so full of sound constitutional
knowledge, was understood to be the work of Mr. Thomson, aided to some extent by
the Secretary of the Commission, Mr. Phineas Daniel, late Sheriff-clerk of
Mr. Innes edited many volumes of family and local history. Two long labours of
pure love were his histories of the family of Innes and of that of Rose.
Such persons as pretend to despise good descent ridiculed these works, or rather
his taking the trouble to perform them. He considered the subjects worth his
trouble, and he was the best judge.
His Preface to his friend Mr. St. John’s Natural History and Sport in Morayshire
was also pleasure rather than work, the subject, the locality, and the author,
being alike objects of his affections.
His Scotland in the Middle Ages, and his Sketches of Early Scotch History, being
collections or compilations from other works, cannot count as very great labours.
The first is an adaptation of his first course of lectures, the second
selections from the Prefaces to the Chartularies. Both are about the freshest,
fullest, and at the same time most readable books on Scotch history which exist.
They are good reading for any one, but particularly suitable for the perusal of
young people, whether they have advanced far in their historical studies, or
whether, on the contrary, they require to have their interest in the subject
stimulated. Mr. Innes’s own thorough knowledge of the subject which he could
handle thus lightly (though always accurately) is displayed perhaps in greatest
perfection in his introduction to the first volume of the Scots Acts of
Parliament, which is indeed a masterpiece of learning regarding the old
constitution of Scotland in Church and State.
The value of his lectures on Scottish Antiquities is of course only known to
those who heard them. They were latterly delivered before a select body known as
the Juridical Society; but in the first instance fell to be prepared for the
information of a few gentlemen of his own profession who gathered in the
Advocates’ Library in the cold dark mornings of the winter of 1868-69. Untoward
as the hour of meeting was, Mr. Innes kept the little company together by always
providing a fresh story, showing how some simple mediaeval custom was at the
root of much of the active and complicated juridical systems of modem times. Did
he intend to speak of investiture and its symbols, some cases, he might say, of
disputed seisin “which were lately argued in our Court led me to look a little
into the history of symbolical delivery of heritages, and of symbols generally;”
and then he would pass on to a minute description of the different methods of
taking heritable state and seisin—whether per fustem et baculum—by staff and
baton, or in the homely form which Bailie Macwheeble would have understood the
Baron of Bradwardine—per terrce et lapidis traditionem—by giving of earth and
stones. Trial by jury he found shadowed forth in an ecclesiastical dispute of
date 1233, regarding the lands of Monachkeueran on the Clyde—claimed by the
monks of Paisley as belonging to their church of Kilpatrick, but which were held
by a contumacious layman, Gilbert, the son of Samuel of Renfrew, the property in
dispute being described as a big house made of wattles—domus magna fahricata de
virgis—intended for the entertainment of pilgrims journeying to the shrine of
St. Patrick. “Another inquest upon a brieve,” he would say, “you will find taken
at the Castle of Dumfries, before the bailies of our Lord the King, upon the
death of Adam the miller, who was killed in a street brawl by Richard, the son
of Robert —the witnesses in this case (the men of the vicinage) testifying on
oath that the survivor, Richard, was a true man—jidelem in omnibus—but the
other, Adam, was a thief, et delamatum, a phrase which I suppose we may
translate into ‘habit and repute.’” Some other morning, and possibly
illustrating a side feature in the War of Independence, he might have a word or
two to say about the letter of the Bishop of St. Andrews to Edward i., giving an
account of his journey, along with others, to bring home the Maiden of Norway,
when they heard at Perth a lamentable rumour sounding through the people—insonuit
in populo dolorosus rumor—that the little maiden was dead.
Among these lighter labours may be mentioned his charming little book on
Surnames, and last, though not least, his slight memoir of Dean Ramsay,
considered at the time it was written so small a performance as not to be worth
mentioning, now, from the circumstance of its being written but a few months
before his death, as well as from the tone in it which so well corresponds with
that circumstance, the most interesting of all.
As previously mentioned, Mr. Innes was several times employed in Peerage cases,
and had on such occasions to speak before the House of Lords. His opponent in
one case at least was the famous peerage and consistorial lawyer, Mr. Riddell.
The opponents had often occasion to contend over pedigrees, one of almost local
interest, known as the Montrose claim, involving heavy litigation, and a
corresponding expenditure of money. On behalf of the petitioner, the Earl of
Crawford and Balcarres, Mr. Riddell contended that a patent of the Dukedom of
Montrose of 1488, as distinguished from the Graham title of Old Montrose, was
still valid, and that his client was the heir-male under the limitations of the
patent. Mr. Innes, on behalf of the present Duke of Montrose, undertook to prove
that the alleged charter or patent, if ever completed, was annulled by an Act
Rescissory the same year; and second, that the claimant could not be the heir
under the limitations of the patent. In August 1853 the House of Lords decided
against the claim set up by the Earl of Crawford.
So long ago as the publication of the Register of Paisley Abbey in 1832, and of
the Chartulary of Moray in 1837, Mr. Innes had entered into a controversy with
Mr. Riddell regarding the legitimacy of the Stewarts. The critic's writings have
been humorously described as valuable from their very badness, since they had
been recommended by teachers of composition as containing a complete collection
of every form of depravity of which the English language was susceptible. Mr.
Innes was more magnanimous. “Mr. Riddell’s collected mss.,” he said, “which our
library owes to the generosity of Lord Lindsay, will be found, no doubt, a
treasure to the pedigree-hunter, especially if he loves a little old scandal to
season the dish.”
One or other of these two occasions on which the rival antiquaries were pitted
against each other, or some other similar occasion, actually led to at least one
of the two practised advocates (Mr. Riddell) losing his temper, and coming as
near personalities as such a person could be supposed to do. They mutually
attacked each other’s personal genealogies, thereby no doubt furnishing some
fine fun for those who “care for none of these things.” Mr. Innes was supposed
to have the last word in the paper war, in a little unpublished leaflet which he
designated “My Last Chapter,” and in which throughout he affected to write as
Mr. Riddell, himself exposing while deploring, what he cannot but feel to be all
the weak points in his own case. The mighty matter in dispute was whether the
family of Riddell had bestowed its name on their territory of Glen Riddell, or
whether instead they had derived their name from that territory. In reply to an
insinuation or assertion to the latter effect by Mr. Innes, Mr. Riddell retorted
by bitter sneers at one whom he styled “the naked Berowald,” meaning thereby an
ancient individual usually designated Beroaldus Flandrensis, Mr. Innes’s most
remote known ancestor, who came over from Holland and formed a sort of little
Holland on the flat shore of Morayshire, drained a sea marsh, and there
established himself and his family to grow rich, bestowing on—or receiving
from—(ah, there’s the rub!), this country the name of Innes. Mr. Riddell
(probably justly) maintained that there was no evidence of this personage having
any name at all, except that of Berowald (Flandrensis merely denoting him a
Dutchman), nor any property save his skin, until, etc. “My Last Chapter” was by
some thought amusing. Others (perhaps better judges) thought Mr. Innes’s talents
did not lie in the sarcastic vein.
It is hardly necessary after all that has been said of Mr. Innes’s strong local
attachments, to say that, although never narrow in any of his sentiments, he was
thoroughly and enthusiastically a Scotchman.
He maintained the advantages both of patriotism and of local attachment on
Politically he was a Whig, had exerted himself like other men of his then
standing to further the passing of the Reform Bill. After that his part in
politics, though consistent, was not active. In the smaller sort of politics,
local or municipal affairs, he took hardly any part. The only matter of social
interest in which he was ever persuaded to exert himself much was in behalf of
the little band of female students of medicine in their contest with the
University of Edinburgh, for permission to complete their medical studies and
He was on every occasion their staunch friend. Though shrinking a little in his
fastidious delicacy at the idea of some of what these ladies would have to pass
through in the course of their studies, he yet felt that all objections to their
career were matters for their consideration alone, that the public ought to feel
deeply grateful to them for proposing to undertake tasks in some instances so.
disagreeable for the future hope of serving their fellow-creatures, and with
real chivalry he would, as a matter of justice, have had women forcibly excluded
from no field or career whatever.
He said that he himself would be glad to see them enter the Law classes as
students, and through life he anxiously furthered the views of all women with
whom he came in contact in their aims towards art and literature. He liked to
have the ladies of his own family share his life and interests as fully as
possible, and concealed none of his pursuits from them in which he could hope
they would take any interest. He liked them to walk and ride with him, not in a
“ladylike” way merely, but to accompany him in long journeys on foot or
horseback, and even to be with him on his sporting excursions as far as their
strength could possibly carry them. Beyond the limits of his own family he had
some highly-valued female friends; they were at once accepted by wife and
daughters among their most intimate acquaintance. He was an excessively
indulgent, over-indulgent parent, to sons especially, shrinking from exercising
any authority over them at all. The exercise of authority indeed was not one of
his strong points. A little very mild warmth of temper rendered him sometimes
terrible to very timid persons. The fact no sooner dawned on him than he sought
to reassure them by every possible concession, yielding of course at once and
for ever any point which appeared to have caused distress, or in other instances
punishing himself and not the culprit by proudly withdrawing a just claim or
objection because it was not immediately complied with in a proper spirit.
But to return to Inverleith House and the latter years.
Mr. and Mrs. Innes’s circle of acquaintance had by that time become very
numerous, and those who remembered the smaller and rarer assemblages of Ramsay
Lodge and South Queensferry felt that the more extended and more conventional
society of Inverleith House was not an unmixed improvement. At Inverleith House
visitors seemed never to cease. From morning to night the beautiful croquet lawn
was bright with gay young figures; the nacking sound of the croquet-balls never
intermitted while the croquet rage lasted, and when it had passed young people
still seemed to find the lawn attractive, shaded by fine trees, backed by Mr.
Innes’s roses, and with its splendid view to the front.
In the evening the handsome reception-rooms were often crowded with large
parties assembled for music and dancing—for conversation they were far too
During the day Mr. Innes was of course either at Court or engaged in his private
rooms. He would often in the course of a day’s study descend to his garden to
refresh himself by a visit to his flowers, or to talk to the gardener about
their management, which was entirely under his own personal direction, although
his gardener was a skilful one. On these occasions he would talk with his
unfailing politeness to any guests, young or old, rich or poor, whom he might
happen to encounter. In evening assemblages he always bore his part.
Though with a natural inaptitude for music, he had, to please his family, who
were excessively fond of it, so far cultivated a taste for it as to enjoy some
sorts of it, and though he had never himself loved dancing he looked with the
kindest indulgence on his young people’s pleasure in it.
Never himself having cared much for any game either of chance or skill, he yet
entirely approved of them all. The active sort, such as golf and cricket, he
considered invaluable safety-valves for the exuberance of youth, while the
indoor pastimes, billiards, chess, whist, backgammon, etc., he regarded as no
less excellent in often wiling away the weary hours of age or sickness. He was
wont to boast that he could play at every game which had ever been invented, and
for the amusement of others he readily joined in them on occasion.
Besides his garden he had at Inverleith House a good poultry-yard, which he
visited frequently; the fowls all knew him, would gather around him and eat out
of his hands. His tender heart made it often intolerable to him to have any of
Many of the vacations of these last years were passed on the Continent; the
spring vacation was very generally appropriated to a foreign ramble, always
including Paris, for the sake of a few friends there ; the longer autumn holiday
divided among visits to friends at home.
Within the last half-dozen years came very gradually, and to no very striking
extent, a change—the approach of old age.
Within these years there were serious threatenings of disease both in the region
of the head and the heart. These threatenings were not very painful, nor of long
continuance, and once over Mr. Innes never spoke of them, nor appeared to dwell
on them. He was not for that the less aware of their significance. He knew well
that for him a sudden death was likely to occur at no very distant day. He made
all arrangements accordingly, and on several occasions when discussing matters
of importance alluded to them. The last occasion on which he did so has been
already mentioned, in connexion with the marriage of his youngest daughter. He
often expressed his hope that he might live to see the termination of his
elaborate Index to the Scots Acts, which, as we have said, was within a few
months of completion at the time of his death. He had been assisted in this
enormous task by several young men trained by himself, far the most skilful of
whom was Mr. Grant, who to this skill added much ability in other directions,
most unusual diligence, and a devoted attachment to his venerable instructor.
This gentleman interrupted many pursuits of his own to become almost private
secretary to Mr. Innes. He would come to Inverleith House at any hour of any
day, stay as long as he was useful, and be useful in any way required.
Such assistance was of essential service to Mr. Innes, who now dictated much of
what he composed, and besides, in a hundred ways, made Mr. Grant's eyes and
hands give rest to his.
As if by a special providence favouring Mr. Innes’s peculiar line of study, his
eyesight, which was never remarkably strong, never failed at all with increasing
years. He never required to use spectacles. In deciphering manuscripts, in which
his skill has no successor, he used occasionally a strong magnifying-glass, as
often as not, after using it, deciphering the, to all eyes but his, invisible
characters with the naked eye.
Mr. Innes’s appearance coincided in a remarkable degree with his character. Both
his face and figure were extremely handsome, but even the persons most ignorant
or incredulous of the science of craniology could not but admire the shape and
size of his head. A well expanded, not disproportionately large, forehead was
crowned by a splendid dome, very visible in later life because entirely bald;
this sloped gracefully down on well-rounded temples, and a moderate-sized
cerebellum, clothed with fair hair, which latterly became grey. His figure being
tall, and whole frame large, there was nothing disproportionate in the size of
the head, though that was considerably above the average. He was entirely, even
culpably, devoid of personal vanity, so much so that it was always difficult for
his family to persuade him to discontinue the use of garments to which he had
become accustomed, even after they had become in their phrase “utterly
disreputable.” In one particular only was he never negligent: he, his linen, and
everything about him, were always delicately clean.
Among many habits of Mr. Innes’s which made cynics smile, was that of leaving
town the very day after the Court rose. Even Inverleith House could not keep him
from his beloved mountains one day just at that time. His last excursion to the
Highlands was not intended to have been a long one—not longer than it actually
was. He left Edinburgh on the 21st July 1874, with his family and two other
persons, for Port Sonachan on Loch Awe, and intensely enjoyed his week’s stay
there. Too intensely, those now think who witnessed that enjoyment. To them it
now appears that there was a degree of unnatural exaltation in the high spirits
so delightful at the time.
In a letter written from thence on the Monday following, quite in his usual
manner both as regards composition and penmanship, he says: “ We have had a
successful journey hitherto: Callander, Tros-sachs, Inversnaid, Tarbet, by
Glencroe to Inverary, all in good weather and great beauty. ... This is a
charming place—the Loch and boats, and the people here—half fishers, half
artists, all simple jacket-wearing folk ; half ladies, and all of them musical.
Yesterday (Sunday) we had hymns and psalms, every one helping the music. Another
evening our own ladies and I rested on a shingly bed of the bum at Dalmally. It
was very still and hot, and the ladies gave us several German songs, the hollow
of the river and the old bridge making a fine sound-board, and in a few minutes
the little population of Dalmally lined the parapets, and evidently enjoyed our
On Thursday, the 30th July, the party left Port Sonachan and drove to Killin.
Early on the morning of Friday, the 31st, Mr. Innes was taken suddenly ill. The
local practitioners, Dr. Tod and Mr. M'Diarmid, were quickly on the spot, but at
once declared the case hopeless.
Mr. Innes had hardly a moment of full consciousness after he became ill. The
final struggle lasted unexpectedly long. His fine frame strongly resisted the
approach of death. He continued to breathe till about eight o’clock on Friday
evening. Dr. Keith, the family physician, who had been telegraphed for, arrived
just too late.
On Saturday, the 1st August, all that remained of him, so justly beloved, was
conveyed to Edinburgh, and on Wednesday, the 5th of August, his body was laid in
the grave, in Warriston Cemetery, beside that of his son Hugh.
The writer has entirely missed his aim in this slight memorial if he has failed
to convey to his reader not only some general idea of Mr. Innes’s services to
his country, but also some conception of his character as a man. A full critical
estimate of the value of his literary labours to all future historical students
the writer here humbly acknowledges himself quite incompetent to form. The
direction of his investigations has been indicated. Only those labouring in the
channels which he opened know the full extent of the debt of obligation owing to
his memory for the unselfish patience, combined with acute discernment, which he
brought to bear on his task. The writer is not one of those very exclusive
persons who consider it so culpable ever to lift the veil of domestic privacy
that they would reduce all biography to a mere catalogue, at best a catalogue
raisoning, of the works of their subject.
Where there was absolutely nothing to conceal, why should the veil not be
modestly lifted, that those outside may learn how such persons live, and
possibly profit by the example? The writer feels that from no other motive save
that diffidence which was Mr. Innes’s greatest defect, would he have himself
forbidden a publication in which he himself, rather than his works, is given to
the world. His works can speak for themselves. He would, no doubt, have
considered his life too insignificant to be worth perusal; the writer can only
hope those who have followed him thus far may not agree with him. Could he “
have seen himself as others saw him,” he would have felt that his own life was
the strongest lesson which he could give on the advantages of the incessant
energetic application to both sorts of education, which was his favourite
subject of advice to youth.
His sincere opinion, amply borne out by his example, was that legitimate
amusement of all sorts was no barrier to the highest intellectual attainments,
and that those who placed books or literature in any form above the lessons of
life, nature, and active exercise, made as great a mistake as those who neglect
literature or learning for the pleasures of the hour.
His contempt for bookworms did
not at all exceed that which he entertained for the opposite character, the
illiterate trifler or mere sportsman. With such he could hold no converse.
The writer would be deeply grieved to find that he had hurt the feelings of any
one living. It has been his earnest endeavour, in these pages, to avoid doing
so. He hopes he has also avoided, while not attempting to conceal such frailties
as existed, saying anything which could be considered disrespectful to the
memory of one so recently dead. Frailties are but human, and as truly as it ever
was or could be said of any one, is it true that this man’s very “frailties
leaned to virtue’s side.”
Read the Book Memoirs of Cosmo Innes (pdf)