Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Memories of his Time
Chapter VI

In 1817 our streets were deprived of one of their most peculiar objects. The City Guard, of which Scott has given so good an account in his u Heart of Midlothian,” after subsisting since about the year 1696, was abolished in November 1817. The police had made them useless ; but I wish they had been perpetuated, though it had been only as curiosities. Their number was liable to be increased or diminished according to circumstances. At this period they amounted, I conjecture, to about 200, regimented like ordinary soldiers. They were all old, hard-featured, red-nosed veterans ; whose general history was, that after being mauled in the wars, commonly in a Highland regiment, they brought their broken iron bodies home, and thought themselves fortunate if they got into this fragment of our old burgher militia, where the pay was better than nothing, and the discipline not quite inconsistent with whisky, Always called by the people “The Toon Rottens.” while the service was limited to keeping the peace within the city. Naturally disliked by the people, they were always asserting their dignity by testy impatient anger. This excited the mischief and the hostility of the boys, by whom their small remains of temper were intolerably tried; and between the two there never ceased to be a cordial and diverting war. Their uniform was a red coat turned up with blue, a red waistcoat, red breeches, long black gaiters, white belts, and large cocked hats bound with white worsted ribbon. They had muskets and bayonets, but rarely used them • for their peculiar weapon was the old genuine Lochaber axe — a delightful implement. One saw Bannockburn in it. One of these stern half-dotard warriors used to sit at each side of the prisoners at the bar of the Court of Justiciary as guard; with his huge hat on his old battered head, and his drawn bayonet in his large gnarled hand. They sat so immoveably, and looked so severe, with their rugged weather-beaten visages, and hard muscular trunks, that they were no unfit emblems of the janitors of the region to which those they guarded were so often consigned. The disappearance of these picturesque old fellows was a great loss.

After their extinction the Justiciary prisoners were put under the charge of police officers; a change which most of the judges lamented. The Court of Justiciary had long a very bad taste for military force, which is not eradicated yet. The Circuit processions to Court were always escorted by soldiers when they could be got, even in quiet country towns.

Some of the features of our ancient Circuits, which time has effaced, were curious. On looking back, the shades of many old lords, famous barristers, notorious provosts, sonorous macers, formal clerks, odd culprits, and queer witnesses appear. Those who are born to modern travelling can scarcely be made to understand how the previous age got on. The state of the roads may be judged of from two or three facts. There was no. bridge over the Tay at Dunkeld, or over the Spey at Fochabers, or over the Findhorn at Forres. Nothing but wretched pierless ferries, let to poor cottars, who rowed or hauled or pushed a crazy boat across, or more commonly got their wives to do it. There was no mail-coach north of Aberdeen till, I think, after the battle of Waterloo. What it must have been a few years before my time may be judged of from Bozzy’s u Letter to Lord Braxfield” published in 1780. He thinks that besides a carriage, and his own carriage-horses, every judge ought to have his sumpter-horse, and ought not to travel faster than the waggon which carried u the baggage of the Circuit.”

I do not know the history of this pamphlet. It is a declaration against the vices of the criminal judges; hut as Boswells understood from Hope that after 1784, when he came to the bar, he and Braxfield rode a whole north father, to whom Braxfield succeeded, had been one of them, I doubt if he meant to attack them all. And as the letter is addressed to Braxfield, on his promotion to the criminal bench, he could have given no ground for it. The defects, or habits, for which they are abused, are levity, carelessness, partiality, indecorum, pecuniary shabbiness, etc.

Speaking of the waggon, which I have nowhere else ever heard of, he says (p. 25) "The Lords of Justiciary should not contract their travelling equipage into that of a couple of private gentlemen on a jaunt of pleasure, but should remember that it is the train of a court composed of different members. Formerly every one of the Judges had his led horse—his sumpter, in the procession. The disuse of that piece of pageantry may be forgiven, though not applauded. But the abolishing of a covered waggon for the baggage of the circuit, though a paltry saving, is a great grievance. How shall the official clothes of the trumpeters; nay, how shall the record of the Court, and the essential papers, be carried ? Hot to mention the gowns and clothes of others who ought to be decently dressed. Without it, there must be such shifts and such pinching, as is to be found only in a company of strolling players. Shall the mace, the badge of authority, be crammed into the boot of a coach, amongst black-ball, shoe-brushes, and curry-combs ? The trumpeters be forced to ride in their official clothes, and look shabby ? The embroidered G. R. upon the breast of their coats be turned out to the rain and the tempest as poor Lear was turned out by his own daughters ? The record of the Court, the indictments, the criminal letters, precognitions, etc., must be at the mercy of the weather. The four pleas of the Crown may be blown about by the four winds of heaven,” etc.

There is some more sense in the pamphlet than this however, but not much.

Circuit; and that from the Findhorn being in flood they were obliged to go up its banks for about twenty-eight miles, to the bridge of Dulsie, before they could cross. I myself rode circuits when I was Advocate-Depute between 1807 and 1810. The fashion of every Depute carrying his own shell on his back, in the form of his own carriage, is a piece of very modern dignity.

There is nothing in which the old Circuits differed • more from the modern than in the excess of their politics. Little as the business generally is now, it is at least five-fold what it was formerly. To be sure, being in no want of time, they wasted it freely.

I have heard Jeffrey say that if there was only one cause in the world it would never be finished at all.

It is only necessity that produces judicial expedition. The old debates on relevancy on every indictment, the technical objections to witnesses, the long harangues to juries in every case, the written verdicts —the parents of endless additional objections and discussions ; these, and much other useless and teasing weft with which the woof of our old practice was crossed, made every trial, however clear and insignificant, a matter of keenness, pertinacity, eloquence, and sweat. That fifteen cases may be disposed of in eight hours, and that an Advocate-Depute may do his duty well, and yet not address a jury once in fifty trials, and that prisoners’ counsel may decline addressing in the great majority of cases—these facts with which we are now familiar, would certainly be discredited if they were told to Braxfield in Elysium. To make up for want of business, our predecessors exerted themselves powerfully as political trumpets. What harangues! about innovation, Jacobinism, and the peculiar excellence of every abuse. No judge could preserve his character, and scarcely his place for a month, who was to indulge in such exhibitions now. But that time applauded them.

The best modern practice is for the judge to go to and from the Court-house as quietly as possible. But the fashion, till lately, was never to move but in procession, always fully tailed; and on foot, that the tail might be seen the better. There was a foot procession to and from every meeting and rising of the Court even in Glasgow, where, whatever sneers it produced, it could create no village awe. Yet twice every day did they walk, horn-blown, about a mile, through that contemning mob ; and with torches if it was at night.

At Edinburgh, the old judges had a practice at which even their barbaric age used to shake its head. They had always wine and biscuits on the bench, when the business was clearly to be protracted beyond the usual dinner hour. The modern judges—those I mean who were made after 1800, never gave in to this; but with those of the preceding generation, some of whom lasted several years after 1800, it was quite common. Black bottles of strong port were set down beside them on the bench, with glasses, caraffes of water, tumblers, and biscuits; and this without the slightest attempt at concealment. The refreshment was generally allowed to stand untouched, and as if despised, for a short time, during which their Lordships seemed to be intent only on their notes. But in a little, some water was poured into the tumbler, and sipped quietly as if merely to sustain nature. Then a few drops of wine were ventured upon, but only with the water: till at last patience could endure no longer, and a full bumper of the pure black element was tossed over; after which the thing went on regularly, and there was a comfortable munching and quaffing, to the great envy of the parched throats in the gallery. The strong-headed stood it tolerably well, but it told, plainly enough, upon the feeble. Not that the ermine was absolutely intoxicated, but it was certainly sometimes affected. This however was so ordinary with these sages, that it really made little apparent change upon them. It was not very perceptible at a distance; and they all acquired the habit of sitting and looking judicial enough, even when their bottles had reached the lowest ebb. This open-court refection did not prevail, so far as

I ever saw, at Circuits. It took a different form there. The temptation of the inn frequently produced a total stoppage of business ; during which all concerned—-judges and counsel, clerks, jurymen, and proyosts, had a jolly dinner; after which they returned again to the transportations and hangings. I have seen this done often. It was a common remark that the step of the evening procession was far less true to the music than that of the morning.

The new street along the southern side of the Calton Hill disclosed some glorious prospects, or at least exhibited them from new points. One of these was the view westward, over the North Bridge. But we had only begun to perceive its importance, when its interception by what are now called the ^ North Bridge Buildings raised our indignation; and we thought that the magistrates, who allowed them to be set agoing in silence, had betrayed us. We were therefore very angry, and had recourse to another of these new things called public meetings, which we were beginning to feel the power of. It was held on the 2d of December 1817. Professor Playfair presided; this being, I suppose, the only time in his life on which that unobtrusive and gentle philosopher permitted himself to be placed in such a position. James Stuart of Dunearn explained the matter in a clear and sensible speech. Old Henry Mackenzie made his first appearance at such a meeting, saying that, though no speaker, it was impossible to submit in silence to the destruction of the town, and that ufacii indignatio versos.” Eesolutions were passed, a subscription opened, and we went to law, where we got an ornate speech from Cranstoun, who recited u my own romantic town” to the Court. But this was all we got. For while the judges were looking rather favourable, our funds ebbed, and of course our ardour cooled. Then persons of taste began to hint that we were all wrong, and that the position of the buildings was beautiful; and at last another meeting was held in May 1818, when we struck our colours. So we lost about £1000; the magistrates got a fright; and the buildings stand. But much good was done by the clamour. Attention was called nearly for the first time, to the duty of maintaining the beauty of Edinburgh. A respectable and organized resistance of municipal power was new here, and the example was not lost, though the immediate object of the battle was.

A Royal Commission had been issued in 1794 authorising certain persons to enter the jewel room in the Castle of Edinburgh, and by breaking the door if necessary, in order to ascertain whether the historical conjecture was true that the Crown of Scotland and its pertinents were there. But that attempt to discover tliem had failed; because after breaking the lock of the door, a punctilious commissioner doubted whether their warrant sanctioned their also using force against a chest that they found within. This obstacle was suggested, I have heard, by Blair the Solicitor-General • and it being thought formidable, the chest was left untouched, the outer door was re-locked, and the Commissioners retired. After another pause of twenty-four years, the experiment was renewed by a better instructed Commission, and on the 4th of February 1818 the Commissioners proceeded, with due pomp, to their work. They unlocked the door and broke open the chest. And there, as Thomas Thomson had told them, they found the Begalia sleeping beneath the dust that had been gathering round them ever since the Union. It was a hazy evening, about four o’clock, when a shot from the Castle and a cheer from a regiment drawn up on the Castle Hill announced to the people, that the Crown of their old kings was discovered. Loyalty, antiquarianism, and the interest of finding something that had been long lost, created a good deal of anxiety, but less than I expected. This was owing chiefly to there having been very little said about it beforehand; and silence was prudent, while the discovery was uncertain. But there was no want of popular interest afterwards. John Kemble asked Scott if the Crown was not splendid?“ The last time that I saw you as Macbeth you had a much grander one.

We this year lost a person of mature eminence —Malcolm Laing the historian. He was at the bar, and his speech in 1794 for Gerald, charged with sedition, was the best that was made for any of the political prisoners of that period. But his heart was little in a profession for which he was not well qualified, and from which he was allured by the more congenial pursuits of literature and history. Feeble health withdrew him from Edinburgh about 1808, when he returned to what to him was the paradise of his native Orkney, which he never again abandoned. Depth, truth, and independence as a historian were the least of his merits, for he was a firm, warm-hearted, honest man, whose instructive and agreeable companionship was only made the more interesting by a hard peremptory Celtic manner and accent. He sent a copy of his History of Scotland to Dr. Parr, who returned it, or at least one of the volumes of it, with numerous corrections of the style. There are few better lessons on English terms and idioms than what is given by a comparison of the original with the proposed emendations of the friendly and judicious critic.

The natural tendency of the folly of Government in the Burgh Reform question appeared this year in certain civic proceedings, which, though of no importance in themselves now, are curious historically, and as marking the gradual, but rapid, rise of popular opinion.

The Merchant Company of Edinburgh, instituted in 1681, was the only respectable mercantile body this unmercantile place possessed. And it had considerable influence because while it could overawe the humble traders below, it could prostrate its returned to Mr. Laing. The author in his second edition adopted to a very large extent the suggestions of his critic.

Bound up with this volume is the following autograph letter :— “Dr. Mr. Laing

"You know my esteem, my regard, my great respect for you, and my anxiety for the success of your History.

“You will therefore excuse my freedom in objecting, in criticising, in censuring, and in altering.

"Farewell. Remember me in terms of the highest, the very highest respect to Professor Stewart, and believe me "Most sincerely yr. friend,

“S. P.

“Good Friday, 1803.

“Mr. Fox is a great admirer of your book, and he is, also,“Puri sermonis amator." "I wish you were acquainted. As a critic he is quite as captious and fastidious in protecting English idiom from Scottish invasion, as I am. Farewell.”

This interesting volume was presented by Mr. Laing’s widow to the late Mr. Thomas Thomson. It is now in the possession of Mr. James Gibson-Craig.—Ed.

It was exactly such a body as could be produced by the condition of the country. Having not much trade to manage, it was little else than a small aristocracy of merchants, used for political purposes. They probably sometimes pleased themselves with the imagination that their title — The Merchant Company —made the ignorant equal them to the burgher communities of Holland, or the princely trading associations of Venice. But in truth, whatever they were meant to be originally, they had become a mere political instrument, and of the paltriest description. Individually its magnates were very good men, but publicly its “Master” and his “Twelve Assistants” were a king and a house of lords, without the commons. The people, however, had their Peter Wentworths, who now began to shew that they were no longer to be frightened by hard words. In August 1818 the great men of the last generation were confounded by hearing it seriously proposed to give £100 of the funds in aid of Burgh Reform, which the opponents of this measure now treated as merely a Whig and Tory question. The revolutionary motion was rejected, but only by a small majority. The victory of its authors was however complete when, on the same day, they were within two votes of annihilating the system altogether, on a motion denying the Master's privilege of appointing the other office-bearers and claiming this power for the Company at large. On this the old school withdrew; and the Society has since managed its own affairs, and obtained due public weight.

It was in the same spirit that the Guildry renewed efforts, which had often been made before, to liberate itself from the control of the Town Council. Being a more numerous and a more rebellious body than the merchants, its pretensions had always been resisted sternly. Its old and long silenced claims, particularly that of electing its own Dean, were now revived. Of course they were repelled; and it is very probable that, in law, most of them were untenable. But it is certain that they were resisted merely because the independence of the Guildry would have been inconvenient to the party in power. It was a political collision. Hence the importance of the struggle. Hence the value of the spirit which the conflict generated, not merely here, but over all Scotland.

Another loosening from the Town Council occurred about this period. It was one of the earliest of the practical alienations, on matters of mere business, which attested how unworthy of trust our municipal system was believed to have become. Though standing in a rainy country, Edinburgh has always been thirsty and unwashed. At this time the condition of the city, in reference to water, was positively frightful. Our supply depended on a wretched tank of about ten or twelve shallow acres on the north side of the Pentland Hills, which had been considered as far too small when it was made a long time before, but had now become absurd, even if it had been always full, instead of being often and long nearly empty. The Town Council, on which our supply of this necessary of life depended, could or would do nothing. A joint stock company was formed, and a plan for bringing in the Crawley spring from the south side of the Pentlands was obtained. The danger of leaving a city at the mercy, for anything it cannot do without, of a single private company was foreseen, and has to a great extent been realized. But anything was thought better than the Town Council; in so much that so long as the absolute exclusion of our civic rulers was doubtful, scarcely any one would risk a shilling in the concern. But they being excluded, the company proceeded, and we occasionally got some water.

One consequence of this was that as the supply was steadier than it used to be, it became worth while to put water-pipes into houses. And another consequence of this innovation was, that we were speedily deprived of a set of people fully as peculiar as the City Guard—the Water Carriers, of whom in a very few years there was not one extant. They were a very curious tribe, consisting of both men and women, but the former were perhaps the more numerous. Their business was to carry water into houses; and therefore their days were passed in climbing up lofty stairs, in order to get into flats. The water was borne in little casks, and was got from the public wells, which were then pretty thickly planted in the principal streets; and as there were"1 far more candidates than spouts, there was a group of impatient and wrangling claimants who, when not eloquent, sat on their kegs. These encampments of drawers of water had a striking appearance. The barrels, when filled, were slung upon their backs, suspended by a leather strap, which was held in front by the hand. Their carriage was made easier by leaning forward, which threw the back outward; and hence stooping was the natural attitude of these sons and daughters of the well. They were known by this peculiarity even when off work. Their backs, which would otherwise have never been dry, were protected by thick layers of hard black leather, on which the barrels lay ; and the leather had a slight curl up at its lower edge, which, acting as a lip, threw the droppings, by which they could always be tracked, off to the sides. Still however, what with filling, and trickling, and emptying, it was a moist business. They were all rather old, and seemed little; but this last might be owing to their stooping. The men very generally had old red jackets, probably the remnants of the Highland Watch, or of the City Guard; and the women were always covered with thick duffle greatcoats, and wore black hats like the men. They very seldom required to be called ; for every house had its favourite "Water Caddie,” who knew the habits and wants of the family, and the capacity of the single cistern, which he kept always replenishing at his own discretion, at the fee (I believe) of a penny for each barrel. Their intercourse with families civilized them a little: so that, in spite of their splashy lives, and public-well discussions, they were rather civil, and very cracky creatures. What fretted them most was being obstructed in going up a stair ; and their occasionally tottering legs testified that they had no bigotry against qualifying the water with a little whisky. They never plied between Saturday night and Monday morning; that is, their employers had bad hot water all Sunday. These bodies were such favourites, that the extinction of their trade was urged seriously as a reason against water being allowed to get into our houses in its own way.

The next spring opened by a public dinner in honor of Burns, (22d February 1819)There were about two or three hundred present. John A. Murray was in the chair. By far the most interesting part of the proceedings were the few words spoken by Henry Mackenzie, who had been kind to the poet on his first visit to Edinburgh about thirty years before, and who was often rewarded by witnessing the glory of the genius which he had so early discerned and cherished. This was long remembered as the first public dinner at which any of the Whigs of Edinburgh had spoken. It was the first that shewed them the use to which such meetings could be turned, and was the immediate cause of the political dinners that soon after made such an impression.

The Arts, of which I have mentioned the dawn, \^went on improving. u The Boyal Institution for the promotion of the Fine Arts,” though it got its charter only in 1827, was established in 1819 : and it introduced itself to the public by the best exhibition of ancient pictures that had ever been brought together in this country; all supplied from the private collections of its members and friends. But here ended the use of the Institution. Begun under in hundreds by the fountain sides, upon your empty water casks, or staggering with them filled to the topmost stories of lofty houses.great names, it had one defect, and one vice. The defect was that it did, and was calculated to do, little or nothing for art except by such exhibitions, which could not possibly be kept up long, for the supply of pictures was soon exhausted. A rooted jealousy of our living artists as a body (not individually) by the few persons who led the Institution was its vice. These persons were fond of art no doubt, but fonder of power, and tried indirectly to crush all living art, and its professors, that ventured to flourish except under their sunshine. The result was that in a few years they had not a living artist connected with them. Their tyranny produced the Academy and then having disgusted the only persons on whose living merit they could depend, the Institution itself sank into obscurity and uselessness.

On the 19 th of April 1819 Lord Webb Seymour, after a long decline, sank as gently as a languid flower. The long voluntary residence of this stranger among us excited a deeper sympathy with his fate, and seemed to impart more virtues to his character. Hallam’s account of him is perfect. None of his peculiarities amused his friends more, or was a more frequent subject of joking to himself than the slowness and the vastness of his preparations. He was perfectly aware of this conscientious and modest infirmity. "I in retirement am endeavouring to work out the distant good of mankind. Leave me exempt from the casualties of human life, and I am almost secure of my object.”  "No—you would not." An exemption from the casualties of life is a considerable postulate for a philosopher. But its having been granted would not have brought the cautious Seymour to a practical result. Immortality would only have lengthened his preparation.

Playfair, though ill, and the day bad, followed poor Seymour to his grave at Holyrood. But those who saw him there shook their heads; and in about three months he joined his friend. This was an irreparable loss both to the science and to the society of Edinburgh. Taking the whole man—his science, his heart, his manner, and his taste, I do not see how Playfair could have been improved. Profound, yet cheerful; social, yet always respectable ; strong in his feelings, but uniformly gentle; a universal favourite, yet never moved from his simplicity; in humble circumstances, but contented and charitable—he realized our ideas of an amiable philosopher. And is he not the best philosophical writer in the English language?2 I have been told that when racked on his death-bed with pain, a relation wished to amuse him by reading one of Scott’s Novels, of which he was very fond, but that he said he would rather try the Principia. Nothing can be more just than the application made to him, by Stewart, of Marmontel’s description of D’Alembert. His friends subscribed for a bust of him, and a monument. The bust has been most happily executed by Chantrey. The monument, designed by his nephew, has been placed on the Calton Hill, in conn6ction with the Observatory, which owes its existence and its early reputation to Playfair. The deaths of Horner, Dr. John Gordon,Seymour, and Playfair, all within a very short time, clouded our city. Their true monuments were in the hearts of their surviving friends, who to this hour solve any doubt about science, or life, by recollecting what these men would have thought of it.

Another Edinburgh character, of a different sort, ceased in 1819 to be gazed at by men. This was Adam Holland, advocate 5 sometimes said to have sat to Scott for his picture of Bley dell a worthy, but fantastic personage. His professional practice had been very extensive, but only as a consulting and a writing counsel; for lie never spoke, nor honoured the public by doing any thing in its presence. Divested of buckram, he was a learned and sound lawyer, and a good man, much respected by his few friends. But there are many men to whom the buckram is everything, and he was one of them. It was by his outside that he was known to the world. He was old at last; but his youth was marked by the same external absurdity that adhered to him through life, and I presume followed him into his coffin.

His dresses, which were changed at least twice every day, were always of the same old beau cut; the vicissitudes of fashion being contemptible in the sight of a person who had made up his own mind as to the perfection of a gentleman’s outward covering. The favourite hues were black and mulberry: the stuffs velvet, fine kerseymere, and satin. When all got up, no artificial rose could be brighter, or stiffer. He was like one of the creatures come to life again in a collection of dried butterflies. I think I see him. There he moves, a few yards backwards and forwards in front of his house in Queen Street; crisp in his mulberry-coloured kerseymere coat, single-breasted; a waistcoat of the same, with large old-fashioned pockets; black satin breeches, with blue steel buttons ; bright morocco shoes with silver or blue steel buckles white or quaker grey silk stockings; a copious frill and ruffles ; a dark brown, gold-headed, slim cane, or a slender green silk umbrella: every thing pure and uncreased. The countenance befitted the garb : for the blue eyes were nearly motionless, and the cheeks, especially when slightly touched by vermilion, as clear and as ruddy as a wax doll’s ; and they were neatly flanked by two delicately pomatumed and powdered side curls, from behind which there flowed, or rather stuck out, a thin pigtail in a shining black ribbon. And there he moves, slowly and nicely, picking his steps as if a stain would kill him, and looking timidly, but somewhat slyly, from side to side, as if conscious that he was an object, and smiling in self satisfaction. The whole figure and manner suggested the idea of a costly brittle toy, new out of its box. It trembled in company, and shuddered at the vicinity of a petticoat. But when well set, as I often saw him, with not above two or three old friends, he could be correctly merry, and had no objection whatever to a quiet bottle of good claret. But a stranger, or a word out of joint, made him dumb and wretched.

It is difficult to account for his practice; for though industrious, honourable, kind, and timidly judicious, he had slender talents, and no force, and the age in which he acted was one in which I should have thought that neither bar nor bench would have had any patience with gilded filigree. I wonder Braxfield did not murder him by a single grunt. However, I suppose that there must have been something more in him than I am aware of, else he could not have been the oracle that some people held him. When I was about to begin my legal studies, I was reckoned a singularly fortunate youth, because he had condescended to intimate that he would advise me how to conduct them. I was therefore ordered to wait upon him. I did so, and after being eased of some of my awe by a kind reception and a few very simple jokes, the lesson commenced. It consisted entirely of a short discourse by the sage, for I sat nearly dumb; and its result was more than once summed and repeated, as if to make me recollect the very words. These I do not now remember but surprise has prevented my ever forgetting their tone and import, which were exactly to this effect—u In short, my young friend, philosophy is the vice of the age. Take my advice, and read nothing whatever but Scotch and Civil law, except tlie first volume of Blackstone, the introduction to Robertson’s Charles the Fifth, Hume’s History of the Stewarts, and De Lolme; never have a pen out of your hand, and keep a common place book on Locke’s plan”—a volume of which, kept by himself, he shewed me as a specimen. In so far as kindness and pedantry went, he may be supposed to have had some resemblance to Pleydell; but nobody who knew, or indeed ever saw, Rolland can imagine his descending to High Jinks, especially in a tavern.

The year 1819 closed, and the new one opened, amidst the popular disturbances called, gravely by some, and jocularly by others, u The Radical War.” The whole island was suffering under great agricultural and manufacturing distress. This was taken the usual advantage of by demagogues; and consequently there was considerable political excitement. Quite enough to require caution, and even to justify alarm. Its amount in Scotland was contemptible. But it was first exaggerated, and then exhibited as evidence of a revolutionary spirit, which nothing but Toryism and Castlereagh could check. It was determined therefore that the folly and violence of our western weavers should be considered as a civil war, and be dealt with accordingly. Edinburgh was as quiet as the grave, or even as Peebles; yet matters were so managed, that Ave were obliged to pass about a month as if an enemy had been drawing his lines round our very Avails. The only curiosity in the affair is the facility of spreading panic.

The Mid-Lothian Yeomanry Cavalry was marched, in the middle of a winter night, to Glasgow; remained in that district a few days; did nothing, having nothing to do; and returned, as proud and as praised, as if fresh from Waterloo. The survivors of the old Edinburgh Gentlemen Volunteers were called together again, and disengaged a few soldiers by taking charge of the Castle, under their former and still unquenched Lieutenant-Colonel, Charles Hope, Lord President of the Court of Session. New offers of voluntary service were made, and accepted, and as the Whigs could not keep back, without seeming to encourage the enemy, once more did I prepare to gird on my Sword as a captain in a thing called u The Armed Association  which was meant to be something more military than constables, and less military than soldiers. But this gallant battalion never assembled. In about a fortnight every sane eye saw that the whole affair was nonsense; and our Tory Colonel, Sir James Fergusson of Kilkerran, was too much ashamed of it to call us together even to be disbanded.

Some people however were clear that a great blow Avould be struck by the Radical army—an army much talked of but never seen, on the last night of the year. The perfect facility with which a party of forty or fifty thousand weavers could march from Glasgow, and seize upon the Banks and the Castle of Edinburgh, without ever being heard of till they appeared in our streets, was demonstrated. Our magistrates therefore invited all loyal citizens to congregate, with such arms as they had, at various assigned posts. I repaired to the Assembly rooms in George Street, with a stick, about eight in the evening. The streets were as quiet as on an ordinary Sunday; but their silence was only held by the excited to forebode the coming storm. There seemed to be nobody abroad except those who, like myself, were repairing to their forlorn hopes. On entering the large room, I found at least 400 or 500 grown gentlemen, pacing about, dressed coarsely, as if for work, and armed, according to taste or convenience, with bludgeons, fowling pieces, dirks, cane-swords, or other implements. A zealous banker laboured under two small swivels set on stocks, one under each arm. Frivolity, though much provoked, and a good deal indulged in in corners, was reproved as unbecoming the crisis. At last, about ten p.m., the horn of the coach from Glasgow was heard, and the Lord Provost sent us word from the council chamber that we might retire for the night. We never met again.

Next summer a Commission of Oyer and Terminer was sent down for the trial of the rebels, with an English serjeant as prosecutor to keep us all right on the law of treason. The commissioners visited Stirling, Glasgow, Paisley, Ayr, and Dumbarton ; and the result was, that several persons were convicted, and that three or four were executed. They were all guilty of high treason, no doubt as any old woman is who chooses to charge a regiment of cavalry. But to make such a parade about such treason did no good either to the law or to the people. The whole affair was composed of three nearly equal parts—popular discontent, Government exaggeration, and public craze.*

The long reign of George the Third was brought to a close on the 29th of January 1820. The chief interest of the people in this event seemed to consist in its depriving them of their sixty years holiday on the 4th of June. On the following Sunday Sir Harry Moncreiff not satisfied with merely praying for the new Sovereign generally, said in plain terms, giving the very date, that there might be no mistake about it, “And Oh Lord, stablish his heart in righteousness, and in the principles of the glorious revolution of sixteen hunder and echty echt.”

After an absence of nearly half a century, Lord Erskine revisited his native country early in 1820, and remained in Edinburgh for about two months. His old friend William Adam was living here, and shewed him off excellently; and every one received him kindly. The Whigs gave him a public dinner on the 21st of February, at which about 300 attended—the largest convocation of the sect that had yet taken place. Maxwell of Carriden was in the chair. Erskine, though old and feeble, spoke several times, always elegantly, gently, and with liveliness, and once or twice disclosed gleams of his better days. He shewed also that his strange old superstitiousness still survived. He repeated the story of having seen and talked with his mother's gardener or his ghost after he was dead, and said, not merely with gravity but with intense sincerity, that since he had come to Edinburgh, he had stood on the very spot in the High Street where the interview took place.

Dr. Thomas Brown, the successor of Dugald Stewart in the Moral Chair, died in April 1820; a person of great and peculiar powers; acute, original, rich in views, of very considerable though not always correct eloquence, and of an affectionate, generous, and honourable nature. Whatever differences of opinion there may be among deep and nice judges as to some of his metaphysical doctrines, even on this branch of his subject he was a professor .of the highest order; and the public was unanimous in its admiration of his moral and practical expositions. There are few more delightful books in the English language than his lectures, which have been published since his death, with unexampled success for such a work. His more judicious friends were disturbed by his verse; which might have passed if he had done nothing better, but which, though neither devoid of thought nor feeling, was unworthy of his superior powers. Obscurity was the common objection to it; but clearness would not have improved it. His friend Hr. Gregory described his poetry as too philosophical, and his philosophy as too poetical. His great defect was in his manner. It was so strongly marked by what seemed to be affectation—the affectation of nice discrimination, fine feeling, and pensive reflection, that it required the recollection of his worth and genius, to avoid undervaluing him in society. Nobody indeed could appreciate him who had never heard him lecture.

Mackintosh alludes to this misfortune with his usual gentleness,—u Some of these delightful qualities were perhaps hidden from the casual observer in general society, by the want of that perfect simplicity of manner, which is doubtless their natural representative.” (Preliminary Dissertation, voce Brown).

*In his Elements (vol. III. p. 501) Stewart has the most contemptuous passage that is to he found in his whole works against Brown’s philosophical character and habits. I cannot resist the belief that Stewart, angry at Brown’s rejection of the u Common Sense ” of Reid and of himself, wrote this Note in a state of personal irritation ; for it is quite unlike his dignified caution. To be sure, he skilfully founds his scorn on statements made by Dr. Welsh, the learned and excellent biographer of Brown; and if it be assumed that Welsh is correct, then unquestionably so is Stewart. But Welsh is plainly wrong; and, as usual with friendly biographers, makes his hero absurd. He not only makes Brown a proud convert to Phrenology, in his approximation to the doctrines of which, without the phrenological instrument, is to be found “ his greatest merit,” but describes him as having composed nearly his whole course of lectures in a single year; and this so perfectly that he never afterwards required either to add or to retrench ! Nay, the very “ subjects of many of his lectures he had never reflected upon till he took up the pen, and many of his theories occurred to him during the period of composition.” It is really astonishing how a sensible man like Welsh could expect this inspiration, as Stewart calls it, to be credited ,* or could fancy that its being ascribed to Brown was complimentary. Brown’s early consideration of metaphysical subjects was attested by his having written his Zoonomia when only about eighteen. And instead of never feeling it necessary to meditate his lectures, his thoughts were occupied with the subjects of them every hour of his life. Stewart could not have written so sneeringly of Brown, except through the casual folly of his biographer.

The friends of philosophy, recollecting what this class had so long been, suggested Sir James Mackintosh as Brown’s proper successor. His political opinions were objected to openly, and the more fatal objection of infidelity was whispered. The last was answered by his character, by the warm attestation of his early companion, the reverend Dr. Macknight, and by a reference from Mr. Macvey Napier to an article in the Monthly "Review by Sir James on his friend Bobert Hall’s sermons. A majority of the town council offered him the chair: but his London friends would not let him leave them, and he declined it. An unfortunate decision for himself and for science. An effort was then made for Macvey Napier himself, who, in point of philosophy, was well qualified for the place, and had the honor of being warmly patronized by Dugald Stewart. But by this time the town council had relapsed into its true self. Its invitation to Mackintosh had excited great alarm, and it was soon made plain that that dangerous experiment would not be repeated, and that no Whig need be hopeful. So Napier gave it up. And Sir William Hamilton, a great scholar and a profound logician, but also a Whig, was beaten off too.

The great — indeed the vital improvement of enclosing, draining, and ornamenting the valley to the west of the Mound (a part of the North Loch), for which a statute had been obtained in 1816, was completed in the autumn of 1820. Its value, or rather its glaring and indispensable necessity can only be understood by those who knew, and who remember, what had become the dreadful, and apparently hopeless, condition of the ground. The place had just been sufficiently drained to prevent its ever again being a loch. But it was a nearly impassable fetid marsh, a stinking swamp, open on all sides, the receptacle of many sewers, and seemingly of all the worried cats, drowned dogs, and blackguardism of the city. Its abomination made it so solitary that the Volunteers used to practise ball-firing across it. The men stood on its north side and the targets were set up along the lower edge of the Castle hill or rock. The only difficulty was in getting across the swamp to place and examine the targets, which could be done only in very dry weather and at one or two places. Exclusive of our house-planted squares, it was the first piece of ground that was ornamented within the city. There was a feeble murmur against the ejection of what the few murmurers termed u The Public.” But did the public offer to be taxed ? Besides, what portion of the public was it that was ejected?

The proceedings of George the Fourth against his Queen threw Edinburgh, as they did every other place, into great agitation. But the uniformity of the excitement was varied in Scotland by a bit of Scotch Church law. The King put forth an order forbidding people to pray for Her Majesty. Being the head of the English church, he might take that liberty in England. But the presbyterians, who own no earthly head, kicked. Our whole seceders, and a great many of the established clergy, including of course Andrew Thomson, to whom the blunder was delightful, disdained this mandate, and prayed for her the more fervently that her husband’s ministry declared that she was wicked. Thomson however had the rare prudence to name her only so gently, as to shew that it was merely the supposed right of the Crown to put words into the mouths of praying presbyterians that he meant to resist. Notwithstanding this, those loyalists who backed the Monarch in his attack through the Queen upon the monarchy, instantly gratified Thomson by a violent outcry against himself. He, as might have been foreseen, took the bull by the horns by a direct motion in next General Assembly against the (supposed) royal claim. Most people agreed with him by this time; but it was thought decent to avoid the subject by a vague amendment, which was carried, that the rights of our church were already sufficiently fenced.

While this was disturbing the establishment, the seceders were strengthening themselves by a judicious union of Burghers with Anti-Burghers, who held their first meeting as the "United Associate Synod” here in September 1820. Their spiritual junction was celebrated by a corporeal feast. They were the first people who dined in the large room of the Waterloo Hotel. I wish I had seen the jollity of three or four hundred of the great-grandsons of Ebenezer Erskine.

Jeffrey surprised us this year, almost as much as he was surprised himself, by his elevation to the Lord Rectorship of the College of Glasgow. It was the first official honor he had received. And its proceeding from the students was a fact that concurred with many others in shewing the ebbing of the old shallow tide. The reign of the professors and the adjoining lairds had plainly received a shock. Since 1787, when Adam Smith was elected, no person had been appointed solely from literary or scientific merit. The collegians, ashamed of the habitual abasement, took the election into their own hands, and have kept it, and justified their use of their power, ever since. Thomson, Moncreiff, Murray, George Joseph Bell, Robert Graham, James Campbell, Pillans, Keay, Rutherford, and I accompanied Jeffrey to his installation on the 28th of December 1820. The horror of most of the professors, at tlie siglit of such a crew of Whigs, was not diminished by the sound, still ringing in their ears, of an assemblage of this party, called the Pantheon Meeting, which had taken place in Edinburgh only a few days before. It seemed delightful however to the students, to whom the Rector made a beautiful speech. His ceremonious banquet with the college authorities was succeeded by a night-long supper at the hotel with his friends. The honor done to Jeffrey, the triumph of the students, and the change of times, inspired the party into the best joyous conviviality it has ever been my good fortune to partake of.

The proceedings against the Queen, though now abandoned, had thrown the whole nation into a ferment. That Her Majesty was really innocent was the belief of many: that there was at least no legal evidence of her guilt was the belief of a majority of the nation: that even though she had been guilty, and her guilt had been legally established, its exposure was so dangerous that, as Mackintosh says, no republicans, wishing to bring monarchy into disrepute, could have done worse, was the opinion of almost all judicious loyalists. These persons therefore concurred in condemning the whole proceeding ; which, they thought, shewed that we were ruled by a ministry so servile to the King that, in order to please him, they would not scruple to endanger royalty. These sentiments may all have been erroneous; but they were the sentiments of a large portion of the nation, and fixed on the Government a more intense feeling of hostility than is usually produced by ordinary party differences. It was almost a personal hostility. Justly or unjustly, no public man could be more hated than Lord Castlereagh was.

It was in this state of the public mind that, in December 1820, a requisition was presented to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, requesting him to call a public meeting of the inhabitants, with a view to petition the King to dismiss his ministers. The requisition was signed by about one hundred householders, who represented a considerable part of the wealth, and by far the greater part of the talent and public character, of the city. The Lord Provost refused, on which it was announced that the meeting would be held on a call by the requisitionists. Efforts were instantly made to obstruct it and the leaders in the movement were assailed by scurrilous libels. One of Lord Castlereagh’s six acts made an assembly in the open air illegal; and, on this being ascertained, every covered place under the influence of the Town Council or the Lord Advocate was refused. But that universal receptacle the Circus, then termed the Pantheon, opened its doors; and on Saturday the 16th of December the meeting was held.

The place, though large and crammed, admitted but a small portion of those who wished to get in. They seemed to be mostly of the middle class of citizens. My coat was said to be the worst there. Moncreiff presided, seated on the stage—the very place where, about twenty-five years before, he held up the candle to Henry Erskine while he was making the speech which cost him his Deanship.* He opened the business by explaining the object of the meeting, and cautioning those present to disappoint their opponents by abstaining from all intemperance of language. Jeffrey then rose, and sealed the character of the meeting by an admirable address. When the meeting was over, John Clerk on retiring was accosted by a little, old, dark man, who came up to him, winking and rubbing his hands with delight, and said, "Weel Sir! ou’re at the auld wark again.” He was found to be a respectable shopkeeper, and one of the spirits of 1793, who, without being known to Clerk, had acted with him in those fearful times.

This meeting was distinguished from the one in 1814 on the slave trade, the one in 1816 on the property tax, and the one in 1817 on the North Bridge Buildings, by its being purely political, and in direct and avowed opposition to the hereditary Toryism of Government. It was the first modern occasion on which a great body of respectable persons had met, publicly and peaceably, in Edinburgh, to assail this fortress.

No petition can be made secure against trick or mistake. But, after every precaution and deduction, the signatures to the petition proceeding from this meeting were as follows. Only males, above twenty-one, were allowed to sign, that is, all under that age, if detected, were debarred. If Edinburgh then contained about 100,000 inhabitants, including its immediate neighbourhood, which is about the truth, the male adults could not exceed 20,000. The ministerial party had an opposite petition, and strained every effort for subscriptions. The result was, that theirs got about 1600 or 1700 names, ours about 17,000. So that the unexampled spectacle was exhibited of a large Scotch community proclaiming itself, as in nearly unanimous hostility not merely to the existing power, but to the power which had seemingly established itself in prescriptive omnipotence.

The influence of all this can scarcely be overstated. Old Edinburgh was no more. A new day dawned on the official seat of Scotch intolerance. It was plain that a state of things had arisen in which that strange hard hatred of the people, though it might make its own victims miserable, could scarcely recal the time in which a local aristocracy could settle every thing, for its own behoof, in its own way. The meeting had been held here, but the eyes of all Scotland were upon it, and all Scotland felt the result. The Tories alone would not read the sign. It required ten more years to open their eyes. A drop of water let in might bring down the whole embankment, no doubt; and if resisting every change, could have stemmed the inundation, they were right, for their purposes, to resist. Their error, on this and on many other occasions, consisted in not seeing that the drop was already through : and that their true policy lay in regulating a flood which they could not prevent.

Fox’s birthday had long been kept by a few of our more daring spirits in a quiet and obscure way. But the success of the Burns and Erskine dinners made it evident that a strong impression might be produced by now keeping it more openly. Leonard Horner, the brother of Francis, the most active and enlightened of our citizens, and with a singular talent for organization, having consented to take the principal share in the arrangements, a gathering was announced. With the exception perhaps of the recent one to Lord Erskine, this, so far as I can recollect, was the first public political dinner held by the Whigs in Edinburgh. The birthday was the 24th of January. But as some members of Parliament could not wait so long, the meeting was fixed for the 12th. On this, the opposite party resolved that whatever we might do with the. rabble, they would contrast us with their gentry; and that on whatever day we met, they should meet also, although this implied an anticipation of the nativity of their Saint by about four months. So both parties assembled in their respective fields, on the 12th of January 1821. The Pittites were the more numerous. As they never would publish any authoritative account of what took place, their superiority of number is all that I can attest. The Foxites mustered very nearly 500. The Earl of Eosslyn was in the chair, and spoke well, though as usual with him, better in spirit than in matter. The lawyers’ addresses—by Cranstoun, Jeffrey, Moncreiff, Kennedy of Dunure, Murray, myself and others, were of less consequence than those of an order of men, who till about this period had shrunk from exposure — the ordinary trading citizens. Some of them spoke excellently; and the rise of booksellers and haberdashers in this line was very symptomatic.

It would be more agreeable to forget past irritations; but everything is worth preserving which explains the state of people’s minds on important changes. Instead of being taught liberality by events, the Tory party was exasperated into insanity. It was under the influence of this malady that they set up a newspaper which they called u The Beacon.” This famous publication first appeared, I think, in January 1821. Its funds and its machinery were concealed. All that was exposed was that a Mr. Duncan Stevenson printed it, and a person called Nimmo was its ostensible editor. But its regular contributors were believed to be persons of a higher order; and articles were occasionally supplied by some it is very painful to think of as so employed. If I were to look at this paper now, after years have blunted its edge, and evaporated its allusions, and accustomed us to freer political personality, it is possible that I might be surprised at the offence it once gave. But the guilt of libel must be judged of as on the day it was committed, when the insinuations were understood, and the mis-statements not cleared up, the insolence fresh, and the victim quivering. The judgment of fair men, living at the time and on the spot, is always conclusive on such a question. Almost anything is libellous which such men think a libel. Tried by such a standard this publication was all a libel. It was the outlet for all the anonymous slander that the retainers of a once powerful, but now half defeated, party chose to pour out on their rising opponents. And the abuse was neither atoned for by talent, nor veiled by wit. Yet, strange to say, it was patronized even by the respectable portion of the party it disgraced, though there were a few honourable exceptions. Scott chuckled with its reputed contributors: judges subscribed for it: it lay on the tables of reverend Christians.

Towards the end of August 1821 there was a gross insult on Mr. Janies Stuart of Duneam, who, throughout the whole course of our emancipation was specially disliked for the activity of his public spirit. He caned the printer on the street; this, as he thought, being the correct form of dealing with such a person. Then came another of the many libels on Mr. James Gibson, who, having long suffered in silence, determined to discover hrs insulter, and set about it with his usual vigour. Having some ground for suspecting that the Lord Advocate was more than the patron of the paper, he wrote to him and asked whether he was not a partner. His lordship denied all partnership; but, to the horror of his associates, blew them all up at once by admitting that he and some others, not named, had subscribed a bond, of which he enclosed a copy. This deed was found to bind certain persons, as sureties to a bank, for any debt that might be incurred in conducting the Beacon, to the amount of £100 each ; the bank account to be operated upon by any party to be named by them. The practical result of which was that, whether partners in law or not, they having provided and kept the command of the funds had the control of the newspaper. The names of the other bondsmen soon transpired, and to the amazement of the public. Many of them were official men.

On finding such persons implicated, Stuart opened a communication, plainly of a hostile tendency, with the Lord Advocate, demanding a disavowal of the articles concerning him. After a short correspondence his Lordship’s accession to the articles was disavowed. Mr. Gibson then addressed another bondsman ; and it is dreadful to think that a life like Scott’s was for a moment in peril in such a cause. But it had actually gone the length of the accuser providing a second—an office which the Earl of Lauderdale insisted on undertaking. But at this stage some of Scott’s friends came forward with a proposal, that this and all similar calls should be abandoned on an assurance that Scott had no personal accession to any of the articles complained of, and that the paper should be discontinued. Mr. Gibson, having only a public end in view, agreed to this arrangement. On this, the other obligants withdrew tlieir names from the bond, and the mask that had been kept on to the last, of pretending that they had no command of the paper, fell off, and not another number appeared.

It is a relief to turn from such a subject. It was in October 1821 that an institution for the instruction of mechanics, since known as "The School of Arts,” was opened in Edinburgh. If not the first, it was certainly the second, establishment of the kind in Britain. The whole merit, both of its conception and of its first three or four years’ management, is due exclusively to Leonard Horner. His good sense, mildness, and purity made it a favourite with the reasonable of all parties and classes. It has gone on prosperously ever since.

The Whig party in Scotland had, sometime before this, gained a material accession of strength by Thomas Kennedy of Dunure getting into Parliament. With great judgment, high principle, and a love of work, he was thoroughly acquainted with Scotland, and had no ambition greater than that of doing it good. And his power was considerably increased by his marriage with Bonnily’s daughter, which introduced him to important English connections. He and I had often conferred on the absurdity, and the flagrant injustice, of the power still left to the presiding judge to select the jury in criminal cases; and it was settled that the correction of this evil should be his first parliamentary effort. The history of this reform affords one of the most incredible examples of the indiscriminate obduracy with which the clearest abuses were then clung to. Letting the judge name the jury, especially in Scotch criminal prosecutions, which are almost all cases between the Crown and the subject, was a practice utterly abhorrent to the general principles of the constitution, and unknown in any other part of the British empire. Even when exercised with the utmost purity, it exposed the administration of the law to obloquy. And the example of ballot and challenge had been set, and operated well, in civil causes for some years. In these circumstances, one would have thought that the criminal judges would have been the keenest to get quit of so odious a power. Yet, partly because it gave them power, and partly because its removal was a Whig measure, they fought in its defence on their very stumps.

In 1821 Kennedy moved for leave to bring in a bill for the introduction of ballot. On this, the Lord Advocate circulated an authoritative rescript to the lairds to oppose the democratic measure. He suggested the very grounds to them; which cannot now be read without amazement. The reform was no sooner effected, than it was almost unanimously applauded ; and there is not a single sane man by whom the old system is now defended. Yet, under this contemptible influence, did the handfuls of landlords who represent our counties pass resolutions in nearly every shire, re-echoing the sentiments of his lordship’s ukase; just as the provinces of Russia might have done, if the Autocrat had asked them whether he had not better increase the severity of the knout. This provoked me to write an explanation of the whole case in the Edinburgh Beview. Kennedy persevered, and in the Commons was always successful. But he failed in the Lords. However, the existing system was seen to be indefensible, and in the session of 1822 Lord Melville, who was then Scotch manager, got a bill passed giving each prisoner a few peremptory challenges, but still leaving the judge to pick. This broke the crust. But, as I explained in another article it left a very odd inside. Because though the ballot-box takes no offence, a judge, whose nomination gets a slap in the face by a challenge, does. The only ground on which the picking system could be defended was that the judge who picked was wise and pure. But as soon as this wisdom and purity were liable to be laughed at by peremptory challenges it became ridiculous. Indeed it was a great indecorum, and might be practised merely to annoy the Court. But they brought it on themselves. At last, after submitting to be snubbed for about two years, their fingers, which they kept clutched on as much of their favourite privilege as they could, were tom away from it entirely by the existing statute, whereby the impartiality of the ballot-box is combined with the corrective process of the challenge. This is sometimes called Lord Melville’s Act; and he is certainly entitled to the praise due to him who first opposes a good measure, and then adopts it. It was Mr. Kennedy’s Act in every true sense.

During these discussions, an important communication was made by Government about the criminal practice of Scotland. It came here in the form of a letter, dated 20th October 1822, from Sir Robert Peel, addressed to the Lord Justice-Clerk, who before giving the information required, was directed to consult the other three heads—namely, Charles Hope Lord President, William Adam Lord Chief Commissioner of the Jury Court, and Sir Samuel Shepherd Lord Chief Baron, and also-David Hume our criminal commentator. There were six questions put which, in substance, were these :—1st. Whether the presiding judge should be allowed to select the jury? 2d. What are the powers possessed by the Lord Advocate as public prosecutor? 3d. What other powers has he? and might these be separated from his power as public prosecutor? 4th. Would it be expedient to introduce grand juries into Scotland? 5th. Should the Lord Advocate’s powers of deserting diets ]pro loco et temjpore be limited? 6th. "Can you suggest any alterations in the criminal law of Scotland, or in the practice of its courts, which it would be expedient to make, for the purpose of securing a greater degree of protection for persons accused of crimes?”

I have seen no answer to any of these questions, except the answer given by Adam to the last one, which however shews what his answer to the first question must have been. This part of his opinion was very long. It recommended the abolition both of the picking custom, and of transportation for sedition. But (as I read him) he was for introducing the ballot and the challenge in place of the judge’s selection, only in political cases, and in what he calls "state misdemeanors,” and for connecting this with much of the machinery of English law. These unfortunate limitations must, I suppose, have impaired the weight of his general opinion. The particulars of the answers by the others on these two points of transportation and picking, I do not know; but I have the best possible authority, short of actually seeing them, for stating that they were all against any change.

Fox’s birth day was again celebrated on the 24th of January 1822—General Sir Ronald Ferguson in the chair. There being no particular occasion for it, no effort was made to secure a large attendance, but about 300 were present—an animated and useful meeting.

Every gleam of Art deserves notice. In the beginning of February 1822, Edinburgh had a beautiful exhibition, consisting entirely of the works of one of its own artists—Hugh W. Williams. He had returned a few years before from a journey to Greece, and now collected and displayed his delightful water-colour drawings of Grecian scenery and ruins Each picture was illustrated by a classical quotation, selected for the catalogue by Pillans, and translated chiefly by John Brown Patterson, a young man of great promise. It was an instructive spectacle ;— like being suddenly transported into Attica.

The spring of 1822 was excited by a civic struggle which, in its indirect effects, was of permanent importance. It was enveloped in details, but its substance is simple enough. By the Edinburgh Police Act the Commissioners were elected by inhabitants paying £10 of yearly rent within their respective wards, and the power of appointing and of dismissing the Superintendent was vested in the Lord President of the Court of Session, the Lord Provost, and the Sheriff, who were called “The Functionaries.” The Commissioners charged the Superintendent with accession to fraud. The Functionaries, moved chiefly by pity for the man, refused to dismiss him. If there had been nothing really at stake beyond his fate, few would have thought of the matter. But, like everything else in the trembling balance of parties, his case was soon taken up as a political contest, and on the old ground. The great majority of the people supported the Commissioners. This single fact glued the whole Tories together, by exciting their instinctive jealousy of the growth of popular power; and as neither the Commissioners nor the Functionaries would yield, an appeal to Parliament became unavoidable.

The Commissioners only desired that they should have the power of dismissal. But the proposal by the opposite party shewed that they were thinking of something far beyond the matter of police. They insisted 1st, That the Functionaries should both appoint and dismiss. 2d, That the qualification should be raised from £10 to £15, which would have disfranchised a very large part of the existing voters. 3d, That the same property should be held to qualify for as many voters, or nearly so, as it was worth fifteens of pounds; that is, that each of the rich should have several votes. 4th, That the wards should be u grouped; ” that is, that the poorer wards should be so connected with the richer ones, as that the latter, with their double and triple voters, and their power of concussion, should swamp the poorer. The general result was, that there should be an aristocracy of electors. A u Keport77 was published in defence of these views. It was a quarto volume, ill written, and worse reasoned. Horner excited me to the public virtue of writing "A Letter to the Inhabitants," on the other side. My object was to clear the case of useless complication, and to make the people strong by reasonable concession.

After a month7s ferment, the parties met in Parliament, where the whole tumult was composed, at least on the surface, in a moment. Lord Melville, more candid than his followers, took charge of the case for the Town Council, which represented the Functionaries and the quarto volume; and James Abercromby for the people. These two at once arranged that the power of both appointing and dismissing should not be lodged in the same party, which was the view taken in the Letter: all the Quarto proposals were rejected; and the existing Superintendent retired. This victory, following so soon after the ignominious defeat of the Beacon, was useful and well-timed. The vanquished groaned, and abused Lord Melville. The victors let off their joy by a public dinner of about 300, where due honor was done to Abercromby for the spirit and prudence with which he had conducted the first Scotch matter he had undertaken.

This affair was soon succeeded by another, which forms a very painful history—the case of Mr, James Stuart of Dunearn and Sir Alexander Boswell. Stuart’s trial, the proceedings against Murray Borthwick, and the parliamentary discussions disclose the details.

Soon after the Beacon was put down in Edinburgh, the Sentinel, another newspaper of the same kind, and encouraged by the general countenance of the same party, was set up in Glasgow. Mr. Stuart being defamed, as he thought, in this new publication, instituted an action of damages against its editors, two persons called Alexander and Borthwick. Soon after this, Borthwick intimated that if this action was abandoned, he would make all the reparation he could, by disclosing the authors of all the attacks that had been made in this newspaper against Stuart, and by giving up the original articles. Stuart acceded to this, and went to Glasgow for the documents, which he never doubted, nor had any reason to doubt, Borthwick’s right to surrender. He dealt with him as any slandered gentleman would with, a penitent editor, who was only doing what is common with persons in his situation. It was afterwards pretended that Stuart had no right to receive the papers, because Borthwick had no right to give them; and that he had no right to give them, because he had stolen them. He had stolen the company property from his partner! This pretence was aided by the Lord Advocate indicting Borthwick for the theft. The mere fact of the partnership was an answer to this charge. No doubt, there had been a conditional separation between the partners: But Alexander having violated one of the conditions by not paying a sum of money, had been sued before the Burgh Court of Glasgow by Borthwick for restitution of his rights; and that court had pronounced an unchallenged interlocutor, authorising Borthwick to resume possession. He resumed it, and thus got legal access to the papers, in which his interest as a partner had never been extinguished even by the separation. He gave them—not in property but for his temporary purpose, to Mr. Stuart, who could not, without idiotcy, have declined receiving them.

On examining them, he was astonished to find that the worst articles against him had been written by Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, a relation, with whom he had long been on good terms. Sir Alexander had been aware of their impropriety, for they were written in a disguised hand. Mr. Stuart having at last detected a respectable libeller, returned to Edinburgh, and waited the arrival of Sir Alexander, who was in London. As soon as Sir Alexander heard of the delivery of the papers, which contained insults on many other gentlemen, his conscience seems to have told him that he must be challenged by somebody; because, before any challenge was given, he wrote to a friend asking him to act as his second, and proposing a trip to the Rhine "in the event of my being the successful shot.” He came to Edinburgh in a few days; when he was waited upon by the Earl of Rosslyn on behalf of Mr. Stuart. He avowed himself responsible for the article selected as the ground of the call —a song in which Stuart was called a coward; and declining to apologize, a meeting was arranged. The song was in his hand-writing; and the idle doubt attempted to be cast on this by the prosecutor at the subsequent trial was never hinted at by Sir Alexander himself.

They met near Auchtertool, in Fife, on the 22d March 1822. Stuart, an awkward lumbering rider, had never fired a pistol but once or twice from the back of a horse in a troop of yeomanry. He stopped at his beautiful Hillside near Aberdour, and arranged some papers, and subscribed a deed of settlement. Boswell, who was an expert shot, told his second Mr. Douglas, that he meant to fire in the air. He fell himself, however, at the first fire. Stuart told me that he was never more thunderstruck than when on the smoke clearing he saw his adversary sinking gently down. Sir Alexander died at Balmuto in two days. Stuart came to Edinburgh, and immediately withdrew to France.

The death of so valuable a partizan as Sir Alexander Boswell, though in fair duel, by the hand of James Stuart, threw the Tory party into a flame, the heat of which, I fear, reached even the department of the public prosecutor. Nobody who knew Stuart’s temperament could believe that he did not mean to stand his trial. But lest there should be any doubt of it, Mr. Gibson, on Stuart’s behalf, gave distinct notice to the Sheriff that he would appear. Nevertheless, after the original irritation had had months to cool, a statement that he had absconded from justice, under a consciousness of guilt, was put into his indictment. This was of no real importance, but it shewed the feeling. It was from jail that he fled, not from justice.

The proceedings taken against Borthwick, on the other hand, had the effect of giving to Stuart’s possession of the papers a criminal character and appearance. Borthwick was accused of theft; and being apprehended in Dundee, was brought to Edinburgh and cast into prison, where for some time access was denied to his friends and legal advisers. He was placed at the bar of the Glasgow spring circuit 1822, but the trial was not then proceeded with; the diet was deserted pro loco et tempore, and thus the harshness of his treatment could not regularly be exposed. His partner Alexander also came forward as his private prosecutor on a nominal variation of the same charge. The result was, that he was kept under accusation until after Stuart’s trial. And at that trial, the counsel for Alexander attended—though not engaged in the case; and by rising and announcing that this and that witness, as each retired from the witness box, would be required for Borthwick’s trial on the following Monday, gave Stuart’s duel an appearance of being connected with Borthwick’s theft. This was repeated till the court put him to silence.

The trial of Mr. Stuart took place on the 10th of June 1822. No Scotch trial in my time excited such interest. If the prosecutors were really anxious for a conviction, their hopes vanished long before their own case was closed. Beyond the admitted fact that Boswell had fallen by his hand, there was not a single circumstance that did not redound to Stuart’s credit. His injuries, his gentleness, his firmness, his sensibility, and the necessity that he was under, according to the existing law of society, of acting as he did, were all brought out by irresistible evidence; while the excellence of his general character was proved by many witnesses, several of whom were purposely selected from his political opponents. No verdict except the acquittal that was almost instantly given, could have followed. To try was quite right; and duelling was then, as now, an absurd and shocking remedy for private insult. But considering what the tyranny of society required, and what courts of justice had sanctioned, the earnestness with which this prosecution was pressed does appear strange. The Justice-Clerk,5* who presided at the trial, behaved admirably. Stuart was no sooner acquitted, than the pretence of accusing Borthwick of theft was dropped ; and he was liberated without ever being brought to trial!

Lord Cockburn was counsel for Murray Borthwick. He was also one of the counsel for Mr. Stuart; and opened his defence in a speech, which was thus characterized by Sir James Mackintosh in the debate on the Scotch public press, in the House of Commons, on 25th June 1822.—“ He did not know whether the right honourable gentleman had read the authentic report of the trial of Mr. Stuart; but he would there see a specimen of the manner in which a counsel might discharge his duty to his client with the utmost vigour, and at the sametime pay a due respect to the tribunals and laws of the country. He might truly say, that the admirable speech of Mr. Cockburn, in the case of Mr. Stuart, had not been surpassed by any effort in the whole range of ancient or modern forensic eloquence. It was a speech characterized by calm and Mr. Stuart was singularly fortunate in both the seconds. Rosslyn, the model of an old military gentleman, combined the polite gallantry of that profession with activity and talent in the conduct of civil affairs, and was one of the most public-spirited and useful noblemen in Scotland. Mr. Douglas, though of moderate ability, was worthy and honest. His candour in this affair, and the scorn with which, after the fatal issue, he refused to join the cry of his party against Stuart, made all gentlemen think of the jeopardy in which the survivor and truth might have stood, if Boswell had been otherwise attended.

Boswell was able and literary; and when in the humour of being quiet, he was agreeable and kind. But in general he was boisterous and overbearing, and addicted to coarse personal ridicule. With many respectable friends, his natural place was at the head of a jovial board, where every one laughed at his exhaustless spirits, but each trembled lest he forcible reasoning, by chaste and classical diction, by the utmost skill, delicacy, and address in the management of the most difficult topics, and by a rare combination of zeal and ability in the cause of his client, with respect to the feelings of all the parties concerned, and a reverence for the rules of law and the austere decorum of a court of justice. It was a speech, in short, which, as a specimen of forensic eloquence, considered with reference to the peculiar difficulties with which the advocate had to contend, was unrivalled by any similar effort in ancient or modern times.”—Ed.

Abercromby had given notice of a motion respecting the conduct of the Lord Advocate with relation to the Scotch public press, but from aversion to interfere with a depending prosecution, had put it off. This obstacle being now removed, the motion was discussed on the 25th of June 1822. The motion was for a committee; from which there was a shabby escape by a majority of only twenty-five. Another motion for papers in Borthwick’s case was successful: and these papers being obtained the following session, Abercromby moved, on the 3d of June 1823, that the conduct and proceedings of the Lord Advocate had been “unjust and oppressive.” This fatal charge was negatived by only 102 against 96. On the 9th of December 1822 Mr. Gibson got a verdict, with £500 of damages, against Mr. Stevenson, the printer of the Beacon, for libel. In the preceding June Lord Archibald Hamilton had also got a verdict against the same defender, but, by a blunder of the Lord Chief Commissioner in trying the case, the jury only gave a shilling of damages, thinking that nothing more was asked. But the defender, or his constituents, had to pay about £300 of costs in each case, besides his own expenses. And soon after the paper stopped, it was found to be considerably in debt. So that, upon the whole, what with thrashing, and shooting, and parliamentary exposure, and damages, and expenses, and detection, and disgrace, I don’t believe that they found libelling a good trade.

These judicial and parliamentary proceedings abated the political cannibalism by which our comfort had been torn. For the crisis—in which not merely opinions, but interests, were at stake, some violence, and finally even acrimony, was perhaps unavoidable. But a very little of the oil of charity would have levelled and softened the surf. The irritation, however, instead of being soothed by anything of this kind, was exasperated by the unfortunate rise of a few young men who happened to be skilful in the art of personal ridicule, and whose test of its excellence seemed to consist solely in the pain it inflicted. Even they could have been very easily kept in order by their leaders, who, however, unfortunately encouraged them in the course they were following. In particular, Scott’s conduct cannot be thought of without the deepest sorrow. The happiness of the city was disturbed, persons he had long professed and truly felt friendship for were vilified, private feelings were lacerated; and all this he could have prevented by a word or a look. But instead of preventing it, he gave it his countenance. Yet there could not be a better natured, or a better hearted, man. It was neither malice nor selfishness that made him go wrong; but the inconsiderate weakness of yielding to those of his party whose talents he admired, and who worshipped him as their star. When they clustered round him, and read him their verses, and represented their measures as essential to the common cause, and appeared to be bowing before him whom in truth they were misleading, they supplied him with feelings quite sufficient to account for his tolerance of their iniquities, without any necessity for our supposing that he was aware of the full extent of their guilt or its mischief. His was the fault of unreflecting acquiescence.

It is very painful to remember these things. But truth must not be sacrificed utterly. The annalist restrains himself to the full extent of all reasonable charity, if he abstains from the statement of every personal defect which is not necessary for the right comprehension of an important public character, or of guilt or folly which was felt and spoken of, by candid men, as publicly dangerous at the time. No one can have lived and acted in Edinburgh in my day without finding much in its public characters and transactions to be loved and admired, a great deal to be overlooked, and something to be unsparingly condemned. My error is, in being too gentle with the last.

It was about this time that the Earl of Moray’s ground to the north of Charlotte Square began to be broken up for being built on. It was then an open field of as green turf as Scotland could boast of, with a few respectable trees on the flat, and thickly wooded on the bank along the Water of Leith. Moray Place and Ainslie Place stand there now. It was the beginning of a sad change, as we then felt. That well-kept and almost evergreen field was the most beautiful piece of ground in immediate connection with the town, and led the eye agreeably over to our distant northern scenery. How glorious the prospect, on a summer evening, from Queen Street! We had got into the habit of believing that the mere charm of the ground to us would keep it sacred, and were inclined to cling to our conviction even after we saw the foundations digging. We then thought with despair of our lost verdure, our banished peacefulness, our gorgeous sunsets. But it was unavoidable. We would never have got beyond the North Loch, if these feelings had been conclusive. But how can I forget the glory of that scene ! on the still nights in which, with Butherfurd and Bichardson and Jeffrey, I have stood in Queen Street, or the opening at the north-west corner of Charlotte Square, and listened to the ceaseless rural corn-craiks, nestling happily in the dewy grass. It would be some consolation if the buildings were worthy of the situation ; but the northern houses are turned the wrong way, and everything is sacrificed to the multiplication of feuing feet.

The year 1823 opened with the annual Fox dinner. Sir James Mackintosh, fresh from his installation as Jeffrey’s Rectorial successor at Glasgow, presided; Cranstounwas croupier. Sir James, though didactic, was good; Cranstoun in his best style of finished precision. Abercromby, who was now known as the representative of the citizens, though not of the, city, calm and sensible, inspired the 400 who were present with hope. A very successful convocation.

It was thought that the time had now arrived when a decided move might be made for a reform of our parliamentary representation; and it was resolved, that instead of weakening the particular claim of Edinburgh by sinking it in the general question, we should put forward our own case by itself. The reasons for this were, that Edinburgh being the only city in Scotland that elected a member for itself, no arrangement with other places was necessary, and our claim was the strongest and simplest that could be exhibited. In order to. prepare the way, I was induced to write u Considerations submitted to the Householders of Edinburgh on the State of their Representation in Parliament, explaining the material facts and views. On the 8th of March 1823 the Pantheon was again filled. Mr. John Craig, a merchant, and the biographer of his relative Professor John Millar, presided, and a petition to Parliament, written by Jeffrey, was adopted. Nobody was allowed to sign it but householders. Of these, old enough to sign, there were about 10,000 in the city, of whom, in a few days, about 7000 subscribed the petition—a fact which compelled certain eyes to see. Abercromby presented this petition on the 5th of May. On the 2d of June Lord Archibald Hamilton moved for a reform of the Scotch county representation generally, and was supported by 117 against 152—a cheering vote.

Return to the Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus