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

George Burns, His Times and Friends
Chapter XXIII. Reminiscences

Mr. Burns was a master in the art of conversation. Always bright, cheerful, and interesting, he never wearied a visitor by talking too much, or made him uncomfortable by not talking enough. Some one has defined the art of conversation as “not only saying the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

Although Mr. Burns was singularly free in his style of speech—-just speaking out frankly from his heart, he never said anything which his hearers might reasonably wish he had left unsaid. Full of that charity which thinketh no evil, hopeth all things, believeth all things, he never spoke ill of any one, or allowed conversation to degenerate into gossip—the deadly weapon of those “who murder characters to kill time”—a pastime, unfortunately far more prevalent in “pious company ” than in any other.

“Some men,” says Caleb Cotton, the laconic writer, “are very entertaining for a first interview, but after that they are exhausted, and run out; on a second meeting we shall find them very flat and monotonous; like hand-organs, we have heard all their tunes.”

Mr. Burns was the very reverse of this; his well-stored mind, his marvellous memory drawing on large experiences, made him even to the last one of the most delightful of companions to old and young, for the truth and sense, the wit and humour of his conversation, and for the underlying groundwork of pure and unconventional Christianity upon which it was based. He realised to a great extent the ideal of Cowper, who said—

Conversation, choose what theme we may,
And chiefly when religion leads the way,
Should flow, like waters after summer showers,
Not as if raised by mere mechanic powers.

We propose to give in this place some fragmentary selections from his store of anecdote.

It is always a pleasant thing when a man in extreme old age goes back with bright, happy, and boyish thoughts to his boyhood and youth.

In the course of some passing remark about the weather, Mr. Burns said to the present writer in 1888:—

I remember distinctly that on the 4th of June, 1806, my future wife, Jeanie Cleland, was at old Provost Hamilton’s beautiful place, called North Park, on the banks of the Kelvin. It was George the Third’s birthday, and the apple-trees, then beginning to blossom, had their branches broken down by the weight of the snow.

When I was a boy (he said on another occasion) I had a passion for climbing steeples or towers. One day the beadle of the cathedral indulged me by opening the tower and allowing me to ascend, but I could not resist the temptation to be mischievous, and I set the great bell going, greatly to the consternation of the kind beadle. This passion for climbing continued with me. When I went on the Continent I always ascended the high towers, such as the spire of Strasburg Cathedral and the Vendome Column. I climbed above the bell of St. Paul’s in London, and on to the scaffolding when the old bell exhibited in Regent’s Park was taken down, and I always afterwards was in the habit of taking my grandchildren to the top of St. Paul’s.

Practical joking appears to have been a good deal in vogue in Mr. Burns’s young days; and from the merry way in which he was wont to recall certain incidents, it would seem that he was not in the habit of frowning grimly on the players.

One of Dr. Chalmers’ Sunday-school teachers, Mr. Higgie, was greatly disconcerted one day to find that his desk was occupied; the young rogues of his school having captured a stray ass, brought it into the room, and mounted it upon the rostrum appointed to the superintendent. Dr. Chalmers and I had a good hearty laugh together over this incident, which leads me to mention another :—

The Bogles of Gilmourhill—where the University now stands —were rather proverbial for practical humour. One of the younger members of the family, along with some other young men, found the ass of a costermonger standing in a court of the Saltmarket. The latter had left his cuddy and barrow and gone into an adjoining house to sell something. Bogle and his companions unyoked the ass, contrived to get it upstairs, put its head looking out of a high window, and then decamped. When the man came out and found his ass gone, he was greatly concerned, and began looking everywhere for the animal, but in vain. During the interval a crowd had collected in the court. The costermonger could not find out what was the matter till one of the crowd called out to him, ‘There’s your ass looking at you out of yon window.’

The same mischievous fellows on another occasion procured a ladder, which they placed against the statue of King William at the Cross. It was railed and high, and their professed object was to decorate the statue with a flag. It was dark at night when this occurred. When all was ready, they asked a man who was looking on to mount the ladder and fix the flag; but no sooner had he begun the operation, than the ladder was withdrawn, and the bewildered man found himself perched on King William, the rogues having run off and left him!

In my early days there was only one church in Glasgow that had an organ, and that one was not in the obscure Roman Catholic Church as you might suppose, but in the small Episcopal Church at the entrance to the Green of Glasgow. In consequence of this innovation the church was called derisively ‘The Whistling Kirk.’ Some time after that, Dr. Ritchie, of St. Andrew’s Church, Glasgow, endeavoured to introduce a small organ to assist the psalmody, which was notoriously bad in all the Scotch churches. The case was brought before the Presbytery, and was decided against him.*

*In a 'Statement of Proceedings of the Presbytery of Glasgow Relative to the Use of an Organ in St. Andrew’s Church in the Public Worship of God on the 23rd of August, 1807,” it is sententiously stated in the preface that “The Presbytery of Glasgow were determined not to suffer such a palpable innovation to creep into the Church of Scotland. They considered it, therefore, their sacred duty to pass a judgment upon the illegality of the measure, and to set the question for ever at rest, at least with the congregations under their jurisdiction.”

When Dr. Ritchie was appointed to the Divinity Chair in Edinburgh, a caricature picture was circulated representing him as on his journey to that city with a barrel-organ on his back, playing the tune—‘I’ll gang nae mair to yon toon.’

It was the custom when I was a youth, as it still is in some places, for the elders of the church to stand at the doors on Sundays superintending collection plates. Provost French was a sitter in St. Enoch’s Church, and on one occasion he put a halfcrown into the plate and was about to take out two shillings, intending only to contribute sixpence, when the elder interposed by exclaiming, ‘ Na, na, inon; whatever goes in there is sacred!I

On another occasion the Provost, in walking, observed on the street a nice-looking oatmeal and suet pudding—called in Scotland a white pudding. He caught it up on the point of his stick and dropped it into the plate, whereupon the elder rebuked him for mocking God’s poor. ‘If God’s poor/ he replied, ‘are not content with the white pudding, they don’t deserve to get anything!

The Rev. Mr. Thom, of Govan, who was Moderator of Presbytery at the time of my father’s ordination and performed the ceremony, was very humorous, but sometimes a little bit profane. Once at a Presbytery meeting there was a young man about to receive ordination. Thom disliked him, and thought little of his abilities. Instead of placing his hands on the head of the candidate, he reached forth his stick for that purpose. An exclamation of horror ran through the church, but Thom, not in the least disconcerted, quietly said, ‘Timber to timber.’

One day when Mr. Thom was preaching, a member of his congregation, not remarkable for his piety, was sitting in the front gallery, and in drawing out his pocket-handkerchief a pack of cards flew out and spread below. ‘Hech, mon,’ exclaimed Thom, ‘but your psalm-book has been loosely bound!’

Dr. Cleland had a very nice villa near Rutherglen, and just about the time when Dr. Chalmers made his appearance in Glasgow, his daughter—my wife to be—taught a Sunday school in conjunction with Margaret Smith of Muir Dank, who afterwards became my brother James's first wife. The Rev. Mr. Dick was at that time minister of the Established Church at Rutherglen. He was a good, kind-hearted man, and simple in his manner. One day he saw some boys in his orchard stealing the fruit. He ran out, stick in hand, to catch them in the act, but when he saw them scrambling down the trees in hot haste, he called out, ‘Take care, take care, lest ye hurt yourselves.’

In my very early days there was a notable citizen named James MacNair, a member of a family well known in and around Glasgow, MacNair was extremely cute and keen In taking advantage of any circumstance that could advance his interests. His hand-writing was not plain. One day he wrote a letter to a wholesale house in London ordering 2 cwt. of copperas. The London man read the order as 2 cwt. of capers, and wrote to MacNair saying that he had searched all London and could not make up the quantity, but was sending on as large a supply as he could manage to get. MacNair was rather nonplussed when he received this reply, but his natural sagacity at once came to his aid, and he got up a flaming announcement that he had in stock ‘a new, rare, and much esteemed relish for use in sauces.’ This induced a considerable demand. Meanwhile capers had become scarce in London, and his correspondent wrote to him begging him to spare some of the large quantity he had received. MacNair at once saw his chance. His price had gone up amazingly, and he could only sell at that price. So, by his sale in the shop, and by selling back to London, he made a very good profit out of a transaction which with most men would have proved a loss.

In those days, and later, cold rum-punch, of which lemons or limes formed a component part, was a famous drink. On one occasion MacNair had only just two boxes of lemons on hand, and he wanted to purchase more, as there was a considerable supply in Glasgow, but not at the price which was asked. He set two men to work to carry his two boxes of lemons on two barrows. The ruse succeeded. The impression got abroad that MacNair had received a large supply from a distance, prices at once came down, and then MacNair purchased!

Talking about nun-punch reminds me of a well-known character and benefactor in Paisley, Mr. Love. He was an eccentric man, and kept bears in his garden, just to gratify his liking for animals. Once he fell ill, and went to Edinburgh to consult Dr. Gregory. During the interview, Dr. Gregory said, ‘I know what is the cause of your illness—it is the cold rum-punch which is so much drunk in the west.’ Love made no reply, but put a fee of a guinea into the doctor's hand, and moved towards the door. Just as he was going out, he looked over his shoulder at the learned doctor and said, *I hinna tasted a drap o’ cauld punch these thirty years past!’

In my early business days, John Wood was Chairman of the Excise in London, now called the Inland Revenue. He was in Glasgow with Captain Percy, of the Northumberland family, and was frequently at the Excise Office—a fine office in the Custom House Buildings at Greenock. John Wood, from his boyhood, was intimate with Mr Charles Wood (afterwards Lord Halifax), and he used to say to me that Charles Wood, as a boy, would, if he came to a gate, always leap over instead of pausing to open it. That was characteristic of his whole life—he dashed through everything in which he was engaged.

Talking about the Excise, I must tell you a story my father used to narrate of Collector Corbett, of Glasgow. One day, in company, the conversation turned upon smuggling, and tea was particularised as one of the contraband articles brought in. One of the gentlemen present said, in reply to a remark of Corbett on the vigilance of the Excise, ‘I’ll pledge myself to smuggle in tea in your very presence, and by the conspicuous route of the Glasgow Bridge.’ The challenge was accepted, and at the time appointed the transaction took place. In the evening the company met again, when the gentleman who had made the challenge said to Collector Corbett,

‘Well, did you seize the tea which kval brought in to-day?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘1 saw no tea brought in, and we had our men zealously on the watch.’ ‘Well,’ said the gentleman, ‘it was brought in, in your very sight, and I will show you where it now is.’ The collector was dumbfounded, and asked how it was possibly done. ‘You were upon the Glasgow Bridge,’ said the gentleman, ‘and on the watch; what did you see?’ ‘1 saw a variety of things,’ and he named them; ‘I saw also a funeral procession, and a very large number of mourners following the hearse.

‘Well,’ said the gentleman, ‘the tea was inside that hearse.’

Reference has already been made in these pages to Mr. Jeffrey, commonly called by his familiars Frank Jeffrey. Concerning him, Mr. Burns says :—

He finished his education at Oxford, and on his return he was called to the Bar, became Lord Advocate, and attained to the Bench of the Court of Session under the title of Lord Jeffrey. When he was called to the Bar, he acquired great reputation and prospects of success. At one time Mr. McQueen sat on the Bench under the title of Lord Braxfield; his property being at New Lanark, he was familiarly called ‘Old Braxy.’ He spoke broad Scotch, and was quaint and forcible in his expressions from the Bench. On Jeffrey’s appearance at the Bar some time after, ‘Old Braxy’ said, ‘The laddie has tynt (lost) his Scotch and hasna ta’en on the English.’ On another occasion, when capital punishment was inflicted for various misdemeanors and crimes, it fell to the lot of Lord Braxfield to pronounce sentence of death on a poacher, which he did in the usual solemn manner. He was personally acquainted with the men in the country, and after the sentence was formally pronounced, he said, ‘John, you’ll he hang’t, and that’ll be a wernin’ to ye.’

When Robert Owen came to New Lanark to take charge of the cotton-mills belonging to David Dale (whose daughter he afterwards married), he resided at Braxfield House, and early in his career founded several schools. His efforts to advance education were at first approved, but public opinion changed on his publishing a pamphlet entitled, ‘A New View of Society.’ Many a time I saw him come to the Glasgow office of New Lanark Mills. He was the first gentleman I saw wearing a frock-coat, a very unusual article of attire at that time. Gentlemen wore long-tailed coats and white neckcloths, and even to very late in my lifetime this custom was continued by elderly men. During a large portion of my life I wore a dress-coat, large-frilled shirt, and white neckcloth, in the forenoon. I could name many who never put on a surtout, amongst them my brother James, but he gave up the white neck cloth. It was several years after Robert Owen’s time ere surtouts became general for forenoon costume. Mr. Owen dressed well, and many were his visits to Mr. Wright’s own room in the office, and serious conversations sometimes ensued. Mr. Wright told me of one of them in which he urged on him the importance of the truths contained in the Bible. Mr. Owen was much impressed, and with tender emotion, the tears starting to his eyes, said, ‘Mr. Wright, I wish I could believe.’

In 1832, a grand banquet was given in the large hall at the Cross of Glasgow, called the Coffee Room. The late Duke of Gordon was chairman, and among the prominent speakers was the-well-known Patrick Robertson, Advocate, afterwards a Judge by the name of Lord Robertson. He had an enormously powerful voice, and in speaking he made use of Earl Grey’s famous speech in which occur the words ‘Whisper of Faction,’ in opposition to the Reform Bill. Robertson thundered out, ‘This, this is the whisper of a faction!’

The same Patrick Robertson was full of fun and mischief. A widow lady in Edinburgh had a foible of speaking of great people. On one occasion she left a message to the effect that if any one called they were to be informed that she had gone to call on Lady Deas, wnfe of Lord Deas, a Judge in the Court of Session. It so happened that Patrick Robertson called at her house, and received the message left for callers. Shortly afterwards he met the widow in the street, and said to her, ‘I have just been calling at your house; the servant said you had gone out to buy cheese.’ (This rhymed in with ‘Deas.’)

I believe I am the oldest Justice of the Peace for Lanarkshire, living. I attended to the duties of the office in my former days, but from my occupation in business, I was frequently very glad to get my friend Baillie Martin to act as my substitute in court. At that time Mr. Douglas, who commonly went under the name of John Douglas, and was the son of a minister of the Church of Scotland, in Ayrshire, was a great punster. On one occasion] when Mr. Middleton married a Mrs. Lockie, John Douglas said to me, ‘It would appear that Mrs. Lockie preferred a middle tone to a lower one:

When Mr. Kirkman Finlay was contesting the representation of Glasgow—which was composed of five burghs, including Rutherglen, where his warm friend Dr. Cleland, my father-in-law, lived in a villa he possessed -John Douglas, being an ardent supporter of his, applied all his persuasive powers to the wives of the Town Councillors, giving each a benevolent kiss, at the same time slipping a guinea from his own lips into theirs. The vote before the passing of the Reform Act lay entirely with the corporations of the five burghs. On that occasion, a dinner being given by Mr. Finlay in Rutherglen, Lord Archibald Hamilton presiding, one of the Town Councillors at the lower end of the table called out, ‘My lord, they are not drinking fair here.’ ‘Gentlemen,’ replied his lordship, ‘take off your glasses.' ‘It’s no that,’ again shouted the councillor, ‘they are here drinking twa for ane.’

Never at any period of his life did Mr. Burns take any prominent part in politics, nor, as a matter of fact, was he much of a politician. Late in life he said when reviewing some of the great movements that had marked the annals of his times:—

In my early days I did not take much interest in political affairs, but in later years I have been ranked amongst the Conservatives, although I have never occupied any very prominent position amongst them. I may describe myself as being satisfied that the constitution of our country is well balanced, and gives an example of great liberty combined with efficient moderate control. For instance, I value highly the House of Peers, as a balancing weight against what I fear is, at the present time, a too democratic tendency in the House of Commons. I am not willing to surrender the term ‘Liberal’ entirely to the opposite party, because I have had liberal tendencies all my life. I think, however, that our too rapid progress should be controlled by checks, and that the Upper Chamber furnishes wise and salutary restraints. My confidence was shaken in Peel, but it recovered as I observed his action with regard to the Corn Laws. I lamented the way in which the Reform Pull was carried, by threats such as those used by Lord Grey, who proposed to create an extra number of peers. I also regretted, in 1829, that what was called Catholic Emancipation was unavoidably yielded.

Sr. Chalmers took an opposite view, and thought that it would give to Ireland an opportunity for conferring upon the Roman Catholics an open Bible more fully than they then possessed. His view, as the event has proved, was chimerical.

In 1847, Mr. Burns was staying at Bath. It was the same year in which Lord Ashley—at that time personally unknown to him—was returned as Member of Parliament for that town after a severe contest, his opponent being Mr. Roebuck, one of his bitterest antagonists in the Factory agitation. Referring to his visit to Bath, Mr. Burns says :—

I frequently attended the ministry of Mr. Jay, and also of Mr. Tottenham of Kensington Chapel. At that time there were about three hundred chair-men in Bath; their services were valuable in taking people to balls and concerts, and also in preserving order, as they were all sworn in as special constables, and they were ready for taking part in the suppression of any disturbances in that stirring and stormy year. One Sunday when I was going to Mr. Tottenham’s church, there was an elderly gentleman, lame or frail, being wheeled along in a Bath-chair going to the same church. By some misadventure the chair was upset, and he was thrown upon the ground. A crowd collected, and prompt assistance was proffered, but he took up his crutch and held them all at bay, crying out, ‘There shall no one help me but a Tory!’ Party spirit was running very high at that time, as you may judge by this incident!

Mr. Burns took a great interest in the personal history of the captains of the Cunard fleet. Many of them were in the employment of the Company for a great number of years—Captain W. McMickan, for example, now Commander of the Umbria, and Commodore of the Fleet, who has covered more than two millions of miles in crossing the Atlantic.

Some of the older captains had “points” upon which Mr. Burns liked to dilate.

There was Captain Harrison of the Asia, on his way to Halifax encountering a dense fog off the Banks of Newfoundland. At the breakfast-table he told his passengers that he should reach the land at three in the afternoon. The day wore on, when, close to the hour named, the cry came from the look-out, ‘Breakers ahead!’ and down went the helm. Harrison, who stood amidst a knot of anxious passengers, took out his watch and calmly remarked, ‘Very good, made land to the minute!’

A cool customer was Theodore Cook, who had commanded no less than twenty-four of the Cunard ships, the very type of a skilful captain, with 'a nerve of cold blast steel.’ One day he was taking his noon observations, when a cloud interrupted his vision; a passenger coming up, said, 'Captain Cook, I’m afraid that cloud prevented you from making your observation.’ 'Yes, sir,’ replied the potentate of the sea, 'but it did not hinder you from making yours.’

Hugh Main was captain of one of our smacks, and when steam was put on, he was for many years commander of several of the Liverpool steamers.

He was a large heavy man—his brother was the keeper of the hotel in Inverkip—(all the family were large) and Hugh Black, our agent in Greenock, used to say, 'the Mains are all of hioodge” (huge) dimensions.’ Hugh Main went by the sobriquet of the Hainane Captain. He had a dog on board, his constant companion on all his voyages. It was a great favourite with the passengers, and on its collar was engraved, *I am Hugh Main’s dog; whose dog are you'?’ Main suffered greatly from weakness in his legs, making it very difficult for him to stand, which he did, however, very much by night and by day, for he was devoted to his profession. This weakness led him to resign his position as captain, but we made him our agent at Greenock.

Captain Duncan was another of ours. He was in the Highland Service. On one occasion the Duchess of Sutherland, Mistress of the Robes to the Queen, was coming on board to go to Dunrobin, and the captain was asked by an attendant to substitute for the ordinary small gangway a larger one which was at hand for the use of horses or cattle, as he thought it more dignified. Captain Duncan replied, in his own quaint way, that ‘there was no occasion for it, as her grace could get on board quite well by the little one,’ ending, 'she’s no an califent ’ (elephant).

A significant little story of Mr. Burns may be recorded in this connection. Once he had to speak very strongly to this Captain Duncan, and quite worked himself up to emphasise his displeasure. Some time afterwards, Captain Duncan was told that at the interview Mr. Burns was really very angry. “Was he,” said the captain; “I never knew it.”

When we had the Castle at Dunoon on lease, the pier was just below it. One evening when it was dark a vessel approached and hailed, and was answered by a voice from the pier. ‘Do you belong to the pier,’ shouted the skipper of the vessel. ‘Na, na,’ replied Donald Macdonald, the pier-master, ‘the pier belongs to me.’

‘Weel, weel, can ye tak a rope?’

Mr. Burns’s recollections of friends, acquaintances, and contemporaries, would fill a volume. We can therefore only give a few fragmentary passages. Sometimes the mere mention of the name of a place would bring up a train of memories bridging over half a century, and the curious part about his reminiscences was that in recalling events or people he would rarely hesitate about a name or a date, but speak with utmost precision on these points.

I knew of Mr. Dachmont very well through my father, and in the early part of the century he was an intimate friend of David Dale. In the course of his mercantile life he travelled frequently on horseback with Mr. James Finlay. A mercantile correspondent visited him from time to time at Glasgow on his journey from England. On one occasion, after family worship, he said, ‘Mr. Dachmont, I have heard you often in prayer use the expression that the Lord would grant us a competency. "What does that moan?’ To which Dachmont laughingly replied, ‘It means a little more than we have.’

In the days of Mr. James Finlay—that is to say, during the last century—there were no mail coaches to London, nor even stage coaches, and the journey was undertaken on horseback. Mr. Finlay and Mr. Dachmont set out together: their tastes and habits were fairly well alike, with this exception, that Mr. Dachmont had an abhorrence of pork. When they arrived at Newcastle, Mr. Finlay told the waiter to send up some well-dressed pork cutlets, and to call them veal cutlets. The two gentlemen partook pleasantly of the dinner, and Mr. Dachmont said, ‘Well, the English know much better how to cook veal cutlets than we do, I never tasted any so good.’ Mr. Finlay said nothing about the deception, but fell in with the praise; and on the following day, when riding together towards the south, Mr. Dachmont again alluded to the excellence of the veal cutlets. Finlay then told him it was pork, when Dachmont immediately got off his horse, turned very pale, and said he felt ill even at the thought of it.

His eldest son was a leading advocate in Edinburgh, and became President of the Court of Session under the title of Lord Colonsay: having been also M.P. previously for the County of Perth, and Lord Advocate. Another son, Archibald, was a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh.

At the time of the great stir in religious circles about the opinions of Bishop Colenso of Natal, one of the islanders in the island of Colonsay said to another, ‘Hech! it’s a terrible thing; I hear that Colonsay doesna believe in Moses!’ The other replied, ‘I'm sure it’s no him; it must be his brither Archie!’

I used, at one time, to think that Sir Andrew Agnew was the most practical Sabbatarian I knew, for he told me that it was his custom on Sunday to give every servant in his employment the opportunity of going to church. lie would not allow anything to be cooked but potatoes. One day my wife mentioned this to my old friend Sir Edward Parry, then staying with us in Glasgow, who replied in his quiet way, ‘I go farther, I don’t even allow the potatoes.’

Admiral Baillie Hamilton, who, when I first knew him as Captain Hamilton, was Permanent Secretary to the Admiralty, was a frequent visitor and a staunch friend. He was with Dr. Guthrie when on his death-bed at Hastings.

The last time he came here he was staying with John, but he came to see me, and we had a walk in the garden. He was going off the next day to visit my son .lames at Ferntower. Standing at the back of the conservatory he said, ‘Do yon know that you and I have been friends for forty years?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I know it well.’ We had a long walk, and when he left he said to Ann Fraser, ‘Good-night, Ann,’ in such a singularly impressive way I never forgot it. When he went to Ferntower he was in good health, and my son wrote to me, ‘I have your cheery admiral here, he is in excellent spirits.’ He went on from thence to Skye, where he spent some time shooting. He got back to Portree, intending to leave on a certain day. There he was taken ill, and he sent a telegram to his wife, ‘Shall be detained here for a day or two.’ Lady Harriet Hamilton, knowing his habits, at once took alarm, started off, and reached Skye just in time to see him expire.

Talking of Hamilton reminds me of his sister, Lady Haddington, who had occasion to go to Redmayne’s shop in London to make some purchases. She heard the assistants saying one to another, ‘Two and ten.’ She was very simply dressed, as was her wont. When she went home to Admiralty House, she said to her maid, ‘I wonder what those people in the shop could mean by saying “Two and ten.” ’The maid, curious to relate, had once been employed as an assistant at Redmayne’s, and she coloured up and kept quiet. On being pressed she said, ‘Well, it was a password sent round the shop for the assistants to keep their eyes open and see that nothing was picked up; “two,” according to the code, meant “keep your two eyes open”; “ten” meant “watch the movements of her ten fingers.” ’Lady Haddington continued to dress simply, notwithstanding the estimate that had been formed of her.

Lord Shaftesbury was a great friend of the Duke of Wellington, and used to give me many anecdotes of him. The duke told him of a very singular occurrence which took place at Waterloo. At one moment in the battle the duke was left alone, his aide-de-camps having been despatched with messages, when a gentleman in plain clothes rode up to him, and said, ‘Can I be of any use, sir?’ The duke looked at him, and instantly said, ‘Yes! take that pencil note to the commanding officer,’ pointing to a regiment in the very heat of the engagement. The gentleman immediately complied, and galloped through the thick of the fight and delivered the note. After the battle the duke made every inquiry, but though he for long used all the means in his power, he never could trace to whom he was indebted, and he told Lord Shaftesbury that he considered it one of the most gallant deeds that had ever come under his notice, as the gentleman who did it could have had no prospect of reward or honour.

Mr. John Burns was in the habit of coming down to Wemyss House every day, and sometimes several times a day, and telling his father many a good story. These Mr. Burns would treasure up in his memory, and would tell again with relish, clothed in his own pleasant form of language, and given with the sunny smile and the quaint manner that invested them with an irresistible charm. But if we were to enter upon this field, it is so exceeding broad, we should never draw the reminiscences to a close. We cannot, however, resist the temptation to relate just one “Castle story.”

Once when the Earl of Caithness was staying at the Castle, several people were at dinner, and amongst them was Professor Grant, the distinguished Professor of Astronomy in the Glasgow University. We had a great deal of interesting conversation, as we always had when Grant was of the party. Lord Caithness had scientific proclivities, and he and Grant soon got deep into discussion upon astronomical matters, in the course of which Grant happened to remark that Jupiter was in its prime at that present time for observation.

Afterwards, when we adjourned to the drawing-room, some of us stood at the end window, which commands a delightful view up the Clyde. It was a clear, beautiful night, and the subject of Jupiter was renewed, when Caithness and Grant exclaimed, ‘There it is; a magnificent sight!’ and dilated upon it a good deal. Presently Captain Gordon, of H.M.S. Black Prince (now Admiral Gordon), who was beside us, broke out in his strong Aberdeen dialect, *Gentlemen, that’s not Jupiter at all—that’s the Cloch Lighthouse!"

Grant told John that he must not make a joke of it, or tell it abroad, but some time afterwards when he met my son, he said, ‘Oh, ye did not keep the story to yourself; when I was out to dinner lately the party set upon me, bantering me, and saying, “Have you seen the 'Wemyss Jupiter lately?”

Return to 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