Part 2 out of 6
of the law, the place of execution, extensive as it is, was crowded
almost to suffocation. There was not a window in all the lofty tenements
around it, or in the steep and crooked street called the Bow, by which
the fatal procession was to descend from the High Street, that was not
absolutely filled with spectators. The uncommon height and antique
appearance of these houses, some of which were formerly the property of
the Knights Templars, and the Knights of St. John, and still exhibit on
their fronts and gables the iron cross of these orders, gave additional
effect to a scene in itself so striking. The area of the Grassmarket
resembled a huge dark lake or sea of human heads, in the centre of which
arose the fatal tree, tall, black, and ominous, from which dangled the
deadly halter. Every object takes interest from its uses and
associations, and the erect beam and empty noose, things so simple in
themselves, became, on such an occasion, objects of terror and of solemn
Amid so numerous an assembly there was scarcely a word spoken, save in
whispers. The thirst of vengeance was in some degree allayed by its
supposed certainty; and even the populace, with deeper feeling than they
are wont to entertain, suppressed all clamorous exultation, and prepared
to enjoy the scene of retaliation in triumph, silent and decent, though
stern and relentless. It seemed as if the depth of their hatred to the
unfortunate criminal scorned to display itself in anything resembling the
more noisy current of their ordinary feelings. Had a stranger consulted
only the evidence of his ears, he might have supposed that so vast a
multitude were assembled for some purpose which affected them with the
deepest sorrow, and stilled those noises which, on all ordinary
occasions, arise from such a concourse; but if he had gazed upon their
faces, he would have been instantly undeceived. The compressed lip, the
bent brow, the stern and flashing eye of almost everyone on whom he
looked, conveyed the expression of men come to glut their sight with
triumphant revenge. It is probable that the appearance of the criminal
might have somewhat changed the temper of the populace in his favour, and
that they might in the moment of death have forgiven the man against whom
their resentment had been so fiercely heated. It had, however, been
destined, that the mutability of their sentiments was not to be exposed
to this trial.
The usual hour for producing the criminal had been past for many minutes,
yet the spectators observed no symptom of his appearance. "Would they
venture to defraud public justice?" was the question which men began
anxiously to ask at each other. The first answer in every case was bold
and positive,--"They dare not." But when the point was further canvassed,
other opinions were entertained, and various causes of doubt were
suggested. Porteous had been a favourite officer of the magistracy of the
city, which, being a numerous and fluctuating body, requires for its
support a degree of energy in its functionaries, which the individuals
who compose it cannot at all times alike be supposed to possess in their
own persons. It was remembered, that in the Information for Porteous (the
paper, namely, in which his case was stated to the Judges of the criminal
court), he had been described by his counsel as the person on whom the
magistrates chiefly relied in all emergencies of uncommon difficulty. It
was argued, too, that his conduct, on the unhappy occasion of Wilson's
execution, was capable of being attributed to an imprudent excess of zeal
in the execution of his duty, a motive for which those under whose
authority he acted might be supposed to have great sympathy. And as these
considerations might move the magistrates to make a favourable
representation of Porteous's case, there were not wanting others in the
higher departments of Government, which would make such suggestions
favourably listened to.
The mob of Edinburgh, when thoroughly excited, had been at all times one
of the fiercest which could be found in Europe; and of late years they
had risen repeatedly against the Government, and sometimes not without
temporary success. They were conscious, therefore, that they were no
favourites with the rulers of the period, and that, if Captain Porteous's
violence was not altogether regarded as good service, it might certainly
be thought, that to visit it with a capital punishment would render it
both delicate and dangerous for future officers, in the same
circumstances, to act with effect in repressing tumults. There is also a
natural feeling, on the part of all members of Government, for the
general maintenance of authority; and it seemed not unlikely, that what
to the relatives of the sufferers appeared a wanton and unprovoked
massacre, should be otherwise viewed in the cabinet of St. James's. It
might be there supposed, that upon the whole matter, Captain Porteous was
in the exercise of a trust delegated to him by the lawful civil
authority; that he had been assaulted by the populace, and several of his
men hurt; and that, in finally repelling force by force, his conduct
could be fairly imputed to no other motive than self-defence in the
discharge of his duty.
These considerations, of themselves very powerful, induced the spectators
to apprehend the possibility of a reprieve; and to the various causes
which might interest the rulers in his favour, the lower part of the
rabble added one which was peculiarly well adapted to their
comprehension. It was averred, in order to increase the odium against
Porteous, that while he repressed with the utmost severity the slightest
excesses of the poor, he not only overlooked the license of the young
nobles and gentry, but was very willing to lend them the countenance of
his official authority, in execution of such loose pranks as it was
chiefly his duty to have restrained. This suspicion, which was perhaps
much exaggerated, made a deep impression on the minds of the populace;
and when several of the higher rank joined in a petition, recommending
Porteous to the mercy of the Crown, it was generally supposed he owed
their favour not to any conviction of the hardship of his case, but to
the fear of losing a convenient accomplice in their debaucheries. It is
scarcely necessary to say how much this suspicion augmented the people's
detestation of this obnoxious criminal, as well as their fear of his
escaping the sentence pronounced against him.
While these arguments were stated and replied to, and canvassed and
supported, the hitherto silent expectation of the people became changed
into that deep and agitating murmur, which is sent forth by the ocean
before the tempest begins to howl. The crowded populace, as if their
motions had corresponded with the unsettled state of their minds,
fluctuated to and fro without any visible cause of impulse, like the
agitation of the waters, called by sailors the ground-swell. The news,
which the magistrates had almost hesitated to communicate to them, were
at length announced, and spread among the spectators with a rapidity like
lightning. A reprieve from the Secretary of State's office, under the
hand of his Grace the Duke of Newcastle, had arrived, intimating the
pleasure of Queen Caroline (regent of the kingdom during the absence of
George II. on the Continent), that the execution of the sentence of death
pronounced against John Porteous, late Captain-Lieutenant of the City
Guard of Edinburgh, present prisoner in the Tolbooth of that city, be
respited for six weeks from the time appointed for his execution.
The assembled spectators of almost all degrees, whose minds had been
wound up to the pitch which we have described, uttered a groan, or rather
a roar of indignation and disappointed revenge, similar to that of a
tiger from whom his meal has been rent by his keeper when he was just
about to devour it. This fierce exclamation seemed to forbode some
immediate explosion of popular resentment, and, in fact, such had been
expected by the magistrates, and the necessary measures had been taken to
repress it. But the shout was not repeated, nor did any sudden tumult
ensue, such as it appeared to announce. The populace seemed to be ashamed
of having expressed their disappointment in a vain clamour, and the sound
changed, not into the silence which had preceded the arrival of these
stunning news, but into stifled mutterings, which each group maintained
among themselves, and which were blended into one deep and hoarse murmur
which floated above the assembly.
Yet still, though all expectation of the execution was over, the mob
remained assembled, stationary, as it were, through very resentment,
gazing on the preparations for death, which had now been made in vain,
and stimulating their feelings, by recalling the various claims which
Wilson might have had on royal mercy, from the mistaken motives on which
he acted, as well as from the generosity he had displayed towards his
accomplice. "This man," they said,--"the brave, the resolute, the
generous, was executed to death without mercy for stealing a purse of
gold, which in some sense he might consider as a fair reprisal; while the
profligate satellite, who took advantage of a trifling tumult,
inseparable from such occasions, to shed the blood of twenty of his
fellow-citizens, is deemed a fitting object for the exercise of the royal
prerogative of mercy. Is this to be borne?--would our fathers have borne
it? Are not we, like them, Scotsmen and burghers of Edinburgh?"
The officers of justice began now to remove the scaffold, and other
preparations which had been made for the execution, in hopes, by doing
so, to accelerate the dispersion of the multitude. The measure had the
desired effect; for no sooner had the fatal tree been unfixed from the
large stone pedestal or socket in which it was secured, and sunk slowly
down upon the wain intended to remove it to the place where it was
usually deposited, than the populace, after giving vent to their feelings
in a second shout of rage and mortification, began slowly to disperse to
their usual abodes and occupations.
The windows were in like manner gradually deserted, and groups of the
more decent class of citizens formed themselves, as if waiting to return
homewards when the streets should be cleared of the rabble. Contrary to
what is frequently the case, this description of persons agreed in
general with the sentiments of their inferiors, and considered the cause
as common to all ranks. Indeed, as we have already noticed, it was by no
means amongst the lowest class of the spectators, or those most likely to
be engaged in the riot at Wilson's execution, that the fatal fire of
Porteous's soldiers had taken effect. Several persons were killed who
were looking out at windows at the scene, who could not of course belong
to the rioters, and were persons of decent rank and condition. The
burghers, therefore, resenting the loss which had fallen on their own
body, and proud and tenacious of their rights, as the citizens of
Edinburgh have at all times been, were greatly exasperated at the
unexpected respite of Captain Porteous.
It was noticed at the time, and afterwards more particularly remembered,
that, while the mob were in the act of dispersing, several individuals
were seen busily passing from one place and one group of people to
another, remaining long with none, but whispering for a little time with
those who appeared to be declaiming most violently against the conduct of
Government. These active agents had the appearance of men from the
country, and were generally supposed to be old friends and confederates
of Wilson, whose minds were of course highly excited against Porteous.
If, however, it was the intention of these men to stir the multitude to
any sudden act of mutiny, it seemed for the time to be fruitless. The
rabble, as well as the more decent part of the assembly, dispersed, and
went home peaceably; and it was only by observing the moody discontent on
their brows, or catching the tenor of the conversation they held with
each other, that a stranger could estimate the state of their minds. We
will give the reader this advantage, by associating ourselves with one of
the numerous groups who were painfully ascending the steep declivity of
the West Bow, to return to their dwellings in the Lawnmarket.
"An unco thing this, Mrs. Howden," said old Peter Plumdamas to his
neighbour the rouping-wife, or saleswoman, as he offered her his arm to
assist her in the toilsome ascent, "to see the grit folk at Lunnon set
their face against law and gospel, and let loose sic a reprobate as
Porteous upon a peaceable town!"
"And to think o' the weary walk they hae gien us," answered Mrs. Howden,
with a groan; "and sic a comfortable window as I had gotten, too, just
within a penny-stane-cast of the scaffold--I could hae heard every word
the minister said--and to pay twalpennies for my stand, and a' for
"I am judging," said Mr. Plumdamas, "that this reprieve wadna stand gude
in the auld Scots law, when the kingdom was a kingdom."
"I dinna ken muckle about the law," answered Mrs. Howden; "but I ken,
when we had a king, and a chancellor, and parliament men o' our ain, we
could aye peeble them wi' stanes when they werena gude bairns--But
naebody's nails can reach the length o' Lunnon."
"Weary on Lunnon, and a' that e'er came out o't!" said Miss Grizel
Damahoy, an ancient seamstress; "they hae taen away our parliament, and
they hae oppressed our trade. Our gentles will hardly allow that a Scots
needle can sew ruffles on a sark, or lace on an owerlay."
"Ye may say that--Miss Damahoy, and I ken o' them that hae gotten raisins
frae Lunnon by forpits at ance," responded Plumdamas; "and then sic an
host of idle English gaugers and excisemen as hae come down to vex and
torment us, that an honest man canna fetch sae muckle as a bit anker o'
brandy frae Leith to the Lawnmarket, but he's like to be rubbit o' the
very gudes he's bought and paid for.--Weel, I winna justify Andrew Wilson
for pitting hands on what wasna his; but if he took nae mair than his
ain, there's an awfu' difference between that and the fact this man
"If ye speak about the law," said Mrs. Howden, "here comes Mr.
Saddletree, that can settle it as weel as ony on the bench."
The party she mentioned, a grave elderly person, with a superb periwig,
dressed in a decent suit of sad-coloured clothes, came up as she spoke,
and courteously gave his arm to Miss Grizel Damahoy.
It may be necessary to mention, that Mr. Bartoline Saddletree kept an
excellent and highly-esteemed shop for harness, saddles, &c. &c., at the
sign of the Golden Nag, at the head of Bess Wynd.*
* [Maitland calls it Best's Wynd, and later writers Beth's Wynd. As the
name implies, it was an open thoroughfare or alley leading from the
Lawnmarket, and extended in a direct line between the old Tolbooth to
near the head of the Cowgate. It was partly destroyed by fire in 1786,
and was totally removed in 1809, preparatory to the building of the new
libraries of the Faculty of Advocates and writers to the Signet.]
His genius, however (as he himself and most of his neighbours conceived),
lay towards the weightier matters of the law, and he failed not to give
frequent attendance upon the pleadings and arguments of the lawyers and
judges in the neighbouring square, where, to say the truth, he was
oftener to be found than would have consisted with his own emolument; but
that his wife, an active painstaking person, could, in his absence, make
an admirable shift to please the customers and scold the journeymen. This
good lady was in the habit of letting her husband take his way, and go on
improving his stock of legal knowledge without interruption; but, as if
in requital, she insisted upon having her own will in the domestic and
commercial departments which he abandoned to her. Now, as Bartoline
Saddletree had a considerable gift of words, which he mistook for
eloquence, and conferred more liberally upon the society in which he
lived than was at all times gracious and acceptable, there went forth a
saying, with which wags used sometimes to interrupt his rhetoric, that,
as he had a golden nag at his door, so he had a grey mare in his shop.
This reproach induced Mr. Saddletree, on all occasions, to assume rather
a haughty and stately tone towards his good woman, a circumstance by
which she seemed very little affected, unless he attempted to exercise
any real authority, when she never failed to fly into open rebellion. But
such extremes Bartoline seldom provoked; for, like the gentle King Jamie,
he was fonder of talking of authority than really exercising it. This
turn of mind was, on the whole, lucky for him; since his substance was
increased without any trouble on his part, or any interruption of his
This word in explanation has been thrown in to the reader, while
Saddletree was laying down, with great precision, the law upon Porteous's
case, by which he arrived at this conclusion, that, if Porteous had fired
five minutes sooner, before Wilson was cut down, he would have been
/versans in licito;/ engaged, that is, in a lawful act, and only liable
to be punished /propter excessum,/ or for lack of discretion, which might
have mitigated the punishment to /poena ordinaria./
"Discretion!" echoed Mrs. Howden, on whom, it may well be supposed, the
fineness of this distinction was entirely thrown away,--"whan had Jock
Porteous either grace, discretion, or gude manners?--I mind when his
"But, Mrs. Howden," said Saddletree--
"And I," said Miss Damahoy, "mind when his mother"
"Miss Damahoy," entreated the interrupted orator
"And I," said Plumdamas, "mind when his wife"
"Mr. Plumdamas--Mrs. Howden--Miss Damahoy," again implored the orator,--
"Mind the distinction, as Counsellor Crossmyloof says--'I,' says he,
'take a distinction.' Now, the body of the criminal being cut down, and
the execution ended, Porteous was no longer official; the act which he
came to protect and guard, being done and ended, he was no better than
/cuivis ex populo./"
"/Quivis--quivis,/ Mr. Saddletree, craving your pardon," said (with a
prolonged emphasis on the first syllable) Mr. Butler, the
deputy-schoolmaster of a parish near Edinburgh, who at that moment came
up behind them as the false Latin was uttered.
"What signifies interrupting me, Mr. Butler?--but I am glad to see ye
notwithstanding--I speak after Counsellor Crossmyloof, and he said
"If Counsellor Crossmyloof used the dative for the nominative, I would
have crossed his loof with a tight leathern strap, Mr. Saddletree; there
is not a boy on the booby form but should have been scourged for such a
solecism in grammar."
"I speak Latin like a lawyer, Mr. Butler, and not like a schoolmaster,"
"Scarce like a schoolboy, I think," rejoined Butler.
"It matters little," said Bartoline; "all I mean to say is, that Porteous
has become liable to the /poena extra ordinem,/ or capital punishment--
which is to say, in plain Scotch, the gallows--simply because he did not
fire when he was in office, but waited till the body was cut down, the
execution whilk he had in charge to guard implemented, and he himself
exonered of the public trust imposed on him."
"But, Mr. Saddletree," said Plumdamas, "do ye really think John
Porteous's case wad hae been better if he had begun firing before ony
stanes were flung at a'?"
"Indeed do I, neighbour Plumdamas," replied Bartoline, confidently, "he
being then in point of trust and in point of power, the execution being
but inchoat, or, at least, not implemented, or finally ended; but after
Wilson was cut down it was a' ower--he was clean exauctorate, and had nae
mair ado but to get awa wi' his guard up this West Bow as fast as if
there had been a caption after him--And this is law, for I heard it laid
down by Lord Vincovincentem."
"Vincovincentem?--Is he a lord of state, or a lord of seat?" inquired
* A nobleman was called a Lord of State. The Senators of the College * of
Justice were termed Lords of Seat, or of the Session.
"A lord of seat--a lord of session.--I fash mysell little wi' lords o'
state; they vex me wi' a wheen idle questions about their saddles, and
curpels, and holsters and horse-furniture, and what they'll cost, and
whan they'll be ready--a wheen galloping geese--my wife may serve the
like o' them."
"And so might she, in her day, hae served the best lord in the land, for
as little as ye think o' her, Mr. Saddletree," said Mrs. Howden, somewhat
indignant at the contemptuous way in which her gossip was mentioned;
"when she and I were twa gilpies, we little thought to hae sitten doun
wi' the like o' my auld Davie Howden, or you either, Mr. Saddletree."
While Saddletree, who was not bright at a reply, was cudgelling his
brains for an answer to this homethrust, Miss Damahoy broke in on him.
"And as for the lords of state," said Miss Damahoy, "ye suld mind the
riding o' the parliament, Mr. Saddletree, in the gude auld time before
the Union,--a year's rent o' mony a gude estate gaed for horse-graith and
harnessing, forby broidered robes and foot-mantles, that wad hae stude by
their lane wi' gold brocade, and that were muckle in my ain line."
"Ay, and then the lusty banqueting, with sweetmeats and comfits wet and
dry, and dried fruits of divers sorts," said Plumdamas. "But Scotland was
Scotland in these days."
"I'll tell ye what it is, neighbours," said Mrs. Howden, "I'll ne'er
believe Scotland is Scotland ony mair, if our kindly Scots sit doun with
the affront they hae gien us this day. It's not only the blude that /is/
shed, but the blude that might hae been shed, that's required at our
hands; there was my daughter's wean, little Eppie Daidle--my oe, ye ken,
Miss Grizel--had played the truant frae the school, as bairns will do, ye
ken, Mr. Butler"
"And for which," interjected Mr. Butler, "they should be soundly scourged
by their well-wishers."
"And had just cruppen to the gallows' foot to see the hanging, as was
natural for a wean; and what for mightna she hae been shot as weel as the
rest o' them, and where wad we a' hae been then? I wonder how Queen
Carline (if her name be Carline) wad hae liked to hae had ane o' her ain
bairns in sic a venture?"
"Report says," answered Butler, "that such a circumstance would not have
distressed her majesty beyond endurance."
"Aweel," said Mrs. Howden, "the sum o' the matter is, that, were I a man,
I wad hae amends o' Jock Porteous, be the upshot what like o't, if a' the
carles and carlines in England had sworn to the nay-say."
"I would claw down the Tolbooth door wi' my nails," said Miss Grizel,
"but I wad be at him."
"Ye may be very right, ladies," said Butler, "but I would not advise you
to speak so loud."
"Speak!" exclaimed both the ladies together, "there will be naething else
spoken about frae the Weigh-house to the Water-gate, till this is either
ended or mended."
The females now departed to their respective places of abode. Plumdamas
joined the other two gentlemen in drinking their /meridian/ (a
bumper-dram of brandy), as they passed the well-known low-browed shop in
the Lawnmarket, where they were wont to take that refreshment. Mr.
Plumdamas then departed towards his shop, and Mr. Butler, who happened to
have some particular occasion for the rein of an old bridle (the truants
of that busy day could have anticipated its application), walked down the
Lawnmarket with Mr. Saddletree, each talking as he could get a word
thrust in, the one on the laws of Scotland, the other on those of syntax,
and neither listening to a word which his companion uttered.
Elswhair he colde right weel lay down the law,
But in his house was meek as is a daw.
"There has been Jock Driver the carrier here, speering about his new
graith," said Mrs. Saddletree to her husband, as he crossed his
threshold, not with the purpose, by any means, of consulting him upon his
own affairs, but merely to intimate, by a gentle recapitulation, how much
duty she had gone through in his absence.
"Weel," replied Bartoline, and deigned not a word more.
"And the laird of Girdingburst has had his running footman here, and ca'd
himsell (he's a civil pleasant young gentleman), to see when the
broidered saddle-cloth for his sorrel horse will be ready, for he wants
it agane the Kelso races."
"Weel, aweel," replied Bartoline, as laconically as before.
"And his lordship, the Earl of Blazonbury, Lord Flash and Flame, is like
to be clean daft, that the harness for the six Flanders mears, wi' the
crests, coronets, housings, and mountings conform, are no sent hame
according to promise gien."
"Weel, weel, weel--weel, weel, gudewife," said Saddletree, "if he gangs
daft, we'll hae him cognosced--it's a' very weel."
"It's weel that ye think sae, Mr. Saddletree," answered his helpmate,
rather nettled at the indifference with which her report was received;
"there's mony ane wad hae thought themselves affronted, if sae mony
customers had ca'd and naebody to answer them but women-folk; for a' the
lads were aff, as soon as your back was turned, to see Porteous hanged,
that might be counted upon; and sae, you no being at hame"
"Houts, Mrs. Saddletree," said Bartoline, with an air of consequence,
"dinna deave me wi' your nonsense; I was under the necessity of being
elsewhere--/non omnia/--as Mr. Crossmyloof said, when he was called by
two macers at once--/non omnia possumus--pessimus--possimis/--I ken our
law-latin offends Mr. Butler's ears, but it means, Naebody, an it were
the Lord President himsell, can do twa turns at ance."
"Very right, Mr. Saddletree," answered his careful helpmate, with a
sarcastic smile; "and nae doubt it's a decent thing to leave your wife to
look after young gentlemen's saddles and bridles, when ye gang to see a
man, that never did ye nae ill, raxing a halter."
"Woman," said Saddletree, assuming an elevated tone, to which the
/meridian/ had somewhat contributed, "desist,--I say forbear, from
intromitting with affairs thou canst not understand. D'ye think I was
born to sit here brogging an elshin through bend-leather, when sic men as
Duncan Forbes, and that other Arniston chield there, without muckle
greater parts, if the close-head speak true, than mysell maun be
presidents and king's advocates, nae doubt, and wha but they? Whereas,
were favour equally distribute, as in the days of the wight Wallace"
"I ken naething we wad hae gotten by the wight Wallace," said Mrs.
Saddletree, "unless, as I hae heard the auld folk tell, they fought in
thae days wi' bend-leather guns, and then it's a chance but what, if he
had bought them, he might have forgot to pay for them. And as for the
greatness of your parts, Bartley, the folk in the close-head* maun ken
mair about them than I do, if they make sic a report of them."
* [/Close-head,/ the entrance of a blind alley.]
"I tell ye, woman," said Saddletree, in high dudgeon, "that ye ken
naething about these matters. In Sir William Wallace's days there was nae
man pinned down to sic a slavish wark as a saddler's, for they got ony
leather graith that they had use for ready-made out of Holland."
"Well," said Butler, who was, like many of his profession, something of a
humorist and dry joker, "if that be the case, Mr. Saddletree, I think we
have changed for the better; since we make our own harness, and only
import our lawyers from Holland."
"It's ower true, Mr. Butler," answered Bartoline, with a sigh; "if I had
had the luck--or rather, if my father had had the sense to send me to
Leyden and Utrecht to learn the Substitutes and Pandex"
"You mean the Institutes--Justinian's Institutes, Mr. Saddletree?" said
"Institutes and substitutes are synonymous words, Mr. Butler, and used
indifferently as such in deeds of tailzie, as you may see in Balfour's
Practiques, or Dallas of St. Martin's Styles. I understand these things
pretty weel, I thank God but I own I should have studied in Holland."
"To comfort you, you might not have been farther forward than you are
now, Mr. Saddletree," replied Mr. Butler; "for our Scottish advocates are
an aristocratic race. Their brass is of the right Corinthian quality, and
/Non cuivis contigit adire Corinthum/--Aha, Mr. Saddletree?"
"And aha, Mr. Butler," rejoined Bartoline, upon whom, as may be well
supposed, the jest was lost, and all but the sound of the words, "ye said
a gliff syne it was /quivis,/ and now I heard ye say /cuivis/ with my ain
ears, as plain as ever I heard a word at the fore-bar."
"Give me your patience, Mr. Saddletree, and I'll explain the discrepancy
in three words," said Butler, as pedantic in his own department, though
with infinitely more judgment and learning, as Bartoline was in his
self-assumed profession of the law--"Give me your patience for a moment
--You'll grant that the nominative case is that by which a person or
thing is nominated or designed, and which may be called the primary case,
all others being formed from it by alterations of the termination in the
learned languages, and by prepositions in our modern Babylonian jargons--
You'll grant me that, I suppose, Mr. Saddletree?"
"I dinna ken whether I will or no--/ad avisandum,/ ye ken--naebody should
be in a hurry to make admissions, either in point of law, or in point of
fact," said Saddletree, looking, or endeavouring to look, as if he
understood what was said.
"And the dative case," continued Butler
"I ken what a tutor dative is," said Saddletree, "readily enough."
"The dative case," resumed the grammarian, "is that in which anything is
given or assigned as properly belonging to a person or thing--You cannot
deny that, I am sure."
"I am sure I'll no grant it, though," said Saddletree.
"Then, what the /deevil/ d'ye take the nominative and the dative cases to
be?" said Butler, hastily, and surprised at once out of his decency of
expression and accuracy of pronunciation.
"I'll tell you that at leisure, Mr. Butler," said Saddletree, with a very
knowing look; "I'll take a day to see and answer every article of your
condescendence, and then I'll hold you to confess or deny as accords."
"Come, come, Mr. Saddletree," said his wife, "we'll hae nae confessions
and condescendences here; let them deal in thae sort o' wares that are
paid for them--they suit the like o' us as all as a demipique saddle
would suit a draught ox."
"Aha!" said Mr. Butler, "/Optat ephippia bos piger,/ nothing new under
the sun--But it was a fair hit of Mrs. Saddletree, however."
"And it wad far better become ye, Mr. Saddletree," continued his
helpmate, "since ye say ye hae skeel o' the law, to try if ye can do
onything for Effie Deans, puir thing, that's lying up in the tolbooth
yonder, cauld, and hungry, and comfortless--A servant lass of ours, Mr.
Butler, and as innocent a lass, to my thinking, and as usefu' in the
shop--When Mr. Saddletree gangs out,--and ye're aware he's seldom at hame
when there's ony o' the plea-houses open,--poor Effie used to help me to
tumble the bundles o' barkened leather up and down, and range out the
gudes, and suit a' body's humours--And troth, she could aye please the
customers wi' her answers, for she was aye civil, and a bonnier lass
wasna in Auld Reekie. And when folk were hasty and unreasonable, she
could serve them better than me, that am no sae young as I hae been, Mr.
Butler, and a wee bit short in the temper into the bargain. For when
there's ower mony folks crying on me at anes, and nane but ae tongue to
answer them, folk maun speak hastily, or they'll ne'er get through their
wark--Sae I miss Effie daily."
"/De die in diem,/" added Saddletree.
"I think," said Butler, after a good deal of hesitation, "I have seen the
girl in the shop--a modest-looking, fair-haired girl?"
"Ay, ay, that's just puir Effie," said her mistress. "How she was
abandoned to hersell, or whether she was sackless o' the sinful deed, God
in Heaven knows; but if she's been guilty, she's been sair tempted, and I
wad amaist take my Bible-aith she hasna been hersell at the time."
Butler had by this time become much agitated; he fidgeted up and down the
shop, and showed the greatest agitation that a person of such strict
decorum could be supposed to give way to. "Was not this girl," he said,
"the daughter of David Deans, that had the parks at St. Leonard's taken?
and has she not a sister?"
"In troth has she,--puir Jeanie Deans, ten years aulder than hersell; she
was here greeting a wee while syne about her tittie. And what could I say
to her, but that she behoved to come and speak to Mr. Saddletree when he
was at hame? It wasna that I thought Mr. Saddletree could do her or ony
ither body muckle good or ill, but it wad aye serve to keep the puir
thing's heart up for a wee while; and let sorrow come when sorrow maun."
"Ye're mistaen though, gudewife," said Saddletree scornfully, "for I
could hae gien her great satisfaction; I could hae proved to her that her
sister was indicted upon the statute saxteen hundred and ninety, chapter
one--For the mair ready prevention of child-murder--for concealing her
pregnancy, and giving no account of the child which she had borne."
"I hope," said Butler,--"I trust in a gracious God, that she can clear
"And sae do I, Mr. Butler," replied Mrs. Saddletree. "I am sure I wad hae
answered for her as my ain daughter; but wae's my heart, I had been
tender a' the simmer, and scarce ower the door o' my room for twal weeks.
And as for Mr. Saddletree, he might be in a lying-in hospital, and ne'er
find out what the women cam there for. Sae I could see little or naething
o' her, or I wad hae had the truth o' her situation out o' her, I'se
warrant ye--But we a' think her sister maun be able to speak something to
"The haill Parliament House," said Saddletree, "was speaking o' naething
else, till this job o' Porteous's put it out o' head--It's a beautiful
point of presumptive murder, and there's been nane like it in the
Justiciar Court since the case of Luckie Smith the howdie, that suffered
in the year saxteen hundred and seventy-nine."
"But what's the matter wi' you, Mr. Butler?" said the good woman; "ye are
looking as white as a sheet; will ye tak a dram?"
"By no means," said Butler, compelling himself to speak. "I walked in
from Dumfries yesterday, and this is a warm day."
"Sit down," said Mrs. Saddletree, laying hands on him kindly, "and rest
ye--yell kill yoursell, man, at that rate.--And are we to wish you joy o'
getting the scule, Mr. Butler?"
"Yes--no--I do not know," answered the young man vaguely. But Mrs.
Saddletree kept him to point, partly out of real interest, partly from
"Ye dinna ken whether ye are to get the free scule o' Dumfries or no,
after hinging on and teaching it a' the simmer?"
"No, Mrs. Saddletree--I am not to have it," replied Butler, more
collectedly. "The Laird of Black-at-the-Bane had a natural son bred to
the kirk, that the Presbytery could not be prevailed upon to license; and
"Ay, ye need say nae mair about it; if there was a laird that had a puir
kinsman or a bastard that it wad suit, there's enough said.--And ye're
e'en come back to Liberton to wait for dead men's shoon?--and for as
frail as Mr. Whackbairn is, he may live as lang as you, that are his
assistant and successor."
"Very like," replied Butler, with a sigh; "I do not know if I should wish
"Nae doubt, it's a very vexing thing," continued the good lady, "to be in
that dependent station; and you that hae right and title to sae muckle
better, I wonder how ye bear these crosses."
"/Quos diligit castigat,/" answered Butler; "even the pagan Seneca could
see an advantage in affliction, The Heathens had their philosophy, and
the Jews their revelation, Mrs. Saddletree, and they endured their
distresses in their day. Christians have a better dispensation than
He stopped and sighed.
"I ken what ye mean," said Mrs. Saddletree, looking toward her husband;
"there's whiles we lose patience in spite of baith book and Bible--But ye
are no gaun awa, and looking sae poorly--ye'll stay and take some kale
Mr. Saddletree laid aside Balfour's Practiques (his favourite study, and
much good may it do him), to join in his wife's hospitable importunity.
But the teacher declined all entreaty, and took his leave upon the spot.
"There's something in a' this," said Mrs. Saddletree, looking after him
as he walked up the street; "I wonder what makes Mr. Butler sae
distressed about Effie's misfortune--there was nae acquaintance atween
them that ever I saw or heard of; but they were neighbours when David
Deans was on the Laird o' Dumbiedikes' land. Mr. Butler wad ken her
father, or some o' her folk.--Get up, Mr. Saddletree--ye have set
yoursell down on the very brecham that wants stitching--and here's little
Willie, the prentice.--Ye little rin-there-out deil that ye are, what
takes you raking through the gutters to see folk hangit?--how wad ye like
when it comes to be your ain chance, as I winna ensure ye, if ye dinna
mend your manners?--And what are ye maundering and greeting for, as if a
word were breaking your banes?--Gang in by, and be a better bairn another
time, and tell Peggy to gie ye a bicker o' broth, for ye'll be as gleg as
a gled, I'se warrant ye.--It's a fatherless bairn, Mr. Saddletree, and
motherless, whilk in some cases may be waur, and ane would take care o'
him if they could--it's a Christian duty."
"Very true, gudewife," said Saddletree in reply, "we are /in loco
parentis/ to him during his years of pupillarity, and I hae had thoughts
of applying to the Court for a commission as factor /loco tutoris,/
seeing there is nae tutor nominate, and the tutor-at-law declines to act;
but only I fear the expense of the procedure wad not be /in rem versam,/
for I am not aware if Willie has ony effects whereof to assume the
He concluded this sentence with a self-important cough, as one who has
laid down the law in an indisputable manner.
"Effects!" said Mrs. Saddletree, "what effects has the puir wean?--he was
in rags when his mother died; and the blue polonie that Effie made for
him out of an auld mantle of my ain, was the first decent dress the bairn
ever had on. Poor Effie! can ye tell me now really, wi' a' your law, will
her life be in danger, Mr. Saddletree, when they arena able to prove that
ever there was a bairn ava?"
"Whoy," said Mr. Saddletree, delighted at having for once in his life
seen his wife's attention arrested by a topic of legal discussion--"Whoy,
there are two sorts of /murdrum/ or /murdragium,/ or what you
/populariter et vulgariser/ call murther. I mean there are many sorts;
for there's your /murthrum per vigilias et insidias,/ and your /murthrum/
"I am sure," replied his moiety, "that murther by trust is the way that
the gentry murther us merchants, and whiles make us shut the booth up--
but that has naething to do wi' Effie's misfortune."
"The case of Effie (or Euphemia) Deans," resumed Saddletree, "is one of
those cases of murder presumptive, that is, a murder of the law's
inferring or construction, being derived from certain /indicia/ or
grounds of suspicion."
"So that," said the good woman, "unless poor Effie has communicated her
situation, she'll be hanged by the neck, if the bairn was still-born, or
if it be alive at this moment?"
"Assuredly," said Saddletree, "it being a statute made by our Sovereign
Lord and Lady, to prevent the horrid delict of bringing forth children in
secret--The crime is rather a favourite of the law, this species of
murther being one of its ain creation."
"Then, if the law makes murders," said Mrs. Saddletree, "the law should
be hanged for them; or if they wad hang a lawyer instead, the country wad
find nae faut."
A summons to their frugal dinner interrupted the farther progress of the
conversation, which was otherwise like to take a turn much less
favourable to the science of jurisprudence and its professors, than Mr.
Bartoline Saddletree, the fond admirer of both, had at its opening
But up then raise all Edinburgh.
They all rose up by thousands three.
Johnnie Armstrang's /Goodnight./
Butler, on his departure from the sign of the Golden Nag, went in quest
of a friend of his connected with the law, of whom he wished to make
particular inquiries concerning the circumstances in which the
unfortunate young woman mentioned in the last chapter was placed, having,
as the reader has probably already conjectured, reasons much deeper than
those dictated by mere humanity for interesting himself in her fate. He
found the person he sought absent from home, and was equally unfortunate
in one or two other calls which he made upon acquaintances whom he hoped
to interest in her story. But everybody was, for the moment, stark-mad on
the subject of Porteous, and engaged busily in attacking or defending the
measures of Government in reprieving him; and the ardour of dispute had
excited such universal thirst, that half the young lawyers and writers,
together with their very clerks, the class whom Butler was looking after,
had adjourned the debate to some favourite tavern. It was computed by an
experienced arithmetician, that there was as much twopenny ale consumed
on the discussion as would have floated a first-rate man-of-war.
Butler wandered about until it was dusk, resolving to take that
opportunity of visiting the unfortunate young woman, when his doing so
might be least observed; for he had his own reasons for avoiding the
remarks of Mrs. Saddletree, whose shop-door opened at no great distance
from that of the jail, though on the opposite or south side of the
street, and a little higher up. He passed, therefore, through the narrow
and partly covered passage leading from the north-west end of the
He stood now before the Gothic entrance of the ancient prison, which, as
is well known to all men, rears its ancient front in the very middle of
the High Street, forming, as it were, the termination to a huge pile of
buildings called the Luckenbooths, which, for some inconceivable reason,
our ancestors had jammed into the midst of the principal street of the
town, leaving for passage a narrow street on the north; and on the south,
into which the prison opens, a narrow crooked lane, winding betwixt the
high and sombre walls of the Tolbooth and the adjacent houses on the one
side, and the butresses and projections of the old Cathedral upon the
other. To give some gaiety to this sombre passage (well known by the name
of the Krames), a number of little booths, or shops, after the fashion of
cobblers' stalls, are plastered, as it were, against the Gothic
projections and abutments, so that it seemed as if the traders had
occupied with nests, bearing the same proportion to the building, every
buttress and coign of vantage, as the martlett did in Macbeth's Castle.
Of later years these booths have degenerated into mere toy-shops, where
the little loiterers chiefly interested in such wares are tempted to
linger, enchanted by the rich display of hobby-horses, babies, and Dutch
toys, arranged in artful and gay confusion; yet half-scared by the cross
looks of the withered pantaloon, or spectacled old lady, by whom these
tempting stores are watched and superintended. But, in the times we write
of, the hosiers, the glovers, the hatters, the mercers, the milliners,
and all who dealt in the miscellaneous wares now termed haberdasher's
goods, were to be found in this narrow alley.
To return from our digression. Butler found the outer turnkey, a tall
thin old man, with long silver hair, in the act of locking the outward
door of the jail. He addressed himself to this person, and asked
admittance to Effie Deans, confined upon accusation of child-murder. The
turnkey looked at him earnestly, and, civilly touching his hat out of
respect to Butler's black coat and clerical appearance, replied, "It was
impossible any one could be admitted at present."
"You shut up earlier than usual, probably on account of Captain
Porteous's affair?" said Butler.
The turnkey, with the true mystery of a person in office, gave two grave
nods, and withdrawing from the wards a ponderous key of about two feet in
length, he proceeded to shut a strong plate of steel, which folded down
above the keyhole, and was secured by a steel spring and catch. Butler
stood still instinctively while the door was made fast, and then looking
at his watch, walked briskly up the street, muttering to himself, almost
Porta adversa, ingens, solidoque adamante columnae;
Vis ut nulla virum, non ipsi exscindere ferro
Coelicolae valeant--Stat ferrea turris ad auras--etc.*
Dryden's /Virgil,/ Book vi.
* Wide is the fronting gate, and, raised on high, With adamantine columns
threats the sky; Vain is the force of man, and Heaven's as vain, To crush
the pillars which the pile sustain: Sublime on these a tower of steel is
Having wasted half-an-hour more in a second fruitless attempt to find his
legal friend and adviser, he thought it time to leave the city and return
to his place of residence, in a small village about two miles and a half
to the southward of Edinburgh. The metropolis was at this time surrounded
by a high wall, with battlements and flanking projections at some
intervals, and the access was through gates, called in the Scottish
language /ports,/ which were regularly shut at night. A small fee to the
keepers would indeed procure egress and ingress at any time, through a
wicket left for that purpose in the large gate; but it was of some
importance, to a man so poor as Butler, to avoid even this slight
pecuniary mulct; and fearing the hour of shutting the gates might be
near, he made for that to which he found himself nearest, although, by
doing so, he somewhat lengthened his walk homewards. Bristo Port was that
by which his direct road lay, but the West Port, which leads out of the
Grassmarket, was the nearest of the city gates to the place where he
found himself, and to that, therefore, he directed his course. He reached
the port in ample time to pass the circuit of the walls, and entered a
suburb called Portsburgh, chiefly inhabited by the lower order of
citizens and mechanics. Here he was unexpectedly interrupted.
He had not gone far from the gate before he heard the sound of a drum,
and, to his great surprise, met a number of persons, sufficient to occupy
the whole front of the street, and form a considerable mass behind,
moving with great speed towards the gate he had just come from, and
having in front of them a drum beating to arms. While he considered how
he should escape a party, assembled, as it might be presumed, for no
lawful purpose, they came full on him and stopped him.
"Are you a clergyman?" one questioned him.
Butler replied that "he was in orders, but was not a placed minister."
"It's Mr. Butler from Liberton," said a voice from behind, "he'll
discharge the duty as weel as ony man."
"You must turn back with us, sir," said the first speaker, in a tone
civil but peremptory.
"For what purpose, gentlemen?" said Mr. Butler. "I live at some distance
from town--the roads are unsafe by night--you will do me a serious injury
by stopping me."
"You shall be sent safely home--no man shall touch a hair of your head--
but you must and shall come along with us."
"But to what purpose or end, gentlemen?" said Butler. "I hope you will be
so civil as to explain that to me."
"You shall know that in good time. Come along--for come you must, by
force or fair means; and I warn you to look neither to the right hand nor
the left, and to take no notice of any man's face, but consider all that
is passing before you as a dream."
"I would it were a dream I could awaken from," said Butler to himself;
but having no means to oppose the violence with which he was threatened,
he was compelled to turn round and march in front of the rioters, two men
partly supporting and partly holding him. During this parley the
insurgents had made themselves masters of the West Port, rushing upon the
Waiters (so the people were called who had the charge of the gates), and
possessing themselves of the keys. They bolted and barred the folding
doors, and commanded the person, whose duty it usually was, to secure the
wicket, of which they did not understand the fastenings. The man,
terrified at an incident so totally unexpected, was unable to perform his
usual office, and gave the matter up, after several attempts. The
rioters, who seemed to have come prepared for every emergency, called for
torches, by the light of which they nailed up the wicket with long nails,
which, it seemed probable, they had provided on purpose.
While this was going on, Butler could not, even if he had been willing,
avoid making remarks on the individuals who seemed to lead this singular
mob. The torch-light, while it fell on their forms and left him in the
shade, gave him an opportunity to do so without their observing him.
Several of those who seemed most active were dressed in sailors' jackets,
trousers, and sea-caps; others in large loose-bodied greatcoats, and
slouched hats; and there were several who, judging from their dress,
should have been called women, whose rough deep voices, uncommon size,
and masculine, deportment and mode of walking, forbade them being so
interpreted. They moved as if by some well-concerted plan of arrangement.
They had signals by which they knew, and nicknames by which they
distinguished each other. Butler remarked, that the name of Wildfire was
used among them, to which one stout Amazon seemed to reply.
The rioters left a small party to observe the West Port, and directed the
Waiters, as they valued their lives, to remain within their lodge, and
make no attempt for that night to repossess themselves of the gate. They
then moved with rapidity along the low street called the Cowgate, the mob
of the city everywhere rising at the sound of their drum, and joining
them. When the multitude arrived at the Cowgate Port, they secured it
with as little opposition as the former, made it fast, and left a small
party to observe it. It was afterwards remarked, as a striking instance
of prudence and precaution, singularly combined with audacity, that the
parties left to guard those gates did not remain stationary on their
posts, but flitted to and fro, keeping so near the gates as to see that
no efforts were made to open them, yet not remaining so long as to have
their persons closely observed. The mob, at first only about one hundred
strong, now amounted to thousands, and were increasing every moment. They
divided themselves so as to ascend with more speed the various narrow
lanes which lead up from the Cowgate to the High Street; and still
beating to arms as they went, an calling on all true Scotsmen to join
them, they now filled the principal street of the city.
The Netherbow Port might be called the Temple Bar of Edinburgh, as,
intersecting the High Street at its termination, it divided Edinburgh,
properly so called, from the suburb named the Canongate, as Temple Bar
separates London from Westminster. It was of the utmost importance to the
rioters to possess themselves of this pass, because there was quartered
in the Canongate at that time a regiment of infantry, commanded by
Colonel Moyle, which might have occupied the city by advancing through
this gate, and would possess the power of totally defeating their
purpose. The leaders therefore hastened to the Netherbow Port, which they
secured in the same manner, and with as little trouble, as the other
gates, leaving a party to watch it, strong in proportion to the
importance of the post.
The next object of these hardy insurgents was at once to disarm the City
Guard, and to procure arms for themselves; for scarce any weapons but
staves and bludgeons had been yet seen among them. The Guard-house was a
long, low, ugly building (removed in 1787), which to a fanciful
imagination might have suggested the idea of a long black snail crawling
up the middle of the High Street, and deforming its beautiful esplanade.
This formidable insurrection had been so unexpected, that there were no
more than the ordinary sergeant's guard of the city-corps upon duty; even
these were without any supply of powder and ball; and sensible enough
what had raised the storm, and which way it was rolling, could hardly be
supposed very desirous to expose themselves by a valiant defence to the
animosity of so numerous and desperate a mob, to whom they were on the
present occasion much more than usually obnoxious.
There was a sentinel upon guard, who (that one town-guard soldier might
do his duty on that eventful evening) presented his piece, and desired
the foremost of the rioters to stand off. The young Amazon, whom Butler
had observed particularly active, sprung upon the soldier, seized his
musket, and after a struggle succeeded in wrenching it from him, and
throwing him down on the causeway. One or two soldiers, who endeavoured
to turn out to the support of their sentinel, were in the same manner
seized and disarmed, and the mob without difficulty possessed themselves
of the Guard-house, disarming and turning out of doors the rest of the
men on duty. It was remarked, that, notwithstanding the city soldiers had
been the instruments of the slaughter which this riot was designed to
revenge, no ill usage or even insult was offered to them. It seemed as if
the vengeance of the people disdained to stoop at any head meaner than
that which they considered as the source and origin of their injuries.
On possessing themselves of the guard, the first act of the multitude was
to destroy the drums, by which they supposed an alarm might be conveyed
to the garrison in the castle; for the same reason they now silenced
their own, which was beaten by a young fellow, son to the drummer of
Portsburgh, whom they had forced upon that service. Their next business
was to distribute among the boldest of the rioters the guns, bayonets,
partisans, halberts, and battle or Lochaber axes. Until this period the
principal rioters had preserved silence on the ultimate object of their
rising, as being that which all knew, but none expressed. Now, however,
having accomplished all the preliminary parts of their design, they
raised a tremendous shout of "Porteous! Porteous! To the Tolbooth! To the
They proceeded with the same prudence when the object seemed to be nearly
in their grasp, as they had done hitherto when success was more dubious.
A strong party of the rioters, drawn up in front of the Luckenbooths, and
facing down the street, prevented all access from the eastward, and the
west end of the defile formed by the Luckenbooths was secured in the same
manner; so that the Tolbooth was completely surrounded, and those who
undertook the task of breaking it open effectually secured against the
risk of interruption.
The magistrates, in the meanwhile, had taken the alarm, and assembled in
a tavern, with the purpose of raising some strength to subdue the
rioters. The deacons, or presidents of the trades, were applied to, but
declared there was little chance of their authority being respected by
the craftsmen, where it was the object to save a man so obnoxious. Mr.
Lindsay, member of parliament for the city, volunteered the perilous task
of carrying a verbal message, from the Lord Provost to Colonel Moyle, the
commander of the regiment lying in the Canongate, requesting him to force
the Netherbow Port, and enter the city to put down the tumult. But Mr.
Lindsay declined to charge himself with any written order, which, if
found on his person by an enraged mob, might have cost him his life; and
the issue, of the application was, that Colonel Moyle having no written
requisition from the civil authorities, and having the fate of Porteous
before his eyes as an example of the severe construction put by a jury on
the proceedings of military men acting on their own responsibility,
declined to encounter the risk to which the Provost's verbal
communication invited him.
More than one messenger was despatched by different ways to the Castle,
to require the commanding officer to march down his troops, to fire a few
cannon-shot, or even to throw a shell among the mob, for the purpose of
clearing the streets. But so strict and watchful were the various patrols
whom the rioters had established in different parts of the streets, that
none of the emissaries of the magistrates could reach the gate of the
Castle. They were, however, turned back without either injury or insult,
and with nothing more of menace than was necessary to deter them from
again attempting to accomplish their errand.
The same vigilance was used to prevent everybody of the higher, and those
which, in this case, might be deemed the more suspicious orders of
society, from appearing in the street, and observing the movements, or
distinguishing the persons, of the rioters. Every person in the garb of a
gentleman was stopped by small parties of two or three of the mob, who
partly exhorted, partly required of them, that they should return to the
place from whence they came. Many a quadrille table was spoilt that
memorable evening; for the sedan chairs of ladies; even of the highest
rank, were interrupted in their passage from one point to another, in
spite of the laced footmen and blazing flambeaux. This was uniformly done
with a deference and attention to the feelings of the terrified females,
which could hardly have been expected from the videttes of a mob so
desperate. Those who stopped the chair usually made the excuse, that
there was much disturbance on the streets, and that it was absolutely
necessary for the lady's safety that the chair should turn back. They
offered themselves to escort the vehicles which they had thus interrupted
in their progress, from the apprehension, probably, that some of those
who had casually united themselves to the riot might disgrace their
systematic and determined plan of vengeance, by those acts of general
insult and license which are common on similar occasions.
Persons are yet living who remember to have heard from the mouths of
ladies thus interrupted on their journey in the manner we have described,
that they were escorted to their lodgings by the young men who stopped
them, and even handed out of their chairs, with a polite attention far
beyond what was consistent with their dress, which was apparently that of
* A near relation of the author's used to tell of having been stopped by
the rioters, and escorted home in the manner described. On reaching her
own home one of her attendants, in the appearance a /baxter/, a baker's
lad, handed her out of her chair, and took leave with a bow, which, in
the lady's opinion, argued breeding that could hardly be learned at the
It seemed as if the conspirators, like those who assassinated Cardinal
Beatoun in former days, had entertained the opinion, that the work about
which they went was a judgment of Heaven, which, though unsanctioned by
the usual authorities, ought to be proceeded in with order and gravity.
While their outposts continued thus vigilant, and suffered themselves
neither from fear nor curiosity to neglect that part of the duty assigned
to them, and while the main guards to the east and west secured them
against interruption, a select body of the rioters thundered at the door
of the jail, and demanded instant admission. No one answered, for the
outer keeper had prudently made his escape with the keys at the
commencement of the riot, and was nowhere to be found. The door was
instantly assailed with sledge-hammers, iron crows, and the coulters of
ploughs, ready provided for the purpose, with which they prized, heaved,
and battered for some time with little effect; for the door, besides
being of double oak planks, clenched, both endlong and athwart, with
broad-headed nails, was so hung and secured as to yield to no means of
forcing, without the expenditure of much time. The rioters, however,
appeared determined to gain admittance. Gang after gang relieved each
other at the exercise, for, of course, only a few could work at once; but
gang after gang retired, exhausted with their violent exertions, without
making much progress in forcing the prison door. Butler had been led up
near to this the principal scene of action; so near, indeed, that he was
almost deafened by the unceasing clang of the heavy fore-hammers against
the iron-bound portal of the prison. He began to entertain hopes, as the
task seemed protracted, that the populace might give it over in despair,
or that some rescue might arrive to disperse them. There was a moment at
which the latter seemed probable.
The magistrates, having assembled their officers, and some of the
citizens who were willing to hazard themselves for the public
tranquillity, now sallied forth from the tavern where they held their
sitting, and approached the point of danger. Their officers went before
them with links and torches, with a herald to read the riot-act, if
necessary. They easily drove before them the outposts and videttes of the
rioters; but when they approached the line of guard which the mob, or
rather, we should say, the conspirators, had drawn across the street in
the front of the Luckenbooths, they were received with an unintermitted
volley of stones, and, on their nearer approach, the pikes, bayonets, and
Lochaber-axes, of which the populace had possessed themselves, were
presented against them. One of their ordinary officers, a strong resolute
fellow, went forward, seized a rioter, and took from him a musket; but,
being unsupported, he was instantly thrown on his back in the street, and
disarmed in his turn. The officer was too happy to be permitted to rise
and run away without receiving any farther injury; which afforded another
remarkable instance of the mode in which these men had united a sort of
moderation towards all others, with the most inflexible inveteracy
against the object of their resentment. The magistrates, after vain
attempts to make themselves heard and obeyed, possessing no means of
enforcing their authority, were constrained to abandon the field to the
rioters, and retreat in all speed from the showers of missiles that
whistled around their ears.
The passive resistance of the Tolbooth gate promised to do more to baffle
the purpose of the mob than the active interference of the magistrates.
The heavy sledge-hammers continued to din against it without
intermission, and with a noise which, echoed from the lofty buildings
around the spot, seemed enough to have alarmed the garrison in the
Castle. It was circulated among the rioters, that the troops would march
down to disperse them, unless they could execute their purpose without
loss of time; or that, even without quitting the fortress, the garrison
might obtain the same end by throwing a bomb or two upon the street.
Urged by such motives for apprehension, they eagerly relieved each other
at the labour of assailing the Tolbooth door: yet such was its strength,
that it still defied their efforts. At length, a voice was heard to
pronounce the words, "Try it with fire." The rioters, with an unanimous
shout, called for combustibles, and as all their wishes seemed to be
instantly supplied, they were soon in possession of two or three empty
tar-barrels. A huge red glaring bonfire speedily arose close to the door
of the prison, sending up a tall column of smoke and flame against its
antique turrets and strongly-grated windows, and illuminating the
ferocious and wild gestures of the rioters, who surrounded the place, as
well as the pale and anxious groups of those, who, from windows in the
vicinage, watched the progress of this alarming scene. The mob fed the
fire with whatever they could find fit for the purpose. The flames roared
and crackled among the heaps of nourishment piled on the fire, and a
terrible shout soon announced that the door had kindled, and was in the
act of being destroyed. The fire was suffered to decay, but, long ere it
was quite extinguished, the most forward of the rioters rushed, in their
impatience, one after another, over its yet smouldering remains. Thick
showers of sparkles rose high in the air, as man after man bounded over
the glowing embers, and disturbed them in their passage. It was now
obvious to Butler, and all others who were present, that the rioters
would be instantly in possession of their victim, and have it in their
power to work their pleasure upon him, whatever that might be.*
* Note C. The Old Tolbooth.
The evil you teach us,
We will execute; and it shall go hard, but we will
Better the instruction.
Merchant of Venice.
The unhappy object of this remarkable disturbance had been that day
delivered from the apprehension of public execution, and his joy was the
greater, as he had some reason to question whether Government would have
run the risk of unpopularity by interfering in his favour, after he had
been legally convicted by the verdict of a jury, of a crime so very
obnoxious. Relieved from this doubtful state of mind, his heart was merry
within him, and he thought, in the emphatic words of Scripture on a
similar occasion, that surely the bitterness of death was past. Some of
his friends, however, who had watched the manner and behaviour of the
crowd when they were made acquainted with the reprieve, were of a
different opinion. They augured, from the unusual sternness and silence
with which they bore their disappointment, that the populace nourished
some scheme of sudden and desperate vengeance; and they advised Porteous
to lose no time in petitioning the proper authorities, that he might be
conveyed to the Castle under a sufficient guard, to remain there in
security until his ultimate fate should be determined. Habituated,
however, by his office, to overawe the rabble of the city, Porteous could
not suspect them of an attempt so audacious as to storm a strong and
defensible prison; and, despising the advice by which he might have been
saved, he spent the afternoon of the eventful day in giving an
entertainment to some friends who visited him in jail, several of whom,
by the indulgence of the Captain of the Tolbooth, with whom he had an old
intimacy, arising from their official connection, were even permitted to
remain to supper with him, though contrary to the rules of the jail.
It was, therefore, in the hour of unalloyed mirth, when this unfortunate
wretch was "full of bread," hot with wine, and high in mistimed and
ill-grounded confidence, and alas! with all his sins full blown, when the
first distant' shouts of the rioters mingled with the song of merriment
and intemperance. The hurried call of the jailor to the guests, requiring
them instantly to depart, and his yet more hasty intimation that a
dreadful and determined mob had possessed themselves of the city gates
and guard-house, were the first explanation of these fearful clamours.
Porteous might, however, have eluded the fury from which the force of
authority could not protect him, had he thought of slipping on some
disguise, and leaving the prison along with his guests. It is probable
that the jailor might have connived at his escape, or even that in the
hurry of this alarming contingency, he might not have observed it. But
Porteous and his friends alike wanted presence of mind to suggest or
execute such a plan of escape. The former hastily fled from a place where
their own safety seemed compromised, and the latter, in a state
resembling stupefaction, awaited in his apartment the termination of the
enterprise of the rioters. The cessation of the clang of the instruments
with which they had at first attempted to force the door, gave him
momentary relief. The flattering hopes, that the military had marched
into the city, either from the Castle or from the suburbs, and that the
rioters were intimidated, and dispersing, were soon destroyed by the
broad and glaring light of the flames, which, illuminating through the
grated window every corner of his apartment, plainly showed that the mob,
determined on their fatal purpose, had adopted a means of forcing
entrance equally desperate and certain.
The sudden glare of light suggested to the stupified and astonished
object of popular hatred the possibility of concealment or escape. To
rush to the chimney, to ascend it at the risk of suffocation, were the
only means which seemed to have occurred to him; but his progress was
speedily stopped by one of those iron gratings, which are, for the sake
of security, usually placed across the vents of buildings designed for
imprisonment. The bars, however, which impeded his farther progress,
served to support him in the situation which he had gained, and he seized
them with the tenacious grasp of one who esteemed himself clinging to his
last hope of existence. The lurid light which had filled the apartment,
lowered and died away; the sound of shouts was heard within the walls,
and on the narrow and winding stair, which, eased within one of the
turrets, gave access to the upper apartments of the prison. The huzza of
the rioters was answered by a shout wild and desperate as their own, the
cry, namely, of the imprisoned felons, who, expecting to be liberated in
the general confusion, welcomed the mob as their deliverers. By some of
these the apartment of Porteous was pointed out to his enemies. The
obstacle of the lock and bolts was soon overcome, and from his hiding
place the unfortunate man heard his enemies search every corner of the
apartment, with oaths and maledictions, which would but shock the reader
if we recorded them, but which served to prove, could it have admitted of
doubt, the settled purpose of soul with which they sought his
A place of concealment so obvious to suspicion and scrutiny as that which
Porteous had chosen, could not long screen him from detection. He was
dragged from his lurking-place, with a violence which seemed to argue an
intention to put him to death on the spot. More than one weapon was
directed towards him, when one of the rioters, the same whose female
disguise had been particularly noticed by Butler, interfered in an
authoritative tone. "Are ye mad?" he said, "or would ye execute an act of
justice as if it were a crime and a cruelty? This sacrifice will lose
half its savour if we do not offer it at the very horns of the altar. We
will have him die where a murderer should die, on the common gibbet--We
will have him die where he spilled the blood of so many innocents!"
A loud shout of applause followed the proposal, and the cry, "To the
gallows with the murderer!--to the Grassmarket with him!" echoed on all
"Let no man hurt him," continued the speaker; "let him make his peace
with God, if he can; we will not kill both his soul and body."
"What time did he give better folk for preparing their account?" answered
several voices. "Let us mete to him with the same measure he measured to
But the opinion of the spokesman better suited the temper of those he
addressed, a temper rather stubborn than impetuous, sedate though
ferocious, and desirous of colouring their cruel and revengeful action
with a show of justice and moderation.
For an instant this man quitted the prisoner, whom he consigned to a
selected guard, with instructions to permit him to give his money and
property to whomsoever he pleased. A person confined in the jail for debt
received this last deposit from the trembling hand of the victim, who was
at the same time permitted to make some other brief arrangements to meet
his approaching fate. The felons, and all others who, wished to leave the
jail, were now at full liberty to do so; not that their liberation made
any part of the settled purpose of the rioters, but it followed as almost
a necessary consequence of forcing the jail doors. With wild cries of
jubilee they joined the mob, or disappeared among the narrow lanes to
seek out the hidden receptacles of vice and infamy, where they were
accustomed to lurk and conceal themselves from justice.
Two persons, a man about fifty years old and a girl about eighteen, were
all who continued within the fatal walls, excepting two or three debtors,
who probably saw no advantage in attempting their escape. The persons we
have mentioned remained in the strong room of the prison, now deserted by
all others. One of their late companions in misfortune called out to the
man to make his escape, in the tone of an acquaintance. "Rin for it,
Ratcliffe--the road's clear."
"It may be sae, Willie," answered Ratcliffe, composedly, "but I have taen
a fancy to leave aff trade, and set up for an honest man."
"Stay there, and be hanged, then, for a donnard auld deevil!" said the
other, and ran down the prison stair.
The person in female attire whom we have distinguished as one of the most
active rioters, was about the same time at the ear of the young woman.
"Flee, Effie, flee!" was all he had time to whisper. She turned towards
him an eye of mingled fear, affection, and upbraiding, all contending
with a sort of stupified surprise. He again repeated, "Flee, Effie, flee!
for the sake of all that's good and dear to you!" Again she gazed on him,
but was unable to answer. A loud noise was now heard, and the name of
Madge Wildfire was repeatedly called from the bottom of the staircase.
"I am coming,--I am coming," said the person who answered to that
appellative; and then reiterating hastily, "For God's sake--for your own
sake--for my sake, flee, or they'll take your life!" he left the strong
The girl gazed after him for a moment, and then, faintly muttering,
"Better tyne life, since tint is gude fame," she sunk her head upon her
hand, and remained, seemingly, unconscious as a statue of the noise and
tumult which passed around her.
That tumult was now transferred from the inside to the outside of the
Tolbooth. The mob had brought their destined victim forth, and were about
to conduct him to the common place of execution, which they had fixed as
the scene of his death. The leader, whom they distinguished by the name
of Madge Wildfire, had been summoned to assist at the procession by the
impatient shouts of his confederates.
"I will insure you five hundred pounds," said the unhappy man, grasping
Wildfire's hand,--"five hundred pounds for to save my life."
The other answered in the same undertone, and returning his grasp with
one equally convulsive, "Five hundredweight of coined gold should not
save you.--Remember Wilson!"
A deep pause of a minute ensued, when Wildfire added, in a more composed
tone, "Make your peace with Heaven.--Where is the clergyman?"
Butler, who in great terror and anxiety, had been detained within a few
yards of the Tolbooth door, to wait the event of the search after
Porteous, was now brought forward, and commanded to walk by the
prisoner's side, and to prepare him for immediate death. His answer was a
supplication that the rioters would consider what they did. "You are
neither judges nor jury," said he. "You cannot have, by the laws of God
or man, power to take away the life of a human creature, however
deserving he may be of death. If it is murder even in a lawful magistrate
to execute an offender otherwise than in the place, time, and manner
which the judges' sentence prescribes, what must it be in you, who have
no warrant for interference but your own wills? In the name of Him who is
all mercy, show mercy to this unhappy man, and do not dip your hands in
his blood, nor rush into the very crime which you are desirous of
"Cut your sermon short--you are not in your pulpit," answered one of the
"If we hear more of your clavers," said another, "we are like to hang you
up beside him."
"Peace--hush!" said Wildfire. "Do the good man no harm--he discharges his
conscience, and I like him the better."
He then addressed Butler. "Now, sir, we have patiently heard you, and we
just wish you to understand, in the way of answer, that you may as well
argue to the ashlar-work and iron stanchels of the Tolbooth as think to
change our purpose--Blood must have blood. We have sworn to each other by
the deepest oaths ever were pledged, that Porteous shall die the death he
deserves so richly; therefore, speak no more to us, but prepare him for
death as well as the briefness of his change will permit."
They had suffered the unfortunate Porteous to put on his night-gown and
slippers, as he had thrown off his coat and shoes, in order to facilitate
his attempted escape up the chimney. In this garb he was now mounted on
the hands of two of the rioters, clasped together, so as to form what is
called in Scotland, "The King's Cushion." Butler was placed close to his
side, and repeatedly urged to perform a duty always the most painful
which can be imposed on a clergyman deserving of the name, and now
rendered more so by the peculiar and horrid circumstances of the
criminal's case. Porteous at first uttered some supplications for mercy,
but when he found that there was no chance that these would be attended
to, his military education, and the natural stubbornness of his
disposition, combined to support his spirits.
"Are you prepared for this dreadful end?" said Butler, in a faltering
voice. "O turn to Him, in whose eyes time and space have no existence,
and to whom a few minutes are as a lifetime, and a lifetime as a minute."
"I believe I know what you would say," answered Porteous sullenly. "I was
bred a soldier; if they will murder me without time, let my sins as well
as my blood lie at their door."
"Who was it," said the stern voice of Wildfire, "that said to Wilson at
this very spot, when he could not pray, owing to the galling agony of his
fetters, that his pains would soon be over?--I say to you to take your
own tale home; and if you cannot profit by the good man's lessons, blame
not them that are still more merciful to you than you were to others."
The procession now moved forward with a slow and determined pace. It was
enlightened by many blazing, links and torches; for the actors of this
work were so far from affecting any secrecy on the occasion, that they
seemed even to court observation. Their principal leaders kept close to
the person of the prisoner, whose pallid yet stubborn features were seen
distinctly by the torch-light, as his person was raised considerably
above the concourse which thronged around him. Those who bore swords,
muskets, and battle-axes, marched on each side, as if forming a regular
guard to the procession. The windows, as they went along, were filled
with the inhabitants, whose slumbers had been broken by this unusual
disturbance. Some of the spectators muttered accents of encouragement;
but in general they were so much appalled by a sight so strange and
audacious, that they looked on with a sort of stupified astonishment. No
one offered, by act or word, the slightest interruption.
The rioters, on their part, continued to act with the same air of
deliberate confidence and security which had marked all their
proceedings. When the object of their resentment dropped one of his
slippers, they stopped, sought for it, and replaced it upon his foot with
* This little incident, characteristic of the extreme composure of this
extraordinary mob, was witnessed by a lady, who, disturbed like others
from her slumbers, had gone to the window. It was told to the Author by
the lady's daughter.
As they descended the Bow towards the fatal spot where they designed to
complete their purpose, it was suggested that there should be a rope kept
in readiness. For this purpose the booth of a man who dealt in cordage
was forced open, a coil of rope fit for their purpose was selected to
serve as a halter, and the dealer next morning found that a guinea had
been left on his counter in exchange; so anxious were the perpetrators of
this daring action to show that they meditated not the slightest wrong or
infraction of law, excepting so far as Porteous was himself concerned.
Leading, or carrying along with them, in this determined and regular
manner, the object of their vengeance, they at length reached the place
of common execution, the scene of his crime, and destined spot of his
sufferings. Several of the rioters (if they should not rather be
described as conspirators) endeavoured to remove the stone which filled
up the socket in which the end of the fatal tree was sunk when it was
erected for its fatal purpose; others sought for the means of
constructing a temporary gibbet, the place in which the gallows itself
was deposited being reported too secure to be forced, without much loss
of time. Butler endeavoured to avail himself of the delay afforded by
these circumstances, to turn the people from their desperate design. "For
God's sake," he exclaimed, "remember it is the image of your Creator
which you are about to deface in the person of this unfortunate man!
Wretched as he is, and wicked as he may be, he has a share in every
promise of Scripture, and you cannot destroy him in impenitence without
blotting his name from the Book of Life--Do not destroy soul and body;
give time for preparation."
"What time had they," returned a stern voice, "whom he murdered on this
very spot?--The laws both of God and man call for his death."
"But what, my friends," insisted Butler, with a generous disregard to his
own safety--"what hath constituted you his judges?"
"We are not his judges," replied the same person; "he has been already
judged and condemned by lawful authority. We are those whom Heaven, and
our righteous anger, have stirred up to execute judgment, when a corrupt
Government would have protected a murderer."
"I am none," said the unfortunate Porteous; "that which you charge upon
me fell out in self-defence, in the lawful exercise of my duty."
"Away with him--away with him!" was the general cry.
"Why do you trifle away time in making a gallows?--that dyester's pole is
good enough for the homicide."
The unhappy man was forced to his fate with remorseless rapidity. Butler,
separated from him by the press, escaped the last horrors of his
struggles. Unnoticed by those who had hitherto detained him as a
prisoner,--he fled from the fatal spot, without much caring in what
direction his course lay. A loud shout proclaimed the stern delight with
which the agents of this deed regarded its completion. Butler, then, at
the opening into the low street called the Cowgate, cast back a terrified
glance, and, by the red and dusky light of the torches, he could discern
a figure wavering and struggling as it hung suspended above the heads of
the multitude, and could even observe men striking at it with their
Lochaber-axes and partisans. The sight was of a nature to double his
horror, and to add wings to his flight.
The street down which the fugitive ran opens to one of the eastern ports
or gates of the city. Butler did not stop till he reached it, but found
it still shut. He waited nearly an hour, walking up and down in
inexpressible perturbation of mind. At length he ventured to call out,
and rouse the attention of the terrified keepers of the gate, who now
found themselves at liberty to resume their office without interruption.
Butler requested them to open the gate. They hesitated. He told them his
name and occupation.
"He is a preacher," said one; "I have heard him preach in Haddo's-hole."
"A fine preaching has he been at the night," said another "but maybe
least said is sunest mended."
Opening then the wicket of the main gate, the keepers suffered Butler to
depart, who hastened to carry his horror and fear beyond the walls of
Edinburgh. His first purpose was instantly to take the road homeward; but
other fears and cares, connected with the news he had learned in that
remarkable day, induced him to linger in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh
until daybreak. More than one group of persons passed him as he was
whiling away the hours of darkness that yet remained, whom, from the
stifled tones of their discourse, the unwonted hour when they travelled,
and the hasty pace at which they walked, he conjectured to have been
engaged in the late fatal transaction.
Certain it was, that the sudden and total dispersion of the rioters, when
their vindictive purpose was accomplished, seemed not the least
remarkable feature of this singular affair. In general, whatever may be
the impelling motive by which a mob is at first raised, the attainment of
their object has usually been only found to lead the way to farther
excesses. But not so in the present case. They seemed completely satiated
with the vengeance they had prosecuted with such stanch and sagacious
activity. When they were fully satisfied that life had abandoned their
victim, they dispersed in every direction, throwing down the weapons
which they had only assumed to enable them to carry through their
purpose. At daybreak there remained not the least token of the events of
the night, excepting the corpse of Porteous, which still hung suspended
in the place where he had suffered, and the arms of various kinds which
the rioters had taken from the city guard-house, which were found
scattered about the streets as they had thrown them from their hands when
the purpose for which they had seized them was accomplished.
The ordinary magistrates of the city resumed their power, not without
trembling at the late experience of the fragility of its tenure. To march
troops into the city, and commence a severe inquiry into the transactions
of the preceding night, were the first marks of returning energy which
they displayed. But these events had been conducted on so secure and
well-calculated a plan of safety and secrecy, that there was little or
nothing learned to throw light upon the authors or principal actors in a
scheme so audacious. An express was despatched to London with the
tidings, where they excited great indignation and surprise in the council
of regency, and particularly in the bosom of Queen Caroline, who
considered her own authority as exposed to contempt by the success of
this singular conspiracy. Nothing was spoke of for some time save the
measure of vengeance which should be taken, not only on the actors of
this tragedy, so soon as they should be discovered, but upon the
magistrates who had suffered it to take place, and upon the city which
had been the scene where it was exhibited. On this occasion, it is still
recorded in popular tradition, that her Majesty, in the height of her
displeasure, told the celebrated John Duke of Argyle, that, sooner than
submit to such an insult, she would make Scotland a hunting-field. "In
that case, Madam," answered that high-spirited nobleman, with a profound
bow, "I will take leave of your Majesty, and go down to my own country to
get my hounds ready."
The import of the reply had more than met the ear; and as most of the
Scottish nobility and gentry seemed actuated by the same national spirit,
the royal displeasure was necessarily checked in mid-volley, and milder
courses were recommended and adopted, to some of which we may hereafter
have occasion to advert.*
* Note D. Memorial concerning the murder of Captain Porteous.
Arthur's Seat shall be my bed,
The sheets shall ne'er be pressed by me,
St. Anton's well shall be my drink,
Sin' my true-love's forsaken me.
If I were to choose a spot from which the rising or setting sun could be
seen to the greatest possible advantage, it would be that wild path
winding around the foot of the high belt of semicircular rocks, called
Salisbury Crags, and marking the verge of the steep descent which slopes
down into the glen on the south-eastern side of the city of Edinburgh.
The prospect, in its general outline, commands a close-built, high-piled
city, stretching itself out beneath in a form, which, to a romantic
imagination, may be supposed to represent that of a dragon; now, a noble
arm of the sea, with its rocks, isles, distant shores, and boundary of
mountains; and now, a fair and fertile champaign country, varied with
hill, dale, and rock, and skirted by the picturesque ridge of the
Pentland mountains. But as the path gently circles around the base of the
cliffs, the prospect, composed as it is of these enchanting and sublime
objects, changes at every step, and presents them blended with, or
divided from, each other, in every possible variety which can gratify the
eye and the imagination. When a piece of scenery so beautiful, yet so
varied,--so exciting by its intricacy, and yet so sublime,--is lighted up
by the tints of morning or of evening, and displays all that variety of
shadowy depth, exchanged with partial brilliancy, which gives character
even to the tamest of landscapes, the effect approaches near to
enchantment. This path used to be my favourite evening and morning
resort, when engaged with a favourite author, or new subject of study. It
is, I am informed, now become totally impassable; a circumstance which,
if true, reflects little credit on the taste of the Good Town or its
* A beautiful and solid pathway has, within a few years, been formed
around these romantic rocks; and the Author has the pleasure to think,
that the passage in the text gave rise to the undertaking.
It was from this fascinating path--the scene to me of so much delicious
musing, when life was young and promised to be happy, that I have been
unable to pass it over without an episodical description--it was, I say,
from this romantic path that Butler saw the morning arise the day after
the murder of Porteous. It was possible for him with ease to have found a
much shorter road to the house to which he was directing his course, and,
in fact, that which he chose was extremely circuitous. But to compose his
own spirits, as well as to while away the time, until a proper hour for
visiting the family without surprise or disturbance, he was induced to
extend his circuit by the foot of the rocks, and to linger upon his way
until the morning should be considerably advanced. While, now standing
with his arms across, and waiting the slow progress of the sun above the
horizon, now sitting upon one of the numerous fragments which storms had
detached from the rocks above him, he is meditating, alternately upon the
horrible catastrophe which he had witnessed, and upon the melancholy, and
to him most interesting, news which he had learned at Saddletree's, we
will give the reader to understand who Butler was, and how his fate was
connected with that of Effie Deans, the unfortunate handmaiden of the
careful Mrs. Saddletree.
Reuben Butler was of English extraction, though born in Scotland. His
grandfather was a trooper in Monk's army, and one of the party of
dismounted dragoons which formed the forlorn hope at the storming of
Dundee in 1651. Stephen Butler (called from his talents in reading and
expounding, Scripture Stephen, and Bible Butler) was a stanch
Independent, and received in its fullest comprehension the promise that
the saints should inherit the earth. As hard knocks were what had chiefly
fallen to his share hitherto in the division of this common property, he
lost not the opportunity which the storm and plunder of a commercial
place afforded him, to appropriate as large a share of the better things
of this world as he could possibly compass. It would seem that he had
succeeded indifferently well, for his exterior circumstances appeared, in
consequence of this event, to have been much mended.
The troop to which he belonged was quartered at the village of Dalkeith,
as forming the bodyguard of Monk, who, in the capacity of general for the
Commonwealth, resided in the neighbouring castle. When, on the eve of the
Restoration, the general commenced his march from Scotland, a measure
pregnant with such important consequences, he new-modelled his troops,
and more especially those immediately about his person, in order that
they might consist entirely of individuals devoted to himself. On this
occasion Scripture Stephen was weighed in the balance, and found wanting.
It was supposed he felt no call to any expedition which might endanger
the reign of the military sainthood, and that he did not consider himself
as free in conscience to join with any party which might be likely
ultimately to acknowledge the interest of Charles Stuart, the son of "the
last man," as Charles I. was familiarly and irreverently termed by them
in their common discourse, as well as in their more elaborate
predications and harangues. As the time did not admit of cashiering such
dissidents, Stephen Butler was only advised in a friendly way to give up
his horse and accoutrements to one of Middleton's old troopers who
possessed an accommodating conscience of a military stamp, and which
squared itself chiefly upon those of the colonel and paymaster. As this
hint came recommended by a certain sum of arrears presently payable,
Stephen had carnal wisdom enough to embrace the proposal, and with great
indifference saw his old corps depart for Coldstream, on their route for
the south, to establish the tottering Government of England on a new
The /zone/ of the ex-trooper, to use Horace's phrase, was weighty enough
to purchase a cottage and two or three fields (still known by the name of
Beersheba), within about a Scottish mile of Dalkeith; and there did
Stephen establish himself with a youthful helpmate, chosen out of the
said village, whose disposition to a comfortable settlement on this side
of the grave reconciled her to the gruff manners, serious temper, and
weather-beaten features of the martial enthusiast. Stephen did not long
survive the falling on "evil days and evil tongues," of which Milton, in
the same predicament, so mournfully complains. At his death his consort
remained an early widow, with a male child of three years old, which, in
the sobriety wherewith it demeaned itself, in the old-fashioned and even
grim cast of its features, and in its sententious mode of expressing
itself, would sufficiently have vindicated the honour of the widow of
Beersheba, had any one thought proper to challenge the babe's descent
from Bible Butler.
Butler's principles had not descended to his family, or extended
themselves among his neighbours. The air of Scotland was alien to the
growth of independency, however favourable to fanaticism under other
colours. But, nevertheless, they were not forgotten; and a certain
neighbouring Laird, who piqued himself upon the loyalty of his principles
"in the worst of times" (though I never heard they exposed him to more
peril than that of a broken head, or a night's lodging in the main guard,
when wine and cavalierism predominated in his upper storey), had found it
a convenient thing to rake up all matter of accusation against the
deceased Stephen. In this enumeration his religious principles made no
small figure, as, indeed, they must have seemed of the most exaggerated
enormity to one whose own were so small and so faintly traced, as to be
well nigh imperceptible. In these circumstances, poor widow Butler was
supplied with her full proportion of fines for nonconformity, and all the
other oppressions of the time, until Beersheba was fairly wrenched out of
her hands, and became the property of the Laird who had so wantonly, as
it had hitherto appeared, persecuted this poor forlorn woman. When his
purpose was fairly achieved, he showed some remorse or moderation, of
whatever the reader may please to term it, in permitting her to occupy
her husband's cottage, and cultivate, on no very heavy terms, a croft of
land adjacent. Her son, Benjamin, in the meanwhile, grew up to mass
estate, and, moved by that impulse which makes men seek marriage, even
when its end can only be the perpetuation of misery, he wedded and
brought a wife, and, eventually, a son, Reuben, to share the poverty of
The Laird of Dumbiedikes* had hitherto been moderate in his exactions,
perhaps because he was ashamed to tax too highly the miserable means of
support which remained to the widow Butler.
* Dumbiedikes, selected as descriptive of the taciturn character of the
imaginary owner, is really the name of a house bordering on the King's
Park, so called because the late Mr. Braidwood, an instructor of the deaf
and dumb, resided there with his pupils. The situation of the real house
is different from that assigned to the ideal mansion.
But when a stout active young fellow appeared as the labourer of the
croft in question, Dumbiedikes began to think so broad a pair of
shoulders might bear an additional burden. He regulated, indeed, his
management of his dependants (who fortunately were but few in number)
much upon the principle of the carters whom he observed loading their
carts at a neighbouring coal-hill, and who never failed to clap an
additional brace of hundredweights on their burden, so soon as by any
means they had compassed a new horse of somewhat superior strength to
that which had broken down the day before. However reasonable this
practice appeared to the Laird of Dumbiedikes, he ought to have observed,
that it may be overdone, and that it infers, as a matter of course, the
destruction and loss of both horse, and cart, and loading. Even so it
befell when the additional "prestations" came to be demanded of Benjamin
Butler. A man of few words, and few ideas, but attached to Beersheba with
a feeling like that which a vegetable entertains to the spot in which it
chances to be planted, he neither remonstrated with the Laird, nor
endeavoured to escape from him, but, toiling night and day to accomplish
the terms of his taskmaster, fell into a burning fever and died. His wife
did not long survive him; and, as if it had been the fate of this family
to be left orphans, our Reuben Butler was, about the year 1704-5, left in
the same circumstances in which his father had been placed, and under the
same guardianship, being that of his grandmother, the widow of Monk's old
The same prospect of misery hung over the head of another tenant of this
hardhearted lord of the soil. This was a tough true-blue Presbyterian,
called Deans, who, though most obnoxious to the Laird on account of
principles in church and state, contrived to maintain his ground upon the
estate by regular payment of mail-duties, kain, arriage, carriage, dry
multure, lock, gowpen, and knaveship, and all the various exactions now
commuted for money, and summed up in the emphatic word rent. But the
years 1700 and 1701, long remembered in Scotland for dearth and general
distress, subdued the stout heart of the agricultural whig. Citations by
the ground-officer, decreets of the Baron Court, sequestrations,
poindings of outside and inside plenishing, flew about his ears as fast
as the tory bullets whistled around those of the Covenanters at Pentland,
Bothwell Brigg, or Airsmoss. Struggle as he might, and he struggled
gallantly, "Douce David Deans" was routed horse and foot, and lay at the
mercy of his grasping landlord just at the time that Benjamin Butler
died. The fate of each family was anticipated; but they who prophesied
their expulsion to beggary and ruin were disappointed by an accidental
On the very term-day when their ejection should have taken place, when
all their neighbours were prepared to pity, and not one to assist them,
the minister of the parish, as well as a doctor from Edinburgh, received
a hasty summons to attend the Laird of Dumbiedikes. Both were surprised,
for his contempt for both faculties had been pretty commonly his theme
over an extra bottle, that is to say, at least once every day. The leech
for the soul, and he for the body, alighted in the court of the little
old manor-house at almost the same time; and when they had gazed a moment
at each other with some surprise, they in the same breath expressed their
conviction that Dumbiedikes must needs be very ill indeed, since he
summoned them both to his presence at once. Ere the servant could usher
them to his apartment, the party was augmented by a man of law, Nichil
Novit, writing himself procurator before the sheriff-court, for in those
days there were no solicitors. This latter personage was first summoned
to the apartment of the Laird, where, after some short space, the
soul-curer and the body-curer were invited to join him.
Dumbiedikes had been by this time transported into the best bedroom, used
only upon occasions of death and marriage, and called, from the former of
these occupations, the Dead-Room. There were in this apartment, besides
the sick person himself and Mr. Novit, the son and heir of the patient, a
tall gawky silly-looking boy of fourteen or fifteen, and a housekeeper, a
good buxom figure of a woman, betwixt forty and fifty, who had kept the
keys and managed matters at Dumbiedikes since the lady's death. It was to
these attendants that Dumbiedikes addressed himself pretty nearly in the
following words; temporal and spiritual matters, the care of his health
and his affairs, being strangely jumbled in a head which was never one of
"These are sair times wi' me, gentlemen and neighbours! amaist as ill as
at the aughty-nine, when I was rabbled by the collegeaners.*
* Immediately previous to the Revolution, the students at the Edinburgh
College were violent anti-catholics. They were strongly suspected of
burning the house of Prestonfield, belonging to Sir James Dick, the Lord
Provost; and certainly were guilty of creating considerable riots in
--They mistook me muckle--they ca'd me a papist, but there was never a
papist bit about me, minister.--Jock, ye'll take warning--it's a debt we
maun a' pay, and there stands Nichil Novit that will tell ye I was never
gude at paying debts in my life.--Mr. Novit, ye'll no forget to draw the
annual rent that's due on the yerl's band--if I pay debt to other folk, I
think they suld pay it to me--that equals aquals.--Jock, when ye hae
naething else to do, ye may be aye sticking in a tree; it will be
growing, Jock, when ye're sleeping.*
* The Author has been flattered by the assurance, that this /naive/ mode
of recommending arboriculture (which was actually delivered in these very
words by a Highland laird, while on his death-bed, to his son) had so
much weight with a Scottish earl as to lead to his planting a large tract
"My father tauld me sae forty years sin', but I ne'er fand time to mind
him--Jock, ne'er drink brandy in the morning, it files the stamach sair;
gin ye take a morning's draught, let it be aqua mirabilis; Jenny there
makes it weel--Doctor, my breath is growing as scant as a broken-winded
piper's, when he has played for four-and-twenty hours at a penny wedding
--Jenny, pit the cod aneath my head--but it's a' needless!--Mass John,
could ye think o' rattling ower some bit short prayer, it wad do me gude
maybe, and keep some queer thoughts out o' my head, Say something, man."
"I cannot use a prayer like a rat-rhyme," answered the honest clergyman;
"and if you would have your soul redeemed like a prey from the fowler,
Laird, you must needs show me your state of mind."
"And shouldna ye ken that without my telling you?" answered the patient.
"What have I been paying stipend and teind, parsonage and vicarage, for,
ever sin' the aughty-nine, and I canna get a spell of a prayer for't, the
only time I ever asked for ane in my life?--Gang awa wi' your whiggery,
if that's a' ye can do; auld Curate Kilstoup wad hae read half the
prayer-book to me by this time--Awa wi' ye!--Doctor, let's see if ye can
do onything better for me."
The doctor, who had obtained some information in the meanwhile from the
housekeeper on the state of his complaints, assured him the medical art
could not prolong his life many hours.
"Then damn Mass John and you baith!" cried the furious and intractable
patient. "Did ye come here for naething but to tell me that ye canna help
me at the pinch? Out wi' them, Jenny--out o' the house! and, Jock, my
curse, and the curse of Cromwell, go wi' ye, if ye gie them either fee or
bountith, or sae muckle as a black pair o' cheverons!"*
The clergyman and doctor made a speedy retreat out of the apartment,
while Dumbiedikes fell into one of those transports of violent and
profane language, which had procured him the surname of Damn-me-dikes.
"Bring me the brandy bottle, Jenny, ye b--," he cried, with a voice in
which passion contended with pain. "I can die as I have lived, without
fashing ony o' them. But there's ae thing," he said, sinking his voice--
"there's ae fearful thing hings about my heart, and an anker of brandy
winna wash it away.--The Deanses at Woodend!--I sequestrated them in the
dear years, and now they are to flit, they'll starve--and that Beersheba,
and that auld trooper's wife and her oe, they'll starve--they'll starve!
--Look out, Jock; what kind o' night is't?"
"On-ding o' snaw, father," answered Jock, after having opened the window,
and looked out with great composure.
"They'll perish in the drifts!" said the expiring sinner--"they'll perish
wi' cauld!--but I'll be het eneugh, gin a' tales be true."
This last observation was made under breath, and in a tone which made the
very attorney shudder. He tried his hand at ghostly advice, probably for
the first time in his life, and recommended as an opiate for the agonised
conscience of the Laird, reparation of the injuries he had done to these
distressed families, which, he observed by the way, the civil law called
/restitutio in integrum./ But Mammon was struggling with Remorse for
retaining his place in a bosom he had so long possessed; and he partly
succeeded, as an old tyrant proves often too strong for his insurgent
"I canna do't," he answered, with a voice of despair. "It would kill me
to do't--how can ye bid me pay back siller, when ye ken how I want it? or
dispone Beersheba, when it lies sae weel into my ain plaid-nuik? Nature
made Dumbiedikes and Beersheba to be ae man's land--She did, by Nichil,
it wad kill me to part them."
"But ye maun die whether or no, Laird," said Mr. Novit; "and maybe ye wad
die easier--it's but trying. I'll scroll the disposition in nae time."
"Dinna speak o't, sir," replied Dumbiedikes, "or I'll fling the stoup at
your head.--But, Jock, lad, ye see how the warld warstles wi' me on my
deathbed--be kind to the puir creatures, the Deanses and the Butlers--be
kind to them, Jock. Dinna let the warld get a grip o' ye, Jock--but keep
the gear thegither! and whate'er ye do, dispone Beersheba at no rate. Let
the creatures stay at a moderate mailing, and hae bite and soup; it will
maybe be the better wi' your father whare he's gaun, lad."
After these contradictory instructions, the Laird felt his mind so much
at ease, that he drank three bumpers of brandy continuously, and "soughed
awa," as Jenny expressed it, in an attempt to sing "Deil stick the
His death made a revolution in favour of the distressed families. John
Dumbie, now of Dumbiedikes, in his own right, seemed to be close and
selfish enough, but wanted the grasping spirit and active mind of his
father; and his guardian happened to agree with him in opinion, that his
father's dying recommendation should be attended to. The tenants,
therefore, were not actually turned out of doors among the snow-wreaths,
and were allowed wherewith to procure butter-milk and peas-bannocks,
which they ate under the full force of the original malediction. The
cottage of Deans, called Woodend, was not very distant from that at
Beersheba. Formerly there had been but little intercourse between the
families. Deans was a sturdy Scotsman, with all sort of prejudices
against the southern, and the spawn of the southern. Moreover, Deans was,
as we have said, a stanch Presbyterian, of the most rigid and unbending
adherence to what he conceived to be the only possible straight line, as
he was wont to express himself, between right-hand heats and extremes and
left-hand defections; and, therefore, he held in high dread and horror
all Independents, and whomsoever he supposed allied to them.
But, notwithstanding these national prejudices and religious professions,
Deans and the widow Butler were placed in such a situation, as naturally
and at length created some intimacy between the families. They had shared
a common danger and a mutual deliverance. They needed each other's
assistance, like a company, who, crossing a mountain stream, are
compelled to cling close together, lest the current should be too
powerful for any who are not thus supported.
On nearer acquaintance, too, Deans abated some of his prejudices. He
found old Mrs. Butler, though not thoroughly grounded in the extent and
bearing of the real testimony against the defections of the times, had no
opinions in favour of the Independent party; neither was she an
Englishwoman. Therefore, it was to be hoped, that, though she was the
widow of an enthusiastic corporal of Cromwell's dragoons, her grandson
might be neither schismatic nor anti-national, two qualities concerning
which Goodman Deans had as wholesome a terror as against papists and
malignants, Above all (for Douce Davie Deans had his weak side), he
perceived that widow Butler looked up to him with reverence, listened to
his advice, and compounded for an occasional fling at the doctrines of
her deceased husbands to which, as we have seen, she was by no means
warmly attached, in consideration of the valuable counsels which the
Presbyterian afforded her for the management of her little farm. These
usually concluded with "they may do otherwise in England, neighbour
Butler, for aught I ken;" or, "it may be different in foreign parts;" or,
"they wha think differently on the great foundation of our covenanted
reformation, overturning and mishguggling the government and discipline
of the kirk, and breaking down the carved work of our Zion, might be for
sawing the craft wi' aits; but I say peace, peace." And as his advice was
shrewd and sensible, though conceitedly given, it was received with
gratitude, and followed with respect.
The intercourse which took place betwixt the families at Beersheba and
Woodend became strict and intimate, at a very early period, betwixt
Reuben Butler, with whom the reader is already in some degree acquainted,
and Jeanie Deans, the only child of Douce Davie Deans by his first wife,
"that singular Christian woman," as he was wont to express himself,
"whose name was savoury to all that knew her for a desirable professor,
Christian Menzies in Hochmagirdle." The manner of which intimacy, and the
consequences thereof, we now proceed to relate.
Reuben and Rachel, though as fond as doves,
Were yet discreet and cautious in their loves,
Nor would attend to Cupid's wild commands,
Till cool reflection bade them join their hands;
When both were poor, they thought it argued ill
Of hasty love to make them poorer still.
Crabbe's /Parish Register./
While widow Butler and widower Deans struggled with poverty, and the hard
and sterile soil of "those parts and portions" of the lands of
Dumbiedikes which it was their lot to occupy, it became gradually
apparent that Deans was to gain the strife, and his ally in the conflict
was to lose it. The former was a Man, and not much past the prime of
life--Mrs. Butler a woman, and declined into the vale of years, This,
indeed, ought in time to have been balanced by the circumstance, that
Reuben was growing up to assist his grandmothers labours, and that Jeanie
Deans, as a girl, could be only supposed to add to her father's burdens.
But Douce Davie Deans know better things, and so schooled and trained the
young minion, as he called her, that from the time she could walk,
upwards, she was daily employed in some task or other, suitable to her
age and capacity; a circumstance which, added to her father's daily
instructions and lectures, tended to give her mind, even when a child, a
grave, serious, firm, and reflecting cast. An uncommonly strong and
healthy temperament, free from all nervous affection and every other
irregularity, which, attacking the body in its more noble functions, so
often influences the mind, tended greatly to establish this fortitude,
simplicity, and decision of character.
On the other hand, Reuben was weak in constitution, and, though not timid
in temper might be safely pronounced anxious, doubtful, and apprehensive.
He partook of the temperament of his mother, who had died of a
consumption in early age. He was a pale, thin, feeble, sickly boy, and
somewhat lame, from an accident in early youth. He was, besides, the
child of a doting grandmother, whose too solicitous attention to him soon
taught him a sort of diffidence in himself, with a disposition to
overrate his own importance, which is one of the very worst consequences
that children deduce from over-indulgence.
Still, however, the two children clung to each other's society, not more
from habit than from taste. They herded together the handful of sheep,
with the two or three cows, which their parents turned out rather to seek
food than actually to feed upon the unenclosed common of Dumbiedikes. It
was there that the two urchins might be seen seated beneath a blooming
bush of whin, their little faces laid close together under the shadow of
the same plaid drawn over both their heads, while the landscape around
was embrowned by an overshadowing cloud, big with the shower which had
driven the children to shelter. On other occasions they went together to
school, the boy receiving that encouragement and example from his
companion, in crossing the little brooks which intersected their path,
and encountering cattle, dogs, and other perils, upon their journey,
which the male sex in such cases usually consider it as their prerogative
to extend to the weaker. But when, seated on the benches of the
school-house, they began to con their lessons together, Reuben, who was
as much superior to Jeanie Deans in acuteness of intellect, as inferior
to her in firmness of constitution, and in that insensibility to fatigue
and danger which depends on the conformation of the nerves, was able
fully to requite the kindness and countenance with which, in other
circumstances, she used to regard him. He was decidedly the best scholar
at the little parish school; and so gentle was his temper and