One of the ways in which I used my Saturday pennies was in going with some of my companions into the country to have a picnic. We used to light a fire behind a hedge or a dyke, or in the corner of some ruin, and there roast our potatoes, or broil a red herring on an extempore gridiron we contrived for the purpose. We lit the fire by means of a flint and steel and a tinder-box, which in those days every boy used to possess. The bramble-berries gave us our dessert. We thoroughly enjoyed these glorious Saturday afternoons. It gave us quite a Robinson Crusoe sort of feeling to be thus secluded from the world. Then the beauty of the scenery amidst which we took our repast was such as I cannot attempt to describe. A walk of an hour or so would bring us into the presence of an old castle, or amongst the rocky furze and heather-clad hills, amidst clear rapid streams, so that, but for the distant peeps of the city, one might think that he was far from the busy haunts of men and boys.

To return to my school-days. Shortly after I left the school in George Street, where the schoolmaster had almost split my skull in battering it upon the wall behind me, I was entered as a pupil at the Edinburgh High School, in October 1817. The school was situated near the old Infirmary. Professor Pillans was the rector, and under him were four masters. I was set to study Latin under Mr. Irvine. He was a mere schoolmaster in the narrowest sense of the term. He was not endowed with the best of tempers, and it was often put to the breaking strain by the tricks and negligence of the lower-form portion of his class. It consisted of nearly two hundred boys; the other three masters had about the same number of scholars. They each had a separate class-room.

I began to learn the elementary rudiments of Latin grammar. But not having any natural aptitude for aquiring classic learning so called, I fear I made but little progress during the three years that I remained at the High School. Had the master explained to us how nearly allied many of the Latin and Greek roots were to our familiar English words, I feel assured that so interesting and valuable a department of instruction would not have been neglected. But our memories were strained by being made to say off "by heart," as it was absurdly called, whole batches of grammatical rules, with all the botheration of irregular verbs and suchlike. So far as I was concerned, I derived little benefit from my High School teaching, except that I derived one lesson which is of great use in after life. I mean as regards the performance of duty. I did my tasks punctually and cheerfully, though they were far from agreeable. This is an exercise in early life that is very useful in later years.

In my walks to and from the High School, the usual way was along the North and South Bridges, -- the first over the Nor' Loch, now the railway station, and the second over the Cowgate. That was the main street between the Old Town and the New. But there were numerous wynds and closes (as the narrow streets are called) which led down from the High Street and the upper part of the Canongate to the High School, through which I often preferred to wander. So long as Old Edinburgh was confined within its walls the nobles lived in those narrow streets; and the Old houses are full of historical incident. My father often pointed out these houses to me, and I loved to keep up my recollections. I must have had a little of the antiquarian spirit even then. I got to know the most remarkable of those ancient houses -- many of which were distinguished by the inscriptions on the lintel of the entrance, as well as the arms of the former possessors. Some had mottoes such as this: "BLESIT BE GOD AND HYS GIFTIS. 1584." There was often a tower-shaped projection from the main front of the house, up which a spiral stair proceeded.

This is usually a feature in old Scotch buildings. But in these closes the entrance to the houses was through a ponderous door, studded with great broad-headed nails, with loopholes at each side of the door, as if to present the strongest possible resistance to any attempt at forcible entrance. Indeed, in the old times before the Union the nobles were often as strong as the King, and many a time the High Street was reddened by the blood of the noblest and bravest of the land. In 1588 there was a cry of " A Naesmyth," "A Scott," in the High Street. It was followed by a clash of arms, and two of Sir Michael Naesmyth's sons were killed in that bloody feud. Edinburgh was often the scene of such disasters. Hence the strengthening of their houses, so as to resist the inroads of feudal enemies.

Doorhead, from an old mansion

  By PanEris using Melati.

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