The mason-work of the doors was executed with great care and dexterity. It was chamfered at the edges in a bold manner, and ornamented with an O.G. bordering, which had a fine effect while it rendered the entrance more pleasant by the absence of sharp angles. The same style of ornamentation was generally found round the edges of the stone-work of the windows, most commonly by chamfering off the square angle of the stone-work, This not only added a grim grace to the appearance of the windows, but allowed a more free entrance of light into the apartments, while it permitted the inmates to have a better ranged view up and down the Close. These gloomy-looking mansions were grim in a terrible sense, and they reminded one of the fearful transactions of "the good old times!"

On many occasions, when I was taking a daunder through these historic houses in the wynds and closes of the Old Town, I have met Sir Walter Scott showing them to his visitors, and listened to his deep, earnest voice while narrating to them some terrible incident in regard to their former inhabitants. On other occasions I have frequently met Sir Walter sturdily limping along over the North Bridge, while on his way from the Court of Session (where he acted as Clerk of the Records) to his house in Castle Street. In the same way I saw most of the public characters connected with the Law Courts or the University. Sir Waiter was easily distinguished by his height, as well as his limp or halt in his walk. My father was intimate with most, if not all, of the remarkable Edinburgh characters, and when I had the pleasure of accompanying him in his afternoon walks I could look at them and hear them in the conversations that took place.

I remember, when I was with my father in one of his walks, that a young English artist accompanied us. He had come across the Border to be married at Gretna Green, and he brought his bride onward to Edinburgh. My father wished to show him some of the most remarkable old buildings of the town. It was about the end of 1817, when one of the most interesting buildings in Edinburgh was about to be demolished. This was no less a place than the Old Tolbooth in the High Street, -- a grand but gloomy old building. It had been originally used as the city palace of the Scottish kings. There they held their councils and dispensed justice. But in course of time the King and Court abandoned the place, and it had sunk into a gaol or prison for the most abandoned of malefactors. After their trial the prisoners were kept there waiting for execution, and they were hanged on a flat-roofed portion of the building at its west end.

The Old Tolbooth, Edinburgh. By Alexander Nasmyth. From the drawing in the possession of lord Inglis, Lord Justice-General.

At one of the strongest parts of the building a strong oak chest, iron-plated, had been built in, held fast by a thick wall of stone and mortar on each side. The iron chest measured about nine feet square, and was closed by a strong iron door with heavy bolts and locks. This was the Heart of Midlothian, the condemned cell of the Tolbooth.[note: Long after the condemned cell had been pulled down, an English Chartist went down to Edinburgh to address a large meeting of his brother politicians. He began by addressing them as "Men of the Heart of Midlothian!" There was a loud guffaw throughout the audience. He addressed them as if they were a body of condemned malefactors.]

The iron chest was so heavy that the large body of workmen could not, with all their might, pull it out. After stripping it of its masonry, they endeavoured by strong levers to tumble it down into the street. At last, with a "Yo! heave ho!" it fell down with a mighty crash.

The iron chest was so strong that it held together, and only the narrow iron door, with its locks, bolts, and bars, was burst open, and jerked off amongst the bystanders.

It was quite a scene. A large crowd had assembled, and amongst them was Sir Walter Scott. Recognising my father, he stood by him, while both awaited the ponderous crash. Sir Walter was still the Great Unknown. When his Heart of Midlothian was published in the course of the following year, it was pretty well known that he was the author of that fascinating novel. Sir Waiter got the door and the key, as relics, for his house at Abbotsford.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.