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Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time

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Volume 10 Page 378
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346 MEMORIALS OF EDINBURGH. quarters at Dalkeith Palace. The old mansion continued to be the town residence of the noble family of Stair, until, like the rest of the Scottish peers, they deserted their native capital soon after the abolition of our national Parliament by the Act of Union. It is not unlikely that the present name of the old court is derived from the more recent residence there of John, second Earl of Stair, who served during the protracted campaigns of the Duke of Narlborough, and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General soon after the bloody victory of Malplaquet. He shared in the fall of the great Duke, and retired from Court until the accession of Geoge I., during which interval it is probable that the family mansion in the Potterrow formed the frequent abode of the disgraced favourite. Degradation and decay had long settled down on the old aristocratic haunt, when Clarinda wrote from the same place in 1788, in anticipation of a visit from the poet Burns, " I hope you '11 come a-foot, even though you take a chair home. A chair is so uncommon a thing in our neighbourhood, it is apt to raise speculation-but they are all asleep by ten."' The first interview between Mrs M'Lehose, the romantic Clarinda, and her Sylvander, took place at the house of Miss Nimmo, a mutual friend, who resided in Alison Square, Potterrow; an equally humble locality, and within a few paces of General's Entry, but which derives a still deeper interest from having been the place where the youthful poet Thomas Campbell lived during his stay in Edinburgh, while engaged in the composition of his Pleasures of Hope. To appreciate the later associations of these scenes of poetic inspiration and intellectual pleasures, the reader should rise from the perusal of the ardent and romautic correspondence of Clarinda and Sylvander, and proceed to visit the dusky little parlour on the first floor of the crazy tenement in the Potterrow, where the poet was welcomed by the enthusiastic Clarinda. It is on the north side of General's Entry, and approached by a narrow turnpike stair, where the whole accommodations of Mrs M'Lehose consisted of a kitchen, bedroom, and the straitened parlour wherein she received the visits of the poet. Here this young and beautiful woman resided with her infant children, and struggled against the pinching cares of poverty, and the worse sorrows created by an acutely sensitive mind. The emigration, however, of the gentry of the Old Town to the more fashionable dwellings beyond the North Loch had been very partially effected in 1788 ; and the contrast between the little parlour in General's Entry, and the drawing-rooms of the poet's wealthier hosts, was by no means so marked and striking as it afterwards became. Such are the strangely mingled associations of rank, historic fame, and genius, with lowly worth and squalid poverty, which still linger around so many old nooks of the Scottish capital, and give so peculiar an interest to its scenes. Beyond this lies the more modern district that preceded the New Town, and included in its various districts accommodation designed for very different ranks of society. Nicolson Street, which now forms a portion of the principal southern avenue to the city, was constructed towards the close of last century on an extensive unoccupied space of ground lying between the Pleasance and Potterrow. It belonged to Lady Nicolson, whose house stood nearly at the junction of South College Street with Nicolson Street, and on the knee. Correspondence between Burns and Clarinda, p. 152. The poet was at thi period lame, from an injury in his
Volume 10 Page 379
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