The History of Leith

January 13, 2012

Upper Baxter’s Close, and the name of Robert Burns

Upper Baxter’s Close, the adjoining alley, is associated with the name of Robert Burns. There the latter, in 1786, saved from a heartless and hopeless exile by the generosity of the blind poet, Dr. Blacklock, came direct from the plough and the banks of his native Ayr, to share the humble room and bed of his friend Richmond, a lawyer’s clerk, in the house of Mrs. Carfrae. But a few weeks before poor Burns had made arrangements to go to Jamaica as joint overseer on an estate; but the publication of his poems was deemed such a success, that he altered his plans, and came to Edinburgh in the November of that year. In one of the numbers of the Lounger appeared a review of the first (or Kilmarnock) edition of his poems, written by Henry Mackenzie, who was thus the means, together with Dr. Blacklock, of kindly bringing Burns before the learned and fashionable circles of Edinburgh. His merited fame had come before him, and he was now caressed by all ranks. His brilliant conversational powers seem to have impressed all who came in contact with him as much as admiration of his poetry. Under the patronage of Principal Robertson, Professor Dugald Stewart, Henry Mackenzie, author of the ” Man of Feeling,” and Sir John Whiteford of that ilk, but more than all of James Earl of Glencairn, and other eminent persons, a new edition of his poems was published in April, 1787 ; but amid allthe adulation he received he ever maintained his native simplicity and sturdy Scottish independence of character. By the Earl of Glencairn he was introduced to the members of the Caledonian Hunt, and he dedicated to them the second edition of his poems. In verse he touchingly records his
gratitude to the earl:—
” The bridegroom may forget the bride
Was made his wedded wife yestreen ;
The monarch may forget the crown
That on his head an hour has been ;
The mother may forget the child
That smiles sae sweetly on her knee ;
But I’ll remember thee, Glencairn,
And all that thou hast done for me!”
Burns felt acutely the death of this amiable and accomplished noble, which occurred in 1791. The room occupied by Burns in Baxter’s Close, and from which he was wont to sally forth to dine and sup with the magnates of the city, is still pointed out, with its single window which opens into Lady Stair’s Close. There, as Allan Cunningham records, he had but ” his share of a deal table, a sanded floor, and a chaff bed, at eighteenpence a week.”
According to the same biographer, the impression which Burns made at first on the fair, the titled, and the learned, of Edinburgh, “though lessened by intimacy on the part of the men, remained unimpaired on that of the softer sex till his dying day.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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