The History of Leith

January 17, 2012

The Beacon,

In 1816 the Parliament Close, or Square as it was then becoming more generally named, was the scene of an unseemly literary fracas, arising from political hatred and circumstances, by which one
life was ultimately lost, and which might have imperilled even that of Sir Walter Scott. A weekly paper, called the Beacon, was established in Edinburgh, the avowed object of which was the support
of the then Government, but which devoted its columns to the defamation of private characters, particularly those of nobles and gentlemen of Scotland. This system of personal abuse gave rise to several actions at law, and on the i5th of August a rencontre took place between James Stuart of Dunearn, who conceived his honour and character impugned in an article which he traced to Duncan Stevenson, the printer of the paper, in the Parliament ‘Square. Stuart, with a horsewhip, lashed the latter, who was not slow in retaliating with a stout cane. ” The parties were speedily separated,” says the Scots Magazine for 1816, “and Mr. Stevenson, in the course of the day, demanded from Mr. Stuart the satisfaction customary in such cases. This was refused by Mr. Stuart, on the ground that, ‘as the servile instrument of a partnership of slander,’ he was unworthy of receiving the satisfaction of a gentleman,

But the matter did not end here. Mr. Stuart discovered that the Lord Advocate, Sir Walter Scott, and other Conservatives, had signed a bond for a considerable amount to support the Beacon, against which such strong proceedings were instituted that the print was withdrawn from the public entirely by the 22nd of September. “But the discovery of the bond,” continues the magazine just quoted, “was nearly leading to more serious consequences, for, if report be true, Mr. James Gibson, W.S., one of thost who had been grossly calumniated in the Beacon, had thought proper to make such a demand upon Sir Walter Scott as he could only be prevented from answering in a similar hostile spirit by the interference of a common friend, Lord Lauderdale.” All these quarrels culminated in Mr. Stuart of Dunearn, not long after, shooting Sir Alexander Boswell, as author of a satirical paper in the Glasgow Sentinel, which had taken up the role of the Beacon.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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