The History of Leith

January 26, 2012

Baxters Close and 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 all the 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. His company, during the season of balls and festivities, continued to be courted by all who desired to be reckoned gay or polite. Cards of invitation fell thick on him; he was not more welcomed to the plumed and jewelled groups whom her fascinating Grace of Gordon gathered about her, than he was to the grave divines and polished scholars who assembled in the Rooms of Stewart,Robertson or Blair

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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