The History of Leith

February 20, 2012

Tobias Smollett and St. John’s Street

St. John’s Close, is open towards St. John’s Street. Narrow and ancient, it shows over a door-lintel on its west side the legend, within a sunk panel, THE LORD is ONLY MY SUPORT. The doorway is but three feet wide.
Near this a spacious elliptical archway gives access to St. John’s Street, so named with reference to St. John’s Cross, a broad, airy, and handsome thoroughfare, ” one of the heralds of the New
Town,” and associated with the names of many of the Scottish aristocracy who lingered in the old city, with judges and country gentlemen. By date over a doorway in it, this street had been in
progress in 1768.
At the head of the street, with its front windows overlooking the Canongate, is the house on the first floor of which was the residence of Mrs. Telfer of Scotstown, the sister of Tobias Smollett, who was her guest in 1766, on his second and last visit to his native country, and where, though in feeble health, he mixed with the best society of the capital, the men and manners of which he so
graphically portrays in his last novel, ” Humphrey Clinker,” a work in which fact and fiction are curiously blended, and in which he mentions that he owed an introduction into the literary circles to Dr. Carlyle, the well-known incumbent of Inveresk.
Mrs. Telfer, though then a widow with moderate means, moved in good society. -She has been described as a tall, sharp-visaged lady, with a hooked nose and a great partiality for whist. Her brother
had then returned from that protracted Continental tour, the experiences of which are given in his ” Travels through France and Italy,” in two volumes. The novelist has been described as a tall and handsome man, somewhat prone to satirical innuendo, but with a genuine vein of humour, polished manners, and great urbanity. On the latter Dr. Carlyle particularly dwells, and refers to an occasion when Smollett supped in a tavern with himself, Hepburn of Keith, Home the author of ” Douglas,” Commissioner Cardonel, and others. The beautiful ” Miss R n,” with whom Jerry Milford is described as dancing at the hunters’ ball, was the grand-daughter of Susannah Countess of Eglinton, whose daughter Lady Susan became the wife of Renton of Lamerton in the Merse. The wife of the novelist, Anne Lascelles, the Narcissa of ” Roderick Random,” was a pretty Creole lady, of a somewhat dark complexion, whom he left at his death nearly destitute in a foreign land, and for whom a benefit was procured at the old Theatre Royal in March, 1784. A sister of Miss Renton’s was married to Smollett1? eldest nephew, Telfer, who inherited the family estate and assumed the name
of Smollett. She afterwards became the wife of Sharpe of Hoddam, and, ” strange to say, the lady whose bright eyes had flamed upon poor Smollett’s soul in the middle of the last century was living so lately as 1836.”
The house in which Smollett resided with his sister in 1766 was also the residence, prior to 1788, of James Earl of Hopetoun, who in early life had served in the Scots Guards and fought at Minden,
and of whom it was said that he ” maintained the dignity and noble bearing of a Scottish baron with the humility of a Christian.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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