Tag Archive | Memoir of a Highland Lady

Memoirs of a Highland Lady: Waterloo and the Return to Edinburgh

A view of the battlefield from the Lion’s mound (which did not exist in 1819). On the top right are the buildings of La Haie Sainte. 

Waterloo (as seen in 1819)

And then we went to Waterloo. Oh, will there ever be another war! At first sight there was nothing, as it seemed, to look at, a wide plain under crop, a few rising grounds wooded, a hamlet or two, and the forest of Soigny. An old man of the name of Lacoste—an old cheat, I believe—in a blouse, striped night cap, and immense shoes, came up as a guide to all the different points of interest, and did his pan well, although his pretension to having been the attendant of Buonaparte during the Battle and his director in his flight was a fable. He took us up to the ruins of Houguemont, to La Haie Sainte, to the hollow with the paved road in the bottom of it where the Guards felt themselves so at home, to the wide mound raised by the heaps of the slain, to the truncated column of black marble erected to the memory of an hero. At this distance of time I do not remember all we saw, and I did not attend to all he told, mistrusting his veracity. The scene was impressive enough gazed on silently; and then to think of the terrour in Brussels, of the despair in the neighbouring villages, of the two armies individually and collectively, of the two Commanders and all that hung upon the strife so lately ended! This was but the fourth year after the victory, the world was still full of the theme, but there was little trace of the struggle left upon the ground it had been fought on. Fine crops of corn had been this very Autumn waving there, though the plough still turned up relicks of the eventful day. Monsieur Lacoste had a sack full of trophies he said had been found upon the field. The feeling of the people most certainly did not go with the victors. They hated the Union with the Dutch, they hated the Dutch King ruling over them; the habits and manners of the two ill cemented nations were totally dissimilar, and with the French they amalgamated readily. The Emperour really lived in their hearts, spite of the Conscription, spite of his defeat, spite of his crimes, as we may call the consequences of his ambition.

“The morning after the battle of Waterloo”, by John Heaviside Clark, 1816

The Return from the Continent

Here [Rotterdam] we had a great deal to do… All the mornings my father was packing his old China, quantities of which he had picked up here and there in the course of our wanderings, always dispatching his purchases to Rotterdam to await our arrival. So heavy was then the duty upon foreign porcelaine, it would have cost a fortune to have sent all this Collection home through the Custom House—it was therefore to reach us by degrees, a barrel of butter or herring or such commodities as these plates and dishes could be packed amongst was to be entrusted to our old friend the skipper of the Van Egmont every return journey he made, and positively most of these treasures in time reached us, the skipper not always taking the trouble to put them up as directed.

We had a stormy passage, a pitchy sea, the result of a storm just lulling, with a wind ahead. Even I who never suffer at sea, was ill enough for an hour or two… Instead of landing at Harwich, we were put ashore some few miles up the coast at a small village… Our inn was village like—clean beds its greatest luxury. After the palace hotels we had been accustomed to of late, the little ill furnished parlours, the closet bedrooms, and the inferiour style of establishment altogether in these English Country inns, made an unfavourable first impression… The first church I saw abroad struck me as bare, so cold, with so much white washed wall and so very little ornament. The first I saw again at home seemed only like an aisle of the others, rich enough in carvings, pillars, stained glass, and so on, but so confined so narrow, so small, all stuffed up with seats for dignatories. I missed the grand space that to the unaccustomed eye had seemed desolate… I felt as if there were not room to move in the Cathedral, Lincoln, after being but a mite in the one at Antwerp.

post chaise, 1815

We had all through travelled in two divisions. My father, my Mother and I and Ward. And William, Jane, Mary and the Courier. With him, however, we had parted at Brussels… The people everywhere had taken us at first for two distinct families. My father and I they supposed to be man and wife, and my Mother was his Mother in law. William and Mary were the Monsieur and Madame of the other carriage, and Jane the sister in law; not bad guesses. My father looked like my Mother’s son, and I looked far too old to be his daughter. William infinitely too old to be his son, and Jane and William were so alike they could not be mistaken for brother and sister. We were quite amused at all these erroneous impressions, and the younger ones eager still further to mystify our hosts and hostesses and my father in the front of the fun, but we saw soon that it seriously annoyed my Mother. She had no idea of acting Madame mere to the whole party, so we had to restrain our mirth when she was by.

Memoirs of a Highland Lady

‘I was born on the 7th May 1797 of a Sunday evening at No. 5 N. side of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, in my father’s own lately built house and I am the eldest of five children he and my mother raised to maturity.’ Thus opens one of the most famous set of memoirs ever written. Since its first bowdlerised edition in 1898, they have been consistently in print. This is the first ever complete text. Written between 1845 and 1854 the memoirs were originally intended simply for Elizabeth’s family, but these vivid and inimitable records of life in the early 19th century, and above all on the great Rothiemurchus estate, full of sharp observation and wit, form an unforgettable picture of her time. The story ends with the thirty-three-year-old Elizabeth finding her own future happiness in marriage to an Irish landowner, Colonel Smith of Baltiboys. ‘A masterpiece of historical and personal recall.’ Scotsman

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Memoirs of a Highland Lady

Memoirs of a Highland Lady: The Last Winter in Edinburgh

1818-1819

Picardy Place, where the Grants spent their last winter in Edinburgh. FYI: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born at 11 Picardy Place in 1859.

Opinions on Nouveau Riche and Poor Relations

‘Uncle Adam,’ said she one day, ‘do you mean to leave Mary and me any thing in your Will?’

…Jane and I had spent a week… at Hermandstone, an ugly but comfortable place which Lord Gillies rented of Lord St Clair. I had been there before, and we were often there again, and when they were quietly leading a country life with only a few intimate friends visiting them, it was very pleasant. But when they had all their rich, grand, formal East Lothian neighbours, we young people hated going there. Lord Gillies was extremely fond of aristocratick company; the more grandees he could seat together at his very splendidly furnished table the better pleased he seemed to be. How often we see this in those of humble birth, as if the having risen to a place in that ‘charmed circle’ did not add a luster to it, when talents and probity such as his had been the passport. Mrs Gillies, well born and highly bred, took her position naturally, content with what contented him. Neither of them, for all this, ever neglected the poor relations. His one prosperous brother, the doctor and authour*, was never as kindly welcomed as poor William, and poorer, more primitive Colin. At this very time William Gillies’ three children found their home with their uncle Adam; for years they had had no other, the two girls going to the different classes while in Edinburgh, the boy placed first at the High School and then sent to the Charter House; and every Saturday when in town there was a dinner for the young family connexions, school boys and girls, and College boys, all made as welcome as the grandees, and appearing a good deal happier. Miss Bessy Clerk and others used to fear that young people like William Gillies’ children, brought up in such society, in a house so luxurious, would be spoiled for a ruder life, should such a change, as was most likely come to them. But it did not so turn out; the change did come, and they bore it perfectly. Robert the corn factor, Mary the Authouress, and Margaret the professional painter, have followed their different employments better than if if they had never had their intellects improved by their superiour education. The Authouress and the painter in particular benefited by the early cultivation of their taste, neither did I ever hear that Robert did less in Mark Lane because he was capable of enjoying in his Villa at Kensington the refinements of a gentleman’s leisure. Margaret was never agreeable, but she was very clever. She did not wait to be turned out of Lord Gillies’ house by his death or any accident. ‘Uncle Adam,’ said she one day, ‘do you mean to leave Mary and me any thing in your Will?’ ‘Perhaps a trifle,’ answered the Uncle. ‘Not an independence?’ pursued the niece. ‘Certainly not, by no means; these are strange questions, Margaret.’ ‘Necessary ones, Uncle. My father has nothing to give us; he has married a second wife. We shall have then to work for our bread some time; we had better begin now while we are young, have health, activity, and friends to help us. I go to London next week.’ She did, to her father’s, where she was not welcome; so she hired two rooms, sent for Mary, began painting dauby portraits while learning her art more thoroughly; and when I saw them in their pretty home at Highgate they told me they had never been in want, nor ever regretted the decisive step they had taken.** The friends were at first seriously displaced; but the success of the nieces in time appeased the Uncles, and both the doctor and Lord Gillies left them legacies.

*John Gillies (1747-1836) was, in fact, not an M.D.; he was an art historian who succeeded Principal Robertson as Historiographer Royal for Scotland.

Margaret Gillies, 1864

**Margaret Gillies (1803-87) earned a reputation as a miniaturist and water-colour painter. Her sister Mary, the author of many books for children (often using the pseudonym Harriet Myrtle), died in 1860.

Mrs. Siddons returns to the stage

But to see the great queen again we had never dreamed of. She had taken leave of the stage before we left London.

Mrs. Siddons

I think it was about May or June of this year that old Mrs Siddons returned to the stage for twelve nights to act for the benefit of her grandchildren. Henry Siddons [her son] was dead, leaving his affairs in much perplecity. He had purchased the theatre and never made it a paying concern, although his Wife [Harriet Siddons] acted perseveringly, and all the Kemble family came regularly and drew good houses. His ordinary company was not good; he was a dreadful stick himself, and he would keep the best parts for himself, and in every way managed badly. She did better after his death; her clever brother William Murray conducting affairs much more wisely for her, and certainly for himself in the end, slow as she was in perceiving this. Some pressing debts, however, required to be met, and Mrs Siddons came forward. We were all great play goers, often attending our own poor third rates, Mrs Harry redeeming all else in our eyes, and never missing the stars, John and Charles Kemble, Young, Liston, Matthews, Miss Stephens, etc. But to see the great queen again we had never dreamed of. She had taken leave of the stage before we left London. She was little changed, not at all in appearance, neither had her voice suffered; the limbs were just hardly stiffer, more slowly moved rather, therefore in the older characters she was the finest, most natural; they suited her age. Queen Catherine she took leave in. To my dying hour I never shall forget the trial scene; the silver tone of her severely cold ‘My Lord Cardinal,’ and then on the wrong one starting up, the scorn of her attitude, and the outraged dignity of the voice in which she uttered ‘To You I speak.’ We were breathless. Her sick room was very fine too. Then her Lady Macbeth, Volumnia, Constance—ah, no such acting since, for she was nature, on stilts in her private life. ‘Bring me some beer, boy, and another plate,’ is a true anecdote, blank verse and a tragick tone being her daily wear.

Memoirs of a Highland Lady

‘I was born on the 7th May 1797 of a Sunday evening at No. 5 N. side of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, in my father’s own lately built house and I am the eldest of five children he and my mother raised to maturity.’ Thus opens one of the most famous set of memoirs ever written. Since its first bowdlerised edition in 1898, they have been consistently in print. This is the first ever complete text. Written between 1845 and 1854 the memoirs were originally intended simply for Elizabeth’s family, but these vivid and inimitable records of life in the early 19th century, and above all on the great Rothiemurchus estate, full of sharp observation and wit, form an unforgettable picture of her time. The story ends with the thirty-three-year-old Elizabeth finding her own future happiness in marriage to an Irish landowner, Colonel Smith of Baltiboys. ‘A masterpiece of historical and personal recall.’ Scotsman

Amazon

Memoirs of a Highland Lady