Thursday, April 5, 2012

Edinburgh Improvements


Lord Henry Cockburn's "Memorials of his Time" contains a reference to a dinner on April 5th, 1825.  The subject of improvements in Edinburgh was discussed.  As will be seen in the note at the bottom, the improvements include the area around the Scott Monument.


'Jeffrey presided at the Fox dinner on the 24th of January, 1825 : Moncreiff was croupier. It was a new position for Jeffrey ; but he adorned it by great thought, and great beauty of diction. This, I think, was the last of these festivals. They were never meant to be perpetual ; but were only resorted to for political union and excitement during the stage that we had now passed through. Public meetings of all kinds soon became so common that, as substantive events, they are not worth recording. These Fox dinners did incalculable good.   They animated, and instructed, and consolidated the Whig party with less trouble and more effect than a thing else that could have been devised. A kind: gathering upon a larger Scale was held on the 5th of April, 1825, when a public dinner was given Brougham upon his first return to Edinburgh. eight hundred and fifty were present ; being more, I believe, than had ever attended a public political dinner in Scotland….it was, on the whole, a successful and impressive meeting.

We were now in a pretty keen conflict about the Edinburgh Improvements, a subject which blazed for a good many years after this. It all related to the creation of the new southern access by George the Fourth's Bridge, and of the new western access by the west approach along the Castle Hill. There were three parties — 1st. Those who would be taxed for nothing.   2d. Those who, being personally interested, insisted to have themselves and everybody else taxed to any extent.   3d. Those (of whom I took the lead) who were willing to be taxed, provided new statutory securities were given for the perpetual openness of Princes-street and the Mound.

This last party finally prevailed: and had it not been for its efforts, Edinburgh would have
been destroyed. These statutory precautions may possibly be all disregarded hereafter. This will be the loss and the disgrace of the people themselves, of whom, from their ordinary apathy about the beauty of their city, I certainly forebode no good. But meanwhile we did our duty, by both giving them the means of new improvement, and of saving what excellence they already have.* Some people let their picturesque taste get so sickly that they sigh over the destruction of every old nuisance or incumbrance. But they never try to live among these fragments, nor think of the human animals who burrow there.. it is also true that the south approach might have been joined to the New Town at a better level, and in a far more handsome manner. But still what we got was better than nothing.


* Scott's Monument has since been erected on Princes-street; and the Art Galleries are rising on the Mound ; and a railway pollutes the valley. But the last of these perfidies was irresistible; and the other two abatements of the strict exemption that was obtained were consented to, and were quite right.'

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