Henry Bellyse Baildon

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Dr Henry Bellyse Baildon (1849-1907), was a poet and playwright born in Granton, who spent some of his later life in Duncliffe in Murrayfield. His grave can still be seen in the Dean Cemetery.

While Baildon is ill remembered, his friend, Robert Louis Stevenson is not. They went to school together, where they co-edited a few magazines and kept up a life time correspondence when RLS moved over sees. Because of this connection, Baildon’s Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study in Criticism (1901) is of particular interest.

In a letter of 1891, from his home in Samoa, Stevenson wrote:

“It is a long time since we met I was curious to see where time had carried and stranded us… Did you see a silly tale, ‘John Nicholson’s Predicament’ – or some such name – in which I made free with your house in Murrayfield? There is precious little sense in it, but it might amust. Cassell’s published it – in a thing called Yule Tide years ago… there’s the house in Murrayfield and the dead body in it, forby: no extra charge. Glad the ballads amused you… I give you my warm Talofa. Write me again when the spirit moves you. And if some day, if I still live, make out the trip again, and let us hob-a-nob with our grey pows on my verandah. Yours sincerely, Robert Louis Stevenson.”

Baildon was also a good friend of Sir Patrick Geddes.

Baildon the Poet

Baildon’s poetry includes:

  • First Fruits and Shed Leaves” (1873)
  • Morning Clouds being Divers Poems” (1877)

The Spectator wrote of the latter collection that:

Baildon has a certain gift for verse writing, but is too fond of what used to be called Pindaric meters… and fanciful, or even fantastic means of expression… the occasional use of such similitudes is allowable, but they occur with wearying frequency.”

Not exactly high praise, I’m afraid.

HBB found more success in academia, being employed as a lecturer in English at Vienna University, and Dundee (then part of St Andrews).

The end

One day, Baildon failed to return to his final home in Dundee. His dog had wandered back without him, and his wife reported his disappearance to the police. He was found dead in a quarry at Lochee. The cause of death was determined to be overuse of a dubious rubbing solution called “ABC Liniment”, which contained minute quantities of belladonna and chloroform, used to calm nerves.

Baildon had been suffering from severe depression at the time, and one wonders if he committed suicide. Given that his father was a chemist, it is quite possible he knew what he was doing.

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Agnes Campbell and Daniel Defoe

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Daniel Defoe by an unknown artist

Agnes Campbell, Lady Roseburn (1637 — 1716) was one of the pioneers of publishing in Scotland. Most of the online information about Campbell seems to be on this Wikipedia article. From it, we learn that her husband became King’s Printer in Scotland, and that when he died, she took up the business at the age of 38. She remarried, but amazingly for the time, she was allowed to keep her business independent of her new husband.

In 1709, she established a paper mill at Penicuik, and became official printer to the Church of Scotland.

As for her personal connection to Roseburn, I’d be delighted to know more from any of my readers.

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) is best remembered today as the author of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). Defoe had another life, as John Clerk of Penicuik remarked:

“He was… a spy among us, but not known to be such, otherways the Mob of Edin[burgh] had pull him to pieces”

Defoe was sent up to Scotland to try and stoke up support for union with England, and to gauge the lie of the land. He was largely successful.

That Defoe was a Presbyterian was probably one of the reasons that he was sent up from England to spy on Scotland. It was also one of the things that Campbell and Defoe would have had in common, and indeed Campbell was one of his publishers. Was Campbell an informant for Defoe’s Memoirs of the Church of Scotland (1717) and The History of the Union of Great Britain (1709)? She certainly had regular contact with the highest levels of the Kirk, and Edinburgh society.

Fairley’s Biography

One of the few published sources on Campbell appears to be John A. Fairley’s
Agnes Campbell, Lady Roseburn, Relict of Andrew Anderson, the King’s Printer A Contribution to the History of Printing in Scotland, published in 1925. This ought to be available at the National Library, although it is long out of print. “Relict” is an old Scots word for a widow.

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On Norman MacCaig and a bit of controversy

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MacCaig at Edinburgh Park, South Gyle

“To be a poet, you need to be able to talk whilst holding a cigarette in one hand…”

Norman MacCaig (1910-1996) was a tall, thin, wiry character, hard to miss by all accounts. And even today, he has better name recognition than many of his poetic contemporaries, with his work being a staple of the Scottish school syllabus…

In Edinburgh, we tend to associate MacCaig most with Milne’s, on the corner of Hanover and Rose Street, where he would meet with the likes of Robert Garioch, George Campbell Hay and Hugh MacDiarmid etc. There’s even a well known painting of them all being kicked out of there. But these days Milne’s seems more than a little shy of promoting its literary heritage.

One might further associate MacCaig with his tenement at Leamington Terrace in Bruntsfield, where he would be photographed usually with his tab in hand.

MacCaig as Teacher

“When I was a teacher, teachers would come into my classroom and admire my desk in which lay nothing whatever whereas theirs were heaped with papers and books.”

MacCaig was also a teacher… But not of poetry, because he believed that could never be taught. He compared its teaching to giving a propellor to a bird. Nor was he one for long poems, by his own admission, for he suspected many people no longer had the stomach for them.

What kind of teacher was MacCaig though? An old version of his Wikipedia article from around a decade ago suggests he taught locally and had a fearsome reputation. (See image)

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Is this true? Some Wikipedia editors thought not, and had it removed. Or at least they thought this claim wasn’t well enough supported. So was MacCaig a bit too keen on the tawse? Was he even a teacher at Carrick Knowe Primary? The media loves to dig the dirt on the dead. And Norman MacCaig isn’t around to defend himself – he’s been gone over twenty years. I caught the tail end of corporal punishment myself and I can’t say my memories of it are fond ones; it was something which was clearly part of the system and had been for generations.

If you have any information on this particular subject I will be glad to hear from you as always.

Picture Credits

  • Public domain image from Wikipedia. Taken by “MacRusgail”.

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