CHAPTER ITHE FAMILY TREE
'Ye'd better let me gang doon wi' the wig, Miss Kirsty,' said Peggy, the 'serving-lass' in the household of Mr. James Ross, writer, of the Castlehill.
'Oh no! I'd as leif take it doon mysel' to Allan Ramsay's, for the sake o' the walk and the bit crack wi' the canty callant,' replied the young lady, a blush crimsoning her fair, rounded cheek.
And Peggy would retire from these periodical but good-humoured passages-at-arms, with a knowing smile on her face, to confide the fact, mayhap,—of course as a profound secret,—to her cronies in the same stair, that Miss Kirsty Ross was 'unco ta'en up wi' that spruce genty wigmaker, Maister Allan Ramsay, doon ayont the Tron Kirk.'
Yea! verily, it was a love drama, but as yet only in the first scene of the first act. The 'Miss Kirsty' of the brief dialogue recorded above—for the authenticity of which there is abundant evidence—was Miss Christian Ross, eldest daughter of Mr. James Ross, a lawyer of some repute in his day, whose practice lay largely in the Bailie's and Sheriff's Courts, and with minor cases in the Justiciary Court, but not with civil business before the Court of Session, an honour rigorously reserved for the members of that close Corporation—the Writers to His Majesty's Signet.
But though not belonging, in slang phrase, 'to the upper crust' of the legal fraternity, James Ross was a man of some social consideration. Though he appears to have had a strain of the fashionable Pharisee in him, and to have esteemed gentle birth as covering any multitude of sins and peccadilloes, he manifested, throughout his intercourse with Ramsay, certain countervailing virtues that render him dear to the lovers of the poet. He made distinct pretensions to the possession of culture and a love of belles-lettres. To the best Edinburgh society of the period he and his had the entrée, while his house in Blair's Close, on the southern slope of the Castlehill, was the rendezvous for most of the literati of the city, as well as for the beaux esprits of the Easy Club, of which he was a member.
His acquaintance with the young wigmaker—whose sign of the 'Mercury,' situate in the High Street, or, as the poet himself writes, 'on Edinburgh's Street the sun-side,' was almost immediately opposite Niddry's Wynd, and at the head of Halkerston's Wynd, and within sixty yards of the Tron Church—had originated in the weekly visits paid by him to Allan's shop for the purpose of getting his wig dressed. While waiting until this important item in an eighteenth-century gentleman's toilet was accomplished, he had enjoyed many a 'crack' with the young craftsman, so shrewd, so witty, so genial, yet withal so industrious. The man of pleas and precepts discovered him of powder and perukes to be as deeply interested and, in good sooth, as deeply versed in the literature of his own land as the lawyer himself. Chance acquaintance gradually ripened, on both sides, into cordial esteem. James Ross invited Ramsay to visit him at his house, and there the young perruquier beheld his fate in Christian, or Kirsty, Ross.
If Allan were fascinated by Kirsty's rare beauty and piquant espièglerie, by her sweet imperiousness and the subtle charm of her refined femininity, exercised on a nature whose previous experience of the sex had been limited to the bare-legged Amazons of Leadhills or the rosy-cheeked ministering Hebes, whom the high wages of domestic service attracted to town; she, in turn, was no less captivated by the manly, self-possessed demeanour, and the ingratiating qualities, both social and intellectual, of her father's guest. If he had mingled too little with society for his manners to be tinged with the polish of the débonnair gallant, his natural good-breeding and ready tact, united, it must be confessed, to a not inconsiderable spice of vanity, doubtless prevented any lapse into those nervous gaucheries wherewith a youth's first appearance in good society is often accompanied.
Allan has drawn with truth and graphic power his own portrait as he appeared at this time—'Imprimis—then for tallness IAm five feet and four inches high;A black-a-vic'd, snod, dapper fellow,Nor lean, nor overlaid wi' tallow;With phiz of a Morocco cut,Resembling a late man of wit,Auld-gabbet Spec, who was so cunningTo be a dummie ten years running....