Memoirs of a Highland Lady: Edinburgh and an Unfortunate Change of Circumstances

Edinburgh and an Unfortunate Change of Circumstances

One morning my mother sent Jane and Mary with a message to the poor Carrs in the Abbey; William was out elsewhere; most of the servants were dispatched on errands; and then, poor woman, she told me there was to be an Execution* in the house, and that I must help her to ticket a few books and drawings as belonging to the friends that had lent them to us. We had hardly finished when two startling rings announced the arrival of a string of rude looking men, who proceeded at once to business however with perfect civility, although there visit could not have been satisfactory, inasmuch as nothing almost was personal property. The furniture was all hired, there was no cellar, very little plate. The Law library and the pianoforte were the most valuable items of the short catalogue. I attended them with the keys, and certainly they were very courteous, not going up to the bedrooms at all, nor scrutinising any where closely. When they were gone we had a good fit of crying, my mother and I, and then she told me for the first time of our difficulties as far as she herself knew them, adding that her whole wish now was to retire to the highlands; for, disappointed as she had been in every way, she had no wish to remain before the publick eye nor to continue an expensive way of living evidently beyond their circumstances. How severely I reflected on myself for having added to her griefs, for I had considerably distressed her by my heartless flirtations, entered on purposely to end in disappointment. The guilt of such conduct now came upon me as a blow, meriting just as cruel punishment as my awakening conscience was giving me; for there was no help, no cure for the past, all remaining was a better line of conduct for the future, on which I fully determined, and, thank God, lived to carry out, and so in some small degree atone for that vile flippancy which had hurt my own character and my own reputation while it tortured my poor Mother. I don’t now take all the blame upon myself; I had never been rightly guided. The relations between Mother and daughter were very different then from what they are now. Our mother was very reserved with us, not watchful of us, nor considerate, nor consistent. The Governess was an affliction. We had no rule of right and so deserve excuse for our many errours. Thought would have schooled us but I never thought till this sad day. Then it seemed as if a veil fell from my giddy spirits and real life, and the lesson I read began my education.

Mary had also grieved my poor mother a little by refusing Uncle Edward’s invitation to India; Jane, by declining what were called good marriages; William, by neglecting his Law studies. A little more openness with kindness might have done good to all; tart speeches and undue faulting finding will put nothing straight, ever. We had all suffered from the fretful without knowing what had caused the ill humour. It was easy to bear and easy to soothe once it was understood. We were all the happier after we knew more of the truth of our position.

*Execution: a judicial writ directing the enforcement of a legal judgment (as against a debtor)

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


Memoirs of a Highland Lady

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