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April 30th 1842

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Henry Cockburn sees improvement

Henry Cockburn, later Lord Cockburn, became an advocate in 1800. It was at a time when Henry Dundas held sway in Scotland and unless you professed Tory principles it was difficult to rise very far in the legal profession.

In spite of this, Cockburn was an uncompromising Whig and created a name for himself by defending political opponents of the government. When in 1830 the long period of Tory ministries came to an end Cockburn gained rapid preferment. He was appointed Solicitor General for Scotland and was mainly responsible for drafting the first Scottish Reform Bill. In 1837 he was appointed a Lord of Justiciary, a position he retained until his death in 1854.

He was an assiduous diarist and his Journals give an invaluable picture of Edinburgh in the first half of the 19th Century. As a judge he was required to go on circuit and he managed to combine his legal work with journeys to the surrounding countryside.

Strathearn was one of his favourites. September 11th 1840. “Though by no means the grandest, Strathearn is I think, the most picturesque district in Scotland. The rapid and deep descent upon Comrie from Ardoch, especially when lighted up by the glow of a summer evening, is very striking. We snuffed the Comrie peat, and hailed the singularly lucid water of Earn, and soon found lowly Dunera sleeping calmly, as usual, in its magnificent cradle of crags and woods. I never tire of sitting on the summit of a Strathearn crag and surveying the scene below - obviously once a lake, and still the best preparation for a new lake in the world.” 

Dunkeld also met with his approval. April 30th 1842. “That lovely strath from Blair to Dunkeld was in the perfection of its vernal beauty - the earth, the air, and the trees full of happy animal life, lambs, insects and birds. The larches were everywhere covered with that delicate and short lived verdure, which makes that tree one of the best emblems of the Scottish spring; and what a world of brown bursting buds were the limes and planes and elms, especially the birches silently turning out into leaves. The whole scene was worthy of Charles 5th’s praise of Florence - that it was too beautiful to be looked upon except on a holiday.

But the most pleasing circumstance is - the obvious improvement of the human beings who inhabit what was lately not the happy valley. I remember it as one of the most squalid regions in Scotland, with the Dukes two houses at its opposite ends, and mud houses and beggary between. It was an established Athole custom for the children to run, like savages, for miles alongside every carriage, calling out for charity. The change that is taking place is satisfactory. The mud tenements are disappearing every year; respectable stone houses with their little gardens are rising; the schoolmaster is abroad with the basin and the towel, so that we could scarce detect a very dirty face on any child; nor were we assailed by a single beggar, young or old.” 

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