In the late eighteenth century the deacons of the Incorporated Trades were lampooned for having airs and graces above their station, by wearing fancy gowns and putting gold chains and medals round their necks. That, at least, was the opinion of the newspapers of the time. This was at the height of the Scottish Enlightenment, a spectacular explosion of new thought, the centre of which was in Edinburgh, embracing all the sciences, arts and crafts, as well as philosophy, education, reason, religion, logic, rhetoric and the whole gamut of academic and intellectual activities.
Robert Burns was one of those who noticed the pretentions of people in high places and wrote a couplet on the subject:
“Ye dainty Deacons and ye douce Conveners
To whom we moderns are but causey-cleaners.”
(Robert Burns: The Brigs of Ayr)
Like all generalisations the criticism was in some cases justified and in other instances it was unfair. Personal vanity is a foible which afflicts different people in different degrees, and there are but few fortunate souls who remain altogether untouched by it.
Orlando Hart, Deacon of Cordiners and Deacon Convener