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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
The Daft Highland Laird


James Robertson, of Kincraigie, in Perthshire, was a gentleman by birth. He was a determined Jacobite, and had been engaged in the Rebellion of 1745, for which he was confined in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh.

It was during this incarceration that the Laird exhibited those symptoms of derangement which subsequently caused him to obtain the soubriquet of the "Daft Highland Laird." His lunacy was first indicated by a series of splendid entertainments to all those who chose to come, no matter who they were.

His insanity and harmlessness having become known to the authorities, they discharged him from the jail, from which, however, he was no sooner ejected than he was pounced upon by his friends, who having cognosced him in the usual manner, his younger brother was, it is understood, appointed his curator or guardian. By this prudent measure his property was preserved against any attempts which might be made by designing persons, and an adequate yearly allowance was provided for his support. A moderate income having in this way been secured to the Laird, he was enabled to maintain the character of a deranged gentleman with some degree of respectability, and he enjoyed, from this time forward, a total immunity from all the cares of life. When we say, however, that the Laird was freed from all care and anxiety, we hazarded something more than the facts warranted. There was one darling wish of his heart that clung to him for many a day, which certainly it was not very easy to gratify. This was his extreme anxiety to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, as a rebel partisan of the house of Stuart, and a sworn and deadly foe to the reigning dynasty. He was sadly annoyed that nobody would put him in jail as a traitor, or attempt to bring him to trial. It would have been a partial alleviation of his grief, if he could have got any benevolent person to have accused him of treason. It was in vain that he drank healths to the Pretender—in vain that he bawled treason in the streets; there was not one who would lend a helping-hand to procure him the enjoyment of its pains and penalties.

The Laird, although he uniformly insisted on being a martyr to the cause of the Chevalier, seemed to feel that there was something wanting to complete his pretensions to that character—that it was hardly compatible with the unrestrained liberty he enjoyed, the ease and comfort in which he lived, and the total immunity from any kind of suffering which was permitted him; and hence his anxiety to bring down upon himself the vengeance of the law.

Failing, however, in every attempt to provoke the hostility of Government, and thinking, in his despair of success, that if he could once again get within the walls of a jail, it would be at any rate something gained; and that his incarceration might lead to the result he was so desirous of obtaining, he fell on the ingenious expedient of running in debt to his landlady, whom, by a threat of non-payment, he induced to incarcerate hirn. This delightful consummation accordingly took place, and the Laird was made happy by having so far got, as he imagined, on the road to martyrdom.

It was a very easy matter to get the Laird into jail, but it was by no means so easy a one to get him out again. Indeed, it was found next to impossible. No entreaties would prevail upon him to quit it, even after the debt for which he was imprisoned was paid. There he insisted on remaining until he should be regularly brought to trial for high treason. At last a stratagem was resorted to to induce him to remove. One morning two soldiers of the Town-Guard appeared in his apartment in the prison, and informed him that they had come to escort him to the Justiciary Court, where the Judges were assembled, and waiting for his presence, that they might proceed with his trial for high treason.

Overjoyed with the delightful intelligence, the Laird instantly accompanied the soldiers down stairs, when the latter having got him fairly outside of the jail, locked the door to prevent his re-entering, and deliberately walked off, leaving the amazed and disappointed candidate for a halter to reflect on the slippery trick that had just been played him.

The Laird after this having, it would seem, abandoned all hope being hanged, betook himself to an amusement which continued to divert him during the remainder of his life. This was carving in wood, for which he had a talent, the heads of public personages, or of any others who became special objects of his dislike, and in some cases of those, too, for whom he entertained a directly opposite feeling; thus, amongst his collection were those of the Pretender, and several of his most noted adherents.

These little figures he stuck on the end of a staff or cane, which, as he walked about, he held up to public view. His enemies, or such as he believed to be such, were always done in a style of the most ridiculous caricature. The Laird exhibited a new figure every day of the year, and as this was expected of him, the question, "Wha hae ye up the day, Laird?" was frequently put to him, when he would readily give every information on the subject required.

When the print to which this notice refers was first exhibited, the Laird retaliated by mounting a caricature likeness of the limner on his staff; and when asked for the usual information demanded in such cases, "Don't you see it's the barber?" he would reply; "and wasn't it a wise thing of him, when drawing twa daft men, to put a sodger between them?" On another occasion, meeting the Honourable Henry Erskine one day as he was about to enter the Parliament House, of which the Laird was a great frequenter, the former inquired how he did: "Oh, very weel!" answered the Laird; "but I'll tell ye what, Harry, tak' in Justice wi' ye," pointing to one of the statues over the old porch of the Parliament House, "for she has stood lang i' the outside, and it wad be a treat for her to see the inside, like other strangers!"

He was of a kindly and inoffensive disposition, and, in keeping with this character, was extremely fond of children, and of those young persons generally who treated him with becoming respect. For these he always carried about him in his pocket a large supply of tops, peeries, and tee-totums, of his own manufacture, which he distributed liberally amongst them; while to adults he was equally generous in the articles of snuff and tobacco, giving these freely to all who chose to enter into conversation with him. The Laird was thus a general favourite with both young and old.

He resided on the Castlehill, and was most frequently to be seen there, and in the Grassmarket, Lawnmarket, and Bow-head.

He wore a cocked Highland bonnet, as represented in the picture, which is an admirable likeness, was handsome in person, and possessed of great bodily strength. He died in July 1790. He retained to his dying hour his allegiance to the House of Stuart; and, about two years before his demise, gave a decisive instance of it, creating a disturbance at Bishop Abernethy Drummond's chapel, in consequence of the reverend gentleman and his congregation, who had previously been Nonjurants, praying for King George III.


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