Andrew Bell, a very odd-looking gentleman, was
an engraver; and however flattering the representation of his person may
be considered, it is nevertheless perfectly correct—his nose to a
hair's-breadth, and the angle of his legs to a point. Mr. Bell began his
professional career in the humble employment of engraving letters,
names, and crests on gentlemen's plate, dog's collars, and so forth ;
but subsequently rose to be the first iu his line in Edinburgh. His
success, however, can scarcely be attributed to any excellence he ever
attained as an engraver, but rather to the result of a fortunate
professional speculation in which he engaged. This was the publication
of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," of which he was the proprietor to the
amount of a half, and to which he furnished the plates. By one edition
of this work he is said to have realised twenty thousand pounds.
Mr. Bell did not possess the advantage of a liberal education, but this
deficiency he in some measure obviated in after life by extensive
reading, and by keeping the society of men of letters, of which aids to
intellectual improvement he made so good a use that he became remarkable
for the extent of his information, and so agreeable a companion that his
company was in great request.
Mr. Bell was a true philosopher: so far
from being ashamed of the unnecessary liberality of nature in the
article of nose, he was in the habit of making it the groundwork of an
amusing practical joke.
He carried about with him a still larger
artificial nose, which, when any merry party he happened to be with had
got in their cups, he used to slip on, unseen, above his own immense
proboscis, to the inexpressible horror and amazement of those who were
not aware of the trick. They had observed, of course, at the first, that
Mr. Bell's nose was rather a striking feature of his face, but they
could not conceive how it had so suddenly acquired the utterly hideous
magnitude which it latterly presented to them.
Mr. Bell was also
remarkable for the deformity of his legs, upon which, however, he was
the first person to jest. Once, iu a large company, when some jokes had
passed on the subject, he said, pushing out one of them, that he would
wager there was in the room a leg still more crooked. The company denied
his assertion and accepted the challenge, whereupon he coolly thrust out
his other leg, which was still worse than its neighbour, and thus gained
Mr. Bell was the principal proprietor of the "Encyclopaedia
Britan-nica." The second edition of this work began to be published in
1776. At the death of Mr. M'Farquhar, the other proprietor, in 1793, the
whole became the property of Mr. Bell. It is well known that he left a
handsome fortune, mostly derived from the profits of this book. By the
sale of the third edition, consisting of 10,000 copies, the sum of
^842,000 was realised. To this may be added Mr. Bell's professional
profits for executing the engravings, &c. Even the warehouseman, James
Hunter, and the corrector of the press, John Brown, are reported to have
made large sums of money by the sales of the copies for which they had
procured subscriptions. After Mr. Bell's death, the entire property of
the work was purchased from his executors by one of his sons-in-law, Mr.
Thomson Bonar, who carried on the printing of it at The Grove,
Fountainbridge. In 1812, the copyright was bought by Messrs. Coustable &
Co., who published the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions, with the
Supplement by Professor Napier. The work still continues to maintain so
high a reputation in British literature, that a new and stereotyped
edition, with modern improvements, and additions to its previously
accumulated stores, is now publishing by Messrs. Adam & Charles Black.
Mr. Bell was in the habit of taking exercise on horseback. The animal he
rode was remarkably tall; and Andrew, being of a very diminutive
stature, had to use a small ladder to climb up in mounting it. The
contrast between the size of the horse and his own little person,
together with his peculiarly odd appearance, rendered this exhibition
the most grotesque that can well be conceived ; but such was his
magnanimity of mind, that no one enjoyed more, or made greater jest of
the absurdity than himself.
Mr. Bell left two daughters. One of them
was married to Mr. Paton, ropemaker, Leith ; and the other to Mr.
Thomson Bonar, merchant in Edinburgh.
Mr. Bell acknowledged he was but
a very indifferent engraver himself; yet he reared some first-rate
artists in that profession. He died much regretted, at his own house in
Lauriston Lane, at the advanced age of eighty-three, on the 10th May,