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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Andrew Bell, Author and Engraver


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 his bet.

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, 1809.


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