"Learned men oft greedily pursue
Things that are rather wonderful than true,
And in their nicest speculations choose
To make their own discoveries strange news."
When it does not proceed from an affectation of singularity or superiority, eccentricity may be traced to the preponderance of one faculty, or to habits of concentration respecting particular subjects of thought to the exclusion of all others. An eccentric person is the comet of the social circle; he moves in an orbit of his own, but, unlike the comet of the heavens, he occasionally impinges on the toes or the feelings of his neighbours.
Henry David, fifth Earl of Buchan, was a most eccentric person. When Prince Charles Edward held court at Holyrood, in 1745, he formed a strong desire to obtain a private interview with the young adventurer without committing himself to his cause. In order that this might be carried out without compromise to his interests as an adherent of the reigning family, he asked his friend Lord Elcho, who had joined the insurrection, to effect his seizure at the cross, with a view to his being apparently dragged into the presence of the Prince. The capture was negotiated, but the design failed, for Charles Edward declined to give audience to any one who would not pledge himself to his cause.
Lord Buchan was succeeded, in 1767, by his eldest son, David Stuart, a person of even greater eccentricity than his father. He was extremely vain. " I belong to a talented family, madam," his lordship remarked to the witty Duchess of Gordon. " Yes," responded the Duchess, " and I suppose the talent has come from the mother, since it has been settled on the younger branches." The Duchess referred to the Hon. Henry Erskine, Dean of Faculty, and the Hon. Thomas, afterwards Lord Chancellor Erskine, who were the younger brothers of this pedantic nobleman.
A most ridiculous story of the Earl is related by J. G. Lockhart. In 1819 Sir Walter Scott was very ill, confined to his bed in his house in Castle Street, Edinburgh. Though aware that all visitors were strictly prohibited, the Earl determined on seeing him. Finding the knocker on the front door tied up, he descended to the area door, and, despite the remonstrances of the coachman, mounted up-stairs on his way to the invalid's bedchamber. Miss Scott met him and expostulated. It was useless. The Earl would proceed—must see Sir Walter. Meanwhile the coachman, who had again come upon the scene, gave his lordship a shove, and, with menacing gestures, indicated that any further intrusion would be resisted. The Earl reluctantly made his retreat. Sir Walter was informed of the adventure, and forthwith despatched James Ballantyne, who happened to be with him, to explain matters, and so relieve his lordship's disappointment. Ballantyne found the Earl in his library in a state of great excitement. He had gone, he said, to embrace Sir Walter before he died, to remind him that they should rest together in the same burial-place, and to show him a plan of the funeral procession which he had prepared. In the programme it was specified that his lordship should pronounce an el6ge over the remains of the departed minstrel when they had been lowered into their last resting-place.
While nominally a patron of the arts and their cultivators, Lord Buchan was careful to avoid any draft on his finances. He was extremely penurious. A young portrait painter in the capital had been recommended to his notice, and was forthwith honoured with a commission to delineate his lordship on canvas. On the completion of the work, which was deemed quite satisfactory, the needy painter eagerly expected a handsome recompense. As none was forthcoming, he contrived, through a friend, to convey to the Earl a hint that he required the money. His lordship invited him to breakfast. The youth accepted the invitation with delight. The meal being concluded, his lordship sauntered forth into Princes Street, and, taking the artist by the arm, proceeded to walk him up and down this public thoroughfare. At noon he remembered another engagement, and parted with his protege remarking to him as he moved off, "Your fortune is now as good as made, since you have been seen in Princes Street walking familiarly with the Earl of Buchan."
James Boswell, the biographer of Johnson, was extremely eccentric. He entertained the most overweening idea of his own importance. The following are excerpts from his note-book:—
"Boswell was presented to the Duke of Argyle at Whitton in the year 1760. The Duke talked some time with him and was pleased, and seemed surprised that Boswell wanted to have a commission in the Guards. His Grace took Boswell's father aside and said, ' My lord, I like your son; that boy must not be shot at for three and sixpence a day.'" " Boswell compared himself to the ancient Corinthian brass. ' I am,' said he, ' a composition of an infinite variety of ingredients. I have been formed by a vast number of scenes of the most different natures, and I question if any uniform education could have produced a character so agreeable.'"
"My freinds [So Boswell spelt the word.] are to me like the cinnamon tree, which produces nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon. Not only do I get wisdom and worth out of them, but amusement. I use them as the Chinese do their animals. Nothing is lost there. A very good dish is made of the poorest parts; so I make the follies of my freinds serve for a dessert after their valuable qualities."
"When Wilkes and I sat together, each glass of wine produced a flash of wit, like gunpowder thrown into the fire—puff! puff!"
"Mons. D'Ankerville paid me the compliment that I was the man of genius who had the best heart he had ever known."
Boswell was not unconscious of his foibles and weaknesses. His note-book contains the following:—
"Boswell, who had a good deal of whim, used not only to form wild projects in his imagination, but would sometimes reduce them to practice. In his calm hours he said with great good humour, ' There have been many people who built castles in the air, but I suppose I am the first that ever attempted to live in them.'"
"Boswell complained that he had too good a memory in trifles, which prevented his remembering things of consequence. ' My head,' said he, ' is like a tavern in which a club of low punch-drinkers have taken up the room that might have been filled with lords that drink Burgundy; but it is not in the landlord's power to dispossess them.'"
Captain Erskine complained that Boswell's handwriting was so large that his letters contained very little. "My lines," said Boswell, "are like my ideas, very irregular, and at a great distance from each other."
Unlike the majority of egotists, Boswell could heartily enjoy a jest at his own expense. The most severe home-thrust never disturbed his complacency. His note-book proceeds:—
"Boswell was talking away one morning in St. James's Park with much vanity. Said his friend Temple, ' We have heard of many kinds of hobbyhorses, but, Boswell, you ride upon yourself.'"
"Boswell was one day complaining that he was sometimes dull. 'Yes, yes,' cried Lord Kames, ' Homer sometimes nods.' Boswell being too much elevated with this, my lord added, ' Indeed, sir, it is the only chance you have of resembling Homer.'" "Rather than borrow one half-guinea of Lord -, I would borrow ten shillings of ten chairmen, and the odd sixpence of a shoe-black."
On one occasion Boswell admits he lost his temper under the tongue of censure. His wife was the reprover. These are his words:—
"When I was warm, talking of my own consequence and generosity, my wife made some cool, humbling remark upon me. I flew into a violent passion; I said, 'If you throw cold water upon a plate of iron much heated, it will crack into shivers.'"
The good-natured egotist thus expresses his sentiments respecting social meetings:—
"I have not an ardent love for parties of pleasure, yet, am I once engaged in them, no man is more joyous. The difference between me and one who is the promoter of them is like that between a water-dog and an ordinary dog. I have no instinct prompting me. I never go into the water of my own accord; but throw me in, and you will find that I swim excellently."
Sir John Dinely, an English baronet, but associated with Scotland from a lengthened residence in the country, holds a first rank among members of the eccentric school. He was the last heir-male of an old family in the county of Worcester, descended on the female side from the royal House of Plantagenet. The family had gradually experienced reverses, and the means which accrued to Sir John on his succession in 1761 were very circumscribed. These were soon entirely exhausted by his prodigality, so that in his state of indigence he willingly accepted the situation and emoluments of one of the Poor Knights of Windsor. He had originally studied medicine, and had attempted to practise as a physician, but he seems to have abandoned the trammels of a professional existence to betake himself to a career of Platonic gallantry. His days were spent in assiduous devotion to the fair sex, with a view to his being enabled to select a wife who should be the paragon of beauty, elegance, and worth. In order to achieve this grand aim, he pursued a course of eccentricity exceeded only by that of the fictitious knight of La Mancha. Not content with advertising from time to time in the English journals as to his admiration of the fair, and in terms of glowing enthusiasm soliciting the notice of ladies of every rank and age as candidates for his hand and affections, he resided for a lengthened period of his life in different parts of the country, in quest of a fair object who might be found permanently worthy of his love. From various entries in the burgh records, it appears that after residing some time both in Edinburgh and Glasgow, he had come to Stirling in 1768, and purchased a house in the principal street. He had the house altered to suit his peculiar tastes; the roof was made flat, and a garden was laid out on its summit. A fish-pond in the centre was surrounded with a bordering of gooseberry bushes and some rare plants; and from a walk encompassing the whole the eccentric baronet could amuse himself by looking on the gold-fish sporting in the basin, or on the fair passing down Broad Street. But the roof gave way from the superincumbent pressure, and Sir John, unable to repair it, had to dispose of the property about two years after he had acquired it. He left Stirling for a period, and his name first reappears in the records as having been subjected to pecuniary difficulties by the prosecution of a female to whom he had not fulfilled an alleged promise of marriage. In 1778 he returned to Stirling, and as a burgess and guild brother, which he had been appointed in March, 1768, he preferred a claim to be pensioned from the funds of Cowan's Hospital. The claim, owing to his poverty, was admitted, and the indigent baronet had paid to him half a crown weekly till the old term of Martinmas, 1792, when he surrendered his rights and left the place. In his transactions with the guildry he laid aside the use of his title, and assumed the name of John Baronet, by which designation he is generally entered in the registers, the qualifying expression, " or such person now so styled," being added to his assumed name in the property conveyance. By several persons in Stirling Sir John is well remembered. Arrayed in a costume consisting of a velvet vest, satin breeches, and silk stockings, with a scarlet cloak thrown over to conceal their faded and tattered aspects, his feet generally protected by a pair of high timber sandals, and his hat and wig secured to his head by a large cotton handkerchief tied under his chin, he sauntered about daily, paying his courteous devoir to every female who would good-humouredly address him. As none of the sex were too young for his admiration, a train of very young Misses were not unfrequently attending him, listening to his sighs and smiling at his foibles. He knew each beauty of the district by name, and kept a catalogue of them in which their names were entered according to his estimate of their charms. On leaving Stirling he returned to Windsor, where he indulged in his peculiar eccentricities till his death, at an advanced age, in May, 1808. Mr. Burke, in the " Anecdotes of the Aristocracy," allots a chapter to the eccentric baronet, and has recorded some of his oddities and advertisements. He lived entirely alone, dispensing with the assistance of a servant; his chief haunts in London being the auction-rooms and pastry-shops, at the latter of which he made, in his advertisements, his assignations with the fair sex. He valued himself much on his family connections and hereditary distinction, and estimated his fortune at £300,000, should he be able to recover it. Several of his advertisements for a wife are inserted in a work by Captain Grose, entitled, "A Guide to Health, Beauty, Biches, and Honour."
Francis Macnab, of Macnab, valued himself 011 being the chief of an ancient Highland clan. He therefore rejected the usual prefix of "Mr.," and desired to be known and addressed as "Macnab." A gentleman called on him one day at his residence in Edinburgh according to invitation, but inadvertently on asking if he was within used the objectionable prefix. The servant stated he would make inquiry, but soon returned to say that Mr. Macnab was not in the house. The visitor retired, though he was confident he had heard his friend's voice from an inner apartment. Bethinking himself, he went back and asked "if Macnab was at home?" The answer was in the affirmative, and the laird received him cordially.
Macnab's education had been neglected. Some one ventured to remark on his inaccurate spelling in a document he was writing. He promptly replied, "Who could spell wi' sic a pen?"
At the Leith races one year Macnab had the misfortune to lose his horse, which fell down dead. At the races of the year following, a young fellow, who had witnessed the catastrophe, said to the laird with flippant air, "Macnab, is that the same horse you had last year?" "No," said Macnab, "but this is the same whip," which he brandished as if about to apply it to the querist's shoulders.
An amicable contest once existed for the chieftainship of the clan Macnab. One of the claimants was officially located in Canada. The other, being on a visit to the colony, was waited on by his rival, who left a large card, inscribed "The Macnab." Next day the visit was returned, and a card twice the size of the former left, inscribed, "The other Macnab."
Maxton, the laird of Cultoquhey, in Strathearn, was one of the most eccentric of Scottish landowners. He was surrounded by four potent families, each of whom he conceived was anxious to appropriate his patrimonial acres. He prayed daily that he might be delivered—
the greed of the Campbells,
From the ire of the Drummonds,
From the pride of the Grahams,
And from the wind of the Murrays."
The Duke of Atholl, who was the chief of the Murrays, having invited Cultoquhey to dinner, asked him to repeat his addition to the litany, believing that he would decline to do so in his presence. He was, however, mistaken, and the Duke demanded that he would promise to omit his name, otherwise he would crop his ears. "That's wind," said the undaunted laird; an imperturbable reply, which restored the Duke to his equanimity.
Francis Semple, the ingenious author of " Maggie Lauder," and other popular songs, was possessed of considerable eccentricity and humour. From his residence at Beltrees, Renfrewshire, he proceeded to Glasgow, some time in 1651, there to visit, along with his wife, an aged maiden aunt, his father's sister. On his arrival his aunt informed him that she must immediately apprise the captain of Cromwell's soldiers, then occupying the city, of his arrival, otherwise the soldiers would distrain her property. Semple undertook to prepare a missive supplying the needful information. Receiving a sheet of paper, he wrote these lines, which he folded in the form of a letter, and addressed "To the Commander of the Guard:"—
"Lo doon near by the city temple, There is ane lodg'd wi' Auntie Semple, Francis Semple, of Beltrees, His consort also, if you please; There's twa o's horse, and ane o's men, That's quartered down wi' Allan Glen. Thir lines I send to you, for fear 0' poindin' of auld auntie's gear, Whilk never ane before durst stear, It stinks for staleness I dare swear."
The writer subscribed his name and address, and by special messenger transmitted his communication to the military official.
Having read the document, the English commandant conceived that the writer had intended a deliberate insult, and ordered a party of soldiers to arrest him. Semple was apprehended and arraigned before the Lord Provost. When the libel was read, the civic chief could not restrain his laughter, ,in which the commandant heartily joined, when the epistle was explained to him in English. From that moment Semple and the commandant became friends; the latter introduced the poet to his officers, who enjoyed his society and his songs. On their return to England the officers made Semple's songs known in the south, where they were long popular.
James Sibbald, editor of the " Chronicles of Scottish Poetry," was very eccentric, but withal possessed considerable humour. He resided several years in London, without informing his friends in Scotland of his proceedings, or even where he lived. At length his brother, a Leith merchant, got a letter conveyed to him, in which he entreated him to relieve the anxieties of his relations by stating, just in two lines, where he lived, and what he was doing. Sibbald made the following laconic answer:—
"I live in Soho, And my business is so-so."
Dr. Walter Anderson, minister of Chirnside, was possessed of very ordinary talents, but was ambitious of fame as an author. Meeting Mr. Hume, the historian, in company, he said to him, "Mr. David, I dare say other people might write books too, but you clever folks have taken up all the good subjects." Mr. Hume replied, "Oh, there is room for a history of Crcesus, king of Lydia." This remark, made by the historian in jest, the worthy clergyman accepted in perfect earnest, and positively prepared and published a huge quarto on the history of Crcesus, with an elaborate dissertation "On the ancient notion of Destiny or Dreams." On the outbreak of the French Revolution Dr. Anderson published a pamphlet on the subject, which, like his other publications, proved unsaleable. With a view of inviting attention to the work, he prepared an appendix, much exceeding the size of the original publication. Having called on Principal Robertson, and informed him of his plan, the Principal remonstrated with him on the absurdity of his proposal. "When your pamphlet is already found to be heavy," said he, "do not think to lessen it by making it ten times heavier." Anderson's reply was sufficiently smart:—"Why, Dr. Robertson, you may have seen a kite raised by boys ? If you have, you must have remarked that when they try to raise the kite by itself, they do not succeed, but when they add a long string of papers to its tail, up it goes like a laverock." [Lark]
Professor William Wilkie, of St. Andrews, author of "The Epigoniad," suffered from a perpetual chill. In order to secure himself sufficient warmth in bed, he slept under the load of twenty-four pairs of blankets.
Lord Gardenstone indulged a fondness for the race of pigs. One of these animals he had trained to follow him like a dog. When it was little, his lordship allowed it to share his bed. This became inconvenient, but he continued to permit the creature to occupy the same room. He appropriated his clothes as its couch, which, he used to say, it kept comfortably warm.
The celebrated Dr. Adam Smith, author of "The Wealth of Nations," was singularly eccentric in his habits. When he was engaged in composition, he got into a sort of reverie, which rendered him nearly unconscious of events in the external world. One Sunday morning he happened to walk into his garden at Kirkcaldy, his mind occupied with a train of ideas. He unconsciously travelled out of his garden into the turnpike road, along which he proceeded in a state of profound meditation, till he reached Dunfermline, a town nearly fifteen miles distant. The people were proceeding to church, and the sound of the bells awakened the philosopher to reflection. He was arrayed in an old dressing-gown, and presented a figure of no inconsiderable oddity.
Dr. Robert Hamilton, Professor of Mathematics in Marischal College, Aberdeen, was remarkable for his absence of mind. He had repeatedly proceeded to his class-room wanting in several essential articles of apparel. It afterwards was arranged that he should not leave his dwelling without undergoing inspection by some member of his household.
The following anecdote of Professor Hamilton was related to the writer by the late Professor Pyper of St. Andrews. "When the Professor was in the act of drawing mathematical figures on the black-board, many of his students were in the practice of throwing peas at him, from the effects of which he sheltered himself by placing his hand protectively on the back of his head. On one occasion an assailant, having waxed bold from the impunity which had attended his frequent perversity, cast at the board a toy cracker, containing a few particles of fulminating powder, which exploded near the Professor's head. With one bound the learned preceptor darted from the class-room. A deputation of the better conducted members of the class were immediately despatched after him to plead an apology and entreat his return. Pyper acted as spokesman, but was met by the Professor with these words,—"Gentlemen, I have no objection to the peas, for I can easily protect myself with my hand; but I entreat you to spare my life. The ball hit the board within an inch of my ear." On a proper explanation of the nature of the missile, with a promise that such projectiles should not again be used, the Professor resumed his duties.
Dr. Thomas Blacklock, the blind poet, was occasionally subject to extraordinary conditions of reverie. On the day of his ordination to the ministry at Kirkcudbright, he fell into a state of stupor or profound slumber immediately after dinner. He had retired to a private room, but being aroused some hours after, he rejoined his friends at table. He sung several songs and conversed on different topics, though some of his friends observed him to be absent in manner. After supper he began to speak to himself in a very low and unintelligible tone. At last he awoke with a sudden start, and declared himself unconscious of all that had happened since the hour of dinner. His settlement had been strongly opposed by the parishioners, a circumstance which preyed deeply on his sensitive mind.
The first wife of the Hon. Henry Erskine was uncommonly eccentric. Among her peculiarities was the custom of gadding about half the night, examining the family wardrobe, and ascertaining whether everything was in its proper place. One night she was unsuccessful in a search, and about three in the morning she awoke Mr. Erskine from his sleep, and put to him the question, "Harry, lovie, where's your white waistcoat?"
John Barclay, author of "Argenis," and his wife were both eccentric persons. Barclay spent the afternoons in his garden. He conceived a passion for the cultivation of the tulip, and became so much attached to that flower that he occupied an ill-aired and uncomfortable dwelling in order to feast bis eyes constantly upon it. When he had occasion to be absent, he placed two mastiffs as sentinels upon the garden to guard his beloved plant. After his death, Mrs. Barclay caused a handsome monument to be raised to his memory; but learning that an erection of a similar character had been reared in the same place by a Boman ecclesiastic to the memory of his tutor, she caused her husband's cenotaph to be destroyed. "My husband," said the irate gentlewoman, "was a man of family, and famous in the literary world; I will not suffer him to remain on a level with an obscure pedagogue."
Thomas Coutts, the celebrated London banker, was a native of Edinburgh. He was a man of very eccentric tastes. Being miserly in his habits, he caused his garments to be repaired so long as they could possibly be made to hold together. The process of mending, which he caused to be executed by his female servants, became extremely irksome, and several of them in consequence left his employment. At length a young woman, named Susan Starkie, entered his service, who, perceiving her master's peculiarity, contrived to introduce into his wardrobe, out of her savings, new stockings instead of those which had become useless. The careful banker was gratified to find his garments assume a renovated aspect under the care of his new handmaid, and conceiving that he could not procure a more economical wife, he married her.
Alexander Cruden, author of the " Concordance of the Bible," was subject to mental derangement, and was, at three different periods, confined in a lunatic asylum When he had regained his freedom after the third occasion, he endeavoured to induce several relatives, who had been instrumental in confining him, to submit to imprisonment in Newgate as a compensation for the maltreatment he conceived he had experienced at their hands. To his sister he proposed the alternative of Newgate, Beading, and Aylesbury jails, or the prison at Windsor Castle!
Several Scottish clergymen have evinced eccentricity by constantly dwelling, in their pulpit prelections and writings, on the illustration of a single doctrine or particular duty. A clergyman of the seventeenth centuiy is described as accommodating every text towards enforcing the duty of supporting the "Solemn League and Covenant." Another Scottish divine preached so frequently on the subject of faith that his ministrations became irksome. A friend suggested to him a text, in the hope that on one occasion, at least, the wonted topic might be avoided. He named these words (Exod. xxxix. 26),—"A bell." Next Sunday the clergyman, having read this short text, proceeded thus: " Brethren, a bell is the symbol of faith—for faith cometh by hearing, and how can we hear better than by a bell?" In a history of the Bible, the Rev. George B. Gleig contrives to indicate his aversion to Scottish Theology by describing the apostle Paul as "no Cal-vinist."
Hugh Miller, the distinguished geologist, was for many years engaged as a quarrier and stonemason. He was singularly indifferent as to his personal attire. When he used to visit the printing-office of the Inverness Courier on the Saturday afternoons, he uniformly presented himself with his mason's apron folded up about his person. He was then an operative, but when he proceeded to Edinburgh to undertake the editorship of the Witness newspaper, he could scarcely be persuaded to lay aside the badge of his original employment.
The name of Mr. Durham of Largo is familiar to every reader of Scottish anecdote, from his love of setting forth stories of the marvellous. A servant who had long been in Mr. Durham's employment informed him that he could no longer remain in his service. "Why should you leave, John?" said Mr. Durham; "have I not always treated you well?" "Oh," responded John, "I have nothing to complain of on that score. But there is a reason." Mr. Durham said that he would endeavour to make him comfortable, and asked him to state his reason at once. "Weel then, sir," said John, "gin ye maun hae it, I must just tell you that the folks on the street often point to me and say, 'That's the man that has the leein' maister,' an' I dinna like this." "But, John, did you ever observe that I told an untruth?" said Mr. Durham.
"Weel, sir," responded John , ye mann excuse me if I say you sometimes gang a little owre far." "I am not sensible of it, John," said Mr. Durham; "but, John, when you are standing behind me at table, and think I am going at all wrong, just give me quietly a wee dunch* on the back." Shortly after there was a dinner-party in Largo House, and Mr. Durham was entertaining his friends with his reminiscences of travel. In America he said he had seen monkeys of prodigious size, with tails twenty feet long. There were expressions of surprise. John gave his master a nudge. "Well, gentlemen," said the laird, "if the tails were not quite twenty feet long, I am sure they were fifteen." There were still expressions of surprise. John administered another nudge. "Certainly I did not measure the tails, but they could not be less than ten feet long." There was another nudge. This was too much for the laird's endurance. He turned round and exclaimed, "What do you mean, John; would you have the monkeys without tails at all?"
The following anecdote respecting Mr. Durham's unfortunate habit has often been incorrectly told. Mr. Durham was present among a party of gentlemen, when a bet was taken as to whether he or another gentleman of the company, also noted for bouncing, would tell the greatest lie. Informed of the wager, Mr. Durham observed that, "it was singular he had the reputation of being a liar, since he was quite sure he had never told a lie in his life." "The bet is gained," exclaimed the gentleman who had been inclined to support the claims of the other bouncer. "A greater lie than this could not be told."
Mr. Finlayson, town-clerk of Stirling, in the latter half of the seventeenth century, was notorious for coining marvellous stories. He had been on a visit to the Earl of Menteith at Talla, in Lake Menteith. On his being about to leave, the Earl asked him whether he had seen the sailing cherry-tree. He said he had not, and begged that his lordship would give him an account of it. The Earl stated that the tree had grown out of a goose's mouth from a stone which the bird had swallowed, and which she carried about with her round the lake. "The tree is now," added his lordship, "in full fruit, of the most exquisite flavour." Finlayson admitted that the story was very interesting, but could inform his lordship of one still more remarkable. "Did your lordship ever hear of the ball fired from one of Cromwell's cannon, when he was encamped at Airth?" The Earl said he had not. "Then," said Finlayson, "it so happened that the ball fired from Airth reached Stirling Castle, four miles off, and lodged in a trumpet which was being sounded by one of the soldiers." "And the trumpeter was killed of course?" said the Earl. "Not at all," responded Finlayson; "and this is the most marvellous part of the story,— the soldier blew the ball back again, and it killed the artilleryman who had fired it." The Earl admitted that Finlayson's fiction fairly eclipsed his own.
The Hon. William Ramsay Maule, afterwards Baron Panmure, was, in the earlier part of his career, celebrated for his strange escapades. Several stories of his eccentric doings have been preserved. Mr. Maule had been making merry at an hotel in Montrose. At a late hour he sallied out in quest of adventure. A street lamp happened to attract his attention. With a stroke of his ponderous walking-stick he fractured it to atoms. " You have broken a lamp, Mr. Maule," said one of the watchmen. " The price is seven shillings." " Just so," responded Mr. Maule ; " can you change a guinea note ?" The watchman responded in the negative. " Never mind," said the young squire, " I'll just take pennyworths." So he proceeded to destroy other two of the lamps, and then handed the note to the watchman.
There is a better known story of Mr. Maule connected with a similar escapade at Perth. At a late hour one evening he had proceeded from street to street of that city, extinguishing the lamps and smashing them to pieces. The city corporation met next morning to deliberate on obtaining a restoration of their property, and punishing the offender. Just as they had taken their seats in the council-chamber Mr. Maule presented himself, and respectfully addressing the Lord Provost, requested permission to make a statement. "My lord and honourable gentlemen," proceeded Mr. Maule, "on walking last evening through your 'beautiful city, I was struck with the inferior appearance of your street lamps, which were quite unworthy of so fine a city. I therefore took the liberty of destroying them, that I might enjoy the satisfaction of presenting a set of lamps of a handsome and appropriate character. This I now beg leave to do." The Lord Provost conveyed to Mr. Maule the acknowledgments of the corporation, and he retired from the council-chamber amidst the plaudits of the assembly.
The mother of the late Joseph Hume, M.P., was early left a widow, and contrived to support herself and her young family by keeping a store of earthenware at the market-place of Montrose. At the weekly fair she spread out her wares on the street to attract customers. On a fair day Mr. Maule and a companion entered Montrose on horseback, and discovering Mrs. Hume's goods in the street, proceeded to gallop through them, to the entire consternation of the bystanders. Mrs. Hume remarked that "the weel faured honourable wad hae his diversion." She had been paid by Mr. Maule for her goods in double their specified value.
Walking one day through a plantation on his estate, Mr. Maule heard a sound like the hewing of wood. Proceeding in the direction of the sound, he saw a young man deliberately levelling one of his trees. "What are ye aboot, man?" said he, in as provincial a tone as lie could command. "Do you no see what I'm ahoot?" answered the fellow, with an air of indifference. "I see," said the stranger; "but what if Maule were to come upon you?" "Hout, man!" replied the youth, "he wadna say a word. There's no a better gentleman in a' the country. Wad ye lend me a hand?" The stranger assented, and when the tree had been placed on the cart, which was waiting at some distance, the peasant proposed to reward his assistant with a dram at the alehouse. To this request the stranger would not accede, but said to the youth that if he would call next day at the castle, he should have a glass out of his own private bottle. The countryman promised to call, and kept his word. He was immediately ushered into the presence of Mr. Maule and a company of gentlemen. "You will get your dram in the hall," said Mr. Maule to the bewildered and trembling rustic; "but when you next go to cut wood, I would advise you first to ask Maule's permission."
The old highland chairmen of Edinburgh were notorious for their love of money. The discontent of these persons happened to be talked of in an Edinburgh club where Mr. Maule was present. He undertook the defence of his northern countrymen, and took a bet of five guineas with one of the company that he would readily satisfy their demands. The bet was accepted. Mr. Maule threw himself into a sedan, requesting that, he might be carried a short distance down the Canongate. On alighting he handed a guinea note to his conductors. "Thank yer honour," said the recipient, "but surely ye'll gie me anither sixpence to get a gill." "An' any odd bawbees* for sneeshin,"*)* said the other. "Your greed has cost me five guineas already, besides what you have got," said Mr. Maule, as he walked off, resolving never again to espouse the cause of highland chairmen.
In the manner of his times Mr. Maule occasionally disguised himself as a mendicant. One cold wet evening he entered the house of an old woman, and in his character of gaberlunzie sought shelter and. refreshment. He received a welcome, but had no sooner seated himself than he began to complain of the insufficiency of the fire for so severe a night. The poor cottager said she had no more fuel in the house. "Oh, I'll soon find fuel," said the supposed vagrant. And so saying, he seized hold of the spinning-wheel, which he broke to pieces, and heaped upon the fire. The poor woman was utterly appalled, and upbraided the audacious wanderer for destroying her only means of earning a living. After submitting to the full torrent of her wrath, he suddenly cast aside his tattered vestments, and drawing forth a well-filled purse, placed ten guineas in her hand. "Buy plenty of fuel for the winter, and a good new wheel," said the gentle beggar, as he hastened his departure amidst showers of benediction.
The last Duke of Gordon was, as Marquis of Huntly, celebrated for playing the gaberlunzie. This exploit being mentioned in company, a gentleman present took a bet with him that under no possible disguise could his lordship deceive him. In the course of a few days he appeared at the house of his friend, in his guise as a mendicant. The owner of the mansion was walking in his avenue, when the pseudo-beggar saluted him with becoming reverence and asked an awmous. The gentleman told him to step into the hall, and there to see what could be found for a keen appetite. The gaberlunzie humbly thanked his honour, and proceeding into the hall, had placed before him an abundant supply of cold meat, bread, and beer. Having partaken of the cheer, he again crossed the path of the gentleman, who asked him how he had fared. "Very poorly, very poorly," replied the mendicant; " I had nothing but cold beef, sour bread, and stale beer." "You must be a saucy scoundrel," said the gentleman, who called to some of his people to hasten his departure. The beggar threw aside his rags, and appeared before his astonished friend as the Marquis of Huntly !
The most remarkable adept at mystification who has appeared in Scottish society is Miss Stirling Graham, a distant relative of the writer. A publication of this estimable gentlewoman, descriptive of the mystifications which she practised in her youth, should be procured by all those who wish to enjoy an insight into the manners of Scottish life fifty years ago. Two of Miss Graham's mystifications are suitable to the present work.
One Saturday evening Mr. Francis Jeffrey met Miss Graham in society, and expressed to her a wish that he might be introduced to the old lady she was in the habit of personating. She consented, and promised that he should see the old, lady very soon. On the afternoon of the following Monday a carriage drove up to Mr. Jeffery's door, and "the Lady Pitlyal," ascertaining that the learned gentleman was within, stepped out and was duly ushered into his business room. She was accompanied by her daughter, "the heiress of Pitlyal." Her ladyship was received witli the ceremony befitting her rank. She proceeded to detail with much minuteness the particulars of a law process, in which she was desirous of retaining Mr. Jeffrey as her counsel. Jeffrey undertook to examine her papers on the case being presented to him by her agent. She then handed him a fee, adding a pinch of snuff from her massive gold box. Taking a folded paper from her silver-clasped pocket-book, she stated that it contained an extract from a muckle book, called the "Prophecies of Pitlyal," and that she was anxious to have his explanation of it. Jeffrey promptly excused himself, remarking that her ladyship would find him more skilled in the law than the prophets. Nothing daunted, Lady Pitlyal handed to him the paper, and begged him to read it aloud. He read, among other lines, these :—
the Light of the North,
When the glamour breaks forth,
And its wild-fire so red
With the daylight is spread,
When woman shrinks not from the ordeal of tryal,
There is triumph and fame to the house of Pitlyal."
Jeffrey could not comprehend such symbolical phraseology, and her ladyship hinted her belief that it might be realized in her obtaining a good marriage for her daughter.
A pause in the conversation having occurred, her ladyship asked Mr. Jeffrey to inform her where she could procure a set of fause teeth. He politely informed her of the names of two celebrated dentists, and at her request wrote their addresses on a slip of paper. She now informed him that she read his buke, meaning the Edinburgh Review. She retired, leaning on her daughter's arm and her gold-headed cane, and complaining loudly of "a corny tae." Jeffrey was late for dinner, in consequence of the interview, and explained to his family that he had been detained by one of the oddest and most tiresome old women he had ever met with. Next day he learned that he, too, had been "taken in" by Miss Stirling Graham's old lady.
Miss Graham was on a visit to her friends, Mr. and Mrs. Guthrie, of Craigie. The Misses Guthrie proposed she should "take in" their father and mother. A letter accordingly was handed up to Mr. Graham from his friend Mr. Dempster, of Dunni-chen, announcing the visit of an old acquaintance of his—Mrs. Macallister, from Elgin, who was on her way to Edinburgh, as a witness in Lord Fife's cause. She was represented as amusing, a great traveller, and somewhat of an oddity. "Where's the lady?" said Mr. Guthrie, on glancing at the letter. " In her carriage at the door," said the servant. The laird hastened to receive her, and found Mrs. Macallister in the hall. " Bless me, Mrs. Macallister, are you standing there ?" said the laird, as he offered his arm, and conducted the supposed stranger into the drawing-room. He introduced her in due form to Mrs. Guthrie and to every one of the party. A smile, which increased into a decided laugh, arose among the Misses Guthrie, and Mrs. Macallister was obliged to plead a spasmodic pain in her side to account for her whole frame being moved by a fit of laughter, which she struggled to suppress. An elderly gentleman of the party reproved the young ladies in another part of the room for laughing at an old person, even allowing that she was a little outrd in her attire.
The laird ordered that Mrs. Macallister's horses should be attended to, and was particularly attentive to her during that afternoon and evening. " I have met a gentleman of your name in London," said Mrs. Macallister; "he is connected with a mercantile house." " My son Charles," said the laird. " I met another Mr. Guthrie at Gow's ball in Edinburgh— a very facetious young gentleman. He introduced me to some of his acquaintances, and called aloud to the music to play—' Such a pair ,was never seen.'" N " That is my son Sandy," said the laird, laughing heartily.
At supper, Mrs. Macallister took a fancy for the laird's snuff-box, and presenting her own valuable gold one, offered to exchange with him. Mr. Guthrie politely excused himself, stating that his box was a keepsake from his valued friend, the late Mr. Graham, of Duntrune. But Mrs. Macallister persisted, and at length deliberately placed Mr. Guthrie's snuff-box in her pocket. He looked extremely annoyed, but was too polite to complain.
Mrs. Macallister proceeded, in reply to a question by Mr. Guthrie, to give an account of her family of "four sons," and as she hesitated to speak of the youngest—her equanimity having momentarily wavered—an elderly gentleman present, conceiving that painful associations had been excited, covered his face with his handkerchief, and wept.
At eleven o'clock, Miss Guthrie offered to escort Mrs. Macallister to her room, but she said that Mr. Dempster had always conducted her to the door of her apartment himself, and kissed her when he bade her good night, and that he had assured her his friend Craigie would not be behind him in gallantry. The laird accordingly led the ancient dame up-stairs, but when at the door of her chamber, she took off her bonnet to conclude the scene, and the features of Miss Graham met his eyes, he stood for some seconds as if overwhelmed with surprise. Then laughing heartily, he exclaimed," Now, Clemy, give me back my snuff-box."
Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair of St. Andrews, another relative of the writer, was singularly eccentric in his habits. He was many years chief magistrate of St. Andrews, a city which he converted from a state of dirt and dilapidation into a condition of elegance and beauty. In the course of his operations he had to encounter the usual prejudices against reforms common in the smaller Scottish burghs. Desirous of removing certain porches which, projecting from the older houses, interfered with the symmetry of the streets, he obtained the signatures of the owners and occupants to a memorial in which those excrescences were condemned. One morning every porch was found in ruins. The owners were astounded—many of them menacing law proceedings. The provost presented the memorial to the town council, who voted thanks to the subscribers for their enterprise and public spirit. The compliment overcame every hostile feeling.
There was a convenient promenade in a suburb of the city which the professors of St. Mary's College were desirous of closing up, since it was likely to lead to a permanent thoroughfare through a portion of their estate. The professors caused a wall to be erected across the footpath. During the following night the wall disappeared. Again it was reared, and once more the interruption was cleared off. The professors of St. Mary's proceeded a third time to assert their rights, when a formidable barrier was constructed. In the course of a few weeks this also was levelled, and on its site was erected a board containing the following couplet:—
fence, three times built by St. Mary's,
Was thrice demolished by the fairiesI"
At an early period of his labours as a civic reformer, Sir Hugh had made application to Government to obtain funds for completing the unfinished structure of the United College. Some of the professors felt aggrieved that they had not been consulted in regard to the application, and a letter of remonstrance on the subject was addressed to Sir Hugh by the Faculty. The gallant knight did not relax his efforts, and at length procured a grant of £12,000 for the college buildings. He now received from the university the degree of LL.D. in recognition of his services; but the eccentric magistrate suspended the letter of remonstrance in his business room, with the title in large letters,—"Vote of Thanks from the Professors of the United College for procuring the completion of their College buildings."
Sir Hugh was actuated by a strong sense of duty, which he combined with an entire disregard of popular applause. Some years before his death he reared a monument to himself in the public cemetery of the burgh. The writer suggested to him that he might have saved the expenditure, since the citizens would certainly not fail to raise a memorial stone to one who had done so much for the improvement of their city. " Don't you think," said the knight, " that if they intended to honour my memory, they would do something for me when living 1 Would they not encourage my literary efforts ? I lately published a catechism; it is well got up, it contains matter of universal interest, it has been favourably received by the press, the price is sufficiently moderate—being only one penny; and how many copies have my fellow-townsmen purchased of my little work, which was published a year ago ? I believe not more than three, and one of these is still unpaid!"
The Rev. Dr. U-, an accomplished clergyman of the Scottish Church, is said to have been indebted for his living to an occurrence which scarcely promised such a satisfactory result. He had, early in the century, been sent by his father, the clergyman of a Highland parish, to prosecute his classical studies at the High School of Edinburgh. The bully of the school was a young laird, who made it a point to try the mettle of every new comer. The hero of our tale was a lank lad of fourteen, whose retiring manners almost precluded the possibility of his giving offence; but Bully contrived to fasten a quarrel on him, and it was arranged that their mutual honour and prowess should be determined before sufficient witnesses in a retired part of the King's Park. Contrary to all expectation, the Highlander parried the blows of his antagonist, and ingeniously striking where least expected, fairly overthrew the Goliath of the school ring. The juvenile spectators were delighted, and cheered lustily. Not less so the discomfited hero of a hundred school fights. He pronounced his adversary the only boy of the school whom he could not lick,* and in consideration of his prowess, he promised that as he intended for the ministry, he would present him to a living, of which he expected in due time to be patron.
The boys separated—the ministerial aspirant leaving his native country and obtaining educational employment, first on the Continent and afterwards in America. Thirty years elapsed till the living promised at the school-fight became vacant. Bully did not forget his promise. He made inquiry concerning the locality of his old friend, which was at length discovered. The long-promised living was conferred on him in a kindly communication reminding him of the struggle in the King's Park.
Sheriff Barclay supplies the following. On a curling pond, a landowner, who was patron of several livings, was on a rink with a young probationer. The last stone to be played was in the hands of the aspirant to a pulpit. The reckoning was much against his side. The patron exclaimed to his curling confrlre, " If you take this shot, I promise you the first living in my gift." Fortunately, the stone won the game. Ten years after, a church in the landowner's gift became vacant. He did not forget his promise at the bonspeil. The probationer received a presentation from his curling acquaintance. "He still lives," writes Dr. Barclay, "proving by the efficient discharge of his sacred duties that he did not lead his patron on the ice"
The present chapter shall he closed with some anecdotes of the famous violinist, Neil Gow, and his son Nathaniel, the accomplished musician.
Neil Gow was a native of Inv.er, near Dunkeld, where he continued to reside, under the patronage of the Duke of Atholl, his hereditary chief. Though present at the most refined gatherings of his day, Gow retained his native simplicity of manners. At Dunkeld House he was regarded as a privileged person, and his rough drolleries were not only tolerated, but heartily enjoyed. There was a brilliant assemblage at the mansion. Dancing had been continued throughout the evening. Supper was at length announced, but some of the ladies lingered in the drawing-room, reluctant to leave the dance. Gow was somewhat fidgety, for he had not then bid " farewell to whisky," and he longed for refreshment and rest. At length, losing patience, he surprised the fair lingerers by exclaiming, "Gang doun to yer suppers, ye daft limmers, and dinna had me reelin' here as if hunger and dearth were unkent in the land. Gang doun wi' ye."
One day Gow was summoned to Dunkeld House to note the musical performances on the piano of Lady Charlotte Drummond, one of the Duke's daughters, who had lately " finished " her education. Hearing her play, Neil said to the Duchess, "That lassie o' yours, my leddy, has a gude ear." A gentleman remarked, " Neil, do you call her Grace's daughter a lassie?" "What would I ca' her," answered the minstrel; " sure she's no a laddie."
The celebrated Duchess of Gordon paid Neil a visit in his cottage. Her Grace complained to him of suffering from giddiness and swimming in her head. "I ken the complaint weel," said Neil. "When I've been a wee fou the nicht afore, I've thocht as if a bike * o' bees were bizzin'-f* i' my head the next momin'."
The Duke of Atholl made himself familiar with Gow. Walking with the Duchess one day on Stanley hill, near Dunkeld, Neil chanced to come up. The Duke seized hold of him, and sportively engaged him in a wrestling match. Neil had the worst of it, and rolled down the incline. The Duchess ran towards him and expressed a hope that he was not hurt. "Naething to speak o'," replied Neil, "I was the mair idiot to wrestle wi' sic a fule."
Several gentlemen met Gow walking in the neighbourhood of his cottage. "Are you Neil Gow, may I ask ?" said one of them. "Deed am I," was his answer. "Oh, we are so glad, for we have walked all the way from Aberdeen on purpose to see you." "The mair fules," replied the musician, "I wadna gane half so far to see you."
Neil's son, Nathaniel Gow, was also distinguished for his powers as a violinist. When George IV. made his state visit to Scotland in 1822, he was specially retained to discourse the national airs at a great assembly, which his Majesty consented to attend. One tune especially attracted the royal notice. "What do you call that tune, Gow?" said the King. "'Wha'll be King but Charlie?' please your Majesty," replied the musician. All were embarrassed by the answer, save the king and Gow —the latter entirely unconscious of his uncourtly speech. But " the first gentleman in Europe " asked the musician to repeat the tune, and desired that it might be often played to him during his visit to the northern capital.