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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
A Series of Anecdotal Biographies chiefly of Scotchmen
Mostly by James Paterson and Edited by James Maidment (1885)


The great and continued interest felt in the celebrated but rather mis-named work, known as Kays Edinburgh Portraits, has suggested the desirableness of issuing a popular letterpress edition for reading simply. Hitherto it has only been within the reach of the really wealthy, notwithstanding the fact that the greater part of the book is such as to render it unusually attractive to readers in general. No Scotchman, wherever resident, if at all interested in the lives and actions of his fellow-countrymen, can turn over the leaves of the work in question, without feeling delighted with the charmingly written biographies contained therein. The title of the book, though, is somewhat misleading. It suggests too much of the idea of local biography, which certainly is a mistake, as the great majority of the best lives contained in the volumes are decidedly of general interest; and it is safe to say that, as Anecdotal Biographies, there is no work at all to be compared with the one in question, so far as regards the field of Scottish literature. Hitherto the idea before the public has rather been that the biographies are an appendage to the portraits, which, as regards priority of execution, is indeed the case; but as concerning merit, the reverse may be taken for the fact. The engraved portraits are exceedingly interesting, but what we may call the pen portraits are surpassingly so, and that to a much wider class. It is unfortunate that the publisher of the original work in 1842 did not give the chief writer of the biographies the acknowledgment that was his due, especially as the duties of biographer had been discharged with such exceptional ability and painstaking-devotion.

But at that time neither Paterson the author, nor Maidment the editor, had attained to the literary distinction which afterwards fell to their lot, as the result of their enthusiastic labours. This non-acknowledgment in the case of Paterson is another illustration of a literary genius not being fully appreciated by his contemporaries. The same remark holds true with regard to the artist Kay, as well as with the author Paterson.

The present issue is, of course, meant for the general reader—not for the collector. As will be apparent, it contains every biography of real moment to the class signified, forming a collection of what may well be described as the very best Anecdotal Biographies ever written of these our countrymen. In order to render the book thoroughly interesting from beginning to end, those sketches that were so very short as to give little more than a few dry facts regarding the life and death of individuals of little concern, are omitted. But the present issue contains everything really of value or interest to the general Scottish reader. That the biographies are much more interesting than the portraits there can be little doubt, the more especially as the latter are to a considerable extent what may be termed caricatures, whereas the former are true to the life. At the same time the issue of this edition may increase the interest in the engravings, and may result in some cases in a desire to possess or examine the large work.

With reference to the writer of the most of these sketches, less is known by the public than should be the case, considering all he has done. Mr. James Paterson was for over forty years a diligent writer on Scottish National Antiquities, Family History, and Biography. Unambitious of personal celebrity, he acquired his information by painstaking research and laborious investigation. The information so obtained he presented to the public in a variety of well-written and most useful publications, and he had, to an unusual extent, that rare and desirable faculty of writing on whatever subjects he took up in a peculiarly interesting and strongly descriptive style. Of his writings several occupy an exceptionally high place as works of authority, while all are held in esteem. Somewhere about twenty volumes—all relating to Scottish affairs—came from his pen, a few of which may be mentioned. In addition to the great majority of the biographies in Kay's Portraits, he wrote the History of the County of Ayr, a work involving an immense amount of original research, and particularly rich in the department of Family History. Also, The Life and Adventures of James the Fifth; The Origin of the Scots and the Scottish Language; The History of the Regality of Musselburgh; A Memoir of James Fillans, Scidptor; Wallace and his Times; The Contemporaries of Burns; The History and Genealogy of the Family of Wauchope-Merschell; and a considerable number of others.

It may be well to add that the responsible duties of general editor of the biographies contained in Kay's Portraits were discharged by the celebrated antiquary, James Maidment, Esq., Advocate, who has since become so distinguished in the field of Scottish poetical literature, as the Editor of Scottish Ballads and Songs, the Book of Scottish Pasquils 1548-1715, and other works. Paterson tells us that Mr. Maidment added to the MSS. submitted to him many curious notes of the highest import. In the present issue, these notes instead of being put at the foot of the page, and thus constantly and awkwardly breaking the continuity of the narratives, are inserted in the body of the work, in their respective and appropriate places—altogether a better arrangement for the reader.

Contents for Volume I

  1. John Kay, Caricaturist, Engraver, and Miniature Painter
  2. The Daft Highland Laird
  3. Jamie Duff, an Idiot
  4. Francis M'Nab, Esq., of M'Nab
  5. Andrew Bell, Author and Engraver
  6. Lord Kames, of the Court of Session
  7. Hugo Arnot, Esq., Advocate
  8. Lord Monboddo, of the Court of Session
  9. Lord Gardenstone, of the Court of Session
  10. Dr. Glen, Edinburgh
  11. Dr. James Graham, Edinburgh
  12. Francis Grose, Esq., Antiquary
  13. Dr. James Hutton, Author of the "Theory of the Earth"
  14. Dr. John Brown, Author of "The Brunonian System of Medicine"
  15. Sir James Hunter Blair, Bart., Lord Provost of Edinburgh
  16. The Rev. Alexander Carlyle, D.D., of Inveresh
  17. Angelo Tremamondo, Esq., Riding-Master
  18. Adam Smith, LL.D., Author of the "Wealth of Nations"
  19. Vincent Lunardi, the Celebrated Aeronaut
  20. James Tytler, Chemist
  21. The Rev. William Robertson, D.D, Author of the "History of Scotland"
  22. A Cock-fighting Match between the Counties of Lanark and Haddington
  23. Henry Viscount Melville
  24. The Right Honourable Robert Dundas, Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer
  25. General Sir Ralph Abercromby, K.B.
  26. Lachlan M'Bain, a well-knoiun Vendor of Roasting Jacks
  27. Mrs. Siddons, at the Edinburgh Theatre
  28. The Rev. Hugh Blair, D.D., of the High Church, Edinburgh
  29. The Honourable Henry Erskine, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates
  30. James Bruce, Esq., the Abyssinian Traveller
  31. Peter Williamson, Author and Publisher
  32. William Martin, Bookseller and Auctioneer
  33. William M'Pherson, Esq., Writer to the Signet
  34. Alexander Wood, Surgeon
  35. Lord Braxfield, of the Court of Session
  36. The Rev. John Erskine, D.D., of Old Grey Friars Church
  37. Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, Banker in Edinburgh
  38. The Marquis of Huntly, afterwards Duke of Gordon
  39. Sir James Montgomery of Stanhope, Lord Chief Baron of Exchequer
  40. The Rev. Greville Ewing
  41. James, Third Earl of Hopetoun
  42. Lord Newton, of the Court of Session
  43. William Smellie, Author and Printer
  44. Lord Dunsinnan, of the Court of Session
  45. The Levelling of the High Street, Edinburgh
  46. Thomas Neil, Wright and Precentor
  47. Major Campbell, of the Thirty-fifth Regiment
  48. The Royal Edinburgh Volunteers
  49. George Paton, Bibliographer and Antiquary
  50. The Last Lord Pitsligo
  51. Dr. William Cullen, Professor of Chemistry
  52. William Brodie: Tried for Breaking into the Excise Office
  53. George Smith, Accomplice of Deacon Brodie
  54. John Wright, Lecturer on Law
  55. James Marshall, Esq., Writer to the Signet
  56. Sir James Grant, Bart., of Grant
  57. Dr. Alexander Munro, Secundus, Professor of Anatomy
  58. The Rev. John Kemp, D.D., of the Tolbooth Church
  59. The Earl of Buchan
  60. Captain McKenzie, of Red Castle
  61. The Rev. Andrew Hunter, D.D., Professor of Divinity
  62. Lord Craig, of the Court of Session
  63. Mungo Watson, Beadle of Lady Testers Church
  64. Thomas Muir, Esq., Younger of Huntershill
  65. Sir Archibald Hope, Bart., of Pinkie
  66. Lord Robert Blair, President of the Court of Session
  67. Captain James Justice, of Justice Hall
  68. Andrew Dalzel, F.R.S., Professor of Greek
  69. Dr. Alexander Hamilton, Professor of Midwifery
  70. James Gregory, M.D., Author of "The History of the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland"
  71. Alexander Osborne, Esq., of the Edinburgh Royal Volunteers
  72. Francis Ronaldson, Esq., of the Edinburgh Royal Volunteers
  73. The Rev. Robert Walker, of the High Church
  74. David Downie, Tried for High Treason in 1794
  75. Thomas Elder, Esq., of Forneth, Lord Provost of Edinburgh
  76. The Right Hon. Lord Viscount Duncan, Admiral of the Fleet
  77. The Rev. David Johnston, D.D., Minister of North Leith
  78. Sir James Stirling, Bart., Lord Provost of Edinburgh
Contents for Volume II
  1. John Dowie, Vintner
  2. Lord Hailes, of the Court of Session
  3. Sir David Rae of Eskgrove, Bart., Lord Justice-Clerk
  4. Thomas Blair, of the Stamp Office
  5. Lord High Chancellor Loughborough, afterwards Earl of Rosslyn
  6. James Edgar, Esq., Commissioner of Customs
  7. Rev. Dr. Thomas Davidson, late of the Tolbooth Church, Edinburgh
  8. Colonel Patrick Crichton, of the Edinburgh Volunteers
  9. Lord Hermand, of the Court of Session
  10. Mr. Robert Johnston, Banker
  11. Miss Sibilla Hutton, Milliner
  12. Mr. John Bennet, Surgeon
  13. The Right Hon. Francis, Lord Napier, of Merchiston
  14. Mr. James Sibbald, Bookseller
  15. Colquhoun Grant, Esq., Writer to the Signet
  16. George Mealmaker, Author of the "Moral and Political Catechism of Man"
  17. Lord Meadowbank, of the Court of Session
  18. The Right Hon. the Earl of Moira, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Scotland
  19. The Formation of Lothian Road
  20. James Alexander Haldane, Esq., Minister of the Tabernacle, Leith Walk
  21. The Rev. Dr. Thomas Hardie, Professor of Ecclesiastical History
  22. Dr. Andrew Duncan, Sen., Professor of the Theory of Medicine
  23. The Hon. Andrew Erskine, Soldier and Poet
  24. Sir John Sinclair, Bart., of Ulbster
  25. John Home, Esq., of Ninewells
  26. Mr. William Grinly, Merchant and Shipbroker
  27. Ebenezer Wilson, Brassfounder
  28. Sir Ilay Campbell, Bart., Lord President of the Court of Session
  29. Mr. John Campbell, Precentor
  30. Alexander Campbell, Musician
  31. William Forbes, Esq., of Callendar
  32. Dr. Gregory Grant, Physician
  33. Mr. George Williamson, King's Messenger and Admiral Macer for Scotland
  34. Mr. Francis Braidwood, Cabinet-Maker
  35. The Right Hon. the Earl of Eglinton
  36. Sir John Leslie, Professor of Natural Philosophy
  37. The City Tron-Men; or, Chimney-Sweepers
  38. William Cumming, Esq.
  39. Sir William Honyman, Bart., of Armadale
  40. The Rev. John Walker, Professor of Natural History
  41. Captain James Burnet, the last Captain of the City Guard
  42. The Duc D'Angouleme, in Edinburgh
  43. Golf, the Royal Scottish Game
  44. Alexander M'Kellar, the Cock o the Green
  45. Lord Polkemmet
  46. James Gillespie, Esq., of Spylaw, and his Brother John Gillespie
  47. Andrew Donaldson, Teacher of Greek and Hebrew
  48. Thomas Sommers, His Majesty's Glazier for Scotland
  49. Mr. and Mrs. Lee Lewes, at the Edinburgh Theatre
  50. Colonel Monro, a well-known Blue-Gown Beggar
  51. The Forty-Second Regiment, or Royal Highlanders
  52. Lord Balmuto, of the Court of Session
  53. Mr. James Cooper, Jeweller
  54. Sir John Marjoribanks, Bart., Lord Provost of Edinburgh
  55. Hugh Macpherson, sometime Clerk to the Perth Carriers
  56. Henry Johnston, Actor, at the Edinburgh Theatre
  57. The Rev. John Jamieson, D.D., Author of "The Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language,"
  58. Robert Craig, Esq., of Riccarton
  59. Rev. John M'Donald, of the Gaelic Chapel
  60. Lord Cullen, of the Court of Session
  61. The Edinburgh Fish Women
  62. James Mackcoull, Tried for Robbing the Paisley Union Bank
  63. James M'Kean, Tried for Murder
  64. Lord Bannatyne, of the Court of Session
  65. Lord Woodhouselee, of the Court of Session
  66. The Diamond Beetle Case, being Illustrations of the Styles of the Various Lords of Session
  67. Lord Jeffrey, of the Court of Session
  68. Dr. John Brown, alias "The Devil-Killer"
  69. A Political Set-To at Kinghorn
  70. Louis Cauvin, Founder of the Cauvin Hospital
  71. Lord Panmure
  72. Lord Eldin, of the Court of Session
  73. Archibald Fletcher, Esq., Advocate
  74. Robert Jamieson, Professor of Natural History
  75. Archibald Campbell, City Officer

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