The old gentleman represented in Kay's Etching was a
person of eccentric habits. He was immensely rich, and carried on a very
extensive and lucrative business as a private banker—at one time in the
Parliament Close, and latterly, under the firm of Cumming & Son, in the
Royal Exchange. He died in 1790. His demise was thus announced in the
periodicals of the day:—"March 27, at Edinburgh, in an advanced age,
William Cumming, Esq., many years an eminent banker."
He was reputed to be extremely penurious. When
walking on the streets, he used constantly to keep his arms spread out
to prevent the people from rubbing against his coat, and thereby
injuring it. Under a similar apprehension, he never allowed his servant
lo brush his clothes, lest the process should wear off the pile; but
made him place them on the back of a chair, and blow the dust off with a
pair of bellows. He not infrequently wore a scarlet cloak over his suit
of sables. The artist, for an obvious reason, has dispensed with this
ornament in the portraiture. He was generally known by the soubriquet
of "The Crow." His manner of walking, with outstretched arms, and
the unique appearance of his whole figure, especially at a distance,
presented a striking resemblance to that bird.
Mr. Cumming was for some time an agent of the State
lotteries. A few days previous to one of the drawings, he had returned
all his unsold tickets except one, in the confident hope that even at
the eleventh hour a stray purchaser might be found. He for once
miscalculated : the decisive day arrived, and the ticket still remained
unsold. Deeply grieved, and blaming himself for his imprudence, he at
last made up his mind to sacrifice a trifle, and actually went out
amongst his acquaintances—the shopkeepers of the Lawnmarket—offering the
ticket at half price ! But, with characteristic caution, not one
of them could be prevailed on to adventure. Much mortified, the banker
felt he had no other resource than quietly to suffer the anticipated
loss. His triumph, however—and the consequent regret of those to whom
the offer had been made—may be imagined, when, by due return of post,
intelligence was brought that the very ticket, which had concerned him
so much to get rid of, had turned up a prize of £10,000!
Mr. Thomas Cumming (the son) predeceased his father.
He died in 1788. He married the beautiful Miss Chalmers, sister of the
late lady of the venerable Lord Glenlee, and daughter of an extensive
grain merchant in Edinburgh. By this lady he left one son and six
daughters, most of whom were advantageously married.