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The Scottish Nation

ARNOT a surname derived from the lands of Arnot in the county of Fife. In Sibbald’s List of the heritors of Fifeshire, published in 1710, we find the names, as landholders of that county, of Arnot of that ilk, Arnot of Woodmiln, Arnot of Balkaithlie, Arnot of Balcormo, Arnot of Chapel-Kettle, Arnot of Freeland, Arnot of Lumwhat, and Arnot of Berryhole. Sir John Arnot of Berwick, of the family of Arnot, was provost of Edinburgh, and treasurer depute to King James the Sixth. The lands of Chapel, in the parish of Kettle, have long belonged to a family of the name of Arnot. Upon the last day of December 1558, James, commendator of the priory of St. Andrews, disponed the church lands called Chapel-Kettle to John Arnot and his heirs, declaring that he and his progenitors had been possessors of these lands past the memory of man. (Sibbald's History of Fife, p. 385.)

      Sir Michael Arnot of Arnot, in the county of Perth, the descendant of a very ancient Fifeshire family, designated of that ilk so early as the 12th century, was created a baronet by Charles the First, 27th July 1629. His son and heir, Sir David Arnot, second baronet, was member of the Scots parliament for Kinross, in 1689. He was the father of Sir John Arnot, the third baronet, who, having devoted himself early to a military life, was appointed, in 1727, adjutant-general of Scotland. In 1785 he was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general, and in 1739 to that of major—general. He died 4th June 1750, a lieutenant-general. His eldest son, Sir John Arnot, fourth baronet, was succeeded by his son Sir William Arnot, fifth baronet, lieutenant-colonel of the Queen’s regiment of dragoon guards, who died in 1782, leaving a son, Sir William Arnot, sixth and last baronet. The title is now extinct.—Burke’s Extinct and Dormant Baronetages.

      In Perthshire there was a family of the name of Arnot of Benchill, who for a long time were provosts of Perth.

ARNOT, HUGO, an antiquarian writer and local historian, was the son of a merchant and shipowner in Leith, where he was born on the 8th December 1749. His own name was Pollock, but on the death of his mother, December 5, 1773, at her house in Fifeshire, he changed it to Arnot, on obtaining, through her right, the estate of Balcormo in Fife. He was educated for the law, and in December 1772 he was admitted a member of the faculty of advocates, under the name of ‘Hugo Arnot, Esq. of Balcormo.’ Having in his fifteenth year caught a severe cold, he was ever after afflicted with painful asthma, which reduced him almost to a skeleton, and which any exertion always aggravated. In 1776 he published at London in 12mo, ‘An Essay on Nothing,’ a discourse delivered in the Edinburgh Speculative Society, which was favourably received. Of that society Mr. Arnot was admitted a member January 3, 1770, and, besides the Essay on Nothing, he delivered others on the following subjects: The Cornparative Happiness of the Polished and Barbarous State; Whether a man would be most happy in retiring from or continuing in business after making a competent fortune; Foundation of the Inequality among Mankind; Literary Property; Nature and end of Punishments; and the Necessity of Mankind living in Society, and the advantages of it, which was his valedictory essay. (Hist. of Speculative Society, p. 99.) In 1779 appeared his ‘History of Edinburgh,’ one vol. 4to, a work of much research. He was prevented, however, from deriving much pecuniary benefit from it, by a piratical edition having been printed at Dublin, and sent over to Edinburgh and sold at a cheap rate. Taking a strong interest in local matters, he afterwards published various pamphlets and essays of a temporary nature; and his exertions in promoting the improvements then in progress in Edinburgh, were rewarded by the freedom of the city being conferred upon him by the magistrates. From his great local influence he is said to have been able to protract the erection of the South Bridge of Edinburgh for ten years, by his opposition to the proposed tax upon carts to defray the expense. He was also instrumental in preventing the formation of the spacious road called Leith Walk for some years, on account of the putting on a toll, which, however, was done, and not removed till about 1837. In 1785 came out his ‘Collection of celebrated Criminal Trials in Scotland, from 1536 to 1784, with Historical and Critical Remarks,’ one vol. 4to, published by subscription. In December 1784 he issued an advertisement of the work, with the following notice appended to it, from which it would appear that he and the Edinburgh booksellers were not on the best of terms: "Mr. Arnot printed, a few days ago, a prospectus of the work that the public might form some idea of its nature, and he sent it to be hung up in the principal booksellers in town; but they have thought proper to refuse, in a body, to allow the prospectus and subscription papers to hang in their shops. The prospectus will, therefore, be seen at the Royal Exchange Coffee house, Exchange Coffee house, Princes street Coffee house, and Messrs. Corri and Sutherland’s Music shop, Edinburgh, and Gibb’s Coffee house, Leith." The work is curious of its kind, but is not so full nor so valuable as Pitcairn’s collection, of Criminal Trials, a more recent publication. Mr. Arnot died on 20th November 1786, aged 37, and was interred in South Leith churchyard, in a piece of ground presented to him before his death by the magistrates of his native town. For several weeks previous to his death he regularly visited his appointed burial-place, to observe the progress of some masons whom he had employed to wall it in, and frequently expressed a fear that he would die before they should have completed his work. Mr. Arnot was of great height, and extraordinary thinness. At right is a full-length portrait of him [full-length portrait of Mr. Arnot] as he appeared in the dress of his time taken by Kay. He is represented giving alms to a beggar, a sly piece of satire on the part of the artist.

      His person altogether was so remarkable that it was the source of many jests and witticisms. It is related that the Honourable Henry Erskine meeting him once while engaged eating a dried haddock or spelding, complimented him "on looking so like his meat!" Discussing with the same wit on the disposition of the Deity to pardon the sins of the flesh, and on Hugo expressing his hope of forgiv eness, Erskine impromptued,— I’ve searched the whole Scriptures, and texts I find none Extending God’s mercy to skin and to bone."

He himself was reputed to be a humorist in his way. One day, when suffering severely from his complaint, he was annoyed by the bawling of a man selling sand on the street. "The rascal," said the unhappy asthmatic, "he spends as much breath in a minute as would serve me for a month!" In his professional character he was no less singular. He would not undertake a case, unless thoroughly convinced of its justice. Once when a cause was offered him, of the merits of which he had a very bad opinion, he asked the person employing him, "Pray, Sir, what do you suppose me to be?" "Why," answered the client, "I understand you to be a lawyer !" "I thought," said Arnot, sternly, "you took me for a scoundrel !" and dismissed the litigant with indignation. Various stories are told of his intrepidity of mind in early life. One of these was his riding to the end of the pier of Leith on a spirited horse, on a stormy day, when the waves were dashing over the pier so furiously as to impress every onlooker with the belief that he could not fail to be swept into the sea. Leith pier, it must be remarked, was then neither so extended nor so well bulwarked as it is now, and consequently this feat was one of great danger. Another was his accepting the challenge of an anonymous enemy who took offence at one of his political pamphlets, and wrote to him to meet him in the King’s Park at a particular time and place, to answer for his statements. Mr. Arnot repaired to the spot at the appointed hour, and waited for some time, but no antagonist came forward. His purpose in going might not have been to expose his person in a duel, but to ascertain who was his unknown challenger. Though recorded as a proof of his intrepidity, we do not see in this occurrence any striking mark of moral conrage. A sensible man would have paid no attention to such a letter, which appears to have been intended merely as a hoax. Of a nervous and irritable disposition, he was guilty of many eccentricities which rendered him one of the most remarkable local characters of his time. Among other anecdotes the following is related of him, which does not say much for his urbanity or neighbourly feeling. He was in the habit of ringing his bell with a violence which much annoyed an old maiden lady, in a weak state of health, who resided on the floor above him. Of this annoyance she frequently complained, but without effect. At length, wearied with her constant messages, he gave her to understand that he should cease to use it in future; but in the belief that her importunities proceeded from mere querulousness, instead of ringing the bell as usual, he fired off a loaded pistol, whenever he desired the attendance of his servant, to the great alarm of the invalid upstairs, who now as earnestly besought the restitution of the bell, as she had before requested its discontinuance. He left eight children. His grandson, Dr. David Boswell Reid, the author of ‘Elements of Chemistry,’ acquired a high character as teacher of practical chemistry in the university of Edinburgh. Hugo Arnot figures as a principal personage in Kay’s Edinburgh Portraits, in which some amusing anecdotes of his peculiarities may be found.

Arnot/Arnott from the Dictionary of National Biography

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