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The Scottish Nation

NASMYTH, a surname, formerly and properly Naesmyth. The family tradition accounts for the origin and spelling of the name by the following romantic incident. In the reign of Alexander III., the ancestor of the family, being in attendance on the king, was, on the eve of a battle, required by him to repair his armour. Although a man of great stature and power, he was unsuccessful. After the battle, having performed prodigies of valour, he was knighted by the king, with the remark that “although he was nae Smith, he was a brave gentleman.” The armorial bearings of the family have reference to this origin of the name, viz., a drawn sword between two war hammers or “martels” broken, with the motto, “ Non arte sed marte, in old Scotch, “Not by knaverie but by braverie,” (arte and knavery meaning skill, not cunning). Naesmyth of Posso is the head of this ancient family, being descended from the stalwart knight of the legend.

The Naesmyths of Posso, created baronets of Nova Scotia, have held lands in Tweeddale since the 13th century. Their ancestor, Sir Michael Naesmyth, fought in the wars with Bruce. Another Sir Michael Naesmyth was chamberlain to the archbishop of St. Andrews, and obtained, in 1544, in marriage with Elizabeth, daughter of John Baird of Posso, the estate of that name in Peebles-shire. He was a staunch adherent of Queen Mary, and the tower of Posso was frequently inhabited by her on hawking excursions. It was fitted up for her reception by her royal mother, Mary of Guise, from the palace at Leith. The tower was burnt down in the reign of Charles I., and is now a ruin. Sir Michael Naesmyth fought on Queen Mary’s side at Langside in the year 1568. He was subsequently banished, and his property confiscated by the regent Moray. He died at an advanced age in 1609. His second son, John, was chief chirurgeon to James VI., and to the king of France. “Johne Nesmith, chirurgian,” was by chance riding beside King James, as he was hunting at Falkland on 5th August 1600, the morning of the Gowrie conspiracy catastrophe, when Alexander Ruthven came to his majesty, and was the person sent by the king to bring Ruthven back, after he had spoken with him, to say that he had determined to proceed to the earl of Gowrie’s house at Perth, in search of some imaginary treasure, as soon as the chase was ended. He died at London in 1613, and in his last will he bequeathed his “hert to his young maister the prince’s grace,” meaning Henry, prince of Wales. His son, James Naesmyth of Posso, was falconer to James VI. The royal eirie of Posso Craig is on the family estate, and the lure worn by Queen Mary and James, presented to him by the latter, is preserved as an heirloom.

James Naesmyth, sheriff of Peebles-shire, son of the falconer, was a member of the Scottish parliament in 1627. Under his sheriffship the last “weaponshaw” was held for the county of Peebles on the Sheriff’s muir. His eldest son, James Naesmyth, an eminent lawyer, was known as “the deil o’Dawick,” that is, Dalwick, the family seat. He died in 1706. A younger son of James the Sheriff was a loyal gentleman; having raised a troop of horse, he served under Claverhouse in behalf of the royal cause. The deed signed by Charles II. at Windsor is in the family charter chest. Another Naesmyth (John,) fought at the battle of Preston. His claymore, inlaid with gold, bearing on one side, “For God, my Country and King, James the Eight,” and on the other, “Prosperitie to Scotland and Nae Union,” is retained in the family.

The lawyer’s son, Sir James Naesmyth, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia 31st July 1706, with limitation to his heirs male. On his death in 1720, his eldest son, Sir James Naesmyth, M.P., became the second baronet. He distinguished himself by his improvements and plantations on the estate of Dalwick, and is described by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, as “a gentleman of much scientific acquirement. He was a pupil of Linnaeus, and studied under him in Norway. In addition to his own ordinary gardens, he created others for extensive botanical collections, with greenhouses for rare plants; and on these he put the strikingly appropriate motto: ‘Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these,’” In 1735 he planted an avenue of silver-firs at Dalwick, most of the trees of which are nearly of equal magnitude. He had traveled into Switzerland and Italy, and was the first who brought over and planted the larch in Scotland, which he did in 1725, some years before the Duke of Athole. He died 4th February 1779. He had two sons. The elder, Sir James Naesmyth, 3d baronet, married in 1785, Eleanor, 2d daughter of John Murray, Esq. of Philiphaugh. When a child, this lady was saved from the flames of Hangingshaw castle, on its accidentally catching fire, by being let down in a basket through a window. Sir James died Dec. 4, 1829.

His only son, Sir John Murray Naesmyth, 4th baronet, born at Dalwick, Dec. 30, 1803, was educated at Rugby, and greatly exceeded his grandfather’s example, in improving the beauty of the family seat. He married, 1st, Mary, 4th daughter of Sir John Marjoribanks, 1st baronet of Lees, issue, 5 sons and 1 daughter; 2dly, Hon. Eleanor Powys, daughter of Thomas, 2d Lord Lilford, issue, a son and a daughter. The eldest and only surviving son, James, of the Bengal civil service, born Feb. 9, 1827, married Eliza Gordon Brodie, eldest daughter of F. Whitworth Russell, Esq., Bengal civil service, 2d son of Sir Henry Russell, Bart. of Swallowfield, chief justice of India.

NASMYTH, ALEXANDER, a celebrated artist, the father of the Scottish school of landscape painting, was born at Edinburgh in 1757, and received his elementary education in that city. In his youth he went to London, and became the apprenticed pupil of Allan Ramsay, the son of the poet, at that period one of the most esteemed portrait painters of the metropolis. He afterwards repaired to Italy, where he pursued his studies for several years in the society of the best Roman artists of the time. On his return to his native city he commenced practicing with great success as a portrait painter; and to his friendship with Burns, the world is indebted for the only authentic portrait which exists of our national bard. The natural bias of Mr. Nasmyth’s mind, however, was towards landscape painting; and the pleasure he derived from the execution of some pieces in that branch of art, and the applause with which they were received, induced him almost entirely to abandon portraits, and to devote himself to the painting of landscapes. The distinctive characteristics of his chaste and elegant compositions are well known. His industry was so unceasing, and his name so popular, that his productions found their way into many of the mansion-houses in England and Scotland, besides gracing the walls of more humble domiciles innumerable.

Mr. Nasmyth numbered among his early employers many of the nobility and gentry of Scotland, and as he was frequently invited as a guest to their country seats, his sound judgment and great knowledge of scenic effect enabled him, in many instances, to suggest important improvements for the beautifying and adornment of their pleasure-grounds. His advice in this delightful department of art being eventually much sought after, he was induced to adopt it as a lucrative branch of his profession. And it is not too much to say that to his suggestions and plans, and to the principles he promulgated, much of the beauty of some of the finest park scenery of Scotland is to be attributed. In the improvement of his native city he was at all times of his life much interested; and not a few of the most ingenious and beneficial changes in the street architecture of Edinburgh are to be traced to his invention.

For many years he employed a considerable portion of his time in giving tuition in the principles and practice of his art; and from this source he derived a larger income than any contemporary teacher. He took an active interest in all the institutions established in Edinburgh for the promotion of art. He was one of the few distinguished members of the original Society of Scottish Artists; and one of the first elected associates of the Royal Institution, to whose exhibitions he became a principal contributor; and although his great age, at the period of the union of the artists of that body with the Royal Scottish Academy, prevented his joining their institution, he allowed himself to be named as an honorary member, and ever continued to feel deeply interested in its prosperity. The fineness of his intellect, and the freshness of his fancy, continued unimpaired to the end of his labours. His last work of all was a touching little picture, entitled ‘Going Home.’ He died at Edinburgh, April 10, 1840, aged 83. Soon after his return from Italy he married the sister of Sir James Foulis of Woodhall, Colinton, by whom he had a large family, who all inherited, in a greater or less degree, their father’s skill and genius in the arts. Peter, the eldest son, is the subject of the succeeding notice. George and James, the two youngest of the family, became the leading partners in the firm of Nasmyths, Gaskell, and company, engineers, Patricroft, near Manchester.

NASMYTH, PETER, a distinguished painter, eldest son of the preceding, was born at Edinburgh, in 1786. He early evinced an extraordinary capacity for art, and a no less ardent inclination to study it in the school of nature. Instead of attending to the lessons of his schoolmaster, the truant boy was frequently found with a pencil in his hand, drawing some old tree, or making out the anatomy of a hedge-flower. Finding it a vain effort to keep him to his books, his parents at last, after many attempts, allowed him to take his own course, and to follow out in his own way the dictates of his powerful genius. On one occasion, when going on a sketching excursion with his father, Peter had the misfortune to injure his right hand; but, nothing disheartened, with his left hand he made some admirable sketches, which are now eagerly sought after by collectors for their truth and fidelity. His ingenuity suggested many contrivances to facilitate the study of nature in the stormy atmosphere of his native mountains. One of these was a traveling tent, which is mentioned as having been more creditable to his enthusiasm than to his mechanical skill. At the age of twenty he proceeded to London, where his wonderful talents were soon appreciated. Possessing a character intensely English, many of his landscapes vie with the works of Ruysdael and Hobbima, who seem to have been his favourite masters. Without being a copyist of their manner, he may be said to have infused their spirit into his works, and he was honourably distinguished by the name of the English Hobbima. So high is the estimation in which his pictures are held, that many of them have sold for more than ten times the sum which the artist received for them.

In his habits he is described as having been peculiar. From the age of 17, in consequence of sleeping in a damp bed, he had been afflicted with total deafness. He died at South Lambeth, near London, August 17, 1831, aged 45.

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