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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 17 Mr. Arnot, in his day, enjoyed an unusually large share of local popularity, proceeding from a combination of circumstances-his extraordinary figure, his abilities, his public spirit, his numerous eccentricities, and his caustic wit and humour. The reverse of Falstaif in figure, he resembled that creature of ima,u' lnation in being not only witty himself, but the cause of wit in others. The jest of Henry Erskine, who, meeting him in the act of eating a spelding or dried haddock, complimented him on looking so like his meat, was but one of many which his extraordinary tenuity gave rise to. Going alongst the North Bridge one day, Mr. Arnot, who was of so extremely na'vaus and irritable a disposition that he appeared, when walking the streets as if constantly under the apprehension of some impending danger, was suddenly surrounded by half-a-dozen unruly curs in the course of their gambols. This was a trying situation for a man of his weak nerves j but he wanted only presence of mind, not courage, and the latter, after a second or two, came to his aid. It rose with the occasion, and he began to brandish his stick ; striking right and left, in front and in rear, with a rapidity and vigour that kept the enemy at bay, and made himself, in a twinkling, the centre of a canine circle. The resolution, however, which had come so opportunely to his assistance on this occasion, in the end gave way. Perceiving a break in the enemy's lines, he bolted through, turned again round, and thus, keeping the foe in front, retreated, still flourishing his stick, till he got his back against a wall, where, though it does not appear that he was pursued by the dogs, he continued the exercise of his cudgel for some time with unabated vigour, a8 if still in contact with the enemy, to the great amusement of the bystanders, amongst whom recognising a young man whom he knew, he roared out to him in a voice almost inarticulate with excessive agitation-" W-1, you scoundrel ! why did you not assist me when you saw me in such danger 4" The man whom nervous disease placed in this grotesque attitude was originally of an intrepid mind, as is sufficiently proved by several incidents in his early life. One of them was his riding to the end of the Pier of Leith on a spirited horse, when the waves were dashing over it in such a way as to impress every onlooker with the belief that he could not fail to be swept into the sea. Another was his accepting the challenge of an anonymous foe, who took offence at a political pamphlet he had written. This person called on him to meet him in the King's Park, naming the particular place and time. Mr. h o t repaired to the spot at the appointed hour; but, though he waited long, no antagonist presented himself. In his professional capacity he was guided by a sense of honour, and of moral obligation, to which he never scrupled to sacrifice his interests. He would take in hand no one cause, of the justice and legality of which he was not perfectly satisfied. On one occasion, a case being submitted to his consideration, which seemed to him to possess neither of these qualifications-" Pray," said he, with a grave countenance to the intending litigant, "what do you suppose me to bet" -<'Why,'' answered the latter, "I understand you to be a lawyer."-"I D
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18 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. thought, sir,” said Arnot, sternly, “you took me for a scoundrel I ” The man withdrew, not a little abashed at this plump insinuation of the dishonesty of his intentions, On another occasion, he was waited upon by a lady not remarkable either for youth, beauty, or good temper, for advice as to her best method of getting rid of the importunities of a rejected admirer, when, after telling her story, the following colloquy took place :- “ Ye maun ken, sir,” said the lady, “ that I am a namesake 0’ your ain. I am the chief 0’ the Arnots.” ‘( Are you, by Jing ? ” replied Mr. Arnot. “ Yes, sir, I am ; and ye maun just advise me what I ought to do with this impertinent fellow 1 ” “ Oh, marry him by all means ! It’s the only way to get quit of his importunities.” “ I would see him hanged first 1 ” replied the lady, with emphatic indignation. “ Nay, madam,” rejoined Rlr. Arnot ; “ marry him directly, as I said before, and, by the lord Harry, he’ll soon hang himself! ” The severe asthmatic complaint with which he waB afflicted, subjected him latterly to much bodily suffering. When in great pain one day from difficulty of breathing, he was annoyed by the bawling of a man selling sand on the streets. “ The rascal ! ” exclaimed the tortured invalid, at once irritated by the voice, and envious of the power of lungs which occasioned it, ‘&he spends as much breath in a minute as would serve me for a month.” Mr. Arnot had a habit of ringing his bell with great violence-a habit which much annoyed an old maiden-lady who resided in the floor above him. The lady complained of this annoyance frequently, and implored Mr. Arnot to sound his bell with a more delicate touch ; but to no purpose. At length, annoyed in turn by her importunities, which he believed to proceed from mere querulousness, he gave her to understand, in reply to her last message, that he would drop the bell altogether. This he accordingly did ; but in its place substituted a pistol, which he fired off whenever he desired the attendance of his servant, to the great alarm of the invalid, who now as earnestly besought the restitution of the bell as she had requested its discontinuance. Mr. Arnot died on the 20th November 1786, in the thirty-seventh year of his age, exhibiting, in the closing scene of his life, a remarkable instance of the peculiarity of his character, and, it may be added, of his fortitude, For several weeks previous to his death, he regularly visited his appointed burial-place in South Leith Churchyard, to observe the progress of some masons whom he had employed to wall it in, and frequently expressed a fear that his death would take place before they should have completed the work. JAMES BURNETT, LORD MOXBODDO. This learned, ingenious, and amiable, but eccentric man, was one of the Judges of the Court of Session, He
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