George Atherton Aitken.

The life and works of John Arbuthnot, M.D., fellow of the Royal College of Physicians online

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the physician, Dr. William Hunter ; the writer was preparing for the


1 63


of December, 1779, soon after George Arbuthnots death.
In this letter Miss Arbuthnot asked Dr. Hunter to redeem
at once the promise he had made to find out for her means
of presenting to the University of Aberdeen the portrait
of her uncle, Dr. Arbuthnot. Her respect for her uncle
made her seek to immortalise him in the country of his
birth, and this portrait was the only trace which remained
to them. In a postscript she added that her grandfather,
Robert Arbuthnot, was the elder ^ brother of Dr. Arbuthnot,
and that it was of him that Pope spoke in a letter to
Mr. Digby -.

There is no trace of the portrait here referred to having
ever reached Aberdeen University ^ ; but a painting, repro-
duced as a frontispiece to this volume, is in the possession
of the E,oyal College of Physicians, by whom it was pur-
chased, in 1864, from the collection of Dr. Turton, Bishop
of Ely. It is believed to be by Jervas. Mr. F. F.
Arbuthnot, Mr. R. G. Arbuthnot, and Mr. G. Arbuthnot-
Leslie, of "Warthill, Aberdeenshire, have copies of this
painting ; and Mrs. James Arbuthnot, of Peterhead, has
another portrait. There is an engraving, in an oval, by A.
Bell ; and Noble, in his 'Continuation of Granger,' men-
tions also a small engraving by Vertue. There is, too, a

press a new edition of Arbuthnot's
Works, freed fi'om the rul;>bish
amidst which they had hitherto
appeared, and a request was made
for information as to letters to
Arbuthnot which were said by
Kippis (1778J to be in the posses-
sion of the Misses Arbuthnot.
These letters are the ones now in
Mr. Baillie's possession. Mr. Hen-
der.son — probably the Alexander
Henderson, M.D., who published
some books about 1830 — never
brought out his volume upon Ar-

' This is a mistake ; Dr. Arbuth-
not was the eldest son, Robert the

^ Pope to Digbjr, Sept. i, 1722.

' Dr. William Hunter died in
1783, and in 1785 Dr. Beattie wrote
to Mrs. Montagu, from Aberdeen :
' I am informed that the late Dr.
Hunter bequeathed an original
picture of Arbuthnot to that Uni-
versity [Aberdeen] ; at which it
should appear that he had been
educated. If this be true, it is the
property of the Marischal College.
If I knew anything of Dr. Hunter's
executors, I would write to them
on the subject ; as the i>icturc has
never appeared.' There is no men-
tion of this jjicture in Dr. Hunter's


small and comparatively modem engraving of ' John
Arburlmot, M.D.' (sic) by T. Prescott.

We have seen what Arbuthnot's most intimate friends
thought of him ; to this we can add the very interesting
character written by another friend, Lord Chesterfield ^
What he says comes with the more weight because, view-
ing everything entirely from a worldly point of view, he
could have no real sympathy with the religious faith
which guided Arbuthnot throughout his life.

Dr. Arbuthnot was both my physician and my friend, and in
both these capacities I justly placed the utmost confidence in

Without any of the craft, he had all the skill of his profession,
which he exerted with the most care and pleasure upon those
unfortunate patients who could not give him a fee.

To great and various erudition he joined an infinite fund of
wit and humour^, to which his friends Pope and Swift were
more obliged than they have acknowledged themselves to be.

His imagination was almost inexhaustible, and whatever
subject he treated, or was consulted upon, he immediately
overflowed with all that it could possibly produce. It was at
anybody's service, for as soon as he was exonerated he did not
care what became of it ; insomuch that his sons, when young,
have frequently made kites of his scattered papers of liints,
which would have furnished good matter for folios.

Not being in the least jealous of his fame as an author, he
would neither take the time nor the trouble of separating the
best from the worst ; he worked out the whole mine, which
aftenvards, in the hands of skilful refiners, produced a ricli
vein of ore.

As his imagination was always at work, he was frequently
absent and inattentive in company '\ which made hhn both say

1 Letters of the Earl of Chesterfield, shaved three times a week.'
edited by Lord Mahon, 1845 ; II. 446. ^ ' Your inattention I cannot par-

^ An anecdote told by Spence don Yet Mr. Pope has the

upon Mallet's authority may here same defect, and it is of all others

be repeated. When a lady com- the most mortal to conversation ;

plained of the sufferings of women, neither is my Lord Bolingbroke

Arbiithnot said, 'Yes, the ladies untinged with it: all for want of

suffer greatly in some particulars, my rule, Vive la bagatelle '. But the

but there is not one of you that Doctor is the king of inattention ! '

undergoes the torture of being (Swift to Gay, July 10, 1732).

M 2


and do a thousand inoffensive absurdities ; but which, far from
being provoking, as they commonly are, supplied new matter
for conversation, and occasioned wit, both in himself and others.

His social character was not more amiable than his private
character was pure and exemplary ; charity, benevolence, and a
love of mankind appeared unaffectedly in all he said or did.
His letter to Pope against personal satire, published in the
works of the latter, breathes, in a most distinguished manner,
that amiable spirit of humanity.

His good understanding could not get the better of some
prejudices of his education and countiy. For he was convinced
that he had twice had the second sight, which in Scotch signifies
a degree of nocturnal inspiration, but in English only a dream.
He was also a Jacobite by prejudice, and a Republican by
reflection and reasoning.

He indulged his palate to excess, I might have said to glut-
tony, which gave a gross plethoric habit of body, that was the
cause of his death.

He lived and died a devout and sincere Christian. Pope and
I were with him the evening before he died, when he suffered
racking pains from an inflammation in his bowels, but his head
was clear to the last. He took leave of us with tenderness,
without weakness, and told us that he died not only with the
comfort, but even the devout assurance, of a Christian.

By all those who were not much acquainted with him he
was considered infinitely below his level ; he put no price upon
himself, and consequently went at an undervalue ; for the
world is complaisant or dupe enough to give every man the
price he sets upon himself, provided it be not insolently and
overbearingly demanded. It turns upon the manner of asking.

Lord Orreiy wrote in a similar strain : —

Although he was justly celebrated for wit and learning, there
Avas an excellence in his character more amiable than all his
other qualifications. I mean the excellence of his heart. He
has shewed himself equal to any of his cotemporaries in
humour and vivacity ; and he was superior to most men in
acts of humanity and benevolence ; his veiy sarcasms are the
satirical strokes of good nature : they are like flaps of the face
given in jest, the effects of M^hich may raise blushes, but no
blackness after the blows . . . He is seldom serious, except in


his attacks upon vice, and then his spii'it rises with a manly
strength and a noble indignation ... No man exceeded liim in
the moral duties of life \

Later writers, who had not the advantage of personal
acquaintance, could add little to these testimonies. But a
few sentences may be given from some critics who have
felt the attractiveness of Arbuthnot's character. Dr.
Johnson said he was ' a man estimable for his learning,
amiable for his life, and venerable for his piety.
Ai'buthnot was a man of great comprehension, skilful in
his profession, versed in the sciences, acquainted with
ancient literature, and able to animate his mass of know-
ledge by a bright and active imagination ; a scholar with
great brilliance of wit ; a wit who, in the crowd of life,
retained and discovered a noble ardour of religious zeal.'
He wrote ' like one who lets thoughts drop from his pen
as the}^ rise into his mind -.' Cowper, speaking of John-
son's Lives of the Poets, expressed the exaggerated opinion
that ' one might search these eight volumes with a candle
to find a man, and not find one, unless perhaps Arbuthnot
were he.'

There is no need to say more of the man whom
Thackeray — in words which might well be applied to
himself— described as ' one of the wisest, wittiest, most
accomplished, gentlest of mankind.' Arbuthnofs attach-
ment to Swift and Pope was of the most intimate nature,
and those who knew them best maintained that he
was their equal at least in gifts. He understood
Swift's cynicism, and their correspondence shows the
unequalled s^nnpathy that existed between the two. Gay,
Congreve, Prior, Berkelej^, Parnell, were among Arbuth-

• Remarks on the Life and Writings being an excellent physician, a man

of Br. Jonathan Stci/t, Letter XX. of deep learning, and a man of

^ Speaking to Boswell of the much humour.' See, too, Seattle's

writers of Queen Anne's time, Essay on Truth, 1773, p. 89; and

Johnson said, ' I think Dr. Ar- Lord Kames's Elements of Criticism,

buthnot the first man among them. 1774, i. 370.
He was the most vuiiversal genius.


iiot's constant friends, and all of them were indebted
to him for kindnesses freely rendered. He was on terms
of intimacy with Bolingbroke and Oxford, Chestei'field,
Peterborough, and Pulteney, and among the ladies with
whom he mixed were Lady Mary "Wortley Montagu,
Lady Betty Germain, Mrs. Howard, Lady Masham, and
Mrs. Martha Blount. He was, too, the trusted friend and
physician of Queen Anne, Most of the eminent men of
science of the time, including some who were opposed
to him in politics, were in frequent intercourse with
him ; and it is pleasant to know that at least one of
the greatest of the wits who were most closely allied
to the Whig party — Addison — had friendly relations with
him. Enough has been already said of his wit and
learning, and of the indifference which caused him to
give of his best to his friends, without any regard to
his own fame. As a physician he was held in high es-
teem by his patients and by other doctors, and the value
of his medical and scientific writings was increased by
the popular form in which most of them were written.
It has been said that he originated the science of vital
statistics. Although he lost his place at court upon
the death of Queen Anne, it is evident that he retained
his practice among the great ; and he was always ready
to attend those who could not reward him for his services.
In his last illness he said he must go back to London,
because he could not afford to live in idleness at Hamp-
stead, though he knew that the winter in town would
bring about a return of his symptoms.

Arbuthnot's favourite amusements were card-playing
and music ; and his weakness, which he shared with so
many of his contemporaries, was the habit of eating in
excess. The good nature and kindliness which were such
marked characteristics are reflected in his writings, with
one or two exceptions ; and in one of these cases —
the attack on the late Bishop Burnet — there is nothing


but tradition to lead us to attribute the pamphlet to

The few glimpses that we have of his domestic life
make it clear that, as might be expected, his home was
veiy happy. "When his children were young we have
occasional allusions to his wife and ' bairns,' and when
his wife and younger son had died, we have touching
evidence of the love between the father and the house-
hold of young people who, in his last illness, found it so
hard to reconcile themselves to the coming separation.
He lived a happy Christian, and his death was, as he had
hoped, a euthanasia. Such a story — even if we had not
the lives of Addison, of Steele, of Berkeley, and of others
of less note— ought to show how many reservations must
be made when we speak of the materialism and hardness
of the eighteenth century.




James AsBUTintOT, of Lantiicliie, Klncardineililre, iS40.

JoliD A , of CtUniKal), Limgvide,
15&1 (brancli becaiim eStinut abuut 174BX

Alexander A., went to Denmark in 1569 witli Hie ftfth Earl MarischnT, wlio

wftH (wnt U> settle the contr.ict for the mairinge of King James VI and Aone

of Denmark. Slarried her maid of lionour, Jarnit Stewart.

Alexander A,, of Rora=

KlBiwt InneB(of the

family of BlriHiiU).


Rev. Aleiandur A,,

of Arbuthnot;

HI. Slafgnrel Lamiuy

1666. Diud 1691.

John A. , foctor to the Earl irarlBohal = Jana

Ciemule. niece of Lord Sempill (two »uua

aaa tlii'ee dauKliten. Oue nun diud

witliout imue, the other had sons whu

went to the We«t Indiee).

Wiltlaiii A,, of Inv

neltie (two nons, w

to America).


Robert A., fanned

three hirge fnrmn

in Buclian.

Nathaniel A.

(1654-178 1 )

sBUiiet Utinuin.



Alexander A.,

Otforge A,, of Queen
AnnoB Guard, b. 16SS,
= Miaa Pegg; Rubinu.>n
(i72S)who died 1739.

died 1779,
agwl 76.

Rev. Clinrles
A., d, 1731.

Anne and

another daughter,



sir Alexander A.,

of India Con nail.

b. iBas.

Bishop Alexander SirCharliu A.,Bart., GenurnI Sir
A.,of Killaloe. Ambusador at Con- Robert A.

Died iSjS. Htantlnoiilo, afterwards (1773-1B53).

' Set.of the Treiwnry


John A., of Mltfjhaiu,
Uoulognc. and Itoclc-
fleel Castle, Ireland.

<1, (J.

Boburt A., bankerat Kalhe-
R'>u<ia,b. 1669. Oat rine.

nt Killicctiinlue ; lost b. 167a
Hull Green (wife
died 1729),

John A. (? Knight
of St. L-Juis).



Rlr Cluirlea
lieorge A.,
b. 18J4.

Gone rill Rlr
Tlioniiiii A.,

Bart.. 7iHt



Robert A.,of Haddo;

Bold Haddo settled in

Edinburgh (1735-1804).

Sec. to Buani of

TrUBteea = Mary


Joan. t'^^
b. 16B5.

Robert A., of Haddo,
near Peterhead (1695-
i756)=M.iry Potrie.

'Old I





Thomas A. (1702-1789)= Jana
A., eldest d. of the 'Old
Bailie,' Thomas A.


James A., of Dens,

18231 = Catherine

Andrew A. = Anne
Hepbum. d. 1739,



Son an officer under

General Wolfe at Quebec ;

but died of fever In Weal

Indies while young.

ThumuH A., am
(1729-1775)- d

James (1787-1829).

James A.



Thomas A., of

Kelher Kinmundy

(1719-1807). Married Thomas (1769-1790).

SfiBs Buchan, of

Aiichmncoy. Adam.

Roliert A.. Sec. to
the Government

of Ceylon ;
drowDM 1S09.


Sir WiUiBjn A., Bart,,

Lord Provost of Edin

burgh (1766-1839)

= Miss Annie Alvee,

John AJTee A,,
of Co worth

George Clerk A,,
of Mavitbank

William A.,


Frederick A.

Mid othora.

James Edward A.,
of Mauritius

(1 809-1 868>

W, Edward A.

George A., of


George A., of

b, 1815.

lat Provost of

William A.,

of Dena,



James A. ,
b. 1816.



other sons and
a daughters.

Robert A.,
of Mt. PleaNtnt

= Nicola A.

James A., of



b. 1791.

Tlionias A.,

of BUetlult,

b. 1793.

Rnbert A.,

of Cull«r






=Col.C.T. Lane.





The following are the entries of the baptisms of Dr.
Arbuthnot and his brothers and sisters, in the registers of
Arbuthnott : —

Aprile 29, 1667, Alexander Arbuthnott Parson of Arbuthnott
had ane Sone baptized named Johne.

June 3, 1669, a Sone named Kobert.

June 27, 167 1, a Sone named Alexander.

Dec. r, 1672, a daughter named Katheren.

Dec^. 7, 1675, a Son named Alexander.

Aug*. 24, 1 68 1, a daughter Aime.

March 17, 1685, a daughter Joan.

Feby. 15, 1688, a Son George.

The pedigi-ee facing this page shows as fully as possible
Arbuthnot's descent, and his relationship with other branches
of the family. I am indebted for much of the information
contained in it to notes compiled by Eobert Arbuthnot of
Mount Pleasant, Peterhead, who was born in 1783 ; to
Colonel Allardyce and the Misses Allardyce ; to Mr. Arbuthnot-
Leslie ; and to Mrs. James Arbuthnot, of Peterhead, who have
carefully studied the family histoiy ; but it is hardly probable
that the table is entirely free from errors.

Most of the following notes in illustration of the pedigree
are taken from a manuscript account made by John Moii*, of
Edinburgh, in 1815. Mr. Moir obtained his information in
1809, chiefly from his father, John Moir, an intelligent man
who was born about 1730, and who had discussed the family
history with his aunt Janet Arl)uthnot, cousin-german of Dr.
Arbuthnot, and granddaughter of Eobert Ai-buthnot and
Beatrix Gordon. John Moir, too, married Mary Arbuthnot,


daughter of James Arbuthnot of West Rora, wlio was only
fourth in descent from one of the three brothers who settled in
Buchan about 1560.

Almost all the Arbuthnots in Buchan, if not rich, have been
true gentlemen, possessed of suavity of manners, benevolence
of heart, and singular cheerfulness.

Robert, the second of the three brothers who went to
Buchan, settled with his younger brother at Rora, in the
parish of Longside, and had a son John, a notary-public, who
seems to have been factor to the Earl Marischal. He left
one son, Robert, who settled at Scotsmill, near the Castle of
Inverugie, and had four sons, the eldest of whom, the Rev.
Alexander Arbuthnott, was Dr. Arbuthnot's father. Mr.
Robert Arbuthnot, Secretary to the Board of Trustees, used
to say that Mr. Cadenhead, or Aikenhead, who married the
Rev. Alexander Arbuthnott's daughter, maintained that his
father-in-law possessed more learning than any of his sons.

Dr. Arbuthnot's brother Robert settled at Rouen as a banker,
and was known as 'the philanthropic Roberf of Rouen.' There
he lived in great magnificence, the friend of all the unfortunate
adherents of the son of James II, and of eveiy one else'.
He afterwards removed to Paris, and left a son. Sir John
Arbuthnot, said to have been a knight of the order of St.
Louis, none of whose descendants are supposed to be living.

Dr. Arbuthnot's brother George was an officer in Queen
Anne's Guards ; but on the death of the Queen his attachment
to the House of Stuart induced him to retke to France, and he
afterwards died in the service of the English East India
Company. The Company valued hmi so highly that after his
death they gave £1000 to his son.

John, second son of Robert Arbuthnot and Beatrix Gordon,
had two sons, Robert and William, the latter of whom had,
besides other children, a daughter Margaret, who married John
Moir, father to the John Moir who dictated these notes.

Robert Arbuthnot, of Haddo (17 35-1 804), settled at Edin-
burgh as a Banker, and afterwards became Secretary to the
Board of Trustees. He was a pleasant companion and an

^ Prior wrote to Bolingbroke from guments for your Lordship doing

Paris on Sept. 5, 17 13 (N. S.) : him your best offices, and honour-

' Arthburnet's real zeal for Her ing him with your favour ' (Boling-

Majesty's service and knowledge of broke's Works, vol. 7, 1798, p. 486.

mercantile affairs, are sufScient ar- See also pp. 249, 353'.


upright man, and was an intimate friend of Dr. Beattie, Sir
William Forbes, &c. Boswoll says, ' I presented to him [Dr.
Johnson] Mr. Eobert Arhuthnot, a relation of the celebrated
Dr. Arbuthnot, and a man of literature and taste.' His son,
Sir William Arbuthnot, Bart., was Lord Provost of Edinburgh,
and Sir Walter Scott observes that ' both father and son were
accomplished gentlemen, and elegant scholars.'

Ann, the wife of Andrew Arbuthnot, thii-d son of John
Arbuthnot of New Seat, was the correspondent of Mrs. Montagu
and Dr. Beattie.

Turning to the third branch, we come to the principal point
upon which the various accounts of the family differ. According
to some statements— which we have followed in the pedigree —
the youngest of the brothers who went to Buchan in 1560
had no children, or if he had his descendants soon died out ;
but other vei-sions represent the Alexander, who is here shown
as the son of Eobert Arbuthnot and younger brother of John,
the notary- public, as son of Alexander, the youngest of the
three brothers who went to Buchan. However this may be, we
may notice the following among the children of Nathaniel
Arbuthnot and Elspet Duncan.

(i) Thomas, the 'Old Bailie.'

(2) Andrew, joint factor with his brother Thomas for the
Countess Mary Errol. He had no children.

(3) Alexander ; married, first. Miss Ogilvie, of the family of the
Boyne ; and secondly, Mary, daughter of Alexander Scott, Esq.

(4) James, of West Eora, a well-educated man, who in his
benevolence, piety and good-will resembled Dr. Arbuthnot.
He was a very intelligent farmer, and in 1736 jjublished a
small volume on the modes of farming adapted to Buchan.
He died in 1 770. Of the twelve children that he had by his wife
Margaret Gordon it is sufficient to name, (i) James, of Middle-
town of Eora, none of whose children survived him ; (ii)
Nathaniel, who died unmarried ; (iii) Thomas, a merchant ;
(iv) Charles, Abbot and President of the Scots Monastery and
College of St. James, at Eatisbon, who was esteemed for his
piety and learning. When 80, he was, like his father, remark-
able for the dignity of his person and the benevolent openness of
his countenance ; (v) Mary, who married John Moii", and
whose eldest son, James, was Prior of the Scots College at


Dr. Beattie ' obtained the chair of Philosophy at the Marischal
College in 1 760, through the help of Rohert Arbnthnot, secretaiy
to the Board of Trustees for fisheries and manufactures at
Edinburgh, and formerly a merchant, living at Peterhead and
Aberdeen. Beattie used to lodge at the house of Mrs. Anne
Arbuthnot, at Peterhead, and through him Mrs. Montagu
settled an annuity upon her in 1784. Mrs. Anne Arbuthnot
was the daughter of the Rev. Alexander Hepburn ; she was a
woman of great intelligence, and was in the habit of reading
over Beattie's pieces before publication. She married in 1737,
when 28, but her husband, Captain Andrew Arlnithnot — second
cousin to Dr. Arbuthnot — died in America two years later.
She died in 1795, aged 86.

As regards the ancestors of Viscount Arbuthnot, it may be
noted that Arbuthnot's father, in his MS. account of the family,
states that the ' good laird ' Robei-t (the third), who died in 1.579,
had eighteen children, to whom he left large patrimonies, with-
out lessening his old estate. His first wife was Lady Christian
Keith, and his second. Dame Helen Clepan, whose initials,
together with those of her husband, are on the old communion
cup at the Church at Arbuthnott. The date on the cup, 1638,
doubtless indicates the year when the cup, existent before,
became ' the Commimion Coup of the Kirk. ' The ' good laird '
was interred in the aisle built by his grandfather. His eldest
son, Andrew, was an upright man, who augmented the estates.
He married, first, Elizabeth Carnegie, daughter of the Laird
of Kinnaird (afterwards Earls of Southesk) ; and, secondly,
Margaret Pringle, daughter of an ancient baron in Fife. His
third son, Patrick, married a daughter of the Laird of Halgreen.

Other notices of Arbuthnots will be found in 3Iiscelkinca
G-encalogica et HeraMica, New Series, iv. 72 ; The Genealogist
(Register of Morden, Surrey) ; Brayley's History of Surrey ;
Selections from the Records of the Kirk Session, Preshytery and
Synod of Aberdeen, 1846, and Fasti Aherdonenses, 1854, pub-
lished by the Spalding Club ; Wills in the Probate Court of
Canterbuxy (493 Caesar, 318 Stevens, 182 and 330 St. Eloy,

1 A William Beattie, late Bailie, clineshire from 1689 to 1702, and

was member for Bervie in the Alexander Arbuthnot, advocate and

Scotch Parliament from 1685 to Provost, was member for Bervie

1702. Alexander Arbuthnot, of from 1703 to 1707.

Online LibraryGeorge Atherton AitkenThe life and works of John Arbuthnot, M.D., fellow of the Royal College of Physicians → online text (page 16 of 47)