Autobiographical Account by James Hall Nasmyth

Author(s): Nasmyth, James


by James Nasmyth

On the ancient Tomb of the Naesmiths in The Grayfriars
Church yard there is a very remarkable motto.
“Remarkable” as it so perfectly describes and is most
appropriate to the History of almost Every individual
of the Family Especialy the Branch of
the Nasmyths from whence my Father was more
immediately descended. The motto in question is as


which I translate or render thus

art is to me STRENGTH in contending with Fate
or “art gives me my strength whereby I contend
against Fate


workshops situated behind his house at the Grass market Edinburgh
These workshops stood in a space of ground between the back of his house
and the High wall which separates the Grey Friars Church yard from
the Grass market and situated East of the Flight of stairs which
form the Main North approach to George Herriots magnificent
Hospital — The Last work my great great grandfather was
Engaged in was that of building The Fortress of Inversnaid
situated at the upper or Northern End of Loch Lomond.
This Fortress was designed to accommodate sufficient Troops
for the purpose of resisting the frequent inroads of the
Highland Robber Clans into the Lowland. The Chief of
wh[om] at that time was Rob Roy and his followers
This important work Michael Naesmith ventured, in spite of
[¿] many whispered warnings, to take the contract for and
being a work of considerable importance he, as was usual
in works of any great extent and Especialy as in this case
situated in a wild uninhabited district, Erected such a
temporary habitation for himself and his workmen near
the spot as enabled them to reside close to the work at
hand. such temporary workmans Residence is I believe
in Masonic Language termed “The Boothie” —

The work at The Fortress had been considerably advanced
during the summer and autumn months of the year 1703


Winter had set in when on a dark Snow Storm Night Michael
and his men having all retired to rest a knocking at The Boothie
door was heard, and to the question “Who's There”? a voice replied
“a benighted Traveler overtaken in the storm” and
begging for Gods sake to let him have shelter for the
night, Michael in the full faith that the travelers tale
was Told in good faith arose and unbarred and
unbolted the Door, when to his consternation and that
of his half awakened men In Rushed Rob Roy along
with his armed desperate gang, all hope and chance
of resistance was seen to be useless. The Lives of Michael
and his men were in the hands of infuriated savages
The workmen with the Dirks of Robs men at their
throats begged hard for their lives to be spared
This was granted on the condition that they should
instantly depart, and under oath, promise never
again to appear within the Highland border. They
,master & men, had no alternative but to submit
to the terms and depart forth with with such scanty
clothing as in the rage of their assailants they were
allowed but a few moments time to gather about them.
They were then marched under armed Escort through
the snow and storm through a pathless track to the

Highland Border


Highland Border and then left with murderous threats that
should any of them Ever re appear or in any way
proceed with the work Death should attend them —
Poor Michael never recovered from the sad cold he
had caught in his long dreary retreat in the snow storm
from Inversnaid. The Effects of which together with
the distress of mind and pecuniary loss he had suffered
consequent on the refusal of Government to pay him any thing
for such considerable portion of his contract which
he had already substantially completed, Ere he and his men
were compelled to depart from Inversnaid where
the government had undertaken but failed to supply any
forces to guard him and his men when engaged in
a work so hatefull to the Robber Clans. This great
injustice and risk he had continualy [¿]ed altho he had again and again
petitioned the government to redress during the progress of the work but without
Effect, so the Entire loss fell upon him which
together with the distress of mind and failing health
totaly incapacitated him from attending to business
and terminated in his Death — while sitting at his
fire side with his Grandchild on his knee, feeling
a Death like faintness come over him he was seen to
set the child carefully down at the side of his chair


and then fell forward Dead on his hearth stone

Thus Ended the life of my Great great granfather
Michael Naesmith in1705. aged 53 — his remains
rest at the side of the old Family Tomb in the Grey Friars
Church yard of which I have given a carefull illustration
in an Earlyer portion of this work which in many respects
is one of the most remarkable Tombs among the many
such that give so interesting a character to this the
most remarkable Burying ground in Scotland —

All the detail of this sad incident was narrated to
me by my Father as a carefully remembered family
tradition —

My great great grandfathers business was well carried on
by his son who being 27 years old at the Death of his
father had had ample experience and ability to so do
and conduct it with success aided by the well earned
reputation accumulated as the result of thorough
good and substantial work in the Execution of which
my great granfather was well seconded by a staff
of most able trustworthy workmen between whome
and their master there had grown up kind of
Loyal family attachment that had extended from
generation to generations. as in these early days


There was not either the will or the means for workmen
to shift about the country from master to master but
settled down with their wives & children in houses of
their own close to their Employers and faithfully followed
and attended to the interests of their Employers when
they had work at a distance from head quarters
My great grandfather Born in the year 1679 died in 1751
and was succeeded by my grandfather Michael Naesmith
who thoroughly maintained the well Earned reputation
which his predecessors had Established for substantial
work. This collection of first class work on architecture
which he possessed and which in his time were both rare and costly attest to
the carefull regard he had for infusing into his
designs and work the best standards of taste of the
foreign architects of fame such works consisted of
folio Editions of Vetruvius. Paladio and many
others treating of both design and Execution
My grandfather built several mansions for the
nobility and gentry of Scotland. as also several
of the most remarkable Houses of the old town and
the First of those of the New town of Edinurgh
of the former many of the Houses in George Square
which still attest by their substantial condition


To this day the care with which they are Executed as may be
seen in such an apparently trifling detail as the neat and
peculiar manner in which the weather action on the mortar
joints of the stone work is resisted by the carefull and neat
insertion of minute fragments of Basalt at small but regular
distances into the mortar of the tombs of the stone work which
while they serve to protect the mortar from the action of
the weather give at the same time a neat and so far
ornamental relief to the otherwise monotonous lines of the
mortar. I refer to this apparently trifling detail to show
that the builders mind and heart was in his work Even to
its utmost minutia — Among the houses built by my
Grandfather in George square was the one in which
Sir Walter Scott was born — I may also mention that
the First house in the New town was built by him namely
the one at the North west corner of St Andrews square
was built by my grandfather and occupied by David Hume
the Historian. Likewise these two more important looking
houses in the center of the north side of the same square
occupied by the Lord Laing Mason Esqr and the
other by the Venerable Dr Hamilton M.D. who made himself
a conspicuous character in Edinburgh by his perseverance in wearing
a cocked hat. Pigtail and shoebuckles long after
such a costume had become obsolete — all the Houses above named


which were built more than 110 years ago are in sound
condition at the Present time a most satisfactory proof that
my Grandfather executed his work in a thoroughly substantial manner
Besides the general Excellence of my grandfathers work he
took Especial pride in the sound quality of timber work
of the interior of the houses built by him as well as the
carefull workmanship and high finish given to it
In his days the walls of the various appartments were
wainscoated that is covered by timber framed in large pannels
in the Execution of which the most carefull l[¿] work was
requisite Especialy as many of the wainscoat Pannels were
of considerable width such as from 3 to 4 feet wide by
6 or 8 feet in height. The joining up of such wide and high
panneling required the utmost skill and the very best quality of
well seasoned timber which for the most part was bought
from Dansick Some times Scotch Fir was used but
only when such could be found of sufficient size at hand
where the building was being erected. My father has often
described to me his being permitted when a boy to accompany
my grandfather and his foreman and men to Leith when
a ship arrived from the Baltic with best quality of
timber and his being present at the assorting of the cargo
in my grandfathers wood yard there. Each quality


Being carefully assorted and put up in stacks to be thoroughly
seasoned and shrunk ere the timber in each stack was used
for the purpose for which its quality rendered it most fit
Each stack being marked according to its intended purpose
such as For Wainscoat Framing “Wainscoat Pannels “Window Frames
Door Frames & Door pannels. Great attention was paid
to the selection of the timber for Floors which received the most
special and carefull attention as to the permanency of the
closeness of the joints and flatness of the general surface
of the Floor to secure which the best and hardest Baltic
Timber was sawn up into narrow strips and so thoroughly
seasoned before being laid down that many of the floors
of Houses of my grandfathers time are as sound and the
Joints as close as the way they left the workmans hand.
I am happy to observe that the same carefull attention is
again resumed by the best House builders of our day
Greatly to the advantage of the carpets
as to their durability instead of being soon worn into
strips by the careless jointing of the wide flooring boards of unseasoned
timbers whose curved up edges soon makes sad [¿]
of the carpets. The Hanging of Doors was, my Father told
me, a detail which my Grandfather bestowed special
attention to so as they should never scrape the floor and be perfectly


free in their movement that he used to Ex[¿]t the
perfect manner in which his doors were “Hung” by
causing them to close by a puff of air from a hand
bellows. This was a little bit of Bravado but it showed
how much of his individual attention and care he he gave to the
Excellent Execution of his work even to the smallest
details. he was from all accounts a most thoroughly
conscientious Builder and most worthy man one of his
most attached friends was the celebrated Dr Cullen
whose fame as a Physician is still remembered to this day
in Scotland — I have but little record of my Grandmother
Except that she was in all respects worthy of her husband
and a most carefull good house wife. I have “a sampler”
sewed by her dated 1743 the Exquisite neatness and
precision of the details of which is for Exactness and
fineness of the work beyond any thing I have ever met
with in such Examples of needle work which has
come under my notice. and I am fair to think that
some of her faculty for delicate handling has descended
to her grandchildren as all of them have been in no
small degree distinguished by the nice delicate and dextrous use of the Fing[ures] in
respect to the various branches of Fine art for which
most of them have left good Record - my Grandfather
Michael Naesmith Died in the year 1803 aged 84


My granfather Michael Naesmith had two sons The Eldest
named, in accordance with family custom, Michael, Born 1754,
was intended to succeed his Father in the same line of busines that
had been so creditably kept up in Hereditary succession for so
many years. my Uncle Michael showed great natural aptitude
for the business at first and became a skillful workman
Especialy at Joiner-work having besides a clear head for accounts
and book keeping he became my granfathers right hand man
but a taste for reading books of voyages and travels of which
his father had a large collection developed an irrepressible
natural desire, that had been dormant in him, for an adventurous
life this desire to see the world was unfortunately stimulated
by the success of a companion of his who had gone to sea
and had realized some substantial results from his
ventures in trading with “Foreign parts” an offer to take
my uncle along with him on his next voyage proved too
tempting and notwithstanding his good prospects at home
and his fathers Earnest remonstrances. he determined to
set forth and indulge his passion for adventure along
with his hitherto successfull companion. after several
voyages to the West Indies and other parts of the world which
gratified and stimulated his natural taste for adventure
and also proved moderately successfull in financial



his trading ventures met with a sad reverse which caused
him to give up commerce and enter the Royal Navy as
a pay master or Purser in which service he remained
with credit and had a life of rather serious adventure
in several of our Naval Engagements his knowledge of
accounts enabled him to maintain his position with all due credit
for many years as a Naval pay master
he was at last Pensioned and rooms granted him as
a permanent resident in Greenwich Hospital where he ended
an adventurous life in ease and comfort in 1819
aged 65. My Father had great and affectionate regard for
him and alwas visited him at Greenwich when he went to
London. The sketch of my uncle Michael which I append
was made one hot summer day when my father and his
brother were out for a stroll on Blackheath. the sketch slight as it is
is full of character and was much treasured by my father
who made it while his brother was enjoying a nap
on a roadside bank near Blackheath in 1811

My father Alexander Naesmyth [¿] was born on the 9th Septr
1758 in his Fathers House in the Grass Market Edinburgh
he exhibited early in life a strong natural taste and skill
in the use of the pencil in sketching from Nature and also
showed equal skill in the use of oil colours so much so

It may be well to mention here that previous to my Fathers entering into Allan Ramsays
service . he through the excellence of some Drawings and Sketches from Nature which
he had executed to show to the Director of a drawing academy that had been
established in Edinburgh termed “The Trustees Academy of fine Art” an institution
which had been formed and supported by Funds derived from Estates confiscated
in the Rebellion of 1715 . 1745 . portion of these revenues were devoted to
the encouragement of the art of Damask Linnen weaving and carpet manufacture
in Scotland . arts which the flight of French weavers who [under] religious persecution
emigrated about that time to Scotland and for whose production the government
encouraged to settle in Scotland to which end cottages were built for those weavers
and every kindness shown to them. The only condition stipulated was that they
the weavers should take Scotch apprentices and teach them the art & mystery
of Damask table linnen and such like higher class branches of the weaving art
These weavers cottages were chiefly erected at a piece of unoccupied ground near
the site of where part of the [nice] town of Edinburgh was afterward built and as
most of the French weavers were from Piccardy. that circumstance originated
the name of Piccardy place which was given many year afterwards to the
fine street of Houses built on the site originally occupied by the weavers
cottages — The art [occuring] before named was intended by the Trustees
of the Forfeited Estates to encourage the study of the art of Design in
its relation to improved Linnen & carpet manufacture and still
exists — it was to gain admission to its advantages as a school of art
that my father became a candidate for [admission] where he was working
as a wash painter such was the [extent] of his Probationary drawings Next
he was duly admitted as a student & the Evenings being the time the academy
was open so as to suit the arrangements of students [otherwise] [¿] in
their various trades in the day time — my father derived vast advantage
as a young artist from his attendance at this academy of art — for
alltho the stock of casts from the antique and drawings from the works of the
old masters was but scanty The masters endeavoured to make up for the
want of numbers and variety of examples by causing the pupils to
copy over and over again the same original Example till they acquired
such satisfactory corrections as to entitle them to a fresh Example
Runciman the master was a very painstaking conscientious teacher
but rather short and irritable in temper . and on one such occasion
my father who had completed his eighth copy from a chalk drawing
of the celebrated Lacoon group of statu[ary] — ventured to remonstrate with
his master on being kept so long on one subject. Runciman testily told
him he should have a new subject and then he [pressed] the original
chalk drawing from the copy stand which my father hoped was to
make way for a fresh subject but to his disgust Runciman
forthwith p[¿]ed up the same drawing . but up side down! with the
peremptory order copy that sir. such a form and mode of giving
a pupil a fresh subject might have driven the student desperate
But [wholly] d[iver]ted my father set to work and e[¿]ted to correct a
copy as when it was inverted to the right natural position and compared
with the original in its natural position it stood the test of [¿] examination so
perfectly as to draw forth the admiration of his master and was hung up as a

Triumph of the art of Copying in the Class room of the academy with a note Runciman appended to explain
the circumstances of the production


that he was at his own Earnest desire bound apprentice to the
Chief Coach Builder in Edinburgh. (Chrighton, if I remember Right,?
was his name) as a Coach Painter Especialy in that department
of Coach painting in which artistic taste and skill was requisite
namely in decorating the Pannels of the Highest class of Carriages
which his master made for the Nobility and Gentry of
Scotland, By painting on the pannels their Coats
of Arms and Crests [¿]. In this artistic branch of the Coach
Building business my Father took great delight as it
introduced him to the practical detail of an artists occupation
both as respects carefull drawing and also painting in oil color
He made such rapid progress toward Excellence in this his
first introduction to artistic work that he had the gratification
of being Entrusted with the Execution of the very first class of
such Heraldic art, which at the Period refered to, namely Coats
of Arms with “Supporters” and Crests with the family mottos
which were an indispensable Embelishment to carriages made for the Nobility
and Gentry, of that time, no class of practice in the use and
handling of the materials of pictorial fine art could have
been more suited to give and cultivate that union of care
with freedom of handling and precision of touch as such
an occupation as my Father was fortunate to secure
The Coach Builder to whom my Father was apprenticed happened

Among many ammusing recollections of adventures my Father had during his
early life in London when he was in the service of Allan Ramsay there is one
that I cannot resist the temptation to narrate as it illustrates a happy
faculty he possessed throughout his life namely “Resourcefullness” —
He had made an Engagement with a sweetheart of his to treat her
to an evening at Ranelah Gardens which were then the chief Evening resort
of all the Bucks and Gay folks of the period — as “full Dress” was
was imperative at Ranelah Gardens and long striped silk stockings were “the
correct thing” for young bucks to appear in on such occasions. My father
happened to be possessed of only one pair and as he desired them to
look as well as possible on so special an occasion he had made shift to wash them himself in
his Lodging room and hung them up to dry at the fire, alas he
hung them too close to the fire and they got so singed and so burnt
as to be totally useless . in his sad perplexity as to how to get out of
this provoking Dilema of the loss of what was so essential and important
a portion of his Toilet . a happy, and most original, thought occured to
him, namely to have recourse to his art as a painter and having
some water colours White and Black paint at hand he set to work with
it and painted his leggs with Black and White strips with such neatness
and skill that in a short time the water colour paint drying on
his legs rapidly he completed his toilet and issued forth to his
sweetheart and Proceeded to Ranelah in perfect trim and
had the gratification to note the envious glances of some of his
companions who were struck with the perfect fit of his [long] silk
stockings. he never however “let on” to them how and by what means
he acquired such perfect fitting Hose. but enjoyed exceedingly
his triumph over what, but for this happy exercise of his art
and of his no less happy faculty of Resourcefullness, would
have been a mortifying misfortune — My father used to
narrate this incident with great delight as it appeared to
have made a lasting impression on his memory and he
used to quote it as an instance of what he held to be the
true receipt for “success in life” never to let a difficulty
beat you but “get the upper hand of it” somehow!
many an instance of this valuable faculty I have noted in him in various
passages and occupations in such portion of his life as I was Eye witness to


to be an intimate friend of Allan Ramsey son of the Author of the
well known poem “The Gentle Shepard”, this Allan Ramsay son
of the Poet was Court-Painter to George the Third, when on
a visit to his native city, Edinburgh. he went to pay
his respects to his old Friend the Coach Builder at his work
shops, on that occasion happening to see my Father then a lad
16 years old busy painting a coat of arms on the door pannel
of a Noblemans carriage he was so struck with the true artistic
style in which my Father was executing his work that he
formed a strong desire to have him transferred into his, Ramseys
service to asist him in the subordinate on Dress parts of the
court or Diplomatic portraits in the execution of which he
had almost continual employment, after much persuasion
backed by a considerable premium paid to his friend the
Coach Builder he agreed to transfer my fathers indentures
to Ramsey my father being delighted with the change of
employment as besides the being transferred to London! a more
advantageous opportunity for a young artist with True love of art
could not have come to him as Ramseys occupation as portrait
painter afforded my father the finest opportunity to advance in
his art even when his assistance was at first confined to
the dress and subordinate parts of Ramseys pictures add to
which the fact that Ramsey had a [noble] collection of drawings

The reference to Resourcefullness a a Faculty which my father held to be one
of the most Effective as a means of getting on in the world. he used to narrate
an ammusing instance of it which happened when he was a Boy and playing
with two of his school companions — These Boys were the sons of a Dr Erskin
one of the ministers of the High Kirk of Edinburgh and held in the highest respect
by his townsmen — The two Boys his sons had in their play been throwing stones
one of which went through the window of a Neighbours House. and as the servant
saw who had done this Mischief she immediately opened the window and called out
“Very weel Maister Erskin. I'l tell your Father who it was that Broke
the windae”. Such instant and clear detection was certain to be followed
by most severe punishment from their Father. So on the spur of the moment
the culprit turned round to his Brother and in a loud and laughing
manner called out in her hearing. E! K[eis]t! She thinks
we are The Boddy Erskins sons! Such an Expression of Entire
and absolute Irreverance as to term The Revd Dr Erskin “The Boddy
Erskin” could not possibly” The servant thought ‘proceed from
the son of one so revered as Dr Erskin so she closed the window
convinced that she had made a mistake as to the Identity of
the culprit . who taking advantage of the [unusual] Dust
he had thrown in her [face] escaped speedily from the scene
of the mischief. and also from the otherwise [inevitable] severe
consequences — Trifling as no doubt this little anneckdote
is . my Father delighted to narrate it as one instance of
speedy artfull resourcefullness which he said was wonderfuly
carried out in after life by the culprit who at the
Siege of Seringapatam by a masterly dressing of the same
faculty succeeded in leading a forlorn [¿] attack
through one of the Breaches in the walls of Seringapatam
and brought his men safely and triumphantly through
the very jaws of certain Death and by his heroic act
in no small degree contributed to the success of that
most terrible conflict and as General Erskin
he used to narrate with great glee this early
triumphant Escape from a then to him terrible
danger. I fear none but Scotchmen can understand
the full Extent of the utter disrespectfullness conveyed
by the expression “The Boddy Erskin” as applied to one
of the most revered ministers of the Scottch Kirk and
that by a son of so Revered a Father as Doctor Erskin!


and Engravings from the Works of most of the great masters of Pictorial art and
to which Ramsey afforded him free access to study and copy from during his
leisure hours a high privilege from which my father derived great advantage
as he had the benefit of Ramseys critical remarks on them as well
My father remained in Ramseys service till 1778 when he returned to
Edinburgh to Practice the Profession of Portrait painter on his own account
carrying with him the kindest good wishes and recommendations of his late master
whose warmest friendship he retained to the end of Ramseys life —

The artistic treatment of my fathers portraits and the excellent likenesses he produced of
his sitters soon obtained for him abundant employment. his portraits were
generaly full length but of a small or, cabinet, size and most frequently
consisted of family groups with the figures about from 12 to 14 inches
high and were so treated as if in conversation on subject of family
interest with children and their favourite Dogs introduced and
represented in enjoying some favourite view from the parlour
or grounds with more care and attention given to the landscape
background than was usual with the ordinary run of Portraits
the admiration which his employers expressed with the result
of his artistic labours was almost equaly divided between
the Excellence of his Likenesses and the beauty of his Landscape
Back grounds . this latter fact led to important results in after years
as I shall refer to presently — Among my fathers many
employers was Patrick Miller Esqr of DalswintonDumfriesshire


Whose portrait as well as that of several members of his family
my Father was employed to paint soon after his return from
London —This employment led to the establishment of a most warm
personal friendship between Miller and my Father . The result not only
of the high satisfaction my fathers artistic work gave him, but also, from
the similarity of their views and opinions on most subjects but especialy
in regard to mechanical ones, for which both of them had a strong natural
taste. Miller having ammassed a large fortune as a Banker in
Edinburgh and as is often the case with successful energetic men he
devoted some of the spare activity of his mind not only to improved systems
of farming which he carried into most successful practice on his
estate at Dalswinton. but having also given much of his
attention to Naval affairs, especialy in regard to the improvement
of the Guns of our Navy, he being also one of the largest
shareholders in the celebrated Carron Iron works near
Stirling that circumstance afforded him every facility for
experimenting with and producing new guns em[¿]ding his
improvements in them and testing them by actual practice
at the Carron Iron works. The result was the justly celebrated
“Carronade” a name he gave to his improved gun out of
compliment to the works where it was first produced and
supplied in the highest perfection to our navy for nearly a
century after. the vastly superior Handiness of these short
guns which were capable of being loaded and fired nearly twice
as fast as the long small bore guns that till then had been
the guns of the Service and the Tremendous effect of the rapidly
repeated Broadsides fired from these handy Carronades rendered
them deservedly the favourites in the service and in no small



degree contributed to the achievement of some of our most decisive naval
victories owing to the great ease and rapidity with which these Carnades “Carronades”
were loaded and fired a property of vast importance in action and due to
their Shortness and general great Handiness as compared with the long
small bore guns that had hitherto been in general use in the Navy.
Another of Millers most favorite subjects was the application of
mechanical subsitutes for wind or tide in the manoeuvering of ships
of war. The important results which about that time had issued
from the adoption of Clerk of Eldins system of “Breaking the Line”
by the departure from the old orthodox system of meeting enemys Ships
“in Line” and under the discharge of mutual broadsides leaving the
chance of victory to those who could best withstand running the terrible gauntlet of a
series of successive Broadsides. Clerks system, consisted of a sudden
departure from one continuous line in our ships when near those
of the enemy and of so manoeuvering our ships as to bring them
athwart the line of those of the enemy, thus throwing them into
confusion and so dealing with each of the enemys ships in a manner singly
with the best chance of “raking them”. this system of Clerks
had been tried with such successfull results that
the subject took such hold of Millers mind that he set his will to work
with all his natural earnestness to contrive some mechanical means such
as would be capable to control the movement of ships of war
independent of wind, calm, or tidal action. It was while this Idea


of Millers was chiefly engaging his attention that my father happened
to meet frequently with him aiding him with his skill as a draughtsman
in making out his designs for Vessels to be propelled by Paddle wheels set in motion
by Capstans worked by the crew, Miller being no draughtsman my
fathers skill in that respect was most valuable to him and all the
men so as the subject was one in which he felt the most lively and
earnest interest especialy as it brought into action the strong natural
taste and aptitude which my father had for all matters connected with mechanical construction
In Millers Idea of Paddle wheel war ships he designed them with Twin
or double Hulls so as by placing the paddle wheels in the space
between the Hulls the paddle wheels in that position be
better protected from the force of the waves and, in action,
more secure from risk of injury from shot. the double Hull
structure he also imagined might allow the vessel to rest
,or so to speak, sit down, on a shallow sandy beach where
such might happen to afford a safe resting place between
tides — I append a copy of an original sketch which my
father made of one of these double Hulled paddle wheel vessels
which Miller had built at Leith and with which he made
many successfull and remarkable trial trips and experiments
When first sketched out before the vessel was built, the stern had
rather an unsightly or un ship shape appearance so my father
had recourse to his artistic taste and made out a design for


the stern of this vessel which judging from the sketch of the vessel which he made
while she was beached comfortably on the sands at Leith, was by
no means devoid of ellegance in which respect it was Enhanced by
an alegorical picture which my father designed and painted on
it. The subject being Britania Instructing the four great Nations of the world
in the art of Naval Construction! I refer to this more particularly
to show the warm hearted zealous interest my father took in his friend
Millers pursuits a feeling which endeared him to Miller and led to
[¿] that made theirs [¿] my fathers welfare in after life.
The great fatigue and Exhaustion which the crew suffered in any long
continued Experimental run with these capstan [¿], paddle wheel,
vessels, soon satisfied Miller that he must look for some other power
than manual labor, to give motion to his paddle wheels. Many
discussions on this subject took place and on one such occasion a
Mr Taylor who acted as tutor to Mr Millers sons who took a
most lively interest in Millers Experiments and was generally
present at their “venture to suggest” the employment of a
steam engine as the source of the required power, in place of manual
labor, Miller at first was alarmed at the mention of “a Steam
Engine and its Furnace on board of a war ship” but further
argument and reflection induced him to view the proposal
with favor which was confirmed when Taylor took him
to see the model of e steam Engine which a clever young


young man named William Symington employed at The Lead mines
in Lanarkshire had made and which had a contrivance of his for
converting the straight up and down motion of the piston Rod into
a continuous circular or rotary movement. Miller was so much pleased
with what he saw of this model steam engine that he determined to
have a small steam engine and suitable Boiler forthwith made
under the superintendence of Symington and Taylor, and at
the same time ordered the construction of a double Hull pleasure
boat to be proceeded with and placed on the Lake at Dalswinton
Having suitable paddle wheels to the [¿]ing of which the
engines he ordered should be arranged to be connected with
after many provoking delays the Engines & Boiler were
put on board the before named double Hull pleasure boat
on Dalswinton Lake and set to work in October 1788
“The Boat was formed to move delightfully” at a rate of
between four and five miles an hour and altogether proved
a most successful and satisfactory experiment.

Taking into account the vast results that have ultimately
issued from this first trial of an actual Steam Boat
which was ever exhibited to the world we may well consider
this to have been one of the most important experiments ever
made,This must be so evident to all who reflect on the consequences
of it that it is unnecessary for me to further refer to it


otherwise than to record the names of those who were present at so
remarkable and memorable an experiment.The persons on the deck
of the boat were Patrick Miller — William Taylor . William Symington
(the designer of the Engines) Sir Charles Monteth of [¿]burn. Robert Burns!
the Poet — and my Father Alexander Naesmyth. the three other
persons on Deck were Mr Millars servants who acted as assistants
on the edge of the Lake watching the progress of the experiment
was Henry Brougham then a lad on a visit to Mr Miller
Such a gathering of remarkable men was well worthy of the
occasion. I may remark as well worthy of special record
that the boat being made of Tinned Iron plate in accordance
with Millers special orders. was probably the First Iron
ship. The Engines of this memorable first practicable
Steam boat are now in the Patent Museum at South Kensington
Thus, without “Pomp and Circumstance”, in the tranquility
of an autumn afternoon was this experiment successfuly
made, which measuring its importance by the vast results
that have since issued from it and by those it is yet
destined to yeald! never has the exercise of mans thought
and ingenuity confered on his race more wide spread
substantial benefits —

The warm friendship which Millar entertained for my father at the
sacrifice of much of his time which might have been with more immediate
profitableness have been devoted to his portrait painting business


was not overlooked by Miller who in his anxiety to make some
[reco]mpence for the Time and attention my father had given to
the working out of Millers Ideas and making all the drawings from
which Millers experimental ships were constructed but which
on my fathers part was done con amore in the best sense of the term
Miller in his friendly anxiety to promote my fathers professional
interests most generously placed the means of enabling my
father to pass nearly two years in Italy so as to enable
him to study the higher branches of his art at what was
then considered its head quarters. It was with my father as
it was with every artist then. the summit of his ambition
to see the greatest works of the Great masters of art in
their true home. aided therefore by Millers generous offer
to advance him the requisite funds for a two years
sojourn in Italy making Rome his head quarters
he proceeded there leaving England on Decr 30 1782 for Rome
via Paris. after a most industrious sojourn at Rome
and visiting the chief city of Italy where the finest
examples of Painting Sculpture and Architecture could
be seen and studied he returned to England at the
end of 1784 with a valuable collection of Drawings
sketches and studies from the finest works of art
including several drawings of the nine remarkable


places he had passed through in his Journey. he immediately
resumed the practice of his profession as a portrait painter
the pecuniary results of which soon enabled him to pay
his friend the advances he had so kindly made him which
amounted in all to about £500 Miller declining to receive
any interest —The highly satisfactory prospects my Father
had substantial grounds for anticipating from the industrious
pursuit of his profession enabled him to bring to a most happy
conclusion an engagement he had entered into before
he left for Rome. namely his Marriage to my Mother
which great event of his life took place on January 3.d 1786
my mother was a distant relation. a cousin “many times
removed” She was the second Daughter of William
Foulis Esqr of Woodhall & Collinton near Edinburgh
She was born in 1764. The result of this marriage was a family
of Four Sons and Seven Daughters. Patrick the first child
was so named out of regard to my Fathers kind Friend
Patrick Miller of Dalswinton. Patrick Born 1787 died 1831
Leaving behind him a monument of his ability in those
exquisite Landscapes which are now so highly valued and
eagerly sought after as treasures of British art in the way
of Landscape painting —


In 1786 my father became intimate with Robert Burns and saw much
of him in Edinburgh where the Poet and the painter had many pleasant
meetings and walks together as the same keen perception for
the beauties of nature was mutualy shared between them. an
interesting incident in regard to this feeling occured when my father
and a few choice spirits had been spending a Night wi Burns at a
Tavern in the High Street of Edinburg. they had kept it up till the
“sma hoours” next morning. when the party broke up about
3 in the morning as Burns and my father descended into
the Street Burns looked up to the Sky, which was perfectly
clear and the rising sun just beginning to brighten up the Kirk
steeple and highest parts of the houses. the date was, June 13
1786, a period of the year when all nature is in the zenith
of its youthfull beauty. Burns was so impressed with the
beauty of the morning that he put his hand on my fathers
arm and said. Nasmyth it'l never do to go to bed in
such a lively morning as this! let's away and walk out
to Roslin Castle. the poet and painter thereupon set
forth and enjoyed a most delightfull summer morning
walk of 7 miles and on reaching Roslin they went
down under the grand Norman arch of the castle where
Burns stood rapt in admiration of the scene and while he
stood under the great arch my father was so impressed


with the scene and the circumstances, that he happning to
have a suitable piece of paper and a pencil with him, he made
a hasty little sketch of the Poet as he stood under the
grand Norman arch, which sketch is now before me, as it
was preserved by my father with loving care in remembrance
of that delightfull walk and the interesting circumstances
attending it. many have an Idea that Robert Burns was
apt to Exceed when in company with choice companions
in such circumstances as narrated. but my father told
no better proof could be given of the incorrectness of this
opinion as to the Poets general convivial Labels than
the simple fact so graphicaly narrated by my father
that after several hours spent with such choice
companions as that of the night and morning of
the 12 & 13th June 1786 that at the breaking up of the
party at 3 in the morning he should have all his best
wits about him as to propose the walk out to Roslin
in such admirable terms. “It,l never do to go to bed in such!
a mornin as this!” It was in that same year that my father
painted Burns portrait. Burns had a great dislike to, sit for
his portrait, but at the earnest request of my father he
consented to do so. my father did not detain him long and
when the portrait was finished he presented it to Mr Burns


who prized it exceedingly. this the only authentic portrait
of Burns was afterward admirably engraved in mezzotint
by John Walker who when he submitted the First Proof
to my father so highly did my Father approve of it that
he expressed his opinion thus. “I can assure you Walker
your engraving brings Robert Burns more truly to my
cherished remembrance of him than does my own portrait
of him that you have so admirably engraved.” such an
expression of approbation of this fair work of Walker
ought to stamp it with even more interest than its merits
so well entitle it to. My father frequently refered to
Walkers engraving in the same terms, to me, into whose
possesion it descended at my fathers Death —

My Father was much employed in assisting several of the Noblemen
and landed gentry of Scotland in improving the general aspect of their
estates especialy such portions as were near to or within sight
from their mansions in such employment in which he always
took especial pleasure his fine natural feeling and cultivated
taste for the beauty of scenery enabled him to do much good
service in preserving and improving the Landscape beauty
of many parks of his native country, on several occasions he
also acted with great success in selecting the best sites for
new mansions and in designing additions to old ones with

A considerable part of my Fathers time was occupied in a manner most
congenial to his fine taste for the Landscsape beauty of Nature, in giving
advice to various Noblemen and landed proprietors of Scotland as to improvement
in those portions of their estates which were near to or within view of their
mansion. his fine feeling and knowledge as a landscape painter enabled
him to suggest such carefull and judicious opening out of distant views
as while he was most tenderly carefull to preserve all existing fine or
Picturesque old trees by judicious “clearing out” the Results both surprised
and delighted the possessors — By the ready and skillfull use of his
pencil he was enabled to show in an hour or so the result he
desired to arrive at and to have the preferred improvement well discussed
ere it was carried into effect. The results of his employment in this
respect was in every way satisfactory and delightfull to him both
in an artistic as well as in a social respect as it led to many friendships
that were with mutual cordiality maintained to the close of his life —

on one such occasion he was residing with the Duke of Athol at his mansion
near Dunkeld close behind which was a bare craggy Rock of considerable
height and size called Craigy Barns My father having suggested to the Duke the picturesque
advantage that would result if the grim barrenness of the face of the
Rock were enriched by being planted with some judiciously selected
class of trees appropriate in their nature to such a situation. The Duke
eagerly adopted the suggestions but an apparently insurmountable difficulty
presented itself when the attempt was made as the Rock face was quite
inaccessable for anyone to get up to plant the young trees where they
were desired to be and where the requisite soil was to be found in
ledges and cracks on the face of the nearly Bare Rock —

My father having observed an ornamental piece of ordnance in front of
the Dukes mansion which was used for firing salutes on grand occasions
the happy thought occured to him that by placing the seeds of such trees
as mountain ash . Birch . and such like which thrive well in such situations
and place the seeds inside a stout sheet iron cannister and fire it
up against the otherwise inaccessable rock the cannister on striking the face of the Rook would burst
open and scatter its contents into thousands of places. The Duke
was delighted with this most original [¿]mode of planting and it was
carried out next day most vigorously. The success was most
apparent in a year or two after by the abundant
springing up of a hearty growth of young trees which soon
enriched the Former bare unsightly rock by a luxuriant
and most picturesquely situated assemblage of foliage which
exists to this day in the forms of beautifull trees which
while they delight the beholder few if any are now alive to
remember how they came there by the aid of my Fathers
ge[ius] and originality and resorcefullness


such artistic skill and judgement as to preserve the romantic
dignity of the old portions and design what was proposed to be added in such
good taste as to perfectly harmonize with the ancient parts not forgetting
at the same time to [render] the additions in every way suitable
to the improved taste and mode of modern life. I possess a vast
number of his designs for such improvements to the mansions of
the landed proprietors of Scotland all of which exhibit his
fine artistic taste and feeling — In these early days of art knowledge there existed
scarcely any artistic feeling for the landscape beauty of nature and
on many occasions he had a hard contention to resist the reckless cutting
down of the grandest old trees which gave such t[rue] dignity
and interest to estates. but which being considered mere old
r[uin]ed trees and utterly worthless “as Timber” were often thoughtlessly
and ruthlessly cut down. The beautifull sketches and paintings which he frequently made
of these, grand old vegetation Ruins, were often the means
of opening the eyes of their possessors to the irresponsible mischief
they were about to perpetrate. it is deeply to be regretted that
those who inherit or have come into possession or have control over, estates in which
such grand memorials of the past exist, are not made
aware of the Dignified Treasures they possess in venerable
trees alas alas how much and how often we have to lament
the sad results of such deplorable want of good taste and
right feeling. Much of which springs from the vulgar idea
that old trees are worthless “[as] Timber”


The earnest and lively interest my Father took in the progress
of Liberal views with respect to Political affairs and the frank
manner in which he avowed his thoughts and conclusions on
such subjects . occasioned him to receive hints from some
of his aristocratic and wealthy employers that if he were
not more reticent and carefull on such subjects they
would do their utmost to make him feel their resentment
by removing their employment from him as a portrait
painter, at that time virulent endeavours were
being made to stamp out the rising demand for reform
of Public abuses . by endeavoring to destroy the sources of the
income of such professional men as my father who advocated them but in his
case they little knew the innate sh[¿] of true manly
independance which animated him . While his income
from his portrait painting employment fell off from the
cause just alluded to he (to use his own expression on the
subject) made up the loss arising from not having to
paint their ugly faces. by painting the ever lovely
face of nature. and so it was he [gradually] directed
the whole of his efforts as an artist to Landscape painting
a style of art not only infinitely more agreeable to his
last but also depending on its encouragement on a
vastly larger area of employers . and so happily he found it
to be and had every reason to rejoice in the adoption
of this Branch of true art as his chief source of [income] . in furtherance of


His Determination to maintain his perfect independance of thought and action
he commenced to teach the art of Landscape painting to pupils
who came to him from all classes . in which occupation
his son Patrick and also my sisters who he had from the
earliest encouraged and stimulated and cultivated in
them a taste for the fine arts in due time acted as
his zealous assistants and thus he enabled his children
to trust to their own exertions as the source of success
of living.The Happiest results opened from this
as I hope to give evidence of as I proceed with with my “Recollections”
— Landscape painting as a
distinct and special branch of fine art did not
exist in Scotland before my fathers time he it was
who introduced it to the attention of his country men
and the title of “The Father of Landscape painting in
Scotland” has been conferred on him by those best able
to confer it namely his Brother artists! who have also often
named him as “the Scottish Eland” never did there exist a more incessantly industrious man
than my Father his mind and his hands were always
at work from [¿] till night designing and executing
what was more immediately connected with his artistic
work — but also having a fine cultivated taste for
architecture and also for mechanical construction
and mechanics in general . he originated much
in respect to the arrangement of the shape and
s[ize] of the Buildings of the New town of Edinburgh


which was honorably acknowledged by the authorities of the city of
Edinburgh by a present of £200 and conveyed to him as a
letter of thanks and acknowledgement for his valuable suggestions
under cover addressed “to Alexander Nasmyth architect”
a title which he felt just pride in accepting from such a
source the more so as architecture had Ever been one of his favorite
subjects. his original design for the monument to
Nelson which gained the prize at the competition of designs
for it but which after having the First prize awarded to it was not carried into Effect on the plea
of the Estimate for it E[xceeding] by £200 what had
been collected . from those who subscribed most of whome had done so on the faith
of my fathers design being carried out in its integrity
shows as I have the copy of his original design for
this monument which I assert will prove how much more worthy of
the purpose and the site such a design as my fathers
would have been in place of that which I may
say disgraces the city and which was adopted by a
clique [¿] some petty [¿] [¿] [¿] [¿] under the plea of its less cost . but which
on being carried into Effect and thus thrust on the public proved Eventualy to
cost more by £300 than the Estimate for my fathers
design . another of his arch[ectural] designs stands Triumphantly
across the water of Leith as The Dean Bridge which
he designed in . for Sir Wm Nisbet


the then possessors of the Dean Estate and who employed
my Father to lay out this noble site for the future extension
of the New Town of Edinburgh. for the access to which my father
designed the present Dean Bridge which was carried into
execution by his Friend James Jardine Esq civil engineer
Another of my Fathers architectural designs was carried out
by his Friend Lord Gardenstone at St Bernards Well where a spring
of mineral waters issues from the Rock and over which Lord Gardenstone
desired to place some tastefull building in place of a then
existing shabby wooden Hut . My Fathers elegant temple is
familiarno doubt to many but few knew who was
the designer with clasic taste he designed this elligant little
building as “a Temple of Hygea” and with true artistic taste
constructed the basement of the temple in harmony with the
ajacent rocks which then surrounded it. many a summer morning
walk I have had with my father by the waters of Leith
and past his Temple some 65 years ago when all
its surroundings were of the most rural picturesque and romantic kind
which then made the walk from “Bells Mills” where the Dean Bridge
now stands down to cannon Mills past Stock Bridge one of the
most delightful walks amongst the many many such that
then existed in all directions close to the Town of Edinburgh but which alas
“the march of improvement” has now all but annihilated

early period in the history of Geology to be brought in if “need be” when I come to the S[¿] [T. Ital]
Period of my own personal re[collections]
about this a hot controversy was raging among the scientific men of Europe
in regard to those great cos[¿] c[ause]s which have given to the surface of the Earth
its present general character in regard to the formation and destruction of the
mineral substance of which it is formed.The same keen partizan feeling which was
animating active philosophical minds then in regard to political subjects manifested
itself in no small degree also in scientific discussions. and in respect to
Geology the scientific mind of Europe was divided into two distinct factions
The one headed by Werner held that water action was the grand fundamental
cause of all geological formations. while on the other other side those who espoused
the views of Hutton who held that Fire or Volcanic action was the true
fundamental cause — produced such animated discussion as to
not only divide the two [parties] into irreconcilable contention but actually was [¿]d
to the [result] of personal animosity such as we have little idea of in these days
of [mere] [¿] and sound and therefore [¿] modes of handling of such subjects
It was in the midst of this state of hostility of the holders of the
opposite views of scientific men of that day that Sir James Hall brought forth
his masterly experiments which soon had the effect of remedying the two apparently
irreconcilable ag[ents] of Fire and of water by showing how it was that water
in many cases was the agent by which the [¿]eal matter was deposited
at the bottom of the ocean and how the co[¿]t heat of the uneroded
central [portions] of the Earths [¿] either by its volcanic discharge in the
[northern] [¿] among the deposited [¿] or by the more gradual
conduction of its heat up to the deposited matter c[onver]ted
what was [¿]nal mud at the bottom of the ocean under hard chryst[¿]
rocks. with the aid vast periods of time to effect the action
yielded the actual results which the various rock formations of the Earths
crust [¿]t — Sir James Halls experiments together with the [ma]sters
discussion of [Huttons] views as given by Professor Playfair in due course
brought the opposing partners in Geological research into [harmonious] union and
the result has at length culminated in that noble result of human
[unity in] the [modern] science of Geology — altho I
was but a lad when these discussions were in full assembly I well
remember the [zeal] and warmth with which they were carried on
and no [more instructive locallity] for bringing these things to the test of fact



During my Fathers sojourn in Italy in 1783 he had the good fortune
to make the acquaintance of Sir James Hall Bart of Dunglass [It add][¿]
an acquaintance that was so naturally agreeable as to grow into a
most warm and lasting friendship which endured with uninterrupted
intercourse for upward of 44 years and only then terminated by the
Death of sir James — he was passionately attached to the pursuit of
art and [secure] in this passion it was oil painting that as a branch
of Fine art occupied his chief attention with the un[dying] hope of reaching
excellence [as] the request [¿] branch of art and in
order to endeavour to acquire practical skill on a par with his
hopes and aspirations as an oil c[¿] painter and the while
enjoy the conversation of his friend and so discuss all manner of
subjects of mutual interest. E[very] the winters of 37
successive years when Sir James and his family removed
from his noble seat at Dunglass to his residence in
George Street Edinburgh my father allowed Sir James to have his
easle set up along side of his own so as they might paint
together and thus enable Sir James to have the advantage of
my fathers practical hints and instructions in the practice of
oil painting — my Father having assisted Sir James with his knowledge
of architecture in the designs for some important addition to his mansion at Dunglass and also with the Illustrations
of a very remarkable essay which Sir James wrote and
published on the Origin of Gothic architecture these [¿] of the latter furnished
many subjects for discussion in which their views and tastes
so closely agreed — among other subjects that of Geology which
was then assuming the form of a true science and attracting
the attention of many of the master Intellects of Europe
Sir James Halls views in regard to the influence of
volcanic action as one of the Chief
agencys that has given to the Earths surface most of the [mar]ked
characteristics views on this grand subject were backed up by a series
of most masterly experiments illustrative of the Ignious
Theory of the Earths formation and subsequent cooling
down into fitness for mans appearance
had deservedly rendered Sir James Halls name famous


and placed him at the head of all the Geological investigations
of his time and in no small degree entitled him to be considered as one of the great p[ioneers]
of those grand c[¿]t truths on which the science of Geology now so securely rests besides which his general acquaintance with most
of the branches of science of his day led to his choice and [unanimous] election as
President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh a post which he worthily
graced during many successive years — It would cause me
to diverge too far from the subject of “the remembrances of some of
the incidents of my fathers life” were I to minutely narrate
those in which he and his dearest friend Sir James Hall were
mutually interested in. but they have strong hold of my memory
,young as I was at the time, I had frequently the happiness to listen to the
discussions between these two original minded able men while I was
sitting by assiduously working at my drawing lessons, while they were side by side
painting each at his subject. I was in that way able to pick
up many valuable Ideas and subjects of thought that have
left a lasting impression on my mind and were the means
of directing my thoughts to subjects abounding with inexhaustible
pleasure and interest of the highest order. and when, as I often
had the privilege of doing, accompanied my father and Sir
James when they took their long accustomed walks around
the picturesque and interesting neighbourhood of Edinburgh and
listened to their discussions on the Geological causes that
produced the remarkable natural features of that city
and its surrounding country (allmost all of which features are due
to volcanic action), school Boy as I was then, I felt I was
receiving instructions from masters! in a subject of the
profoundest interest. the results and impressions of which are
vividly living in my memory to this day, associated as they
are with all the deeply intensely and delightfull Ideas and
new born thoughts that successively enter into the gradualy
expanding brain of youth and when received under such
truly happy and fortunate circumstances, formed the most
effective education of the mind as exercising the observative and
reasoning faculties at one and the same Time and so yealding a rich harvest
of Ideas and not merely words as is unhappily
but too frequently the only outcome of our ordinary systems of Education —


Professor Dugald Stewart and also Professor Leslie which last
earnest scientific man were frequent companions in my fathers long
walks around the neighbourhood of Edinburgh and also on many occasions
one or other of them were present at those happy ch[¿] gatherings which so frequently assembled
around my fathers hospitable table of an evening such as in those days were
the most favourite and delightfull forms of friendly intercourse after
the labours and business affairs of the day were over and the evenings
in summer d[¿]d to pleasant strolls about the beautifull neighbourhood
of the town when weather especialy in summer was inviting but more
especialy in winter time when my fathers cheerfull fire side was with together with his interesting conversation found a constant attraction. never shall
I forget the delightfull and instructive discussions which were carried
on on all subjects during these chance gatherings of able men. no education
could equal the [testing] to the subconscious than then went on interspersed
with all sorts of [humerous] Ideas and remarks on nature art & Mankind
In my fathers habit of incessant industry he generally had some little
job on hand such as designing some proposed improvement in the town
or in making [¿] of old c[¿] and such like which he desired
to introduce into his Landscape or architectural designs of all sorts
of which I append to these notes and recollections a few photographic
copies in the hope they may serve to give some small but I fear very
faint Idea of how he employed his evenings at home. One of these
productions was a model of an old oak tree which he made at the
[family] table by means of small wire twisted together so as to represent
the larger branches and those subdivided into smaller till they
served to imitate the twigs of a leafless winter tree. I also append
a Photograph of one of these tree models which my father named “The
Family Tree” from the circumstance that he caused each of the
then family group of Ten persons to twist a Twigg each of which
he ingeniously incorporated in his model in such artistic manner
as to become a consistent part of the whole — were I to endeavour
to narrate even in the most meager detail the produce of
his incessant artistic manipulative industry I would weary
the reader with their multiplicity. So strongly [¿]bed was
the constructive and mechanical character of my Fathers
mind in conjunction with the artistic faculty that his time
or at all [¿] his thoughts were equally divided between the
Two. “The Work Room” as my Fathers workshop was termed


in contra distinction to “The Painting Room” which doubtless in
these days of Grand terms would have been titled The Studio!?
was always his favourite resort when the weather or season was
not fitting for a stroll out of Door. In this work room all his
most ingenious mechanical schemes were carried out by his
own hands. and any old materials the debris of household [furniture]
of wood or metal were through his vast natural resourcefullness
skillfullymade to serve his purposes as if they had been intended for no other
than [they] use he put them to in this he exhibited constantly his
true Faculty of constructive resourcefullness which is one of the
most important elements in the mental constitution
that results in Effective practical life — amongst his many
admirable contrivances was that of the Bow and String Bridge
and Roof — of which he was the original inventor and which
was first carried out by a friend of his who was Governor
of the Island of St Helena in the year 1795. This Bow and String
Bridge as he named it having derived the Idea from a Bow
and String in which the string was connected to the arch of
the Bow by upright ties His has been revived
of late years and proved of the utmost practical value as
the most simple Economical and Secure mode of Bridging or
roofing over wide spaces. I append a Photograph of
some of his original sketches of this admirable invention the
true authorship of which is in a manner lost in the
fame of the results. I may also remark that he constructed
the wheels of velocipedes about the year 1817. by wires acting
in place of the spokes of the wheel by their Tension in place of the
compressional action by which the spokes of an ordinary wheel sustain
the strain of the load — such and a vast multitude of similar
contrivances were the outcome of his ever active practical
mind — but which by happy natural combination of faculties
yealded artistic results in which the finest order of the
[¿] faculty [displayed] its existance in combination
with the somewhat Practical Practicable? Common Sense


The excellent example of well sustained industry was ever before the attention
of their children by both their parents as my mother while taking charge of
and superintending all the internal requirements of the domestic concerns
was always most intelligently interested in all her husbands business and
recreative pursuits and with her admirable skill in c[onnect]ing
judicious economy with a generous hospitality with out any taint
of extravagance or ostentation. The House fire side was ever a scean of
chearfullness and often of merriment as all of our family have
been blessed with that, one of the Greatest Blessings of life, namely
a strong natural innate sense of Humour a merrier “family
circle”, for such in fact it was, as consisting [¿] of eleven persons
was not often to be met with and when supplemented by the occasional
“dropping in” artistic and other friends of an ev[ening]
Here was not much occasion ever to seek for entertainment
beyond our own home altho occasional visits to the Circus the
theatre and concert rooms abundantly supplied such external
sources of enjoyment “to say nothing” of occasional picknick
excursions to the many places of Historical interest
such as old castles and auld Kirks and mansions of auld
lang syne that abound around Edinburgh at convenient
distances . in connection with which my Father was a complete
encyclopedia of old tales and and aneckdotes respecting their
possessors . records of many of these delightfull excursions
I possess in the form of sketches made by my Father
and his children who he always encouraged to make such
pleasing graphic records of — and are still by me to
suggest thousands of recollections and strike the key
note to many many cherished remembrances of places
persons and circumstances that refer “to a long time ago”
I do not know any stimulant to the memory to compare
with that of even the slightest pencil sketch when made
at the time when in the presence of some beautifull scene
or in pleasant company then graphic memoranda are to me
far far more effective in their power of Recalling the past than anywritten ones


My Father frequently permitted his friends who happened to be amateur artists to come and
paint along side of him so that he might have an opportunity to put them on Right
guides and systems in regard to the manufactured parts of the art of oil painting
as by a few hints illustrated by his ever ready and masterly hand he could dir
ection us in the right road that leads to Excellence in that branch of fine art
in which he was so well filled to guide young aspirants. He had reasons
to be some what carefull to where he granted so valuable knowledge as
Even under the most favourable circumstances his doing so seriously
interfere with the progress of his own works but he was Ever so kind
and liberal in this respect in giving valuable instruction and advice
thus sharing his ample stock of experience in all the practical parts
of Fine art with young aspirants as soon as he found that they possessed
the true feeling for art and Exhibited such zeal and mastery as to benefit
by his instructions. Among such I will remember the late President of
the Royal academy Sir Francis Grant . Then an Enthusiastic lad [¿]
my father felt great [¿] as by his wonderfull [¿] in dashing
off most spirited oil colour sketches he gave unmistakable Evidence
of the possession of the true artistic feeling but such as required some
carefull Framing to make him submitt to that cause of carefull
translating work which can alone form the basis of ultimate
Excellence. I also well remember the frequent Evening visits that
David Roberts and Clarkson Stanfield made my fathers and his request
They were there but lately Enjoyed from there painting and such
like humble occupations but as my Father said clearly in the
sketches and Every attempt at artistic work that they showed
him still they possessed unmistakably the spirit and feeling
of the true artist in the highest sense of the term he gave Him
all the assistance he could draw from his vast stores of Knowledge
of art and many practical lessons in the manufacture
progress and in the art of Design chiefly in relation to scene
painting which [¿] Department of Fine art my Fathers hold in
the highest regard not any for his own sake as a magnificent
Embelishment of The Drama but also as one of the most able
schools of art in inculcating both the practice and Task for great
breadth and grandeur of Effect which when transferred to painting of
the ordering size is sure to manifest or influence in Growth and
grandeur of Effect to say nothing of the value of such practice as
seen partly in the higher sense as a means of giving a bold and
Effective style of Handling. These Two justly celebrated artists namely Roberts
and Stanfield soon Expressed in the warmest terms how much they
N.B. the continuation of this page is on the back

felt indebted to my Fathers advice and instruction and to the last held his
memory in the highest and most affectionate regard — in like manner David Wilkie
received at a very early period of his career much valuable practical
instruction from my father — Raeburn was a most intimate friend of
my fathers. he considered Raeburns Broad masterly style of Portrait painting as quite
an Era in British art. The noble portaits he produced with with such masterly
touches so thoroughly embodied the personal character of his subjects
as to raise his work to the highest value, as works of art quite
independent of the question of likeness in which also they stood pre eminent
and exhibited a grandeur of feeling in the way of art, as art, such as had
never before been attained by the works of any of his countrymen year
by year their excellence as work of art rises higher and higher in the
estimation of all true artists — my father always directed the attention of young
artists to Raeburns works as the standard of true excellence to study
and aim at in Portrait painting. Raeburn often joined my father in
his afternoon walks about Edinburgh as it was in such recreation they
could best relieve themselves from the fatigue of the many hours a day that their preferred
occupation required of them in which both eye and handand mind was kept at
full strain. These afternoon or rather, after work, strolls around Edinburgh
was quite a general practice, and a most salutary one, with most of the
professional men of the city the calton hill or a round of Arthurs seat or such
like easily reached [environments] were the general favorites
and when I as a boy was permitted to accompany my father in these
after noon walks it was a vast advantage to me to listen to the
“cracks” which were carried on between my Father and some one
or other of his friends that he was sure to meet with similarly enjoying
the fine views and the fresh breezes which were to be generally met
with on these occasions when the state of the weather, suggested
a stroll, not to be resisted, I know of no city to compare with
Edinburgh in affording the most rich material for this kind of tranquil
enjoyment and healthy rest to the mind and body the beauty and variety
of the elements of the scenery around Edinburgh are so great combining the
bustle and activity of a city with the solitude of almost wild mountain
[scenery] such as can be met with on and about Arthurs seat which
can be easily reached by a leisurely walk of three quarters of an hour
or even less time from the centre of the city. so pleasing is the
vivid remembrance of these walks in company with my Father and his
more intimate “strolling” companions” that I can scarce pass away
from this poor attempt at recollections of them. I hope to
re[¿] to this subject when I enter on the recollection of my own time
when I advance farther in my narration of its events as they, in


a more or less degree, were so to speak, a prolongation of the Events of my Fathers
life — One of my Fathers characteristics was his great regard for “Order
and Method” in all his affairs whether of business or recreation. one of the
chief of the latter was his occupations in his workshop or as it was called
“The Work Room” to which he resorted for recreation when fatigued with
close application to his artistic work and the state of the weather was
unsuited for out door exercise when the days work at
his professional or artistic occupations was over . His natural taste for
mechanisms made him take delight in the use of tools such as were
requisite in executing all sorts of jobs in wood or metal required to
carry out some Ingenious Idea in regard to mechanical improvements
of various kinds. he was always delighted to have the company and
assistance of some of his children along with him in his work room
which was amply stocked with all sorts of material chiefly the debris
of obsolete furniture of various kinds, ordinarily termed Lumber, but
which he had a most happy knack in converting and adapting to
his purpose — The very difficulty he frequently encountered in such convertions
was a source of no small enjoyment in the process of compelling his
materials to answer his desires and purposes — such however from time
to time was the heterogamous collection of material that he would call in
the assistance of some of his children as helpers in endeavouring to bring
all into orderly arrangement so as everything should be in its right
place “Each after its kind” This was generaly “a Raining day job”
and each of us was charged with the care and assorting of some one
or other material. one was “detailed” for, Iron, another for, Brass,
and another for, timber. but his ultra regard for “order and method”
in the assembly of such materials was carried out as we laughingly thought,
to an absurd extent where he would propose that not only the
various kinds of timber should be classified even assorted according to its shape as in the case of round bits of Mahogany separately
arranged from square bits of the same wood.This became among
us a standard Joke in which he readily joined in laughing at
when his attempt at such ultra perfect methodical arrangement Broke
down and he was obliged to join in the laugh at the failure
of his ultra perfect “system” and was compelled to be satisfied with
one less split up into detail. “Nails crooked” as distinguished from
“Nails Straight”, we allowed to pass as reasonable, order, but when
it came to the suggested separation of mahogany Round from
mahogany square it Broke it down under the laughing
protest from his willing helpers

when ever any appearance of a similar, Ultra, application of this favourite system
of “Order and Method” showed itself we had only to hunt a remembrance of
“Mahogany Round & Mahogany Square” which had become a house hold word for
too much display of “system” in any ordinary affair; to cause him
to join heartily in the laugh against himself for having attempted to push
his order and method faculty too far. I have thought it worth while to
narrate this trifling incident as tending to convey some faint Idea of the
happy and cheerfull manner he and his children worked together
in respect to Hobbeys and amusements in which there was so much
simple and natural enjoyment and tending to cultivate that most
valuable possession the Power of deriving amusement and interesting
occupation from pursuits intimately connected with Home life.
There was no part of my Fathers character more admirable than his
power of self denial in the indulgence of any source of pleasure that he could
not share with his children in which truly amiable feeling he was
so thoroughly seconded by my mother whose untiring efforts in
successfully conducting the Household and family
affairs with thorough economy combined with truly hospitable
liberality in which the comforts of a family (usualy consisting
of Thirteen persons) together with the kindly and hospitable
reception of many interesting friends whose pleasant “drop in”
visits added to the general enjoyment of us all. as I have
said this admirable economy and good management with
which the Household affairs were conducted fills my memory
with affectionate admiration to this day all the more so when
I consider that the only source of, the means, was the
personal exertions of my father aided to a considerable
extent by the zelous cooperation of his elder children
My Father untiringly continued his professional exertions
with great success as to the quantity of his artistic work
till he attained the Great age of 82 his latter works
may have wanted the minute finish of details that
characterised his [eastern] productions but in regard to
their artistic excellence there was no falling off even
to the last, which he painted about eight days


before his Death which occured in april 1840. any
want of minuteness in details was well made up for by
the fine breadth and line of [other] paintings produced by
him in his latter days — the very last he painted was
a small picture of an autumn evening effect with a
cottage in the middle distance and old labouring
man passing over a rustic wooden bridge on his
weary way to his home. the entire composition conveyed
the Idea of the termination of the year and the day
and in the old labourer that of life while the lingering remains
of the evening glow of the already set sun and slight indication
of the smoke from the cottage chimney passing straight
up into the tranquil evening air helped out the Idea
of a tranquil close of active life. Father laid
down his pencil as evening had so advanced as that
he could work no more at this picture which in fact
he had completed. he then asked my mother, who was
sitting by at her work, what he should call his
picture. She was not ready with her reply so he
said I think I shall call it “Going Home”.
his strength failed him next day and took to his
bed. and in eight days passed away in a painless
sleep — His remains rest in St Cuthberts Church
Yard close under the grandest part of the great
Rock on which Edinburgh Castle is built, over his
grave stands a Runic cross admirably sculptured
by Rhind of Edinburgh of which I append a photograph
Thus closed a long and admirable life in which great natural talent brought
to a high state of cultivation by unremitting industry served as a much attractive example
to his children and e[¿]d them large circle of most attached friends to whom he was
most dear by possessing every quality that could secure the constancy of their highest
regard his companionable genial temperament and the happy faculty he possessed
of communicating the results of his long and ample experience with respect to all
branches of his art and his no less happy manner in which he communicated the results of
his experience with Mankind caused
his conversation to abound with instruction rendered doubly acceptable through the influence of a
happy sense of Humour which glowed through all his conversation

such are the high prices paid for specimens of my Brother Patricks works that
many spurious imitations have been produced by Forgers of his paintings
occasionally some of them executed with considerable skill and ability but
there exists in the genuine specimens of his paintings so unmistakable
and distinctive quality as his “toutch” as in the general tone and treatment
of his works that any one who is familiar with them what ever be the
variety of the subject. yet there is no great [chance] of making a mistake
as to its authenticity. I have seen some wretched attempts at imposture
in this way in the possession of those who ought to know better as
to distinguish between the true and the spurious work and who
point to the signature Patk Nasmyth as proof positive of its
authenticity forgetting that it is a very easy matter to copy the
signature and attach it to a wretched copy. Every toutch of which
by its hesitating wooly characters gives the lie to their assurances
and to its genuineness — There exist however some paintings
said to be by his hand to which the Forger has had some ground
on which he may exalt it into a veritable Patk Nasmyth
without having added his signature to it — namely that it was
my brothers practice on special occasions to give Lessons on painting
to ladies and gentlemen who had a natural taste for his style
and who he allowed to copy some of his pictures there on hand
and assisted them more or less by taking their pencil in hand
and doing some portion of the picture they were at work on
before them so as the better to teach them his art and in like
manner to work up some part that the pupil thought
was not as it should be. by a few of his peculiar toutches
that were allowed to stand part of the copy. it is in these
cases that without any attempt having been originaly made
to pass of the result as an authentic work of my brothers
yet the parts that were executed absolutely by his own hand
as illustrative lessons to his pupil and as such absolutely
genuine while the Picture as a whole is not so .[thus] good
general judges as to the authenticity of a painting said to be by him
may be justifiably [descried]. His real christened name was
Patrick Nasmyth. but for shortness and ease of pronouncing his name
his name among the members of his family and favourite[¿] Friends
was Peter — but he very seldom signed his works other than
by the use of his christened name “Patk” in that contracted form
“Patk Nasmyth” but as before said the uncopyable distinctive “toutch”
is after all the true test of authenticity


Before proceeding to detail some of the Recollections of my own life
It may be well that I should give in brief form some account of my
Brother Patrick and also my sisters —

My Brother Patrick whose admirable works in the Landscape branch of
Fine art has rendered his name so well known to the art loving public
was Born on the 7th January 1787. he was my Fathers first child
and was named “Patrick” out of regard to my Fathers early and
truly valued friend Patrick Miller of Dalswinton to whom I
have alluded in a former portion of my Recollections.

My Brother manifested at an early age a very decided artistic faculty which
soon took the direction of Landscape subjects Even from the very first of his
artistic attempts — with the advantage of his fathers admirable example
before him, and under his carefull instruction and guidance, acting on my
Brothers own innate love of nature and his no less happy faculty in observing
its true characteristic features both in its general aspect and in its minutest
details he soon acquired great skill in sketching and made in that way
vast numbers of most carefully executed studies or graphic memoranda
of the characteristic aspect of Individual trees and of groups of them
as forming important features in the class of Landscape scenes which
specialy attracted his fancy and admiration. the same care was bestowed
on his graphic studies of wild plants and so called weeds in all their careless grace of Nature and which gives
such beauty to the foreground of all Landscape subjects But above all
the portion of Landscape nature which attracted his constant admiration
and carefull study was “The Sky” with its glorious clouds! he had
great and special power in representing in this magnificent
portion of Nature the various sentiments, so to speak, that are expressed
by the character of the sky that so interestingly distinguishes, to the cultivated artistic eye,
one day from another or even one portion of the day from another
great as was his skill in rendering with [¿] truth
the general aspect of the Landscape. there is no part of his pictures
so admirable as his skys! with their glorious clouds
and accompanying atmospheric effects I possess many of these early studies
of my Brothers which by the careful and at the same time spirited
manner in which they are executed clearly indicate the advent of
“the true artist” and showed how thoroughly his heart was in his work
he was so earnest in his devotion to the study of nature in its relation
to Landscape painting that in some respects he neglected the ordinary

Rutine Branches of school education, excepting such more elementary portions
that most effectively serve the general purposes of life, to these,
of course he gave all due attention. His favourite school was, The Fields,
and all that characterises British Landscape scenery especialy such as
are associated with rural subjects — at Leisure time when not occupied
with his pencil he was a keen reader of all the old fashioned novel
writers works and had in his earlier years enjoyed a thorough course of
Reading in such books as the Arabian nights. Robinson Crusoe and all such like
delightfull class of reading as gives a healthy stimulus to the Imagination
and allows the mind to “romp” with as salutory results to
it as ordinary Romping does to the limbs — he had a keen relish
for music in which, melody, abounded and which enabled him to
whistle, while at his work, many favorite airs, and even
Overtures, or portions of them, that had sh[¿]ly laid hold of his
fancy. These performances while at his easle or Drawing board
he went over with wonderful correctness and judging from
the admirable artistic results that at the same time came
forth from his pencil he did not whistle for want of thought
but simply from th[at] overflow of naturally cheerfull spirit that was
one of his most happy personal characteristics. his strong
natural sense of Humour made him a devoted admirer of
all the famous comedians who at that time gave such
memorable attractiveness to the stage. When true comedy
existed undefiled by that Buffoonery which unhappily has
in so great a measure taken the place of comedy in most of our
Theatrical representations of the present day — In the year 1810
my Brother paid his first visit to London accompanied by his
father who was a most able guide to all that was improving in
art and sound in the way of genuine entertainment
He visited many collections of Pictures on that occasion and
much enjoyed the sight of them especialy when accompanied by
one so able to direct his attention to what was most truly
excellent. his natural taste for Landscape art caused
him to pay much attention to such as the works of Claud
Ruysdale and Hobbima and Wynants and last tho
not least attractive to him was the works of Richard Wilson
The works of Hobbima and Ruysdale however most impressed him as
harmonizing most closely with his own innate Ideas


of the true manner of pourtraying Landscape subjects under the various phases or aspects
of nature that he most delighted to record in his pictures. My Brother returned to
London in a year or so after with the desire to make it the place of his permanent
residence as he found that he had there a wider circle of employers who could
more thoroughly appreciate his work than there in his native city besides
which he had found residing there artistic companions whose special tastes
for art and whose humour was more congenial to his own. add to which the
the inexhaustable store of subjects for his pencil which abounded, at that time,
in the immediate vicinity of London, subjects that so harmonized with
his own special tastes as “subjects” for his peculiar style of Landscape art
consisting of thoroughly “Rural Bits ”! with all those pleasing evidences of
mans presence which tend to give a homely aspect to the scene and yet
not so much of it as to drive away the charms of that careless grace of
nature which up to a certain point casts so acceptable veil over
mans interference with her beautiful works and makes a tangled
or neglected hedge or half decayed building or cottage picturesquely out of
repair became a subject for the highest Efforts of an artists pencil
as before said the immediate neighborhood of London was inexhaustably
rich in such subjects at the time when my Brother settled there
Some of his finest works were the results of the beautiful sketches
he was so industrious in making in which glimpses of the features of
the distant capital are skillfuly captured with such thoroughly rural
foreground and middle distance objects as serve to unite the two
apparently discordant elements with most pleasing harmony while above
all appears his admirable rendering of a glorious sky! in the painting
of which I have ever considered his greatness as a Landscape painter
to have been most prominently manifested. alas. alas. picturesque such subjects in the
near vicinity to the great capital [have] during the last 50 years
been utterly destroyed by the inevitable extention of Building
driving before it every remaining feature of a rural and
picturesque kind that had once given such a charm to its surrounding.
with the desire to make sketches of the such parts of England as afforded subjects most congenial to his taste My brother made frequent journeys to various parts of England especialy
in the direction of the south west where as in the case of his pictures
painted from his sketches made in the Ile of Wight and about the new
Forest. he was enabled to introduce peeps of the sea in combination
with woodland sec[uring] many of which are esteemed his finest
works. At the time he began his artistic career the carefull
study of the varied aspects of nature made from nature itself was almost
in its infancy so much so was this the case that “the works of
the old masters” were exhalted into a most false and vitiating
position, as the standard of excellence and truth, as artistic
representations of Nature, a most fatal blunder in so far as
by causing the artists of that time to study from works of art

that were full of mere conventionalities in their modes of
portraying the glorious characteristic features of Nature
led most of the of the old times artists quite astray from truth and all that aspect of carefull
study of how [¿] and Phases as above can advance True art
so much so was this the case some sixty years ago and even up
to a later period that the most glorious effects in landscape
nature such as a fine sunset was not so much admired for
its own natural grandeur and beauty but was pronounced by
the then admirers of nature as a magnificent “Claudish” effect
thus exalting Claud De Lorains efforts to represent such as the
true standard of excellence and so we had but too often mere
feeble attempts to reproduce the works of old masters in place
of artistic efforts to represent the grand functions of Nature
as revealed around us and impressively visable to those who
had eyes to see and minds to record and hands able to [¿]
the record to canvas or journal, It was in this respect that
in my Brothers following out the healthy instructions and example
of his Father that his carefull studies of actual nature
soon began to open the eyes of those whose judgement had
not been vitiated and cramped by setting up the study of the works of
“the old Masters” (admirable as they were, in many repects) as
the best means for the study of nature they were no doubt in their day the best they were able to produce
but which are a most delusive guide to excellence in art when
taken as standards of truth. My brother had paid special
attention to the work of Hobbima Rhysdale and Wynants
and also of those of Richard Wilson as appearing to him more
generaly true to nature than the conventional treatment by the other
old master Landscape painters. but the close carefull and
assiduous study he had made of all the aspects and details of
Landscape Nature enabled him to stamp a degree of truth
and individuality on his works that will so long as they endure
prove that he had chosen the right course of a[¿] at Excellence
His pictures made this so evident that they soon attracted
special attention and commissions from reputed picture collectors because
frequent and as usual his painting room was infested by the tribe of
Picture dealers who possessed the nack of seeing their commercial value
Even when they were in the first stages of development on his easle
as to a painting room as such or to use the modern term “his Studio”
he had now such as a modest simply furnished room attached to his
bedroom in his Lodgings was ample for his purposes


as artists in his days could not afford either the money or the time
to establish any thing like those wonderfull museums of art and Furniture
that has now become to be considered the correct thing for an artist
to work in. the unostentatious simplicity of the means and apparatus that
was in my Fathers and Brothers time employed in the production of their
work would almost excite the ridicule as well as the wonder of those who
are privileged to visit “the Studios” of our modern artists. so far were
my brothers requirements in reference to his means of living that
together with an innate modesty as to his appreciation of the commercial
value of his works that taking advantage of this feeling he was often
led to accept most inadequate sums for his beautiful works more
especialy when those dealers who infested his room would tempt
him by a row of guineas put down on his [pallet] Board
when a picture was only in a state of e[mbrio] or sketched in
and the tempting sight of “The real Presence” of a moderate row
of gold coins caused him to so [readily] yeald to the dealers
expression “Thats to be mine” which was but too readily acceded to
and from the pure delight my Brother had in the exercise of his
art he would work at the picture till it resulted in a gem of
art worth even then ten times the sum that he had so willingly
accepted for it when in its earliest stage of development
He was frequently remonstrated with on this subject by his companion
artists who were distressed to see his valuable works carried off by
these harpies of Dealers. but he would only reply to their advice and
remonstrances by pointing with his resting stick to his bursting
Portfolio of Sketches and laughingly say theres lots in these Banks
for me to draw upon. being a single man and his habits most
simple as to “Style” of living and deriving his highest enjoyment
from the study and practise of his art he had little regard for
money as such. Next to the delight he derived from his work was
that of the companionship of a few artist friends who were most
s[incere]ly attached to him among whome was his faithful Friend
David Roberts and Clarkson Stanfield in whose company
chiefly in the evenings and along with a few more choice
spirits he usually spent his leisure time — thus he continued most
industriously to practise his art which as before said was his chief
enjoyment combined with occasional visits to districts of the country
which abounded in subjects for his pencil and from whence he
returned as usual with with great store of sketches for future development into
those Pictures which are now so eagerly sought after and realy [¿] prizes
so wonderfully greater than those he recovered [from] them. it was while
making some sketches of those truly Picturesque “Bits! that were to be
such [worth] on the Banks of the Thames above Battersea where distant

views of London were seen between fine old Pollard willows or such like delightfull elements of picturesqueness with every foreground
accessory that could constitute a fair subject for his pencil
he caught a severe cold which being neglected took such firm
hold of him as suddenly to develop into a fatal illness
two of his sisters who happened to be then in London attended
him with the utmost affectionate care but in vain as to his
17 Augt 1831 recovery. the afternoon of the day 17th Augt 1831 on which he expired there
had been a violent thunderstorm which had passed off and the
setting sun burst forth in a glow he requested them to draw up
the window curtain that he might see the glorious tints of the
sun set sky and darkness came on he fell asleep and never
awaked again. So ended a truly harmless and industrious existance
of which there remains in many a picture gallery admirable
and lasting record to testify to his well used and peacefull life and
as one of the best of British Landscape Painters —

Patrick being rather “a three cornered” sort of name and not easy to pronounce was converted into
“Peter” as his domestic appelation, and always used by the members of his family and intimate Friends
as his familiar name — most of his works are however signed “Patk” Nasmyth but perhaps some [¿] as “Peter”with equal authenticity

I had six Sisters — the eldest Jane born in 1778 she was in all respects an
admirable woman and a most valuable and truly affectionate help to my
mother in many ways. her sound judgement made her a valuable aid in
all important questions to my father. she had the sweetest cheerfull temper
and as my mothers right hand assistant with the management of the
house hold affairs in which her naturaly sound judgement proved of so
great value. her family name was “old solid” conferred on her by
the younger ones by reason of her considerable disposition in all [¿]
I had the great good fortune while a child to be placed under
her special personal care and to this distant day have a clear
and affectionate remembrance of all her kind care of me and if there
be any “good sense” in me I owe it to her kind sensible training

The five others. Barbara born 1790 Margaret born 1791. Elizabeth 1793
Anne 1798 — Charlotte 1804 — all of them possessed in a greater
or less degree natural talent and innate aptitude to acquire
skill in the practice of various Branches of Fine Art chiefly in respect
to oil painting and that of Landscape subjects my Fathers admirable
system of teaching them the use of the pencil made them all
expert and accurate sketchers from Nature. My Father having given
them every opportunity to acquire a sound knowledge of all the usual
branches of f[ormal] education while my mother saw to their


a thorough practical knowledge of Every department and detail of household
or Domestic management in which she was in Every respect admirably well
fitted by ample Experience to communicate to them and in furtherance of that
valuable branch of knowledge . it was her practice to delegate many household
duties to them . in “housekeeping” Especialy . Each of my sisters when they were
of suitable age were in succession put in charge of all housekeeping duties
for two weeks at a time during which the House book and Keys were handed
over as Emblems of office . and at the Expiration of each fortnight the Duties
of housekeeping with its insignia were in like manner Transfered to the
next in succession . with the Housebook Ballanced up carefuly to the End of
Each Reign . no better system could have been followed in the management
of a household consisting of 12 or 14 persons and with the [kindly] and [truly]
cheerfull and companionable over looking from my mother all went on like
good clock work — My Father was Equaly carefull to instruct them in
all branches of his art . and with a view to render them in the best sense
independent he Encouraged them to acquire means by the Exercise of their
own ability backed by Earnest industry . to which End while Edinburgh was the
resort of many well to do young ladies who were sent to Boarding schools from
their residence in various parts of Scotland . to acquire those accomplishments that
were considered desirable for the Daughters of country Families to acquire and
for which all manner of teachers Existed in Edinburgh with the one Exception
that there was no one capable to communicate any instruction in respect
to the practice of the Fine arts . in the way of Drawing . hand sketching from
nature and in oil painting [¿] — my Father who had again and again
been solicited to give such instructions . instituted a class for teaching all
these departments of Fine art to young Ladies of the class I have named
and my sisters were his zealous assistants . The result was a great
practical success . and proved to be a most delightful occupation for
my sisters to be thus pleasantly associated with highly Educated Ladies
of their own age and Time and led to intimacies and friendships that only
terminated with life . for many many years in succession was this art class
conducted by my sisters with the great advantage to their pupils that
my father always made it a rule with him to give his own personal general
[¿] to it. The original Examples from which the Pupils
copied were mostly a selection from his own works . and in the progress
of the Pupils copying he would sit down before the copy when he saw
the pupil wanted some practical instruction in some special part
and would take up the Pallete and brushes and sit down and give
the most instructive Example of the right mode of bringing out the
desired Effect . illustrating his Effective toutches by suitable practical
Explanation in his own peculiarly simple common sense way so as
to rivet the instruction in the memory of the pupil . so attractive
were his little occasional art lectures on these occasions that all the
others would rise from their works and stand behind and around
to look on and see his dexterous and Effective toutches [¿] out with

[¿] and marvelous Ease the right effort to to accomplish which had perhaps almost
made the pupil dispair till the right method was clearly po[inted] out
and proved correct by the excellent result. such were the satisfactory results
to the pupils that my sisters class became quite the chief attraction
of all the many classes conducted in Edinburgh. I well remember one year
after occasionally meeting some of their pupils [thus] far advanced in
years who had a vivid remembrance which they delighted to recall
of the happy hours they spent with my sisters and enjoyed
the masterly instruction and conversational gifts of my Father
and regretting that their children and grandchildren had no such
chance as they had enjoyed for a thorough instruction into the
delights of a practical acquaintance with the Fine Arts

Four hours a day during Four days of each week were then devoted
by my sisters to this truly pleasant occupation.The rest of the
hours of the day and of the spare day were devoted to enjoyment
out of doors or to the production of paintings of their own which are
to be found here and there on the walls of collectors. There was a right
spirit of true independence cultivated by my Fathers excellent modes
of counting enjoyment with profitable occupation. With a wide
margin of time and suitable leisure left for all congenial
enjoyments suitable to their dispositions and means —

no better means could have been organized for enabling my sisters
them selves to acquire a sound practical knowledge of the art
of painting than this almost daily practice in all the details
of manipulation and eye education which goes to the formation
of the true artist. Their own works possessed a sufficient amount
of distinct personal character of more or less excellence
Two of my sisters were married but all continued to enjoy the
practice of their feeling for Fine art to the last and being
Blessed with a good constitution and good general health
reached a happy chearfull age and successively passed away
at an average age of 78. — Never was there a more
happy and chearfull home and household than was always found at our
house at 47 York Place Edinburgh. The family group was always
“good company”! to themselves but never the less frequently enlivened
by that delightfull system that then existed in Edinburgh society of
Drop in Visits of an Evening and after a pleasant chatt each the whole
going on with “their work “of sorts various”! and now and then “a Rubber”
“a bit of supper!” intervened and the chatt resumed with a glass of Toddy
to be enjoyed the while by the Elders of the party and ending with a cheerfull
good night generaly about 11.30 . These happy cherfull unceremonious and


Inexpensive little suppers were a delightful “institution” that then existed
among the best, middle class, of Edinburgh society and when the artistic
element formed a considerable ingredient in it, then, enjoyment was
sure to attain to the highest pitch, as I can well attest from happy
experience, now extending to beyond the “Three Score and Ten” period
of Life, that of all the components of agreeable society none can
excel that in which the presence of the Artist Element, abound
as no class of men are more naturaly endowed with a greater
amount of the Faculty of observation generaly, and of human
character in particular, as having a natural aptitude
for seeing and detailing the most droll and amusing points
and characteristic features and qualities of various orders and
classes of mankind and at the same time possessing the powers of giving forth
the results of their observations with peculiar quaintness
and graphic force, it is this that causes their remarks
and descriptions to live in the memories of those who have had
the good fortune to enjoy the company of artists as if they
had the results of their pencils before them
no doubt such descriptive power is derived from the same
faculty as that which results in true artistic powers which must be
based on a keen natural faculty for catching up, almost at
a glance, the true characteristic features of all departments
of nature. and when such power of perception is combined
with that happiest of all gifts a kindly sense of Humour
their m[anners] are sure to be stored with the Richest “Bits”
of the droll and comic aspect of human nature the
narration of which when “apt” to the occasion and subject
is sure to “set the Table in a Roar”! —

Many many such happy chance gatherings of the most choice
specimens of the Artistic Scientific and Litterary society of
Edinburgh have I seen around my fathers hospitable table
of an Evening, I wish I could have had the gift of the ability
to “note down” the divers discussions and truly original remarks
that came forth on that occasion as I am fair to think they would
bear reading as well as remembering but I have no such faculty
and have nothing now to trust to but the happy altho now dim

impression which still remains of this the most truly happy
portion of my life — The wide range of subjects to which
my Father had applied his clear thoughtfull and vigourous
mind and the ready nack he had at illustrating subjects
under discussion by apt remarks and no less apt illustrations
by the aid of his pencil, when such ready [work] was most
suitable, gave his company and conversation quite
a special charm and rendered a chatt with him when
,when the days work was over, to be a treat as instruction
as it was delightfull sometimes. In his earnestness to make
an architectural or other such subject more clearly understood by graphic
illustration, when it was “Toddy time”, late in the
Evening. he used to try my Dear Mothers
patience, more than a bit, by dipping his fingers in
his Toddy glass and sketch his illustration on the part of the
well polished Mahogany table before him in the polish
of which she took especial pride.I only name
this trifling incident to show his earnestness and
Perhaps a rather improper exercise of his faculty for
Resourcefullness when pencil and paper was
not at hand as it however most generaly was
as at the side of the Family Circle Table
where he always sat in the evenings, he had a drawer
in which he kept small tools and
materials where with he amused himself in constructing models
of old castles and small clay Figures to sketch from when
such work required to be introduced as appropriate accessories
in paintings then in hand for as reading at night fatigued
his eyes one or other of the family circle took the duty
of reading aloud, the news of the day, or some entertaining
Book of Travels or novel while he went on with such
light mechanical work the while as I have named above


at other times a Rubber at whist was a favorite enjoyment
as there were always sufficient numbers to make up the
whist table in which my mother was always a most willing
to take a hand — indeed so highly did she enjoy her Rubber that she
would quietly set out the card table and the four chairs
a good while before the requisite numbers to complete the
table were done with their work in hand her quiet eagerness
to enjoy her Rubber used to be the occasion of some merry
little remonstrance from her daughters who might happen to be more anxious
to get on with some little bit of Dress making that they were
anxious to have speedily completed — for some special “Party”



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Autobiographical Account by James Hall Nasmyth

Document Information

Document ID 238
Title Autobiographical Account by James Hall Nasmyth
Year group 1800-1850
Genre Personal writing
Year of publication 1850
Wordcount 19376

Author information: Nasmyth, James

Author ID 37
Forenames James
Surname Nasmyth
AKA James Nesmyth, James Naesmyth, James Nasmith
Gender Male
Year of birth 1808
Place of birth Edinburgh, Scotland
Occupation Mechanical engineer
Father's occupation Artist
Education Some university
Locations where resident London, Manchester