George Heriot (figure 1), a prominent goldsmith, left money at his death in 1624 to endow a hospital (= charitable school) for ‘puir faitherless bairns’ in Edinburgh. It has since become one of the best private schools in Scotland, sitting close to the main campus of the University of Edinburgh.
On a trip last weekend to that city to drop my daughter off to begin study at the University, I walked through the Greyfriars’ Kirkyard, a fine old cemetery. There I came across a fascinating monument of John Carmichael (figure 2), attracted by the funerary portrait and the apparently ichorous nosebleed of the subject.
The portrait is in a tondo on a short obelisk. It is surrounded by some vegetal decoration, with a long Latin inscription below (figure 4). The dado on which the obelisk stands has a bas relief of the south façade of the Heriot School.
The bas-relief portrait is in profile (figure 3). The face is quite angular, with prominent naso-labial fold, sunken cheek, and fold at the corner of the mouth. The nose is bent and sharp; the boss of the chin protrudes; the eye is wide and the brows high. The subject wears a turban from which the ear barely protrudes. The bust extends down to approximately the top of the breastbone, and is unclothed. But who was he?
JOANNI CARMICHAEL Edinburghensi
Viro probo, Civi optimo,
Collegii a Georgio Heriot munifice fundati
Inter rumores de re male administrata
Et litem forensem in Curatores
Quaestoris Colegii Officium,
Quamvis tantae invidiae tunc Obnoxium,
Suscipere non recusavit,
Sed eius rem pecuniariam
Difficultatibus gravissimis implicatam
Per multos annos, dum valetudo fineret,
Indefessus administravit, restituit, auxit:
Exile quidem sed honorificum
Publicae Existimationis monumentum
Reliqui eiusdem Collegii Curatores.
Obiit die 28 Mensis Julii A.D. 1785
Aetatis suae 74
TO JOHN CARMICHAEL of Edinburgh, an upright man, excellent citizen, and faithful trustee of the college richly endowed by George Heriot.
He did not shrink from assuming the office of treasurer of the college despite widespread rumors of maladministration and a very bitter lawsuit lodged against the trustees.
But although the office was then liable to such great ill will, he tirelessly administered, restored, and improved its finances for many years, so long as his health permitted, although they were involved in the greatest difficulties.
The other trustees of said college erected this plaque as a small but honourable monument of his public esteem.
He died on the 28th day of July, A.D. 1785, in the 74th year of his life.
See the faulty cutting in the inscription: in line 1 we have an ‘s’ that has been recut into one of those long integral sign ‘s’s. In line 9, acerrimi has been recut to the correct acerrime; in line 10, quaestores to the correct quaestoris.
Then, to mark the special relevance of the Heriot School, the south façade of the school (figure 6) is reproduced in bas relief (figure 5) below the inscription.
As a reward to you for reading to the end I give you this wild memento mori relief of the grim reaper from the same Kirkyard (figure 7):