James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, rich, strange, and Scottish, died at eighty-four in 1799. He was known for exposing himself: he exercised naked before the open windows of his estate and eschewed travel by carriage, insisting instead on riding his horse Alburac through the damp gray of every Scottish season. Like many other men of his ilk and era—Rousseau, Condillac, Mandeville—he speculated at length about language’s origins among our primeval ancestors. He maintained, incorrectly but not unlaudably, that fully articulate speech first appeared in the Black civilization of ancient Egypt; that certain Native American languages were mutually intelligible with Gaelic; and, most notoriously, that orangutans were humans, though just too lazy to learn to speak.
This reminded me of Bernarr Macfadden. What is it about eccentric Scotsmen and their penchant for exhibitionist exercise? Is this some sort of strange offshoot of the Scottish Enlightenment? I think this bears further investigation. If any budding scholars need a topic for a dissertation, there you go. Take it with my compliments.