Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Mitchell, Arthur
MITCHELL, Sir ARTHUR (1826–1909), Scottish commissioner in lunacy and antiquary, born at Elgin on 19 Jan. 1826, was son of George Mitchell, C.E., by his wife Elizabeth Cant. He was educated at Elgin Academy, and graduated M.A. at Aberdeen University in 1845, prosecuting his studies for the medical profession at Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, and proceeding M.D. at Aberdeen in 1850. Devoting himself to lunacy, he quickly showed an aptitude for this branch of practice. When the Lunacy Act of 1857 was passed, he was chosen one of the deputy commissioners for Scotland, and was commissioner from May 1870 to September 1895. Improved methods for treating the insane, which he helped to bring into use in Scotland, he developed effectively in his book 'The Insane in Private Dwellings' (Edinburgh 1864). Presenting his views persuasively rather than argumentatively. he won for them wide support. In 1880 he was appointed a member of the English commission on criminal lunacy, and his experience largely influenced the report upon which the Act of 1880 was founded. In 1885 he served on the departmental committee on criminal lunatics in Ireland. From May 1869 till March 1872 he acted as Morison lecturer on insanity to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. In his lectures, many of which were published in book form, and in other works, he dealt authoritatively with various aspects of lunacy—individual, social, and medical.
Mitchell combined with his professional work much antiquarian study. In 1861 he was appointed a corresponding member, and in 1867 he was elected a fellow, of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and continued an active member till his death, serving from time to time as secretary and vice-president. His researches largely dealt with existing superstitions in the Scottish Highlands, especially in their bearing on problems of insanity. He contributed many papers to the 'Proceedings,' the latest being a series on Scottish topographers (1901-9). In 1876 Mitchell was the first Rhind lecturer in archæology, and delivered three lectures each, which were published under the title 'The Past in the Present: What is Civilisation?' (Edinburgh 1880); the book took standard rank. Mitchell was one of the founders of the Scottish History Society, and was a member of council and vice-president. He edited for the society 'Macfarlane's Topographical Collections' (3 vols. 1006-8). He was also president of the Scottish Text Society and professor of ancient history to the Royal Scottish Academy from 1878. He was a member of the royal commission on Scottish universities in 1889. and served till 1900.
In 1886 Mitchell was made C.B. and in 1887 K.C.B. He received the hon. degree of LL.D. from Aberdeen in 1870; and became hon. fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in 1891. He died at 34 Drummond Place, Edinburgh, on 12 Oct. 1909, and was buried in Rosebank cemetery, Edinburgh. He married in 1855 Margaret, daughter of James Houston, Tullochgriban, Strathspey; she died on 4 Nov. 1904, leaving one son, Sydney Mitchell.
Besides the works mentioned and editions of Andrew Combe's 'Observations on Mental Derangement' (1887) and 'Management of Infancy' (1896), Mitchell published in 1905 'About Dreaming, Laughing, and Blushing.'
There are two portraits of Mitchell, one painted in 1880 by Norman Macbeth, R.S.A., and the other by Sir George Reid, P.R.S.A., in 1896. Both are in of the family.
[Scotsman, and Dundee Advertiser, 13 Oct. 1909; Lancet, 23 Oct. 1909; private information.]