1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. David Macbeth Moir

James Grant Wilson, in Poetry of Scotland (1876) 2:165-67.



DAVID MACBETH MOIR, an accomplished poet and miscellaneous writer, was born at Musselburgh, Jan. 5, 1798. He received his education at the grammar-school of his native town, and subsequently attended the medical classes of the University of Edinburgh. In his eighteenth year he obtained the diploma of surgeon, and entered into partnership with Dr. Brown of Musselburgh. Dr. Moir wrote verses from an early age, and in 1816 published a volume called The Bombardment of Algiers, and other Poems, which was distributed almost wholly among his friends. From its commencement he was a contributor to Constable's Edinburgh Magazine, and during a long series of years wrote for Blackwood's Magazine, subscribing his grave pieces for the latter with the Greek letter Delta. In 1824 he published his Legend of Genevieve, with other Tales and Poems, which comprised selections from his contributions to the magazines and several new pieces. His next volume was an admirable imitation of the style of Galt, under the title Autobiography of Mansie Waugh, Tailor in Dalkeith. Most of this amusing book had previously appeared in Blackwood's Magazine, and it was greatly relished for its simplicity, shrewdness, and exhibition of genuine Scottish character. Moir's biographer says of this entertaining autobiography: "Burns has almost completely missed those many peculiar features of the national character and manners which are brought out so inimitably in Mansie Wauch. Mansie himself is a perfect portraiture; and how admirably in keeping with the central autobiographer are the characters and scenes which revolve around his needle!"

In 1831 appeared Outlines of the Ancient History of Medicine. During the fearful visitation of cholera which swept over Europe at this time, when many physicians abandoned their duty in despair or fled from it in terror, Moir was to be found daily and hourly at the bedsides of the infected, endeavouring to alleviate the sufferings of the sick by the resources of his skill, or to comfort the dying with the consolations of religion. In 1832 he issued a pamphlet entitled Practical Observations on Malignant Cholera, which he followed by Proofs of the Contagion of Malignant Cholera. In 1843 another volume of poems appeared, entitled Domestic Verses. In 1851 he delivered a course of six lectures at the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution on the poetical literature of the past half century, which was afterwards published and met with a very large sale. In June of that year his health became much impaired, and in July he proceeded to Dumfries for a change of air and scene, but he died there suddenly, July 6, 1851. His remains were interred in his native place, where a beautiful monument has been erected to his memory.

After Dr. Moir's death a collected edition of his best poems was published at Edinburgh, under the editorial superintendence of Thomas Aird, who prefixed to the work an interesting memoir of his friend. Lord Jeffrey in a letter to Moir said of his Domestic Verses, a new edition of which appeared recently, "I cannot resist the impulse of thanking you with all my heart for the deep gratification you have afforded me, and the soothing, and I hope bettering, emotions which you have excited. I am sure that what you have written is more genuine pathos than anything almost I have ever read in verse, and is so tender and true, so sweet and natural, as to make all lower recommendations indifferent." Jeffrey has very correctly set forth the character of Moir's poetry. Casa Wappy, perhaps the best known of his poems, was written by Dr. Moir on the death of his favourite child, Charles Bell — familiarly called by him Casa Wappy, a self-conferred pet name — who died at the age of four years. It is one of the most tender and touching effusions in the English language.

We cannot conclude this notice of the Christian poet and accomplished gentleman without quoting a few lines from an old volume of Maga: "His, indeed, was a life far more devoted to the service of others than to his own personal aggrandizement — a life whose value can only be appreciated now, when he has been called to receive his reward in that better world, the passport to which he sought so diligently — in youth as in manhood, in happiness as in sorrow — to obtain. Bright as the flowers may be which are twined for the coronal of the poet, they have no glory when placed beside the wreath which belongs to the departed Christian. We have represented Delta as he was — as he must remain ever in the affectionate memory of his friends: and with this brief and unequal tribute we take farewell of the gentlest and kindest being, of the most true and single-hearted man, whom we may ever hope to meet with in the course of this earthly pilgrimage."