1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. David Macbeth Moir

William Maginn, "Gallery of Literary Characters: Doctor Moir" Fraser's Magazine 8 (September 1833) 290.



We here present our readers with Dr. Moir, the far-famed Delta of the North; our itinerant artist having taken a flying sketch of him in passing through the borough [now] of Musselburgh. We forget; the town was in the "olden time" of that degree, as witnesseth that ancient rhyme, not more remarkable for its beauty than perspicuity:

Musselburgh it was a burgh
When Edinburgh was nane,
And Musselburgh will be a burgh
When Edinburgh is gane.

To return to the portrait. Be it known to all men, that although the Doctor is celebrated far and wide for "stringing blethers upon rhyme," as naturally as Robin Burns himself, yet the world has but the moiety of a notion of a little part of his worth, when it thinks that his poetry comprehends all the merit which entitles him to the praise and good-will of our courteous readers. In fact, if there be any efficacy in local influences, he could not help being Delta — he had no choice in the matter; he was "to the manner born," and has no more reason to be proud of his gift than a beautiful young lady of her beauty.

Certainly he is somewhat indebted to Fate, but with equal innocence; for he was not consulted about the expediency of being born in the burgh aforesaid, and is guiltless of associating in the environs, so many storied and classic talismans. For example, in the walks of Pinkie House his callow muse probably first learnt to chirp — Pinkie, so renowned in minstrelsy and song, and rebuilt in its fame by the Author of Waverley. Then his boyish musings in Eskgrove, where the Protector Somerset pitched his tent in the invasion of Scotland, on the very spot where old Lord Eskgrove set up a leaden image of Flora, obnoxious to schoolboys, by whom she has been pitted with small shot, as naturally as if she had been ill of the small-pox before vaccination was discovered. His adolescence strayed, no doubt, as far as Carberry Hill, and there he had bright visions of the fair, ill-fated Mary. But our limits oblige us to curtail the verse-inspiring catalogue of the circumstances that probably as much contributed to make him a poet, as the Edinburgh University to dub him a doctor.

Although the Doctor is chiefly known afar by his rhymes, and esteemed at home for his household worth, be is also not unknown to many strangers for his reason. Some of his occasional papers (in REGINA, as well as elsewhere) have great merit for the simple perspicuity of the style, and the sedate good sense that pervades them; indeed, we are disposed to value his possession of this quality very highly, for with the most unaffected "to the point" clearness, his dissents are ever expressed in that mild and temperate manner which bespeaks respect for his information and understanding.

His talents are neither confined to rhyme nor reason; he possesses a naive vein of humour of no common kind, as witnesseth Mansie Waugh, which, though to the English a sealed book, is a work very admirably descriptive of a class of persons fast wearing out even in that land of originals, Scotland, as well as of manners that are no longer common.

When part of Mansie Waugh first appeared in Blackwood, it was ascribed to Galt by many of his friends; and indeed his Scottish manner was so evident throughout, that he said himself it was strange he had no recollection of writing such a book — as if he had no doubt of its being his. It is an instance of the vraisemblable equal to any thing in the Rejected Addresses. We hope that he has not worked out this vein. Mansie Waugh himself was becoming somewhat of a bore at last; but are there no other Mansies in the land?

The Doctor is great upon contagion; and not content with fighting, and in a great measure subduing, the foul fiend Cholera (he was secretary to the Edinburgh board during the prevalence of the disorder, and filled the office with high honour to himself), he wrote a book about it. Whether Cholera rejoiced that his enemy had written a book or not, we cannot say; but, at all events, we trust that it will be a long day before he or any of his rascally breed, seed, or generation, shall come to deprive our literature of the multifarious talents of "Delta, triangular bard," as somebody, we forget who, once called him.