Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities

*    *    *    *    *

Literary Chronicle
New Monthly Magazine
Monthly Review
Notes and Queries
Gibson and Laing
Halkett and Laing
Scottish Notes & Queries

Part I. (Volume I.)
James the First
Thomas the Rhymer
John Barbour
Andrew Wyntoun
Gavin Douglas
Allan Ramsay
William Meston
John Home
James Beattie
Robert Burns

Part II. (Volume I.)
James the Fifth
William Dunbar
Sir James Inglis
Henry the Minstrel
Sir David Lyndsay
Alexander Barclay
Alexander Montgomerie
William Alexander
William Drummond
James Thomson
John Oswald

Part III. (Volume II.)
James the Sixth
Sir Richard Maitland
Arthur Johnston
Hamilton of Bangour
Hamilton of Gilbertfield
Samuel Colvil
Alexander Ross
John Armstrong
John Ogilvie
James Macpherson
Charles Salmon

Part IV. (Volume II.)
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
Robert Henryson
Alexander Scott
Walter Kennedy
John Ogilby
Alexander Pennecuik
Alexander Cunningham
David Mallet
William Falconer
Francis Garden
Robert Blair
James Moor
James Graeme
Caleb Whitefoord
James Grainger
Hector Macneill
John Wilson

Part VI. (Volume III.)
Robert Kerr
Richard Lord Maitland
Thomas Hamilton
Charles Hamilton
Michael Bruce
Thomas Blacklock
John Logan
Andrew Macdonald
James Mercer

Appendix. (Volume III.)
James I
Allan Ramsay
John Home
Robert Burns
William Drummond
Robert Fergusson
Alexander Scott
John Wilson



Alexander Pennycuik [note] was born in 1652. His father was a gentleman of the same name, who served as Surgeon-General to the Auxiliary Scots Army, sent into England during the civil wars, and was possessed of two considerable estates in Scotland, that of Newhall, situated on the North Esk, near Edinburgh; that of Romanno, in the county of Peebles. He is said by his son, to have lived to be “the oldest æsculapius of the age,” and to have been moreover

A Scotsman true, a faithful friend and sure;
Who flatter'd not the rich, nor scourg'd the poor.
He lov'd his native country as himself,
And ever scorn'd the greed of worldly pelf.
From old forbiers much worth he did inherit,
A gentleman by birth, but more by merit.

Of the early years of his son, Alexander, nothing certain is known; neither the course of his studies nor the place where he studied. His works seem to indicate a foreign education, and shew, at least, that he had at one period or other visited the continent. With the French and Italian languages he seems to have been early familiar.


When of an age to take an active part in the world, a tender regard for his father, who had retired from
public service to spend the remainder of his days on his patrimonial property, induced him to reside almost constantly with him, and the life of rural retirement, which he thus adopted from a sentiment of filial duty, became so agreeable to his inclinations, that he never afterwards emerged from it. In a poetical answer to several letters which he had received from his brother, persuading him against staying longer in the country, and inviting him to settle in Edinburgh, he gives a glowing account of his rural occupations and amusements; contends for their superiority over the gaieties of the town, and declares, that he will not be so “graceless” or “bold” as to bring his father to the city,

“To stifle him with smoke, though he be old.”

When the old gentleman died, the property of the family estates devolved upon Dr. Pennycuik, and much of his time was henceforth occupied in their management. He delighted in the labours of the field, and studied botany with the curiosity of a man of science. For the benefit of his country neighbours, he practised, at the same time, as a physician, and his patients are said to have been numerous. In his hours of leisure, he employed himself in collecting materials for a “Description of Tweedale,” which he afterwards published in conjunction with Mr. John Forbes, the friend of Allan Ramsay; and in writing occasional pieces in poetry, chiefly descriptive of the rustic manners of the peasants around him, with whom he was fond of cultivating an acquaintance.


A tradition prevails, that Allan Ramsay was fur-
nished by Dr. Pennycuik with the plot of his beautiful pastoral comedy of the Gentle Shepherd;
[note] and, in a Life of Dr. P. prefixed to a late edition of his works, published at Leith, (1815) a variety of circumstances are mentioned as corroborative of the story. To those who share in the too common disposition to trace every thing of merit in an author's works to any body but the author himself, these circumstances will appear extremely convincing; but an impartial inquirer needs only to be reminded the chance manner in which the comedy of the Gentle Shepherd was constructed, or rather grew out the eclogues of Jenny and Peggy, and Patie and Roger, after an interval of many years between the two productions, to be satisfied that it is altogether unlikely, that Ramsay was in possession of a plot at all in the first instance; and if such was the case then, he could scarcely be indebted for any subsequent help to Dr. Pennycuik, who died the very year af the publication of the first portion of the Gentle Shepherd, and six long years before the appearance of the second.


Dr. Pennycuik closed a long and useful life in year 1722, being then in his seventieth year. He left two daughters, the eldest of whom was married to Mr. Oliphant, the younger, of Lanton, in Lothian, and the other to Mr. Farquharson of Kirktoun of Boyne, in Aberdeenshire. With the former he gave, as a marriage portion, the estate of Newhall, and to the latter, he left the estate of Romanno, on which he was residing at the time of his death.


The works of Dr. Pennycuik were first printed in 1715, and they had time to become scarce before the
new edition before mentioned was called for, exactly a century having elapsed between the two publications. His
“Description of Tweedale” is esteemed for the antiquarian and, more especially, the botanical information which it contains. His poems, which are of a miscellaneous description, do not rise much, if at all, above mediocrity; but as sketches from real life, at the period in which he flourished, they are curious, and, as memorials of a warm and generous heart, may be read with profit, if they do not greatly delight. An inscription for his “Bee House,” another for his “Closet,” and a third for “Gilmerton Cave,” are among his neatest effusions. I subjoin the last not as the best of the three, but on account of the singular history with which it is connected. The “Cave,” which is in the vicinity of the village of Gilmerton, near Edinburgh, was a dwelling house dug out of solid rock by one George Paterson, a blacksmith. It consisted of several apartments, including a workshop for Paterson, and a washing house, with a well for his wife; it had also several windows, so formed as to communicate light from above. The architect, or rather excavator, of this extraordinary abode, took five years to finish it, and lived and prosecuted his business in it till his death, which took place in 1735. For many years, the Cave was deemed a great curiosity, and much visited by strangers. The inscription which Pennycuik wrote for it, though deficient in elegance, and ending with a sad rhyme, is possessed of some point.

Upon the earth thrives villainy and woe,
But happiness and I do dwell below;
My hand hewed out this rock into a cell,
Wherein from din of life I safely dwell.
On Jacob's pillow, nightly lies my head,
My house when living, and my grave when dead;
Inscribe upon it, when I'm dead and gone,
I lived and died within my mother's womb.
A. P.