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Significant Scots
George Outram (1805–1856)


Advocate, Lyricist, Editor and Proprietor of The Glasgow Herald
Author of 'Legal And Other Poems'

George Outram was born on the 25th of March, 1805 in New Monkland and Coatbridge Parish to Elizabeth Knox (1779-1866) and her husband Joseph Outram (Manager of Clyde Ironworks). In the course of a year or two, however, the family removed from Lanarkshire to Leith, Mr Outram, Sen., having become a partner in a mercantile house there. in 1937, George married a Jamaican born, British Subject, Frances McRobbie in Edinburgh. George died in the Parish of Dunoon and Kilmun in 1856, and Frances died in Edinburgh in 1880.

George Outram (1805–1856), humorous poet, was a Scottish advocate, a friend of Professor Wilson, and for some time editor of the Glasgow Herald. He printed privately in 1851 Lyrics, Legal and Miscellaneous, which were published with a memoir in 1874. Many of his pieces are highly amusing, the Annuity being the best.

An Introductory Appreciation to 'Legal And Other Lyrics'
by
Henry Glassford Bell, the then Sheriff of Lanarkshire

George received his early education in the High School of Leith and afterwards went through the regular curriculum of the University of Edinburgh. In 1827 he became a member of the Faculty of Advocates, and for the next ten years continued to attend the Parliament House, where his genial disposition and fund of quaint humour made him a great favourite with both Bench and Bar. Being, however, of a retiring, sensitive, and not over-active nature, Outram did not lay himself out with much earnestness for legal practice; and in1837 he accepted the offer, somewhat unexpectedly made to him of the editorship of the Glasgow Herald, then, as it has since continued to be, the leading newspaper in the west of Scotland. He also became one of the proprietors, and settled down to his new duties for life. The Glasgow Herald, at that time, was published only twice a week, and was conducted in a steady, quiet, and unpretentious manner, with a careful avoidance of anything like an aggressive or innovating spirit. ln politics it was mildly Conservative, but by no means slavishly so, as it rather piqued itself on maintaining a character of independence, and was on the whole conducted with such tact and discrimination that it secured the confidence of the public, and increased in circulation and repute. Its editor loved what was old and pleasant and easy, and shrank, with a sort of humorous abhorrence, from what was novel and obtrusive, either in social or political life. Nevertheless,when occasion required, he showed both firmness and discrimination, and his judgment was seldom at fault in the numerous questions which force themselves on the attention of a public writer.

Mr Outram had married before he left Edinburgh, and in due course became the father of four sons, in whose education and upbringing he took the greatest possible interest, but none now survives at this time of writing in 1887. He also had one daughter daughter, who died in infancy. He resided, with much domestic enjoyment, in Glasgow or its neighbourhood for nineteen years. During that period he won and retained, by his amiable manners and delightful flow of good-natured humour, the esteem and respect of all classes. He likewise experienced much pleasure in keeping up his acquaintance with his old friends and associates in Edinburgh, who had greatly regretted his separation from them, and were always glad to receive him with open arms.

For George Outram possessed, in addition to his other qualiiications, a spark of true and original Scottish genius, but for which the foregoing brief summary of his uneventful life would never have seen the light. This genius manifested itself chiefly in the production of songs and other lyrical pieces, mostly in the Scottish dialect, and they exhibit, without a touch of bitterness, an amount of humour hardly surpassed by any other national writer. Many of these compositions, which were the delight of his own circle, were called forth only by some incident or event in the lives of some of the members of that circle; so that their allusions and mirth-exciting power could not be rightly understood by the outer world. Well, however, do Outram’s surviving friends remember what additional delight many a song of his, composed for the occasion, gave to their social symposiums. The author himself was of too modest a nature to regard them as anything but trifles; but when a copy was obtained, the unrepressed laughter of many a coterie in the Parliament House, collected in some convenient nook, indicated their appreciation of the contents.

Fortunately, however, some of Outram’s best things are of a more general character, which appeal to,and are sure to command, the sympathies of all. His ‘Legal Lyrics’ introduce us to some of the peculiarities of Scottish law, and show us their comic side with a rare and genial power, scarcely ever attempted before, and certainly never at any time surpassed. The author’s idea in such ballads as “The Annuity,” “The Multiplepoinding,” “Soumin an’ Roumin,” “The Process of Augmentation,” “The Process of Wakenin’,” “Cessio Bonorum,” and others, seems to have been to present vivid and humorous pictures, not unaccompanied sometimes by a touch of pathos, of the peculiar and rather remarkable features of Scottish legal process, and its effect on the character and feelings of his countrymen. The scenes suggested are as vividly portrayed as they could have been by the pencil of a Wilkie; and whilst perhaps they will be most intensely appreciated by professional lawyers, they possess that breadth of colouring and truth to human nature which cannot fail to interest all readers, and entertain them with an exquisite perception of the ludicrous.

Some of the miscellaneous pieces are not less stamped with originality and humour,and it is much to be regretted that, for the reasons above indicated, they cannot be all given to the public. It is confidently believed, however, that among the poems in the present publication there will be found specimens of national ‘facetiae’ differing from anything to be found elsewhere, and full of a high merit of their own. In some instances they are descriptive of bacchanalian characters; but, in place of being written with any view to encourage bacchanalian habits, they tend to expose the folly of such habits, and to turn them into ridicule. Here and there the author’s keen sense of the ludicrous has induced a certain freedom of expression,without which the thought would have lost its characteristic vigour. But the consciousness of a healthy moral tone remains throughout.

This brief Introductory Notice ought perhaps to stop here. But it has been suggested that one or two personal reminiscences of Outram may be added, as tending to bring out more fully the genial character of the man and the poet. His cast of mind and associations were essentially Scottish. He was, it is believed, only twice out of Scotland during his life, and that but for short periods. He was admirably versed in, and had a high appreciation of, the strength of his native Doric. He was also familiar with the peculiarities of Scottish character, some of which afforded him great amusement, whilst others inspired him with respect. These features of his mind and habits led him, not long after he went to reside in Glasgow, to conceive the idea of a " Scotch Denner," to be given in his own house, as a purely national meal, to which each guest was to come in the costume of some favourite Scottish worthy, and which was to be a gathering ironically renewing the once popular lamentations over the Union with England, as destructive of the independence and ancient position of Scotland. The "denner, "to which only a small and select party was invited, each of whom appeared in an historical character and dress, came off on 22nd July 1844, being the 138th anniversity of the 1707 Treaty of Union. It had been a great amusement to Outram, in his leisure moments, to make arrangements for this banquet. He printed his letter of invitation —of itself a curiosity—a list of toasts— and, by way of menu, a small brochure, a copy of which was supplied to each of the guests, with the motto, “Syne there were proper stewards, cunning baxters, excellent cooks and potingars, with confections and drugs for their deserts. “ (Pitscottie, Edin. 1728, p. 174.) The Letter of Invitation, the List of Toasts, and the Brochure, follow here, and are provided for the perusal of those who may be interested by a specimen of the genial humour which habitually pervaded the author’s social intercourse with his friends.

Latterly his constitution, which had never been very robust, gave way somewhat prematurely, and he died at his country residence of Rosemore, on the Holy Loch, on 15th September 1856, in the fifty-second year of his age. He was buried in Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh; and left behind him, in the hearts of many attached friends, the memory of a most kindly, amiable, and gifted man.

Notes on the Dinner


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