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The Scottish Nation

MOIR, DAVID MACBETH, an accomplished poet and miscellaneous writer, the Delta of Blackwood’s Magazine, was born at Musselburgh, 5th January 1798, being the second of four children which his parents had. He got the rudiments of his education at a school of minor note in his native place, and was then entered at the grammar school, where he learned the Latin, Greek, and French languages, and the elements of geometry and algebra. When thirteen years old, he was placed as an apprentice for four years with Dr. Stewart, a medical practitioner of Musselburgh. In the last year of his apprenticeship he began to attend the medical classes in the university of Edinburgh, and after pursuing the usual course of study, he received his diploma as surgeon in the spring of 1816, when he was only eighteen years of age. Soon after he joined Dr. Brown of Musselburgh, as junior partner, in his medical practice, which was extensive.

His first poetical attempt bears date 1812, being then in his fifteenth year. He soon after sent two short prose essays to ‘The Cheap Magazine,’ a small Haddington publication. He subsequently contributed to the Scots Magazine, and having in 1817 instituted a debating society in his native place, called “The Musselburgh Forum,” he became its secretary, and took an active part in its proceedings. So pleased were the members with his services that at the end of their session they unanimously voted him a silver medal with a suitable inscription. Towards the close of the same year he ventured to print anonymously a small volume entitled ‘The Bombardment of Algiers and other Poems,’ which he distributed almost entirely among his friends. Having become acquainted with Mr. Thomas Pringle, the poet, one of the editors of Constable’s Edinburgh Magazine, he contributed various articles, both in prose and verse, to that periodical.

His first contribution to Blackwood’s Magazine was some verses, shortly after the starting of that periodical, when he was only nineteen years of age. They were sent without any signature, but, to distinguish his pieces, he adopted the subscription of Delta, by which nom-de-plume he was ever afterwards known. His earliest poem with that subscription, first entitled ‘Emma,’ but subsequently altered to Sir Ethelred, appeared in January 1820. For more than thirty years he continued to enrich its pages with the productions of his pen. His poems, in particular, were remarkable for their smoothness and facility of style, and evinced a delicate and graceful fancy, with a sweet pure vein of tenderness and pathos.

Towards the close of 1824, he published in a separate volume, ‘The Legend of Genevieve, with other Tales and Poems,’ consisting chiefly of selections from his contributions to the Magazines, with some new pieces. This work was well received, and greatly increased his poetical reputation. In October of the same year he began to contribute also to Blackwood’s Magazine, one of the most laughable as well as lifelike embodiments of Scottish humour known to literature, entitled ‘The Autobiography of Mansie Waugh.’ It was not concluded till 1828, when it was published in a volume by itself, with additions, and in a short time ran through several editions. It was also reprinted in America and France. That the author of the touching ‘Legend of Genevieve,’ and the writer of the facetious history of ‘Mansie Waugh,’ the Dalkeith tailor, was one and the same person, could scarcely be believed at the time. In the literary world the authorship was universally assigned to John Galt, then in the zenith of his fame. But this was not the only humorous piece which the Magazine received from his pen. Among his other jocose papers furnished to that periodical were ‘The Eve of St. Jerry,’ ‘The Ancient Waggonere,’ ‘Billy Routing,’ &c., some of which were ascribed to Maginn, then also a frequent contributor to its pages.

Mr. Moir wrote likewise for the Edinburgh Literary Gazette, and his contributions were prized so highly that in the end of July 1829, he was presented by the proprietors with a handsome silver jug, in token of their gratitude. On 8th June of the same year, he had married Miss Charlotte E. Bell of Leith, by whom he had eleven children, eight of whom survived him.

In 1830 he edited the collection called ‘Weeds and Wildflowers,’ a posthumous volume of prose and poetry, by Alexander Balfour, published for the benefit of his family, and wrote the memoir prefixed of Balfour’s life.

Meantime his professional career as a medical man had kept pace with his literary success. During the terrible visitation of the cholera in 1832, Musselburgh was one of its first points of attack, and Mr. Moir was night and day in attendance on the sufferers. “Being,” says his biographer, Mr. Aird, “medical secretary of the Board of Health at Musselburgh, the inquiries which he had to answer from all parts of the country, as to the prevention and treatment of the malady, were innumerable, and, almost in self-defence, in order to answer if possible once for all, he hurriedly threw together his ‘Practical Observations of Malignant cholera.’ A second edition was called for in a few days after the publication of the first. He followed it up with ‘Proofs of the Contagion of Malignant Cholera.’ The second visitation of cholera in 1848-9 only confirmed him in his doctrine of contagion.”

In 1831 he published his ‘Outlines of the Ancient History of Medicine, being a view of the Progress of the Healing Art among the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabians,’ a work of great research and diversified erudition. He had been the same year presented with the freedom of his native place, and being also elected a member of the town council, he took an active part in the public affairs of the burgh. It may also be mentioned here that in 1844 he was appointed to represent the burgh of Annan in the General Assembly of the church of Scotland, an office which was conferred upon him every succeeding year, during the remainder of his life.

In the beginning of 1833, Dr. Brown having retired from business, Mr. Moir became senior in the practice, having admitted a junior partner. One the death of Mr. Blackwood, the publisher, in 1834, Mr. Moir was named one of the executors for his family, the only one who was not a relative, a proof of the confidence which was placed in his judgment and integrity.

In 1837, on the death of Dr. M’Nish of Glasgow, Mr. Moir, with whom he had been in habits of intimacy and constant correspondence for years, collected his fugitive pieces, and published them with a life of the author. He also contributed memoirs of Mr. Rennie of Phantassie, the eminent agriculturist, and Sir John Sinclair, to the ‘Journal of Agriculture,’ and wrote a biographical sketch of Admiral Sir David Milne; besides editing a collected edition of the works of Mrs. Hemans, with notes. A memoir of Galt, written by Mr. Moir, was published in 1841. In the end of 1843 Mr. Moir published his ‘Domestic Verses.’ His last contribution to Blackwood’s Magazine, ‘The Lament of Selim,’ was sent in only about a fortnight before his death. From first to last he contributed in all to its pages 370 articles in prose and verse. He was a zealous member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and in 1850, at a meeting of the Society, he read a paper on the Roman antiquities of Musselburgh.

For the benefit of his health Mr. Moir, on the 1st of July 1851, set out with Mrs. Moir, and their little boy, John Wilson, to Ayrshire and Dumfries, to see if a short release from professional care and change of scene would do him any good. At the latter place he was seized with a severe attack of spasms, to which he had been for some time subject, and died at the King’s Arms inn, Dumfries, on the 6th of the same month, in the 53d year of his age. He was buried in the churchyard of Inveresk. A full length statue of him has been erected to his memory in his native place.

His poems, with a well-written life of him by his friend, Mr. Thomas Aird, were published at Edinburgh, in 2 vols. Small 8vo, in 1852.

Moir Genealogy and Collatoral Lines
By Mr Alexander L. Moir

A massive volume of some 500 pages entitled “Moir Genealogy” has recently been published by the author, Mr Alexander L. Moir, of Lowell, Mass. The work, which is brightened by upwards of 150 tasteful illustrations, is the result of ten years careful gleaning, and reflects credit on Mr Moir for the width, as well as the thoroughness, of his research. Indeed the volume may be classified as a national history of the family, all those of importance bearing the surname in its varied form - whether in Scotland or America - being included. Copious extracts from parish registers, tombstone inscriptions, and other recognised authorities are given, while a table showing the wide distribution of the family is appended. Unfortunately through the work having been printed in Lowell, several slips in the spelling of names of people and places applicable to Scotland have crept in, but readers will have no difficulty in noting and overlooking these. Acknowledgments for assistance ate made to Mr Andrew J. Mitchell Gill of Savock; Mr R. Murdoch-Lawrance, Aberdeen; Mr John George Burnett of Powis, Mr James M. A. Wood, Aberdeen, and others. The edition is limited to 500 copies at Ł1 each, the Aberdeen agents being Messrs D. Wyllie and Son. 

The Families of Moir and Byres
By Andrew J. Mitchell Gill of Savock (1885) (pdf)

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