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Significant Scots
Alexander Pennecuik

PENNECUIK, ALEXANDER, M.D., author of a "Description of the County of Tweeddale," and of various poems, was born in 1652, being the eldest son of Alexander Pennecuik of Newhall, county of Edinburgh; who had served as a surgeon, first to general Bannier in the Thirty Years’ war, and afterwards in the army sent by the Scots into England, in 1644, in terms of the Solemn League and Covenant. The latter individual sold, in 1647, the original property of his family, to the ancestor of the Clerks, baronets, who have since possessed it, and purchased, instead, the smaller adjacent estate of Newhall, to which he afterwards added by marriage, that of Romanno in Peebleshire. The subject of the present memoir, after being educated to the medical profession and travelling, as would appear, on the continent, settled at no advanced period of life on these patrimonial estates, where for some years he devoted himself with warm filial affection to the care of his aged parent. The elder gentleman died at an advanced age, after having seen five kings of Scotland, and been contemporaneous with four revolutions in the state religion; which would seem to indicated that he survived the year 1692, the date of the last establishment of presbytery. The subject of this memoir then acceded to the possession of Newhall and Romanno, continuing, however, to practise as a physician, in which profession he seems to have enjoyed a high reputation. Dr Pennecuik was one of a small knot of Scottish gentlemen who cultivated letters and science at a time of comparative darkness in this country, the latter end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries. His literary efforts were chiefly confined to facetious poetry, for which he seems to have found models in Butler and Dryden, and in the homely strains of the native muse. His poems refer mostly to local characters and affairs, and are now only to be valued for the vestiges of contemporary manners which are to be traced in them, but which are not always remarkable for their good taste and purity. The presbytery meetings of a moderate district, with their convivial accompaniments, occasionally provoked the satire of his pen. The following are almost the only verses deserving to be remembered:—


Are not the ravens fed, great God, by thee?
And wilt thou clothe the lilies, and not me?
I’ll ne’er distrust my God for clothes nor bread,
Whilst lilies flourish, and the raven’s fed.

Dr Pennecuik has less credit for his poetry than for his devotion to botanical pursuits, as science was then even more rare than literature. For this study he enjoyed some advantages in the peripatetic nature of his life as a country physician; and in a correspondence which he carried on with Mr James Sutherland, the superintendent of the first botanic garden in Edinburgh. In 1715, he was induced to give the result of his literary and scientific labours to the world, in a small quarto volume, containing a description of Tweeddale, and his miscellaneous poems; the botany of the county being a prominent department of the volume. About a century afterwards this production was reprinted by the late Mr Constable. Dr Pennecuik is not only meritorious as himself a cultivator of letters, but as an encourager of the same pursuits in others. He was one of the literary gentlemen to whom Ramsay so frequently expresses his obligations, and not improbably communicated the incidents upon which that poet founded his "Gentle Shepherd," the scene of which pastoral is, almost beyond question, the estate of Newhall, which, however, through the extravagance of a son-in-law of Dr Pennecuik, had then passed into a different family. The subject of this memoir died in 1722.

Another writer of Scottish verses, named Alexander Pennecuik, flourished in the earlier part of the eighteenth century. He was a burgess of Edinburgh; the author of "Streams from Helicon," published in 1720, and "Flowers from Parnassus," in 1726. He wrote also a historical account of "The Blue Blanket, or Craftsman’s Banner;" and shortly before his death, commenced a periodical, under the title of "Entertainment for the Curious." In his verses he imitated Allan Ramsay. Several of his poems display considerable talent for humour. His life was dissipated, and his death miserable.

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