Epitaph on Marjory Scot of Dunkeld (1775)

Margaret Scott

Illustration from "Margaret Scott's Epitaph."

Broadsheet, c. 1840-66.

Courtesy of Broadside Ballads Online, from the Bodleian Libraries.

Embroidery sampler on Marjery Scott of Dunkeld

Early nineteenth-century embroidered sampler featuring the Scott epitaph.

Photographed 2017.

Hangs on the wall of the Dunkeld Community Archive office.

   This epitaph, supposed to have been printed originally in the lost Flowers from Parnassus (1726), is likely Pennecuik's most widely circulated poem, although it is often printed without attribution. 

   The poem reviews the major events in Scottish history that unfolded during the hundred years its subject is purported to have lived. In other versions of the poem, Scott's age ranges from 75 (Norfolk 1861, 119) to 125 (e.g. Penny 1838, 289), and she is usually said to have died in 1728 or 1738, which are both too late for Flowers from Parnassus. This fundamental inconsistency reflects the frequent, if slight, modifications the poem has undergone. The most significant alteration, aside from the occasional omission of some of the poem's incendiary lines, is that Marjory Scott of Dunkeld (Perthshire) at some point became Margaret Scott of Dalkeith (Midlothian). This error seems to have occurred first in The Caledonian Miscellany, a volume published in London in 1740, wherein the subject is confused with Margaret Scott, Duchess of Buccleugh (59). The epitaph is also often implied to be engraved on a headstone, which seems never to have been the case. On the influence of these two distortions, the Scottish emigrant Grant Thorburn, the model for the eponymous subject of John Galt's novel Lawrie Todd (1830), searched in vain for the epitaph in the churchyard in his native Dalkeith when he returned after forty years in America (1834, 131).

   The fame of this poem is further demonstrated through material culture. The embroidered sampler to the left, found in the attic of the Dunkeld manse in 1999, may have been the one presented as a gift to a Member of Parliament some time in the early twentieth century (Baker 1926). Scott has also been remembered as a wax figure in a travelling show (F. I. T. 1948), which may be the same as that described at Bartholomew Fair, London, in 1874: alongside George IV, Queen Elizabeth, Mary, Queen of Scots, and the giant O'Brien (Frost, 293). 

   In John Sinclair's 1798 Statistical Account of Scotland, a descendant in Dunkeld "recollects to have seen" the old woman who was the subject of the poem (423). It is not yet clear how Pennecuik would have known of her. At any rate, he took Scott's age as the inspiration for a poem that takes a grand, although personal, view of turbulent Scottish history, and connects Scott's death to the death of Scotland through the 1707 Union. Whether or not she would have agreed with Pennecuik's politics cannot be known. The compiler of this exhibit is pursuing more extensive research on the significance of this work.

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                         On

          Marjory Scot of Dunkeld.

STOP, passenger, until my life you read,
The living may get knowledge from the dead.
Five times five years I liv'd a virgin life;
Five times five years I was a virtuous wife;
Ten times five years a widow grave and chaste;                                                        5
Now wearied of this mortal life I rest;
Betwixt my cradle and my grave were seen,
Eight[1] mighty kings of Scotland, and a queen[2]
Four times five years the Common-wealth[3] I saw;
Ten times the subjects rise against the law,                                                             10
And which is worse than any civil war,
A king arraign'd before the subjects bar;
Swarms of Sectarians, hot with hellish rage,
Cut off his royal head on open stage.[4]
Twice did I see old prelacy[5] pull'd down,                                                              15
And twice the cloak[6] did sink beneath the gown.[7]
I saw the Stewart race thrust out; nay more,
I saw our country sold for English ore:
Our num'rous nobles who have famous been,
Sunk to the lowly number of sixteen.[8]                                                                 20
Such desolations in my days have been,
I have an end of all perfection seen.[9]

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1 The count of kings in different versions of the poem ranges from five to eight. The age of Scott and the year of her death also vary. Often, there is one additional king, so that the exiled James VIII and III may be counted along with William II and III, George I, and George II, who reigned in his lifetime. This is an instance of the "two-fold vision" described by Howard Erskine-Hill - people living under the phenomenon of Jacobitism sometimes had to account for both the reigning and the exiled monarch (1997, 921). Curiously, in this version there would be two extra kings. If Scott died in or prior to 1726, apparently the original date of publication, and was 100 years old, she would have lived through the reigns of: I) James VI and I (d. 1625), II) Charles I (d. 1649), III) Charles II (d. 1685), IV) James VII and II (d. 1701), V) William II and III (d. 1702), and VI) George I (d. 1727).
2 Pennecuik means Anne (r. 1702-14), but he has left out Mary II (r. 1689-1694), who was co-regent with William II and III. The epitaph of 95-year-old Rowland Deakin (1791) of Shrewsbury, which seems to be inspired by Pennecuik's Scott epitaph, records two queens (Andrews 1899, 157) - although, he would have been born two years after Mary's death.
3 Some versions give a more accurate account than this - in Scotland, the Commonwealth lasted from 1652 until 1660.
4 The 1642 regicide of Charles I.
5 Episcopalian Kirk.
6 Presbyterian Kirk.
7 Episcopalian Kirk.
8 The number of Scottish peers in the post-1707 British parliament. In his famous 1706 speech, John Hamilton, second Lord Belhaven, warned that the Scottish peerage would become a feeble instition under Union (4).
9 From Psalms 119:26. While this phrase as it is used in the poem suggests  a grim finality, its context in the Psalm may lend a Jacobitical double meaning; the psalmist is describing God as the culmination of perfection, and promising that God's people continue in their observation of His law even as the unfaithful goad them towards disloyalty.

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References

Andrews, William. 1899. Curious Epitaphs. London: William Andrews and Co.

Baker, C. E. 1926. “Epitaph on a Sampler." Notes and Queries 150 (April): 262.

The Caledonian Miscellany. Consisting of Select and much Approved Pastorals, Choice Fables and Tales, with Other Occasional Poems. By Allan Ramsay; and Other Eminent Northern Bards. 1740. London: William Gay. http://find.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/ecco/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=sfu_z39&tabID=T001&docId=CW3313283795&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE.

F. I. T. 1948. “Margery Scott.” Notes and Queries 193, no. 9 (May): 192.

Frost, Thomas. 1874. The Old Showmen, and the Old London Fairs. London: Tinsley brothers. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044018917435;view=1up;seq=9.

Hamilton, John. 1706. The Lord Belhaven's Speech in Parliament, Saturday the Second of November, on the Subject-Matter of an Union Betwixt the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England. Edinburgh. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. http://find.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/ecco/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=sfu_z39&tabID=T001&docId=CW3305704628&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE.

Norfolk, Horatio Edward. 1861. Gleanings in Graveyards: a Collection of Curious Epitaphs. London: John Russell Smith. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89069926459

Pennecuik, Alexander. 1775. "On Marjory Scot of Dunkeld." In The Caledoniad. A Collection of Poems, Written Chiefly by Scottish Authors. Vol. 3. 238-39. London: W. Hay. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. http://find.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/ecco/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=sfu_z39&tabID=T001&docId=CW3312905106&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE.

Penny, George. 1838. Traditions of Perth, Containing Sketches of the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants, and Notices of Public Occurrences, During the Last Century: Interesting Extracts from Old Records; Notices of the Neighbouring Localities of Historical Interest; Topographical Sketch of the County; Brief History of Perth, &c. Perth:  J. Taylor. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044077713311;view=1up;seq=5.

Thorburn, Grant. 1834. Men and Manners in Britain; or, a Bone to Gnaw for the Trollopes, Fidlers, &c. Being Notes from a Journal, on Sea and Land, in 1833-34. New York: Wiley and Long, 1834. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433071357895;view=1up;seq=9. 

Marjory Scot of Dunkeld