James Wilson (Claudero)

Edinburgh Cross As Presently Preserved Near Edinburgh

Edinburgh Cross As Presently Preserved Near Edinburgh.

Watercolour by James Skene, c. 1824. 

Copyright, City of Edinburgh Council – Edinburgh Libraries.

Courtesy of Capital Collections, www.capitalcollections.org.uk.

   James Wilson (pseudonym Claudero, c. 1730 - c. 1789), another minor poet, is briefly included here because of his link to Alexander Pennecuik, but also because, like Pennecuik, Wilson was a lively Edinburgh character who has not received much scholarly attention. He was not as productive a poet as Pennecuik, but Wilson was obliged to provide for a family.

   James Wilson came to Edinburgh from Cumbernauld, Dumbartonshire, as a young man. He worked as a school teacher, and also performed cut-rate marriage ceremonies.[1] In an example of his manifest good humour, he derived his alias from a physical disability[2] that, by description, sounds congenital, but which he used as material with which to disparage the kirk - a preoccupation he shared with Pennecuik - claiming that the damage to his legs had been inflicted by the violence of a Cumbernauld minister (Chambers 1912, 414). Wilson has been called Pennecuik’s successor as “town laureate,” and his output carries something of Pennecuik’s personality (J. O. 1873). While he sometimes put his shaming pen to use in solving the personal disputes of others (Chambers 1912, 414-15), he has also been noted as “the vehicle through which the democratic voice found vent” (J. O. 1853), perhaps most notably in his several poems which passionately witness the significant changes to Edinburgh’s urban landscape in his lifetime. In addition to his reputation for biting wit, he was also a poet of feeling. In 1763, the city authorities commenced a cull of feral dogs, which descended into indiscriminate cruelty and the killing of companion animals. In contrast to earlier examples of Scottish poems on the deaths of dogs (Graham (c. 1664) in Napier 1840; Hamilton 1700), Wilson lamented the slaughter without any hint of irony (1771, 61-62).

    Wilson also expressed Jacobite sympathies, although in the aftermath of the 1745 rebellion he was required to employ some caution; for example, his 1756 broadside on the removal of the Mercat Cross[3] contains nothing of the Cross’s role in the rebellion, which Wilson adds to the poem in a later collection (spoken by the Cross):

When the intrepid, matchless CHARLES[4]
Came here with many Highland Carles,[5]
And o’er my top, in public sight,
Proclaim’d aloud his FATHER’s RIGHT;[6]
From that day forth it was agreed,
That I should as a REBEL bleed
And at this time they think it meet
To snatch my fabric[7] off the street,
Lest I should tell to them once more
The tale I told ten years before.
(1765, 5)  

   Wilson was clearly an admirer of Pennecuik’s, to judge from his two known references of Pennecuik. In “Farewell to the Muses and Auld-Reikie,” Wilson (perhaps satirically) announces his retirement from verse-writing in part due to his inability to earn a living in that manner:

   To shun the fate of Pennecuik,
Who starving died in turnpike-nuik,[8]
(Tho’ sweet he sung with wit and sense,
He, like poor CLAUD, was short of pence)
I’ll change my manner with the clime,
And never more be heard to rhime.
(1766, 44)

   If the announcement was in earnest, it does not seem that Wilson withdrew from writing altogether, but he did find more lucrative occupation taking notes on lectures for medical practitioners. Even in this drudge-work, he continued to sign himself Claudero (Taylor 1978, 177). He also apparently gave lessons in elocution; this last observation comes from a note on Wilson as father to one Lieutenant Wilson of the navy, who was the poet Robert Fergusson’s (1750-1774) travelling companion to Dumfries (1830, 411). Fergusson also knew the older Wilson through Edinburgh’s Cape Club, and Rhona Brown writes that “Claudero’s poetry was . . . influential on the work of Fergusson,” whose literary reputation would far outstrip Wilson’s (2015, 535). 

   As with Pennecuik, there may be much of literary and historical value to be found in the works of this minor poet, whose character and reputation were grander than the volume of his work.


1 Scots law accommodated marriages that did not require clerical license (J. O. 1853).
2 For the Roman emperor Claudius (10 B.C.E.-54 C.E.), who also had reduced mobility.
3 From the medieval era, market crosses were the sites of a wide variety of social and cultural activity in Scottish towns.
4 Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788) - the Jacobite Prince of Wales and representative of the Jacobite claim in the rebellion of 1745-46.
5 Scots: men.
6 Charles was seeking to regain the crown for his father, James VIII and III.
7 Masonry.
8 Scots: the corner of a stairway.



Brown, Rhona. 2015. "Literary Communities and Commemorations in the Edinburgh Cape Club." Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 38, no. 4: 525-39. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/doi/full/10.1111/1754-0208.12348.

Chambers, Robert. 1912. Traditions of Edinburgh. London: W. and R. Chambers. 

Dictionary of the Scottish Language. Accessed April 18, 2018. http://www.dsl.ac.uk/about-dsl/what-is-dsl/.

Graham, James. 1840. "Some Lines,–on the Killing of the Earl of Newcastle's Dog by the Marquis of Hamilton, in the Queen's Garden at York." In Mark Napier. The Life in Times of Montrose. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. https://books.google.ca/books?id=zZkLAAAAYAAJ&lpg=PA230&ots=B1EIbKsFx8&dq=montrose%20epitaph%20dog%20napier&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Hamilton, William. 1700. "The Last Dying Words of Bonny Heck." The Word on the Street. National Library of Scotland. https://digital.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/15876/transcript/1.

Oxford English Dictionary. Accessed April 18, 2018. http://www.oed.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/.

O., J. 1853. "Canongate Marriages." Notes and Queries 7 (January): 67-68. https://books.google.ca/books?id=GFjBPX6mVAIC&lpg=PA68&dq=notes%20and%20queries%20claudero%20wilson&pg=PA67#v=onepage&q&f=false.

---. 1873. "Alexander Pennecuik." Notes and Queries S4-12, no. 290 (July 19): 53. https://academic-oup-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/nq/article/s4-XII/290/53/4421240?searchresult=1.

"Passages in the Lives of Poets." 1830. The American Monthly Magazine 2, no. 6 (September): 403-13. http://proxy.lib.sfu.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/docview/124350817?accountid=13800.

Taylor, D. W. 1978. "The Manuscript Lecture-Notes of Alexander Monro, Secundus (1733-1817). Medical History 22: 174-186. https://www-cambridge-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/0795729F1EE90A1C9874F590A8AE86A4/S0025727300032300a.pdf/manuscript_lecturenotes_of_alexander_monro_secundus_17331817.pdf.

Wilson, James. 1756. "The Last Speech and Dying Words of the Cross of Edinburgh." The Word on the Street. National Library of Scotland. https://digital.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/16663.

---. 1765. Poems on Several Occasions. By Claudero, Son of Nimrod the Mighty Hunter. Vol. 1. London: the author. 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=CW3314815081&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE.

---. 1766. Miscellanies in Prose and Verse, on Several Occasions, By Claudero, Son of Nimrod the Mighty Hunter. Edinburgh: the author. 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=CW3313976853&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE.

---. 1771. Miscellanies in Prose and Verse, on Several Occasions, By Claudero, Son of Nimrod the Mighty Hunter. 4th ed. Edinburgh: the author. 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=CW3313984745&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE.

James Wilson (Claudero)