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Significant Scots
George Beattie

The character and history of George Beattie have had a certain charm, an undefined something, which has engaged the interest of all who ever knew anything of them. So many things are told of him, and so much does he live in the minds of the people, that if any man ever had an unwritten biography, it is he.

His genius as a poet, his unbounded humour, and the romantic generosity of his character, will partly account for this. No doubt certain passages in his life, regarding which he has left Memoranda, have greatly increased this interest. The Memoranda, now published from his MSS., have a singular fascination, as is shown from the immense number of manuscript copies which have been taken, although the quantity is such as to make the copying out no trifle. In the chapters of the Life which refer to these passages, I have made it my object to state everything just as I found it; and the chapters also which refer to his later history are toned to suit these Memoranda, which must be read simultaneously, else the tone of those chapters will be misconceived. To do otherwise than I have done would imply a want of sympathy with character. Still the biographer, so far as concerns his own character and sentiments, is no more to be confounded with the man whose life he writes, than the archer with the mark he shoots at. Every life should have a moral.

I have not said too much on the religious and moral aspects of Beattie’s life, thinking that a Life fairly told out teaches its own moral. His poems are remarkable for their power and originality. "John o’ Arnha” is a poem, the rough humour and drollery of which will take with everybody, but a closer reading will reveal the finer and more delicate beauties of true poetry, with which it abounds. At this moment, when the dialects of Great Britain are made an object of study, it will be read with interest as the best example of the pure Doric dialect of Scotland. With the glossary given, the English reader will find it easily read. Prefaces are also given to state matters of interest connected with the poems. Two of the poems are now published for the first time. "John 0’ Arnha” was issued by the poet himself, and it, along with the others, was afterwards reprinted, and speedily went through a number of editions. The poems have proved their vitality, by having been reprinted six times, and that without having been issued from the great publishing centres.

Local fame could hardly go beyond this. Beattie, owing to his early death, never had an opportunity of coming fairly before the world, and it has been my object to supply the materials for this being done.

A. S. MtC.

George Beattie, of Montrose
A poet, a humourist, and a man of genius by A. S. MtCyrus (second edition)  (1863) (pdf)

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