Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fleming, Margaret

FLEMING, MARGARET (1803–1811), called Pet Margarie, born 15 Jan. 1803, was daughter of James Fleming of Kirkcaldy, by Elizabeth, daughter of James Rae, and sister of Mrs. Keith of Ravelston, the friend of Sir Walter Scott. Scott frequently saw Margaret Fleming at the house of her aunt, Mrs. Keith, became attached to the child, and delighted in playing with her. She showed extraordinary precocity; she read history when six years old, and wrote diaries and poems, which were preserved by her family. They show singular quickness, vivacity, and humour, while there is no trace of the morbid tendencies too often associated with infant prodigies. She composed an historical poem upon Mary Queen of Scots,

Who fled to England for protection
(Elizabeth was her connection);

an excellent epitaph upon three young turkeys,

A direful death indeed they had,
That would put any parent mad;
But she [their mother] was more than usual calm,
She did not give a single dam;

and made many quaint remarks upon various lovers, including a gentleman who offered to marry her with his wife's permission, but failed to carry out his promise, and sundry religious reflections, especially upon the devil. That her talents were limited is proved by her statement: ‘I am now going to tell you the horrible and wretched plaege that my multiplication table givis me; you can't conceive it. The most devilish thing is 8 times 8 and 7 times 7; it is what nature itself can't endure.’ No more fascinating infantile author has ever appeared, and we may certainly accept the moderate anticipation of her first biographer, that if she had lived she might have written books. Unfortunately she had an attack of measles, and when apparently recovering was taken ill and died after three days of ‘water on the brain,’ 19 Dec. 1811. Her father could never afterwards mention her name. Her life is probably the shortest to be recorded in these volumes, and certainly she is one of the most charming characters.

[Pet Margarie; a Story of Child Life Fifty Years Ago, Edinburgh, 1858. This was reviewed in the North British Review for November 1863 by Dr. John Brown, who had the original diaries, &c., before him, and gives details not recorded in the previous account. His very pleasing article has been republished with Rab and his Friends; Scotsman, 6 July 1881 (notice of death of her elder sister, Elizabeth Fleming).]

L. S.