Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pennecuik, Alexander

PENNECUIK, ALEXANDER, M.D. (1652–1722), physician and poet, born in 1652, was the eldest son of Alexander Pennecuik of Newhall, Edinburgh, who had been a surgeon under General Bannier in the thirty years' war, and afterwards in the army sent from Scotland into England in 1644. In 1646 the elder Pennecuik bought from the Crichtons the estate of Newhall on the North Esk; but the statement that in the following year he sold the barony of Pennecuik to the Clerks seems to be erroneous (Wilson, Annals of Penicuik, 1891). To Newhall he added, by his marriage with Margaret Murray, the estate of Romanno, on the other side of West Linton, in Tweeddale. An Alexander Pennecuik took the degree of M.A. at Edinburgh on 18 July 1664 (Cat. of Edinburgh Graduates, 1858, p. 88); but we know nothing definite about young Pennecuik's medical education. Allusions in his poems, and his knowledge of modern languages, show that he travelled in Spain and other countries. On his return he devoted himself for some years to the care of his father, ‘a gentleman by birth, and more by merit,’ who seems to have died soon after 1692, when he was over ninety. One of Pennecuik's poems is an expression of filial affection.

Pennecuik's practice as a physician caused him, as he said, to know every corner of Tweeddale; and at the request of Sir Robert Sibbald [q. v.], who was preparing an account of the counties of Scotland, he wrote a ‘Description of Tweeddale,’ with the assistance of John Forbes of Newhall, advocate. The manuscript had been perused by Archbishop Nicholson in 1702 (see his Scottish Historical Library, pp. 19, 21); but it was not published until 1715, when it appeared in a small quarto volume, ‘A Geographical, Historical Description of the Shire of Tweeddale, with a Miscellany and curious Collection of Select Scottish Poems.’ In the dedication to William Douglas, earl of March, Pennecuik said that he had lived in Tweeddale over thirty years; he did not consider the English dialect to be preferable to his own, though it had become modish. Any of the poems which had been printed before had appeared surreptitiously. Pennecuik was interested especially in the botany of the county, and one of the friends with whom he corresponded was James Sutherland, superintendent of the first botanic garden in Edinburgh. Some of the verses addressed to his younger brother, James, an advocate, who wished him to come to Edinburgh, bear testimony to his love of a country life. In 1711 he told Sir Alexander Murray of Stanhope that he had once been a great curler (Maidment, Catalogue of Scottish Writers, 1833, p. 139).

Pennecuik was a friend of most of the Scottish gentlemen interested in letters to whom Allan Ramsay expresses his obligations. Ramsay visited at Newhall, but not, apparently, until it had passed out of Pennecuik's hands, and there seems no doubt that Newhall was the scene of the ‘Gentle Shepherd.’ It does not follow, however, that Pennecuik, as has been surmised, suggested to Ramsay the plot of that pastoral poem, which, indeed, did not appear in its complete form until three years after Pennecuik's death; but he not improbably took part in discussions on the subject. Pennecuik died in 1722, and was buried in the churchyard at Newlands, by his father's side (Rogers, Monuments and Monumental Inscriptions in Scotland, i. 266). In 1702 his elder daughter had married the eldest son of Mrs. Oliphant of Lanton, Midlothian, and Pennecuik gave with her the estate of Newhall. Her husband, however, got into debt, and in 1703 Newhall was sold to Sir David Forbes, father to John Forbes, Pennecuik's friend and Ramsay's patron. Pennecuik lived at Romanno until his death, when he left that property to a younger daughter, who had married Mr. Farquharson of Kirktown of Boyne, Aberdeenshire.

Pennecuik's works were reprinted at Edinburgh in 1762 (‘A Collection of curious Scots Poems … by Alexander Pennecuik’); at Leith in 1815, ‘with copious notes;’ and again at Edinburgh in 1875. The poems are chiefly occasional, and frequently in the Scottish dialect. The satires and other pieces possess humour, though they are often coarse. His imitations from earlier and foreign writers are of little interest; the value of his verses lies in the picture they give of the rural life of the time. He cared little for scenery apart from mankind, and had no appreciation for nature in her grander aspects.

The following pieces appeared in separate form: 1. ‘Caledonia Triumphans,’ broadside, 1699, reprinted in Laing's ‘Various Pieces of Fugitive Scotch Poetry,’ 1823. 2. ‘A Panegyric to the King,’ broadside, 1699. 3. ‘The Tragedy of Graybeard,’ 1700, 8vo. 4. ‘Lintoun Address to his Highness the Prince of Orange,’ broadside, 1714; this piece was first printed in the first part of Watson's ‘Choice Collection of Scots Songs,’ 1706.

Dr. Pennecuik is often confused with another

Alexander Pennecuik (d. 1730), said to be his nephew. The younger Pennecuik was in all probability a relative, for commendatory verses by ‘Al. P., Mercator Edinburgensis,’ were prefixed to the elder Pennecuik's ‘Description of Tweeddale,’ 1715, and lines ‘To my honoured friend, Dr. P——k,’ were printed by the younger Pennecuik in 1720 in his best known volume, ‘Streams from Helicon, or Poems on Various Subjects, in three parts, by Alexander Pennecuik, Gent.,’ Edinburgh; some copies are marked as second edition, and others bear a London imprint. In 1726 he published ‘Flowers from Parnassus,’ and before his death he appears to have begun a periodical, ‘Entertainment for the Curious.’ He was buried in the Greyfriars churchyard, Edinburgh, on 28 Nov. 1730, being described in the register as ‘Alexander Pencook, merchant’ (Chalmers's ‘Life of Ramsay,’ prefixed to Poems, 1800, vol. i. pp. lvii–lviii). Pennecuik's life was dissipated, and, according to James Wilson (‘Claudero’), who seems to have succeeded him as town laureate, he, ‘like poor Claud, was short of pence,’ though he sang sweetly, and ‘starving, died in turnpike neuk’ (Collection of Poems, 1761?, ‘Claudero's Farewell to the Muses and Auld Reikie’). After Pennecuik's death there appeared ‘A Collection of Poet Pennecuik's Satires on Kirkmen,’ &c., 1744; ‘A Compleat Collection of all the Poems wrote by that famous and learned Poet, Alexander Pennecuik,’ six parts, no date, but published about 1750; and ‘A Collection of Scots Poems on several occasions, by the late Mr. Alexander Pennecuik, Gent., and others,’ Glasgow, 1787. Other similar collections were printed in 1756 and 1769. The younger Pennecuik published in separate form: 1. ‘A Pastoral Poem sacred to the Memory of Lord Basil Hamilton,’ 1701. 2. ‘A Pil for Pork-eaters,’ 1705, an attack on the English (included in the ‘Compleat Collection’). 3. ‘Britannia Triumphans, in four parts … sacred to 28 May, the Anniversary of the Birth of George I,’ 1718. 4. ‘An Historical Account of the Blue Blanket, or Craftsmen's Banner,’ by ‘Alex. Pennecuik, burgess and guild-brother of Edinburgh,’ 1722; a prose account, several times reprinted, of the crafts of Edinburgh. 5. ‘Corydon and Cochrania: a Pastoral on the Nuptials of the Duke of Hamilton,’ 1723. 6. ‘Groans from the Grave, or Complaints of the Dead against the Surgeons for raising their Bodies out of the Dust,’ anonymous, but stated in a manuscript note in Maidment's copy in the British Museum to have been published at Edinburgh by Pennecuik on 13 March 1725. 7. ‘Rome's Legacy to the Kirk of Scotland,’ no place or date. It has been suggested that Pennecuik was the author of ‘The Flight of Religious Piety from Scotland upon account of Ramsay's Lewd Books,’ published about 1736, on the ground that he was a frequent rival or imitator of Ramsay. Pennecuik's own writings are constantly marred by obscenity; but there is wit in some of his satires, which were generally aimed against whigs and presbyterians.

[The principal source of information respecting Dr. Pennecuik is the life prefixed to the 1815 edition of his Works, which is stated (Cat. of the Signet Library) to be by Robert Brown of Newhall; Thomson's Biogr. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; Lives of the Scottish Poets, 1822, iii. 36–40, 155; Memoirs of the Life of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, ed. J. M. Gray, pp. 114, 235–6; The Gentle Shepherd, with illustrations of the scenery, 1808, i. 45–7, ii. 408–13, 640–2, Scots Magazine, 1805 p. 905, 1806 pp. 249, 581, 1807 p. 170; Catalogues of British Museum, Advocates' and Signet Libraries, Edinburgh, in none of which are the two Pennecuiks distinguished from each other; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vii. 134, 4th ser. xii. 7, 53, 198; Northern Notes and Queries, iii. 154; Irving's Hist. of Scottish Poetry, 1861, pp. 585–9; Veitch's Hist. and Poetry of the Scottish Border, 1893, ii. 241–243; Edinburgh Bibliogr. Soc. vi. (pamphlets by W. Brown). The registers of Pennecuik (Newhall) and Newlands are defective.]

G. A. A.