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Moir, David Macbeth (DNB00)

MOIR, DAVID MACBETH (1798–1851), physician and author, known as Delta (Δ), son of Robert Moir and Elizabeth Macbeth, was born at Musselburgh on 5 Jan. 1798, and received his school education there. At the age of thirteen he was apprenticed for four years to Dr. Stewart, a physician in that town, and studied medicine in Edinburgh, obtaining his surgeon's diploma in his nineteenth year (1816). In 1817 he entered into partnership with Dr. Brown of Musselburgh, whose practice, he tells us, kept him so occupied that he did not spend a night out of the town between that year and 1828.

Moir began to write as early as 1812, about which year he sent two essays to 'The Cheap Magazine,' published at Haddington. In 1816 he wrote his first articles for the 'Scots Magazine,' and published anonymously ' The Bombardment of Algiers, and other Poems.' After entering on professional practice he contributed to ' Constable's Edinburgh Magazine' and to 'Blackwood's Magazine.' In the latter he became a regular writer of jeux d 'esprit, which were at first ascribed to William Maginn [q. v.], as well as of essays and serious verse over the signature 'A.' His connection with ' Blackwood ' was the means of introducing him to Christopher North, and in 1823 to Gait, the novelist, for whom Moir wrote the concluding chapters of 'The Last of the Lairds.' In the autumn of 1824 appeared 'The Legend of Genevieve, with other Tales and Poems,' in part a reprint of magazine pieces, and the first instalments in ' Blackwood' of 'The Autobiography of Mansie Wauch,' republished in book form, with additions, in 1828. He had the offer from Mr. Blackwood in 1829 of the editorship of the 'Quarterly Journal of Agriculture,' and was urged by him and other friends to settle in Edinburgh, but he refused both proposals 'Letters quoted by Aird). He continued to write for the magazines, and soon included 'Fraser' and the 'Edinburgh Literary Gazette' among the periodicals to which he contributed.

Moir's first professional publication was 'Outlines of the Ancient History of Medicine' (1831), intended as the first instalment of a complete history. Pressure of medical duties, caused partly by the serious outbreak of cholera in Musselburgh in 1832, and partly by the retirement of Dr. Brown early in 1833, interfered with his design. He wrote a pamphlet entitled 'Practical Observations on Malignant Cholera' (1832), being a general answer to the inquiries which he received as secretary of the board of health of his heavily stricken town. Shortly afterwards he published 'Proofs of the Contagion of Malignant Cholera,' 1832. In the autumn of that year he attended the meeting of the British Association at Oxford, and visited Cheltenham and London, where his friend Gait was then living. In 1843 appeared 'Domestic Verses,' a volume of elegies prompted by the deaths of three of his children and of a number of the 'Blackwood' circle. In the following year he contracted a serious illness by sitting all night in damp clothes by the bed of a patient, and in 1846 his health was further broken by a carriage accident. His remaining years were devoted to social functions and to intercourse with literary friends. He had already edited Mrs. Hemans's works in seven volumes, and in 1848 prepared a single volume edition. In 1849 he made an excursion to the highlands with Christopher North. He was a member of several scientific societies, including the Medico-Chirurgical, Harveian, Antiquarian, and Highland Societies, and he was the author of the account of the 'Antiquities of the Parish of Inveresk,' published in the 'Statistical Account of Scotland' in 1845, and separately in 1860. In the spring of 1851 he delivered a course of six lectures at Edinburgh on 'The Poetical Literature of the past Half Century,' published in the same year. In 'Blackwood' of July 1851 appeared his last literary effort, 'The Lament of Selim.' On 22 June he received further injury when dismounting from his horse, and died at Dumfries on Sunday, 6 July. He was buried at Inveresk. A statue by Ritchie was erected in 1854 on the bank of the Esk, within his native town.

He married Catherine E. Bell of Leith on 8 June 1828, and had eleven children; a son Robert was house-surgeon of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in 1851, afterwards in St. Andrews.

His literary works, other than those already noticed, are:

  1. 'School Recollections' (published in 'Friendship's Offering' in 1829).
  2. 'Memoir of Alexander Balfour' (as Preface to Balfour's' Weeds and Wild Flowers,' 1830).
  3. 'Memoir of Gait' (in the 'Literary Life'), 1834.
  4. 'Life of Macnish' (in 'The Modern Pythagorean'), 1837 and 1844.
  5. 'Memoirs of Rennie of Phantassie and Sir John Sinclair' (in the 'Journal of Agriculture'), and a sketch of Admiral Sir David Milne [q. v.]

A list of his contributions to 'Blackwood,' nearly four hundred in number, will be found on p. 128 of the General Index to vols. i-1. 'The Poetical Works of David Macbeth Moir, A. Edited by Thomas Aird. With a Memoir of the Author,' appeared in 2 vols. at Edinburgh in 1852.

The eulogies of 'Delta' by the 'Blackwood' coterie will probably not be accepted by present-day critics. His verse will be commended for its study of nature and its pleasing rhythm. His humorous pieces, though sprightly, have, for the most part, a solely contemporary interest. His reputation now rests on his novel, 'Mansie Wauch,' written in the manner of Gait.

[Memoir by Aird (see above); Blackwood's Magazine, pp. lxx, 249, and passim; Fraser's Magazine, viii. 290, and passim; Noctes Ambrosianse. This biography has been kindly revised by Dr. Robert Moir. St. Andrews, and Dr. Thomas Scott, Musselburgh.]

G. G. S.