George Beattie (poet)
Headstone of George Beattie
|Born||18 September 1786|
|Died||29 September 1823 (aged 38)|
|Other names||William ?|
|Known for||Epic poem "John o' Arnha"|
|Website||The George Beattie Project|
George Beattie was the son of a crofter and salmon fisher at Whitehill, near St Cyrus, Kincardineshire, where he was born in 1786 to parents, William Beattie and Elizabeth Scott. George was the third eldest of seven children whose names in descending chronology were: James - born/baptised on 10.12.1780; Joseph - born/baptised on 16/05/1784; George/William - born/baptised on 18.09.1786; Mary - born/baptised on 27.02.1789; Catherine - born/baptised on 19.03.1791; Elizabeth - born/baptised on 08/05/1794 and David - born between 1791-1798. 
He received a good education at the parish school of St Cyrus. During his boyhood and even into adulthood, he was notorious for his frolics and love of practical jokes. It is also related of him, that on Saturday afternoons it was his delight to wander among the "braes" of St Cyrus, and that he used to "visit the auld kirkyard with a kind of melancholy pleasure". When the boy was about thirteen years of age, his father obtained a situation on the excise at Montrose, and "young George", it is said, walked all the way to his new home "with a tame kae (jackdaw) on his shoulder". 
After an ineffectual attempt to become a mechanic he obtained a clerkship in Aberdeen, but six weeks later his employer died, bequeathing him a legacy of £50. Returning to Montrose, Beattie entered the office of the procurator-fiscal, and on the completion of his legal education in Edinburgh he established himself in Montrose as a writer or attorney. His remarkable conversational gifts, especially as a humourist and his philanthropy rendered him a general favourite among his companions, and, being combined with good business talents, contributed to his speedy success in his profession.  Beattie also became factor to the Kirkside Estate in St Cyrus, owned by General Sir Joseph Straton, K.C.B., a Peninsular and Waterloo hero. As an adult, George was considered to be very handsome despite being rather short and stout. He had black wavy hair, blue eyes and a face full of friendliness and fun.
In 1815 he contributed to the Montrose Review a poem, "John o' Arnha", which he afterwards elaborated with much care, and published in a separate form, when its rollicking humour and vivid descriptions soon secured it a wide popularity. Its incidents bear some resemblance to those of Tam o' Shanter of which it may be called a pale reflex. In 1818, he published in the Review a poem in the old Scottish dialect, written when he was a mere boy, and entitled "The Murderit Mynstrell". The poem, which is in a totally different vein from "John o' Arnha", is characterised throughout by a charming simplicity, a chastened tenderness of sentiment, and a delicacy of delineation which are sometimes regarded as the special attributes of the earlier English poets. In 1819, he published also in the Review, "The Bark" and in 1820, a wild and eerie rhapsody, entitled "The Dream". He also wrote several smaller lyrics.  Beattie was a freethinker and prone to radicalism in his ideology and was a key member of a small group of like-minded individuals who would meet on a Sunday at the 'Den of Ananias', a picturesque spot near Montrose, to discuss their mutual beliefs.
In 1821, Beattie made the acquaintance of a young lady named William Gibson, who was the daughter of his friend, the squire of Stone of Morphie, Robert Gibson. Against her parents wishes, the couple soon contracted a marriage engagement. During the summer of 1822, they would secretly rendezvous in the walled garden of the Gibson owned, but then uninhabited, House of Kinnaber, where was made many vows of fidelity and solemn promises of eternal love. She was proud, aspiring and ambitious whilst he was unreserved, affable and humble. Miss Gibson's affection being sensitive and jealous whilst Beattie's was deeper, more serious and true.
So deeply were the affections of both engaged that a mutual oath, at her behest, was exchanged with these words, "May I never know peace in this world or see God in mercy, if I marry another than you." Yet, solemn as it seems, on the part of Miss Gibson, it proved to have been lightly taken and as lightly broken. The course of true love never yet ran smooth and for poor George Beattie, the darkest of clouds hastily approached. In the spring of 1823 a sudden and fearful "change came o'er the spirit of his dream".
The story promulgated states that before the marriage was completed, the young lady fell heir to a small fortune from a wealthy uncle, William Mitchell, Esq., who was supposedly a governor of Grenada. Upon discovering the full extent of the sum bequeathed to her mother and herself, she promptly rejected Beattie for a suitor who apparently occupied a better social rank in life, corn merchant William Smart. Deeply wounded by the disappointment, Beattie from that time meditated self-destruction. The following quote in George Beattie's own words from his 'Statement of Facts' is extremely insightful with regard to the generally accepted version of events leading up to his alleged suicide:
"That plots were laid by others to oust me and secure Miss Gibson’s fortune, I know well from the inquiries that were made at myself from a certain quarter. Those who interfered were far too many for me."
~ George Beattie (1823)
After completing a narrative of his relations with the lady, contained in a history of his life from 1821 to 1823, he provided himself with a pistol purchased in Aberdeen, and, going to St Cyrus, shot himself next to his sister Mary's grave in the Auld Nether Kirkyard on 29 September 1823. He was just 38 years of age.
After a wild and stormy night, his body was discovered the following day by a herd boy named William Reith, lying in a 'natural position', resting his head and shoulders on the west wall of the kirkyard, with a letter to his brother David by his side.
Of the woman who sent him thus brokenhearted in mad despair to an early grave he takes leave in some lines of touching intensity of feeling within his final poems, "The Appeal" and "Farewell Sonnet", if not sublime, they are at least full of sad and sincere beauty. Thus came an end to all the bright, golden visions of a courageous, honest and true heart.
Ms. William Gibson (Smart), after a life of alleged loveless comfort, followed by a lingering illness of two years, died in her 42nd year on 22 January 1840 at Castlested in Montrose whilst crying out the name of the man who had given her his heart, George Beattie. She was buried in Rosehill Cemetery of Montrose.
Since his death, his poems, accompanied with a memoir, went through several editions. 
Obituary from the 'Montrose Review', October 1823.
"It is with no ordinary feelings of regret that we have to record the death of Mr. George Beattie, writer here, which happened on the 29th ultimo. In his professional capacity, Mr. Beattie was eminent for his integrity, abilities and conciliatory disposition, which made him regard what was just, rather than what was scientific. As a scholar, nay, as a philosopher, his mind was stored with whatever is excellent in literature; and he admired whatever is grand, impressive, and interesting in nature.
He was both a man of observation and reflection; and his remarks were listened to with that degree of attention which a superior judgement always commands. Above all, as a man, as an upright, independent, generous, and sociable man, he was honoured, esteemed, and beloved; nor was this tribute paid to the qualities of his heart in a common or a partial degree, but warmly and generally. His satirical powers (which, keeping a judicious aim, become an active virtue itself), were elucidated in many instances and thrown with subtle keenness against vice, folly, and corruption. In testimony of this, he has left behind him many admired specimens both in prose and verse.
The milder effusions of his genius abound in sentiment and pathos, equal at least to many of the more lauded poetical pieces of the day; and had he prosecuted with ardour that gift with which he was favoured, he might have laid claim to a palm which a less qualified muse may now possess. His humour was unbounded, and was of such a nature that it delighted all who had the honour of his acquaintance, without hurting the feelings of any.
He was a firm patriot, a universal philanthropist, and a warm friend: noble, generous, honest, modest, unassuming, feeling: he was a man who mixed with opposite parties, and was equally beloved by all. It may be thought by those who shared not the pleasures of his society, that this outline of Mr. Beattie's character and qualities is a laboured panegyric; and we confess that, of an individual at a distance, we should have suspected so, but to those who knew him, it will appear only an attempt to draw the contour of a picture which every one admired in its natural perfection.
As public journalists, we have no right to intrude with our own private feelings, in lamenting the death of this worthy and valuable member of society; but it would have been doing injustice to the public, whose concern is deep upon this occasion, to have said less; and we are assured that none will contradict us when we declare, that no man in this town and neighbourhood was ever more generally beloved in his life, or more universally lamented in his death".
The author of the 1863 biography, 'George Beattie of Montrose - a poet, a humourist, and a man of genius' was A.S. Mt. Cyrus, M.A., this name being a pseudonym for an Andrew Smith of Lauriston Mains, who went to the South African Province of Natal, and eventually died in Queenstown, South Africa in 1898 of heart disease, in his early 70s. He was a native of St Cyrus and an avid follower of the works of the Rev. Dr. Alexander Keith. He was also lifelong friends with Dr. Keith's sons. Andrew Smith had three brothers: the Hon. Charles Abercrombie Smith, a vice-chancellor of the University of the Cape of Good Hope; the Rev. David Smith and the Rev. Robert Smith of Carsock. He also had a sister who was the wife of the Rev. W. R. Thomson of Balfour.
FAREWELL, maid, thy love has vanish’d, Gone off like the morning dew; Farewell, maid, my peace is banish’d, Adieu! a sad, a long adieu!
Weary world, I now must leave thee; Sun and moon, a long farewell; Farewell, maid, no more I’ll grieve thee, Soon you’ll hear my funeral knell.
Soon the lips that oft have kiss’d thee, Mouldering in the dust will lie; And the heart that oft hath blessed thee, Soon must cease to heave a sigh.
Soon the tongue that still rehearses All thy beauty, fickle fair, Soon the hand that writes these verses Shall to kindred dust repair.
Friends that constant were, and true aye, Fare-you-well, my race is run; Heartless, lorn, benighted, weary, Every earthly hope is gone.
Gloomy grave, you’ll soon receive me, All my sorrows here shall close; Here no fickle fair shall grieve me; Here my heart shall find repose.
- Andrew (Alexander) Smith, (ed) George Beattie of Montrose: a poet, a humourist, and a man of genius, W. P. Nimmo, 1863. (Public Domain)
- Barry Dominic Graham & John Molloy, (ed) George Beattie: A Poet Lost in Time, 2013.
- Barry Dominic Graham & John Molloy, (ed) Maelstrom: The George Beattie Conspiracy, 2014.
- Barry Dominic Graham, (ed) Blood Beyond the Rose: The George Beattie Story, 2016.
- Henderson 1885, p. 22.
- St Cyrus - Extract from National Gazetteer, 1868 : "WHITEHILL, a village in the parish of St Cyrus, county Kincardine, Scotland, adjoining the vil, of Lochside."
- Ref. 18/09/1786 Old Parish Records of Births 267/00 0010 0151 ST CYRUS/ BEATTIE, WILLIAM / Whitehill / William Beattie and Elizabeth Scott. (Representatives of the National Archives of Scotland strongly suggest that the name George was either an adopted middle name which was later substituted or 'William' was merely a clerical error at the time of Parish Register entry being confused with the father's forename.)
- No specific birth/baptism date can be traced for David, either because the OPR was lost or no baptism took place, which would result in no official record.
- All the Beattie children are listed in a volume of Kirk Session minutes for St Cyrus (ref. CH2/590/1) in a 'List of Inhabitants of the Parish of Ecclesgreig or St Cyrus' on p.29 under 'Whitehill' which was drawn up on 25 October 1798.
- Barry Dominic Graham, (ed) George Beattie: A Poet Lost in Time, 2013.
- Researched at the National Archives of Scotland by Barry Dominic Graham and John Molloy, 2013, The George Beattie Project.
- Some details sourced from: Andrew (Alexander) Smith, (ed) George Beattie of Montrose: a poet, a humourist, and a man of genius, W. P. Nimmo, 1863. (Public Domain)
- The 'Statement of Facts', 'Supplement to Statement of Facts', 'Additions to Supplement' and 'The Last'.
- George Beattie's final poem, a 'Farewell Sonnet'. (Public Domain)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Henderson, Thomas Finlayson (1885). "Beattie, George". In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 04. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 22. endnotes:
- Memoir mentioned above.
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