David Macbeth Moir

David Macbeth Moir (1798-1851). Engraving by W. Roffe (1889-1893 fl.). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. David Macbeth Moir (5 January 1798 - 6 July 1851) was a Scottish poet and physician, who wrote under the pen name of Delta (Δ).



Moir was a doctor at Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, and a frequent contributor, under the signature of Δ, to Blackwood's Magazine in which appeared "Mansie Waugh," a humorous Scottish tale. He also wrote The Legend of Genevieve (1824), Domestic Verses (1843), and sketches of the poetry of the earlier half of the 19th century. His poetry was generally grave and tender, but occasionally humorous.[1]

Youth and educationEdit

Moir was born at Musselburgh, the son of Robert Moir and Elizabeth (Macbeth), and received his school education there. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed for 4 years to Dr. Stewart, a physician in that town, and studied medicine in Edinburgh, obtaining his surgeon's diploma in his 19th year (1816).[2]


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.[2]

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, as well as of essays and serious verse over the signature 'Δ.' 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.[2]

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. He continued to write for the magazines, and soon included Fraser and the Edinburgh Literary Gazette among the periodicals to which he contributed.[2]

Moir's earliest professional publication was Outlines of the Ancient History of Medicine (1831), intended as the initial 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, also in 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.[3]

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 7 volumes, and in 1848 prepared a single volume edition. In 1849 he made an excursion to the highlands with Christopher North.[3]

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.[3]

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[3].


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 400 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.


A statue of Moir, by Ritchie was erected in 1854 on the bank of the Esk in Musselburgh.[3] Charles Dickens was a subscriber.[4]

He is also commemorated by the David Macbeth Moir pub on High Street in Musselburgh.[4]Our History, The David Macbeth Moir, J.D. Wetherpoon Co. Web, Feb. 14, 2018.</ref>



  • The Bombardment of Algiers, and other poems (anonymous). Edinburgh: John Robertson, 1816.[5]
  • The Legend of Genevieve, with other tales and poems by Delta. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1824.
  • Domestic verses by Delta. Edinburgh & London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1843.
  • Poetical Works. (edited by Thomas Aird). (2 volumes), Edinburgh & London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1852.


  • The Life of Mansie Wauch, Tailor in Dalkeith, written by himself. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1828.
  • The Bridal of Borthwick: A Scottish tale. London: J. Clements, for the Proprietors of the Romancist and Novelist's Library, 1841.


  • Outlines of the Ancient History of Medicine. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1831.
  • Practical Observations on Malignant Cholera. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1832.
  • Proofs of the Contagion of malignant cholera. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1832.
  • "Biographical Memoir of the Late Mrs. Hemans," in Poetical Remains, 1836.

Memoir of Galt. 1841.

  • Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-century, in six lectures. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1851.
  • The Roman Antiquities of Inveresk. Edinburgh & London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1860.


Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[6]

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Smith, George Gregory (1894) "Moir, David Macbeth" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 38 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 113-114 . Wikisource, Web, Aug. 23, 2016.


  1. John William Cousin, "Moir, David Macbeth," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 275. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 14, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Smith, 113.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Smith, 114.
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named dmmoirpub
  5. Search results = bombardment of Algiers, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Aug. 23, 2016.
  6. Search results = au:David Macbeth Moir, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Aug. 23, 2016.

External linksEdit

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