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Broadside entitled 'George's Clerk's Last Speech and Dying Words'


This ballad is prefaced with text which reads: 'GEORGE CLERK'S LAST SPEECH and DYING WORDS on the Scaffold and at Pennycuick, with his farewell address to his beloved friend, Dundas, late Member for the City of Edinburgh; together with his EPITAPH.' The ballad begins: 'Dear, dear Dundas, I'm fairly gone, / What will be done, my friend? /Great grief will eat my flesh from bone, / And turn my enlarged mind.' The ballad was to be sung to the tune 'Miller of Drone'. The broadside carries no publication details.

This ballad is not a real paraphrase of a condemned man's last speech. Rather, it is the work of a Radical poet, imagining the last words of a Scottish nobleman, Sir George Clerk of Penicuik (1787-1867), before he takes his own life. Clerk did not commit suicide, but the idea for the poem probably came from the suicide of Lord Castlereagh, Tory government civil spokesman, who cut his own throat in 1822 after being partially blamed for the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 and the introduction of the repressive, anti-Radical 'Six Acts'. Clerk of Penicuik also had Tory sympathies, and the author of this broadside obviously wishes as horrific a fate upon him as that which befell Castlereagh.

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742-1811) is named in this poem as the late 'beloved friend' of Clerk. To Radicals and reformers, especially in Scotland, Dundas epitomised all that was unjust about the political system. Voted Member of Parliament for Edinburgh by an electorate that represented a fraction of the population, Dundas generally protected landed interests and the status quo, and held such huge political influence that he was nicknamed the 'Uncrowned King of Scotland'.

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Probable period of publication: 1825-1840   shelfmark: ABS.10.203.01(073)
Broadside entitled 'George's Clerk's Last Speech and Dying Words'
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