Joan Keir

In Joan's family, a Jacobite flame was kept burning in the female line, to resurface in the Victorian period. Her grandfather was one of the trustees of the Jacobite Old St Paul's church in Edinburgh, and her son was a neo-Jacobite author, but the male generations in between, her father James Keir of Kinmonth and husband Roger Aytoun, were conforming and progressive in their activities. Her son, inheriting from her ideas which were a hundred years out of date, turned to humour to express the incongruous mixture of ideas which he found in the world of Charlotte Chapel.

Lived
1771 - 1861
Origin
Kinmonth, Perthshire
Father
James Keir of Kinmonth (Kinmount, Kilmont)
Mother
Margaret Orme, daughter of Alexander Orme of Balvaird and Agnes Keith, daughter of Alexander Keith and brother of Alexander Keith of Ravelston (1705-1792). Married in 1750 in the house of the Rector of Old St Paul's (4) Alexander Orme was one of the Trustees of Old St Paul's (5)
Address
In 1805 at 37 Queen Street, in 1818 at 21 Abercromby Place
Story
Mark Weinstein described Joan in his study of her son:
'She was early left an orphan and spent her youth with her granduncle, Alexander Keith of Ravelstone. He trained her to read him works of a kind and range far beyond the usual studies of a young lady, and she stored up the prose and poetry in her memory... When Lockhart was compiling his biography, he went to Mrs Aytoun for anecdotes of Scott's youthful days... She herself was a fierce Jacobite, her kindred having supported the Pretender in 1715 and 1745, and a lover of ballad poetry.' (3)
Chapel connection
1810 (baptism)
Married on
9 March 1807
Spouse
Roger Aytoun
Children
Isabella (1810), William Edmonstone Aytoun (1813-1865, a neo-Jacobite novelist and man of letters prominent on the campaigns of the national movement of the 1850s)
Related to
Alexander Keith, her second cousin.
Connections
Joan's contemporary Jane Anderson, who also married a lawyer, came from the neighbouring Perthshire estate.

The Poetry of William Edmonstone Aytoun

The Victorian poet William Edmonstone Aytoun's two greatest influences were the writing of Walter Scott and the Jacobitism of his mother Joan Keir. He collected ballads and lovingly parodied the form, so that humour infused them with new zest, most successfully in The Queen in France, celebrating the young Queen Victoria's visit:

... Three days had come, three days had gane,
The fourth began to fa'
When our gude Queen to the Frenchman said,
'It's time I was awa!

'Oh, bonny are the fields o' France,
And saftly draps the rain;
But my bairnies are in Windsor Tower,
And greeting a' their lane' ...

While Aytoun had great success as a humourist and satirist, his attempts at serious Jacobite poetry like The Island of the Scots, a century too late, were less well received, and sound like a parody of Scott:

... Rise, hill and glen! rise, crag and wood!
Rise up on either hand --
Again upon the Garry's banks,
On Scottish soil we stand! ...

At his best, Aytoun displays both the ponderous hilarity of Scott, and the economical vignettes of the more classical style of his father's Whig friend, Henry Cockburn. But his favourite comic technique is the absurd incongruity, where in the middle of a charming or tragic scene something deeply prosaic intrudes. In one story, the hero overhears the baillie's sweet daughter Miss Maggie Binkie singing airs to her harpsicord on a fine spring morning, but there is something odd about the words:

I heard a wee bird singing clear,
In the tight, tight month of June --
'What garr'd ye buy when stocks were high,
And sell when shares were doun?'

Oh bonny were the Midland Halves,
When credit was sae free! --
But wae betide the Southron loon
That sold they Halves to me!

In his hilarious tales of railway schemes in obscure glens, crazy schemes for making a quick fortune within a corrupt system, and small Scottish towns whose absurd town councils are blighted alike by timeless clan feuds and an obsession with commerce, Aytoun depicts the uneasy encounter of Jacobite and Whig ideas which took place in his parents' drawing room, and which appears to have been characteristic of Charlotte Chapel. (quotations from 6)

Sources

  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Mark Weinstein, William Edmondstoune Aytoun and the Spasmodic Controversy (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1968) p.3-4
  4. Register of Marriages, Old St Paul's, Edinburgh, in The Scottish Antiquary, or Northern Notes and Queries, vol.51 1901 p.149 (online accessed 19 July 2011)
  5. Mary E. Ingram, A Jacobite stronghold of the Church (Edinburgh: R.M.Grant, 1907) p.84
  6. Aytoun, William Edmonstone, ed. W.L. Renwick, Stories and Verse (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1965).

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