Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Meston, William

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Meston, William

Meryon, Charles Lewis
Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 37
Meston, William by George Atherton Aitken
Metcalf, John

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MESTON, WILLIAM (1688?–1745), burlesque poet, the son of a blacksmith, was born in the parish of Midmar, Aberdeenshire, about 1688 (the baptismal registers do not date back beyond 1717). His parents sent him to the Marischal College, Aberdeen; and, having made good use of his opportunities, he was elected, when he had finished his university course, one of the doctors of the high school of Aberdeen. Meston was afterwards tutor to George Keith, who became tenth Earl Marischal in 1712, and to his brother James Francis Edward Keith, afterwards field-marshal in the Prussian service; and in 1715, through the interest of the Countess of Marischal (widow of the ninth earl), he was appointed regent of Marischal College. Later in the year, however, Meston joined the family of the Earl Marischal in fighting for the Old Pretender, and was made governor of Dunnottar Castle, Kincardineshire; but when the rising was put down he had for a time to hide among the hills. Afterwards, refusing to comply with the conditions of the Act of Indemnity, he lived in the family of the Countess of Marischal, but her death left him in a destitute condition. He then, in conjunction with his brother Samuel, who was a good Greek scholar, opened an academy at Elgin; but, though the venture was a success, Meston’s easy-going habits prevented him from saving money. He afterwards moved his school to Turriff at the invitation of the Countess of Erroll, whose brother, the twelfth Earl of Erroll, had been chancellor of King’s College, Aberdeen, when Meston was regent at Marischal College. Meston, who was treated very kindly by the countess, was again successful until, several years afterwards, one of his pupils was nearly killed in a duel.

This incident, though Meston was in no way to blame, led to the downfall of his academy. He then tried to establish schools at Montrose and Perth, and afterwards was tutor to the children of Mr. Oliphant of Gask. There he remained some years, until ill-health caused him to go to Peterhead to drink the mineral waters. Subsequently he was again supported by the Countess of Erroll, and finally moving to Aberdeen, was cared for by some relatives until his death there in the spring of 1745. He was buried, without any inscription, in the Spittal churchyard of Old Aberdeen. He seems to have been a good scholar and a wit and pleasant companion: but he was too fond of the bottle. He was a great admirer of Samuel Butler; and in his verses, which are often coarse, he sometimes plagiarises or quotes from his model.

Meston’s poems were first published in collected form, with a life, at Edinburgh in 1767, though the book is called ‘sixth edition’ on the title-page; and they were re-printed, without the Latin pieces, at Aberdeen in 1802. The several poems originally appeared anonymously as follows:

  • ‘Phaethon, or the first Fable of the second Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses burlesqu’d,’ Edinburgh, 1720.
  • ‘The Knight of the Kirk,’ Edinburgh, 1723; reprinted in London with corrections in 1728. This, the best of Meston’s pieces, and perhaps the best of the imitations of ‘Hudibras,’ is a satire upon the presbyterians.
  • ‘Mob contra Mob, or the Rabblers rabbled,’ Edinburgh, 1731.
  • ‘Old Mother Grim’s Tales, Decade I,’ London, 1737.
  • ‘Decadem Alteram . . . subjunxit Jodocus Grimmus,’ London, 1738.
  • ‘Viri humani, salsi et faceti, Gulielmi Sutherlandi … Diploma,’ n.p. or d., sometimes attributed to Arbuthnot.

[Life in Meston’s Poetical Works; Chalmers’s Biog. Dict. xxii. 88; Aberdeen University Calendar; P. Buchan’s Account of the ancient and noble Family of Keith, Earls Marischal of Scotland, 1820; Catalogues of British Museum and Advocates’ Libraries; Retrospective Review, iii. 329-32.]


The Meston Family Genealogy Project