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COUNTESS OF EGLINTON, THE. Scottish, Strathspey. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB. The Countess of Eglinton referred to in the title was one of two possible women. The "Countess of Eglinton" may have referred to the Dowager Countess, Susannah, daughter of Sir Archibald Kennedy of Culzean, Bart., and Elizabeth Lesly. She was born in 1689 and died in 1780 at the age of 91, and survived her husband Alexander (who died in 1729) by fifty-seven years. Her death was a few years before the publication of the tune in the Gow collections, but she was a remarkable woman much celebrated in her time and famous long after her passing. A striking six feet tall she was celebrated for her beauty and accomplishments, and described by king George II as the most beautiful woman in his domains. Poet Allan Ramsay dedicated his Gentle Shepherd (1726) to her, and she was lauded by Dr. Samuel Johnson in his Tour, after visiting her in her Ayrshire manor. She enjoyed the entertainments of Edinburgh, as the following indicates (from Harry Graham's A Group of Scottish Women, New York, 1908):
...and (she) ws generally admitted to be the most beautiful woman of her time. The sight of that lengthy procession of sedan chairs, of which contemporary chroniclers write in such glowing terms, bearing the lovely Susannah, Countess of Eglinton, and her seven equally lovely daughters to the Assembly Rooms, was one calculated to send the blood coursing more quickly through the veins of each fashionable dandy of the day, and make the oldest beau feel young again. It would not indeed be easy to call to mind the name of any woman who caused so great a stir in the society of the Scottish capital as did Lady Eglinton, perhaps the most famous "toast" of the eighteenth century.
Susannah was the third wife of Alexander, the 9th Earl of Eglinton, who plucked her from the charms of another worthy suitor, Sir John Clerk of Pennycuik. Sir John courted her hard, even sending her some poems he had penned rolled up inside a flute (which were discovered when no one could produce a sound on the instrument. Sir John himself was a trained musician and composer who had received three lessons a week in violin and composition from Corelli in Rome, fro Sept., 1797, and Dec., 1698). However, the Earl's second wife was an invalid and ailing at the time and passed away just in time for the elderly Earl to prevail upon Susannah, whom he had his eye on for some time.
It is said that when Sir John proposed to Susannah, that young lady's calculating father took the precaution of asking the advice of Lord Eglinton before allowing his daughter to reply to her importunate suitor. "Bide a wee, Sir Archie," said the flippant old gentleman, with a twinkle in his eye, "my wife's very sickly!" [Graham, 1908]
Lady Susannah remained elegant, and a great wit, to the end. The following account, of Lady Eglinton in later life, is from Boswell's Life of Johnson:
Lady Margaret Dalrymple, only daughter of John Earl of Stair, married in 1700, to Hugh, third Earl of Loudoun. She died in 1777, aged one hundred. Of this venerable lady, and of the Countess of Eglintoune, whom Johnson visited next day, he thus speaks in his Journey.-'Length of live is distributed impartially to very different modes of life, in very different climates; and the mountains have no greater examples of age than the Lowlands, where I was introduced to two ladies of high quality, one of whom (Lady Loudoun) in her ninety-fourth year, presided at her table with the full exercise of all her powers; and the other, (Lady Eglintoun,) had attained her eighty-fourth year, without diminution of her vivacity, and little reason to accuse time of depredations on her beauty.'
Lady Eglintoune, though she was now in her eighty-fifth year, and had lived in the retirement of the country for almost half a century, was still a very agreeable woman. She was of the noble house of Kennedy, and had all the elevation which the consciousness of such birth inspires. Her figure was majestic, her manners high-bred, her reading extensive, and her conversation elegant. She had been the admiration of the gay circles of life, and the patroness of poets. Dr. Johnson was delighted with his reception here. Her principles in church and state were congenial with his. She knew all his merit, and had heard much of him from her son, Earl Alexander, who loved to cultivate the acquaintance of men of talents in every department.
In the course of our conversation this day, it came out that Lady Eglintoune was married the year before Dr. Johnson was born; upon which she graciously said to him, that she might have been his mother, and that she now adopted him; and when we were going away, she embraced him, saying "My dear son, farewell!" My friend was much pleased with this day's entertainment, and owned that I had done well to force him out.
At Sir Alexander Dick's, from that absence of mind to which every man is at times subject, I told, in a blundering manner, Lady Eglintoune's complimentary adoption of Dr. Johnson as her son; for I unfortunately stated that her ladyship adopted him as her son, in consequence of her having been married the year after he was born. Dr. Johnson instantly corrected me. "Sir, don't you perceive that you are defaming the Countess? For, supposing me to be her son, and that she was not married till the year after my birth, I must have been her natural son." A young lady of quality who was present, very handsomely said, "Might not the son have justified the fault?" My friend was much flattered by this compliment, which he never forgot. When in more than ordinary spirits, and talking of his journey in Scotland, he has called to me, "Boswell, what was it that the young lady of quality said of me at Sir Alexander Dick's?" Nobody will doubt that I was happy in repeating it.
On the other hand, the Countess of Eglinton at the time of Gow's First Collection (1784) was Eleanora Hamilton (1743-1817), daughter of Robert Hamilton of Bourtree Hill, Ayr, and Anne Cunningham. She married her cousin, the 12th Earl of Eglinton, Hugh Montgomerie, in 1772, and seems to have been content to stay out of the limelight and raise her family. She was his second wife; the first (also a Countess of Eglinton) having been Jean Lindsay (1756-1778), who married Hugh in 1772 at the age of 16, but who died childless six years later (see Lady Jean Lindsay's Minuet).
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 31. Gow (The First Collection of Niel Gow's Reels), 1784 (revised 1801); p. 10.