Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Peter Goldman and The Desolation of Dundee

Death in Dundee:  A Different Plague

    Peter Goldman, a 17th century citizen of Dundee, is hardly well known among Dundonians today, though he should be for two reasons:  the prominence of his own life and achievements and the unique record he left of the burgh ravaged by pestilence.  Peter's brother  John died in 1607, carried off not by the bubonic plague which was raging at the time, but the equally deadly typhus.  Dr Buist of Dundee translated Peter Goldman's Latin poem about the event, in the early 20th century, giving a vivid description of the effect on his beloved brother, as well as many other Dundonians.  The work was published in Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum (2 volumes, 1637), a collection of Latin poetry by Scots which also contains a description by Hercules Rollock about the plague in Edinburgh in 1585.  (Rollock was also a Dundonian and I will write about him in the future.)  Here is a totally unique record of a stark moment in time,  Goldman's first description of the effect of epidemic on Dundee:

                   A plague, by fault of air or sprung from earth,
                   Lay on the walls to which Tay gives its name.
                   Here for two years the loathsome thing ran wild,
                   Wasting the homes, scanting the town of folk:
                   Promiscuous funerals crowded, old and young:
                   All round were grief and signs of horrid death.
                   Youth breathed its soul before the parent's eye,
                   And at Life's threshold childhood laid its life.
                   Medicine gave way beneath the weight of ill;
                   Apollo-taught Kinloch could only sit
                   And pray the Fates bring the better time.
                   Vain, flame to purge the house, water the frame;
                   Vain to use wine against disease's bane;
                   Vain to drum prayers upon unhearing air,
                   Contagion spread still more on spreading more.
                   Now Ramsay died, now just and ever true
                   Lovell and Lindsay fell, whose care was aye
                   To make the people's weal their highest law.
                   Now tombs ran short, the cemet'ry o'erflowed;
                   Handbell unrung, the funeral order failed
                   To keep the customed way's sad company.
                   One way alone seemed counsel in despair,
                   Abandoning home to flee the baleful air:
                   Dwellers were few, rare guardian at the gate,
                   Thistles were found at crosses once foot-smoothed
                   And thorny burdocks mid in paved streets.
                   A piteous crowd, staking in neighbouring fields,
                   Fixed roofs or peltclad fled the painful shower.
                   Some villas sought or widespread neighbour towns,
                   And John of ours fled to Winton's castled tower;
                   But weird of pressing ill and future grief
                   Its door gaped blue with gold all bordered round
                   And, wound itself, foreshowed wound to its lord.
                   What profits man to leave his sweet abode;
                   Fate follows faster than the wind or cloud.
                   Spots stain his breast, the giddy senses slip,
                   His mind grows weak, the face all red with heat.
                   Quick came his wife, delight of life unstayed
                   By prayer or friend or her protesting kin;
                   Embracing still the racked frame of her spouse,
                   She, raising eyes, cried 'Fate will try in vain
                   To take me from my love.  With him I'll die;
                   Without him I'ld not live; Nor fire nor flood,
                   Nor tyrant Jove shall part us now.' 

Grave in the Howff.

Peter Goldman the Poet, Scholar, Doctor

   Peter Goldman's name and reputation remained fairly buoyant locally at least until the end of the 17th century. He is mentioned along with Boethius (Hector Boece) and fellow medicine man David Kinloch (c. 1559-1617), who also appears in Goldman's own poetry, in the Latin account of the county of Angus published in 1678 by the Rev Robert Edward of Murroes:

That Dundee is a favourite to the muses is sufficiently attested by the three following witnesses, BOETIUS, the most famous historian of his country, Dr KINLOCH, a celebrated physican to James VI...And Dr GOLDMAN, who in the above mentioned choir of poets, very skilfully performs the part of Melpomene.
   Melpomene became the Muse of Tragedy in ancient Greek tradition.  Peter Goldman survived until early 1628, but there are few surviving works by him which have survived:  the welcome to the king, the six poems in Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum and the 'Lachrymae'.

   There are a few facts known about the Dundonian Peter Goldman.  He was the youngest of seven sons of a merchant named James Goldman, whose epitaph in 1605 designates Peter, alone of his offspring, as Mr, signifying that he had graduated.  Peter was born in 1587 and entered St Salvador's College, St Andrews, on 26 January 1601.  On 7 December 1609 he went to Leiden University (the first Scot to study medicine there) and graduated as a doctor on 26 July 1610. One wonders whether he went abroad partly to escape the pestilence in his native country. Following his studies in Europe, William Poole next traces Goldman in Oxford in 1613, where he participated in the full intellectual life of the time and notably supported his own Hebrew teacher,  a Jew who was imprisoned after deciding against his promised conversion to Christainity.  Following a spell in Paris, he returned to Scotland. Poetry was a pastime for him and he wrote Latin verse celebrating the visit of the king to Dundee in 1617.  A snippet of his life was found by R. C. Buist buried in the Compt Buik of David Wedderburn, under 7 November 1621:

Lent Doctor Goldman 4 buikis Iliades Homeri ane uther Greik buik.

   In his later years in Dundee, Peter described his circumstances in a letter to a friend:  'not so rich that I might dissipate myself in luxury; nor so poor that I must beg off others'.  There are allusions to wine and drinking in his correspondence and one late letter was composed 'at the wine-house'.  Maybe it was in north Fife that he ended his lonely days, for he complains about not going out because of the lack of intellectual company in the locality, which was peopled mainly by 'hucksters and fishermen'.

   During his final decade he was closely involved with fellow Fife resident Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit (1585-1670), the major force behind the publication of the Scottish Latin compilation, giving him advice and assistance with his own poetry included in the collection.

The Goldman Brothers' Tragedy and Origin of the Family

 Four of the Goldman brothers perished within eight years of their father:  John, of course, died of the pest (1607); Patrick was drowned in the sea off Batavia (Holland) during a storm; Robert fell from his horse and was fatally wounded by his sword; William died at 43 of apoplexy.  The latter was a prominent figure within the town and apparently a great benefactor, as his brother describes him as 'the beloved of the common people, and the guardian of the welfare of Dundee'.  Peter wrote in his poem that no part of him can be happy until the sea gives up its dead.

Monogram from James Goldman's tomb in Dundee Howff.

   Of these brothers, Robert is recorded as Collector of the Crafts in Dundee, 1601-3, and a member of the Glover Trade.  William Goldman became a councillor in the burgh in 1590 and a bailie in 1606.  In his will he left the town's hospital 800 merks.

Monogram from John Goldman's tombstone in Dundee Howff.

   These family tragedies are recorded by another poem Peter wrote for inclusion in the Delitatiae Poetarum Scotorum, a tribute to his suffering mother titled Margaretae Iacchae matris suae super tristi et immatura morte quatuor filiorum Lachrymae, 'The tears of Margaret Jack, his mother, over the sad and immature deaths of her four sons.'  In the midst of her sorrow, Margaret was comforted by Dundee's three pastors:  David Lindsay, James Wedderburn, and James Robertson.  The poem concludes with a thanks that another son, Charles Goldman, still survived - 'the greatest care, the hope of my affliction, and the solace of his mother'. He was Boxmaster of the Weaver Incorporation of Dundee in 1624.  Of the two sisters, Mary married James Wedderburn.   

   The origins of the family are not certain: an early spelling of the surname is Goldmann and it is reckoned that the family originated in Flanders.  William Poole states:  'Goldman is not a Scottish surname.  Its sudden appearance in the records in Dundee in the 1560s bespeaks immigration, and the immediate success of the mercantile Goldmans in mercantile Dundee suggests that they had come from a similar trading town across the North Sea.'  They may have been Jewish Poles or Silesians from Gdansk.  Another suggestion, remarked on by the Nine Trades of Dundee website is that it is a corruption of 'Guildman', a kind of corruption brought about via the family's trading connections with Europe.  The family did have a hand in negotiating the free port in Zealand (Camphier) on behalf of the Scots.  William Goldman was chosen as commissioner representing Dundee at the Convention of Royal Burghs and he was sent in that role to Campvere in order to 're-establish the Stapill of the natioun of the said toun' along with David Aitkenheid of Edinburgh.

   James Goldman became a burgess of Dundee on 15 April 1562 and it is recorded that he owned several properties in the burgh (including to the south of Argyllsgait).  Across the Tay, John Goldman also owned part of the north Fife lands of Sandfurd or St Fort, plus Sandill, near present day Newport.

   Inscriptions in the Howff

   According to Millar, the family tombs of the Goldmans in the Howff were in the second recess to the north of the principal western gate.  In the 19th century the following fragmentary inscription could still be made out there:

                                     Family . . . . Goldman . . . . Laird . . . . 
                                 W.G. . . . . I. G. . . . . R.G. . . . . 
                                        Revised in 1797 by WILLIAM GOLDMAN LAIRD . . . .

   The initials may possibly refer to the three brothers of Peter Goldman commemorated in his poem.  On the flat stones (numbers 66 and 67) beside the recess, is the following inscription:

  Here lyis iohn goldman, mairechand, and elisabeth Traill his spous, quha both depairtit in september 1607, of his age 34, hirs 29.

   There was an elder John Goldman, uncle to the former, whose monument reads:

   Here lyis ane honest aged father called JOHN GOLDMAN Merchand and Bvrges in Dundie quha depairtit this present lyf ye 3 of Apryle, 1nno 1605, of aige 74.  And Christiane Man his spovs quha depairtit this lyf ye 8 of September, anno 1603, of aige 36.                                                          Death is lyf to ye faithful.

    Also in the Howff is the monument of another James Goldman, possibly the youngest son of  James (Buist states that there were seven brothers in total).

   Heir lyis ane honest man namit JAMES GOLDMAN, Merchant Bvrges of Dundie, who decessit in September 1632, of the aige of 42.  This is done be MARGARET OGILVY, his spovs, for his memorie.

   Another reading, given in translation from the Latin by W. H. Smith in the 19th century, reads:

   Here lies an honourable man, formerly citizen and.....................of the city of Dundee, William Goldman of St Fort, who died in the 44th year of his age, on the first of the nones of April, in the year from the parturition [accouchemont or lying in]of the Virgin 1613.  Remember to die.

   Millar again gives another reading of a stone, which he believes relates to Robert and William Goldman, though the passage of time again made the inscription doubtful:

          Here lyis....rt ....idm ... ane ... fein .... 26 May of his age ....                    My soyle praises God.  My soyle praises God.                           Death is lyfe to the Godlie.                                                                      M  LI  Z                                                               D      G                                                                        I F                    Thy glasse runnes.  Mynne is runne.                                              1617

   Between the initials I and Z is the  escutcheon bearing the arms of the Yeaman (Zeaman) family.  Millar also traced some later Goldmans, though there was uncertainty around what relations some of them were to the original family.  These included William Goldman of Sandfurd, Fife, recorded in 1648-9, Rev James Goldman, son of Alexander Goldman (1652), grandson of John Goldman (1623).  This minister was still active around 1731 and had two sisters, but no traceable descendants.  Andrew Jervise noted that, in his time, 'the Goldmans have long since passed away, and even their name has become extinct in the district, the last of them, a female, having died many years ago, so reduced in circumstances as to be dependent on the charity of a neighbouring kirk-session'.

Selected Sources

Buist, R. C., 'Peter Goldman's Description of the Desolation of Dundee,' The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3453 (March 12, 1927), p. 478.

Jervise, Andrew, Memorials of Angus and Mearns (revised edition, 2 volumes, Edinburgh, 1885), pp. 271-2.

Millar, A. H., Roll of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee,1513-1886 (Dundee, 1887), pp. 35-39. 

Poole, William, 'Peter Goldman:  A Dundee Poet and Physician in the Republic of Letters,' in Neo-Latin Literature and Literary Culture in Early Modern Scotland (Leiden, 2016), pp. 100-125.

Smith, W. H., A History of Dundee (Dundee, 1873, reprinted 1973), p. 153.

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