Queer Places:
Cleish Church Cemetery Kinross, Perth and Kinross, Scotland

Mary Lundie Duncan (26 April 1814 – 5 January 1840) was a Scottish poet and hymnwriter from Kelso, Scotland. In the Memoir of Mary Lundie Duncan (1842), that Duncan’s mother wrote two years after her daughter’s early death at age twenty-five, the maternal biographer included many letters Duncan (1814– 1840) wrote to friends, including one penned six weeks after the birth of her first child: “My beloved friend, do not think that I have been so long silent because all my love is centered in my new and most interesting charge. It is not so. My heart turns to you as it was ever wont to do, with deep and fond affection, and my love for my sweet babe makes me feel even more the value of your friendship.” The Memoir of Mrs. Mary Lundie Duncan (1842) drew heavily on the communication between Mary Duncan and a lifelong friend. While engaged to her husband-to-be, Mary Duncan sent him poems and the gift of a hair brooch, and at the same time wrote a poem for her best friend, whom she addressed as “loved one” and “dear one”. In an 1834 letter, Mary Lundie Duncan described longing to find “a friend to whom I could unfold all my heart... There is one here, and when circumstances permit us to meet, a sweet savour is shed around more than one succeeding day.— I have many christian friends, but it requires an attraction of heart, which may be better felt than described, to fill exactly the place Miss ——— does. Now, do not think me a romantic girl, for my love to her is founded on love to God”. Aware as she wrote that her affection for her new friend was beginning to sound too similar to worldly “romantic” pleasures, Duncan hastened to assert its basis in religious feeling. Mary Lundie Duncan thanked her best friend for letters that “have not infrequently come when I was in want of quickening and stirring up, and have helped me to draw more near to my Saviour, for a time at least”. For Mary Lundie Duncan, the friend shared with God the ability to love without physical presence: “I must love you at a distance, and rejoice to know that . . . I am not forgotten. It is a sweet thought, and if not forgotten by you, how much less by Him who has graven my name on the palms of his hands”. Duncan maintained contact with a close friend she never saw after leaving school by rising early to compose regular letters to her, and by arranging simultaneous prayer sessions that linked the two women when they were apart: “Dearest! May I think that every Friday night you pray specially for me? This is what I mean to do for you, and I think we should both derive much comfort from it”. As Mary Duncan wrote to her best friend, “To love in Christ is the happiest earthly feeling, and I trust it is thus we love each other. It seems a preparation for another state of being, where, indeed, God will be all in all; and, though we are widely separated here, may we not worship together there?”.

Mary Lundie Duncan was the eldest daughter of Rev. Robert Lundie, minister of Kelso, and Mary Grey. Her sister was the hymnwriter Jane Lundie Bonar. A brother, George Archibald Lundie, went with a missionary band to Samoa, hoping that the climate might restore his failing health, but died in less than three years. There were two other brothers, Cornelius, engineer and railway manager of a branch in South Wales, and Robert, minister of the Presbyterian Church, Fairfield, Liverpool.[1] Born in the old manse by the River Tweed, located by the Abbey, she spent her early years in Kelso. At the age of 16, she was sent to school in London. During her time in London, she attended meetings of religious societies, hearing from some of the great philanthropists of the era such as William Wilberforce, Henry Brougham and Charles Buxton.[2] Upon her father’s death in April 1832, the family left the manse in Kelso, and moved to Edinburgh. She joined the congregation of her uncle Dr. Henry Grey who had an influence upon her spiritual views.[3] In 1834 she became engaged to Rev. W. Wallace Duncan, the youngest son of Rev. Henry Duncan, D.D., founder of the Savings Bank movement and minister in Ruthwell and also the second husband of Mary’s mother, Mary Grey. W. Wallace Duncan became minister of Cleish, Kinross-shire. They married in July 1836.[1][4] As a minister’s wife, Duncan carried out parochial work such as visiting the poor and teaching classes to young girls. The couple had two children – Mary (married to Rev. Alex. Campbell of Lockerbie) and Henry (a minister of the Spanish Protestant Church).[3]

In December 1839 Duncan developed a chill which resulted in a brief illness. She passed away on 5 January 1840.[4] After her death, her mother Mary Grey published a biography Memoir of Mrs. Mary Lundie Duncan, which included passages of Duncan’s diaries, correspondence and poems.[5] The American Tract Society published an abridged version in 1851[6] which caused some discussion as it omitted Duncan’s views on the abolition of slavery and infant baptism.[7] Duncan is buried in the graveyard at Cleish parish church, where there is also a plaque dedicated to her in the chancel. It was at the Cleish manse that Duncan wrote the hymn Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me.[8]

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