Biography of Scottish Child Prodigy Marjory Fleming Part 1

About the Scottish child prodigy Marjory Fleming, history and biography of the brilliant youth.


MARJORY FLEMING (1803-1811), Child prodigy

On Oct. 17, 1930, the complete works of Marjory Fleming were presented to the National Library of Scotland. The works consisted of three journals and a small packet of letters--the prodigious output of a writer who never lived to see her ninth birthday.

Marjory Fleming, the third child of Isabella and James Fleming, was born on Jan. 15, 1803, at Kirkcaldy in Fife, Scotland. Marjory quickly became the family favorite because of her boundless energy and exceptional intelligence. She learned to read at age three and preferred adult books from her father's library to children's stories.

When Marjory was five, her first cousin, 17-year-old Isabella Keith, came to visit. Despite the difference in their ages, they became close friends, perhaps because Isabella persisted in treating Marjory like an adult. Isabella noticed her cousin's special qualities and asked Mrs. Fleming to allow Marjory to come live with the Keith family. Convinced that her daughter needed the discipline she herself could not provide, Mrs. Fleming readily agreed, and in the summer of 1808 Marjory left with Isabella for Edinburgh.

Isabella began Marjory's formal education with two hours of lessons each day. Marjory became utterly absorbed in the subjects that interested her. After reading about the life of Mary. Queen of Scots she wrote a 205-line poem in her honor. She loved to hear poetry read as much as she enjoyed writing it, and her favorite poem was Sir Walter Scott's "Helvellyn." Many critics maintain that Marjory and Scott were fast friends. According to Dr. John Brown, one of Marjory's biographers. Scott was devoted to her and would sit her on his knee while he recited ballads and she responded with selections from Shakespeare. "She's the most extraordinary creature I ever met with, and her repeating of Shakespeare overpowers me as nothing else does." Scott reputedly told Marjory's aunt.

Although Marjory excelled in most things, penmanship was an ordeal for her. Bored with the usual copybooks, she was allowed to make up her own stories. The journals she kept soon grew to over 9,000 prose words and 500 lines of verse. They covered such diverse subjects as her behavior: "Last night I behaved extremely ill and threw my work in the stairs and would not pick it up, which was very wrong indeed"; her devotion to Isabella: "Isabella teaches me everything I know and I am much indebted to her"; and her occasional trouble with her studies: "I am now going to tell you the horrible and wretched plaege that my multiplication table gives me; you cant conceive it. The most Devilish thing is 8 times 8 and 7 times 7; it is what nature itself cant endure."

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