George Stimpson

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Who said: "Where MacGregor sits is the head of the table"?

In Sir Walter Scott's Rob Roy (1817) Robert MacGregor, the romantic outlaw and freebooter, says: "Where MacGregor sits, there is the head of the table." Apparently through a slip Ralph Waldo Emerson substituted Macdonald for MacGregor when he quoted Scott. In The American Scholar (1837) Emerson said: "The great man makes the great thing. Wherever Macdonald sits there is the head of the table." The idea that the man makes the place rather than the place the man had been expressed in similar language by Cervantes in Don Quixote: "Let me sit wherever I will, that will still be the upper end." Robert MacGregor (1671-1734), to whom Scott also attributes the oftquoted saying, "My foot is on my native heath, and my name is MacGregor," was popularly known as Rob Roy (" Robert the Red") because of his red hair. James VI of Scotland (James I of England) [page 4] proscribed the MacGregor clan on charges of treason to the Scottish realm and forbade all members of the clan to bear the family name. Although Charles II restored the MacGregors to their estates and name in 1661, the proscription went into force again under William and Mary in 1689, and it was not until 1822 that Sir John Murray, then the titular head of the clan, obtained a royal license to resume the ancient family name of MacGregor. This probably has been the only instance of a numerous family's being stripped of its name by royal decree. In 1693, upon the death of Gregor MacGregor, Rob Roy was acknowledged chief of the MacGregor clan and became "The MacGregor." About 1716, because of the royal ban against using the clan name, he assumed the surname Campbell. The chief of the proscribed clan turned to cattle stealing for a living. In 1727 the "Robinhood of Scotland" voluntarily gave himself up and was imprisoned in Newgate in London. After he had been sentenced to be transported to Barbados, the Highland outlaw was pardoned and permitted to return to Scotland.