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Title: Allan Ramsay - Famous Scots Series
Author: Smeaton, William Henry Oliphant, 1856-1914
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Allan Ramsay - Famous Scots Series" ***




Famous Scots Series

Published by Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier
Edinburgh and London

The designs and ornaments of this volume are by Mr. Joseph Brown, and
the printing from the press of Messrs. Morrison & Gibb, Edinburgh.





in grateful acknowledgment of kindly encouragement given in years
long gone by, and of intellectual stimulus received from him by
his former student



Since this Volume was in type, I have received some additional
information which I feel constrained to lay before my readers.

With reference to the Easy Club, I have been favoured, through the
courtesy of the Rev. Dr. A. B. Grosart, with a sight of the complete
Minutes of the Club. From them I observe that Ramsay was one of the
earliest members admitted, and that his song 'Were I but a Prince or
King' was formally presented to the Club after his admission not before,
though its rough draft must have been shown to the members prior to that

Next, as regards the Editions of _The Gentle Shepherd_, a valued
correspondent, Mr. J. W. Scott, Dowanhill, Glasgow, kindly calls my
attention to two 'Translations into English' of the Poem which appear to
have hitherto escaped notice. These are '_Allan Ramsay's Gentle
Shepherd, translated into English by W. Ward, 8vo, 1785._' Ward, as Mr.
Scott states, seems to have been a 'naturalised Englishman' residing at
Musselburgh. Five years after Ward's production, appeared another, and
in many respects a better Edition, to wit, '_The Gentle Shepherd, a
Scotch Pastoral by Allan Ramsay, Attempted in English by Margaret
Turner, London, 1790._' It was dedicated to the Prince of Wales, and its
list of Subscribers contains the names of most of the nobility of
Scotland. Is this not a reliable gauge of the popularity of the Poem?

_EDINBURGH, March 1896._



THE FAMILY TREE                                                        9




  RAMSAY'S MARRIAGE--1707-12                                          28




  THE QUARTO OF 1721--1717-21                                         56


  AND _THE EVERGREEN_--1721-25                                        68


  RAMSAY'S PASTORALS--1725-30                                         85


  HIS BOOK OF _SCOTS PROVERBS_--1730-40                               97


  HIS PORTRAITS--1740-58                                             112


RAMSAY AS A PASTORAL POET AND AN ELEGIST                             122


RAMSAY AS A SATIRIST AND A SONG-WRITER                               144


RAMSAY'S MISCELLANEOUS POEMS; CONCLUSION                             154




'Ye'd better let me gang doon wi' the wig, Miss Kirsty,' said Peggy, the
'serving-lass' in the household of Mr. James Ross, writer, of the

'Oh no! I'd as leif take it doon mysel' to Allan Ramsay's, for the sake
o' the walk and the bit crack wi' the canty callant,' replied the young
lady, a blush crimsoning her fair, rounded cheek.

And Peggy would retire from these periodical but good-humoured
passages-at-arms, with a knowing smile on her face, to confide the fact,
mayhap,--of course as a profound secret,--to her cronies in the same
stair, that Miss Kirsty Ross was 'unco ta'en up wi' that spruce genty
wigmaker, Maister Allan Ramsay, doon ayont the Tron Kirk.'

Yea! verily, it was a love drama, but as yet only in the first scene of
the first act. The 'Miss Kirsty' of the brief dialogue recorded
above--for the authenticity of which there is abundant evidence--was
Miss Christian Ross, eldest daughter of Mr. James Ross, a lawyer of some
repute in his day, whose practice lay largely in the Bailie's and
Sheriff's Courts, and with minor cases in the Justiciary Court, but not
with civil business before the Court of Session, an honour rigorously
reserved for the members of that close Corporation--the Writers to His
Majesty's Signet.

But though not belonging, in slang phrase, 'to the upper crust' of the
legal fraternity, James Ross was a man of some social consideration.
Though he appears to have had a strain of the fashionable Pharisee in
him, and to have esteemed gentle birth as covering any multitude of sins
and peccadilloes, he manifested, throughout his intercourse with Ramsay,
certain countervailing virtues that render him dear to the lovers of the
poet. He made distinct pretensions to the possession of culture and a
love of _belles-lettres_. To the best Edinburgh society of the period he
and his had the _entrée_, while his house in Blair's Close, on the
southern slope of the Castlehill, was the rendezvous for most of the
_literati_ of the city, as well as for the _beaux esprits_ of the Easy
Club, of which he was a member.

His acquaintance with the young wigmaker--whose sign of the 'Mercury,'
situate in the High Street, or, as the poet himself writes, 'on
Edinburgh's Street the sun-side,' was almost immediately opposite
Niddry's Wynd, and at the head of Halkerston's Wynd, and within sixty
yards of the Tron Church--had originated in the weekly visits paid by
him to Allan's shop for the purpose of getting his wig dressed. While
waiting until this important item in an eighteenth-century gentleman's
toilet was accomplished, he had enjoyed many a 'crack' with the young
craftsman, so shrewd, so witty, so genial, yet withal so industrious.
The man of pleas and precepts discovered him of powder and perukes to
be as deeply interested and, in good sooth, as deeply versed in the
literature of his own land as the lawyer himself. Chance acquaintance
gradually ripened, on both sides, into cordial esteem. James Ross
invited Ramsay to visit him at his house, and there the young
_perruquier_ beheld his fate in Christian, or Kirsty, Ross.

If Allan were fascinated by Kirsty's rare beauty and piquant
_espièglerie_, by her sweet imperiousness and the subtle charm of her
refined femininity, exercised on a nature whose previous experience of
the sex had been limited to the bare-legged Amazons of Leadhills or the
rosy-cheeked ministering Hebes, whom the high wages of domestic service
attracted to town; she, in turn, was no less captivated by the manly,
self-possessed demeanour, and the ingratiating qualities, both social
and intellectual, of her father's guest. If he had mingled too little
with society for his manners to be tinged with the polish of the
_débonnair_ gallant, his natural good-breeding and ready tact, united,
it must be confessed, to a not inconsiderable spice of vanity, doubtless
prevented any lapse into those nervous _gaucheries_ wherewith a youth's
first appearance in good society is often accompanied.

Allan has drawn with truth and graphic power his own portrait as he
appeared at this time--

    '_Imprimis_--then for tallness I
    Am five feet and four inches high;
    A black-a-vic'd, snod, dapper fellow,
    Nor lean, nor overlaid wi' tallow;
    With phiz of a Morocco cut,
    Resembling a late man of wit,
    Auld-gabbet Spec, who was so cunning
    To be a dummie ten years running.

      Then for the fabric of my mind,
    'Tis more to mirth than grief inclined;
    I rather choose to laugh at folly
    Than show dislike by melancholy:
    Well judging a sour heavy face
    Is not the truest mark of grace.'

Existing portraits, including the one most valued for its fidelity
to the original, that by his son, Allan Ramsay, the artist
(Portrait-painter in Ordinary to King George III.), show him to have
possessed features that were delicate and sharply chiselled, keen dark
eyes, a mobile, sensitive mouth, a complexion dark almost to
swarthiness, and a high rounded forehead. To these items may be added
those others coming as side-lights, thrown on a man's character and
individuality by the passing references of contemporaries. From such
sources we learn that his face was one whereon were writ large,
contentment with himself and with the world, as well as a certain pawky
shrewdness and unaffected _bonhomie_. This expression was largely
induced by the twinkling of his beadlike eyes, and the lines of his
mouth, which curved upwards at the corners; almost imperceptibly, it is
true, yet sufficiently to flash into his countenance that subtle element
of humorous _canniness_ which has been accepted by many as the prime
attribute of his character. He may probably have had his own feelings in
view when he makes his Patie say in _The Gentle Shepherd_--

    'The bees shall loath the flow'r, and quit the hive,
    The saughs on boggy ground shall cease to thrive,
    Ere scornfu' queans, or loss o' warldly gear,
    Shall _spill_ my rest, or ever force a tear.'

His figure was thickset, but had not as yet acquired the squatness of
later days. If in the years to come he grew to resemble George Eliot's
portrait of Mr. Casson, when the inevitable penalty of sedentariness and
good living has to be paid in increasing corpulence, he never lost his
tripping gait which in early manhood earned for him the _sobriquet_ of
'Denty Allan.' In deportment and dress he was 'easy, trig and neat,'
leaning a little to vanity's side in his manners, yet nathless as
honourable, sound-hearted, clean-souled a gentleman as any that lounged
around Edinburgh Cross of a sunny Saturday afternoon. Such was the youth
that presented himself to bonny Kirsty Ross at her father's tea-table.

The acquaintance soon expanded into friendship. Before long, as has been
stated, the household observed, not without amusement, that whenever
Saturday came round, on which day James Ross' wig was sent down to
receive its week's dressing from young Ramsay, Kirsty found she needed a
walk, which always seemed to take her past the sign of 'the flying
Mercury,' so that she could hand in the wig and call for it as she
returned. Ah, artful Miss Kirsty! As the idyll progressed, the interim
walk was abandoned, and the fair one found it pleasanter, as she said,
to pass the time in conversation with the young _coiffeur_ as he combed
the paternal wig. The intercourse thus commenced on both sides, more as
a frolic than aught else, speedily led to warmer feelings than those of
friendship being entertained, and in the spring of 1711 Allan Ramsay
asked the daughter of the lawyer to share life's lot with him.

The lovers were, of course, too well aware of the dissimilarity in their
social stations to hope for any ready acquiescence in their matrimonial
projects by the ambitious Edinburgh lawyer. To win consent, the matter
had to be prudently gone about. The position Ramsay's family had held
in the past reckoned for something, it is true, in the problem, but the
real point at issue was, What was the social status of the swain at that
moment? Ah, there was the rub! All very well was it for a
literary-minded lawyer to patronise his wigmaker by inviting him to
drink a dish of tea with his family, or to crack a bottle with him over
Jacobite plots or the latest poems of Swift or Pope; but to give him his
daughter in marriage, that was altogether another question. Mrs. Grundy
was quite as awe-inspiring a dame then as now. James Ross and his spouse
would require to make a careful investigation into the pedigree of the
'mercurial' artist in crinology--to import a trade term of the present
into the staid transactions of the past--before such an alliance could
be thought of. Many and long were the family councils held. Every item
of his descent, his relatives, his character, his prospects, was
discussed, and this is what they discovered.

Allan Ramsay was born on the 15th of October 1686, in the little town of
Leadhills, situate in the parish of Crawfordmuir, in the upper ward of
Lanarkshire, and in the very heart of the bleak, heathy Lowther hills.
The house wherein he saw the light is now 'a broken-down byre,'
according to Dr. John Brown in _Horæ Subsecivæ_. Standing, as it does,
1400 feet above the level of the sea, the village is chiefly notable as
being the most elevated inhabited ground in Scotland. The industry of
the district, then as now, was almost entirely devoted to lead-mining.
The superior of the parish was the Earl of Hopetoun, and on his behoof
the mines were wrought. The male population, with but few exceptions,
were in his lordship's service. A more desolate and dreary spot could
scarcely be conceived. The rugged ranges, destitute of wood, were
scarred by the traces of former workings, and intersected, moreover, by
narrow rocky ravines, down which brawled foaming mountain burns. Perched
like an eyrie on some steep cliff, the view from the vicinity of the
town is magnificent, ranging over fair Clydesdale, and the lands
formerly owned by the Earls of Crawford, 'the Lindsays, light and gay,'
whose ancient castle stands on Clydeside.

In the days of the Stuarts gold used to be found in considerable
quantities in the locality, from which was struck the gold issue bearing
the head of James V., wearing a bonnet; hence the old term for it--a

The inhabitants of the town and district of Leadhills had imbibed in
Ramsay's days something of the stern, forbidding character of the
scenery. The ruggedness of their surroundings had evidently sunk deep
into their temperament,--and ofttimes the teaching of nature in
situations like this is of the most lasting kind. So it was with them.
They were a community apart: gloomily, almost fanatically, religious;
believing in miracles, visions, and in the direct interposition of
Providence,--in a word, carrying to the extreme of bigotry all the grand
attributes of Scottish Presbyterianism and Covenanting sublimity of
motive. They married and gave in marriage among themselves, looking the
while rather askance at strangers as 'orra bodies' from the big world
without, who, because they _were_ strangers, ran a strong chance of
being no better than they should be!

To this 'out-of-the-way' corner of the planet there was sent, towards
the close of the year 1684, as manager of Lord Hopetoun's mines, a gay,
happy-hearted, resourceful young Scotsman, by name Robert Ramsay. The
poet, when detailing his pedigree to the father of his _inamorata_, had
boasted that he was descended, on the paternal side, from the Ramsays of
Dalhousie (afterwards Earls of that Ilk). Such was literally the case.
Ramsay of Dalhousie had a younger brother, who, from the estate he
held--a small parcel of the ancestral acres--bore a name, or rather an
_agnomen_, yet to be historic in song, 'The Laird of Cockpen.' Whether
in this case, like his descendant of ballad fame, the said laird was
'proud and great'; whether his mind was 'ta'en up wi' things o' the
State,' history doth not record. Only on one point is it explicit, that,
like his successor, he married a wife, from which union resulted Captain
John Ramsay, whose only claim to remembrance is that he in turn married
Janet Douglas, daughter of Douglas of Muthil, and thus brought the poet
into kinship with yet another distinguished Scottish family. To the
captain and his spouse a son was born, who devoted himself to legal
pursuits, was a writer in Edinburgh, and acted as legal agent for the
Earl of Hopetoun. Through his interest with the earl, Robert Ramsay, his
eldest son, was appointed manager of the lead mines in the Lowther
hills, and set out to assume his new duties towards the close of the
year 1684.

From this pedigree, therefore, the fact is clear of the poet's right to
address William Ramsay, Earl of Dalhousie, in terms imitated from
Horace's famous Ode to Maecenas--

    'Dalhousie, of an auld descent,
    My chief, my stoup, my ornament.'

But to our narrative. Apparently the young mine-manager found the lines
of his life by no means cast in pleasant places amid the rough
semi-savage community of Leadhills in those days. He felt himself a
stranger in a strange land. To better his lot, though he was still very
young, he determined to marry. The only family with which he could hold
intercourse on terms of equality, was that of William Bower, an English
mineralogist who had been brought from Derbyshire, to instruct the
Scottish miners more fully in the best methods then known for extracting
the metal from the refractory matrix. But to Robert Ramsay the chief
attraction in the family was the eldest daughter of his colleague, Alice
Bower, a vivacious, high-spirited girl, with a sufficient modicum, we
are told, of the Derbyshire breeziness of nature to render her
invincibly fascinating to the youth. Alone of all those around she
reminded him of the fair dames and damsels of Edinburgh. Therefore he
wooed and won her. Their marriage took place early in January 1686. In
the October of the same year the future poet was born.

But, alas! happiness was not long to be the portion of the wedded pair.
At the early age of twenty-four Robert Ramsay died, leaving his widow,
as regards this world's gear, but indifferently provided for, and,
moreover, burdened with an infant scarce twelve months old.

Probably the outlook for the future was so dark that the young widow
shrank from facing it. Be this as it may, we learn that three months
after Robert Ramsay was laid in his grave she married David Crichton,
finding a home for herself and a stepfather for the youthful Allan at
one and the same time. Crichton was a small peasant-proprietor, or
bonnet-laird, of the district. Though not endowed with much wealth, he
seems to have been in fairly comfortable circumstances, realising his
stepson's ideal in after-life, which he put into the mouth of his

    'He that hath just enough can soundly sleep;
    The o'ercome only fashes fouk to keep.'

Much has been written regarding the supposed unhappiness of Ramsay's
boyhood in the household of his step-parent. For such a conclusion there
is not a tittle of evidence. Every recorded fact of their mutual
relations points the other way. David Crichton was evidently a man of
high moral principle and strength of character. Not by a hairbreadth did
he vary the treatment meted out to Allan from that accorded to his own
children by the widow of Robert Ramsay. To the future poet he gave, as
the latter more than once testified, as good an education as the parish
school afforded. That it embraced something more than the 'three R's,'
we have Ramsay's own testimony, direct and indirect--direct in the
admission that he had learned there to read Horace 'faintly in the
original'; indirect in the number and propriety of the classical
allusions in his works. He lived before the era of quotation books and
dictionaries of phrase and fable,--the hourly godsend of the
penny-a-liner; but the felicity of his references is unquestionable, and
shows an acquaintance with Latin and English literature both wide and
intimate. At anyrate, his scholastic training was sufficiently catholic
to imbue his mind with a reverence for the masterpieces in both
languages, and to enable him to consort in after years, on terms of
perfect literary equality, with the lawyers and the _beaux esprits_ of
witty Edinburgh, such as Dr. Pitcairn, Dr. Webster, and Lord Elibank.

Until his migration to the Scottish capital, at the age of fifteen,
Ramsay was employed, during his spare hours, in assisting his stepfather
in the work of the farm. The intimate acquaintance he displays in his
pastoral with the life and lot of the peasant-farmer, was the result of
his early years of rural labour among the Lowther hills. That they were
years of hardship, and a struggle at hand-grips with poverty, goes
without the saying. The land around the Lowthers was not of such a
quality as to render the bonnet-laird's exchequer a full one. As a
shepherd, therefore, young Ramsay had to earn hardly the bread he ate at
his stepfather's table. The references to his vocation are numerous in
his poems. In his Epistle to his friend William Starrat, teacher of
mathematics at Straban in Ireland, he adverts to his early life--

    'When speeling up the hill, the dog-days' heat
    Gars a young thirsty shepherd pant and sweat;
    I own 'tis cauld encouragement to sing,
    When round ane's lugs the blattran hailstanes ring;
    But feckfu' fouk can front the bauldest wind,
    And slunk through muirs, an' never fash their mind.
    Aft hae I wade through glens wi' chorking feet,
    When neither plaid nor kilt could fend the weet;
    Yet blythly wad I bang out o'er the brae,
    And stend o'er burns as light as ony rae,
    Hoping the morn might prove a better day.'

The boy, meantime, must have been photographing on the retentive
negatives of his mind the varied scenes of rural life, the labours
incidental to the alternating seasons, which he was to employ with
effect so rare in his inimitable pastoral. During the winter months,
when the snow lay deep on hill and glen, over scaur and cleugh among
the lonely Lowthers, when the flocks were 'faulded' and the 'kye' housed
in the warm byres, when the furious blasts, storming at window and door,
and the deadly nipping frost, rendered labour outside impracticable,
doubtless in David Crichton's household, as elsewhere over broad
Scotland, the custom prevailed of sitting within the _lum-cheek_ of the
cavernous fireplaces, or around the _ingle-neuk_, and reciting those
ancient ballads of the land's elder life, that had been handed down from
True Thomas and the border minstrels; or narrating those tales of moving
accidents by flood or field, of grim gramarye, and of the mysterious
sights and sounds of other days, whose memory floated down the stream of
popular tradition from age to age. In days when books were so costly as
to be little more than the luxury of the rich, the art of the fireside
rhapsodist was held in a repute scarcely less high, than in that epoch
which may justly be styled the period of Grecian romance--the days of
'the blind old man of Scio's rocky isle.' At that spring there is
abundant evidence that young Allan Ramsay had drunk deep.

To another well, also, of genuine inspiration he must by this time have
repaired--that of our native Scottish literature. Though some years had
yet to elapse before he could read Hamilton of Gilbertfield's poem, the
'Dying Words of Bonnie Heck,' which he afterwards praised as stimulating
him into emulation, there is little doubt he had already caught some
faint echoes of that glorious period in Scottish literature, which may
be said to have lasted from the return of the poet-king (James I.) in
1424, from his captivity in England, to the death of Drummond of
Hawthornden in 1649. Without taking account of Barbour's _Bruce_ and
Blind Harry's _Wallace_, which partake more of the character of rhyming
chronicles than poems,--though relieved here and there by passages of
genuine poetic fire, such as the familiar one in the former, beginning--

    'Ah! fredome is a nobill thynge,
    Fredome maks men to haiff liking,'

--the literary firmament that is starred at the period in question with
such names as King James I., Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, Walter
Kennedy, Gavin Douglas, Sir David Lyndsay, Alexander Montgomery, William
Alexander (Earl of Stirling), Sir Robert Ayton, Robert Sempill, and
Drummond of Hawthornden, need not fear comparison with the contemporary
poetry of the sister land. The greatest name in the list, that of
William Dunbar, was undoubtedly the leading singer of his age in the
British Isles, but inacquaintance with his works has prevented his
genius obtaining that recognition it deserves. Sir Walter Scott
considered Dunbar in most qualities the peer, in some the superior, of
Chaucer, and his opinion will be endorsed by all those who are able to
read Dunbar with enjoyment. Though Spenser's genius may have had a
richer efflorescence than Dunbar's, if the mass of their work be
critically weighed, quality by quality, the balance, when struck, would
rest remarkably evenly between them. Drummond of Hawthornden is perhaps
the most richly-gifted writer in early Scottish literature, as an
all-round man of letters. But as a poet the palm must ever remain with

The study of the breaks which occur in the poetic succession of any
literature is always interesting. In English literature such gaps
recur, though not with any definite regularity--for example, after the
death of Chaucer and Gower, when the prosaic numbers of Occleve and
Lydgate were the sole representatives of England's imaginative
pre-eminence; and the penultimate and ultimate decades of last century,
when Hayley was regarded as their acknowledged master by the younger
school of poets. In Scotland, it is to be noted, as Sir George Douglas
points out in his standard work, _Minor Scottish Poets_, that from 1617,
the date of the publication of Drummond's _Forth Feasting_, until 1721,
when Ramsay's first volume saw the light, no singer even of mediocre
power appeared in Scotland.

There were editions of many of the poems of James I., Dunbar, Stirling,
Drummond, and Sempill, which Ramsay may have seen. But he was more
likely to have gained the knowledge we know he possessed of the early
literature of his country from the recitals by fireside _raconteurs_,
and from the printed sheets, or _broadsides_, hawked about the rural
districts of Scotland during the closing decades of the seventeenth and
the initial ones of the eighteenth centuries. From specimens of these
which I have seen, it is evident that Henryson's _Robene and Makyn_,
Dunbar's _Merle and the Nightingale_ and the _Thistle and the Rose_,
with several of Drummond's and Stirling's poems, were circulated in this
way, thus becoming familiarly known in rural districts where the volumes
of these authors never could have penetrated. On these _broadsides_,
then, it must have been that the dormant poetical gifts of the youthful
Ramsay were fed, and in after years he showed his liking for this form
of publication by issuing his own earlier poems in the same way.



As much, perhaps, to obtain release from employment so laborious as that
on the farm, as from a desire to be independent, young Ramsay consented
to his stepfather's proposal that he should be apprenticed to a wigmaker
in Edinburgh.

It has been urged, in proof of Crichton's harshness to his stepson, that
Ramsay, after he left Leadhills in 1700, never seems to have had any
further intercourse with them. Not so much as a chance reference in a
letter reveals that he ever had any future dealings with the Crichton
family. But this is not to be wondered at. The fact of the death of his
mother in 1700 does not wholly explain the matter, I admit. But we need
only recall the exclusive character previously attributed to the people
of Leadhills, their antipathy to any intrusion upon them by strangers of
any kind, to understand the case. They were a type of Scottish Essenes,
a close community, akin to the fisher-communities of Newhaven and
Fisherrow, with their distinctive customs, traditions, and prejudices.
For a gay young Edinburgh spark such as Ramsay, fond of fine clothes,
with a strong spice of vanity and egotism in his nature, to sojourn
amongst the _dour_, stolid, phlegmatic miners, would have been to foster
the development of asperities on both sides, calculated to break off all
further intercourse. Met they may have, and parted on the terms we
surmise, but of such meeting no hint was ever dropped, and a veil of
separation drops between the household at Crawfordmuir and the young
Jacob who thus was sent forth, from the shadow of what was to him the
paternal roof, to war with the world at his own charges. That David
Crichton had done his duty nobly by the lad was evident; but other
children were shooting up to youth's estate, and when the elder bird was
full fledged, it must e'en take its flight from the parent nest to make
room for others.

There is another view of the case not so creditable to the future poet,
but still within the range of possibility--that the scion of the house
of Ramsay, whose anxiety to let the world know he was of gentle lineage
was so chronic, may have felt himself a cut above the children of the
bonnet-lairdie. Ramsay's nature was not one wherein the finer sympathies
and delicate regard for the feelings of others were mortised into a
sturdy independence and a desire to carve his fortunes out of the block
of favouring opportunity. From start to finish of his career a subtle
egoism, born of his lonely situation in life and fostered by his
inordinate vanity, was his distinguishing trait. Generous acts he did,
benevolent and kindly on numerous occasions he undoubtedly was, but his
charity was not altruism. He was not the man to deny himself for the
good of others.

Henceforth Edinburgh was to be Ramsay's life's home. He was enrolled as
an apprentice early in January 1701. Although, as an apprentice, he was
obliged to undertake duties distinctly domestic and menial,--for, in
those days of strict social and ecclesiastical discipline, a master was
expected to discharge towards those indentured to him much that
appertains solely to the province of the parent,--still, there would be
many spare hours wherein he would be free to devote himself to such
pursuits as his taste led him.

What induced him to select wig-making as his life's _métier_ is unknown.
Perhaps his stepfather may have had some friend in that line of business
who for 'auld lang syne' was willing to take the boy and teach him his
trade. There is, of course, the other side of the question to be taken
into account, that the work did not demand much bodily strength for its
successful prosecution, and that it was cleanly, neat, and artistic. The
recent development of the art of the _coiffeur_ in France, in
consequence of the attempts of Louis XIV. to conceal his natural defects
of diminutive stature and a phenomenally small head,--defects impairing
the effect of that majestic mien which the pupil of Mazarin so
persistently cultivated,--had spread into England, and thence into
Scotland. The enormous periwigs rendered fashionable by _Le Grand
Monarque_ admitted of a variety of artistic treatment. The heyday of
wig-making may therefore be said to have extended over at least the
greater part of Ramsay's career in this branch of trade, and in his day
the poet was reckoned the most ingenious of Edinburgh _perruquiers_.

Another consideration probably influenced him in his choice to proceed
to Edinburgh. The change to lighter labour would enable him to filch
from hours allocated to sleep precious moments for private reading,
which the arduous nature of his employment at Crawfordmuir had
prevented. Besides, he was in a 'city of books'--books only waiting to
be utilised. That he did take advantage of his opportunities during his
apprenticeship, and that it was at this period that the poetic instinct
in him took fire, on coming in contact with the electric genius of
Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, and other master-minds of English
literature, is a fact to which he refers more than once in his poems.

From 1701-7,--in other words, from his fifteenth to his twenty-first
year,--while he was serving his apprenticeship, there is a gap in the
continuity of the records we have of the poet; a _lacuna_ all the more
regrettable as these were the true germing years of his genius. Of the
name of his trade-master, of the spot where the shop of the latter was
situated, of his friends at that time, of his pursuits, his amusements,
his studies, we know little, save what can be gathered from chance
references in after-life. That they were busy years as regards his trade
is certain from the success he achieved in it; and that Ramsay was
neither a lazy, thriftless, shiftless, or vicious apprentice his after
career effectually proves. That they were happy years, if busy, may, I
think, be accepted as tolerably certain, for the native gaiety and
hilarity of his temperament underwent no abatement. Whether or not his
fashionable Edinburgh relatives took any notice of him, whether he was a
guest at his grandfather, the lawyer's house, or whether the latter and
his family, hidebound by Edinburgh social restrictions, found it
necessary to ignore a Ramsay who soiled his fingers with trade, is
unknown. Probably not, for it is matter of tradition that it was the
fact of his family connections which weighed with Writer Ross in
consenting to the union of his daughter with a tradesman.

In the spring of 1707 Allan Ramsay received back his indentures, signed
and sealed, with the intimation from the ancient and honourable
'Incorporation of Wigmakers' that he was free of the craft. He appears
almost immediately thereafter to have commenced business on his own
account in the Grassmarket, being admitted at the same time, in virtue
of being a craftsman of the town, a burgess of the City of Edinburgh.
Though no trace can be found that the wigmakers ranked amongst the
forty-two incorporated Societies or Guilds of the city (for their name
does not appear), that they must have enjoyed the same privileges as the
other trades, is evident from the fact of Ramsay being enrolled as a
burgess, the moment he had completed his apprenticeship.



An important stage in Allan Ramsay's life's journey had now been
reached. He was of age, he was a burgess of the town, he was a member,
or free, of one of the most influential of the Crafts, or Guilds, in the
capital, but, greatest step of all, he had started in business for
himself, and had flung himself, with a sort of fierce determination to
succeed, into that hand-to-hand fight with fortune for the sustenance of
life, from which each of us emerges either made or marred.

At a time when all the youthful Ramsay's faculties were beginning to be
strung to their utmost tension of achievement, strange would it have
been if that of observation were not as eagerly exercised.

Scotland in general, and Edinburgh in particular, were at this period in
the throes of a new political birth. The epoch of transition commenced
in 1707, and ended only when the dangers of the repeated rebellions of
1715 and 1745 showed the supercilious statesmen by the Thames--the
Harleys, the Walpoles, the Pelhams--that conciliation, not intimidation,
was the card to play in binding Scotland to her greater neighbour. A
patriotism that had burned clear and unwavering from the days of
Wallace and Bruce to those of the exiled and discredited Stuarts, was
not to be crushed out by a band of political wirepullers, by whom State
peculation was reduced to an art and parliamentary corruption to a

Although the ultimate effects of the Union between England and Scotland
were in the highest degree beneficial upon the arts, the commerce, and
the literature of the latter, the proximate results were disastrous in
the extreme; yet the step was imperative. So strained had become the
relations between the two countries, consequent on the jealousy of
English merchants and English politicians, that only two alternatives
were possible--war, or the corporate union of the whole island. Yet in
Scotland the very mention of Union was sufficient to drive the people
into a paroxysm of rage. The religious animosity between the two
countries was as important a factor in producing this feeling as any

English churchmen boasted that with any such Union would come the
restoration of Episcopacy north of the Tweed, and the abolition of the
Church of Scotland. The latter retaliated by pushing an Act of Security
through the Scottish Legislature, which demanded an oath to support the
Presbyterian Church in its integrity from every sovereign on his
accession. The Scottish Whigs and the Scottish Jacobites, despite
political differences wide as the poles, joined hands in resistance to
what they considered the funeral obsequies of Scottish nationality. For
a time the horizon looked so lowering that preparations actually were
begun in Scotland to accumulate munitions of war.

But the genius, the patience, and withal the firmness, of Lord Somers,
the great Whig Richelieu of his time, gradually overcame all
difficulties, though he was reduced to wholesale bribery of the Scottish
peers to effect his end. As Green puts it: 'The Scotch proposals of a
federative rather than a legislative Union were set aside by his
firmness: the commercial jealousies of the English traders were put by;
and the Act of Union, as finally passed in 1707, provided that the two
Kingdoms should be united into one under the name of Great Britain, and
that the succession to the crown of this United Kingdom should be ruled
by the provisions of the English Act of Settlement. The Scotch Church
and the Scotch Law were left untouched, but all rights of trade were
thrown open, and a uniform system of coinage adopted.'

Of all the negotiations for the consummation of the Union, Ramsay,
doubtless, was an interested spectator. Patriotic to his heart's core,
and sympathising as a Jacobite with the chivalrous feeling of his nation
for the dynasty they had given to England, and which, after only
eighty-six years of alternate loyalty and revolt, the Southrons had
driven into exile, the keenly observant lad would follow every detail in
the closing chapter of Scotland's history as an independent nation, with
a pathetic and sorrowful interest. Undoubtedly, while yet an apprentice,
with a few months of his time unexpired, he must have watched the last
observance of that ancient and picturesque spectacle, annually
recurring, but now to be abolished for ever--the 'Riding of the
Parliament,' or the procession of members to the opening of the sittings
in the old Parliament House. Perhaps he may even have secretly gained
admission to overhear the fiery debates on the Union in that ultimate
session of the Scottish legislature. Certainly he must have been one of
the thousands of spectators who day by day thronged the purlieus of the
hall where the national assembly met. Of the rage, brooding and deep, or
loud and outspoken, according to temperament, which prevailed amongst
the Edinburgh people at the mere idea of Union with the hated
'Southrons,' he must have been a witness. Nay, he may have been an
onlooker, if not a participant, in that riot which occurred after all
was over,--after Lord-Chancellor Seafield had uttered his brutal _mot_,
'There is the end o' an auld sang,' which gathered up for him the gall
of a nation's execration for a century to come; and after the
Commissioners of both nations had retired to sign the Treaty of Union.
Not, however, to any of the halls of Court did they retire, but to a
dingy cellar (still existing) of a house, 177 High Street, opposite the
Tron Church--being nearly torn limb from limb in getting there. Then the
mob, suddenly realising that now or never they must

    'Awake, arise, or be for ever fallen,'

besieged the cellar, intending to execute Jeddart justice or Lynch law
on those they esteemed traitors to their country. Fortunately there was
another means of egress; the party hastily took flight to an arbour in
the garden of Moray House, where the remaining signatures were appended,
and whence all the Commissioners fled post-haste to England, bearing
with them the signed copy of the Treaty.

That stirring time, so pregnant with mighty issues, a time when the weal
or the woe of the future British Empire trembled in the balance,--for
what of achievement could England alone have accomplished, with
Scotland as a hostile neighbour dogging her heels?--must of itself have
been an education to young Ramsay. It both confirmed his patriotism and
widened his political outlook.

Yet when the play was over, the curtain rung down, and the lights gone
out, the lapse of time must to him, as to other observers of the period,
have driven home with stunning force the conviction that the Union
spelled ruin for Scotland as a nation and Edinburgh as a city. For five
decades to come a listless apathy, born of despair, strangled Scottish
enterprise in its birth. The immediate effect of the Union was a serious
diminution in the national trade and commerce. The jealousy of English
merchants, as it had frustrated the Darien Scheme in the previous
century, now closed every possible avenue of commercial activity for the
renumerative utilisation of Scottish capital. 'We are dying by inches,'
wrote James, Earl of Bute, to a friend. And the signs of the times did
not seem to belie the assertion.

In Edinburgh, also, the change was severely felt. The removal of the
Court to London, a hundred and four years before, had drawn a large
number of the Scottish nobility to the vortex of fashion. The money they
were wont to spend during their stay in Edinburgh, while the Court
_season_ lasted, was diverted into another channel. The town houses
which they had been forced to maintain in the Scottish metropolis, were
in many cases relinquished, and the place that so long had known them
knew them no more. At that time Scottish merchants and shopkeepers had
suffered severely, yet they had the satisfaction of knowing that the
seat of Scottish government remained north of the Tweed.

But now a change even more radical was inaugurated. The national
Parliament, whose sittings had always necessitated the attendance of a
considerable proportion of the nobility and gentry of the country,
during a certain part of the year, was merged in that of the larger
country. Those of the purely Scottish peerage, whom choice or political
duties had retained in Scotland, now found no need to maintain their
costly Edinburgh establishments. Many a noble ancestral home, that for
three or four hundred years had sheltered the household and retainers of
families, whose deeds were interwoven with the historic records of
Scotland's most glorious epochs, was now advertised for sale. An exodus
to London on a vast scale set in, and the capital of Scotland ere long
settled down, in the apathy of despair, to play the _rôle_ of a
provincial centre. Henceforward her 'paper lords,' otherwise Judges of
the Court of Session, were to represent her titled magnates.

The bitterness of spirit which such a course of action as this migration
inspired in the minds of the residents of the Scottish capital, Ramsay,
as a young journeyman, or as a master craftsman who had only newly
commenced business for himself, would fervently reciprocate. In two
places at least in his works he pathetically, yet vigorously, protests
against the cream of Scottish youth being sent away out of the country.

In one of the most suggestively beautiful of his minor pastorals, _Betty
and Kate_, he thus writes--

    'Far, far, o'er far frae Spey an' Clyde,
        Stands that great town o' Lud,
    To whilk our best lads rin an' ride,
        That's like to put us wud [mad];
    For sindle times they e'er come back
        Wha anes are heftit there;
    Sure, Bess, thae hills are nae sae black,
        Nor yet thir [these] howms sae bare.'

And in _The Gentle Shepherd_, after the discovery has been made of
Patie's noble birth, his fellow-herd, Roger, remarks--

    'Is not our master an' yoursell to stay
    Amang us here? or, are ye gawn away
    To London Court, or ither far aff parts,
    To leave your ain poor us wi' broken hearts?'

The five intercalary years between Ramsay's commencing in business on
his own account and his marriage, were those which may properly be
designated his intellectual seedtime. That he was exercised over any of
the deeper and more complex problems of life, death and futurity; that
he was hagridden by doubt, or appalled by the vision of man's motelike
finitude when viewed against the deep background of infinity and
eternity, we have no reason to suppose. Never at any epoch of his life a
'thinker,' in the true sense of the word, he was inclined, with the
genial insouciant Hedonism always characteristic of him, to slip
contentedly into the Pantheism of Pope, to regard humanity and the world
without as

      ----'but parts of a stupendous whole
    Whose body nature is, and God the soul,

--the superficial, ethical principle permeating which is summed up in
the dictum, _Whatever is, is right_. Though he had no sympathy with the
Puritanic austerity of Presbyterianism, albeit a regular attendant on
the ministrations of Dr. Webster of the Tolbooth Church, one of the
sections whereinto the magnificent cathedral of St. Giles was of old
divided, he was tinctured neither with French scepticism nor with the
fashionable doubts which the earlier deistical writers of the century,
Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Shaftesbury, Toland, and Blount, were sowing
broadcast over Great Britain. In his _Gentle Shepherd_ he makes Jenny,
when Glaud, her father, had remarked, with respect to the prevailing
disregard of religion and morality among the youth of the better

                    ----'I've heard mysell
    Some o' them laugh at doomsday, sin, and hell,'

make the following reply, which savours strongly of the slippered
orthodoxy of _The Essay on Man_--

    'Watch o'er us, father! hech, that's very odd;
    Sure, him that doubts a doomsday, doubts a God.'

But though he appears to have given a wide berth to the ponderous
theology, the narrow ethics, and the hair-splitting metaphysics of the
time, his whole nature seems to have been stirred and awakened more
deeply than ever by his study of the elder poets in English literature.
Not that their music tended to make him discontented with his lot, or
unhinged the lid of his resolution to become a thoroughly efficient man
of business. Ramsay, unlike many of his brethren of the lyre, was of an
eminently practical temperament. Rumour says that in earlier boyhood he
cherished a desire of becoming an artist. But his stepfather not
possessing the means to furnish him with the necessary training, he
wisely sloughed all such unreasonable dreams, and aimed at independence
through wig-making.

Wisdom as commendable was displayed now. Though his studies must have
kindled poetic emulation in him; though the vague unexpressed longings
of a richly-gifted nature were doubtless daily present with him, no
thought ever seems to have entered his mind of relinquishing trade for
poetry. On his ambition, also, he kept a steady curb, determining to
publish nothing but what his more matured judgment would approve. Not to
him in after years would the regret come that he had cursed his fame by

From 1707 until 1711, during the dreary depression of the time
immediately succeeding the Union, when Scotsmen preferred apathy to
action, Ramsay sought surcease from his pangs of wounded patriotism by
plunging into studies of various kinds, but principally of English
poetry. In a letter, hitherto unpublished, addressed to his friend
Andrew Gibb, who appears to have resided at or near West Linton, he
remarks: 'I have rowth of good reading to wile my heart from grieving
o'er what cannot be mended now,--the sale o' our unhappy country to the
Southron alliance by a wheen traitors, who thought more o' Lord Somers'
gold than Scotland's rights. In Willie Shakspeare's melodious numbers I
forget the dark days for trade, and in auld Chaucer's Tales, and
Spenser's 'Queen,' in John Milton's majestic flow, in Giles and Phineas
Fletcher, in rare Ben and our ain Drummond, I tine the sorrows o' the
day in the glories o' the days that are past.'

That we may accept Ramsay's account of the studies of Patie, the Gentle
Shepherd, as a type of his own is warranted by something more than
tradition. The internal evidence of his works throws a strong colour of
probability over the theory. When Sir William Worthy, who as a Royalist
had been compelled to flee into exile during the times of the
Commonwealth, inquires what were the books his son, whom he had
committed to the care of Symon, his shepherd, to be reared as his own
child, was in the habit of reading, the honest old servant replies--

    'When'er he drives our sheep to Edinburgh port,
    He buys some books o' hist'ry, sangs, or sport;
    Nor does he want o' them a rowth at will,
    And carries aye a poochfu' to the hill.
    Aboot ane Shakspeare--an' a famous Ben,
    He aften speaks, an' ca's them best o' men.
    How sweetly Hawthornden an' Stirling sing,
    An' ane ca'd Cowley, loyal to his king,
    He kens fu' weel, an' gars their verses ring.
    I sometimes thought he made owre great a phrase
    About fine poems, histories, and plays.
    When I reproved him ance, a book he brings,
    "Wi' this," quoth he, "on braes I crack wi' kings."'

By the side-light thrown on Ramsay's life from this passage we gain some
idea of his own studies during those years of germination. To the poets
more exclusively Scottish, whether writing in the current literary
medium of the day or in the vernacular of the country; to Robert
Sempill's _Life and Death of the Piper of Kilbarchan_; to William
Cleland's _Highland Host_--in addition to Drummond and the Earl of
Stirling, mentioned in the passage quoted above; to William Hamilton of
Gilbertfield's verses, _The Dying Words of Bonnie Heck_, and to others
of less note, he seems to have devoted keen and enthusiastic attention.
Lieutenant Hamilton it was (as Ramsay admits in the poetical
correspondence maintained between them) who first awakened within him
the desire to write in the dialect of his country--

    'When I begoud first to cun verse,
    And could your "Ardry Whins" rehearse,
    Where Bonny Heck ran fast and fierce,
                  It warm'd my breast;
    Then emulation did me pierce,
                  Whilk since ne'er ceast.'

There was, however, another influence at work, quite as potent,
stimulating his poetic fancy. Amid the beauties of the 'Queen of Cities'
he lived, and the charms of his surroundings sank deep into his
impressionable nature. In whatever direction he looked, from the ridgy
heights of the Castlehill, a glorious natural picture met his eye. If to
the north, his gaze caught the gleam of the silvery estuary of the
Forth, with fertile reaches of green pasture-land intervening, and the
little villages of Picardy, Broughton, and Canonmills peeping out from
embosoming foliage, while beyond the silver streak, beautified by the
azure enchantment of distance, glowed in the sunshine the heath-clad
Lomonds and the yellow wealth of the fields of Fife. Did the youthful
poet turn eastward, from yonder favourite lounge of his on Arthur Seat,
the mouth of the noble Firth, dotted with sail, was full in view, with
the shadowy outlines of the May Island, peeping out like a spirit from
the depth of distance, and nearer, the conical elevation of North
Berwick Law and the black-topped precipitous mass of the Bass; while
seemingly lying, in comparison, almost at his feet, was the magnificent
semicircular sweep of Aberlady Bay, with its shore-fringe of whitewashed
villages gleaming like a string of glittering pearls, behind which
stretched the fertile carse of East Lothian, rolling in gently
undulating uplands back to the green Lammermoors. Or if he gazed
southward, did his eye not catch the fair expanse of Midlothian, as
richly cultivated as it was richly wooded, extending before him like a
matchless picture, dotted with homesteads, hamlets, and villages, past
Dalkeith--'which all the virtues love,' past Lasswade, past Roslin's
castled rock, past Dryden's groves of oak, past caverned Hawthornden,
until earth and sky seemed to meet in the misty horizon line of the
Moorfoots? And westward, was not the eye guided by the grassy grandeur
of the Pentland Range, until beauty was merged in indefiniteness across
the wide strath lying like a painted scroll from Edinburgh to

Fairer scene never nurtured poet in 'the fine frenzy of his art'; and in
long excursions during his spare hours, amidst the silent glens and
frowning _cleughs_ of the Pentlands, amidst the romantic scenery
clothing the banks of both the Esks, by Almond's gentle flow, and by the
wimpling waters of the Water of Leith, our Caledonian Theocritus fed his
germing genius on food that was destined to render him at once the
greatest and the most breezily objective of British pastoral poets.

From 1707 to 1711 thus did Allan Ramsay 'live and learn,'--a youth whose
nature, fired by the memories of Scotland's greatness in years gone by,
already longed to add something of value to the cairn of his country's
literature. Such, too, were the facts of which, at his request, the
worthy lawyer, Mr. James Ross, was placed in possession when he was
called on to decide whether his friend, the 'poetically-minded
wigmaker,' should be regarded as a _persona grata_ from the point of
view of a prospective son-in-law. That the 'pedigree' of the young
aspirant was accepted as satisfactory may be regarded as certain from
the fact that the marriage of Allan Ramsay and Christian Ross was
celebrated during the New Year festivities of 1712. A woman, at once of
considerable personal attractions, sound common sense and practical
knowledge of the world, a capital housewife withal, and though not
devoid of a certain modicum of literary appreciation, by no means a
blue-stocking, such, in brief, was the lady who for thirty years was to
be the faithful partner of Ramsay's fortunes, rejoicing with him in
success, sympathising with him in reverse--one who merited to the full
the glowing lines wherein he described her. The song of 'Bonny Chirsty'
was written after nearly seven years of wedded life. The sentiments
therein expressed speak better than comment as to the happiness of
Ramsay's marriage. One verse of it may be quoted--

    'How sweetly smells the simmer green!
      Sweet taste the peach and cherry;
    Painting and order please our een,
      And claret makes us merry:
    But finest colours, fruits, and flowers,
      And wine, though I be thirsty,
    Lose a' their charms and weaker powers,
      Compared wi' those of Chirsty.'

About a year before his marriage, Ramsay had left the shop in the
Grassmarket, where he had commenced business in 1707, and had
established himself in the High Street in premises already described,
and which exist to this day. There, under his sign of the 'Flying
Mercury,' he toiled and sang, and chatted and cracked jokes with all and
sundry, from sunrise to sunset, his wit and his humour, and, as time
rolled on, his poetic genius, bringing many customers to his shop.
Verily, a sunny-souled man, in whom 'life with its carking cares' could
never extinguish his cheery _bonhomie_ and self-confidence.



Ramsay's marriage was the turning-point of his career. To him, as to
every man who realises not alone the moral but the social obligations he
assumes when undertaking the holy charge of rendering a woman's life
happier and brighter than ever before, the responsibilities of his new
relation crystallised into the mould of definite effort the energies
hitherto diffused throughout numberless diverse channels. Seldom has the
philosophy of wedded bliss been more felicitously stated than in his
_Advice to Mr. ---- on his Marriage_. He remarks, as though drawing on
the fund of his own experience--

    'Alake! poor mortals are not gods,
    And therefore often fall at odds;
    But little quarrels now and then,
    Are nae great faults 'tween wife and man.
    These help right often to improve
    His understanding, and her love.
    If e'er she take the pet, or fret,
    Be calm, and yet maintain your state;
    An' smiling ca' her little foolie,
    Syne wi' a kiss evite a tulzie.
    This method's ever thought the braver
    Than either cuffs or _clish-ma-claver_.
    It shows a spirit low an' common
    That wi' ill-nature treats a woman.
    They're of a make sae nice and fair
    They maun be managed wi' some care;
    Respect them they'll be kind an' civil,
    But disregarded, prove the devil.'

But for another reason the year 1712 is as interesting to us as students
of his career as it was important to him. In the early months of it he
was introduced to the 'Easy Club,' one of those politico-convivial
societies that sprang into existence early in the century, and were
conspicuous features in the social customs of the period, until its
eighth and ninth decades, when, consequent upon the expansion of the
city north and south, the tavern conviviality of 1740 was succeeded by
the domestic hospitality of 1790.

At the time of which we write, the capital of Scotland was virtually
represented by the one long street called the High Street, or 'Edinburgh
Street,' which crowned the summit of the ridge extending from the Castle
to Holyrood Palace, the ancient home of the Stuarts. From this main
artery of traffic, smaller veins, in the shape of narrow darksome
closes, branched out, leading to a second artery in the Cowgate, and to
yet a third one in the Grassmarket. During the panic that prevailed
after the Battle of Flodden, a wall of defence was drawn around the
town. By it the area of Edinburgh was grievously circumscribed. Only
what might be termed the heart of the city was included, all lying
beyond falling within the anomalous designation of _suburbs_. For two
hundred years this seemingly impassable girdle sternly checked the
natural _overflow_ of the city's life. To reside outside the _ports_ or
gates was not only considered dangerous--it was unfashionable. And as
there was not accommodation for a tenth part of the inhabitants in the
houses of two, or at most three, storeys which prevailed about the time
of the Reformation, the architects of the Restoration period commenced
the erection of those towering tenements, or _lands_,--twelve, fourteen,
and even sixteen storeys high,--for which Edinburgh has been celebrated
among the cities of Europe. Thus the families of the Scottish metropolis
were packed together, one on the top of the other, like herrings in a
barrel, in those quaint old houses, with their grim timber fronts, their
crow-stepped gables and dormer windows, that remain even until to-day to
show us the circumstances under which our fathers lived and loved.

In circumstances such as these, domestic comfort and the sweet seclusion
of home were out of the question. So criminally overcrowded was the town
that well-born gentlemen and their households were content with two or
three rooms, wherein all the manifold duties of social and domestic life
had to be performed. Robert Chambers, in his charming _Traditions of
Edinburgh_, relates how the family of Mr. Bruce of Kennet, a leading
lawyer, afterwards raised to the Bench, lived in a house of three rooms
and a kitchen--a parlour, a consulting-room for Mr. Bruce, and a
bedroom. The children, with their maid, had beds laid down for them at
night in their father's room, the housemaid slept under the kitchen
dresser, and the one man-servant was turned at night out of the house.
Even a more striking example of the lack of accommodation was to be
found in connection with the household arrangements of Mr. Kerr, the
eminent goldsmith of Parliament Square, who 'stowed his _ménage_ in a
couple of small rooms above his booth-like shop, plastered against the
wall of St. Giles Church; the nursery and kitchen, however, being in a
cellar under the level of the street, where the children are said to
have rotted off like sheep.... The town was, nevertheless, a funny,
familiar, compact, and not unlikable place. Gentle and semple living
within the compass of a single close, or even a single stair, knew and
took an interest in each other.'

Such was the kind of home to which Allan Ramsay brought his bride. Two
rooms, with a closet and a kitchen, for many a long year were the extent
of their household accommodation. Such a state of things was not
favourable to the development of the virtues purely domestic. Hence with
Ramsay, as with other men, tavern life was accepted as a substitute for
those comforts the sterner sex could not get at home. As Grant remarks
in his _Old and New Edinburgh_: 'The slender house accommodation in the
turnpike stairs compelled the use of taverns more than now. There the
high-class advocate received his clients, and the physician his
patients--each practitioner having his peculiar _howff_. There, too,
gentlemen met in the evening for supper and conversation, without much
expense, a reckoning of a shilling being a high one--so different then
was the value of money and the price of viands.'

Mr. Logie Robertson, in his graphic and admirable introduction to the
_Poems of Allan Ramsay_ in the Canterbury Series, adds: 'Business
lingered on all over the town to a much later period than is customary
now, but by eight o'clock every booth was deserted and every shop
closed, and the citizens for the most part gave themselves up to cheap
conviviality and pastime for the next hour or two. Almost every
tradesman had his favourite place in his favourite tavern, where, night
after night, he cracked a quiet bottle and a canny joke before going
home to his family. It was first business, then friendship; and the
claims of family after that.'

Out of this general spirit of conviviality arose those numberless Clubs
wherein, upon the convivial stem, were graffed politics, literature,
sport, science, as well as many other pursuits less worthy and less
beneficial. No custom, no usage, no jest, in fact, seemed too trivial to
be seized upon as the pretext to give a colour of excuse for founding a
Club. Some of them were witty, others wise, others degrading. Such
designations as the _Cape Club_,--so called from doubling the Cape of
Leith Wynd, when half-seas over, to get home to the burgh of Low Calton,
where several of the members lived; the _Pious Club_, because the
brethren met regularly to consume pies; the _Spendthrift Club_, because
no _habitué_ was permitted to spend more than _fourpence halfpenny_, and
others, were harmless in their way, and promoted a cheap _bonhomie_
without leading the burghers into disgraceful excesses. But the
_Hell-fire Club_, the _Sweating Club_, the _Dirty Club_, and others of a
kindred order, were either founded to afford an opportunity for
indulgence in riot and licence of every kind, or were intended to
encourage habits as disgusting as they were brutal.

Not to be supposed is it that Ramsay had lived six-and-twenty years of
his life without having practised, and we have no doubt enjoyed, the
widespread conviviality of the period. Hence, though the Easy Club was
the first of the social gatherings wherewith he actually informs us he
was connected, we have no reason to doubt he had been associated with
several of them before. In fact, in that poetical 'Essay' of his which
stands first in the chronological order of composition, though not of
publication, the _Elegy on Maggy Johnston_, who died anno 1711--an
alewife whose little farm and hotel were situated in the village of
Morningside, just beyond the Bruntsfield Links,--he seems to imply that
a club of some kind met there. The third stanza runs as follows--

    'And there by dizens we lay down;
    Syne sweetly ca'd the healths aroun',
    To bonny lasses, black or brown,
            As we loo'd best:
    In bumpers we dull cares did drown,
            An' took our rest.'

But to the Easy Club[1] must be assigned the honour of having stimulated
the nascent genius of the poet to achieve something that would convey to
its members the fact that it was no ordinary tradesman who solicited
admission into the charmed circle of the Society. James Ross, whose zeal
for the poetic young wigmaker's social recognition was now materially
increased, used all his influence to obtain for his son-in-law an
_entrée_ into the Club of which he was himself a member. Questionable,
indeed, it is, when we consider the exclusive character of the
association in question, the high social position of its members, and
their avowed Jacobitical tenets, if even the influence of James Ross,
powerful though it was, would alone have secured for Ramsay admission.
But an inspiration, as happy as it was original, prompted him to embody
his petition for admission into the Club in a poetical address. Such a
course was of itself sufficient to recommend him to men like Dr.
Ruddiman and Dr. Pitcairn. The poem, addressed to 'The Most Happy
Members of the Easy Club,' proceeded, in a felicitous strain of gentle
satire, blended with genial humour not unlike Gay at his best, to plead
his own cause why he should be admitted as 'an _Easy_ fellow.' His
application was successful, and he was duly enrolled as a member. The
following lines extracted from it will exhibit the character of the
piece, which takes rank as the earliest of his published poems--

    'Were I but a prince or king,
      I'd advance ye, I'd advance ye;
    Were I but a prince or king,
      So highly I'd advance ye!
    Great wit and sense are ever found
    Among ye always to abound;
    Much like the orbs that still move round,
        No ways constrained, but easy.
                    Were I but, etc.

    Most of what's hid from vulgar eye,
    Even from earth's centre to the sky,
    Your brighter thoughts do clearly spy,
        Which makes you wise and easy.
                    Were I but, etc.

    All faction in the Church or State,
    With greater wisdom still you hate,
    And leave learn'd fools there to debate,--
        Like rocks in seas you're easy.
                    Were I but, etc.

    I love ye well--O let me be
    One of your blythe Society;
    And like yourselves I'll strive to be
        Aye humorous and easy.
                    Were I but, etc.

The benefits received by the self-confident young poet were not alone of
an intangible character. Praise is an excellent thing of itself, but a
modicum of pudding along with it is infinitely better. To Ramsay the
Easy Club was the means of securing both. The _rôle_ of his literary
patrons was at once assumed by its members. They printed and published
his _Address_ at their own expense, appointed him, within a few months'
time, their 'Poet Laureate,' and manifested, both by counsel and the
exercise of influence, the liveliest interest in his welfare. No trivial
service this to the youthful poet on the part of his kindly club
brethren. How great it was, and how decisive the effect of their
generous championship in establishing Ramsay's reputation on a sure
basis, will best be understood by glancing for a moment at the character
of the Easy Club and the _personnel_ of its membership.

Originally founded, under a different name, as a means of frustrating,
and afterwards of protesting against, the Union, the Club, after its
reconstruction in 1711, became a Jacobite organisation pure and simple.
As Ramsay himself stated in after years: 'It originated in the antipathy
we all of that day seemed to have at the ill-humour and contradiction
which arise from trifles, especially those which constitute Whig and
Tory, _without having the grand reason for it_.' The grand reason in
question was the restoration of the Stuarts. To give a _soupçon_ of
mystery to their proceedings, as well as to veil their identity when
thus plotting against the 'powers that be,' each member assumed a
fictitious name, generally that of some celebrated writer. The poet, as
he himself relates, at first selected Isaac Beckerstaff, suggestive of
Steele and the _Tatler_. Eventually, however, he altered his
_nom-de-guerre_ to Gawain Douglas, one more in accordance with his
patriotic sentiments.

The membership was limited to _twelve_, but at the time when Ramsay made
his application we only know the names of five of those who belonged to
it. Hepburn of Keith, in East Lothian, an antiquarian of no mean
standing; Professor Pitcairn, late of Leyden, but at that time in the
enjoyment of one of the largest practices as a physician in the
Edinburgh of the period; Dr. Patrick Abercrombie, the eminent historian
and antiquarian, author of _The Martial Achievements of the Scottish
Nation_; Dr. Thomas Ruddiman, philologist, grammarian, printer, and
librarian of the Advocates' Library,--one of the few Scottish polymaths
over and above the Admirable Crichton and George Buchanan,--and James
Ross the lawyer. Tradition has stated that Hamilton of Gilbertfield was
also one of the 'Easy fellows,' as they dubbed themselves, but no
confirmation of this fact could be discovered.

We reach now the commencement of Ramsay's literary career. For four
years--in fact, until the breaking up of the Society after the Rebellion
of 1715--all he wrote was issued with the _imprimatur_ of the Easy Club
upon it. That they were proud of him is evident from the statement made
by Dr. Ruddiman in a letter to a friend: 'Our Easy Club has been
increased by the admission of a young man, Ramsay by name, _sib_ to the
Ramsays of Dalhousie, and married to a daughter of Ross the writer. He
will be heard tell o' yet, I'm thinking, or I am much out of my

The next pieces which our poet read to his patrons were two he had
written some time previous--to wit, a little Ode on the preservation
from death by drowning of the son of his friend John Bruce, on August
19, 1710; and the _Elegy on Maggy Johnston_, the alewife, to which
reference has already been made. The first of these bears evident traces
of youth and inexperience, in both the esoteric and exoteric or
technical mysteries of his art. For example, when referring to the
danger wherein the lad and his companions had been placed, he remarks--

    'Whilst, like the lamp's last flame, their trembling souls
    Are on the wing to leave their mortal goals';

and he conjures up the following extraordinary spectacle of angelic
gymnastics, whereby the rescue of the lads was effected--

    'Angels came posting down the divine beam
    To save the helpless in their last extreme.'

Little promise was visible in that piece of future excellence, yet
within eighteen months he had written the _Elegy on Maggy Johnston_, to
which the critics of the Easy Club gave unstinted praise. For humorous
description of the convivial habits of the day, and graphic
word-painting, the poem is exceedingly happy. But alas! judged by our
latter-day standard of refinement, good taste, and morality, it is
_caviare_ to the general. Only to antiquarians and students of by-past
customs do its allusions contain much that is either interesting or

To follow Ramsay's poetic development through all his earlier pieces
would simply exhaust the interest of the reader. Suffice it to say,
that, at the request of the Easy Club, he wrote an Elegy on the death
of Dr. Pitcairn in 1713, but the poem contained so many political
references and satirical quips that he omitted it from the collected
edition of his works in 1721. Pitcairn was a sort of Scottish Voltaire,
a man far in advance of his time, who paid in popular suspicion and
reprobation for his liberality and tolerance. What Robert Chambers
remarks of him is well within the facts of the case. 'His sentiments and
opinions on various subjects accord with the most enlightened views of
the present day, and present a very striking and remarkable contrast to
the ignorance and prejudice with which he was surrounded. Fanatics and
bigots he detested, and by fanatics and bigots, as a matter of course,
he was abused and calumniated. He was accused of being an atheist, a
deist, a mocker and reviler of religion, ... _and one who was twice
drunk every day_.' Ramsay, in his _Elegy_, rebutted those grossly
malevolent falsehoods, not only clearing the memory of his patron from
such foul dishonour, but with bitingly sarcastic humour he turned the
tables on the calumniators, by showing, over their action in connection
with the Union, who in reality were the traitors.

To the instigation of the Easy Club we also owe the piece on _The
Qualifications of a Gentleman_, published in 1715, subsequent to a
debate in the Society on the subject. Ramsay versified the arguments
used by the various speakers, executing the task in a manner at once so
graceful and witty that the Club formally declared him to be 'a
gentleman by merit.' Only a periphrastic method of signifying their
approbation of his work was this, and did not imply any reflection upon
his birth, as might at first glance be supposed. For in the concluding
lines of the poem Ramsay, with his genial _bonhomie_ and humour had

    'Yet that we more good humour might display,
    We frankly turned the vote another way;
    And in each thing we common topics shun,
    So the great prize nor birth nor riches won.
    The vote was carried thus:--that easy he
    Who should three years a social fellow be,
    And to our Easy Club give no offence,
    After triennial trial, should commence
    A gentleman; which gives as just a claim
    To that great title, as the blast of fame
    Can give to those who tread in human gore.'

In 1715, also, he amused the members of the Club, and after them the
wits of Edinburgh, with some lines on the current predictions regarding
_The Great Eclipse of the Sun_, foretold to take place during April
1715. The following picture, descriptive of the awe and terror produced
on ignorant minds and on the brute creation by the occurrence of the
eclipse, is as pithily effective in its simplicity and fidelity to life
and nature as anything in Crabbe's _Tales in Verse_ or Shenstone's

    'When this strange darkness overshades the plains,
    'Twill give an odd surprise to unwarned swains;
    Plain honest hinds, who do not know the cause,
    Nor know of orbs, their motions or their laws,
    Will from the half-ploughed furrows homeward bend
    In dire confusion, judging that the end
    Of time approacheth; thus possessed with fear,
    They'll think the gen'ral conflagration near.
    The traveller, benighted on the road,
    Will turn devout, and supplicate his God.
    Cocks with their careful mates and younger fry,
    As if 'twere evening, to their roosts will fly.
    The horned cattle will forget to feed,
    And come home lowing from the grassy mead.
    Each bird of day will to his nest repair,
    And leave to bats and owls the dusky air;
    The lark and little robin's softer lay
    Will not be heard till the return of day.'

The years 1715-16 were evidently periods of great activity on Ramsay's
part, for at least five other notable productions of his pen are to be
assigned to that date. To him the revelation of his life's _métier_ had
at last come, and his enthusiasm in its prosecution was intense.
Henceforward poetry was to represent to him the supreme aim of
existence. But like the canny Scot he was, he preferred to regard its
emoluments as a crutch rather than a staff; nay, on the other hand, the
determination to discharge his daily duties in his trade, as he executed
his literary labours, _con amore_, seems to have been ever present with
him. On this point, and referring to his dual pursuits as a wigmaker and
a poet, he writes to his friend Arbuckle--

    'I theek the out, and line the inside
    Of mony a douce and witty pash,
    And baith ways gather in the cash.

    .    .    .    .    .

    Contented I have sic a skair,
    As does my business to a hair;
    And fain would prove to ilka Scot,
    That pourtith's no the poet's lot.'

During the years in question Ramsay produced in rapid succession his
poem _On Wit_, the Club being again responsible for this clever satire;
and also two humorous _Elegies_, one on John Cowper, the
Kirk-Treasurer's-Man, whose official oversight of the _nymphes de pave_
furnished the poet with a rollickingly ludicrous theme, of which he made
the most; the other, an _Elegy on Lucky Wood_, alewife in the Canongate,
also gave Ramsay full scope for the exercise of that broad Rabelaisian
humour, of his possession of which there was now no longer to be any

Finally, in 1716, he achieved his great success, which stamped him as
unquestionably one of the greatest delineators that had as yet appeared,
of rural Scottish life amongst the humbler classes. As is well known, a
fragment is in existence consisting of one canto of a poem entitled
_Christ's Kirk on the Green_. Tradition and internal evidence alike
point to King James I. as the author. The theme is the description of a
brawl at a country wedding, which breaks out just as the dancing was
commencing. 'The king,' says Ramsay, 'having painted the rustic squabble
with an uncommon spirit, in a most ludicrous manner, in a stanza of
verse, the most difficult to keep the sense complete, as he had done,
without being forced to bring in words for crambo's sake where they
return so frequently, I have presumed to imitate His Majesty in
continuing the laughable scene. Ambitious to imitate so great an
original, I put a stop to the war, called a congress, and made them sign
a peace, that the world might have their picture in the more agreeable
hours of drinking, dancing, and singing. The following cantos were
written, the one in 1715 (O.S. corresponding to January 1716), the other
in 1718, about three hundred years after the first. Let no worthy poet
despair of immortality,--good sense will always be the same in spite of
the revolutions of fashion and the change of language.'

The task was no easy one, but Ramsay succeeded with remarkable skill in
dovetailing the second and third cantos into the first, so that they
read as the production of one mind. For faithful portraiture of Scottish
rural manners, for a fidelity, even in the minutest details, recalling
Teniers and his vividly realistic pictures of Dutch rustic life, the
cantos are unrivalled in Scottish literature, save by the scenes of his
own _Gentle Shepherd_.


[1] See Preface.


QUARTO OF 1721--1717-21

Ramsay's fame as a poet, writing in the Scots vernacular, was now
thoroughly established. Though the patronage of the Easy Club could no
longer be extended to him, as the Government of the Elector of
Hanover--lately crowned King of England under the title of George
I.--had directed its suppression, the members of it, while in a position
to benefit him, had laid the basis of his reputation so broad and deep
that virtually he had now only to build on their foundation.

He was distinctly the favourite of the 'auld wives' of the town. In
quarto sheets, familiarly known as _broadsides_, and similar to what had
been hawked about the country in his youth, his poems had hitherto been
issued. It became the fashion, when four o'clock arrived, to send out
their children, or their 'serving-lass,' with a penny to procure Allan
Ramsay's latest piece, in order to increase the relish of their
'four-oors' Bohea' with the broad humour of _John Cowper_, or _The Elegy
upon Lucky Wood_, or _The Great Eclipse_.

During the year or two immediately preceding the publication of the
quarto of 1721 this custom greatly increased. Of course, a supply had
to be forthcoming to meet such a demand, but of these, numberless
pieces, on topics of political or merely ephemeral interest, were never
republished after their appearance in _broadside_ form. By an eminent
collector of this species of literature the fact is stated, that there
are considerably over two score of poems by Ramsay which have thus been
allowed to slip into oblivion. Not that such a fate was undeserved. In
many cases their indelicacy would debar their admission into any edition
nowadays; in others, their lack of permanent general interest. Such
subjects as _The Flytin' of Luckie Duff and Luckie Brown_, _A Dookin' in
the Nor' Loch_, and _A Whiggish Lament_, were not the kind of themes his
calmer and maturer judgment would care to contemplate being handed down
to posterity as specimens of his work.

In 1719 Ramsay appears to have concluded, from the extensive sale his
poems enjoyed even in _broadside_ form, that the trade of a bookseller
would not only be more remunerative than a wigmaker's, but would also be
more in accord with his literary tastes and aspirations. For some months
he had virtually carried on the two trades concurrently, his reputation
undoubtedly attracting a large number of customers to his shop to have
their wigs dressed by the popular poet of the day. But as his fame
increased, so did his vanity. Of praise he was inordinately fond. 'Tell
Allan he's as great a poet as Pope, and ye may get what ye like from
him,' said the witty and outspoken Lord Elibank to a friend. The charge
had more than a grain of truth in it. That man did not lack more than
his share of self-complacent vanity who could write, as the vicegerent
of great Apollo, as he informs us in _The Scribblers Lashed_, such lines
as these--

    'Wherefore pursue some craft for bread,
    Where hands may better serve than head;
    Nor ever hope in verse to shine,
    Or share in Homer's fate or----'

Alas! Allan, 'backwardness in coming forward' was never one of thy

To Allan, _digito monstrari_ was a condition of things equivalent to the
seventh heaven of felicity; but he felt it would be more to his
advantage to be pointed out as a bookseller than as a wigmaker, when his
reputation as a poet would cause his social status to be keenly
examined. We learn that he consulted his friend Ruddiman on the step,
who spoke strongly in its favour, and gave him good sound advice as to
the kind of stock most likely to sell readily. The 'Flying Mercury,'
therefore, which up to this date had presided over the 'theeking' of the
_outside_ of the 'pashes' (heads) of the worthy burgesses of Auld
Reekie, was thereafter to preside, with even increased lustre, over the
provision of material for lining the _inside_ with learning and culture.

That the time was an anxious one for the poet there can be little doubt.
He was virtually beginning the battle of life anew; and though he did so
with many advantageous circumstances in his favour, none the less was
the step one to be undertaken only after the gravest consideration and
calculation of probabilities. But by its results the change is shown to
have been a wise one. From the outset the bookselling business proved a
lucrative venture. The issue of his own _broadsides_, week by week, was
of itself a considerable source of profit. These, in addition to being
sold at his shop and hawked about the country, were disposed of on the
streets of Edinburgh by itinerant stallkeepers, who were wont to regard
the fact as one of great moment to themselves when they could cry, 'Ane
o' Maister Ramsay's new poems--price a penny.' In this manner his famous
piece, _The City of Edinburgh's Address to the Country_, was sown
broadcast over the county.

Meantime, while Ramsay's literary and commercial prosperity was being
established on so firm a basis, he was becoming quite a family man. The
little house opposite Niddry's Wynd was gradually getting small enough
for his increasing _ménage_. Since his marriage in 1712, happiness
almost idyllic, as he records, had been his lot in his domestic
relations. He had experienced the pure joy that thrills through a
parent's heart on hearing little toddling feet pattering through his
house, and sweet childish voices lisping the name 'father.' The
following entries in the Register of Births and Baptisms for the City of
Edinburgh speak for themselves:--

'At Edinburgh, 6th October 1713.

'Registrate to Allan Ramsay, periwige-maker, and Christian Ross, his
spouse, New Kirk Parish--a son, Allan. Witnesses, John Symer, William
Mitchell, and Robert Mein, merchant, burgesses; and William Baxter.

'Registrate to Allan Ramsay, weegmaker, burges, and Christian Ross, his
spouse, North East (College Kirk) Parish--a daughter named Susanna.
Witnesses, John Symers, merchant, and John Morison, merchant. The child
was born on the 1st instant. 3rd October 1714.

'Registrate to Allan Ramsay, weegmaker, and Christian Ross, his spouse,
North East Parish--a son, Niell. Witnesses, Walter Boswell, sadler, and
John Symer, merchant. 9th October 1715.

'Registrate to Allan Ramsay, weegmaker, and Christian Ross, his spouse,
North East Parish--a son, Robert. Witnesses, John Symer, merchant, and
Walter Boswell, sadler. The child was born on the 10th instant. 23rd
November 1716.

'Registrate to Allan Ramsay, bookseller, and Christian Ross, his
spouse--a daughter named Agnes. Witnesses, James Norie, painter, and
George Young, chyrurgeon. Born the 9th instant. 10th August 1725.'

Besides these named above, Chalmers states that Christian Ross brought
Allan Ramsay three other daughters, who were not recorded in the
Register,--one born in 1719, one in 1720, and one in 1724,--who are
mentioned in his letter to Smibert as 'fine girls, no ae wally-draigle
among them all.'

In 1719 our poet published his first edition of 'Scots Songs,'--some
original, others collected from all sources, and comprising many of the
gems of Scottish lyrical poetry. The success attending the volume was
instant and gratifying, and led, as we will see further on, to other
publications of a cognate but more ambitious character. Almost
contemporaneously was published, in a single sheet or _broadside_, what
proved to be the germ of the _Gentle Shepherd_--to wit, a _Pastoral
Dialogue between Patie and Roger_. The dialogue was reprinted in the
quarto of 1721, and was much admired by all the lovers of poetry of the

A reliable gauge of the estimation wherein Ramsay was now held, as
Scotland's great vernacular poet, is afforded in the metrical epistles
sent to him during the closing months of 1719 by Lieutenant William
Hamilton of Gilbertfield, to which Allan returned replies in similar
terms. This was not a poetical tourney like the famous 'flyting' between
Dunbar and Kennedy, two hundred and thirty years before. In the latter,
the two tilters sought to say the hardest and the bitterest things of
each other, though they professed to joust with pointless spears; in the
former, Hamilton and Ramsay, on the contrary, vied each with the other
in paying the pleasantest compliments. Gilbertfield contributed a
luscious sop to his correspondent's vanity when he saluted him, in a
stanza alluded to by Burns in his own familiar tribute, as--

    'O fam'd and celebrated Allan!
    Renowned Ramsay! canty callan!
    There's nowther Highland-man nor Lawlan,
              In poetrie,
    But may as soon ding down Tantallan,
              As match wi' thee.'

Then he proceeds to inform honest Allan that of 'poetry, the hail
quintescence, thou hast suck'd up,' and affirms that--

    'Tho' Ben and Dryden of renown
    Were yet alive in London town,
    Like kings contending for a crown,
              'Twad be a pingle,
    Whilk o' you three wad gar words sound
              And best to jingle.'

After such a glowing tribute, Allan could do no less than dip deep into
his cask of compliments also, and assure Gilbertfield that he felt
taller already by this commendation--

    'When Hamilton the bauld and gay
              Lends me a heezy,
    In verse that slides sae smooth away,
              Well tell'd and easy.'

Then he proceeds to shower on his correspondent his return compliments
as follows--

    'When I begoud first to cun verse,
    And could your "Ardry Whins" rehearse,
    Where Bonny Heck ran fast and fierce,
              It warmed my breast;
    Then emulation did me pierce,
              Whilk since ne'er ceast.'

Three epistles were exchanged on either side, bristling with flattery,
and with a little poetic criticism scattered here and there. In Ramsay's
second letter his irrepressible vanity takes the bit in its teeth and
runs away with him. He appends a note with reference to his change of
occupation, as though he dreaded the world might not know of it. 'The
muse,' he says, 'not unreasonably angry, puts me here in mind of the
favours she had done by bringing me from stalking over bogs or wild
marshes, to lift my head a little brisker among the polite world, which
could never have been acquired by the low movements of a mechanic.' He
was a bookseller now, of course, and could afford to look down on
wigmakers as base mechanics! His lovableness and generosity
notwithstanding, Ramsay's vanity and self-complacency meets us at every
turn. To omit mentioning it would be to present an unfaithful portrait
of the honest poet. On the other hand, justice compels one to state
that, if vain, he was neither jealous nor ungenerous. He was always
ready to recognise the merits of others, and his egoism was not
selfishness. Though he might not care to deny himself to his own despite
for the good of others, he was perfectly ready to assist his neighbour
when his own and his family's needs had been satisfied.

At this time, also, Sir William Scott of Thirlestane, Bart., a
contemporary Latin poet, as Chalmers records, of no inconsiderable
powers, hailed Ramsay as one of the genuine poets whose images adorned
the temple of Apollo. In the 'Poemata D. Gulielmi Scoti de Thirlestane,'
printed along with the 'Selecta Poemata Archibaldi Pitcarnii'
(Edinburgh, 1727), the following lines occur--

    '_Effigies Allani Ramsæi, Poëtæ Scoti, inter cæteras Poëtarum
    Imagines in Templo Apollinis suspensa_:

    Ductam Parrhasiâ videtis arte
    Allani effigiem, favente Phoebo,
    Qui Scotos numeros suos, novoque
    Priscam restituit vigore linguam.
    Hanc Phoebus tabulam, hanc novem sorores
    Suspendunt lepidis jocis dicatam:
    Gaudete, O Veneres, Cupidinesque,
    Omnes illecebræ, facetiæque,
    Plausus edite; nunc in æde Phoebi
    Splendet conspicuo decore, vestri
    Allani referens tabella vultus.'

As much as any other, this testimony evinces how rapidly our poet's
reputation had increased.

At last, in the spring of 1720, Allan Ramsay came before the public, and
challenged it to endorse its favourable estimate of his fugitive pieces
by subscribing to a volume of his collected poems, 'with some new, not
heretofore printed.' As Chambers remarks: 'The estimation in which the
poet was now held was clearly demonstrated by the rapid filling up of a
list of subscribers, containing the names of all that were eminent for
talents, learning, or dignity in Scotland.' The volume, a handsome
quarto, printed by Ruddiman, and ornamented by a portrait of the author,
from the pencil of his friend Smibert, was published in the succeeding
year, and the fortunate poet realised four hundred guineas by the
speculation. Pope, Steele, Arbuthnot, and Gay were amongst his English

The quarto of 1721 may be said to have closed the youthful period in the
development of Ramsay's genius. Slow, indeed, was that development. He
was now thirty-five years of age, and while he had produced many
excellent pieces calculated to have made the name of any mediocre
writer, he had, as yet, given the world nothing that could be classed as
a work of genius. His sketches of humble life and of ludicrous episodes
occurring among the lower classes in Edinburgh and the rustics in the
country, had pleased a wide _clientéle_ of readers, because they
depicted with rare truth and humour, scenes happening in the everyday
life of the time. But in no single instance, up to this date, had he
produced a work that would live in the minds of the people as expressive
of those deep, and, by them, incommunicable feelings that go to the
composition of class differences.

As a literary artist, Ramsay was destined to develop into a _genre_
painter of unsurpassed fidelity to nature. As yet, however, that which
was to be the distinctive characteristic of his pictures had not dawned
upon his mind. But the time was rapidly approaching. Already the first
glimmerings of apprehension are to be detected in his tentative
endeavours to realise his _métier_ in the pastoral dialogue of _Patie
and Roger_ republished in his volume.

The quarto of 1721 contained, moreover, several pieces that had not been
previously printed. These we will at present only mention _en passant_,
reserving critical analysis for our closing chapters. Not the least
noticeable of the poems in the volume are those wherein he lays aside
his panoply of strength,--the 'blythe braid Scots,' or vernacular,--and
challenges criticism on what he terms 'his English poems.' These were
undoubtedly the most ambitious flights in song hitherto attempted by the
Scottish Tityrus. To the study of Dryden, Cowley, Swift, Pope, and
Arbuthnot, he had devoted himself,--particularly to Pope's translation
of Homer's _Iliad_, and to the collected edition of the works of the
great author of the _Rape of the Lock_, issued in 1717. He had been in
correspondence for some years previous with several of the leading
English poets of the day, and with other individuals well known both in
politics and London society, such as Josiah Burchet, who, when he died
in 1746, had been Secretary to the Admiralty for forty-five years, and
had sat in six successive Parliaments. This was the friend whose
admiration for Ramsay was so excessive as to prompt him to send (as was
the custom of the time) certain recommendatory verses for insertion in
the quarto, wherein he hailed honest Allan in the following terms--

    'Go on, famed bard, the wonder of our days,
    And crown thy head with never-fading bays;
    While grateful Britons do thy lines revere,
    And value as they ought their Virgil here.'

Small wonder is it that, stimulated by such flattery, Allan should have
desired to evince to his friends by the Thames, that the notes of their
northern brother of the lyre were not confined to the humble strains of
his own rustic reed.

In the quarto, therefore, we have a poem, _Tartana, or The Plaid_,
written in heroic couplets, with the avowed desire to reinstate in
popular favour the silken plaid, which, from time immemorial, had been
the favourite attire of Scots ladies, but, since the Rebellion of 1715,
had been somewhat discarded, in consequence of Whiggish prejudices that
it was a badge of disloyalty to the reigning house. Then we have
_Content_, a long piece of moral philosophy in verse, and the _Morning
Interview_, a poem written under the spell of Pope's _Rape of the Lock_,
wherein the very machinery of the sylphs is copied from the great
English satire. Nor is the 'South Sea Bubble,' which ran its brief
course from 1718 to 1720, forgotten in _Wealth, or The Woody_ (gallows),
and two shorter poems illustrative of the prevailing madness. Epigrams,
Addresses, Elegies, and Odes are also included, along with one or two of
his famous poetical _Epistles_, modelled on those of Horace, and
brimming over with genial _bonhomie_ and good-humoured epicureanism. In
this volume, also, we have additional evidence afforded how fondly he
had become attached to Edinburgh and its environs. Scarce a poem is
there in the book that lacks some reference to well-known features in
the local landscape, showing that he still retained the love of
wandering, in his spare hours, amid Pentland glens and by fair Eskside.
Only with one extract will the reader's patience be taxed here. It is
from his _Ode to the Ph--_, and is obviously an imitation of Horace's
Ode to Thaliarchus. All the sunny glow of the great Roman's genius seems
reflected in this revival of his sentiments, albeit under varying
physical conditions, well-nigh three hundred and fifty _lustra_
afterwards. The lines cleave to the memory with a persistence that
speaks volumes for the catholicity and appropriateness of the thoughts--

    'Look up to Pentland's tow'ring tap,
      Buried beneath big wreaths o' snaw,
    O'er ilka cleugh, ilk scaur, and slap,
      As high as ony Roman wa'.

    Driving their ba's frae whins or tee,
      There's no ae gowfer to be seen;
    Nor doucer fouk, wysing a-jee
      The biassed bowls on Tamson's green.

    Then fling on coals, and ripe the ribs,
      And beek the house baith butt and ben;
    That mutchkin stoup it hauds but dribs,
      Then let's get in the tappit hen.

    Guid claret best keeps out the cauld,
      An' drives awa' the winter soon:
    It makes a man baith gash and bauld,
      An' heaves his saul ayont the moon.

    Leave to the gods your ilka care;
      If that they think us worth their while,
    They can a rowth o' blessings spare,
      Which will our fashous fears beguile.'



The popularity accruing to Ramsay from the publication of the quarto of
1721 was so great that his fame was compared, in all seriousness, with
that of his celebrated English contemporaries, Pope, Swift and Addison.
No better evidence of the unfitness of contemporary opinion to gauge the
real and ultimate position of any author in the hierarchy of genius
could be cited than the case now before us. The critical perspective is
egregiously untrue. The effect of personality and of social qualities is
permitted to influence a verdict that should be given on the attribute
of intellectual excellence alone. Only through the lapse of time is the
personal equation eliminated from the estimate of an author's relative
proportion to the aggregate of his country's genius.

Nor were his countrymen aware of the extravagance of their estimate when
such a man as Ruddiman styled him 'the Horace of our days,' and when
Starrat, in a poetical epistle, apostrophises him in terms like these--

    'Ramsay! for ever live; for wha like you,
    In deathless sang, sic life-like pictures drew?
    Not he wha whilome wi' his harp could ca'
    The dancing stanes to big the Theban wa';
    Nor he (shame fa's fool head!) as stories tell,
    Could whistle back an auld dead wife frae hell.'

James Clerk of Penicuik considered Homer and Milton to be the only
worthy compeers of the Caledonian bard; and Sir William Bennet of
Marlefield insisted the Poet-Laureateship should be conferred on Ramsay,
as the singer who united in himself the three great qualifications--genius,
loyalty, and _respectability_! Certainly honest Allan would have been a
Triton amongst such minnows as Nicholas Rowe, who held the bays from
1714-18, or Laurence Eusden, whose tenure of the office lasted from 1718
to 1730, but of whose verse scarce a scrap remains.

Compliments reached Ramsay from all quarters of the compass. Burchet,
Arbuckle, Aikman, Arbuthnot, Ambrose Philips, Tickell, and many others,
put on record their appreciation of his merits as a poet. But of all the
testimonies, that which reached him from Pope was the most valued, and
drew from Allan the following lines, indicative of his intense
gratification, while also forming a favourable example of his skill in

    'Three times I've read your Iliad o'er:
      The first time pleased me well;
    New beauties unobserved before,
      Next pleased me better still.

    Again I tried to find a flaw,
      Examined ilka line;
    The third time pleased me best of a',
      The labour seem'd divine.

    Henceforward I'll not tempt my fate,
      On dazzling rays to stare;
    Lest I should tine dear self-conceit
      And read and write nae mair.'

His position in Edinburgh society was greatly improved by the success of
the volume. The magnates of 'Auld Reekie' who still clung to the capital
their forefathers had loved,--the legal luminaries of Bench and Bar, the
Professors of the University, the great medicos of the town,--all were
proud to know the one man who was redeeming the Scottish poetry of that
age from the charge of utter sterility. There was the Countess of
Eglinton, 'the beautiful Susannah Kennedy of the house of Colzean,'
whose 'Eglinton air' and manners in society were, for half a century,
regarded as the models for all young maidens to imitate. Living as she
did until 1780, when she had attained the great age of ninety-one, she
was visited by Dr. Johnson during his visit to Scotland in 1773. On that
occasion it transpired that the Countess had been married before the
lexicographer was born; whereupon, says Grant, 'she smartly and
graciously said to him that she might have been his mother, and now
adopted him; and at parting she embraced him, a mark of affection and
condescension which made a lasting impression on the mind of the great
literary bear.' She was one of Ramsay's warmest admirers. Then there
were Lord Stair and his lovely lady, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, then
about to become Lord Advocate: also, Laurence Dundas, Professor of
Humanity; Colin Drummond, of Metaphysics; William Law, of Moral
Philosophy; Alexander Monro (_primus_), of Anatomy, and George Preston,
of Botany, all of the University of Edinburgh--and all deeply
interested in the quaint, cheery, practical-minded little man, who
combined in himself the somewhat contradictory qualities of an excellent
poet and a keen man of business. Thus the influence was a reciprocal
one. His poetry attracted customers to his shop, while his bookselling
in turn brought him in contact with social celebrities, whose good
offices the self-complacent poet would not suffer to be lost for lack of

In 1722 the proprietor of the famous John's Coffee House and Tavern, in
Parliament Close, off the High Street,--which, by the way, still
exists,--was a man named Balfour. The latter, who had lived for some
time in London, had acquired a smattering of literary culture, and
conceived the idea of rendering his house the Edinburgh counterpart of
Will's or Button's. He set himself to attract all the leading wits and
men of letters in the Scottish metropolis at the time, and speedily
raised his house to considerable celebrity during the third and fourth
decades of last century. To Allan Ramsay he paid especial court, and the
poet became a daily visitor at the tavern. Here he would meet many of
the judges and leading lawyers, the professors from the College, any
visitors of note who might be in town; also Clerk of Penicuik, Sir
William Bennet of Marlefield, Hamilton of Bangour, the poet, Preston and
Crawford, the rising young song-writers of the day, as well as Beau
Forrester, the leader of fashion in Edinburgh, who is recorded to have
exhibited himself, once at least, in an open balcony in a chintz
nightgown, and been dressed and powdered by his _valet de chambre_ as an
object-lesson to the town dandies how to get themselves up. There, too,
among many others, he probably met the famous, or rather infamous, John
Law of Lauriston, banker, financier, and cheat, who was in Edinburgh in
1722, after having brought France to the verge of bankruptcy and ruined
thousands by his financial schemes. A motley crowd, in good sooth; yet
one whence our poet could draw many a hint for future use.

The success of the quarto encouraged Ramsay to redoubled efforts, and
the next six or seven years are the period of his greatest literary
fertility. In 1722 appeared his _Fables and Tales_ and _The Three
Bonnets_, a poem in four cantos. In some criticisms of Ramsay the
statement has been made that he owed the idea of his _Fables_ to Gay's
inimitable collection. That this is an error is evident, seeing the
latter did not publish his volume until 1726. In his preface to the
_Fables and Tales_ the poet says: 'Some of the following are taken from
Messieurs la Fontaine and La Motte, whom I have endeavoured to make
speak Scots with as much ease as I can; at the same time aiming at the
spirit of these eminent authors without being too servile a translator.'
Ramsay took as his prototypes in this species of composition, Phaedrus,
La Fontaine, and Desbillons, rather than Æsop. Many of the incidents he
drew from occurrences in the everyday life around him. For example,
_Jupiter's Lottery_ has obvious reference to the South Sea Bubble
lotteries; while _The Ass and the Brock_ was thought at the time to be a
sly skit on the addle-pated Commissioners Walpole had that year sent up
to Scotland to nip northern Jacobitism in the bud.

Ramsay's _Tales_ in verse contain some of his daintiest though not his
strongest work. He makes no claim to originality with respect to them,
but admits they are drawn in many cases from La Motte and other sources.
In his preface he says: 'If my manner of expressing a design already
invented have any particularity that is agreeable, good judges will
allow such imitations to be originals formed upon the idea of another.
Others, who drudge at the dull verbatim, are like timorous attendants,
who dare not move one pace without their master's leave.' Some of the
_Tales_ are obviously modelled on those of Chaucer and Boccaccio, but in
most of his, he insinuates a political or social moral, while they
narrate the story for the story's sake. _The Three Bonnets_ is a satire
on his countrymen for being so shortsighted, in their own interests, as
to consent to the Union. Bristle, the eldest of the three brothers in
the tale, was intended to represent the Tories and Scots Jacobites, who
were opposed to the scheme, and he is therefore drawn as a man of great
resolution and vigour of character. Bawsy, the youngest, or weak
brother, shadowed forth the character of those who consented under the
persuasion of the nobility; while Joukum, the second eldest of the
trio,--a vicious, dissipated _roué_,--stood for the portrait of those
Scots noblemen who accepted Lord Somers' bribes, and sold their country
to the English alliance. The story ran that their father, Duniwhistle,
on his deathbed, had, to each of the brothers, presented a bonnet with
which they were never to part. If they did so, ruin would overtake them.
Joukum falls in love with Rosie, a saucy quean, who demands, as the
price of her hand, that he should beg, borrow, or steal for her the
three bonnets. Joukum proceeds to Bristle, and receives a very angry
reception; he next repairs to lazy Bawsy, who, dazzled by the promises
the other makes as to the good things he will receive after the wedding,
surrenders his bonnet, which Joukum lays with his own at the feet of
Rosie. The latter agrees to wed Joukum, and a vivid picture is drawn of
the neglected state of poor Bawsy after this is accomplished. Rosie
proves a harridan, leading Joukum a sorry dance; and the poem concludes
with the contrasted pictures of the contented prosperity of
Bristle--Scotland as she might have been had she not entered the
Union--and the misery of Bawsy, representing Scotland as she then was.
Somewhat amusing is it to conjecture what Ramsay's feelings would be on
this subject could he for an instant be permitted to witness the
progress of Scotland during the past hundred and thirty years, and the
benefits that have accrued to her from the Union.

Amongst his metrical tales, one of the finest, without question, is _The
Lure_, a satirical fable or allegory, whereof the moral, as may best be
stated in the poet's own words--

              ----'shews plainly,
    That carnal minds attempt but vainly
    Aboon this laigher warld to mount,
    While slaves to Satan.'

The narrative, however, though possessing many merits, is too indelicate
for latter-day taste even to be sketched in outline.

In 1723 appeared his poem _The Fair Assembly_, directed against the
Puritanic severity of that section of the community which took exception
to dancing and such pleasant amusements, alike for young and old.
Nothing reveals to us more vividly the strange contrasts in the
religious life of the time, than the fact that the clergy winked at the
drunkenness which was so prominent a feature in the social customs of
the eighteenth century, and fulminated unceasingly against dancing.
Those who indulged in it were in many instances barred from sacramental
privileges, and had such pleasant epithets as 'Herodias' and 'Jezebel'
hurled at them. As Chambers states in his _Traditions of Edinburgh_:
'Everything that could be called public or promiscuous amusement was
held in abhorrence by the Presbyterians, and only struggled through a
desultory and degraded existence by the favour of the Jacobites, who
have always been a less strait-laced part of the community. Thus there
was nothing like a conventional system of dancing in Edinburgh till the
year 1710,' when at length--induced, probably, by the ridicule cast on
the ascetic strictness of Scottish social functions by the English
visitors who from time to time sojourned in 'the grey metropolis of the
north'--a private association commenced weekly _réunions_, under the
name of 'The Assembly.' Its first rooms, according to Arnot's _History
of Edinburgh_, were in a humble tenement in the West Bow (standing on
the site now occupied by St. John's Free Church), where they continued
to be located until 1720, when they were removed to Old Assembly Close.
In the West Bow days it was, as Jackson tells us in his _History of the
Stage_, that the Presbyterian abhorrence of 'promiscuous dancing' once
rose to such a height that a crowd of people attacked the rooms when an
'Assembly' was being held, and actually perforated the closed doors with
red-hot spits.

As affording an interesting picture of the austerity of the time, a
sentence or two may be quoted from a little pamphlet in the Advocates'
Library entitled, 'A Letter from a Gentleman in the Country to his
Friend in the City, with an Answer thereto concerning the New Assembly.'
The author writes: 'I am informed there is lately a Society erected in
your town which I think is called an "Assembly." The speculations
concerning this meeting have of late exhausted the most part of the
public conversation in this countryside. Some are pleased to say 'tis
only designed to cultivate polite conversation and genteel behaviour
among the better sort of folks, and to give young people an opportunity
of accomplishing themselves in both; while others are of opinion it will
have quite a different effect, and tends to vitiate and deprave the
minds and inclinations of the younger sort.'

The Assemblies themselves must have been characterised by the most
funereal solemnity, particularly during the _régime_ of the famous
'Mistress of Ceremonies,' or directress, Miss Nicky Murray. So late as
1753, when the horror at 'promiscuous dancing' might be supposed to have
mitigated a little, Goldsmith, who then visited the Assembly, relates
that, on entering the room, he saw one end of it 'taken up by the
ladies, who sat dismally in a group by themselves. On the other side
stand their pensive partners that are to be, but with no more
intercourse between the sexes than between two countries at war. The
ladies, indeed, may ogle and the gentlemen sigh, but an embargo is laid
on any closer commerce.'

As might well be supposed, such bigoted austerity had no friend in Allan
Ramsay. All that he could do he did to dissipate the mistaken ideas of
the Scottish clergy and the stricter section of the Presbyterian Church,
on the subject of dancing and the holding of the Assemblies. In the
preface to his poem of _The Fair Assembly_ he remarks: 'It is amazing to
imagine that any are so destitute of good sense and manners as to drop
the least unfavourable sentiment against the Assembly. It is to be owned
with regret, the best of things have been abused. The Church has been,
and in many countries is, the chief place for assignations that are not
warrantable.... The beauty of the fair sex, which is the great preserver
of harmony and society, has been the ruin of many. So places designed
for healthful and mannerly dancing have, by people of an unhappy turn,
been debauched by introducing gaming, drunkenness, and indecent
familiarities. But will any argue from these we must have no churches,
no wine, no beauties, no literature, no dancing? Forbid it, Heaven!
whatever is under your auspicious conduct must be improving and
beneficial in every respect.'

His poem is an ode in praise of dancing, and of the manner in which the
Assemblies were conducted. Fortifying his case with Locke's well-known
sentence--'Since nothing appears to me to give children so much becoming
confidence and behaviour, and so raise them to the conversation of those
above their age, as dancing, I think they should be taught to dance as
soon as they are capable of learning it,' he boldly avows himself as an
advocate for the moderate indulgence in the amusement, both as
health-giving and as tending to improve the mind and the manners, and
concludes with these two spirited stanzas, which are quoted here as
space will not permit us to refer to the piece again--

    'Sic as against the Assembly speak,
      The rudest sauls betray,
    Where matrons, noble, wise, and meek,
      Conduct the healthfu' play.
    Where they appear, nae vice dare keek,
      But to what's good gives way;
    Like night, soon as the morning creek
      Has ushered in the day.

    Dear Em'brugh! shaw thy gratitude,
      And of sic friends make sure,
    Wha strive to make our minds less rude,
      And help our wants to cure;
    Acting a generous part and good,
      In bounty to the poor;
    Sic virtues, if right understood,
      Should ev'ry heart allure.'

But we must hasten on. In 1724 Ramsay published his poem on _Health_,
inscribed to the Earl of Stair, and written at the request of that
nobleman. In it Ramsay exhibits his full powers as a satirist, and
inculcates the pursuit of health by the avoidance of such vices as
sloth, effeminacy, gluttony, ebriety, and debauchery, which he
personifies under the fictitious characters of Cosmelius, Montanus,
Grumaldo, Phimos, Macro, etc. These were said to be drawn from
well-known Edinburgh _roués_ of the time, and certainly the various
types are limned and contrasted with a masterly hand. To the cultured
reader, this is the poem of all Ramsay's minor works best calculated to
please and to convey an idea of his style, though at times his genius
seems to move under constraint.

But in 1724 our poet showed himself ambitious of winning distinction in
a new field. In 1718, as was stated previously, he had published a
volume of _Scots Songs_, some of them original, but a large number of
them adapted from older and imperfect copies. So successful had the
venture been, that a second edition had been called for in 1719, and a
third in 1722. To attempt something of a cognate character, yet upon a
larger scale, Ramsay now felt encouraged. In January 1724 appeared the
first volume of the _Tea-table Miscellany: a Collection of Scots Sangs_.
The second volume was published in 1725, with the note by Ramsay: 'Being
assured how acceptable new words to known good tunes would prove, I
engaged to make verses for above sixty of them in these two volumes;
about thirty were done by some ingenious young gentlemen, who were so
pleased with my undertaking that they generously lent me their
assistance.' 'Among those young gentlemen,' as Professor Masson says in
his excellent monograph on Ramsay in his _Edinburgh Sketches and
Memories_, 'we can identify Hamilton of Bangour, young David Malloch
(afterwards Mallet), William Crawford, William Walkinshaw,' to which we
would add James Preston. A third volume of the _Miscellany_ appeared in
1727 and a fourth in 1732, though, as regards the last, grave doubts
exist whether Ramsay were really its editor or collector. Few
compilations have ever been more popular. In twenty-five years twelve
large editions were exhausted, and since Ramsay's death several others
have seen the light, some better, some worse, than the original. All
classes in the community were appealed to by the songs contained in the
_Miscellany_. That he intended such to be the case is evident from the
first four lines of his dedication, in which he offers the contents--

    'To ilka lovely British lass,
      Frae ladies Charlotte, Anne, and Jean,
    Down to ilk bonny singing Bess,
      Wha dances barefoot on the green.'

In the collection each stratum of society finds the songs wherewith it
had been familiar from infancy to age. Tunes that were old as the days
of James V. were wedded to words that caught the cadences of the music
with admirable felicity; words, too, had tunes assigned them which
enabled them to be sung in castle and cot, in hall and hut, throughout
'braid Scotland.' The denizens of fashionable drawing-rooms found their
favourites--'Ye powers! was Damon then so blest?' 'Gilderoy,' 'Tell me,
Hamilla; tell me why'--in these fascinating volumes, even as the Peggies
and the Jennies of the ewe-bughts and the corn-rigs rejoiced to note
that 'Katy's Answer,' 'Polwart on the Green,' 'My Daddy forbad, my Minny
forbad,' and 'The Auld Gudeman,' had not been lost sight of. For many a
long day, at each tea-party in town, or rustic gathering in the country,
the _Tea-Table Miscellany_ was in demand, or the songs taken from it,
for the entertainment of those assembled.

The widespread delight evoked by the _Miscellany_ allured Ramsay to
essay next a task for which, it must be confessed, his qualifications
were scanty. Nine months after the publication of the first volume of
the _Miscellany_--to wit, in October 1724--appeared another compilation,
_The Evergrene: being ane Collection of Scots Poems, wrote by the
Ingenious before 1600_. It was dedicated to the Duke of Hamilton, and
in the dedicatory epistle he informs his Grace that 'the following old
bards present you with an entertainment that can never be disagreeable
to any Scotsman.... They now make a demand for that immortal fame that
tuned their souls some hundred years ago. They do not address you with
an indigent face and a thousand pitiful apologies to bribe the goodwill
of the critics. No; 'tis long since they were superior to the spleen of
these sour gentlemen.' He had been granted access to the 'Bannatyne
MSS.'--the literary remains of George Bannatyne, poet, antiquarian, and
collector of ancient manuscripts of Scottish poetry. This valuable
repository of much that otherwise would have perished was lent to Ramsay
by the Hon. William Carmichael of Skirling, advocate (brother to the
Earl of Hyndford), with permission to extract what he required. From
this priceless treasure-trove he drew specimens of Dunbar, Henryson,
Alexander Scott, Lyndsay, Kennedy, Montgomery, Sempill, Gavin Douglas,
and others. A similar favour was in 1770 granted to Lord Hailes when
preparing his volume, _Ancient Scottish Poems_. Interesting, therefore,
it is, to compare the manner in which the two editors respectively
fulfilled their tasks.

In Ramsay's case the poems he selected from the Bannatyne MSS. were
passed through the alembic of his own brain. Everything was sacrificed
to popularity and intelligibility. Lord Hailes, on the other hand, was
the most scrupulous of editors, refusing to alter a single letter; for,
as he said, the value of the poems lies in the insight they afford us
into the state of the language at the periods when the various pieces
were written. Alter them in any degree, even the slightest, and you
destroy the intrinsic character of the composition. 'In making his
compilation from the Bannatyne MSS.,' continued Lord Hailes, 'Ramsay has
omitted some stanzas and added others, has modernised the versification
and varied the ancient mode of spelling.' To offend thus was to render
himself liable to the severest censure from all literary antiquarians.
The fault was as inexcusable as would be a trader's in palming off
shoddy goods as those of the best materials. As an example of the
ruthless liberties our poet took with the text, it may be well to follow
Chalmers' example, and print side by side a stanza of Ramsay's
'paraphrase' and Lord Hailes' severely accurate rendering of the opening
of Dunbar's 'Thistle and the Rose'--


    'Quhen Merch with variand winds was overpast,
      And sweet Apryle had with his silver showers
    Tane leif of Nature with an orient blast,
      And lusty May, that mudder is of flowrs,
    Had maid the birds begin the tymous hours;
      Amang the tendir odours reid and quhyt,
    Quhois harmony to heir was grit delyt.'


    'Quhen Merche wes with variand windis past,
      And Appryll had with her silver shouris
    Tane leif at Nature with ane orient blast,
      And lusty May, that mudder is of flouris,
    Had maid the birdis to begyn thair houris
      Amang the tendir odouris reid and quhyt,
    Quhois harmony to heir it wis delyt.'

In Dunbar's 'Lament for the Deth of the Makkaris' he not only varied but
added several lines, and these in the silliest manner possible. For
example, at the conclusion of Dunbar's noble elegy, Ramsay must needs
tack on three stanzas, as a prophecy by Dunbar himself, wherein the
vanity-full poet is introduced as 'a lad frae Hethermuirs.' What censure
could be too strong for inappropriate fooling like the following, coming
in to mar the solemn close of Dunbar's almost inspired lines?--

    'Suthe I forsie, if spaecraft had,
    Frae Hether-muirs sall rise a lad,
    Aftir two centries pas, sall he
    Revive our fame and memorie:

    Then sal we flourish _evirgrene_;
    All thanks to careful Bannatyne,
    And to the patron kind and frie
    Wha lends the lad baith them and me.

    Far sall we fare baith eist and west,
    Owre ilka clime by Scots possest;
    Then sen our warks sall never dee,
    _Timor mortis non turbat me_.'

In the _Evergreen_ Ramsay published two of his own poems, _The Vision_
(in which the author bewails the Union and the banishment of the
Stuarts) and _The Eagle and the Robin Reid-breist_ (likewise a Jacobite
poem), wilfully altering the spelling in both, and introducing
archaicisms into the thought, so as to pass them off as 'written by the
ingenious before 1600.' He also inserted _Hardyknute_, a fragment, which
subsequent research has proved to have been written by Lady Elizabeth
Wardlaw, a contemporary of Ramsay's. Although the _Evergreen_ did much
to revive popular interest in early Scottish poetry, and thus prepare
the way for Lord Hailes and Bishop Percy, from a critical point of view
it was worse than worthless, inasmuch as many of the errors and
alterations appearing in Ramsay's specimens of our early Scots literary
remains, have not been corrected even to this day.

But though Ramsay, in the estimation of stern literary antiquarians, has
been guilty of an offence so heinous,--an offence vitiating both the
_Tea-Table Miscellany_ and the _Evergreen_,--on the other hand, from the
point of view of the popular reader, his action in modernising the
language, at least, was not only meritorious but necessary, if the
pieces were to be intelligible to the great mass of the people.
Remembered, too, it must be, that Ramsay lived before the development of
what may be styled the antiquarian 'conscience,' in whose code of
literary morality one of the cardinal commandments is, 'Thou shalt in no
wise alter an ancient MS., that thy reputation and good faith may be
unimpugned in the land wherein thou livest, and that thou mayest not
bring a nest of critical hornets about thine ears.'

In his _Reminiscences of Old Edinburgh_, Dr. Daniel Wilson thus
succinctly states the case: 'Ramsay had much more of the poet than the
antiquary in his composition; and had, moreover, a poet's idea of
valuing verse less on account of its age than its merit. He lived in an
era of literary masquerading and spurious antiques, and had little
compunction in patching and eking an old poem to suit the taste of his
Edinburgh customers.' He was no Ritson,--and, after all, even Plautus
had, for three hundred years after the revival of learning, to await his



In the quarto of 1721, not the least remarkable of its contents had been
two Pastoral Dialogues, the one between Richy (Sir Richard Steele) and
Sandy (Alexander Pope), and based on the death of Addison: the other
between Patie and Roger, and concerning itself solely with a
representation of rural life. Amongst the best pieces in the volume both
undoubtedly ranked. In 1723 appeared another metrical dialogue, _Jenny
and Meggy_, betraying obvious kinship with _Patie and Roger_. So
delighted were his friends, the Clerks and the Bennets, Professors
Drummond and Maclaurin, and many others, with the _vraisemblance_ to
Scottish rural life, and with the true rustic flavour present in the two
dialogues, that they entreated him to add some connecting links, and to
expand them into a pastoral drama. Doubtful of his ability to execute a
task demanding powers so varied, and so supreme, Ramsay for a time
hesitated. But at length, induced by their advice, he threw himself into
the undertaking with enthusiasm. In a letter to his kinsman William
Ramsay of Templehall, dated April 8, 1724, he writes: "I am this
vacation going through with a Dramatick Pastoral, whilk I design to
carry the length of five acts, in verse a' the gate, and, if I succeed
according to my plan, I hope to tope [rival] with the authors of _Pastor
Fido_ and _Aminta_."

On the scenes wherewith he had become acquainted during his manifold
rambles over the hills and the vales, the glens and glades, of fair
Midlothian, he now drew, as well as from the quaint and curious types of
character--the Symons, the Glauds, the Bauldies, the Rogers, the Madges,
and the Mauses--wherewith he had come into contact during such seasons.
That he stinted either time or trouble in making the drama as perfect as
possible is evident from the prolonged period over which its composition
was spread, and the number of drafts he made of it. Some of the songs,
he informed Sir David Forbes, had been written no fewer than six times.
At length, early in July 1725, prefaced by a dedication in prose from
himself to the Right Hon. Susannah, Countess of Eglinton, and by a
poetical address to the same beautiful patroness, from the pen of
William Hamilton of Bangour, the poet, _The Gentle Shepherd_ made its

Its success from the very outset was unparalleled in Scottish literature
up to that date. It seemed literally to take the country by storm. By
all ranks and classes, by titled ladies in their boudoirs, as well as by
milkmaids tripping it to the bughts with leglins and pails, the poem was
admiringly read, and its songs sung. Its performance on the stage in
1726, only served to whet the public appetite. By the leading poets of
the day, Pope, Swift, Gay, Tickell, Ambrose Philips, and Lord Lansdowne,
as well as by the most influential critics, Dennis, Theobald, and Dr.
Ruddiman, the work was hailed as one of the most perfect examples of the
pastoral that had appeared since the _Idylls_ of Theocritus. No less
eminent a judge of poetry than Alexander Pope considered it in many
respects superior to the _Shepherds' Calendar_; while Gay was so
enthusiastic in his admiration that he sent the work over to Swift, with
the remark, 'At last we have a dramatic pastoral, though it _is_ by a

The first edition of _The Gentle Shepherd_ was exhausted in a few
months, and in January 1726 Ruddiman printed the second, while the third
and a cheaper one was called for towards the close of the same year. The
enormous sale of the poem may be estimated by the fact that the tenth
edition was printed in 1750 by R. & A. Foulis of Glasgow. So great was
the accession of popularity accruing to Ramsay through the publication
of _The Gentle Shepherd_, and so rapid the increase in his bookselling
business, that he found it absolutely necessary to shift his place of
business, or _Scotice dictu_, to 'flit' to larger premises, in the first
storey of the eastern gable-end of the Luckenbooths, a block of towering
_lands_ or tenements which, until 1817, stood in the very centre of the
High Street, obstructing the thoroughfare, and affording a curious
commentary on the expedients to which the burgesses of Edinburgh were
compelled to resort, to eke out to the utmost the space enclosed within
the charmed circle of the Flodden Wall.

At his 'flitting,' also, he changed his sign, and, thinking the 'Flying
Mercury' no longer applicable to his new pursuits, he adopted the heads
of Ben Jonson and Drummond of Hawthornden, a sign which in local
parlance gradually grew to bear the title of 'The Twa Heids.' In his new
premises also, Ramsay extended the scope of his business, adding to the
other attractions of his establishment a circulating library, the first
of its kind in Scotland. He entered his new shop in May 1726. Sixty
years after, the ground-floor of the same _land_, together with the flat
where formerly Ramsay was located, were in the occupancy of William
Creech, the first of the great Edinburgh Sosii that were yet to include
the Constables, the Blackwoods, the Chambers, the Blacks, and others of
renown in their day. With the Luckenbooths' premises it is that _The
Gentle Shepherd_ is always associated. From them Ramsay dated all his
editions subsequent to the first two, and there he reaped all the
gratifying results of its success.

The poem, which takes its name from the 12th eclogue of Spenser's
_Shepherds' Calendar_, whose opening runs as follows--

    'The Gentle Shepherd satte beside a spring,
    All in the shadow of a bushy brere,'--

may certainly be ranked in the same category with the _Idylls_ of
Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus, the _Aminta_ of Tasso, the _Pastor Fido_
(faithful shepherd) of Guarini, and Spenser's great poem referred to
above. In _The Gentle Shepherd_ Ramsay rises to a level of poetic
strength, united to a harmony between conception and execution, so
immeasurably superior to anything else he accomplished, that it has
furnished matter for speculation to his rivals and his enemies, whether
in reality the poem were his own handiwork, or had been merely fathered
by him. Lord Hailes, however, pricks this bubble, when dealing with the
ill-natured hypothesis raised by Alexander Pennecuik--the doggerel poet,
not the doctor--that Sir John Clerk and Sir William Bennet had written
_The Gentle Shepherd_, when he remarks, 'that they who attempt to
depreciate Ramsay's fame, by insinuating that his friends and patrons
composed the works which pass under his name, ought first to prove that
his friends and patrons were capable of composing _The Gentle
Shepherd_.' Not for a moment can the argument be esteemed to possess
logical cogency that, because he never equalled the poem in question in
any of his other writings, he was therefore intellectually incapable of
composing that masterpiece which will be read after his other
productions are forgotten, as long, in fact, as Scots poetry has a niche
in the great temple of English literature.

To define pastoral poetry, as Ramsay understood it, without at the same
time citing examples lying to hand in the works of our author, is a
somewhat difficult task. But as reasons of space will not permit us to
duplicate extracts, and as it is proposed to relegate all criticism to
the closing chapters of the book, we shall, at present, only glance in
passing at the great principles of composition Ramsay kept in view while
writing his pastoral.

In the _Guardian_, Addison has stated, with his wonted lucidity and
perspicuity, those mechanical rules to which, in his idea, the type of
poetry termed 'pastoral' should conform. He maintained it should be a
reflection, more or less faithful, of the manners of men 'before they
were formed into large societies, cities built, or communities
established, where plenty begot pleasure.' In other words, that 'an
imaginary Golden Age should be evolved by each poet out of his inner
consciousness.' Then the Ursa Major of criticism, Dr. Johnson, after
growling at all preceding critics on the subject, and remarking that
'the rustic poems of Theocritus and the eclogues of Virgil precluded in
antiquity all imitation, until the weak productions of Nemesian and
Calphurnius, in the Brazen Age of Latin literature,' proceeds to say:
'At the revival of learning in Italy it was soon discovered that a
dialogue of imaginary swains might be composed with little difficulty,
because the conversation of shepherds excludes profound or refined
sentiment.' Rapin, in his _De Carmine Pastorali_, observes: ''Tis hard
to give rules for that in which there have been none already given. Yet
in this difficulty I will follow Aristotle's example, who, being to lay
down rules concerning epics, proposed Homer as a pattern, from whom he
deduced the whole art. So will I gather from Theocritus and Virgil,
those fathers of pastoral, what I deliver on this account, their
practice being rules in itself.' And Pope, in his _Discourse on Pastoral
Poetry_, says: 'Since the instructions given for any art are to be
delivered as that art is in perfection, they must of necessity be
derived from those in whom it is acknowledged so to be. It is therefore
from the practice of Theocritus and Virgil (the only undisputed authors
of pastoral) that the critics have drawn the foregoing notions
concerning it.' And Boileau, in his _Art Poetique_, after cautioning
writers of pastoral against the introduction of bombast splendour or
pomp on the one hand, and the use of low and mean language on the other,
making shepherds converse _comme on parle au village_, observes that
'the path between the two extremes is very difficult'; while Dryden, in
his preface to Virgil's _Pastorals_, defines pastoral to be 'the
imitation of a shepherd considered under that character.' Finally, to
quote Dr. Johnson once more, he remarks, in his _Lives of the Poets_,
'truth and exactness of imitation, to show the beauties without the
grossness of country life, should be the aim of pastoral poetry.'

By all these critics pastoral poetry is considered in its abstract or
ideal form. They never dreamed of bidding poets descend to the concrete,
or to actual rural life, as Beattie puts it, 'there to study that life
as they found it.' Dr. Pennecuik justly remarks, in his essay on _Ramsay
and Pastoral Poetry_: 'Of the ancient fanciful division of the ages of
the world into the _golden_, _silver_, _brazen_, and _iron_, the first,
introduced by Saturn into Italy, has been appropriated to the shepherd
state. Virgil added this conceit to his polished plagiarisms from
Theocritus; and thus, as he advanced in elegance and majesty, receded
from simplicity, nature, reality, and truth.'

To Ramsay's credit be it ascribed, that he broke away from these rank
absurdities and false ideas of pastoral poetry, and dared to paint
nature and rural life as he found it. His principles are thus stated by
himself: 'The Scottish poet must paint his own country's scenes and his
own country's life, if he would be true to his office.... The morning
rises in the poet's description as she does in the Scottish horizon; we
are not carried to Greece and Italy for a shade, a stream, or a breeze;
the groves rise in our own valleys, the rivers flow from our own
fountains, and the winds blow upon our own hills.'

To the fact that Ramsay has painted Scotland and Scottish rustics as
they are, and has not gone to the hermaphrodite and sexless inhabitants
of a mythical Golden Age for the characters of his great drama, the
heart of every Scot can bear testimony. Neither Burns, supreme though
his genius was over his predecessors, nor Scott, revelling as he did in
patriotic sentiments as his dearest possession, can rival Ramsay in the
absolute truth wherewith he has painted Scottish rustic life. He is at
one and the same time the Teniers and the Claude of Scottish
pastoral--the Teniers, in catching with subtle sympathetic insight the
precise 'moments' and incidents in the life of his characters most
suitable for representation; the Claude, for the almost photographic
truth of his reproductions of Scottish scenery.

That Ramsay was influenced by the spirit of his age cannot be denied,
but he was sufficiently strong, both intellectually and imaginatively,
to yield to that influence only so far as it was helpful to him in the
inspiration of his great work, but to resist it when it would have
imposed the fetters of an absurd mannerism upon the 'machinery' and the
'atmosphere' of his pastoral. The last decades of the seventeenth, and
the first two or three of the eighteenth centuries, were periods when
pastoral poetry was in fashion. Italian and French literary modes were
supreme. Modern pastoral may be said to have taken its rise in the
_Admetus_ of Boccaccio; in the introductory act of the _Orfeo_ of
Politian, written in 1475, and termed _Pastorale_, and in the _Arcadia_
of Jacopo Sanazzara. But, according to Dr. Burney, the first complete
pastoral drama prepared for the stage was the _Sacrificio Favola
Pastorale_ of Agostino de Beccari, afterwards published in _Il Parnasso
Italiano_. They followed the _Aminta_ of Tasso and the _Filli di Sciro_
of Bonarelli in the beginning of the seventeenth century. In Italy and
France, thereafter, pastoral became the literary mode for the time
being; to Clement Marot, with his _Complaint of Louise of Savoy_,
belonging the honour, as Professor Morley says, of producing the first
French pastoral. It invaded all the fine arts,--music, painting,
sculpture, romance, were all in turn conquered by it. From France it
spread to England and to Scotland, and thereafter a flood of shepherds
and shepherdesses, of Strephons and Chloes, of Damons, Phyllises, and
Delias, spread over literature, of which the evidences in England are
Spenser's _Shepherds' Calendar_, Sidney's _Arcadia_; and in Scotland,
Robert Henryson's _Robene and Makyne_. Nor did Milton disdain this form
for his _Lycidas_; Pope also affected it, as well as Ambrose Philips;
while, under the title of _The Shepherd's Week_, Gay produced one of the
most charming of his many charming works, in which our age, by
consigning them to oblivion, has deliberately deprived itself of genuine
poetic enjoyment. To the extent of the name, and of that only, was
Ramsay influenced by his time. As regards all else he struck out a new
line altogether.

With regard to the _locale_ where Ramsay laid the scene of the drama,
two places have laid claim to it; the first, and the least probable,
being situate near Glencorse, about seven miles from Edinburgh; the
second, one and a half miles from the village of Carlops, about twelve
miles distant from the metropolis, and five farther on from the
first-mentioned spot. The balance of probability lies strongly in favour
of the Carlops 'scene.' In the first named, only the waterfall and one
or two minor details can be identified as corresponding to the natural
features of the scenery in the poem; in the second, every feature named
by Ramsay is full in view. Here are 'the harbour-craig,' 'the trottin'
burnie,' 'the little linn' making 'a singin' din,' 'the twa birks,'
'the pool breast-deep,' 'the washing-green,' 'the loan,' 'Glaud's
onstead,' 'Symon's house,' 'the craigy bield,' 'Habbie's Howe' or house,
and many others. Another strong point is that in Act ii. scene 2 of _The
Gentle Shepherd_, Glaud threatens to set his biggest peat-stack on fire,
through sheer joy over Sir William Worthy's prospective return. Around
the Glencorse site for the action of the drama, there is not a peat to
be dug in the whole parish; at the Carlops 'scene,' peat is the staple
fuel of the district. Near by, also, is Newhall, the estate which in
Ramsay's days was in possession of the Forbes family, who had purchased
it from Dr. Pennecuik, the author of the _Description of Tweeddale_ and
other works. John Forbes of Newhall was one of Ramsay's dearest friends,
and many relics of the poet are still preserved at the mansion house;
but it was with the Pennecuik family Ramsay associated his poem. In _The
Gentle Shepherd_, Sir William Worthy is described as having had to fly
into exile--

    'Our brave good master, wha sae wisely fled,
    And left a fair estate to save his head;
    Because, ye ken fu' weel, he bravely chose
    To stand his liege's friend wi' great Montrose.'

Newhall was purchased by Dr. Pennecuik's father two years before Charles
I. was beheaded. The doctor himself was contemporary with Cromwell,
Montrose, Monk, and Charles II., all of whom appear so distinctly in the
pastoral as associated with the action of the piece. He had to go into
hiding during the Commonwealth, for his support of Charles I., and for
sheltering Montrose after the battle of Philiphaugh. Pennecuik the
younger (great-grandson of the doctor), in his _Life of Ramsay_, states
that the poet appeared to have been indebted to Dr. Pennecuik for the
_Story of the Knight_, but to have drawn the character from that of his
friend Sir David Forbes.

The issue of the successive editions of _The Gentle Shepherd_, though
occupying a large share of his time not engrossed by the cares of
business, did not altogether preclude him from writing some fresh pieces
when occasion arose. In 1727 appeared a 'Masque,' which was performed at
the celebration of the nuptials of James, Duke of Hamilton, and the Lady
Ann Cochrane. In this form of poetry Ramsay revived a good old type very
popular amongst the Elizabethan poets and dramatists, and even
descending down to the days of Milton, whose _Masque of Comus_ is the
noblest specimen of this kind of composition in modern literature.
Ramsay's _dramatis personæ_ are rather a motley crew, but on the whole
he succeeds in managing the dialogue of his gods, and goddesses very
creditably, though any admirer of his genius can see it moves on stilts
under such circumstances. _The Pastoral Epithalamium_ upon the marriage
of George Lord Ramsay and Lady Jean Maule is of a less ambitious cast,
both as regards form and thought; the consequence being, that the poet
succeeds admirably in expressing the ideas proper to the occasion, when
he was not bound by the fetters of an unfamiliar rhythm.

Ramsay's later poems had in turn attained, numerically speaking, to such
bulk as fairly entitled him to consider the practicability of issuing a
second quarto volume, containing all of value he had written between
1721 and 1728. From all quarters came requests for him so to do.
Therefore, towards the close of 1728 he issued his second volume of
collected poems. The interest awakened by _The Gentle Shepherd_ still
burned with a clear and steady glow. From this fact, gratifying, indeed,
as regards the proximate success of the individual book, but prophetic
also in an ultimate sense of the stability of reputation to be his lot
in the republic of letters, he concluded, as he says in one of his
letters to the Clerks of Penicuik, 'to regard himself as ane o' the
national bards of Scotland.' That he was justified in doing so, the
future amply testified.

The realisation that he had now won for himself a permanent place in the
literature of his land operated, however, rather injuriously upon the
continued fecundity of his genius. He became timorous of further appeals
to the public, lest he should injure his fame. Allan Ramsay, in his own
eyes, became Ramsay's most dreaded rival. At length he deliberately
adopted the resolution that the better part of valour was discretion,
and that he would tempt fortune in verse no more. With the exception of
his poetical epistle to the Lords of Session, and his volume of metrical
_Fables_, Ramsay's poetical career was completed. Henceforth he was
occupied in preparing the successive editions of his _Works_ and of the
_Tea-Table Miscellany_, and in compiling his collection of _Scots



Ramsay had now reached the pinnacle of his fame. He was forty-four years
of age, prosperous in business, enjoying a reputation not alone confined
to Great Britain, but which had extended to France, to Holland, and to
Italy. His great pastoral was lauded in terms the most gratifying by
critics everywhere as the most perfect example of the pure idyll that
had appeared since the days of Theocritus. The proudest of the nobility
were not ashamed to take his arm for a walk down High Street, or to
spend an hour cracking jokes and discussing literature with him under
the sign of Ben Jonson and Drummond of Hawthornden.

What Chambers says in his _Eminent Scotsmen_, from which are culled the
following facts, is strictly accurate: 'Ramsay had now risen to wealth
and high respectability, numbering among his familiar friends the best
and the wisest men in the nation. By the greater part of the Scottish
nobility he was caressed, and at the houses of some of the most
distinguished of them, Hamilton Palace, Loudoun Castle, etc., was a
frequent visitor.' With Duncan Forbes, Lord Advocate (and before many
years to be Lord President), with Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, Sir
William Bennet of Marlefield, Sir Alexander Dick of Prestonfield, near
Edinburgh, he lived in the habit of daily, familiar, and friendly
intercourse. With contemporary poets his relations were likewise of the
most friendly kind. The two Hamiltons, of Bangour and Gilbertfield, were
his constant associates. To Pope, to Gay, and to Somerville; to Meston,
to Mitchell, and to Mallet, he addressed poetical greetings, and several
of them returned the salutations in kind. From England, too, came
another and a different proof of his popularity, in the fact that, when
in 1726 Hogarth published his 'Illustrations of Hudibras' in twelve
plates, these were dedicated to 'William Ward of Great Houghton,
Northamptonshire, and Allan Ramsay of Edinburgh.' Edinburgh itself was
proud of her poet, and was not averse to manifesting the fact when
fitting opportunity offered. He was a frequent visitor at the
University, and Dugald Stewart relates that an old friend of his father
informed him, the students of the fourth and fifth decades of last
century used to point out a squat, dapper, keen-eyed little man, who was
wont to walk up and down the space in front of their classrooms with
Professors Drummond and Maclaurin, as 'the great poet, Allan Ramsay.'
The narrator also added, he felt a secret disappointment when thus
viewing for the first time a real live poet, and noting that he differed
neither in dress nor mien from ordinary men. From his studies among the
classics, and from the prints in the early editions of Horace and
Virgil, he had been led to imagine the genus poet always perambulated
the earth attired in flowing singing robes, their forehead bound with a
chaplet, and carrying with them a substantial looking lyre!

The year 1728 had witnessed, as we have seen, the publication of Allan
Ramsay's last original work. Thereafter he was content to rest on his
laurels, to revise new editions of his various poems, and to add to his
_Tea-Table Miscellany_ and _Scots Songs_. Perhaps he may have been
conscious that the golden glow of youthful imagination at life's
meridian, had already given place to those soberer tints that rise
athwart the mental horizon, when the Rubicon of the forties has been
crossed. In 1737, when writing to his friend Smibert, the painter (then
in Boston, America, whither he had emigrated), Ramsay states, with
reference to his relinquishment of poetry: 'These six or seven years
past I have not written a line of poetry; I e'en gave over in good time,
before the coolness of fancy that attends advanced years should make me
risk the reputation I had acquired.' He then adds in the letter the
following lines of poetry, from which we gather, further, that his
determination was the result, not of mere impulse, pique, or chagrin,
but of reasoned resolve--

    'Frae twenty-five to five-and-forty,
    My muse was neither sweer nor dorty;
    My Pegasus would break his tether,
    E'en at the shaking of a feather,
    And through ideas scour like drift,
    Straking his wings up to the lift.
    Then, then my soul was in a low,
    That gart my numbers safely row;
    _But eild and judgment 'gin to say,
    Let be your sangs and learn to pray_.'

By 1730, then, Ramsay's work, of an original kind at least, was over. In
that year, however, he published another short volume of metrical
fables, under the title, _A Collection of Thirty Fables_. Amongst them
we find some of the most delightful of all our poet's work in this vein.
_Mercury in Quest of Peace_, _The Twa Lizards_, _The Caterpillar and the
Ant_, and _The Twa Cats and the Cheese_, possess, as Chalmers truly
says, 'all the _naïveté_ of Phædrus and La Fontaine, with the wit and
ease of Gay.'

And thus Ramsay's literary career closed, after well-nigh two decades of
incessant intellectual activity. Begun, as Professor Masson says, 'in
the last years of the reign of Queen Anne, and continued through the
whole of the reign of George I., it had just touched the beginning of
that of George II. when it suddenly ceased. Twice or thrice afterwards,
at long intervals, he did scribble a copy of verses; but in the main,
from his forty-fifth year onwards, he rested on his laurels.
Henceforward he contented himself with his bookselling, the management
of his circulating library, and the superintendence of the numerous
editions of his _Collected Poems_, his _Gentle Shepherd_, and his
_Tea-Table Miscellany_.'

In pursuance of this determination, Ramsay, in 1731, at the request of a
number of London booksellers, edited a complete edition of his works,
wherein all the poems published in the quartos of 1721 and 1728 were
included, in addition to _The Gentle Shepherd_. The success attending
this venture was so great that, in 1733, a Dublin edition had to be
prepared, which also handsomely remunerated both author and publishers.
From the American colonies, likewise, came accounts of the great
popularity of Ramsay's poems, both among the inhabitants of the towns
and the settlers in the mighty forests. Of the latter, many were
Scotsmen, and to them the vividly realistic scenes and felicitous
character-drawing of _The Gentle Shepherd_ touched, with a power and a
pathos almost overwhelming, the subtlest fibres of that love for
'Caledonia, stern and wild,' which, deepened by distance as it is, and
strengthened by absence, seems so inwoven with the very warp and woof of
the nature of her children that, go where they will, it can never be
eradicated, until the last great consummation overtakes them, when earth
returns to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.

Our poet now had more time on his hands for those social duties and
convivial pleasures wherein he took such delight. His new premises in
the Luckenbooths, facing down towards, and therefore commanding a full
view of, the magnificent thoroughfare of the High Street, were
immediately opposite the ancient octagonal-shaped Cross of Edinburgh,
where all official proclamations were made. The vicinity of the Cross
was, on favourable afternoons, the fashionable rendezvous of the period.
No sooner was the midday dinner over, than the fair ladies and gallants
of the town--the former in the wide hoops, the jewelled stomachers, the
silken _capuchins_ (cloaks), the _bongraces_ (hoods), and high
head-dresses of the day; the latter in the long, embroidered coats,
knee-breeches, silk stockings, and buckled shoes, tye-wigs, and
three-cornered hats peculiar to the fourth decade of last
century--issued from their dingy turnpike stairs in the equally darksome
closes, pends, and wynds, to promenade or lounge, as best pleased them,
in the open space around the Cross. Here were to be met all sorts and
conditions of men and women. Viewed from the first storey of the
building wherein Allan Ramsay's shop was situated, the scene must have
been an exceedingly animated one. Mr. Robert Chambers, with that
graphic power of literary scene-painting he possessed in measure so
rich, represented the picture, in his _Traditions of Edinburgh_, in
colours so vivid, and with a minuteness of detail so striking, that
subsequent descriptions have been little more than reproductions of his.
Let us take advantage of his admirable sketch of the scene round the
Cross, filling in any important details he may have omitted.

The jostlement and huddlement was extreme everywhere. Ladies and
gentlemen paraded along in the stately attire of the period: grave Lords
of Session, and leading legal luminaries, bustling Writers to the Signet
and their attendant clerks, were all there. Tradesmen chatted in groups,
often bareheaded, at their shop doors; _caddies_ whisked about, bearing
messages or attending to the affairs of strangers; children darted about
in noisy sport; corduroyed carters from Gilmerton are bawling 'coals'
and 'yellow sand'; fishwives are crying their 'caller haddies' from
Newhaven; whimsicals and idiots going about, each with his or her crowd
of tormentors; _tronmen_ with their bags of soot; town-guardsmen in
rusty uniform, and with their ancient Lochaber axes; water-carriers with
their dripping barrels; Highland drovers in philabeg, sporran, and cap;
Liddesdale farmers with their blue Lowland bonnets; sedan chairmen, with
here and there a red uniform from the castle--such was the scene upon
which, in the early months of the year 1732,--alas! his last on
earth,--the celebrated London poet, John Gay, gazed from the windows of
Allan Ramsay's shop. Beside him stood the redoubtable Allan himself,
pointing out to him the most notable personages in the motley crowd,
and every now and then called upon to explain some Scotticism in his
speech which reminded Gay of passages in _The Gentle Shepherd_ that Pope
had desired him to get explained from the author himself. And worthy
Allan is flattered yet flustered withal with the honour, for beside them
stand the famous Duchess of Queensberry--better known as Prior's
'Kitty,' otherwise Lady Catherine Hyde, daughter of the Earl of
Clarendon--and her miser husband, who only opened his close fist to
build such palatial piles as Queensberry House, in the Edinburgh
Canongate, and Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfriesshire. They have brought Gay
up north with them, after his disappointment in getting his
play--_Polly_, the continuation of the _Beggars' Opera_--refused
sanction for representation by the Duke of Grafton, then Lord
Chamberlain. Ah! how honest Allan smirks and smiles, and becks and bows,
with a backbone that will never be as supple in _kotowing_ to anyone
else. For does he not, like many more of us, dearly love a lord, and
imagine the sun to rise and set in the mere enjoyment of the ducal

A pleasant visit was that paid by Gay to Scotland in 1732, before he
returned to London to die, in the December of the same year. He spent
many of his spare hours in the company of Ramsay, and that of the two
friends in whose society much of the latter's time was now to be
passed--Sir John Clerk of Penicuik and Sir Alexander Dick of
Prestonfield. By all three, Gay was deeply regretted,--by Clerk and Dick
chiefly, because he had so much that was akin to their own genial
friend, Allan Ramsay.

In 1736 our poet published a collection of _Scots Proverbs_, which, for
some reason or another, has never been printed with his poems in those
editions that are professedly complete. Only in Oliver's pocket edition
is this excellent thesaurus of pithy and forcible Scottish apophthegms
presented with his other works. That it is one of the best repertories
of our proverbial current coin that exists, particularly with regard to
the crystallised shrewdness and keen observation embodied in them, must
be apparent to any reader, even the most cursory. To supersede the
trashy works of Fergusson and Kelly was the reason why Ramsay set
himself to gather up the wealth of aphoristic wisdom that lay manna-like
on all sides of him. As might be expected, it is richest in the sayings
common throughout the three Lothians, though the Lowlands, as a whole,
are well represented. Of Gaelic proverbs there is scarce a trace,
showing how faintly, despite his Jacobitism, his sympathies were aroused
by Celtic tradition or Celtic poetry. Many of the sayings were
undoubtedly coined in Ramsay's own literary mint, though the ideas may
have been common property among the people of his day. But how close the
union between the ideas and their expression in this collection! Of
looseness of phrase there is scarce a trace. How apt the stereotyping of
current idioms in such pithy verbal nuggets as--'Ne'er tell your fae
when your foot sleeps,' 'Nature passes nurture,' 'Muckledom is nae
virtue,' 'Happy the wife that's married to a motherless son,' 'Farmers'
faugh gar lairds laugh.'

Ramsay's dedication of his volume of _Scots Proverbs_ to 'The Tenantry
of Scotland, Farmers of the Dales and Storemasters of the Hills,' shows
the value he attached to this kind of literature. He writes in the
colloquial Scots, and his words are valuable as presenting us with a
reliable example of the Scots vernacular as spoken in educated circles
early last century. 'The following hoard of _Wise Sayings_ and
observations of our forefathers,' he remarks, 'which have been gathering
through many bygone ages, I have collected with great care, and restored
to their proper sense, which had been frequently _tint_ [lost] by
publishers that did not understand our landwart [inland] language.... As
naething helps our happiness mair than to hae the mind made up with
right principles, I desire you, for the thriving and pleasure of you and
yours, to use your een and lend your lugs to these guid auld says, that
shine wi' wailed sense and will as lang as the warld wags. Gar your
bairns get them by heart; let them hae a place among your family-books;
and may never a window-sole through the country be without them. On a
spare hour, when the day is clear, behind a rick, or on the green howm,
draw the treasure frae your pooch and enjoy the pleasant companion. Ye
happy herds, while your hirdsels are feeding on the flowery braes, ye
may eithly mak yoursels masters of the holy ware.'

Hitherto the sky of Ramsay's life had been well-nigh cloudless.
Misfortune and failure had never shrivelled his hopes or his enterprises
with the frost of disappointment. Nothing more serious than an envious
scribbler's splenetic effusions had ever assailed him. Now he was to
know the sting of mortification and the pinch of financial loss.

We have already adverted to the gloomy bigotry of a certain section of
the Scottish clergy of this period. To them everything that savoured of
jollity and amusement was specially inspired by the Evil One, for the
hindrance of their ministerial labours. The references to this matter
are manifold throughout Ramsay's poetry. Though no one had a deeper
respect for vital piety than he, no one more bitterly reprobated that
puritanic fanaticism that saw sin and wrong-doing in innocent recreation
and relaxation. Against Ramsay the ecclesiastical thunder had commenced
to roll some years before (according to Wodrow), when he started his
circulating library. That the works of Shakespeare, Beaumont and
Fletcher, Ben Jonson, Massinger, Dryden, Waller, and the romances of
chivalry, should be placed in the hands of the youth of Edinburgh, was
accounted a sin so grave as to merit Presbyterial censure. Accordingly,
a party, amongst whom was the infamous Lord Grange, attempted to
suppress the library. But the _ægis_ of the redoubtable Dr. Webster had
been thrown over him, and the pother in time died away. It appears,
however, that Ramsay, in 1736, had imported a large stock of
translations of the most celebrated French plays of the day, and had
added them to his library. Sufficient was this to blow into a blaze the
smouldering embers of clerical indignation. From pulpit and press our
poet was fulminated at. Not that he gave the smallest sign that he cared
one jot for all their denunciations. He attended to his shop and his
library, and quaffed his claret at the _Isle of Man Arms_, at Luckie
Dunbar's in Forrester's Wynd, or at the famous John's Coffee House, with
the cynical response that 'they might e'en gang their ain gate.'

But just at this precise time Ramsay conceived the idea of becoming a
theatre-proprietor, and thus benefiting the worthy burgesses of Auld
Reekie by erecting a house where standard dramas might be performed. The
very proposal raised a storm of indignation in clerical circles, against
which even Dr. Webster and his friends were powerless. Hitherto the
opposition of the Presbyterian ministers had prevented the erection of
any theatre in the town. The companies of itinerating players who might
chance to visit the town from time to time, were compelled to hire a
hall or a booth for their performances. Prior to the Commonwealth,
_histrionic_ exhibitions were frequent in Edinburgh. But from 1650 to
the Union, fanaticism became paramount and sternly repressed them. One
of the earliest mentions of dramatic representations after that date
occurs in 1710, and again in 1715, when a regular company of players
performed certain dramas in the Long Gallery and in the Tennis Court at
Holyrood-house. In the subsequent winter, as we learn from the _Scots
Courant_ of December 16, 1715, the plays were represented in the old
magazine-house at the back of the foot of the Canongate, on which
occasion, said the notice, 'the several parts would be performed by some
new actors just arrived from England.'

On the last night of the year 1719 Ramsay supplied a prologue for the
performance of Otway's play, 'The Orphan,' and 'The Cheats' of Scapin,
'by some young gentlemen,' wherein he remarked--

    'Somebody says to some folk, we're to blame;
    That 'tis a scandal and a burning shame
    To thole young callants thus to grow sae snack,
    And learn--O mighty crimes!--to speak and act!
    But let them talk. In spite of ilk endeavour,
    We'll cherish wit, and scorn their fead or favour.'

In 1722 he wrote an epilogue, to be spoken after the acting of 'The
Drummer'; in 1726 a prologue, to be addressed to the audience by the
famous Tony Aston on the first night of his appearance; in 1727 a
prologue, to be delivered before the acting of 'Aurenzebe,' at
Haddington School; and finally, an epilogue, recited after the
performance of 'The Orphan' and 'The Gentle Shepherd,' in January 1729.
All these, and probably others that have not been preserved, evince that
Ramsay cherished a warm affection for the drama, with an earnest desire
to see his fellow-countrymen profit by it. After the indignant

    'Shall London have its houses twa,
    And we be doomed to nane ava?
    Is our metropolis ance the place
    Where lang-syne dwelt the royal race
    Of Fergus, this gait dwindled doun
    To the level o' a _clachan_ toun?
    While thus she suffers the desertion
    Of a maist rational diversion,'

he commenced to erect, in 1736, a playhouse in Carrubber's Close. In his
advertisement in the _Caledonian Mercury_, announcing the prospective
opening, he states, he had built the house 'at vast expense,' in order
that, during the winter nights, the citizens might enjoy themselves in
hearing, performed by competent actors, dramas that would amuse,
instruct, and elevate.

His advertisement, in the issue of the _Mercury_ for September 15, 1736,

     'The new theatre in Carrubber's Close being in great forwardness,
     will be opened on the 1st of November. These are to advertise the
     ladies and gentlemen who incline to purchase annual tickets, to
     enter their names before the 20th of October next, on which day
     they shall receive their tickets from Allan Ramsay, on paying 30s.,
     no more than forty to be subscribed for; after which none will be
     disposed of under two guineas.'

Meantime the clerical party and the enemies of Ramsay had joined hands
in common opposition to his plans. 'Hardly had he begun operations'
(writes Professor Masson) 'when there came the extraordinary statute of
10 Geo. II. (1737), regulating theatres for the future all over Great
Britain. As by this statute, there could be no performance of stage
plays out of London and Westminster, save when the king chanced to be
residing in some other town, Ramsay's speculation collapsed.' In fact,
the municipal authorities, at the instigation of the clergy, employed
the force of the statute peremptorily to close his theatre. In vain he
appealed to law. 'He only received a quibble for his pains. He was
injured without being damaged,' said the lawyers. In vain he appealed in
a poetical epistle, to President Duncan Forbes of the Court of Session,
wherein he says--

    'Is there aught better than the stage
    To mend the follies o' the age,
    If managed as it ought to be,
    Frae ilka vice and blaidry free?
    Wherefore, my Lords, I humbly pray
    Our lads may be allowed to play,
    At least till new-house debts be paid off,
    The cause that I'm the maist afraid of;
    Which lade lyes on my single back,
    And I maun pay it ilka plack.'

Well might the good-hearted, honourable-minded poet dread the future.
The responsibility lay upon him alone for the expense of the building,
and from many intimations he let drop the failure of the speculation
well-nigh ruined him. But the increasing sale of his books, and the
expanding prosperity of his business, soon recouped his outlay. That he
was much depressed by his losses, heavy and unexpected as they were, is
evident from a private letter he wrote at this time to the President,
and which is still preserved at Culloden House. 'Will you,' he writes,
'give me something to do? Here I pass a sort of half-idle, scrimp life,
tending a trifling trade that scarce affords me the needful. Had I not
got a parcel of guineas from you, and such as you, who were pleased to
patronise my subscriptions, I should not have had a gray groat. I think
shame--but why should I, when I open my mind to one of your
goodness?--to hint that I want to have some small commission, when it
happens to fall in your way to put me into it.'

Not without an element of pathos is the scene that is here presented, of
him, who had done so much to amuse and elevate his fellows, being
compelled to make such a request. Satisfactory is it, however, to know
that, though the poetical epistle 'to the Lords' was fruitless of
practical benefit in the way he desired, albeit exciting for him the
warmest sympathy among the worthy senators of the College of Justice,
there is reason to believe the President was able to throw 'some small
commission' in Ramsay's way, and thus, by his opportune generosity, to
dispel the thunderclouds of misfortune hurrying hard upon the poet's

Of course, to his enemies (amongst whom was Pennecuik, the poet), as
well as to the more bigoted of the clergy, his trials were a judgment
upon his conduct. A shoal of pamphlets and pasquinades appeared, as
though to rub salt into the raw wounds of his mortified feelings: such
despicable effusions--written in more than one case by 'ministers of the
Gospel'--as 'The Flight of Religious Piety from Scotland, upon account
of Ramsay's lewd books and the Hell-bred comedians, who debauch all the
Faculties of the Soul of our Rising Generation,' 'A Looking-Glass for
Allan Ramsay,' 'The Dying Words of Allan Ramsay,' etc. As Chalmers
remarks: 'The lampooners left intimations of what must have been of
considerable consolation to our adventurous dramatist; that "he had
acquired wealth"; that "he possessed a fine house"; that "he had raised
his kin to high degree."' Such topics of censure did more honour than
hurt to Ramsay. To their ribald raillery the poet replied only by a
contemptuous silence, infinitely more galling than if he had turned on
the wasps and crushed them, thus bespeaking for them a prominence in no
measure merited. Their spleen he forgot amid the engrossments of a
closer attention to business, and the charms of friendship's

It may be added, however, that the whirligig of time brought in for
Ramsay his revenges upon his enemies. The theatre which in 1746 was
erected in Playhouse Close in the Canongate, though only by a quibbling
evasion of the statute, so Draconic were its provisions, was largely due
to his energy and exertions. Thus, says a biographer, Ramsay, at the age
of sixty, had the satisfaction to see dramatical entertainments enjoyed
by the citizens, whose theatrical tastes he had kindled and fostered.



Little more of a biographical character is there to relate. The last
seventeen years of Ramsay's life were passed in the bosom of his family,
and in attention to his business. His son, Allan--afterwards an artist
of great celebrity, and portrait painter to George III.,--after
studying, as the proud father informs his friend Smibert in a letter
about this time, with Mr. Hyffidg in London, and spending a little time
at home 'painting like a Raphael,' had been sent to Rome, where he made
good use of his opportunities. The father's heart yearns over the boy,
and he pathetically adds: 'I'm sweer to part with him, but canna stem
the current which flows from the advice of his patrons and his own
inclination.' His three daughters were growing up into 'fine, handsome
girls,' while 'my dear auld wife is still my bedfellow.'

What a beautiful picture we get of the kindly old poet, drawn
unconsciously by himself in this letter. Domesticity and parental
affection were two qualities pre-eminently present in Ramsay's nature.

From Mrs. Murray of Henderland we also receive a delicious side-peep
into Allan's character. In 1825 she informed Mr. Robert Chambers that
'he was one of the most amiable men she had ever known. His constant
cheerfulness and lively conversational powers had made him a favourite
amongst persons of rank, whose guest he frequently was. Being very fond
of children, he encouraged his daughters in bringing troops of young
ladies about the house, in whose sports he would mix with a patience and
vivacity wonderful in an old man. He used to give these young friends a
kind of ball once a year. From pure kindness for the young, he would
help to make dolls for them, and cradles wherein to place these little
effigies, with his own hands.'

From 1740 to 1743 he enjoyed to the full the idyllic happiness and peace
described in his epistle to James Clerk of Penicuik--

    'Though born to not ae inch of ground,
    I keep my conscience white and sound;
    And though I ne'er was a rich heaper,
    To make that up I live the cheaper;
    By this ae knack I've made a shift
    To drive ambitious care adrift;
    And now in years and sense grown auld,
    In ease I like my limbs to fauld.
    Debts I abhor, and plan to be
    Frae shochling trade and danger free,
    That I may, loos'd frae care and strife,
    With calmness view the edge of life;
    And when a full ripe age shall crave,
    Slide easily into my grave.'

In 1742, finding himself in a position to take more ease than his busy
life had hitherto permitted to him, he bought a piece of ground on the
Castlehill, overlooking the valley of the North Loch, and there erected
that curious house, with its octagonal-shaped frontage, copied from a
Neapolitan villa, and designed by his son Allan, which so long was an
ornament on the northern slope overlooking the New Town of Edinburgh.
From his windows a reach of scenery was commanded, probably not
surpassed in Europe, stretching from the mouth of the Firth of Forth on
the east to the Grampians on the west, and extending far across the
green hills of Fife to the north. The poet, however, becoming alarmed at
the expense he was incurring, altered his son's design after the
building was half completed. In consequence, the mansion presented a
very quaint appearance. Tradition states that Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun
(afterwards Lord Milton) first detected the resemblance to a goose-pie.
Be this as it may, Allan was grievously vexed by the comparison, and one
day, when showing it, in the pride of his heart, to the witty Lord
Elibank, who duly admired its unrivalled prospect, he added, 'And yet,
my lord, thae toon wits say it's like naething else than a guse-pie.'
'Deed, Allan, noo I see ye intilt, I'm thinkin' the wits are no' sae far
wrang.' History does not record Allan's rejoinder.

Scarcely had he entered his new mansion, however, expecting to enjoy
there many years of domestic happiness and peace, than the great sorrow
of his life fell upon him. In March 1743, his faithful and loving
partner, who had stood by him amid all the storm and stress of his busy
career, was taken from him, after thirty years of unbroken affection and
devotion. She was interred in the Greyfriars Churchyard, as the cemetery
records show, on the 28th of March 1743. So intense was her husband's
grief that he, who for many another had written elegies instinct with
deep sympathy and regret, could not trust himself to write of her, 'lest
I should break doon a'thegither into my second bairnhood.' Alas! poor

But his daughters, realising to the full the part that now devolved on
them, stepped into the gap left in his domestic circle. Nobly they
fulfilled their duty, and amongst the most affecting tributes Ramsay
paid, is that to the filial affection of 'his girls,' over whom, after
their mother had gone from them, he watched with a wealth of paternal
love and an anxious solicitude, as unsparing as it was unremitting.

And thus did the life of Allan Ramsay roll quietly onward through placid
reaches of domestic and social happiness, during the closing fourteen
years of existence. Though he did not formally retire from business
until 1755, he left it almost entirely in the hands of capable
subordinates. He had worked hard in his day, and now, as he said--

    ----'I the best and fairest please,
    A little man that lo'es my ease,
    And never thole these passions lang
    That rudely mint to do me wrang.'

Accordingly, he lived quietly in the 'goose-pie,' 'faulding his limbs in
ease,' and absolutely refusing to concern himself with anything
political, social, or ecclesiastical calculated to bring worry and
trouble upon him.

During the Rebellion of 1745, tradition states that Prince Charles
Edward, after the capture of the city by the Highland army, sent a
message to Ramsay, asking him to repair to Holyrood, that some mark of
his new sovereign's favour might be bestowed on him. Singular, indeed,
it was, that the poet should have selected the day in question to repair
to his friend James Clerk's mansion at Penicuik, and that he should
there have been seized with so severe an indisposition as to prevent him
returning to Edinburgh for nearly five weeks. Though a Tory and a
Jacobite, honest Allan knew upon which side his bread was buttered. Such
honours as would have been conferred would have been inconvenient.
Moreover, the Rebellion had not yet attained dimensions sufficient to
transmute it from a rebellion into a revolution. Pawkiness and caution
were prominent traits in his character, and they were never used to more
salient advantage than in the instance in question.

To the end of life, Ramsay remained the same kindly, genial, honourable
man, whose appearance in any of the social circles he frequented, was
the signal for 'quips and cranks and wreathèd smiles' to go round, and
for the feast of reason and the flow of soul to commence. His squat,
podgy figure waddling down the High Street on his way to his shop in the
Luckenbooths, his head covered with the quaint three-cornered hat of the
period, beneath which peeped his tie-wig, was one of the familiar sights
of Edinburgh, to be pointed out to strangers with a pride and an
affection that never diminished. In his little villa on the Castlehill
he entertained his friends in true Horatian style, and with a
hospitality every whit as warm, though it was every whit as simple as
that which the great Roman promised Mæcenas, he made them free of what
was in his power to give.

Foibles he had,--and who is without them? faults, too,--for what
character lacks them? yet his very foibles and his faults leaned to
virtue's side. Vain he certainly was, deny the fact who can? his
egotism, also, may have jarred on some whose individuality was as strong
as his own, but whose liberality in making allowances for human
weaknesses was less. Nay, he may even in some respects have been 'near'
with regard to certain little things, though this was the result of his
humble upbringing, where, in the household economy of the Crichtons, a
pound was a fortune. But once break through the crust of his
old-fashioned formalism with the thrust of some pressing appeal for aid,
and instantly we touch the core of a ready and warm sympathy--a sympathy
as catholic in the radius of its beneficence as it was munificent in the
measure of its benefactions. To the poor, to the suffering, to the widow
and the orphan, to the fatherless and the friendless, Allan Ramsay was
ever the readiest to help where help was really needed; and if his
vanity liked the fact to be made public property, wherein lay the harm?
Do our published subscription-lists to-day not testify to the existence
of the same foible in nine-tenths of us? To the improvident, however, to
the lazy, to the genteel beggar, and to the thousand and one forms
mendicity--supported by mendacity--takes to extort money, Allan was as
adamant. 'Gang your wa's,' he would say to such; 'gar your elbuck earn
what your mooth eats, and ye'll be a better man.'

Allan has had the misfortune to be rated by what he did not do in the
way of charity, rather than by what he did. Because he esteemed charity
to begin at home, and that he should provide for his own before
participating in any schemes for providing for others, he has been rated
as selfish and miserly. The opposite is the case. Prudent, careful, and
economical,--into no speculation would he go from which he did not see
the probability, at least, of an adequate return. Hence, during the
South Sea madness, he kept his head when many a better man went mad with
the speculative mania. He was pious, without his piety being black-edged
with that gloomy bigotry which characterised much of the Presbyterianism
of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Scotland. As he put the
matter himself in his _Epistle to James Arbuckle_:

    'Neist, Anti-Toland, Blunt, and Whiston,
    Know positively I'm a Christian,
    Believing truths and thinking free,
    Wishing thrawn parties would agree.'

He delighted in sociality and conviviality, but recoiled from aught
savouring of licence or excess. To coarseness, it is true, he may at
times have stooped in his work; but we must remember the spirit of the
times was in favour of calling a spade a spade, and not 'an implement
for disintegrating planetary particles.' To no degree greater than did
Swift, or Steele, or Arbuthnot, or Gay, can Allan Ramsay be considered
to have smirched his pages with references either ribald or indelicate.
The spirit of the age was in fault when coarseness was rated as wit; and
to be true to life, the painters of the manners around them had to
represent these as they were, not as they would have liked them to be.

On the 9th May 1755 Ramsay, when writing to his friend, James Clerk of
Penicuik, a rhyming epistle, had said--

    'Now seventy years are o'er my head,
    And thirty mae may lay me dead.'

Alas! the 'Shadow feared of man' was already sitting waiting for him at
no great distance farther on in his life's journey. For some years he
had suffered acutely from scurvy in the gums, which in the end attacked
his jawbone and affected his speech. To the close, however, he retained
his cheerfulness and buoyancy of spirits. When the last great summons at
length came to him, he met it with a manly fortitude and Christian

Amongst his last words, according to his daughter Janet, who survived
until 1807, were these: 'I'm no' feared of death; the Bricht and Morning
Star has risen and is shining mair and mair unto the perfect day.' And
so he passed 'into the unseen' on the 7th January 1758, in the
seventy-second year of his age. He was interred two days after in the
Greyfriars Churchyard, where his gravestone is still visible, bearing
the inscription: 'In this cemetery was interred the mortal part of an
immortal poet, Allan Ramsay, author of _The Gentle Shepherd_ and other
admirable poems in the Scottish dialect. He was born in 1686 and died in

    'No sculptured marble here, no pompous lay,
    No storièd urn, no animated bust;
    This simple stone directs pale Scotia's way
    To pour her sorrows o'er her poet's dust.[2]

    Though here you're buried, worthy Allan,
    We'll ne'er forget you, canty callan;
    For while your soul lives in the sky,
    Your "Gentle Shepherd" ne'er shall die.'

Sir John Clerk, one of the Barons of the Exchequer in Scotland, who
admired his genius and was one of his most intimate friends, erected at
his family seat at Penicuik an obelisk to his memory; while Mr.
Alexander Fraser-Tytler, at Woodhouselee, near the Glencorse _locale_
of _The Gentle Shepherd_, has erected a rustic temple which bears the


    'Here midst those streams that taught thy Doric Muse
    Her sweetest song,--the hills, the woods, and stream,
    Where beauteous Peggy strayed, list'ning the while
    Her Gentle Shepherd's tender tale of love.
    Scenes which thy pencil, true to Nature, gave
    To live for ever. Sacred be this shrine;
    And unprofaned, by ruder hands, the stone
    That owes its honours to thy deathless name.'

Ramsay was survived by his son Allan, the painter, and by his two
daughters, Christian and Janet, who amongst them inherited the poet's
fortune. The house on the Castlehill fell to his son, and remained in
the possession of the family, as Mr. Logie Robertson records, until
1845, when it changed hands at the death of General John Ramsay, the
poet's grandson, and the last of his line. For many years it stood, an
object of interest to all admirers of the bard, until 1892, when, just
as the building was beginning to show signs of age, the site was bought
for the erection of the new students' boarding-house, 'University Hall,'
which so imposingly crowns the ridge of the Castlehill. With a reverence
for the memory of the poet as rare as it is commendable, the promoters
of the scheme resolved to preserve as much as possible of the house, and
the greater part of it has been incorporated in the new building.

Of Ramsay we have only two portraits remaining that are of any real
value,--that painted by his son Allan, and that by Smibert, the poet's
lifelong friend. The latter represents him in youth, the former in
age--both being considered, at the time of execution, striking
likenesses. But perhaps the best idea of the appearance of the poet may
be gathered from Sir John Steele's fine statue of him (designed from his
son's portrait) which now stands at the corner of West Princes Street
Gardens, Edinburgh, immediately below the site of his house. There, with
his familiar 'nightcap' on his head, he stands, watching the busy crowds
passing to and fro in front of him, wearing the while an expression on
his face as though he were saying with his Patie--

    'He that hath just enough can soundly sleep,
    The o'ercome only fashes fouk to keep;
    Content's the greatest bliss we can procure
    Frae 'boon the lift: without it, kings are poor.'


[2] The first stanza is in reality by Burns, and is identical with that
he placed on the tombstone he erected over the remains of Fergusson, the
poet, in the Canongate Churchyard.



In attempting a critical estimate of the value of Ramsay's works, for
the purpose of analysis it will be most convenient to consider the great
body of his writings under certain classified headings--(1) Ramsay as a
Pastoral Poet and an Elegist; (2) Ramsay as a Satirist and a
Song-writer; (3) Ramsay's Miscellaneous Works.

In the chapter on _The Gentle Shepherd_, we noted the distinctive
constituents of pastoral poetry, as currently defined, and also wherein
Ramsay's principles, as exemplified in practice, differ from those of
other writers of pastoral. To furnish examples illustrative of our
contention is now all that remains to be done. Early in his poetical
career, as soon, in fact, as he had completed his first tentative
efforts, Ramsay seems to have become conscious, with that rare gift of
prevision always distinguishing him, that his strength lay in a
picturesque yet truthful delineation of rural life. His earliest pieces,
although termed elegies, exhibit, rather, many of the characteristics of
pastorals, in the broad humour and in the graphic and vivid colouring
wherewith he depicts the scenes at Maggy Johnston's tavern at
Morningside, or the incidents in the life of Luckie Wood or of Patie
Birnie. But, as he has termed them _elegies_, under that heading let
them be considered, though a humorous or mock elegy is somewhat of a
contradiction in terms.

Roughly classified, Ramsay's pastorals may be stated as follows:--the
dialogues between _Richy_ (Sir Rich. Steele) _and Sandy_ (Alex. Pope),
on the death of Mr. Addison; between _Robert, Richy, and Sandy_, on the
death of Matthew Prior; _Keitha_, on the death of the Countess of
Wigton; an _Ode with a Pastoral Recitative_, on the marriage of James
Earl of Wemyss to Miss Janet Charteris; _A Masque_, performed at the
celebration of the nuptials of James Duke of Hamilton and Lady Ann
Cochrane; _A Pastoral Epithalamium_, on the marriage of George Lord
Ramsay and Lady Jean Maule; _Betty and Kate_, a pastoral farewell to Mr.
Aikman; and finally, _The Gentle Shepherd_.

Of Ramsay's less important pastorals, the distinguishing characteristics
are their simplicity, their tenderness, and their freedom from aught
didactic. In conforming to the conventional idea of pastoral,--the idea,
that is, of the shepherd state being a condition of perfect peace and
Arcadian felicity and propriety,--in place of copying direct from
nature, they one and all differ from _The Gentle Shepherd_. The picture
of burly Sir Richard Steele and of crooked little Alexander Pope, clad
in shepherd's weeds, and masquerading with dogs and pipes and what not,
savours somewhat of the ludicrous. Then, in _Richy and Sandy_, he makes
Pope bewail the death of Addison, with whom he had been on anything but
friendly terms for years previous; while the following picture of the
deceased grave-visaged Secretary of State, in such a position as
described in the following lines, tends to induce us profane Philistines
of these latter days, to smile, if not to sneer--

    'A better lad ne'er leaned out o'er a kent,
    Nor hounded collie o'er the mossy bent:
    Blythe at the bughts how oft hae we three been,
    Heartsome on hills, and gay upon the green.'

This, however, was the fashion in vogue, and to it our poet had to
conform. In _Richy and Sandy_, in _Robert, Richy, and Sandy_, and in his
earlier pastorals generally, we seem to see the poet struggling to rid
himself of the conventional prejudices against painting rural nature in
the real, and in favour of 'a golden-age rusticity' purely imaginary.
Not by this is it implied that I claim for our poet the credit of first
insisting on reverting to nature for the study of scenes and character.
The same conviction, according to Lowell, was entertained by Spenser,
and his _Shepherds' Calendar_ was a manifestation, however imperfect and
unsatisfactory, of his desire to hark back to nature for inspiration. In
_Keitha_ the same incongruity, as noted above, is visible. The poem in
question, with that on the _Marriage of the Earl of Wemyss_, can neither
be ranked as conventional pastoral nor as pure pastoral, according to
Ramsay's later style. We note the 'Colins' and 'Ringans,' the
'shepherd's reeds' and 'shepherd's weeds,' and the picture of

    ----'the singing shepherd on the green
    Armyas hight, wha used wi' tunefu' lay
    To please the ear when he began to play,'

--an imitation of Milton's immortal lines in _Comus_, which are too well
known to need quotation. All of a piece this with the 'golden-age
pastoral.' In the same poems, however, occur intimations that the
incongruity was perceived by the author, but that, as yet, he did not
see any means of remedying the uniform monotony of the conventional
form. The leaven was at work in Ramsay's mind, but so far it only
succeeded in influencing but the smallest moiety of the lump.

In the _Masque_, written in celebration of the marriage of the Duke of
Hamilton, the sentiments expressed are wholly different. Written
subsequently to _The Gentle Shepherd_, Ramsay exhibited in it his
increased technical deftness, and how much he had profitted by the
experience gained in producing his great pastoral. The _Masque_, albeit
professedly a dramatic pastoral, entirely abjures the lackadaisical
shepherds and shepherdesses of conventional pastoral, and, as a poem of
pure imagination, reverts to the ancient mythology for the _dramatis

All these pieces, however, though they exhibit a facility in
composition, a fecundity of imagination, a skilful adaptation of theme
to specific metrical form, a rare human sympathy, and a depth of pathos
as natural in expression as it was genuine in its essence, are only, so
to speak, the preludes to _The Gentle Shepherd_. In the latter, Ramsay's
matured principles of pastoral composition are to be viewed where best
their relative importance can be estimated, namely, when put into

By competent critics, _The Gentle Shepherd_ is generally conceded to be
the noblest pastoral in the English language. Dr. Hugh Blair, in his
lectures on _Rhetoric and Belles Lettres_, styled it 'a pastoral drama
which will bear being brought into comparison with any composition of
this kind in any language.... It is full of so much natural description
and tender sentiment as would do honour to any poet. The characters are
well drawn, the incidents affecting, the scenery and manners lively and
just.' And one of Dr. Blair's successors in the Chair of Rhetoric and
English Literature in the University of Edinburgh,--a man and a Scotsman
who, in his day, has done more than any other to foster amongst our
youth a love of all that is great and good and beautiful in our
literature; a teacher, too, whose students, whom he has imbued with his
own noble spirit, are scattered over the world, from China to
Peru,--Emeritus-Professor David Masson, has observed in his charming
_Edinburgh Sketches_: 'The poem was received with enthusiastic
admiration. There had been nothing like it before in Scottish
literature, or in any other: nothing so good of any kind that could be
voted even similar; and this was at once the critical verdict.'

To anyone who will carefully compare the _Idylls_ of Theocritus, the
_Eclogues_ of Virgil, and the _Aminta_ of Tasso, with Ramsay's great
poem, the conviction will be driven home,--in the face, it may be, of
many deeply-rooted prejudices,--that the same inspiration which, like a
fiery rivulet, runs through the three former masterpieces, is present
also in the latter--that inspiration being the perfect and unbroken
homogeneity existing between the local atmosphere of the poem and the
characteristics of the _dramatis personæ_. This fact it is which renders
the _Aminta_ so imperishable a memorial of Tasso's genus; for it is
Italian pastoral, redolent of the air, and smacking of the very soil of
sunny Italy. The symmetrical perfection of _The Gentle Shepherd_, in
like manner, is due to the fact that the feelings and desires and
impulses of the characters in the pastoral are those distinctively
native and proper to persons in their sphere of life. There is no
dissidence visible between what may imperfectly be termed the _motif_ of
the poem and the sentiments of even the most subordinate characters in
it. Therein lies the true essence of literary symmetry--the symmetry not
alone of mere form, though that also was present, but the symmetry
resulting from the harmony of thought with its expression, of scene and
its characters, of situation and its incidents. Such the symmetry
exhibited by Homer's _Iliad_, by Dante's _Inferno_, by Milton's
_Paradise Lost_, by Cervantes' _Don Quixote_, by Camoens' _Lusiad_, by
Scott's _Lay of the Last Minstrel_, by Tennyson's _Idylls_.

Frankly, it must be admitted that only in his _Gentle Shepherd_ does
Ramsay attain this outstanding excellence. His other pieces are
meritorious,--highly so; but they could have been produced by many a
writer of the age with equal, perhaps superior, felicity, and they shine
only in the reflected light of _The Gentle Shepherd_; even as Scott's
_Lord of the Isles_ and _Harold the Dauntless_ were saved from being
'damned as mediocrity' only by the excellence of the _Lay of the Last
Minstrel_ and _Marmion_.

The great charm of _The Gentle Shepherd_ lies in the skilfully-balanced
antithesis of its contrasts, in the reflected interest each type casts
on its opposite. As in Molière's _Tartuffe_, it is the vivid contrast
created between the hypocrisy of the title-character and the easy
good-nature of Orgon, that begets a reciprocal interest in the fortunes
of both; as in Balzac's _Pere Goriot_, it is the pitiless selfishness of
his three daughters on the one hand, and the doting self-denial of the
poor old father on the other, that throws both sets of characters into
relief so strong: so, in _The Gentle Shepherd_, it is the subtle force
of the contrast between Patie's well-balanced manliness and justifiable
pride, and Roger's _gauche_ bashfulness and depression in the face of
Jenny's coldness; between Peggy's piquant lovableness and maidenly joy
in the knowledge of Patie's love, and Jenny's affected dislike to the
opposite sex to conceal the real state of her feelings towards Roger in
particular, that impart to the poem the vivid interest wherewith its
scenes are perused. Minor contrasts are present too, in the faithfulness
of Patie to Peggy, as compared with the faithlessness of Bauldy to Neps.
The whole drama, in fact, might be styled a beautiful panegyric on
fidelity in love. Such passages as the following are frequent--

    'I'd hate my rising fortune, should it move
    The fair foundation of our faithfu' love.
    If at my feet were crowns and sceptres laid
    To bribe my soul frae thee, delightful maid,
    For thee I'd soon leave these inferior things
    To sic as have the patience to be kings.'

As a pastoral poet, Ramsay excels in painting all those homely virtues
that befit the station to which most of his characters belonged. A
fault, and a serious one, it was among the writers of conventional
pastoral, to make their shepherds and shepherdesses talk like
philosophers, and reason upon all the mysteries of life, death, and
futurity. What reader of Sir Philip Sidney's _Arcadia_, but must have
smiled over the shepherds in that delicious romance discussing love, and
treating of its metaphysical causes and effects, as profoundly as any

    ----'clerke of Oxenforde also
    Who unto logik hadde long y-go.'

The extravagances of conventional pastoral had been keenly satirised by
Gay, who made his Lobbin Clouts and Cloddipoles, his Blowzalinds and
Bowzabees and Bumkinets, in the _Shepherd's Week_, 'talk the language
that is spoken neither by country maiden nor courtly dame; nay, not only
such as in the present time is not uttered, but never was in times past,
and, if I judge aright, will never be uttered in times future.' But by
Ramsay the silliness of the prevailing mode, both of British and French
pastoral, was more aptly satirised, by presenting, as a contrast, a
picture of rural life absolutely truthful in all its details, and thus
slaying falsehood by the sword of truth.

Of _The Gentle Shepherd_, the plot is simplicity itself. It describes
the love of a young Pentland shepherd named Patie for a country maiden
named Peggy. The pastoral drama, the time of whose action is all
embraced within four-and-twenty hours, thus preserving one, at least, of
the Greek dramatic unities as defined by the French critics, opens at
early morning with the two young shepherds, Patie and Roger, feeding
their flocks on the hills, and discussing the progress of their
love-suits. The scene is charmingly realistic and natural. Patie is
happy in his love for Peggy who reciprocates it; Roger, in despair over
his ill-success with 'dorty Jenny.' His friend, however, raises his
spirits by telling him how he once served Peggy when she had a fit of
tantrums, by feigning indifference to her, a course which soon brought
the fair one to reason. He exhorts Roger to adopt the same line,
conveying his counsel in the following terms, that contain excellent
advice to young lovers, and might have given a hint to Burns for his
song, 'Duncan Gray'--

    'Dear Roger, when your jo puts on her gloom,
    Do ye sae too, and never fash your thumb;
    Seem to forsake her, soon she'll change her mood;
    Gae woo anither, and she'll gang clean wood.'

Roger agrees to take the advice, and the scene concludes with a
delightful picture of a shepherd's meal--

    'But first we'll tak a turn up to the height,
    And see gif all our flocks be feeding right;
    By that time, bannocks and a shave of cheese
    Will make a breakfast that a laird might please,--
    Might please the daintiest gabs, were they sae wise
    To season meat with health instead of spice.
    When we have ta'en the grace-drink at this well,
    I'll whistle syne'--

The second scene opens with an exquisite description of

    'A flowrie howm between twa verdant braes,
    Where lasses use to wash and spread their claes;
    A trottin' burnie wimpling through the ground,
    Its channel, pebbles, shining, smooth and round.
    Here view twa barefoot beauties, clean and clear.'

These are Peggy and Jenny. The latter proposes to begin their work on
the 'howm' or green in question, but Peggy entreats her to

    Gae farer up the burn to Habbie's How,
    Where a' that's sweet in spring and simmer grow;
    Between twa birks out o'er a little linn
    The water fa's, and makes a singin' din;
    A pool breast-deep, beneath as clear as glass,
    Kisses wi' easy whirles the bordering grass.
    We'll end our washing while the morning's cool,
    And when the day grows het we'll to the pool,
    There wash oursels; 'tis healthfu' now in May,
    And sweetly cauler on sae warm a day.'

The girls then enter on a discussion regarding Jenny's cruel
indifference to Roger. The maiden, who by the way is a bit of a prude,
affects to despise love and marriage, but in the end, overcome by
Peggy's beautiful description of conjugal happiness, is obliged to
confess her love for Roger. What more delightful picture of maternal
yearning over the young have we in all English literature, than Peggy's
splendid defence of motherhood?--

    'Yes, it's a heartsome thing to be a wife,
    When round the ingle-edge young sprouts are rife.
    Gif I'm sae happy, I shall have delight
    To hear their little plaints, and keep them right.
    Wow, Jenny! can there greater pleasure be,
    Than see sic wee tots toolying at your knee;
    When a' they ettle at,--their greatest wish,
    Is to be made of and obtain a kiss?
    Can there be toil in tenting day and night
    The like of them, when love makes care delight?'

The first scene of the Second Act opens with a picture of a peasant
farmer's 'onstead'; to wit, his dwelling and outhouses--

    'A snug thack-house; before the door a green;
    Hens on the midden, ducks in dubs are seen;
    On this side stands a barn, on that a byre:
    A peat stack joins, and forms a rural square.'

Here the neighbours, Glaud and Symon, meet. The latter has been into
Edinburgh to sell his 'crummock and her bassened quey,' and over their
pipes he informs his friend that their landlord, Sir William Worthy,
who, as a Royalist, had been compelled to go into exile during the
Commonwealth, would now, owing to the Restoration, be able to return
home again, when all would be well. Symon has heard the news from the
laird's servant, 'Habbie,' after whom the 'How' or _house_ is named.
Glaud is so overjoyed at the news that he seeks to persuade Symon to
remain and dine with him, offering, for it was before the age of good
roads and carts,

    'To yoke my sled, and send to the neist town
    And bring a draught o' ale baith stout and brown.'

But Symon wishes to exercise hospitality himself, and insists upon
Glaud, his sister Madge, his daughter Jenny, and his niece Peggy, all
dining with him, in honour of the day. This they are to do. We have here
presented a graphic picture of rural fare on fête-days--

    'For here yestreen I brewed a bow of maut,
    Yestreen I slew twa wethers prime and fat.
    A furlet of good cakes, my Elspa beuk,
    And a large ham hangs reesting in the neuk.
    I saw mysel', or I cam o'er the loan,
    Our muckle pot that scads the whey, put on,
    A mutton-bouk to boil, and ane we'll roast;
    And on the haggies Elspa spares nae cost.
    Small are they shorn, and she can mix fu' nice
    The gusty ingans wi' a curn of spice;
    Fat are the puddings,--heads and feet weel sung.'

The second scene introduces a new element into the drama. Another
shepherd, Bauldy (Archibald) by name, has also been smitten with Peggy's
charms--and it affords an excellent idea of the simplicity of these
rural districts in Scotland, when he repairs to a poor old woman named
Mause, whom the district reputes to be a witch, to entreat her aid in
turning Peggy's heart towards himself. Bauldy's picture of Peggy, in his
soliloquy, is beautiful in its very simplicity--

    'O Peggy! sweeter than the dawning day,
    Sweeter than gowany glens or new-mawn hay;
    Blyther than lambs that frisk out o'er the knowes,
    Straighter than aught that in the forest grows.
    Her een the clearest blob of dew out-shines,
    The lily in her breast its beauty tines;
    Her legs, her arms, her cheeks, her mouth, her een,
    Will be my deid'--

The existence of superstition among the Scottish peasantry, a state of
things lasting until well on into last century, is also well brought out
in Bauldy's soliloquy, when he refers to Mausy, 'a witch that for sma'
price, can cast her cantrips, and gie me advice.' Mause, meaning to read
the faithless lover of Neps a lesson, consents to help him. The fourth
scene of the Second Act is undoubtedly one of the finest in the
drama--the meeting of the lovers, Patie and Peggy. The two great
constituents of a successful piece, strength and pathos, are both
present in rich measure. To test her lover's fidelity, the maiden, with
coy coquetry, affects to think that he might alter his mind and deceive
her if she trusted him too implicitly. To this Patie replies that she
deeply wrongs him in doubting his fidelity, and that he would be dull
and blind

    'Gif I could fancy aught's sae sweet and fair
    As my sweet Meg, or worthy of my care.
    Thy breath is sweeter than the sweetest brier,
    Thy cheek and breast the finest flowers appear,
    Thy words excel the maist delightfu' notes
    That warble through the merle or mavis' throats;
    With thee I tent nae flowers that busk the field,
    Or ripest berries that our mountains yield;
    The sweetest fruits that hing upon the tree
    Are far inferior to a kiss frae thee.'

With all a loving woman's sweet perversity, however, Peggy still affects
to doubt, only to be indulged in the delicious bliss of hearing her
lover's vows anew--

    'Sooner a mother shall her fondness drap,
    And wrang the bairn sits smiling in her lap;
    The sun shall change, the moon to change shall cease;
    The gaits to climb, the sheep to yield the fleece;
    Ere aught by me be either said or done
    Shall do thee wrang;--I swear by all aboon.'

In no scene does Ramsay exhibit his wonderful knowledge of the human
heart to such advantage as in the one before us. Peggy and Patie then
sing a duet, taking alternate verses, into which are introduced many of
the old Scots songs,--'The Broom o' Cowdenknowes,' 'Milking the Ewes,'
'Jenny Nettles,' 'Thro' the Wood, Laddie,' 'The Boatman,' 'Maggie
Lauder,' 'The Lass o' Patie's Mill,' and the curtain falls over one of
the most delightful scenes illustrative of pure affection, in modern

The Third Act sees the return of Sir William Worthy, who, in the
disguise of a wizard, introduces himself into the company, merry-making
at Symon's. Here he tells Patie's fortune, and the surprising discovery
is ere long made that the youth is Sir William's only son, placed under
Symon's care when the knight had to go into exile on the execution of
Charles I. The description of the little festivity at Symon's is well
wrought out. The third scene contains the love-making of Jenny and
Roger, where the faithful swain's happiness is rendered complete. With
great gusto Ramsay paints this episode, as well as with consummate
fidelity to nature,--a fact becoming increasingly apparent when one
notes the marked difference between the love-scene wherein Patie and
Peggy take part, and that wherein Jenny declares her love for Roger. The
latter scene is more decidedly tinged with rusticity than the former. In
the fourth scene Sir William reveals himself to Symon, and inquires
eagerly about the progress made by his son during his years of absence.
Symon praises the youth's devotion to letters, and then hints at his
love for Peggy, which Sir William declares must be forgotten.

The first scene of the Fourth Act relieves, by the introduction of
humorous episodes, the sentimentality whereinto the drama at this stage
shows signs of lapsing. Mause, Madge, and Bauldy have an interview, at
which the two last named come to blows; and when Bauldy has taken
himself off, the two women perfect their plans for playing on the
foolish fellow's superstitious fears. The remainder of the Fourth Act
deals with Patie's sorrow and Peggy's anguish when Sir William's
decision is made known. Of course, they vow everlasting fidelity to each
other. The scene between the lovers is a very powerful one, wherein
Ramsay evinced his sway over the subtler emotions. Yet here, as
elsewhere, his simplicity constitutes his strength. He never attempts to
depict any complex interaction of human passions. Like Æschylus, he
contents himself with the representation of one elemental emotion at a
time, and he thoroughly exhausts the one '_moment_' before he passes on
to another. Few passages are there in literature more genuinely
pathetic, yet keeping more rigidly within the modesty of nature, than
that wherein poor Peggy, after dwelling on the golden past, tries to
picture the dull grey round of duty in the future when Patie shall have
been taken from her--

    'Speak on, speak ever thus, and still my grief;
    But short, I dare to hope the fond relief.
    New thoughts a gentler face will soon inspire,
    That with nice airs swims round in silk attire;
    Then I, poor me! with sighs may ban my fate,
    When the young laird's nae mair my heartsome Pate.
    Nae mair again to hear sweet tales expresst
    By the blyth shepherd that excelled the rest,--
    Nae mair be envied by the tattling gang
    When Patie kissed me when I danced or sang;
    Nae mair, alake! we'll on the meadows play,
    And rin half-breathless round the rucks of hay,
    As aft-times I have fled from thee right fain,
    And fa'n on purpose, that I might be tane.'--

But Patie reiterates his vows to her, and Peggy, comforted, declares she
will set herself to learn 'gentler charms, through ilka school where I
may manners learn.' Patie applauds her resolution, but declares that

        ----'without a' the little helps of art
    Thy native sweets might gain a prince's heart,
    Yet now, lest in our station we offend,
    We must learn modes to innocence unken'd.'

The scene closes with Peggy's vows of fidelity. In this scene Ramsay
touched the high-water mark of his genius, and for the elements of
simplicity, strength, and propriety of the sentiments expressed by each
character with the root-idea of that character, it is rivalled by very
few scenes of its kind in the literature of our land.

The first scene of the last Act opens with Bauldy's fright. He had gone
to fulfil his engagement to meet Mause, the pretended witch, who was to
turn Peggy's heart to him. But as he had insulted Madge, Peggy's aunt,
in the fore part of the day, the latter, to punish him by taking
advantage of his dread of ghosts, meets him at the dead hour of the
night when he is repairing to Mause's cottage. She is draped in a white
sheet, and utters ghastly groans. Bauldy, having sunk terror-stricken to
the ground, is soundly cuffed and trounced by the two women. As soon,
therefore, as daylight breaks, he seeks an interview with Sir William to
entreat redress. The latter, who had been passing the night in Symon's
house, enters fully into the spirit of the joke, and orders Mause to be
brought before him.

The second scene exhibits Glaud's 'onstead' again, and the family
preparing to go down to Symon's to take their leave of Patie. Peggy is
very sad,--so much so that her sharp-tongued aunt cannot refrain from
jeering at it--

    'Poor Meg!--Look, Jenny, was the like e'er seen?
    How bleared and red wi' greetin' look her een!
    This day her brankan wooer taks his horse
    To strut a gentle spark at Edinburgh Cross.
    But Meg, poor Meg! maun wi' the shepherds stay,
    And tak what God will send in hodden gray.'

To this ill-timed speech Peggy makes a pathetic reply, that must have
caused a pang of remorse to her aunt. But when Glaud ventures to warn
her against being too free with Patie, seeing he could not marry her
now, she replies with gentle reproach--

    'Sir William's virtuous, and of gentle blood;
    And may not Patrick too, like him, be good?'

Glaud's answer exhibits the simple faith of the rural inhabitants of the
district in a striking light--

    'That's true and mony gentry mae than he,
    As they are wiser, better are than we;
    But thinner sawn: they're sae pufft up wi' pride,
    There's mony o' them mocks ilk haly guide
    That shows the gate to heav'n. I've heard mysel
    Some of them laugh at doomsday, sin, and hell.'

The last scene of the pastoral contains the _dénouement_. With great
artistic skill, so as to avoid wearying the reader, Ramsay only
represents the delivering of the verdict upon Bauldy's appeal against
Mause, the result being that the former was informed he only got what he
deserved. At this moment, however, Madge, Peggy, and Jenny enter the
room where Sir William was sitting. On Peggy Sir Williams gazes with
interest, but presently starts with surprise. Her features are those of
his long-dead sister. Eagerly he inquires from Glaud if she be his
daughter. Glaud, after some hesitation, declares her to be a foundling.
At this juncture, however, old Mause steps forward and unravels the
tangled skein. She first calls on Sir William to say if he does not
recall her features as his own old nurse. Sir William joyfully
recognises her, and then she relates how she had brought Peggy as a babe
thither, to save its life from those who had usurped its rights after
his sister's death. She declares that Peggy is indeed his own niece, and
Patie's full cousin.

Patie's joy is now complete, and the two lovers, their prospective union
blessed by Sir William, fall into one another's arms; while the
happiness of the shepherds and rustics is consummated when Sir William,
restored to his possessions, announces his intention never more to leave
them. To Symon and Glaud he assigns their _mailings_ (farms) in
perpetual feu, while Roger is made his chamberlain. As the curtain then
descends over general happiness, Sir William pronounces the usual moral
admonition, without which no pastoral of the time was complete--

    'My friends, I'm satisfied you'll all behave,
    Each in his station as I'd wish and crave.
    Be ever virtuous, soon or late ye'll find
    Reward and satisfaction to your mind.
    The maze of life sometimes looks dark and wild,
    And oft when hopes are highest we're beguiled;
    Oft when we stand on brinks of dark despair
    Some happy turn with joy dispels our care.'

The relative proportions of the various characters have been preserved
with rare skill, and the individuality of each is as firmly and clearly
differentiated in a few rapid incisive strokes, as though he had
expended pages of description on each, like Pope and Gay. Patie's cheery
_bonhomie_ and vivacious nature, his love of learning and his wise views
of life and its duties, find an excellent foil in the slow, bashful,
phlegmatic Roger, whose very 'blateness' denies him the bliss he covets
in Jenny's love. Peggy is altogether charming,--a lovely, pure-souled,
healthful, sport-loving maiden, with enough of her sex's foibles in her
to leave her a very woman, yet with as few faults as it is possible for
faulty human nature to be without. One of the most delightful heroines
in pastoral poetry is Peggy. Jenny's prudish airs and affected dislike
to the sterner sex are delicately yet incisively portrayed, while the
staunch fidelity of Symon, the cheery chirpiness of Glaud, the bucolic
ignorance and superstition of Bauldy, the cankered impatience of
Madge--a spinster against her will, and the pathetic, age-worn weariness
of Mause, are depicted with the assured hand of a master. Many of the
lyrics interspersed throughout the pastoral are gems of rustic song;
not high-class poetry, otherwise they would have been as out of place as
would the Johnsonian minnows, talking, as Goldsmith said, like whales.

Only to one other production of Ramsay's genius will attention be called
under this head, namely, his continuation of James the First's poem,
_Christ's Kirk on the Green_. Of this, the first canto only was written
by its royal author. Ramsay, therefore, conceived the design of
completing it, as was remarked before. The king had painted with great
spirit the squabble that arose at a rustic wedding at Christ's Kirk, in
the parish of Kinnethmont, in that part of the county of Aberdeen near
Leslie called the Garioch. Ramsay seems to have mistaken it for Leslie
in Fife. Two cantos were added by our poet to the piece, in the one of
which he exhibited the company, their differences ended, as engaging in
feasting and good cheer; in the other, their appearance the following
morning, after they had slept off the effects of the orgies, and when
they proceed to the bridegroom's house to offer gifts. The skill
wherewith Ramsay dovetailed his work into that of his royal predecessor,
and developed the king's characters along lines fully in accord with
their inception, is very remarkable. There is a Rabelaisian element in
the headlong fun and broad rough-and-tumble humour Ramsay introduces
into his portion of the poem, but it is not discordant with the king's
ideas. The whole piece is almost photographic in the vividness of the
several portraits; the 'moment' of delineation selected for each being
that best calculated to afford a clue to the type of character. The
following picture of the 'reader,' or church precentor in Roman
Catholic times, has often been admired, as almost Chaucerian, for its
force and truth--

    'The latter-gae of haly rhime,
      Sat up at the boord head,
    And a' he said 'twas thought a crime
      To contradict indeed.
    For in clerk lear he was right prime,
      And could baith write and read,
    And drank sae firm till ne'er a styme
      He could keek on a bead
                      Or book that day.'

The coarseness of the pieces cannot be denied. Still, withal, there is a
robust, manly strength in the ideas and a picturesque force in the
vocabulary that covers a multitude of sins. His picture of morning has
often been compared with that of Butler in _Hudibras_, but the advantage
undoubtedly lies with Ramsay. Butler describes the dawn as follows--

    'The sun had long since in the lap
    Of Thetis taken out his nap,
    And, like a lobster boil'd, the morn
    From black to red began to turn.'

Ramsay, in his description, says--

    'Now frae th' east neuk o' Fife the dawn
      Speel'd westlines up the lift;
    Carles wha heard the cock had crawn,
      Begoud to rax and rift;
    And greedy wives, wi' girning thrawn,
      Cry'd "Lasses, up to thrift";
    Dogs barkèd, and the lads frae hand
      Bang'd to their breeks like drift,
                        Be break o' day.'

It must be remembered, the poem was addressed to rustics, who would
neither have understood nor appreciated anything of a higher or less
broadly Hogarthian nature. In _Christ's Kirk on the Green_ we have
stereotyped to all time a picture of manners unsurpassed for vigour and
accuracy of detail, to which antiquarians have gone, and will go, for
information that is furnished in no other quarter.

In his elegies pure and simple, namely, those divested of any humorous
element, Ramsay has done good work; but it is not by any means on a par
with what is expected from the poet who could write _The Gentle
Shepherd_. A painter of low life in its aspects both humorous and
farcical was Ramsay's distinctive _métier_. Pity it was his vanity and
ambition ever induced him to turn aside from the path wherein he was
supreme. His 'Ode to the Memory of Lady Mary Anstruther,' that to 'the
Memory of Lady Garlies,' the one to Sir John Clerk on the death of his
son James Clerk, and the 'Ode to the Memory of Mrs. Forbes of Newhall,'
are his best elegies. The versification is correct, the ideas expressed
are sympathetically tender, poetic propriety and the modesty of nature
are not infringed by any exaggerated expressions of grief, but the glow
of genius is lacking, and the subtle union of sentiment and expression
that are so prominent features in his greater poem.

His two finest efforts as an elegist were his _Ode to the Memory of Mrs.
Forbes_, beginning--

    'Ah, life! thou short uncertain blaze,
      Scarce worthy to be wished or loved,
    Why by strict death so many ways,
      So soon, the sweetest are removed!

    If outward charms and temper sweet,
      The cheerful smile, the thought sublime,
    Could have preserved, she ne'er had met
      A change till death had sunk with time;'

also the one on the _Death of Sir Isaac Newton_, wherein occur two
memorable stanzas--

    'Great Newton's dead!--full ripe his fame;
      Cease vulgar grief, to cloud our song:
    We thank the Author of our frame,
      Who lent him to the earth so long.

    For none with greater strength of soul
      Could rise to more divine a height,
    Or range the orbs from pole to pole,
      And more improve the human sight.'

His 'humorous elegies,' written in a mock heroic strain, and sometimes
upon persons still living, though, for the purposes of his art, he
represented them as dead, as in the case of John Cowper, are instinct
with broad, rollicking, Rabelaisian fun. Their vivid portrayal of the
manners and customs of the time renders them invaluable. What better
description of the convivial habits of Edinburgh society early last
century could be desired, than the graphic pictures in _Luckie Wood's
Elegy_, particularly the stanza--

    'To the sma' hours we aft sat still,
    Nick'd round our toasts and sneeshin'-mill;
    Good cakes we wanted ne'er at will,
              The best of bread;
    Which aften cost us mony a gill
              To Aitkenhead.'

Than his elegies on Luckie Spence, John Cowper, and Patie Birnie, no
more realistic presentation of low-life manners could be desired. They
are pictures such as Hogarth would have revelled in, and to which he
alone could have done justice in reproduction.



Difficult it is to make any exact classification of Ramsay's works,
inasmuch as he frequently applied class-names to poems to which they
were utterly inapplicable. Thus many of his elegies and epistles were
really satires, while more than one of those poems he styled satires
were rather of an epic character than anything else. By the reader,
therefore, certain shortcomings in classification must be overlooked, as
Ramsay's poetical terminology (if the phrase be permissible) was far
from being exact.

As I have previously remarked, Ramsay's studies in poetry, in addition
to the earlier Scottish verse, had lain largely in the later
Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline periods. In these, Milton, Cowley,
Dryden, and Pope were his favourites, and their influence is to be
traced throughout his satires. To Boileau he had paid some attention,
though his acquaintance with French literature was more through the
medium of translations, than by drawing directly from the fountainhead.
Ramsay's satires exhibit all the virtues of correct mediocrity. Their
versification is smooth, and they generally scan accurately: the ideas
are expressed pithily, at times epigrammatically and wittily. The
faults and foibles satirised in most cases are those that richly merited
the satiric lash. Yet, all these merits granted, the reader feels
something to be lacking. The reason is not far to seek. Ramsay never
felt at home in what may be termed 'polished satire.' He was as much out
of place as would a low comedian on being suddenly called upon to
undertake 'drawing-room comedy.' Perpetually would he feel the
inclination to rap out one of the rousing, though vulgar, jokes that
inevitably evoked a roar of applause from the gallery, and sooner or
later he would give way to it. Ramsay was in precisely the same
position. The consequence is that in the _Morning Interview_,
professedly an imitation of Pope's _Rape of the Lock_, there are
incongruous images introduced, for the purpose of relieving the piece by
humorous comparisons, which offend the taste even of the most cursory
reader. Such allusions as that to 'soft fifteen on her feet-washing
night,' and others of a cognate character, are entirely out of place in
'polished satire.' If he attempted the type of composition, he ought to
have conformed to its rules.

Of course, Ramsay wrote certain satires, _The Last Speech of a Wretched
Miser_ and the like, in the Scots vernacular, and addressed to the lower
classes in the community, where his genius is seen at its best, because
dealing with 'low-life satire' and the types of character he loved most
of all to paint. But his _Wealth or the Woody_, his _Health_--a poem
addressed to Lord Stair, his _Scribblers Lashed_, _The General Mistake_,
_The Epistle to Lord Ramsay_, and the _Rise and Fall of Stocks in 1720_,
exhibit Ramsay's genius moving in fetters. His touch lacks piquancy and
epigrammatic incisiveness,--lacks, too, that determinate deftness so
characteristic of Horace, as well as those subtle _nuances_ of
double-meaning wherein Pope and Arbuthnot excelled, and of which the
latter's terrible 'Epitaph on Colonel Chartres' is a favourable example.
Ramsay hits with the hammer of Thor, when he should tap as lightly as
'twere reproof administered by a fair one with her fan. Witness his
portrait of Talpo in _Health_--a poem in many respects one of Ramsay's
best. With what airy satiric touches Pope or Gay would have dashed off
the character. Note the laboured strokes wherewith Ramsay produces his

    'But Talpo sighs with matrimonial cares,
    His cheeks wear wrinkles, silver grow his hairs,
    Before old age his health decays apace,
    And very rarely smiles clear up his face.
    Talpo's a fool, there's hardly help for that,
    He scarcely knows himself what he'd be at.
    He's avaricious to the last degree,
    And thinks his wife and children make too free
    With his dear idol; this creates his pain,
    And breeds convulsions in his narrow brain.
    He's always startled at approaching fate,
    And often jealous of his virtuous mate;
    Is ever anxious, shuns his friends to save:
    Thus soon he'll fret himself into a grave;
    There let him rot'--

But Ramsay's distinguishing and saving characteristic in satire was the
breadth and felicity of his humour. To satire, however, humour is less
adapted than wit, and of wit Ramsay had, in a comparative sense, but a
scanty endowment. He was not one of those who could say smart things,
though he could depict a humorous episode or situation as felicitously
as anyone of his age. Like Rabelais, he was a humorist, not a wit, and
his satires suffered accordingly. Perhaps the best of his satires is
_The Last Speech of a Wretched Miser_, wherein his humour becomes
bitingly sardonic. The wretch's address to his pelf is very powerful--

    'O dool! and am I forced to dee,
    And nae mair my dear siller see,
    That glanced sae sweetly in my e'e!
                It breaks my heart!
    My gold! my bonds! alackanie
                That we should part.

    Like Tantalus, I lang have stood,
    Chin-deep into a siller flood;
    Yet ne'er was able for my blood,
                But pain and strife,
    To ware ae drap on claiths or food,
                To cherish life.'

Different, indeed, is the case when we come to consider Ramsay as a
song-writer and a lyrist. To him the former title rather than the latter
is best applicable. This is not the place to note the resemblances and
the differences between the French _chanson_, the German _lied_, the
Italian _canzóne_, and the English song or lyric. But as indicating a
distinction between the two last terms, Mr. F. T. Palgrave, in the
introduction to his invaluable _Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics_,
regards a 'lyric' as a poem turning on 'some single thought, feeling, or
situation'; Mr. H. M. Posnett, in his thoughtful volume on _Comparative
Literature_, remarks that the lyric has varied from sacred or magical
hymns and odes of priest bards, only fulfilling their purpose when sung,
and perhaps never consigned to writing at all, down to written
expressions of individual feeling from which all accompaniments of dance
or music have been severed. But approximately defined, a lyric may be
said to be a poem--short, vivid, and expressive of a definite emotion,
appealing more to the eye than with any ultimate view of being set to
music; a song, as a composition appealing more to the ear, wherein the
sentiments are more leisurely expressed, with the intention of being
accompanied by music. Mr. E. H. Stoddard, in the preface to his _English
Madrigals_, defines a lyric 'as a simple, unstudied expression of
thought, sentiment, or passion; a song, its expression according to the
mode of the day.' The essence of a lyric is point, grace, and symmetry;
of a song, fluency, freedom, and the expression of sympathetic emotions.

Ramsay, according to this basis of distinction, was, as has been said,
rather a song-writer than a lyrist. The works of Shakespeare, Ben
Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger, abound in lyrics, but
contain comparatively few songs, in the modern sense of the word, in
which we speak of the songs of Burns, Moore, and Barry Cornwall. Ramsay,
in his songs, sacrificed everything to mode. In nine cases out of ten he
had the tune for the song in his mind when he was writing the words. In
Scotland, as is well known, there is an immense body of music, some of
it ancient, some of it comparatively modern, though none of it much
later than the Restoration. That was the mine wherein Ramsay dug long
and deep for the music for his _Tea-Table Miscellany_. To those ancient
tunes he supplied words--words that to this day remain as a memorial of
the skill and sympathy wherewith he wedded the spirit of the melodies to
language in keeping with their national character.

To a _soupçon_ of diffuseness the poet must, however, plead
guilty--guilty, moreover, because of the invincible temptation to pad
out a line now and then 'for crambo's sake' when the ideas ran short.
Ramsay possessed all the qualities constituting a song-writer of great
and varied genius. His work exhibits ease and elasticity of rhythm,
liquid smoothness of assonance, sympathetic beauty of thought, with
subtle skill in wedding sense to sound. Though his verse lacked the
dainty finish of Herrick and Waller, the brilliant facet-like sparkle of
Carew, Suckling, and Lovelace, the tender grace of Sedley, and the
half-cynical, half-regretful, but wholly piquant epicureanism, of
Rochester and Denham, yet Ramsay had a charm all his own. Witness the
'Lass o' Patie's Mill'; is it not entirely _sui generis_?

    'The lass o' Patie's Mill,
      So bonny, blythe, and gay,
    In spite of all my skill,
      She stole my heart away.
    When tedding of the hay,
      Bareheaded on the green,
    Love midst her locks did play,
      And wantoned in her een.

    Her arms, white, round, and smooth,
      Breasts rising in their dawn,
    To age it would give youth
      To press 'em with his hand
    Thro' all my spirits ran
      An ecstasy of bliss
    When I such sweetness fan'
      Wrapt in a balmy kiss.

    Without the help of art,
      Like flowers that grace the wild,
    She did her sweets impart
      Whene'er she spoke or smil'd.
    Her looks they were so mild,
      Free from affected pride,
    She me to love beguiled,
      I wished her for my bride.'

Take also 'Bessy Bell and Mary Gray'; what a rich fancy and charming
humour plays throughout the piece, united to a keen knowledge of the
human heart--

    'O Bessy Bell and Mary Gray,
      They are twa bonny lasses;
    They bigg'd a bower on yon burnbrae,
      And theek'd it o'er with rashes.
    Fair Bessy Bell I loo'd yestreen,
      And thought I ne'er could alter;
    But Mary Gray's twa pawky e'en,
      They gar my fancy falter,'

or that verse in his 'Scots Cantata,' with what simplicity, yet with
what true pathos, is it not charged?--

    'O bonny lassie, since 'tis sae,
      That I'm despised by thee,
    I hate to live; but O, I'm wae,
      And unco sweer to dee.
    Dear Jeany, think what dowy hours
      I thole by your disdain:
    Why should a breast sae saft as yours
      Contain a heart of stane?'

George Withers' famous lines, 'Shall I, wasting in despaire,' are not a
whit more pathetic. Then if we desire humour pure and unadulterated,
where can be found a more delightful _lilt_ than 'The Widow'?

    'The widow can bake, and the widow can brew,
    The widow can shape, and the widow can sew,[3]
    And mony braw things the widow can do,--
        Then have at the widow, my laddie.'

Or if you affect a dash of satire in your songs, what more to your taste

    'Gi'e me a lass wi' a lump o' land,
      And we for life shall gang thegither,
    Though daft or wise I'll ne'er demand,
      Or black or fair it maks na whether.
    I'm aff wi' wit, and beauty will fade,
      And blood alane is no worth a shilling;
    But she that's rich, her market's made,
      For ilka charm aboot her's killing.'

Or if the reader desire the wells of his deepest sympathies to be
stirred, what more truly pathetic than his 'Auld Lang Syne,' which
supplied Burns with many of the ideas for his immortal song; or his
version of 'Lochaber No More'--

    'Farewell to Lochaber, and farewell my Jean,
    Where heartsome wi' thee I've mony day been;
    For Lochaber no more, Lochaber no more,
    We'll maybe return to Lochaber no more,'

--a song than which to this day few are more popular among Scotsmen. As
a song-writer Ramsay appeals to all natures and all temperaments. He was
almost entirely free from the vice of poetic conventionality. He wrote
what seemed to him best, undeterred by the dread of offending against
poetic canons, or the principles of this, that, or the other school of
poetry. He was a natural singer, not one formed by art--a singer,
voicing his patriotic enthusiasm in many a lay, that for warmth of
national feeling, for intense love of his species, for passionate
expression of the tenderer emotions, is little behind the best of the
songs of Robert Burns. Granted that his was not the power to sweep,
like Burns, or Béranger, or Heine, with masterful hand over the entire
gamut of human passions; that to him was not given, as to them, the
supremely keen insight into the workings of the human heart, and the
magical witchery of wedding sense to sound so indissolubly, that alter
but a word in the texture of the lines and the poem is ruined. Yet, in
his province, Ramsay was dowered with a gift but little less notable,
that of portraying so faithfully the natural beauties of his country,
and the special characteristics of his countrymen, that, in a greater
degree even than Burns,--were Ramsay's songs only recognised as his, in
place of being ascribed to others,--he has a right to the proud title of
Scotland's national song-writer. Not for a moment do I seek to place
Ramsay on a pedestal co-equal with Burns--that were an error worse than
folly; not for a moment do I seek to detract from the transcendent merit
of our great national poet. But though I do not rate Burns the less, I
value Ramsay the more, when I say that, had there been no Ramsay there
might have been no Burns nor any Fergusson--at least, the genius of the
two last named poets would not have found an adequate vehicle of
expression lying readymade to their hand. Ramsay it was who virtually
rendered the Scots vernacular a possible medium for the use of Burns;
and this service, unconsciously rendered by the lesser genius to the
greater, is generously acknowledged by the latter, who could not but be
aware that, as his own star waxed higher and yet higher from the horizon
line of popularity, that of his elder rival waned more and more.
Therefore his noble panegyric on Ramsay is but a tribute to his 'father
in song'--

    'Thou paints auld nature to the nines,
    In thy sweet Caledonian lines;
    Nae gowden stream through myrtle twines,
                  Where Philomel,
    While nightly breezes sweep the vines,
                  Her griefs will tell.

    In gowany glens thy burnie strays,
    Where bonnie lassies bleach their claes;
    Or trots by hazelly shaws and braes,
                  Wi' hawthorns gray,
    Where blackbirds join the shepherd's lays
                  At close o' day.

    Thy rural loves are nature's sel';
    Nae bombast spates o' nonsense swell;
    Nae snap conceits, but that sweet spell
                  O' witchin' love,
    That charm that can the strongest quell,
    The sternest move.'


[3] Pronounced in Scots, _shoo_.



Our survey is now drawing to a close. To say a word upon those
miscellaneous poems that do not fall naturally into any convenient
category for classification is all that remains to be done.

Already attention has been called to the poem on _Content_, when its
purpose was sketched. Though containing many passages of no little power
and beauty, yet as a whole it is heavy and uninteresting. Written during
the time when the glamour of Pope's influence was upon Ramsay, it
exhibits many of Pope's faults without his redeeming features. True, the
characters are drawn with great vigour and distinctive individuality,
but the trail of dulness lies over it, and _Content_ slumbers, with
James Thomson's _chef d'oeuvre_ on _Liberty_, on the top shelf amongst
the spiders. The description of the palace of the goddess Content has,
however, often been praised for its vigorous scene-painting--

    'Amidst the glade the sacred palace stood,
    The architecture not so fine as good;
    Nor scrimp, nor gousty, regular and plain,
    Plain were the columns which the roof sustain;
    An easy greatness in the whole was found,
    Where all that nature wanted did abound:
    But here no beds are screen'd with rich brocade,
    Nor fuel logs in silver grates are laid;
    Nor broken China bowls disturb the joy
    Of waiting handmaid, or the running boy;
    Nor in the cupboard heaps of plate are rang'd,
    To be with each splenetic fashion changed.'

_The Prospect of Plenty_ is another poem wherein Ramsay allows his
reasoning powers to run away with him. As Chalmers remarks: 'To the
chimerical hopes of inexhaustible riches from the project of the South
Sea bubble, the poet now opposes the certain prospect of national wealth
from the prosecution of the fisheries in the North Sea--thus judiciously
pointing the attention of his countrymen to the solid fruits of patient
industry, and contrasting these with the airy projects of idle
speculation.' The poem points out that of industry the certain
consequence is plenty, a gradual enlargement of all the comforts of
society, the advancement of the useful, and the encouragement of the
elegant arts, the cultivation of talents, the refinement of manners, the
increase of population--all that contributes either to national
prosperity or to the rational enjoyments of life. The composition and
structure of the poem are less deserving of encomium than the wisdom of
its precepts. Like _Content_, it is tedious and dull, yet there is one
vigorous passage in it, beginning: 'A slothful pride! a kingdom's
greatest curse,' and dealing with the evils arising from the separation
of the classes, which has often been quoted. Nor must we forget _The
Vision_, which in the opinion of many must rank amongst the best of
Ramsay's productions. Published originally in the _Evergreen_, over the
initials 'A. R. Scot,' for some time it was believed to be the work of a
Scots poet, Alexander Scott, who lived in the reign of Queen Mary. But
Janet Ramsay put the matter beyond a doubt before her death by declaring
the poem to have been written by her father. The merits of _The Vision_
are considerable. The language is majestic and dignified, the ideas
lofty, and the characters drawn with vigour and precision. Had the
spelling not been so archaic, the poem would have been much more popular
than it is.

For Horace, Ramsay always professed a deep admiration. Upon the style of
the great Roman satirist he sought to model his 'Epistles,' which
undoubtedly deserve something more than mere passing mention. In them
Ramsay endeavours to give the friend, whom at the moment he addresses, a
glimpse into the pursuits with which, for the time being, he was
occupying himself. Taking this for his text, he digresses into apt and
amusing dissertations on any subject of public, municipal, or social
interest that might be engrossing the attention of the town. His
epistles to Hamilton of Gilbertfield, to James Arbuckle, to the Earl of
Dalhousie, to Mr. Aikman, to Sir W. Bennet, to William Starrat, to
Joseph Burchet, to Somerville the poet, to Gay, to Clerk of Penicuik,
and others, are altogether delightful--happy, cheery, humorous, gossipy
productions, neither too full of fun to be frivolous, nor too didactic
to be tiresome. Take, for example, his epistle to Robert Yarde of
Devonshire,--how apt are his allusions, how racy his tit-bits of local
news! He addresses the epistle

    'Frae northern mountains clad with snaw,
    Where whistling winds incessant blaw,
    In time now when the curling-stane,
    Slides murm'ring o'er the icy plain';

and he asks his correspondent how, under these conditions,

    'What sprightly tale in verse can Yarde
    Expect frae a cauld Scottish bard,
    With brose and bannocks poorly fed,
    In hodden gray right hashly clad,
    Skelping o'er frozen hags with pingle,
    Picking up peats to beet his ingle,
    While sleet that freezes as it fa's,
    Theeks as with glass the divot wa's
    Of a laigh hut, where sax thegither
    Lie heads and thraws on craps of heather?'

--this being a humorous allusion to the prevalent idea in England at the
time, that the Scots were only a little better off than the savages of
the South Seas.

Finally, in his translations, or rather paraphrases, from Horace, Ramsay
was exceedingly happy. He made no pretensions to accuracy in his
rendering of the precise words of the text. While preserving an
approximation to the ideas of his original, he changes the local
atmosphere and scene, and applies Horace's lines to the district around
Edinburgh, wherewith he was so familiar. With rare skill this is
achieved; and while any lover of Horace can easily follow the ideas of
the original, the non-classical reader is brought face to face with
associations drawn from his own land as illustrative, by comparison and
contrast, of the text of the great Roman. Few could have executed the
task with greater truth; fewer still with more felicity. Already I have
cited a portion of Ramsay's rendering of Horace's famous Ode, _Vides ut
alta stet nive candidum Soracte_. There are two other stanzas well
worthy of quotation. Ramsay's rendering of the famous _Carpe diem_,
etc., passage is all I have space for--

    'Let neist day come as it thinks fit,
    The present minute's only ours;
    On pleasure let's employ our wit,
    And laugh at fortune's feckless powers.'

Reference has also been made to his apt translation of the ideas
contained in Horace's 1st Ode to Maecenas, by making them express his
own feelings towards Lord Dalhousie. Two of his aptest renderings of the
original, however, were those of Horace's 18th Ode to Quintilius Varus
(_Nullam, Vare, sacra vite prius severis arborem_), which our poet

    'O Binny, cou'd thae fields o' thine
    Bear, as in Gaul, the juicy vine,
    How sweet the bonny grape wad shine
                    On wa's where now
    Your apricock and peaches fine
                    Their branches bow.

    Since human life is but a blink,
    Then why should we its short joys sink;
    He disna live that canna link
                    The glass about;
    Whan warm'd wi' wine, like men we think,
                    An' grow mair stout.'

The 31st Ode (B. 1.) to Apollo is thus felicitously rendered--

    'Frae great Apollo, poets say,
    What would'st thou wish, what wadst thou hae
            Whan thou bows at his shrine?
    Not Carse o' Gowrie's fertile field,
    Nor a' the flocks the Grampians yield
            That are baith sleek and fine;
    Not costly things, brocht frae afar,
            As iv'ry, pearl and gems;
    Nor those fair straths that watered are
            Wi' Tay an' Tweed's smooth streams.
              Which gentily and daintily
              Eat down the flow'ry braes,
              As greatly and quietly
              They wimple to the seas.'

Ramsay had the misfortune never to have studied the _technique_ of his
art, so that in no respect is he a master of rhythm. The majority of his
longer poems, including _The Gentle Shepherd_, are written in the
ordinary heroic measure, so popular last century because so easily
manipulated. His songs for the most part are written in familiar metres,
not calculated to puzzle any bonny singing Bess as she danced and lilted
on the village green. As a metrist, therefore, Ramsay can claim little
or no attention. His poetry was the spontaneous ebullition of his own
feelings, and for their expression he seized upon the first measure that
came to hand.

Such, then, is Ramsay! In his matchless pastoral he will ever live in
the hearts of Scotsmen; and were proof needed, it would be found in the
increasing numbers of pilgrims who year by year journey to Carlops to
visit the scenes amongst which Peggy lived and loved. To any one save
the historian and the antiquarian, the remainder of his poetry may now
be of little value,--probably of none,--amidst the multifarious
publications which day by day issue from the press. But by Scotsmen the
memory of the gentle, genial, lovable Allan will ever be prized as that
of one who, at a critical time, did more to prevent Scottish national
poetry from being wholly absorbed by the mightier stream of English song
than any other man save Scott. Worthy of such veneration, then, is he,
both as a poet and as a man; and though the extravagant admiration
wherewith he was regarded in his own day, has given place to a soberer
estimate of his rank in the hierarchy of letters, yet Allan Ramsay can
never be held as other than one of the most delightful, if he can no
longer be rated as one of the greatest, of Scottish poets. That his
immortal pastoral can ever be consigned to the limbo of oblivion is as
improbable as that our posterity will forget _Tam o' Shanter_ and the
_Cotter's Saturday Night_. The opinion of Robert Burns regarding the
permanence of his 'poetical forebear's' fame will be cordially endorsed
by every leal-hearted Scot, in whose memory the sturdy manliness of
Patie and the winning beauty of Peggy are everlastingly enshrined--

    'Yes! there is ane: a Scottish callan,
    There's ane; come forrit, honest Allan,
    Thou needna jouk behint the hallan,
                    A chiel' sae clever:
    The teeth o' time may gnaw Tantallan,
                    But thou's for ever!'

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Allan Ramsay - Famous Scots Series" ***

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