1774 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Fergusson

Anonymous, Obituary in Weekly Magazine or Edinburgh Amusement 26 (20 October 1774) 128.



17. At Edinburgh, Mr. Robert Fergusson, well known in the literary world for his poetical abilities. — To attempt a character of this youthful bard must be a vain essay, as it would be equally difficult to do justice to his merit. No colours but his own could paint him to the life, and we know none in his line of composition capable to sketch him out. His talent of versification in the Scots dialect has been exceeded by none, equalled by few. The subjects he chose were generally uncommon, often temporary. His images and sentiments were lively and striking, which he had a knack in cloathing with the most agreeable and natural expression. Had he enjoyed life and health to a maturer age, it is probable he would have revived our antient Caledonian poetry of late so much neglected or despised. His Hallow-fair, Edinburgh Election, and Leith Races, are master-pieces in this stile, and will be lasting monuments of his genius and vivacity. — For social life, he possessed an amazing variety of qualifications. With the best good nature, and a great degree of modesty, he was always sprightly, always entertaining. His powers of song were very great in a double capacity. When seated, with some select companions, over a friendly bowl, his wit flash'd like lightning, struck the hearers irresistibly, and "set the table in a roar" — But, alas! these engaging, nay bewitching qualities, proved fatal to their owner, and shortened the period of his rational existence. So true is that observation of the poet,

Great wit to madness sure is near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.

Yet he found favour in the sight of Providence, who was pleased speedily to call him from a miserable state of being, to a life of early immortality. — The ELEGY [P. 113.] is the first tribute of a brother on that melancholy occasion.