1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Ramsay

Gavin Turnbull, "Prologue to the Gentle Shepherd" Columbian Herald or, the New Daily Advertiser [Charleston] (11 March 1796).



Sirs, I'm a Ghaist! — but dinna fear me,
I'm Ramsay's Ghaist! — ay, now, ye'l bear me;—
Frae sweet Elysium's bonny bow'rs,
Where poets pass their blissfu' hours,
I come, and dinna scorn to tell,
Only to justify myself'.

When death, that camsheugh carl, had fell'd me,
And first Elysian fouk beheld me,
My auld blue bonnet on my head,
And hamely Caledonian weed;
They cry'd, "Preserve's! what's yon droll body,
That gangs just like a niddy noddy?
'Tis some bit poor auld Scottish herd:"
"Na faith!" quo' Hermes, "he's a bard,
Sic as the deel a' mae ye'll find,
And ane of the dramatic kind."
Syne he pronounc'd aloud my name,
A current passport for my fame.

Then I shook hands wi' Johny Dryden,
And twa-three mae, wham much we pride in;
As Irish Ben, and Warwick Willy,
Wha's, by my saul, a matchless Billy;
And poor Tam Oatway, wha' could blaw
The sweetest whistle of them a'!
And a' that had a spunk of grace
Gied me kind welcome to the place;
But ane, wha look'd as if I stunk,
The chiel was either daft or drunk,
And though he had but little gumption,
'Twas mair than balanc'd by presumption;
Said, in a kind of leering way,
"Friend! sure ye never read a play;
Or if he had, 'tis plain enough,
Ye ne'er could fancy sic damn'd stuff
As Scottish shepherds' uncouth rhymes,
Could grace the stage and please the times."

Guidman, quoth I, whate'er's you name
I dinna ken, but never blame
Things as far past your comprehension,
As is the vera Piece ye mention;
And though he may think little on't,
I'll wager you a sterling groat,
Or, what a Poet values mair,
This wreath that I hae round my hair,
Against that wither'd twig of thine,
I'll get applause for ilka line!

Now, sirs, I sweat wi' very fright,
Lest ye should hiss my play this night;
For actors are grown sae refin'd,
They never speak it to my mind;
Sae if the piece its beauty tine,
Ye canna say the wyte was mine;
Yet, O! be sparing for my sake,
For if ye hiss, I lose my stake!