1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Ramsay

Timothey Thunderproof, in "Strictures on Scottish Poetry, particularly that of Ramsay" The Bee 5 (21 September 1791) 55-56.



Of poets in the Scottish dialect, the best and greatest, beyond all comparison, is Allan Ramsay. He appears to have studied Dryden's style with much attention, since his verses flow with the most pleasing volubility. His provincial phrases are few, when compared with those of some of his imitators; and he has selected them with such happy dexterity that they are almost equally familiar in every part of the kingdom. But this is only a secondary part of his praise. A vein of solid good sense, a nice discrimination of character, a nervous elegance, and a pathetic simplicity of expression; in a word, the genuine language of nature, of passion, and of poetry, place his pastoral comedy almost beyond our praise. From the chemist and astronomer, to the girl at her spinning-wheel, his eloquence kindles every heart, and irresistibly commands our tears. It is true that we have here no bawdry, no jealous alderman cuckolded, no amorous suicide, no wire-drawn soliloquy, no pedantic ill-joined epithet, no raving despot, such as never existed but in the frenzy of a modern play wright. But the GENTLE SHEPHERD does not rest its reputation on the caprice of a theatrical audience. Were all the copies of Ramsay's comedy annihilated, the grateful memories of his countrymen would eagerly supply the loss. Many of his readers have almost the whole poem by heart; and what other Scottish author can pretend to such universal admiration?