Allan Ramsay was born of poor parentage in Edinburgh, about the beginning of the present century. He was a strong instance how far natural parts will go with little assistance from education. He himself confesses that he understood Horace but faintly in the original, and he seems to glory in this ignorance.
Countenanced and encouraged by the great, the fair, the young, and the gay, he tuned the Scottish reed to a variety of strains expressive of his temper, which was sprightly and joyous.
Some of his songs, however, are highly characteristic of tenderness, and suit well the pathos of the tunes to which they are set. The manners of the Scottish shepherds are also well described in his pastoral Comedy of the Gentle Shepherd, which, though written in rhyme, a vehicle unsuited to comedy, must be allowed to be natural, and upon the whole just.
A talent for humour forms a conspicuous part, both of the convivial and poetic character of Allan; he loved a boon companion and a chearful glass: Like Horace he laughed away care over a good fire, and a flowing bowl; and on these occasions he gave full vent to his wit, which flowed very freely. Except a few of his songs, his pieces are his best; his elegies are full of it, and his continuation of Christ's Kirk on the Green, is written with spirit.
As he gradually rose to credit by his writings, especially his songs, which pleased every body, he set on foot a circulating library, which was the first of the kind known in this country. He died 1743.