1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Ramsay

Leigh Hunt, in "Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd" The Examiner (6 July 1817) 428.



With the real Gentle Shepherd of ALLAN RAMSAY, we earnestly advise all or poetical readers to become acquainted, if they are not already. It is a remarkable instance of what can be done by a man of no great genius, but whose portion of genius, such as it was, was on the side of simplicity and nature, and gifted with their lasting good sense. RAMSAY was evidently not ignorant of the pastorals and pastoral dramas before him, English or Italian; but his chief talent (and it is the one that renders all other talent valuable) lay in a perfect feeling of his own real powers and situation; and thus he avoided every thing affected, and mistaken, and contradictory; and produced a pastoral superior, in our opinion, and with all our love for the Italians, to the Aminta of TASSO. The Pastor Fido of GUARINI is a mere piece of art to it. It is as fine in it's humbler but natural way, as the divine Faithful Shepherdess of FLETCHER is in the more ideal world of poetry; but the poet it most resembles is THEOCRITUS. All dead languages now-a-days are apt to have a sort of grave and learned aspect: — it is a natural consequence of their being obsolete, and of the many lofty associations connected with antiquity: — but we should think, that THEOCRITUS, when he was in the medium between his coarseness and his loftier style, had much the same effect with his readers of old, as RAMSAY has at present with his. The reader need not be alarmed at the Scotch. There is very little; and what there is, is very easy, and gives it a peculiar unsophisticated air of graceful rusticity. You find genuine human beings speaking a pleasing country language, and leading one of those pastoral lives, which even in northern countries seem to make the blood flow so finely, and to render people poetical by the mere dint of contact with the healthy beauties of nature. We never open the book, and encounter the very first song in t, but we feel as when we open a door looking out to the fields, with the fresh air in our face:—

My Peggy is a young thing,
Just enter'd in her teens,
Fair as the day, and sweet as May,
Fair as the day, and always gay:
My Peggy is a young thing,
And I'm nae very auld,
Yet weel I like to meet her at
The wauking o' the fauld.

See also the description of the landscapes at the commencement of every scene, — the lovely song beginning "By the delicious warmness of thy mouth," — Another where Peggy says,

At setting day and rising morn,
Wi' soul that still shall love thee,
I'll ask o' Heav'n thy safe return,
Wi' a' that can improve thee.
I'll visit aft the birken bush,
Where first thou kindly tauld me
Sweet tales o' love, and hid my blush,
While round thou didst enfald me:—

In short, see the whole pastoral of this truly native writer, who was the darling of the lasses when young, and a lively round-faced Horatian little fellow, when old.