1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Burns

Anonymous, in British Critic 34 (1809) 687-88.



Fergusson was no unworthy successor of Ramsay in the list of Scotch pastoral poets; and Burns has, in many particulars, surpassed all his predecessors and competitors in this peculiar department of poetry.  We consider his Cottager's Saturday Night, his Halloween, and some other of his minor poems, and almost all his exquisite ballads as genuine pastorals; since they entirely relate to the manners and pursuits of simple swains, whose sole occupation, if not the tending of a flock, is at least the ruder employments of agriculture, and what is strictly called a country life. The pastorals of Burns are, perhaps still more than those of Ramsay, faithful and lively transcripts of actual life; and they have the very peculiar charm of being the productions of a man, the best years of whose life were spent among those very swains whose manners he describes; and who was by birth the very clown in whose pursuits he so warmly interests us.