1983 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Cumming

Clark Hunter, in Life and Letters of Alexander Wilson (1983) 41.



In Paisley [Alexander] Wilson received an interesting letter from James Kennedy telling him about a contest to be held in the Pantheon, Edinburgh, where the candidates would debate in verse or prose the respective merits of Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson, or more precisely, "Whether have the exertions of Allan Ramsay or Robert Fergusson done more honour to Scotch Poetry?" ... Wilson delivered his address on Thursday 14 April 1791, before a large, fashionable crowd of almost 500 persons, who were also the judges; it was both a success and a failure. First prize was won by one Robert Cumming, an Edinburgh man of whom it was widely believed that he had arranged for about forty of his supporters to be present. He won the contest by seventeen votes over Wilson; Wilson's friend Ebenezer Picken was third. Wilson was acclaimed a moral victor, and although it would be an exaggeration to say that he was lionized, as Burns had been in Edinburgh, he did gain a little fame.