1774 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Ramsay

Anonymous, "Anecdote of Allen Ramsay" London Magazine 43 (June 1774) 259.



The frequent performance of Allen Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd has given occasion to the publishing of this anecdote, which some may conceive arises from a prejudice to the established fame of that Scotch author. It is not from such prejudice, but from the authority of a gentleman of honour now residing in the Highlands of Scotland, who was informed of the particulars which I now give to the public.

I was descanting on the merits of Mr. Ramsay's publications, when he stopped me short with saying, "Do you know who or what he was?" I replied, "No." "Then let me tell you, Sir: he was a barber in Edinburgh, and those sonnets &c. attributed to him are not of his composition. Allen Ramsay was a lively fellow, he sung a good catch, and he scribbled rhymes, which drew the attention of the students of our colleges towards him, and they persuaded Allen to commence poet, promising him to supply him, from time to time, with matter. This humour succeeded both with the scholars and the barber, till at length Allen began to be so famed, that he was universally complimented for his abilities; and the students, on the other hand, enjoyed the jest, to think how well they imposed on the judgements of the world. Thus, with the borrowed plumes of the peacock, did this literary jack-daw strut forth, and at last established that reputation to which he had no right."

If any gentleman can contradict this, we shall be glad to be set right; otherwise we wish to have the borrowed fame set aside, or properly established to its proper authors; for this Scotch hedge-sparrow has no right to claim the egg of the cuckow which it hatches. However, to do Allen that justice he merits, he has been the nurse of a sweeter bird than himself.