1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Allan Ramsay

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 83-84.



The English reader cannot of course appreciate the merits of ALLAN RAMSAY'S "Gentle Shepherd." As a true picture of humble pastoral life, we are content to believe it superior to the pastorals of our own language; but we can see sufficiently through the mist of the Scotch dialogue to be quite certain that it is very inferior to several others in point of poetical composition. Ramsay did not live in the best times of poetry; and it is no little praise, that he shares, with Thomson and a few others, the merit of having ventured upon truth and simplicity, at a time when they were proscribed through all the regions of poetry. The head of Ramsay, which is here given, is rather striking; but it has little of a pastoral or a poetical look: it was painted, we suppose, after his residence at Castle-hill, in Edinburgh. In the dialogue between Peggy and Jenny, who persuades the former not to marry, there are some tender lines which even the Scotch cannot obscure. Peggy, who loves the gentle shepherd, is speaking:

Yes, it's a heartsome thing to be a wife,
When round the ingle-edge young sprouts are rife:
Gif I'm sae happy, I shall have delight
To hear their little plaints, and keep them right.
Wow, Jenny can there greater pleasure be,
Than see sic wee tots toolying at your knee;
When a' they ettle at, their greatest wish
Is to be made of, and obtain a kiss?
Can there he toil in tenting day and night
The like of them, when love makes rare delight?

This is English (we hope) in its sentiments, however foreign the idiom may be.