A pastoral elegy on the death of Matthew Prior. The interlocutors, "Robert," "Richy," and "Sandy," are Robert Harley, Richard Steele, and Alexander Pope; "Clan Red-yards" refers to Louis XIV, with whom Prior was involved in negotiating the Treaty of Utrecht. Prior had previously been a Whig; his shift in parties caused political differences and retributions that Ramsay chooses to ignore. The elegy concludes with Robert [Harley] requesting an elegy from Sandy [Pope].
Dedication: "The Unwelcome Subject of the ensuing Pastoral having for many Years been lov'd and admir'd by every one of good Sense who had a Taste fro Poetry writ with Witt, Strength, and Politeness, yet easy; — 'tis well known, that your Lordship has suffer'd nothing in your shining Character by having had a Regard for a Person of his Worth: Wherefore I have used (perhaps with too much Assurance) the Freedom to crave your Protection of this small Monument rais'd to his Memory. Tho' the Language hereof may seem uncouth, it will afford Your Lordship the greater Amusement, when explain'd by a Scotsman" To the Right Honourable —" Sig. A1-A1v.
William Minto: "To get a correct conception of the general character of Ramsay's poems, we must look at the audience for whom they were written. They were read by peasants, by shepherds, ploughboys, and milkmaids, but they had first passed under the critical eyes of a more lettered circle. It may seem a paradox to call Ramsay's poems 'vers do societe,' yet such in effect they were, though the society for which they were written had not much of the culture which we now associate with the name. Ramsay was a convivial soul — he has been called a "convivial buffoon" — and he and his friends had formed themselves into an 'Easy Club,' in imitation of the famous literary clubs of the London coffee-houses.... Ramsay's poems smack of this convivial atmosphere. Through the medium of the 'Easy Club,' with such admixture as it could not fail to receive from the vigorous individuality of the members, the spirit of the Restoration passed to do battle among the Scotch peasantry with the austere spirit of the Kirk.... From writing pastoral dialogues after the manner of Spenser, such as that in which Pope and Steele, as Sandy and Richie, are made to lament the death of Adie in broad Scotch, he took to making real Scotch shepherds and shepherdesses discuss in verse their loves and all the concerns of their daily life" The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 3:160-61.
T. F. Henderson: "His more ambitious English verse cannot be said to merit much attention. While the mere versification is fluent and faultless, he has succeeded in aping rather the poetic offences than the excellencies of his eighteenth-century models. Even his satires, when he had recourse to English, almost lost their sting" Cambridge History of English Literature (1913) 9:412.
There are textual changes in later editions.
ROBERT the douse, by a' the Swains rever'd,
Wise are his Words, like Siller is his Beard;
Near saxty shining Simmers he has seen,
Tenting his Hirsle on the Moorland Green:
Unshaken yet wi' mony a Winter's Wind,
Stout are his Limbs, and youthfu' is his Mind;
But now he droops, ane wad be wae to see
Him sae cast down; ye wadna trow its he.
By break of Day he seeks the dowy Glen,
That he may scowth to a' his mourning len;
Nane but the clinty Craigs and scrogy Briers
Were Witnesses of a' his Granes and Tears.
Howder'd wi' Hills a Crystal Burnie ran,
Where twa young Shepherds fand the auld good Man:
Ane RICHY height, a Friend to a' distrest,
Ane SANDY wha of Shepherds sings the best:
With friendly Looks they speer'd wherefore he mourn'd,
Three Times he sigh'd, and thus to them return'd.
O MATT! my MATT! — Oh Lads, e'en take a Skair
Of a' my Grief — Our sweet-tongu'd MATT's nae mair.
Ah Heavens! did e'er this lyart Head of mine
Think to have seen the cauldrife Mools on thine?
My Heart misga'e me, when I came this Way,
His Dog its lane sat yowling on a Brae;
I cry'd, Iskisk — poor Ringwood, — sairy Man;
He wagg'd his Tail, cour'd near, and lick'd my Hand:
I straik'd his Back, which eas'd a wee his Pain;
But soon's I gade away, he yowl'd again.
Poor kindly Beast; — Ah Sirs! how sic should be
Mair tender-hearted mony a time than we.
Last Ouk I dream'd my Troop that bears the Bell,
And paths the Snaw out, o'er a high Craig fell,
And brak his Neck. — I started frae my Bed,
Awak'd, and leugh. — But now my Dream its red.
How dreigh's our Cares, our Joys how soon away,
Like Sun-blinks on a cloudy Winter's Day!
Flow on ye Tears, ye have free Leave for me;
O sweet-tongu'd MATT, thousands shall greet for thee!
Thanks to my Friends for ilka briny Tear
Ye shed for him, wha to us a' was dear;
SANDY, I'm eas'd to see thee look so wan;
RICHY, thy Sighs bespeak the kindly Man.
But twice the Simmer's Sun has thaw'd the Snaw,
Since frae our Heights Eddie was tane awa':
Fast MATT has follow'd. — Of twa sic bereft,
To smooth our Sauls, alake, wha have we left?
Waes me! o'er short a Tack of sic are giv'n;
But wha may contradict the Will of Heav'n?
Yet mony a Year he liv'd to hear the Dale
Sing o'er his Sang, and tell his merry Tale.
Last Year I had a stately tall Ash Tree,
Braid were its Branches, a sweet Shade to me;
I thought it might have flowrish'd on the Brae
(Tho' past its Prime) yet twenty Years or sae:
But ane rough Night the blat'ring Winds blew snell,
Torn frae its Roots, adown it souchan fell;
Twin'd of its Nourishment it lifeless lay,
Mixing its wither'd Leaves amang the Clay.
Sae flowrish'd MATT: — but where's the Tongue can tell
How fair he grew! how much lamented fell!
How snackly cou'd he give a Fool Reproof,
E'en with a canty Tale he'd tell aff loof!
How did he Warning to the dosen'd sing,
By auld Purganty, and the Dutchman's Ring!
And Lucky's Siller Ladle shaws how aft
Our greatest Wishes are but vain and daft.
Unnatural Wits, he will'd them a' to pap
Their crazy Heads into Tam Tinman's Shap,
Where they might see a Squirrel wi' his Bells
Ay wrestling up, yet rising like themsells.
Thousands of Things he wittily cou'd say,
With Fancy strong, and Saul as clear as Day.
Gay were his Tales: — But where's the Tongue can tell
How gay he was! how much lamented fell!
And as he blythsome was, sae was he wise,
Our Laird himself would aft take his Advice.
E'en Cheek for Chew he'd seat him 'mang them a',
And tak his Mind 'bout kittle Points of Law.
When Clan Red-Yards, ye ken, wi' wicked Fewd,
Had skaild of ours, but mair of his ain Blood;
When I, and mony mae that were right crouse,
Wad fain about his Lugs have burnt his House;
Yet Lady ANNE, a Woman meek and kind,
A Fae to Rancour and a bloody Mind,—
When mony in the Fray had got their Dead,
To make the Peace our Friend was sent wi' Speed.
The very Faes had for him just Regard,
Tho' sair he jyb'd their foremost singing Bard.
Active was MATT: — But where's the Tongue can tell
How wise he was! how much lamented fell!
Wha could like him in a short Sang define
The bonny Lass, and her young Lover's Pine?
I'll ne'er forget that ane he made on May,
Wha brang the poor blate Symie to his Clay;
To gratifie the paughty Wench's Pride,
The silly Shepherd bow'd, obey'd and dy'd.
But sic dear Lasses, as the Nit-brown Maid,
Shall never want ay-lasting Honours paid;
Sic claim'd his Lays, and still it was his Care
With manly Mind to shield and roose the Fair.
Sweet was his Voice, when Beauty was in View,
Smooth ran his Lines, ay grac'd wi' something new:
Nae Word stood wrang — But where's the Tongue can tell
How saft he sang! how much lamented fell!
And when he had a mind to be mair grave,
A Minister nae better could behave;
Far out of Sight of sic he aften flew,
When he of haly Wonders took a View;
Well cou'd he praise the Power that made us a',
And bids us in Return but tent his Law,
Wha guides us when we're waking or asleep,
Wi' thousand Times mair Care than we our Sheep;
When he of God's unbounded Wisdom sang,
My Heart lap high, my Lugs wi' Pleasure rang:
These to repeat, braid-spoken I wad spill,
Altho' I should imploy my outmost Skill.
He towr'd aboon: — But where's the Tongue can tell
How high he flew! how much lamented fell!
My Bennison, dear Lads, light on ye baith,
Wha ha'e sae true a Feeling of our Skaith;
O Sandy, draw his Likeness in smooth Verse,
As well ye can; — Then Shepherds shall rehearse
His Merit, while the Sun mets out the Day,
While Ews shall bleet, and little Lambkins mae.
I've been a Fauter, now three Days are past,
While I for Grief have hardly broke my Fast:
Let's to my Shiel, there let's forget our Care,
Sic as it is, ye're welcome to a Skair.
Besides, my Lads, I have a Browst of Tip,
As good as ever wuish a Shepherd's Lip;
We'll tak a Scour o't to put aff our Pain,
For Reason tells me a' our Sighs are vain:
Come, help me up — yon sooty Cloud shores Rain.