1725
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Gentle Shepherd.

The Gentle Shepherd: a Scots Pastoral Comedy.

Allan Ramsay


Allan Ramsay's sentimental Scottish pastoral became one of the most popular plays of the eighteenth century, despite the carpings of Caledonian reformers who did not approve of the use of the local dialect in poetry. The dedication mentions Tasso and Guarini as models. If John Gay's Shepherd's Week was a source for Ramsay's pastorals, Allan Ramsay's crypto-Jacobite essay into low life may have been an inspiration for Gay's Beggar's Opera. Not seen.

In Act 3, scene 3, Ramsay gives a list of shepherd Patrick's reading, which includes Shakespeare, Jonson, Drummond, and Cowley, but not Spenser.

The Mirror: "it may be observed, that almost the only works of humour which we have in this country [Scotland], are in the Scots dialect, and most of them were written before the union of the kingdoms, when the Scots was the written, as well as the spoken language of the country. The Gentle Shepherd, which is full of natural and ludicrous representations of low life, is written in broad Scots; many of our antient Scots ballads are full of humour" No. 83 (22 February 1780) 332.

William Roscoe: "In later times the beautiful dramatic poem of The Gentle Shepherd has exhibited rusticity without vulgarity, and elegant sentiment without affectation. Like the heroes of Homer, the characters of this piece can engage in the humblest occupations without degradation. If to this production, we add the beautiful and interesting poems of the Ayrshire Ploughman, we may venture to assert, that neither in Italy nor in any other country, has this species of poetry been cultivated with greater success. The Cotter's Saturday Night, is perhaps unrivalled in its kind in any language" Life of Lorenzo de' Medici (1795) 296n.

George Chalmers: "he published in his 4to of 1721, Patie and Roger, a pastoral, inscribed to Josiah Burchet, one of his first patrons. This was followed, in 1723, by Jenny and Meggy, a pastoral, being a sequel to Patie and Roger. Nothing now remained for Ramsay but to adopt the intimations which he received from his friends, and to throw his two pastorals into a more dramatic form, with appropriate songs. This project he happily executed in 1725, by the publication of his Gentle Shepherd, which is one of the finest pastoral comedies in any language; and which could have been only produced by art, co-operating with genius, in a propitious moment for shepherdish poetry. The name he probably adopted from 'the gentle shepheard' in the twelfth aegloge of Spenser" Life of Ramsay, in Poems (1800; 1877) 1:xxvii.

Alexander Fraser Tytler: "To every Englishman, and, I trust, to every Scotsman not of fastidious refinement, the dialect of the Gentle Shepherd will appear to be most perfectly consonant to the characters of the speakers and to the times in which the action is laid. To this latter circumstance the critics I have mentioned seem not to have been sufficiently attentive. The language of this pastoral is not precisely the Scotish language of the present day: the poet himself spoke the language of the beginning of the century, and his persons were of the age preceding that period. To us their dialect is an antiquated tongue, and, as such, it carries with it a Doric simplicity. But when we consider both the characters and the times, it has an indispensable propriety; and to have given the speakers in the Gentle Shepherd a more refined and polished dialect, or more modern tone of conversation, would have been a gross violation of truth and nature" Remarks on the Genius and Writings of Allan Ramsay (1800) p. c.

George Gregory: "It may want the dignity of the Arcadian scene, but there are in it descriptions and sentiments which would do honour to any poet. The Scottish dialect, in which it is written, gives it all the advantage of the Doric numbers, which was the original language of pastoral. It has besides interest and pathos; the plot is good, the characters well drawn, and the whole drama is conducted with singular address and effect" Letters on Literature, Composition, and Taste (1808) 2:147.

William Hogg to James Gray: "Besides his Bible and catechism, the only book he [James Hogg] was indulged in the free use of was the Gentle Shepherd; this he learned from end to end, and would often repeat its names, songs, and scenes, just as they lay in their order. His memory seemed to take a very firm hold of this beautiful eclogue, and I dare say will retain it to this day. The natural pathos so happily expressed in the pastoral, gave an additional energy to his mind, and further disposed it to harmony and poetry" "Some Particulars relative to the Ettrick Shepherd" New Monthly Magazine 46 (April 1836) 445.

John Wilson: "Theocritus was a pleasant Pastoral, and Sicillia sees him among the stars. But all his dear Idyls together are not equal in worth to the single Gentle Shepherd" in Blackwood's Magazine 31 (June 1832) 985.

Leigh Hunt: "Allan Ramsay's poem is not only a probable and pleasing story, containing charming pictures, much knowledge of life, and a good deal of quiet humour, but in some respects it may be called classical, if by classical is meant ease, precision, and unsuperfluousness of style. Ramsay's diction is singularly straightforward, seldom needing the assistance of inversions; and he rarely says anything for the purpose of 'filling up;' — two freedoms from defect the reverse of vulgar and commonplace; nay, the reverse of a great deal of what pretends to be fine writing, and is received as such. We confess we never tire of dipping into it, 'on and off,' any more than into Fletcher, or Milton, or into Theocritus himself, who, for the union of something higher with true pastoral, is unrivalled in short pieces. The Gentle Shepherd is not a forest, nor a mountainside, nor Arcady; but it is a field full of daisies, with a brook in it, and a cottage 'at the sunny end;' and this we take to be no mean thing, either in the real or the ideal world. Our Jar of Honey may well lie for a few minutes among its heather, albeit filled from Hybla. There are bees, 'look you,' in Habbie's How. Theocritus and Allan shake hands over a shepherd's pipe" A Jar of Honey from Mount Hybla (1848) in Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 3:407.

Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "Allan Ramsay's pastoral play of 'The Gentle Shepherd' deserves Hogg's censure, for it has the fault of being in rhyme, which is not the language of common, to say nothing of pastoral, life. The denouement, accurately described in the text, is forced and unnatural. He scarcely merits the title of 'the Scottish Theocritus.' Born in 1685, he died in 1758. Commencing life as a barber, he deviated into authorship, and book-writing led to book-selling. He was the founder of Circulating Libraries in Scotland. His poems and fables exhibit more ability than genius" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 2:61n.

W. J. Courthope: "Ramsay showed the genius of an original inventor in departing from the essential features of his [pastoral] model. He rejected the fiction of the Golden Age, and laid his action in the time of the English Commonwealth; dispensing, by a logical sequence, with the traditional persons of nymphs, fauns, satyrs, etc.; and retaining, as a last relic of supernatural machinery, only the intervention of an old witch. His shepherds pipe in alternate strains after the usual bucolic manner; but the Doric dialect of the literary eclogue is reproduced naturally by means of the Scotch dialect; the scenery described is not mythological, but the actual lake and mountain region amid which Ramsay had passed his boyhood. The plot, which is of the simplest, turns on the hidden relationship of the leading shepherd and shepherdess to an aristocratic personage, who boasts the very unpastoral name of Sir William Worthy: it essentially corresponds, in fact, with the features of 'musical comedy' on the modern stage, and, after the success of The Beggars' Opera, Ramsay made a further approach to this type, by introducing into his play a number of songs, set to popular airs" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:365.

Oliver Elton: "It is full of absurd plotting and of commonplace writing; but the shepherds and shepherdesses have a homely yet poetic reality, a humour and archness, and at moments a tone of passion, which are not approached in the pastorals of Ramsay's friend Gay. Also there are descriptions of nature, not subtle in observation but full of music and delicacy; and they precede those of Dyer and Thomson" Survey of English Literature 1730-1780 (1928) 2:2.

The British Library has an interleaved copy with "copious notes" by William Shenstone. A sequel, the Gentle Laird, was acted at Bath in 1783; for an account see Felix Farley's Bristol Journal (22 March 1783). The Gentle Shepherd was "translated" into English by a Mr. Ward in 1787; an imitation attributed to Archibald Steele, The Shepherd's Wedding, was published in 1789.



MADGE.
Poor Meg! — Look, Jenny, was the like e'er seen,
How bleer'd and red with greeting takes her Een?
This Day her brankan Wooer takes his Horse.
To strute a gentle Spark at Edinburgh Cross;
To change his Kent, cut frae the branchy Plain,
For a nice Sword, and glancing headed Cane;
To leave his Tea, that smells like new won Hay;
To leave the Green-swaird Dance, when we gae Milk,
To rustle amang the Beauties clad in Silk.
But Meg, poor Meg! maun with the Shepherd stay,
And tak what GOD will send, in Hodden-gray.

PEGGY.
Dear Aunt, what need ye fash us wi' your Scorn?
That's no my Faut that I'm nae gentler born.
Gif I the Daughter of some Laird had been,
I ne'er had notic'd Patie on the Green:
Now since he rises, why should I repine?
If he's made for another, he'll ne'er be mine:
And then, the like has been, if the Decree
Designs him mine, I yet his wife may be.

[5:2; Poems (1728); ed. Martin and Oliver (1951) 2:268]