1728
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Epistle to Mr. John Gay.

Poems by Allan Ramsay. Volume II.

Allan Ramsay


A verse epistle in the traditional Scottish "Habbie stanza" addressed to the author of The Shepherd's Week: "Exalt thy Voice, that all around, | May echo back the lovely Sound, | Frae Dover Cliffs, with Samphire crown'd, | To Thule's Shore, | Where Northward no more Britain's found | But seas that rore." Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns would follow Ramsay in reviving this traditional form. The full title is "Epistle to Mr. John Gay, Author of the Shepherd's Week, on hearing her Grace Dutchess of Queensberry commend some of his Poems." The fact that The Shepherd's Week was dedicated to Bolingbroke would not have diminished Gay in Ramsay's estimation; the two met in Edinburgh in 1729.

George Chalmers: "In 1726 he removed from his original dwelling at the Mercury, opposite the Cross-well, to a house which had been the London Coffee-House, in the east end of the Luckenbooths. With this change of situation he altered his sign; and instead of the original Mercury, he now adopted the heads of two poets — Drummond of Hawthornden and Ben Johnson. Here he sold and lent books till a late period of his life; here the wits of Edinburgh used to meet for amusement and for information. From this commodious situation, Gay, a congenial poet, was wont to look out upon the Exchange of Edinburgh in order to know persons and to ascertain characters.... The late William Tytler, Esq., recollected Gay in his shop desiring Ramsay 'to explain to him many of the Scottish expressions of The Gentle Shepherd, which Gay said he would communicate to Pope, who was a great admirer of that pastoral.' Gay used to accompany the Duke and Duchess of Queensbury to Scotland. Gay was described by Mr. Tytler as 'a little pleasant-looking man, with a tye-wig'" Life of Ramsay, in Poems (1800; 1877) 1:xxx & n.

Anna Seward declared to Sir Walter Scott that she thought Ramsay's dialect poems "not less pleasing than the English of Spenser, and far more agreeable than the phraseology of Chaucer, and his contemporaries" 10 July 1802; in Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 6:35-36.

There is an 1844 exchange between Leigh Hunt and Charles Ollier about Ramsay's merits as a pastoralist, printed in Correspondence of Leigh Hunt (1862) 2:65-68.

William Henry Irving: "Gay and Ramsay were about of an age and had been running parallel in more ways than one.... Ramsay had published Fables five years earlier than Gay. Both men were interested in and writers of ballads and songs" John Gay (1940) 277.



Dear Lad, wha linkan o'er the Lee,
Sang Blowzalind and Bowzybee,
And, like the Lavrock, merrily
Wak'd up the Morn,
When thou didst tune, with heartsome Glee,
Thy Bog-reed-horn.

To thee, frae Edge of Pentland Height,
Where Fawns and Fairies take Delight,
And revel a' the live lang Night,
O'er Glens and Braes,
A Bard that has the second Sight
Thy Fortune spaes.

Now, lend thy Lug, and tent me, GAY,
Thy Fate appears like Flow'rs in May,
Fresh flowrishing, and lasting ay,
Firm as the Aik,
Which envious Winds, when Criticks bray,
Shall never shake.

Come, shaw your Loof. — Ay, there's the Line
Fortells thy Verse shall ever shine,
Dawted whilst living by the Nine,
And a' the Best,
And be, when past the mortal Line,
Of Fame possest.

Immortal Pope, and skilfu' John,
The learned Leach frae Callidon,
With mony a witty Dame and Don,
O'er lang to name,
Are of your Roundels very fon,
And sound your Fame.

And sae do I, wha roose but few,
Which nae sma' Favour is to you:
For to my Friends I stand right true,
With Shanks a spar;
And my good Word (ne'er gi'en but due)
Gangs unko far.

Here mettled Men my Muse mantain,
And ilka Beauty is my Friend;
Which keeps me canty, brisk and bein,
Ilk wheeling Hour,
And a sworn Fae to hatefu' Spleen,
And a' that's sour.

But bide ye Boy, the main's to say,
Clarinda bright as rising Day,
Divinely Bonny, Great and Gay,
Of thinking even,
Whase Words and Looks, and Smiles display
Full Views of Heaven.

To rumage Nature for what's braw,
Like Lillies, Roses, Gems and Snaw;
Compar'd with her's, their Lustre fa',
And bauchly tell
Her Beauties: She excels them a',
And's like her sell.

As fair a Form as e'er was blest,
To have an Angel for a Guest;
Happy the Prince who is possest
Of sic a Prize,
Whose Vertues place her with the best
Beneath the Skies.

O sonsy GAY! this heavenly born,
Whom ev'ry Grace strives to adorn,
Looks not upon thy Lays with Scorn;
Then bend thy Knees,
And bless the Day that ye was born
With Arts to please.

She says, Thy Sonnet smoothly sings,
Sae ye may craw and clap your Wings,
And smile at Ether-capite Stings
With careless Pride,
When sae much Wit and Beauty brings
Strength to your Side.

Lilt up your Pipes, and rise aboon
Your Trivia and your Moorland Tune,
And sing Clarinda late and soon,
In touring Strains,
Till gratefu' Gods cry out, Well done,
And praise thy Pains.

Exalt thy Voice, that all around,
May echo back the lovely Sound,
Frae Dover Cliffs, with Samphire crown'd,
To Thule's Shore,
Where Northward no more Britain's found
But seas that rore.

Thus sing, — whil'st I frae Arthur's Height,
O'er Chiviot glowr with tyr'd Sight,
And langing wish, like raving Wight,
To be set down,
Frae Coach and sax, baith trim and tight,
In London Town.

But lang I'll gove and bleer my Ee,
Before, alake! that Sight I see;
Then, best Relief, I'll strive to be
Quiet and content,
And streek my Limbs down easylie
Upon the Bent.

There sing the Gowans, Broom and Trees,
The Crystal Burn and Westlin Breez,
The bleeting Flocks, and bisy Bees,
And blythsome Swains,
Wha rant and dance, with kiltit Dees,
O'er Mossy Plains.

Farewell; — but, e'er we part, let's pray,
GOD save Clarinda Night and Day,
And grant her a' she'd wish to ha'e,
Withoutten End!—
Nae mair at present I've to say,
But am your Friend.

[pp. 163-69]