Left: James Currie. Right: a portrait of Burns by Archibald Skirving, published in The Works of Robert Burns, by Blackie and Son, Glasgow, 1854.
Date : 21-09-1799
Correspondent : John Ramsay of OchtertyreCorrespondent Location : Ochtertyre
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Ramsay ranges widely in Scottish and English literary history.

Dear Sir
      I was favoured with yours of the 7↑th↓. which makes me vain “laudare a te laudato vero”. The next post I wrote Dr. Rob. Anderson Ed?r?. Author of the lives if the poets, to procure you a copy of the ?book of music &c? & some other tract which it imported you to know. I bid him write you his success, that you may judge for yourself; at least not have two copies. If in town I expect to hear from him before closing this which comes under my relation & neighbour Sir Rob. Abercromby’s frank _ You are engaged in a work which may be considered as the last show of Scot tish poetry; it there fore becomes every liberal minded man to give you every aid. On what relates to broad Scots, as connected with literature & the antiquities of manners I have thought a good deal, and written much. My greatest difficulty in the following hints is to compress what would be more properly the subject of a dissertation. And in this, [?], I suppose you to be well acquainted with Pinkerton’s radical publications, particularly his vols of ancient po: [MS torn] 1786. He is a man of wonderful research & information with regard to our ancient poets, had these been accompanied by judgment and candour! But with all his whimsies & petulances, his account of our old writers is curious. You surely have seen Allan Ramsay’s ever green & L?d? Hailes edition of the Bannatyne MSS under the name “of ancient poems” printed 1768 with curious notes; and with M?r? Will?m?. Tytlers dissertation upon Scottish music. These, with Allan Ramsay’s works, were probably the sources from which Burns drew his poetical stores. To what extent he borrowed from the more ancient one is not easily known; but I need not tell you that Barbour & Blind Harry, James the 1?st?. Douglas [?] & Lindsay, were not inferior (in the opinion of Warton) to their English contempo: raries. Our language at the death of James the 5?th?. was in a flourishing state, wanting only prose authors as good as the verse ones. Two things propitious on the whole prevented it. 1?st?. the passion of the Scots for writing classical Latin. Had Buchanan devoted his admirable talents in part to the cultivation of his native tongue, as was done by the writers [MS torn] have left monuments of his genius genius ?more desireable? than works in a dead [MS torn]uage which could only be read by the learned. Had the authors of the poetarum Scotorum done the same thing, what an excellent miscelany of Scottish poetry might they have produced? 2?dly? The accession of James the 6?th?. to the throne of England made the Scottish muses droop their wing; for he could endure nothing but Latin or pure English, which last he prided him self on writing, though he spoke broad or rather vulgar Scots to his dying day. What man of genius would write in his native dialect which he knew was not acceptable to his capricious pedantic masters? And as national prejudice was still strong, he scorned to study the niceties of the Eng: :lish tongue, though that was easier than, a dead language. L?d?. [Hesting?] & Drummond of Hawthorndon the only Scots men who then wrote poetry, were exceptions; but they were courti :ers. They were however the last that deserved that name in that century. It would exceed the bounds of a letter to say what were the causes of this extreme depression of literary genius, for near 80 years, among a learned ingenious people. It was not the fanaticism of the cove: nanters or the tyranny of government after [MS faded and torn] restoration for in both these periods, particularly the last, poetry flou :rished in England; nor did the revolution & the blessing of liberty mend matters. All these things operated in part; but the thing which prevented us from getting free from that torpor which lasted near a century, was the want of a pro: :per vehicle for men of genius to express themselves. The civil wars had frighted the later muses; and our country men were too proud, or too lazy, to borrow the elegancy of the English tongue which could only be done by hard study & avoiding Scottish idioms. The books written by our country men in this dreary period had an English orthography which did not polish their style or matter. The revival of national genius both in verse & prose may be dated from the extinction of the rebellion 1715, no favoura: :ble [?] surely when the country was exceedingly ha: :rassed by faction. There was a chosen band of literati, some of them little known to each other, who set about this gene: rous undertaking with an ardour that does honour to their memory. They had the sense & magnanimity to do what their their fathers might have done, but would not; they got the English classics & scanned their beauties as they did those of Greek & Latin authors. It was their ambition to catch the manners, the sentiments, & the turn of expression of their favourite authors, while they avoided their own idioms. They at length succeeded in writing with force & elegance a language they could not, & some if them did not desire to speak. The poets took the lead on this occasion; and what is more, the English and Scottish muses made [?] long a most respectable figure. Whilst L?d?. Kames, D?r? Wallace, and their philosophical companions & [?], were only lay :ing in their intellectual stores, & afraid of venturing their reputation; Thomson, Mallet & Hamilton of Ban: :gour were in their zenith; nor has the first of these gentlemen ever been equalled by any of his country men. What pity he did not think of writing partly in his native tongue, which he surely understood better than English. By writing Scottish tragedies & Scottish seasons, he would have added to our natio: nal classics, without diminishing his fame. But his betaking himself to England rendered it imprac: ticable. Allan Ramsay, our Scottish Theocritus, was, it is believed, much older than these gentlemen, coeval with a Joseph Mitchell & ?his? club of small wits, who about 1719 published a very poor miscelany, to which the great D?r? Young prefixed a copy of verses praising them for endeavouring to naturalise the English muses in [?]. He may be regarded as a [?] born poet, 1?st? a thresher of lead at Leadhills of w?ch? he was a native; next a barber, & last of all a book seller. There is not, I believe, a life of him, an honour to which he was well entitled. He seems to have been the model on which Burns formed himself (if an original genius can be said to form himself on any body.) Thought he doubtless studied our ancient poets, he does not seems to have affected an epic or elevated sheen. But if inferior to Dumbar and Douglas in sublimity he has never excelled in painting painting pastoral scenes taken from real life. And no man seems to have been better acquainted with the springs which actuate the hearts of swains, particularly in the passion of love, which he touches with a masterly hand. This he has exemplified in his gentle shepherd which has been attacked with more than usual petulances by Pinkerton & vindicated in a very elegant & satisfac :tory manner by your towns man Mr Roscoe in his truly classical work. It is your business to appreciate the comparative merit of Burns & Ramsay. I think the latter has the <[?]> most nature; the other most ener: :gy, & had he improved his talents to the utmost, his muse could have taken the highest flight. At least, I alledged on Burns, that to equal the gentle shepherd, he must make his language less poetical, while he retained a glow of sentiment which would be recognized by every gentle: :man & every rustic, as characteristic. Nor ought the editor of Burns’ poems to forget that Allan Ramsay & he are the chief authors of our Songs a composition peculiar to Scotland, & not [MS torn and faded] acceptable effusions of our national muses. I shall throw out a few hints on this subject which I never met with before. They were published at more length in D?r?. James Anderson’s paper, the Bee, in April 91. Instead of bas: :ing them on that obscure farrago, I ought to have sent them to good L?d?. Hailes who knew more of that matter than any man then alive. It was he 1?st?. told me of Scotland’s complaint, a sort of Otho in Scottish anti :quities which is now hardly to be got, or even seen. Of it you will see some account in[Pinkertons ancient poems & excerpts from it in Mackenzie’s lives of the Scots writers in the life of Sir James Inglis vol. 3?d?. He gives a list of popular poems in Scotland about 1598; but though from the titles, some of them may have been pastoral songs, the only pieces familiar to modern ears are the [?] of Cheviot & the battle of Harlaw. Neither in the Banna :tine nor Maitland collection published by Pinkerton, are there any of them; and in [MS torn] [formes?] there is but [MS torn] one <[?]> humorous song of merit. You are probably ac quainted with the Gaberlunzie ?men? a song by James the 5?th?.on w?ch?. learned commentaries have been wrote. The [56?] songs in the Bannatyne MS. show the authors to have been courtiers & scho: :lars rather than simple swains. In this want of real evidence, recourse may be had to [?]. One would be disposed to think, that the most beautiful of the Scottish tunes were clothed with new words after the union of the crowns. The borderers who had formerly been warriours from choice, & husbandmen from necessity, either quitted the country, or were transformed into real shepherds, easy in their circum stances. Some sparks of that spirit of chivalry for w?ch?. they are celebrated by Froissart, remained sufficient to inspire elevation of sentiment, & gallantry towards, the fair sex. The kindness which had long subsisted [next?] the gentry & commons could not all at once be obliterated, a circumstance which tended to sweeten rural life & to make men contented with their lot. In this happy state of innocence, [MS faded], & tranquillity of mind, the love of poetry & [MS faded and torn] would still maintain its ground, modified by [?]: [MS faded and torn] whose musical tastes once [MS faded] the [?] like the trumpet in ?sound? were now classed with rogues & vagabonds. Amidst those arcadian vales, proba: bly on the banks of the Tweed, or of some its tributary streams, one or more original geniuses may have arisen, either to: gether, or in succession, who were destined to give a new turn to the taste of their country men. They saw that the events & pursuits which chequer private life, were the proper subjects for popular poetry. Love which had formerly held a divi: ded sway with glory & ambition, became now the master passion of the soul. To poutray in lively delicate colours, though with a hasty hand, the hopes & fears that agitated the breed of the love-sick swain, or forlorn maiden afforded ample scope to the rural poet. Love songs of which Tibullus himself needed not have been ashamed, might be compared by an uneducated person with a slight [?] of letters. At least, if the character was ashamed, the author spoke the language of nature which is not easily counterfeited. With un: affected tenderness & truth, topics are urged to soften the heart [MS faded and torn] a fickle lover. Even in Even in such as are of a melancholy cast, a ray of hope breaks sweetly through, & dispels that deep & settled gloom which marks the best highland [?] the poetry of which may be termed pastorals for warriors: of that more in the disser tation. Some lively droll songs seem to us coarse & indelicate: such, however were their manners in their hours of mirth & gaiety. In those landscapes objects are brought forward, which a more fastidious painter would have thrown into shade. As those rural poets regarded their talents for poetry as an amusement, not a profession; their effusions seldom exceeded a love song or a ballad of [?] or humour; for the love and hatred of the tuneful tribe is ever in extremes. Like the works of the very old minstrels, theirs were treasured up in the memory of their friends & neighbours, being seldom written down. Being neither known to the learned, nor patronized by the great, they lived & died in obscurity. And hence by a strange fatality, their story, & even their names, have been forgotten. The moment a proper model for pastoral songs was found, there would be plenty of imitators. To [succeed?] in them, sensibility of heart & s[MS torn and faded] requisite, than pomp of numbers or flight of fancy. In the Pepys collection there are a few Scottish songs of the last cen :tury, but the names of the authors are not mentioned & unknown. From what sources Allan Ramsay derived his collection of songs, whether from tradition or MSS. is uncertain. If in the evergreen he rashly attempted to improve his originals, he probably used more liberty with the songs. This cannot be known till MSS more ancient than the present century shall be produced or access had to his own papers. To a good many tunes w?ch?. either wanted words, or had only ludicrous scraps, he or his friends made verses worthy of the melodies they accompanied, worthy indeed of the golden age. They were perfectly intelligible to every rustic, yet justly admired by persons of taste who regarded them as the genuine off spring of the pastoral man. In some respects, Ramsay had great advantages: songs in the dialect of Cumberland or Lancaster, could never be popular, because it was never spoken by persons of fashion. Whereas till the middle of the century, every Scotsman, from the peer to the peasant, spoke a [MS torn] Doric language As national prejudices were still strong , the busy, the learned, the gay, & the [fair?] continued to use their native dialect with an elegance & poignancy which differed as much from that of the lower people, as the language of S?t?. James’s does from that of Thames Street. I myself remember some people of fashion & taste whose Scots was at once classical & naive. One thing is certain: for many years, the singing of songs was the great delight of the higher & middling orders of people. And though a taste for Italian music ?has? interfered with it, they are still in request. I am not acquainted with Burns’ songs in Johnsons collection; but a critique on them & his models would not be unacceptable. M?r? Tytler has by no means exhausted the subjects. Si quid [?] [?] [?] - &c. I do as would be done by .. I long to see what you say of our Peasantry who have not always been well appreciated by their countrymen who have got English ideas. They were long as virtuous & as well satisfied with their lot & even with their homely fare as any of their rank in the richest parts of Europe. If these are [MS torn] & Symons, it may be only [MS torn] Will?m?’s who were the [?] [others?] of [thier?] [people?]. And it cannot be disputed, that the innocent exemplary conduct & temper of our swains of the old stamp, was much owing to their love of religion, which was, & in general still is, their [?] luxury. Whatever crotchets & foibles the episcopal & presbyterian clergy might have, they taught their people with great zeal a species of phi losophy which taught them how to live, & how to die; which led to good morals, to industry, to soberness of mind, & to that sweet content which seeks no change. What effects Tom Paine’s levelling & irreligious notions <[?]>, on the one hand, & the yeomen cavalry corps ?on the other? may have in rendering the younger sort pragmatical, dissipated, & unprincipled, some will [?], as also the effects of the preachments of the enthusiastic & lay clergy <[may?]> <[have?]> on the minds of a well meaning people ?I will not say?. Meanwhile I deem neither of them reformers or benefactors to mankind Why one country should abound more in poetry & music than another similarly circumscribed, is a problem I shall not attempt to solve: we know however that there is no part of the British British empire where those sister arts have not flourished at [MS torn] particular periods, assuming shapes as different as the langu :uage & dress of the inhabitants. Although the minstrels of the middle ages were the delight both of the Scots & English: yet to a singular fatality, the ?more ancient? poetry of the former & the music of the latter appear to have utterly perished, in consequence of the disgrace ?into which? that genus [invulabile?] [valum?] had fallen. Had our churchmens libraries been as well preserved as those of England some of their metrical romances might still have been discovered. Then can be be little doubt, on the other hand, that much of the music w?ch? once accompanied the poetry of the minstrels was preserved after their fall, by musicians who had no knowledge of notation. Gray the poet was much delighted at Glamis, with an epitath ?<[?]> one? of those eminent fiddlers “To hear him play, & not to dance, was labour all in vain.” I shall say nothing here of Galic, Irish, and Welch poetry ?& music? for which I refer you to Geraldus Cambrensis, a curious observer. I have not the book by me, but think he says something of a music of the north side of the Humber; but I remem ber it afforded no key for explaining the origin of our lowland melodies._ How ever much the taste of the gentry might have changed; between 40 & 50 [MS torn] were still exceedingly fond not only of songs, ballads, [MS torn and faded] history, often have I in my cheerful morn of youth listened with delight to them when reading, or reciting from memory the exploits of Wallace & Bruce against the Southron whom I then hated with fervid hatred. Lord Hailes was wont to call Blind Harry their bible, it being their great favourite next the scriptures , when therefore one in the vale of life felt the 1?st?. [?] [?] of genius, he wanted not models sui generis..But even where the seeds were scattered with a bountiful hand, they probably sprang up like those of pears & apples; of which if a thousand be sewn, the produce usually is 950 so bad, as to put one’s teeth on edge; 45 or more passable & useful; & the rest [?]. Allan Ramsay, Lady Wardlaw (if she be the author of Hardiknute) and Burns are [?] that have produced admirable fruit. The 1?st?. & 3?d?. had indeed the aid of the best English writers & which was of great consequence, [were?] no changes to the book of nature and the book of God._ Thus far I had written curiente calamo, when I received a very satisfactory letter from D?r? Anderson, dated yesterday the 20?th? [MS torn and faded] me, that he had at [MS torn] of his [MS torn] [MS torn] which as I [?] [?] an [MS torn] be had in [?]. He is now even in hopes of getting [MS torn] [book?]; at least he will send you a copy of the dissertation. I could not have applied to a fitter or more zealous person than D?r? Anderson, who knows all the literati dead & living. If he is a little severe or minute with regard to departed wits, he is most indulgent to their works, which last was not the case with Johnson’s criticisms. I bid him give you with his opinion of Campbell’s book of which I heard so much when in town that I wished to see it but had not time. It is by what I hear a book of whim, but ?of? uncommon information. You can sepa: :rate the corn from the chaff. His [?] of [? song], the demand for his book, in printing 80 copies, is worse than <[the?]> well-woven[hot-pressed paper w?ch?. must narrow the sale of books. [Ferguson?] [?] for suggesting to you the expediency of a short dissertation on Scottish songs which are two fold Galic Scots & lowland scots: Of the music I am no judge: but if you want information on that subject, none is so fit to [MS torn] [MS faded] Young minister of Erskine, by Glasgow, [MS torn]Macdonald’s highland airs. He is, [MS torn] but a man of very consider [MS torn] to the Ed?r?. literati. I [MS torn] say, [MS torn] the [MS faded] of being Burns’ editor, & that poets [?] writi[MS torn]ords to some of the [?], you might write him, requesting him to [appreciate?] the comparative merit of the two kinds of song which I am persuaded he would readily do in a masterly style. Do not think me officious for this suggestion which ?would? enhance the value of the work on hand. Burns’ letter sent you was to D?r?. Blacklock, sent here by mis: :take with my own letters, after the Doctor’s death. You ask me about Ossian? I refer you to the dissertation. I believe them authentic; at least I do on my conscience believe Macpherson incapable of forging them, so poor were his own compositions! His own preposterous conduct did more to create suspicion than all the arguments of [?] which drew Johnson. D?r? Macleod [MS torn] Glasgow, [MS torn] learned honest man, [?] [?] hi his his repeatedly [?] [MS torn] originals which were ready for pu[MS torn], & found [MS torn] most beautiful. [MS torn] [?] [?] beyond the [?]; for[MS torn] has [derided?] the Galic to be printed in Greek charac[MS torn] [MS torn] forsooth! The Druids when they wrote, made use [Ms torn] them – complicated nonsence! Ignotum per ignotius When is your townsman M?r? Roscoe to publish the life of Leo the 10?th?.? I was charmed with his Lorenzo de Medici. Both of them are fragments of the history of man in his highest form. I have tired myself, & perhaps you, with the long scrawl which I trust you may be able to read; but as some body said, it is only getting the Alphabet. If I can be of any fur: ther use command me. Zeal for the credit of your work makes me be rather officious. But of it (as has the case with Sancho’s penance) you can take what you please. I am D?r? Sir Your most obedient humble servant Ochtertyre 21?st?. Sept?r?. 1799. R[MS torn] The love of song seems one of our[MS torn] [?] [?] “[MS torn] “[perform?] ballads common in [MS torn] [our?] [new?] [?] [?] [MS torn] & [MS torn] acc?t?. of Scotlands complaint 5?th?. L?d? Kames to [MS torn] me on the other hand, that a number of sprightly popish anthems had ludicrous indecent words made to them, as “Maggy Lauder, John Anderson my Jo., Jenny come by me,” – In 1743 [in] Gilb Elliot the 1?st?. of our lawyers who both spoke & wrote English [?]wrote in the character of an impassioned swain a beautiful song “My sheep I neglected” occasioned by the marriage of his mistress Miss Forbes to Ronald Crawford. And more than 35 years ago, one of his sisters wrote antique words to the beautiful tune of “the flowers of the forest” supposed to allude to the battle of Flodden. [?] of the double rhyme, it is a [sweet?] & tho allegorical, a natural expression of national sorrow, from the mouth of a swain or of a maid, that had lost ?her? lover & his friends. The more modern words: “ I’ve seen the [?] of forlorn beguiling” were written long before by M?rs?. Cockburn a woman of great wit who out :lived all the first groups of literati who were all fond of her. - I was delighted with her comp[MS torn] tho’ [MS torn]d. Much did she know that is now lost [MS torn] Jo Ramsay Ochertyre 21 Sept 1799.

Notes :

laudare a te laudato vero: to praise, having been truly praised by you [Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, iv, freely adapted]

Dr Robert Anderson (1750-1830): editor and biographer of the British poets, he worked with James Sibbald (1745-1803) on the production of the Edinburgh Magazine, or Literary Miscellany which, in Nov. and Dec. 1786, reprinted poems by Burns.

Sir Robert Abercromby (1740-1827): military commander and M.P.; the family estate was in Menstrie, Clackmannanshire.

[Pinkerton’s radical publications]: John Pinkerton (1758-1826): prolific writer, born Edinburgh, worked mainly in London and Paris. Publications range from Essay on Medals (1784) and Letters on Literature (1785) to Walpoliana (1799) and Tetralogy, or A Treatise on Rocks (1811). Particularly controversial was his Dissertation on the Progress of the Scythians or Goths (1787).

[vols. of ancient poems]: Ancient Scottish Poems from the MS Collections of Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington (1786).

[Bannatyne MSS]: manuscripts compiled in 1568 by George Bannatyne (1545-1607/8), burgess of Edinburgh, preserving much of the Scottish poetry of the 15th and 16th centuries. Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes, lawyer, historian, and antiquarian, edited a selection of the poems, 1770.

William Tytler (1711-92): Edinburgh lawyer, historian, and antiquarian. Inquiry into the Evidence against Mary Queen of Scots (1759) refuted the charges of Robertson and Hume; also published Poetical Remains of James I of Scotland (1783). Burns directed Thomson to Tytler on the history of Scots music (Letters II, 247).

Blind Harry: 15th-century minstrel poet; at court of James IV 1490-2). Details of his life are in John Major, History of Scotland (1521). His poem on Wallace was popular in Scotland for over two centuries. William Hamilton of Gilbertfield’s recension, A New Edition of the Life and Heroic Actions of the Renown’d Sir William Wallace appeared in 1722 and went through at least 23 editions by 1859.

James the lst (1394-1437): King of Scotland 1406-37, and poet. Works include The Kingis Quair, Christ’s Kirk on the Green, and Peblis to the Play.

Dunbar: William Dunbar (c.1460-c.1513), court poet of James IV and one of the greatest of the Makars.

Lindsay: Sir David Lindsay of the Mount (c.1490-1555), poet, diplomat, and Lord Lyon King of Arms (1529). His poems were published by Charteris in Edinburgh, 1568; best known for Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis.

Warton: Thomas Warton (1728-90), appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford, 1757. His History of English Poetry appeared 1774-81.

Buchanan: George Buchanan (1506-82), scholar, historian, and great Latinist, he was arguably the foremost British humanist of the sixteenth century and was renowned Europe-wide for his Latin paraphrases of the Psalms. His History of Scotland was published thirty days before his death.

Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum (1637) edited by Arthur Johnston and published under the auspices of Sir John Scot; a collection of Latin poetry by Scotsmen, continuing the tradition of Buchanan.

[accession of James the 6th]: James ascended the English throne in 1603. His literary tastes and his writing showed the influence of the tuition of George Buchanan.

William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649): poet and historian, friend of Ben Jonson who visited him in 1619. His Poems appeared in 1616, most celebrated of which is Forth Feasting.

Lord Kames: Henry Home (1696-1782), law lord, philosopher, and agricultural reformer; works include Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion (1751) and Elements of Criticism (1762).

Dr Wallace: [?] Most likely Dr. Robert Wallace (1697-1771): Published a revision of a Dissertation on the numbers of Mankind in ancient and modern times in 1752. Other publications include A sermon preached in the High Church of Edinburgh, Monday January 6, 1745-6, upon occasion of the Anniversary Meeting of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, Characteristics of the present state of Great Britain, 1758, and Various Prospects of Mankind, Nature, and Providence, 1761.

David Mallet [Malloch] (c.1701-1765): poet, dramatist, and essayist; friend of James Thomson (1700-48) and Allan Ramsay (1684-1758). William and Margaret was his adaptation of an old ballad; also wrote The Excursion (1728), Eurydice a tragedy staged 1731, Alfred: A Masque (1740) which Burns was fond of quoting, and The Hermit (1747). Renowned for purging his speech and writing of Scoticisms.

William Hamilton of Bangour (1704-54): Jacobite poet best known for The Braes of Yarrow. Contributed to Ramsay’s The Tea-Table Miscellany (1724). Foulis published a collection of his poems in 1748 without his consent.

Joseph Mitchell (1684-1738): a student friend of Thomson and mallet and well known to Ramsay. Contributed 2 songs to The Tea-Table Miscellany.

Dr Young: [?] Edward Young (1681-1765), author of Night Thoughts (1742-4)

Douglas: Gavin Douglas (1476-1522), his Eneados (1513) is one of the earliest translations of classical epic into a European vernacular; also ThePalice of Honoure (c.1501)

[William] Roscoe’s vindication of Ramsay’s The Gentle Shepherd: Appears in The Life of Lorenzo De’ Medici, called the Magnificent, Third edition, Volume 1, by William Roscoe, London, 1797, 296.

Scotland’s Complaint: The Complaynt of Scotland (1548/9?), anonymous tract in Scots attributed variously to Robert Wedderburn, James Inglis, and David Lyndsay; ‘a book published before poor Mary’s days’ (Burns to George Thomson, Letters II, 247).

Otho: Marcus Salvius Otho: 32-69. Roman emperor, (January 15, 69 - April 16, 69). Succeeded Galba and ruled for 3 months in 69 before committing suicide after defeat in battle; Life by Suetonius and also by Plutarch, both translated into English, and discussed in Tacitus.

Mackenzie’s lives of the Scots writers: George Mackenzie, Lives and Characters of the Most Eminent Writers of the Scots Nation (1708-22).

Sir James Inglis (1660-88): first Baronet of Cramond, 1687.

The […] of Cheviot: the battle of Otterburn (1388) inspired a ballad, variously titled.

The battle of Harlaw (1411): Highlanders led by Doanld, Lord of the Isles, fought the Lowlanders of the north-east led by Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar, at Harlaw, 18 miles north-west of Aberdeen; The many Highland casualties made ‘the red Harlaw’ the theme of songs and legends.

Maitland collection: Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington (1496-1586), privy councillor, historian, lawyer, and poet, compiled a collection of early Scottish poetry in 2 MS. Volumes comprising 176 and 96 items.

The gaberlunzie man: ballad of a lover who gains access to his mistress in the guise of a gaberlunzie (‘beggar’) man; attributed to James 5th, reputed to have wandered through his kingdom in disguise.

Bannatyne MS: vast collection of Middle Scots verse gathered in the fifteen-sixties by George Bannatyne (1545-1608), an Edinburgh lawyer.

Pepys collection: the papers of the celebrated diarist, Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), bequeathed to Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Doric: belonging to Doris in Greece, or the Dorians and their dialect. Later applied to dialect believed to resemble Doric, as used by Theocritus, and particularly applied to Scots dialect. Doric (emphatic and broad) contrasted with Ionian (soft and polished); hence Scots dialect is contrasted with standard English.

Italian music: for Scottish views on the increasing Italian musical influence see, for instance, Ramsay, Elegy on Patie Birnie and Fergusson, Elegy on the Death of Scots Music.

Tom Paine (1737-1809): writer, pamphleteer, and revolutionary. Emigrated to Philadelphia in 1774 and published Common-Sense (1776) which made the case for the independence of the American colonies. Returned to England and wrote The Rights of Man (2 parts, 1791, 1792), attacking Burke. The Age of Reason (1794-5) attacked Christianity and all formal religions. Agrarian Justice (1796), the most egalitarian of his works, advocated the redistribution of property as a means to social and economic equality.

Churchmen’s libraries: militant Puritanism led to the destruction of many of the monastic libraries of Scotland.

Thomas Gray (1716-71): English poet who visited Scotland in 1765, staying at Glamis Castle where he met James Beattie (1735-1803). Gray’s studies in Celtic verse and Norse history and legend influenced The Fatal Sisters and The Descent of Odin (both written 1761, published 1768).

Geraldus Cambrensis (c.1146-c.1220): Gerald of Barry, prose writer and historian; wrote in Latin Topographica Hibernica dealt with medieval Ireland, Itinerarium Kambriae with the topography, religions, and languages of what would become Wales. Also wrote Descriptio Kambriae, and Gemma Ecclesiatica on morality and learning in Wales.

Lady Wardlaw: Elizabeth, Lady Wardlaw (1677-1727), poet whose Hardyknute, A Fragment was first published in 1719 as an antique; it was several times reprinted before Thomas Percy (1729-1811) included it in the second edition of his Reliques (1767) and revealed her as its author.

currente calamo: with flowing pen

Johnson: [?] Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84) was the leading sceptic regarding the authenticity of the Ossianic poems of James Macpherson (1736-96).

Campbell’s book: Alexander Campbell, Introduction to the History of Poetry in Scotland (1798).

Dr MacLeod of Glasgow: not identified

ignotum per ignotius: the unknown by the most unknown

Gilbert Eliot: Eliot, Sir Gilbert, of Minto, third baronet (1722-1777): Politician and Literary Patron. MP for Selkirkshire (1753-1765) and Roxburghshire (1765-1777). A prominent spokesperson for the formation of a Scottish militia. His sister, Jane, wrote a vernacular version of The flowers of the forest.

Alison Cockburn (1713-95): Poetess who was at the heart of Edinburgh literary society and was credited with identifying the genius of the young Walter Scott. Her version of The flowers of the forest, beginning ‘I’ve seen the smiling of Fortune beguiling’ was based on an old Border ballad.

back to search