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ners, a nice perception of the ludicrous, a vein of original comic humour, and language at once copious and expressive, form his chief merits as a poet. He had not the invention or picturesque fancy of Allan Ramsay, nor the energy and passion of Burns. His mind was a light warm soil, that threw up early its native products, sown by chance or little exertion; but it had not strength and tenacity to nurture any great or valuable production. A few short years, however, comprised his span of literature and of life; and criticism would be ill employed in scrutinising with severity the occasional poems of a youth of twenty-three, written from momentary feelings and impulses, amidst professional drudgery or midnight dissipation. That compositions produced under such circumstances should still exist and be read with pleasure, is sufficient to show that Fergusson must have had the eye and fancy of a true poet. His observation, too, for one so young, is as remarkable as his genius: he was an accurate painter of scenes of real life and traits of Scottish character, and his pictures are valuable for their truth, as well as for their liveliness and humour. If his habits had been different, we might have possessed more agreeable delineations, but none more graphic or faithful. Fergusson was born in Edinburgh on the 17th of October 1751. His father, who was an accountant in the British Linen Company's bank, died early, but the poet received a university education, having obtained a bursary in St Andrews, where he continued from his thirteenth to his seventeenth year. On quitting college, he seems to have been truly “unfitted with an aim, and he was glad to take employment as a copying clerk in a lawyer's office. In this mechanical and irksome duty his days were spent. His evenings were devoted to the tavern, where, over ‘caller oysters, with ale or whisky, the choice spirits of Edinburgh used to assemble. Fergusson had dangerous qualifications for such a life. His conversational powers were of a very superior description, and he could adapt them at will to humour, pathos, or sarcasm, as the occasion might require. He was well educated, had a fund of youthful gaiety, and sung Scottish songs with taste and effect. To these qualifications he soon added the reputation of a poet. Ruddiman's ‘Weekly Magazine' had been commenced in 1768, and was the chosen receptacle for the floating literature of that period in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh. During the two last years of his life, Fergusson was a constant contributor to this miscellany, and in 1773 he collected and published his pieces in one volume. Of the success of the publication in a uniary point of view, we have no information; but that it was well received by the public, there can be no doubt, from the popularity and fame of its author. His dissipations, however, were always on the increase. His tavern life and boon companions were hastening him on to a premature and painful death. His reason first gave way, and his widowed mother being unable to maintain him at home, he was sent to an asylum for the insane. The religious impressions of his youth returned at times to overwhelm him with dread, but his gentle and affectionate nature was easily soothed by the attentions of his relatives and friends. His recovery was anticipated, but after about two months' confinement, he died in his cell on the 16th of October 1774. His remains were interred in the Canongate churchyard, where they lay unnoticed for twelve years, till Burns erected a simple stone to mark the poet's grave. The heartlessness of convivial friendships is well known: they literally “wither and die in a day.' It is related, however, that a youthful companion of Fergusson, named Burnet, losing 9
Fergusson may be considered the poetical progenitor of Burns. Meeting with his poems in his youth, the latter “strung his lyre anew,’ and copied the style and subjects of his youthful prototype. The resemblance, however, was only temporary and incidental. Burns had a manner of his own, and though he sometimes condescended, like Shakspeare, to work after inferior models, all that was rich and valuable in the composition was original and unborrowed. He had an excessive admiration for the writings of Fergusson, and even preferred them to those of Ramsay, an opinion in which few will concur. The forte of Fergusson lay, as we have stated, in his representations of town-life. The King's Birthday, The Sitting of the Session, Leith Races, &c., are all excellent. Still better is his feeling description of the importance of Guid Braid Claith, and his Address to the Tron-Kirk Bell. In these we have a current of humorous observations, poetical fancy, and genuine idiomatic Scottish expression. The Farmer's Ingle suggested ‘The Cotter's Saturday Night' of Burns, and it is as faithful in its descriptions, though of a humbler class. Burns added passion, sentiment, and patriotism to the subject: Fergusson's is a mere sketch, an inventory of a farm-house, unless we except the concluding stanza, which speaks to the heart:—
Peace to the husbandman, and a' his tribe, Whase care fells a' our wants frae year to year! Lang may his sock and cou’ter turn the glebe, And banks of corn bend down wi' laded ear ! May Scotia's simmers aye look gay and green; Her yellow hairsts frae scowry blasts decreed May a her tenants sit fu' snug and bien, Frae the hard grip o' ails and poortith freed— And a lang lasting train o' peacefu' hours succeed
In one department—lyrical poetry—whence Burns draws so much of his glory–Fergusson does not seem, though a singer, to have made any efforts to excel. In English poetry he utterly failed, and if we consider him in reference to his countrymen,
The Arno and the Tiber lang
Come, Fancy! come, and let us tread
That, ta'en wi'thy enchanting sang, Our Scottish lads may round ye thrang, Sae pleased they’ll never fash again To court you on Italian plain; Soon will they guess ye only wear The simple garb o' nature here; Mair comely far, and fair to sight, When in her easy cleedin’ dight, Than in disguise ye was before • On Tiber's or on Arno’s shore. O Bangour !! now the hills and dales Nae mair gie back thy tender tales | The birks on Yarrow now deplore, Thy mournfu' muse has left the shore. Near what bright burn or crystal spring, Did you your winsome whistle hing? The muse shall there, wi' watery ee, Gie the dunk swaird a tear for thee; And Yarrow's genius, dowie dame ! Shall there forget her bluid-stained stream, On thy sad grave to seek repose, Who mourned her fate, condoled her woes.
On Sunday, here, an altered scene
In afternoon, a brawly buskit,
Newhaven, Leith, or Canonmills,
Yes, happy youths, on Camus' sedgy side,
* St Anthony's Well, a beautiful small spring, on Arthur's Seat, near Edinburgh. Thither it is still the practice of young ! Edinburgh maidens to resort on May-day.
Would pluck the promise of the vernal year;
Or, ere the grapes their purple hue betray,
Tear the crude cluster from the mourning spray? 132
Stern power of fate, whose ebon sceptre rules
| Few will lament my loss whene'er I die. | For those the wretches I despise or hate,
I neither envy nor regard their fate.
| For me, whene'er all-conquering death shall spread | His wings around my unrepining head,
I care not; though this face be seen no more,
| Yet some there are (ere spent my vital days)
Within whose breasts my tomb I wish to raise.
[By James Hammond, born 1710, died 1742. This seems to be almost the only tolerable specimen of the once admired and highly-farned love elegies of Hammond. This poet, nephew to Sir Robert Walpole, and a man of fortune, bestowed his affections on a Miss Dashwood, whose agreeable qualitics and inexorable rejection of his suit inspired the poetry by which his name has been handed down to us. His verses are imitations Miss Dashwood died unmarried—bedchamber-woman to Queen Charlotte—in 1779. In the following elegy Hammond imagines himself married to his mistress (Delia), and that, content with each other, they are retired to the country.]
If late at dusk, while carelessly I roam,
What joy to hear the tempest howl in vain, And clasp a fearful mistress to my breast? Or, lulled to slumber by the beating rain, Secure and happy, sink at last to rest?
Or, if the sun in flaming Leo ride,
What joy to wind along the cool retreat,
Thus pleased at heart, and not with fancy's dream,
Ah, foolish man, who thus of her possessed, Could float and wander with ambition's wind, And if his outward trappings spoke him blessed, Not heed the sickness of his conscious mind
With her I scorn the idle breath of praise,
Hers be the care of all my little train, While I with tender indolence am blest, The favourite subject of her gentle reign, By love alone distinguished from the rest.
For her I'll yoke my oxen to the plough,
Ah, what avails to press the stately bed,
Delia alone can please, and never tire,
Beauty and worth in her alike contend,
On her I'll gaze, when others loves are o'er,
Oh, when I die, my latest moments spare,
Oh, quit the room, oh, quit the deathful bed,
Let them, extended on the decent bier,