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warned by its affectations, inspired by its enthusiasms, stimulated by its successes. He had a large body of literature before bim in the same kind that he attempted ; in this he was steeped to the lips. But how was the unlettered ploughman to distinguish between good and bad ? In this his own strong sense, clearness of insight, and warm passionate nature kept him right. He applied with merciless, unfaltering severity one touchstone,commonplace enough, in words at least, to the critics of the time,-truth to nature. Pope's praise of Nature :
Unerring Nature, still divinely bright,
a eulogy that Burns had by heart—was accepted and applied by him to the letter. And in applying this test of truth to Nature to enable him to distinguish between good and bad, genuine and affected, in the work of his predecessors, and to guide him in the execution of his own, the peasant had a decided advantage over men of higher social rank, because the nature that the Scotch poets of the eighteenth century sought to interpret was rustic nature. It was no wonder that a ploughman bore off the laurel crown from all competitors in this keen race for poetic fame.
Who but a real country swain was to be expected to be supreme in pastoral lyrics? The songs of Burns would have been much more miraculous if he had been any thing but a plough
Akin to the vulgar error of wondering at Burns as an uneducated poet is the error of regarding Scotch vernacular poetry as purely indigenous, a growth out of the hearts of the people, gradually perfecting itself and taking shape unaffected by any influence from without. Between the reigns of James VI. and Queen Anne there was no poetry of note written in Lowland Scotch, It
REVIVAL OF SCOTTISH POETRY
had its roll of distinguished names while the Jameses reigned in Scotland—the first James himself, Henryson, Dunbar, Lindsay, Montgomery ; but it ceased to be a literary language when the Court was removed from Holyrood. The poets went with the Court; the sing. ing birds with the bands that caressed and fed them, the hearts that were cheered and the fancies that were humored with their songs. For a hundred years the Muse of Scotland was mute. Immediately after the union of the kingdoms there was a revival of poetry in the Lowland Scotch. That this revival was fostered by the growing prosperity of the country, and the rise of a new class of wealthy patrons, is highly probable ; but it is a very common opinion that the new growth of fancy and imagination which these men encouraged was entirely spontaneous, uninfluenced either by the earlier Scotch poetry or by the poetry of the southern centre of civilization ; that it was the offspring of the teeming fancies of unsophisticated men, innocent of any
literature but the Bible and the Shorter Catechism. The error is natural enough, if we think of the Scotch poetry of the eighteenth century as peasant poetry, written by peasants for peasants, artless jets of song, most of them rude, imperfect, disfigured by makeweight epithets and make-shift rhymes, an irregular and uneven stretch of poetry, redeemed from ephemeral insignificance only by the semi-miraculous genius of one of the peasant poets.
None the less is it an error to regard this poetry as of entirely spontaneous generation. If it is worth writing about, it is worth enquiring into ; and when we enquire closely into its beginning, we see that, like all the literary growths, it had its seedtime as well as its harvest. The seeds of the new poetic vegetation which so rapidly overspread the country came from the old Scotch poetry of the sixteenth century, and as it grew slips were grafted on it from plants that were flourishing at the time in the poetic gardens of England. In plain language, poetry was revived in Scotland by reprints of the old Scotch poetry, and the new Scotch poets studied the English poets and critics, and in the first instance at least translated into their vernacular and applied to their own circumstances the ideas that they found in their approved masters. The truth is that the peasant poetry of Scotland, so far from being spontaneous in the sense of being unconditioned by previous literature, is one of the few unambiguous and decided examples of the influence of critical ideas on creative literature.
The leader of the poetic revival in Scotland was Allan Ramsay, but the work that marks the beginning of better days was Watson's "Collection of Choice Scots Songs, Ancient and Modern," published in 1706, when Ramsay was a young man of twenty. He had been bred in the country, or near Hopetoun Mines in Lanarkshire, of which his father was manager ; but his father dying when he was a child, and his mother marrying again, he had been sent to Edinburgh at the age of fifteen, and apprenticed to a wigmaker.
a wigmaker. Watson's “ Collection” was the first poetry be read. He was charmed with it; took to repeating snatches of it; and from humming it over began to feel an impulse to make verses himself. It was thus that the ingenious wigmaker received his first impetus :
Then emulation did me pierce,
Soon after chance threw him in the way of more learned amateurs, and brought him into the full stream of Queen Anne literary influences. There were modern as well as ancient poems in Watson's “ Collection.” Among the ancient pieces were Dunbar's “Thistle and Rose,” and the humorous poem of which the authorship is disputed between James I. and James V., “ Christ's Kirk on the Green.” Among the modern
RAMSAY AND THE EASY CLUB
contributors was William Hamilton of Gilbertfield, the “ Willie” who, according to the song, was a wanton wag," a roistering young Jacobite lieutenant, who formed himself apparently on the poetic ideal of the Restoration-a Scotch Etherege or Rochester. The young wigmaker made his acquaintance, probably in the way of business ; but on the basis of their common interest in poetry the acquaintance became more intimate, and Ramsay was admitted a member of a club to which Hamilton belonged along with other choice spirits of literary leanings and Jacobite political faith. The fact that Ramsay, though his family had come down in the world, could trace his descent from a younger son of an Earl of Dalhousie probably helped, along with his social and poetic gifts, to secure him admission to this Easy Club, as it was called. That the Easy Club, which was broken up by the Rebellion of 1715, had a literary as well as a political basis is shown by the circumstance that the members of it assumed fancy literary names ; and the bent of Ramsay's literary homage at the time is indicated by his choice for himself of the name of Isaac Bickerstaff, then famous as Steele's pseudonym in the Tatler. Ramsay made himself so popular in the Easy Club that he was appointed its Poet-Laureate, and by a formal minute adjudged “a gentleman.”
Through these Jacobite gentlemen, Ramsay's friends and patrons of the Easy Club, with leanings to the good old times of the Stuarts, and a disposition to scoff at Puritans as their natural and hereditary enemies, the spirit of the Restoration passed into the peasant poetry of Scotland to do battle with the austere spirit of the Kirk. It is a striking illustration of the vitality of ideas and their directive power over conduct that the Cavalier ideal, transmitted through Ramsay, took possession of the warm temperament of Burns, and worked out in him the incontinent irregularities that made shipwreck of his life. Ramsay himself was too cool of temper to be made a victim in like manner ; convivial, quickwitted, libertine enough in theory, a welcome guest at the drinking-bouts then fashionable, ever ready to help in driving dull care away with a jest or a song, he was yet sufficiently master of himself to combine poetry with an eye to business. He prospered as a wigmaker ; he set up as a bookseller ; he published two poetical miscellanies by which he made some money. He had none of Burns's overscrupulous and fantastic objection to taking payment for his songs; he published them in broad sheets as he wrote them; and it is said to have been a custom with the good wives of Edinburgh to send one of their children with a penny for Allan Ramsay's latest. “Renowned Allan, canty callan," was described by a sour critic as a “convivial buffoon"; but, though he ruined himself late in life by building a theatre which the magistrates would not allow him to open, he was, like his contemporary Pope, a good man of business. Ramsay's own conduct was not mastered by the ideal of reckless generosity and self-indulgence to which he gave expression in his poems; but none the less he had great influence in connecting poetry with ostentatious and swaggering profligacy in the minds of the peasant poets of Scotland.
The pleasure-loving side of Ramsay's temperament was encouraged and expanded by his connection with the Easy Club; and it was in this connection also that in all probability he received the suggestion of the work that is his only enduring title to fame—“The Gentle Shepherd.” We have no positive evidence that he conceived fully the idea of writing such a work at this time—the memoirs of his life are exceedingly scanty ; but it is all but certain that he was at this time put on the road that led him to this pastoral poem--the first genuine pastoral poem that had appeared in European literature between the time of Theocritus, in the third century B. C., to the eighteenth century. This conclu