صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

give the 5th September as his birth-day, and two the 17th October; while five give 1750, and three 1751, as the year of his birth.

His father, William Fergusson, an accountant in the British Linen Company Bank, died about 1765, leaving his widow with two sons and two daughters unprovided for.


Robert was the youngest son, and from his birth was of a delicate constitution, but of such quick parts, that though frequently absent from school account of ill health, his educational progress was very rapid. After being some time at the Edinburgh High School, he was sent to the grammar school of Dundee, where he continued for two years. He went from thence to St Andrews, having obtained one of two bursaries for the education of boys of the surname of Fergusson at that university. The somewhat indefinite account of his life at St Andrews leaves the impression that he was more distinguished for his share in the boisterous fun and practical jokes of the students, than for carrying away those scholastic honours which might be looked for from his natural abilities. Yet his playful genius is said to have attracted the notice of the eccentric Dr Wilkie, author of the Epigoniad, who held the chair of Natural Philosophy in the university. Fergusson appears to have been a great favourite with his fellow students; and on one occasion was the leader in a more than ordinarily riotous indulgence of those youthful frolics so characteristic of student life. An investigation by the professors next day led to the formal dismissal of the ringleaders, who, on promise of better behaviour in

[ocr errors]


the future, were again restored. Wilkie is said to have interposed in behalf of Fergusson on this occasion.

It was at St Andrews that he manifested his possession of the poetic faculty, at first for the amusement of his companions; but latterly, Dr Irving says, he attempted a tragedy on the life of Wallace, of which nothing has been preserved. The four years' term of his bursary having expired, and his father's death, two years before, making it impossible for him to continue his studies to the end for which they were begun-admission into the ministry of the Church-he now returned home to Edinburgh.

Being undecided as to what employment he should follow, he resolved to visit his maternal uncle in Aberdeenshire, whose circumstances, all his biographers concur in asserting, were such that he might have assisted his nephew. Here he is said to have remained for six months, when his clothes began to get so threadbare as to render him unfit for appearing at his uncle's table, and he was then rudely turned out of doors. He retired to a neighbouring inn, whence he wrote an indignant letter, and then set off on foot on his return to Edinburgh. His uncle sent a messenger after him with a few shillings to pay his expenses on the way. This treatment of Ferguson is thus related by almost all his biographers, who do not think it necessary to produce the slightest evidence of the truth of a statement which ought not to be related on ex parte evidence, or mere hearsay. We find Dr Robert Chambers, with his usual caution, has entirely omitted the

incident in the life of Fergusson in the Cyclopædia of English Literature. Literature is too full of unauthenticated statements like this, which, were their authors made responsible for their truthfulness, would not have afforded vent for much useless indignation. Fergusson is said to have written his "Decay of Friendship," and "Against repining at Fortune," to soothe his wounded feelings in the circumstances related; but not only do these poems not contain any reflections applicable to the incident, but they were not published till some years after his return from Aberdeenshire.

Soon after his return, he got a situation as a clerk in the Commissary Clerk's office, the duties of which he appears to have disliked, and sometimes neglected. He left this employment for some time, and got into the SheriffClerk's office, which he disliked even more than his former situation, to which he soon returned again.

Edinburgh social manners at this time were of the most dangerous type to a young man of Fergusson's temperament and talents; and he was drawn into the vortex of dissipation with almost irresistible force, though not without a consciousness of its tendencies. About 1771, he began to contribute to Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine-the medium through which most of his poems appeared; and this not only took up much of his leisure, but encroached upon his regular duties, besides making his company more sought after by those who like to boast of the acquaintance of the wit and talent of the day.

companions, he made an excursion to the Isle of May and Fife, which he afterwards made the subject of a descriptive poem, in which he reflects somewhat disparagingly on the character of the natives of the "kingdom." This led to his receiving a challenge from an irascible Fifer, which he treated with becoming ridicule.

The same year he made an excursion to Dumfries, to visit a boon companion and fellow-poet, who had taken up his abode on the banks of the Nith. Fergusson celebrated the adventure in some stanzas which are characteristic ; and as they do not appear in any collection of his works, we give them in our selections.

His fondness. for practical jokes, and his skill in carrying them out, is illustrated by an anecdote told by his friend and biographer Sommers. He laid a wager with some of his companions, that in two hours he would dispose of a certain number of ballads of any kind as a street singer. Next evening a large bundle of the well-known slips were procured, when, dressing himself in an old great-coat and wig, he commenced at the head of the West Bow, singing a variety of Scotch songs, by which he gathered such a crowd, that by the time he got down the High Street, he disposed of his bundle and won his wager, which, with the proceeds of his singing, was devoted to a night's carouse.

Towards the end of 1773, he published a collection of his poems, which he dedicated to Sir William Forbes, the friend and biographer of Beattie; but it is said that Sir William was offended at the liberty taken with his name with

In 1773, along with some roving out his permission.

Considering the weakness of Fergusson's constitution, that it would soon give way under the strain to which it was subjected, was inevitable; but it is somewhat doubtful if his mind became affected till, one night, returning from a convivial party, he fell down a stair, and received such a violent blow on the head that he was carried home insensible. On recovering consciousness, he was found to be quite insane. In these circumstances, he was taken to the public asylum, where shortly after he somewhat recovered, and was visited by his mother and sister, and some other friends. Hopes were entertained of his restoration, which were not realized, for he died rather unexpectedly on the 16th October 1774. His insanity has also been attributed to religious impressions; but, be that as it may, we think the more natural and immediate cause of his death was the effects of the fall upon

an enfeebled constitution.

What might have been Fergusson's fate in more favourable circumstances it were vain to speculate; and having no desire to moralize on the failings which are part of his history, in accepting the legacy which his genius has bequeathed us, we can only reflect with sympathetic kindness on the misfortunes of the youthful life of which that legacy forms the lasting monument.

The charm of his wit and manners is strongly illustrated by the fact that a young companion of the name of Burnet, who had made a fortune in India, sent £100 to pay for Fergusson's outfit for going out to India to join him. But before the letter arrived poor Fergusson was dead,

Fergusson's poetry exemplifies the disadvantages which a town-bred poet has to contend with. The associations of city life, though not destitute of poetry, are narrowing in their effects, and are unfavourable to that breadth and catholicity of sympathy with nature and poetic observation of natural phenomena, which the country poet almost unconsciously imbibes. As an exponent of the national thought and idiom, Fergusson is unrivalled; and on this account Burns preferred him to Ramsay. At the age at which Fergusson died, Ramsay wrote nothing worth remembering.

The monument erected over his remains by Burns, which still draws poetic pilgrims to the Canongate Churchyard, is the highest tribute that has been paid to Fergusson's memory, unless it be the extent to which Burns kept his eye upon his poems in the modelling of many of his own.

[blocks in formation]



LADY ANNE LINDSAY (for that was Lady Barnard's name for more than twenty years after she wrote the beautiful ballad song of “Auld Robin Gray") was the eldest daughter of the fifth Earl of Balcarras. She was born on the 8th December 1750, at Balcarras, in Fifeshire. Her education was in keeping with her social position, and her talents maintained the character of the family to which she belonged.

Her father died in 1768, and she soon after left Balcarras to reside in Edinburgh with her mother, where she mixed in the literary society for which the northern capital was then so distinguished. She afterwards joined her sister Lady Fordyce, in London, and became acquainted with many of the leading literary and political men of the time,-Burke, Sheridan, Dundas, and Wyndham, being among the number of her acquaintances.

In 1793, she married Andrew Barnard, Esquire, son of the Bishop of Limerick, whom she accompanied to the Cape of Good Hope, on his appointment as secretary under Lord Macartney, governor of that colony. Mr Barnard died at the Cape in 1807, and Lady Barnard returned to London, and again took up her residence with her sister. In 1812, the latter re-married, and Lady Barnard continued to reside in Berkeley Square, where she died on the 6th May 1825.

Her authorship of "Auld Robin Gray," though it was written in her twenty-first year, she kept a secret till within two years of her death, when she informed Sir Walter Scott of the circumstances out of which it arose. She was passionately fond of the old Scottish air, "The Bridegroom greits when the sun gaes down," the words of which were indelicate; so she determined to compose something more worthy of her favourite melody. Robin Gray was the name of an old shepherd at Balcarras, with whom she and the rest ofthe family were familiar when they were children. When in the act of writing it, a younger sister came into her room, and she informed her that she was writing a ballad, at the same time enumerating the four misfortunes to which she subjected the heroine, and asking her to suggest a fifth. "Steal the cow, Anne," said Elizabeth; and this was at once done.

It was long sung to the old Scottish air for which it was composed; but the present beautiful melody, to which it is set, was composed by the Rev. William Leeves, an English clergyman.

Lady Barnard wrote a considerable number of other pieces, of which it was at one time thought to publish a selection; but the idea was abandoned. Some sketches of her youthful friends and surroundings are included in Lord Lindsay's Lives of the Lindsays.



My faither urged me sair, my mither didna speak,

But she look'd in my face till my heart was like to break;

When the sheep are in the fauld and the They gied him my hand-my heart was

kye's a' at hame,

And a' the warld to rest are gane,

The woes o' my heart fa' in showers frae

my ee,

in the sea;

And so Robin Gray he was gudeman to


Unkent by my gudeman, wha sleeps I hadna been his wife a week but only

sound by me.

Young Jamie lo'ed me weel, and he sought

me for his bride,

But saving a crown, he had naething else beside;

To make the crown a pound, my Jamie gaed to sea,

And the crown and the pound, they were baith for me.

He hadna been gane a twelvemonth and a day,

When my faither brake his arm, and the cow was stown away;

My mither she fell sick-my Jamie at the


And auld Robin Gray came a-courting


My faither couldna work, and my mither couldna spin;

I toil'd day and night, but their bread I couldna win ;

Auld Rob maintain'd them baith, and wi'

tears in his ee,

Said, "Jeanie, for their sakes, will ye no marry me?"

My heart it said Na, and I looked for Jamie back;

But hard blew the winds, and his ship was a wrack;

The ship was a wrack-why didna Jamie


Or why am I spared to cry, Wae is


[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« السابقةمتابعة »