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Allan Ramsay

Ramsay, Allan (1686–1758). Poet, son of a mine-manager at Leadhills, Dumfriesshire, who claimed kin with the Ramsays of Dalhousie. In his infancy he lost his father, and his mother married a small “laird,” who gave him the ordinary parish school education. In 1701 he came to Edinburgh as apprentice to a wig-maker, took to writing poetry, became a member of the “Easy Club,” of which Pitcairn and Ruddiman, the grammarian, were members, and of which he was made “laureate.” The club published his poems as they were thrown off, and their appearance soon began to be awaited with interest. In 1716 he published an additional canto to Christ’s Kirk on the Green, a humorous poem sometimes attributed to James I., and in 1719 he became a bookseller, his shop being a meeting-place of the literati of the city. A collected ed. of his poems appeared in 1720, among the subscribers to which were Pope, Steele, Arbuthnot, and Gay. It was followed by Fables and Tales, and other poems. In 1724 he began the Tea Table Miscellany, a collection of new Scots songs set to old melodies, and the Evergreen, a collection of old Scots poems with which R. as ed. took great liberties. This was a kind of work for which he was not qualified, and in which he was far from successful. The Gentle Shepherd, by far his best known and most meritorious work, appeared in 1725, and had an immediate popularity which, to a certain extent, it retains. It is a pastoral drama, and abounds in character, unaffected sentiment, and vivid description. After this success R., satisfied with his reputation, produced nothing, more of importance. He was the first to introduce the circulating library into Scotland, and among his other enterprises was an unsuccessful attempt to establish a theatre in Edinburgh On the whole his life was a happy and successful one, and he had the advantage of a cheerful, sanguine, and contented spirit. His foible was an innocent and good-natured vanity.

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