« ПретходнаНастави »
was organised in the closest imitation of that of London. Clubs sprang up where the wits assembled and sharpened their intellects one against another; periodicals were started to emulate The Tatler and The Spectator; and “correctness" was studied with as anxious care, though not with such conspicuous success, in the High Street and the Canongate as at Twickenham. And it is true that the minor writers of English are as little original as it is possible to conceive. With regard to the more considerable men, it will be the business of a separate chapter to justify the assertion that they taught as much as they learnt in England.
The first place in interest must however be given to the native school. It was original; for though Ramsay and his collaborateurs followed, they did not merely reproduce the old Scottish poetry, but adapted it to new circumstances and a new age. It was original so far, that the writers in it were among the earliest precursors of that revolution in poetic style which swept away the traditions of the " correct poets, and established in their place the naturalism of Wordsworth. Many influences doubtless united to bring about that revolution; but the natural style was practised by Ramsay and his contemporaries, and after him by Fergusson, in Scotland, long before the principle of it was proclaimed in England. At the same time, the practice of these men was inconsistent. They apparently detected no incongruity between what they did in Scotch and what they did as imitators of Pope in English; probably they never brought the two styles of work together, tacitly assuming each to be proper in its own sphere.
The significance of Watson's Choice Collection has been already noted in connexion with the songs and ballads.
It gave a powerful stimulus to Scottish poetry in general, and especially to poetry in the vernacular; but, although part of the contents of the collection was new or recent, Watson brought to the front no hitherto unknown genius, no one who displayed a capacity for leadership, or who might have been expected to revive the poetic traditions of Dunbar and Douglas and Lindsay. William Hamilton of Gilbertfield was no more than respectable; yet he was the equal of any of the living writers whom Watson helped to bring forward. Five years passed between the beginning and the conclusion of Watson's undertakingif that can be said to have a conclusion at all which ends with what was practically a promise, never fulfilled, of a new volume—and still no one had appeared of more than mediocre gifts. To the year after the appearance of Watson's third part, however, belong the earliest known verses of a man who, though not himself a great poet, did a great work for poetry. In 1712 the Easy Club was founded, and Allan Ramsay addressed it in a set of poor verses. He it was who was destined to breathe new life into Scottish vernacular poetry, and who in consequence holds a position inferior in historical interest only to that of Burns. He may be said, in fact, to have made Burns possible.
Allan Ramsay was born in the parish of Crawford-moor, a lonely district of Lanarkshire, in 1686. He was of good family, claiming kinship with the Ramsays of Dalhousie
“ Dalhousie of an auld descent,
My chief, my stoup, and ornament." But the early death of his father and the remarriage of his mother left him to face the world poor and unassisted. In
1701 he was sent to Edinburgh as an apprentice to a wigmaker, whose trade he afterwards followed, until his literary tastes and connexions drew him into the more congenial one of bookselling. But, though Ramsay had genuine literary tastes, he was less a poet born than one made by circumstances. He was social first, literary afterwards. The Easy Club, with its demand for occasional verses and its readiness to hear and applaud, gave him practice in composition and confidence in his own powers.
Previous to his connexion with it Ramsay seems to have read little and written less. The club died in 1715; but, short as its life had been, his three years' attendance at its meetings had formed Ramsay's mind and determined his future life. He began to publish his verses
as leaflets, which were sold in the streets of Edinburgh. It was as an editor, or more strictly as editor and author combined, that he made his first considerable venture. In 1716 appeared Christ's Kirk on the Green, in two cantos—the first a reprint of the old poem in the Bannatyne MS., the second an original addition. Soon afterwards a third canto, also by Ramsay, was added ; and all three were published together in 1718. The success of this piece, which would have gratified many a man of older reputation, encouraged Ramsay to collect his own fugitive pieces into a volume, which came from the press of Ruddiman in 1721. The poet is said to have made 400 guineas by it, a large sum for those days. After an interval marked by some minor publications of original work, Ramsay appeared again as an editor. In 1724 he issued the first part of a most important collection of songs, The Tea Table Miscellany. Two other parts followed between that
date and 1727, and after a long interval a fourth was added in 1740.
The songs were a mixed collection, vernacular and English, old and new. Some were by Ramsay himself, some were the work of his literary friends and correspondents; others were marked by him as wholly old, or as old songs retouched. But the object of The Tea Table Miscellany was to please the public, not to instruct the inquirer into the history of Scottish songs; and all who have ever handled it with a historical object in view have had in consequence to lament the vagueness and meagreness of the information supplied. Nothing is told but the bare fact that a song is old, old with additions, or new-sometimes not so much as that. In what way recovered, or how old, or on what ground it was believed to be old, are questions to which there is no answer in Ramsay. He cannot however be blamed for not accomplishing what he never attempted, or for being blind to that which none of his contemporaries perceived. The Tea Table Miscellany, faulty as it is from the point of view of literary history, was and long remained without rival as a collection of Scottish songs; and it has preserved much that otherwise would probably have been lost. The success of Ramsay too, encouraging others, like Oswald and Thomson, to labour in the same field, led indirectly to the recovery and preservation of other pieces.
In the same year in which the first part of The Tea Table Miscellany appeared, Ramsay also published in two small volumes a similar compilation, The Evergreen, which he somewhat quaintly describes as “a collection of Scots poems, wrote by the ingenious before 1600."
materials for it were chiefly derived from the Bannatyne MS.; but they were treated uncritically and without that sense of responsibility and of obligation to accuracy with which the modern editor approaches such a task. Poems undoubtedly ancient are partly modernised, sometimes in a manner which proves that Ramsay did not understand the original ; verses are here and there added by the editor's own hand; and the collection includes whole poems whose date is certainly long subsequent to 1600. Nevertheless, The Evergreen did its work for Ramsay's generation almost as well as a much more faithful reproduction of the old poems would have done. It furnished what men at that time really wished, and what it was important that they should have,-a knowledge of some of the hitherto unknown masterpieces of the great age of Scottish poetry.
The editor's errors and sophistications were of little moment so long as the spirit of the poems he printed was not essentially changed; and the question whether his system of orthography had any authority outside himself was insignificant to men who had no inclination to investigate the history of the language. Ramsay himself had his taste trained, his knowledge widened, and his vocabulary enriched in the course of his labours as collector and editor; and this without opening to himself even the chance of falling into the errors of which his predecessors had been guilty. The best of those predecessors were in essence natural ; but they had gathered to themselves a plentiful store of the affectations of a literary tradition. Their “aureate terms” were a snare exceedingly dangerous to the eighteenth century intellect; and there can be little doubt that Ramsay would have