miners more fully in the best methods then known for extracting the metal from the refractory matrix. But to Robert Ramsay the chief attraction in the family was the eldest daughter of his colleague, Alice Bower, a vivacious, high-spirited girl, with a sufficient modicum, we are told, of the Derbyshire breeziness of nature to render her invincibly fascinating to the youth. Alone of all those around she reminded him of the fair dames and damsels of Edinburgh. Therefore he wooed and won her. Their marriage took place early in January 1686. In the October of the same year the future poet was born.
But, alas! happiness was not long to be the portion of the wedded pair. At the early age of twenty-four Robert Ramsay died, leaving his widow, as regards this world's gear, but indifferently provided for, and, moreover, burdened with an infant scarce twelve months old.
Probably the outlook for the future was so dark that the young widow shrank from facing it. Be this as it may, we learn that three months after Robert Ramsay was laid in his grave she married David Crichton, finding a home for herself and a stepfather for the youthful Allan at one and the same time. Crichton was a small peasant-proprietor, or bonnet-laird, of the district. Though not endowed with much wealth, he seems to have been in fairly comfortable circumstances, realising his stepson's ideal in after-life, which he put into the mouth of his Patie—
'He that hath just enough can soundly sleep;
The o'ercome only fashes fouk to keep.'
Much has been written regarding the supposed unhappiness of Ramsay's boyhood in the household of his step-parent. For such a conclusion there is not a tittle of evidence. Every recorded fact of their mutual relations points the other way. David Crichton was evidently a man of high moral principle and strength of character. Not by a hairbreadth did he vary the treatment meted out to Allan from that accorded to his own children by the widow of Robert Ramsay. To the future poet he gave, as the latter more than once testified, as good an education as the parish school afforded. That it embraced something more than the 'three R's,' we have Ramsay's own testimony, direct and indirect—direct in the admission that he had learned there to read Horace 'faintly in the original'; indirect in the number and propriety of the classical allusions in his works. He lived before the era of quotation books and dictionaries of phrase and fable,—the hourly godsend of the penny-a-liner; but the felicity of his references is unquestionable, and shows an acquaintance with Latin and English literature both wide and intimate. At anyrate, his scholastic training was sufficiently catholic to imbue his mind with a reverence for the masterpieces in both languages, and to enable him to consort in after years, on terms of perfect literary equality, with the lawyers and the beaux esprits of witty Edinburgh, such as Dr. Pitcairn, Dr. Webster, and Lord Elibank.
Until his migration to the Scottish capital, at the age of fifteen, Ramsay was employed, during his spare hours, in assisting his stepfather in the work of the farm. The intimate acquaintance he displays in his pastoral with the life and lot of the peasant-farmer, was the result of his early years of rural labour among the Lowther hills. That they were years of hardship, and a struggle at hand-grips with poverty, goes without the saying. The land around the Lowthers was not of such a quality as to render the bonnet-laird's exchequer a full one. As a shepherd, therefore, young Ramsay had to earn hardly the bread he ate at his stepfather's table. The references to his vocation are numerous in his poems. In his Epistle to his friend William Starrat, teacher of mathematics at Straban in Ireland, he adverts to his early life—
'When speeling up the hill, the dog-days' heat
Gars a young thirsty shepherd pant and sweat;
I own 'tis cauld encouragement to sing,
When round ane's lugs the blattran hailstanes ring;
But feckfu' fouk can front the bauldest wind,
And slunk through muirs, an' never fash their mind.
Aft hae I wade through glens wi' chorking feet,
When neither plaid nor kilt could fend the weet;
Yet blythly wad I bang out o'er the brae,
And stend o'er burns as light as ony rae,
Hoping the morn might prove a better day.'
The boy, meantime, must have been photographing on the retentive negatives of his mind the varied scenes of rural life, the labours incidental to the alternating seasons, which he was to employ with effect so rare in his inimitable pastoral. During the winter months, when the snow lay deep on hill and glen, over scaur and cleugh among the lonely Lowthers, when the flocks were 'faulded' and the 'kye' housed in the warm byres, when the furious blasts, storming at window and door, and the deadly nipping frost, rendered labour outside impracticable, doubtless in David Crichton's household, as elsewhere over broad Scotland, the custom prevailed of sitting within the lum-cheek of the cavernous fireplaces, or around the ingle-neuk, and reciting those ancient ballads of the land's elder life, that had been handed down from True Thomas and the border minstrels; or narrating those tales of moving accidents by flood or field, of grim gramarye, and of the mysterious sights and sounds of other days, whose memory floated down the stream of popular tradition from age to age. In days when books were so costly as to be little more than the luxury of the rich, the art of the fireside rhapsodist was held in a repute scarcely less high, than in that epoch which may justly be styled the period of Grecian romance—the days of 'the blind old man of Scio's rocky isle.' At that spring there is abundant evidence that young Allan Ramsay had drunk deep.
To another well, also, of genuine inspiration he must by this time have repaired—that of our native Scottish literature. Though some years had yet to elapse before he could read Hamilton of Gilbertfield's poem, the 'Dying Words of Bonnie Heck,' which he afterwards praised as stimulating him into emulation, there is little doubt he had already caught some faint echoes of that glorious period in Scottish literature, which may be said to have lasted from the return of the poet-king (James I.) in 1424, from his captivity in England, to the death of Drummond of Hawthornden in 1649. Without taking account of Barbour's Bruce and Blind Harry's Wallace, which partake more of the character of rhyming chronicles than poems,—though relieved here and there by passages of genuine poetic fire, such as the familiar one in the former, beginning—
'Ah! fredome is a nobill thynge,
Fredome maks men to haiff liking,'
—the literary firmament that is starred at the period in question with such names as King James I., Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, Walter Kennedy, Gavin Douglas, Sir David Lyndsay, Alexander Montgomery, William Alexander (Earl of Stirling), Sir Robert Ayton, Robert Sempill, and Drummond of Hawthornden, need not fear comparison with the contemporary poetry of the sister land. The greatest name in the list, that of William Dunbar, was undoubtedly the leading singer of his age in the British Isles, but inacquaintance with his works has prevented his genius obtaining that recognition it deserves.