ALEXANDER ROSS, A.M.
Alexander Ross, [note] the author of “the Fortunate Shepherdess,” was the son of a
small farmer, in the parish of Kincardine O'Neil, and county of Aberdeen, and born about the year
1700. He studied at Aberdeen, and took the degree of Master of Arts. On quitting the University,
he obtained the appointment of Schoolmaster to the parish of Birse, in his native county; and
shortly after married. 2
In 1733, he removed to the parish of Lochlee, in Angusshire; and
here, in the humble and laborious occupation of a teacher of youth, was suffered to linger out a
life, extended to the more than ordinary term of eighty-three years. He died in the month of May,
1783, leaving a son and four daughters. 3
“Ross,” says Dr. Irving, [note] “has been described as a man of simple manners,
of a religious deportment, assiduous in discharging the duties of his station.”
And this character, concise as it may appear, will, as Dr. Irving
neatly and truly adds, “be found to include every essential quality.” 4
It has been conjectured, that Ross's
original destination was the church, and that he had been obliged through poverty of circumstances
to abandon the pursuit. The course of study necessary for taking orders in Scotland is not however
so expensive, nor the incidental helps so few, that a young man, after having attained the degree
of M.A., could have had much difficulty in perfecting his scheme of life, had he stea-
dily pursued it. A condition still more poetical than sheer poverty
may be assigned to Ross. He married when others find it prudent to wait; and thus brought early
cares upon him, which obliged him first to halt by the way, and then, for want of some generous
hand to help him forward, kept him a schoolmaster for life. 5
|106||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
Helenore, or the Fortunate Shepherdess,
was first published at Aberdeen in the year 1768, together with a few Scottish songs. In
the exordium, he thus feelingly depicts the penury of his condition.
| Come, Scota, thou, that anes upon a day, |
Garr'd Allan Ramsay's hungry
The merriest sangs that ever yet were sung,
Pity anes mair, for I'm outthrow as clung.
'Twas that grim gossip, chandler-chafted want,
With threed-bair claithing and an ambry scant,
Made him cry on thee, to blaw throw his pen
Wi' leed* that well might help him to come ben,
And crack amo' the best o' ilka sex,
And shape his boughs to gentle bows and becks.
He wan thy heart, well wordy o't, poor man:
Tak yet anither gangrell by the ban,
As gryt's my mister, an' my duds as bare,
And I as sib as he was, ilka hair,
Mak me but half as canny, there's no fear,
Tho' I be auld, but I'll yet gather gear.
Shortly after the publication of the poem, a commendatory criticism
upon it appeared in the Aberdeen Journal, with the
fictitious signature of Oliver Oldstyle, accompanied by an epistle to
Ross, in the Scottish
dialect. The author of both productions was generally understood to be
Dr. Beattie; and they have remained so long
ascribed to him without contradiction, that there can be little doubt of their being from his pen.
As the criticism contains a pretty correct estimate of Ross's work,
and the epistle presents Beattie in a different poetical dress from
that in which he is commonly known to the public, no apology can be necessary for transcribing
them at length from the fugitive record in which they appeared. 7
To the Printer of the Aberdeen Chronicle.
I have read the “Fortunate
Shepherdess,” and other poems, in broad Scotch, just published at
Aberdeen, by Mr. Alexander Ross, of Lochlee. This writer has
given us the provincial dialects of Angus, Mearns, and Aberdeenshire, in great perfection; and
I am convinced his work will be highly amusing to all who relish that sort of composition. A
nice critic might, perhaps, take exception at his plot, at the prolixity of some speeches, and
at the impropriety of some particular incidents and sentiments; but Mr.
Ross, in his preface, hath made so modest an acknowledgement of these and other
faults, which he thinks may be found in the performance, that it is impossible for a
good-natured reader not to excuse them. Many genuine strokes of nature and passion, and many
beautiful touches of picturesque description, are to be seen its this work. There is even an
attempt at character, which, in one or two instances, is by no means unsuccessful. In his
songs there is an easy turn of humour
and versification: some of them have long been known to the common
people of thus country, who sing them with much satisfaction and good humour. I beg leave to
transmit to this facetious author, by the channel of your paper, the following lines, which may please some of your readers, and cannot, I
think, offend any; and am,
|108||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
Your humble Servant,
To Mr. Alexander Ross, at Lochlee, author of
the Fortunate Shepherdess and other poems in the broad Scotch
| O Ross, thou wale of hearty cocks, |
Sae crouse and canty with thy jokes!
Thy hamely auldwarl'd muse provokes
Me for awhile.
To ape our guid plain countra' folks
In verse and stile.
| Sure never carle was haff sae gabby |
E're since the winsome days o' Habby,
O mayst thou ne'er gang, clung, or shabby,
Nor miss thy snaker!
Or I'll ca' fortune nasty drabby,
And say—pox take her!
| O may the roupe ne'er roust thy weason, |
May thirst thy thrapple never gizzen!
But bottled ale in mony a dizen,
Aye lade thy gantry!
And fouth o'vivres a' in season,
Plenish thy pantry!
| Lang may thy stevin fill wi' glee |
The glens and mountains of Lochlee,
Which were right gowsty but for thee,
Whase sangs enamour
Ilk lass, and teach wi' melody
The rocks to yamour.
| Ye shak your head, but, o' my fegs, |
Ye've set auld Scota* on her legs,
Lang had she lyen wi' beffs and flegs,
Bumbaz'd and dizzie;
Her fiddle wanted strings and pegs,
Waes me! poor hizzie!
| Since Allan's death naebody car'd |
For anes to speer how Scota far'd,
Nor plack nor thristled turner war'd
To quench her drouth.
For frae the cottar to the laird
We a' rin South.
| The Southland chiels indeed hae mettle, |
And brawly at a sang can ettle,
Yet we right couthily might settle
O' this side Forth.
The devil pay them wi' a pettle
That slight the North.
| Our countra leed is far frae barren, |
It's even right pithy and aulfarren,
Oursells are neiper-like I warran
| * The name Ross gives to his muse. |
|110||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
| For sense and smergh, |
In kittle times when faes are yarring,
We're no thought ergh.
| Oh! bonny are our greensward hows, |
Where through the birks the birny rows,
And the bee bums, and the ox lows,
And saft winds rusle;
And shepherd lads on sunny knows
Blaw the blythe fusle.
| It's true, we Norlans manna fa' |
To eat sae nice or gang sae bra',
As they that come from far awa,
Yet sma's our skaith.
We've peace (and that's well worth it a')
And meat and claith.
| Our fine new spangle sparks, I grant ye, |
Gie' poor auld Scotland mony a taunt ye,
They're grown sae ugertfu' and vaunty,
They guide her like a canker'd aunty
That's deaf and doited.
| Sae comes of ignorance I trow, |
It's this that crooks their ill fa'r'd mou'
Wi' jokes sae coarse, they gar fouk spue
For downright skonner;
For Scotland wants na sons enew
To do her honour.
| I here might gie a skreed o' names, |
Dawties of Heliconian dames!
| The foremost place Gawin Douglas claims; |
That canty priest.
And wha can match the fifth King James
For sang or jest?
| The saucy chiels—I think they ca' them |
Criticks, the muckle sorrow claw them,
(For mense nor manners ne'er could awe them
Frae their presumption.)
They need nae try thy jokes to fathom;
They want rumgumption.
| But ilka Mearns and Angus bairn, |
Thy tales and sangs by heart shall learn,
And chiels shall come frae yont the Cairn—
—Amounth right yousty,
If Ross will be so kind as share in
Their pint at Drousty.†
| * In the Aberdeen Chronicle, there is the following
foot-note, explaining who was the individual whom the author of the epistle here
meant:—“Author of the Vision, [note] a
poem remarkable for pathos and elegance of description.” The author of the Vision, however, was
Allan Ramsay, and Scot was only a nom de guerre, See
Life of Ramsay. A. S. |
† An alehouse in Lochlee.
|112||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
The plot of the Fortunate
Shepherdess, to which Dr. Beattie hints some exception
might be taken by a nice critic, is certainly by no means pleasing. Ambition triumphs over the
affections of the heart; and the humble, yet sincere lover, is discarded for a rival whose chief
recommendation is his wealth. But in the progress of the tale, there are beauties developed, which
would justify even a warmer eulogium than Dr. B. has pronounced upon the work. “The
celebrated Dr. Blacklock,” says
Dr. Irving, [note] “as I have learnt from one of
his pupils, regarded it as equal to the pastoral comedy of Ramsay.”
And Mr. Pinkerton, [note] who unfortunately could see
nothing in the Gentle Shepherd [note] to entitle it to a place
among good compositions, says of Ross:—“Some of the descriptions are
exquisitely natural and fine. The language and thoughts are more truly pastoral than any I
have yet found in any poet, save Theocritus. [note]
The songs published along with the Fortunate
Shepherdess, include some which have not only, as Dr. B. remarks, been long known to
the people of Angus, Mearns, and Aberdeenshire, but are very general favorites in Scotland; “The rock and the wee pickle tow;”
“Married and woo'd and a';”
“The bride's breast knot;” &c. There are also several songs interspersed through the poem itself; and one
which is very pleasing in the third canto, entitled the
“Braes of Flaviana.” It is to the tune of the Lass of Patie's Mill.
| Of all the lads that be |
On Flaviana's braes,
'Tis Colin bears the gree,
| An' that a thousand ways; |
Best on the pipe he plays,
Is merry, blyth, an' gay,
‘An’ Jeany fair,’ he says,
‘Has stown my heart away.
| Had I ten thousand pounds, |
I'd all to Jeany gee,
I'd thole a thousand wounds
To keep my Jeany free:
For Jeany is to me,
Of all the maidens fair,
My jo, and ay shall be,
With her I'll only pair.
| Of roses I will weave |
For her a flow'ry crown,
All other cares I'll leave,
An' husk her haffets round;
I'll buy her a new gown,
Wi’ strips of red an’ blew,
An’ never mair look brown,
For Jeany'll ay be new.
| My Jeany made reply; |
‘Syn ye ha'e chosen me,
Then all my wits I'll try,
A loving wife to be.
If I my Colin see,
I'll lang for naething mair,
Wi’ him I do agree
In weal an’ wae to share.’
Although the “Fortunate
Shepherdess” was re-
ceived so favorably among the learned, its circulation appears, at
first, to have been slow. A second edition was not called for till 1778; but since then, editions
have multiplied, and the work is now among the most valued of the cottage classics throughout all
that part of the north east of Scotland, where the Buchan dialect is spoken. 11
|114||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
The second edition was dedicated, by Ross,
to the Duchess of Gordon, in terms which indicated a sense of
obligation; but the favours received could not have been great, which still left the best pastoral
poet of his age to depend on the drudgery of a country-school for the means of subsistence. 12
Ross seems to have continued his court to the Muses till long after
the divine flame had left him. His grandson, the Rev. Alexander Thomson,
minister of Lentrathan, in Forfarshire, informs us,* that during “the days of
old age and infirmity,” he composed a poem, entitled “The Orphan,” and signified his intention of committing it to the press, together with others of his
productions; but was prevailed upon by Dr. Beattie,
one of his best friends, to relinquish a scheme, that seemed to endanger the reputation
which he had already acquired.
| * Campbell's [note]
Introduction to the History of Poetry in Scotland. [note]