John Pinkerton (essay date 1786)
SOURCE: "John Pinkerton," in The Gentle Shepherd: A Pastoral Comedy, William Gowans, 1852, pp. lxiv-lxvi.
[Pinkerton was a noted late-eighteenth century editor of poetry in the Scots language. In the following excerpt, originally published in his collection Ancient Scotish Poems in 1786, he belittles Ramsay's poetic accomplishments and knowledge of Scots.]
The convivial buffoonery of this writer has acquired him a sort of reputation, which his poetry by no means warrants; being far beneath the middling, and showing no spark of genius. Even his buffoonery is not that of a tavern, but that of an ale-house.
The Gentle Shepherd all now allow the sole foundation of his fame. Let us put it in the furnace a little; for, if it be gold, it will come out the purer. Dr. Beattie, in his Essay on Laughter and Ludicrous Composition, observes, that the effect of the Gentle Shepherd is ludicrous from the contrast between meanness of phrase, and dignity or seriousness of sentiment. This is not owing to its being written in the Scotish dialect, now left to the peasantry, as that ingenious writer thinks; for the first part of Hardy-knute, written in that very dialect, strikes every English reader as sublime and pathetic to the highest degree. In fact this glaring defect proceeds from Allan Ramsay's own character as a buffoon, so evident from all his poems, and which we all know he bore in private life; and from Allan's total ignorance of the Scotish tongue, save that spoken by the mob of Mid Lothian. It is well known that a comic actor of the Shuter or Edwin class, though highly meritorious in his line, yet, were he to appear in any save queer characters, the effect would even be more ludicrous than when he was in his proper parts, from the contrast of the man with his assumed character. This applies also to authors; for Sterne's sermons made us laugh, though there was nothing laughable in them: and, had Rabelais,...
(The entire section is 833 words.)