Allan Ramsay, 1686-1758

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Allan Ramsay (1686 - 1758) Allan Ramsay was born in Leadhills, Lanarkshire in 1685. He was apprenticed as a wigmaker in Edinburgh c 1704, on completion of which (1709), he opened his own shop in the Grassmarket area of the city.

He became increasingly involved in Edinburgh intellectual and literary circles from 1710, and in 1712 co-founded the Easy Club, a society with strong Jacobite leanings which met to discuss literature and politics. Many of Ramsay's early poems received their first public airing when read aloud to club members, and by 1720 he had given up his wig-making business and set up as a bookseller. In 1725 he moved to premises in the High Street where he opened what is generally regarded as Britain's first circulating library.

By this time he had become a successful poet, publishing his first collection of verse in 1721 and his second in 1728. He wrote in both Scots and English but with markedly more success in the former, which did much to initiate the eighteenth century revival of Scottish vernacular poetry - later continued by Fergusson and Burns.

He was also lauded for popularising works from the earlier Scottish literary tradition: As editor of The Evergreen (1724), he anthologised the work of long neglected poets including Dunbar and Henryson; and with his The Tea table miscellany, 5 volumes, (Edinburgh: 1724-37) he resurrected many traditional songs and ballads. Though he has been criticised for bowdlerising and altering the texts of many these poems and songs, the popular appeal of his publications is undisputed, The Tea table miscellany being re-printed more than 17 times before the end of the eighteenth century, and re-appearing in revised forms throughout the nineteenth.

In 1736 Ramsay opened the short-lived and financially-disastrous, New Theatre in Carruber's Close, Edinburgh. After its closure in 1837, he retired to his house on the Castlehill, Edinburgh, where he remained until his death in 1758.

Ramsay frequently spent time at the home of his friends the Forbes of Newhall, and Newhall House has been identified as the setting of his greatest triumph, the pastoral comedy The Gentle shepherd (1725). A huge popular success, it also received extravagant praise from, amongst others, Fergusson, Burns and James Boswell who spoke of its real picture of manners "and beautiful rural imagery":

This information has been compiled from the Slainte web site's ( ) Scottish Authors pages, an online version of Discovering Scottish writers, edited by Alan Reid and Brian D. Osborne, (Edinburgh: Scottish Library Association and Scottish Cultural Press, c1997).

John Murdoch Henderson (1902 - 1972) John Murdoch Henderson, son of Charles Henderson, farmer, and Mary Jane Murdoch, was born in New Deer on 31 March 1902, and graduated from the University of Aberdeen, MA 1926. He taught for several years in the south of Scotland, before returning to Aberdeen where he taught science and mathematics at Frederick Street, and latterly, Ruthrieston School. A gifted composer, and an authority on Scottish fiddle music, he wrote The Flowers of Scottish Melody: A First Companion to the Scottish Violinist and Pianist (Glasgow: Bayley&Ferguson, 1935), and arranged J. Scott Skinner's The Scottish Music Maker Skinner: a choice selection of strathspeys, Scots reels, schottisches, double jigs, waltz tunes, song airs, pastorals, marches, quicksteps, hornpipes ... arranged for the violin (Glasgow: Bayley&Ferguson, 1957). He was also a prolific collector of music for the fiddle and pipes, and during his life made several significant manuscript deposits to the University of Aberdeen.

His printed music collection was bequeathed to the National Library of Scotland in 1975/6, and duplicates from this collection transferred to Aberdeen University, where they form the University's John Murdoch Henderson Collection. A further collection of his papers was deposited more recently in the North East Folklore Archive, Aden Country Park, Mintlaw, Aberdeenshire, by his family. See Related Units of Description for further details.

From the guide to the Music for Allan Ramsay's collection of Scots songs, 1952 (transcript of 18th century printed work), (University of Aberdeen)

Place Name Admin Code Country
Folk songs, Scots Instrumental settings 18th century


Birth 1686

Death 1758

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