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SKETCH OF THE LIFE
OF ROBERT FERGUSSON.
THE Author of these Poems lives now only in the literary world. We would not present them to the Public, did we not think the perusal would give pleasure. Some short account of the life of this juvenile writer, will not, we hope, be deemed unnecessary; for every one wishes to know the character of a man whose productions they admire.
ROBERT FERGUSSON was the younger of two sons of William Fergusson, a man of worth, but of humble fortune; who after serving an apprenticeship to a merchant in Aberdeen, came to Edinburgh in 1746, where he became employed as a clerk to an upholsterer, and afterwards an accountant in the British Linen Company's Bank. Robert was born in Edinburgh in September 1750; his constitution was, in infancy, very delicate; however, being sent to school at six years of age, so quick was his improvement in the English language, that in half a year he was sent to the high school, where he studied Latin under
the direction of the late Mr. Gilchrist for four years. In this time, although his health frequently interrupted his attendance, he was one of the first scholars of his class. He studied two years longer at Dundee. His friends had destined him for the church; he accordingly, at the age of thirteen, entered as a student of St. Andrews University, where he enjoyed a bursary, endowed by a Mr. Fergusson, to be conferred on persons of the same name. At St. Andrews he became conspicuous for the respectability of his classical accomplishments, and for those uncommon powers of conversation which in his more advanced years fascinated the associates of his convivial hours. It was during his residence at St. Andrews that he first committed the sin of rhyme. His juvenile verses were thought to possess considerable merit, and even the professors it is said took particular notice of him. The abilities of young Fergusson secured him the regard of Dr. Wilkie, author of Epigoniad, and at that time professor of natural philosophy in the University of St. Andrews. At the same time, although from the ardour of his genius Fergusson made respectable advances in literature and science, he felt little pleasure in scholastic retirement and study: pleasure was his aim; he was the companion, or rather the leader of every frolic, and satirical attacks on his instructors, were among the first inspirations of his muse. At the end of four years residence in St. Andrews, his bursary having expired, and his father having died two years before, Robert resigned all thoughts of pursu
ing the clerical profession, and returned to his mother's house in Edinburgh, without any plan or regular prospect of future pursuit. After indulging for a considerable time in vain expectations of obtaining some employment, he attempted the study of the law. A study the most improper for him, and in which he made little or no progress ; for a genius so lively could not submit to the drudgery of that dry and sedantary profession. Leaving Edinburgh he paid a visit to an uncle at Aberdeen, whose condition in society might have enabled him to procure for his relative some reputable situation. Although a man of considerable opulence, however, Mr. John Forbes received Robert into his house with no higher feelings of friendship than the common offices of hospitality imply; and when the unfortunate boy's outward appearance became unsuitable to the dignity of Mr. Forbes's household, even that very limited effort of liberality was withdrawn. Fergusson received notice that he was not longer a fit guest for his uncle's table; and having written a letter from a petty ale-house in the neighbourhood full of the ardent expressions which such an insult extorted from his heart, he set out on foot for Edinburgh, with only a few shilļings in his pocket. To a high spirited mind it is not wonderful that such a treatment should have thrown him into a fever. Having, however, recovered from this, his natural animation of spirits returned, and although he was confined to the miserable drudgery of a copying clerk in a public office, he devoted some time to the service of the muses. His Poems were for the most part published in Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine, and were received by the people of Edinburgh with rapture as the productions of a second Allan Ramsay. His poetry soon gained him the society of the witty and the gay, which was still farther extended by his agreeable manners, pleasantry and power of conversation. With the best good nature, with much modesty, and the greatest goodness of heart, he was always sprightly, always entertaining. His powers of song were very great in a double capacity. When seated with some select companions over a bowl, his wit flashed like lightning, struck the hearers irresisibly, and set the table in a roar. These qualifications were his ruin, they led to a train of dissipation that at length ended in lunacy, the immediate cause of which, however, was a fall from a staircase whereby his brain was affected. He died 16th of October 1774, in the lunatic asylum at Edinburgh, where not one of the friends or associates of his convivial hours were to be found to alleviate his misery. Robert Burns erected a monument to the memory of Fergusson in the Canongate Church yard, and inscribed on it the following epitaph,