September 15, 2014



Scottish poet and literary antiquary who maintained national poetic traditions by writing Scots poetry and by preserving the work of earlier Scottish poets at a time when most Scottish writers had been anglicized.

He was highly regarded by Robert Burns as a pioneer in the use of Scots in contemporary poetry.

Ramsay settled in Edinburgh c. 1700 and in 1701 became an apprentice wigmaker.
Established in this respected craft he married in 1712.
In the same year he helped found the Easy Club, a Jacobite literary society.

His pen names, first Isaac Bickerstaff and later Gawin Douglas, suggest both Augustan English and medieval Scottish influences.
He soon established a reputation (the unique) as a prolific composer of verse in English and Scots, much of it modelled on classical styles and traditional metrical patterns, sometimes uneasily adapted to suit contemporary Edinburgh Neoclassical taste.
He made considerable use of Scots in humorous and satirical verse and by collecting and publishing poems by Robert Henryson, William Dunbar and other late medieval Scottish writers he though no scholarly respecter of texts made certain of their survival and indirectly gave impetus to more accurate editing of Scottish poetry and song later in the century.

In 1721 he published a subscriber´s edition of his own poems including several in mock-elegy style and renderings in Scots of Horace´s Ode: a second volume appeared in 1728.
An original pastoral comedy The Gentle Shepherd (1725) gained much of its effect from use of Scots.
The appearance of John Gay´s Beggar´s Opera (1728) encouraged him to turn it into a ballad opera (1729).
The Teatable Miscellany (3 vol., 1724-37), The Ever Green (2 vol., 1724) and Scots Proverbs (1737) make up the bulk of his collection of old songs, poems and wise sayings.
Fables and Tales (1722-30) include versions of La Fontaine and La Motte turned into Scots.

After publication of the 1721 Poems he changed from wigmaker to bookseller and his shop became a meeting place for both townsmen and visitors.
He founded Britain´s first circulating library (1726), the Academy of St. Luke for instruction in painting and drawing (1729) and a theatre (1736-39) eventually closed by extremists in the Church of Scotland presbytery who found legal justification in the 1737 Licensing Act.

He retired in 1740 but continued active until his death.


Portrait painter, one of the foremost artists Scotland has produced.

The son of the poet and song collector, he first received rudimentary training in Edinburgh and then went to London and worked under the Swedish portrait painter Hans Hysing (1734).

His style was largely formed by his studies in Italy (1736-38) under Francesco Imperiali and Francesco Solimena.

On settling in London he soon became popular although George Vertue in 1739 noted with distress that his style differed from the "valuable Manner" of Sir Godfrey Kneller and others and that his brushwork was smooth not free.

His "Dr. Mead" (1747) is in the Italian grand manner, preceding Sir Joshua Reynolds´ grand portraits by several years.
Perhaps the rise of Reynolds induced Ramsay to return to Italy in 1755-57.

During the 1760s he was appointed painter to George III and executed little but royal images.
Most of this work intended for government buildings was done by assistants and he devoted himself to political pamphleteering, classical studies and conversation -the last exemplified in Dr. Johson´s remark to Boswell: "I love Ramsay. You will not find a man in whose conversation there is more instruction, more information, and more elegance..."

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