National Song in The Gentle Shepherd: Original Impurity in Scottish Pastoral by Steve Newman

Steve Newman is Associate Professor of English at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is the author of Ballad Collection, Lyric, and the Canon: The Call of the Popular from The Restoration to the New Criticism (Penn) and numerous articles on Scottish literature and other topics, including Allan Ramsay and Robert Burns. He is the PI for a Digital Humanities site on The Beggar’s Opera, the editor for the text of The Gentle Shepherd, forthcoming as part of the AHRC-supported Collected Works of Allan Ramsay (Edinburgh UP), and the President of the Temple Association of University Professionals, a labor union representing nearly 3000 faculty members, librarians, and academic professionals.


Allan Ramsay’s The Gentle Shepherd: A Scots Pastoral Comedy is one of the most influential texts in Scottish history. It was printed 115 times and performed nearly 200 times throughout the Atlantic world before 1800, and many times thereafter—there is a report of its being performed by amateurs in the Scottish countryside as late as 1913–and sparking paintings and engravings by such luminaries as David Allan, David Wilkie, Paul Sandby, George Morland (1). At the heart of The Gentle Shepherd and Ramsay’s career more broadly is national song, with four songs in the first edition of 1725 and another seventeen added in 1729. But not everyone was happy with this addition. It was lamented by Ramsay’s own son, the well-known painter, Allan Ramsay the Younger, who remarks that his father, long “a great admirer of [John] Gay, especially for his ballads,” was “carried away by the torrent” of praise for The Beggar’s Opera to add many songs, but when he tried to take his play back from the masses

it was too late. The public was already in possession of [the songs]; since the number of singers is always greater than. . .sound critics, the many editions since of that Pastoral have been almost uniformly in that vitiated taste. He comforted himself, however, with the thought that the contagion had not infected his second Volume in quarto, where the Gentle Shepherd is still to be found, in its original purity.(2)

Here, then, songs are a “contagion,” a blight on the “original purity” of the text as the Scottish national pastoral.(3) This comment reminds us that discussions of national song are intertwined with debates over taste and status and that rigid positions can lead us astray. For aside from the misconceived suggestion that the traffic between Gay and Ramsay was only one way–Gay borrowed from Ramsay first—songs were integral to The Gentle Shepherd from the start.(4) Moreover, while Ramsay does situate The Gentle Shepherd within the topographical, linguistic, and musical landscape of Scotland, his son’s longed-for “original purity,” itself a pastoral idealisation, misses the dynamism and heterogeneity of both song and text.

Singing is featured in the first text that ends up being incorporated into the play—in fact, it becomes the play’s opening scene– the pastoral dialogue, “Patie and Roger.” Published separately in 1720 and then in Ramsay’s Poems (1721), it includes a scene in which Roger ruefully recounts how his beloved, Jenny, reacts to his singing:

Allan Ramsay, “Patie and Roger” (1720), from Eighteenth Century Collections Online

Toward the end of the dialogue, Patie offers Roger his flute, which Roger politely declines, saying he’s the more talented musician, and asks him to play a tune.

From one standpoint, this looks like a thoroughly conventional example of pastoral piping and song, dating back to Theocritus’ first Idyllium or Virgil’s Second Eclogue, where Corydon laments Alexis’ scorn for his singing. This trope is not hard to find in the pastorals of Ramsay’s era.(5) But among the transformations Ramsay works on this well-worn material is that he localises and nationalises it, intervening cannily into the so-called “Pastoral War” with Alexander Pope and John Gay on one side and Joseph Addison, Thomas Tickell, and Ambrose Philips on the other how much the genre should be rooted in the Classical or the British landscape.(6) Much more substantially than the partisans for a more British pastoral, Ramsay situates his on Scottish ground and within Scottish vernacular and folkways, with footnotes elucidating for the reader that West-Port is “The Sheep Market Place in Edinburgh,” that a shellycoat is “[o]ne of those frightful Spectres the ignorant People are terrified at,” and that “the Grace-Drink” dates back to Margaret, Queen of Scots.(7)

A key component of Ramsay’s Scoticising of pastoral is song. Roger plays the traditional instrument of the Scottish peasantry, the stock and horn (as Ramsay defines it, “A Reed or Whistle, with a Horn fix’d to it by the smaller End”), and on the first page of the quire of paper Ramsay uses for the draft mss. (Laing. MS 212*), he identifies himself as a pastoral musician of sorts by tipping in to the picture of the horn, “Let he who blows best bear the [horn].”

Allan Ramsay, MSS. Drafts, The Gentle Shepherd, Laing Manuscripts, La.II.212*, Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library

But song is not merely a thematic or metaphor in the text, of course. The first version of The Gentle Shepherd includes four songs. The first one published was “Patie and Peggie,” which appeared in his 1721 Poems:

Allan Ramsay, Poems (Edinburgh, 1721), Eighteenth Century Collections Online

Telling Peggie that it’s clear that she’s “made for love,” she should gather rosebuds while she may. Peggie does not deny her attraction, but she knows better than to lose her virtue by giving in too early; and though she falls into his arms willingly, she will allow him no further liberties until “we’ve got the Grace.” This is a rare reference to the Presbyterian Kirk, a mainstay of Scottish national identity that finds little place in Ramsay as he tries to imagine a secular Scottish culture after the Act of Union. This moment is overshadowed by the frank carnality of this song and which gives us some sense why Ramsay was a target of more Orthodox members of the Kirk throughout his career. (That he also opened that devil’s workshop known as a theater in Edinburgh did not help.)

But “By the delicious warmness of thy mouth” is not the first song encountered by the reader of The Gentle Shepherd in its “original purity” of 1725. Before it comes a song sung by Mause, reputed to be a witch but who is actually a faithful servant who spirited the high-born Peggie away when her uncle and aunt schemed to kill her in order to gain her estate:

Fair Copy of The Gentle Shepherd, MS 15792, National Library of Scotland

This foray into Jacobite song points to Ramsay’s transformation of a few pastoral scenes into a pastoral drama by yoking it to the historical moment of the Restoration. When Ramsay started writing The Gentle Shepherd in 1724, he began with the news that the Parliamentary forces have been defeated and Sir William Worthy, the local laird and Patie’s father—though his parentage is known only to the shepherd couple that has been shielding him–has returned to reclaim his own. Mause’s song is the first time that a character explicitly imagines what happens to a gentle shepherd when her or his gentility is revealed. This adds significantly to the national flavor of the text, for while Jacobitism was hardly confined to Scotland, Scottish Jacobitism was distinct. Ramsay’s Jacobitism was more distinct still: parallel to his transformation of traditional Scots songs for a genteel audience in The Tea Table Miscellany, he sets a Jacobite tune celebrating the king’s return to an image that puts a woman wearing new, luxurious clothes in the center. This is how he imagines a bridge between past and present Scotland in the wake of the still-contested Union, happily erased in this “Scots pastoral comedy.” By going back to a moment when the past is restored, he can model a national restoration of another type for the present, and he does it in significant part through song.

But if we ask after the source of “Peggie now the king’s come” and the other songs in The Gentle Shepherd or how it was actually set to music in its initial performances, we run into complications, as recently shown in a groundbreaking article by Aaron McGregor and David McGuinness and various contributions by Brianna Robertson-Kirkland. (8) (We are fortunate to have David as the editor of the music for The Gentle Shepherd, with assistance from Brianna, as part of The Collected Works of Allan Ramsay that will be published by Edinburgh University Press.) Take the song that ends the play: To crown the happy revelation that Patie and Peggie are both members of the gentry—first cousins, in fact—Sir William calls for a song, and Peggie offers him “the newest that I hae.” This is the only song where the tune is indicated “Corn-riggs are bonny,” which provide the setting for a more genteel version of the traditional verses that tell of an assignation among the fields of barley—though there are no surviving lyrics that predate The Gentle Shepherd. Not only are the earlier lyrics not extant in print, the tune itself, as McGuinness and McGregor note, can be traced back only as far as a Scotch song by the English songwriter Thomas D’Urfey, “Sawney was tall and of noble race” (1681). So, this song, which holds an important place in the canon of Scottish national song thanks to Ramsay’s and especially Burns’ versions, has its origins in the late 17th century. vogue for musical facsimiles of Scottishness.

“Peggy now the King’s Come” poses similar challenges. While it seems built on an earlier Jacobite song, the lyrics of that song, if it is indeed earlier, do not find their way into print until 1790 when they appear underneath Ramsay’s as “Old Words” in volume 3 of Burns’ The Scots Musical Museum.(9) As for the tune, McGuinness notes that some have associated it with “The New Way of owing [i. e., wooing],” which is “in the Blaikie MS (19th-century copy of a viol tablature source from 1692). . .but the tune ‘New Way of Wooing’ in Walsh’s Thirty New Choice Country Dances (1731-2) is so different as to be unrecognisable.” (10) The tune does appear in Alexander Stuart’s Musick for Allan Ramsay’s Collection of 71 Scots Songs (c. 1726) as “Carle an the King come,” the name indicated in “The Promised Joy” in The Tea Table Miscellany (I.18). This would seem to be an excellent source for determining how these songs were set to music and even performed, since, unlike Orpheus Caledonius (1725), it was done with Ramsay’s involvement—indeed, as a counter measure to Orpheus Caledonius drafting off of the popularity of Ramsay’s songs without proper consultation and credit.(11) But, as McGuinness observes, in the case of “Carle and the King Come,” “It’s not impossible to fit the words [of “Peggy, now the King’s Come”] to the tune as it’s found in Stuart, but the tune for the end of the first line of text runs on into the next – you would be very unlikely to sing it like that without adding some another syllable or two (even ‘oh, Peggy’ would work!). Also, the range is very wide, just one note short of two octaves, making it a demanding sing; the Blaikie version is simpler, but even that is only one note less wide in range.”(12) A mismatch between Ramsay’s lyrics and Stuart’s settings is common.

So, again, we see that an inquiry into the status of national song in The Gentle Shepherd results in a story not of “original purity” but rather contingency and uncertainty. This carries over to the revisions Ramsay makes in 1729, as we can see by considering briefly and by way of conclusion, one of the 17 added songs, “O’er Bogie.” As we remember, this is the song that Roger reports performing to Jennie’s disgust. In 1729, Ramsay cleverly resets the tune to new lyrics to have Jenny confess her devotion to Roger, instructing him to ask her father’s consent, though if he doesn’t grant it, she “care[s]na by” since if he proves faithful to her, she will reciprocate. On one hand, this is a song with provable roots prior to Ramsay, who first makes use of it in one of his gatherings of “Scots Songs” (1720); the tune appears in both The Crockat Manuscript (c.1709) and Doyle’s Plain Brown Tune Book (1710), and there is evidence that there are earlier lyrics, too, though this is contested. But one scholar has also hypothesised that the tune was written in response to the vogue for Scotch Songs in the latter part of the 17th century. The provisionality of tradition is echoed in the contingencies of the text’s composition, incorporation, and survival. Here is the ms. of the lyrics Ramsay composes in 1729:

Image author’s own, MSS. draft of Songs for The Gentle Shepherd in an extra-illustrated copy of The Gentle Shepherd, MS 748, The John Rylands Library, University of Manchester; MSS. Draft of Songs for The Gentle Shepherd, HM MS 1489, The Huntington Library

As the credits indicate, I should have used the plural, “mss. of the lyrics for ‘O’er Bogie’,” since they come to us in two separate manuscripts that were clearly one; one is held at the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester and another at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Neither library has a record of the manuscript’s provenance or how it came to be separated. The mystery deepens when we realise that the last lines of “O’er Bogie” are found on the first page of the Huntington ms. which otherwise has songs only prior to the tenth; “O’er Bogie” is the fourteenth song. Craig Lamont, the Research Associate for the Edinburgh Ramsay, and I are looking into the watermarks and other ways to learn more about this divided manuscript. But it suggests at once the centrality of national song to The Gentle Shepherd as Ramsay adds songs to a range of important Scottish tunes, including “Cauld Kale in Aberdeen” and “Tweed-side,” and the rough-and-ready nature of the transformation, as Ramsay in most cases transforms speeches in the play into song lyrics rather than composing new songs. Not only this, but the lyrics to the songs are not included at all in the actual text of the 1729 Gentle Shepherd, which includes only footnotes that give the name of the tune and where the song should be inserted. For the lyrics, we must go to the second volume of The Tea-Table Miscellany, where the verse is keyed in to the appropriate page of The Gentle Shepherd:

Allan Ramsay, The Tea-Table Miscellany: or, Allan Ramsay’s collection of Scots sangs. Volume second (Edinburgh, 1729), National Library of Scotland

Why Ramsay does this is not entirely clear. It may have been due to the demands of the printing schedule for both texts, but we on the Edinburgh Ramsay team suspect that it was motivated at least in part by his canny marketing sense—forcing the reader or performer to buy The Tea-Table Miscellany to gain access to the lyrics. Further compounding the sense of contingency in the inclusion of these songs is the shift in exactly how they are included. As John Goodridge expertly describes it, in the 1734 Edinburgh edition, the first one post-1729 in which Ramsay likely had a hand, some songs are printed after the lyrics they are built from, leading to a confusing repetition for reader and performer.(13) Others, including “O’er Bogie,” delete the lines on which the lyrics are built.

How to handle this textual instability is a challenge the editorial team is currently resolving. However we decide to present the songs and music, we are confident that this and the other volumes in the Edinburgh Ramsay will provide a definitive Ramsay for a 21st-century audience in which the role of national song—text and music, including score and performance—will be front and center as it should be. For, however well or poorly Ramsay understood music, however awkwardly many of the early settings fit with the lyrics, national song, in all its glorious impurity, plays a major role in The Gentle Shepherd from the start, as it does in Ramsay’s other texts. To conclude, I’ll give the last word, or, at least, the last image, to the illustrious Scottish artist, David Wilkie, who in 1823 painted this image of Roger failing to impress Jennie with “O’er Bogie”:

David Wilkie, “A Scene from The Gentle Shepherd,” National Galleries of Scotland

The painting was a great success, “engraved on a number of occasions, impressions making their way to America, where it was copied by Thomas Sully. Wilkie himself produced at least two studio variants of the composition.”(14) It was celebrated by James Hogg, who reports that “I got only one slight look of it but I saw nature so beautifully depicted that in spite of all I could do the tears burst from my eyes and the impression made by it is as powerful at this moment as it was then.”(15) With his vivid eye for detail, including Roger’s stock and horn, Wilkie here brilliantly embeds a generic pastoral scene of musical performance as strongly within the Scottish landscape as Ramsay would wish, with the cottage in the foreground and the Pentland Hills (“Ramsay Country,” as it came to be called) in the background. Nearly a hundred years after its first publication, this painting attests to the power of The Gentle Shepherd as Scotland’s national pastoral. However much Ramsay helps to invent the traditions he celebrates, that invention has proved to have lasting power, and national song is at its center.


(1) These totals are from the research done by the editorial team of The Edinburgh Allan Ramsay, including the author. The reference to the 1913 performance in the countryside is from Sir Archibald Geikie, A Long Life’s Work: An Autobiography (London: MacMillan & Co., 1924), 55.
(2) This is from an autobiography attributed to Ramsay’s son found in the Laing MS. 212 and reprinted in The Works of Allan Ramsay, vol. 4, eds. Alexander M. Kinghorn and Alexander Law (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1970), 72-73, italics mine.
(3) See a playbill from April 13, 1821 Theatre-Royal Edinburgh, available through Playbills of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh (National Library of Scotland),
(4) See for instance, Air 40 of The Beggar’s Opera, set to “The Lass of Patie’s Mill,” which can be found in The Tea-Table Miscellany.
(5) See, for instance, Ambrose Philips’ Pastorals (London, 1710)
(6) Pastoral War
(7) These are glosses in the 1721 Poems version of “Patie and Roger.”
(8) David McGuinness and Aaron McGregor, Ramsay’s Musical Sources: Reconstructing a Poet’s Musical
Memory,” Scottish Literary Review, 10:1 (Spring/Summer 2018), 49-71. B. E. Robertson-Kirkland, “The origins of ‘The Yellow Hair’d Laddie: A case Study for editing music in Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd,” American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, March 22, 2019, Colorado and “Indoor or outdoor? The performance history of Allan Ramsay’s The Gentle Shepherd,” British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. January 4, 2019. St Hughes College, Oxford.
(9)See Murray Pittock’s note on “Peggy, now the king’s come” (Scots Musical Museum 3.239), The Scots Musical Museum Part Two (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2018), The Oxford Edition Works of The Works of Robert Burns 3:79.
(10) David McGuinness, private communication, August 6, 2019.
(11) On Stuart, see Kirsteen McCue, Introduction, Musick for Allan Ramsay’s Collection of 71 Scots Songs (Columbia, SC: Scottish Poetry Reprints, University of South Carolina Libraries, 2017).
(12) Ibid.
(13) John Goodridge, “Allan Ramsay (1684-1758), Index of English Literary Manuscripts. Vol. 3: 1700–1800. Part 3: Alexander Pope–Sir Richard Steele, 179-80.
(14) Sir David Wilkie, “The Gentle Shepherd,” Lowell Libston & Jonny Yarker, Ltd., Thanks to Helen Smailes, Senior Curator of British Art, National Galleries of Scotland, for pointing me to this source.
(15) Ibid.

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