Robert Fergusson (1750 - 1774 / Scotland)
Biography of Robert Fergusson
Robert Fergusson, one of Scotland’s great Poets, Born in Edinburgh, September 5, 1750, to an Aberdeenshire family. His Father, William Ferugsson, was through out his life a clerk in trade, marrying Elizabeth Forbes, whom bore him three children prior to Robert’s birth and at least one after.
Due to ill health from young age (possibly a venereal disease), Fergusson's education was delayed till his sixth year, despite this he progressed through what schooling he had at an admirable pace. It is said that he attended a private school called Niddry’s Wynd, then the high school in Edinburgh prior to obtaining a bursary (allocated to people with the Fergusson name) to Dundee Grammar school (1758-61) and finally at age 14, on to the University of St. Andrews. Where he was denied his degree when he left perhaps due to ill health and/or to support his mother following his fathers death from Asthma.
During his time at St. Andrews, Fergusson was a lively, intelligent young man known for his humour, practical jokes and writing comic verse;
‘My compliments to all the folks
With whom I have drunk and cracked my jokes:
Tell them, oh tell, too sadly true,
That lips in wine I scarce embrue.
Nor dare I join the lists with bracchus,
Afraid new horrors should attack us,
Till health again with winning face
My brain shall clear, my nerves shall brace;
Then will I with indulgent vein
Be blyth and crack my jokes again.
It was here where he wrote his first prominent known poem “Elegy on the Death of Mr David Gregory”, late Professor of Mathematic’s at the University, in 1762.
On his return home in 1768, Furgusson held the humble position of clerk to the Commissary Office. Writing poetry in his spare time, with his works now being published in ‘The Weekly Magazine” from 1771. His Poem, The Draft Days, published January 1772 with Fergusson now defined as a Scottish poet. He joined the Cape Club, a social group of Edinburgh, which met in various taverns to perform the arts. All this was cut short by the return of his illness (late 1773).
Slipping into what seems to be a manic-depressive state he was compelled to give up his employment. Though recovering briefly from the depression, mid 1774. Late July of the same year, he fell down a staircase sustaining a violent head injury and a great deal of blood loss, which appears he suffered a concussion, and disorientation, that continued for sometime. Concerned for his well being his friends committed him to the Edinburgh Bedlam. He spent two months there and despite the deplorable conditions was in good health and spirits just before his sudden death, (a subdural haematoma may have been the cause) on October 17, 1774, aged 24.
Robert Burns inspired by the young poet was to erect a monument to Fergusson in the form of a simple headstone, inscribed with the heartfelt following;
No sculptured marble here, nor pompous lay,
No storied urn, nor animated bust ;
This simple stone directs pale Scotia’s way,
To pour her sorrows o’er her poet’s dust. Robert Burns
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Ye wha are fain to hae your name
Wrote in the bonny book of fame,
Let merit nae pretension claim
To laurel'd wreath,
But hap ye weel, baith back and wame,
In gude Braid Claith.
He that some ells o' this may fa,
An' slae-black hat on pow like snaw,