Allan Ramsay

Scenery of The Gentle Shepherd

If seven cities in Greece contended for the honour of being the birth place of Homer - it is not surprising, that about half a century after Allan Ramsay's death, the actual scene where his pastoral is laid, should be claimed by two places - one, in the sequestered Vale of Glencorse, among the Pentland Hills, on the estate of Logan Bank - six miles south-west from Edinburgh - the other, on the banks of the North Esk, near to New Hall House, six miles further south, and on the slope of the same ridge of hills.

The claims of the Vale of Glencorse were first brought before the public, in the edition of the poet's works, published in London; it is there stated, that, "the proprietor of Woodhouselee, is happily possessed of the supposed scene of the Gentle Shepherd, where a rustic hut has been erected to the memory of Ramsay, with an inscription, (on what authority is not mentioned), alleging that the poet drew his scenes from the objects round this shrine."

This place, owing to its contiguity to the city of Edinburgh, is much frequented by pleasure parties during the summer months. On visiting the spot, however, great disappointment is felt - as the only point of resemblance to the scenery of the pastoral, is a small stream, falling over a lofty precipice, in the midst of a barren, uninhabited glen. But we look in vain for "the craigy beild" - "the lover's loup" - "the flowrie howm" - "the twa birks" - "the pool breast deep" - or, "the twa elms that grow up side by side."

The editor of the Edinburgh edition of the Gentle Shepherd, published with illustrations of the scenery, says, "that, unfortunately for those who advocate the claims of Glencorse as the scene of the pastoral, it does not appear that Ramsay had any connection with the place - acquaintance with its proprietor - ever was at it - or knew anything concerning it."

It is therefore evident we must go elsewhere, to find scenery more in accordance with the poet's description.

New Hall louse, a mansion in the style of the seventeenth century, situated on the banks of the North Esk, immediately under the southern slope of the Pentland Hills, and twelve miles distant from Edinburgh, was, in Ramsay's time, possessed by Mr. John Forbes, advocate, cousin to the distinguished Duncan Forbes of Culloden; with both of them, the poet lived on terms of intimacy and friendship. In his visits to New Hall, the resort, at that time, of many of the literati from the neighbouring city, Ramsay was heard to recite, some scenes of his then unpublished pastoral. The scenery around New Hall, answers most minutely to the description in the drama. Near the house, by the water's side, are some romantic projecting crags, which give complete "beild" or shelter, and form a most inviting retreat, corresponding with the first scene of the first act-

"Beneath the south side of a craigy beild,
Where crystal springs their halesome waters yield,
Twa youthfu' shepherds on the gowans lay,
Tenting their flocks ae bonny morn o' May."

A crag, rising abruptly at some distance from the house, called "the Harbour craig," and by the country people "the lover's loup," suits Patie's address to Roger-

"Yonder's a craig-sin' ye hae tint a' houp,
Gae till't your wa's, and tak the lover's loup."

Further up the vale, and behind the house, there is a grass plot, of the most luxuriant green, beside the burn, which answers to the description of the second scene-

"A flowrie howm, between twa verdant braes,
Where lasses use to wash and spread their claes;
A trottin' burnie, wimplin' thro' the ground,
Its channel peebles, shining, smooth and round."

Jenny proposes to Peggy-

"-Let's fa' to wark upon this green."

But Peggy says-

"Gae far'er up the burn to Habbie's How,
Where a' the sweets o' spring and summer grow:
There 'tween twa birks, out ower a little lin,
The water fa's and maks a singin' din;
A pool breast-deep, beneath as clear as glass,
Kisses, wi' easy whirls, the bord'ring grass.
We'll end our washing while the morning's cool;
And when the day grows het, we'll to the pool,
There wash oursells."

The delineation of Habbie's How is the most celebrated of all Ramsay's descriptive pictures. It is drawn with truth, and though highly finished, each particular feature is an accurate copy of the scene in nature.

At no other place, excepting New Hall, can this beautiful scene be realised - and this circumstance, with the other facts already stated, we think, establishes completely the belief, that the rounds around New Hall, are the scenes of the Gentle Shepherd.