Robert Fergusson continued the strain of satirical writing in the Scots dialect that was popularised earlier by Allan Ramsay. Living and working in Edinburgh, Fergusson produced in two years a body of work which is closely associated with life in the intellectually energetic Scottish capital. He died at the age of 24, and was buried in a pauper’s grave, but 15 years later, in 1789, Robert Burns set up a headstone with a verse praising the 24-year-old poet whom he called ‘my elder brother in the muse’.
What is ‘Auld Reikie’ about?
Fergusson’s ‘Auld Reikie’ is a 300-line poem praising Edinburgh through observations of the daily life of ordinary people. Never patronising, Fergusson’s poem documents a day in the life of the city, embracing shopkeepers, porters, children, whores, dandies, debtors, servants, lawyers and schoolboys. For Burns Fergusson’s poetry served as a model of how the Scots dialect was ideally suited to the energy of the lives of ordinary people.