Image: plate by David Allan, from The Gentle Shepherd (Glasgow: A Foulis, 1788), an edition with music, from the University of St Andrews library (own photograph) – behind the shepherd, see the traditional broadside ballads pinned to the wall of the cottage.
The Centre for Robert Burns Studies in the University of Glasgow has been enjoying a series of events to launch the first volume in their collected works of Allan Ramsay – The Gentle Shepherd.
Ramsay’s contribution to the literary culture of Edinburgh and Scotland more generally is becoming more widely known thanks to the research of the last decade, but for music lovers, his work on song lyrics was also important. He both collected lyrics, and contributed new verses of his own, in anthologies such as The Tea-Table Miscellany which will appear in later volumes of the collected works. His work helped to popularise Scots song in print throughout the British isles, and fed into later canonical collections.
The Gentle Shepherd was first written simply as a pastoral play but following a very successful performance in Haddington grammar school, songs became an integral part of the work, which subsequently earned considerable fame throughout the British Isles in the 18th century as a ‘ballad opera’. The best-known ballad opera of the period was John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, which used London’s criminal underclass to make some sly points about the government of the day. Gay was aware of Ramsay’s work, and the political slant of The Gentle Shepherd in the direction of Jacobite nostalgia would have been on the minds of theatre-goers of the time. The pastoral songs in Ramsay’s work help to present a world of innocent love and civilised pastimes.
The editors of the new edition of The Gentle Shepherd have written interesting pieces which tell you more about this work:
- David McGuinness, ‘How I came to make an edition of an imaginary musical text’ – on the songs, with a sample recording. David McGuinness is the director of Concerto Caledonia, and has previously played as well as edited these songs. Here, he talks about moving from late to early 18th century performance practice, and recovering tunes known only from titles in early printed editions of The Gentle Shepherd.
- Steve Newman, ‘Why You Should Read Allan Ramsay’s The Gentle Shepherd’– on the literature and politics, and 18th century reach, of this work; along with a plot synopsis.
- project blog for more information on this and future events
- The Collected Works of Allan Ramsay project website
- To buy The Gentle Shepherd, ed.McGuinness and Newman (Edinburgh University Press, 2022)