Robert Fergusson


No sculptur'd 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 Poets Dust


Robert Fergusson is buried in the Canongate Kirk cemetery, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Outside the cemetery gates stands a statue of Fergusson sculpted by David Annand.)

Robert Fergusson's Grave (Photo by Freddie Phillips)

Fergusson was born in Edinburgh in 1750 - the third of four children. He was educated at high schools in Dundee and Edinburgh before completing his education at St Andrew's University.

His first poems were published in 1771 in Walter Ruddiman's Weekly Review. Origianlly he wrote in English but by 1772 he had started to use the Scottsh dialect in the standard Habbie verse form - a form which would later be copied and made famous by Robert Burns. (It is now known as the Burns stanza.)

Fergusson's promising poetic career was soon ended however when he sustained a head injury - possibly from a fall down some stairs - and became bed-ridden. He was then transferred to Bedlam against his will and he died there on October 17, 1774 at the age of 24.

Burns was happy to acknowledge his debt to Fergusson and contacted the Edinburgh magistrates offering to pay for a memorial stone. Burns also composed a three verse epitaph - the first stanza of which was carved on the headstone. (Fergusson was originally buried in an unmarked grave.) The new headstone was erected in 1787.

Later, Robert Louis Stevenson agreed to renovate the headstone - but his own premature death prevented him from making good his promise - though there is a plaque at the foot of Fergusson's grave recording his intention: 'This stone, originally erected by Robert Burns, has been repaired at the charges of Robert Louis Stevenson and is by him re-dedicated to the memory of Robert Fergusson as a gift of one Edinburgh lad to another.'

In a letter to Alexander Balloch Grosart - Stevenson writes touchingly about both Fergusson and Burns: 'We are three Robins (Roberts), who have touched the Scots lyre in this last century. Well the one is the world's, he did it and the other, ah, what bonds we have! Born in the same city, both sickly both pestered - one nearly to madness and one to the madhouse, both seeing the stars and the moon and wearing shoe-leather on the same ancient stones.'

Today, Fergusson is held in high regard in Scottish literary circles.
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 Brad Claith.

From Brad Claith





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